The debate over whether the Democratic-majority Guilford County Board of Education should be required to seat Republican teacher Michael Logan to fill a vacancy on that board has expanded way beyond local school officials and parents.

Now, legal experts in government law are taking a closer look at the situation and the effect that House Bill 88, filed by NC Rep. Jon Hardister, would have on the matter if approved.

The Guilford County Republican Party chose Logan to fill the vacant District 3 seat left on the school board by the departure of new Guilford County Commissioner Pat Tillman.

The school board’s Democratic members have voted three times not to accept Logan, but Hardister’s bill would remove language that allows a majority of the school board to decide who fills the vacancy.  Hardister said his bill corrects a clerical error that was made when the Guilford County school board was turned into a partisan board ten years ago.

Hardister and Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston have been exchanging emails regarding the law and the questions have been posed to Robert Joyce, an expert in government law with the NC School of Government in Chapel Hill.

Hardister argues that in the case of a partisan Guilford County school board, the board is compelled by law to seat the party’s nominee.

Alston said a board is not compelled because it votes on whether or not to appoint a party’s nominee.

Hardister asked in an email to Joyce, “Under this statute, as we have discussed, a partisan board is compelled to accept the nominee of a political party for a vacancy, provided that the party executive committee has sent forth a nominee within 30 days of the vacancy. When this occurs, does the board have to vote to accept the nominee? Or is the nominee deemed seated at such a time that the political party has sent forth the nominee?”

Joyce responded: “Yes, I think the board must take a vote to accept the person put forward by the party executive committee.  Under GS 115C-37.1(c) the board is to ‘appoint’ the person recommended by the party executive committee.  I know of no way the board can take the action to ‘appoint’ other than by motion and vote.  Since the board is bound by law to vote to make the appointment of the person put forward, I think that a failure to do so would subject them to an action in mandamus for a court order forcing them to.”

Alston argues that a partisan board like the school board or the Guilford County Board of Commissioners can clearly vote to reject a party’s nominee to fill a vacancy.

“If I can vote, then I can vote yes or no,” Alston said. “It doesn’t make sense to say a board can vote – but that they can only vote one way.”

This actually does happen, however.  In the past, at times, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners has been required to take a vote on something – such as the county implementation of a state law – and the county attorney has told the commissioners they are compelled to vote to approve.  The commissioners have never tested what would happen if they actually did vote no in case where they were compelled to vote yes, but clearly the most likely outcome would be a trip to court.

The  Guilford County school board vacancy debate seems headed to court for sure.