Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Skip Alston said this week that a move by NC Rep. Jon Hardister meant to affect the way the Guilford County Board of Education fills vacancies will not fly.
Alston said the bill filed last week by Hardister – even if voted into law as currently written – wouldn’t take away the ability of the Democratic majority on the school board to vote not to seat teacher Michael Logan on that board.
The Guilford County Republican Party elected to have Logan fill the vacant seat after former District 3 School Board Member Pat Tillman became a District 3 Guilford County Commissioner.
After three attempts by the Guilford County Republican Party to put Logan on the school board, Hardister filed House Bill 88 on Thursday, Feb. 9. That bill, Hardister said, merely corrects a clerical error that was made by legislative staff a decade ago. At that time, the Guilford County school board was changed by a vote of state legislators from a non-partisan board to a partisan one. The problem, Hardister said, is that, in that 2013 transition, language was mistakenly left in the bill that called for the Guilford County school board to continue to fill vacancies the way non-partisan boards and commissions in the state do – by a majority vote of the board.
Hardister said the only reason that language wasn’t changed then was due to an oversight, just an administrative mistake – one that his new bill fixes.
The practical effect in Guilford County of taking the right to fill the vacancy from the school board members and into the hands of the local Republican party, would no doubt mean that Logan would get the seat.
Hardister filed his bill two days after the school board voted a third time along party lines against allowing Logan on the school board.
Not so fast, said Alston, soon after he heard of Hardister’s bill.
“The school board would still have to vote to accept him,” Alston said.
Alston added that, when District 7 Commissioner Frankie Jones was put on the Guilford County Board of Commissioners – clearly a partisan board – to fill the vacancy left by the death of former Commissioner Carolyn Coleman, the board took a vote to seat Jones.
“The same thing happened when I was put back on the Board of Commissioners,” Alston said of the time he filled a vacancy left by the departure of former Commissioner Ray Trapp
In that case, as well, Alston said, a vote was held by the Board of Commissioners to seat him.
Hardister said consultations with the NC School of Government and other legal experts have informed him that in the case of a partisan school board, the other members are compelled to accept the choice so. While they could technically vote the person down, it would be essentially a “dereliction of duty” since the law compels them to accept the party’s choice.
In essence, Alston is arguing that the board’s vote to seat a particular party nominee is determinative, while Hardister’s view is that that vote is basically window dressing, a formality, but not something that could legitimately keep a political party’s chosen person off the board.
There is one thing that both Alston and Hardister do agree on: If Hardister’s bill becomes law, and the Guilford County school board votes again to reject Logan, the matter will certainly end up in court.