“Mr. Chairman, members of the board, this is the superintendent’s report, I am Dr. Bob Grimesey, and I am again at your service.”
With those words, the newly reinstated Moore County Schools Superintendent brought more than 1,000 people packed in the Union Pines High School auditorium Monday night to their feet in a rousing victory cheer.
Before that same audience several minutes earlier, a new and smaller Moore County Board of Education voted 4-1 to reinstate Grimesey's contract Monday night. The vote concluded four days of wild emotional swings, backchannel negotiations, resignations and a Facebook-driven community uprising that galvanized support across all sectors.
"We made history in a lot of ways," board member Charles Lambert said.
Laura Lang cast the lone dissenting vote after fellow board member Becky Carlson, who had joined Lang and three others in firing Grimesey, switched sides. Shortly after the vote, during a break in the meeting, Carlson handed in her resignation to board chairman Bruce Cunningham and left the meeting, bringing to four the number of resignations since the vote. Her resignation will be effective Sunday at noon. The three other members — Sue Black, Ben Cameron and Kathy Farren — resigned Saturday.
Monday night, Lambert opened the meeting’s business portion with a the motion to reinstate Grimesey. Ed Dennison seconded the motion. Lambert, Dennison and Cunningham, who had opposed the firing last Thursday, then voted with Carlson to reinstate the superintendent.
Chief among the amendments to Grimesey's new contract is the elimination of the "unilateral termination clause,” which lets the board buy out his contract without cause.
"I have only myself to blame for allowing that clause to be included in my original contract," Grimesey said. "It was a lack of judgment on my part."
Lang has steadfastly said she will not resign. With Carlson’s seat empty beside her, Lang sat apart from the rest of the dais Monday night, symbolic of the divide that stands between her and fellow board members and the public. She made no comments during the meeting. During the public comment portion of the meeting, Lang was a frequent target of speakers’ criticism. Lang rarely looked at the speakers, instead looking down and making notes.
Later, Lang said she was "not inclined" to speak to The Pilot.
"What The Pilot wrote was all lies," she said. "It's not journalism."
With Grimesey returned to his position, interim superintendent Larry Upchurch resigned after less than a week with what many described as characteristic of the former deputy superintendent's "grace and style."
Upchurch himself received a thunderous and sustained standing ovation when he waived his right to payment with a tongue in cheek delivery.
"We have a matter of business to take of," Upchurch said. "The board may unilaterally terminate my contract upon payment of the balance of payment due for the remaining period of the contract. That's a lot (of money)" he said to laughter from the audience.
"I am releasing the Moore County Board of Education from this obligation … I am happy to return to the best job my wife and I have ever experienced. Being retired."
With that, Upchurch exited the stage.
"We accept his resignation with thanks and undying gratitude," said Cunningham.
Following the presentation of student and staff awards, Grimesey emerged onstage to roaring applause and a standing ovation. Less than a week before, more than 400 supporters looked on, many with tears in their eyes, as he read a statement of regret at having been removed.
As he came on stage, all board members, including Lang, approached Grimesey in welcome. Lang reached out to shake Grimesey’s hand but, according to several witnesses, Grimesey pulled her into an embrace.
Angela Boles, the wife of state Rep. Jamie Boles, took the stage to read a letter from her husband praising the board. Boles last Friday had issued an ultimatum for the five board members to resign by noon Monday or face a recall election in November. Boles said he now would wait until after the school board’s meeting Monday evening before deciding how to proceed with special recall legislation.
"My sincere gratitude goes out to the Board of Education members who have resigned," Boles wife, Angela, read. Boles was in Raleigh for the legislative session. "I would also like to let the citizens know that I have heard you and our work here is not completed, not until you have a voice of recall regardless of who fills the seats on the board.
"As your representative I will continue to work until we have instilled integrity back in our Board of Education."
It was then that Grimesey was asked to deliver the regular superintendent’s report. He began it with a joke.
"If I don't get it right on a snow day next Friday, please remember '#Support Dr. Bob,'" he said in a reference to the community support he received both online and through T-shirt sales containing that hashtag.
"As it has for the past six days, Moore County stands together as one tonight, not for a man but for its own ideals and principles. Moore County stands tonight for its children, all of its children, and its future."
Grimesey said he and his wife thanked everyone for the "shower of support" received from community members. He offered his admiration for the community's ability to "set aside all differences" to show what it is to be the "finest community in the United States of America."
Following his report, the board then heard from 19 audience members signed up to speak during the public forum segment of the program. One of them, Rollie Sampson, brought a petition containing 5,500 signatures calling for the resignation of those who voted to oust Grimesey.
"I am here representing the Parents for Moore organization, and we collected these signatures over a 72-hour period," she said. "We used the national petition service change.org to do this, and they make sure the names and addresses are valid. Change.org crashed last night, and we'd like to take credit for that," she said to applause from the audience.
"We were down for about eight hours, but we still met our goal."
Pediatrician Christoph Diasio encouraged all to remember what the children have gone through during this experience.
"I am here to speak for the children," he said. "It is incredibly important that we think about the effects of this week on our children (regarding) the language used, and on the way that we communicate disagreements. It is also incredibly important that we make sure the children of the board members, whichever way they voted, do not feel awkward or strange or in any way. I don't think we crossed those lines, but we certainly flirted with them."
Parent Karin Kent, who spent much of the past week rallying support on Facebook with her group Parents for Moore, said that Grimesey's return is "what the people demanded."
"We're happier with tonight's decision, but we still demand a little more until we're satisfied and central office is cleaned up," she said. "Going forward, what we do now is what matters."
The entire Sandhills Community College board of trustees and the Moore County Board of Commissioners were present at the meeting.
Commissioner Randy Saunders, the liaison between the school and county boards, said he was happy with the outcome.
"Last week I was disappointed that the people's voices were not heard, but now I'm excited," he said. "I think we can work with this board, and I am optimistic about the future."
Nick Picerno, chairman of the Moore County Board of Commissioners, released the following statement in response to the school board's vote to reinstate Grimesey:
“I’m very appreciative of the action and I'm sure it will allow our community to heal very quickly. I would like to thank Board Member Becky Carlson for having the courage to change her vote in response to the overwhelming support by our community to reinstate Dr. Bob as the superintendent.
"I want to also publicly thank Dr. Larry Upchurch for the way in which he handled this entire event. For those who did not attend the meeting he agreed to forgo any compensation for his service. He is a class act. Thank you Dr. Upchurch!!!"
Picerno said that as a result of the board's action, a special called meeting of the county commissioners originally scheduled for noon Wednesday will be cancelled. He said discussion on the recall election issue and the budget will be added to the agenda for the board's next regular meeting on Tuesday, June 16, at 5:30 p.m.
Saunders and board chairman Nick Picerno were engaged in numerous discussions and negotiations over the past week regarding events.
The positions on the board that were left vacant by the resignations will be filled in a "deliberate and considerate" manner, Cunningham said, with the Moore County commissioners consulted as the two boards "work together."
"The board will move as quickly as possible, in a deliberate manner and without delay (to find replacements)," Cunningham said. "Anyone who is interested in applying is welcome.
"We have to fill some seats," he said. "If you are interested, send me an email and tell me why. My address is on the school board website."
Three former school board members that were present at the event all expressed interest in running again.
"I expect there to be a cast of thousands applying for these jobs," said former school board member Dale Frye. "But it's like Publisher's Clearing House, if you don't enter, you don't have a chance."
Former board member Lorna Clack said she "might" be interested in running for the board once more.
"Moore County Schools has owned every beat of my heart for many years," she said. "I have taught all ages to read, and they need a strong foundation because you can't read history in the 11th grade if you didn't learn to read in the 3rd."
Enola Lineberger, who served on the board until 2013, said she wanted to "learn more" before deciding.
"I feel like we need a good pool of candidates for these positions," she said. "This is a very unusual situation, and I care about all who are involved, so I hope the enthusiasm will continue in a positive direction."
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.