The size of the Moore County Board of Education will be reduced to seven members next year under a law enacted late Thursday afternoon by the N.C. General Assembly.
The state Senate gave final approval Thursday morning to legislation that eliminates one of the three at-large seats. The House quickly gave its concurrence several hours later by 108-0 vote since the reduction was added to a bill that chamber passed earlier this year allowing the Moore County Board of Commissioners to look into redrawing its residency districts to make them more geographically compact.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, who represents Moore and Randolph counties, added the school board reduction provision to the bill, which had been held up in the Senate Rules Committee since April.
State Rep. Jamie Boles, who sponsored the original redistricting bill at the commissioners’ request, supported the reduction.
"There was no controversy, so we pushed it on through," he said Thursday evening.
The commissioners and school board voted to back the reduction, both agreeing that it would be better to have an odd number of members to avoid situations such as the one that happened last December, when it took 78 votes to break a four-four deadlock to elect a chairman.
“I believe it was appropriate for Rep. Boles to pursue this legislation, which will provide for Moore County to join the vast majority of districts in the state that have odd-numbered boards,” school board Chairman Bruce Cunningham said Thursday morning.
Under the legislation, the school board will have five members who must live in the districts they represent but are elected countywide — just like the five commissioners — and two at-large members.
Under the legislation, the seats for Districts 1, 2, 4 and 5 will be up for election next year — the same as it is now under the current eight-member setup. The District 3 and two at-large seats, instead of three, will be up for election two years later, in 2018. The District 3 seat is currently held by Charles Lambert.
In order to bring the board down to seven members next year, the terms of two at-large members, Libby Carter and Pamela Thompson, who were appointed to fill unexpired terms created by resignations earlier this year, will end. Voters will then elect one member to serve out an at-large term through 2018.
That would potentially pit Carter and Thompson against each other should they decide to run for election to serve out the term. Ed Dennison also holds an at-large seat and was re-elected last year.
“It is my understanding that Ed Dennison’s at-large seat will not be affected,” Cunningham said. “Both Pam and Libby, as well as any other persons interested in serving on the school board, would have to run for the same seat.”
Carter and Thompson were appointed to fill the unexpired terms of Sue Black and Becky Carlson, who were elected as at-large members last year. Black and Carlson resigned, along with Kathy Farren and Ben Cameron, under tremendous public pressure two days after voting to fire Superintendent Bob Grimesey on June 4. A scaled-down board voted June 8 to reinstate Grimesey.
Farren, who represented District 2, was replaced by Helena Wallin-Miller. Cameron, who represented District 1, was replaced by Stacey Caldwell. Those two seats, along with the District 5 seat now held by Chairman Bruce Cunningham and the District 4 seat held by Laura Lang, are up for election next year. Lang was among the five who voted to fire Grimesey. She refused to resign.
In the fallout from the Grimesey firing, which drew nearly universal public condemnation, momentum also built for having a recall election process to replace the five members who fired Grimesey. Boles obtained a temporary restraining order the day after the firing to prevent the board as it was constituted then from hiring a permanent superintendent to give him time to have legislation passed for a recall process should the five members refuse to resign.
Since four of the five resigned the following day, Boles said the need for a recall process was not as urgent. But he has vowed to push for it during next year’s legislative session.
The Board of Commissioners voted to support seeking legislation for a recall election process, initially asking that Moore County be added to a House-passed bill for Stanly County. The board later backed off that idea. But after another public outcry, the board voted to ask Boles to pursue a recall provision.
The Stanly County bill was recently changed and would now allow for partisan elections of the school board in that county. Ten other counties were added to the bill, including Lee and Harnett.
“We did not want to get caught up in the controversy,” Boles said of the partisan election issue. “That is something we don’t want.”
A push for partisan elections of the Moore County Board of Education in the late 1990s was derailed by heavy public opposition. School board members in Moore County do not run under political party labels.
Boles said the idea of a recall still has merit. He said he wants to make sure it is done correctly and not in haste.
“That is something we will have to look at next session,” he said.
Staff writer John Lentz contributed to this report.