Thursday, February 29, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

Not any way to run a railroad . . . or a county

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Sometimes all we can do is just shake our head at the way certain public boards operate with so little consideration of the general public – or of sound public policy or fundamentals of proper procedure.

Monday’s county commissioners’ meeting is the latest example.

Commissioners decided, on the spot – with no public notice, with no previous discussion, without even a request from the school board or school system to do so – to reach into the county taxpayers’ pockets for $250,000 to give the school system, ostensibly in order to forestall a widely reported, anticipated RIF (reduction in force) being contemplated by superintendent Dr. Dain Butler.

Butler has outlined plans to cut 24 positions and to reduce the pay for another 30 employees (cutting them from 12-month salaries to 10 months).  [See separate story in this week’s edition.]

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The item was not on the commissioners’ published agenda.

It has never been mentioned publicly at any school board meeting.

The school board has never publicly discussed or acted on the superintendent’s ideas for such cutbacks.

Yet the idea was added to the commissioners’ agenda at the beginning of the commissioners’ meeting at the request of commissioner Craig Turner.

We’ve noted before, and we reiterate our serious concern, that commissioner Turner needs to be especially careful in his deliberations and votes on school system issues since his marriage last year to an ABSS principal.

His action this week was especially suspect as a potential conflict of interest, and certainly had the appearance of such a conflict, given all of the irregularities that accompanied his idea and motion – i.e., no prior consideration by the school board, no request from the school system, no previous discussion by school board or commissioners, nothing on the agenda on the topic, etc.

The most obvious question, not addressed at the meeting, is how many actual, current employees at his wife’s school are to be affected by a RIF?

Turner admitted that his motion was being made “without having specifics” and amounted to taking a “shot in the dark.”

Yet, he was willing to bulldoze right on, add it to the agenda and make a motion to spend a quarter of a million dollars in one fell swoop. And to our even greater surprise, his colleagues, rather lemming-like, it seemed to us, actually agreed to the expenditure within 20 minutes.

If you listened to the commissioners, you could hear at least three commissioners (chairman John Paisley, Jr., vice chairman Steve Carter, and commissioner Bill Lashley) provide excellent arguments that the school system had already been given extra money to fund operations  last June; how there are questions about the competence of management within the school system; and that these operational shortfalls are totally unrelated to previous capital expenses involving mold and leaky roofs (operational expenditures must be kept separate from capital projects).

It was great rhetoric, but ended up being largely meaningless when it came time to make a decision.

Commissioners can sound conservative, but then they vote like a bunch of liberal, school system puppets.

In a total non sequitur to their preceding comments, those same three commissioners illogically joined Turner and commissioner Pam Thompson in rushing to approve the extra funding – unanimously.

Somehow we’re reminded of the annual fall tradition in the Peanuts comic strip.  Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown, but always pulls it away at the last minute before the hapless character was preparing to kick the ball.

Every year, she promises, in essence, “this time will be different.”  But it never is.  And Charlie Brown is equally gullible each year, as he believes her.

Similarly, over and over again, the school system, playing the role of Lucy, pulls one over on the county commissioners in their collective role as the easily taken-in chump (Charlie Brown).

Lashley admitted he had been “duped” last June into giving the school system more money, and raising the property tax rate in the process.  But he and the other commissioners appeared to be willing to be duped yet again – although this time it was their own colleague, Turner, who made the newest recommendation to ignore the evidence of ABSS double-talk and/or incompetence and just bestow the extra money.

Is it any wonder that the commissioners, themselves, are facing their own financial woes in preparing for next year’s budget (and potentially laying the groundwork for a huge property tax increase)?  It shouldn’t come as much of surprise when they irresponsibly, foolishly, and glibly decide on a whim to shell out $250,000 of the taxpayers’ money.

It was on June 19, 2023 that superintendent Butler, in a last-minute plea to the commissioners on the night they were to vote on the county’s new budget for the year, demanded an additional $897,930 to be added to the school system’s 2023-2024 allocation within the county budget.

Doing so, he assured the commissioners that night, would ensure that he would not have to “do a RIF and send some people home.”

The commissioners gave him the money he requested and upped the tax rate even higher than they had planned above “revenue neutral,” betraying even more their collective promise to taxpayers; in essence, the commissioners have already paid to avoid the newest RIF Butler is considering, as vice chairman Carter actually underscored in his remarks this week.

But, alas, if Butler has established anything in his brief tenure, it is, regrettably, that his word – his assurances to commissioners and the public at large, and even to his own employees – cannot be trusted.

We’re not quite sure who should share the most blame for this week’s boondoggle: superintendent Butler for having gotten in whatever financial quagmire he thinks can be fixed by a RIF of 54 employees, commissioner Turner who sprung this bailout on his fellow commissioners, or all five commissioners who fell for the idea collectively.

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