Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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School board member Patsy Simpson, commissioner Bill Lashley square off at school board meeting; she tries to have him removed

A dispute over whether Alamance County’s commissioners “give” – versus allocate – a portion of the proceeds from sales taxes collected in Alamance County to the Alamance-Burlington school system resulted in a heated exchange between school board member Patsy Simpson and commissioner Bill Lashley – who Simpson tried unsuccessfully to have forcibly removed from the school board’s meeting Monday night.

Following a brief update on $8 million in pending capital improvement projects, school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves said in passing that the county commissioners “gave” ABSS an additional $8 million in capital reserve funds in October 2022 to cover increased costs for nearly a dozen capital improvement projects – apparently triggering Simpson’s subsequent outburst.

“When you say the county commissioners gave us the money, this is from the capital reserve account?” Simpson asked the board chairman.

“They gave us the $8.2 million out of capital reserves,” Ellington-Graves responded. “We didn’t ask for the extra $500,000 [that the commissioners allocated to install security cameras in five middle schools]. They included it is my understanding because we needed cameras, and that was part of one of our safety conversations; but it was not on our funded list of projects.”

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ABSS chief operations officer Greg Hook, who succeeded Dr. Todd Thorpe in that position on March 1, told the board that the middle school cameras are currently in design. “We just went out last week, looking at the middle schools,” he said Monday night in response to the school board chairman’s request for more information about the progress of that project.

“When you say they ‘gave’ us – I like the word, if we somehow, the money is a flow-through; I don’t like ‘they gave us,’” Simpson interjected. “But this is actually from tax dollars or sales tax revenue.”

“We didn’t ask for it,” Ellington-Graves said. “When we took our request to them, they gave us our [county budget request for 2022-23], plus increased it $500,000.”

Simpson indicated that money had been set aside for the school system, anyway.

“It flows through our capital reserves,” the chairman acknowledged.

Two state statutes direct a portion of the proceeds from local sales tax revenue to be used for school capital outlay.


THE TESTY EXCHANGE:

SIMPSON: “Sometimes we mislead the public; they think, when [you use] the word, ‘they gave us’; they administer a lot of our money – they don’t necessarily give.”

LASHLEY (FROM AUDIENCE): “Yes we do.”

SIMPSON:  “Excuse me, sir – you are out of order; you don’t get to speak at our meetings.”

[Meanwhile, chairman Ellington-Graves banged her wooden gavel repeatedly, attempting to rein in Simpson.]

LASHLEY: “She’s [the board chairman] in charge of this meeting, not you.”

SIMPSON:  “You need to be quiet.”

CHAIRMAN ELLINGTON-GRAVES:  “Let’s be professional please. [TO SIMPSON] You made a comment about it; and I’m fine, if it’s the pleasure of the board, to allow Mr. Lashley to respond. He’s in the room, and I don’t want to answer you incorrectly.”

SIMPSON: “No. I don’t need his answer to the question. We don’t normally do this. You are now setting a precedent by allowing him to speak.”

[The five other school board members interrupted Simpson, agreeing that they wanted to hear Lashley’s explanation.]

LASHLEY: “She doesn’t want to hear the truth.”

SIMPSON TO CHAIRMAN: “Would you please use your gavel, because I’m about to lose it with his attitude.”

SIMPSON TO POLICE OFFICER IN THE HALL: “Police officer, could you please escort him [Lashley] out?

SIMPSON TO LASHLEY: “You are disrupting the meeting.”


 

“I know,” Simpson said. “Sometimes we mislead the public; they think, when [you use] the word, ‘they gave us’; they administer a lot of our money – they don’t necessarily give.”

“Yes we do,” interjected Lashley, who along with commissioner Craig Turner serves as one of the two commissioner liaisons to the school board and was seated in the audience Monday night.

“Excuse me, sir – you are out of order; you don’t get to speak at our meetings,” Simpson told Lashley, as her voice grew louder.

Meanwhile, Ellington-Graves banged her wooden gavel repeatedly, attempting to rein in Simpson.

“She’s in charge of this meeting, not you,” Lashley said, referring to the school board’s chairman.

“You need to be quiet,” Simpson told the commissioner.

“Let’s be professional please,” the chairman said. “You made a comment about it; and I’m fine, if it’s the pleasure of the board, to allow Mr. Lashley to respond. He’s in the room, and I don’t want to answer you incorrectly.”

“No,” said Simpson, “I don’t need his answer to the question. We don’t normally do this. You are now setting a precedent by allowing him to speak.”

The five other school board members interrupted Simpson, agreeing that they wanted to hear Lashley’s explanation.

As Simpson continued to voice her objections, Lashley shot back, from his seat in the audience, “She doesn’t want to hear the truth.”

“Would you please use your gavel, because I’m about to lose it with his attitude,” Simpson asked the chairman. She then shouted toward an off-duty police officer who was stationed in the hallway adjacent to the meeting room, as is customary at monthly (evening) school board meetings. “Police officer, could you please escort him [Lashley] out?

“You are disrupting the meeting,” Simpson told Lashley.

The police officer neither acknowledged Simpson’s request, nor entered the meeting room.
Ellington-Graves again rapidly banged her gavel against the dais.

ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler interrupted, saying, “Patsy, Patsy, we’ve been working really hard to work with our county commissioners.”

“I’m working hard, too, but look at his attitude, and what he says,” Simpson insisted. “I asked a question, and I deserve an answer – and I don’t deserve it with his attitude. I wanted a clarification of ‘give.’ I don’t care who he is.”

School board member Chuck Marsh responded, “I think he’s trying to answer it, though.”

Ellington-Graves reminded Simpson, “You asked a question because of a comment I made.”

“Thank you for the respect,” Lashley told Simpson as he laughed aloud.

“Respect for what?” the visibly irate Simpson shot back, as the chairman again repeatedly banged the dais with her gavel. “You don’t respect me. You’re talking to this desk when you’re not even in order.

“Oh, puh lease,” Simpson said, elongating her syllables to demonstrate her obvious irritation.

“Do that – just like your daddy – Jesus!” she said, referring to Lashley’s late father, a longtime Alamance County commissioner known for sparring with school board members over funding for ABSS.

Ellington-Graves invited the commissioner to the podium to explain how ABSS receives capital reserve funds. “I would like to hear the response from the county commissioner,” the chairman said. “It’s not a matter of disrespect to anyone in the room, but you’ve asked a question that I think he can provide an answer to. He doesn’t have to address you; can come to the podium and address the board. I want to make sure you get good information [for] your question.”

“We’ve had other speakers, Patsy,” school board member Dan Ingle pointed out, as Simpson continued to protest hearing any further explanation from Lashley.

“First of all, I apologize for my outburst, but I thought I had the information you were looking for,” Lashley told the board from the podium Monday night. “When this request was brought to us, me and commissioner Turner got together, and we funded seven of the top 10 priorities, and those priorities came from the capital improvement plan, which had $12.3 or $12.4 million in there.

“Your previous finance manager said he needed a certain amount of money left in that fund to feel comfortable, and that’s where we landed on the $8.2 [million in capital reserve funds that the commissioners allocated to ABSS in October 2022],” Lashley recalled Monday night.

“You are right, Ms. Graves, when you said that you asked for that money. After talking to your board and seeing what you folks needed, we as a board gave you another [$500,000] to take care of those security cameras, because we thought that was extremely important. That’s where the money is, and that’s where the money comes from. We are responsible for that money; you folks come and ask us for that money, and we give it to you.

“You could’ve asked us for $8 million, and we could’ve given you $5 [million] and still be within our rights, but we did what you asked and tried to fund seven of the top 10 priorities that we thought [were] extremely important,” Lashley added.

The commissioner noted that the $8.2 million wasn’t reflected in the total county appropriation to ABSS for the current, 2022-23 fiscal year. “But, that should be added on to it so that the people of Alamance County can see that we are funding the school system – not by just your requests, but we’re also funding the capital needs for you, as well,” Lashley pointed out.

“Madame chair,” Simpson replied, “that did not answer the question that I have. The question that I have is, yes, the funds come through the county commissioners; is it a revenue source that is filtered down to the school system like lottery money, and they’re just the person who holds the money, but it’s our money? Or [is it] from sales tax and/or property tax?”

“There are two buckets the school system has at their disposal,” Lashley explained, referring two types of local sales tax revenue that are distributed at different percentages. “Both buckets come into your capital reserve [fund].

“That’s how you’re able to get $12.5 million for capital improvements [on top of $3.3 million in county annual capital funding],” the commissioner elaborated. “It’s because of the sales tax funding. The reason why the school system had so much money in their capital improvement plan was because the increase in sales tax was at 17 percent over the [previous] year.

“Now, as we know, the economy is not doing so well; we have seen the consumer constrict in their spending,” said Lashley. “We see that in our sales tax receipts, but we’re very fortunate to have two anchors on each side of our county – Tanger Outlets and Alamance Crossing – that provide a majority of the sales tax that Alamance County gets.

“That’s where your capital [reserve] money is coming from,” he added. “I suggest to you, Ms. Simpson, you’re going to get more money in the capital improvement plan this year just because of the way the percentages in the buckets are set. You are technically accurate in what you say, that it is ‘your money’ – but with a hyphen. It’s your money, but we have discretion on how we give it to you.”

Simpson replied, “Well, I mean, thank God for the citizens who go out and shop at Tanger, such as myself – that we will have that flow-through. That was the whole gist of the question was, you keep giving the term, they ‘give us, give us.’ I simply asked, what do you mean? There are some funds that come through the county commissioners that’s designated for us, so they’re not giving us anything; it’s a flow-through. You keep using the term ‘give,’ and that’s what I have a problem [with].”

“My apologies, Ms. Simpson,” Ellington-Graves said, “if I misused a word.”

Meanwhile, school board members voted 7-0 earlier Monday night to submit their county budget request to the commissioners for the request for the upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year.

The school board’s $54.1 million budget request includes: $50.8 million in county funding for current expenses (daily operations); and $3.3 million in capital funding (for building maintenance and repairs). The county commissioners typically vote to adopt their county budget in late June of each year.


Our editorial page opinion on the faceoff between Simpson and Lashley: https://alamancenews.com/not-a-good-finale-to-patsys-service/


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