Former CCCC trustees sue over removal from board

Bill by Rep. Mike Stone dismissed four appointees
Aug. 01, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

The four members of the Central Carolina Community College Board of Trustees who were booted from the board, effective today, by a new state law proposed by local Rep. Mike Stone are suing the college and the state of North Carolina.

Tony Lett, Chet Mann, Jan Hayes and Norman "Chip" Post Jr. filed a civil suit Tuesday seeking four goals:

* That the law which resulted in their removal from the board be declared unconstitutional.

* That the court prohibits them from being removed from their positions on the board prior to the end of their terms.

* That the state pays for any costs involved.

* That the court grants them any other relief it deems just, fit and proper.

The four plaintiffs note several items in their claim, including the fact that the board of trustees, which is set up to include 16 members, is prohibited by state law from having fewer than 13 tustees at any given time. As of today, with these four having been removed from office, the board has 12 members.

Their complaint also notes that, under Stone's bill, CCCC was the only college in the entire state targeted for a change, and that even within that narrow scope, only the Lee County Board of Education — which is one of four elected bodies that appoint trustees to the college's board — was targeted.

According to the complaint, Stone's bill "removes the plaintiffs from office prior to the expiration of their four year terms, ... leaves in place the (four) trustees who were elected by the Lee County Commissioners in the same manner as the plaintiffs were elected by the Lee County Board of Education, and prohibits the plaintiffs from being re-elected..."

Trustees' terms coincide with the fiscal year, ending June 30. Mann's would've expired in 2014, Hayes's and Lett's would've expired in 2015, and Post's would've expired in 2017.

The complaint further states that if the law is not declared unconstitutional, it would "invite mayhem to the state's constitutional obligation to provide for a community college system" by allowing local bills to override existing state law. It was filed on behalf of the four ex-trustees by attorney Jon Silverman.

The complaint states that the Lee County Board of Commissioners, which wasn't affected by the bill, is controlled by a Republican majority, the same party as Stone. It also notes the four trustees kicked off the board and prohibited from being immediately re-elected are all registered as Democrat or Unaffiliated, and that the school board that elected them — which was recently changed to a partisan board, in a separate law proposed by Stone — is also majority Democrat or Unafilliated.

"There's great concern, first of all, that Mike Stone has just overruled the election that the Lee County Board of Education made by electing the four plaintiffs to the board of trustees," Silverman, who is also Post's law partner at Sanford firm Doster, Post, Silverman & Foushee, P.A., said Wednesday. "Second, that appears to be a pattern of Mike Stone's in not looking after Lee County's interests. And third, it appears the bill is not consistent with the state's constitution — all of which seem to be compelling reasons."

Stone isn't listed as a defendant and said Wednesday he wasn't aware of the lawsuit. However, he said, he believes his bill and the law it became are "totally legit." He declined to comment on the other allegations because "those are personal attacks, and I'm not going to stoop that low."

Stone also said he thinks the changes to the board of trustees will be good for CCCC and the communities it serves.

"I think the facts will show that we clearly stayed within the state guidelines, and I think that more sunshine on the operations at CCCC will open a lot of peoples' eyes," Stone said.

CCCC President Bud Marchant declined to comment, instead referring questions to Jimmy Love, Sr., attorney for the college's board of trustees. Love said the school is only listed to compel involvement from all interested parties, and neither the college nor its board of trustees have the power to do anything about the situation.

"We'll just have to wait and see 'til next week when it's heard because the board of trustees doesn't have a dog in this fight," Love said Wednesday. "They'll just wait and do what they're told by the court or by the legislature."

The case will go before the local Superior Court one week from today, at 2 p.m. Aug. 8.