CCCC trustee ruling leaves neither side totally satisfied

State wins case, but plaintiffs granted key concession
Feb. 13, 2014 @ 02:16 PM

The four Central Carolina Community College trustees who sued the college and the state after being forced off the board this summer by the General Assembly have had their case dismissed.

Superior Court Judge Winston Gilchrist ruled that local Rep. Mike Stone (R-Lee/Harnett) acted within his power to remove Chet Mann, Jan Hayes, Norman "Chip” Post and Tony Lett from the board. Gilchrist also, however, agreed with the trustees in one matter, ruling that the law was wrong to bar the four from being reappointed to the board in the near future.

So while the four are off the board now, they will be eligible to be reappointed to one of the two seats that remain for the Lee County Board of Education to appoint. The other two seats that had been appointed by the school board will now be split between the school boards in Harnett and Chatham counties, where CCCC has satellite campuses.

The law in question was written, according to Stone, after he discovered that some on the college's 16-member board of trustees had been appointed in a way that was not what state law prescribed for community colleges serving multiple counties. An early version set up an appointment system that still would have been illegal, but the final version set up a system in compliance with the state's general statutes.

In their lawsuit, the four trustees – represented by Post’s law partner Jon Silverman – alleged the bill was a politically motivated attack because they are all Democrats or unaffiliated voters, and the Lee County school board is a left-leaning board while Stone is a Republican. Post said Wednesday that although the judge dismissed the case, he still believes politics were a driving force behind the changes.

Stone, who never testified during the lawsuit, said Wednesday that those allegations are false.

“It’s been skewed several ways,” he said. “But it’s not political. It’s about what’s best for the community college.”

Post, however, raised another point, which the plaintiffs had argued in court: Other trustees appointed in the same improper manner were not removed by the law.

Based on that and other factors, their lawsuit had dubbed the law unconstitutional, as well as "arbitrary and capricious."

Gilchrist, however, agreed with the state's arguments that legislators can work piecemeal to correct problems. Stone said that’s what he had in mind, and that he plans to introduce another bill soon bringing the rest of the board into compliance.

“Too much [change] at one time to the board could be deadly,” Stone said. “… We just wanted to make sure we had leadership on the board while we were trying to address it all.”

In the meantime, there are four empty seats on the board. Post, who plans to ask to be reappointed, said he's sad that if his other colleagues all want to be reappointed as well, they'll have to fight over it. Plus, he said, the college will now lose at least two dedicated, experienced and passionate board members with roots in the college's home county.

"Stone just cost Lee County two seats on the board," Post said, adding — with heavy irony — "Congratulations."

Stone, however, said he thinks it's a good thing to get more residents of the other two counties the college serves involved on the board — not to mention it's how the law says it should be done.

“Having Harnett County and Chatham County involved in the process is wonderful,” he said, adding, “I think we have unique growth opportunities in Harnett and Chatham counties, as well as Lee County, and this is going to let the community college grow to the potential it can.”