State elections committee eyes Stone bill favorably

Proposal moves toward vote without local endorsement
Apr. 04, 2013 @ 05:10 AM

A local bill that would make the Sanford City Council and Lee County Board of Education elections partisan received a favorable report by the House Elections Committee Wednesday — clearing the way for the proposed law to be considered for a vote as early as today.

Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive, Mayor Pro Tem Samuel Gaskins, school board member Tamara Brogan and N.C. Rep. Deb McManus, who represents portions of Lee and Chatham counties, spoke against the bill during the committee meeting at the Legislative Office Building. The bill was filed Monday by Rep. Mike Stone, who represents portions of Lee and Harnett counties.

McManus, a member of the elections committee, said she was not in favor of this bill because it went against the local government's wishes.

"It is inappropriate to dictate to local governments when there is so much state business," she said. "I am not in support of this bill and it is wrong to take this action."

A majority of the city of Sanford is within McManus's district, she said, and Tuesday was the first she had heard of the bill.

Several state representatives expressed their support for the bill and said elections always contain elements of partisanship, adding that party affiliation can inform voters about the candidates.

After the committee meeting, Brogan said she was disappointed in the favorable report and worried about partisanship entering the school board's mission of educating children.

"I feel like this bill is bad policy," she said. "And I am concerned for the negative impact it will have on the community."

Olive told committee members that Sanford City Council passed a resolution in opposition to the bill during the council's meeting Tuesday, citing financial concerns and the lack of communication between the council and Stone.

During the Tuesday meeting, Sanford Attorney Susan Patterson said she attempted to contact Stone for two days without a response.

"Folks feel blindsided," Olive said. "If it is good legislation, it can stand scrutiny and the test of time."

Olive and Gaskins both said they've received numerous phone calls about the bill, with residents requesting for more time or a chance to voice their opinion.

Lee County Board of Education Chairman Dr. Lynn Smith was unable to attend the committee meeting but did send a letter to committee members stating his opposition to the bill.

"Nonpartisan boards were created to ensure that all constituents are fairly served regardless of political affiliation," he said. "Placing partisanship above the common good is, in my opinion, unacceptable. Likewise, with no local input or consideration, I do not believe that House Bill 490 would be in the best interest of educating students in Lee County."

Smith said he was disappointed by the committee's action and hoped the bill is not received well in the full house.

Stone could not be reached for comment after the committee meeting but said previously he filed the bill because "citizens have been requesting these changes" since he took office in 2010.

According to the N.C. General Assembly website, the bill is slated to be reviewed by the full House today.