State proposes law change

Aug. 03, 2014 @ 02:21 PM

Just few months after the conclusion of one lawsuit regarding illegal appointments to the Central Carolina Community College board of trustees, the state legislature is looking to step in and correct yet another illegal appointment.

Buried in an omnibus technical corrections bill is also a single new phrase that will apply only to CCCC. It had been that only one person on the 16-member board was allowed to be a sitting county commissioner. But with the recent appointment of Jim Burgin, a Republican Harnett commissioner, the board once again found itself in murky legal waters. Brian Bock, a Republican Chatham commissioner, already was on the board, making Burgin’s appointment unlawful.

Instead of removing one or both men from the board, however, a member of the N.C. House of Representatives proposed simply changing the law to allow all three local boards of county commissioners to appoint one of their own to the trustees.

A year ago, Rep. Mike Stone (R-Harnett/Lee) filed a local bill changing an illegal appointment system used by the college — a move that sparked a months-long lawsuit and allegations of political tampering in the college’s leadership. But Stone said this most recent change wasn’t his work but rather the work of Rep. David Lewis (R-Harnett), to fix the illegal situation created by the Harnett County Commissioners. Lewis couldn’t be reached for comment, but Stone said there’s no reason why this should be a controversial measure.

“You’ve got two county commissioners currently serving on the CCCC board,” Stone said. “And all it does is make it legal.”

The bill would also, by its nature, allow for a sitting Lee County commissioner to join the board. One already has shown interest in a seat: Republican Jim Womack submitted his name in June as a choice to replace Julian Philpott, the chairman of the trustees. Womack said he later learned it would be illegal for him to join the board and asked his fellow commissioners to vote instead for Mark Cronmiller, a local GOP officer, which they did.

But now, should Lewis’s proposal become law, if Cronmiller or any of the other trustees appointed by the commissioners were to resign, the commissioners could replace that person with one of their own. If that choice were Womack, by his own admission he would instantly become one of the more contrarian trustees.

“I would’ve been on the wrong side of a number of votes, probably, but I’m one of those guys that believes in looking at all sides,” he said Friday.

Womack said he would still like to be on the board, and he stressed that although he approves of allowing more county commissioners onto the trustees, neither he nor Stone were involved in this recent change. He also said the potential for disagreement doesn’t diminish his desire to serve because discussion improves any governing board, as does turnover.

“I think it’s also fair to say it’s time for some new blood on that board,” Womack said of the CCCC trustees. “... Boards of trustees and boards of directors need to change out for them to remain fresh and to have new ideas. The institutionalization of these boards is a bad thing. I think it’s good to honor people, but I don’t think we should honor them for 16 or 20 years.”

As with Stone’s controversial bill last year, Philpott — an unaffiliated voter who did eventually rejoin the board, as an appointee of Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican — said that to the best of his knowledge, no one from the college requested this recent change.

Philpott declined to comment on possible ramifications, however, including whether the addition of more politically minded trustees might endanger the college’s accreditation. The accrediting agency requires that boards of trustees remain “free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies.”