Lee Commissioners back bill for partisan city, school board races

Vote split on resolution in support of HB 490
Jun. 26, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

The Lee County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Monday — with a 4-to-3 vote along party lines— in support of a state bill to make the elections of the City of Sanford and Lee County Board of Education partisan.

Commissioners Andre Knecht, Kirk Smith, Charlie Parks and Jim Womack, all Republicans, voted for the resolution during the commissioners' meeting, citing increased participation in partisan elections by the electorate and the political parties.

"The absence of political party participation in non-partisan elections results in a power shift to 'behind the scenes' operatives whose loyalties are sometimes self-serving rather than supportive of the needs of the entire community," according to the resolution.

House Bill 490, proposed by Rep. Mike Stone, was approved by the House in April and is now in the Senate's State and Local Government Committee. The bill did not receive a favorable committee vote last week. Womack said the commissioners were originally not going to vote on the proposed law because it doesn't impact their board, but said the bill was now in "some trouble."

Commissioners Amy Dalrymple, Ricky Frazier and Robert Reives, all Democrats, voted against the resolution and said the legislation was politically motivated. 

"I have some concerns about this," Frazier said. "This is a political move by all means, and when we allow our political party to get in the way of serving our community, we have a problem." 

Womack said he was proud to be one of the people who asked Stone for this legislation.

"It's good for the parties to be involved," he said. "This way, the public has a choice."

Dalrymple said individual commissioners can challenge or champion any local bill, but the board shouldn't be involved in legislation that doesn't impact them.

"In the six months on this board, I have seen more politically leaning resolutions than the two years I was on [the board] before," she said. "And that is your right, but for my own principles, I can't support these resolutions when we should be working on getting people back to work instead of helping the political parties for a get-out-the-vote deal."

While H.B. 490 only impacts Sanford and the school board, the resolutions the commissioners passed included "members of the Broadway Town Council and the Broadway mayor." The Broadway Board of Commissioners was excluded in the legislation because Stone said Broadway residents did not ask to be included while some Sanford residents had. 

The bill is still eligible to be voted on by Senate committee members, according to Stone, and it must receive a favorable report before the full Senate will vote on the bill.