EDITORIAL: Let court decide whether trustees were wronged

Aug. 10, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

It was merely one example of controversial legislation coming out of Raleigh with local implications — a law removing four members of the Central Carolina Community College board from their positions.

The difference is that the ousted trustees challenged the General Assembly’s mandate, filing suit against the college and the state. As noted in their suit, these four appointed by the Lee County Board of Education were the only members of the 16-member board who were affected. The law stripped the Lee BOE of some of its appointing power, giving the Chatham and Harnett boards a say in the matter as well.

The bill was sponsored by local Rep. Mike Stone — the same elected official who successfully pushed a bill to make local school board and municipal elections partisan. That bill, too, was met with resistance and left many wondering why the law was necessary.

Stone’s response to the suit: “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”

Whether or not the law meets some obscure “state guidelines,” should that be the benchmark for suddenly relieving college trustees of their duties? Because he may have acted legally in changing a process that didn’t appear to be broken, does that mean he ought to?

Besides kicking the four members off of the board well before their terms expire, the law goes so far as to bar them from being re-appointed in the near future. The trustees in question, and the constituents they serve, are entitled to a more satisfactory explanation for such drastic measures.

It is worth noting, as the suit does, that Stone, a Republican, moved to dismiss only the four Democratic or Unaffiliated appointees of Lee BOE, which itself is a majority Democrat or Unaffiliated board. The election law he spearheaded made candidates for local office declare their party affiliation.

Whatever his avowed intentions, both bills appear to have strong political motivations.

If a state legislator acts to overrule the will of a duly elected local board, he should do so with a clear and convincing justification. Once again, it seems Stone hasn’t felt compelled to gain the confidence and trust of the public he’s sworn to serve.

Stone has claimed that people were clamoring for partisan elections, but reaction to that law has hardly been all positive. Lee County residents are demanding more jobs, more fiscal accountability and an improved quality of life — not undue interference in local affairs.

Stone campaigned on a jobs platform, promising to do everything he could to bring more work to Lee County. What he’s brought instead is controversy. And the local bills he has sponsored lately beg the question — if the public wasn’t asking for these changes, who was?

Some consider the suit nothing more than sour grapes, and they perceive the ousted trustees’ actions as the height of arrogance. Is arrogance filing suit when arguably unlawful actions are taken against you — or is it imposing your will on a board not under your direct control because you can?

Without a more legitimate reason for their ouster from Stone or anywhere else, these four have just cause to seek redress elsewhere.