TRIANGLE POLITICS

Biggest star of the week? Schools consultant

July 31, 2010 

For one week, and almost assuredly one week only, a Massachusetts educational consultant became a bigger name in this newspaper's pages than Lindsay Lohan.

An archive check shows that Hollywood miscreant Lohan got mentioned only about half as many times in articles and online as Michael Alves, who came to Raleigh this week to expound on his idea of controlled choice as a method of assignment for Wake County's 140,000-plus public school students.

So popular was Alves that the county's board of commissioners nearly ran afoul of the state's open meetings law when Alves appeared at a Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday. All of the seven commissioners except Paul Coble showed up to hear Alves talk about school assignment, a field in which he's worked for 30 years.

Board chairman Tony Gurley, fearing a violation of a law against having a majority of a public body meet without 48 hours' advance notice, left the meeting, followed by commissioners Joe Bryan and Lindy Brown.

"They wouldn't have been in a position to vote, but they could have a question put to them, 'What does the county commission think about that?' " county attorney Scott Warren said Friday.

Warren called the turnout "unintentional" but said Wake should develop a means of notifying the media and public when a significant number of board members are invited to an event.

"As soon as the ones that were aware of it knew it was an issue, they got out," Warren said.

And just think, Alves didn't even have to weep in public or don a jail-issued jumpsuit to earn the spotlight.

Security costs $20,960

The Wake County school system has shelled out $20,960 since December to provide security at school board meetings where protesters have objected to the elimination of the socioeconomic diversity policy.

Large crowds, including some people ready to engage in civil disobedience, have led Wake to hire off-duty Raleigh police officers and additional private security. Until this year, no armed security had been at board meetings.

At the July 20 meeting, school officials estimated that security had cost $2,197. During the meeting, 19 people were arrested as a large crowd gathered at school headquarters.

In addition, the Raleigh Police Department is compiling an itemized breakdown of its costs to respond to the July 20 meeting. A large contingent of officers, including some on horseback, were on the scene. The school system won't have to pay that particular bill.

With protesters warning they won't go away, Michael Evans, a schools' spokesman, said to expect a large security presence at board meetings for the foreseeable future.

Both sides in the diversity fight have blamed each other for the high security costs.

The Wake Community Network, a conservative blog that supports the school board majority, has put the blame on the "ongoing chaos creation activities" of the state NAACP and the Great Schools in Wake Coalition. Both groups had urged people to attend the July 20 protest march in downtown Raleigh and that afternoon's board meeting.

But Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of Great Schools in Wake, has put the blame on the school board majority for not creating "an environment that offered transparency and fostered open, constructive debate."

Political trails

The Northern Wake Democrats will meet from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Stella Mare Ristorante & Pizzeria in the Grey stone Shopping Center in North Raleigh. U.S. Rep. David Price will speak. Call 802-8286 for more information.

Compiled by staff writers Thomas Goldsmith and T. Keung Hui.

Triangle Politics is a weekly look at the local political scene. Got a tip, item or coming event? Fax Triangle Politics at 919-829-4529, or send e-mail to sarah.ovaska@newsobserver.com or metroeds@newsobserver.com. Please send items by noon Thursday.

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