RALEIGH — The new Republican majority taking office Monday on the Wake County Board of Commissioners plans to reverse some controversial decisions immediately - including previous Democratic-majority votes opposing resegregating schools and providing funding for elective abortions for county employees.
Outgoing Chairman Tony Gurley says the board, with a new majority arising out of November elections, will also reinstate closer oversight of school board spending and reject a recommendation to the legislature to let public employees unionize.
"We are allowed as a new board to look at mistakes that previous boards have made and fix them," Gurley said. "An old board can't obligate a future board to certain actions."
Gurley called an April resolution opposing any action that would resegregate Wake County schools a "mistake," and other Republican board members said at the time of the vote that the measure was premature and alarmist. Because the Board of Commissioners holds only budgetary authority over the school board, the motion had little practical effect. It was introduced by board member Stan Norwalk and seconded by member Betty Lou Ward, both Democrats.
"It's a step in the right direction for the two boards to work together with greater cooperation," GOP school board member John Tedesco said Thursday of the anticipated vote to rescind the resolution. "When they passed it last year, it was a blatant show of gamesmanship on the part of county commissioner Stan Norwalk and dare I say a political slap on the face.
"Now we've got a majority of commissioners who care about educating all of our children."
Efforts to reach Norwalk on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Gurley was re-elected Nov. 2 along with fellow incumbent Republicans Joe Bryan and Paul Coble, likely the panel's new chairman. Garner resident Phil Matthews defeated Democratic incumbent Lindy Brown to give the GOP a 4-3 majority on the board.
"Phil is a very solid conservative, who will make me look like a middle-of-the-road person," Gurley said with a laugh.
What's the message?
GOP school board members Ron Margiotta, the panel's chairman, and Chris Malone both support rescinding the resolution, saying they're not intending to resegregate the system by sending children to schools closer to where they live.
But Democratic school board member Kevin Hill questioned the message that would be sent by rescinding the resolution.
"It speaks volumes that they're willing to rescind a resolution that says they're opposed to resegregating schools," Hill said. "I guess that means they're OK with resegregating schools."
Yevonne Brannon, a former Democratic county commissioner now representing the grass-roots group Great Schools in Wake Coalition, said the new majority on the Board of Commissioners should be focusing on how to deal with the budget crisis.
"It's a tragedy when we look at the people who fund schools at the local level that the first thing they do is support allowing schools to resegregate," Brannon said.
The full agenda for the meeting Monday had not been released late Thursday, but Gurley said it would include resolutions to:
Disallow insurance funding for elective abortions for county employees, who could still receive coverage for abortions in cases or rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. The previous Democratic majority voted this year to allow the funding of elective abortions.
Strip from the board's legislative agenda a provision in favor of allowing public employees to engage in collective bargaining.
Request the school board to follow a method of spending oversight called "purpose and function," under which the school system would receive its budget in 16 categories instead of in one large chunk.
"If any category differs by more than 15 percent they have to tell us," Gurley said.
Hill said that's encroaching on the school board's authority.
"If they want to run for the school board, they should have," Hill said. "We have the responsibility of running the school system."
Margiotta said he personally supports the purpose and function approach but doesn't know if a majority will support it if it's made as a request.
"It gives us another set of eyes to review our budget," he said.
With Matthews joining the three Republican incumbents, the GOP could be expected to pass its agenda with comfortable margins, although the expectation of continued low revenues means the commissioners will have little to spend on initiatives.
"The priorities are going to be to maintaining the essential services while dealing with stagnant revenues and fending off the anticipated state attempts to pass down some of their budget problems to us," Gurley said.
"With our level of revenue and the services we provide, we will be able to maintain what we are doing now, absent some drastic action by the state."
thomas.goldsmith@ newsobserver.com or 919-829-8929