RALEIGH — The Wake County Board of Commissioners' new Republican majority moved quickly Monday, reversing a previous Democrat-led resolution that opposed county-school resegregation and stripping insurance coverage for elective abortions for county employees.
In a vote preceded by heated public comment and board debate, members voted along party lines to repeal an April 19 item that expressed "deep concern" over any attempt to resegregate Wake schools by race or socioeconomic status.
Democratic Commissioner James West, the panel's only black member and a product of segregated schools, said that the board should uphold its stance against resegregation and that members should come together in a shared vision of good schools for all students.
"The actual resolution talks about the resegregation of schools," West said. "Are we saying we want to resegregate our public schools?"
West and the board's other two Democrats argued that rescinding the resolution was unnecessary and would create bad publicity for the system. The Republican majority said the resolution sent the wrong message in the first place.
"It was an intentional slap in the face of our Wake County school board," outgoing board Chairman Tony Gurley said to Stan Norwalk, a Democrat who supported the original measure. "The fact that you even put the word segregation in the title was to imply that was their goal."
Commissioner Joe Bryan, a Republican, said there's no movement toward a segregated system. "This does need to be rescinded, and we need to work jointly with the school board to have a great school system," he said.
In a public hearing earlier in the day, several speakers opposed the idea of rejecting a statement condemning resegregation.
"I am puzzled, startled, confused and shocked," said the Rev. Earl Johnson, pastor of Martin St. Baptist Church in Raleigh. "Whatever your reason is, it sends the wrong message."
The makeup of the Board of Commissioners switched from a 4-3 Democratic majority to a 4-3 Republican one on Monday, when Garner businessman Phil Matthews was sworn in. He defeated Democrat Lindy Brown.
Abortion money limited
On the abortion issue, Gurley cited what he said were prior legal opinions as he spoke in favor of forbidding county funding for elective abortions except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.
"I would just encourage every one to vote for this action, and by doing so we will simply mirror the coverage that is allowed by the federal government," Gurley said.
Norwalk joined his Democratic colleagues in opposing the move, which carried 4-3 along partisan lines. During a public comment period, representatives of pro-choice groups called the measure a denial of a legal medical procedure to county employees.
"I'm just appalled, where the public is split 50-50, that this comes up in the first meeting of the county commissioners when we have so many more substantive issues," Norwalk said.
More than five hours into the contentious meeting, members amended thebody's statewide legislative goals to add sections opposing collective bargaining by public employees and to favor eliminating or raising the state's cap on charter schools.
N.C. 50 land rezoned
In other action and after extended debate, commissioners agreed to rezone 5.61 acres on the western side of N.C. 50, across from Turner Farms Road, from residential use to conditional and general business use.
County planning staffers said the proposed change met specifications of the area plan and would allow for more control over eventual use of the land. Matthews cited concerns of residents in casting the only no vote on the rezoning.
"Let's give it some time and see what develops in that area," Matthews said.
Developer Greg Hatem won a long-discussed extension on starting the public-private, mixed-use development he wants to wrap around a county parking garage on Dawson Street.
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