Wake school board member apologizes for her actions

khui@newsobserver.comNovember 29, 2012 

Wake County School Board Member Deborah Prickett, left, addresses the crowd after the public hearing and after her microphone was stripped from her hands by fellow board member Susan P. Evans, center, as she huddles with Keith Sutton, right. They gathered at Sanderson High School for the first of three public hearings on the 2013-14 Wake County student assignment plan.

COREY LOWENSTEIN — clowenst@newsobserver.com

Wake County school board member Susan Evans said Thursday that she acted inappropriately and disrespectfully in yanking a microphone away from board colleague Deborah Prickett in a dustup following the end of a public hearing Wednesday.

However, Evans and fellow Democratic board member Jim Martin, while condemning the action, said it was taken to stop Prickett from disregarding the rules of a public hearing. Board members don’t normally ask parents questions at student assignment hearings.

“I know what I did was not the right thing,” Evans said in an interview late Thursday. “It was an impulsive moment of frustration.”

Prickett, who received Evans’ apology on Thursday, stood by her actions.

“I don’t see anything I did was out of order,” said Prickett, a Republican. “It was an assignment meeting. I was asking a question about assignment.”

The incident adds to a long series of pointed disputes that Democrats and Republicans have had in the last three years over control of the school system. The nine-member board controls the 150,000-student system, the nation’s 16th largest, and oversees its $1 billion-plus budget.

The conflict between Evans and Prickett occurred after the first of a series of meetings designed to gather public opinion on an assignment plan advanced by Democrats for the 2013-14 school year. It’s part of the majority Democrats’ overall plan to replace the Republican-backed school choice plan in effect this year.

The meeting initially followed the format of all such public hearings: audience members spoke and board members listened. But after the meeting ended, the Democratic board members began an informal exchange with parents.

Prickett asked the crowd of about 50 people for a show of hands whether they were satisfied with the choice plan. Evans grabbed the hand-held microphone from Prickett, saying “this is not appropriate” and “it’s not the purpose of the meeting.”

“It was shocking,” Prickett said. “It was embarrassing, not just to me, but to the parents there. Her behavior was way out of line.”

Martin called Evans’ interaction with Prickett out of line.

“Stealing a microphone away from someone is not an appropriate problem-solving technique,” Martin said.

However, Martin said Prickett acted out of order by quizzing the audience on a different topic from the matters determined in advance for the meeting. School board members typically only listen at this type of public hearing, but Martin said it was helpful to audience members for Evans and school board vice chairman Keith Sutton to answer basic informational questions.

Sutton should have ruled Prickett out of order for asking the question, Martin said.

“Mrs. Prickett proceeded to completely inappropriately poll the audience on the choice plan,” Evans said.

Prickett said she felt it was appropriate to ask because several speakers had complained about how dropping the choice plan would hurt their children. She also said she spoke because the other board members had done so previously.

“When Susan Evans spoke, she said her piece,” Prickett said. “Jim Martin spoke. I wanted to say my piece.”

Board member Debra Goldman, a Republican, defended Prickett’s right to ask the question.

“I was shocked that she would reach out, after having gone on and on answering a question, and physically take the microphone out of her hand,” Goldman said.

Prickett noted how Evans had at a board committee meeting on Tuesday suggested putting limits into policy for how long individual school board members could speak on issues. Evans complained that board meetings were running long and getting out of control, but the committee didn’t back her suggestion.

“It says to me that she doesn’t want to hear what I have to say,” Prickett said. “She doesn’t want to hear from people who disagree with her.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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