Debra Goldman’s resignation Friday from the Wake County school board brought to an end one of the most controversial, high-profile tenures of any recent board member.
Once called “prom queen” by a Republican colleague during a public meeting, Goldman consistently made headlines with surprising, attention-getting moves. The latest came Friday with the news that she had registered to vote in Wilkes County, thereby ending her Wake term under a state constitutional provision that requires officeholders to be able to vote for their own positions.
Community volunteer and former EMT Goldman, who won her Cary school board district by a convincing margin in 2009, maintained throughout her three years and two months on the board that she was working in the best interests of the public and the system’s 150,000 students.
“Sadly, I will be transitioning out of the Wake County area, and will need to tender my resignation from the Board of Education,” Goldman wrote in one of two emails Friday to the school board. “It is with a heavy heart that I do this, as I have enjoyed representing my constituents.”
Goldman said she’s in the process of taking a new job with a nonprofit organization in Wilkes, about 150 miles northwest of Raleigh in the North Carolina foothills. She declined to name the organization, saying she’ll answer questions at a news conference Sunday on her new plans.
Goldman was elected in Wake as part of a Republican majority that made major changes such as dropping diversity as a factor in student assignment and hiring Tony Tata as superintendent. In the past year, since Democrats regained control of the board, Goldman and other Republicans have clashed with the majority over issues such as firing Tata and dropping the choice-based student assignment plan.
Wake residents likely will remember Goldman’s tenure for other incidents, too, including:
• Her implication to Cary police officials in 2010 that fellow school board member Chris Malone, now a state representative, might have broken into her home and stolen cash, coins and jewels while she was at a charity run. Malone was never charged.
• Malone’s statements to Cary police, in the presence of his attorneys, that he and Goldman had engaged in a “heated” physical affair while on the board. Goldman denied any affair.
• Her 2010 vote that derailed fellow Republicans’ plan to divide Wake County into 16 assignment districts.
• Her 55 consecutive votes for herself and other candidates until ultimately joining other Republicans, on vote 56, in choosing John Tedesco to replace her as vice chair on the board in 2011.
• Her decision to run for state auditor in 2012 after serving less than three years in her first elective position. Goldman lost to incumbent Beth Wood.
• The 2011 controversy over the midyear transfer of her daughter to another middle school, complete with door-to-door bus transportation.
• The more than three-dozen reports Goldman and her family made to Cary police since January 2010 involving fears of theft, intruders and domestic disputes. One report involved her complaining to police about the behavior of Democratic school board member Keith Sutton at a board meeting.
Despite their occasional disagreements, Sutton, now the board chairman, said he and Goldman were still able to find common ground on some matters.
“There have been opportunities to work together,” he said Friday. “There have been some things we agreed on and some things we didn’t agree on.”
Overall, the other board members were surprised by Goldman’s abrupt departure.
“I will miss working with her,” said board vice chairwoman Christine Kushner, a Democrat. “I’m glad that she’s found a way to continue in public service.”
Tedesco, who once apologized to Goldman after calling her a “prom queen” for voting against his assignment plan, said he was surprised by the timing of the resignation. But like other board members, Tedesco wished Goldman well.
An earlier resignation
It wasn’t Goldman’s initial plan for her resignation to go into effect Friday.
She said she had planned to publicly announce it at Tuesday’s board meeting. She had wanted to stay on until next week to vote for a replacement for Malone, who resigned after being elected to the state House in November.
“I am preparing to move,” Goldman said in a telephone interview Friday before she submitted her resignation. “The voters in my district deserve to have me weigh in on the replacement for Chris Malone. I still live in Cary.”
But her ability to serve was called into question because she is no longer listed as a Wake County voter.
State Board of Elections records show that Goldman registered last week to vote in Wilkes County. She was then dropped from the Wake Board of Elections voter rolls on Monday.
Goldman said she didn’t intend to transfer her voter registration, only to renew her car registration. But Goldman signed a form at a state Division of Motor Vehicles office authorizing the change in her voter registration, according to Cherie Poucher, director of the Wake County Board of Elections
‘Got to transition’
In her first email to the board Friday, Goldman wrote that she was speaking with board attorneys about when her resignation would go into effect. But in the follow-up email, she wrote that the resignation would take effect immediately.
“I would like to be able to represent my district, but feel that with my need to transition and go back and forth between Wake and Wilkes, it is best for all that I resign at this time,” Goldman wrote.
Goldman, who did not attend the last school board meeting, said she has been staying with friends when in Ronda, a small Wilkes town on the Yadkin River, while planning her move. She also said she has been very ill with flu.
Goldman, who is in the midst of a divorce, had told her supporters after her run for auditor that she was now looking for a full-time job.
“I’ve got to transition,” she said in Friday’s phone interview. “I can’t afford two residences at one time.”
News researcher David Raynor contributed to this report.