Wake County Commissioners testing school construction authority waters

Posted by T. Keung Hui on November 19, 2013 

Were the Wake County Board of Commissioners making a “peace offering” Monday or firing the first shot in the next battle to gain authority over school construction?

As noted in today’s article, Commissioner Tony Gurley used the words “peace offering” to describe the request that the school board adopt an inter-local agreement in which they’d offer to turn over school construction authority to the county. It’s less confrontational than requesting the General Assembly pass legislation to turn over school construction authority, as what took place this year.

But unless the school board reverses its prior opposition to giving up the authority, the inter-local agreement could be part of how the commissioners make the case to legislators why outside intervention is needed.

At the Aug. 29 meeting of the Wake County Taxpayers Association, Gurley laid out the strategy that would be used to get the school construction bill approved in next year’s short session.

“I spent two weeks there lobbying for that,” Gurley said Aug. 29 of the school construction bill. “And a lot of the Republicans that voted against us told us that the current law allows the counties to do a lot more in controlling school board spending than we were doing currently. We can do more than we’ve been doing and that’s what some of the legislators were saying until we push those limits and have the school board tell us no, they’re not going to give us that authority. They think we can do what we want to do without legislation so some of them voted against us because of that.

So my plan for next year is to pursue having the authority from the legislature. But in the meantime, whether this bond passes or doesn’t pass – the bond is just a financing tool – our plan is to go forward with something like Ron [Margiotta] was talking about where you actually get the public involved in how to build schools. We had a citizens facilities advisory committee. That was the group that talked with Johnston County.

We need our commissioners – and that’s what we’ll do – to become much more active. We’re going to go on the assumption that we’re going to get that authority whether the bond passes or not. We’re going to start planning for these new schools with us taking a much more active role and if the school board tells us no, then we’ll wait for the legislation to get that authority and we’ll get the authority anyway.”

The commissioners passed the request for the inter-local agreement on a 4-3 vote with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition. Democratic commissioners said their opposition had more to do with the way that the agreement was crafted first before discussing the idea with the school board.

School board Chairman Keith Sutton said that school leaders didn't find out about the proposal until they received the copy of the county's meeting agenda late Friday afternoon. Sutton said he's still waiting to see the agreement before he can comment on the specifics of Gurley's proposal.

Sutton said they'd keep an open mind to the proposal.

"We certainly welcome any opportunity to have discussions with the county commissioners about how we can improve the process and work more closely with them,," Sutton said. "We don't have anything to hide."

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