Triangle Politics A weekly look at the local political scene

Smithfield mayor threatens to sue Johnston County School Board over town’s schools

May 31, 2014 

Mayor John Lampe is unhappy with the state of Smithfield schools, and he’s willing to sue the Johnston County school system to improve them.

Lampe made waves two months ago when he called on residents to “raise bloody hell” about their schools and lob rotten tomatoes at school board members. His feelings haven’t changed since then, he said recently.

The school board’s mentality toward Smithfield-Selma High and its feeder schools needs to change, Lampe said, and the only way to do that might be to sue.

“The school board will not voluntarily move from their position,” he said. “From their world view, I’m an idiot, and they’re the ones doing everything right. In my world view, I think they’ve seriously damaged the town of Smithfield and the kids who go to that school.”

Lampe has no timeline for filing a civil complaint but said he would sue on the grounds that Smithfield students are not receiving an equal education as required by state law. The mayor said new high schools have pulled students from Smithfield, leaving mostly low-income youngsters there.

Johnston school board Chairman Larry Strickland said he had no comment on Lampe’s lawsuit threat. Superintendent Ed Croom says there has been “an incredible amount of resources directed toward the Smithfield schools,” and that what’s needed now is a partnership with the community.

“A lawsuit would be very unfortunate in that it would consume a lot of resources, financial resources,” Croom said.

Don’t change plan now

A Raleigh city attorney took council members to task this week for “creating confusion” by messing with a proposed development ahead of a public hearing.

The full City Council has scheduled a public hearing Tuesday on affordable housing developer DHIC’s proposed Tryon Road apartment complex.

But before the hearing, the council’s four-member comprehensive planning committee took up the case to address some lingering neighborhood concerns.

Councilman Thomas Crowder suggested changes to the parking lot layout of the development. His request drew some strong words from Deputy City Attorney Ira Botvinick, who reminded the council that the public hearing has already been advertised – with the initial proposed parking design.

“You’re creating confusion,” Botvinick said. “This is the second time a committee has taken an issue scheduled for public hearing.”

Botvinick said it’s more appropriate for the council to tweak development proposals after they’ve heard from the public – or before the public hearing goes on the calendar. “There’s a process that people expect … and we’re changing that,” he said.

Following Botvinick’s criticism, the committee members decided not to formally change the development application. They’ll bring up the tweaks after Tuesday’s hearing.

For more school spending

School supporters are preparing to show up in force at Monday’s Wake County Board of Commissioners meeting to lobby for a $39.3 million increase in school funding.

County Manager Jim Hartmann has recommended giving the school system a $10.2 million increase. He left out the $29.1 million that the school board wants to give all school employees a 3.5 percent pay raise.

This week, Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, organized a meeting of school board advisory council chairs and PTA leaders to plan for the budget public hearing.

“THIS IS the time to speak up loudly for our schools,” Brannon wrote in an email message that made liberal use of capital letters.

The commissioners will hold two public hearings Monday on the budget. One will be at 2 p.m. in Room 2700 at the Wake County Justice Center, 300 S. Salisbury St. in Raleigh. The second will be at 7 p.m. at the Wake County Commons, 4011 Carya Drive in Raleigh.

Commissioners will hold a budget work session June 9. The final vote is set for June 16.

Political events

• Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane will speak to the Triangle Community Coalition at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 5, at 111 Realtors Way in Cary. Information or to register, go to

• State Rep. Pricey Harrison will be the keynote speaker at the 45th Jefferson-Jackson Breakfast on Saturday, June 7, at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Cary. The event, hosted by Democratic Women of Wake County, will raise money for Democratic candidates in this fall’s elections. For more information, go to

Compiled by Paula Seligson, Colin Campbell and T. Keung Hui.

Got a tip, item or coming event? Fax Triangle Politics at 919-829-4529, or send e-mail to Send items by noon Thursday.

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