Politics & Government

Wake school board moves to protect superintendent

Wake County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Jim Merrill
Wake County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Jim Merrill Raleigh

Wake County school board members admit they’re trying to protect Superintendent Jim Merrill should this fall’s election change who is in charge of governing the state’s largest school system.

Merrill’s contract was amended this week so that if a new board wants to replace him, it’ll have to pay up to two years of salary – more than $560,000 – or fire the superintendent with cause. All nine seats on the Democratic-led school board are on the November ballot under new election maps drawn up by the Republican-led General Assembly.

“We have been very pleased with his performance since he’s been here,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said. “We think his work speaks for itself, but we’re entering a part of the political season where the entire board is up for re-election.

“We are trying to make sure that if a future board determines he needs to be released, it’s for cause.”

Under state law, a school board can fire a superintendent “who is guilty of immoral or disreputable conduct or who shall fail or refuse to perform the duties required of him by law.”

The requirements for firing with cause are so high that school boards typically offer a buyout when they want to make a leadership change. That’s what happened in 2012 when the firing of Superintendent Tony Tata came with a severance payment of $253,625 even though several board members complained about his performance.

“It will make it expensive to dismiss him,” Benton said.

Gun rules shelved

Orange County’s attempt to create rules for firearm use on private, rural property was thwarted this week after residents riled by the move showed up in force for a hearing.

Gun owners who sport shoot more than twice a month would have needed a private range with a 15- by 30-foot backstop located at least 300 feet from the property line and 1,000 feet from neighbors’ homes. Shooting would only have been allowed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Commissioners will form a committee to consider the possibility of future regulations.

Despite several meetings since September, many residents said they only learned about the new rules in the last week. Social media posts fed rumors the commissioners were attempting to sneak the restrictions past gun owners.

There is no conspiracy, Chairman Earl McKee said.

“This is a very awkward situation for us. This is a very aggravating situation for you all,” McKee said. “Commissioner (Mark) Dorosin and I knew when we put this on the agenda, this was going to light up, and it did. … It’s a good thing that it did, because we got some very good comments.”

Apex suspends manager search

Apex’s interim town manager Drew Havens received a vote of confidence Tuesday as the Town Council voted to suspend its nationwide manager search and give Havens more time to prove himself on the job.

The town has been searching for a manager to replace Bruce Radford, who retired in December after running the town’s day-to-day operations for 14 years.

But in the first few months on the job, Havens has navigated a politically divided Town Council and other frustrated residents and developers.

The council discussed Havens in a closed session for about 15 minutes, then emerged to tell him the news.

“Drew, I think you should take this as a vote of confidence,” Mayor Lance Olive said. “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

They didn’t hire Havens outright, and the search could resume at a later date. But for now, Havens – who was the assistant town manager under Radford – has no competition for the top job.

Political events

▪ Gov. Pat McCrory will be the keynote speaker at the Wake County Republican Party’s 2016 convention on Tue., March 8, at the N.C. State Fairgrounds Exposition Center. Registration opens at 5 p.m., convention opens at 7 p.m. For registration and fees, go to bit.ly/WakeGOP2016Convention. For more information, call 919-890-5374 or or email contact@wakegop.org.

Compiled by T. Keung Hui, Tammy Grubb and Will Doran.

Got a tip, item or coming event? Send an email to Triangle Politics at metroeds@newsobserver.com by noon Thursday.

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