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Thursday, April 24, 2014

In Wake Dems' DA primary, Boz Zellinger displays weakness

Posted by on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 at 4:30 PM

Updated at 5pm Thursday, April 24:

Updated X 2 at 12 noon, April 26 — with the text of a Zellinger campaign email sent Thursday night. It's copied at the end of the original post. Also, Dana Cope of SEANC called, objecting to my statement that SEANC's attacks on Freeman are in retaliation for her criticism of his organization's connection to Purchasing Power. "That's not why we're in this race at all!" Cope said, adding that Purchasing Power is "wildly popular" with his members. Cope insisted SEANC's interest in the Wake DA's race is because the Wake DA has jurisdiction over political corruption cases originating in state government. Cope also denied that SEANC's attacks implied that Freeman is corrupt. I'll consider this subject again when I write my column for the print edition of Indyweek, which comes out Wednesday. — BG

The original post follows —

I've been watching this story unfold for a week. Things are breaking now — here's an outline:

1) The State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC), through its political action committee, endorsed Boz Zellinger in the Democratic primary for Wake County District Attorney. Zellinger is an assistant Wake DA.

2) SEANC has mailed two thoroughly scurrilous flyers to its members attacking Zellinger's opponent, Lorrin Freeman. The flyers stop just short of saying that Freeman, the sitting Clerk of Superior Court for Wake County, is corrupt. In fact, the corruption to which the flyers refer came to light because Freeman did the right thing.

3) Numerous Democrats have called on Zellinger to disown these attacks. He has declined to do so — for a week — saying that he had nothing to do with them. [See the update below: Zellinger just told me he dislikes SEANC's "tactics."]

Today, former Wake DA Colon Willoughby joined those calls, denouncing the SEANC attacks as "deceptive and dishonest" and, later, "scurrilous."

Boz Zellinger
  • Boz Zellinger
When I talked to Willoughby, he said SEANC's attacks on Freeman were like blaming a rape victim for the assault against her.

I tried to reach Zellinger today. He hasn't returned my call nor, to my knowledge, issued any statement. if he does, I'll update.

[Update, 5 p.m. Zellinger called just after I posted this. He said he dislikes SEANC's tactics, and "I strongly disagree with any assertion that [Freeman} is responsible for these felonies." He did "question whether there should've been procedural safeguards" to prevent such crimes — Willoughby said the real weakness is a systemic one of outdated technology in the courts for which Freeman isn't responsible.

Zellinger insisted that he can't control what SEANC says, which is true. He added that SEANC's support "means a lot to me."

Zellinger said he's surprised that I or anyone else would hold him responsible for SEANC's mailings, and he's frustrated to have his integrity questioned because of attacks "I had nothing to do with."

That's essentially what he said at a forum with the Wake Democratic Women the other day. After Freeman called on him to repudiate SEANC's ads, he followed her and responded that he wasn't responsible for what SEANC was doing.]


What does SEANC have to gain by endorsing in a primary for Wake district attorney?

SEANC promotes a for-profit company, Purchasing Power, to its members; the company arranges for members of groups like SEANC to buy products and pay over time — through payroll deduction — at much higher prices than the same products cost when purchased in a store.

SEANC makes a lot of money by its association with Purchasing Power — $288,000 a year, according to a SEANC document I've seen, less the cost of a staffer to manage things. Freeman was publicly critical of SEANC's association with the company last year for taking unfair advantage of people. Some of Freeman's employees in the clerk's office are SEANC members.

SEANC is retaliating against Freeman, plain and simple.

This morning, Freeman issued a statement calling on Zellinger to disown the SEANC attacks and repudiate SEANC's support. Frankly, I don't know why she didn't do so sooner — but now she has.

Also today, former Wake DA Willoughby, who stepped down from the job a few weeks ago, called SEANC's attacks on Freeman "scurrilous." Also, "deceptive and dishonest." He said Zellinger should tell SEANC to stop.

Willoughby would know. His office (and the SBI) investigated the corruption referred to in the flyers when Freeman, tipped off by an employee, brought it to Willoughby's attention.

Willoughby told me he's not endorsing in the primary. Both Democratic candidates are good lawyers with good skills and character, he said. Two other assistant DA's are running for the Republican nomination.


Colon Willoughby's reputation for integrity is impeccable. Zellinger should heed his advice.

I called Zellinger at noontime to ask if he plans to respond to Freeman and/or Willoughby. No answer so far.

This week, the Indy, too, endorsed Zellinger, citing his record as a trial attorney under Willoughby. The ability to try cases is important to a DA. So is the DA's judgment. Zellinger's passive stance while SEANC viciously and unfairly attacks Freeman is weak.

I just edited that last sentence a bit and dialed it back a notch. Zellinger and I talked a bit about what his responsibilities ought to be when supporters make deceptive claims. To me, when they're supporting you, you own what they say unless and until you reject it. In other words, you're known by the company you keep.

Here, for the record, is the latest SEANC attack flyer:


[Update x 2— the text of the Zellinger campaign email sent to supporters Thursday night. For the record:

Yesterday I was endorsed by the Independent Weekly. The day before, I was endorsed by the NC Sheriff and Police Alliance. Our campaign is surging, and Wake County is excited about my progressive plan for the DA’s Office.

Recently my opponent attacked me in an effort to change the focus of this election from my plan for our criminal justice system to the tactics of the State Employees Association. As a prosecutor, I work every day with state employees throughout our courthouse, and I care deeply about their lives and keeping our community safe. Instead of discussing Wake County’s burgeoning gang problem, or who law enforcement trusts to keep our community safe, she has attacked not me, but a group that endorsed me. It is unfortunate that she is attempting to turn this election into a game of politics as usual.

The State Employees Association utilized political advertisements that could lead voters to think that Ms. Freeman is involved in the embezzlement scandal in the clerk’s office. This was criminal activity, and Ms. Freeman was not personally involved. I know Ms. Freeman, consider her a friend, and don’t believe she had any role in criminal activity.

It is appropriate, however, to ask whether there were safeguards in place to make sure this conduct didn’t happen in an office that handles large sums of money. It is appropriate to ask why they didn’t exist. It is appropriate to ask whether Ms. Freeman conducted an internal investigation, and what changes were made.

It is a legitimate question voters want answered in determining Ms. Freeman’s ability to lead an office. It is also unrealistic to think that this wouldn’t be a question voters have on their minds. It is inappropriate to demean the character of anyone asking this question.

Tonight I spoke at a Democratic Women event on Human Trafficking, which is an issue I care passionately about. Tonight in our county two thousand homeless school children face uncertainty. Tonight in our county someone will be the victim of violent crime. I am the candidate who has a plan to address these issues. I am the candidate who can keep our community safe. I am the candidate who can, and will, win in November.

Thank you,


  • Pin It
    Former Wake DA Colon Willoughby calls SEANC-funded attacks against Zellinger's opponent "deceptive and dishonest."

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

McFarlane tops in Raleigh; moderates rule again on the Wake school board

Posted by on Wed, Oct 9, 2013 at 3:24 AM

For all the turmoil in North Carolina politics, Raleigh and Wake County were an oasis of calm tonight. The full results are on Wake County's website.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane thanking supporters
Two headlines:

* Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane stamped herself the undisputed leader of city government, winning re-election with 73 percent of the vote against a pair of lightweight Republican opponents. McFarlane is a political independent with strong support among progressive and moderate voters. She wasn't especially well-known when she succeeded Charles Meeker as mayor two years ago. But that was then. Today, she's popular and respected as a hard worker who gets results without being contentious or flashy.

* Order's been restored on the Wake school board, whose nine members now include zero — as in none at all — right-wing Republicans. Remember 2009, when a quartet of tea-party devotees won school board seats, giving the Wake GOP a 5-4 majority and a chance to wreck havoc — which they did? Tonight, the last Republican survivor from among the four, Deborah Prickett, was routed in her bid for a second term by Zora Felton, a retired teacher. And the $810 million school bond issue, which the Wake Republican Party opposed? Voters approved it easily by a 58-42 percent margin, rejecting the Republican brand once more.


The Wake schools are still under assault, but from without now, not from within.

From the outside, the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory are doing everything they can to diminish public education in the state and Wake County — the biggest district in the state — is right in their crosshairs. But at least within Wake County, tonight's election results are a vote of confidence in the school system and a board now controlled 9-0 by a moderate coalition of seven Democrats, one independent (Kevin Hill) and one moderate Republican (Bill Fletcher).

The calm tonight was in sharp contrast to 2009 and 2011, when Democrats turned the tables on the Republicans in a showdown school board election, sweeping all five seats on the ballot to take their own 5-4 majority. I chanced on my blog post from 2011 earlier tonight — here's what I wrote.

It's an oddity of the election system that four essentially suburban districts are contested at one time and then, two years later, the five remaining districts are elected, four of which represent the urban parts of Raleigh and the county.

The four on the ballot this year were the suburban districts, the ones swept by the Republicans four years ago. This time, all of the candidates backed by the Republican Party lost, including Prickett. In District 9 (Cary), two Republicans ran against each other. Bill Fletcher, the winner, comes from the moderate wing of the party and is a former school board member selected by the Democrats as a replacement for the departed Debra Goldman, who resigned nine months ago. Fletcher defeated Nancy Caggia, who ran with the Wake GOP endorsement.

If drama's your thing, you'll miss Goldman, John Tedesco, Chris Malone and "Papa Ron" Margiotta, the four swashbuckling Republicans who, with Prickett, comprised the "Margiotta Majority" in 2009-11. If you think the school board is a place for serious people interested in good schools, not their own fame or getting ahead as party apparatchiks, the new 9-0 majority will strike you as a little dull — as they should be.

Look for Christine Kushner, a smart and not very flashy member elected in 2011, to be the next school board chair. She's the current vice chair.


McFarlane is riding high in Raleigh, not just because of her election win but also because she has a new city manager to her liking in the person of Ruffin Hall, who starts Nov. 18. "He's awesome," McFarlane told cheering supporters tonight at Tir na Nog. Russell Allen, ousted as manager by a 6-2 vote of City Council this spring, was considered competent, even skilled, by many. But I don't recall anyone calling him awesome. And his prickly independence eventually lost him his job.

As Raleigh's leader, McFarlane has two big hills to climb in her second term. One is Dix Hill, the 325-acre former state hospital tract that the city wants to turn into a destination park. McFarlane said tonight that she talked with Gov. McCrory last week and remains hopeful that a deal can be reached on Dix over the next six months.

The second is passage, hopefully next year, of a half-cent sales tax for transit by Wake County voters. I'll have a column in the Indy tomorrow about the McFarlane-Ruffin Hall team as they tackle that challenge. Suffice it to say here that it won't be easy.

In City Council elections, six incumbents were returned for another term. Bonner Gaylord ran unopposed in District E. At-large members Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson won easily, as did John Odom in District B, Eugene Weeks in District C and Thomas Crowder in District D.

In District A, however, first-term incumbent Randy Stagner lost by a 51-49 percent margin to challenger Wayne Maiorano. Stagner, an independent, was a friend and ally of McFarlane's, the District A representative before she ran for mayor. Maiorano is a Republican and a land-use lawyer whose business is representing developers. How that won't be a conflict of interest, as he sits in judgment of developers' applications, is an excellent question even if Maiorano never has a client with a case in Raleigh — because Maiorano's law partner, Lacy Reaves, certainly will.

Maiorano can thank The News & Observer for his narrow victory. Somehow, the newspaper decided that firing Russell Allen was a terrible thing to do and that Stagner was responsible. The firing was debatable, perhaps. What wasn't debatable was that Stagner, a council rookie, had little to do with it. Five other members, including McFarlane, made the call to get rid of Allen. Stagner's vote made six.

Nonetheless, the N&O pinned the blame on Stagner in story after story, after which the paper endorsed Maiorano.

  • Pin It
    Nancy McFarlane wins easy re-election as mayor but loses a City Council ally as Randy Stagner loses to Wayne Maiorano — and the N&O.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

[Updated] Wake County voters are 2-to-1 for Dix Park plan, strongly oppose state reneging: Public Policy Polling

Posted by on Tue, Apr 2, 2013 at 9:36 AM


[Update, 10:30 a.m. Dix Park supporters are gathering on the site this afternoon at 5. See below for more.]

Wow, if there was any question about whether the Wake County Board of Commissioners — the Republican-led board of commissioners — were representing their constituents or their political party by coming out against the Dix Park plan, it's answered in the poll released today by Public Policy Polling.

They're sure not representing their constituents:

Republican state senators have passed a bill to invalidate the City of Raleigh’s lease for the former Dorothea Dix campus, but at least in Wake County, the main beneficiary of the proposed park, voters are strongly opposed to this bill.

PPP's statement goes on:

By roughly 2:1 margins, Wake voters want the park (52% support, 27% oppose), think the state should honor the lease (57-27), want the governor to veto the bill if it reaches his desk (54-27), and are less inclined to support the re-election of a legislator who votes for the bill (23% more inclined, 49% less inclined). By a smaller but still double-digit margin (50-38), voters also think throwing the lease out will harm the state’s business reputation.

Almost two-thirds (63%) of the county’s voters say they are very aware of the plan to replace the former hospital site with a destination park. Among these voters, the margins are even stronger, with 63% supporting the park, 65% saying the state should honor the contract, 62% saying Gov. McCrory should veto the bill, 54% saying the General Assembly’s action will hurt the business climate, and 56% less inclined to vote for an anti-park legislator.

Further, Republican lawmakers are out of step with their own voters. As political as they have made this issue, there is far less polarization on the park than on most issues on which PPP polls. Rank-and-file GOP voters in Wake County support the park by a six-point margin, think the state should honor the contract by 11 points, think their governor should veto the bill by 16, and are less inclined to support an anti-park candidate by five. 39% of them think it will be a detriment to our ability to attract business to the area.


The poll was paid for by Dix306, an advocacy group for the park. But the questions are straightforward. Are Wake County voters aware of the plan? Yes, they are — overwhelmingly so. Do they support it? Yes, 2-to-1. Should the state honor its lease with Raleigh or tear it up? Honor it.

Here's the full poll, with the questions and breakdowns of voters by party etc. along with a press release from Dix306 and Friends of Dorothea Dix Park.


It's a "flash" gathering today on Dix Hill, so says Bill Padgett of Dix306. Here's the location:

"We will be on the great hill overlooking the city. The hospital (McBride building) will be to our South and Western Blvd just below us to the North."

From Lake Wheeler Drive enter at Umstead Drive and about 300 yards on the right, we will be gathering.

From Western Boulevard turn onto Boylan Avenue and immediately as you are going up the hill on the Dix property, you can park at the lower parking (greenway/gazebo) by turning left immediately on Tate. If that is full you can drive up the hill, turn left at the stop sign at Umstead Drive and at the next intersection parking will be off to your right.

  • Pin It
    So why are Wake County Republican leaders lined up against their constituents?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Calling all Wake schools, Dix Park backers: Show-of-force time Monday at General Assembly

Posted by on Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at 6:24 AM

The Wake County legislative delegation is meeting Monday at 4 pm in the General Assembly building on the first floor. It's an open forum and a chance to take a stand — with the county's Republican and Democratic legislators listening — on the inflamed issues surrounding the Wake school system and Dix Park.

Both the Great Schools in Wake coalition and Friends of Dorothea Dix Park have issued alerts asking their members and supporters to show up en masse — and, for the Dix Park crowd, wearing green.

Word of advice: The meeting room at the General Assembly is small-ish and a large crowd is likely. I.e., get there early if you want a seat.

However, a big crowd spilling into the hallways will send a message.

If you want to speak, here's the brief from GSIW:

Speakers must register by email to or telephone to 919 715-6400 no later than 11:00 am, Monday, March 25, 2013. Please provide the name of the presenter and the topic to be discussed.

Remarks will be limited to 2 to 3 minutes, with the time being dependent upon the number of speakers registered. If you plan to bring handouts, please bring at least 25 copies.

QUESTIONS? Call Candy Finley, Legislative Assistant (919 715-6400) with any questions.


On the schools front, the Wake school board is the target of multiple Republican attacks. The Republican majority on the Wake Commissioners board is trying to strip the school board of authority over school buildings — yes, that's not a typo. They can't do it by themselves, but the Republicans who control the General Assembly can do it, and that's just what they propose in Senate Bill 236.

Not only that, Republican legislators are threatening to redistrict the school board (again) in an effort to seize control of the school system in the 2014 primary elections. Senate Bill 325 contains their new gerrymandering plan, with the added insult that board members elected in 2011 for four-year terms would be tossed out of office 17 months early ... while the two Republican school members who remain from the 2009 elections would be spared the need to run again this year and would have their terms extended for six months.

All nine school board seats would be elected in the 2014 primaries, when the Republicans just happen to be expecting a big turnout as they choose a GOP U.S. Senate candidate. Will Huntsberry's story this week explains it all.

The Dix Park issue is equally outrageous. Gov. Bev Perdue, acting with the approval of the Council of State, signed a longterm lease with the City of Raleigh for the 325-acre Dorothea Dix Hospital tract. The state continues to own the land. The city intends to create a destination park there over the next 75 years as a major regional and statewide asset.

However, some Republicans in the legislature opposed Perdue's action. Now that she's out of office and the compliant Pat McCrory is in, they've filed bills intended to tear up the lease. The bills are Senate Bill 334 and House Bill 319.

Can they do that? Isn't a contract a contract? According to the Republicans, no contract with the state is safe if the General Assembly decides to change it. According to the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 10:

"No State shall ... pass any Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts or grant any Title of Nobility."

In other words, the General Assembly isn't the King of Anything and it's supposed to enforce contracts, not dissolve them.

Or so the Friends of Dorothea Dix Park and the City of Raleigh argue.

By the way, Senate Bill 334 is slated to be taken up by a Senate committee this morning. Notwithstanding its dubious constitutionality, it's expected to be approved and sent to the Senate floor for a vote — possibly next week.

  • Pin It
    The 4 p.m. meeting of the Wake County legislative delegation is a chance for Dix Park and Wake schools supporters to go on offense.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Should Wake County vote on transit funding in 2013?

Posted by on Thu, Feb 7, 2013 at 12:11 PM

Capital Area Friends of Transit is an alliance of groups working for better bus and — eventually — light-rail transit offerings for Wake County. They've launched a petition drive in an effort to pressure/convince the Wake County Board of Commissioners to allow a public referendum on the 1/2-cent sales tax for transit which was authorized by the General Assembly four years ago — and which the Wake Commissioners, under Republican control, have blocked ever since.

If you think Wake County voters have a right to decide this question, you'll want to sign the petition. Follow this link.

The 1/2-cent tax is already approved by Durham and Orange Counties. Not to get all Raleigh chauvinist about it, but Durham is threatening to be cooler than we are, kids.

Which is probably why Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is featured in this short video produced by CAFT and Wake Up Wake County:

  • Pin It
    If you think Wake County voters have a right to decide this question, you'll want to sign the Capital Area Friends of Transit petition.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Bad zoning case" at Falls Lake prompts a (good) lawsuit

Posted by on Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Remember "the mother of all bad zoning cases" out at Falls Lake?

It's headed for court:

When the quality of your drinking water supply is impaired, as it is at Falls Lake, zoning changes are supposed to restrict pollution, not invite more of it.

Is kind of a general principle we could all live by.

I think it's even the law — but the judge will tell us that.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Partisan? The Wake school board majority's problem isn't that they're partisan —

Posted by on Wed, Sep 26, 2012 at 10:30 AM

This just in:

Wake County Board of Education Chairman Kevin Hill and Vice Chairman Keith Sutton will be available in the Board Room at 12:30 p.m. today to comment to the media.

The Board Room is located on the first floor of WCPSS Central Services, 5625 Dillard Drive, Cary.

I've been corresponding on Twitter with two friends this morning who are bemoaning the partisanship of the Wake County Board of Education in the aftermath of Tony Tata's dismissal. "We had five Republican a—holes in charge and now it's five Democrats," is the gist of what one said. (The other was more polite, but she made the same point.)

Everywhere in the press and online, the charge against the board is their partisanship.

My response? The five people who constitute the majority on the school board are, yes, Democrats by party registration. But they aren't partisans. Quite the opposite. And that's their problem.

In fact, for 10 months since their election their most serious failing has been their inability to explain themselves to the public — because of their political inexperience.

They fired Tata yesterday. They made no attempt to say why.

Partisans would've had a short, declarative statement for the world explaining why Tata needed to go. What they had was Kevin Hill, their chair, saying he couldn't say anything because it's a personnel matter, but he did express confidence in teachers and staff to carry on in a professional manner.

Meanwhile, the four Republicans — three of whom are running for other offices — blasted them from pillar to post with such digestible (and rehearsed) soundbites as John Tedesco's statement that he wouldn't trust them with his lunch money.

Now there's a partisan.


I would also chalk it up to the majority's political naiveté that they have not felt (understood?) the imperative of functioning as a team and reaching policy consensus among themselves. Instead, they looked to Tata and his staff to bring everyone at the board table together, including the four Republicans.

Didn't happen.

A tipoff as to why it didn't came when Tata, 30 minutes after the board meeting ended, read his farewell statement to the press. He listed his successes — his, and his staff's — and he included the fact that they'd put not one but two student assignment plans together, both of which advanced the goals of stability and proximity.

Only stability and proximity? Sounds like a neighborhood schools plan to me.

The assignment plans were supposed to advance the goals of stability, proximity and student achievement, the last of which was a proxy for the concept of diversity in schools — no failing schools, in other words.

Tata came to Raleigh espousing his belief in diversity, and citing the fact that in the Army, where he was a general, diversity is a source of strength. But maintaining diversity in the Wake schools is a tough job, and as Jim Martin noted at the school board meeting last week, it's a a job that's not getting done — diversity is slipping away from the school system.

I don't say Tata didn't believe in diversity. I would say he didn't know how to get it done.

Diversity isn't the only tough issue for the superintendent and school board; lack of money, lack of buildings, lack of buses, lack of teacher assistants and tutors all complicate their job of educating 150,000 kids with all their needs, issues, backgrounds and learning styles.

It ain't easy.


I'm not saying Tata needed to go. I'm not saying he didn't. I'm not on the board, I wasn't trying to work with him, I didn't experience him in the same way the board majority obviously did. As a general, I found Tata to be hard-working, a skilled politician, excellent at explaining himself and his maneuvers to the public ... up to a point. He also struck me as a little bull-headed where his busing plans were concerned, and — because of his educational inexperience — unaware of the many pitfalls in his and Michael Alves' choice plan for student assignment.

The choice plan fell apart so fast, Tata's head must've been spinning. And then he either fired Don Haydon or forced him to resign or made life so unpleasant for Haydon that he did resign (I've heard all three versions, none from Haydon — or Tata), but that had to be the final straw. Believe me, Don Haydon did not just up and retire, not with all the groundwork he was laying for a 2013 bond referendum. No way.

What I am saying is, if you're going to fire Tata, you needed to make the case for doing so, before and after the fact. Just springing it on us was bad, well, politics.


The dark side of politics is the self-promotion and self-dealing. It's ugly.

The good side — the point — of politics — is engaging the public in what are, finally, public policy decisions that people need to understand and support.

This school board majority has none of the dark side of politics in them.

Unfortunately, they don't have much of the good side either — not so far, anyway.

  • Pin It
    If you're going to fire Tata, you needed to make the case for doing so, before and after the fact. Just springing it on us was bad, well, politics.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Updated: Tata's out; Breaking: Wake board debating motion to fire Tata

Posted by on Tue, Sep 25, 2012 at 4:33 PM

Update: 4:51: Tata's out, 5-4 vote. He receives a $253,625 severance.

Update, 4:24 p.m., Tuesday: The Wake County Board of Education is currently debating a motion to fire Superintendent Tony Tata.

File photo of Tony Tata by D.L. Anderson
  • File photo of Tony Tata by D.L. Anderson

Republican John Tedesco, who supports Tata and was among the board members who hired him, said, "This will cost $250,000 [to buy out Tata's contract], a waste of a quarter-million dollars when we're about to ask the public for money in the bond issue. This is an epic failure. I wouldn't trust this board with my lunch money."

Debra Goldman, a board member and Tata supporter: "We're losing our superintendent. He has led with a quiet strength and is being fired by a partisan school majority because they didn't pick him. It's that simple."

Some background:

Today's meeting is a follow up to yesterday's Wake County Board of Education meeting, during which they convened behind closed doors for a little over three hours on a "personnel issue" widely understood to be the status of Superintendent Tony Tata. When the session ended, the board met briefly in open session to debate whether to add an agenda item to a previously scheduled meeting tomorrow — a move that required two-thirds approval, or six votes out of nine, because it lacked the statutory 48 hours notice.

With the four Republicans voting no, the motion to add the item failed on a 5-4 vote.

Before the meeting started, a small group of women and men led by Donna Williams and Heather Losurdo, both of whom ran for the school board last year and lost, demonstrated in front of the Wake school headquarters in support of Tata. The two, both Republicans, warned that Tata's job was in jeopardy, a forecast that later seemed to come true.

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    Tata is out by a 5-4 vote. He receives a $253,625 severance.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Breaking: Tony Tata may be shown the door by school board

Posted by on Mon, Sep 24, 2012 at 5:11 PM

Update, 4:24 p.m., Tuesday: The Wake County Board of Education is currently debating a motion to fire Superintendent Tony Tata.

The Wake County Board of Education met behind closed doors for a little over three hours this afternoon on a "personnel issue" widely understood to be the status of Superintendent Tony Tata. When the session ended, the board met briefly in open session to debate whether to add an agenda item to a previously scheduled meeting tomorrow — a move that required two-thirds approval, or six votes out of nine, because it lacked the statutory 48 hours notice.

With the four Republicans voting no, the motion to add the item failed on a 5-4 vote.

Members weren't talking about what the item was to be, except that Republican Chris Malone said he's "disgusted" by it. All were bound by a law barring disclosure of personnel matters decided in private sessions. But it was apparent that five members, all Democrats, were prepared to act on Tata's status tomorrow, and act on it in a way that the four Republicans who back Tata were very angry and upset about.

Donna Williams (in red) and Susan Bryant (to Williams right), the Wake County Republican Party chair, were among the Tata supporters at the school board today
  • photo by Bob Geary
  • Donna Williams (in red) and Susan Bryant (to Williams' right), the Wake County Republican Party chair, were among the Tata supporters at the school board today

If no action is permitted tomorrow, Tata could be axed at next Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting.

Tata, who was present when the closed-door session began, was absent when the board reconvened in public session afterward. Board Chair Kevin Hill departed through a back door to avoid taking reporters' questions.

Before the meeting started, a small group of women and men led by Donna Williams and Heather Losurdo, both of whom ran for the school board last year and lost, demonstrated in front of the Wake school headquarters in support of Tata. The two, both Republicans, warned that Tata's job was in jeopardy, a forecast that later seemed to come true.

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    The Wake County Board of Education met behind closed doors for a little over three hours this afternoon on a "personnel issue."

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

More on the Wake school assignment plan, v. 3: The still-unsettled question of diversity

Posted by on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 4:59 PM

[Update: And sure enough, while I was writing this, the board majority has reversed course and decided to publish the staff's list. Hope it works out for them.]

The original post —

Like most people, I think, who were listening to the discussion at the Wake school board Tuesday night, my first response to the question of whether parents should be able to look online for their base assignments starting Friday — tomorrow — was why not? It's always best, isn't it, to get information out sooner rather than later? And by the way, the public has a right to know, doesn't it?

But a right to know what?

The fact is, at this point there's nothing for the public to know except that staff has on its own authority — without any sanction from the board — put together a list of base assignments for every address that is entirely hypothetical.

What the staff's work amounts to is, if the school board never establishes a policy about diversity in assignments, and if it just throws up its hands and says to us, you do it, then this is approximately the set of specific assignments we'd make under the framework we're proposing.

And even at that, the staff (and by staff I mean Superintendent Tony Tata and the folks who report to him) would be guessing what the board will decide about changes to the magnet schools, including the mix of base and application students at several of the existing magnets, as well as about transportation for students who use one of the transfer options offered in the framework. (And I wouldn't think, at this point, that Tata would want to be guessing about bus routes.)

I wouldn't want to be a board member debating policy after the staff has told 150,000 students and their parents what the outcome of my policy is going to be for every one of them.


Tata's staffers identified three specific policies that must be revised before the framework can be adopted. Two — Policy 6203 and Policy 6204 — set transfer rules and a process for capping (closing off) enrollment when a school is over capacity. Those two are significant, but their importance pales in comparison to the third, Policy 6200, which governs student assignments and how they're to be made.

The famous Policy 6200, as everyone knows who's followed the political debates over assignment, used to call for diversity in every Wake school's student body. Diversity in socioeconomic makeup. Diversity in levels of student achievement. It doesn't any more, thanks to the Republican school board majority elected in 2009 and un-elected in 2011.

The new school board majority, five Democrats, has yet to change what the Republicans did to Policy 6200, but Jim Martin was clear the other night that the majority intends to do so and — if Martin has his way — reverse the trend toward resegregation and high-poverty schools.

The point is, the rewrite of Policy 6200 should drive and govern the new student assignment plan, not the other way around.

The school board must decide whether it will continue to tolerate some schools with 70 percent and even 80 percent low-income student populations, and schools with half or more of their students failing to perform at grade level. Assuming the answer to both things is no, it must say so clearly by policy.

There's much talk, as Martin said, about using student achievement as the means of balancing school populations. But as he also said, there's no agreement even about how student achievement should be measured, let alone about the point at which low achievement in a given school would prompt different assignments to that school, added resources for the school, or both.

I'll borrow some paragraphs from the Wake Education Partnership's succinct summary of the problem:

A new approach to student assignment featuring base schools, school choices, capped enrollments and a "stay where you start" policy was generally well received this week by school board members.

But that agreement found its limits when the discussion turned to the role of student achievement in the new plan. At issue is whether the new assignment plan should try to create a targeted academic mix within schools, and if so, how that mix should be accomplished.

"To me, student achievement is the most important issue and it's the thing we have the least detail about," said board member Jim Martin.

Without that level of detail, the public can review the proposed rules governing the plan, but not the details such as where children would be assigned.


As I said in an earlier post, what the staff presented is a good framework within which to make the critical policy decisions. But without those decisions, a framework is all they have. Not a plan.

The only reason for putting a list of assignments out now, before Policy 6200 is addressed, would be if Tata wants to highjack the decision about diversity before the board majority can act. That is, dictate what the policy can or can't say by putting his own plan in first.

I don't know if that was Tata's intention. He didn't say much on Tuesday, and he's not holding his usual weekly press briefing tomorrow.

But it's clearly what Republican board members John Tedesco and Deborah Prickett intended when they pushed so hard for the staff's hypothetical assignments to be made public before Policy 6200 can be considered. They like Policy 6200 as is, with no diversity component. We know that because, of course, they voted to take it out.

On the way home from the meeting, I found myself thinking about the difference between decision-making in the private sector and in government — the public sector.

In business, it's not just standard but best practice to be very flexible, constantly updating your products and the markets you're selling in. Apple had a huge hit with the iPhone 4, but now people seem to want a little bigger screen so the iPhone 5 is a little bigger — and maybe the iPhone 6 will be bigger still. Or maybe not. Depends how the markets respond.

If Apple was in charge of student assignments, no doubt it would publish some tentative assignments, listen to the feedback, adjust accordingly, listen some more, adjust some more — but at the end of the day, Apple would feel no compunction to be fair to everyone, or even to assign every student. Businesses don't sell to everyone. They sell to market segments. Constantly shifting market segments.

In government, however, policies must be established up-front, prior to implementation, and be as fair as possible to everyone before they are put in place for anyone. You can't just make up the rules as you go along the way you can - and should — in business.

Deborah Prickett, one of the Republican board members, was exactly right when she said that every parent will focus, once a student assignment plan is published, on what it means for his/her children. That's what parents care about. They may care some about whether the plan will be fair to others. But first and foremost, they care about their own family.

And that's as it should be — or even if it isn't how it should be, it's reality.

But the school board's job is to establish a plan that's the best possible for the community as a whole. The only way to do so is to establish fair governing rules up-front and then apply them in even-handed fashion to each of the 150,000 students in the system.

That's not to say that the rules can't allow for some adjustments on the basis of fairness to individual kids.

It is to say that unless the rules are fair to begin with, no amount of jury-rigging after the fact will make them fair.

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