Sanford, N.C. — A Lee County judge has blocked a bill by Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee, that would have kicked four people off the Central Carolina Community College Board of Trustees.
House Bill 512 became law July 17. It ends the terms of the four trustees who were appointed by the Lee County Board of Education. It also bans the four from being reappointed to their former seats.
Superior Court Judge Winston Gilchrist issued the preliminary injunction late Thursday after a lengthy hearing that pitted the sacked trustees against the state, which argued that lawmakers, having created the community college system, have the right to exercise authority over it, whether or not any legitimate governmental interest can be shown.
The four terminated trustees – Janet Hayes, Tony Lett, Chet Mann and Chip Post – filed suit against the state, arguing that the law serves no legitimate public interest and unfairly targets the appointees of the county's Democrat-led school board while leaving in place trustees appointed by the Republican-led Lee County Board of Commissioners.
There are 16 members on the Central Carolina Community College board, most appointed by county commissioners in Chatham, Lee, and Harnett counties, the area served by the school.
The lawsuit also argues that the state constitution grants appointees to boards of trustees the right to serve their terms, a contention the state disputes.
Gilchrist put the law on hold pending a trial on the lawsuit's merits. No date has yet been set.
The bill isn't Stone's first salvo against the Lee County school board.
Another new law filed by Stone, House Bill 491, takes authority for school resource officers away from the school board and gives it to the sheriff, who is Republican. A third bill, House Bill 490, changes elections for the school board and for the mayor and city council of Sanford from nonpartisan to partisan – over the objections of both bodies.
As local bills, all three became law without ever reaching the governor's desk, supported by Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.
Post, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, says all three bills are nothing more than petty political payback.
"It's just arbitrary and capricious," Post told WRAL News earlier this month.
Lee County Republicans, Post said, "want to control everything. They're just politicizing everything, is what it is, and I just decided I'm not going to sit back and let it happen."
Stone has a history on conflict with Lee County Schools and with CCCC, his alma mater.
In 2011, Stone complained that his third-grade daughter's class at Tramway Elementary School in Sanford had been given an assignment to write a letter to him, asking him to protect education funding. He accused the school of using his child as a "lobbyist."
Then-Superintendent Jeff Moss defended the assignment. Moss last fall engaged in a heated public exchange with Jim Womack, the Republican chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners. Womack is also the chairman of the state's Mining and Energy Commission.
In 2013, one of the hosts of a local talk show broadcast by CCCC, The Rant, wrote a blogpost critical of Stone. The school quickly ditched the show after Stone contacted the president's office to ask whether the show adhered to FCC guidelines.
Lett, one of the hosts of that former show, is one of the four CCCC trustees targeted by Stone's now-enjoined legislation. Lett was also a donor to Stone's opponent in the 2012 election.
Stone did not respond to WRAL's request for comment.