Wake school board asked for public vote on Burns

Posted March 19, 2010 3:25 p.m. EDT
Updated March 19, 2010 3:32 p.m. EDT

— An attorney representing WRAL News and other Triangle media outlets sent a letter Friday to the Wake County Board of Education asking for a public vote on its recent decision to remove the school system's top administrator from office.

The school board voted in a closed session on March 9 to place Superintendent Del Burns on administrative leave, following comments he made criticizing some board members who want to change the school system's student assignment policy.

The March 19 letter, on behalf of WRAL, The News & Observer of Raleigh and WTVD-TV, to school board attorney Ann Majestic cites open meetings laws, which allow closed sessions about the qualifications or performance of public employees but requires removal of a public official be voted on in an open meeting.

"I assume there is no debate that the Board of Education has the final authority with regard to the superintendent position, and the appointment of Donna Hargens as acting superintendent leaves little question that Mr. Burns was removed," attorney Amanda Martin wrote.

State law, she wrote, makes plain that the public know how public officials vote on matters.

"It has been reported widely that the vote was 5-4 and that board members voted ‘along the same lines’ as previous votes," Martin wrote. "However, that information comes from unofficial sources, and I write to request that the Board of Education officially confirm the vote."

The school board's attorney has said only a closed-session vote was needed because Burns was not fired.

The early departure of Burns, who's resigning June 30, came after comments he made last month in which he accused some board members of "political partisan gamesmanship" when it comes to educating students.

Hargens, the system's chief academic officer, has temporarily taken over the superintendent post while the school board searches for Burns' replacement.