Local Politics

Wake commissioner decries board's lack of civility

Posted August 8, 2014 5:05 p.m. EDT

— Longtime Wake County Commissioner Betty Lou Ward called the Republican majority on the Board of Commissioners petty for not allowing her to participate by phone in a Monday debate over a possible tax referendum.

The board voted 4-2 along party lines against putting a quarter-cent sales tax increase for education on the November ballot. Ward, a Democrat, couldn't attend the meeting because she is recuperating at home from a recent surgery.

Ward called into the meeting to participate in the discussion, but Republican commissioners said board rules allow such participation only in cases of emergency. Although the county attorney said there was no problem with allowing Ward to participate by phone, the majority said it didn't rise to an emergency and denied her request.

Fellow Democratic commissioners James West and Caroline Sullivan scolded the Republicans for their actions, and Ward lit into them in a letter to the editor published Friday in The News & Observer.

"Although there were often sharp disagreements, we always managed to be civil and work within a professional code of ethics," Ward wrote, recalling how commissioners have worked together during most of her 26 years on the board. "Unfortunately, during the past four years, my colleagues in the majority have tossed civility and common courtesy aside in pursuit of an extreme partisan agenda."

She noted how Republicans once took a procedural vote when she had left the meeting to go to the bathroom and how they denied former Commissioner Stan Norwalk a recess to obtain diabetes medication.

A quarter-cent sales tax would have raised about $27 million a year, which would go toward paying teachers and other school employees more. She said Wake County needs to offer top salaries to teachers to remain competitive with other regions, adding that raises included in the state budget signed Thursday by Gov. Pat McCrory aren't sustainable.

"In their wisdom, GOP commissioners decided this (state) budget was enough for our schools and refused to put the referendum on the ballot. That is their prerogative, but they didn't have to do it in such a petty and infuriating fashion that denied my constituents a voice," Ward wrote.