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home : opinion : opinion January 24, 2022

10/29/2021 7:03:00 AM
School Board: "Let's Play Politics!"

Wayne Howard
Reporter


The Lincoln County Board of Education will hold a special called meeting and work session on Tuesday (Nov. 2nd) at 6 PM at the Schools Administrative Offices, 201 Jeb Seagle Drive in Lincolnton.

The purpose of the special called meeting will be to discuss and adopt new Board of Education election districts.

Three proposed new district maps have been developed. One was created at the Schools' request by County Planning Director Andrew Bryant. The second was developed by former County Commissioner Martin Oakes and submitted by School Board chairman Mark Mullen. The third, for which no map was actually shown at the School Board meeting on October 12th, was developed by board member Todd Wulfhorst.

The Wulfhorst proposal makes only a small change removing what was called a 'donkey tail' that existed in the first proposal extending a portion of Wulfhorst's 5th district (northeastern Lincoln County) into the fourth district (southeastern Lincoln County).

All of the proposals have in common that they change the area of the second district, currently represented by Joan Avery, into a district that does not include Avery's residence and therefore eliminates the possibility of her seeking re-election to the seat she now holds.

Wulfhorst, Avery and Tony Jenkins are the three School Board members whose terms expire next year. To remain on the board, they would have to file in December of this year and run in the primary next March and General Election next Fall.

Action by the North Carolina General Assembly, introduced as local legislation by Rep. Jason Saine and Sen. Ted Alexander, will change Lincoln County's School Board elections from non-partisan to partisan beginning with next year's elections.

The aim and intent of the legislation and the Republican majority on the School Board is to eliminate any Democrats from the board and to make it unlikely any would ever be elected.

County Commissioners passed a resolution--at the request of then-GOP County Chairman Fred Jarrett--in support of the legislation.

While the School Board elections have been until now officially non-partisan, most voters were well aware of the party affiliations of those seeking offices. There are currently two members of the board who are Democrats--Avery and Myra Heavner; the others are all Republicans.

The change to partisan elections means that anyone who is registered unaffiliated--not aligned with any political party--would only be able to get on the ballot by securing thousands of signatures of eligible voters on a petition.

If any of the three proposals put forth so far is adopted, Avery could not seek re-election to the district two seat she now holds. She could run as an at-large candidate for the seat currently held by Jenkins.

The 2020 Census showed a shift in the population of Lincoln County that came as no surprise to anyone. Eastern Lincoln County is growing while western Lincoln County is not. Catawba Springs township grew by 33.0%, from 22,548 to 29,981; Ironton township grew by 6.5% to 22,088; Lincolnton township lost 0.5% of its population--from 20,145 to 20,038; Howards Creek township grew by 1.0% to 9,080; and North Brook township lost 3.7% of its population--from 5,840 to 5,623.

When we asked the question, was the realignment of districts necessary to meet federal and state guidelines that would keep the districts within five percent of being equal in the number of people represented, we were told that it was. But to date, nobody has actually provided any information as to just 'how unequal' the districts (as they now exist) are.

Both the Option One plan drawn by Bryant and the Option Two drawn by Oakes enlarge the geographic territory of district one in part by moving its southern area further southward, taking in part of district two. The district two expansion is achieved in both by moving its eastern border further east but removing a portion of its current western area.

Heavner asked at the October 12th meeting, "since the growth was in the east, wouldn't it make more sense to move our (hers and Avery's) district lines eastward, not move part of mine southward?" The question never got an answer.

The true intent of what is being planned is (as noted) to remove Democrats from the board. Like the switch to partisan elections, the restructuring of the districts has little to do with fair elections and much to do with politics.

To quote another reporter from some years ago, "and that's the way it is."



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