School board sides with commissioners

Uniform voting districts expected

By ELIOT DUKE
Of the Record staff
Posted 7/23/21

Harnett County Board of Education members ended up following the commissioners’ lead after all.

BOE members on Monday decided to hire the same law firm as county commissioners did about a …

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School board sides with commissioners

Uniform voting districts expected

Posted

Harnett County Board of Education members ended up following the commissioners’ lead after all.

BOE members on Monday decided to hire the same law firm as county commissioners did about a month ago to handle the looming redistricting process. Once proper Census data becomes available some time in late summer or early fall, Brooks Pierce Law Firm will oversee redistricting for both boards, providing voters some continuity when they go to the ballot box for the 2022 primary season. The decision to use the same firm also came with a discount attached, saving the county a little bit of cash.

“The county already chose this company,” BOE Chairman Eddie Jaggers said. “Hiring this company with commissioners, it would only be $9,000. That’s a $6,000 savings and that’s one of the biggest reasons, being the commissioners have already chosen them.”

Commissioners and BOE members held a joint meeting at the end of June solely for this purpose, as a representative with Brooks Pierce pitched both boards on the upcoming redistricting process, which already is off to a late start thanks to a delayed release of Census data. Farrington Smithers, a law firm used by the BOE in the past, delivered a similar proposal to the boards earlier this year at another joint meeting. When commissioners elected to hire Brooks Pierce immediately after the June 30 presentation, some school board members felt they needed more time before making a decision.

“[Commissioners] made up their mind and they’re just telling us who to vote for,” said school board member Vivian Bennett following the meeting. “I just wish we had some input.”

Jaggers told his board he would reach out to Brooks Pierce and come back to them with more information prior to Monday’s meeting. BOE member Jason Lemons favored a return to Farrington Smithers, saying he felt more comfortable going with a firm he knew had experience with the task at hand.

“I don’t know anything about these people,” said Lemons of Brooks Pierce. “[BP Lawyer Craig Schauer] has never done this. He openly admitted that he’s never done this. He does election law, he does not do redistricting. He’s never done redistricting and he’ll go with someone else with expertise or have to go to the law library or somewhere else. That is not worth $6,000 to me.”

Lemons and Bennett expressed frustration with being left out of the loop in regards to discussions with Brooks Pierce, and felt the school board was simply expected to go along with whatever their counterparts decided.

“First of all, it bothers me that it was in the presentation on their assumption that information was sent out and it was not,” Lemons said. “Two, they didn’t ask for input. We already had information. We had a presentation with Farrington Smithers. They came in and showed us exactly what they’ve done in the past and it’s exactly what we’re used to. Then the commissioners go in another way. For a few thousand dollars, it’s not worth it to me. At the end of the day I have a whole lot more faith in Farrington Smithers who has done this for many years. We’ve spent more than $6,000 on things that don’t affect us for 10 years. This will affect for 10 years and I’d like for us to stay with exactly who we know. I just don’t want the county determining where our lines are.”

Lemons offered the only ‘No’ vote by the board as the other four members elected to go with Brooks Pierce. The two boards, earlier this year, agreed to try to use the same firm if at all possible to make voting easier on residents.

“I think it would be best if we went along with the county commissioners,” BOE member Joey Powell said. “That way we can cut uniform districts. As I understand it there have been some concerns in the past regarding some of the districts being different and so forth.”

HCS board member Don Godfrey said using the same firm also presents a public perception of continuity, while saving taxpayers $6,000.

“It kinds of looks, I don’t know, odd if the county commissioners get one company to do it and we get another,” said Godfrey. “It looks like we would be able to do the same company together to do the redistricting for both boards. That way we could come to an agreement on that.”

Redistricting this fall already faced an uphill climb as complete Census data may not be released until after a key Dec. 1 deadline. Boards, however, can begin putting preliminary plans in place as more information becomes available in the lead up to the 2022 primaries next spring.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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