Commissioner Pierce takes to the airwaves to defend board delay on school office building

Submitted by David Whisenant
Tuesday, December 4th, 2012, 7:29am
Commissioner Pierce takes to the airwaves to defend board delay on school office building

SALISBURY – Newly elected Rowan County Commissioner Craig Pierce took to airwaves of WSTP radio Tuesday morning to challenge host Kent Bernhardt, who Pierce accused of putting words in his mouth.

Pierce voted in the majority on Monday night to put off any decision on the school board’s plan to build a new central office in downtown Salisbury.  Pierce, new member Mike Caskey, and newly elected Chairman Jim Sides voted for the delay, while Jon Barber and former chairman Chad Mitchell voted against.

Pierce, Caskey, and Sides have spoken against the downtown location in the past.

“The location is no up to county commissioners it’s up to the school board,” Pierce told WSTP.  “The reason we had the postponement was to give new school board time to voice their opinions. If we’re going to spend 6 plus million dollars I want everybody on the same page as to what we’re going to do.”

The Rowan Salisbury School Board is welcoming four new members.  Pierce said he thought the plans should be discussed by that board.

When asked by Bernhardt if it was just another delay in a series of delays that stretch 23 years, Pierce cited foul.

“This issue has only come to this point after 23 years,” Pierce said.   “Nobody has ever gotten to the point they were ready to make a decision to fund it. I understand your concern, my concern is that  $6.3 million doesn’t give us true consolidation. I would rather see us take the time to design exactly what we need.”

As to the location, Pierce insisted that the new school board should have that decision.

“Whatever we decide to do, I want the new school board to decide the location so that is out of the equation,” Pierce added.  “I want to give the school administration the building they need to fit their needs not just today but down the road.  We did not vote last night to stop funding the school administration building, what we did was take time to let the new administration weigh in on what they want.   I only felt it fair to give them the consideration to be heard before we move forward, when it comes down to 62,000 square feet, then we need to look at a building that is right sized, not hold it strictly to a dollar figure.”

Pierce also advocated a meeting between the county commission and the school board to “hash this out.”  Pierce said on the radio that such a meeting should not include special interest groups or the media.  An attorney who represents media and has worked with legislation under the “Sunshine Laws” told WBTV that such a meeting may not be legal.

North Carolina’s public meeting law states:

§ 143‑318.9.  Public policy.

Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy‑making, quasi‑judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people’s business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly. (1979, c. 655, s. 1.)

§ 143‑318.14.  Broadcasting or recording meetings.

(a)        Except as herein below provided, any radio or television station is entitled to broadcast all or any part of a meeting required to be open. Any person may photograph, film, tape‑record, or otherwise reproduce any part of a meeting required to be open.

(b)        A public body may regulate the placement and use of equipment necessary for broadcasting, photographing, filming, or recording a meeting, so as to prevent undue interference with the meeting. However, the public body must allow such equipment to be placed within the meeting room in such a way as to permit its intended use, and the ordinary use of such equipment shall not be declared to constitute undue interference; provided, however, that if the public body, in good faith, should determine that the size of the meeting room is such that all the members of the public body, members of the public present, and the equipment and personnel necessary for broadcasting, photographing, filming, and tape‑recording the meeting cannot be accommodated in the meeting room without unduly interfering with the meeting and an adequate alternative meeting room is not readily available, then the public body, acting in good faith and consistent with the purposes of this Article, may require the pooling of such equipment and the personnel operating it; and provided further, if the news media, in order to facilitate news coverage, request an alternate site for the meeting, and the public body grants the request, then the news media making such request shall pay any costs incurred by the public body in securing an alternate meeting site. (1979, c. 655, s. 1.)