A Johnston County Public Schools administrator has received a 17.38% pay increase in a cryptic, late night vote by the school board. An open meetings law expert says anyone who watched the public meeting of the Johnston County Board of Education would have no idea what board members were voted on. A school board attorney contends everything was above board.
On January 12th, at the conclusion of a nearly seven hour meeting, School Board Chairman Todd Sutton asked the board go into closed session to discuss a personnel issue. A short time later – just before 11:00pm – the board emerged. Vice Chairman Terri Sessoms stated, “We are now back in open session. Do we have a motion to approve the appointment that was discussed in closed session?” A motion was immediately made by Mike Wooten and seconded by Tracie Zukowski.
No board member stated in open session the motion was for a $16,292 pay raise for Brooks Moore, whose salary was being increased from $93,708 to $110,000. The pay raise took effective the following day, Jan. 13, 2021.
Wooten, Zukowski, Lyn Andrews, Kay Carroll, Vice Chairman Sessoms and Chairman Todd Sutton voted to approve the immediate pay increase. Ronald Johnson cast the only vote against the 17.38% pay increase, which was approved 6-to-1. (The closed session to discuss the personnel matter was not listed on the agenda but was added verbally at the end of the meeting by Chairman Sutton. The board then voted 7-to-0 to go into closed session.)
Attorney Rod Malone with the law firm of Tharrington Smith in Raleigh was the legal counsel for the school board at the Jan. 12th meeting. “Boards of education often approve personnel matters by referencing the discussion in closed session. Obviously, immediately after the vote, the information was public record and I hope it was available and quickly provided. Most boards try to make the personnel discussions immediately available to the public. I don’t know what Johnston’s practice is.”
“The motion is a typical motion at board of education meetings. I feel comfortable with it, but it’s with the understanding the information approved is a public record immediately upon approval. Theoretically the closed session minutes would document what was discussed. After the meeting that information should be available to the press or public.”
However, Mr. Malone did admit that closed session minutes are not public record and would remain confidential. Johnston County Schools did not provide the information about the pay raise until Johnston County Report submitted a Public Records Request the following day asking for specific details about the late night vote. No details were released about the closed session but information about the pay raise and new job title for Brooks Moore were shared.
Brooks Fuller, J.D., Ph.D., Director of the NC Open Governor Coalition and Assistant Professor of Journalism at the Elon School of Communications, reviewed the video and noted that Mr. Moore’s name was never mentioned in open session, nor was there any clear public indication what was being voted on.
“It is absolutely critical to maintaining the public’s confidence in government that public business be transacted in open session. This includes decisions to appoint public employees,” Mr. Fuller said.
“North Carolina law is very clear that public bodies may meet in closed session to discuss personnel actions. However, final action on a personnel appointment must be done in open session. This means giving the public full information about the nature of the appointment, the position, and the name of the appointee so that the public can be fully informed.”
“What the Johnston County School Board did in this meeting obscures all of that important information from the public. There is no telling from the recording of the open session what was being voted on. The board should make detailed minutes of its closed and open sessions from that meeting available and those minutes should explain to the public what transpired,” Mr. Fuller said.
The motion to increase Moore’s salary also included the approval of his new job title. Previously, he was a Construction Officer but is now the Chief of Facilities and Construction.
School officials said Mr. Moore will have additional responsibilities and will supervise a maintenance budget and personnel. According to an organizational chart on the JCPS website today (Feb. 8th), Mr. Moore will directly supervise three employees. These employees represent 3 departments and 92 employees altogether. A spokesperson said his former job as a Construction Officer will not be filled.
In addition to his $110,000 salary, Mr. Moore will also be reimbursed for travel expenses.
This story has been updated.