Divided School Board Elects New Chairman

Chairman Todd Sutton Addresses Allegations Of Corruption

The Johnston County School Board met Tuesday afternoon and elected a new chairman and vice chair for the next 12 months.

Board member Teresa Grant nominated Ronald Johnson as chairman, but the motion failed 2-to-5 with only Grant and Johnson voting for the nomination. Board members Mike Wooten, Dr. Peggy Smith, Todd Sutton, Traci Zukowski and Terri Sessoms voted against.

Afterwards, Traci Zukowski nominated Todd Sutton as the new chairperson.  Sutton was selected in a 5-to-2 vote. Grant and Johnson voted against.   Current Chairman Mike Wooten did not seek another year as chair of the school board, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family.

Immediately after Sutton took over as chairman, he read a statement in response to a recent opinion editorial from Ronald Johnson who alleged corruption and incompetency were partially to blame for the $8.8 million budget shortfall this fiscal year.

“In light of several media articles in the past couple of weeks, integrity is the utmost importance to the Johnston County Public School system as well as your Johnston County Board of Education. And we support total transparency in all that we do. With that said, there had been no specific information and or evidence provided with regards to corrupt, deceptive, unethical, or illegal behavior or if anybody had acted in an inappropriate manner,” Sutton said.

“However, on the evening of December 3rd, I met with Mr. Johnson and during our meeting additional information (was discussed) that included specific information that had not been shared up unto this point pertaining to alleged inappropriate acts that may have occurred.  After receiving this information, I informed Chairman Wooten of the information that had been discussed, and in less than 24 hours a meeting was requested with the Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle. This meeting occurred on the morning of December 5th during which information that had been obtained was discussed and an investigation was requested.  It was explained to us that unless evidence is presented of a possible crime that has been committed the SBI cannot or will not get involved. This morning, District Attorney Susan Doyle responded to me than in lieu of the fact that no evidence of a crime being committed, no further actions will be taken by her office at this time,” Sutton said.

“However, we continue to encourage and welcome an independent investigation and will fully cooperate as requested and needed. It is now time for the Board of Education to focus our attention to the matters for our children, staff, and citizens of Johnston County to provide a rich learning and safe environment for our students and staff within Johnston County Public Schools,” Sutton said.

Vice Chair Dr. Peggy Smith added, “In the last board meeting we did have a clean audit performed by an outside entity. There were no discrepencies in that audit as well. So I just wanted to remind everybody that financially we are not where we are because of any wrongdoing.”

Board member Terri Sessoms then stated, “I would like to add that if anyone on this Board or out there has hard evidence I beseech that it be brought to this Board of Education so that it can be investigated.  Integrity is a heavy word, but its one that we carry on our shoulders and we are depending on our board members as well as the general population of the citizens we represent that if there is hard evidence we have a duty to report that and I would like for that to be brought forward. I have no problem with naming names if hard evidence comes along with it.  And if there is any evidence of financial wrongdoing, even though we have been through an audit, if there is evidence to suggest any impropriety, then I would ask for a forensic audit to be performed.”

Mr. Johnson replied, “I kind of feel obligated to comment at this point. Well I appreciate all your commentary and I do understand the process and how things work and I stand by my comments, and time will be the telling factor in this endeavor. I have set up a meeting with the appropriate agency to divulge this evidence that is being questioned or mentioned in your commentary. So I have set up that meeting. It is scheduled for December 27th. I look forward to turning over every piece of evidence that I have that my attorney Walter Schmedlin is currently holding. So thank you.”

No other board members addressed the allegations during the public meeting.