On August 8, the Johnston County Report published a news story about a leaked audio tape from Ronald Johnson that had been given to school board candidates Michelle Antoine and Kevin Donovan.
In the audio, school board member Kay Carroll is heard saying “Hide the money.” In the story, Antoine and Donovan said they were concerned JCPS was being less than transparent with Johnston County Commissioners about their fund balance.
On August 5, three days prior to publication of the story, we reached out to Mr. Carroll, Chief Finance Officer Stephen Britt, and Director of Public Information Caitlin Furr, (who handles questions for the school system, superintendent and the entire school board) for a comment on the allegations. As of today, two weeks later, they have yet to respond. We’ll get to that in a moment.
On August 9, JCPS spent more than 20 minutes at their regularly scheduled board meeting, with Mr. Britt presenting a slide show showing that no money was missing or hidden. Mr. Britt received praise from board members. He appears to be an excellent CFO.
We must point out, the original article stated there was a discussion about hiding money. No one stated money was hidden. But the mere conversation about the potential diversion of taxpayer money is concerning.
Mr. Carroll should have never used the words “Hide your money” in a conversation about school funds. Antoine and Donovan can only conclude what most people would when that is clearly stated by an elected official of any board in a meeting and raised their concerns.
Should Ronald Johnson have recorded the meeting? That is up to debate. Board member Terri Sessoms raised concerns Aug. 9 about Johnson recording the March meeting – saying that it might be a violation of their ethics policy for Members of the Johnston County Board of Education. The school board will have to decide.
It has certainly brought the meeting to the public spotlight, as all meetings of school and county officials should be. Johnson will need to answer to his motives, however, he has told us the conversation centered around Mr. Carroll’s discussion of ways to hide money from county commissioners, and when Johnson left the March 2022 meeting he didn’t hear anyone present voice concerns about the dialogue. Others at the same meeting vehemently disagree. Either way it was poorly chosen words to use.
Mr. Carroll should have never requested three board members meet privately to discuss the budget. It avoids having a quorum of at least 4 board members present, but it raises questions about why it was needed in the first place.
“Transparency” is a word mentioned frequently by the school board but the March meeting was anything but transparent. By inviting Mr. Britt and Superintendent Bracy to the meeting, it involves them. They surely cannot tell school board members (their bosses) no, we won’t attend.
In our opinion, the school board has attempted to spin the leaked audio tape story into a personal attack on Stephen Britt. It is not. It only deflected attention from the board members discussing school finances. Mr. Britt is due an apology from the board members.
These conversations should only take place in public meetings. Their words on the audio speak for themselves. The people of Johnston County now must decide what they really mean.
Dale Lands and John Saluppo, the founders of Citizen Advocates for Accountable Government (CAAG) make a good point. Public officials should not have any conversation that speaks of hiding or concealing money. Furthermore, it is unacceptable the school board members attempted to deflect their involvement onto Mr. Britt.
Depending on which side you’re on, some say County Commissioners knew about an $8 million fund balance. Others say they did not.
Commissioner Fred Smith made a valid point that sending an email to the assistant county manager is not legal notification. (That email was misplaced for several weeks.) When the school board said the fund balance had been approved by county commissioners, it had not.
In speaking with Mr. Smith, he tells the Johnston County Report that he did not previously know about the $8 million transfer.
A school board official should be required to appear in person before County Commissioners each time money is moved from one line item to another. It goes to transparency. It also helps build trust between the boards.
We propose this solution. Let the adults in the room come together for a sit down meeting to ask questions and iron out their differences. Carroll and Andrews have two years remaining on their school board terms.
If the May primary numbers remain consistent in the November vote totals, Kevin Donovan and Michelle Antoine will be sitting on the school board with Carroll and Andrews in a little more than 3 months. They will also have to work with Superintendent Bracy and CFO Britt.
Both sides need to work out their differences, face to face, soon. It doesn’t need to drag on into the September school board meeting when there will be back to school issues to address. Students are days away from returning to classes. The focus needs to be on the children, improving test scores, supporting teachers, faculty, getting a handle on growth, and campaigning for the November bond referendum.
Ronald Johnson, Michelle Antoine, Kevin Donovan, Lyn Andrews, and Kay Carroll need to meet with one another and find common ground for the good of our county and public schools. If not, then meet for the betterment of our school children and their future. Stephen Britt and Dr. Bracy should also attend. (Mr. Johnson doesn’t need to bring a recorder or cell phone to the meeting.)
Although we have not always agreed with Chairman Todd Sutton, it is apparent that he wants what’s best for the school district and county. As outgoing Chairman, he should moderate the meeting. We trust he can bring all sides together. Until such a meeting can take place, the impasse isn’t going away, and hard feelings will remain. We don’t need that between (current and future) school board members.
We spoke to Mr. Sutton this afternoon and he agreed to lead our proposed meeting, He agrees, as do we, it is important to work together for a common goal. If possible we’d like to see board member Mike Wooten involved somehow. Mike is also excellent at bringing people together.
Mr. Carroll started all this with the private meeting and his comments. In our opinion, he and no one else is to blame. Saying “Hide the money” is a poor choice of words isn’t adequate. He owes an apologize to all those involved, including Lyn Andrews and Stephen Britt. Without his words this would not be a story.
We hope all sides can agree the JCPS Public Information Office needs to timely respond to all emails and records requests from the public and media. Mr. Carroll and Mr. Britt should have also responded to questions from the media, including answering questions they may not like.
For more than 31 years, we’ve covered local news. The Johnston County Report has delivered the news and events that shape the lives of our citizens. We have covered local, county boards, law enforcement actions and profiled citizens who are making a difference in their communities.
Our job has been to report the news. We do so in a manner that presents our readers with the facts without editorial comment or without any type of political or personal agenda. Our mission has been to keep Johnston County citizens informed about what’s going on in their county, in their schools, in the courthouse, in their communities.
We will continue that mission.
The Johnston County Report will continue to provide our readers with insight and information into the actions of our elected officials and appointed administrators. We will do in a manner that is truthful, factual and without editorial comments. Feel free to blame the messenger. However, that’s our job and we will continue to do just that.
We hope to report on the outcome of that joint meeting we’ve proposed very soon. Chairman Sutton has agreed to moderate. Now, let the adults in the room come forward, the ones who want to put our children first.