Commissioners subjected him to ‘tasteless joking … and silly politics,’ board member says
Board wars continue
Anyone who thought a global pandemic and civil unrest would bring the Harnett County Board of Education and Harnett County commissioners closer together was wrong.
In the latest chapter of an ever-expanding novel of back and forth between the two bodies, the Board of Education stood behind its superintendent and issued a scathing rebuke of a meeting commissioners held last week to discuss the upcoming budget.
Board member Jason Lemons blasted county commissioners Monday night with a prepared statement claiming the 5-member board demonstrated a lack of respect for Harnett County Schools Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming. Lemons accused commissioners of subjecting Fleming to “tasteless joking, laughing, belittling and silly politics.”
“I’m quite concerned with the behavior of our sister body as it relates to their called meeting last week,” Lemons said. “As Dr. Fleming sat in the meeting, taking a few notes he immediately recognized the lack of respect the commissioners held for our staff, our budget and our process. I would expect proper decorum for a guest who was invited to your meeting.”
Commissioners asked Fleming to take part in the budget meeting and respond to concerns about the increased costs related to construction of the new Erwin Elementary School. The latest proposal from the education board came in higher than previous estimates, prompting questions from commissioners regarding the discrepancy. Lemons took issues with the manner of questioning and noted that the commissioners budget proposal also came in higher than initially forecasted.
“When asked about our process to construct the school, one relentless commissioner stated that our superintendent ‘missed it’ concerning the budget planning process,” said Lemons. “Lest we forget that the budget currently under construction by the commissioners also is over its original amount, the commissioner went to say that this was ‘unacceptable.’ Quite the opposite, this is the normal procedure of many school districts.”
Lemons pointed out that the school board does not control the bidding process or the associated costs surrounding the construction of a new facility.
Fleming also publicly stated many times over the past year that construction costs generally don’t go down over time.
“If the commissioners have an issue, maybe we should consider why it took so long to get to this point in the process,” Lemons said. “The superintendent is our employee, he’s not an employee of the Harnett County government. If they have an issue, they should bring it to us not to Dr. Fleming.”
Board member Bill Morris supported Lemon’s statement, saying the sour relationship with commissioners falls back to a potential power grab over school construction projects.
“Their association has tried for years, the whole time I’ve been on this board, to get the legislature to give them the authority to build school buildings and take it away from the board of education,” said Morris. “They want to say yes or no on the money on what we’re spending it on rather than can we afford this or can’t we. I have some real concerns with the county commissioners about this. I think we’re probably going to see more delaying actions. There will be some reason why we can’t sell the bonds or something like that.”
Board member Don Godfrey said he listened to the meeting and found Commissioner Joe Miller’s line of questioning disrespectful.
During last week’s meeting, Miller told Fleming “I don’t understand a $6 million miss. Your risk management guy or girl, whoever he or she is, is not very good. Six million dollars is a big miss.”
Miller went on to call Fleming’s explanation for the increases “unacceptable.”
Godfrey told the board he didn’t want to send Fleming to any more commissioner meetings alone.
“I listened to the meeting also and [Lemons] is correct in everything he said,” Godfrey said. “I told Dr. Fleming not to go by himself anymore. Take our attorney with you. It was disrespectful.”
Vivian Bennett expressed disappointment in the relationship between the two boards.
“We should definitely learn to be courteous and respectful with everyone that comes before us,” said Bennett. “If they were not, that’s disrespectful and I don’t know what can be done about it. This is just not right to not be courteous and respectful to people. We’re all grown up and we’re supposed to be mature and intelligent.”
Board Chairman Eddie Jaggers agreed that Fleming no longer should appear before commissioners by himself.
“I think from here on out, until things change, if they need anything from us they can get it from the whole board,” Jaggers said. “We all appear. I know we’re in a transition period of time and it was uncalled for. There was no reason for it.”
Fleming said his sole purpose for the meeting was to present the school board’s budget and answer “some very good questions.”
“As superintendent, I did what I was charged to do with reporting the needs of the school district to the commissioners,” said Fleming. “My understanding is that the school board members did not like the reception. The comments from the school board are their personal feelings about some of the questions or comments from the commissioners.”
Fleming praised his relationship with County Manager Paula Stewart and said he will continue working with her department in a positive manner moving forward.
-Dunn Daily Record