New Harnett County Commissioners Look To Bury Hatchet With Board Of Education

A lot changed on the Harnett County Board of Commissioners over the past year.

Only two of five commissioners, who sat on the board to start 2020, returned in 2021. Three new members created an opportunity for the board to start fresh and reset its priorities moving forward.

One relationship the new commissioners seemed to focus on early was with the Harnett County Board of Education. When Assistant County Manager Brian Haney started listing legislative priorities for the new year at Tuesday morning’s monthly planning session, commissioners asked to remove one dealing with the school board.

Harnett County Board of Commissioners are pictured clockwise, from top left, Commissioners Mark Johnson, Matt Nicol and Barbara McKoy, Chairman W. Brooks Matthews and Vice Chairman Lew Weatherspoon.

Haney listed a request from 2017 made from an unnamed commissioner calling for the board to take over school construction. Haney created an extensive legislative priority list based on recommendations from county heads.

“I reached out to county departments to seek clarification on any priorities and to see what they wanted to submit or if there were any new suggestions or they wanted to remove priorities that have previously been submitted,” Haney said. “I think at the time the board [of commissioners] wanted to take a more proactive role or be more involved in the construction of schools.”

Board Chairman W. Brooks Matthews, who joined the commissioners in August and also serves as a deputy superintendent with HCS, recommended leaving that responsibility with the education board as it is the one who oversees the day-to-day operations of the school system.

“I’m just not sure, I don’t understand why we would want to get into the business of constructing schools when that has long been a board of education function and priority,” said Matthews. “If we construct them, they’re still going to be running them, still going to be maintaining. Unless we’re going to close all that down and take that under the county umbrella as well. I really don’t know if that’s a road I’d like to see us go down.”

New commissioners Lew Weatherspoon and Matt Nicol welcomed the idea of improving the relationship between the two boards following several years of miscommunication.

“I believe the board of education, that’s a role for them to assume,” Nicol said. “Obviously, we can be there for input and I definitely do want to work on the relationship between our board and the school board. Hopefully we can definitely work together, but I definitely see that as a role they should take the lead on.”

Weatherspoon agreed.

“We’ve got enough issues to concern ourselves with,” Weatherspoon said. “We don’t need to take on that.”

Commissioner Barbara McKoy, the only member who served on the board in 2017, recognized that the relationship between the boards needs to improve. She noted that a good start to mending fences would be the sharing of information.

“If we have more cooperation from the school board, shared more information with the county commissioners, I think that is something we could live with,” said McKoy. “But in the past, we have not been getting correct information, especially with funding to build these schools. Building the schools is a priority but we all have to work together in order to find the money. I know the state gives us money, but there is still some money that we are responsible for as a county to build these schools because we need these schools. I’m just saying we need more cooperation from the school board.”

HCS currently has two school projects at varying levels of construction: Erwin Elementary and Northwest Harnett Elementary. Erwin broke ground last August and could be open by the end of the year. The Northwest project is expected to break ground in the spring with a 2022 opening expected.

-Dunn Daily Record