Jan 252014

WS0607_Cupcake-Wars-Angry-Birds-01_s4x3_lgAt the recent Union County Board of Education work session concerning the proposed and extremely controversial student redistricting, a heckler, as described by the news media, shouted “Suck it Cupcake!” while board member Kevin Stewart was speaking. A chorus of hoots, howls and laughter followed; most likely in response to the character of the questions Mr. Stewart was directing at Dr. Ellis and Dr. Webb, but the timing was perfect. Very few people know what was being referenced by the remark, so here is the back story.

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to March of 2012. If you remember, the 2012-13 County Budget cycle was an occasion where members of the Board of Commissioners laced budget negotiations with open attacks on UCPS and the school board. The verbal criticism included colorful phrases like “spending like drunken sailors” from Jonathan Thomas or “stop spewing your bald face lies” by Todd Johnson, which only served to ramp up the animosity between boards. (View Jonathan Thomas Budget Comments of 2012 @19:40 minutes)

In an attempt to sway public opinion, Commissioner Todd Johnson (according to court testimony) joined with Kevin Stewart to create a webpage specifically designed to exploit the state cuts in funding for teachers and teacher assistant and use them as a straw man to attack the school administration. Mr. Stewart has been an outspoken critic of school spending, the school administration and was never shy about editorializing his viewpoint.

One of the more revealing segments of sworn testimony in the August lawsuit between the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education, was the details of the of how Mr. Stewart operated the website with the collaboration of Commissioner Johnson.

The phrase shouted out in Thursday’s meeting referenced the following post of April 24, 2012 in Citizens for Union County Teachers, where Mr. Stewart closed the post with the following “Quit hiding behind skirt tails Ed and Dan, face the music; Luan, suck it up cupcake, you get paid very well to answer questions”. The attack on Luan Ingram, then the UCPS Communications Director, referred to a television interview where Ms. Ingram appeared irritated at the questions being asked by a reporter. Many people found Mr. Stewart’s comments very offensive and indicative of how coarse the politics have become. Few people knew of Mr. Johnson’s involvement though many of the comments mirrored those posted in the EJ of the time.


[Click to enlarge]
For years Mr. Stewart and I have been adversaries on many of the issues facing the county and the school system, we’ve had spirited exchanges on the Village Scribe and opposing letters to the editor in the Enquirer Journal. Contrary to my expectations after Mr. Stewart was elected to the school board in November of 2012, he has recognized the financial issues the school system faces and is now a vocal proponent.

I have had requests for more examples of the now defunct Citizens for Union County Teachers website. When I realized that was taken offline back in June of 2012, I knew from past experience the something was up. So I archived it just in case. The Cupcake remark gave cause to explain the reference and now readers are curious.

Citizens for Union County Teachers Page 1

Citizens for Union County Teachers Page 2

RETRACTION: The VSO received an phone call from Commissioner Thomas, “requesting” that his name be removed from any association to Kevin Stewart’s former website. I reported on what was purported to be court testimony conveyed to me by someone who was present in court. Commissioner Thomas vehemently denied any connection. I should have noted the secondhand nature of the information.

Aug 122013

Acrimonious Union County budget fight heads to court Monday

By Adam Bell
Posted: Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013

The acrimonious budget fight between Union County commissioners and the school board is heading to court this week.

The trial begins Monday in Union County Superior Court, and could last a week or two.

The school board claims that commissioners did not adequately fund the school district for the current school year. The county insists it provided enough money, and that any additional money going to the board would result in tax hikes or service cuts.

In its lawsuit, the school board is seeking a judgment that may authorize commissioners to raise taxes “as may be necessary” to cover money awarded to the district.

The district also wants a jury to determine the amount of money “legally necessary from all sources” to maintain the school system. Such sources could include state or federal funds or proceeds from the state lottery or sales tax, said Richard Schwartz, a Raleigh attorney who represents the district.

In June, the school board had sought mediation after county commissioners approved their $298 million operating and capital budget for 2013-14. The budget included $82.3 million in general operating funds for the school district, or about $2.7 million less than the district wanted but a nearly 2 percent increase over the previous year.

The district also sought $8.4 million in capital funds; the county approved $9 million over three years.

In mediation, the school district proposed a settlement to get an additional $1.9 million over a three-year period for operating expenses, and another $26 million in capital funds during that time, on top of the funding it already was set to receive, the county said. Such a plan would create a $38.5 million deficit over three years, the county said, and require a whopping 10 percent tax increase.

The county disclosed the district’s plan after they reached an impasse in mediation, and included it in a press released with the headline: “Union County Public Schools Failed to Resolve Budget Dispute.”

At the time, the county also said the district had a projected surplus of $2.9 million when factoring in the county’s funding, the school district’s fund balance, adjustments for school board budget requests that appeared to be inflated, and increases in state funding that were finalized after mediation began.

The district’s press release after mediation ended blamed the county’s “failure of leadership” for publicly attacking the school system.

Schwartz called the $2.9 million figure “wildly inaccurate. They don’t understand the state budgeting process.” And he said the county’s description of the settlement offer was completely inaccurate.

Judge Erwin Spainhour, senior resident superior court judge in Cabarrus County, is expected to preside over the case.

As part of its lawsuit, the school district wants the county to cover the district’s legal fees, which Schwartz said was a standard request in such cases. Union County will be represented by county attorney Ligon Bundy and another lawyer in his office, Chris Cox.

The losing side has the option of going to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

The current state law dealing with school district funding disputes was enacted in 1997 and since then, no district has sought mediation more than Union’s. The district has sought mediation four times now.

Each of the other three times, in 1998, 2003 and 2007, the two sides settled the case before going to court although the 2007 deal resulted in a tax increase to cover increases in the district’s budget. It added nearly 3 cents to the tax rate, or nearly an extra $60 in taxes for someone with a $200,000 home.

via Acrimonious Union County budget fight heads to court Monday | CharlotteObserver.com.

Jul 242011

By George Hendry

Shortly after the November elections for Union County Commissioner one of the three winning candidates Mr. Jerry Simpson closed out his campaign account on November 24, 2010.

The other two winning candidates Mr Todd Johnson and Mr Jonathan Thomas chose to leave their campaign accounts open and they remain open to this day.

In December 2010 after the elections were over, both Mr. Johnson and Mr. Thomas recieved $12,000.00 in their campaign accounts in the form of three $4000.00 checks each. Two were from the principals of Boggs Paving (Mr. David Boggs, $4000 to Mr Thomas and Mr. Drew Boggs, $4000 to Mr Johnson). The remaining four checks were from three principals of two associate firms with Boggs Paving for the Monroe By-Pass bid as follows, Mr. Jim Triplett of Charleston, SC ($4000 to Mr Thomas and $4000 to Mr Johnson), Mr. Doug Anderson of Old Town, FL ($4000 to Mr Thomas) and Mr. Brian Schreiber of White Springs, FL ($4000 to Mr Johnson). The campaign account records indicate all checks were received between Dec 7 and Dec 28 when both Mr Thomas and Mr Johnson were now sitting Union County Commissioners.

Assuming this issue comes to a vote before the Board of County Commissioners we do not know at this time how Mr. Thomas or Mr. Johnson may or may not vote assuming they do not recuse themselves. Since this is money given to a campaign account and not personal there is no technical reason to recuse themselves.

However this is a moral question that must be raised everytime a candidate or elected official receives money from a special interest. Why give the money if not wishing for favorable consideration on current and future issues that may come to the Board of County Commissioners and why accept the money if you don’t intend to try and help this special interest, if at all possible, on issues of their concern.
It will be interesting to watch how this plays out in the coming months.

New Kohls – Under construction on Rea Road.
Note: One of the 5 members of the Planning Board who approved this development (Jan 2011) is a high ranking employee of Boggs Paving.