Oct 312014

Elections are always contentious, a battle of messages and wills, but historically in Union County it has been the Primary Elections where the dirty tricks, brown manilla envelopes secreted to the EJ (Enquirer Journal newspaper) and nasty in your face brouhahas at the polls have taken place. The School Board races of years past have been a little more congenial.

Not so in 2014, with redistricting, a 15% County tax increase and a $91 million judgment hanging over taxpayers heads, the contentiousness of this election was all but guaranteed. Some of the school board candidates have visible alignments to sitting board members, which has fueled much of the angst and disgust.

Many people are incensed by tawdry acts such as sharing e-mails sent by concerned parents to board members with pro-redistricting citizens, bombastic Facebook and twitter posts by other board members have created a toxic atmosphere. Add to the mix, a registered Democrat running for the at-large seat, lying to voters about her affiliation and telling people that she is conservative, given the date, a witch’s cauldron at the polls.


Continuing with their failed 2012 strategy of strangling the school budget from the inside, the “Good Old Boys”, otherwise known as the Jays & Co. have once again jumped in with both feet by supporting Dennis Rape for the At-Large seat this year. Their 2012 Dream Team candidates; Yercheck, Stewart, Helms and Guzman double crossed them and created a new side, seemingly hell bent on raising the eastern schools to academic parity with the newcomer clusters, even though it requires busing from the west to achieve it.

I will have to invent an appropriate nickname for the BOE gang, so it will be easier to distinguish and track the groups antics. In the meantime lets call the Yercheck, Stewart, Helms and Guzman ensemble the “Cupcakes”. (In fact, as I have thought about this, I will have to write a post about all the county level groups and explain their roles.)

So just for score card purposes, indications are the CupCakes are supporting Richard Yercheck, Jason Marton, Leslie Boyd, Jimmy Bention and Casey Carver. The GOBs are the money and manpower behind Dennis Rape which leaves Sean Maher and Melissa Merrell as only candidates without a special interest group, unless you count the parents of the 5800 students whose lives were up-ended.

It seems that rules just don’t seem to matter to Dennis Rape and his advisers. His campaign has all the earmarks of Union County cronyism, over the top comments, false accusations of opponents, a “Hit Piece” on a candidate in the EJ (the EJ’s forte over the recent county elections).

Hugo Chavez as may be dead, but his tactics are still alive in eastern Union County.

NCGA Statue: 136.32(b) Campaign Signs











Yesterday, I found this gift (pictured below) in my paper box. I heard about it previously and since I live in District 3, I wasn’t surprised to get one of my very own. I would be willing to bet that the authors of this expensive flyer are the same ones supporting Dennis Rape — just a wild guess of course.

I may fault the messenger, but it’s difficult to fault the message, as each bullet point is somewhat to mostly accurate.

The school board did sue the county, largely necessitated by belligerent tactics by the Commissioner majority plus one, who never had any intention of funding the schools properly. It really turned ugly when a couple of  commissioners went apoplectic, once they discovered the betrayal of their grand scheme, orchestrated by Yercheck and Kevin Stewart. The county was over-matched in court, and as a result taxpayers bear the brunt of the cost for the Hatfield and McCoy’s to wage a budget war.

Finally, I don’t think comparing Obama to Yercheck is really fair. It’s like comparing Bernie Madoff to a shoplifter, though I’m sure the flyer recipient gets the idea.

Tuesday’s almost here and perhaps we will find out whether or not western county residents and parents can find the polls and participate.











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.