News: Quick Takes

CJ politics week in review, Jan. 13-17

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here’s a week in review:

Amplify v. Istation hearings: Jonathan Shaw, an N.C. Department of Information Technology hearing officer, presided over the first round of hearings beginning Jan. 13 in the ongoing dispute between Amplify and Istation over a million-dollar K-3 reading assessment contract. Hearings have continued throughout the week, with Amplify arguing its case that some DPI employees, including Superintendent Mark Johnson, improperly swayed the procurement process to favor Istation. Amplify’s attorney argued Istation failed to meet the standards for a reading assessment tool. Attorneys for DPI and Istation have argued Johnson had the final authority to choose a vendor and that Istation met the requirements for a reading diagnostic tool. A decision in the case hasn’t been reached. 

Children of veterans scholarship: Only one bill was passed during the Jan. 14 one-day session of the General Assembly. Senate Bill 560, Scholarships for Children of Wartime Veterans, sailed through the House and Senate. The bill provides more than $2 million in new funding for the scholarships to address a crisis that left some students with a college tuition bill. The program ran out of money last year, prompting the state to borrow from next semester’s fund. While the move solved the immediate problem, it required the General Assembly to act to fill the budget hole. The bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate. On Jan. 16, Gov. Roy Cooper signed S.B. 560 into law.

Turmoil at Johnston County schools: Johnston County Board of Education picked Ben Williams, the area assistant superintendent, to replace Jim Causby as interim superintendent after Causby abruptly resigned Jan. 10. “Roadblocks and interference” by some members of the Johnston County Board of Education led to Causby’s decision to leave. The board is facing a $6 million budget crisis that could result in staff cuts if the board fails to devise a plan to address the money issue. Adding to the mix are allegations from Ronald Johnson, a board member, who has claimed corruption in the school district. Johnson said two female staffers were sexually harassed, and that district financial officials lied to the board about the budget deficit. Other board members, including board chair Todd Sutton, have told Johnson to either provide evidence or stop making public allegations. 

Michaux returns: Former Rep. H.M. “Mickey” Michaux, D-Durham, has returned to the General Assembly, at least for awhile. Michaux is finishing the term for former Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. D-Durham, after McKissick resigned to take a position on the N.C. Utilities Commission. Michaux was the longest tenured representative in the General Assembly. He served 19 terms in the House. Michaux will hold the Senate seat until the primaries March 3.

Climate Council meeting: Gov. Roy Cooper’s Climate Change Interagency Council is set to meet at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 22 in the auditorium of the N.C. Museum of History. The N.C. Institute for Climate Studies will present its climate science report to the council. The meeting is open to the public. Attendees who want to speak can sign up at the meeting for a two-minute slot. 

Pledge of allegiance: The Bladen County Board of Elections has garnered scrutiny after the board chair threatened to call in deputies to remove attendees who disrupt the meeting to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance isn’t part of Bladen County Board of Election meetings. Requests to get it added to meetings have been denied, but during a Jan. 14 meeting several attendees stood to recite the pledge. Initially, Louella Thompson, the board’s chair, said deputies would remove from the room people who use the pledge to disrupt the meeting. But on Jan. 16, the board announced it would allow the pledge to be recited. Speaker of the House Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, in a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper called for Thompson’s resignation. “North Carolinians deserve far better than to be led by individuals actively demonstrating contemptuous disdain for our great nation and her enduring ideals,” Moore wrote. “Her actions demean our democracy and its guarantees of freedom, liberty, and justice for all.”