RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — In a meeting filled with heated debate, the Johnston County Board of Education voted to support the idea of a bill to create districts for its election.
The resolution voted for by the board calls for lawmakers at the North Carolina General Assembly to create a bill that would split the county into districts. Board members would have to live in the district in which they run, but voters across the county would still be allowed to vote outside their home district.
The decision came down to a 5-2 vote with board members Michelle Antoine and Ronald Johnson voting against the resolution.
Currently, voters in Johnston County decide on their board members at-large.
“This resolution ensures that all districts in our county are represented on the board of education,” said board chair Lyn Andrews. “To me, this is an opportunity for us. It’s an opportunity for us to move forward in enhancing, to me, the election of our board of education members.”
The board also voted to ask state lawmakers to move the board’s elections to odd years, with staggered terms elected every two years. If the bill is passed, it will start in 2025 and elections will remain bipartisan.
Antoine and Johnson opposed the resolution noting its short notice and the lack of public input for the resolution.
“It seems like this is being done in a very rushed manner. We got a notice at 4 p.m., 5 p.m. Friday to be here at 8 a.m. today. I understand emergencies arise but this doesn’t really constitute an emergency in my opinion,” said Johnson.
When Antoine asked where the idea for the change came from, board member Kevin Donova said he first heard about the proposal earlier this month at Selma Railroad Days.
“It was floated to me by Marshall Conrad and he threw it at me. I told him I didn’t have an opinion at that time, and from there I guess he contacted somebody else,” Donova said.
Conrad is the chairman of the Johnston County Republican Party.
Johnson and Antoine called for a formalized public process before supporting the resolution to no avail.
“It feels like this is coming like a thief in the night,” Johnson said.
The resolution is not the end-all to the creation. Lawmakers still need to finalize the language for a proposed bill and vote to approve the changes.
Vice-chair for the board, Terry Tippet, explained to board members that the board of education would then be tasked with drawing the district lines. If they fail to do so, the map would revert to county commission districts.
“How can I effectively vote on a resolution saying I support a bill I have never read?” asked Antoine.
Those in support of the bill hope it can create more representation for Johnston County votes.
“I think we all need to consider that districts are the way to go as far as equal representation for all our school locations. You actually get a representative that’s in your actual school,” said board member Mike Wooten.