RALEIGH The Wake County school board's choice of a prominent Republican lawyer to take a hard look at the school system's legal contracts and fees has ignited a wrangle about whether the move amounts to overt partisanship or just sound government practice.
The selection of Raleigh attorney Thomas Farr, a former nominee for a federal judgeship with strong GOP ties dating to the Jesse Helms organization, is just one matter of dispute between the board's ruling coalition and members who previously held sway. The new five-member majority, which received strong backing from the county Republican Party, favors killing the current policy of mandated socio-economic diversity in each school, as well as mandated year-round schools.
Board member Kevin Hill, ousted as chairman during a tumultuous Dec. 1 meeting, said naming Farr signals an excessive role for partisan politics on the officially nonpartisan school board. In addition, Hill said, the board should not have named Farr to the job without establishing his fee for the work.
"I do believe it doesn't look good for the board," Hill said. "He is closely identified with the Republican Party at the state level. His law firm has a minimum amount of experience with school law."
Board Chairman Ron Margiotta said Friday that he has not started negotiating money with Farr. The measure is up for renewed discussion at Tuesday's board meeting, which will also likely include a showdown between advocacy groups. State members of Americans for Prosperity say they'll rally support for the new board majority, while BiggerPicture4Wake and at least one other group have promised to show up in support of the existing diversity policy. . . .
And today the News & Observer published another story detailing Farr's involvement in a black voter intimidation scheme in 1990:
The News & Oberver story also links Teabagger organizer and right wing hack, Art Pope, to the GOP strategy to win a majority of Wake County Board seats. Since when does a local school board election merit national attention by GOP wingnuts? Think about it:
. . . .A 1992 U.S. Justice Department complaint said the Helms campaign sent postcards designed to intimidate tens of thousands of registered voters in heavily black districts during the 1990 U.S. Senate election. The complaint described Farr as a participant in meetings about the mailing and said he had been involved in earlier "ballot security" efforts.
However, Farr said on Monday that he had limited contact with campaign officials before the 1990 mailing and advised them not to send the postcards. His chief involvement was representing the defendants in negotiating a settlement with the Justice Department under which the defendants agreed to take no further actions to intimidate black voters, he said. . . .
. . . .Pope was credited by a local GOP party official with crafting strategies in an October election that earned school board seats for three Republican-backed candidates and landed an allied candidate, John Tedesco, in a runoff that he ultimately won. In an Oct. 7 e-mail from Wake County Republican Party finance chair Marc Scruggs to incumbent board member Ron Margiotta, Scruggs said the GOP had implemented Pope's plan and that it "worked very well."
The election resulted in the new members' and Margiotta's gaining a majority on the nine-member board, with the ability to advance their agenda, including ending the system's diversity policy and mandated year-round schools. Margiotta is now chairman of the school board. . . .