Friday, February 21, 2014

by Cash Michaels
                              Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr.

            In the aftermath of last week’s political firestorm surrounding the nomination of Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. as executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Chavis, who had his nomination temporarily withdrawn amid false allegations from moderate and conservative Democrats, says he can and will help the party muster up needed votes to win this fall.
            But only if the state party can overcome its internal differences and divisions, and unify in asking him to help.
            Meanwhile a statewide letter petition is being circulated to Democrats, asking the NCDP Executive Council to back Chairman Randy Voller in his efforts to recruit Chavis. In addition, support among NC black Democrats is growing as the party’s African-American Caucus has issued a statement backing Voller, and the nomination of Dr. Chavis.
            In an exclusive interview with The Carolinian and Wilmington Journal newspapers Wednesday, Dr. Chavis said, “It is up to the [NCDP]…” if he is to become executive director.
            “I would never try to impose my leadership on anyone or anything.”
Dr. Chavis says Chairman Voller, whom he has known for only a short time since the 2012 Wilmington Ten Pardons of Innocence Project and had supported as chair, approached Chavis with the offer to become an interim NCDP executive director [ED].
The previous ED, Robert Dempsey, was summarily fired by Voller Feb. 9th, according to that statewide petition letter to the state Executive Council, because he allegedly, “…has ignored matters brought to his attention by members of minority groups within the Democratic Party. The members are loyal voting Democrats, and on a daily basis fight Governor McCrory and General Assembly Republicans, while experiencing unprofessional treatment within one’s own party is outrageous.” 
Dr. Gracie Galloway, Democratic chairperson of the Eighth Congressional District, which includes Mecklenburg County, confirmed in an interview that Dempsey was unresponsive to the needs of “minority” members of the NCDP, having dealt with him personally on several organizational issues.  
Chavis was moving back home to North Carolina to pursue other opportunities – particularly with helping historically black colleges and universities - but says he was willing to lend his talents and services to the NCDP when Voller made the ED offer for what is considered a crucial midterm election year.
            But once word got out, it didn’t take long for Chavis to realize that those in the party who opposed the progressive politics of Voller were moving swiftly to block the nomination at all costs.
            What specifically surprised Chavis was that contrary to what he expected, there were officers directly under the NCDP chairman who were opposed to his nomination as E.D., and were also working to stop it.
            “Some of the people who opposed Voller used this as an opportunity to create their own agenda,” Chavis said. “I thought that when the chairman of the [NC] Democratic Party extended an overture, that his overture was representative of the political will of at least a majority of the officials at the party.”
            “I would have never entertained the idea of becoming executive director of the NCDP if I didn’t feel that it was a sincere overture,” Chavis continued, adding that there are progressive, moderate and conservative divisions within the party.
             Chavis said Chairman Voller had hoped to unite all factions of the party around a massive voter registration effort, which needed to start immediately in order to generate enough of a statewide base to carry the Democrats to victory in November.
            The key was to do what the Obama campaign successfully did in 2008, namely bring new voters into the base. With a tight statewide race between incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan and any Republican on the line, and GOP redistricting essentially making almost every Republican-led voting district bulletproof on the state and congressional levels, Chavis said his previous experience at running voter registration campaigns on national, regional and statewide levels, plus his skills communicating with young people through his Hip Hop Action Network with music legend Russell Simmons, was the NCDP’s best hope of taking North Carolina back from the Republicans this year.
            Chavis said if you total the number of black, Latino and young potential voters who are not registered in the state, it adds up to approximately one million. Unless the NCDP devises an effective outreach to capture the lion’s share of these unregistered groups, its chances of winning back North Carolina are slim.
            Chavis said he was willing to devote himself to that task for his home state, and the NCDP. Given the negative impact on the state since the Republicans took over in 2012, he saw it as an imperative that he does all he can to help turn the tide.
            And of key interest to Chavis is working on economic development issues across the state, so that low-wealth communities could grow and prosper.
            “My motive was to come to serve the people of North Carolina, to serve institutions of higher learning, and to serve those, heretofore, whose rights have been denied and suppressed,” Chavis said.
            But before his plane could touch down at RDU International Airport Tuesday, Feb. 11th, Democrats opposed to Voller’s leadership mobilized a concerted media and online campaign to relitigate not only past allegations of sexual harassment against Chavis from his days as executive director of the NAACP twenty years ago, but also his brief membership in the Nation of Islam subsequently.
            On social media sites like Facebook and Blue NC, Democrats identifying themselves as Jewish immediately labeled Chavis as “anti-Semitic” because of his association with NOI leader Min. Louis Farrakhan, who has a history of making inflammatory statements about alleged Jewish mistreatment of blacks.
            With the exception of a late interview on WNCN-TV which aired too late to make a difference, Chavis was not afforded an effective platform or opportunity to answer the charges, and ended up asking Chairman Voller to with draw his nomination from the state Executive Council vote that evening, possibly to regroup in 30 days.
            Chavis says though there was a settlement of a sexual harassment allegation when he was executive director of the NAACP in 1994, it was a “totally false” allegation, with no admission of guilt.
            “We live in a litigious society where sometimes people will try to extort money from an organization or a person by making false allegations,” Chavis insisted. “None of though allegations were ever proven to be true.”
            Chavis also vehemently denied charges of anti-Semitism (hating Jewish people), saying that in his many ventures across the country and the world, he works with Jews “almost every day. He adds that his critics would be hardpressed to find any statements by him expressing hatred of Jewish people, because he’s never made any.
            Chavis said he hasn’t been a member of the NOI for years, and is a member of Oak Level United Church of Christ in Manson, NC, where the Rev. Leon White is the pastor.
            And then this week, Gary Pearce, currently involved in entertainer Clay Aiken's congressional campaign, and former press secretary to Gov. Jim Hunt when Hunt refused to pardon Chavis and the Wilmington Ten in 1978, posted the false assertion that Barack Obama had “disavowed” support from Chavis during his 2008 presidential campaign.
            Chavis not only refuted the false allegation (Obama did disavow his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Min Farrakhan), but added that he and Obama worked together in Chicago when the president was still a community organizer there.
            As of press time, Mr. Pearce had not retracted his false allegation, nor apologized for the error.
            Chavis says what has happened in the past week proves that there is a fear in North Carolina that is not just generated by Republicans, and that’s what has North Carolina “trending backwards.”
            “If the [NCDP] wants me to serve [as executive director], I am open to that overture,” Chavis said Wednesday, “but it’s up to them.”
            “I’m not going to stand still.”
            This week, a statewide petition letter, addressed to the NCDP State Executive Council, not only denounces the attacks on Dr. Chavis, leveled against him in a concerted effort by moderate NC Democratic party members, but challenges those members to own up to the party’s own well-documented and widely reported misdeeds of sexual harassment coverup and criminal corruption by elected officials, before they judge the civil rights leader.
             The petition letter also reasserts the chairman’s right to not only terminate an employee – in this case former ED Robert Dempsey - but then hire a replacement, subject, according to the NCDP’s Plan of Organization, to the approval of the State Executive Council, “…to serve at the pleasure of the state chair.”
            Eighth District Chairperson Dr. Gracie Galloway says she wants Democrats to sign the letter, and send it to Chairman Voller at NC Democratic Party Headquarters.
            Galloway calls what happened to Dr. Chavis, “ a travesty.”
            Meanwhile, in a letter issued from the state office of the African-American Caucus of the NCDP, state President Willie Fleming wrote that the AAC, “…strongly supports our State Chairman Randy Voller, his vision, decision-making and commitment to improving the lives of all North Carolinians.”
            Fleming’s letter went on to say, “ We applaud Dr. Benjamin Chavis, Jr. for submitting his name to become our party’s next Executive Director. We support African-American and minority involvement in this crucially important and historic process for the North Carolina Democratic Party.”


Friday, February 14, 2014

By Cash Michaels
An analysis
                           DR. BENJAMIN F. CHAVIS, JR

            The fallout from the badly mishandled nomination of the Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. to the post of executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party this week, is still unknown.

             But the behind-the-scenes movement among Democratic rank-and-file members to ensure that Dr. Chavis, a veteran civil rights leader and member of the Wilmington Ten, was stopped, is something that may give African-American voters pause come the critical 2014 mid-term elections.

As in 2010, when the Republicans dominated the congressional and state legislative races to claim a solid hold on both the US House and the NC General Assembly, NC Democrats have their work cut out for them in November convincing black voters that they deserve to return to power. With a lack of fundraising and little energy on their side, state Democrats are almost wholly dependent on outside nonpartisan movements like the NCNAACP’s “Moral Monday” and “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” demonstrations.

The Chavis episode, as it played out this week, will not help those efforts.

It all started when NCDP Executive Director Robert Dempsey, who had joined the state party last spring, was summarily fired last weekend by NCDP Chairman Randolph Voller. Sources say Voller had become disappointed in Dempsey, and felt it was time for a change.

An offer to Dr. Chavis to take the position, given that the civil rights leader had been planning to return to his home state after years away, was tendered by Voller, and after much thought, accepted by Chavis. Voller, the former mayor of Pittsboro, became acquainted with Chavis during the 2012 Black Press-led campaign to gain pardons of innocence for the Wilmington Ten.

Over the weekend Chavis tweeted that he was coming back to North Carolina to help the Democrats in 2014, without saying how, or in what capacity. It was not the first time Dr. Chavis has mentioned intentions of being involved in North Carolina politics, having contemplated, just a few years ago, a run for a state House seat from his native Granville County.

Voller retweeted Chavis’ message, and once word of Dempsey’s dismissal went public, the frenzy among local media and NC rank-and-file Democrats began. It didn’t take long for adversaries of Chairman Voller in the party, of which there are many since the liberal leader edged out moderate competition in 2013, to begin drumbeats of discontent about Dr. Chavis.

Local media began reporting negative stories about Chavis’ past membership in the Nation of Islam from 1995 – fueling immediate allegations of anti-Semitism; and rehashing old stories of sexual harassment allegations against Chavis in 1994 when he helmed the NAACP as executive director.

In virtually every false local media report on Monday and Tuesday, there was no mention that in court papers, Chavis has never admitted any guilt in the NAACP sexual harassment case, even though he tried to settle it quietly for fear that it would hurt the civil rights organization.

Nor was there any reporting that Chavis left the Nation of Islam in the late 2000’s, and has been an ordained Christian minister, and member of Oak Level United Church of Christ in Manson, NC for many years.

And there was certainly no reporting about what Dr. Chavis’ productive activities since 1994-95 have been, among which are:
-                    Serving as president of the Education Online Services Corporation, an online provider of higher education materials for HBCUs;
-                    President/CEO and cofounder of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Summit;
-                    Cofounder of the Diamond Empowerment Fund which supports scholarships in Africa;
-                    Syndicated columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, read by 20 million readers.

Nothing was reported about his ministerial doctorates or other degrees from schools like Duke, UNC- Charlotte and Howard University, and the question was never even raised publicly if Dr. Chavis had the requisite experience to even function well in the position of NCDP executive director.

Instead, as Republican officials watched in glee, and the media focused primarily on any negative allegations they could dig up, Democrats took to social media to quickly stir up opposition among the moderate base.

Gary Pearce, who served as press secretary to Gov. Jim Hunt in 1978 when Hunt denied pardons to Chavis and the rest of the Wilmington Ten, took to his “Talking About Politics” online blog and, strongly referring to Dr. Chavis without ever using his name, chided Chairman Voller for wanting to appoint “…the most divisive, controversial figure he can find.”

Pearce, who is a loyalist of the so-called moderate “Hunt faction” of the Democratic Party which has reportedly vehemently opposed Voller’s administration, later did make direct reference to Chavis by name, writing, “And maybe Republicans will get so fixated on making Chavis and William Barber the faces of the Democratic Party that they’ll forget about education.”

By email, Democratic moderates were sending out patently negative narratives about Chavis.

“What are your gut feelings re: Dempsey's dismissal w/o just cause and about Voller's plan to announce tomorrow that he's hiring Ben (formerly Chavis) Muhammad as Ex. Dir. despite Ben's NAACP termination/lawsuit?” later asking, “WTH is going on in Raleigh.”

When the person who confirmed sending the email was asked why was Chavis’ former Muslim surname used since he hasn’t gone by it in many years, the person replied that they meant no disrespect. When pressed further, the person claimed to feel “threatened” being questioned about the needless reason to refer to Dr. Chavis in her emails by a name he no longer uses.

Emails were also sent out by members of the Democratic Women of NC.

They were not supportive.

“If you have not seen any of the articles, I suggest you Google Ben Chavis,” one DWNC member, who admittedly got her information from biased local media reports, wrote Tuesday evening prior to the NCDP Executive Council voting on Chavis’ nomination.

“I will be honest with you,” she continued,  “ I am not inclined to support Ben Chavis for ED for two reasons:  (a) lack of ED experience and (b) his history of sexual (sic) harrassment.  That said, if a majority of you feel otherwise, that is the way I will vote.”  

On the liberal “Blue NC” blogsite, reader comments after a story where Chairman Voller denied media reports that he and Chavis were old friends, and dismissed charges that past allegations and associations were primarily material to Chavis’ qualifications for the post, were negative.

What really got under my skin were Chavis' attitudes toward my fellow Jews,” posted Mike Radionchecnko under the title, “An Anti-Semite Running the NCDP.”  “When he was fired by the NAACP, he claimed that a Jewish conspiracy brought him down [1]. Chavis' speech at the University of Oklahoma was laced with anti-Semitic dog-whistles and innuendo [2]. He served as the right-hand-man to the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan, who has a prolific record of anti-Semitic and homophobic rhetoric, but Chavis' words speak for themselves.”

Two posts down, under the title “This Would Be Wrong for the Party,” someone identified as “chambers1” wrote, “If Chavis is no longer a member of NOI, this would be the first time that has ever been stated in the media. Frankly, I want to hear him say it. The NOI has done a lot of good work for the black community but nothing can excuse the fact that the NOI is a virulently anti-Semitic organization whose rhetoric about Jews is almost indecipherable from hate groups like the KKK and the Aryan Nation, etc. Having an Executive Director of the NCDP that was still a member of the NOI would be hugely problematic.”

On Facebook, other self-described Jewish Democrats actively compounded the anti-Semitic charges against Chavis, ignoring documented stories by the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun from the mid-1990s of then NAACP Executive Director Ben Chavis joining with other black leaders denouncing fiery anti-Semitic remarks by Nation of Islam spokesman Khalid Muhammad.

And when Chavis was forced to leave the NAACP in 1994, it is documented that it was under pressure from several Jewish donors to the civil rights organization who were concerned about charges of alleged financial mismanagement amid the sexual harassment scandal.

And even in a 1997 edition of The Jewish Week, the then Min. Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, under the leadership of NOI leader Min. Louis Farrakhan, told the paper that one of his missions was to improve relations with the Jewish community, given previous tensions between them and Farrakhan because of fiery remarks made by the Muslim leader.

For his part, Dr. Chavis, who arrived in Raleigh Tuesday in preparation for an announced press conference Wednesday, was certainly aware of internal opposition to his nomination, which had to be accepted by the NCDP Executive Council.

Facing difficult, challenging odds was part of Chavis' trademark, and he had prayed about Voller’s offer, and accepted it, deciding to leave its fate in God’s hands.

But the level to which the opposition had risen, accompanied by a seemingly united front between the media and a committed Democratic opposition to Chairman Voller, soon became concerning to even Chavis, sources say.

Among the major local media in Raleigh, only one, WNCN-TV, conducted an interview with Dr. Chavis, giving him something no one else would even offer – a chance to answer his critics.

In that interview he denied guilt per the sexual harassment allegations, and made clear that he had left the Nation of Islam years earlier. He said he was eager to come back home to North Carolina to use his skills as a charismatic civil rights leader to help Democrats win in the fall of 2014.

But before that singular interview ever aired, it was too late.

Tuesday evening, during a reportedly raucous, contentious NCDP Executive Council teleconference to decide on Dr. Chavis’ hiring, the nomination was pulled by Chairman Voller, at the request of Chavis, because of the growing firestorm among moderates.

 An interim E.D. was designated for the next 30 days.

Whether the Chavis nomination will ever be reintroduced is doubtful, given the high level of vitriol that remains in the party for its chairman.

The next day, triumphant members of a state party which had its own alleged sexual harassment scandal two years ago; handed the Republican Party control of state government for at least the next six years, and until recently, annually gathered for a dinner named after two white supremacist Democratic governors, slapped themselves on the back.

They admitted, as much, that Ben Chavis deserved at least due process to defend himself against allegations. But they vehemently opposed him, they say, to protect themselves from further Republican attacks.

They called what they did to Dr. Chavis, “political street smarts.”

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


   The Carolinian Newspaper has broken two exclusive stories regarding the ouster of Wake School Board member Keith Sutton as chairman on Dec. 3rd.

                                                          PROF. JIM MARTIN

By Cash Michaels

            In the most candid remarks yet about the ouster of Keith Sutton as Wake School Board chairman, school board member Prof. Jim Martin says he voted against board Sutton returning for a second term not only because “He never asked me for my vote,” but also because Sutton made critical decisions Martin didn’t agree with.
            It has been over two weeks since the seven white members of the nine-member Wake Board of Education voted to oust their successful African-American board Chairman Sutton for reasons that were cryptic at best.
            Publicly, new board Chair Christine Kushner, who served as board vice chair under Sutton for the past year, and the six other members who voted with her to unseat Sutton, would only say that there needed to be a change in “leadership style,” that “the board is bigger than just one person” and that the leadership change was an “internal board matter,” even though state statute doesn’t allow for any such thing beyond employee and real estate issues.
            Prof. Martin, arguably the school board’s most outspoken member, even suggested to the press that the 7-2 vote to oust Sutton was his fault because he would not go along with a unanimous vote for Kushner.
            The goal was not to publicly throw Sutton “under the bus,” Kushner has insisted, but rather immediately present an image of a united Democrat-led Wake School Board that has “come together” to tackle the daunting issues of growing high poverty schools, student assignment, and improving academic standards, among others, with a minimum of controversy as possible.
            But several leaders in the African-American community, including Raleigh District C City Councilman Eugene Weeks; Wake County Commissioner James West; and Rev. Dr. Earl C. Johnson, president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association; were not satisfied with the reasons given for the ouster of, perhaps, one of the most effective Wake School Board chairmen in the history of the school system.
            Unless there was some clear evidence of malfeasance, and there wasn’t any, it was hard to understand, given the desperate and rudderless shape the Wake School Board was mired in in December 2012 until Chairman Sutton took over, why a leader who successfully achieved passage of a much-needed $810 million school construction bond; the hiring of an experienced school superintendent; the adoption of a new balanced budget that didn’t layoff any teachers; fought off Republican legislative attempts to take control of school system properties; and ultimately helped to rebuild community confidence in the school board’s ability to function, would be then unceremoniously kicked to the curb by his colleagues a year later.
            One other local black leader also had a hard time understanding what was done, and why.
            Jannet Barnes, chairwoman of the influential Wake African-American Caucus, an auxiliary of the Wake County Democratic Party, wanted answers, so she invited both new school board Chair Kushner, and Prof. Martin, to address the caucus at its Dec. 11th meeting at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh.
            Barnes also personally invited The Carolinian Newspaper to come and cover the event, in hopes of getting a better accounting for the community.
            Ms. Barnes put no restrictions on The Carolinian, and a reporter for the paper publicly identified himself when asked, so both Kushner and Martin knew he was in the room when they spoke.
            Sutton had been invited, but did not arrive until after Kushner and Martin made their remarks.
            Then Barnes made it clear in her remarks that the ousting of school board Chairman Keith Sutton without “reasonable” cause, was unacceptable to Wake’s African-American community, and unless it was satisfied shortly, it may have ramifications for black Democratic support come 2016 when all of the school board seats are up for re-election.
            “I’m very disturbed about some of the things that are going on, and this is to the two Board of Education members,” Chairwoman Barnes told Kushner, Martin, and the rest of the Democratic officials and members present. “You can say this is personnel…it may be personnel issues to you, but it’s personal to the African-American community, and we need some reasonable explanation, because if you read what’s going on in the papers, there was politicking going before some of our board members were even sworn-in, and even had a voice at the table.”
            Barnes went on to say that Sutton was the only Wake School Board member she saw during her canvassing across the county actively promoting the school construction bond referendum before civic groups and churches.
            “We just need a reasonable explanation, and if we can’t get a reasonable explanation that satisfies us…,” Barnes warned before asking Kushner and Martin to explain themselves, further challenging them to explain why, “…you felt you could not comfortably sit under another tenure of Keith Sutton’s leadership.”
            For her part, Chairwoman Kushner, who later admitted that “it was tempting to stay home,” cryptically said that, “…it…was important that we come together as a board, and I don’t want to throw any of my colleagues under the bus or betray any conversations I’ve had with them. My colleagues came to me and wanted me to consider leadership. We have a great board of nine. We have to come together as a board.”
            Kushner then immediately pivoted to assure Barnes and the rest of the Wake AAC that the new board is just as committed to addressing the issues of school suspensions, improving academic standards, etc. as Wake AAC was, and invited them to work together with the school board, assuring all that Keith Sutton, who also represents predominately black District 4, stills plays a vital role on the board.
            Kushner tried hard to be discreet and restrained in an effort not to antagonize. However, Prof. Martin, as expected, went vigorously in the opposite direction.
            Where the new chairwoman only slightly defended Sutton’s ouster, Martin virtually made it clear that it certainly had to happen in order for the school board to move forward on the issues he cared about.
            Martin opined that “the leadership of any board was generally the board’s decision,” and what the Wake School Board did was essentially no different from what happens when other boards vote for a new direction without giving full public disclosure.
            ‘That is the case here,” Prof. Martin added.
            He said that he found it “a little intriguing” that board members would be criticized for “politicking” to oust Sutton prior to new board members being sworn-in, saying, “It would strike me as being very unwise not to have discussions ahead of time.”
            “That is, as far as I can tell, normal operation of any board,” Martin insisted.
            As Chairwoman Kushner cringed in her seat as Martin began his prolonged case against Sutton, the vocal college professor then got into specifics, first by seemingly backhanding Sutton, saying, “He never even asked for my vote” to continue as chair.
            “So I find that a little bit intriguing, from a personal perspective,” Martin said, then justifying his reasoning by confusingly saying, “You all want us to ask you for our vote, and show us why we would do that, and it would strike me that that is part of a leadership decision, and I can tell you that that didn’t happen,” reiterating that through all of the conversations he’s had with Sutton, the former chairman “never” asked Martin for his vote “for leadership.”
             “And it strikes me that that is a fundamental thing that any leader should ask,” Martin insisted to the audience.
            But then, prefacing his further remarks with, “The main reason for my vote [against Sutton] is I look at where we are…,” Prof. Martin proceeded to criticize what he felt were specific policy issues where he apparently strongly differed from his board colleague.
            Martin said the board “worked really hard” to develop a new student assignment policy months ago to alleviate some of the ills from the previous Republican school choice plan. Martin said the new policies weren’t adopted until things were “nearly to crisis level.”
            “I believe if we could have made headway earlier, we would have had less of a crisis,” Martin said, suggesting that then Chairman Sutton didn’t move fast enough to lead the overhauling of the failed school choice plan.
            Martin maintained that the most recent student assignment policy the board adopted is a good policy, but that it has not been implemented as a plan, and he feels that is a mistake. Saying the Republican school choice plan made the problem of high poverty schools in the system “incredibly worse,” Martin said the school board implemented a “stop gap measure” that has been in place for the past year, much longer than he would have liked.
            “We haven’t seen that change. We need to see change,” Martin said.
            On the school safety task force which came about after the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings a year ago in Connecticut, Martin said board members had “no input” into Chairman Sutton’s decision of appointing Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison and former Raleigh Police Capt. Al White to co-chair the ad hoc committee.
            “As soon as I heard about it, I gave Mr. Sutton a list of several people I wanted to see on that task force,” Martin said. “I do not believe that task force should have been chaired by Sheriff Harrison, I’m sorry.”
            “When that task force report came out,” Martin continued, “…what happened? Sheriff Harrison disregarded the work of the entire task force, and called for the creation of  [a] Wake County Schools police force. That was not the Board of Education’s decision, that was not the Board of Education’s decision how to construct that task force.”
            Martin went to say that “a lot of really good work” came out of the task force that neither he nor any other board member had any input in.
            “I believe the Board of Education should have helped select that task force. I don’t believe it should have been formulated the way it was,” Martin said.
            “It’s the kind of leadership, the style of leadership that the board was not included, and frankly those issues are issues that are important to me, and I believe are important to you,” Prof. Martin said, adding. “And I believe we’re going to see progress, because I believe there is a commitment on our board to improve safety, to improve discipline issues, to improve assignment issues, and I think you going to see this board moving forward, and I don’t think you’re going to see that assignment policy sitting on the shelf.”
            Realizing that he may have gone way off the reservation of Chairwoman Kushner’s comfort level, or revealed some of his deeper disdain for Keith Sutton’s leadership, Prof. Martin then took on a patronizing tone.
“I hope I’m not giving too much information, I respect Mr. Sutton very highly, I will work with him, and I told him, however the vote would go, I will work with whoever becomes chair. He has a lot to offer. We need him as a member of our board,” Martin offered.
After hailing Sutton’s call that more school system business should go to “minority” businesses, Martin continued, “Mr. Sutton brings a lot of value, he is a member of our team. This is not “throwing under the bus.” This is not “stabbing him in the back.” He has much value to bring, as does Monika Johnson-Hostler, another African-American member of our board.”
“I don’t believe you see a black-and-white board,” Martin said, referring to the fact that all of the white board members voted against the board’s only two African-Americans to oust Sutton.
“I don’t.”
When Sutton did arrive at the Wake AAC meeting after the remarks, as The Carolinian reporter was leaving, board colleague Jim Martin was laughing and talking with Sutton, apparently not sharing the critical tone he publicly took about Sutton before he arrived.
            The Carolinian sent a digital recording of both Kushner and Martin’s remarks to Sutton to listen to, and asked him if he would like to respond.
            After listening, Sutton agreed to an exclusive interview to answer Martin and Kushner’s allegations, along with others made by some of his critics. Part 1 of the exclusive interview appears in this edition, and can be heard on the radio program “Make It Happen” on Power 750 WAUG-AM, and this afternoon at 4 p.m.

                                                         KEITH SUTTON  

By Cash Michaels

            For the past two weeks since his Wake School Board colleagues voted 7-2 to remove him as chairman, Keith Sutton has been stoic in his restraint.
            He’s had to tolerate remarks from his successor, Christine Kushner, that “The board is bigger than one person,” and from board colleague Prof. Jim Martin that board disunity in electing Kushner was Sutton’s fault, as if he was supposed to vote for his own dismissal.
            He’s even had to put up with emailed personal attacks from the head of a local parents’ group who feels Sutton hasn’t been responsive enough.
            But when the former Wake School Board chairman heard a recording of remarks made by Martin and Kushner at the Dec. 11th Wake African-American Caucus meeting in his District 4 East Raleigh territory, Sutton decided he had restrained himself long enough.
            It had become clear to him that while Kushner and other board members feared being seen throwing Sutton “under the bus” by the public and the media, they had no problem doing so one-on-one or in closed meetings with various people in the community, thus attempting to undermine his notable accomplishments as chairman for the past year.
            Sutton told The Carolinian Newspaper, which provided him with the recording after attending that Wake AAC meeting by invitation last week, that his side of his tenure should be told, not necessarily to counter any one individual who has criticized him, but to clarify the record.
            In an exclusive interview Monday, Sutton spoke his piece.
            “I was disappointed in the outcome of the vote,” the former chairman told The Carolinian Newspaper. “I certainly would have liked to have served two terms as chair, “ Sutton continued, noting that most Wake School Board chairmen in the system’s history have served the maximum two-year term by tradition and practice.
Even Kevin Hill, who was board chair for only six months in 2009 before the Republican majority took control and immediately removed him, was given a year to continue when the Democrats took back the board in 2011.
            Sutton has been the only chair in recent memory limited by the board to just one term (in 2009, Chairwoman Rosa Gill voluntarily left when appointed to fill out the unexpired term of House Rep. Dan Blue, who had moved over to the state Senate).
            “It was my hope that we as a board could have gotten back to some of the continuity and stability that we have had, particularly in the chair position,” Sutton said, adding that he was grateful that colleagues had given him the opportunity to serve at least one year as chair in December 2012.
            Sutton saw his role as school board chair as setting the tone, identifying the board’s priorities, and then moving forward with the board to accomplish that agenda.
            Sometimes, certain situations and time restraints required the chair to use his best judgment, and in crisis situations, that’s what Sutton did without apology.
            One accusation posited by a board member (who The Carolinian agreed not to name) was that between Sutton’s job in state government, being the father of two children, and other commitments, he just didn’t have the time to fully serve as chair.
            Given all of the major challenges that Sutton took on and accomplished on behalf of the board in the past year, he bristles at the accusation that his commitments kept him from doing the important work.
            “Like most board members, I work a full-time job,” Sutton said, noting that most parents in the county also work to support their families, so it helped him, as chair, understand their challenges. “As most parents in this county and this system, I work a full-time job, so that’s nothing different or nothing new.”
             In that vain, Sutton had a pointed message for his detractors.
            “Because the current chair [Christine Kushner] does not work, [it was suggested] that she would have more time to commit to the position,” Sutton said. “And while she may have more time, that’s certainly obvious, I don’t know if that’s a requirement to be chair, or to be a member of the board.”
            “And that just strikes me as a bit of an elitist attitude to say [that] one has the ability to stay at home and not work, and therefore have more time to commit to the position,” Sutton continued bluntly. “The insinuation that [one] might be able to do a better job or do things differently because of that, just strikes me as being a little bit elitist.”
            The allegations that were made during the Dec. 11th meeting of the Wake African-American Caucus, an auxiliary of the Wake Democratic Party, are of particular interest to Sutton. He arrived at the meeting late, unaware that school board Chairwoman Christine Kushner and fellow board colleague Prof. Jim Martin would be there, let alone be asked to explain why was Sutton removed as chair.
            In her brief remarks to the Wake AAC – remarks that The Carolinian was invited to cover by Wake AAC Chair Jannet Barnes – Kushner insinuated that the school board was not united under Sutton’s leadership style, so much so that, “…my colleagues came to me and wanted me to consider leadership.”
            Compared to Kushner’s brief and discreet remarks, Prof. Jim Martin virtually gave a rhetorical PowerPoint presentation of how, in his opinion, Sutton failed to successfully lead on moving new student assignment policies into implementation over the past year, and how Sutton allegedly denied the board any input into the formulation of the Schools Safety Task Force.
            ““It’s the kind of leadership, the style of leadership that the board was not included, and frankly those issues are issues that are important to me…,” Martin told the Wake AAC.
            Prof. Martin then, in an effort to soften his tone, inexplicably said that Sutton, “…has much value to bring, as does Monika Johnson-Hostler, another African-American member of our board.”
            Why Martin deliberately singled out the board’s only two African-American members, as if to say that contrary to popular belief, the seven other white members’ vote to remove Sutton was not racial, is not clear.
            But it didn’t help.
            Sutton didn’t react to the racial aspect of Prof. Martin’s remarks, but he did take umbrage with other remarks, without calling either Martin or Kushner by name.
            Sutton is on record as voting against the ill-fated Republican school choice plan in 2011 (before Martin got on the board) because he feared that it would create more high poverty schools, which it did.
            When the Democrats took back the board majority, they tried to give the school choice plan time to work in 2012 until it became clear that it wouldn’t. The plug was pulled and then Supt. Tony Tata was fired.
            Sutton says in the aftermath, the board had few maps to work with to then develop a new student assignment plan and policy that would ensure proximity and stability. So a stopgap measure and new policies were adopted until a full plan could be developed.
            But there were also more pressing priorities that the board was looking down the barrel at that Sutton, as chair, felt had to be addressed immediately – namely the filling of two vacated board seats left by Republicans Chris Malone and Debra Goldman, and the process of hiring a new schools superintendent.
            Add to those trying to build bridges to a testy Republican-led Wake County Commission Board which was threatening not to push for the $810 million school construction bond; preparing for a new $1.2 billion budget with a $30 million gap that would not cut teachers in a bad economy; and then dealing with two unforeseen legislative challenges by the county commissioners to take control of the school system’s properties and redraw the school board’s district voting maps, and Sutton says, in his judgment, that with one major challenge after another, something had to be left on the shelf for later attention.
            Then there was the recent staff recommendation that because there would be no new schools opening soon, there was no need to reassign or move students. Instead, a new three-year plan would be drafted, using the new policies, starting the 2014-15 school year with the CTE and other new schools coming on line.
            So despite implications expressed by Martin that not moving forward with a new student assignment plan was a failure in leadership, Sutton says the record shows there were vital priorities which had to come first.
            Another issue was the formation of the Schools Safety Task Force, an ad hoc committee to study campus security Sutton says is in the purview of the chair to create and appoint members to.
            WCPSS staff had proposed spending $2 million to $3 million on hiring unarmed security personnel in the schools, especially in the 105 elementary schools. Sutton, some on the board, and members of the community had problems with that, so he decided the concern deserved expert study.
            With the support of the interim superintendent at the time, and head of WCPSS security, Sutton created the task force.
            He adds that members of the board were involved, and did make recommendations as to who should serve.
            The former chair says it made sense to appoint the highest ranking law enforcement official in the county to co-chair the task force, namely Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison, not only because in case of a school shooting or emergency anywhere in the county, his would be the lead local agency answering the call, but also so that Harrison could bring Emergency Management and other responsible agencies to the table for their considered analysis.
            Plus, the fact that Sheriff Harrison is Republican sent a strong message that school security was a bipartisan issue, and should be treated that way, Sutton says.
            And as for retired Raleigh Police Captain Al White, Sutton felt that his current role in administrative security at North Carolina Central University in Durham was a needed element when it came to knowing how large school campuses are laid out, and what the most effective ways of securing them would be.
            Sutton said he then carefully chose representatives of various disciplines, including mental health, substance abuse, the law and even parents to fill out the board so that a comprehensive set of recommendations would come forth.
            “When we came out with those names, I heard very few, if any complaints,” Sutton recalls, saying that he wanted that bi-partisan task force to have credibility so that both sides of all issues could be openly be discussed at the table.
            The task force did issue its final report of recommendations during the summer. Having WCPSS create its own police force, as Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Moore county school systems have, was not part of that report, Sutton said, primarily because of the expense and practicality.
            Sheriff Harrison, however, felt compelled to personally give his own assessment that Wake School System should develop its own police force because of the importance of a centralized authority in times of crisis. Sutton reiterates that that was the sheriff’s own opinion, but it was not part of the official task force report.
            Regarding why he didn’t ask for certain school board members’ votes for reelection as chair, Sutton said that with all the board had been facing this past year, it would have been inappropriate to begin politicking before the school bond passed and the October elections. But as soon as the elections were over, Sutton was surprised to learn that Christine Kushner was already being touted by a majority of the board to oppose him for leadership.
            In the weeks leading up to the December 3rd vote to remove him, Sutton had several heated discussions with some of those who opposed him. But the handwriting on the wall.
What has struck Sutton, and observers of the Democrat-led Wake School Board for the past year as odd, is that whatever disagreements of substance that some felt warranted Sutton’s removal as chair, never really reared their ugly heads. Many of the very board members who voted to oust Sutton, are the same board members who voted approval when that same chairman brought issues to the table for their support and ratification.
            Indeed, if there any strong differences of opinion with the chair, or strong feelings regarding needed agenda items that should be priority, rarely was that made known at the table, Sutton agrees.
            “While I’m chair, and have the ability to certainly influence certain decisions and give some direction, there’s not a whole lot I can do by myself or on my own,” Sutton says. “ I am one vote of nine…”
            “At that time, I heard very little concern, if any about these issues being raised at this point. So if the criticism is about my kind of leadership, my style of leadership, I make no apologies for that. It has given direction, it’s being decisive, and being strategic in what we were doing, an if you look at this past year and what we accomplished, as a board, in passing a bond, in hiring a superintendent – and having an open and fair process in doing that – to getting a good solid budget passed, in having some success with the Legislature to hold onto construction and maintenance of our schools, and the community feeling comfortable with that, and trusting us to not just continuing to build schools, but with $800 million of their money to build sixteen more.”
            “I think we were able to reestablish some credibility in the community, establish some confidence in this board and in the school district. So I make no apologies for the kind of leadership I provided. Quite frankly, I’m very proud of it, and proud of what we accomplished this year as a board.
            In Part 2 next week, Sutton discusses why, sometimes, he had to go it alone.