Thursday, June 9, 2011


By Cash Michaels


            Editor’s note - In recent months, members of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association have raised serious questions about the direction of the esteemed civic organization, and the leadership of its president.
            In last week’s Part 1 of The Carolinian’s examination, we look at those questions, including if the RWCA is being crippled as an effective community organ for progress.
              In this week's Part 2, we focus on Pres. Danny Coleman's close relationship with the Republican-led Wake School Board, and why many RWCA members consider it a problem.

When the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association (RWCA) celebrated its 75th anniversary four years ago, members were brimming with pride, excitement and anticipation. The legacy of the powerful civic and political predominately-black organization, harkening back to 1932 when it was originally founded as the Negro Citizens Committee, was one of accomplishment and vision.
            Members, including then-RWCA Pres. Daniel Coleman, envisioned the work continuing beyond political endorsements into education, health care and economic development.
            "Until the day when we look at the population and don't see subsets, the role of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association will continue, Coleman was quoted as saying.
            Fast-forward to today, however, and several RWCA members say they envision something very different.
            Many of them tell The Carolinian they want their president out, and they want to vote him out now. But Coleman, they say, hasn’t held an RWCA meeting in over three months because he knows a significant portion of the membership will try to make the move when he does.
            As reported last week, The Carolinian asked Pres. Coleman for an interview to balance the record, and even offered to submit written questions in advance. Coleman declined, choosing instead to submit an off-topic letter touting his leadership.
            Members who’ve spoken to The Carolinian over the past several months not only point to allegations of irregularities with the organization’s finances and leadership structure, but also accuse Coleman of using the prestige of the RWCA to further his own political agenda.
            They also allege that Coleman is misrepresenting the RWCA position on several issues.
For instance, despite his strong backing of President Barack Obama, Coleman turned many a head in the African-American community on April 15, 2010 when he spoke at a right-wing anti-Obama Tea Party rally in Raleigh, and said that Americans should, “pay [for] your own healthcare,” a clear stab at the president’s health care policy.
But it’s been the GOP-led Wake School Board’s neighborhood schools policy, which the RWCA opposes, that has caused the most tension between Coleman and his membership.
Since the Republican-led majority took over the Wake School Board in 2009, Coleman has been vocal, and at times, even forceful in his denunciation of the old student socioeconomic diversity policy that for the past ten years had delivered stellar achievement grades overall, and with it, national attention for the school system.
"We have to ask ourselves where is the benefit of an assignment policy based on economic diversity when the end result produces the worst scores in the system?" he wrote in a Sept. 2010 email to RWCA members. Coleman was referencing how black students, particularly those being bused from Southeast Raleigh to outlying schools in the county to prevent the occurrence of inner city high poverty schools, were not performing academically as well as their white counterparts bused into magnet schools in Southeast Raleigh.
Wake’s black and Hispanic students actually were doing very well on state end-of-grade tests from 2000-2005, before growth distracted school officials thereafter, and that academic progress plummeted. Republican school board candidates seized on that to win the majority in 2009, even though there has been significant incremental progress independent of their elections that they refuse to acknowledge
In a Sept. 2010 N&O letter to the editor, a defensive Coleman, siding with the Republicans, strengthened his call for neighborhood schools, even though he knew it was directly contrary to the majority will of the RWCA membership.
 “How do you handle the data when it shows that the child from Southeast Raleigh, whether educated there or in the county at large, scores at the bottom of the charts?,” he wrote. “How do we examine this without being called re-segregationist or Uncle Toms?”
Attorney Irving Joyner, head of the NCNAACP’s Legal Redress Committee, didn’t waste time setting Coleman straight.
“It is clear that he misapprehends the distinctions associated between disparity in academic achievement for minority students and the need for diversity in assignments,” Joyner wrote in a letter to News & Observer education reporter T. Keung Hui.
“It is shocking that Dan Coleman is so out-of-touch with the thoughts and feelings of the African American community and the academic needs of our students,” said Calla Wright, president of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children, in a Sept 3rd press release.
“Anyone familiar with the decades of national research knows that student achievement falls as a school’s poverty level rises. Yet in essence, Mr. Coleman is making the claim that resegregating our schools will improve student achievement. No reasonable person believes that segregation is good for academic achievement—or for anything else.”
             Wright concluded, “Mr. Coleman and others who share his views simply wish to condemn our most vulnerable children to a second-class education.”
            And even Coleman’s longtime friends, like Raleigh businessman Bruce Lightner - who once made a motion at a September 2010 RWCA meeting for a vote of no confidence in Pres. Coleman, have had to read the riot act to him.
            “…[B] e forewarned, it is now a matter of public record that you have been secretly meeting with Wake County Republican officials, even found it politically expedient to speak at a recent Raleigh Tea Party Rally and are perceived to have become the black community's confidant to [Wake School Board Chairman] Ron Margiotta and John Tedesco,” Lightner continued.  “If this is how you want to roll ... more power to you. But as I hope you would expect ... I would be the first to call your hand if you try to chump off this community.”
When the NCNAACP made national headlines last July by marching in downtown Raleigh for student diversity, and then having four prominent members, including NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber, arrested and taken to jail, unlike other black Raleigh leaders, Coleman was far from sympathetic.
“Begging white people to send their children into the inner city, offering them more than we offer those we send out only re-enforces the 3/5's doctrine, the manifest destiny and white man's burden concepts that memorializes the blacks are not equal to whites,” Coleman wrote in an email then, furthering his crusade against the magnet schools program.
Coleman may have his staunchest critics in the African-American community, but in the broader community and Republican circles, he’s lauded for standing alone.
“I applaud Dan Coleman, president of the Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, for his courageous criticism of the Wake County socioeconomic diversity policy,” wrote Paul Kretzschmar of Raleigh in a Sept. 2010 letter to the editor of the News & Observer. “He knows he will be criticized by the Wake diversity leadership.”
Conservative blogs have also heralded Coleman’s singular stand against student diversity.
Last March in an email to RWCA members announcing the cancellation of the first of three subsequent meetings, Coleman wrote, “ I have enjoyed my two terms that may or may not be the constitutional limit of my service, and feel the RWCA has made great strides in representing the broader community’s interests.”
Members tell The Carolinian, however, that the interests of the African-American community is why they joined, and with crucial local school board elections coming this fall, what they need is clear, decisive leadership now so that RWCA can properly fulfill it role.
With Coleman canceling the last three meetings, they say, it may be too late.
For his part, Coleman has informed his members that any new election of officers won’t be held until this November. Because the first Nominating Committee chair, Michael Leach, refused to share his panel’s list of recommendations with the president last April (Coleman was not re-nominated for president on that slate) because he insisted that it be presented to the body first, Coleman appointed a new Nominating Committee chair to start the process again.
That has created more controversy. Though there is now a second report, the new Nominating Committee chair hadn’t been able to attend regular meetings in months before the cancellations, understandably because of family obligations, raising more questions.
Several RWCA members tell The Carolinian that they fully expect there to be a meeting June 16th, the third Thursday of the month as is custom. According to the RWCA Constitution, ten members present constitutes a meeting, and they say they will come, even if Coleman sends out a last minute notice of cancellation.
If it happens, it would be the first RWCA meeting held in over 90 days.
But what they can accomplish is not clear. The RWCA Constitution doesn’t provide a specific chapter and verse which allows for the immediate removal of any sitting RWCA officer, which some say would be embarrassing if one were ever criminally charged.
The agenda of that meeting, per a May 16th email from Coleman to membership, is “to be dedicated to the new WCPSS Assignment plan.” But expect there to be a battle over which report from which Nominating Committee should be ultimately heard, even though Coleman has said he wants it tabled until November.
With word that Coleman has started his own political action committee apart from RWCA’s M-PAC, through which he can endorse the candidates he chooses, and tensions high about his continued support for the Republicans on the Wake Public School Board, expect another rousing RWCA meeting like the one last September when Wake School Board member John Tedesco spoke, member say.
That is, if there is one.


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