This week's column

This week's column is on the weird two-headed system that governs the state education policy. Cross-posted from Ex.

One suspects that as of this writing, State Superintendent of Education June Atkinson and her public affairs staff are huddled somewhere writing a response to a recent Winston-Salem Journal editorial that says her duties are so light, she "goes to work every day, maintaining her trademark cheerful and positive attitude about life, while the deputy state superintendent of public instruction runs the department."

This, as the Journal points out, is due to a sharp reduction in the super's duties mandated in the mid-'90s by the then-GOP-led House after a row with then-state super Bob Etheridge.

Now, Atkinson, who had to fight a long court battle over a recount of the 2004 election to win her seat, is even pulling down $25K a year less than said deputy, J.B. Buxton, a former education advisor to Gov. Mike Easley, who was hired last week by the State Board of Education. And Buxton, defeated by Atkinson in the '04 primary, reports to the board, not Atkinson.

Given the recount and the light duties, maybe it's time to drop the dichotomy that has an appointed board with the clout and a super with not enough to do. After all the rhetoric and legal fees involved in electing who would do the smiling and waving atop the Department of Education, giving up the ghost and making the post appointed seems to be a reasonable course. In this case, dropping one council of state election can probably be done without great harm to democracy.

Shuler is a D

The national press—and sometimes the locals, too—just can't seem to get used to the idea that U.S. 11th Congressional District Rep. Heath Shuler is a Democrat, which according to potentates of punditry must mean he's a liberal with San Francisco values. Maybe it's because he's grown tired of the media's search for daylight between him and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that he's started a blog with the Asheville Citizen-Times. That way, at least, he can get his own words out without all the raised eyebrows, gotcha questions and wild speculation associated with modern serious journalism. In his first post, Shuler promised to write a few times a week and stressed his support of a minimum wage increase, allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies, and cutting interest rates on student loans. Sounds like the commies got to him, huh?
You expected a gracious loser?

Speaking of the transition in NC-11, maybe it was just procedure as they're saying, but the fact that Charles Taylor's outgoing office staff had their computers wiped all the way down to the operating system had Shuler's staff howling that they were left with no case files or information on constituents seeking help from their congressman.

Guaranteed that'll come back to bite Taylor should he try to regain his seat in the next cycle.

Pinch hitter

Former UNC VP, one-time U.S. Senate candidate and current radio and public teevee personality D.G. Martin has picked up yet another title: interim executive director of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

Martin was named last week to replace former exec-direct Bill Holman, who stepped down in December to take a post with Duke University.

This makes the avuncular Martin's third interim appointment and shores up his credentials as a reliable temp worker in complicated roles. He's been interim vice chancellor at UNC-Pembroke and interim director of the Triangle Land Conservancy. He takes over at a time when the clean water program itself is in transition. Now, with $100 million a year to distribute in grants, many communities are eyeing that money for projects that go beyond traditional projects like stream restoration and wetland conservation.

In memoriam

Fifth district Rep. Howard Hunter, an Ahoskie Democrat who was just elected to his 10th term, died Sunday, Jan. 7. Hunter, who served as an Appropriations Committee vice-chair and chaired the Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources, introduced legislation to regulate hog farming and was an advocate for the state's minority economic development efforts. He was fined last year for failing to accurately report election contributions.

Gov. Easley is expected to name a replacement after a meeting of Democratic leaders from Hunter's district, which includes Bertie, Hertford, Gates and Perquimans counties.



is a great guy. I was glad and relieved to see him take this job. He'll do what needs doing and everything will be 100% above board and properly managed. DG is the father of Grier Martin, who I consider to be one of the rising start in the state legislature. A good family, dedicated to the highest standards of public service.

June Atkinson.

I am posting an edited version of my response to George's post on this same issue:

The W-SJ said “She has few duties other than those assigned to her by the state board” and “In the past, the board has given superintendents a good deal of responsibility. For reasons that escape us, it has not chosen to do so with Atkinson"

The duties delegated to Atkinson by the Board are outlined in this policy statement dated 09/02/2004, prior to her election to office. In addition to those duties she serves as Secretary to the Board of Education, is a member of the Council of State and, the Governor’s Education Cabinet.

There is nothing new in the fact JB Buxton’s salary will be the same as his predecessor Janice Davis. Like his predecessor he will “report directly to the State Superintendent” per State Board of Education Policy. The same policy, dated 09/02/2004 which also describes the State Board of Education’s current delegation of authority to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Position Description: Deputy Superintendent
Department of Public Instruction
The Deputy Superintendent reports solely and directly to the State Superintendent.

To date there has been no change, nor no proposed changed, in State Board of Education policy regarding this delegation of authority and lines of reporting.

The authority extended to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction has ebbed and flowed. The State Board of Education, over a period of several years found a comfort level with Mike Ward that allowed for an expansion of that authority beyond that afforded to his predecessor Mike Etheridge.

In the summer of 2004 with Mike Ward’s resignation as Superintendent, the State Board rescinded much of the authority it had extended to Ward pending the election of a new Superintendent. This was done with the approval of then Interim Superintendent, Board member Patricia Willoughby. The protracted election dispute served to extend the tenure of Patricia Willoughby as Interim Superintendent and the rescinded authority was never restored to June Atkinson after she took office. To be fair her tenure has run just a little over a year, having been sworn in August 23rd 2005 only after the General Assembly settled the vote.

The authority extended to Mike Ward was to some extent unusual though not unprecedented. The retention of authority by the State Board is similarly unusual but understandable. The election results were not predictable and the rescinding of authority was as much an immunization strategy against a potential win by Bill Fletcher as it was smart management tactic in the absence of Mike Ward. When Mike Ward first ran he defeated challenger Vernon Robinson. Ward earned his trust from the Board of Education over a period of almost eight years.

The Board’s failure to restore some if not all of that authority to June Atkinson may be a matter for exploration but it has not been precipitated by the appointment of JB Buxton. I would expect a delegation of authority to be consistent with that given to Mike Ward when he assumed office, not when he left

June Atkinson received 1,655,719 votes in 2004 general election. She and Marshall Stewart had more votes than JB Buxton in a three way primary. Stewart actually had the most votes but lost in the run-off to Atkinson who obviously garnered much of Buxton's support. There is no evidence of animosity between Atkinson and Buxton or the Board or the Governor.

There may be an argument for eliminating the election to this position but it should be in the context of other Council of State elected positions. Eliminating a position simply because political rivals may have out-maneuvered it is hardly a sound or Democratic basis for action.

The stories about JB Buxton’s appointment have sought to put a spin on a controversy that does not exist by assembling some grains of truth into a flimsy fabrication. Your post amplifies that spin.

The Charlotte Observer

chimed in yesterday on the editorial page. I meant to link to it. Lots going on here. Sorry for shirking my duties.

Edit: I still had the link handy. I don't think they question what June Atkinson does each day as much as questioning why we need both positions. I also remember finding another editorial in my research either from the N&O or the Greensboro News & Record that posed the same question. I believe it was printed back in December. I'll try to find it.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Thanks Greg

Good response. I hadn't seen it earlier. One of the points I was making was that the WSJ editorial was particularly brutal, possibly even snarky.

Obviously, I think the Council of State elections should be reviewed. I kinda went through the list in my head and couldn't think of another seat that fits the same circumstances, though. The Board of Education already has the reins.
Some people would advocate that Lt. Gov and, maybe Attorney General are all you need. I like the idea of direct election for most of these seats because it keeps them closer to the people—or it least it could if people gave a whit about it.
Unfortunately, we're in a situation where donations and PACs rule the races.

N&O Editorial from 12/15

Here's the link to the first editorial I found. So far, we've had N&O, W-S Journal and the Charlotte Observer in that order. Which editorial board will chime in next?

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.