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Elected officials speak on questionable bills

More than 300 people attended the Crisis of Color Forum. The event was held to discuss three questionable bills filed by Rep. Donny Lambeth and Rep. Debra Conrad.

Elected officials speak on questionable bills
April 11
00:45 2019

For the first time since three controversial bills were introduced in the N.C. House of Representatives that could drastically change the landscape of the Winston-Salem City Council and the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education, several elected officials shared their thoughts on the proposed legislation during an open forum earlier this week. 

Held at First Baptist Church on Highland Avenue, the forum was hosted by several organizations including Action4Equity, Democracy NC, Forsyth County Democratic Party, Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, N.C. Education Association, Winston-Salem NAACP, and the Winston-Salem Urban League. Rev. Paul Ford, who served as the moderator during the forum, said the purpose of the forum was to provide clarity on what the bills mean and discuss a plan of action to ensure the bills aren’t passed.

“There needs to be a multiracial effort to call out these bills for what they are. We’re going to need everybody coming together,” Ford said.

The legislation in question, House Bills 490, 518, and 519, were endorsed by Representatives Donny Lambeth and Debra Conrad in late March and have been the topic of discussion ever since for what many deem as an “attack on democracy.”

If HB 490 is made law, elections for the local board of education will be staggered by districts following the 2022 election. Chair of the WS/FCS Board of Education (BOE) Malashai Woodbury said no one contacted the board to discuss the bill before it was filed. Woodbury said although she can’t speak for the entire board, she personally disagrees with the bill.

“I believe in the ideals of a democracy and any time you want to have a few people deciding what is best and what should happen, without the people asking for that to happen, then we exist at best in a republic and not a democracy for, by and of the people,” Woodbury said.

Board vice chair Barbara Hanes-Burke echoed Woodbury’s thoughts when she addressed the more than 300 residents in attendance during the forum, calling the bills “overreacting.”

HB 518 will directly impact the board of education as well. If approved, all changes to student assignments including student assignment or school choice, neighborhood school assignments, elementary or middle school attendance zones, the School of Choice process, magnet school choice, and/or any other school assignment or school choice policy, must be approved by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.

Commissioner Fleming El-Amin didn’t mince words when talking about his disgust with HB 518. He said, “It insults my intelligence for the General Assembly to tell me as a county commissioner to do anything against the school board. You voted for the school board, these are your representatives, they should speak for you.”

El-Amin said when he first heard about the bill, he personally called and emailed Rep. Lambeth and Rep. Conrad. He said HB 490 and 518 are designed to diminish the power of the school board.

As reported in the April 4 edition of The Chronicle, if passed, HB 519 would change the number of wards in Winston-Salem from eight to five and create three at-large seats. The bill would also give the mayor the power to vote on all city matters, not just in the case of a tie, reduce the terms for the mayor and city council members from four years to two, and change the procedure for filling vacancies on the council.

A map of the redrawn districts shows the only African-American women on the city council, Mayor Tempore Vivian Burke, Denise “D.D.” Adams, and Annette Scippio, vying for voters’ support in the same ward. Scippio, who represents the East Ward, said the bill is an issue for the entire city. She noted that under the current configuration, each city council member has about 30,000 residents in their ward. Under the changes outlined in HB 519, that number would be closer to 50,000, which would significantly increase the workload.

“This is our entire city under attack,” Scippio said.

When asked his position on HB 519, Mayor Allen Joines said, “I’m opposed to the entire bill.” The city’s longest serving mayor, Joines said the bill drives a wedge in the “racial healing” city leaders have worked so hard to achieve. Joines said he and his colleagues are prepared to fight the bill in court if they have to do so.

“… The mayor being able to vote doesn’t mean a thing. I vote now when there’s a tie and the only time it would make a difference is when there is a tie, so it’s just window dressing, I think.” He continued, “We want to keep the pressure on, not just from Democrats, not just from African-Americans, but from the broader community.”

At the time of publication, HB  518 and HB 519 had not yet been calendared. HB 490, which would stagger the school board elections, was scheduled to be considered by the State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday, April 10.

When asked what citizens should do to let Rep. Lambeth and Rep. Conrad know how they feel about the proposed bills, Rep. Derwin Montgomery, who is a co-owner of The Chronicle, urged those in attendance to keep the pressure on.

“We need you to keep sending emails, get people to sign the petition and continue to let Representatives Lambeth and Conrad know that we don’t support those bills,” said Montgomery. “That gives us the fuel to motivate the strategy that we’re going to be working on in Raleigh.”

Rep. Evelyn Terry said they can’t do their job without input from the people. Terry, who serves the 71st District in the House of Representatives, said, “We need to push back. The people did not ask for this. … Keep doing exactly what you’re doing now, but really rev it up and do more. Engage more people to be involved with the push back.”

To wrap up the forum, CEO of the Winston-Salem Urban League, James Perry, presented a brief action plan with information on how to access the petition that will be sent to Rep. Lambeth and Rep. Conrad and other important information on how to ensure their voices are heard. The petition and the entire plan of action can be found on the Winston-Salem Urban League website at www.wsurban.org.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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