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Update: Opposing views expressed on school merger in packed house

The possibility of merging the Columbus County and Whiteville City Schools packed Columbus County commissioners’ chambers with so many people Monday night that, before the meeting could even get underway, a few people had to be asked to leave and wait in the foyer so that fire marshal regulations on occupancy would not be violated.

In all, 17 people addressed commissioners on the issue – 13 opposing merger and four in support – in a three-hour meeting that some observers and some county board members said was the longest county commissioners’ meeting in memory.

By the time the dust settled, commissioners had passed two motions regarding merger.

A motion by Ricky Bullard that was seconded by Buddy Byrd to ask members of both school boards to forward their resolutions on the issue to the state legislature passed unanimously. (On Sept. 9, the county board of education passed a resolution calling for a merger and later that same evening, the city school board passed a resolution opposing merger.)

A later motion by Edwin Russ which was seconded by Charles McDowell that no merger occur now passed on a 5-2 vote, but not without a bizarre parliamentary twist in which two commissioners, Byrd and Trent Burroughs, wanted to “pass” instead of voting. Russ, McDowell and Chairman James Prevatte voted for the motion not to merge, with Bullard and Amon McKenzie voted against it.

State law stipulates that, unless formally excused from voting because of a personal financial interest in a matter, all board members must vote and that an abstention by anyone nor formally excused must be recorded as an affirmative vote. McKenzie initially said he wanted to “pass,” but later switched his vote to a “no.” Burroughs and Byrd continued to “pass,” although Byrd said later in the meeting that his motives were misunderstood, that all he meant in “passing” was that he wanted to vote after other commissioners had voted. However, he did not avail himself of the same opportunity McKenzie took to change his vote and, for that reason, his vote was recorded as an “aye,” as was Burroughs’ vote.

McDowell cautioned the audience after the vote that the action did not finally resolve the merger issue and the that topic could come up again at any time.

See many more details in Thursday’s print edition of The News Reporter.

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