Monday night’s McDowell County Board of Education got a little heated when the board’s attorney addressed board member Randy Williams’ recent hearing with the local Board of Elections, where his North Carolina residency was questioned and ultimately affirmed.
“The question is whether someone is entitled to hold an office by the state of North Carolina,” said attorney John Henning Jr. “It comes straight out of the N.C. Constitution that says a person is essentially eligible for an office in which they can vote. And that’s it. The only legal process to test that is a proceeding before the local Board of Elections. They are empowered and directed.”
Following a two-hour hearing Monday, June 4, the McDowell County Board of Elections voted 3-1 that Williams was a local resident and legal voter. His residency had been challenged by David Patenaude, an unsuccessful school board candidate, who claimed Williams actually lives with his family in California.
On Monday night, Henning, the school board’s attorney, said there is no policy or statute on how a school board can contest the title of one of its board members.
“I don’t know how much you are hearing in the community that there is something else you ought to be doing, or can do about it, but I’m here to tell you as your attorney, that there is no other legal process for this board to follow that has anything to do with the member of the board can hold an office. It is not in your hands. It’s just simply not,” said Henning. “I understand the determination has been made by the local board of elections that Mr. Williams is entitled to vote for his office. There is a process you can follow if someone is not found to be entitled to their office, but without that finding, there is nothing you can do.”
He suggested the board speak their opinions in open session in hopes the issue will “die down.”
Old Fort representative Patrick Ellis took that opportunity.
“We as a school board try to set standards for this school district, and with attendance being a very important part of our system, why should it be different for the school board?” he said. “If we took the percentage of what we hold our students accountable for and the percentage of special-called meetings, work sessions and regular called meetings, you wouldn’t pass for this year. I know you wife lives in California, I know you have school board here. It would be my recommendation that you would make a choice. The only thing I ask if you choose the school board, I hope, that you show up, not to just our meetings, but our work sessions, and our special-called meetings because of the stuff that we learn in them. And on a personal note, it is my personal opinion, I do feel like that when an issue is brought up, and we are on the hot seat, I think that it’s best to address an individual face to face. It’s embarrassing to Patrick. I think it makes the school board look small when we start throwing out ideas that could be right, when we approve the agendas each meeting, and point it out later, that is not fair. I appreciate what you have done on the school board, but my expectation of me and my expectation of all nine of us, we need to be here. That’s all I got to say.”
In remarks after the board of elections meeting, Williams accused The McDowell News of printing “fake news” and that the official school board minutes reflecting his lack of attendance were wrong.
Williams responded to Ellis and the school board with his own prepared statement, saying he has been bullied, discriminated, singled out and slandered by members of the board and the media.
“Over the last 30 plus days, I have been bullied, singled out, discriminated and slandered by some of the members of this board,” he said. “Someone has had an agenda to try to remove me from a seat on this board. This is an elected seat by which the good citizens of McDowell County elected me. Testimony was given under oath, and at least one of our board members has made statements that I have recorded that he would help Mr. Patenaude find a way to have the board of election remove me. I have a recording from the election hearing that I would be happy to play for you upon request tonight. Member or members of this board have bullied me, targeted my wife and family, with intent to get my seat on this board. The good citizens of McDowell County elected me into this position, that I will not be bullied to resign from. I have no intent of leaving and may run again in two years so the children are represented by someone who doesn’t have an agenda. Some of the present board members, their children or family members, either attend or work for the school system. I have no one in the school system so I do not benefit in any way to do favors, vote in a specific way or be biased on any items put before the board. Ethics and laws that are set forth in policy and procedures, ask yourself if you are following them. Again, I have been bullied and singled out by my board attendance printed in The McDowell News. If you review all board members and compare apple to apple who has been present and who has been absent, which I have done, you will see I again am being singled out, being bullied and discriminated against.”
Ellis rebutted that he has not seen Williams at many of the work sessions or special-called meetings.
“The community has already made their mind up,” Ellis said. “I don’t care if you resign, I don’t care if you show up, if you show up, you need to be here, that’s all I’m saying.”
Video of the exchange is available at www.mcdowellnews.com.