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Lawmakers, time to end fight with NCAE

A Wake County Superior Court judge has sided with the N.C. Association of Educators. That unannounced, post-midnight special vote Republican N.C. legislators took around this time last year to end voluntary dues deductions from members’ checks was unconstitutional. And it was solely aimed at smacking the NCAE for its support of Democrats.

This editorial board said as much last year. We called it unethical and probably unconstitutional when Speaker Thom Tillis reconvened the House after midnight to push through a vote on the dues checkoff. The NCAE rightly sued.

In his ruling, Judge Paul Gessner called the law retaliation against the group, and said the bill unlawfully singled out the NCAE. Lawmakers cut off NCAE’s dues collection but left alone payroll deductions for all other employee associations in the state, including the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

As proof of the retaliation, the NCAE pointed to comments from Tillis during a closed-door Republican House caucus meeting in June 2011. The NCAE sent mailers urging some Democrats to vote against a GOP budget. Tillis reportedly said the bill would give the NCAE “a little taste of what was to come.” He called the group a “political machine for the Left.”

Some House leaders indicated Friday they may continue to pursue this issue. They should not. It was a self-indulgent, foolhardy move, and has cost the state needlessly in defending it.

Lawmakers have more important issues to tackle and better ways to spend their time and our money. Accept defeat and move on.

A failure to communicate

Welcome to the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners, Pat Cotham. We’d like to introduce you to your boss, county manager Harry Jones.

What’s that, you say? It should be the other way around? We agree, but once again, it seems Jones and his staff don’t think they have to report or answer to commissioners.

Cotham, elected to the board in November, was “livid” last week that she didn’t learn until the public did Wednesday that a state official had declared the county’s MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare agency unready to handle $235 million in federal, state and county funding for mental health and other services by Feb. 1. Departing N.C. Health and Human Services secretary Albert Delia reassigned the oversight to Kannapolis-based Cardinal Healthcare Solutions on Monday.

So why did Mecklenburg general manager Michelle Lancaster and a county attorney tell Cotham before Wednesday’s meeting that the state was only “encouraging” MeckLINK to work with Cardinal “if we needed help,” as the Observer reported? Cotham, the board chair, would surely like to know.

Here’s a possible clue: Jones has a history of not communicating critical information to commissioners, and the Board has a history of enabling Jones with raises and an unwillingness to discipline a litany of mistakes and poor behavior.

It’s a culture that’s been harmful to the county. We hope Cotham can change it.

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