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Liz Hair was pioneer, true public servant

There will be lots of smiles among the tears at Saturday’s memorial service for Elisabeth “Liz” Hair. The grande dame of female politicians in Charlotte, who died at 94 this week, was a beacon to many and left a legacy of public service that will be hard for most to match.

Pioneer, she indisputable was – leaving a string of firsts in this community: First woman elected as a Mecklenburg County commissioner, the first female to chair that body, the first woman to head the county elections board.

But being first wasn’t really Liz Hair’s aim. She wanted to get things done. And she did – for women, for children, for education, for the arts, for the environment and innumerable important issues. Because of her work to get the county to preserve more open space and her push for money for a greenway system, officials in 2006 renamed a section of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway the Liz Hair Nature Walk.

Upon recommending her for the honor, supporters captured her life aptly: “Passionate about the needs of women and children, education, the environment and citizen participation in public decision-making, Liz has been at the forefront of almost every important movement in Charlotte-Mecklenburg since 1960.”

Smart, wise, visionary, fierce, fearless, committed, graceful, good-humored, that was Liz Hair. She provides an impressive role model for men as well as women. This community is indebted to her. She will be missed.

A charter school secret?

Charlotte Observer education reporter Ann Doss Helms made a startling discovery this week: North Carolina charter schools don’t have to tell the public what their employees are paid, despite those schools receiving hundreds of millions of public dollars.

At least that’s what the N.C. Department of Public Instruction says. DPI spokesperson Vanessa Jeter told Helms this week that because there’s nothing spelled out in state law for employees of private charter-school boards, it’s up to each board to decide what it wants to disclose regarding salaries.

But Gerry Cohen, special counsel of the N.C. General Assembly, disagrees. He says that unless the law gives charter schools special privacy privileges (which it doesn’t) the schools are subject to public records laws.

Lawyers for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the N.C. Press Association agree with Cohen. So do we.

So what do charter schools ultimately have to reveal? Whatever the legislature says they have to reveal, and lawmakers need to quickly clarify what that is. While doing so, they should remember that as with other state expenditures, the public deserves to know where its tax dollars are going.

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