North Carolina Republicans aim to revoke governor’s ability to pick community college boards

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    North Carolina Republican lawmakers would take away the governor’s ability to pick scores of state and local community college board members in a measure approved on Wednesday by a state Senate committee.

    The bill marks the latest attempt by GOP leaders to shift power from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and future governors to the General Assembly. It’s a trend that the state’s former living governors expressed concerns about in a letter released hours before the committee meeting.

    Bill sponsors say the measure, which also would give more authority to the state community college president to manage the campus system’s central office and recommend campus study programs, is designed to promote accountability across the state’s 58 colleges. The state system president also would have more responsibilities related to the hiring and firing of local campus presidents.

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    Specifically, the current administrative and governance structures have fallen short at times in training workers for jobs at companies seeking to expand in the state, said Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican and a chief bill sponsor.

    “I believe that there is a strong impression that in … some corners of the state that there are community colleges which have been less responsive to the needs of prospective employers than others,” Galey told the Senate education committee. “There have been instances recently where we’ve had community college presidents whose work could be improved upon.” She declined to name specifics.

    The proposal was unveiled and advanced during a time of transition atop the system and instability on campuses. Previous system President Thomas Stith resigned last summer after barely 18 months on the job, as state board members quickly lost confidence in him. A search committee has sought a replacement. Recent years also have been marked by high turnover among campus presidents, who are approved by the State Board of Community Colleges.

    North Carolina Fox News graphic

    North Carolina GOP lawmakers of a state Senate committee approved a bill Wednesday that would shift Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s ability to pick community college boards to the General Assembly.

    The 22-member state board is currently composed of 10 people chosen by the governor and eight who are elected by the House and Senate. The remaining members are the lieutenant governor, state treasurer, labor commissioner and the president of the statewide community college student government association. Under the measure, the membership ultimately would be reduced in 2027 to 18, of which the House and Senate would elect nine each.

    For local community college trustee boards, eight board members would be appointed by legislative leaders. Another four or six would be elected by county commissioners. Save for a handful of campus exceptions, the governor currently gets to choose four members, with county commissioners and local school boards electing all but one of the remaining spots.

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    Galey defended removing the governor and others from the board appointment process, pointing to a line in the North Carolina Constitution stating the General Assembly “shall provide for the selection of trustees of The University of North Carolina and of the other institutions of higher education.”

    Democratic committee members said they supported the broader concepts of promoting a more nimble and collaborative community college system that helps private industry. But they questioned cutting out entirely the governor, who is considered the state’s chief economic recruiter.

    Cooper spokesperson Sam Chan said the bill “will damage significantly our job-recruiting efforts if a Governor has no appointments to any community college boards … it makes no sense to destroy a system that is working well simply to gain political power.”

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    The bill, which could come up for a Senate floor vote next week, was heard two weeks after the Senate voted along party lines for another GOP measure that would allow the General Assembly to choose many more members of several powerful state commissions. Current state law gives majority or unanimous control of these boards to Cooper’s appointees. Cooper’s office called that bill an “unconstitutional power grab” by Republican lawmakers.

    Five former governors — three Democrats and two Republicans — told Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore in their letter Wednesday that they believe language in these bills and another one would be unconstitutional if enacted. They cite state Supreme Court decisions that in part declared the compositions of some boards can be unlawful when they interfere with the governor’s ability to carry out laws.

    “A dramatic shift in who chooses the people who carry out the laws threatens progress, and people’s livelihood,” says the letter signed by Democrats Jim Hunt, Mike Easley and Beverly Perdue and Republicans Jim Martin and Pat McCrory.

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