In Defense of Sandhills Community College
Writer's note: The author of this commentary graduated from Sandhills Community College in 1993 and was employed there from 1998 through 2007.
Sandhills Community College is an important resource for families residing in both Moore and Hoke Counties.
More than 100 associate degrees, diplomas, and certificates. These include academic study/college transfer studies as well as vocational and technical studies such as nursing, culinary, computer science, aviation, automotive technologies, cosmetology, law enforcement, business management, landscaping & gardening, etc.
Continuing Education, offering a range of classes to help community members meet their professional and personal development goals.
Workforce Continuing Education Career & College Promise (WCE-CCP), offering tuition free career training to high school students in both Hoke and Moore Counties. This training includes instruction on HVAC, plumbing, robotics, pharmacy tech, welding, EKG tech, medical tech, carpentry, etc.
Career & College Promise which allows high school students to earn both their high school diploma and take college level classes (earning credits for their college degrees while still in high school).
Sandhills Horticultural Gardens, providing 32 acres of beautiful gardens maintained by students in the Landscaping & Gardening program, plus a visitors center. The gardens and the center are open for the general public to explore and enjoy.
The Katherine Boyd Library - the finest and most expansive collection of both academic and leisure reading and research materials in the community. The library is open to - and widely used- by both SCC students and members of the community.
Sandhills Community College is often referred to as the "flagship" and the "shining example of excellence" in the North Carolina Community College System. It ranks in the top five NC Community Colleges in NC on every credible ranking list. According to Niche.com (a nationwide ranking and review site), SCC ranks 4 of 54 Best Community Colleges in North Carolina, 55 of 906 Best Community Colleges in America, and 25 of 142 Best Colleges for Culinary Arts in America.
Given all of the above, it's somewhat baffling to see the recent vicious attacks against SCC by some of the highest profile leaders of the Moore County Republican party.
Moore County Board of Education Vice-chair David Hensley has posted accusations of unethical behavior by the Sandhills Board of Trustees on his official BoEd social media page. Steve Woodward has attacked George Little (longtime SCC Trustee), the Board of Trustees, and former SCC President John Dempsey in his GOP newsletter. The Daily Haymaker has published a commentary that flat out accuses the Board of Trustees of breaking public record laws.
Before I even break down the accusations, I feel like it needs to be said that the timing of these attacks is - well, rather suspicious. Dr. Dempsey retired in December and the Board of Trustees has been conducting a search for a new President. The search has been completed and the Board of Trustees has narrowed its choice down to three candidates. The community is currently waiting for an announcement as to who will be hired. It could be speculated that the alt-right wing of the Moore County Republican Party is directing all this recent criticism at George Little and the Board of Trustees in order to bully and pressure them into selecting the candidate of alt-right's choice. One may also speculate that this is nothing more than a naked attempt to shift scrutiny away from the dumpster fire that is Moore County Schools that has been created by the alt-right ideologues that were elected to the Board of Education last November.
In any event, let’s take a look at each criticism:
The Board of Trustees doesn’t announce its meetings to the public. - That is HOGWASH. The schedule of meetings is published on the “trustees” section of the SCC website and it provides public notice in compliance with NC Law prior to each meeting.
The Board of Trustees holds some of its meetings at a private country club. - This is TRUE. However, it only becomes an issue if members of the public wish to attend the public meeting and are turned away. So long as the public is allowed to attend the meeting, the Board of Trustees can have its meetings anywhere it chooses.
The Board of Trustees records its meetings and then destroys the recording after the minutes are transcribed. That is also TRUE. However, that’s standard procedure on MANY governing bodies in NC - including Town and Village Councils in Moore County. NC law says that a summary that provides an accurate account of what happened at the meeting must be produced and that can be either in written or recorded form. It is perfectly legal for any board to destroy a recording of a meeting so long as the minutes are a true reflection of what happened at that meeting. Many elected and appointed bodies use recordings to assist their clerk with the transcribing of minutes. Minutes are not required to be play-by-play - they simply must meet the statutory requirements to reflect that the board/government body carried out its duty in accordance with the law.
Now, I know what many of you are thinking right now - Okay, so they don’t have to keep the recordings of the meetings, but WHY wouldn’t they - unless they have something to hide? That’s a good question. After speaking to someone on the Board of Trustees, as well as an elected member of a local municipality in Moore County that ALSO destroys meeting recordings after minutes have been transcribed, the best answer that I got is that it is all about the cost and management of digital storage. That’s the same reason that some local bodies who live stream their meetings only keep them available for online viewing so long as they have “room” in digital storage. Once they are out of space, they actually delete the videos of their meetings and they are no longer available for public viewing.
While I agree that deleting recorded (verbal and visual) meetings probably isn’t the best way to foster trust and transparency, it’s not illegal. Just like it isn’t illegal for David Hensley to hold meetings with two other Board of Education members in his private home so long as there isn’t a quorum. Or how it isn’t illegal for the Board of Education to move away from doing most of its work in monthly work sessions and business meetings and instead do the bulk of its public business in small committee meetings that are held in the middle of the work day and not streamed or recorded.
While it’s true none of these things are “a good look,” none of it is illegal.
The truth is that I wish ALL elected and appointed government boards, councils, and committees would record and livestream ALL meetings (and I honestly don’t know why digital storage is a problem - I mean why not just YouTube like the BoEd?) and archive them in perpetuity for public viewing. Unfortunately, THE LAW DOES NOT REQUIRE IT.
So while I personally don’t agree with the way the Trustees are providing minutes of their meetings, they are doing nothing unethical or illegal as the law is currently constructed and interpreted by the courts. And these attacks on Sandhills Community College are deeply disturbing to me on many levels.
As I said in the writer’s note at the beginning of this commentary, I was employed by SCC for almost ten years - first as a Library Assistant and then as the Technology Services Supervisor in the Department of Learning Resources. During my time working there, there were many things about SCC that troubled me. I detested the workplace politics, the “butt kissing,” and the favoritism shown towards certain “types” of employees. I was concerned that so much money was spent on services to the community and the general public while some academic programs and services were chronically underfunded. I often felt there was vague pressure for employees to support and vote for those office seekers who were deemed “friends of SCC” by the Trustees. Having said that, all of those things are typical in any large institution that is dependent on public funds to operate, and I experienced the exact same atmosphere in the years after I left SCC to work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In the rush to condemn the members of the Board of Trustees as “members of the wine and cheese crowd” and to paint them as dirty, liberal leftists, critics have lost sight of what SCC is, who it serves, and the incredible success it has had.
SCC places hundreds of workers into the local economy every year. Its programs, especially the excellent WCE, serves a huge amount of students that come from very conservative backgrounds by training them in real world technical and vocational skills and placing them into good jobs. SCC caters to a huge conservative student body - and does it very well.
SCC does so much for the people who are supporting the very members of the Moore County GOP who wish to dismantle the college. Damaging SCC would hurt those conservative students and families more than anyone. Know why? Because those “liberal” kids from the “liberal” households that Hensley and Woodward and their allies have so much contempt for are NOT attending SCC - they are going off to four-year universities. Those “liberal” families don’t need Sandhills as much as the working class folks who are overwhelmingly conservative and overwhelmingly support the Moore County Republicans.
Is SCC perfect? No. But no large organization is perfect. SCC is however a wildly successful and crucial resource in Moore and Hoke Counties. It consistently ranks among the best community colleges in not just the state - but in the entire country. It isn’t broken. It doesn't need fixing. And it certainly doesn’t need to be burned to the ground with massive faculty shortages, bomb threats and lockdowns, and controversial, discriminatory policies like we are seeing in Moore County Schools. Remember, Moore County voters entrusted Hensley and his alt-right cronies with Moore County Schools - and all they have gotten is a catastrophe of epic proportions.
Is that what Moore and Hoke County citizens really want to see happen at SCC?
***Commentary by Cheryl Christy. Cheryl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org