School construction corruption | Eastern North Carolina Now

By:  Hood Richardson

There is a saying that my friends frequently remind me of:  Politicians do not get smarter while in office.  Translation, politicians who do not respect the public’s rights.  They will abuse them during their entire term of office.  My observation after 27 years as County commissioner is that we cannot teach old dogs new tricks. Once an abuser of the public always an abuser of the public.  Yet, we keep electing these very unethical people to office.  

The Local Government Commission, a department in the State Treasurer’s Office, enforces a general statute that requires Cities and Counties to manage the construction of capital projects by setting up a project ordinance.  All monies, grants donations, appropriations and special taxes are required to be accounted for in the ordinance.  All money spent for any purpose toward the project is required to be drawn from the project ordinance.

The purpose of the capital project ordinance is, frankly, to keep governments honest. That is so the public can know and be aware of the true cost of any project.  A separate budget is required for each capital project ordinance.  Otherwise, governments could tell the public a certain project would cost ten million dollars.  The cost could actually be fifteen million dollars.  Without the project ordinance the city or county could use money appropriated for other purposes to fund a project and the public would never know how inept or incompetent the city or county actually is.  This why the county audit is required sent to the Local Government Commission each year.

An example of the abuse of a project ordinance is rumored to have happened when the City of Washington underestimated the cost of the downtown modernization.   Rumor has it that a lot of the expense was paid by draining funds from the water, sewer, electrical and storm water accounts.  Whatever happened, fees for some of these services were raised when the project was complete.

In order to have a budget, someone has to decide how much will be spent for every part of the project.  That means doing a preliminary or estimated budget.  Also someone has to present to the Board of County Commissioners some preliminary plans, and ideas about what the innovations, if any, will be in the project.

The School Board and County Commissioners announced we are building a 52-million-dollar school and demolishing two other schools.  We have been told 40 million dollars is a grant from the State Lottery Fund and 12 million dollars will be paid by Beaufort County.  That is all the County Commissioners know.  I also understand that is all the School Board knows.

Some School Board members and County Commissioners will try to tell you that they know a lot more and assure you that this construction project is very well managed. The truth is, the only thing these “Boards” know is what is presented to them sitting as a board in a public meeting”.  This is how the open meeting laws are applied.

There have been secret meetings among and architect, Matthew Cheeseman Superintendent of Schools, T. W. Allen the Chairman of the School Board, and Frankie Waters the Chairman of the County Commissioners going over plans and schedules having to do with the new school construction.  In order for these meetings to be legal in the eyes of the North Carolina Open Meetings Laws both the School Board and the Board of County Commissioners have to be informed in advance and the “Board” has to designate and approve the meetings and define the authority of any individuals designated to represent each Board.  Any “Board” members may be in attendance along with members of the public if they so desire.  No such notices or information has been presented, in advance, to the Board of County Commissioners.

These secret meetings are an example of elected officials, Waters and Allen, seizing power from the public.  They are also an example of administrative malfeasance, Cheeseman, and the usurping of democratic principles.

It is noteworthy that Jerry Langley and Manager Alligood were invited to the secret meeting but had other more important things to do.

None of these people have ever managed a 52-million-dollar project, built a school or examined how to actually improve education in Beaufort County.  Most of Cheeseman’s schools are low performers.

This is how the last school building project in Beaufort County became such a disaster.  The first big lie was that new school buildings educate children.  Today, we have new schools but with less educated children.  The Board of County Commissioners turned over the management of the project to the Schools.  Those people had never managed a 32-million-dollar budget, built a school, or examined how to improve education in Beaufort County.  

When it was over, we spent more than 40 million dollars, primarily because comprehensive budgets were never prepared and presented to the Board of County Commissioners.  The school Board left out the cost of parking lots, furniture, etc, etc. These new school buildings are oversized to the point that we now have 50 percent (half) of the school buildings are empty.

We are headed for the same disaster today simply because we will not look at our past mistakes.  We are allowing Waters, Cheeseman and Allen and their feelings of superiority and grandeur to violate the budget ordinance and open meetings laws.  These laws were enacted to stop this kind incompetence and administrative malfeasance.

The open meeting laws have been violated numerous times in Beaufort County.  Almost all work in dissolving the hospital trust fund was done in the back room, the hiring of a more expensive web site company and securing the 40 million dollar grant to build this unneeded school were done in the back room.  That is, without full knowledge and preapproval of the “Boards” sitting in public session.  These things are usually put together in the back room and then brought to the full board as “something you have to vote for”.  These are corrupt methods.

Both boards should be asking the public for their ideas about the new school, budget drafts should be going back and forth between the two boards, scope of work should be developed and presented to the architect in writing.  All of this should be done in open “Board” meetings with public oversight and involvement.

The Board of County Commissioners holds the money to be doled out to the Board of Education as needed.

Controlling budged overruns is the responsibility of the Board of County Commissioners.  It is up to us to tax the public to get this money.  That did not happen during the last school construction project. Without quick and decisive action by the public, it will not happen this time.

I have placed these issues on the April 1, Commissioners agenda. I requested budget and design information.  To date I have a one-page budget and a crude building layout with a questionable driveway and parking layout.    Ten minutes has been allotted to discuss this 52-million-dollar project.  This is another indicator of the disrespect Waters, Allen and Cheeseman have the citizens of Beaufort County.


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Big Bob said:
( April 4th, 2024 @ 9:34 am )
Gaslighting at it’s finest
( April 3rd, 2024 @ 2:00 pm )
I want to thank Hood for all he does to protect the local taxpayers from wasteful spending. Its a good trait missing among so many other elected politicians.

I watched this Commissioners meeting, where Hood merely asked for a motion to provide direct hands-on oversight, by the County Commissioners of the budget, the spending, & the construction plans of the new school, so that unlike in the past, we wouldnt wake up one day with vast overspending, because those in charge hadnt provided for the parking lot, furniture and whatever. Isnt this the way a govt ends up with $500 hammers and toilet seats??

WHY WOULD those commissioners other than Stan, vote this motion down? WHY dont they want to protect the local taxpayers?
It sure seems to me that the majority who voted nay, would rather spoon with an alligator than vote for ANYTHING that Hood suggested.

That means that they arent on the side of the citizens, but rather are just shallow, useless, petty, govt pretenders.
Big Bob said:
( April 3rd, 2024 @ 12:21 pm )
Secret meetings. Really? The meeting isn't secret just because you were not invited. My guess, they only invite you when legally required to do so. And that's on you.
( April 3rd, 2024 @ 7:53 am )
What is really behind the drive for this huge new elementary school? It is all about Superintendant Cheeseman and his resume. One hole in Cheeseman's resume for climbing the ladder and becoming superintendant of a bigger, more pretigious, and better paying school district, is his lack of being able to say he built new schools. This is ALL about filling that hole in his resume.
( April 3rd, 2024 @ 12:32 am )
I still will never fathom why any school board would NOT have the good sense to build a 52 million dollar project, at the insane number of $383.00 per square foot, on the highest point of this sprawling tract of land rather than on the lowest.

This is Beaufort County, in eastern North Carolina, and one who allocates the people's money in such vast quantities must be ever mindful of such pesky details.
( April 2nd, 2024 @ 7:54 pm )
Thanks, Commissioner Richardson for setting out the facts of this boondoggle. We have too much backroom politics in our county and that hits taxpayers in the wallet. Unfortunately, when Richardson sets out the facts like this, it sets off Hood Derangement Syndrome in some. Many of those who suffer from Hood Derangement Syndrome also suffer from Trump Derangement Syndrome.
( April 2nd, 2024 @ 5:05 pm )
Wow Hood is at his lies again. I went back to look at the check presented to the boards and the check is for 42 million. I guess since I did not see Hood in the picture he grabbed his number out of the sky! Hood go back and check your school score data. There are 0 F schools and Bath is a B not an A. CPS and Early College are both As! This is nothing but blog post again not a news article!! News is facts not fiction!

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