Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Melissa Mason takes vice-chair of NHC school board after game of musical votes

Board member Melissa Mason is sworn in in December 2022; Mason is now vice chair of the school board. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Tuesday’s New Hanover County Board of Education meeting marked a year since a Republican-heavy cohort was elected, and thus  time for the annual election of chair and vice chair.

READ MORE: ‘Placed there to implode EDI’: Chair asked to resign from equity committee

Though Republican Pete Wildeboer was reelected to his role as chair uncontested, three nominations emerged for vice chair — and board member Melissa Mason came out on top.

When Wildeboer opened nominations, current vice chair Pat Bradford was recognized first. Instead of offering herself up for reelection, she nominated her conservative colleague Josie Barnhart. 

Subsequently, Stephanie Kraybill — a Republican, though censured by her party and often breaking with the others on the board — submitted Democrat Stephanie Walker. Her nomination was followed by Mason’s nomination of herself. 

The board went through several rounds of votes on all three candidates before a resolution was reached. Barnhart failed to get the support of Mason, falling one vote short, while Walker was only supported by Kraybill and fellow Democrat Hugh McManus. 

Initially, Mason could not get a vote from Wildeboer nor Barnhart, though the chair switched his vote after one round without a victor. It took four rounds for Barnhart to switch her vote for Mason.

With one year of membership under her belt, Mason now becomes right-hand woman to the chair, serving in his absence and thus privy to information needed to conduct business from the chair seat. 

Though Mason campaigned on a strong platform of parental rights denouncing “inappropriate” reading material in schools and mask mandates, the board member has remained reserved in her actions and statements on the board. She has even voted in opposition with her fellow Republicans on a few occasions, including extending the board’s legal services contract with Vogel Law Firm and a trespass ban on a community member. 

However, Mason did deliver on one campaign promise Tuesday: the dissolution of the district’s equity, diversity and inclusion committee. After a few months discussing how the district should approach promoting equity, the board voted 4:2 to dissolve the committee on Tuesday. 

“The question has been raised to me: ‘Where is the accountability going to come from?’” Mason said. “Well, we do already have things in place that do hold our district accountable. We have an HR department that brings any and all concerns to when they arise. And we have Ethix 360 for our students as well. So we do have the ability to make sure that our students are treated fairly and that they’re receiving what they need. I just don’t see a need for an EDI committee.” 

On Monday, the EDI committee took an informal vote to show their opposition to disbanding; it was unanimous. Mason also asked the committee members to share their thoughts on the group’s progress. Most said there was more work to be done, stressing the need for the committee’s continuance. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, both Mason and Bradford called the committee disrespectful. 

“I was appalled,” Bradford said. “I saw no appreciation of diversity of thought. I saw no inclusion. I saw a great deal of hate.” 

Kraybill pushed back, saying there was no disrespect involved, and that Bradford was on her phone the entire meeting.

After Tuesday’s vote, the policy committee will need to review its standing committee policy language to remove EDI the strategic plan will also need to be reviewed for references and responsibilities given to the committee.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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