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Cook: Which central office site is in whose interest?

Letís put the debate over the schoolsí central office into context.
Rowan-Salisbury school officials looked at Cornerstone Churchís property off Webb Road in 2010. But county commissioners ó or at least their chairman ó frowned on spending millions to acquire the land and buildings.
The sale figure was reported to be between $4.5 million and $5.5 million.
Carl Ford, then chairman, rejected the expenditure.
ěItís a great building, but the economy just doesnít allow us to do much of anything right now,î Ford said in November 2010, as reported in the Post. ěWith whatís probably going to happen next year (with the budget), thereís no way.î
Keep that in mind. ěNo way.î

Just this past August, Cornerstone pastor Bill Godair embraced the cause of cleaning up Knox Middle School after teacher Joy Jenkins told of finding dead insects and rat droppings. He took out a half-page ad in the Post saying, before the school system gets a new central office, ěletís first give our kids a safe, clean learning environment.î
He warned further in the ad that ětheyî ó school officials, presumably ó would spin his sudden interest in publicizing conditions at Knox as resentment over the schoolsí not buying Cornerstoneís property.
ěWe believe that God used the school system to push us out of our comfort zone,î Godairís ad said. ěBecause of their interest in our campus, we now own what many have referred to as the number one location in Rowan County (46 acres); to God be the glory!î
Cornerstone was talking to someone who was interested in leasing the property for a charter school, the ad said.
ěWouldnít it be awesome for this campus, that once was considered for the new Central Office, to be the home of a first-class charter school? That is what I call putting the children first!î

Now Ford and Commissioner Jim Sides have taken it upon themselves to revisit the Cornerstone site for a central office, meeting with Godair ěas private citizens,îaccording to the pastor.
And, guess what? Just four months after pitying conditions at Knox and other schools, Godair believes itís time for the schools to invest in a central office.
Iím here to tell you a lot of problems have been solved in Rowan County in recent months, and somebodyís been hiding the light under a bushel basket. The county now has enough money to buy a multi-million-dollar property, and the schools are in good shape. Ford and Godair have seen the light.
Maybe Sides has, too. He met with Gene Miller, the schoolsí point person on the central office project, to go over the numbers for the lease-purchase proposal Miller had for a new central office downtown ó the one that would not require the county to spend millions up front.
In the end, Sides seemed satisfied by the numbers and the systemís need for a central office, according to Miller.
So thatís a revelation.
However, Sides has made no bones about opposing the downtown site.
Why?

Used to be, when you asked Jim Sides a straight question, heíd give you a straight answer.
But heís holding his cards close to the chest these days.
When I called Saturday and asked why he didnít like the downtown site, he said he would wait to make his comments at the Board of Commissionersí meeting Tuesday.
He said the Post only wants to distort and sensationalize, and heíll reserve his comments for the public meeting.
No comment. In fact, he said, I could leave out the fact I called him.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Iíve had Sides accuse me of misquoting him even when I taped the interview and later played the tape back to him on the phone to prove that heíd made the statement in question. So Iím not surprised he didnít want to talk to me.
But he refused to show all his cards to Gene Miller, too.
Sides is scheming.
He is willing to negotiate with Godair in private and pair up with Ford to find a site without involving the rest of the board ó something for which heíd castigate Raymond Coltrain or Jon Barber.
But he will wait until a public meeting ó spotlight, please ó to play his trump card.
My guess is heíll accuse someone of having a conflict of interest or being ěunderhanded,î a word he feels behooved to use.
A lot of people and institutions have an interest in downtown Salisbury, including the Post.
The county has an interest in downtown, for that matter. County offices are downtown ó places where citizens come to pay taxes, register to vote, go to court, attend county commission meetings.
A lot of people have an interest in the fate of Cornerstoneís property, too, in both locations.

Sides was not on the board when Commissioner Tina Hall threw a hissy fit about Coltrain trying to do something on his own, but the resolution that came about is still in effect.
Hall complained in November 2009 about Coltrainís meeting with the countyís mayors. (ěProfessional courtesy was not extended to his own board,î she said.)
Ford and Chad Mitchell (remember him?) joined her in passing a resolution stating that the Board of Commissioners ěacts collectively ó not as individuals.î The resolution said any commissioner ěmust be authorized by the full board before acting in any official capacity.î
Remember, Godair says Sides and Ford told him they were not touring his churchís property in an official capacity. They were merely acting as private citizens ó who might help him sell his churchís property for $3 million to $4 million.
Private citizens with the public power to cast two of the three votes needed to make the sale happen.
That is what you call putting the children first.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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