County says school recycling issue surfaced before

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 11, 2013

By Nathan Hardin

SALISBURY — Commissioners have planned a meeting to show lawmakers materials recently discarded by the schools, but County Manager Gary Page said this isn’t the first time the county has pulled out the school system’s recycling.

Three years ago, Page said, Environmental Services Director Kathryn Jolly phoned him about potentially useful school materials at the recycling center.

Page then contacted Gene Miller, assistant superintendent of operations for the school system, about the remnants.

“I called Gene Miller and said ‘Look, some of the staff noticed a bunch of stuff come in. They wanted to know what the deal was,’ ” Page recalled. “I said, ‘Anything you can tell me?’ He said, ‘Hey, I’m going to coming pick it up.’ ”

And he did.

But controversy brewed more recently after Jolly phoned Commission Chairman Jim Sides about materials found in county recycling bins. Sides instructed Jolly to have the materials “separated and sorted,” Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said.

Sides and Pierce plan to show the materials to local legislators Thursday morning.

Commissioner Jon Barber said his fellow commissioners did not inform him of the recycling issue or the meeting.

School Board Chairman Richard Miller said he was also not aware of the issue when reached by phone Saturday night.

Page said Jolly called Sides because Page was out of town. He said the recycling staff are taxpayers and notified Jolly because they saw a potential waste.

“We don’t sit over there and screen garbage,” Page added.

“It never was about the local school board,” he said. “When I read the comments and the comment from Dr. Miller, I just think it got spun out of hand. [Sides] told me he was going to line up a meeting. That’s all I really knew. I just knew he and at least Craig were going to meet with our delegation.”

Pierce said Sides wanted to get the state delegates involved because curriculum changes in Raleigh are often causing rapid course material changes.

Some of those changes, Pierce said, are leading to minimally used materials.

“When you see books that aren’t but one year old that are being tossed out, then you have to say, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Pierce said.

Everything from dictionaries to textbooks covered three white folding tables inside the North Long Street recycling complex Tuesday. The books were organized and stacked according to type.

An employee at the facility told the Post he had been instructed by Jolly to require an appointment before allowing a visitor to take photos of the book stacks.

In an email Tuesday, Jolly said she was out of the office for the day and could not respond to requests for comment.

Sides, who has not responded to phone calls seeking comment for several months, did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

During a school board meeting Tuesday, school officials said they had no problems with the recycling and said the used textbooks were no longer applicable because of the new state curriculum.

In an email to county commissioners and a blogger, school board member Josh Wagner said recycling school books isn’t a new practice.

“There is no question that we can do a better job of prolonging the life of our materials,” Wagner said. “However, this is not a new practice. This is done on a regular basis by most, not all, of our schools. I find it odd that this topic comes up now in the wake of so many other issues between us and the county.”

Wagner also criticized the decision to direct county employees to sort through the material.

“Furthermore, the length to which county employees went to organize and present (the materials) for photos is staggering. I assure you that if the school system went to the same lengths to uncover a shortcoming on the part of the county, you would be the first to scream about wasting taxpayer dollars for the labor.”

Like Barber, Wagner asked why he had been left out of the loop when delegates were contacted about the material.

“If this is such a concern, why was it not brought to my attention. Furthermore, why was there no real attempt to correct the action?” he asked. “As a fellow conservative, I have fought as hard as anyone to improve the conditions within our system. However, because we are seen to yield no power, no one seems to give any consideration to me, or the board.”

Wagner also said he thinks the directive was “strictly political.”

“I truly wish that folks took as much time to offer suggestions, as they do to seemly dismantle our system. We have multiple entities and layers of government for a reason,” he said. “As conservatives we are supposed to fight for limited [government] involvement and control. What I see now is an attempt to take over every aspect of the state, county, city, and beyond.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.