Lee County Board of Education member Stephen Coble has been censured and possibly reprimanded by the local Republican Party for voting against the wishes of party leadership, according to documents obtained by the Rant.
Lee GOP Chairman Jim Womack on Jan. 9 sent Coble a letter notifying him that the party’s executive board had “voted to initiate disciplinary proceedings” against Coble.
The letter included a resolution passed by GOP leadership citing Coble’s support for the extension of Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan’s contract and “the unlawful award of a school architecture bid,” “his repeated votes in support of democrats (sic) running against nominated Republicans for Board Chair and Vice Chair,” Coble’s rejection of “unsolicited inputs” from local GOP leaders, and Coble’s alleged refusal to second motions made by fellow Republican school board members as examples of “party disloyalty” and “gross inefficiency.”
“Therefore, be it resolved, the Executive Board of the Lee County Republican Party finds that the behavior of Dr. Stephen B. Coble constitutes party disloyalty and gross inefficiency as defined by its Plan of Organization,” the resolution signed by Womack and GOP Vice Chair Mark Mahaffey reads. “His behavior on the Lee County School Board impedes conservative administration of the School Board, prevents necessary changes in oversight of the Lee County School System, and erodes electorate (sic) support for the Republican Party.”
It’s unclear what ultimately happened at the disciplinary hearing on Feb. 25. The Lee GOP didn’t respond to questions about the situation and Coble gave only a brief comment in which he described the situation as “(Womack’s) doing, not mine.”
“I was just doing what I thought I needed to do to be a responsible board member and do what’s best for the school system,” Coble said. “Doing all that has nothing to do with being a member of either party.”
Coble, a former headmaster at private Lee Christian School in Sanford, was elected to the Board of Education in 2016 along with Democrats Patrick Kelly and Dr. Lynn Smith, and Republican Sherry-Lynn Womack, the wife of the GOP chair. He finished third in an eight person field (the top four won office) with 11,497 votes – about 1,000 more than the number of registered Republicans in Lee County at the time – out of roughly 22,000 cast. Those numbers indicate that Coble almost certainly received a healthy amount of bipartisan support that year.
Womack, a controversial–to–put–it–politely former Lee County Commissioner who also chairs the state’s Oil and Gas Commission, was elected chairman of the Lee GOP in 2017 and immediately embarked on a failed bid for the top leadership post of the state party. He is currently running again for chairmanship of the N.C. GOP (on what appears to be a martial arts expert/action hero platform).
Womack’s resolution indicates that one of the functions of the county GOP’s executive board is “to enforce discipline among its elected officials,” giving a potential glimpse at how he would deal with bipartisanship as the state GOP’s chair – which became a distinct possibility a federal indictment was announced of his one-time opponent Robin Hayes.
In any case, it’s more than fair to describe the conflict as a logical outgrowth of the decision in 2013 by friend of the Rant Mike Stone – a decision that’s been staunchly defended by Womack – to make school board elections partisan affairs. Supporters of that move have said it would give voters a better idea of where candidates stood on various issues. But in practice, it’s effectively made a public servant for whom roughly half the electorate cast votes answerable instead to a party boss selected by a handful of activists. That’s too bad.