Gary Lewallen (back to camera) visited with Alisha and James Dale at the Tax Day Tea Party rally in Greensboro on April 15. (photo by Jordan Green)
This year’s Tax Day Tea Party rally in Greensboro was the occasion for a defiant stand by a controversial Wake County School Board member, the launch of a campaign for county commission and calls to protest a proposed county property tax increase.
Police estimated the racially diverse crowd’s size at between 250 and 300, a significant falloff from last year’s reported estimate of about 2,000. As with the previous year, the group Conservatives for Guilford County organized the event. And as with the previous year, the organizers upheld a nonpartisan ethos by asking the county Republican Party not to set up a table. Party regulars wearing shirts emblazoned with the message “1 party, 1 goal, Republican victory in 2012” circulated through the crowd handing out brochures outlining party principles.
Activists with Conservatives for Guilford County handed out a flier contending that out of $190 million provided to public schools through property taxes collected by the county, only 23 percent goes to teachers and classroom support and posing the question: “Where does the other 77 percent go?” Jeff Phillips, a financial advisor with Phillips Wealth Management who took the lead role in developing the analysis, said on Monday that the figures come from current year budget numbers.
In contrast, Superintendent Mo Green presented a proposed budget for the coming fiscal year that indicates that out of a total operating budget of $619.3 million, including federal and state sources, 81.8 percent goes toward schools, while the remainder goes to administrative support services provided to schools.
Phillips acknowledged that the primary source for teachers’ salaries is state funds, which account for $366.5 million of the proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year. He also acknowledged that the 77 percent of local school funds, about which Conservatives for Guilford County raised questions, pays for wages for cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians and tech support workers. The total amount paid to division heads and their staff accounts for $51 million, or about 28 percent.
“Children and students are our No. 1 priority,” Phillips said.
“Their parents and the taxpayers of this county are a close second. Teachers are sacred. We need more, not less.”
John Tedesco, a member of the conservative majority on the Wake County School Board, told the audience to not be deterred by criticism. Tedesco’s faction has vowed revamp the school district’s assignment plan so that students attend local schools rather than being bused across the county to achieve socioeconomic balance.
“They’re going to try to make you feel ashamed — at every step,” he said. “I’m not ashamed to be a conservative Christian man. In Wake County they’ve got everybody and their brother trying to make me feel ashamed, whether they’ve got Bill Clinton chiming in, or Stephen Colbert putting me on Comedy Central. They think it’s a joke. They’ve got Governor Perdue, everybody you could possibly think of.”
Then he took aim at Carolyn Coleman, a Guilford County commissioner who allowed herself to be arrested as an officer of the state NAACP during a civil disobedience at a Wake County School Board meeting. Tea party activist Isabella Adkins has sparred with Coleman during the speakers from the floor portion of county commission meetings.
“Even you’ve got some joke commissioners here who thought it was their right to come and disrupt our meeting,” Tedesco said. “I think Commissioner Coleman should stay here and get her problems fixed here first before she sits there and judges people in Wake County.”
Then Tedesco uttered a phrase that was a common refrain throughout the evening.
“I’m not ashamed to believe in American exceptionalism,” he said. “I am not ashamed to believe that it was liberty and free markets that made this country great. I am not ashamed to believe in limited government. It’s not a crazy, radical idea. Those issues are not racist. Those issues are not classist. They’re not anti-teacher. They’re simply anti-socialist. So we have to pay attention to who is trying to attack us around this state and around this country.”
Tedesco found cross-racial support for his defiance of the NAACP from emcee Kevin Daniels, with the Frederick Douglass Foundation, who publicly scorned the notion that that the tea party movement is racist.
“I stand here as a person that is anti- NAACP,” Daniels said, adding that the NAACP supports abortion and gay marriage, and opposes school choice – stances he said are antithetical to the beliefs of the majority of black people.
Another speaker, Jeremy Williams, said he sat on the back wall a year ago at the 2010 Tax Day Tea Party rally, and became activated from that point.
“Needless to say, I can tell you one thing:
My life has not been the same since,” he said.
Williams used the occasion to announce plans to run for an at-large seat on the Guilford County Commission. The two atlarge seats up for reelection next year are currently held by Democrats Paul Gibson and John Parks.
“I knew then it was time to get off the wall and do something more,” Williams said.
Williams, like other speakers, denounced a property tax increase proposed by County Manager Brenda Jones Fox.
“All of us have had to come up with a budget and live within our means,” Williams said. He compared local government to a household, noting that he and his wife have just had their first child and would like to buy a larger house, but he can’t go to his boss and tell him that he needs a $50,000 raise to pay for it.
“Real life doesn’t quite work like that,” he said. “Is it too much to expect our government learn to live within its means?” Isabella Adkins, an active member of Conservatives for Guilford County who is a frequent speaker at county commission meetings, closed the program with eight people holding yard signs stating, “Put people first in Guilford County: Eliminate government waste.”
Like others, Adkins denounced the pro posed county tax increase and urged audience members to regularly attend county commission meetings to let their elected representatives know how they feel.
“They want to balance the county budget on your back by raising property taxes by at least 6 percent,” Adkins said.
“Unfortunately, Kirk Perkins, John Parks and the rest refuse to listen to us, the people,” she added. “Instead, they put the bureaucrats and special interests first and they keep pressing for the tax increase that we have proven it’s frivolous and unnecessary.”
Adkins issued a challenge for the audience, arguing that county commissioners who support the tax increase are counting on them to remain passive.
“John Parks and the rest of the commissioners know that the property tax increase will be widely unpopular and that the people will be angry,” she said. “But they looked at how you responded in the past. They raised taxes, you got angry, but did nothing about it, and kept on paying the tax bill.”