Under the Dome

More fallout over heated Wake County schools exchange

The controversy over the heated exchange Thursday between Wake County school board member Jim Martin and state Sen. Neal Hunt isn't going away.

Martin contends he wasn't acting unprofessionally when he confronted Hunt in the hallway of the Legislative Office Building. Martin submitted this letter to the editor to explain the exchange.

In a related matter, Tom Fetzer charges that Martin and school board member Susan Evans acted in a threatening and harassing manner when they confronted Hunt.

For a quick recap, Martin had interrupted an interview between a News & Observer reporter and Hunt about Thursday's vote by a Senate committee backing a bill to give the Wake County Board of Commissioners control over school construction.

Martin got close enough to Hunt that the Raleigh Republican told the school board member to "get out of my face."

They then proceeded to have an exchange out of earshot of the reporter by the elevator.

Fetzer, the former Raleigh mayor and state Republican Party Chairman who is now the lobbyist for the Wake commissioners, said he overheard the entire exchange. Fetzer contends that Evans and Martin made remarks to Hunt such as he'd never be elected again because of his support for the school construction bill.

Fetzer contends the two Democratic school board members were so hostile that a sergeant at arms asked Hunt if he should keep them away from him in the future.

In Martin's letter to the editor, he contends that Hunt has been publicly misrepresenting facts about a 2007 Apex land deal.

Hunt, House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam and several Wake commissioners have cited the deal as a reason why the school board should no longer be in charge of construction.

In the letter, Martin says the school board offered to pay $8.7 million, or $80,000 an acre, for the site in Apex. He says the appraised value at the time was $9.2 million.

Martin charges that the complaints by commissioners forced the school board to abandon the deal and buy a different western Wake site at $100,000 an acre, costing taxpayers $20,000 more per acre.

The school board wound up purchasing the original Apex site in 2011 for $4.3 million.

"The facts show two things," Martin writes. "First, the great recession, not the county commissioners result in savings on land purchases. Second the checks and balances of the Wake County Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners are important for achieving the best deal for Wake County taxpayers."

Martin omits a couple of details.

People had questioned the $8.7 million price because the seller had acquired the site 10 months earlier for $3.25 million. The $8.7 million offer represented a 168 percent escalation in value.

An outside appraiser hired by Stam determined the land was worth about $3.8 million.

Under pressure from commissioners, the school system hired a second firm to value the property. That appraisal came in at $4.3 million.

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