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Removing a controversial new school board member is far-fetched, but not impossible

One returning and two new members of the Onslow County School Board were sworn-in to office Tuesday night, including one who is the subject of a petition aimed at removing him.
Published: Dec. 15, 2020 at 9:28 PM EST
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ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - The Onslow County school board officially has two new members.

Along with returning member Ken Reddic, newly-elected Melissa Oakley and Eric Whitfield were sworn-in to office Tuesday night. It’s Eric Whitfield’s election that has been rubbing district parents and teachers the wrong way.

“The community elected this person,” said Marcy Wofford, who created a petition to remove Whitfield from office. “Did they knowingly elect this person? We can’t say that.”

Whitfield’s campaign was troubled in March when he used a racial slur in a Facebook post directed at the former head of the Onslow County NAACP. He was then fired from his job at Jacksonville Christian Academy, and has since been elected with over 27,000 votes.

Eric Whitfield referred to a group of African Americans as "ignorant darkies."
Eric Whitfield referred to a group of African Americans as "ignorant darkies."(Liam Collins)

“If the community, at a grassroots level, decides they want to remove someone, what is the process? There should be a process,” said Wofford.

North Carolina local government experts say the options are thin.

“The answer is possibly but generally speaking no,” said Robert Joyce, a professor at the UNC School of Government. “Merely holding reprehensible views, merely having notions about what its board should do that is contrary to what people think a school board should do is not disqualifying.”

It’s a level Joyce believes, although offensive, Whitfield’s comments don’t rise to.

“The main response is political,” said Joyce. “The next time that that person comes up for vote, all the people who thought that he should not be in there to start with have the opportunity.”

It’s something Wofford and other district parents and teachers are trying to change. The petition appeals to the General Assembly to allow for a recall or removal process.

“We have to think about those community members,” said Wofford. “Those students in school. How are they represented.”

WITN News repeatedly requested comment from Whitfield in reaction to this story, but he declined.

The oath of office was only delivered to Oakley, Reddic and Whitfield Tuesday night. A fourth elected member, Joseph Sperranza, was not able to make Tuesday’s meeting because of “ongoing health concerns,” according to a statement from Onslow County Schools.

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