WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County Commission Chairman Jonathan Barfield has a lot on his plate this week. On Tuesday, he got into it with fellow Commissioner Brian Berger over a rambling rant of an email Berger sent to county staff. In it – Berger claimed other commissioners were having secret meetings and staff was keeping him out of the loop on an important air quality issue. Then Berger claimed Commissioner Rick Catlin stole his notes at a recent commissioner meeting. Catlin says he didn’t, and is worried about Berger’s mental health. It’s like a parent who can’t get control of their kids.
But it gets even better. We’re being told now Barfield has been bullying school board members. He is not a fan of neighborhood schools and some school board members say he’s threatening their budget to get what he wants. School Board Member Janice Cavenaugh says she feels pressured by statements made by Barfield. “It is very concerning when the chairman of the county commissioner makes such a statement to you,” says Cavenaugh. “It is threatening.”
That statement, Cavenaugh says, came from Barfield after the board voted 4/3 to approve neighborhood schools last year. She says he told her and the three other board members if they continued to support it, their budget could suffer. “I don’t want to be forced into going against my convictions simply because I’m being threatened financially for the school system,” says Cavenaugh.
Cavenaugh says she thinks Barfield doesn’t like the idea of neighborhood schools for personal reasons. “He lives in the suburbs and his neighborhood is predominantly white so the school his child goes to is predominantly white,” says Cavenaugh. “He is disturbed by that. He wants to have more minority children going to his daughter’s school. In order to do that, we would have to go away from the neighborhood schools concept.”
School Board Chairman Don Hayes says he will not be a victim to Barfield’s bullying tactics and refuses to back down on an issue he knows parents across the district support. “I will not tolerate being threatened nor will I tolerate the county commissioners micro-managing the school board,” says Hayes.
Cavenaugh hopes the other county commissioners will realize that neighborhood schools is what the county wants and will not allow Barfield to influence their decision when it comes to determining the budget. “I hope that parents are letting him know as they have let us know that they support neighborhood schools and that neighborhood schools are best for children,” says Cavenaugh. “I hope we’re not held hostage by the purse strings in order to effect our position.”
We attempted to speak with Barfield to find out if he intended to threaten the members of the school board. He has been too busy to answer our questions.