Phil Zachary, co-chairman of the Friends of Wake County, did not find a friendly audience Thursday when he spoke at a meeting of the Republican Women of Cary and Southwestern Wake.
As noted in today’s article, Zachary found himself dealing with shouts of “no,” interruptions and people talking over him as he made his pitch for the bonds while bond opponents were applauded. Zachary probably shouldn’t have started his remarks by talking about trusting the school board.
“Can we trust this school board to spend this money wisely?” Zachary said, drawing loud, repeated no responses from the crowd.
“Let me talk to you about trust for a minute,” Zachary responded. “Let me say this to you about trust. I think it’s the epitome of trust when a mom or a dad packs a lunch, puts clothes on a child, puts the backpack on their back and sends them off into the unknown for eight hours a day. That’s what I call trust.
When that child gets on that school bus, that child is dropped off at that school. We either trust the school, trust the administration, trust the school board or we don’t. And if we don’t…”
”We don’t,” said voices from the crowd.
“Then we should send them,” Zachary continued. “It all starts with that everybody, it all starts with that trust when you put that child on that bus, you’re giving God’s gift to someone else for eight or nine hours a day, and if you tell me you don’t trust that, then you probably need to put your kid somewhere else.”
“Where?” the crowd responded.
“Wherever you’d like,” Zachary responded.
Various voices saying different words came back.
“I’m not going to argue with you,” Zachary replied. “I’m here as your guest. Okay, if you’d give me the opportunity to speak, I will give my opponents the opportunity to speak.
I’m fighting for you. I’m fighting for you. Yes. I am. Yes I am. Yes I am. I am fighting for you.”
The crowd repeatedly said no as Zachary’s voice rose as he said he was fighting for them.
A loud shushing sound was made to get the crowd to quiet down for Zachary to keep speaking.
Zachary said his opponents weren’t going to tell the crowd that 2006 enrollment projections were off because of “the worst recession of our time” and that schools have unused seats largely because families chose not to participate in year-round schools
“How do I know that?” Zachary said. “Because I was involved in the school bond in 2006. I had parents standing, screaming because they did not want their children going to year-round schools. And you know what, they proved themselves right by not choosing year-round schools.”
Zachary said that bond opponents won’t tell you that it costs more to build in Wake because the cost of land is higher and because Wake is building multi-story schools. He said people say Wake can build cheaper schools at the same time everyone hopes their property values will go up.
“There’s a contradiction inherent in every one of those arguments,” Zachary said. “Because of that, I think it’s important that someone stand up with a level of sobriety and say, ‘Look folks, you’re here for a reason. We’re here because of the great quality of life. The quality of life starts with smart, educated kids. Smart educated students who make smart decisions.’”
Zachary continued on his often repeated theme that the quality of life was based on Wake’s forefathers making the tough choices decades ago to ensure the quality of life that now exists.
“I see signs like this around Wake County and I cringe,” Zachary said of vote no signs. “Wake County was not built on no.”
Zachary alluded back to his earlier treatment from the crowd.
“We’re not the land of no, although I heard plenty of no’s here the first few minutes I was talking,” Zachary said. “This is yes country. I don’t disagree that we’ve got to pay very close attention to how these dollars are invested. I don’t disagree that this is a bad time to raise taxes. But I totally unequivocably disagree about no at this time.
We’re not about no in Wake ‘County. We’re about vision and future. We have 20.000 new students coming to Wake County in the next five years. Like it or not, they’re coming. Like it or not, it’s mandated that they have a place to sit and that they have the services necessary.”
Zachary moved back to the enrollment projections question by pointing again to the recession.
Zachary didn’t endear himself to the crowd with his shot at the former GOP school board majority.
“I didn’t like some of the hi-jinks I saw with the last school board,” Zachary said. “But never once did I distrust what they were doing. Never once did I question that more than anything they wanted to be public servants and do what was right for this community.
And I don’t question that now. And even if I did, my good friend (Wake County Commissioners Chairman) Joe Bryan, who asked me to chair this committee, makes me feel good about the fact that he and his fellow conservatives 100 percent endorse this bond. The checks and balances are in place to ensure that the money is invested wisely for your children, your grandchildren, and, most importantly the children and grandchildren generations from now.”
Things got heated up again when Zachary, holding up a Wake County Taxpayers Association palm card, said he found it “offensive” to compare Wake to Detroit.
Things didn’t get more genteel during the question and answer time at the end of the meeting.
Zachary didn’t endear himself to the crowd by downplaying the increase in Wake County’s property tax rate if the bond passes. He pointed to how Wake’s tax rate is lower than the surrounding counties and the state’s other big counties.
“I understand that it’s a 10 percent increase,” Zachary said. “But we’re living high on the hog here at the lowest, the lowest tax rate among any of the major counties in the state. Understand me, it’s a 10 percent increase. But let’s put it in perspective with the other major counties that we compete with for jobs, for corporations, for relocations.”
Another person questioned the expense of Friends of Wake promoting the bonds, to the tune of nearly a quarter-million dollars so far. Other speakers had questioned the motives of the FOWC donors while saying they hadn’t gotten much money to compete against the bonds.
“You raise a good point,” Zachary said. “Where is all the money from the other side? If this is such a hot point of passion, why is there not more funding for the vote no’s?”
“That’s because the Wake County Taxpayers are people who do it out of a love,” the questioner replied. “There’s no bankroll behind the Wake County Taxpayers”
“Certainly most of the people I deal with in business in this community are high-powered Republicans,” Zachary replied. “If they were not so adamantly against this bond, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t fund you to the gills to have a campaign.”
Zachary was grilled by a person who wanted to know how many year-round schools have all four tracks running. The answer, as you guys well know, is that Wake has moved several multi-track schools to single track and a number of multi-track schools have fully or partially collapsed tracks.
“You understand this is a choice that parents make,” Zachary said. “I hear you. I was machine-gunned down seven years ago at a number of schools.
This crowd is easy compared to what I heard from people who did not want their kids at year-round schools and they have proven it now because they’re not choosing their tracks. They’re choosing to not be there.”
The questioner answered no, saying “the school board purposely” did a lousy job of programming families with children on schools with different calendars.
“I’m just a citizen like you,” Zachary replied.
The next questioner criticized the school board for getting partisan.
Zachary thanked her for “injecting real objectivity” into the discussion. Zachary said he didn’t know the party affiliations of school board members before the last board majority made it “wildly partisan.”
By the end of the meeting, Zachary conceded that he expected everyone in the room to vote no. While members of the audience talked over him, Zachary called a “yes” vote a sign of support for teachers.
“These teachers have been beaten down,” Zachary said. “You know it. You know what’s happened to teachers in this state in the last six or seven months. This is a way for us to show the teachers in Wake County that they matter, to show them they will get the facilities they deserve.”
The crowd was shushed again at that point.