During his run for the District 5 county commissioner seat, Kirby had said he would consider stepping down as legal representative for the school system if it posed any problem.
During an interview this week, Kirby said he saw no problem and after consulting other legal advisors, he was convinced he could serve in both roles without any problem.
“No, it will not be a conflict of interest,” Kirby assured during an in-depth interview earlier in the week. “Before running for county commissioner, I consulted people who had been in this situation before. I called the North Carolina State Bar and got an opinion from them. What I was told was that being a school board attorney and being a member of the board of commissioners, that in and of itself, does not create a conflict of interest whatsoever. The attorney with the State Bar told me that I would have to look for issues or things that came up that would require me to be an advocate in some way and if that issue required advocacy in anyway, I would have to recuse myself from that particular issue.”
For instance, Kirby pointed out, if there is a threat lawsuit between the city school board and the Board of Commissioners. “I may have to step down as the attorney initiating the suit or I just may not be able to deal with those issues, if there are votes,” he said. “But, really, I don’t foresee anything happening like that. But if something like that did come up, I am going to follow the rules, because I don’t want to get disbarred and have my lawyer’s license taken away. If there is any conflict, I will make sure not to vote on that issue,” the new commissioner emphasized.
Kirby has served as city school board attorney for over two decades now. He does not have a contract with the system, he noted, merely works year to year. “They (the school board) can let me go any time they want; all they have to do is vote on it.”
Kirby is sympathetic to the precarious position he finds himself in, noting the perception that could arise from his close ties to the city school system.
But those ties, he stressed, did not mean that he, as a commissioner, would be unfair to Sampson County Schools.
“That is a very good point. But I am sure many people of the Clinton City Schools felt the same way when Dr. Larry Bell was the superintendent of the county schools and a commissioner. They might have felt Clinton City may not get his full devotion. I don’t believe that Dr. Bell abused those positions in any way, and I would say this to the people in and of the Sampson County Schools system, that I would never in a million years abuse that in any way either.”
Kirby said the conclusion could have been drawn even if her weren’t the school board attorney.
“Even if I was not the board attorney for Clinton City Schools, I still went through Clinton City Schools from the time I was a baby,” he said. “So you could still make that argument. I am a product of that school system, and some of the people that had the greatest influence of my life taught there ... I could name hundreds of people who had a profound influence in my life who were all Clinton City Schools folks.”
The commissioner said that every vote he casts will be done with the greatest consideration for all the people of the county.
“I intend to make every vote fair, honest and openly,” said Kirby. “I would ask anybody who has any reservations about that to just look at what I do. My life is an open book; it is going to be open on everything I do. Just make a judgment after looking at that. I think if you look at my record, you will see that I am going to do what is fair and right. I am not perfect, but there are no hidden agendas here to injure anyone, most certainly the children of the county school system.”
Kirby the Commissioner
Kirby is focused on being a good commissioner, he said, and is excited about the new role he’s been given an opportunity to hold.
Being a commissioner is something that he had always dreamed about, Kirby attested, and although he has just been to three meetings so far, Kirby said, so far, he is enjoying his work on the board and for the citizens of the county.
“I don’t know the board members that well yet, but they have been very cordial and very kind to me,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect, but the board and the county administration — Mr. Causey and Mrs. Holder — have been very, very good to me since the beginning. They have all made me feel very welcomed, and I think, as we continue to go along, we will have a very good working relationship.”
More than anything, the new commissioner noted, he just feels honored to serve.
“To be in a capacity to serve the people of Sampson County makes me feel really proud and humbled.”
Kirby says that he wants to keep his campaign promises during his tenure and has every intention of working for all the people in the county.
“My personal goal is to, in every way, look at ways to save money and look at ways to create revenue streams for the county,” he said. “I still don’t know all the dynamics of the board, and I don’t know their views on it, but that is my goal. Every issue that comes up dollars and cents, I am going to work to save money.”
A good first test was the GIS (Geographic Information System) issue that came up at his first official board meeting in early December. The board wanted to approve spending nearly $90,000 to hire a firm to rectify what county officials call errors in the county’s current digital planning system at a cost of approximately, $88,000, Kirby had issues with spending that much and requested a month delay on the vote.
“It wasn’t necessarily that I was opposed to the spending, itself, I was opposed to the timeline and the possibility that we could spend it and then need to spend more down the road,” he explained. “There is a need for it and it is something that would be great for the county, but I want to be able to look my constituents and also the citizens in their faces and be able to say we did everything we could to save money.”
After a two-week delay, commissioners approved the contract. Kirby didn’t attend the meeting because of sickness and said that he wasn’t offended by the approval in his absence.
“I am one vote, 20 percent of the whole so to speak,” he said. “I would like to think that ideas are more powerful than just individuals and leadership comes about when the right idea is presented in an effective way so that the majority of people who are around you are influenced. My hope is that I will be a force that will assist the other commissioners to move in a direction that was correct, if that was the case, and I am sure that there will be situation where I will be moved in other directions too, it is a collective effort from all of us.”
It was one of the reasons why he was voted into office. His campaign invited the public to get involved with governmental issues, to speak out and attend meetings.
That changed almost immediately when his first meeting took over two hours to get through a portion of the agenda because of the public input.
“I think government should be open and transparent,” he said. “The chairman and the other members have been very sensitive to that issue because it is important to me. As long as it is not a situation where a person is not bogging down or taking advantage of the time, I believe this board will be receptive to that. I know I will be.”
Kirby said the only way to know problems exist is for people to communicate those problems to their elected officials.
“This is their government, it belongs to the people and it would be very thrilling for me to see that auditorium filled at every meeting,” Kirby attested. “There is a need for people to become members of boards and just get involved in government. I encourage them to contact me or their commissioners in their district. We will become a better county if all of us give feedback whenever it is needed. Everybody’s idea has value. Everybody out there in Sampson County who has an opinion, it is valued by me.”
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.