or renounce or remove the face

or renounce or remove the face

The Johnston County School Board is requiring one of its members to resign or they will ask the district attorney to remove him from office based on allegations of ethical violations.

The school board voted 6-1 on Wednesday to censure Ronald Johnson, accusing him of violating the board’s ethics policy by secretly recording conversations and trying to influence the principal’s decision to assign a student.

The board said that if Johnson does not resign by noon on Friday, it will request that Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle begin proceedings to remove him from his position. School board vice president Terri Sessoms said possible reasons for removing Johnson could include being a liability to the board and breaking public trust.

“You abused the trust of the people who voted for you, and that’s a shame because that trust you broke by violating the ethics board cost our children,” Sessoms said. “It cost our kids time. It cost our kids in legal fees. It cost our kids morale.”

Johnson repeatedly called the allegations a “witch hunt” on Wednesday. He accused the board of trying to circumvent the will of voters who re-elected him to the school board in 2020 for a four-year term.

Johnston County School Board Member Ronald Johnson speaks out on August 24, 2022 against the board's resolution to censure him and request that he resign.

Johnston County School Board Member Ronald Johnson speaks out on August 24, 2022 against the board’s resolution to censure him and request that he resign.

“This is outrageous,” Johnson said. “This is in strict conflict with what people in this county said they wanted less than a year and a half ago.”

Johnson is also a detective with the Smithfield Police Department who was initially placed on leave on July 5 as part of an internal investigation. This was changed to unpaid leave on July 13th. Smithfield Police declined to provide any further information on Thursday.

When news of the police investigation broke, Johnson said he would resign from the school board. But Johnson later said he would remain on the board “as long as I can.”

Accused of violating ethics

The censorship resolution is based on an investigation by the law firm of Tharrington Smith, counsel for the board, into two allegations.

Johnson is accused of secretly recording a portion of a May 31 board discussion and sharing the information with an employee whose salary was being discussed. Over the course of the investigation, Tharrington Smith says Johnson admitted to secretly recording the council members’ conversations on 10 occasions.

Johnson is accused of abusing his power by trying to interfere with the assignment of two special education students. Johnson is accused of asking a director to reject the request because his father “turned on him”.

North Carolina is a single party consent state, so typically both parties do not need to give permission for a conversation to be recorded.

But the board’s code of ethics policy requires board members to “commit not to make secret recordings, in any format, on school system property, at school or board-related, or otherwise related events or meetings.” to the business of the council or the Johnson County Public Schools.”

The resolution says the “weight of evidence” supports the claims.

Johnson initially met with Tharrington Smith before refusing to cooperate. He accused the board of using hearsay evidence to target him.

“The greatest weight will be given to the information you have because I have once again refused to participate in this witch hunt,” Johnson said.

Secret recordings questioned

Johnson’s secret recordings were a sore point among his colleagues. Johnson provided at least one of the conversations to school board candidates Michelle Antoine and Kevin Donovan, who posted some of it online.

“If everything we say is student-focused, we shouldn’t worry about what’s being recorded,” Johnson said.

But school board president Todd Sutton asked Johnson why he had to record the conversations at the time. Johnson replied that it was because if he claims something happened, people will say it didn’t.

“Sir. Johnson, I don’t need to go around recording anybody,” Sutton said.

Johnson called the allegations against him a case of “whistleblower’s fault” due to the conversation he provided to Antoine and Donovan. Sutton denied that it was retaliation.

“You used the whistleblower disproportionately,” Sutton said. “This is not a whistleblower. This is something you violated.”

Police investigation

The board resolution asks the district attorney to seek information from the Smithfield Police investigation for potential use in removing Johnson.

Sessoms pointed to the police investigation when Johnson denied the allegations in the censorship resolution.

“Evidently, there is enough evidence for you to be suspended from the Police Department without pay,” Sessoms said. “That alone makes it hard for me to believe what you have to say.”

Details about the police investigation have not been publicly released, but Antoine and Donovan said they were asked about recordings Johnson may have made.

“You’re not aware of it, so you’re talking to something that you have zero knowledge of Ms. Sessoms and drawing a very strong conclusion,” Johnson said.

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