By Jesse Wood
Sept. 3, 2012. A few years ago, Deborah Greene, a diehard conservative, broke away from the Republican Party. Today, she is the only unaffiliated candidate running for one of three seats on the Watauga County Board of Education.
Although she placed two votes shy of fourth place among seven candidates in the primary school board runoff in May, the lack of support networks from the traditional parties could prove troublesome in November.
And Greene is well aware of all this.
She acknowledged that the Watauga County Republican Party will divvy out funds to her Republican-affiliated opponents.
Unlike its Republican counterpart, the Watauga County Democratic Party doesn’t divvy out funds, but all candidates running under the auspices of the local GOP and Democratic parties will receive joint advertising – from their selective parties – that includes printed flyers, radio ads and TV spots – not to mention speaking slots at the numerous party-only events heading into Election Day.
The one potential silver lining in running unaffiliated is that straight-party ticket voters must still make the effort, as with judicial races, to select individual candidates for the school board.
“I like that,” Greene said. “That helps. People have to go to that particular choice. Anybody who goes out there to make that choice has to have some idea of what they’re looking for.”
She added that the school board should be nonpartisan to encourage dialogue between the school board and the public.
“It’s not good for that to be partisan,” Greene said. “If you can leave the politics out of it, I think that citizens, including teachers and school staff, will feel like they have a greater chance of being listened to by the school board.”
Making Her Way to Boone
Greene was raised in Hickory, and in 1977, she graduated from University of South Florida (USF), where she took courses in constitutional law, criminal justice and family/parenting while pursuing a degree in Mathematics.
During her college years, she took an eight-month break from USF to work with troubled kids in a group-home setting in a pilot program, where in all respects, Greene said, she was their mother.
She also met regularly with the estranged parents, who eventually mended their relationships with their children. All the boys in her program, except for one, she said, graduated.
“I went in at 21 and eight months later was 30,” Greene said.
While attending USF, Greene also worked at Honeywell Aerospace as a cost control accountant and internal auditor. Upon graduating, she tutored at Sipes Orchard Home, an orphanage for boys, until she landed a job with a pension actuarial firm. Along the way, she became a tax manager at Deloitte & Touche, a CPA firm in Miami.
In the early ‘90s, she came to the High Country to go hunting with her dad, who had been coming to Boone for years. It was on this hunting trip that she met her husband of 20 plus years, a full-time farmer named Edward Greene.
From 300 yards out, Deborah shot a groundhog that happened to be on Edward’s property.
“My husband was impressed,” Greene said.
Once she moved to the High Country, a previous employer closed a small-business division in Florida, turning clients over to Greene, and since 1991, she has operated a retirement administration, actuarial and consulting firm in Watauga County.
Leaving the GOP
Two weeks ago, Greene set up a table next door from the Watauga County Republican Party headquarters and passed out school supplies at the shopping center on Shadowline Drive.
The GOP party had just held its grand opening event earlier in the day. While Greene is as – if not more – conservative than most of the people attending the event, Greene wasn’t invited – nor allowed to attend – because she wasn’t registered as a Republican.
Greene said responses to her decision to run unaffiliated have been mixed from within the Republican Party.
“The people show support, but the closer you get to the top, the leadership part, they basically said they couldn’t support me because I made that choice when I became unaffiliated,” Greene said.
A feisty woman with intense eyes whenever she’s railing on government officials, Greene came onto the local political scene, according to the liberal Watauga Watch in early 2000 after she organized “effectively against … land-use planning to control the location of polluting industries such as asphalt plants.”
But after years of registering Republican, she felt there was no difference fiscally between the Republicans and Democrats.
“I didn’t see a difference,” Greene said. “I consider myself a conservative – fiscally responsible, and saw both parties spending. George Bush spent, Obama spent.”
Very outspoken and a community watchdog, Greene regularly pens letters to the editor, posts on local blogs and comments during local government meetings – many times to the chagrin of local officials that she helped vote in to office.
“[Apparently] I was too critical of existing county commissioners that were Republican,” Greene said. “I don’t [mind ruffling feathers]. I have a belief and these people I’ve elected lead me to believe, in a lot of respects, that they had the same beliefs. And then, they get into office and they don’t act like the same people that you elected.”
She added, “It seems like only when people are running for office that they represent the same thing – the core beliefs – you represent.”
Although, she never held a prominent position in the local GOP, her outspokenness and ideologies led people to think she was high-ranking Republican in Watauga County.
“I don’t think, sometimes, that the Republican Party even wanted to be hooked to my philosophies, and people would always say I was the head of the Republican Party,” Greene said. “[If I left the party], I felt like they wouldn’t embarrass me and I wouldn’t embarrass them.”
As a local county watchdog, she has been a thorn in the side of Watauga County Schools’ officials and Watauga County Commissioners for years, regarding, in particular, the fate of the old Watauga High School.
The commissioners initially pledged to put all monies from the sell of the old high school building and property towards the construction of the new high school, which, so far, has cost $87 million – and that doesn’t include interest on the loan.
Initially, the new school was estimated to cost between $40 and $60 million by various officials involved in planning for the project.
She blasted county officials for not selling the old high school when they were offered $33 million while “armed” with an appraisal of less than $16 million. (The most recent appraisal put the value at less than $8 million after demolition costs.)
When Greene was searching for the 2006 appraisal on the old high school – which wasn’t released to the public until five years after the fact, Greene’s investigations found that Miller & Johnson, PLLC, with Paul Miller, Jr. – who works for the same me firm as is son Watauga County Commissioner Chair Nathan Miller – being the lead attorney for the school board, had been reimbursed for having the property appraised without the approval of the Watauga County Board of Education.
Then Greene started digging deeper and finding more invoices from Miller, Jr., to the school board which turned out to be, in her words, an “enormous amount of money.”
“We really believe by getting that info and putting it out to the public that those bills went way down,” Greene said. “Somebody began to pay attention to that one bill expense, and that’s just one bill expense. What other things are being paid for that the school board didn’t approve?”
And that is just a brief synopsis of some issues that Greene fixates on and tediously documents – mainly through meeting minutes, public records requests and correspondences with officials – to prove instances of possible unethical behavior, corruption and/or conflicts of interest.
Citing Greene’s inquiring mind, Gayle Henson of Vilas said he would vote for Greene “in a minute.” Henson, a vocal citizen in his own right, is registered unaffiliated but voted on a Democratic ballot during the primary.
“She is the most intelligent – and investigative – person in this county,” Henson said, adding that if Greene was in charge, the county wouldn’t be in the process of spending more than $90 million dollars on the new Watauga High School.
A Political Operative and Criticisms
Peruse the two major local political blogs A Watauga Conservative and Watauga Watch and you will find that Green’s name comes up frequently – either in her own or other blogger’s posts.
Although she certainly isn’t loved by all and is at times vilified for her positions, Greene is respected by both her supporters and detractors for her political acumen.
In a post on Watauga Watch, which is linked on the Watauga County Democratic Party’s website, dated March 11, 2012 – several days after Greene announced that she would head the local chapter of Vote for Marriage NC, an organization that stumped for the passage of Amendment One, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, in the May 8 primary – J.W. Williamson wrote:
“Deborah Greene emerged on the political scene in Watauga County in a big way back in 2001-2002. She was a registered Republican then, and she organized effectively against the big issue of that day, land-use planning (“zoning”) to control the location of polluting industries such as asphalt plants. She quickly established herself as the best political strategist and operative that the local Republicans had.”
In that same post though, Williamson blasted Greene for supporting Amendment One and described her as “a genius of destruction” and “a master of exploiting fear.”
Asked what role – if any – her traditional marriage stance would play as a member of the school board if elected, Greene, in an email, wrote: “I would be denying God and lying to you if I said that my faith would not influence my decisions. And, while I would never deny God, I would also not violate the law.”
In her response, she cited the U.S. Constitution and excerpts pertaining to education and holding public office from the N.C. General Statutes, stating that she would violate neither.
Another criticism of Greene is her candidacy for Watauga County Board of Education after homeschooling her own child. Greene said she was “uniquely situated” for homeschooling her son.
“My choice was a personal choice, and I firmly believe in parental choice whether it be traditional public, charter public, private or home school,” Greene wrote in a separate email.
The School Board Candidate
On flyers advertising her candidacy, she has six line items describing her platform. One consists of improving the school board’s relationship with the community, families and employees through “accessibility, transparency, accountability and stewardship.”
In another bullet point, she pledges to implement internal controls to safeguard resources from misuse and fraud and insure accurate financial reporting.
Other goals are to reduce administrative spending, and expand teacher’s and staff’s role during the budget process and implement guidelines that focus on hiring teachers and staff from Watauga County.
She pledges to “encourage instruction, not testing;” reduce the paperwork of teachers, so they can spend more time on planning and instruction; and “replace indoctrination with sound, basic education.”
“I am running for the kids mainly, but not just the kids – the families and community as a whole,” Greene said. “I feel like we’ve been pushed away from the process. The policies that the school boards passed recently in regard to meetings are not pro-participation; they are anti-participation.”
She said the three-minute time limit regarding public comments addressed to the board –which has an option of 5 minutes if approved by the school board – is inadequate.
She doesn’t agree with the mandatory submission of a written request to address the school board in public comment – as opposed to being put on the agenda – that must include details about what one plans to discuss.
Also, she doesn’t “see why” citizens with a personnel issue can’t request and sit down with the board in closed session to discuss their issue. Currently, the superintendent and the attorney hear the issue – not the entire board.
“They’re our representation between the school admin and the schools,” Greene said. “That’s the people’s representation.”