If you're June Atkinson, the organization chart (Download Orgchart) for the State Department of Public Instruction seems to say it all.
According to the chart, the superintendent is an officer with a staff of one and essentially no authority over the day-to-day operations of the department that administers public education. Last I checked however, the state superintendent derived its authority and responsibility from the state constitution and statute. In addition, the superintendent was also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the state's schools.
Earlier this year, the Governor gave those duties to Dr. Bill Harrison. Harrison was hired as the Chairman of the State Board of Education and Chief Operating Officer of the state's schools. The appointment essentially stripped Atkinson of her authority and responsibility, and banished her to the hinterlands. Gov. Perdue tries to put a good face on Atkinson's situation by calling her an "ambassador" for public education. If she is, Akinson is an ambassador without a country.
None of this has sat well with Atkinson and those who believe in limited government. Yesterday Atkinson got her day in court. Former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr of the Institute on Constitutional Law represented Atkinson. (For additional information on motions and briefs click:here.) Orr argued persuasively why Governor Beverly Perdue violated the North Carolina State Constitution when she appointed Dr. Bill Harrison chairman of the state board of education and chief operating officer of the state's schools. Orr, said the law clearly provides the State Superintendent with authority and responsibillity for for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the state's schools. The only way the State Superintendent's duties can be changed or transferred is through constitutional amendment, and legislature has stopped short — several times — of moving forward with that option.
This is an important case. If Atkinson loses it may likely embolden other officials and bureacracies to try to minimize the authority and responsibilities of constitutional officers or duly-elected officials. Wake County Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, heard the case yesterday. He said he would rule on Friday. The losing side will mostly likely appeal and the case could go all the way to the state supreme court.