GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – What we thought was a surprise seating earlier this week of William J. Goebel to serve District 3 on the Guilford County Board of Education was a surprise only in how it came to be, not so much that he was nominated and approved to serve.

The Guilford County Republican Party had been pushing teacher Michael Logan as its choice to fill the seat vacated when Pat Tillman was elected to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 8. When Logan, known to be outspoken and controversial, was rejected four times in votes by the Democrat-controlled board that found him unworthy, the GOP even changed state statute to eliminate the obstacle.

William J. “Bill” Goebel is the new representative for District 3 on the Guilford County Board of Education. (WGHP)

Republicans went to the board meeting on Tuesday night, confident Logan, an automotive instructor at Southern Guilford High School for more than a quarter-century, finally would be seated despite the objections of those six Democrats.

What they didn’t foresee happening was that board attorney Jill Wilson would find a verbal loophole in the 2-week-old Bill 88 that allowed the board to select an alternative candidate. That candidate was Goebel, who for months, in fact, had been in discussions with party leaders about possibly doing that very thing.

We watched as Goebel, a self-characterized conservative Republican who lives in District 3, was nominated by Democrat T. Dianne Bellamy Small, was approved in a 6-2 vote with full Democratic support but both Republicans voting against him, and was sworn in by a judge who was there for that purpose.

We saw Logan and others in the room erupt in surprise, and Logan ultimately would not stop speaking loudly and had to be led away in handcuffs. He was not arrested.

Logan calls Goebel’s appointment “a deal done in secrecy.” Chris Meadows, the recently elected chair of the Guilford County GOP, called it “collusion.”

Goebel says he’s on the board “to serve kids and parents. I’m a servant. I’m not up to dirty tricks.”

Whether there was trickery involved is in the eye of the beholder, but what we have learned since the meeting is that Goebel months ago volunteered to fill the seat, that he met the affiliation and residency requirements, that he had experience working with young people and that, during the past few weeks, he had met about the opening with Meadows, Logan, other Republican leaders and ultimately board Chair Deena Hayes and Wilson.

“I didn’t walk in, and they said, ‘There’s a good-looking guy, let’s put him up there,’” Goebel said.

Goebel’s resume and experience

William J. Goebel, who goes by “Bill,” is a Republican, through and through, a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative. His resume is a profile in dedication to helping children.

He is the CEO of MPACT Maintenance & Reliability Solutions, which provides assessments, education and training in industrial and facility maintenance, and serves as the area president of Focus CFO NC, which works to empower small businesses. He and his wife, Dori, have seminars about empowerment.

NC Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Newby, a Republican, appointed him to serve as an adviser to a task force on Adverse Childhood Experience-Informed Courts. He also serves on the board of directors of Youth of North Carolina, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina and is vice chair of the Boy Scouts of America National Service Territory 15.

“I’ve been involved in youth organizations for 40 years,” Goebel said, who with Dori has a daughter, Elisa Kay Goebel, who graduated from Ohio State and works in business.

Goebel said he was a youth leader for high school-aged boys at Westover Church for 16 years, but “God closed that door and opened another door … the Boy Scouts.” He has spent 15 years as a council area president and most recently overseeing 12 councils throughout the U.S. but now that’s coming to an end.

“I have been asking God, ‘What do you want me to do next?’” Goebel said. “This opportunity came about. … God certainly opened a door for this.”

He and the Rev. Odell Cleveland of Greensboro have a podcast called “The Common Ground” that has had about 120 episodes. He describes it as “a Black Democrat who grew up in the ghetto” and “a white Republican who grew up with no Blacks.” They bring on guests to find common ground. He said one guest was the son of a top white supremacist and how he had changed his life.

“If I sat down with folks who were anxious last night [Tuesday], I think we could find common ground,” he said. “I learned that in scouting. … You work better when you work together.”

The hole in HB 88

And this is how the “good-looking guy” found himself standing with Dori in front of District Judge Teresa H. Vincent and taking the oath to sit on the dais and “work together,” much to the surprise of almost everyone who was in the room.

Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitset)

On March 15, the NC House along party lines approved HB 88, a bill pushed through by Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett) at the request of frustrated party members, to clean up language from the bill passed in 2013 that made the board partisan. HB 88 also ultimately led to the opening that elevated Goebel.

“My bill does two things,” Hardister said when introducing the bill. “It strikes superfluous language that should have been stricken 10 years ago that Guilford BOE is supposed to abide by how all elected partisan boards across the state are subjected to language dating back to 1991. … That would put Guilford County out of compliance with statute. If it went before a judge, the judge would say that language needs to be stricken.”

Hardister had consulted with Robert Joyce of the North Carolina School of Government, who first told him that the original law did in fact give the school board members the right to approve or deny the nominated candidate. Joyce said he believed the language in HB 88 would correct that.

But Wilson in a painstaking PowerPoint presentation on Tuesday walked through a narrative that showed how the language in HB 88 also had changed the nominating body from members of the “executive committee living in the district” to the “executive committee.”

Guilford County School Board attorney Jill Wilson leads the meeting through an interpretation of the new state law. (WGHP)

She said the 30-day window for nominations had started on Dec. 7, the day Tillman’s resignation became effective, and that the GOP executive committee could nominate for 30 days thereafter, or until roughly Jan. 6.

Every email the board received from the GOP, most recently on March 28, said that Logan was nominated by members from District 3, Wilson said. “’District’ no longer was a factor,” she told the board on Tuesday, meaning that the nomination was required by the full executive committee, not just the members in the district. She said Joyce also had confirmed her view.

“If county committee members fail to nominate a person qualified in writing to the superintendent, within 30 days, the position may be filed by a majority vote of the [school] board members present at the next regular meeting,” said Wilson, who did not respond to a phone call and email from WGHP seeking additional information.

Meadows had been a member of the party’s executive board, serving as vice chair, and he was installed along with a new board earlier this year. Former party chair David Gleeson was a staunch backer of Logan’s.

Meadows said it was on Dec. 5 that Tillman resigned, and the party notified the board within 30 days that “Logan was our nominee.

“We submitted a letter every single time … through proper channels … when there were discussions [by the board about filling the seat],” Meadows said.

“There were internal discussions [within the party] about giving the board three names and letting the board pick. That was voted down by the executive board.

“The board was going to stick with the nomination of Michael Logan. … That’s what the larger body wanted … the executive committee members [well more than 100].

“That’s where Jill Wilson last night was playing ‘loosey-goosey’ with the statute.”

Said Goebel: “I think what surprised him [Logan] was how it happened. They [Republicans] had been planning on having Michael sworn in. They thought the law was changed.

“The attorney for the school system found that wasn’t necessarily true. She didn’t announce that to anyone. It’s up to the school system, not me. I followed their direction.”

Logan said in an email to WGHP that he has “faith in the elected officials in N.C. to hold the school board accountable and to do what is right. We have seen a deal done in secrecy. I do have the support of the Guilford GOP and District 3. 

“A person has been placed on the board by 6 Democrats that have denied rightful representation for District 3 the last 4 months. “

‘A good alternative’

Meadows said he had met with Goebel in January after Goebel had said he wanted to be one of three names if the board wanted to take that step. Goebel had reached out to Gleeson and members of the executive board.

“We were OK with him being one of three,” Meadows said. “But there was no need for the other names.

Guilford County Board of Education nominee Michael Logan
Guilford County Board of Education nominee Michael Logan

“We went with the person who wanted it, who was active with the party and had been a teacher for 25 years. Michael was duly elected. Bill was not.”

Said Goebel: “When I talked to them … all of them supported Michael. They said, ‘You would be a good alternative.’ I was not trying to push Michael out.

“I’m a fiscally conservative Republican. I knew they were having a hard time getting Michael Logan seated. I thought maybe they would put someone else in that place.”

He said he had lunch with a friend in the party and said that if a replacement was needed, he would “put my name in the hat as long as my wife gave her OK.

“We don’t want to lose a Republican seat.”

After a month or so, he was asked by a GOP board member if he was still serious. He reached out to Gleeson, who told WGHP in an emailed response to questions that he and Goebel talked by phone in February about his interest in the vacancy. “I advised him then the Guilford County Republican Executive Committee was committed to our nominee Michael Logan & his appointment,” Gleeson said.

Goebel said he went to a couple of school board meetings. “I got to meet Logan. I sent an email to the Republican chair and said I could be an alternative to Michael,” he said.

Goebel said he received an email that asked him to meet with board members. He said he started with Logan and confirmed he wasn’t trying to push him out.

 “When the law changed, I figured that was over,” Goebel said.

But then he got a different call.

A call from GCS

About a week ago, Goebel said, Jose F. Oliva, chief of staff to Guilford County Schools Superintendent Whitney Oakley, called and asked if he could attend the board meeting on April 4.

Goebel told Oliva he was headed to San Francisco to visit a brother who is dying of cancer. “I said, ‘If he’s stable and things progress, I’ll come back. If not, I’m staying out there,’” he said he told Oliva.

Goebel’s brother improved enough to travel home to Cleveland, so Goebel flew back on Monday night. He got another call from Oliva about having a late lunch on Tuesday with Hayes and Wilson.

“I had not talked to anybody about anything other than that,” he said.

Goebel said he was told that school officials had seen his name among three possible candidates. They knew he had worked with youth and had a background in business. “They have the big [$2 billion-plus construction] bond coming up,” he said. “They knew I was a fiscal conservative. I don’t know who told the schools about the three names.”

Deena Hayes at a Guilford County Schools Board of Education meeting.

Oliva, responding to questions sent to Hayes and him, wrote in an email that “the Guilford County Board of Education Chairperson, Deena Hayes, has been working with the Republican leadership to solve the District 3 vacancy. Early in the process, the Republican Party considered putting three names forward. One of the names shared by the Republican leaders with Chairperson Hayes was Mr. Bill Goebel.”

Oliva cited Goebel’s resume of public service and volunteer work in the community.

“At the time, Chairperson Hayes discussed the possibility of Mr. Goebel being a nominee with some members of the Board of Education,” Oliva said. “Ultimately, the Republican Party decided to advocate for a change in the law.

“When the new law passed, Chairperson Hayes asked me to contact Mr. Goebel to see if he was still interested.”

Oliva said that, after Goebel met with Hayes and Wilson and agreed to serve on the board, Hayes reached out to the six Democratic board members who had voted against Logan’s nomination “to determine if they would support a different Republican, in this case, Mr. Goebel. The same members agreed that Mr. Goebel was a viable candidate to fill the District 3 vacancy.”

William J. “Bill” Goebel, with his wife, Dori, is sworn in to represent District 3 on the Guilford County Board of Education. (WGHP)

Meadows said that the two Republicans on the school board, Crissy Pratt of District 2 and Linda Welborn of District 4, had asked Oakley on Monday if Logan was going to be sworn in. “She was cagey in her answer,” Meadows said.

He said they were told that Wilson had a judge coming to perform the swearing-in ceremony. “Sure, the superintendent knew who it would be,” Meadows said. “They knew in advance.”

Now what?

For his part, Goebel said he is having second thoughts about his first night on the board. “I voted on some things and wish I had abstained,” he said. “I think there’s a recall process. … I may see if they can change my vote.”

He spent some of Wednesday doing orientation. He said his appointment, which lasts until Tillman’s term expires in 2024, has drawn a lot of nasty comments, particularly on social media. “I’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest,” he said. “Every way I turn, I get stung.

“I’m not here to push anybody out. I’m a servant. I want to get to work. I want to visit every school in the district, talk to the principals, work with the kids.

“I think there is a way to work with the majority to get things done.”

Meadows was one of those in the crowd at the school board office when Wilson pried open the loophole through which Hayes drove the seating of Goebel.

“We were told the judge was there to swear in Logan. But they misinterpreted statute and went with it,” Meadows said. “Now here we are.

“We have a few options. I’d rather not get into them. The honorable thing would be for Bill to resign, but I don’t think that will happen.”