Some black leaders see Ken Raymond’s appointment to the Winston-Salem State University Board of Trustees as a slap in the face to the school.
As chairman of the Forsyth County Board of Elections, Ken Raymond took the lead on a controversial decision to close an early-voting site on the campus of Winston-Salem State University. Now, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Guilford, Rockingham) has appointed him to a seat on the university’s board of trustees.
The appointment has drawn ire from black political leaders in Winston-Salem.
“To me, it’s the most short-sighted appointment they could make,” said Fleming El-Amin, a Democratic county commissioner who has served with Raymond on the Forsyth County Board of Elections. “It suggests an insincere commitment to the community. He has publicly expressed his disdain for the university by removing [the campus] voting site.”
Berger’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the appointment. Following the election of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in November 2016, the Republican-controlled General Assembly transferred the authority to make appointments to university boards of trustees in the University of North Carolina System from the governor to itself.
Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a white Republican lawmaker from Kernersville, said she recommended Raymond’s appointment.
“I’m a huge fan of Ken Raymond,” Krawiec said. “I think he’s an awesome selection. I’ve known him for years. Any task he’s asked to do he’s tireless. I think they’re very fortunate to have him on that board.”
Raymond is one of two appointments to the board of trustees to replace Charles Wright, a senior vice president of continuous improvement at PNC Bank in Broadview Heights, Ohio, and Osyris Oqoezwa, president of B&C International in High Point, whose terms recently expired. Republican House Speaker Tim Moore appointed Dr. Ricky Sides to fill the other vacancy. Rep. Debra Conrad said she and Rep. Donny Lambeth — the two Republican House members from Forsyth County — suggested Sides to Speaker Moore. Conrad said the General Assembly is studying the possibility of establishing a chiropractic school at Winston-Salem State and thought the board could benefit from Sides’ experience as “a highly respected chiropractor in Winston-Salem.”
The General Assembly also filled two vacancies on the UNC School of the Arts Board of Trustees, with Senate President Pro Tem Berger appointing Pete Brunstetter, a former Republican state senator, and Speaker Moore appointing Elizabeth Madden.
Raymond is a 1987 alum of Winston-Salem State who played football for the Rams. He recently retired as a 911 operator with the Winston-Salem Police Department. His alum status doesn’t lessen the blow for some.
“Anyone in the community would tell you that it’s a slap in the face to [historically black colleges and universities,” said Beaufort Bailey, a former Forsyth County commissioner and 1957 alum of Winston-Salem State. “Why would you take a vice president of a bank and not reappoint them, and put a person like Ken Raymond in instead?”
Raymond’s involvement in monitoring and ultimately restricting voting at Winston-Salem State goes back to his employment as a precinct judge at the Anderson Center, an early-voting location on campus, in 2010. Raymond said in a written statement that he observed students talking about receiving academic credit from their instructors “if they voted in the 2010 election.” He took the position that the students’ actions constituted a Class I felony under North Carolina election law, which states that it is unlawful “for any person to give or promise or request or accept at any time, before or after any such primary or election, any money, property or other thing of value whatsoever in return for the vote of any elector.”
El-Amin, who would later serve on the board of elections with Raymond, said the board under the leadership of Democrat Linda Sutton investigated Raymond’s allegation and found no evidence to substantiate it. Several other concerns were also raised about Winston-Salem State, including that administrators failed to return vote-list maintenance cards used to confirm that registered voters have not moved, that faculty members selectively allowed candidates to speak to their classes, and that university employees used university email accounts to send out emails promoting candidates.
Following Republican Pat McCrory’s election as governor in 2012, Republicans took control of county boards of elections across the state, and Raymond received appointment to the Forsyth County board. Under Raymond’s leadership, the Republican board quickly voted to eliminate the Anderson Center as an early voting site. The decision resulted in students having to travel to the downtown Forsyth County Government Center for early voting or to their precinct at Sims Recreation Center on Election Day. Both locations are located across Highway 52 from campus.
Raymond said in a set of email responses to Triad City Beat that he publicly discussed his reasons for closing the early voting site at length two years ago, and has nothing else to add other than to say that under the election plan adopted by the board treated all college students in Forsyth County equally.
In 2015, students collected signatures for a petition to reinstate early voting at the Anderson Center and pleaded with the Republican-controlled board of elections to reverse the 2013 decision, to no avail.
After the board voted down a motion by El-Amin to re-open the Anderson Center as an early-voting site, students jeered at Raymond, who is black, chanting, “Uncle Tom! Uncle Tom!”
“His response was, ‘Let’s get the sheriff in here,’” El-Amin recalled. “I said, ‘Nobody’s going to get arrested. Let’s hear what they’re going to say.’ I said, ‘We should appreciate what the students are saying. They see no benefit to our action. There’s a reason for their frustration. Our job is to make sure their frustration is not based on our actions and to encourage them to participate fully as citizens.’ They were highly upset about that, and I understood why.”
Raymond said of the students at the meeting: “I’m sure that they did not represent the maturity and character of all WSSU students.”
As an alum, Raymond said he naturally wants the best for the students.
“All alumni have the best interests of their school, and its students, at heart,” he said. “We might disagree on how to achieve them, but we all want the best for our school.”
Krawiec, the Republican state Senator who suggested him for the post, defended Raymond’s action to eliminate the Anderson Center early-voting site.
“He was acting as a member of the board of elections fulfilling his responsibility,” she said. “There were several voting sites very convenient to that area, while some of the outlying folks had to go five miles to vote. I think that was an example of him doing what he needs to do for the board he serves. When he is assigned a task, he does it regardless of who is not in favor. I think he’ll do the same as a member of the board of trustees.”