Mecklenburg commissioners Chairman Fuller: County manager selection to continue as planned

dperlmutt@charlotteobserver.comDecember 4, 2013 

New Meck Commission Chairman

New Mecklenburg Commission Chairman Trevor Fuller speaks to the group attending the meeting Tuesday night.

MARK HAMES — mhames@charlotteobserver.com

A day after he was elected Mecklenburg County Commissioners chairman, Democrat Trevor Fuller said that the search and selection of a new county manager will go on as planned, despite his outspoken criticism that the search process has been flawed.

The full board had been preparing to interview a slate of five final candidates when it decided Tuesday night to remove Democrat Pat Cotham as chairwoman and replace her with Fuller.

The county has been without a permanent county manager since May, when the board fired longtime manager Harry Jones.

During the nominating speeches, Republican commissioner Bill James, a member of the manager search committee, said he was concerned that some of the candidates would drop out if Cotham was replaced, or that Fuller would use his newfound authority to start the process over.

Wednesday, Fuller dismissed James’ comments. “Bill likes to make incendiary comments. They’re entertaining for him. I just don’t get bent out of shape by what people say when they’re scared or angry. Bill knows better. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”

Fuller said he’s looked at the “paper credentials” of the final five candidates and they appeared to be well-qualified. He said he wouldn’t invoke the “power of the chair” to scrap the list, adding that the “probability is high” that Mecklenburg’s next manager will come from that final group.

He also said he didn’t expect candidates to withdraw because he is board chairman now. “If they’re scared off by that, they’re in the wrong business,” Fuller said.

Cotham, who chaired the search committee, said Wednesday that the finalists are all “professionals” and know that boards or councils “change all the time. I would think this is nothing surprising to them – it comes with the territory.”

She said she’s satisfied with Fuller’s remarks that he won’t try to undo what the committee submitted to the full board.

In recent weeks, Fuller was critical of Cotham’s leadership on the search committee, saying the full board should have conducted all interviews after an original list of 17 candidates was cut to nine.

“I am just concerned that so much time has been consumed by this, and I would hate to have to go back and redo anything,” he said. “The concerns I expressed earlier were when the search was in the hands of a few who were excluding the rest.

“Now the whole process is with the full board.”

During the vice chair election, which Democrat commissioner Dumont Clarke won, James said the effort to oust Cotham was based on race, with the board split between black Democrats and “a few white liberals.”

“I am less concerned about the vice chair than I am about racial profiling on the part of the new junta,” he said.

He added he was concerned that new leadership would follow commissioner Kim Ratliff’s earlier comments that she preferred a white man not be hired as county manager. Ratliff later said she misspoke and meant to say she wanted a diverse list of candidates.

James’ remarks brought a response from Democrat George Dunlap: “I had tried real hard to stay out of this debate. It becomes increasingly difficult especially at a time when we’re selecting a new county manager and especially when commissioner James sat on the committee that excluded many of us – especially in light of the fact that there is not one African-American candidate.”

The list’s racial makeup was supposed to be confidential. But on Wednesday, Dunlap said he used it to show that James was “race baiting” because he knew there were no blacks among the list of finalists.

James acknowledged Wednesday that he was blunt, but felt he needed to prod Democrats “to force out the truth about why they ousted Pat.”

He said he thinks the board is now “on the edge of rigging the county manager selection. Whether they pull the trigger and manipulate the final list remains to be seen.”

Dunlap and Clarke said there’s been no discussion to change the list.

“The only time I’ve ever heard anybody bring it up was when Mr. James insinuated that that might happen,” Clarke said. “I’ve never heard anybody suggest it or even bring it – ever. It was just a wild and baseless insinuation.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061

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