Commissioners approve policy to open chair selection

dperlmutt@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 22, 2014 

Mecklenburg County commissioners approved a policy Wednesday that makes any of the nine members eligible to be the board’s chairman or vice chairman.

The policy, introduced by commissioner George Dunlap, is a departure from the unwritten rule that the chair was typically an at-large commissioner in the majority party who’d received the most votes. It passed 5-4, with Democratic commissioners Pat Cotham and Kim Ratliff and Republican commissioners Karen Bentley and Bill James voting against it.

Dunlap said he felt there needed to be a written policy to prevent any confusion on who was eligible because the “tradition has been violated” a half dozen times in the past.

“A tradition is a tradition if you follow it,” he said. “But Republicans have voted to violate it and Democrats have voted to violate it.”

Under the new policy, any member of the board can run for chair or vice chair no matter which party holds the majority.

Cotham, the board’s top vote-getting at-large member who was ousted as chair in December, said the chairmanship ought to be reserved for at-large members.

She said district commissioners are beholden only to voters in their districts – at-large members are elected by voters throughout Mecklenburg.

“It’s harder to run at-large, it’s more expensive and time-consuming – you just have more skin in the game,” Cotham said. “I am for the people having a say in (who should be chair). This policy takes that say away.”

She said when the tradition wasn’t followed, it was “to oust women” as she was ousted and former commissioner Jennifer Roberts was ousted in 2011.

Dunlap said other government boards – such as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board – have been led by district representatives.

He has said he represents District 3, but bases his votes on the best interests of the county.

“These concerns are unfounded,” he said. “This policy allows any (commissioner) of any party to become chair or vice chair. You must convince your colleagues that you’re the best and most qualified person.”

Cotham said she expected Dunlap to run for chairman in December.

“Don’t bet on it,” Dunlap said.

“I’ll put my money on it,” she said.

“I’ll take it,” he responded.

Building renamed

Commissioners renamed the “Fighting Back Building” on Rosa Parks Place in westside Charlotte for Hattie Anthony, the longtime director of the county health department’s Fighting Back program, who died in November of ovarian cancer.

After commissioner Vilma Leake proposed the building be renamed The Hattie B. Anthony Fighting Back Center, relatives told the board how even when Anthony was sick, her concern was for the people of the westside.

The vote to rename was unanimous.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061

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