Pat Cotham: Cracking the Majority Whip

The county commission chair is a breath of fresh aggro
Mecklenburg County

You know that one of these days, Pat Cotham's going to step in it. She'll overstep her bounds, hack off the wrong people, get a big head and start believing her own hype as an avenging angel in local government, laying scythe and red pen to inefficient service providers and bloated budgets.

Until then, though, it's nice to see the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners chair direct a hearty 'WTH?' at a county administration on Ambien — especially when it comes to the almost comically dysfunctional Department of Social Services.

For nearly five years, DSS has been a flat embarrassment — a hot mess of an agency with an unqualified director, misused funds and at least one case of outright embezzlement. At the end of October, when County Manager Harry Jones upheld the decision to fire former Director Mary Wilson, the smart — the obvious — way to go was to begin an immediate, transparent, nationwide search for the best possible candidate, insisting loudly that a new day of efficiency and responsibility had dawned in what's arguably the county's most important department. Then you deliver. That's how you handle repairing the reputation of a public agency taxpayers have no reason to trust.


The county just kind of … sat there. Did nothing. Until Tuesday, when county General Manager Michelle Lancaster — whom you may remember telling Cotham to mind her own damn business when she dared ask questions about the county's MeckLINK battle with the state — notified commissioners that the county had hired a headhunter:

The firm has sent recruiting materials to more than 1,000 social services executives and was “encouraged by the positive response from highly experienced candidates,” the email said.

Lancaster wrote that she wanted to review information about possible candidates later this month “with an aggressive goal of making an offer by the end of April.”

In an interview, Lancaster said officials intentionally delayed the search for a new DSS director because staff “had gone through a significant amount of change and turmoil."

All the more reason to settle things as quickly as possible by immediately looking for, and hiring, a top-notch DSS director.

Cotham's response was appropriate, in essence: What the hell have you people been doing? It's a good question she, and we all, should keep asking.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest