Some scoop on Pat Cotham's (and CMPD's) back-room deals on Harry Jones and CLT
Thanks to some solid reporting, we're just finding out about some surreptitious moves behind a pair of Charlotte's biggest political stories.
First, from the Observer's Peter St. Onge, we find out that Pat Cotham made up her mind that County Manager Harry Jones had to go a good month before the commissioners' vote that removed him from office, and that the unpardonable sin was the 2011 property revaluation:
Twenty-nine days before she shushed a fired Harry Jones, Cotham took an extraordinary midday drive to Raleigh. There, she met Gerry Cohen, special counsel for the N.C. General Assembly, to talk about the best way to dismiss a county manager.
County staff, including attorney Marvin Bethune, didn’t know she was meeting with another attorney to discuss county business. Some of her fellow commissioners didn’t know, either. For someone who had campaigned just months before on transparency in government, it was the first of several covert maneuvers regarding Jones.
But to Cotham, it was simple. By then, April 8, she had made up her mind that Jones had to go.
And this, the revelation that Cotham calculatingly cut fellow commissioners Dumont Clarke, George Dunlap and Kim Ratliff out of the loop before the May 7 meeting:
In April, after Jones and his lawyer met with commissioners to get his contract favorably revised, Bentley was on board for his dismissal. She drove with Cotham on her second trip to Raleigh to meet with the lawyer, Cohen. Ridenhour joined the coalition, too. Fuller, who had expressed an inclination to support the firing, had concerns about timing and was being lobbied aggressively by Jones supporters.
Cotham had five votes, maybe six. From there, it was choreography. At the meeting, on May 7, she was to present Jones’ firing in closed session, but direct all conversation to happen in open session, in front of the public. There, James would make the motion to dismiss Jones, and Leake would second it. They would listen to objections from Clarke, Dunlap and Ratliff, who knew nothing of the plan. Just in case things got out of hand, Cotham had talked to Mecklenburg Sheriff Chipp Bailey about security.
That didn’t happen, but there were a couple of hitches. Leake had eye surgery earlier in the day and was late. Dunlap, who had no idea what was to happen, had left town. Commissioners waited more than hour until Leake arrived. One of them texted what was happening in the closed session (emphasis mine), and so Jones knew his fate before the commissioners finally came out to the dais.
Three things: No wonder Clarke and Dunlap are livid.
Second, I would be extremely curious to know which commissioner tipped off Jones.
Third, as quickly as Cotham has risen to prominence, she'll probably fall just as quickly and twice as hard. She's got that whole moral crusader thing down — "I am a leader with courage who will do what is right," she wrote in an email, an ironic political epitaph-in-waiting if I ever heard one — which apparently prevents her from perceiving an obvious contradiction: She demands absolute transparency from the county manager but none from herself when she's twisting board members' arms to get the manager fired.
Self-righteousness plus power usually equals a tragic lack of self-awareness. Harry Jones needed to go, no doubt.
Pretty soon now, so might Pat Cotham.
And then there's a new airport story, the first logical explanation I've seen for what to now has seemed like just a hissy fit on Jerry Orr's part over the city's encroachment onto his turf at the airport. WFAE-FM's Julie Rose, who's done some terrific reporting on this story, dug up the documents and unraveled this new thread.
It's a bit long to excerpt, but do read and/or listen. The upshot: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and Chief Rodney Monroe were less than completely forthcoming with their investigation of Delvonte Tisdale's death in 2010 — about what they had and hadn't learned, and about the shaky or nonexistent evidence they were using to justify taking over airport security, a move that pissed ol' Jerry off something fierce.
I'm not saying it warrants taking CLT out of the city's hands. But now we at least understand what got that particular dung ball rolling downhill, and that the city might be at least an associate architect of its own humiliation.