Territorial Pissings

George Dunlap vents his spleen over the prospect of Pat Cotham becoming the Meck board chair again

It’d be one thing if the chairmanship of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners carried some coveted power or leverage. It doesn’t. The chair runs meetings. Formally, that’s the only thing that separates him or her from the other board members. The chair’s vote counts no more or less than anyone else’s.

Which makes the ongoing pissing match—I can’t find a better term for it, sorry—between the pro- and anti-Pat Cotham factions on our favorite dysfunctional board so aggravating. It was entertaining at first, back in spring ‘13, when the source of the back-and-forth sniping was at least a matter of substance: former County Manager Harry Jones’ rude but justified firing.

Now it’s just getting silly. Commissioner George Dunlap, never shy about lobbing a stink bomb into the county’s business, posted this to his Facebook page this evening. I’ll reproduce it here without editing:


If you have listened to any news, or if you have been reading the Charlotte Disturber, you have heard much about who should be the Chairman of the Board of County Commission. It's funny to me that the issue keeps coming up, when the issue was resolved last year, when I drafted a policy on Election of the Chairman of the Board, which was approved by the Board on a bipartisan vote. So what's the real issue? First of all, Pat Cotham, is not the first person to serve on the County Commission or any other board, who received the highest number of vote, and not become chairperson. I supported Jennifer Robert, who is White and female to be chair when she was the highest vote getter, however, the Republicans made a deal with Harold Cogdell and made him the chair. Before that time, other top vote getters, such as Parks Helms, were denied the Chairman position. The same was true on the School Board, when Arthur Griffin and John Lassiter were both top vote getter, but were denied the chairmanship. So there goes the notion that the top vote getter becomes the Chair. The fact that Jennifer Roberts was White and female takes care of the "she can't be chair because she is white and female argument". If that's the case, what is the real issue? 1. Taylor Batten and the Charlotte Observer owe Pat. They wanted Harry Jones gone as the County manager, and she delivered. This is why they help keep the issue alive in the paper. Can you think of any other now issue, that has received so much press 2. She is a snitch on the board and can't be trusted. When she was chair, the media had more information about what was going on than the Commissioners, because she was there pipe line, and still is today. Just a few weeks ago, when the board was instructed not to reveal information about the investigation of an employed who was being investigated by the US Attorney, she was on the new talking about it, even after she agreed in the meeting that she would not. She is the media's go to person. She has even surpassed Bill James. 3. In the last election, she campaigned with a Republican that the Observer Endorsed and hoped would win, and solidify her Chairmanship. When she did so, she campaigned against Trevor M. Fuller and Ella Scarborough, both Democrats. The problem with that strategy was that the Republican didn't win, and both Trevor and Ella did. I could tell you more, but I think that you are beginning to get the picture. So now, Pat's Republican friends have started Petitions and letter writing campaigns, in hopes of swaying the vote Pat's way. This is what I found interesting about that support. Just last week, 50 people had signed the petition, of which most were Republican, or lived outside of Mecklenburg County. This very issue, which the board has had to deal with time and time again, is the reason that we now have in policy, who can become the chair of the board. In simply terms, the person who can get 5 votes, irrespective of race, gender, or party affiliation, can become the chair. In order for that to happen, you must have 5 members of the board who trust you to be fair, believe you to be ethical, and who trust your leadership. If Pat Cotham can get 5 vote, she can be chair, but for her to do so, she has to first ask at least 5 people. I've spoken with at least 5 of the members, and she has not asked anyone of them to support her. Seems to me that maybe instead of the strategy that she's using, she might try picking up the phone and making a few calls. One thing is for sure, I don't think that she will be calling me!

Well, why would she? In her first term as a commissioner and brief stint as chair, Cotham sharp-elbowed her way through county government, deposing Jones, diving into the minutiae of county business, and often appearing more friendly to Republican board members than to her fellow Democrats. (In fairness, the dynamic goes both ways.) Her ouster as chair in favor of Trevor Fuller stirred up a lot of talk but appeared to have little tangible effect on county business.

Well, two weeks ago, we saw how the voters responded. In a five-way race for three at-large commission seats, Cotham ran away with the top spot. While Dunlap is correct in saying that the chairmanship’s reservation for the top vote-getter is a matter of custom, not policy, there doesn’t seem to be much point in denying Cotham the chair.

That is, unless it’s an act of pure spite, in which case it’ll backfire one way or another. Cotham may not be the popularity queen on the board, but she clearly has the people behind her. As abrasive as she can be, she’s no dummy, and she surely understands that’s where the real power lies.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest