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Commissioners vote to recruit for Crime Czar

Mecklenburg County Commissioners have voted to re-open the search for a director to coordinate the workings of the criminal justice system. Commissioners voted 5-to-4 last night to go ahead with recruiting a Justice Accountability Director. Vilma Leake was the lone Democrat to vote against the measure. A citizen task force put the job at the top of its list of recommendations aimed at making the criminal justice system more efficient. Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts said it makes sense to move forward on it now. "It is tremendously important to respect the work of a citizen's committee that we asked to convene, that we worked with, that a number of folks made presentations to over several months and to respect their top priority," said Roberts. The position was posted last month with a salary of up to $141,000. Shortly afterward, it came under fire by some of the same people the position would have to coordinate. Mecklenburg County officials decided to put the hiring process on hold until staff could sit down with the District Attorney, the Sheriff, and police chiefs in the county to talk about the position and iron out objections. Michelle Lancaster Sandlin, a county general manager, says she and the County Manager have done that, although she notes there are still people who aren't crazy about the position. "Both of us have had more conversations with different members and I think they've gotten a little more comfortable with what the position would do. That it's not that this person would direct any one agency, that it would be a convener of people," says Lancaster Sandlin. The same vote also sent the task force's sixteen recommendations to a board committee for study. It gave the committee 45 days to come up with a plan to spend $2,000,000 the board set aside earlier this year to help implement the citizen group's recommendations. Commissioner Bill James said sending the recommendations to committee is a mistake. He along with other Republicans want the County Manager to decide how to allot the money specifically to the District Attorney's office. "One of my fears is that it goes to committee. It'll be feeding time at the zoo and every animal within county departments will be showing up to get a hunk of the $2,000,000," said James. Other commissioners said the money should not go exclusively to the District Attorney's Office.