In two weeks, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners will reconvene for a new session. Two new commissioners will sit at the dais at the Government Center, and they will need to pick a new chairman to lead them. The upcoming decision is reopening old wounds.
The commission’s two chairs from this past session sat next to each other in their final meeting, and they laughed together as they were each handed a ceremonial gavel as symbols of their service.
Current chairman Trevor Fuller took over last December after the board’s Democrats ousted commissioner Pat Cotham from the job. Cotham was the highest vote getter in the 2012 at-large election and therefore the traditional pick. But she’d teamed with Republicans to overrule some of them—most notably for the firing of County Manager Harry Jones. Despite the laughter, not everything’s copacetic nearly a year later. In this month’s election, Cotham once again earned the most at-large votes. She says that means the voters want her back as chair, so she’ll run again.
“They want me to, and I will. And I’ve already talked to the Republicans and I have their support, so I just need one more vote,” Cotham says. “I’m not real optimistic, just given the response I’ve had so far, but that’s okay, I’ll just go forward.”
The response has been a reemergence of major divisions among the Democrats. Commissioner George Dunlap wrote a long Facebook post that he has since removed from public view. In it he called Cotham a “snitch” to the media and said she couldn’t be trusted.
Commissioner Vilma Leake offered this cryptic snippet during last night’s meeting:
“All of us are here to serve our people, and when you have a commissioner who says that ‘I will not work with that commissioner,’ then that commissioner should have resigned and gone home, because we are elected to work with everybody.”
Leake did not specify who she was referring to.
The discord around Cotham probably makes Fuller once again the frontrunner. He says he’s willing to continue as chairman.
“If the board members believe I can be of service, I’m happy to continue to be of service,” Fuller said.
Fuller emphasized he thinks the disagreement over the chairmanship—and the scrutiny it is drawing—is overblown. He says the job is not that powerful.
“It’s to run the meetings, of course, and also to be the voice of the county commission. But people overstate it thinking it’s this all-powerful [position],” Fuller said.
That has not tempered the heat of the arguments over who will take the job. Another possible candidate sat in the audience last night. Incoming at-large commissioner Ella Scarborough received the second-most votes, next to Cotham. Scarborough declined to comment on who she will support in two weeks, or whether she might run herself.