Last week, as Mecklenburg County commissioners descended into name-calling and shouting, Commissioner Karen Bentley called the bickering “Dysfunction 101.”
Tuesday, it didn’t take long for Dysfunction 101 to go back into session.
The commissioners couldn’t even finish their customary introductions at the start of the meeting before Commissioner Dumont Clarke asked Chair Pat Cotham for permission to speak.
Cotham wouldn’t let him, explaining that he’d be out of order – according to Robert’s Rules of Order. “I’m trying to follow the procedures,” she said.
Clarke said he was “flabbergasted” that Cotham “has granted the privilege to members who simply wanted to say what was on their minds. I find your ruling oddly inconsistent with your previous behavior.”
Yet Cotham wouldn’t budge, which sent County Attorney Marvin Bethune rifling through his copy of Robert’s.
Commissioner George Dunlap piped in and said Clarke could appeal Cotham’s decision.
Ultimately, Clarke appealed, withdrew his appeal and appealed again. He needed six votes to speak and got them.
He wanted to talk about how the board fired longtime County Manager Harry Jones on May 7 and Cotham’s unwillingness to let Jones speak after he became a private citizen.
“I just want to publicly apologize to Mr. Jones,” said Clarke, one of two commissioners who voted against terminating Jones. “I should have supported his desire to speak.”
Since then, he said that four people had told him they’d heard that Jones was fired because he’d committed a “wrongdoing.”
“There’s never been any suggestion of wrongdoing,” he said.
After Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, who voted to fire Jones, moved to suspend Robert’s, others spoke on how Jones had been treated.
Commissioner Trevor Fuller, a Democrat who also voted to fire, said he still believes he made the right decision – but didn’t like how it was done.
“I want to give voice to the disappointment that many people in this community have about how our former county manager was dealt,” Fuller said. “Not just one – but I heard it from many parts of the community.”
He said the board had the duty to treat Jones with respect and “to be dignified in what we do and accord dignity to others. I am afraid, Madame Chair, we did not. We fell short of the mark.”
Vice Chair Kim Ratliff, the other Democrat who voted against the firing, said her “heart was full of sadness” over how Jones “was publicly humiliated … The behavior that night was totally wrong and unacceptable.”
Dunlap was out of town during that May 7 meeting. He said the board had every right to do what it did, though it’s clear he wouldn’t have supported it.
He said he’d known – and Jones had known “for a long time” – that his firing was a real possibility.
“But I was very disappointed in the manner in which it occurred,” Dunlap said.
He said he would work to have Cotham replaced as chair after the next election. “My voice will not be silent until such a time there is another election,” Dunlap said.
Cotham said she was merely following the laws when she told Jones he couldn’t speak. “I though Mr. Jones would speak from the podium.”
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