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Ratliff ‘listening’ to calls to recuse herself from county manager vote

Mecklenburg commissioner Kim Ratliff said Monday she’s heard the calls to recuse herself from voting for a new county manager after making racial statements.

And she’s “listening.”

On June 21, Ratliff, an at-large Democrat who is black, told a WBTV reporter that she’d prefer commissioners not choose “a white man” to replace former County Manager Harry Jones, who was fired May 7.

In a follow-up story last week, Ratliff stood by that statement, but told the Observer it was “taken out of context.” She acknowledged she’d maybe chosen her words poorly, but said she wasn’t telling white men not to apply.

“I was saying I want all types of people to apply, not just white men. And black men,” she said. She said she was urging all races of women to go after the job.

Her statements sparked a controversy with dozens of Mecklenburg residents sending emails to commissioners and reporters, many calling Ratliff a racist and demanding she step down.

Or at least recuse herself from the county manager hiring process – and vote. Privately, some commissioners said they hoped she would.

Ratliff wouldn’t say whether she was considering the request, only that “I’m listening.”

“A lot of people have sent me emails,” she said. “A lot of it has been supportive.”

The board is scheduled to meet with County Attorney Marvin Bethune before its regular Tuesday meeting to be briefed on the potential legal ramifications of Ratliff’s statements.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners are expected to offer former Union County Tax Administrator Debbie King a temporary consulting job to start implementing recommendations for the county’s tax office.

That office has been without a permanent leader since November, when former tax assessor Garrett Alexander resigned in the wake of a spiraling public controversy over the 2011 revaluation.

Since December, interim County Manager Bobbie Shields has also served as interim tax assessor.

Last week, Shields had planned to recommend to the board his top choice for assessor, but the candidate pulled out at the last minute.

So now Shields will remain interim tax assessor until a new assessor is hired – possibly in September. A commission revaluation committee will also recommend that the full board hire King to oversee several implementations.

Monday, the committee agreed on the scope of work.

It revolves around implementing recommendations made in an internal audit report last April; a customer service study that found dozens of problems in the way the tax office and Board of Equalization and Review handled customers appealing property values; and the implementation of state legislation that essentially requires a re-do of property values and requires refunds to overbilled property owners.

King wanted to be able to report directly to commissioners. But the committee will recommend she work with assistant County Manager Dena Diorio. She will have direct access to the board.

Pay could be a problem as well. King said $100 an hour is “nonnegotiable.” The board probably will offer less than that.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
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