Two high-ranking Cabarrus County leaders have resigned from their respective posts within the past two weeks, sparking a search for replacements.On July 9, John Cox, longtime president/CEO of the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce and Cabarrus Economic Development Corp., announced he’d accepted a job as president of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, the largest chamber in the five-county area of southwest Florida. Days later, Jay White, vice chairman of the Cabarrus County Board of Commissioners, announced his immediate resignation before the board’s July 15 meeting. The Cabarrus County Republican Party’s executive committee has 30 days to select a replacement to finish White’s term, he said.White, a lawyer and partner at Hartsell & Williams P.A. in Concord, issued a statement saying he resigned to avoid any conflict of interest over the firm’s bid on a contract to provide legal services to the county’s Department of Health and Human Services. White served as a county commissioner for seven years. The seat will be up for election in November 2014. Helped county stay afloatCox, selected from 100-plus candidates nationwide earlier in July, will start his new job Aug. 19. Cox and his staff played a key role in helping Cabarrus County stay afloat during a decade of economic pitfalls, including the collapse of Pillowtex Corp. and the closing of Phillip Morris USA’s Concord plant.Among nearly two dozen other projects, the chamber and the EDC worked with leaders responsible for building the $1.5 billion North Carolina Research Campus; most recently, they partnered with Data Chambers, which is building a 50,000-square-foot, $8 million data center that will create 20 jobs.Cox said he presented a future economic development project to the county commissioners during the closed session of their recent meeting, but he couldn’t give any details. Until White’s replacement is seated, he said, local development could be stunted.“The importance of Jay’s role is crucial and (his absence) could influence economic development decisions that make their way to the commissioners before someone fills the seat,” said Cox. “If commissioners end up having a tie vote of two for and two against, projects could be rejected. And because of the tie vote, the proposals could not be reconsidered.” Why not recuse?White could have simply recused himself from discussions about and votes on his firm’s pursuit of the legal services contract, avoiding conflict of interest that way. But ultimately, he said, his decision to bow out came down to public perception. He said he didn’t want it to appear his firm was awarded the contract because he was a county commissioner. “I look at it ethically,” he said. “And ethically, I don’t think it’s right for me to benefit from a contract from the county. If they award it, they award it. If they don’t, they don’t. But I didn’t want anyone to have that as concern. …”The decision on the contract is still pending, and Hartsell & Williams is one of handful of applicants being considered, said White. If the firm isn’t awarded the contract, White said, he’s not sure whether he’ll run for the board again.If Hartsell & Williams wins the county contract, White said, the firm would provide 24-hour access to four lawyers, including himself and two staff members.Two jobs, one man?White encouraged county leaders to discuss whether Cox’s two positions should continue to be combined in one person or divided between two people, as they were before Cox’s arrival.“And it may come down to the fact that the strength lies in having in the same person heading the chamber and the EDC,” said White. “But I think they need to have those discussions going forward.”Cox, who has a track record of recruiting new business to the area, said he’s anxious to see whether he can help do it again in a new community. He said he’ll essentially be doing the same jobs, running two similar organizations.He thinks it’s possible for his replacement to handle both jobs.“If we hadn’t been successful …, I’d say maybe I was wrong and we need to change the model,” he said. “But this model has worked for 10 years.” Over the past decade, Cox said, the organizations have helped recruit more than 20 new businesses to the area, including Great Wolf Lodge, ACN and PreGel, and they persuaded S&D Coffee & Tea to expand locally. “We’ve been sustainable, in part, because we’ve stood side by side. But I also know communities go through transitions, and this gives us a chance for there to be a reset, if that’s necessary,” said Cox.Departures coincidentalThe one-two punch of leaders leaving nearly at once is simply coincidence, said White.“There is nothing contentious behind it,” said White. “John’s leaving has nothing to do with me, and my stepping down had nothing to with John Cox.”Cox said, “When Jay White was a partner, we were able to some incredible things. And even when he was a formidable opponent, we still were able to recruit jobs and companies. We went through a lot of public things in the newspaper and television a few years ago that I felt were unnecessary. But I think we’ve fixed it, and that’s a leader’s obligation … .”
Friday, Jul. 19, 2013
Two Cabarrus County leaders resign from posts
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