Save Money in this Sunday's paper

Our View

comments

How Pat Cotham lost the chair’s gavel

Pat Cotham
-
Commissioner Pat Cotham

In her one year as chair of the Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners, Pat Cotham accomplished more than her predecessors achieved in several.

She’d begun to restore public confidence in county government by confronting the perpetual missteps and arrogant management that had long plagued Mecklenburg.

She’d begun to repair the byproducts of that poor management – most notably a flawed 2011 property revaluation and a Department of Social Services in disarray.

She’d brought Republicans and Democrats together – at least initially – by cultivating genuine relationships with commissioners from both parties.

And, of course, she fired County Manager Harry Jones.

It’s that last achievement that many believe led to Cotham losing the chair’s seat Tuesday night to fellow Democrat Trevor Fuller. But that’s only partly true. Cotham’s demotion wasn’t brought about by Jones’ dismissal alone, but by the traits that allowed her to pull off something so bold. They include: A fierce and unwavering conviction that she was doing the right thing, a willingness to cut backroom deals with those who agreed, and an eagerness to cut out those who didn’t.

For the Jones firing, she crafted an impressive coalition that included three Republicans and two fellow Democrats, but she kept three other Democrats – Dumont Clarke, Kim Ratliff and George Dunlap – in the dark until Jones’ fate was decided. The firing enraged Democrats across the county, including African Americans who supported Jones. But instead of attending to the friction, Cotham kept the disenchanted Democrats off the new manager search committee, then shut them out of the early interviewing process.

Similarly, Cotham collaborated with Republicans in an effort to fix the flawed revaluation, but most of her fellow Democrats were out of the loop on meetings between commissioners and the company hired to fix the mess. Clarke and Dunlap also complained that Cotham micromanaged county business instead of letting staffers do their jobs.

Cotham was unapologetic, dismissing unhappy Democrats as not being on board with necessary fixes. That may have been true, but it also was a political miscalculation. Fuller grew increasingly uneasy with her leadership, leaving Cotham to rely on Republicans and the unpredictable Vilma Leake to hold on to the chair. On Tuesday, Leake abandoned Cotham with the deciding vote for Fuller.

Fuller, for his part, talked Tuesday of “huddling together” to chart “a new way forward.” He has shown the temperament and skills to lead, but he could face resentment on the board and in the community for breaking protocol and taking the chair from Cotham. Historically, the at-large commissioner with the most votes in the previous election serves as chair.

Fuller also will encounter Republicans who aren’t pleased at losing the voice they had under Cotham’s leadership. One more Cotham accomplishment: She managed to soften the edge of controversial District 6 Republican Bill James. But after Tuesday’s change in leadership, James was unencumbered and borderline offensive with Twitter comments on racial politics.

All of which sounds an awful lot like the boards of previous years. We didn’t always agree with Cotham’s style or tactics, but for one year, she showed that Democrats and Republicans can come together to accomplish important things. At least until one party has enough of collaboration.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases
Your 2 Cents
Share your opinion with our Partners
Learn More
CharlotteObserver.com