In a city that prides itself on political civility, the low-grade battle over who will chair the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has taken a testy turn.
In a statement posted Monday to his Facebook page, Commissioner George Dunlap called fellow Democrat Commissioner Pat Cotham “a snitch on the board” who can't be trusted.
Political watchers might recall that Cotham was top vote getter in the at-large election this month. In another era, that might have been enough to ensure her the gavel as commission chair. But this is no ordinary era in Charlotte politics.
When Cotham last chaired the commission, she joined with Republicans to oust former County Manager Harry Jones. She, in turn, was ousted as chair by a coalition of her fellow Democrats.
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Some on Facebook accused Dunlap of racism: Cotham is white. Most of those who oppose her getting the gavel, including Dunlap, are black. Jones, the former county manager she ousted, also is black.
"Wow! I just got unfriended by George Dunlap for asking for his support to make Pat Cain Cotham the new Chairperson of the County Commission," James Van Meerten posted on Cotham's Facebook page. "I know how often he (Dunlap) quotes Louis Farrakhan and is a supporter of the Nation of Islam. It's common knowledge what they think about white Christian woman but for a public official to endorse that so openly is horrible."
Dunlap, in his own Facebook post, said Cotham is not the first person to be denied the chair after winning the highest number of votes. He also accused Cotham of conspiring with Republicans and the media, including the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board.
“She is a snitch on the board and can't be trusted,” Dunlap wrote. “When she was chair, the media had more information about what was going on than the Commissioners, because she was there [sic] pipe line, and still is today.”
If Cotham wants to be chair, Dunlap said, she must win five votes on the nine-member board, “irrespective of race, gender, or party affiliation.”
Dunlap added: "I've spoken with at least 5 of the members, and she has not asked anyone of them to support her. Seems to me that maybe instead of the strategy that she's using, she might try picking up the phone and making a few calls. One thing is for sure, I don't think that she will be calling me!"
Cotham told Qcitymetro that she was not bothered by Dunlap's post, and suggested that some of his facts may have been wrong.
"George is entitled to his opinion but he doesn't have right to make up his own facts," she said. "He has a history of that. It is unfortunate.
"My skin is pretty thick, so it’s not hurtful,” she added.
When asked if she thought the controversy boiled down to race, Cotham said, “That’s a tough question to ask me. You’d have to ask him that.”
She added that she has no regrets about ousting Jones as county manager.
“I know the county is in much better shape now than it was in 2012," she said. "I think the people are much happier with how the county is doingThings are a lot better. Most people have moved on and see that things are better. I have no regrets about anything.”
Taylor Batten, The Charlotte Observer's Editorial Page Editor, responded to Dunlap's post, saying, "The Observer editorial board believes, as we have said on our pages, that Commissioner Cotham has earned the chairmanship by beating Trevor Fuller by more than 22,000 votes. That's the fourth straight election she has received more votes than he did. Both have served the county well on the whole and both had clear records for voters to assess, and their assessment was clear.
"Pat Cotham would, in fact, be the first person ever on the Mecklenburg County board of commissioners to be the leading vote getter and not chair the board the following year."
Below is Dunlap’s statement, printed in its entirety without corrections:
DOES ANYBODY TELL THE TRUTH ANYMORE?
If you have listened to any news, or if you have been reading the Charlotte Disturber, you have heard much about who should be the Chairman of the Board of County Commission. It's funny to me that the issue keeps coming up, when the issue was resolved last year, when I drafted a policy on Election of the Chairman of the Board, which was approved by the Board on a bipartisan vote. So what's the real issue? First of all, Pat Cotham, is not the first person to serve on the County Commission or any other board, who received the highest number of vote, and not become chairperson. I supported Jennifer Robert, who is White and female to be chair when she was the highest vote getter, however, the Republicans made a deal with Harold Cogdell and made him the chair. Before that time, other top vote getters, such as Parks Helms, were denied the Chairman position. The same was true on the School Board, when Arthur Griffin and John Lassiter were both top vote getter, but were denied the chairmanship. So there goes the notion that the top vote getter becomes the Chair. The fact that Jennifer Roberts was White and female takes care of the "she can't be chair because she is white and female argument". If that's the case, what is the real issue? 1. Taylor Batten and the Charlotte Observer owe Pat. They wanted Harry Jones gone as the County manager, and she delivered. This is why they help keep the issue alive in the paper. Can you think of any other now issue, that has received so much press 2. She is a snitch on the board and can't be trusted. When she was chair, the media had more information about what was going on than the Commissioners, because she was there pipe line, and still is today. Just a few weeks ago, when the board was instructed not to reveal information about the investigation of an employed who was being investigated by the US Attorney, she was on the new talking about it, even after she agreed in the meeting that she would not. She is the media's go to person. She has even surpassed Bill James. 3. In the last election, she campaigned with a Republican that the Observer Endorsed and hoped would win, and solidify her Chairmanship. When she did so, she campaigned against Trevor M. Fuller and Ella Scarborough, both Democrats. The problem with that strategy was that the Republican didn't win, and both Trevor and Ella did. I could tell you more, but I think that you are beginning to get the picture. So now, Pat's Republican friends have started Petitions and letter writing campaigns, in hopes of swaying the vote Pat's way. This is what I found interesting about that support. Just last week, 50 people had signed the petition, of which most were Republican, or lived outside of Mecklenburg County. This very issue, which the board has had to deal with time and time again, is the reason that we now have in policy, who can become the chair of the board. In simply terms, the person who can get 5 votes, irrespective of race, gender, or party affiliation, can become the chair. In order for that to happen, you must have 5 members of the board who trust you to be fair, believe you to be ethical, and who trust your leadership. If Pat Cotham can get 5 vote, she can be chair, but for her to do so, she has to first ask at least 5 people. I've spoken with at least 5 of the members, and she has not asked anyone of them to support her. Seems to me that maybe instead of the strategy that she's using, she might try picking up the phone and making a few calls. One thing is for sure, I don't think that she will be calling me!