Scarborough unseats Fuller to chair Mecklenburg County commissioners

A coalition of three Republicans and two Democrats made Ella Scarborough chair of the Mecklenburg County commissioners Monday, unseating fellow Democrat Trevor Fuller at an often acrimonious meeting.

A longstanding tradition that the commissioner who led voting in November be elected chair shattered three years ago when Fuller was elevated to chair despite trailing Democrat Pat Cotham. On Nov. 8, Scarborough finished third among at-large commissioners.

Cotham again beat Fuller by 34,000 votes, but her relations with fellow Democrats, who hold a 6-3 majority, are strained. She instead nominated Scarborough, a retired Duke Energy manager who formerly served 10 years on Charlotte City Council.

The board elected Republican Jim Puckett, who represents District 1 in northern Mecklenburg, vice chair.

Scarborough’s supporters say Fuller has too rarely included them. Some of the issues he has championed in annual state of the county addresses, such as universal pre-kindergarten education and jobs programs, were never brought before the board, they said.

“She’ll take my calls – that hasn’t happened for years,” Cotham said of Scarborough after the meeting.

“From my point of view as the lead vote-getter, we need a chair and vice chair who can bring people together and have experience with different levels of government,” she said in nominating Scarborough. The board needs leaders who have experience with other levels of government, have business savvy and know the needs of Mecklenburg’s six towns, she said.

Scarborough wouldn’t comment on Fuller’s performance after the meeting, saying she wants to focus on what lies ahead. Among those goals are some she shares with Fuller: universal pre-kindergarten education; economic development; housing for the indigent; and upward mobility for poor people, on which Charlotte ranks low.

“We’re too rich to be where we are,” in those rankings, she said.

She’ll take my calls – that hasn’t happened for years.

Commissioner Pat Cotham on new chair Ella Scarborough

Fuller was elected chair in 2013 and has held the job since then. He forcefully defended his work as chair Monday, saying the board has functioned well under his lead.

“By any reasonable measure, I have performed well in this job with ability, honor and integrity,” he said. “This vote is not about my job … it’s about politics, and that’s just the reality we face. I understand it’s not about the good work I’ve done. I will not allow anyone to tarnish my good work and reputation … to justify your treachery.”

Added Democrat Vilma Leake: “It is about politics and it is about party, because none of this was ever discussed with me until late Wednesday night. So what was I supposed to believe? That this was something done by the back door.”

Republican Matthew Ridenhour expressed disgust at the board’s debate.

“This divisiveness is the exact divisiveness we see across the city and the state and the United States, where people are not willing to work with the other side,” he said. “How many times do we have to learn something by reading it in the paper in the morning?”

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender