Dems debate options for board

Mecklenburg County Democrats will spend the next week discussing who should replace county Commissioner Valerie Woodard, and party officials said they are working to make sure the process goes off without any glitches.

The county party is holding a special election Monday to pick someone to serve the remaining two months of Woodard's term on the county board. That person also could get the job for the next two years.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education member George Dunlap said he expects to be nominated for the post. John Crawford, founder of the Charlotte Housing Authority Scholarship Fund, also said he would consider the appointment.

Woodard, who died earlier this month, had served on the county board since 2002 and was running unopposed for a fourth term. Her name will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, and her votes will go to the party's nominee.

Up to 59 local Democrats will meet Monday to name Woodard's replacement. They include leaders of precincts in the district, as well as some elected officials and state party leaders who live in the area.

The party could pick one person to serve the rest of Woodard's current term and another to fill the two-year term that starts in December. Or they could appoint one person to both vacancies.

Potential candidates for the seat must be registered Democrats who live in the district, which includes parts of east, central and north Charlotte. Hopefuls must be nominated by someone eligible to vote in the special election. Members of the county party's executive committee also can nominate themselves.

Party chairman Joel Ford said state law requires county Democrats to recommend someone to fill the rest of Woodard's current term within 30 days of the vacancy. County commissioners must approve the party's replacement if the nominee is named during that time.

Commissioners could vote on the interim replacement as early as Oct. 21, though at least one member doesn't want to rush the appointment.

Republican Bill James said he is opposed “to any rash action on the part of the county commission until all candidates have been publicly vetted and the same investigation done of them that was done for the sheriff's position.”

County Democrats held a special election last December to replace retiring Sheriff Jim Pendergraph. Charlotte attorney Nick Mackey won the election, but commissioners did not immediately appoint him after questions were raised about his background and the election's validity.

A state panel later threw out the party's election, and commissioners later appointed Mackey's opponent, Chipp Bailey, as sheriff.

Commissioners vice chairman Parks Helms said it's not fair to compare the sheriff's race to the current vacancy.

“It was abundantly clear that the recommendation that came forth in the sheriff race was not the recommendation of a properly organized executive committee,” he said. “There were errors. It was simply an entirely different situation.”

Ford said the party wants to make sure the special election runs smoothly. He's noted there were no problems with an similar special election held in May to find a successor to state Rep. Pete Cunningham, who retired in December 2007.

Ford said it's important to name a successor soon. “As long as the county is continuously conducting business, we believe that the folks in county District Three … need to be represented,” he said.

Ford said the party's executive board will come up with an informal vetting process, and help ensure that potential candidates know as much as they can about the position. He said ideally, the new commissioner “will uphold some of the principles and values that Commissioner Woodard had and represent that district in the manner that she did.”

Dunlap said he had considered running for the commissioners' seat in the past, but did not want to run against Woodard. He has represented the same neighborhoods on the school board since 1995.

Dunlap has reservations about leaving the school board, but said he can weigh in on the school budget as commissioner, as well as other areas like park and recreation and health and human services.

Crawford, who previously ran for a seat on the Charlotte City Council, said he had thought of running for the open seat, but was awaiting details about the selection process. On Monday, he said he would consider seeking the nomination.

The party election is set for 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.