After opposing Democrat George Dunlap's appointment to the Mecklenburg County Commission, two Republican commissioners changed their minds and voted Thursday morning to approve the school board member as a replacement for the late Valerie Woodard.
The vote reinstalls a Democratic majority on the commission, which is set to discuss whether to delay a reassessment of property values or to re-evaluate values in 2009, as planned. Republican commissioners Dan Bishop, Bill James, Karen Bentley and Dan Ramirez voted against Dunlap nearly two weeks ago, saying they were concerned about the Democratic party's selection process and Dunlap's past.
But Bishop and Ramirez voted for Dunlap at the brief special meeting, hours before a judge was to hear a lawsuit filed by the county's Democratic Party, which demanded that Dunlap be seated to represent District 3.
“In the final analysis for me, whether he serves an additional two weeks isn't the end of the world,” said Bishop, who isn't running for re-election. “It's not worth being in court.”
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Ramirez had said he would rather resign than be forced by a judge to vote. “I didn't see the benefit of extending this process,” he said after the meeting.
Dunlap, who did not attend the meeting, is scheduled to be sworn in today at noon. He couldn't be reached for comment.
Dunlap was chosen by local party officials Oct. 21 to replace Woodard, who died this month of a rare blood disorder. Woodard was running unopposed, and her name remains on the ballot.
He will serve until 2010, filling the two-year term she was seeking. Commissioners won't say as to whether Dunlap will be seated for the full two-year term. But they did have sway over whether he would fulfill the final month of her current term, through November.
Dunlap's appointment could influence a Nov. 5 meeting in which Democrats are pushing to reassess property values next year. Some Republicans are hoping to delay the reassessment for a year. The Republicans are concerned that the reassessments would lead to higher property taxes for most homeowners and businesses, which they say would be difficult for taxpayers because of the economic and real estate slowdown.
County commissioner chairwoman Jennifer Roberts, a Democrat who doesn't want to delay revaluation, said she didn't know whether Dunlap would vote with her.
“I haven't spoken to George about it one way or another,” Roberts said. “It could move forward, it could be voted down.”
The Republicans said they were concerned about the process in which the party voted to select Dunlap, in light of the controversy over its selection of Nick Mackey as sheriff last year. Dunlap's confrontational style was also cited, especially three incidents involving Dunlap and female colleagues.
In 1991, Dunlap served a 10-day suspension from the police department for hitting a female officer after he says she slapped his hand away during a confrontation at the jail. He had previously told the Observer it was an unfortunate incident that “happened instinctively.”
Bishop said the debate over Dunlap's appointment served a “salutatory purpose for the community to look at this record.”
Bentley didn't attend the special meeting. She said she had a previously scheduled sales meeting. She also said she likely would have abstained from voting for Dunlap's appointment.
James was the only other commissioner who didn't attend. He said in an e-mail that he didn't come to the meeting because the vote “was legally questionable.”
James also wrote that he would have voted against Dunlap because the board hadn't reviewed Dunlap's qualifications, and because of the Mackey vote last year.
“George's long record of thuggish behavior towards white women is frankly scary….Let's hope that he doesn't ‘instinctively' pummel Jennifer Roberts or Karen Bentley over the next two years.”
Mike Daisley, an attorney for the Mecklenburg Democratic Party, said he believed the party's lawsuit influenced the vote.
“There was no hint of controversy about how he was selected,” Daisley said.
After the meeting Thursday, Daisley dropped the party's lawsuit against the commissioners.