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Will state fiddle with Mecklenburg commission?

Bill James, Republican Mecklenburg commissioner
Bill James, Republican Mecklenburg commissioner

Last month, Republican Sen. Trudy Wade of Greensboro introduced a bill that would make drastic changes in the Greensboro City Council, shrinking the council’s size, reducing the number of at-large members and changing the length of terms. Needless to say, most council members don’t like it.

Now some Mecklenburg County Democrats are worried that lawmakers might try to make similar changes to the board of county commissioners.

“I’m just concerned about it,” says Rep. Beverly Earle of Charlotte. “Here we go again trying to micro-manage cities and counties. If something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

One Republican likes the idea. In fact, it was his.

GOP Commissioner Bill James said the idea is simple: reduce the number of at-large seats from three to one, shrinking the size of the board from nine to seven. The at-large member automatically would become chair.

The idea was born after last year’s squabble over the chairmanship among Democratic commissioners. They bypassed the leading vote-getter, Democrat Pat Cotham, in favor of Democrat Trevor Fuller.

With his plan, James says, “You eliminate a fight for chair and you increase Republican influence.” He says he’s mentioned the idea to several Republican lawmakers.

“You plant a seed, you lay out the idea and you let the legislative process take its course,” James said.

Some GOP lawmakers say they’re unaware of any efforts to change the board.

“Right now I personally have no plan to file any bill regarding the Mecklenburg County Commission,” says Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican. “I will make no commitment whether I will support any other bill if one is filed. Nobody has approached me.”