George Dunlap is a puzzling choice to lead Mecklenburg County

George Dunlap, right, is the new chairman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.
George Dunlap, right, is the new chairman of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. Observer file photo

If you care about the upcoming change to your property value and how much you’ll be taxed, or about funding for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, or about giving taxpayer money to sports owners, then you care about the Mecklenburg County commissioners – and who will lead them for at least the next year.

Longtime observers of county politics were surprised when commissioners began coalescing around Democrat George Dunlap as their new chairman. On Monday, he became the first-ever chairman elected from a district, which means he is not answerable to all the county’s voters. Dunlap received about 11 percent of all votes cast, and less than a fifth of the number of votes leading vote-getter Pat Cotham won running at-large.

More puzzling, though, was commissioners’ contention that they wanted a leader who would be a team-builder who could foster a collaborative atmosphere on the board. Such team-builders have been scarce on this board over the years, and no one has ever accused Dunlap of being one.

Though Dunlap seems to have mellowed a bit lately, he has a decades-long record of being volatile, outspoken and confrontational. In 2008, he said that certain Republican opponents of his “might as well just go ahead and put those sheets back on.” During a 2011 commissioners meeting, he went on a long, incoherent diatribe against the Observer and other media holding public officials accountable. In 2014, he labeled fellow commissioner Cotham “a snitch.” He earned a reputation for being divisive during his 13 years on the school board.

When Republicans tried to block his appointment to the board of commissioners in 2008, they cited three cases involving Dunlap and female colleagues from 1991, 1997 and 2005. In 1991, he served a 10-day suspension from the police department for hitting a female officer, the Observer reported. (Dunlap had told the Observer it was an unfortunate incident that “happened instinctively.”)

That was a long time ago, but Dunlap has amassed a recent record of being wrong on the issues in our view. He voted for an expensive plan to bring Major League Soccer to Charlotte and denigrated using dedicated bond money for greenways.

He pushed for a 43 percent pay hike for county commissioners. He has been a leading proponent of four-year terms. He wanted to loosen county ethics rules that prevented taking anything of value, such as CIAA game tickets. He was a member of the Cardinal Innovations board that approved exorbitant pay packages for executives.

He long defended the county’s response to the Health Department’s botched handling of Pap smear test results. He has been skeptical of a push to expand pre-K. He was a defender of county manager Harry Jones to the end. He has never been a big supporter of transparency in government and with the board now 9-0 Democratic, watchdogs are needed more than ever.

Nevertheless, Monday marks a new beginning for the Mecklenburg board. County residents should be hopeful that Dunlap will serve as chairman in all the ways the county needs right now. The county needs a well-functioning group of commissioners who are open, transparent and serious-minded. That includes a smooth property revaluation, a hearty public conversation about the new tax rate, effective support for children from birth through high school graduation — and a board focused not on grandstanding or bickering but on the people’s business.