A good rule of thumb: When politicians start lashing out at colleagues and others, they’re usually feeling defensive about something. When it’s Mecklenburg commissioner George Dunlap, it’s also a reminder that good manners aren’t a requirement for public office.
Dunlap had another one of his outbursts Monday. In a post on his Facebook page, he called fellow Democratic commissioner Pat Cotham a “snitch on the board.” He also questioned her ethics and leadership and said that she “can’t be trusted.”
Cotham, of course, is an at-large commissioner who was the leading vote-getter in November’s election. In every election before this one, the leading vote-getter in the majority party has been named commission chair for at least a year. But current chair Trevor Fuller is lobbying to keep the job, despite finishing in third place. Dunlap and four other board Democrats don’t want Cotham to have the gavel, and they’re feeling some heat.
Dunlap also is apparently still upset that former Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones was dismissed by the Cotham-led board last year. In his Facebook post, he said that Cotham was doing the bidding of the “Charlotte Disturber,” which wanted Jones fired.
He got part of it right. The Observer’s editorial board had long believed that Jones should be replaced, as did many others, including six of Dunlap’s fellow commissioners. Dunlap might be disappointed to learn, however, that Cotham didn’t call the Observer for approval or permission. (He also might be disappointed to learn that we kind of like “Disturber.” It’s part of what we do.)
If Dunlap were an editorial page reader, he’d know that although we endorsed Cotham – and Fuller – we’ve also been sharply critical of her for shutting fellow Democrats out of Jones’ dismissal and other board discussions. That’s what’s behind the Democrats’ freeze-out of Cotham now. But Dunlap and the other Democrats know well the precedent of the leading vote-getter receiving the chair’s gavel - in 2010, Dunlap actually asked the rhetorical question “Under what circumstances does the third highest vote-getter become the chair?”
Now, Dunlap and the Democrats have a laughable answer – that they adopted a policy last year stating that board members can elect the chair. Translated: We’re ignoring the will of the people because we adopted a policy that said we can ignore the will of the people.
That policy was unnecessary. Commissioners were never bound by the people’s vote when determining the board chair. They were just smart enough to acknowledge it and abide by it.
They should again. We don’t expect that of Dunlap and others, but we do of Fuller. He could put an end to the silliness by declining the chair and supporting Cotham.
Fuller didn’t do that last year and looked opportunistic because of it. That probably contributed to his finishing ahead of only Republicans this month in a predominantly Democratic county. The people have a way of reminding you that they count. The commissioners – all of them – should listen.
Peter St. Onge