The ink was far from dry on my storyin this week's CL about the leadership challenges facing Mecklenburg County Commission Chairman Trevor Fuller and the dust up over the sales-tax referendum voters will decide on this November. Recent evidence suggests he has a tough a hill to climb and shows just how divided that governing body truly is — and how tenuous is the thread by which that referendum is hanging.
The best that can be said about the nine commissioners is that they haven’t actually started shooting at each other yet, despite the fact that one member of the board told me “as far as our work is concerned, we get along pretty well.” We’ll let you decide whether or not that’s a fair assessment. As for the sales-tax referendum, well, I’ve heard from reliable sources that even if that vote ever actually happens, which is an “if,” there is considerable talk that the state legislature could rescind the county’s authority to levy that tax — perhaps even retroactively.
Here’s what has happened this week: Since the bulk of the sales-tax referendum (80 percent) would be dedicated to the county’s teacher pay increases beginning in September 2015, School Board Chairwoman Mary McCray and Vice Chairman Tim Morgan requested a meeting with Fuller about it, a meeting that would have happened on Wednesday and would have included County Manager Dena Diorio and CMS Superintendent Heath Morrision. But when those on the commission who had opposed the sales-tax referendum heard about it and found out they weren’t invited, the proverbial dust hit the fan, with Republican Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour emailing Fuller and copying the others, saying, “I was quite surprised to learn that I am not allowed to attend the meeting, nor are any other Commissioners allowed to attend.”
His colleague Bill James then chimed in with a lengthy note, saying, “Secret meetings to talk about how to divvy up a tax increase or how to plot to present it to the public are unseemly and diminish the Board as a whole. I hope that those planning this cabal thing (sic) again about the wisdom of having such a meeting.”
Which prompted this tart response from Democrat George Dunlap (sic throughout): “It funny that all of a sudden, some of you have gotten religion. Not a one of you complained when you were meeting with Pat (Cotham), and none of the rest of is knew. The meeting is not a secret if you know about it. Every one of us has meetings or has had a meeting with folk the we want at the table, and we didn’t open it up to anyone else . . . Relax! Everybody can meet with whom ever you want to meet with. Why start something new. It’s been going on forever, and it’s no secret.”
Then it was Fuller’s turn to respond to Ridenhour: “Yesterday, I heard that you were inquiring about my meeting schedule. I thought that you would have called me about it directly, but I now see that other motives are at work here. So be it. Almost every allegation in your email is factually incorrect ... Since you oppose this policy, I don’t understand what legitimate reason you have to insist on being part of the meeting. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that you and your colleagues have made a mountain out of this mole hill. In the future, it is usually better to discuss things like this with me before making bold, incendiary statements that are aimed to rile up the public needlessly. We have an obligation as leaders to use discretion before wrongly accusing colleagues of misdeeds.”
Ridenhour told me today that he was “taken aback by the tone of that email” from Fuller, but asserts, nonetheless, that the board has a good working relationship. You be the judge of that.
So far, influential members of the community, such as the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, have not taken a stand on the referendum, which is seen by some as an ominous signal, and, as mentioned above, there’s talk in Raleigh about rescinding the authority to levy the tax itself.