By Steve Huffman
An order for new furniture for the office of the chairman of the Rowan County commissioners has apparently been canceled.
And it looks as though plans to purchase $8,500 worth of chairs for the commissioners’ meeting room will also be nixed.
Meanwhile, what appears to be a growing feud between Commission Chairman Arnold Chamberlain and Commissioner Tina Hall played out in a series of e-mails sent by the two Friday and Saturday.
The first of the e-mails was sent Friday by Chamberlain to his fellow commissioners and Rowan County Manager Bill Cowan. Copies were also sent to the Salisbury Post.
“This e-mail is to inform all of you that the new furniture that was ordered for the chairman’s office has been canceled,” Chamberlain wrote. “This is not a board decision. Much of the furniture that was in the chairman’s office is now in Rick Ridenhour’s office and Commissioner Tina Hall’s office. I do not wish, nor will I accept the return of that furniture to the chairman’s office while I remain as chairman. I have all I ‘need’ until December.”
Then Chamberlain turned his attention to the nine leather chairs that were budgeted for the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Meeting Room.
“I also will go along with the deletion of the $8,500 commissioner chairs for the commission room,” Chamberlain continued. “That is and should be a board decision.”
Chamberlain’s e-mail also included a bit of humor.
“I do need another chair of some type that I can move around in without having to actually get up to move around in the chair,” he wrote. “I accept part of that blame because of my ‘full figure.’ I worked on that for a long time, so I do not want to hear anything about losing weight. Ha!!”
Contacted by phone Saturday afternoon, Chamberlain said he sent the e-mail as a means of putting an end to sniping about the furniture that has in recent weeks arisen among commissioners.
Chamberlain said new furniture for the manager’s office was to cost between $5,000 and $6,000. He said that no fellow commissioner has confronted him personally about the expense, but he said he’s been told there has been talk about it “behind the scenes.”
Chamberlain said there has been no mention of the furniture for the chairman’s office made in any of the commissioners’ public meetings.
The furniture for the chairman’s office ó as well as the chairs for the commissioners’ meeting room ó are budget items and do not have to be voted on individually by commissioners.
“Rather than have the issue, I canceled the order,” Chamberlain said by phone. “It’s evidently distracting a couple of our commissioners.”
He mentioned Hall as one of those commissioners, though Chamberlain also noted, “No commissioner came to me face to face.”
Hall sent a response to Chamberlain’s e-mail shortly before 4 p.m. Saturday. It also went to her fellow commissioners, Cowan and the Post.
“The hand-me-down chairs from our chairman’s office will be returned,” she wrote. “They fit him just fine as they have others before him. We don’t need to buy anything. I just need to locate my former chairs.”
Hall didn’t return phone calls from the Post Saturday night.
Her e-mail response, however, did prompt another from Chamberlain, this one sent about 5:15 p.m. Saturday.
“Commissioner Hall has changed her mind from just awhile back,” he wrote. “She was in agreement and encouraged the chairman and manager’s office to get new furniture for the chairman’s office. She was excited to receive some of that old furniture for her office. That is why she received five pieces of that furniture for her office, which is fine.”
“She was also very much in favor of getting new chairs for the commissioners’ room, just as she was to spend up to $100,000 on the upfit of the room and readiness for TV. I am now having second thoughts about that expenditure, too.
“I remain committed to the upgrade of the commissioners’ room, but I really do not see the need to spend that much money for everything in terms of equipment and personnel time, etc., to be on TV. I have never been sold on that.”
In recent weeks, the Post has reported that Hall and Commissioner Jim Sides have called for cutting the $8,500 for the chairs from the 2008 budget, which totals $121.5 million.
Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell has also said that he isn’t entirely sold on the new chairs.
Commissioners already have agreed to spend nearly $100,000 to upfit the meeting room with a large screen that drops from the ceiling, a new audio system with lapel microphones and video monitors at the commissioners’ seats.
The upfitting also includes audio and video equipment to record the board meetings for cable television and Webcasting.
Chamberlain’s final e-mail concluded:
“Let’s get back to the important function of budgeting for all our citizens. It is obvious to me that some are taking our disagreement on budget items and (the) tax rate personally. How unfortunate. This is so silly and my last word on this subject.”
Asked by phone about what furniture he now has in the manager’s office, Chamberlain replied, “I have downsized. I have less furniture than before.”
But he said he was happy with what he’s got.
“I’ll make do with what I’ve got,” Chamberlain said. “I’ll sit on the floor if I have to.”
Staff writer Jessie Burchette contributed to this story. Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman @salisburypost.com.
By Steve Huffman