Chairman of county board up in air; Barber may be deciding factor

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

Jon Barber, who got the most votes in balloting for county commissioner, admits he would like to be chairman.

His 13,000 votes are good enough to apparently put him in the situation of deciding who will be the next chairman: Arnold Chamberlain or Jim Sides.

Both Chamberlain, a retired businessman, and Sides, who owns and operates Today’s Trading, are candidates for the job, and both apparently have lined up support.

Chamberlain has served as chairman since August 2004 when Frank Tadlock resigned with the turmoil surrounding the firing of County Manager Tim Russell. Chamberlain was re-elected to the post last December.

Traditionally, the board elects a chairman each December, with change most often coming in the years after an election. In some counties, the leading vote getter is almost automatically elected chairman. That has not been the tradition in Rowan in recent years.

Chad Mitchell, who starts his second term on the board Monday night, is backing Chamberlain.

Tina Hall, who will be the lone Democrat on the board, is apparently backing Sides, although she said she prefers to wait until Monday night to vote her choice.

Barber, a retired Eastman Kodak manager and current teacher at Southeast Middle School, said he does aspire to be chairman but doesn’t have the votes.

“It takes three votes,” said Barber, “I can’t get them.”

And Barber said he doesn’t expect to make up his mind until he has further discussion with both Chamberlain and Sides.

Barber said he has talked with Sides in person and with Chamberlain by phone.

“The chairman is the face of the county commissioners, but all county commissioners are equal,” Barber said.

Barber is confident he can “still accomplish whatever I want to” without being chairman.

And if somehow the stars realign or deals are made, Barber is still interested in being chairman.

Chamberlain has spent most of the last two weeks at the coast, but he commented by e-mail: “If the majority of this board wishes for me to continue as chair, I will humbly accept that job and honor. I look forward to this Board of County Commissioners working diligently as a ‘Board’ to move Rowan County forward to the benefit of all our citizens.”

Sides, who previously eschewed any interest in the role of chairman, said he is not seeking the nomination. “I understand I will be nominated. That being the case, I will support myself.”

Sides said he understands “there are deals to be made … some people are running scared.”

If he doesn’t get the job of chairman, Sides said it won’t affect him. “All commissioners are created equal. I believe that’s the way it’s supposed to operate.”

Mitchell, who narrowly lost the vice chairman’s post to Sides in 2004, said he isn’t lobbying for the post either, but if he gets three votes, he will serve.

Mitchell, a teacher at East Rowan High School, said he has no qualms with Chamberlain’s leadership ability, adding that Chamberlain has led the board through a very difficult time.

“I told Arnold I will support him,” said Mitchell. “I haven’t changed by mind.”

While not saying who she will support, Hall spelled out what type of leader she wants: “I’m looking for a leader who epitomizes honesty, one with strong convictions, a stand-up guy, one who will listen to citizen input and wants policy made out in the open, not behind closed doors — a leader who promotes a flow of information and considers all five commissioners equal.”

During the past two years, Hall, a retired principal, has been outspoken in support of Sides, including his opposition to closed sessions.

Since 2000, the Board of Commissioners has had four different chairmen. Steve Blount served as chairman from December 2000 to December 2003.

Gus Andrews, who was the leading vote getter in 2002, was elected chairman in December 2003. He served until his term ended a year later.

Commissioners picked Tadlock in December 2004 and he served as chairman until August 2005.

The election for chairman and vice-chairman will come at the Rowan County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday at 7 p.m. in the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Meeting Room, County Administrative Offices Building, 130 W. Innes St.

Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette