Hot topics: Rowan County commissioners are making a list for retreat

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 3, 2009

By Jessie Burchette

Salisbury Post

While most folks are checking their holiday lists, Rowan County commissioners are busily making a list for the upcoming annual retreat.

Last week, commissioners briefly touched on some of the topics that will make the list — land-use planning, budgeting and school spending.

Others likely to make the list include a possible renewal of the county fairgrounds lease and the failure of the Rowan/Kannapolis Alcoholic Beverage Commission to turn over any money to the county.

Newly elected Commissioner Jon Barber brought up a half-dozen or more topics that will likely see extensive debate at the February retreat.

While commissioners appeared willing to listen, Chairman Arnold Chamberlain bristled at Barber’s proposal involving the Strategic Planning Commission, a panel created by the Board of Commissioners almost a decade ago. The panel is now independent.

“I have no problem listening to anybody,” said Chamberlain. “This is a new day. The days of the SCDC (Sustainable Community Development Commission) imposing the will of volunteers on elected officials is over. Those days are over.”

Commissioner Jim Sides recalled that nearly two years ago, shortly after he was elected, he asked one of the panels to study the need for new county buildings and come up with a master plan.

“I was nearly laughed out of the room,” Sides said.

Commissioners did agree to hear a presentation on the current budget style along with other methods of building the county budget.

Barber, who called for the presentations, said he isn’t calling for a change for the upcoming budget.

County Manager Bill Cowan said many counties the size of Rowan have budget departments with staff that work year-round on the budget. Cowan said the style that Rowan uses is “low maintenance.”

Cowan, Finance Director Leslie Heidrick and finance staff currently do the county budget.

Commissioners are currently working on their lists of retreat topics. The board will set the dates and agenda at its Jan. 4 meeting.

Another proposal by Barber to change the way the board does business drew minimal support.

Among other things, Barber proposed that a commissioner notify the county manager any time he or she planned to talk with a department head and the manager be present.

He also proposed that commissioners send e-mails to fellow commissioners whenever they meet with the manager, another commissioner or department director.

“I’m a vocal communicator,” Chamberlain said. “I don’t like e-mail.”

Sides said he likes written communications but also vowed to continue calling or visiting with department officials when he needs information.

Commissioners agreed to continue with the current arrangement and see how it works.

In other business last week, the board:

* Agreed to schedule a Jan. 4 public hearing to amend the county personnel board ordinance to remove the county manager as a voting member.

Chamberlain said the manager should not be a voting member.

Ken Deal, director of administration, said the manager originally didn’t have a vote, but several years ago it was changed.

Chamberlain suggested he may, at some point, recommend eliminating the Personnel Board.

The board meets primarily as needed to decide on the pay rate for a prospective employee or changes in pay for current employees, Deal said.

The chairman and vice chairman traditionally serve on the board.

* Chamberlain and Sides exchanged barbs about Chamberlain’s appointment of commissioners as liaisons to various boards and commissions.

Sides said Chamberlain acted so quickly he didn’t have time to mark a sheet indicating which boards he would like to work with.

Chamberlain said three of four commissioners met with him and made their choices known.

When Sides questioned whether the chairman has the authority to make some of the appointments, Chamberlain said he did the same thing that has been done for years.

“It’s not personal,” Sides said.

“It is personal,” Chamberlain responded, suggesting Sides was irked at not being re-elected vice chairman.

Hall and Vice Chairman Mitchell suggested County Attorney Jay Dees look at the policy and procedures and determine what appointments the chairman has authority to make.

Dees is scheduled to report back to the board at the next meeting.

Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or