Commissioners advised to skip sheriff meeting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 5, 2009

Staff report
A planned meeting of the Rowan County Republican Executive Committee this morning is expected to go off as planned despite some problems.
The committee is set to meet at 9 a.m. to select a nominee to fill the post vacated by Sheriff George Wilhelm. By state law, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners will fill the vacancy.
County Attorney Jay Dees is advising county commissioners to stay away ó if the meeting is closed to the public and press.
And a longtime Republican activist is telling the committee to stay out of the process.
Four sitting commissioners ó Chairman Carl Ford, Vice Chairman Jon Barber, Chad Mitchell and Tina Hall ó are members of the executive committee as elected office holders. Hall switched her membership to the Republican party last month.
Dees sent an e-mail to commissioners Thursday night advising them that in normal circumstances, it would be OK for them to attend a meeting that is closed to the public and press.
But Dees wrote that since commissioners will have the final say on who fills the seat, he would advise against attending the meeting if it’s held in closed session. He wrote that it would open up the board to a challenge based on the state’s Open Meetings Laws.
“This could be considered ‘conducting business’ as defined in the N.C. General Statutes, even though there is a separate and distinct decision to be made afterward.
“… I would advise that commissioners not participate in the meeting,” Dees wrote.
Tony Yon, chairman of the executive committee, said late Friday the meeting will be open to all Republicans. Only the voting part will be closed to the public.
Longtime Republican activist Mac Butner has sent an e-mail to executive committee members calling for the meeting to be canceled. He pointed out that commissioners have not asked for a recommendation.
Butner wrote that to go forward with the meeting “will not only be presumptuous, but borders on arrogance and disrespect toward our GOP county commissioners. It is their responsibility, not the executive committee, to select a replacement.”
Butner also noted the committee has no legal standing to make a recommendation as it would if a legislative seat were being filled, as in the case of the late Rep. Eugene McCombs.
Butner also charged the meeting is “blatantly unfair” since there are several serious candidates for sheriff and all should be given an equal opportunity to introduce themselves to the committee and be given fair consideration.
“This meeting will serve only to start a division that will only help the opposition party in their 2010 efforts to regain the office of sheriff,” he wrote.
Wilhelm, who stepped down Nov. 30, recommended Chief Deputy Kevin Auten be appointed.
Yon, chairman of the executive committee and a deputy in Davidson County, is seeking the appointment. Yon ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination four years ago.
Yon confirmed Friday that as many as five Republicans are seeking the committee’s endorsement.
About 50 members are expected to participate. The committee includes officeholders, elected party officials as well as the chairman and vice chairman of 44 precincts. Not all of the precincts are organized and have officers.
State law allows commissioners to make the appointment regardless of party affiliation. In some instances, such as the Register of Deeds, commissioners must appoint someone of the same party as the departing officeholder, and must appoint the executive committee’s nominee.
The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. today in the J. Newton Cohen Administrative Offices Building, 130 W. Innes St.