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Chairman Sides, Part II

Rowan County commissioners gave Jim Sides an early Christmas present Monday, electing him as chairman for another year. Whether this will also be a gift for the citizens of Rowan — or a disappointing lump of coal — all depends on Sides.
Does the chairman want to lead or dictate? Accept criticism as part of his job or shun those who dare to disagree? Act transparently or behind the scenes? Work with other boards to solve community problems or stick to the unilateral, my-way-or-the-highway approach?
The public comment period of Monday’s meeting did not bode well for citizen participation. Sides threatened to have the sheriff clear the room after people in the audience applauded attorneys speaking up for Commissioner Jon Barber. But raucous applause was allowed earlier this year during impassioned comments about public prayer. Guess that’s another story.
Another discouraging sign is commissioners’ decision Monday to turn “Copygate” over to the district attorney’s office. Barber’s use of county equipment and materials — somewhere between 4,000 and 9,000 pages, some estimate — is evidently high on Sides’ list of priorities. A county staffer spent untold hours producing a 142-page report that did not attempt to get Barber’s side of the story. Now your tax dollars will be at work paying the district attorney to investigate the matter.
Perhaps the plan is to humiliate Barber as much as possible in this election year and silence him along the way. Voters will have their say on that, if Barber seeks re-election. Sides’ seat also is up for election this year, and voters will weigh in on that, too. While being chairman during a campaign year could be an advantage to a candidate if he embraced his role as spokesperson for the board, Sides has effectively silenced himself by refusing to return calls from Post reporters, therefore ceding a key role to Vice Chairman Craig Pierce.
Is there any reason to expect Jim Sides’ next stint as chairman to be different from the first? The board’s decision Monday to hold off on the Salisbury Mall purchase could give him a chance to share more specifics and consider citizens’ reservations. His stated interest in helping Rowan Early College expand is a ray of hope. And there is an election coming up. The May primary will either humble Sides or embolden him. In the meantime, the majority of the county commission has given his leadership a vote of confidence. Congratulations to Chairman Sides, and good luck to the rest of us.

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