A word from the chairman, defending mall purchase

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 9, 2014

After a public hearing Monday on Rowan County’s application to the Local Government Commission to borrow $3.95 million to cover the cost of buying the former Salisbury Mall and some renovations, commissioners Chairman Jim Sides asked fellow board members for their comments.
Then Sides took the floor himself. In a lengthy oration, Sides educated the audience on the county’s fund balance; he reminisced about 1980, when the county budget was only $9 million; he criticized a favorite target, the Salisbury Post; and he issued a warning to the next commissioners.
“When the three new guys take these seats up here, that’s when the heat’s turned on,” he said. “It’s going to be a different story. The decisions are not as easy as even some of you people think they are.”
Sides lost his re-election bid in the Republican primary, and two other commissioners — Chad Mitchell and Jon Barber — aren’t seeking new terms. So the board will have three new members after the November elections.
A majority of the candidates have said the county shouldn’t have bought the mall, and opponents have been organized and vocal, campaigning against the purchase and Sides during the primaries.
Sides spent some of his time defending the mall purchase and predicting that unless “reckless and irresponsible” people are elected to the board, Rowan residents will be glad they own it 15 years from now, as space needs continue to grow in county departments.
He talked about the fact the county hadn’t had a tax increase in 10 years and that commissioners used the fund balance to stave one off during the recession, but “we can’t weather the storm any longer.” He touted the county’s low debt load. “We’ve been responsible,” he said.
And, in what Sides called, “the speech I intended to make when I left,” Sides defended himself.
“When I leave this office in December, I’ll leave with my integrity. I ain’t made a deal with nobody,” he said.
At times sounding like he was lecturing wayward children, Sides finished with this:
“I just don’t understand it, quite honestly. You people who think you have gained a victory because you got rid of me, you did me a favor. I’m going to have some time on my hands, and I’m going to enjoy it. But I love this county. … I’ve never made a decision that I didn’t think that it was best for this entire county. I hate it’s come down to this one issue. Man, I could’ve made it easy on myself. I could’ve got another gravy job for the next four years. I could’ve voted against the mall. But I’m going to tell you one thing: I’ve never voted for anything so that I’d get your vote, and I’ve never voted for anything because I thought I was going to lose your vote. I simply voted for it because I thought it was right.”
That was at least three statements, Chairman Sides. Hope it was enough.
You can watch the entire meeting, including Sides’ speech, on the county website at www.rowancountync.gov. Select the “Commission” link, then “Media Archive.”
With County Manager Gary Page set to retire at the end of the month, Rowan County commissioners are moving forward in their search for the next person to take the helm.
Chairman Jim Sides has called a special meeting at 9 a.m. Monday, at which commissioners will go into closed session and discuss the search.
Page told commissioners last year he planned to retire.
They promoted Leslie Heidrick, the county’s longtime finance manager, to assistant county manager with plans for her to succeed Page.
But earlier this year, Heidrick declined the top job, and the county began a search.
The plan was to take applications through July 31, then have the county’s Human Resources department narrow that list down to a top 10.
Commissioners were to choose a few of those to interview, and that could be what they’re discussing Monday.
If the process goes smoothly, Page said in June, commissioners could choose a new county manager by the time he retires.
The Joint Planning Committee of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education will meet 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, and then the second Tuesday of each month going forward.
The two boards established the joint committee earlier this year to better plan for the school system’s capital needs. It was part of a settlement agreement the county and district reached through mediation after school system officials threatened legal action for what they saw as the county’s underfunding.
The agreement also resulted in a $40.5 million commitment from the county to build a new central office and an elementary school to consolidate Cleveland and Woodleaf, and to pay for renovations at Knox Middle School.
The committee will meet in the second-floor meeting room in the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Rowan County Administration Building, 130 W. Innes St.
Filing continues for four seats up for election this year on the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.
Richard Miller and W.F. Owens are running for seat one, which represents the northern area of the county.
Seat two has three contestants so far – Lawrence Helms, Dean Hunter and L.A. Overcash. The seat covers the county’s southern schools.
Travis Allen and Kay Wright Norman have both filed for seat four, which covers the western part of the county.
Jean Kennedy is currently running unopposed for seat six, a special seat which represents an L-shaped portion of the county that runs through western and downtown portions of Salisbury and into East Spencer.
There were no new filings Friday.
Filing ends Aug. 15 at noon. Filing costs $5. Elections will be held Nov. 4.