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GOP headquarters decision divides Rowan commissioners

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Republican Party’s headquarters during 2016 elections has revived old tensions about the West End Plaza and split county commissioners.

In an email to a large group of people, Commissioner Craig Pierce this week criticized fellow commissioners for not allowing the Rowan County Republican Party to locate its headquarters in West End Plaza.

Pierce missed a deadline to get a lease proposal on the agenda for Monday’s board meeting. However, Pierce said he plans to request that a lease for the Rowan County Republican Party be added to the agenda. Since its 2013 purchase, county commissioners have approved all leases at West End Plaza.

“This is an item that you need to decide if it is worth your comfort to turn your back on your party that helped you get elected,” Pierce said in his email. “That is the board’s decision. I will do what my party wishes as without them you would all be sitting at home every other Monday. Just giving you a heads up and I will make whatever comments I feel are deserved.”

Pierce sent his email to other county commissioners, state legislators, school board members, various Republicans in Rowan County and party chairman Stephen Kidd.

Since the 2014 general election, county commissioners have rarely sparred over matters involving West End Plaza — purchased in 2013 as a site for future county offices. This time, however, commissioners Chairman Greg Edds says he and other commissioners are hesitant to approve a lease. Edds says allowing the Rowan Republican Party to lease space in West End Plaza for its headquarters may look like a conflict of interest to members of the public.

When asked to describe the conflict of interest, Edds said “that five Republican commissioners are opening up taxpayer-funded space for a campaign headquarters.” He said allowing the Republican Party to lease space in the county-owned West End Plaza “doesn’t enhance the trust between the commissioners and the taxpayers.”

Pierce counters that he’d be willing to offer the Rowan County Democratic Party the same opportunity at the same price.

“I really don’t know what his problem is,” Pierce said about opposition from Edds and other commissioners.

Edds says four of the five commissioners are opposed to Pierce’s proposal.

“For some reason, the other commissioners feel this is just going to create a firestorm of opposition with the public, but I don’t see it that way,” Pierce said. “It’s not like we’re saying only the Republicans can come.”

When asked about the lease, Klusman said “it has its pluses and minuses.” She said the location of a headquarters should be a decision made by the local Republican Party, not commissioners.

When asked about a party headquarters, Kidd said the Rowan GOP is looking at several locations. Listing a few of the spots, Kidd mentioned West End Plaza, downtown Salisbury and a spot on Jake Alexander Boulevard. A headquarters in a municipality other than Salisbury is also an option.

During major election years — 2016 for example — Rowan County Republican Party has historically opened up a headquarters for candidates and volunteers. In 2014, the headquarters was in downtown Salisbury. Kidd said downtown Salisbury has been advantageous in the past because of its proximity to the Rowan County Board of Elections. By mid-2016, however, the Rowan County Board of elections will move to West End Plaza. Limited parking is also a problem downtown, Kidd said.

West End Plaza would also be a less expensive option than downtown, Kidd said.

Addressing old tensions about the West End Plaza, Pierce said the Rowan Republican Party’s lease at West End Plaza would only be temporary.

“It’s not about moving people out of downtown,” Pierce said. “The Republican Party is not downtown now. It’s not like we’re moving or doing something different.”

The party’s executive committee is scheduled to meet Monday to weigh various headquarters options. Rowan County Commissioners will also meet Monday at 3 p.m. in the County Administration Building on West Innes Street.

Pierce confirmed he’ll ask that a lease be added to the agenda. After Pierce makes a motion to add the item to the agenda, it will require a second and a majority of commissioners to vote in favor. Pierce said he expects a 4-1 vote against its addition. Edds said he’s willing to at least discuss the lease.

“Out of respect for Commissioner Pierce, we will gladly add this to Monday’s agenda,” Edds said. “He has extended considerable passion about this issue, and we applaud his passion, but he is going to be needed as we work together to improve the local economy. There are enough critical issues out there to keep us occupied 24/7, and this is not one.”

When asked about the Rowan Republican Party’s proposed lease, County Manager Aaron Church only emphasized the Board of Commissioners has authority to approve the lease.

“I don’t have the authority to make that decision,” Church said. “It’s a board of commissioners decision.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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