Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to correct the year of the next election (Got a little ahead of myself!) and to add comments from Clerk of Court Archie Smith.
Durham county commissioners couldn’t agree Monday on who they want to replace former commissioner Becky Heron, who resigned in August due to poor health.
The commissioners convened a special meeting at 5 p.m., briefly discussed how they would vote, and signed their names to ballots. Commissioners Michael Page and Brenda Howerton voted for Pam Karriker a former banker who currently volunteers full time. Karriker has committed to at least one commissioner, she said, that she would not run for a seat on the board in 2012. Commissioners Joe Bowser and Ellen Reckhow voted for Wendy Jacobs, a former elementary school teacher who served as a planning commissioner for six years.
A candidate needed at least three votes to win the appointment. In the event the commissioners are deadlocked, the matter would be sent to Durham Clerk of Court Archie Smith to decide, according to state law. Smith, anticipating the possibility the commissioners would be deadlocked, told County Manager Mike Ruffin last week: “I do hope the county commissioners know that I do not have to go by the list that they have, and I do not have to be a tie-breaker.” Smith is free to choose anyone he wants for the post, so long as the person is a member of the Democratic Party, the same party that Heron belongs to.
Reckhow and Bowser urged their colleagues to agree to put the decision in Smith’s hands. They weren’t going to stray from Jacobs as their choice, they said.
“This is the decision-making party of the county of Durham,” Bowser said. “I think it’s our responsibility to make it whole again as soon as possible. … It’s hard to sit up here with four people divided, as we are with this particular issue, and make a decision.”
Howerton said she didn’t think the board should turn the matter over to Smith just yet.
“We are a decision-making body,” Howerton said. “What this says is we’re incapable of making those decisions, that we’re referring it to someone else because we refuse to do what we’ve been given the authority to do.”
Page first commented to Howerton that the board was deadlocked and he didn’t see a point in continuing the discussion. It appeared he would side with Reckhow and Bowser to send the matter to Smith. But upon voting, Page sided with Howerton. The two voted to keep the matter before the board until its next regular meeting, Sept. 26, at which they may vote again. Reckhow and Bowser wanted to send the matter to Smith. Because a majority didn’t favor sending the decision to Smith, the matter will roll over to the Sept. 26 meeting, as the board had previously agreed.
Although several commissioners have commented since Heron’s resignation that they wanted the selection of Heron’s replacement to be as public and transparent as possible, it’s clear since the board interviewed the eight candidates on Sept. 7, all of the consideration of candidates has been private.
At a meeting last Wednesday following the interviews, the board decided it wouldn’t publicly discuss or rank the candidates so as not to offend any of the eight applicants.
Surprisingly, none of the commissioners followed the recommendation of the Durham County Democratic Party. The party executive committee last month recommended attorney Hampton Dellinger as the appointee, handily beating Jacobs, who also had the party’s consideration. Karriker was not present when the party’s executive committee voted last month and was not nominated for the recommendation.
Until recent days, Dellinger was said to have secured the votes of two commissioners, but received zero votes when the ballots were tallied.