Earlier this month, in its first meeting since two new members were sworn in, a bitterly divided Wake County Board of Commissioners voted 4–3 to declare as surplus a former golf course it had acquired for $4 million just last year for parkland and put it up for sale.

The majority—Greg Ford, Jessica Holmes, James West, and newcomer Vickie Adamson—argued that they were correcting the previous board’s mistake and that developing a park at Crooked Creek wasn’t fiscally responsible, given the county’s other needs, such as schools and affordable housing.

On the other side were Sig Hutchinson and Matt Calabria, who voted for the park last year, and newcomer Susan Evans, who seemed annoyed at having to deal with something so fraught so soon. The park money, Hutchinson and Calabria pointed out, came from a separate pot than school funding. And Hutchinson chastised the anti-park camp for doing the bidding of political benefactors whose largesse helped Adamson get elected.

Tensions haven’t cooled in the two weeks since.

“That will be a park one day,” says David Carter, a former Wake County parks director who has advocated for the Crooked Creek park. “This isn’t going to go quiet into the night. We’re expanding our footprint when it comes to letting people know and making sure they understand what the commissioners have done. So, nope, not going to go away.”

The backlash—on social media and in Ford, Holmes, West, and Adamson’s inboxes—got so bad that, last week, they released a thirteen-page letter defending their vote and sharply criticizing the commissioners who’d supported the purchase, saying the county should “not be in the business of failed golf course bailouts.”

“They have questioned the potential influence of campaign donors who support public education, while remaining silent on the potential influence of their own donors who are property owners, land developers, real estate agents, and others with potential economic interests in Crooked Creek, or in the precedent it sets for taxpayers buying failed private projects,” they chided.

“They started it,” Hutchinson retorts. “I have just responded to what they started, and it started off back when they came out with a statement questioning our integrity.” (He’s referring to a letter Ford, Holmes, and West sent last April implying that a campaign event park supporters had invited four pro-park commissioners to could be seen as pay-to-play.)

It was within this context that the commissioners filed into the North Carolina Museum of Art Saturday morning for their annual retreat, an event at which they set goals for the coming year. The Crooked Creek vote had sketched the outlines of factions: the ascendant Holmes and Ford leading the majority; Hutchinson and Calabria having seen their clout wane.

But where Hutchinson has been visibly irritated, Calabria has opted to make peace with this new dynamic. He says he’s tried to avoid personal attacks, and he’s annoyed that he’s been caught up in the back-and-forth.

“That doesn’t mean I don’t have my share of frustration, but I am working hard to try and keep the lines of communication open among all commissioners,” Calabria says.

That’s left Hutchinson on something of an island.

In the first round of the retreat’s goal-setting process, Hutchinson suggested changing the county’s social and economic vitality priorities to focus on the health of the entire county rather than that of its most vulnerable populations. The majority wasn’t having it.

The rest of the day went much the same. While commissioners took up some of Hutchinson’s suggestions, including implementing the results of the Population Health Task Force’s report, none became top priorities. He was clearly annoyed. At the meeting’s conclusion, he was the only board member who didn’t thank his colleagues.

“I feel like some of my priorities were not held in priority,” Hutchinson says.

For the rest of the board, whatever tensions existed remained below the surface. The commissioners, all Democrats, prioritized developing a plan to support healthy mothers and babies, implementing a behavioral health plan, helping vulnerable populations in southeast and eastern Wake County, and expanding support for those released from prison as their top goals for 2019.

They also want to create strategies to support vulnerable populations such as minorities, women, people with disabilities, and families struggling financially; bring together municipalities and other stakeholders on issues pertaining to growth, sustainability, and zoning; expand access to early childhood development programs; and work with the school board to establish a process for determining school funding.

The county’s staff is tasked with creating policies to meet those goals. The board will further discuss its priorities at a workshop on February 11 and vote on them at its February 18 meeting.

Holmes says she’s pleased with how the retreat went.  

“We were all pleasantly surprised that everyone came to the table doing what we were elected to do,” she says, “which is to put politics and personalities to the side for the betterment of our community.”

Whether that bonhomie exists when the next tough vote comes remains to be seen.

“We have not healed,” Hutchinson says. But then again, as he implicitly acknowledges, maybe he’s just speaking for himself: “You know, if you are in the majority and voted for the park [to be sold], I’m sure you are fine with it.”

Contact staff writer Leigh Tauss by email at ltauss@indyweek.com, by phone at 919-832-8774, or on Twitter @leightauss.