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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Commissioners nix public discussion of board candidates to spare feelings; will vote Monday on Heron's replacement

Posted by on Wed, Sep 7, 2011 at 5:18 PM

As they considered who to appoint to replace former colleague Becky Heron, Durham County Commissioners Wednesday decided they wouldn't talk about the candidates' qualities or qualifications in a public meeting, or rank their favorites, as had been planned. Heron resigned effective Aug. 1 due to poor health.

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The commissioners interviewed eight candidates for the job on Tuesday, and before they adjourned, they discussed using time during Wednesday's work session for each commissioner to rank his or her top three favorite choices.

But when the commissioners met Wednesday, they decided that discussing the candidates or ranking them might end up offending some candidates who spent hours preparing for the four-hour interview, during which they answered questions on education, taxation, and other policy.

"I'm a bit uncomfortable trying to rank candidates," Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said. "I would prefer to try to focus on who we want to appoint as opposed to evaluating them. I think they all did a good job."

Chairman Michael Page echoed her concerns.

"I don't want anyone to feel that they were any less qualified than anyone," Page said. "I would feel uncomfortable having a public discussion about any of the candidates. Every candidate answered their questions in their own way. I just think it's a personal decision on whoever you think will best serve this role."

Page then suggested that the commissioners could use anonymous ballots to narrow the pool, but a county attorney noted that the process by law had to be public. At least three of the candidates were in the room during the meeting.

The commissioners finally decided they would vote at a special session beginning at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12, and that they would vote until a regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. If the four commissioners were unable to reach a consensus, they agreed, they would try again at their Sept. 26 meeting. The board agreed that if someone were to miss a meeting or be unable to attend that night, they would meet one more time before 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, the deadline by which they may choose an appointee.

If a majority of the board fails to appoint someone, state law requires the county clerk of court to choose the new board member. Attorney Hampton Dellinger and former planning commissioner Wendy Jacobs were the top two choices as leaders from the Durham County Democratic Party were deciding last month on which candidate they would recommend to commissioners. The commissioners are not required to follow the party's choice, which was Dellinger.

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