Democrats Sue County Commission to Appoint Dunlap
1:00 pm
Wed October 22, 2008

Democrats Sue County Commission to Appoint Dunlap

Mecklenburg County Democrats are now asking a judge to step in and appoint George Dunlap to the County Commission.

Dunlap is a 13-year veteran of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board. On Monday night, Democrats in district three chose him to complete the remainder of the term left vacant when Commissioner Valerie Woodard passed recently.

The County Commission was expected to quickly approve his selection last night, but Republicans had other plans.

"I just don't think it is at all reasonable to be forced to walk into a room less than 24 hours after a previous vote has been taken and basically be ordered you have to cast a vote a certain way without any questions about whether it's appropriate," says Commissioner Bill James.

James led the three other Republicans in blocking Dunlap's approval. The result was a four-four tie, since the two political parties are evenly split in Woodard's absence.

"The Republicans on the commission saw this as an opportunity to have what they probably consider a win," says George Dunlap. "They allowed, as they have done in the past, Bill James to control their minds."

State law says commissioners "shall appoint" the nominee of the local party if, if the choice is made within 30 days of the vacancy. Democratic Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts is confident the local party followed that law and believes the commission is now bound to approve Dunlap.

But Bill James is raising the specter of a similar situation earlier this year when Mecklenburg County Democrats chose Nick Mackey to fill the vacant sheriff's seat. The choice was later overturned when a review found Mecklenburg County Democrats hadn't followed their party's rules in the election.

"I mean, what kind of track record do the party officials have?" says James. "Aren't they the ones who picked Mackey? And I don't think a little review is out of line."

Mecklenburg County Democrats see it differently.

"It's not a fair concern, simply because of the missteps that have happened in the past have been all corrected," says Joel Ford, who was appointed Chairman of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party after the Mackey election troubles.

Ford says the county's executive board and the chair of the State Party have signed off on the process that elected George Dunlap Monday night.

Even if the process was valid, Bill James and Republican colleague Karen Bentley say they also have concerns about Dunlap's qualifications.

"There are some serious questions we have regarding some claims of sexual harassment and his treatment of women and his divisiveness on the board of education," says Bentley. "So we'd like those questions answered before we can vote for him."

There have been no reported charges of sexual harassment against Dunlap as a member of the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board. However, two female board members have said publicly that they have felt threatened by an outburst from Dunlap. Bill James wants to know exactly how those incidents were resolved.

County Democratic Party Chair Joel Ford says if there were serious concerns about Dunlap's behavior, voters have had ample time to oust him.

"George Dunlap is currently an elected official in Mecklenburg County, he has been serving that district for 13 years," says Ford. "Any vetting has already taken place, so again I don't think that argument should apply. Especially to a sitting elected official."

Ford says the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party is seeking a court order to force the commission to appoint Dunlap. He hopes to be in front of a judge within 48 hours.

If Dunlap hasn't taken the seat by November 30th, he'll likely get it anyway. That's because Valerie Woodard was running for re-election without opposition before her death. The law says the Board of Elections must appoint the party's chosen candidate to fill a vacant when a new term starts. And that's December 1st.

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