Commissioners deadlock in 12-hour meeting

Wake County Commission

December 9, 2009 9:17:29 AM PST
Members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners wrapped up a marathon meeting early Tuesday morning - about 12 hours after it began Monday.

The group was deadlocked over electing a chairman and vice chairman. The potential deciding vote - seventh commissioner and former chair Harold Webb, who remains in the hospital after suffering a stroke - was not at the meeting.

Through the evening, the group deadlocked 3 to 3 over and over again. Republicans voted down attempts to adjourn the meeting without a deciding vote.

"Either declare a deadlock, which means the previous vice chairs returns, or to reach a decision," Commissioner Tom Gurley explained to the group. "And if we can't reach a deadlock, the only other option is to continue to vote."

Finally, late in the evening, GOP members used an unexcused bathroom break by Commissioner Betty Lou Ward to elect Gurly chairman.

That left the vote on a vice chairman undecided, and commissioners continued the meeting for another five hours.

Finally, they adjourned after Commissioner Stan Norwalk, a diabetic, said he hadn't taken his insulin.

"I felt, and many of the other members of the board felt, that it was necessary to end this meeting for his health's sake," Commissioner Ward said at the meeting.

Other Wake County commissioners told ABC11 Eyewitness News they see the stalemate as an issue of power and control. The board still doesn't have a vice chair and may not be able to break the 3-3 deadlock until Commissioner Webb gets out of the hospital.

Jack Nichols, head of the Wake County Democratic Party - who served on the Board of Commissioners for 4 years - went further. He said Republicans are taking advantage of Webb's absence.

"To not let Betty Lou vote when she asked to be excused, that's just common courtesy," he offered. "I think it's outrageous, I do. I think they're hurting themselves because clearly they want to be in the position to work with the Republican majority on the school board. It's very clear what's happening here."

Nichols was referring to the recent shakeup on the Wake County School Board that saw a new majority of Republican supported members elected who have pledged to end the district's policy of sending students to schools outside of their neighborhoods in an effort to promote diversity.

"It's very clear that this whole thing was engineered and they were gonna let nothing stop them from doing it," said Nichols.

But Gurley says the rules were followed in the vote when Ward left the room.

"Ms. Ward made a motion for a break an hour and ten minutes into the meeting, the board declined," he told ABC11 Eyewitness News. "She got up and left anyway."

He also disputes the accusation that Republicans are exploiting Webb's illness.

"It's not taking advantage of his illness. We work with the cards we're dealt. Mr. Webb has had the opportunity to either resign or take the time to recuperate. I would anticipate that he's going to be feeling well enough to come back or he would've resigned before now," said Gurley.

"We always elect chair during our first meeting in December. It's in our statutes. It's what we had to do, so that date didn't sneak up on anybody. Absolutely, I did not take advantage of Mr. Webb," he continued.

Gurley also says Ward left the room with full knowledge of what would happen.

"Ms. Ward has been there for over 20 years she knows what the rules are and a conscious decision had to be made," he said.

Ward has her own opinion on that.

"I thought it was very sneaky politics and I think by virtue of the fact that the respect we're supposed to have for each other on that board sort of dissoved yesterday and that's very unfortunate because this coming year, I think, is going to provide us with many challenges," she told ABC11.

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