Tuesday evening marked Ken Robertson’s return to the Iredell County Board of Commissioners.
Robertson was previously elected to the board in 2004, 2008 and 2012. His current appointment to the board came as Jeff McNeely left mid-term. McNeely was elected to the board but took the role of District 84 Representative Monday. He replaced Republican Rep. Rena Turner, who left office June 27.
On Tuesday, Chairman James Mallory outlined the scope of the special Board of Commissioners meeting.
“The sole purpose of this meeting is to appoint and replace the seat vacated by representative, or by commissioner, McNeely,” he said. “North Carolina general statute 153A-(27) mandates that the four remaining members of the Board of Commissioners have 60 days from the day of the vacancy to fill the seat.”
Mallory also pointed out it is mandated in the statute that the board consult the political party of the exiting commissioner in finding a replacement. He recounted an email from Iredell County Republican Party Executive Committee Chairman Ronald “Duck” Wyatt.
In the letter Wyatt indicated the committee elected not to make a recommendation on McNeely’s replacement, citing that five members of the executive board have active committees to run for county commission in 2020. “That obviously causes some pause as to whom to choose,” he wrote. “We do not (find) it prudent, or our responsibility, to identify a particular named individual. We support the choice of the Iredell County Commissioners to fill the vacant seat with a qualified candidate of their choosing,” the letter concluded.
Mallory noted the executive committee’s decision to not advise on an appointment satisfied the provisions of the statute. Vice-chairman Tommy Bowles made a motion to appoint Scottie Brown, who was a challenger in the 2018 election, and finished in fourth place. The board split in a 2-to-2 vote.
Mallory then made a motion for former commissioner Robertson to be considered. He explained that Robertson’s prior experience makes him an excellent choice.
“We have no hard-and-fast rule adopted by any present or past boards, and three of four past replacements, prior county commissioners were tapped to fill the remainder of the term,” Mallory said. “In one instance, the fourth-placed primary candidate was chosen at a time when the vacancy occurred shortly after the primary and before the general election for a seat which that individual had competed for. So while there is no precedent, there is a clear track record and a distinctive difference in the timing of the space. The recommendation of the county executive committee, although not (binding), is a factor to be considered.”
Mallory added Robertson has an extensive history with the Republican Party, military service and good understanding of business in agriculture. He also said Robertson could be instrumental in establishing Iredell County’s influence in shaping development of Interstate 77.
“Being ready on day one is important to me,” Mallory said. “Ken has been off the board only two-and-a-half years. He was involved in decisions such as the jail, public safety building, education and parks projects that are only now coming online. He has experience governing in good economic times and bad economic times, which provides invaluable insights as to how we adjust accordingly to changes in the economy.”
Bowles then took a moment to address the audience.
“This particular vacancy on this board was created obviously because of Jeff’s exit; so that leaves a void to be filled,” he said. “It is our responsibility as the present, sitting commissioners to fill that void. This is not a popularity contest… This board, the entire board, has considered many names going forward, and I think the two nominations up this evening show the two that have been considered the most.”
The board appointed Robertson in a 3-to-1 vote; Commissioner Marvin Norman was the dissenting vote.
After being sworn in, Robertson took the floor.
“This is the second time that I will come and sit in that seat for the first time, so to speak,” he said. “The first time I became a county commissioner, I spent 10 years as either the chairman or vice chairman of the Republican Party, and then later decided to run. When I ran, I remember saying ‘I’m going to cut government waste,’ and do all these other lofty things.”
Robertson acknowledged that during his time on the board he had tied the county’s hands to multiple infrastructure projects for several years; he said it felt like coming full circle.
“I’m comfortable that I’m coming onto a board that is functioning and making good decisions,” he said. “I just want to keep doing the right thing, and hope that I could help in some way.”
In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Norman said he expressed his support for Brown because he was an actual candidate for the board in 2018, whereas Robertson was not. He also said he felt that the executive committee had failed to do its job.
Mallory said Tuesday night it appeared the executive board declined to make a suggestion in an effort to seem impartial with the coming 2020 election.