CHARLOTTE – Bill James may have disappeared from the public eye since falling short of winning a 12th term as a county commissioner, but some of his colleagues acknowledged Nov. 20 the Matthews resident’s contributions to the board.
County Manager Dena Diorio continued the tradition of honoring outgoing commissioners with plaques in appreciation of their service. Gone are James, Jim Puckett, Dumont Clarke and Matthew Ridenhour.
While Clarke chose not to run for re-election, James, Puckett and Ridenhour lost their seats to Democratic challengers. Democrats now hold a 9-0 majority on the board.
Susan Rodriquez McDowell defeated James in the Nov. 6 election by capturing 51.9 percent of the vote. She’ll represent District 6, which includes Matthews and Mint Hill.
Since his defeat, James has not attended a commission meeting and his Twitter account has disappeared. Still, some commissioners spoke favorably about him.
“There has never been anyone who’s been a better servant to the taxpayers and to those who need to watch the pennies of the county than Bill James,” Puckett said.
Puckett recalled how former finance director Harry Weatherly told him that his staff worked hard hoping that James would not find a mistake in the county budget. But every year, James, an accountant of more than 30 years, would find one.
Puckett believes James has been treated unfairly in the final weeks of his 22 years as commissioner. He not only described James as underappreciated but also a lightning rod for his principled stands.
Puckett attributed some of the criticism James received to his life as a devout Christian while holding public office.
“Bill has been labeled as a racist for 22 years,” Puckett said. “I’ve known Bill very well for a long, long time. There is not a racist bone in his body. He is brutally honest about what he believes. He speaks truth to reality. Sometimes there are those who would rather deal with the messenger than the message.”
James got into hot water a few years ago when he described some African-American residents as living in a “moral sewer.” His language on Twitter even prompted former television host Montel Williams to ask James if he had a soul.
The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board called James out for his words in an Oct. 16 endorsement of McDowell.
“We appreciate James for his commitment to transparency, but he has a long history of embarrassing Mecklenburg County with bigoted and racist remarks, and he continues to be invisible to his constituents outside of board meetings,” it read.
Democrats Trevor Fuller and Dumont Clarke also acknowledged his contributions during the Nov. 20 meeting.
“For as much as we have disagreed,” Fuller said of James, “he is a different person than people think he is. I agree with that. I think we ought to honor his service.”
Clarke pointed to James’s work on the county’s audit review committee.
“We battled frequently on policy matters, but frankly, Bill brought a perspective to this board with his professional background in the field of accounting, particularly when he served on the board’s audit committee that is going to be difficult, if not impossible, to replace,” Clarke said.
Outgoing commissioners also took the opportunity to say a few remarks about their terms.
Clarke said he felt comfortable not running for re-election because of the capable county manager and her staff.
“We commissioners think we know the answers to all the tough policy issues but only she and her staff really know how to turn knowledge into action,” Clarke said. “They simply get the job done.”
Ridenhour, who with James also represented southern Mecklenburg, said some of the accomplishments he was most proud of over his six years was hiring the county manager, fixing the 2011 revaluation, decentralizing county services, improving CMS funding and raising teacher pay, expanding the greenway network, approving renovations to American Legion Stadium and improving code enforcement and permitting processes.
“My hope for Mecklenburg County, the community, our community, is that we strive daily, each of us, to understand and respect each other better. The political divisions and bitterness spreading through our nation are rotting us from the core.”
He advised not to judge others by extremists on either side but to recognize that most people want the same things – good schools, safe communities, job opportunities and a bright future for our children.
Puckett said he has tried not to be partisan, but acknowledged the board will have a 9-0 Democratic edge in the next term.
“It amazes me that the challenges that we bring out in this county come after the leadership of the Democratic Party that has been in control all but two of the last 25 years, who ran this state for 100 years,” Puckett said.
He said the Republican Party inherited education gaps, affordable housing problems and a lack in economic mobility from when the Democrats had been in charge.
Still, Puckett had kind words to say about his colleagues, including chairwoman Ella Scarborough who encouraged him to serve as vice chairman, even though he was a Republican.
“If we agree on everything, something is wrong,” Scarborough said. “Growing up in a Baptist home, a Baptist minister, my father, told us to listen to everyone because everyone matters. I will continue to do that.”