MATTHEWS – Barbara Dement resigned from the Matthews Board of Commissioners last week, prompting the board to appoint Ken McCool to the vacancy.
McCool finished 13 votes shy of winning the sixth and final seat on the commission in November, but his appointment was not planned prior to him taking the oath of office on Feb. 24.
Moments after Mayor John Higdon announced the board wouldn’t make a decision on the vacancy until after its planning conference, Commissioner Jeff Miller called an audible.
Miller requested a 10-minute recess. When the meeting resumed, he made the motion to appoint McCool. The board approved the motion 4-2, with Dave Bland and John Urban casting the dissenting votes.
“It’s so that this town doesn’t get torn apart,” Miller said. “I love this town. I want to do what is right for the whole town. I had differing opinions, but I don’t want this town to be torn apart.”
Dement leaves abruptly
The town announced Feb. 21 that Dement resigned from the commission.
Dement had just earned a second term on the board following the November election. She worked to maintain balanced growth and the small-town feel of Matthews while working as a life care consultant at Plantation Estates.
“My professional responsibilities no longer make it possible for me to fulfill the duties of this position, therefore, although difficult, I am doing what is right and honorable by stepping down as commissioner for the Town of Matthews effective immediately,” Dement said in a statement. “It has been an honor to serve this wonderful town and its people, and it is my hope, if the citizens of Matthews desire, I will have a future opportunity to serve again.”
Dement, a native of Mint Hill, moved to Matthews in 2007. She was appointed to the Matthews Planning Board in 2014 and eventually chaired the group. Dement campaigned for town commissioner in 2017, the same year her husband, Ed, passed away. She earned the second most votes among 10 candidates.
“It has been a pleasure to serve alongside Barbara,” Higdon said in a statement. “We appreciate her service to the town board, and we will strive to fill her position with someone who shares her enthusiasm and love for Matthews.”
Leaders make a scramble
The board convened shortly before their Feb. 24 meeting to discuss how they would fill Dement’s seat, but members did not come to a resolution.
When Joe Pata resigned from the board in July 2015, commissioners appointed George Fossett to fill the remaining months of the term. Fossett served on the commission from 1993 to 1999, but he did not campaign for office the term prior to or following his appointment.
Commissioners could have opted to bring back a familiar face or the next highest vote-getter in the election.
Corey Hughes, a small business owner who served as McCool’s youth basketball coach, urged the board to respect the results of the November election and appoint McCool to the vacancy.
“This is not time for a caretaker of this seat to be named,” Hughes said during the public comment portion of the Feb. 24 meeting. “Rather, it is time to show the voters you listen.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Higdon mentioned Dement’s resignation and the search for her successor.
“We’re still working through that process,” Higdon said. “We have not finalized a process or even the candidates that would be considered. That’s going to be discussed at a future meeting after our planning conference.”
That’s when Miller intervened.
The rise of McCool
At the age of 21, McCool was the youngest of the 11 candidates running for commissioner. He told Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly in October that growth was among the biggest challenges facing the town.
“I wanted to bring a young perspective to the town and really make sure we are growing in the right way,” McCool said.
During the campaign, McCool spoke out against the stealing of candidates’ signs. He also drew applause at a candidate forum when he called out Mayor Paul Bailey for saying candidates that complain about signs are showing desperation.
The campaign was full of tension. Two factions formed – at least when it came to political advertising.
On one side was Bailey, the three incumbent commissioners and challengers Ben Bash, Dave Bland and Allen Crosby. The other side included Higdon, McCool and other challengers.
Voters wound up picking people from both camps.
On the night of the election, McCool was within single digits of the last seat. He sought a recount, but the votes weren’t there. He told supporters that he was going to continue to be a “vocal voice” in town.
Three months later, Dement resigned and McCool’s voice carries much more weight than ever before.
“I’m excited to serve the Town of Matthews and to work towards building a brighter future for generations to come,” McCool said. “I’m also looking forward to working collaboratively with the board, and I thank them for their support. I would like to thank Ms. Dement for her service to the town.”