Chatham BOC elects Karen Howard as next year’s chairperson, Franklin Gomez Flores as vice-chairperson

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PITTSBORO — Chatham County saw several changes to its board Monday night, with Commissioner Jim Crawford attending his last meeting before his Dec. 31 resignation, and Commissioners Karen Howard and Franklin Gomez Flores elected as chairperson and vice-chairperson of the board, respectively.

“I would like to thank all of you on this board for your steady leadership and guidance,” now-former Chairperson Mike Dasher said at the beginning of the meeting. “It has been an honor to serve as chair of this board over the past year. But it is that time of year where we elect new leadership.”

State law requires local boards to reorganize the board each December by electing a chairperson and vice-chairperson to serve for the next year.

Commissioner Diana Hales, who served as the vice-chairperson this past year, nominated both Howard and Gomez Flores. Howard was elected unanimously; Gomez Flores was elected 3-2, with Crawford and Dasher voting for Dasher as vice-chairperson following Crawford’s nomination.

“Before we go any further, I would like to just recognize the moment that we’re in in Chatham County — that we have a Black female chair and a male Hispanic as our vice chair,” Howard said. “I think that speaks volumes for who Chatham is and who we intend to be. And we both take our responsibilities very seriously and you can expect that you will be seeing and hearing from us in the days, weeks and many months to come.”

Howard, who was elected to the board in 2014,  previously served as the board's chairperson in 2020. Gomez Flores, elected in 2020, is the board's first Latino commissioner, and now, vice-chairperson.

Dist. 4 replacement

The board also discussed next steps for the process of appointing a commissioner to represent Dist. 4 for the remainder of the term, following Crawford’s resignation due to health reasons, effective Dec. 31. The Dist. 4 seat must be filled by an appointed replacement prior to the 2022 election — for which three new candidates already filed earlier this month, before the filing period was halted and primary delayed until May.

“I want to say how proud I am of the service and the goals that we’ve been able to achieve on this board,” Crawford said during his last commissioners’ report. “I’m glad I had a chance to serve Chatham County, and I believe that my thumbprint is on most progressive measures that have been achieved, if not all, no, actually, all of them.

“I wish everybody the best of luck and great success. Having set down some of this burden, I realized what a great burden it is to have responsibility for the rising county in the state,” he continued. “And it’s only going to get more heavy, so above all else, I appreciate the pressures and the work that you put in.”

Under state law, the board will appoint a new commissioner to fill out the remaining year of the term, and can take or reject the recommendation of the Chatham County Democratic Party. The person must be a registered voter in the same party as the resigning commissioner, and must reside in Dist. 4 — a fact Crawford and some others in the county weren’t previously aware of.

Before learning that the county observes the residency requirement, Crawford said he found someone who was interested in filling the term but not running again.

County Attorney Bob Hagemann said the board can’t fill the vacancy until it actually occurs — so after Dec. 31 — and has 60 days to do so. If the board doesn’t appoint someone in that time period, state law moves appointment authority to the clerk of court, who will have 10 days to fill the vacancy.

“I felt one of my responsibilities was to find someone to fill the gap that’d I’d be leaving,” Crawford said, adding that he then found another person he felt confident in recommending and who lives in Dist. 4.

“I feel I can share that person’s name right now just as a general offer to show that we have responsible people willing to serve, and it is Robert Logan, the former superintendent of Chatham County Public Schools,” he told the board. “You don’t necessarily have to follow that, but it seems somebody is there, so hopefully it won’t take you 60 days for you to settle on him. ... He can hit the ground running and is somebody familiar with the gears of the county, having had to work with them for many years, and is known to the public and vice versa.”

Hales and Howard both thanked Crawford for the recommendation but said they’d like to also consider the candidates suggested by the Chatham Democratic party.

Crawford said that process would likely mean a candidate would begin after the board’s January budget retreat, and advised selecting someone before then. Hales responded that the retreat is open to the public, and anyone interested in filling the remaining term should want to attend anyways.

According to County Manager Dan LaMontagne, county staff has assumed a replacement would be found after the retreat and that staff intends to take the time necessary to help orient a new board member.

Gomez Flores told the board that a profile, or list of answered questions from each potential candidate, would be helpful in reviewing candidates.

“We have an opportunity for a commissioner to just simply name his replacement,” Dasher said of Logan. “It’s somebody we all know, that we all know that’s more than skilled and capable and it’s for a period of 10 months in an election year we already know several candidates have filed for it.”

Though Howard said she knew Logan well and would be happy if the board landed on him as a replacement, she said she didn’t “want to subvert this process.”

After some back and forth discussion, commissioners came to an agreement to look at names from the county Democratic party at its Jan. 18 meeting. No official timeline was set for when the board will hold a vote to make an appointment, but under state law, a vote must happen by March 2 or it will move to the clerk of court’s discretion.

Other meeting business

• Then-chairperson Dasher presented the 2021 State of Chatham County Report, which covers fiscal year 2020-21, from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

The report highlighted Chatham’s response to COVID-19, including campaigns to vaccinate the community against the virus. Dasher also highlighted the county’s response to and recovery from the October 2020 cyberattack that incapacitated many of the county’s business systems for two to three months. He also highlighted the county’s yearlong celebration of its 250th anniversary.

“It has been quite a remarkable year in Chatham County, and my fellow commissioners and I are extremely grateful to the staff and their perseverance,” Dasher said. “The staff’s adaptability during these major events is a testament to their resilience and commitment to serving our community.”

The report also includes updates on activities within the Chatham Comprehensive Plan, countywide initiatives such as economic development, and achievements within county departments and programs. You can read the report here.

• The board voted on two appointments to the Chatham Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors. Howard nominated Chreatha Alston, appointed in 2017, and Jennifer Platt, who was also appointed in 2017 as the board’s original nomination.

Howard cited the board’s practice of extending a second term to nominees who fulfill duties as expected when nominating Platt. The appointments were approved unanimously.

• The board approved a legislative request by Congruus LLC for a map amendment to the Chatham County Compact Community boundary map for an expansion of the CCO map to include an additional 184.04 acres off Parker Herndon and Morris roads, Baldwin Township.

Commissioners also approved a request by Mark Ashness on behalf of TBM Partners for subdivision First Plat review and approval of Chapel Oaks Subdivision, consisting of 31 lots on 76 acres, off Old Lystra Rd.

• Assistant County Manager for Human Resources Carolyn Miller recognized Cristal Ocampo Ruiz as the county’s 2021 Employee of the Year. Ocampo Ruiz, an interpreter and the immunization tracking coordinator at the Chatham County Public Health Department, has worked with Chatham since May 2016 and is a 2020 Chatham Leadership Academy graduate.

“I am so glad to see Cristal recognized as Employee of the Year — she is so, very deserving,” said CCPHD Director Mike Zelek. “Cristal has been such an important part of our team for the past several years. During the pandemic, she has been critical to our efforts to reach the Latinx community. From translating information to tracking immunizations, we wouldn’t be where we are without her.”


Ocampo Ruiz pictured with Commissioner Dasher at Monday's meeting. / Photo courtesy of Chatham County Government

Last year, all 533 Chatham County government employees received the designation as 2020 Employee of Year after navigating two major crises – the COVID-19 pandemic and cyber attack.

• Commissioners renamed the 15-501 U.S. highway from the north boundary of Pittsboro to the Orange County line “North George Moses Horton Boulevard” and named the 15-501 highway from the south boundary of Pittsboro to the Deep River and Lee County line “South George Moses Horton Boulevard.”

The road was previously colloquially known as Jefferson Davis Highway — named after the Confederate president who United Daughters of the Confederacy also honored in the early 1900s with stone markers along the highway, including in Pittsboro near the historic courthouse.

The board also formally asked the town board of Pittsboro to likewise rename Sanford Road and Hillsboro Street to honor George Moses Horton to “provide consistency for this central byway of our home.”

• The Climate Change Advisory Committee presented 10 recommendations to the board, including: conserving sensitive lands/trees, encouraging sustainable agriculture and green space in developments, reducing county emissions as well as increasing the number of electric vehicle chargers in the county.

• The board pushed a vote on a legislative request to consider amendments to the Chatham County Subdivision Regulations, through the creation of a Unified Development Ordinance, to January. 

While the board appreciated the general scope of the rewrite, they had many outstanding questions and requested several clarifications in the language of the UDO’s text.

“I don’t think there’s any time-sensitive urgency to get this now,” LaMontagne told commissioners after recommending bringing the item back in January, “and to make sure that we’re very clear about what’s being recommended here.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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