Howard steps into commission chair role

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 1/3/20

The person inhabiting the role of chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners serves as the public face of the county government and its decisions.

Mike Dasher sat in what became the hot …

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Howard steps into commission chair role

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The person inhabiting the role of chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners serves as the public face of the county government and its decisions.

Mike Dasher sat in what became the hot seat in 2019, serving during arguably one of the more controversial times to be the public face — given the discussion and debate over the “Our Confederate Heroes” monument on county property in downtown Pittsboro.

“I was impressed with Commissioner Dasher’s handling of the Confederate monument issue,” said Karen Howard, who served as a commissioner alongside Dasher, “and think he handled it with grace and aplomb.”

Now that she’s taking a turn, she hopes to serve in the same way.

Howard was elected as the board’s 2020 chairman on Dec. 16. As chairman, she’ll preside at the board’s regular meetings and work closely with the county government as the voice of the people — all while seeking re-election to her District 1 seat in next November’s general election.

Suffice it to say: for her, it’s going to be a busy 2020.

Howard, who represents northeast Chatham, was first elected to the commission in 2014 after serving one four-year term on the Chatham County Board of Education, a board for which she served as chairman from 2013-2014. A New York-born former attorney who spent most of her childhood in the Bahamas, she said she feels her election to board chair “signifies to me that I have the confidence and respect of my colleagues” on the board.

County Manager Dan LaMontagne said he finds Howard “very professional, kind and thoughtful.”

“I am confident that she will do an excellent job as chair and represent the county very well,” he said. “Personally, I feel that Commissioner Howard and I get along very well and will work well together as she takes on this new role.”

Howard said the chair’s primary responsibility is to guide the board’s discussion through “difficulty topics” and “help facilitate civil discourse.” She added that she hopes to get a “firmer handle” on different parts of the county government that “directly influence the way” board policies “impact citizens.”

If she was presented with a similar situation to Dasher — guiding the board through a public and controversial topic like a Confederate monument — Howard said she would want to follow his lead.

“I would utilize a similar approach that allowed for public input from all who wish to speak on the issue and then engage the board in discussion on the issue, bringing in experts to advise us as needed,” she said. ‘I am committed to listening, examining and understanding issues and will bring this practice to every issue that comes before us.”

During her first meeting as chairman, Howard spoke specifically on the idea of economic development and recruiting businesses to Chatham County, something she re-emphasized in a follow-up interview.

“I believe that there are many opportunities ahead of us to meet the impending growth responsibly and to encourage the creation of good jobs in a way that honors the values and needs of the community while preserving the environment,” she said. “I’m eager to get started on conversations that bring us closer to that goal.”

The commissioners’ next meeting is the annual board retreat, during which the board will work through priorities for 2020 and the fiscal year 2020-2021 budget. The three meetings will take place at 9 a.m. on January 14, 15 and 17 at the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center. All meetings are open to the public.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

Who is Karen Howard?

• County commissioner since 2014

• Member of Chatham County Board of Education, 2012-2014

• Married to Ralph, has six children (two adopted)

• Former attorney, earned Bachelors of Law degree from the University of Buckingham in England

• Born in New York, spent much of childhood in Bahamas




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