PITTSBORO — Robert Logan is now officially the interim commissioner for District 4 after being sworn in by retired Judge Carl Fox during the Chatham County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night.
Chatham commissioners had unanimously appointed Logan, the former Chatham County Schools Superintendent, in a 3-0 vote two weeks ago. Logan will fill the seat vacated by the retirement of Jim Crawford, who was recognized by the board for his service to Chatham County during Monday’s meeting.
“My fellow commissioners and I are thrilled to welcome Robert to the Board, and we are grateful that he stepped forward to serve in this important role as Chatham County continues to grow and evolve,” Chairperson Karen Howard previously said in county release. “We look forward to working with Robert as he brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and passion which will serve our Board and community well.”
A number of other recently retired Chatham County employees were also recognized for their years of service Monday, including Tracy Rivera, who worked in Emergency Communications for 30 years, and Charles Gardner, who became the first African American Chief Deputy in the 250-year history of the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office in July 2018. Gardner retired earlier this month after serving the Sheriff’s Office for 25 years.
During the public comment period, a number of Chatham residents shared their thoughts on how the county could best spend funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), which was signed into law last year by President Joe Biden and provides $350 billion in additional funding for state and local governments.
Gretchen Smith encouraged commissioners to use ARPA funds for land conservation and easements along the Haw River. Smith said investing in land conservation would create a robust outdoor recreation economy in Chatham while mitigating impacts to the county’s watershed. Smith suggested using the federal funds to create a new position within county government to oversee the protection and conservation of green space and public access to the Haw River.
James Garbutt also encouraged the board to use ARPA funds for land conservation initiatives along the Haw River. The protection of nature trails adjacent to the river could be accomplished by land purchases and easements, he said.
Time spent in nature offers mental and physical health benefits, he added, and ensuring clean drinking water for all Chatham residents should always be a top priority.
“I emphasize protecting land along the Haw River is a transformative action,” Garbutt said. “Be bold, be transformative and be remembered as a board that improved the lives of all residents for years to come.”
Melanie York, an advocate for Chatham’s homeless citizens, urged commissioners to allocate ARPA funds to address the homeless population in Chatham County. York cited a nationwide push by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide 70,000 emergency housing vouchers to local public housing authorities as evidence of a homelessness crisis in the nation.
Courtney Cooper-Lewter of the County Manager’s Office said the county had already held four community conversations to give residents an opportunity to offer input on possible uses of ARPA funding, with four more events planned for next month. The next community conversation will be held at Chatham Central High School on Tuesday, March 8, beginning at 6 p.m.
In other business, the board approved a rezoning request for Herndon Farms One — a planned mixed-use community for those 55 and over, to be located on U.S. Hwy. 15-501 between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro. However, a request for approval submitted by Chad Abbott, project engineer of Ridgecrest Estates — a subdivision to be located off Hamlets Chapel Road — failed to pass the board for lack of a second.
Howard acknowledged the approval process has been a long road for the developer, but defended the rationale behind the arduous nature of the process.
“What we hope is those difficult conversations continue internally because we’re never getting the green space back,” Howard said.
Commissioner Mike Dasher objected to the way the approval process unfolded, stating the board was abdicating its responsibility by not voting on the proposal.
“This is a crazy, crazy way to do things,” he said.
Commissioners also approved a resolution to honor George Moses Horton, a Chatham County poet who became the first African American man to have a book printed and distributed in the antebellum South. The board approved resolved to request that the N.C. Dept. of Transportation recognize 15-501 U.S. highway from the Orange County line to the Deep River and Lee County line with the honorary designation of “George Moses Horton Highway.”
• The board unanimously approved Howard’s nomination of Tom Bender to the Board of Equalization and Review. Dasher’s nomination to the Triangle J Council of Government’s Board of Delegates was also approved unanimously.
• Commissioners also approved a letter to be sent to the N.C. Public Utilities Commission on behalf of the board proclaiming its support of House Bill 951. Last October, Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Energy Solutions for North Carolina bill into law. The law requires that the state utility commission work toward achieving a 70% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions coming from power plants owned or operated by electric public utilities from 2005 levels by the year 2030, and carbon neutrality by the year 2050.
• County Manager Dan LaMontagne announced effective March 7, the county would make indoor masking optional in all county buildings. The announcement comes shortly after the Chatham County Board of Education’s vote earlier this month to begin moving toward optional indoor masking beginning March 7. He cited a significant drop in newly reported cases of COVID-19 statewide as one of the reasons the county decided to relax its indoor masking requirements.
“We hope [the trend] continues,” he said, “and hopefully we won’t see another surge anytime soon.”