The past three weeks have marked the beginning of a new fiscal year at Alamance County’s headquarters – not to mention, the arrival of a new county manager to serve as the head of the county’s professional staff.
Yet, this season of fresh starts doesn’t seem to have brought a new mood to the county’s governing board, which has recently been in the grip of a feud between its chairman and one of the group’s other four members.
These running recriminations between commissioner Pam Thompson and John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, were as entrenched as ever when the all-Republican board gathered together on Monday for its first regularly-scheduled meeting of the new fiscal year.
Aside from a closed session that took up the first half of the meeting, that evening’s hour-long get-together was almost entirely consumed by the hostilities between the two first-term Republicans.
Along the way, Paisley and Thompson would bicker over an appointment that had appeared on the board’s so-called “consent agenda” – a list of putatively noncontroversial items that the commissioners generally adopt en bloc without any discussion.
Things grew even more heated from there as Thompson took issue with one of the provisions in the county’s new budget, which the rest of the commissioners had passed over her opposition during their previous regularly-scheduled meeting a month earlier.
By the time the dust settled, Thompson had all but accused Paisley of privately orchestrating that 4-to-1 vote – in apparent violation of the state’s Opening Meetings Law. Meanwhile, Paisley took his fellow commissioner to task for continuing to dwell on a decision that he insisted she lost fair and square.
The antagonism between the two commissioners initially flared up when Paisley proposed the removal of one item from that evening’s consent agenda.
Before the commissioners signed off on the remaining items, its chairman recommended that they pull the proposed appointment of Bobby Foster to Alamance County’s Justice Advisory Council and hold it over until their first meeting in the month of November.
After Paisley broached this suggestion, Thompson piped up to acknowledge that Foster had been her choice for a vacancy on this council, which brings together people from a variety of fields to serve as a sounding board for the county’s criminal courts system.
“There are some excellent people who’ve applied,” Thompson went on to I think it’s very important we look at people who are not on every committee and to really get some new faces on our committees.”
Thompson added that Foster would, in her view, bring a “great perspective” to the Justice Advisory Council thanks to his work with addiction. “So, he’s in the real front of stuff.”
Paisley insisted that the appointment should be set aside until November when the unexpired term to which Foster was to be appointed actually runs out. He subsequently told The Alamance News that the commissioners received many high quality applicants for the Justice Advisory Council and would be well advised to consider all of them when the terms naturally run their course in November.
Thompson, for her part, cast the only opposing vote against the motion to put off the matter, which ultimately passed by a margin of 4-to-1.
Thompson set off another row later that evening when the commissioners reached the point in their agenda when they each have an opportunity to offer general comments before they adjourn for the day.
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“I have some concern about how this position came to have [additional duties related to the] transportation [of veterans]. I need to know if ACTA is going to take on this responsibility, because not one VSO in North Carolina takes on transportation. . .
“I think when this is approved there’s going to be so many more claims filed that we’re going to need a full-time position at the veterans office. The last thing I want is for an Alamance County veteran to wait and wait and wait.”
– County commissioner Pam Thompson
“I don’t think there was any question or comment at that point which was negative other than the one vote against the entire budget [i.e., Thompson’s]. The budget was pretty clear, I thought…My intention was to have that [additional] fifth member [of the veterans services staff] prepare veterans for transportation. . .
“With 4 to 1 voting for that budget, I thought this was a done deal.”
– County commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr.
During this “commissioner comment” period, Thompson reminded her colleagues of her objections to the new budget, which the rest of the board passed on June 20 by a margin of 4-to-1.
Thompson, who ultimately cast her dissenting vote over a 1-cent property tax cut that her colleagues supported, went on to recall her vocal support for a new post in the county’s veterans services office that had also found its way into the new spending plan. Thompson went on to share her misgivings about some of the conditions that her colleagues had attached to this new staff-level position.
“I have some concern about how this position came to have [additional duties related to the] transportation [of veterans],” she said before arguing that this shuttle service may be better suited for the Alamance County Transportation Agency. “I need to know if ACTA is going to take on this responsibility,” she added. “Because not one VSO in North Carolina takes on transportation.”
Thompson went on to argue this double duty as a chauffer may take away from the new staff members other, more fundamental responsibilities as part of the veterans services staff. In particular she mentioned the need to help veterans with medical claims – a task that she predicted would mushroom thanks to some pending federal legislation that could provide veterans with more cancer coverage.
“I think when this is approved there’s going to be so many more claims filed that we’re going to need a full-time position at the veterans office,” she added. “The last thing I want is for an Alamance County veteran to wait and wait and wait.”
A dispute with some mileage
Once Thompson had her say, Paisley allowed each of the other commissioners to weigh in on the new veterans service position.
The first to offer his thoughts was commissioner Bill Lashley, who insisted that it seemed reasonable enough to him for the veterans services office to be tasked with transporting area veterans to their medical appointments.
Lashley nevertheless admitted his ignorance of the office’s other responsibilities and asked its director, Tammy Crawford, to offer her insights – only to have Paisley shut down the request. The board’s chairman went on to insist that the board’s meeting policy prohibits any interaction with audience members during the period reserved for commissioner comments.
Paisley ultimately used his turn to defend the link he had previously made between transportation and the new veterans services post in his aforementioned motion to pass the county’s new budget.
“Part of that motion was to get a van from the sheriff, which I understand he has complied with, and has been devoted to veterans services,” he recalled. “Secondly, the [new] member of [the] veterans services’ staff was contingent upon them providing transportation.
“I don’t think there was any question or comment at that point which was negative other than the one vote against the entire budget,” the board’s chairman added. “The budget was pretty clear, I thought…My intention was to have that [additional] fifth member [of the veterans services staff] prepare veterans for transportation.”
Thompson refused to let the chairman’s remarks go completely unchallenged. Among other things, she took issue with the way that Paisley’s motion had sprung, fully formed, at the board’s previous meeting – in the absence of any prior public discussions among the commissioners.
“I don’t know if y’all talked…but I didn’t know about it [beforehand],” she added before she turned her attention to the chairman directly. “That decision to add transportation to this position was done by you…and it just concerns me how this was decided – calling ahead and getting a van committed even before I knew about it.”
Faced with either an admission that he had acted autocratically when he crafted the budget motion or that he colluded on it with other commissioners in apparent violation of the N.C. Open Meetings Law, Paisley elected not to say anything at all to defend himself against Thompson’s critique. Instead, the board’s chairman simply expressed his dismay that the commissioners were even discussing this matter
“With 4 to 1 voting for that budget,” he insisted, “I thought this was a done deal.”