Jones vs. Belcher: Who will be vice chair of the Buncombe commissioners?

Second in command: Democrat Holly Jones (left) and Republican Joe Belcher (right) are both vying to be the vice chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Photo by Max Cooper

For the first time in several years, the vice-chair position on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is being contested.

Democrat Holly Jones and Republican Joe Belcher are both vying for the job, which is determined by a simple majority vote of the commissioners.

Historically, the post has been largely ceremonial. Duties are mostly limited to presiding over commissioner meetings when the chair is absent. However, the job pays more: Regular commissioners earn $26,475 per year; the vice chair makes $30,732 (the chair gets $34,989).

The job also may have political significance, indicating a future interest in running for chair. Current Chair David Gantt, a Democrat, was vice chair before defeating Republican Nathan Ramsey in the 2008 elections and earning the top job.

For now, both Jones and Belcher say their interest shouldn't be seen as a sign that they'll one day run for chair.

"I'm not pursuing vice chair because I'm interested in chair," Jones maintains.

She was recently re-elected to her second four-year term; other than Gantt she is the only board member with previous experience as a commissioner. "I'm familiar with systems and procedures," she says. "So I think I would do a good job in that regard. In the infrequent times David has to be out of town, I think it's really important that someone's well versed in how things run. … I'm happy to play that role and offer that service."

Meanwhile, Belcher suggests that his appointment could help build a sense of bipartisan accord.

"I feel like I could bring some consensus to the board and be a help that way," he says. "I want to grow as a leader. I'm not interested in going after a chair position or anything like that. I want to be able to help the entire board and help the county; I can contribute there."

Four Democrats and three Republicans serve on the board. After a long delay due to a series of legal challenges to the election results by District 2 Republican candidate Christina Kelley G. Merrill, Democrat Ellen Frost was sworn in Jan. 15, giving her party the majority.

The decision over the vice chairmanship could be the new board's first split vote, with Frost tipping the balance in Jones' favor.

Voicing support for Jones, Frost says, "We need someone on [the board] who has been there and done that, who knows procedure and policy [and] who knows the ropes."

The last vice chair was Bill Stanley. Beginning in 2008, he was appointed unanimously to four consecutive one-year terms, but the 82-year-old opted not to run for re-election last year. He had served on the board for 23 years.

The commissioners will likely elect the new vice chair at their next meeting, Feb. 5.

Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or jfrankel@mountainx.com.

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