Once more, with feeling

The tension was palpable at the WNC Air Pollution Control Agency, when its embattled board members reconvened on Aug. 10, to hold a second set of elections. By the meeting’s end, the board had accomplished publicly what it had tried a month earlier to accomplish by secret ballot. The board elected Buncombe County appointee Doug Clark as its new chair, and Asheville appointee Nelda Holder as vice chair.

The special meeting was called by former APCA Chair Tom Rhodarmer after concerns were raised that the board’s July 13 secret-ballot elections were illegal.

While secret ballots are legal for North Carolina governmental bodies, each ballot must be signed. The ballots must then be made available for public inspection. At the July meeting, board members did not sign their ballots.

The board was also widely criticized for rescinding its 1997 resolution committing the board to electing an Asheville appointee as chair in ’98. Senior city appointee Arlis Queen was particularly vocal about the agency’s flip-flop.

Last month, Asheville Mayor Leni Sitnick registered her disapproval, demanding that the board honor its 1997 commitment. After the July election, she fired off an angry letter to Clark, calling the board’s action “unprofessional and immature,” and asking that the board hold a new election, in order to give the city a turn.

“We want to take this opportunity,” Sitnick wrote, “to express the dismay that the Asheville City Council members and I had when you did not see fit to allow an Asheville appointee to assume the Chairmanship, as was agreed to a year ago by the Board.

“In addition,” she continued, “conducting an election by secret ballot only serves to further erode the Board’s credibility and effectiveness.”

“Like we did it last time”

The August meeting started out awkwardly, with members either sitting in stony silence or trading barbed comments. At one point, Buncombe County appointee Roy “Doc” Roberts ribbed Queen, asking him if he had brought Mayor Sitnick with him; in an icy tone, Queen replied, “I don’t control the mayor.” In the ensuing minutes, motions were made and lost in the shuffle.

Roberts interjected his opinions at various times — particularly when Queen was speaking. “I didn’t know it was a secret vote. Why didn’t you tell us?” the nonagenarian Roberts asked at one point, presumably referring to the board’s July balloting. Eventually, he was quieted with a squeeze to the shoulder by Buncombe County representative Ron Boone.

“Can’t we just do the whole thing over?” Queen finally managed to ask without interruption, in an effort to get the board to reopen the nominations, as well as the elections.

In response, the board’s new attorney, Billy Clarke, explained that ” … the only thing that was not in accord with the law [during the last meeting] was the secret ballot.” He recommended that the board vote again, and said there was no need to reopen the nominations, although the board might opt to do so.

Queen then held up Holder’s resume. “She’s more qualified than anyone here,” he said, adding, “She has a master’s degree in environmental science.”

Not in the least impressed, Roberts moved that the board ” … do it like we did it last time” — which, Rhodarmer explained after some confusion, meant to vote on last month’s nominees without reopening the nominations. This limited the nominations to Holder and Clark for chair, and Holder for vice chair.

Queen then moved that Roberts’ motion be amended to allow the board to consider Holder’s qualifications before the vote. That was voted down, 4 -2, with Queen and Holder on the losing side of the board’s by now well-established battle lines.

During the elections, Rhodarmer polled each board member: For chair, Holder received two ayes (Queen and Holder) and four nays (Clark, Boone, Roberts and Don Randolph; Clark won, 4-2, receiving his support from Holder’s detractors.

For vice chair, Holder won unanimously.

No surprise

After the meeting, when asked for his opinion about the outcome of the new elections, Clark said, “I think [Holder] is a talented woman. I’ve had lunch with her a couple of times. I look forward to working with her.”

Roberts agreed. “She’s a fine lady,” he said. “But she needs to be on the board a couple of days before she can be the chair.”

When asked how she felt about the proceedings, Holder replied, “No surprise.”

Queen, when reached for comment by telephone, admitted his disappointment. “Rhodarmer was quoted in the [Citizen-Times] as saying he was wanting to put the most qualified person in as chairman. Well, Nelda Holder is the most qualified person. Her resume proves it. But no one else would even take a look.”

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