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 largely been ceremonial, with duties mostly limited to presiding over meetings when the chair is absent. However, the job does pay more: Regular commissioners earn $26,475 per year and the vice chair makes $30,732 (the chairmanship pays $34,989).
In addition, the job might have symbolic political significance, indicating a future interest in the chairmanship. Current Chair David Gantt, a Democrat, was previously vice chair before defeating Republican Nathan Ramsey in 2008 to earn the top job.
But for now, both Jones and Belcher say their interest shouldn’t be seen as a sign that they’ll run for chair one day.
“I’m not pursuing vice chair because I’m interested in chair,” Jones maintains.
Jones is the only member of the board other than Gantt who has previous experience as a commissioner, who was recently re-elected to a second four-year term. And she argues that experience makes her the best candidate.
“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 maintains 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.”
The board is currently made up of four Democrats and three Republicans. The Jan. 15 swearing-in of Democrat Ellen Frost gave her party the majority after a long delay due to a series of legal challenges to the results by her District 2 Republican opponent, Christina Kelley G. Merrill.
The decision over the vice chairmanship could be the new board’s first split vote, with Frost’s narrow win tipping the balance in Jones’ favor.
Frost says she supports Jones, echoing her case. “We need someone on [the board] who has been there and done that, who knows procedure and policy. …who knows the ropes,” she maintains.
Beginning in 2008, former Vice Chair Bill Stanley was appointed unanimously to four consecutive one-year terms. The 82 year-old Stanley opted not to run for re-election last year after serving for 23 years on the board.
The commissioners will likely elect the new vice chair at their next meeting on Feb. 5.