Vying for vice chair: Newman, Belcher want leadership job on Buncombe Commission

Brownie Newman (left) and Joe Belcher (right)

Leading up to a Monday, Dec. 1, decision, Democrats and Republicans are  jockeying behind the scenes to determine who will serve as vice chair of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

Democrat Brownie Newman and Republican Joe Belcher both want 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 and attending special events when the chair is absent. However, the job does pay $31,723 per year – about $5,250 more than regular commissioners.  It could also have symbolic political significance.

Democrat Ellen Frost was appointed to a one-year term as vice chair last December, putting her in a leadership position as she headed into a tough election cycle. She narrowly defeated her Republican challenger, Christina Merrill, in the Nov. 4 election, allowing Democrats to maintain their 4-3 majority of the board’s seats.

And Frost is now recommending Newman succeed her in the vice chair slot. “We are rotating this position,” she says. “Newman’s smart, innovative and represents the commission and the county well.”

Newman served as the vice mayor of Asheville from 2009 to 2012 and says that experience would help him be an effective vice chair. He’s “comfortable” running meetings and appearing at events when David Gantt, chair of the Board, is unable, he says.

Meanwhile, Republican Mike Fryar is campaigning for Belcher, arguing that the retiree “has got more time” to attend events. “He enjoys what he does, he likes people,” says Fryar. Fryar cast the lone vote against Frost in 2012, unsuccessfully nominating himself instead. This year, he says he does not want the job.

For his part, Belcher says he’s seeking the post because “I want to continue to grow and serve Buncombe County better.” Belcher also waged a behind-the-scenes campaign for the job in 2013, losing to Democrat Holly Jones, who supported Frost later that year.

The four Democrats have tended to vote as a block since winning control of the board in 2012. However, there have been notable exceptions, such as when Gantt voted last fall to appoint Belcher over Jones to the now-defunct Culture and Recreation Authority.

The vice chair vote will be one of Republican Miranda DeBruhl’s first official acts as a commissioner. She will be sworn in to the job immediately before the meeting.

Commissioners meet Monday, Dec. 1, at at 6:30 p.m in the commissioner’s chambers, located at 200 College St., suite 326. The swearing-in ceremony is in the same location, preceding the meeting at 6 p.m.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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