12/06/06 — County commissioners choose new leadership for 2007

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County commissioners choose new leadership for 2007

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on December 6, 2006 1:45 PM

At this time last year, Wayne County Board of Commissioners Chairman Atlas Price said his focus would be to build a new animal shelter, to develop a plan to build new public school facilities and to lay the foundation for a limited access, interstate quality U.S. 70 corridor from Clayton to Morehead City.

Although those goals have seen progress since last December, the commission's newly elected chairman, John Bell, hopes to take the projects even further.

"We have a lot on our plate this year, and we have a lot we have to deal with as a board," Bell said Tuesday morning after being elected the new chairman. "But I look forward to working with the board as a group and with the school board to get things done."

The Wayne Board of Education elected Shirley Sims as chairman and Thelma Smith as vice chairman Monday. Since last year, both boards have made progress with a proposed $90 million school facilities plan that would build three new schools across the county and renovate another 13 schools.

Members of both boards visited with residents and advisory councils from each school this fall to hear concerns and suggestions on improving the schools system and its facilities. Subcommittees are now meeting to discuss issues concerning the education process, facilities and real estate and financing the projects.

County officials have said the facilities plan could be included in a bond referendum next May, but no final decision has been made.

Bell, who has served on the board for the past six years and currently serves with the Council on Aging, Eastpointe, Juvenile Justice and Day Reporting Center committees, was elected chairman by a 4-2 margin.

Commissioners Andy Anderson and Efton Sager said they voted against Bell because they believed the decision to nominate and elect Bell was made before the board met Tuesday morning.

"Our vote was procedural, not personal," Anderson said.

Sager said he and Anderson were not involved in choosing a chairman before the meeting and were not informed of any board member's plans for nomination.

In previous years, the commission's vice chairman has been nominated for the chairman position. Bell, who served as vice chairman this year, was nominated by outgoing chairman Price.

Bell said the selection process is not discussed in advance of the board meeting and decisions aren't made until a nomination is announced, but Sager noted that Bell's wife and son were at the commission meeting before nominations were announced.

After Bell's nomination, Price nominated Commis-sioner Roland "Bud" Gray for vice chairman and Sager nominated Anderson. Commissioners Jack Best, Gray, J.D. Evans and Price voted in favor of Gray.

But Sager and Anderson said they hold no grudge and are willing, as they have been for many years, to work with the entire board for the benefit of Wayne County residents.

The new vice chairman has served as the New Hope Volunteer Fire Department chief for 37 years and has been involved with the department for 50 years. As a county commissioner for the past two years, Gray has been involved in the fire commission, waste management and animal shelter committees.

Gray said construction should hopefully begin on a new animal shelter next month, but a location has still not been finalized. The potential site is being surveyed and the county is still collecting money for the project, which could cost as much as $1.2 million.

Another project Gray said he and the board are eager to begin is renovations to the Jeffreys Building at 134 N. John St. The building houses the county's emergency services, emergency medical services and 911 center departments on the second floor.

The $400,000 project would allow New Bern-based Peterson, Eure and Associates to renovate the building's first and third floors, or about 18,000 square feet. Those floors would house the county's planning, inspections, environmental health and veterans services departments.

County Manager Lee Smith said the county wanted to begin the project about a year and a half ago, but the commissioners wanted to pay for the renovation with cash instead of financing it. Gray, along with the rest of the board, approved Tuesday that Peterson, Eure and Associates will perform the architectural services on the project.

Gray said school facilities will be a pivotal issue in 2007, and the commissioners and school board will have to roll up their sleeves for the project.

"I just hope we can get some of the school problems straight," he said.