12/05/07 — Gray named new chief of county commission

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Gray named new chief of county commission

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on December 5, 2007 2:24 PM

As expected, Roland "Bud" Gray was unanimously elected chairman of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning. But, also as expected, the two Republicans on the board signaled their displeasure with the selection process by refusing to cast a vote.

Under the board's rules of procedure, though, an abstention is considered an affirmative vote.

"That was not a protest," Andy Anderson said. "But the decision was already made. It's supposed to be an open process, and we weren't consulted on this."

Nominations were taken during the board's open meeting, but Anderson and Efton Sager both said that the decision to elect Gray as chairman and Atlas Price -- who was not present Tuesday because of illness -- as vice chairman had already been made. Both are Democrats, as are the other three commissioners, Jack Best, J.D. Evans and outgoing chairman John Bell.

"It's historically been this way," Sager said. "We just accept reality."

However, they both emphasized that they weren't opposed to Gray leading the board -- just to the fact they weren't consulted beforehand.

"We have no problem (with him being elected), otherwise we would have voted no," Anderson said. "We knew it would be counted as a yes vote, so it was just a way to show our displeasure with the system."

But they don't plan to let Tuesday's disagreement interfere with their jobs.

"We've worked together as a board, and we'd like to see that continue," Anderson said.

Tops among the commission's 2007 accomplishments, Bell said, was the fact that they and the county Board of Education began talking seriously again about school facilities.

"I'd say we've developed a good relationship with the school board now," he said. "At least we're sitting down talking now."

Other accomplishments include the commissioners' ability to come to an agreement on the construction of the new animal shelter on Clingman Street, the continued upgrading of the county Emergency Medical Services Department and the success of the still-new Wayne County Economic Development Alliance.

"I think we accomplished a lot in the past year," Bell continued. "I think the county's running well. I enjoyed my chairmanship. It was a very rewarding experience."

Now it's Gray's turn, and while he doesn't anticipate making any real changes to procedure or in the county's direction, he does want to intensify the focus on the schools.

"The county's in real good shape. John's done a good as chairman. I'm probably just going to go like he was," Gray said. "But I do hope we can get something moving with the schools.

"It's just going to take the two boards working together."

Once its re-organization was complete, the commission then settled a rezoning issue that has been hanging for more than two months.

It was originally approved two weeks ago, but because Bell was absent, the board had to put the matter through a second reading.

Under the proposal, Jack Smith's 11 acres in Fork Township are to be rezoned village district, which allows for limited residential and commercial use, while another 8.4 acres -- across from the Wal-Mart and separated from Smith's property by a proposed N.C. Department of Transportation service road -- are to be re-zoned community shopping.

The commissioners' only concern for the proposal involve traffic safety and the need to control driveway access along the affected roads, N.C. 581 and U.S. 70. -- something county officials don't think should be a problem.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners agreed to purchase about 50 acres of land across the road from the current landfill for $3,000 an acre. It is adjacent to other county-owned land.

The reason for the purchase, explained county solid waste director Tim Rogers was three-fold.

"One, it gives us a buffer between the landfill and the adjacent landowners," he said. "Two, in the short term we can use the dirt as cover. It's a lot cheaper to buy the land and have it here than to have it trucked in. And, years down the road I'm sure they'll permit and put a landfill on it, but that'll be 50 years down the road."