Meck BOCC Chairman touts transparency, then declines to answer questions on budget

Meck BOCC Chairman touts transparency, then declines to answer questions on budget

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Just minutes after touting how transparent the county commission’s budget process was, Mecklenburg BOCC Chairman George Dunlap refused to answer basic questions about commissioners’ budget adjustment requests.

At-Large Commissioner Pat Cotham raised questions about transparency after she and other commissioners received an email from Dunlap outlining budget adjustments that would be made at the straw vote Tuesday. In a response Cotham wrote that she was concerned it would be called “a back room deal.”

The seven other commissioners, county manager and county attorney did not see it that way. Commissioners Trevor Fuller, Mark Jerrell and Vice-Chairwoman Elaine Powell all defended Dunlap’s process. Dunlap told WBTV that he did not violate any of North Carolina’s open records laws.

“All of that took place in my office, one-on-one, two commissioners talking to me,” Dunlap said.

But Cotham says she wasn’t aware of the meetings until the final days before the email was sent on May 23rd.

“We don’t do it in emails,” Cotham said.

“It’s just embarrassing.”

What was not apparent in the email from Dunlap was which commissioners requested which budget adjustments.

WBTV asked Dunlap about the adjustments but he refused to answer.

“No I won’t tell you that,” Dunlap said when asked which commissioners requested adjustments.

“If you seriously want to know I’m telling you now go ask them,” Dunlap said.

When asked what budget adjustments he requested Dunlap also declined to answer.

“Not important. What’s important is that eight of us decided that everything that was proposed was important to this community and we agreed to support it,” Dunlap said.

However, the other county commissioners did agree to respond to which budget adjustments they requested.

  • Shiloam School - $125,000 – George Dunlap (confirmed by other county commissioners)
  • Additional Park Land Acquisition - $2,000,000 – Elaine Powell
  • Senior Citizens Nutrition Program (DSS) - $19,000 – Susan Harden
  • Recreation Programming (PRK) - $90,000 – Elaine Powell
  • Park Operations (PRK) - $1,000,000 – Elaine Powell

Dunlap explained that part of the reason for identifying budget adjustments ahead of time was to allow the county manager’s staff to identify cuts to match them.

“This was the most efficient way to do it, so no I have no concerns about transparency,” County Manager Dena Diorio said.

Despite the pre-planning not everyone in the county appeared to be up to speed. Two IT staff positions that were newly budgeted were cut in order to make room for some of the commissioners adjustments. However, the IT Director told commissioners he was not aware of the cuts until they were brought up at the meeting.

“It wasn’t a done deal so there was no reason for anybody to know until the board brought it forward,” Diorio told WBTV.

The questions about transparency toward the end of the budget process shade over what commissioners feel like has been an open and productive project.

Commissioners told WBTV they felt the priorities they listed in their budget retreat at the beginning of the year were well represented in the final budget. Specifically funding in parks, education and issues addressing racial disparity were all supported by commissioners.

“What we’ve done around early childhood education, what we did for CMS, what we did around affordable housing, small business all of those things are very appealing to all the people we’ve spoken to,” Diorio said.

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