Commissioner doesn't regret "not a white male" suggestion for manager

Published: Jun. 21, 2013 at 10:04 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2013 at 10:04 PM EDT
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EDITOR'S NOTE: In the original versions of this story, WBTV made an error while transcribing a quote from Commissioner Kim Ratliff. We quoted her as saying the county needed a "non-white male" as the new county commissioner. Ratliff actually said she believed the job need to be filled by "someone who is not a white male." We have corrected the web story.

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A Mecklenburg County Commissioner says she doesn't regret saying that the next county manager should not be a white male, despite the heat she's now taking from her comments.

The suggestion came from the board's vice chair, Kim Ratliff, on Friday as the board looks to replace longtime county manager Harry Jones, who was voted out in May.

Ratliff, who wanted to keep Jones, says commissioners need to learn from the rocky relationship between Jones and some commissioners.

"There were some people the manager was not talking to. There were county commissioners who were not talking to the manager," said Commissioner Ratliff.

She says the relationship with the future county manager must have open communication on both ends.

Ratliff says she would like to see "someone who is diverse – hopefully someone outside of North Carolina would be ideal for me."

Commissioner Ratliff stated on Friday that she believes the position should be filled by "just someone who is not a white male."

She went on to say the new manager would need to "come in to do the job, who has good working relations with all people and who is able to get along with all people."

"I wasn't saying for white men not to apply," Ratliff told WBTV on Monday. "What I was saying was we had a white male county manager. We had a black male. It's a given those two genders and races will apply. I'm saying to the ladies of every race – take a chance at it."

Commissioner Ratliff says since Mecklenburg County has never had a female county manager – she wants to women to apply for the job.

Ratliff says the "the person coming in has to be a strong candidate who is able to deal with conflict resolution, who is diverse, who has an open mind and who is able to engage everyone in the process."

Conflict is exactly what two other county commissioners say Ratliff's comments is causing.

"I don't know the motivation for why she said it so I'm not offended at this point," said Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour. "I'm disappointed that it was said."

Ridenhour says race, gender, age, or religious affiliation should not be a part of the search for a county manager.

"Not whether a person is Hispanic male, white female, or Asian male – that's beside the point," he told WBTV. "It should be the best person for the people of Mecklenburg County."

Commissioner Vilma Leake said Ratliff's comments shocked her.

"I was shocked it was said in 2013 that we need to make sure not to get a white man," Leake said.

Leake is one of four commissioners who will oversee the recruiting, and decide which candidates will ultimately come before the board for interviews.  She's joined by Chairwoman Pat Cotham, Commissioner Bill James and Commissioner Karen Bentley.

"We are to be non-partisan in terms of selection of people," Leake said. "We must be diverse in our selection process. And we must not be prejudice in our process."

She says the constitution demands they not favor one group over another, saying qualifications will determine the outcome.

"I don't want the community to lose confidence and trust in what we do – with a statement like that," she told WBTV.

"I'm concerned that it might send a message to potential candidates," Commissioner Ridenhour said. "That we've already pre-qualified who we're looking for  - so we might not get the talent to apply that we could otherwise get."

Ratliff says she can see why people may have taken her comments as racist.

"Maybe I could have used a better choice of words. But I'm saying everyone apply," she told WBTV. "The most qualified will be selected. I would like for it to be a woman. If it is not, I'll still support the person whether it's white man, black man, or whoever."

She says no matter how you take her comments, she doesn't regret saying it.

"Not at all. I mean – true – some residents may have taken it the wrong way," Ratliff said. "But I said what I said."

The Board of County Commissioners voted, last week, to pay $52,000 to local firm – Coleman and Lew – to recruit candidates for the permanent county manager job.

Considering the bickering and infighting that have taken place among some commissioners, will the county have a difficult time attracting candidates?

"I don't know if it will be difficult but it will be critical to find the right person" says Chairwoman Pat Cotham. "We're gonna need someone who can work with all different types of people and to help bring consensus and to be a person who can be a good communicator so I don't think that's going to be a real issue."

Ratliff says she does not believe her comments will hurt recruiting.  Her opinion is recruiting will suffer because of the infighting among commissioners.

The Board of Commissioners hopes to have the new county manager in place by the fall.

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