Commissioner issues apology for "not a white male" suggestion for manager

Published: Jul. 2, 2013 at 10:44 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 1, 2013 at 10:44 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A Mecklenburg County Commissioner has issued a public apology more than a week after she suggested that the next county manager should not be a white male.

The comments were made by the board's vice chair, Kim Ratliff, on June 21 during a sit-down interview with WBTV.

In the interview, Ratliff said that she would like to see the position filled by "someone who is diverse – hopefully someone outside of North Carolina would be ideal for me."

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

During a public meeting of the county commissioners on Tuesday, Ratliff apologized for her comments.

"I realize now that my comments may not have been appropriate and I regret having made them," she said.

Mecklenburg Commissioner Dumont Clarke thanked Ratliff for her public apology, saying one of the cores of the Democratic Party is to accept everyone.

Commissioner Bill James posted several comments on Twitter on Tuesday night during Ratliff's apology.

"Listening to vice chair Kim Ratliff apologize over 'white male' comment," he tweeted. "[Commission] Democrats wanted to comment on it."

He tweeted that the matter was discussed during a closed session and asked if Ratliff should recuse herself from the county manager search, saying the process may not be seen as fair if she's involved.

"The [Commission] doesn't know if the comment will be 'actionable' until we see what effect Ms. Ratliff's comments have on the actual selection," James tweeted.

Members of the public were able to give their opinions as well.  Several called for action against Ratliff, while others spoke to show their support for the commissioner.

"Only the public can remove Kim from elected office but the #meckbocc can remove her as vice chair," Commissioner James tweeted. "That can't happen until this December."

The board is looking 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.

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 last week in a second interview. "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.

Several Commissioners spoke out after the comments were aired, saying they believed Ratliff's may hurt the search for a new manager.

Commissioner Vilma 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.

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."

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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