Monday night was a chance for celebration. A town commissioner was sworn into her second term in office. Two new commissioners also took their oaths, opening the way for a newly-constituted board of commissioners to embark on a two-year effort to lead the town.
But somewhere along the way, the celebratory mood dissipated when Commissioner Ginna Gray, the board’s only woman and the senior member of town board of commissioners, lamented her belief that the town’s good ol’ boy network was alive and well. Gray didn’t explain her comments publicly, leaving those in the audience to wonder what she was referring to.
Clearly, though, something had happened that bothered her enough to cause her to come out with claws bared.
Here’s what we surmise happened: Moments before her comment, commissioners filled several slots from among their number. Seats on the Eastern Regional Advisory Committee, chamber of commerce liaison, CAMPO and others were filled. Among that list of positions was the Mayor pro Tem’s post.
If you’re not familiar with that position, the Mayor pro Tem is the person who presides over town board meetings in the mayor’s stead on those occasions when the mayor can’t attend. The Mayor pro Tem also represents the mayor at local functions if the mayor cannot be there in person.
On Monday night, Ira Fuller relinquished the role of Mayor pro Tem when he concluded his four-year term on the board of commissioners.
When Mayor Tim Hinnant asked for nominations to fill the position, Commissioner Sam Laughery nominated James Parham.
Parham and Laughery were elected in the same year – two years ago in 2011. Parham won the seat on a 4-1 vote. Gray was the lone commissioner to vote against Parham’s appointment.
As the most senior member of the town board, perhaps Gray felt like she was deserving of the post. Her behind-the-scenes lobbying, however, didn’t work and Parham took the seat.
It was a surprising comment to say the least. Of all the people on the town board, a 70-something black man seems like the most unlikely member of the group to be part of any good ol’ boy system. Her comments later drew a retort from Parham, who, not surprisingly, disavowed any knowledge of a good ol’ boy network in Wendell. Seniority is certainly no measuring stick for suitability for any position. To her credit, Gray has been an active commissioner, working with the chamber of commerce and spending time in local schools.
But those qualifications alone don’t entitle anyone to anything.
In her remarks, Gray also spoke about working together to meet the challenges the town faces.
That’s an admirable comment, but it will apparently be a hard goal to reach if commissioners are fussing with each other over the election of a Mayor pro Tem, which quite frankly is about as ceremonial as it is anything else.
There will be time to ardently debate legitimate policy questions over the next two years. Comments like the ones Gray made last week will only make it tougher to get traction down the road when those important issues arise.