Town board now open to appointing Haug’s replacement
One week after a majority of the town board opposed such an idea, Waxhaw commissioners reversed course and announced they would consider appointing a replacement for commissioner Brian Haug. During their Monday, Jan. 17 meeting, council members voted 3-2, with Mayor Daune Gardner breaking the tie, to refrain from appointing Haug’s successor for at least six months. One week later, after criticism from voters and threat of a lawsuit, the council unanimously agreed to hear what options they have and potentially discuss candidates.
“That motion by me (to delay six months) was a spur of the moment decision, which came after our board failed to agree on a candidate,” town commissioner Erin Kirkpatrick said. “My goal is to find someone impartial, someone that will vote on issues rather than for friends.”
Tired of juggling work, a family and his duties as commissioner, Haug resigned from the town board Dec. 14. Haug, a merchandise-planning manager for Family Dollar, husband and father of two, said circumstances had changed dramatically since he joined the board in 2007.
Until that seat is filled, the mayor essentially has “veto power.” With four members left on the council, Mayor Gardner will now be able to vote on disputed issues. Kirkpatrick said giving Gardner a vote didn’t play any part in the original idea to delay appointing a successor.
“I in no way helped keep the seat vacant to give another board member an advantage,” Kirkpatrick said. “Some people think something funny’s going on, but that’s not the case.”
At least one Waxhaw resident hired Charlotte based attorney Chris Dugan, from the Dugan Law Firm, to look into the issue and possibly bring a lawsuit against the board.
Before the vote to reconsider on Jan. 25, commissioners went into closed session to get legal counsel from town attorney Chaplin Spencer. While unable to talk about closed session issues, Kirkpatrick did acknowledge the potential lawsuit was mentioned.
“It was an element of the conversation, but it didn’t dominate the closed session,” Kirkpatrick said, pointing out with the speed of the legal system, the six month moratorium would have likely been up before any action would have been taken in the courtroom.
Previously, Spencer had cautioned the board regarding his interpretation of their responsibility to fill the seat under state law. State statute 160A-63, states: “A vacancy that occurs in an elective office of a city shall be filled by appointment of the city council,” but doesn’t give a timeframe to do so.
Kirkpatrick said the decision to reverse course was not done because of the lawsuit or any concerns, just a hope the board could reach a consensus.
“I would love it if we could get a unanimous vote for someone, we need to come together as a board,” Kirkpatrick said. “Unfortunately, there seems to be a power play in effect to manipulate the majority.
Since Haug’s resignation, a number of candidates have been mentioned, from Republican Party member Frank Aikmus to former Waxhaw commissioner Max Walker. However none of them gathered the full support of the town board.
Aikmus spoke to the board during its Jan. 25 meeting, encouraging them to appoint Walker, if he was off their list. Aikmus pointed out that Walker gathered over 600 votes in the last election. He also told commissioners the reason nobody was appointed when Tammy Norwood resigned years ago was because the board didn’t have to fear a power play.
“They didn’t have to fear a board would act and form their own coup,” Aikmus said, adding that he planned to run for the seat in the November election.
Kirkpatrick and other commissioners also took offense at Haug’s comments Monday, Jan. 17, when the former board member spoke during public comment. He called the commissioners cowards for postponing a vote on his replacement.
“Calling us cowards, I didn’t take that lightly, when he was the one that quit,” commissioner Brett Diller said. “I have a job, like he does. He was the one who threw in the towel and put the board in this position. I had a lot of respect for him before (those comments).”
Kirkpatrick said she agreed with Diller’s comments, saying Haug was responsible for creating the issue in the first place.
“Still, it is what it is,” Kirkpatrick said. “We just need to move forward.”
The Waxhaw town council will take up the issue during their Tuesday, Feb. 8 meeting at 6:30pm.