Commissioners argue about family ties, links to campaign donors
Did political contributions play a part in who was appointed to a volunteer committee? County commissioners questioned if that was the case with their fellow board members Monday, Feb. 21, as the group selected applicants for three spots on the fire commission.
After rejecting three applicants put forth by Commissioner Tracy Kuehler, fellow commissioner Jonathan Thomas introduced three alternate choices, Rusty Cox, New Salem fire chief Devin Baucom and Brian Rogers, approving them by a 3 to 2 vote.
Links between the three candidates and commissioners drew questions from Commissioner Kim Rogers. Rusty Cox is the son of Marion Cox of Cox Brothers Farms, who donated $3000 to Jonathan Thomas’ campaign and $2500 to commissioner chair Jerry Simpson’s campaign. Devin Baucom is the son of CMC-Union Community Trustee Committee chair Donnie Baucom and Brian Rogers was a campaign worker for Thomas, Simpson and Todd Johnson.
“It raises the question of political payback,” Commissioner Rogers said. “Perception is reality and the perception is you have a small group of people controlling commissioners (and) controlling boards.”
State records don’t show any contributions to the three from Rusty Cox or Devin Baucom, however Commissioner Jerry Simpson stated that Cox did give him a small donation, adding that the two had known each other for over 20 years.
Thomas meanwhile said politics had nothing to do with his nomination.
“Everybody I bring forward, I have vetted,” Thomas said. “Rusty Cox gave me not one dime. If we’re gonna penalize him because of his dad, I mean c’mon.”
Interest, rather than politics, is what drove his nominations, Thomas added.
“Mr. Cox is extremely interested in serving,” Thomas said, adding that Baucom’s role as New Salem’s fire chief is why he was selected. As for Brian Rogers, Thomas said that “I find his energy would be welcomed by the board.”
The fire commission makes recommendations to county commissioners on how to pay for fire service in the area. As the county paid over $700,000 in subsidies to cover department shortfalls this year, the commission will be examining new funding options.
“I’ve given my pledge (to) Rep. Horn and Sen. Tucker to come up with a solution,” Thomas, who serves as the board’s fire liason, said. “Maybe our current system is the best, I don’t know.”
The applicants rejected by the board include current fire commission member Rick Denton, former firefighter and current Providence fire department board of directors member Heather Perryman and Walker Davidson, who chairs the Weddington Public Safety Committee and was recommended by Rep. Horn.
“Mr. Davidson was recommended by Craig Horn,” Kuehler said. “He deals with two stations in close proximity and has a financial background.”
Kuehler said that Perryman’s EMS background and status as a former firefighter got her attention, whereas Denton had already been through the county’s fire study and been privy to discussions with Dr. Jenaway, the expert the county hired to craft the survey.
“I like Walker (but) I disagree with him,” Commissioner Todd Johnson said, explaining why he voted against his nomination. “He and I do not see eye to eye on taxes.”
Commissioner Rogers questioned why a difference of opinion should prevent appointing someone.
“You should want people of different opinions,” she said.