Planning board member Gregory unanimously approved
After two months of accusations, delays and threats, the Waxhaw town council unanimously selected a new member at their Tuesday, Feb. 8 meeting. Commissioner Brett Diller nominated town planning board member Phillip Gregory, saying it was time to move on.
“This situation was put on this board by Commissioner Haug resigning,” Diller said. “It was a lose-lose situation. We could hand pick a buddy of ours, someone we knew, but it would be perceived (as unethical).” By the same token, Diller said, commissioners were accused of being unethical by doing nothing and leaving the seat vacant.
“It’s hogwash,” Diller said. “If we left it vacant (until the election) like we did in the past, we would survive (but) I feel comfortable in getting this behind us.”
After speaking with Gregory, Diller said he emailed the other commissioners, encouraging them to speak with and get to know the man before Tuesday’s meeting, in hopes they would feel comfortable enough to vote and put an end to the empty seat.
Tired of juggling work, a family and his duties as commissioner, Haug resigned Dec. 14 from the town board. 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.
Originally, a majority of Diller, fellow commissioner Erin Kirkpatrick and Mayor Daune Gardner had voted in January to delay appointing a replacement for six months, before reversing course at their last meeting.
The issue for the council had involved North Carolina statute 160A-63, which states: “A vacancy that occurs in an elective office of a city shall be filled by appointment of the city council. ”That statute, coupled with the negative response commissioners received from the public after delaying an appointment, played a part in the decision to move forward, Kirkpatrick previously told Union County Weekly.
Waxhaw manager Mike McLaurin outlined how different municipalities handled the issue during the Feb. 8 meeting, saying North Carolina towns Fletcher, Riverbend, Summerfield and Zebulon all took applications and then made appointments. The city of Charlotte handled the issue much the same way, appointing council member Susan Burgess’ son as per her request, to fill the remainder of her term after she died from cancer last year. In Union County, the village of Marvin just recently appointed one new member and put out applications to fill another empty seat. The last time the issue came up in Waxhaw was more than four years ago, when Tammy Norwood resigned in 2007. The council at the time left the position open until the next election.
Potential candidates to fill the Waxhaw position included former commissioner Max Walker, who lost in the last election, Waxhaw residents Denise Koontz and Frank Aikmus, who had made clear his intentions to run for the position in the November election. In his last meeting before resigning, Haug asked the council to pick Aikmus as his successor.
Diller said it didn’t feel right appointing anyone who planned to run for the position, as their agenda could be more on the campaign rather than focused on the position.
That’s not something the board has to worry about with Gregory, who said he has no plans to run for the position in the fall.
“I’m glad to serve, but I’m not campaigning here,” Gregory said. “I have no intentions of running when my appointment is up.”
A familiar face
The 56-year-old Gregory, who has served for more than five years on the town’s planning board, said he hadn’t originally planned to throw his name in the hat but was convinced to give it a shot.
“A few people came to me and asked me to consider (this),” Gregory said. “I didn’t like the idea of not filling the position, not with everything that’s coming up. We’ve got the Historic District (proposal), possible animal ordinances, there’s a lot of stuff going on. That weighed on me.”
Gregory said he respected the person whose seat he would be filling, adding that Haug always did his homework and brought good points to the table.
“I enjoy doing my homework and I will vote based on the facts,” Gregory said. “If I do have an agenda, it’s to serve the people of Waxhaw. The best interests of the town will be met.”
All commissioners said they had nothing but respect for Gregory.
“I found him to be professional, cooperative with the other (planning) board members,” Kirkpatrick said, discussing the way Gregory handled himself during planning board meetings she had witnessed.
“I don’t need to know how (he) will vote on the issues, I don’t think that’s fair to (the) people,” Commissioner Martin Lane said, explaining why he hadn’t called Gregory before the meeting as Diller suggested. “That’s what public debate is for.” The only thing he needed to know is that Gregory was willing to serve. That was enough, Lane said.
“I have nothing but the utmost respect for him,” Commissioner Joyce Blythe said, adding she had known Gregory for several years.
Mayor Daune Gardner was the only opposition, not to the choice but rather against what she saw as rushing to make a decision.
“I greatly respect (Gregory’s) insight,” Gardner said. “My concern is that given the (perception), there is no way for this board to move or not move (without criticism).” Instead, Gardner suggested bringing applicants before the board, where each could have a chance to speak and have their resumes reviewed.
Commissioners meanwhile said they were tired with the process that had already played out, voting 4-0 to appoint Gregory to the position. He will be officially sworn in at the beginning of the town council’s Feb. 22 meeting. Haug’s seat meanwhile is up for grabs in this year’s general election.