LUMBERTON — One Robeson County commissioner will fight against a vote that gave commissioners more authority over the governing boards of two county departments.
Jerry Stephens is against the vote cast during Monday’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting, held by teleconference, that gave commissioners the final word on what happens at the county’s departments of Social Services and Health.
The vote means the two boards will merge and act in an advisory capacity to the Board of Commissioners, which will make final decisions on matters related to the departments, according to information from Commissioner Pauline Campbell.
According to N.C. Law, commissioners that assume direct control of health boards after Jan. 1, 2012, and choose not to delegate powers to a consolidated health service board should appoint an advisory committee.
The move was approved on an 5-3 vote, with Board of Commissioners Chairman Lance Herndon and commissioners Pauline Campbell and Stephens voting no. Vice Chairman Faline Dial and commissioners David Edge, Tom Taylor, Roger Oxendine and Raymond Cummings cast yes votes.
But, there must be a public hearing on the issue before final action can be taken.
During that time, Stephens hopes more conversations can be had and the decision reversed.
“I’m going to keep pressing for it not to happen,” Stephens said.
The commissioner feels the vote was not cast in the best interest of the county.
He also questioned the reasoning behind the decision, stating he had not seen any paperwork from County Manager Kellie Blue that suggested the Social Services or Health boards needed help managing the departments.
“I’m for us staying like it is until somebody can show me where it’s not working,” Stephens said.
Derick Coe, DSS board chairman, said he doesn’t see a need for an advisory board if commissioners will make all the decisions. He has served on the DSS board for more than five years and had a good working relationship with commissioners, who often served on the board, Coe said.
Coe is curious to see how an advisory board will be structured, if the process ends with commissioners assuming more power.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as simple as the way it sounds,” Coe said.
County Manager Kellie Blue said nothing will change if the board takes control of the boards. Commissioners will simply have the final authority, she said.
The board had been discussing the formation of an advisory board since 2012, she said.
In 2019, counties were given authority by law to form regional departments of social services, in which multiple counties could be involved, according to the UNC School of Government. The decision to do so was optional.
Some commissioners feared complete “regionalization,” Blue said.
“I think it’s a good business move to take it over and manage it ourselves,” Commissioner Tom Taylor said.
The county can manage the departments more efficiently, he said.
Another area of concern for Stephens was Monday’s voting process. Campbell attempted to make a motion to table the initial motion made by Cummings until the next meeting. The approval vote was taken without consideration of Campbell’s substitute motion.
County Attorney Rob Davis said he made an error in judgment when he suggested that Cummings’ motion, which was seconded, be voted on.
“A procedural motion can, should have received a vote. It cannot be discussed or debated,” Davis said of Campbell’s motion.
But, the vote, which was made in error to Robert’s Rules of Order, can still stand, Davis said. The attorney referred to the cases Nelson v. City of Burlington and City of Charlotte v. Cook. In both cases the courts did not strike down the vote despite the violation.
Campbell said she would have preferred that the entire board had discussed the pros and cons of a merger between the two county departments and worked out the details before bringing it to a vote.
Telephone calls to Cummings, Oxendine and Herndon seeking comment were not returned.