Supervisors abandon chairman rotation

Published 1:39 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors abandoned tradition Thursday and did not elect Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson as chairman.

Jefferson, who served as vice chairman last year, would have moved up to chairman had the Board followed the traditional rotation schedule.

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Instead, the Board voted 5-0 to keep Carrsville Supervisor Rex Alphin as chairman for the third year in a row. Jefferson was denied the vice chairmanship as well. That went to Newport District Supervisor William McCarty, who was elected as vice chairman with a 5-0 vote.

Jefferson is the only black member of the Board and he is beginning his fourth year as supervisor. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

During a discussion on the issue, Alphin said the traditional rotation was not part of the Board’s bylaws.

Jefferson said he wasn’t against changing the traditional rotation if there was a reason for it, as it is a way to give everyone a chance to serve as chairman and vice chairman.

He said he wouldn’t have minded if the decision had been made during the meeting, but the nominations, made by Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice, seemed to have been decided beforehand, Jefferson said.

Jefferson said he’s been discriminated against before on the job and beyond due to his skin color.

“This wasn’t any surprise to me today,” he said, adding that the groundwork for the decision to abandon tradition was laid last year.

Efforts to reach Jefferson for further comment since the meeting were unsuccessful.

Last year, there was a dust up over the traditional rotation, which put Alphin back as chairman due to the Board having three new members. At the same time, then newly-elected Windsor Supervisor Joel Acree was nominated as vice chair, as was Jefferson — as it was his turn, according to tradition. Jefferson was elected vice chair last year with a 3-2 vote — with Grice and McCarty voting against him.

In a phone conversation after the meeting, Grice said he nominated Alphin because he had done an outstanding job the previous year and should remain on the job.

“The county is best served by leaving Rex as chair,” he said, adding that race has nothing to do with it.

And despite the current racial tensions in the country, Grice didn’t think passing over Jefferson was a problem.

“I don’t care what color he is,” Grice said, adding that the other Board members could have offered other names but did not.

He was offended that his nominations were being tainted by the question of racism.

During the meeting, McCarty explained that the Board was there “to do what’s best for our citizens.”

McCarty suggested, however, the job really isn’t that important. It is mostly that of signing documents and running the meeting, he said.

No one person on the Board is greater than the other, McCarty said.

In a phone conversation Friday, Alphin said he had told some Board members prior to the meeting that it might be time to openly discuss the issue of the long-standing tradition of a rotating chairmanship.

He also stated that he’s “fully confident” that the decision to bypass Jefferson had nothing to do with skin color or a particular voting district.

The chairman’s job is to make sure there isn’t any more influence than the 20 percent afforded each of the five supervisors.

“It’s the Board’s discretion of who they want to put in that place,” said Alphin, adding that there was no intention of sending a “message” of any kind.

The last time the Board set aside its chairmanship rotation was in 2011, when the supervisors decided to deny former Smithfield Supervisor Al Casteen’s turn at vice chairman. At that time, former Newport Supervisor Stan Clark said it was because the county needed a “vice chairman that represents the county as a whole.”

Clark was voted vice chairman.  {/mprestriction}