Caddell Says Lea 'Won't Talk to Me'
Moore County Commissioner Larry Caddell said Wednesday that he has "no hard feelings" toward Tim Lea but that he didn't support him as chairman because "I cannot in good conscience vote for someone who won't talk to me."
Caddell says he voted for board newcomer Nick Picerno instead to head the board because he has personal knowledge of Picerno's character and intelligence -- and also because Picerno, now retired, has plenty of time to devote to the time-consuming position of board chair.
"I don't understand his comment," Lea said in response, denying that he is unwilling to communicate with Caddell or other members of the board.
The statements, made in interviews, were the latest reflections of the discord within the five-member board that surfaced during Monday's Board of Commissioners meeting, in which Cindy Morgan's nomination of board veteran Lea as chairman failed. Picerno's election then followed on a 3-2 vote, with member Jimmy Melton joining Caddell and Picerno.
"This is not personal to me," Lea said Wednesday. "It's never been personal. I've always been open to have conversation with anyone." Lea said his door is always open but Caddell has made no effort to call him to discuss any county issues. Lea said he is willing and ready to talk to Caddell if he will just call.
In choosing Picerno over Lea to succeed outgoing Chairman Colin McKenzie, the board broke with tradition and elected a new member of the board, rather than a commissioner with seniority. Lea, as the commissioner with the most seniority, thought he deserved to become chairman.
Morgan, Melton and Caddell are completing the second year of their first terms on the board. But Melton, Caddell and Lea have experience as presiding officers for local government bodies. Caddell served many years as mayor of Carthage. Both Lea and Melton have chaired the Moore County Planning Board, and Lea has also chaired such bodies as the Land-Use Steering Committee and the search committee that hired school Superintendent Dr. Susan Purser.
'Not Losing Any Sleep'
Caddell said in an interview that Picerno "has the time and would communicate with all of the commissioners."
Caddell and Picerno remain close friends, but Caddell says his decision to nominate his friend was not based on their business relationship. Picerno founded Southern Software, where Caddell continues to work as chief executive officer. Picerno has since retired from the business, and his only relationship now is that of chairman of the board. Caddell is an owner, along with the 57 employees who make up the successful company.
"I don't deny that Nick and I are best friends," Caddell said. "He is a smart individual. He is a brilliant man, and I thought he could bring us all together. I feel good about it. I'm not losing any sleep."
Caddell called Lea a good man and a smart man, but said he does little to communicate with him other than to shake hands and exchange pleasantries. Picerno, he said, represents a striking success story. Picerno founded a small company on his own, then saw it rise to phenomenal success, so successful, in fact, that Caddell says Picerno chose on his own to retire while still relatively young.
"I did what I thought was in the best interest of Moore County, nothing else," Caddell said of his vote. "He will make a wonderful commissioner and a wonderful chairman."
Caddell said that he and Lea have been friends for many years but that he sensed a failure to communicate shortly after he assumed his duties as a county commissioner two years ago. That's when the commissioners voted unanimously to elect McKenzie as board chairman.
Before that meeting, the two incumbent commissioners, Lea and McKenzie, met privately with the other three, who had not yet taken office, to discuss the chairmanship. Lea and Morgan cite an agreement that McKenzie would serve as chairman one year because of his seniority and that Lea would be elected chairman the next year.
That meeting was not in violation of the state's Open Meetings Law because Morgan, Melton and Caddell had not been sworn into office. And, for the same reason, their actions were not legally binding.
Caddell thinks that Lea's coolness dates to the majority decision to choose McKenzie as chairman the second year. Morgan nominated Lea for the chairmanship that time too, but the other three chose McKenzie instead.
Although the board has had a series of 3-2 votes on other issues in the past two years, such a division has not been uncommon for a number of years. Split votes have also resulted on issues dealing with the airport, planning board appointments, changing the hours for board meetings and, most particularly, the purchase of property for expansion of the jail and as the site for two county buildings.
Caddell says Lea did not object to the purchase of the Grimm property in downtown Carthage for the jail and office buildings but he did object to the price tag, $1.5 million, which he considered too high for the 21-acre tract.
Caddell defends his decision to buy the land on the basis of recommendations by a paid consultant and both the sheriff and the clerk of court. He agrees that the price is high but says the land was already cleared and grubbed, has water and sewer lines and is ideally located adjacent to the existing jail.
"It was by far the best choice," Caddell said.
Caddell also defends his vote on airport matters, some issues of which have been contentious.
"I'm passionate about the airport. I think it's a critical part of our economy," he said.
As the former mayor of Carthage, Caddell is still stung by criticism that he steered that land purchase because of his relationship with the town leadership. He says he chose the Grimm property because it was the ideal location and adds that all of the alternate choices were also inside the town limits.
'Want to Get Along'
Caddell says that he has not encountered a cold shoulder from other commissioners, on the county board or during his days on the Carthage board, when his vote was contrary to the votes of other members. He recalls heated discussions with two town commissioners, the late Bill Walton and the late Sherwood Lapping, during his service as mayor, but Caddell says they always parted as friends, not adversaries. When Walton died, Caddell was asked to serve as a pallbearer, and when Lapping died, he was asked to present a eulogy.
As for Morgan, Caddell says that she remains cordial even when their votes have differed.
"Me and Cindy may vote against each other, but when she walks out the door, she is not mad at me," Caddell said.
Caddell said he has been in prayer that the commissioners will come to agreement in a positive manner and that when they will disagree, they will do so in an open and civil manner.
"I desperately want to do the right thing. I can't make him talk to me. I can't make him have a dialogue with me," Caddell said of Lea. "I want peace. I want to get along. I want to do the right thing. I want us to agree to disagree."
Caddell says that he agrees with Lea on many issues, one of which is opposition to any increase in the tax rate. He knows that the county is in great need of a jail expansion and the new buildings but says he will not support the buildings if a tax increase is required to do so.
Lea said he is puzzled that Caddell finds him uncommunicative and not open to dialogue. After all, he said, he has always been open to comment by the public and by fellow commissioners. He cited his own efforts on behalf of open government during his chairmanship of the planning board as well as his service on the Board of Commissioners.
"I've always allowed others to speak," Lea said. "I don't understand his comment. He's never called me. He's never asked for suggestions or input. He's never made the effort."
'Pick Up Phone and Call'
Lea said that the Open Meetings Law forbids members of county, municipal, and school boards and other public bodies from meeting outside the public view.
"I will not discuss issues with more than one commissioner (at a time)," Lea said.
In the case of the Moore County board, discussions by as many as three commissioners are considered to be public meetings because three constitute a quorum.
"I am an advocate of making sure that business is done in open meetings so people can hear what the commissioners are doing," Lea said. "Most commissioners' work should be done in open meetings. My track record is that the public's business and the taxpayers' work is open to the public and to the taxpayers."
Lea said he has received numerous telephone calls and e-mail messages from people who did not understand why he was not elected chairman.
"Why didn't Commissioner Caddell call me?" Lea said. "If any commissioner has any question, all they have to do is pick up the phone and call. I assure you that has not happened."
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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