Tuesday's Observer editorial:
When Democrat Harold Cogdell first considered, then reconsidered, ousting Jennifer Roberts as chair of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners a year ago, we worried about the implications of his move.
Cogdell’s maneuvering, the Observer editorial board said then, “raises fears of two years of dysfunction, with politics and personal ambition a strong undercurrent.”
Fast forward to tonight. Politics and personal ambition helped Cogdell finish the job on Roberts this time. His rise prompted a jilted fellow Democrat to raise questions about his ethics. Those questions are important and demand answers. But if commissioners don’t handle things well tonight, the public’s distrust of Cogdell could deservedly creep over to the whole board.
Cogdell contracted with C.W. Williams Community Health Center for legal work last summer just two months after successfully arguing for a 39 percent boost in county money for the nonprofit. That had, at a minimum, the appearance of a possible impropriety. An independent investigation into Cogdell’s hiring is needed, and Cogdell tonight will ask commissioners to authorize exactly that.
Cogdell, though, also wants the probe to determine what other commissioners knew and when they knew it. If fellow Democrats were aware of Cogdell’s arrangement for months and raised concerns about it only when he broke up with them, that too would be unethical. (And if they didn’t know about it previously, who leaked it to them days before the chairmanship vote?)
Dumont Clarke, a Democratic commissioner, said Monday his “jaw dropped” when he saw Cogdell’s proposed investigation. Clarke said the most important question is whether Cogdell did anything improper and that Cogdell is trying to “muddy the waters” by also delving into what other commissioners knew. That’s a secondary question that can be answered later, Clarke said.
Clarke told the editorial board Monday that he first heard of Cogdell’s ties to C.W. Williams from commissioner George Dunlap the Friday before the Tuesday vote for chairman. Dunlap told us he first learned of it around that time when a source, whom he won’t name, told him about it.
Dunlap added that even if he suspected Cogdell had done something unethical, it would be OK for Dunlap not to report that because there is, apparently, no explicit board policy that would require him to. That is a puzzling take on ethics indeed.
Cogdell may very well be trying to push some of the spotlight off of him and on to other commissioners. But the public deserves a complete report on all aspects of this episode. Any effort by Clarke and fellow Democrats tonight to delay a full investigation will leave doubts in citizens’ minds about what’s not coming out. Better to have the probe cover all facets, draw its conclusions and put the matter to bed.
Republican commissioner Neil Cooksey, who is serving his second term, announced Monday that he won’t seek reelection next year. We haven’t always agreed with Cooksey on policy, but he has been a solid contributor to the board who asks good, tough questions. The courage he has demonstrated in his fight against pancreatic cancer has been inspiring, and we wish him the best.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Tuesday's Observer editorial: