Tuesday, January 8, 2013

County leader jabs at Mecklenburg chairman Cotham

UPDATED at 1:30 p.m. with Harry Jones's response.

Things seem to be getting off to a rocky start between the Mecklenburg County government leadership and the new county commissioners' chairman, punctuated by a tart email from an assistant county manager to her boss's boss.

Democrat Pat Cotham was the leading vote-getter in the November elections and was named chairman of the board last month. She has jumped in with an aggressive, constituent-focused, critical eye on county government, something that has been long overdue. She is asking, with a raised eyebrow, a lot of questions about how things are done and why they've been done that way. That's healthy and something that has not been a strong suit of recent Mecklenburg boards.

That approach seems to be angering county leadership, at least on one topic. Cotham called a special meeting for this afternoon for commissioners and staff to talk about what went wrong with MeckLINK. Last week, the state stripped the county from overseeing about $200 million in Medicaid money for mental illness, substance abuse and other services. Commissioners and staff have exchanged a flurry of emails on the topic.

The most surprising comes this morning from Michelle Lancaster-Sandlin, the county's general manager. In an email to Cotham and cc'd to others, Lancaster gives some background about the MeckLINK situation. She closes her email to Cotham this way:

"Perhaps, if you would take the time to talk to staff and ask questions instead of leaping to inaccurate conclusions we could have a productive and useful dialogue about what is right for the community and Mecklenburg County.

"I will note that I emailed you twice this weekend, telephoned you and sent a text offering to meet with you to answer questions and provide information - you declined to respond. I can only assume that means you are not interested in understanding the facts."

Whew! Mecklenburg's loss of the Medicaid money is a complicated development with many details still not publicly known. But Lancaster's insubordinate tone reveals, yet again, who County Manager Harry Jones and his staff thinks is in charge at the county. And it's not the county commissioners or their chairman.

In case Lancaster's email left any doubt about where things stand, Jones followed up with an email to Cotham this afternoon.

"... Some of our staff feel that you have made comments that devalue and demean them. Michelle Lancaster's email to you today is a tiny reflection of that sentiment," Jones wrote. "You shared your thoughts that you felt her email was 'rude.' ... We disagree. We have a very competent staff that understands that the success of this organization has been built on trust and teamwork by and between the staff and elected officials."

Jones expresses his desire to have a good relationship with Cotham. But Lancaster's email and Jones's support of it speak volumes. With hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars at stake in the MeckLINK episode, Mecklenburg's residents  would have hoped for a more professional dialogue.

-- Taylor Batten


Unknown said...

Time to get rid of some county staff starting with Harry Jones and Michelle Lancaster-Sandlin.

Garth Vader said...

I agree with 1:26. So long as a particular behavior is tolerated, it will continue and likely amplify.

I don't know who Harry Jones has incriminating pictures of, but it must be someone important.

Of course, expecting an editorial board with Fannie Flono on it to call for "brutha Harry's" head is too much to ask.

Anonymous said...

I will give Ms. Lancaster-Sandlin the benefit of the doubt and figure she did attempt to communicate with Ms. Cotham previously on the subject and was exasperated about the no response.

Unfortunately that does not allow her to write such an unprofessional and improper ending to the email which apparently had many others copied on.

That neither she nor Mr. Jones would think to offer an unconditional apology about their disrepect for the County Commissioners and its Chair leads me to add my voice that Harry Jones has created a culture at the County where he and his staff answer to no one including tax payers which is neither true nor acceptable.

It's time for a public reprimand of Harry and his staff and time for the County to look for a new manager.

Anonymous said...

One additional thought:

Let's not forget in the bigger picture that it was Harry Jones, Michelle Lancaster-Sandlin, and the County Staff (and not the Commissioners) who are responsible for the mess with MeckLink and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars.

It was they, and not County Commissioners, who did consistently missed deadlines and goals per the state.

So if the County Staff feel a little devalued for being made to answer for their actions I would suggest that is something that may be overdue.

John said...

Time to let reality set in... do what any corporate CEO would do in this situation and fire both Jones and Lancaster-Sandlin!

John said...

Mr Jones and Ms. Lancaster-Sandlin,

You both are apparently in dire need of a reminder that you are NOT elected officials and instead WORK FOR THEM! You were hired to work for the people who elect the board! When you treat elected officials with disrespect, you treat the voters who elected them with disrespect!

You need to be shown the door and find out how far insubordination gets you in the REAL WORLD!

E.C. Matthews said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Observer editorial board said...

Garth Vader, 3:34 pm: We called for Harry Jones's resignation almost two years ago, on Feb. 17, 2011, in an editorial stripped across the top of the editorial page. Sorry you missed it.

Garth Vader said...

@ Observer editorial board,

Ah, so it looks like Mr. Jones respects you folks about as much as he respects his real bosses.

Let's see an editorial calling for the Commission to fire him. For cause. Without a golden parachute.

Redlight said...

If Harry & Michelle aren't fired over this, we know who runs the county!

Stand by.

things that make you go hmmmmm? said...

Michelle is the same person that spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to remodel the county manager's office...oh, and did I mention she bought it from her Mom and stepfather. Also, why we are on the topic of Michelle, how exactly does one go from being harry's secretary to being assistant county manager...and with no previous experience. Hmmmmmmmm

Elvis Chainsaw said...

Post the email and let people see the full context. You obviously have a copy, and have admitted a bias against Jones. Why not disclose the entire document so people can read it without you framing selected comments?

Cornelia said...

Heath Morrison says it is time for Meck to have a convs

Cornelia said...

...continued...a conversation about race. I will begin: Jones played the race card in order to get the county manager job. I suspect he has played the race card to keep it. I KNOW he has used intimidation worthy of a thug. And, I can deduce that Dunlap is his chief goon. Harry seems to me to think that Mecklenburg is his own personal Banana republic and that he is its strong man. For more than a decade, we have witnessed his incompetence on a grand scale, beginning with the original HHS mess. It appears that he has chosen or promoted his top management on the basis of how loudly they will proclaim his wonderfulness, not how competent they are to do their jobs. Leadership? The only leadership I have seen from his managers is in their conducting praise sessions of their god, Harry. Can we ever forget the embarrassingly self-demeaning performance of Huong Lee when he presented the budget last year and lauded Harry after every line item? Harry and his entire team of incompetent managers need to be let go, most for cause, with no packages. This county is in trouble. We cannot afford Harry and his minions.

Elvis Chainsaw said...

Me said at 4:13 pm - "Unfortunately that does not allow her to write such an unprofessional and improper ending to the email."

Where is the "ending" noted in Batten's post? Do you have a copy of the email?


Elvis Chainsaw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elvis Chainsaw said...

Cornelia....uh, Carolynnty...you're back!

Cornelia said...

And, lest anyone need to be reminded, we have these MAJOR goof ups for which to thank Harry: The original HHS mess, for which the county is still paying the fired director for doing nothing,.the Open Door scam, which Michelle cited as the reason for not getting Mecklink up and running two years ago (not to mention that the county was to blame for not having governance procedures in place, the Christmas Stocking thievery, the Grace mess, and finally the giant tax heist of 2011 (and the retention of the incompetent tax collector.)And, we wonder why the state might lack confidence in Harry to oversee $200 million in Medicaid funds? Meck citizens should stage a permanent sit-in at the government center and the Observer should run an editorial calling for Harry's dismissal every day of the week. (By the way, what does the Bethune buffoon do for his money other than find George free of any wrongdoing?)

Cornelia said...

Cornelia to Chainsaw. "Oh, George, George, George..
Or, it it, "Oh, Harry, Harry, Harry?"

Elvis Chainsaw said...

Cornelia/Carolynnty/wachog - you're so easy to predict! I especially enjoy when you say you hate all government employees. So classy. Will be sure to tell my stepbrother that's a marine pilot not to bother on your behalf.

Do you have family that can stand being in the same room with you?

RB225 said...

When you start playing the race card on this one and say that Jones has used it and Dunlap as his goon, I will bet 10 to 1 that Mel Watt was somehow also involved. He seems to be a racist, card playing fool as well.

Elvis Chainsaw said...

Still no provision of the entire email when Batten obviously has a copy. Post it all and let people read the full context. Are you afraid to let people make up their own minds? Not meet your agenda?