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.
"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