|Parks Helms and Pat Cotham.|
Parks Helms, a former chairman of the Mecklenburg County commissioners, met with a group of Democrats Friday, including commissioners Cotham, Leake and some past board chairs. Helms was concerned about friction between Cotham and county staff, and wanted Cotham to dial back her aggressive approach toward County Manager Harry Jones and his crew.
The aftermath has focused on whether Helms shook his finger in Leake's face and told her to "shut up and don't say anything," as Leake alleges. All in attendance agree words got heated, and Helms acknowledges "I speak with my hands." Accounts differ on whether he told Leake to shut up.
More important, however, was what Helms wanted to convey to Cotham. She is the new chairman of the Mecklenburg board, and has been ruffling the staff's feathers in questioning how things have been done in the past. Helms said he wanted to impress upon Cotham the importance of "a good working relationship with the management team."
"I wanted us to give Pat some suggestions and advice about how she might avoid what I call unhealthy tension," Helms told Observer reporter David Perlmutt. "... I was trying to say that the public perception of how you conduct meetings and business is very important. The reports we're hearing indicate that the public does not have a good perception of what you're doing."
Not a good perception? The public hasn't had a good perception of commissioners for years when they repeatedly rolled over as county staff mishandled an embezzlement case, lied to the public over a severance agreement, mismanaged the Department of Social Services, botched a property revaluation and lost control of more than $200 million in Medicaid money.
Maybe Helms had good intentions in advising Cotham to smooth things over with Jones. But a little tension between commissioners and staff is long overdue.
-- Taylor Batten