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NHC Commissioners Change Leadership, Meeting Policy

Vince Winkel
Julia Olson-Boseman (center) is the new Chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.

Julia Olson-Boseman is the new Chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. Patricia Kusek is Vice Chair. They were voted in Monday evening during a meeting that was, at times, contentious. 

Olson-Boseman, a Democrat, and Kusek, a Republican, were both nominated by Republican Woody White. 

The Board unanimously elected Olson-Bosman; however, Jonathan Barfield and Rob Zapple, both Democrats, did not vote in favor Kusek.

At the end of the first meeting, chaired by the first-ever female leadership team, Olson-Boseman made a surprise motion to end agenda briefings in 2020.  These have always been held a few days prior to a commissioner meeting. This year, 12 of the review meetings were cancelled.

Both Republicans on the Board supported the motion. The Democrats did not.

“Blindsiding fellow commissioners is not the way to start to get it off the ground….”

Rob Zapple says they’re scheduled a year in advance…

“… and we have one for every meeting before every meeting and have had since certainly the 80s and maybe even before that. They serve a very specific purpose to do allow staff to do updates and also to tell us what's going to be on the agenda and to surface any issues that might be controversial or any details that are not included.”

“But the point I tried to make tonight as well is it, there's a dual purpose. It also lets the public sit in and the media like yourself to get a heads up Thursday before a Monday meeting.”

Woody White says agenda reviews are a waste of time and resources.

“… This is not about transparency at all. And so words like transparency, and phrases like cutting government meetings by 50% are spin, that's fake…”

Olson-Boseman agrees.

“I find them, well, I mean you think about, we have a lot of times we're meaning our meetings are quasi-judicial so we can't discuss it in agenda briefings anyway. So I'm very careful about not making decisions about things until we get to the meeting. And I agree that that it should be on TV, you know, especially since we've had at least one commissioner accuse us of clandestine meetings and stuff so I'm not going to be comfortable talking with him unless it's televised.”

Jonathan Barfield says agenda briefings help keep the public informed.

“They can't see the fact that our board made the motion to cancel all the agenda reviews forever. They can't see that we made a motion to defund and pull out of a contract with WAVE transit because they weren't on the agenda. So there is no transparency there. There are folks who are having conversations and, and then coming up with something at the last minute to, it's sad.”

Olson-Boseman says when she was elected to the Board a year ago, she thought things would be different.

“You know, and I'll be honest with you, it is not what I thought it was going to look like. You know, when I was elected a year ago, I thought it would be the three of us taking Republicans off of boards and doing more progressive things. But you know, the day after the election I received a phone call from Vice Chair Kusek and we went ahead and lunched and really realized there's more things that we cared about, affordable housing.”

Olson-Boseman says she knows she’s under fire from some Democrats for voting with the Republican board minority in things like defunding WAVE, and voting for the intent to sell New Hanover Regional Medical Center resolution. She says she will work with her fellow Democrats, quote, “on anything other than just saying no.”

And, she says, it will be a busy 2020.

“We have the Government Center revitalization that we should be considering soon. We will be deciding what to do with Cape Fear Museum and then what, if anything, we're going to do with the hospital.”

Vince Winkel, WHQR News

NOTE: Rob Zapple is a member of the WHQR Board of Directors.