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In heated vote, Wilmington city council overrules appointments committee on CFPUA position

At Tuesday night’s Wilmington City Council meeting, council members clashed over the reappointment of a CFPUA member.

The city’s appointment committee, chaired by councilman Charlie Rivenbark, recommended appointing a new CFPUA member — effectively removing Dr. Jessica Cannon, who had applied to serve a second term on the water and sewer utility’s board.

Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes protested, saying the city almost always reappoints members who are in good standing on their boards and committees.

“I think it’s very unusual — in fact, I think it’s probably the first time in the fairly recent history of the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority that we have not reappointed someone who’s well qualified and has a good attendance record," she said.

Rivenbark, who is also a CFPUA board member, cited his years of experience on the appointments committee and obliquely accused Cannon of pushing a political agenda.

“Well, I’ll tell you what, if y’all wanna start doing the appointments committee that’s fine, because if you can’t trust us to go down there and make those kinds of decisions — let me finish Mayor — some people come on that board and they’re worker bees and they come on there without an agenda. Not in this case," Rivenbark said.

Haynes read into the record part of a letter sent to Mayor Bill Saffo by longtime CFPUA board member Larry Sneeden, who is rolling off the board after serving since 2012. Sneeden was well respected by members of both political parties, as well as both New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington (who both appoint CFPUA members).

"After 11 good years on the CFPUA board, this is the email I hoped I’d never have to send. I understand that there is concern among one or more Council members that Jessica Cannon should not be reappointed because of her political views. I can say without hesitation that she represents a progressive voice on the board, but just as definitively that she doesn’t bring politics into the discussions. She represents progressive policies but is also thoughtful of everyone’s concerns and it is very rare that she is not part of the consensus on an issue. Frankly, I greatly appreciate her presence for the insights and passion and concern she has for the less fortunate in our city as well as our employees," Sneeden wrote in an email acquired by WHQR.

Sneeden wrote that politics could have had a role in her effective removal.

"If there are politics at play in Jessica’s reappointment, it appears to me to be coming from those that do not want her progressive voice on the board and not from her actions over the past three years," Sneeden wrote.

Councilman Kevin Spears also chimed in and said Dr. Cannon felt “targeted” by her possible removal based on her liberal political views — Rivenbark and the other two members of the appointments committee are all Republicans.

Councilman Luke Waddell tried to steer away from politics, saying Cannon had served well, but that his vote for replacement CFPUA member had financial experience the utility would need since it losing its treasurer in the near future.

Mayor Saffo countered that there would be another appointment opportunity in the coming year, and that the city could both reappoint Cannon and appoint Rivenbark's choice at a future date; Waddell did not yield to that argument.

Spears then turned to Waddell to ask about why he was listed as a reference on both the new applicant's and Cannon's applications. Waddell clarified that he had not been asked by Cannon, and was simply added on.

Haynes also noted that it seemed odd that the only applications in the packets they'd been given were from those who were recommended. Rivenbark and Waddell both clarified that that had always been standard procedure, and Rivenbark noted that applications are public records and can be accessed at any time.

Ultimately, Haynes had the votes — city council’s four Democrats overruled Rivenbark’s recommendations and reappointed Cannon.

Camille hails from Long Island, NY where the exuberance of sports season never ended. She graduated from Boston University with a BS in Journalism and double minors in Classical Civilizations and Philosophy. Chasing stories has been a passion of hers since she was little, channeling itself through her art and writing. Camille’s journey in audio is never ending and she’s served as a podcast producer on multiple shows. When she’s not working she enjoys chatting and gaming with friends, reading, and creating digital art.