Page back as chair of commissioners

Dec. 02, 2013 @ 09:25 PM

Fred Foster’s run as chairman of the County Commissioners proved a short one, as his colleagues voted Monday to replace him after a single year to give the post back to Commissioner Michael Page.

The decision came on a 4-1 vote, with only Foster dissenting. Commissioner Brenda Howerton remained the board’s vice chairwoman after receiving unanimous backing for a second year in that post.

Afterwards, Howerton and Commissioner Wendy Jacobs said the switch was a response to the impending retirements of County Manager Mike Ruffin and two of his senior department heads.

 “We’re looking at some serious experience leaving county government” this winter, as Budget & Management Services Director Pam Meyer and County Engineer Glen Whisler will be following Ruffin out the door, Howerton said.

Given that, for behind-the-scenes continuity “I felt it was really in the best interest of our board, the county staff and also the citizens of Durham that we had a chair in place who really had a significant amount of experience,” Jacobs added.

Page, now in his third term, fills the bill because he’s also served on the school board and has “a lot of experience in leadership positions,” Jacobs said.

He was the commissioners’ chairman from 2008 to 2012.

Foster was a surprise choice last year to replace Page, given that he, like Jacobs, was newly elected and hadn’t previously served in elective office.

But he got the post with support from Howerton and Page.

Foster later attributed that to what he described as the veteran commissioners’ sense they’d fare better working with him as chair than with longtime Commissioner Ellen Reckhow.

He could not be reached for comment Monday.

Monday’s vote like last year’s left Reckhow, the board’s chairwoman from 2002 to 2008, on the sidelines of its leadership.

The commissioners’ chair holds a key post by virtue of presiding at all meetings of the board. He or she also has the initial say over the appointment of commissioners to an assortment of local policy groups, such as the board of Triangle Transit.

The chair and vice chair also participate in discussions with the county manager about what issues should be on the agenda for any given meeting of the commissioners.

Ruffin is scheduled to leave county government Jan. 31. He will be moving to the Charlotte area to help care for aging in-laws.

The commissioners have been meeting behind closed doors to interview candidates and decide who will replace Ruffin.

It’s not clear when they will make that decision, but Howerton on Monday said she believes it will be soon.

“I think we’re pretty much there,” she said. “I’m sure the community is curious about what’s taking so long. It’s taken a lot of time, but we wanted to be sure we do the best we can to make sure we have the best fit for Durham.”