Chatham County

Are 5 commissioners enough for Chatham County? How about 7? Growth is coming.

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners Commissions, Karen Howard, Mike Dasher, Diana Hales, Jim Crawford and Walter Petty, will host a public hearing Monday regarding the county’s zoning ordinance.
The Chatham County Board of Commissioners Commissions, Karen Howard, Mike Dasher, Diana Hales, Jim Crawford and Walter Petty, will host a public hearing Monday regarding the county’s zoning ordinance.

If Chatham County's population doubles during the next 25 years, will five county commissioners be enough?

One member of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners doesn't think so.

Commissioner Jim Crawford wants to see the board grow from five members to seven — soon.

Chatham County's population was about 71,000 people, according to 2017 US census estimates. But during the next 25 years, the population is expected to almost double as an estimated 60,000 people move into Chatham Park and other parts of the county.

Wake County, with a million-plus residents, has a seven-member board of commissioners. So does Orange County, which has a population of about 145,000. But Durham County's board has five members for a population of just over 300,000.

Crawford, a Democrat, wants a referendum on the general election ballot in November to expand the Chatham County board by two members. To meet that deadline, a proposed committee needs to make its recommendation by August, he said. The actual expansion would take place in 2020.

"This is something our party has advocated for years," Crawford said. "Let's get it before the people and let them decide."

The commissioners are creating a nine-member committee to help it determine whether expansion is necessary. The committee will be made up of three Democrats, three Republicans and three unaffiliated voters. The application deadline was Monday and 34 people signed up, according to the county manager's office.

"The numbers are about as equal as can be because there are about the same number of voters in all three categories," said Commissioner Walter Petty, the lone Republican on the county board. "The problem is deciding who those nine are going to be."

There were 14 Democrats, 13 unaffiliated and six Republicans who met the eligibility requirements to serve on the committee. One person was disqualified for not being registered to vote in Chatham County. The board will choose the members during its May 21 meeting.

"We would like to end up with a group who can have a reasonable conversation," Commissioner Karen Howard said. "If we have people who are going to be disagreeable because they have fixed points of view, they are not going to be great selections."

Howard wants to make sure minority viewpoints are part of expansion discussion.

"There are specific demographics in this county that are never heard," she said.

White registered voters outnumber black voters 6-to-1 in the county (40,758 to 6,377) . The latest breakdown of voters in Chatham County from March 1 showed 20,447 Democrats, 13,280 Republicans and 17,942 unaffiliated voters.

If Chatham County does decide to expand, its board will follow Orange County's, which grew from five to seven members in 2006.

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners is the main policy-making body for the county government. It oversees land-use planning, recreation, utilities, building inspections and permits, waste disposal and recycling, libraries, tourism and emergency response. They appoint members of the Board of Health and the Economic Development Corporation and several members of the Board of Social Services.

Chatham County is divided into five districts but each member is elected by county-wide vote. Commissioners must live in their district. Democrats hold a 4-1 advantage on the board.

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