Chatham County Commissioners start cutting—and two people lose jobs

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In their first meeting of the year, the Republican-dominated Chatham County Commissioners today cut two positions and eliminated the Pittsboro-to-Chapel Hill bus service that began Aug. 17, 2009.
During a tense and packed meeting, at which Chatham County Fire Marshal Thomas Bender turned citizens away due to fire codes, Human Relations Executive Director Esther Coleman and Sustainable Communities Director Cynthia Van Der Wiele lost their jobs.
By a 3-2 vote along party lines, Chatham County Commissioners eliminated the positions. The Obesity Coordinator position was also cut, but it was vacant.
Democrats Sally Kost and Mike Cross voted against cutting the positions. Republican newcomers Brian Bock, Walter Petty and Pamela Stewart voted for the cuts.
Coleman earned $80,000 annually, Van Der Wiele $96,000.
Supporters of the new commissioners reminded Bock, Petty and Stewart that the three had run their campaigns on cutting “government fat,” and that their voters expected them to do that today.
The cuts are expected to save the county $2 million over the next four years, according to Chatham County Community Relations Director Debra Henzey.
The meeting agenda didn’t specifically say the job cuts would be considered, but they were tucked in Item No. 21, “Cost Containment/Streamlining Discussion.”
The newly elected GOP commissioner, Brian Bock, Walter Petty and Pamela Stewart, eliminated positions quickly, which upset many citizens present who hoped the incoming commissioners would not rush their decisions.
“The commissioners can eliminate a position at any time,” Henzey said. “No one was fired, the commissioners chose to eliminate offices as part of their budget decisions.”
Coleman has been executive director of the Human Relations Commission since 2007. She oversaw the county's diverse communities. Nearly 13 percent of Chatham residents are African-American; 13.3 percent are Latino.
However, pockets of the county have high numbers of minorities. For example, Siler City's population is 50 percent Latino.
“Don't think racism does not still exist in Chatham County,” urged Rita Spina, vice-president of Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities. “Please do not go backward in your thinking."
Loyse Hurley, president of CCEC, said, "The human relations director averts and preempts issues by dealing with discrimination, labor violations, hate bias, and hate crimes before they become problems and expensive lawsuits for the county."
As sustainability director, Van Der Wiele coordinated planning, environmental resources, soil erosion and sedimentation control, central permitting, transportation, green building and affordable housing. Her primary charge was to develop and implement a long-term comprehensive community sustainability plan for Chatham County.
Van Der Wiele was hired in 2009.
The commission also voted 4-1 to eliminate the express bus service between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill for 18 months. When the service started in 2009, Chatham County and Pittsboro matched a state grant with an additional $176,000 each year generated by alcoholic beverage taxes.

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