A seemingly simple appointment to Durham's Planning Commission has been steeped in controversy for the past month, and was expected to come to an end Monday night at a meeting of the Durham County Commissioners, but for another unexpected twist.
Because of problems with previously-appointed candidate Darius Little, the board had to reconsider who should fill a seat reserved for an Oak Grove/Carr Township community member on the Durham Planning Commission, an advisory board that reviews city and county development proposals.
The board Monday appointed candidate-in-waiting Antonio Jones, but only after Commissioner Joe Bowser asked his fellow board members to consider Planning Commission member Linda Huff-Smith, a single-term member who recently applied to continue in her current seat. Her term expires in June. Bowser, apparently at the urging of some citizens who had contacted him, suggested that Huff-Smith could be considered for the Oak Grove seat because she lives in that community, he said.
Commissioners weren't sure it was legal to take Huff-Smith and shift her to a different seat, considering she had applied for a second term and was denied earlier this month when commissioners appointed Teiji Kimball. But legal or not, Commissioner Michael Page said, it wasn't fair to Jones, who had applied for the seat and then waited patiently as commissioners first appointed his opponent Little, then recalled that appointment. Jones was in the audience Monday night, Page pointed out.
"We have a process," said Page, who is chairman of the board of commissioners. "We have qualified candidates who have applied for the seat. How do you disregard that? That’s blatant disrespect."
The entire process has gained negative attention because of the controversial appointment at the beginning of this month of Little, a Durham legal assistant who ran for City Council last fall. Little has a troubled background (felony convictions for some bad checks he wrote while attending UNC). Those past indiscretions seemed to be forgiven by County Commissioners who were doing the appointing, such as Bowser who said Monday night he still supports Little.
But the rest of the board wasn't too pleased earlier this month when The Durham News broke the news that Little was under investigation by the N.C. State Bar Association because of complaints he was taking money to do a lawyer's work, even though he is not a lawyer. (Read The Durham News story.) A bar association committee investigated the complaints, and two weeks ago, Little was arrested on felony charges of obtaining property by false pretenses.
In light of the Little scandal, commissioners have spoken about reviewing the entire process of appointing citizens to its many advisory boards. Currently, the commissioners periodically consider appointments during their regular meetings, and often, they have little information other than what is brought to them, or what they might seek out on their own. There is no interview process, and applications for board appointments are limited, Commissioner Brenda Howerton pointed out Monday night.
At the very least, Page said, the applications should ask whether an applicant has ever been convicted of a felony.