Democratic majority rules Polk board

Published 1:56 pm Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Commissioners broke with Polk County tradition Monday by naming Ray Gasperson (D) chairman of the Polk County Board of Commissioners instead of top vote getter Ted Owens (R).

After the vote, sounds of boo and all right erupted from the crowd.

Resident Rickie McFalls said he was frustrated with the entire situation.

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We have a tradition in Polk County that high vote getter gets chair, said resident Rickie McFalls. That tradition went down the tube tonight. Its really terrible. Ive lived here my whole life and its been that way my whole life.

Former chair Cindy Walker nominated Gasperson for the position.

Walker said theres been a lot of talk about traditions and she has some traditions of her own. She said she had to do some tradition replacement therapy, and came up with the go with what you know tradition.

Its called politics, Walker said as she nominated Gasperson. And its slippery and messy and ugly and very, very painful. And more often than not, it gets in the way of doing the very things that you were put here to do to protect the health and welfare of your community.

Pack nominated Owens, saying the county should keep its long-standing tradition of appointing the high vote getter as chair.

Walker, Gasperson and Rene McDermott, all Democrats, voting for Gasperson. Owens and Pack, both Republicans, voted for Owens.

McDermott was appointed vice-chair by fellow Democrats over Pack, who was also nominated.

The new board took over after speeches from outgoing commissioners Tommy Melton and Warren Watson. Newly elected Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill was sworn in, along with commissioners Owens, Gasperson and Pack.

Initially, the board could not agree on the agenda adoption. Pack said he wanted three items that touched on personnel issues to be voted on after a closed session due to questions he wanted to ask the attorney. The agenda was adopted by a 3-2 vote with those items staying before the closed session. The selection of chair and vice-chair was the first of what turned out to be a long night of debate over a couple of items.

The majority of items on Mondays agenda were minor items and gained unanimous votes, such as approving meeting and holiday schedules and appointing commissioners to boards. The board was not unanimous on the selection of its attorney (see article in the Friday, Dec. 10 Bulletin) or a request to upgrade a part-time department of social services position to full-time.

At the close of the meeting some board members said they thought the first meeting went well. McDermott commented that she felt it was a good start and there were a lot of items where the full board agreed. She said she also appreciates new ideas.

Gasperson also mentioned that all commissioners are seasoned and have a lot of different areas of expertise. Gasperson, an incumbent, McDermott and Walker have served since 2008, while Owens and Pack both served previously.

McFalls asked Owens and Pack later in the evening what they were doing in their chairs because everything hed seen Monday was 3-2 votes.

Youre working for the people, said McFalls. Youre not working for the parties. You’re going backwards and you need to move forward.