County Commission elects chairperson by split 3-2 vote

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It can be one of the more difficult procedural conversations for any county commission to have.

Electing a new board chairperson, which occurs each January, sometimes can be uneventful, a mere formality. Other times, however, there can be some hard feelings.

Tuesday's county commission meeting was the latter, with District 4 Commissioner Henry Craig being elected as the board chairperson by a 3-2 vote. Quentin T. Howell, the chairman of the Baldwin County Democratic Party, signed up on the agenda to speak at the meeting. Howell asked why longtime Commissioner Emily Davis wasn't considered for the board's chairperson position. Howell added that Davis "has been taken out of the rotation" and hasn't been considered.

"Is it social? Is it racial? Is it sexism? What is it?" asked Howell.

Following Howell's remarks, Commissioner Sammy Hall made a motion to appoint Craig to the chairperson position for a second straight year. That snippet of the meeting can be viewed in the video immediately below...

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Commissioner Kendrick Butts, along with Davis, participated in the meeting remotely and phoned in. Butts made a motion to nominate Davis to the chairperson position.

"I don't know why she's never been in that conversation in the 13 years (that Davis has been a county commissioner). It's time we give her that opportunity," Butts said. "What are the procedures that we have in place? I've heard several different things."

Davis was first elected to the County Commission in 2008, replacing her mother, Geneva Bell Davis. Before that, Emily Davis' father and Geneva Bell Davis' husband – Oscar Davis – was the longtime County Commissioner in District 2.

In the end, Craig was elected chair by a 3-2 vote, with Commissioner Johnny Westmoreland, Hall and Craig voting aye, while Davis and Butts voted nay.

Following the vote, Butts asked the other commissioners why they were not in favor of considering Davis as chairperson. Hall and Craig both indicated that they didn't want to have that conversation in public and would prefer to address it privately.

Craig will serve as the chairperson for the second straight year, which is unusual. Hall explained his reasoning.

"Due to the COVID situation we’ve had, and your participation with it, and keeping us abreast of it, and also due to some legal issues going on, I feel it would be in the county’s best interest to ask (Craig) to continue to serve another year as chairman," Hall said.

Meanwhile, Westmoreland was elected vice chairman by a 4-1 vote, with Davis voting nay.

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It would be in the County's interest, I would think, to have that conversation in a public forum. There may or may not be good reasons to not consider Ms. Davis for chairmanship, but in absence of a public discussion, there is no indication of such. As it is, the optics of this are terrible and secrecy can only lead to division.

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