Wake board to resume marathon battle

Monday's deadlock stretched past 2 a.m. Tuesday, but neither side budged.

Staff writersDecember 9, 2009 

  • Some of the more surreal moments from the Monday-into-Tuesday Wake commissioners meeting:

    Commissioner Stan Norwalk announces his cellular telephone number and invites the television audience -- any still awake after midnight -- to call in. After former Commissioner Phil Jeffreys rings, Norwalk takes a call from a television reporter and is interviewed on-air during the meeting.

    Norwalk reads aloud from a News & Observer blog post, getting chuckles over potty-humor comments from readers.

    Newly elected Chairman Tony Gurley offers to recess the meeting and reconvene only if Norwalk or Commissioner Harold Webb promises not to attend today.

    Gurley to Norwalk, only a few hours into the marathon session: "Don't just stand there acting like you're killing time."

    Gurley asks, "If my wife doesn't believe I'm in a meeting, this is televised, right?"

— Deadlocked after 117 votes and hours of deliberation, Wake County commissioners will resume their marathon effort to pick a vice chairman this morning - rekindling the political theater that stretched past 2 a.m. Tuesday, threatened to inflame one member's diabetes and might have ended in a coin toss.

Neither side will blink: not the three Republicans backing Commissioner Paul Coble nor the three Democrats behind Commissioner Betty Lou Ward. She lost her bid for board chairwoman Monday when she took an unexcused bathroom break and missed a vote in which Republican Tony Gurley was elected chairman.

As of Tuesday night, it appeared that the only chance of avoiding another all-day standoff would be an appearance by Commissioner Harold Webb, the 84-year-old Democrat recovering from a stroke. He did not attend the meeting Monday, and that led to the series of 3-3 ties.

Out of pocket since September and now going through speech therapy, Webb could not come to the telephone Tuesday, and his daughter wouldn't comment on his plans.

The meeting that began at 2p.m. Monday turned increasingly bizarre as it stretched into Tuesday morning. Between tie votes, members digressed to chat about college soccer, seals, the Taco Bell dog and more. .

At one point, Commissioner Joe Bryan suggested a coin toss, which was voted down because it was deemed too embarrassing. At another, Commissioner Stan Norwalk read his cell phone number to the meeting's television audience and took three calls on-air, the first from former Commissioner Phil Jeffreys.

"It's Phil!" he announced.

Near the meeting's conclusion, the diabetic Norwalk complained that he hadn't had any insulin. Gurley, the only commissioner to vote against recessing the meeting, recommended having insulin delivered by an all-night pharmacy. He suggested Norwalk was using his illness as a political ploy.

On Tuesday, Ward vowed to fight ceaselessly at today's 10a.m. meeting, especially, she said, because the Republican members took power in what she called a callous way.

"I've been on that board 21years and I have never, never seen any board treat anyone with such discourtesy," she said. "That was just wrong. Have I heard from people today? ... They're just really irate that the chair was chosen in such a manner."

On the GOP side, commissioners were just as determined to keep voting. Commissioner Joe Bryan said he was incredulous that Ward wouldn't know proper procedures: Members who are absent without being excused have their votes count as a "Yes."

"Joe is willing to stay there for as long as it takes," Gurley said. "I'm willing to stay for as long it takes. It's up to Ms. Ward and Mr.Coble. If they can work something out between the two of them, I'll probably be willing to honor it."

At 10 a.m., the drama continues.

Staff writer Ray Martin contributed to this report.

josh.shaffer@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4818

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