Wake County

Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes abruptly resigns

Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes elected to a four-year term in 2014 to represent western Wake in District 3, abruptly resigned from her seat on the board Monday night.
Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes elected to a four-year term in 2014 to represent western Wake in District 3, abruptly resigned from her seat on the board Monday night. cliddy@newsobserver.com

A Wake County commissioner unexpectedly resigned from the board on Monday.

Commissioner Jessica Holmes, elected to a four-year term in 2014 to represent western Wake in District 3, abruptly resigned from her seat on the board. Her motives remain unclear. Holmes could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

She made brief comments about her tenure as the meeting ended.

“I’ve been very proud to advocate for education and to advocate for child hunger and to breathe life into the affordable housing conversation,” Holmes said.

“Not all of my goals have been accomplished, but I do feel that I would be leaving the board in excellent hands,” she continued. “So, I therefore resign my position as Wake County Board of Commissioner, and I will work with staff, and I will work with my party to ensure a smooth transition to make sure that the goals that I have will continue to move forward as I’m sure they will be with the members of this board.”

Other commissioners, all Democrats, said they were shocked by Holmes’ move.

“Nobody knew it was happening,” said Commissioner Sig Hutchinson, who the board on Monday unanimously elected as chairman. “It was totally out of the blue. We’re all just dumbstruck.”

Her resignation comes about two weeks after she expressed frustration over other commissioners delaying the creation of an affordable housing steering committee, which she said she’s been pushing for two years.

The board on Nov. 21 was scheduled to vote on the committee members and operating structure. But the board voted 5-2 to delay a vote after Commissioner John Burns of Raleigh said he wanted more information from county staff on how they assembled the committee.

Holmes in a Facebook post suggested that Burns delayed the vote because the pastor of his church, First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, was not selected as a member of the 29-person committee.

“We could not accommodate each applicant due to the overwhelming amount of interest,” Holmes wrote.

The commissioners voted Monday to create the affordable housing steering committee, which was to have been led by Holmes.

She also suggested in her post before Monday’s meeting that her reaction to the news potentially affected her ascension on the board.

“I was told to calm down because affordable housing will be the “new transit” for 2017 and everyone wants a piece of it and that making a big deal of this will make it difficult for me to be elected as Vice-Chair at the next board meeting,” she wrote. “Well, I would rather be a leader than serve in a leadership position.”

In addition to voting Hutchinson, the former board vice chairman, as chairman on Monday, the commissioners tapped Matt Calabria to serve as vice chairman in a 4-3 vote. Calabria was backed by current commissioners Burns, Hutchinson and former chairman James West. Holmes was backed by newly elected commissioners Greg Ford and Erv Portman.

In a Facebook post explaining his vote, Burns called Calabria and Holmes “among the most talented people I've ever met.” But Burns said Calabria will be an excellent vice chairman and bring a voice for southern Wake.

“I regret that Jessica chose to resign,” Burns wrote. “I hope that her resignation is the sign of a new opportunity for her, and not because of losing this vote. That would be regrettable, as she is an exceptionally talented person with a very bright future, and has done superb work on the Wake County Commission.”

Hutchinson felt Holmes’ reaction to the affordable housing committee delay did play a role in Calabria’s appointment as vice chairman. Titles aside, Hutchinson said Holmes is leaving the board with a leadership void.

Holmes led the board’s “Ban the Box” push in April to delete questions about criminal histories on the county government’s employment application forms. She also led the board’s push to offer paid parental leave to county employees who welcome a newborn, legally adopt or start fostering a child.

“She is an incredible leader and incredible role model,” Hutchinson said. “She was clearly making a difference. I think we’re all just befuddled as to why she’d want to give all of that up.”

Under state law, the leadership of the Wake County Democratic Party will nominate a person to finish Holmes term, which expires December 2018. Burns wrote that he hopes a diverse group of candidates will come forward.

“Through a combination of retirement and the interference of the General Assembly and the court system, we now have no women on our board,” Burns wrote. “That is simply not acceptable.”

Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht