The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners has a new leader. The seven-member board voted Monday night to elect Toni Stewart its new chairwoman, replacing Commissioner Glenn Adams.
Also Monday, two new members of the board were sworn in following the November election.
Democrats Marshall Faircloth, a former county commissioner, and newcomer Veronica Jones took the oath of office. Faircloth and Jones each won an at-large seat in the November general election. Incumbent Larry Lancaster lost his bid for re-election in the primary, and Democrat Charles Evans ran unsuccessfully for Congress.
Commissioners Adams and Jeannette Council also took the oath of office Monday, although both ran unopposed for reelection in their districts.
Council nominated Stewart for chairwoman, and she was elected on a 5-2 vote. Commissioners Michael Boose and Jimmy Keefe voted against her. Faircloth, Council, Stewart, Adams, and Jones voted for Stewart.
Faircloth then nominated his “longtime” friend Adams as vice chairman. He also was approved on a 5-2 vote with Boose and Keefe in opposition.
After the meeting, Boose and Keefe huddled in a corner of the room with Stewart, appearing to chat amiably. After the meeting, Boose said he voted against Stewart’s nomination “because they never asked for my vote.”
“They didn’t ask tonight; they didn’t ask in the last two months,” Boose said. “I thought they would have nominated Jimmy (Keefe).”
Keefe later echoed Boose’s comments.
“Before the vote tonight, there was no communication from anyone among the board,” Keefe said.
Both Boose and Keefe said their votes were not against Stewart but against the process.
“She will do fine (as chair),” Keefe said. “But my vote is my voice.”
Despite the split vote, Stewart said after the meeting that she looks forward to a productive year.
"I was told that they did not vote for me because I did not ask for their vote," she said. "As vice chairwoman, I mistakenly assumed that they knew I would be interested and/or nominated for chair. Both said that they know I will do a great job and look forward to this coming year."
Faircloth’s nomination of Adams for vice chairman came as a surprise to Boose and Keefe, they said, as well as to some observers in the audience. Boose said when he heard Faircloth’s description of his nominee before naming him, he assumed it would be Keefe.
“For a half second, I actually thought it would be me,” Keefe also said.
The board’s vice chairman historically has been elected as the next chairman. Adams has served as both vice chairman and chairman for numerous terms during his tenure on the board. Keefe noted that he is the second-longest serving commissioner with the least amount of leadership time. Keefe previously served one term as chairman.
After her election to chairwoman, Stewart said the board will continue its efforts for economic development, access to clean water, and being fiscally responsible with the county’s American Rescue Plan investments.
“For me, I am most passionate about two ongoing priorities: homelessness and mental health,” she said. “This month, environmental tests will be conducted on two sites for a homeless shelter, and I hope by January this board is able to approve a site and begin the procurement process for design services.”
Stewart said the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid addiction helped fuel a mental health crisis.
“To address homelessness, we must also address mental health,” she said.