The Robeson County Board of Commissioners surprised us on Tuesday when Kellie Blue was named “manager in waiting,” essentially confirming her as the choice to replace Ricky Harris, who plans to retire in December.
But the surprise was not the choice of Blue. That has been telegraphed for a long time, and if there remained doubt, it was erased last year with her ascension to assistant county manager.
Blue will become the first female county manager, and will serve a board with only its second female commissioner. So we find some hope there.
The surprise was that the commissioners went ahead and moved on the decision, instead of following the Robeson County playbook, which is to spend money for a fake search, deceive the public during the so-called search by insisting it is fair and open, and then ending it where everyone knew it was always bound.
In fewer words, waste money and time while lying to the public.
Tuesday’s decision didn’t only surprise us, but appeared to catch a couple of commissioners off guard, Berlester Campbell and board Chairman Raymond Cummings.
Campbell complained that the board’s policy has always been to advertise the position, and insisted that happen in this case. We don’t know if that was for show or if it was sincere. Intent is always difficult to decipher with Campbell.
Cummings’ confusion was a bit more confusing. Perhaps he had not done all the calculations on how the decision would affect his candidacy for tribal chairman, and we only wish there had been a call for a show of hands. We aren’t convinced Cummings’ would have been raised.
As for Blue, there is no denying her credentials.
Locally grown, which is a double-edged sword, she has an accounting degree from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and she has worked in the Finance Department since 1997, the last 20 of those years as its director. She was promoted last year to assistant county manager, and more recently was put in charge of the Tax Office until it is politically safe for Cummings to force the promotion of his wife into the six-digit position. At least that is what Commissioner Jerry Stephens has us believing.
So Blue understands the numbers side, and we hope that her time as interim director of the Tax Office will inform her on ways to continue the trend established over the past decade by Cindy Lowry of raising the tax-collection rate. For that to happen, however, we believe the county commissioners will have to untie her hands by allowing the publishing of delinquent taxpayers’ name — all of them — where they will be seen, and freeing her to use aggressive tax collection techniques, including foreclosure, before taxes are five years overdue.
We know there will be those who criticize Blue’s selection, and we understand their frustration. The powers-that-be on the board continue to do as they please when it comes to hiring decisions, and that will be incredibly evident when the tax administrator’s job is filled on a permanent basis. We are not sure this board is even capable of a genuine search.
But don’t question Blue’s resume. It is impressive.
This newspaper has always enjoyed a healthy, honest relationship with Harris, who answers our calls or returns them quickly, tells us the truth when he can and nothing at all when he can’t.
We expect the same with Blue — and believe we will get it.