Some Meck County leaders left out of sales tax discussion

by: Jenna Deery Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

Some Mecklenburg County Commissioners said Tuesday they are being left out of a discussion about a controversial sales tax hike that could fund teacher pay.
 
They said they were told they can't attend a closed door meeting on Wednesday at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center between some county leaders and Charlotte-Mecklenburg School officials.
 
The meeting is expected to include County Manager Dena Diorio, Board Chairman Trevor Fuller, Vice Chairman Dumont Clarke, CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison, School Board President Mary McCray and CMS Board Vice President Tim Morgan.
 
Fuller said the meeting will allow CMS officials to understand the county's proposal to raise sales taxes a quarter cent upon voter's approval.
 
Commissioners approved the referendum in June that is expected to raise an additional $34 million.
 
Eighty percent of the revenue generated is supposed to go to CMS for teacher pay raises in 2015.
 
Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said he requested to attend the meeting but was told he was not welcome.
 
"Was I invited? No. Have I been told that I am not allowed to attend? Yes," said Ridenhour.
 
In an email to Ridenhour, Fuller gave his reason for closing off the meeting to Ridenhour and other commissioners.
 
He wrote, "Since you oppose this policy, I don't understand what legitimate reason you have to insist on being part of the meeting."
 
Ridenhour said he wants transparency with what is being discussed and believes county leaders should be able to attend if they want to go.
 
"This is the leadership of one governing body meeting with the leadership with another governing body to discuss the divvying up of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars," said Ridenhour.
 
Ridenhour fired off an email to the board requesting that since commissioners have been closed off from attending then "the clerk attend the meeting to take the minutes."
 
Fuller fired back denying the clerk request and accused Ridenhour of "making a mountain out of a molehill" and "making bold, incendiary statements that are aimed to rile up the public needlessly." 
 
"If it's a small thing like a meeting, then we should be allowed to attend," said Ridenhour.
 
Commissioners on both sides admit private meetings are a normal part of doing business.
 
The sales tax referendum will be on the November ballot.