Mecklenburg County to continue to pay Commissioner Ella Scarborough while on medical leave

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County Commissioners voted on Feb. 8 to continue to pay commissioner Ella Scarborough while on medical leave.

Scarborough has not served on commission since October.

Her request to extend medical leave was also granted.

The board also voted to appoint a temporary replacement for Scarborough, who will also get paid.

The county manager said they have money in surplus funds to pay those salaries.

On Feb. 7, county management and several county commissioners received an email from the account of Scarborough seeking a continuation of pay.

“I’m writing this to email, to confirm that I will continue my paid medical leave of absence until further notice,” the email read. “Again, I will continue to request privacy for me and my family as I continue to heal.”

The request for paid leave is a reversal from last week when Scarborough’s children told Channel 9 that she will seek unpaid leave. Scarborough’s son cited Monday the state law, GS 128-40, that states, “The official shall receive no salary during the period of leave unless the leave of absence is granted by reason of protracted illness, in which event the granting of a leave of absence shall not deprive the official of the benefits of any sick leave to which the official may be entitled by law.”

However, the interpretation of the law may not be correct, one expert says. Gerry Cohen, an expert of the North Carolina General Assembly who helped revise the law in 2007, says that provision is meant for county managers or county attorneys who may have sick leave accrued. County commissioners do not get sick leave.

Emails obtained by Channel 9 show Monday morning was not Scarborough’s first request for medical leave. Emails show last October, Scarborough emailed County Manager Dena Diorio and Dunlap stating she would be taking a “60-day medical leave of absence from the Mecklenburg Board of County Commission.” Scarborough included a note from her doctor.

“Ella Scarborough was evaluated on Oct. 26, 2021,” Dr. Nettie Y Beverly-Rudisel, of Novant Health, said. “She will need to take a leave of absence for the next 60 days from her responsibilities as a result of ongoing health issues.”

In December, an additional email was sent by Scarborough’s account to Dunlap and Diorio, stating in part, “I’m writing today to inform you that I will be out for the foreseeable future as I am still dealing with health challenges.”

Asked why Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners didn’t formally consider Scarborough’s medical leave until now, Dunlap told Bruno the board was not aware of anything they could do.

“Because the board was told there was nothing that the board could do,” Dunlap said. “The board was not aware at that time of any provision to grant leave or take any other action.”

The law that is guiding Mecklenburg County commissioners through this process originally passed in the middle of 1941 in the runup to to the United States’ entrance into World War II and was later revised again in 2007.

GS 128-40 provides a process for Mecklenburg County Commissioners and allows them to appoint a replacement to serve for the duration of Scarborough’s leave. The law was first pointed about by Gerry Cohen, a North Carolina General Assembly expert and former legislative director. In 2013, the Frayda Bluestein wrote a blog post for the UNC School of Government on the topic.

Commissioners will determine whether they want to appoint a replacement for the duration of leave. Scarborough’s term runs through December.

Scarborough hasn’t participated in a county meeting since the fall.

Her children declined to say what Scarborough’s medical issue is, but say she has been absent due to medical and mobility issues.

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“We as the Scarborough family appreciate the concerns and would ask for your continued prayers. We ask that you respect our privacy wishes at this time. She is on medical leave. She is not being negligent,” her son Troy Scarborough said. “She is taking care of her well-being and what the citizens of Mecklenburg County can do is continue their prayers and love and support.”

Troy Scarborough says his mother will not run for reelection. He says she is not stepping down, in case she feels well enough to return to the dais. He and his sister are caretakers for their mother, who continues to live in Mecklenburg County. The apartment she is registered to vote in is now vacant. The most recent address listed for Scarborough on her doctor’s medical note is a post office box.

Mecklenburg County Commissioners have rarely referenced her and have effectively been operating as an eight-member board since last fall. Scarborough’s last appearance at a meeting was virtually in October. While Scarborough was signed into the meeting, she frequently did not respond when called on for votes. But since she was signed in, her vote was counted as a yes for all measures.

In September, a controversial vote over Diorio’s pay sparked an investigation into whether someone else voted on her behalf. County commissioners say Scarborough did not cast the vote herself and that it was the voice of someone else. Her children deny that and say Scarborough voted herself.

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A records request returned last May that asked for all emails sent by Scarborough’s county email address showed the longtime commissioner had only sent one email to that point in 2021. The email was to the program director of the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government, and it was just a confirmation that she was in attendance for an ethics training session.

A spokesperson for Mecklenburg County did not respond to a request for comment.

Speaking to Channel 9 late Wednesday, Dunlap said he doesn’t know why Scarborough continues to be absent and that he hadn’t spoken to her recently. Dunlap previously said there is nothing Mecklenburg County Commissioners can do to remove her from the board.

Despite not participating in meetings, Scarborough continued to be paid by taxpayers. The total compensation for Mecklenburg County commissioners is more than $50,000 a year. Total compensation includes base salary, general expenses and car and technology allowances. The salary for commissioners is $31,715, and they are paid monthly.

Scarborough, who received the top votes in the democratic primary in 2020, was once a dominant force in local government. Scarborough was the first female African American Charlotte City Councilmember, serving on council from 1987-1997. She was elected to the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners in 2014. She is an at-large representative, meaning she represents everyone in Mecklenburg County.

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