by Jordan Green
A citizen serving on the High Point Parks & Recreation Commission finds that he is not reappointed to the board after challenging his city council ward representative in the last election.
Jim Bronnert holds a record of perfect attendance on the High Point Parks & Recreation Commission since he was appointed to the board by Councilman Jay Wagner in August 2013.
Bronnert says through his initiative and persistence, the city approved wi-fi for three recreation centers at Deep River, Oakview and Allen Jay, which respectively serve the north, north-central and south areas of town. And through a friendship with a community leader in the economically depressed east-central area, Bronnert observed two children balancing on a loose wooden plank placed atop a rail fence at a neighborhood park earlier this year. He saw to it that proper playground equipment was installed. Bronnert’s commitment evidently impressed his colleagues enough that they voted him vice chair of the volunteer citizen advisory board.
But Bronnert said he has learned that Wagner does not plan to reappoint him to the parks & recreation commission. Bronnert’s term officially ended July 1, but he said he has been instructed to continue to attend meetings until his vacancy is filled.
The omission triggered an alarmed email from Mayor Pro Tem Jim Davis to City Clerk Lisa Vierling that was CC-ed to Wagner and three other members of council.
“Lisa, just following up on three appointments, noticed Jim Bronnert is not on the agenda!” Jim Davis wrote. “He is the new vice chair of [the] parks & rec commission, has never missed a meeting, is [an] active and engaged member, active in community gardens and instrumental in wi-fi for three rec centers in this year’s budget! Is this an oversight or is Jay not considering his reappointment? He is eligible for reappointment, and parks & recreation needs to have a quorum. Sad we have some appointments that have not been making the meetings!”
Wagner responded, “I am not considering his reappointment. I have someone else in mind for that seat, and need time to realize it.”
Bronnert feels certain that the decision is based on politics rather than the quality of his service to the citizens of High Point. Bronnert challenged Wagner for his seat representing Ward 4 on city council in last year’s municipal election. Bronnert accused Wagner of neglecting the Oakview area, where Bronnert established an active neighborhood association seven years ago — a charge the sitting councilman vehemently denied. Bronnert opposed an initiative to diet North Main Street, aligning himself with the conservative faction on council that includes Mayor Pro Tem Davis, while Wagner has become the most vocal proponent of revitalization efforts centering on the Uptown business district.
“In a business sense, it’s a bad decision to take someone who’s worked hard and replace them with someone who doesn’t have the experience,” Bronnert said.
“This is sending the message that you get penalized for hard work,” he continued. “For me, it’s political; this is about me running against him. I’ve moved on a long time after the election.”
Wagner could not be reached for this story.
The application of fairness and consistency in the appointment of citizens to boards and commissions under various city councils in recent years has come up for debate.
Councilwoman Cynthia Davis, an at-large representative who was first elected in 2014 as part of the conservative faction, said she had planned earlier this year to use her appointment to replace a member of the planning & zoning commission who reportedly wasn’t showing up for meetings.
“I let this individual know I had found a replacement,” Cynthia Davis recounted. “This individual contacted the mayor. The mayor told me I had to reappoint this person.”
Ultimately, the council members ended up resolving the impasse through a swap. Davis said Councilman Jeff Golden reappointed the incumbent in fulfillment of the mayor’s wishes, considering that he didn’t have a candidate from his own ward, and Cynthia Davis was able to appoint her favored candidate.
“If the mayor was insistent, as he was with me, that an individual must be reappointed if they’re eligible to serve, then I think Jay Wagner should have to reappoint Jim Bronnert,” Davis said.
Mayor Bill Bencini could not be reached for this article.
Generally, Davis said she believes it’s the prerogative of each council member to reappoint or replace citizens on boards and commissions as they see fit. Before she was elected to council, she found herself in the position of being denied a seat on the planning & zoning commission because the mayor blocked her appointment.
In late 2012, when Davis’ term on the planning & zoning commission was up, Councilman Mike Pugh attempted to reappoint her, but the move was blocked by then-mayor Becky Smothers. Pugh was a lame duck, having lost his race for the Ward 3 seat to Judy Mendenhall.
“Mayor Smothers explained there have actually been three reappointments on the planning & zoning commission since July 1st and informed council member Pugh that since he had not yet brought Ms. Davis’ reappointment forward, she suggested to council that this appointment be deferred until the new council is sworn in,” the minutes from the Nov. 19, 2012 city council meeting reflect.
When the new council was sworn in, Mendenhall used her privilege to appoint a replacement to the commission, Davis said. But again, a swap resolved the impasse. Councilman Foster Douglas, then the representative of Ward 2, used his appointment to put Davis back on the commission.
If there’s a custom of allowing any eligible person to continue to serve on a board or commission, Davis said it hasn’t been consistently applied.
“We can’t use the word ‘historically’ because it doesn’t apply,” she said. “I think it might apply to elite people and elite selections based on who you are and who you know.”