The Orange County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted at its virtual meeting Thursday to appoint Anna Richards as the new county commissioner for District 1.
Richards will be filling the vacancy left by Mark Dorosin at the end of July. She will serve through November 2022.
With the appointment of Richards, six of the seven commissioners are now women, and three are women of color.
“It was a tough choice to have four very intelligent and engaged women to run for office, which now leaves McKee as the only male on our board," Board of County Commissioners Chairperson Renee Price said. "Probably for the first time in history, it's going be, really, a majority-female board.”
There was no public comment before the vote, but each of the four candidates was given two minutes to speak on why they wanted to serve as commissioner.
Each of the commissioners voted via a Zoom poll off-screen due to a technical error. When they were visible in the meeting again, County Attorney John Roberts asked each member to verify their votes in writing, pointing out that by state law, the vote has to be visible to the public watching the meeting.
“During the weeks since submitting my application, I've heard the perspective of many Orange County residents and attempted to further educate myself about the challenges facing our community,” Richards said before the vote. “The process has been intimidating and enlightening. The process has also solidified my desire to serve as a commissioner.”
Richards, a former Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP president, said in her application that she never saw herself going into elected office, but the COVID-19 pandemic made her realize some limitations of doing solely volunteer work.
“It became clear that, at the local level, the county provides the basic safety net and essential services we all need,” Richards said in her application. “Now that we are in a different stage of the pandemic, we have the opportunity to rebuild 'eyes wide open' about the disparities in technology, employment, housing, food security and health. I see this unexpected appointment as a way to add my community volunteer perspective to the process.”
During Thursday’s meeting, the board also discussed the possibility of returning to in-person meetings in the future. District 2 Commissioner Earl McKee said he planned to petition for the board to go back to in-person meetings in the coming months.
“I think that as I mentioned last spring public officials should meet in public when discussing public expenditures and public business," McKee said. "The kids are back in school folks, and if the kids can go back to school safely, there's no reason that our board cannot safely achieve open meetings that are open to the public”
McKee said he feels in-person meetings are more impactful and provide a better platform for community members to speak. McKee also said that it should be possible for all of the commissioners plus some community members to safely meet in the Whitted Building in Hillsborough, where the meetings were usually held before.
The board did not take any action on holding future meetings in-person at its Sept. 2 meeting.