Two weeks after a vote to oust Commissioner Steve Yokeley as Mount Airy’s representative with a regional organization, Yokeley found himself back in the saddle.
The city board of commissioners decided in a meeting Thursday afternoon to revisit a decision made on Jan. 21, agreeing to have Yokeley continue serving with the Piedmont Triad Regional Council (PTRC), an alliance of local governments that tackles issues affecting all.
However, that was only after the person appointed to replace Yokeley two weeks before, Commissioner Shirley Brinkley, agreed to step aside in a show of unity.
“I resign,” Brinkley said, although she did assert Thursday that she was just as capable as Yokeley to represent the city on a regional basis. And the subsequent vote that effectively reinstated Yokeley was not backed by Commissioner Jim Armbrister, resulting in a 4-1 decision.
Board members had voted 3-2 in January to have Brinkley replace Yokeley, both on the regional council composed of representatives of Surry and 11 other counties, and another group within its framework, the Northwest Piedmont Rural Planning Organization’s Transportation Advisory Committee.
The latter is a subcommittee consisting of elected officials from Surry, Stokes, Yadkin and Davie counties and municipalities within those who meet six times per year in Kernersville to identity transportation priorities among the localities.
Yokeley defends service
Yokeley has been serving with the Piedmont Triad Regional Council on the city’s behalf for six years, which also includes the transportation role.
In the wake of January’s vote replacing him with Brinkley, he asked that the appointment issue be revisited, leading to it being placed on the agenda for the Thursday meeting of the city board.
Yokeley said he wanted to make sure everyone understood fully the ramifications involved. In addition to his experience, he has assumed a vice chairman role with the regional hierarchy and is in line for the chairmanship, which Yokeley said could benefit Mount Airy.
He said his regional involvement already has helped the city receive grants, including ones to fund environmental studies of the former Spencer’s industrial property now owned by the city government. Saying his PTRC experience is valuable and his continued service would be in the best interest of Mount Airy, Yokeley warned fellow commissioners not to take action that will “lose this knowledge.”
Those comments initially brought a sharp response from Commissioner Brinkley, who publicly disclosed a recent email she had received from Jerry Taylor, an unsuccessful candidate for a city board seat in the November election. In it, Taylor asked Brinkley why she thought she was more qualified to serve with the Piedmont Triad Regional Council than Yokeley.
“I have never indicated that I was better qualified than anybody,” Brinkley responded, as Taylor listened from the audience.
Then, looking toward Yokeley, she said of holding the regional posts that “I can learn just as much as you have learned…and can do just as good a job, in time.
“My appointment is just as important as your appointment, Steve.”
Brinkley suggested that Yokeley had not done as well as he might have in informing his fellow municipal officials about affairs on the regional level with which he has been involved.
Mayor David Rowe also weighed in on the discussion, saying the requested reinstatement of Yokeley represented an uncommon situation given that the board had already appointed Brinkley on Jan. 21.
“I’m a little perplexed, I guess you could say,” Rowe commented. The mayor said he was concerned about a “potential rift” among city council members over the issue.
Rowe added that he thinks Yokeley has done a good job representing Mount Airy on the regional level. “I don’t think the vote (on Jan. 21) was a repudiation of Steve in any kind of way.”
The mayor said Thursday’s discussion was a chance to make the board aware of all the implications, which might have affected the outcome of the January vote had such details been known then.
And although the appointment decision had been made, “anything we can do we can undo,” Rowe said.
Yet that left a sticky legal situation, as pointed out Thursday by City Attorney Hugh Campbell.
Since the regional representative officially had been appointed, Campbell said, the board couldn’t unseat Brinkley — although it can fill a vacancy.
That prompted Brinkley to say that she was resigning from the regional role. “I want out,” she said, “if it’s going to take unity for Steve to continue on this.”
“I think it was the redemptive thing to do,” Commissioner Jon Cawley said of the vote to reinstate Yokeley.
Afterward, Yokeley thanked Brinkley for her action and explained that his asking for the matter to be reconsidered was due solely to a belief that his continued service in the region would be in the best interest of city residents.
“I did not bring this up for personal reasons,” Yokeley said.
Not everyone was on board with Thursday’s reversal, though, as evidenced by the dissenting vote by Armbrister, who was asked after the meeting to explain that decision.
“I am not going to say anything negative,” Armbrister responded.
“People have to have certain character to fill certain positions, and I don’t want to air this in public.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.