CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- County commissioners Chairman Jennifer Roberts urged board members Tuesday night to mind their manners in the coming year, saying name-calling has no place in civil discourse.

The remarks were in response to an exchange between commissioners Bill James and Vilma Leake during a debate Dec. 15 on offering domestic partner benefits to county employees.

Leake had mentioned during her remarks at the meeting that her son had died of AIDS in 1993, and that she did not believe she would still have to defend his lifestyle. Shortly later, James leaned over to Leake and asked: Your son was a homo, really?

Roberts did not name anyone during her remarks Tuesday, but she said there was behavior at the earlier meeting that was, in my opinion, unbecoming of an elected official.

At Tuesday's meeting, Leake and James were no longer sitting beside each other at the board's dais. Leake now sits between commissioners Dan Murrey and Neil Cooksey, with James between Cooksey and County Manager Harry Jones.

Some commissioners and residents had said they believed James should apologize for using what many consider to be a slur against homosexuals. But James said he had been asking Leake to clarify a statement she had made earlier, and that it did not warrant an apology.

Leake said in other media interviews that she wanted the board to consider censuring James.

But Roberts said she did not want to politicize the matter by calling for the censure vote. Instead, she urged her colleagues to seek to hold this discourse to the principles of civility, human decency and basic respect.

I have high hopes for 2010, Roberts said. I believe that our economy has turned the corner, and that together we as a board can meet the budgetary and policy challenges ahead. ... But disagreement for the sake of demeaning one's opponent is not useful.

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