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Our endorsements for Mecklenburg races

Nov. 6 will bring significant change to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. The board’s three at-large members – Jennifer Roberts, Jim Pendergraph and chair Harold Cogdell – chose not to run for re-election in 2012, and District 5 representative Neil Cooksey died this month after a two-year battle with cancer.

Their replacements will come from a roster of candidates that could bring a fresh and civil approach to the board, which has too often been tripped up by divisiveness and pettiness. Voters have several excellent options. Here are the editorial board’s recommendations:

At large

Primary voters chose three candidates in May from each party to advance to the general election. Community activist Kim Ratliff was the leading vote-getter for the Democrats, followed by party veteran Pat Cotham and Charlotte attorney Trevor Fuller. Republican James Peterson, who works in financial services, narrowly led entertainer and radio talk show host Wayne Powers and sales professional Michael Hobbs. Jason Bateman ran unopposed as a Libertarian.

None of the candidates has held public office, but at least three stand out as thoughtful, hardworking, collaborative additions to the board.

Cotham, a delegate to this year’s Democratic National Convention, has long been an active Democrat in Charlotte. She would bring to the board a business background that includes work in the non-profit sector – a mix of financial and human services expertise that would serve the board well. She says she would be a strong advocate for the disadvantaged.

Fuller, who has lived in Charlotte for 12 years, would bring a moderate, analytic demeanor to the board. He has a strong grasp of issues facing the county – from the need for better DSS oversight to the troubled relationship between commissioners and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Fuller also shows an ability to synthesize problems and consider varied solutions to issues like job creation and education. The board needs more of that approach.

Powers, by trade, is unafraid to speak his mind – a trait that can be an advantage or a liability. On the campaign trail, he turned it into an advantage, as he ventured into neighborhoods across the county for conversations with constituencies that don’t historically share his conservative principles. We appreciate that boldness, and especially his willingness to listen and learn from the struggles of those communities, which he said he did.

We endorse Cotham, Fuller and Powers for at-large seats. For voters who don’t prefer Powers’ brashness, Peterson provides a conservative alternative who, like Powers, advocates for lower taxes and a more favorable climate for business growth.

District 1

District 1, which stretches from the University area through north Mecklenburg, is among the county’s most ethnically diverse, and it boasts an almost even split of Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. Republican Karen Bentley has represented the district for six years. She’s running against Democrat Keith Bradford, a systems analyst who has lived in the district for 12 years.

We think Bentley has been an able representative for the district. She offers a reasonable voice and prefers to work on relationships with colleagues instead of calling attention to herself during public meetings. She’s also a hard worker who is accessible to her constituents, and she fights for her district’s needs while maintaining a commitment to fiscal responsibility. Voters should give her another term on the board.

District 2

District 2 commissioner Vilma Leake, a Democrat, is running against Republican Kevin Spitzmiller. Leake continues to be a divisive public official as a commissioner, much as she was as a school board member. That’s too bad, because she is vocal and persistent in her support of poor and minority constituents in her district.

If you haven’t heard much about Spitzmiller, he says that’s because he intentionally has been “flying under the radar.” He is currently angry with the Republican party in general, he said, and he feels the same about Democrats. If he were elected, he would try to get county government out of the way of community interests such as building sidewalks, he said.

We cannot recommend either candidate.

District 5

Voters in this south Charlotte district have two strong candidates to consider. Democrat Paula Harvey and Republican Matthew Ridenhour are both fiscal conservatives with strong business backgrounds. Both would be thoughtful additions to the board who would follow in the legacy of District 5 commissioner Cooksey.

Ridenhour, a Marine and financial analyst, favors zero-based budgeting, an approach that calls for each line of the budget to be re-approved each year. Harvey, a longtime human resources professional, thinks such an approach offers public officials too little flexibility throughout the fiscal year.

We think Harvey brings experience and a diverse set of skills that match the demands of the board. She has experience starting and running businesses and is fluent with the budgeting process. She has worked with social service providers and in education, and as a parent of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools students, she more intimately recognizes the education issues facing families in her district. We endorse her for the board.

District 6

Longtime Republican commissioner Bill James survived a primary battle in the spring against Ed Driggs in this district that comprises Pineville, Matthews, Mint Hill and south Charlotte. He is running against Democrat Connie Green-Johnson, a retired nuclear medicine administrator and first-time candidate who says she was compelled to enter the race because James represented the district in a “negative way.”

We share that concern about James, but we’ve also noticed a recent absence of the inflammatory rhetoric on gays and blacks that’s embarrassed his district and county through the years. Perhaps that mellowing is a product of a tough primary race, or maybe James realizes his district is less tolerant of displays that reflect poorly on south Mecklenburg. We hope it’s the latter.

Green-Johnson, 71, is an active volunteer who has served in Democratic organizations. She calls herself a “fiscally conservative convener” who would focus on education and senior issues. We believe, however, that James better represents the political sensibilities of his largely conservative district, and he brings a transparency to county government that serves all of Mecklenburg well. We endorse him for another term.

Register of Deeds

Incumbent Democrat David Granberry is running against Republican William Alexander to lead an office that issues initial marriage license certificates and maintains and provides access to public records. Granberry, a real estate paralegal for 19 years, has performed ably in the job, helping shepherd changes to the office’s web site that helped improve the public’s access to records. We recommend that voters return him to office.

Soil and Water

Far down on the ballot is a contest for Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor. The soil and water district addresses stormwater issues and works with county residents and businesses to encourage them to conserve natural resources.

Two people are seeking one seat on the five-member board this election – Jennifer Krupowicz Frost and Doug Hanks.

Frost is serving her second term as an elected supervisor. She gets praise for her expertise and experience. A water quality educator who works for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, she has helped increase district funding and access to professional engineering.

Hanks is a private conservation officer who says he created the Crescent Ridge Dawn Redwoods Preserve, a privately-controlled redwood reforestation project in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But when he ran as a Republican for an at-large seat on Charlotte City Council in 2005, it was discovered he made more than 4,000 posts to a white supremacist web forum. Hanks said he was only acting and he was doing research for a book, but he withdrew from the council race.

Frost has done a praiseworthy job during her two terms. She deserves re-election.

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