The Observer asked candidates competing in the at-large races for seats questions about their priorities and where they think the county stands on accountability and oversight issues. Carmen Cusido
Q. What makes you different from your opponents? Why are you running?
• Jason Bateman, Libertarian: I am the only Libertarian running. I can honestly say, as a third party candidate I can work with both parties on issues. Typically, I will agree with Republicans on fiscal issues and Democrats on social issues. I am running because I feel that many voters in Mecklenburg county consider themselves to be fiscally conservative and socially tolerant but cannot find a party that truly represents them.
• Pat Cotham, Democrat: People who know me or work with me would tell you I am passionate and I ask a lot of questions. My Republican neighbors tell me they will vote for me because they think I am reasonable. I bring a unique blend of decades of jobs experience from executive to middle management to hourly workers.
I have worked in corporate America, successfully run a small business for nine years and now I have strong knowledge of the working poor who are trying to rebuild their lives and care for their family. I sit with persons who have mental health problems every day and I know the obstacles they face. I have cared for two seniors personally so I know the struggles of the elderly. I am a good listener and I have a strong record of more than 12 years of bringing information to people through my monthly luncheons Uptown where the average middle class person can talk to a member of the Council of State or a member of Congress. I use social media to communicate with younger people and my journalism training taught me to be in-depth researcher. I am a worker, I show up, I listen, I ask good questions and I have strong relationships throughout the county and the state. I am a spiritual person and family is important to me. I believe in people.
• Trevor Fuller, Democrat: I’m running for county commissioner at large because I have extensive leadership experience, including my service as a member of the Board of Directors of the Mecklenburg County Bar, as past president of the John S. Leary Bar Association, as a member of the Board of Governors for the North Carolina Advocates for Justice, and as a member of the Citizens’ Review Board. I have been practicing law and serving the community for 20 years, and I have extensive experience in solving problems and building consensus around solutions to those problems.
• Michael Hobbs, Republican: I truly am a “man of the people.” I grew up poor in Wilmington, N.C.; spent time on government assistance and didn’t have the opportunity to attend college. I am an example of what you can accomplish in this great country if you truly want more for yourself and are willing to work for it. I have been active in the Asian, Latino and Hispanic community and a proud member of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce in Charlotte. I have a heart to serve and a story that resonates with all people and that is why I’m running.
• James Peterson, Republican: The county commission at large seat I am running for represents our entire community and my decisions will reflect your concerns. I will create an environment where you actually have a voice and more importantly get a response to the items impacting our community at all levels.
I’m not here to become a clear politician or gain power for personal reasons – I’m here to try to make it a better city and county. I grew up in Charlotte.
• Wayne Powers, Republican: I’ve been a civic-minded citizen and I’ve never run for public office in my life. I’m a performer, a jazz singer, an actor; I have a degree in history and political science.
I’m an independent-thinking Republican: I don’t follow the party platform on everything, I speak for myself. I love this community very, very much, and I moved here close to 20 years ago.
This is my home. I don’t want to leave here because it turns into Detroit where people are moving away and the tax base is fleeing.
• Kim Ratliff, Democrat: I’ve trained my whole adult life to be a public official - that makes me the most qualified candidates on the ballot. I’m a Charlotte native with a degree in public administration and political science. As a lifelong resident of Charlotte, I’ve seen it grow from a town to a city. I consider myself a servant to the people.
I’m on the board of directors for the Latin American Coalition; I’m on the national alumni board for North Carolina Central University. I’ve worked on campaigns, went to leadership school and have been a member of local unions – I was an executive board member of CWA 3603. I’ve just been a servant for so long, being elected is just another step in the process of helping people. I’m running for the people who normally wouldn’t have a say-so at the table.
Q. What programs and services do you feel are priority areas that the county should fund? Why? Which programs or services should see a reduction in funding? Why?
• Bateman: I believe we should ensure funding for proper functions of government such as police, courts, and emergency services. I believe this because the correct role of government is to supply citizens with those things they cannot produce for themselves. As a county commissioner, I would reduce any funding for non-essential services such as basketball arenas and baseball stadiums.
• Cotham: Education is the pathway to prosperity so education is critical. I would want to emphasize what would benefit the classroom not the regional offices. Libraries open longer with more computer time will help increase jobs for our neighbors out of work. Central Piedmont Community College is a critical link and I would ask them about more job training for workers seeking hourly wages. We need to start talking about mental health as it affects so many people. I have worked in business for decades and I know we need to prioritize to improve the quality of life for everyone.
• Fuller: First, we need to invest in education through technical and vocational training in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math. Second, we need to focus on job creation by linking business tax incentives to the creation of jobs for people already in Mecklenburg County. Third, we need to invest in the efficient and effective delivery of social services, particularly by fixing our broken mental health system. Of course, we should always look for ways to make government more efficient. This has to be done with a scalpel, rather than an axe.
• Hobbs: I feel strongly in education reform to include smaller class sizes and a dual education path, one for college-bound kids and one for job or career-bound kids. Smaller class sizes would enable more individualized attention per student. Vocational education and training is critical as we need to provide hope and job skills for our children that for whatever reason won’t go to college as well a pipeline of skilled workers that local employers need to be successful. This is also a critical part of attracting new companies to our area. As far as funding for programs or services I believe in an independent audit of each and those found to be misusing our citizen’s tax dollars should see a reduction or lose funding all together.
• Peterson: I believe we should fund such things as full time nurses in our school systems. What happens if my child or yours is hurt or has an allergic reaction on one of the days when a nurse is not available? We need common sense when setting priorities in the budget. Before providing funds to buy and replace county vehicles every three to five years, let’s make sure there is a full time nurse on hand at every school.
• Powers: I’m not concerned about cutting things as much as I’m concerned about streamlining things. We see a problem, we throw money at it – we’ve seen it done with CMS for years. We need to put the resources with the teachers, principals and students not on people in an office tower spending all their time doing PowerPoint presentations for each other.
The Department of Social Services is a drain and keeps sucking money down. It needs to be completely overhauled and restructured. We need to have a forensic audit of DSS.
I don’t think we have to write a bigger check. If we use our resources much better and not have a duplication of efforts – we would have a much greater impact on the community. Money is not always the answer. Sometimes focus and coordination is a terrific answer.
There are ways to spend money without cutting services - I don’t think the commissioners have given it a good ‘ol college try.
• Ratliff: We need to increase our funding for public education – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Central Piedmont Community College. The better educated our children are, the more opportunities there are to have an educated workforce. It also gives us the ability to attract different industries and companies in our area. At the county level, we can go out and recruit different businesses to come to the area.
Q. Where do you think the county stands on accountability and oversight issues? What do you think needs to be done?
• Bateman: Clearly the county is failing on driving accountability in its ranks. The ongoing controversy over the Department of Social Services’ misappropriation of funds, cronyism, and embezzlement is evidence enough that something needs to change. Again, tax money is taken from people against their will and care must be taken with it.
• Cotham: This is something that organizations continue to strive to improve. Until I listen to staff and look at the results, it is difficult to form an opinion except we should always try to improve.
• Fuller: The county can do a much better job when it comes to accountability and oversight. Unfortunately, we have heard too many recent accounts where accountability and oversight have come up short. But improvement on this front comes from leadership.
• Hobbs: I would like to see us be more proactive in our oversight of every dollar spent. That is why I support an independent audit of every agency or group to root out waste and abuse. I believe internal and external audits of county departments should be done one to two times per year.
• Peterson: We need transparency. We need discussions in open door environments. We need two way communications so that when you are given your three minutes to address the county commissioners, they actually give you back a response.
• Ratliff: As a citizen, I see things being done good, but things can always be better. The services I’ve come in contact with work well. I use the library and the parks a lot.