The Observer asked candidates competing for district seats in the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners races questions about their priorities and where they think the county stands on accountability and oversight issues. Carmen Cusido and April Bethea
Q. What makes you different from your opponent? Why are you running?
• Paula Harvey, Democrat: I am a highly qualified business consultant who runs two businesses debt-free in Charlotte since 2003. I am also an educator at UNC Charlotte, Wingate University, and CPCC. I earned my MBA from UNC Charlotte, attained the highest certifications in the Human Resources Management and Safety fields, and have been awarded 17 business awards from leading community organizations and the top organizations in Human Resources. My children were born and raised in Charlotte and attended CMS from K-12 and I was active in PTSA and helped to raise over $40K for the South Meck Athletic Association. I will apply budgeting, business leadership and negotiation expertise as well as a strong understanding of taxation in the role of County Commissioner. I am committed to researching each issue that impacts county citizens, listening, and becoming an effective county commissioner.
When friends and past students of mine heard that there would be an open seat for the County Commissioner in District 5, they urged me to consider running since I have been advocating for employers for several years on a federal and state level and am passionate about the Charlotte area and concerns affecting local employers’ and employees’ needs. Although it is my first time running for a political office, I know I can make a difference and be a proponent of all people in my district using my business and human resources skills to listen and bring residents together in a positive manner.
• Matthew Ridenhour, Republican: In recent years, the County Commission has been largely viewed as divided and ineffective. For eleven years I served in the military, working with people from different socio-economic backgrounds and education levels to achieve an objective. I pride myself on my ability to build a team that works together, and I believe this is something needed on the County Commission.
I also believe that the Commission needs fresh ideas and bold leadership to overcome many of the issues affecting our community. “Business as usual” isn’t working. In recent years we have seen Mecklenburg County on unsteady ground. My leadership, experience, and pragmatic approach to decision-making will be an asset on the Commission, and will serve our community well. I want to help ensure that Mecklenburg’s future is as strong and bright as its past.
Q. Describe specific issues in your district. What you would do to address them?
• Ridenhour: 1. County debt: Advocate for a top-down review of all departments for efficiency and waste, and for reducing or eliminating under-performing programs and initiatives. I am an advocate for zero-based budgeting. Zero-based budgeting begins a budget at $0, and all line items must be justified for inclusion in the budget. I believe this will allow the county to spend dollars more effectively, and thus be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.
2. County tax rate: Work tirelessly to reduce the tax rate, because I believe that a high tax rate discourages people from moving to Mecklenburg, and encourages current residents to move to Union or York counties. For years we have lost residents – and jobs – to “Meck Flight,” and this is unacceptable. Hand-in-hand with the tax rate is the revaluation process. Many people in the community were shocked by how high their taxes increased, and were unprepared for the process. I believe that a longer period of review, coupled with better education about the revaluation process would have given the public the time and education needed to be more familiar with the process. I believe that an independent, outside agency should be hired to conduct future revaluations. Government has a natural bias towards higher valuations, to gain tax dollars, and hiring an outside agency to conduct the revaluations would remove that bias. Additionally, I believe revaluations need to occur more frequently, but at the same time we need to have Commissioners in office who will not use the process as an opportunity to raise taxes on the citizens of Mecklenburg County.
3. CMS: Advocate for reforms which I believe are needed for CMS to deliver a better product to their consumers (parents and students) – reforms such as neighborhood schools and performance-based pay. We need to treat our teachers like the professionals they are, so that we retain our best and brightest among them. A strong education is the bedrock for a strong community, and we must reward our teachers who are providing a quality education for our children.
• Harvey: The Economy and getting our citizens back to work. I plan to continue the work to attract and retain companies in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, especially in my district. I will support programs that promote job growth.
Educational support is a huge issue in our district, county, and the nation. I plan to help work with the school board on their budget, making it viable so that will promote educational endeavors and teacher retention. We must have a strong educational system to attract businesses to the area.
Our environment is very important to the future of all county inhabitants. I will support agencies that are trying to make a sustainable and “green” environment for our neighborhoods.