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Bentley says no to reelection bid on county commission

Mecklenburg County commissioner Karen Bentley, a measured and thoughtful voice on a board often at odds, announced Monday that she won’t seek a fifth term next year.

Bentley, a Huntersville Republican who represents northern Mecklenburg, said she recently completed a Masters of healthcare administration degree at UNC Chapel Hill and decided it was time to focus fully on her career.

“It’s just time to shift gears, plant both feet firmly in my career and explore the opportunities that might be out there,” said Bentley, 49, community relations director for Novant Health. “I just think by freeing myself up in a sense and focusing full force on career, I’ll be more open to opportunities in the healthcare space. I am very happy being a part of Novant and don’t have any intentions of going anywhere else.”

She wouldn’t say if she’s finished with politics, leaving open the possibility for a return. “I never say never,” she said. “I tell people I’m stepping aside, not walking away.”

Bentley did say she wouldn’t be interested in making a run for state office in the next election. “From a practical standpoint, I would not be able to run,” she said. Her job “is intense and requires me to be there daily. I can’t do that well and serve my constituents they way they need to be. I can’t do both.”

She got involved in Mecklenburg politics in the late 1990s, when she was one of six Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools parents who successfully sued to end court-ordered desegregation.

In 2000, Bentley ran unsuccessfully for an at-large seat on the county commission, opposing government funding for the arts and giving county money to the U.S. National Whitewater Center or the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In 2006, voters in District 1 elected her and would reelect her three more times.

She represented the district during unprecedented growth – at one point she had more than 200,000 constituents.

During her tenure, she helped secure money to build new schools, to fund a domestic violence victim advocate in north Mecklenburg and pushed the board to change the county policy on public-access swimming at county-owned parks on Lake Norman.

She also fought to get commissioners to approve a redo of the controversial 2011 revaluation and state legislators to enact a law requiring refunds to overbilled property owners. She led the process to fire the county’s previous tax assessor, and hire a new one.

Bentley said she’d considered not running last year for a fourth term, but felt compelled because the county was in the middle of the revaluation conflict.

With the redo underway, “I checked every box on my list of things I wanted to get accomplished,” she said.

Some of her colleagues were surprised at her announcement Monday.

“Wow, really?” said commissioner Trevor Fuller, a Democrat, after learning Bentley wouldn’t seek reelection. “I am quite surprised by that.”

Fuller said he and Bentley disagreed on some issues, but had come to admire her “reasonable” advocacy for her constituents. “What she brings to the board is a practical sensibility from a Republican point of view,” Fuller said. “I think Karen tried hard not to be unnecessarily provocative.”

Commissioner Bill James said Bentley provided a balance on the Democrat-majority board. “She is smart and articulate, a thoughtful voice,” he said.

Democrat Pat Cotham, the board’s chair, said she appreciates Bentley for her institutional knowledge of Mecklenburg issues.

The county, Cotham said, owes Bentley “a debt of gratitude in making right the 2011 revaluation.”

“She was so involved in that, and was such a leader in fixing the problem,” she said. “She’s certainly been helpful to me when I came onto the board and took over as chair. I regret that she’s leaving, but she’s got a lot to be proud of. Her leaving will create a big void.”

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