When Election Day 2016 is over, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners will look very much the same – and perhaps identical – to the current board. Only one district commissioner faces a general election opponent, and the three incumbent at-large Democrats are being challenged by just one Republican for their seats.
We understand why this is happening. Most districts have distinct ideological tilts, and there also are few Republicans willing to pursue an at-large seat in a county that leans Democrat. But we don’t think that’s healthy. Mecklenburg voters deserve more and better choices, and the lack of serious election challenges can lead to complacency and worse – such as the steep, questionable pay hike commissioners gave themselves earlier this year.
The board is responsible for some of the money that goes to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and it makes critical decisions on property taxes, health issues and the environment. Here’s how we see the board races, along with the race for Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor and yes or no votes on transportation, housing and neighborhood improvement bonds.
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Three veteran Democrats – Pat Cotham, Ella Scarborough and board chair Trevor Fuller – hope to return to the three available at-large seats on the board. They are challenged by newcomer Jeremy Brasch, a Republican. We recommend Cotham, Fuller and Brasch.
Cotham remains a valuable member of the board. She works tirelessly and independently, often collaborating with members of the other party. She’s seemingly ever-present, popping up at town meetings and other functions throughout the county. That’s not just about face time; Cotham digs in on issues important to constituents across Mecklenburg. She has earned another term.
Fuller is growing in his leadership role. He has tempered a prickliness with those who don’t agree with him, and he has displayed strong vision in identifying and pursuing larger issues, such as economic mobility. We didn’t agree with Democrats who bucked tradition and gave Fuller the board chair seat, which historically went to the leading vote-getter in elections. But Fuller runs efficient, less contentious meetings. Given the board’s history, that’s no small thing.
Scarborough is a long-time fixture in local government, and she’s a reliable Democrat on the board. But she doesn’t contribute enough to meetings and board business. Brasch is a Mecklenburg native who works in information technology for Compass Group North America. He believes the county can do more to help teachers and to keep residents from moving to surrounding counties. He’s a political novice and an unknown, even to Republican leaders in the county. But he expresses moderate positions, and he demonstrates a willingness to research and learn about issues. We believe he could bring a fresh, engaged perspective to the board.
The lone competitive district race on the ballot pits Republican incumbent Matthew Ridenhour against Marc Friedland, a veteran in Mecklenburg Democratic circles.
Friedland, who was the founder and owner of Talley’s Green Grocery, has served several county and state party roles. We appreciate and share his concerns about income inequality in Mecklenburg, as well as his support of a more robust county-funded pre-K program.
In this largely conservative south Charlotte district, however, Ridenhour is a better fit. He continues to be an active, collegial member of the board, which also benefits from his conservative approach to fiscal issues. We don’t always agree with him, but we appreciate his thoughtfulness and temperament. He deserves another term.
Soil and Water
Voters can choose one candidate from the five running for Soil and Water Conservation District board. The soil and water district addresses stormwater issues and works with county residents and businesses to encourage them to conserve natural resources.
Two candidates stand out. Brad Johnson, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Davidson College, was appointed to the current board mid-term to replace a departing member. His education and technical expertise are valuable resources to the board. Vonnie Brown is an active participant in Mecklenburg advocacy organizations and non-profits, including the local Sierra Club chapter.
We give a very slight nod to Johnson, but we encourage Brown to continue his impressive pursuit of public service.
Voters have three separate bonds packages to consider: $144.44 million for transportation projects and development of the Cross Charlotte Trail; $15 million to provide more housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families; and $55 million to improve infrastructure in aging neighborhoods and high-growth areas.
The bonds would serve all of Mecklenburg County. The money would go toward repairing and rehabilitating older communities while better positioning the city and county for future growth. The bonds requests are reasonable and won’t prompt a tax increase, as financing for the bonds is written into the city budget. Voters should approve them.