Democrat Jennifer Roberts put her finger on the heart of the Charlotte mayor’s race last week.
“Leadership is not about avoiding problems,” she said at an Observer/WBTV debate. “Leadership is about how you respond to problems.”
And that is precisely why we cannot endorse her. Faced with one problem after another in her previous leadership role, Roberts’ response was consistently insufficient. Today, years later, not only does she not seem to grasp that, she actually recasts those episodes as successes that qualify her for another local leadership position.
As time passes, memories may fade, but Roberts’s tenure as chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners was defined by her repeated timidity to confront challenges and hold people accountable.
Take the botched property revaluation, one of the biggest undertakings of that period. As complaints of flawed valuations poured in from residents, it became increasingly evident that something was not right. Roberts insisted otherwise.
In May 2011, she said calls to redo the revaluation would be “counter to current state law, would cost taxpayers additional money and would not support fairness in the assessment process.” She insisted the new values fell within industry benchmarks and said there had been “a conscientious effort to avoid over-estimating values.”
A full year passed before commissioners acknowledged the problem’s severity, finally voting to conduct an independent review of the revaluation.
Today, Roberts says she handled it well, and told the Observer editorial board that she was the swing vote that made the review happen. In fact, the vote was 6-3, so the review would have happened with or without her.
Roberts struggled as chair even before the revaluation. As problems mounted with then-County Manager Harry Jones’s performance, Roberts routinely looked the other way or came to his defense. At one point, Jones’s administration lied to the public about the nature of a $99,000 payout to outgoing mental health director Grayce Crockett. Even after that was uncovered, Roberts stood by Jones and repeated the wrong information. That was part of a pattern of not holding Jones accountable as crises arose over a series of financial irregularities at the Department of Social Services.
There is a solid alternative. Republican Edwin Peacock is a bridge-builder with endless energy, a firm grasp of city issues and experience serving on the City Council. As a Republican serving with a heavily Democratic City Council, he would by nature and by necessity seek common ground with council members while also serving as a voice of fiscal moderation in an increasingly one-party government.
Peacock has done his homework and has a more sophisticated grasp of local public policy than he did in his challenge against Patrick Cannon two years ago. He can also confidently lead and take firm stands, even if they are unpopular in certain circles.
While we don’t agree with him on every issue, he is a moderate who talks, for example, about the need for wealthy parts of town to understand that affordable housing must be spread around the city.
Both candidates are smart. Both work extremely hard. Only one is not so inclined to go along with the crowd.