Mecklenburg Board of Councy Commissioners candidates express few differences in at-large race

The tiny cankerworms that hitched a ride into WTVI’s studios on five Democrats running at-large for the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners received a harsher treatment than the candidates during a televised debate Tuesday.

Off camera, commissioner Kim Ratliff called for a tissue to wipe a squirmy worm off the jacket of political newcomer Elaine Powell. And incumbents Pat Cotham and Trevor Fuller agreed that perhaps it was time to send up a plane to spray the defoliating pests that seem to have swarmed over Mecklenburg the past week.

Even on camera, there were few differences between the five candidates – former Charlotte City Council member Ella Scarborough is the fifth – who’ll be on the May 6 primary ballot.

They all agreed that coal ash stored near Mountain Island Lake, the main source of the county’s drinking water, ought to be moved. That the county’s code of ethics – in the aftermath of former Mayor Patrick Cannon’s arrest on federal public corruption charges – is stringent enough, but needs to be vigilantly watched.

That the review of the 2011 revaluation was necessary to restore trust in the process. That teachers needs better pay. And that after a year of tumult, Mecklenburg is headed on a better course.

When they were asked about their differences, they had to reach:

Fuller, the commission’s current chairman, said he’s the only lawyer. “I have a lot of experience in leadership, a lot of experience helping people through difficult problems,” he said.

Cotham, the 2013 chairwoman who led the effort to fire County Manager Harry Jones, said she showed she “was very different” in making “tough choices.” She said she brought a “business attitude” that led to “big changes, and therefore this year we’re in a much better situation.”

A county Park & Recreation commissioner, Powell said she’s “so different” from the others, wanting to provide a voice for preserving the environment.

Scarborough said she would bring vast political experience to the board, having served five terms on the City Council. “I know how to work with the county and city to get the best results,” she said.

Ratliff had the most clever response: Saying she’s the only native Charlottean of the five, she noted: “And just looking in the mirror, I think I’m the cutest person in the race.”

Their responses varied the greatest on a question of whether the commissioner with the most votes should chair the board. Last year, Cotham was the top vote-getter and commissioners voted her chair. But mid-way through the term, they replaced her with Fuller.

Powell, Ratliff, Fuller and Scarborough said the top vote-getter shouldn’t automatically become chair.

Scarborough said the question brought back memories: The first time she ran at-large for the City Council, she got the most votes, but wasn’t elected mayor pro tem. “I support getting the person who can do the job better.”

Cotham said she believes the voters choose the chair with the most votes. “I believe it’s up to the voters and I believe it should be an at-large candidate. We are responsible for the whole county.”

Fuller, who came in third behind Cotham and Ratliff in 2012, said voters don’t elect the chair like they do the mayor.

“The chair has to have the confidence of other members of the board,” he said. “It may be that the highest vote-getter is not in the best position to lead the board.”