Big challenges await Meck commissioners

The Obama wave helped lift Democrats to a clean sweep of at-large seats on the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners. Tuesday's vote gave the Democrats the same 6-3 majority it got in 2004.

The Democrats should take a cue from President-elect Obama on governing. Obama campaigned on unifying the country, working in a bipartisan way to tackle the difficult issues facing Americans. These tough issues cannot be effectively addressed without Americans working together to address them.

That's no less true for Mecklenburg County. Mecklenburg residents face a sobering economic climate. Companies are downsizing, employees are being laid off, and more residents are in need of public help to feed their families. Crime is up and effectively addressing public safety is paramount. Housing and public schools are not being adequately addressed.

More than ever, it is imperative that local politicians ditch turf, divisive rhetoric and actions, and work across party lines to tackle these issues effectively.

Unfortunately, two new county commissioners – school board members Vilma Leake and George Dunlap – and re-elected commissioner Bill James all have histories of divisive behavior. They should remember this time that the public elected them to do a job, and it's not grandstanding. The big problems facing this community demand thoughtful policy and problem-solving, and the public is looking to the commissioners to provide it.

Fortunately, Jennifer Roberts was re-elected, and as the top vote-getter again is likely to be re-elected chair. When she won in 2006, former Republican Mayor Richard Vinroot called her “a consensus builder, not strident in any respect.” She will need those diplomatic skills to keep the board focused on doing what's best for the whole community.

Republicans must not take the tack that former commissioner Jim Puckett did in 2004. After that election put the Democrats in the majority at 6-3, he said the minority doesn't “have to pack facts; you just pack grenades.” That was wrongheaded and counterproductive.

But the Democrats must not use their majority to avoid working with Republicans. New at-large commissioners Harold Cogdell and Dan Murrey seem to understand that, and have pledged to be bridge-builders. Good. The voters are demanding representatives who will put this community's best interests above their own.