Think the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners races are not worth your election attention? Here’s some of what’s happened in the two years since voters put the current commissioners in office:
The board fired long-time, powerful county manager Harry Jones.
Commissioners, with some help from the state, launched a review of Mecklenburg’s botched 2011 revaluation, leading to more than $16 million in refunds for property owners.
Board members approved a referendum for a quarter-cent tax increase for CMS teacher pay and other needs.
They also behaved like Mecklenburg commissioners often do, trading personal barbs and snippy statements and even breaking precedent by ousting the leading vote-getter in 2012 from the commission chair seat.
Although races in Districts 2, 3, 4, and 6 are uncontested, many key players in the above events are facing opponents, including each other in the at-large contest. Here’s how we see the races:
Voters can choose three candidates. We recommend incumbent Democrats Pat Cotham and Trevor Fuller along with Republican newcomer Emily Zuyus.
There is probably no one on the board who works more tirelessly, talks more with voters, and digs more into issues than Cotham. She also is the uncommon elected official who consistently votes independently and collaborates with members of the other party.
In her first term, Cotham built a coalition that pushed through the long-overdue firing of Jones, and she was unafraid to confront staff missteps that contributed to the reval mess and dysfunction in the Department of Social Services. Along the way, she made miscalculations, including shutting out fellow Democrats she felt wouldn’t help her on issues.
Those Democrats paid her back, replacing her as commission chair last year. But voters should recognize the significant improvements she’s helped bring about in county government.
We endorsed Fuller two years ago for the reasoned, analytical approach he might bring to county business. He has been somewhat of a disappointment.
He seemed overly opportunistic in taking the commission chair from Cotham. He rashly pushed through a quarter-cent sales tax referendum without taking the very basic steps of talking to community stakeholders or Republican commissioners – the same kind of thing for which he criticized Cotham when she was chair. He also is developing a reputation of someone who can be prickly to those who don’t share his views.
Still, he has commission meetings running more efficiently, and he remains a thoughtful, moderate voice on the board. We hope, and believe, he’ll have a better second term.
Zuyus was among the leaders of the group of property owners who pushed state legislators to demand the revaluation review. She did so not by bellowing from afar, but by working within the system to effect change. That’s encouraging, given the likely Republican minority on the board.
Zuyus has a firm grasp of the issues facing the commission and would bring another fiscally conservative voice to the left-leaning board. She already has shown a collegiality with Democrats during the campaign. She’d be a strong addition.
In this North Mecklenburg district, former commissioner Jim Puckett wants his old seat back after giving it up in a 2006 attempt to win an at-large spot on the board.
Puckett, a Republican, is facing Democrat Leonard Richardson in a race to replace departing commissioner Karen Bentley.
Richardson, from Huntersville, is a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher who unsuccessfully ran for the board in 2012 and the Charlotte City Council last year. As a child, he spent six years in foster care before his mother was able to care for him with government assistance, so he would bring a unique perspective to the board on issues involving social services.
Puckett, a Huntersville businessman, would bring a conservative fiscal perspective to the board, as well as a detailed knowledge of county government. He is sometimes a little too strident in his conservatism, but he’s respected by board members of both parties. We recommend him for District 1.
Republican Matthew Ridenhour is a model of how to represent your constituents when your party isn’t in power. He is thoughtful about issues, visible in his district and the county, respectful in his disagreements with Democrats on the board, and affable.
Ridenhour is running against Democrat Art Cardenas, a database administrator for Carolinas Healthcare. In this largely conservative south Mecklenburg district, Ridenhour is the clear choice.