Editorials

Our choices for Mecklenburg County races

Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners Vice-Chair Jim Puckett, left, Chair Ella Scarborough, and member Pat Cotham listen to speakers inside the Meeting Chamber at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center during a hearing on a proposal for a new stadium to host a Major League Soccer team. They’re all running for reelection this year.
Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners Vice-Chair Jim Puckett, left, Chair Ella Scarborough, and member Pat Cotham listen to speakers inside the Meeting Chamber at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center during a hearing on a proposal for a new stadium to host a Major League Soccer team. They’re all running for reelection this year. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

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The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners is responsible for critical decisions on property taxes and county health and environmental issues, as well as some of the money that goes to public schools. Incumbent Democrats Vilma Leake of District 2 and George Dunlap of District 3 are running unopposed, as is newcomer Mark Jerrell, a Democrat who won his District 4 primary. Here’s how we see the contested board races, along with the race for Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor.

At-large

If you voted in Mecklenburg County two years ago, this portion of your ballot should look familiar. As in 2016, three incumbent Democrats — Pat Cotham, Ella Scarborough and Trevor Fuller — are being challenged by Republican Jeremy Brasch. Two years ago, Brasch finished fourth.

Cotham remains one of Mecklenburg County’s most active and important elected officials. She’s a Democrat with an independent streak, and although that can irk members of her party, she’s a thoughtful and passionate representative who understands that an at-large seat means she represents all of the county. Voters both Democratic and Republican should feel she’s on their side.

County commissioner Pat Cotham says she will suggest requiring water tests at U.S. National Whitewater Center.

Fuller has grown into a leader on the board, respected by commissioners on both sides of the aisle for the knowledge and reason he brings to issues. His work to provide pre-K to all Mecklenburg children has been an especially important step in tackling the economic mobility issues so critical to the county.

Mecklenburg County commissioner Trevor Fuller speaks about citizens' concerns and fears on Tuesday during the commissioners' meeting. Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer

Scarborough has offered Charlotte and Mecklenburg County years of admirable service, but she has struggled to perform some basic duties as board chair.

We’re not sure what to make of Brasch. His fourth-place showing in 2016 was impressive enough to encourage him to become a more prominent voice on county issues. He hasn’t. That missed opportunity, as well as his lack of experience in county affairs, should trouble even those voters who want another Republican on the board.

We recommend Cotham and Fuller for at-large seats.

District 1

Voters in this diverse north Mecklenburg district have two strong candidates to consider, as longtime Parks & Recreation commissioner Elaine Powell, a Democrat, challenges incumbent Republican Jim Puckett.

Powell boasts a full knowledge of county government and a built-in familiarity and collegiality with a board that certainly could use more of the latter. Her background in health care and the environment also would fill gaps on the board.

Puckett also largely gets along with fellow commissioners on both sides of the aisle, but more importantly, he is a fierce defender of his district’s interests and was an important watchdog on Mecklenburg health department issues and the county’s ill-advised flirtation with a Major League Soccer bid. We recommend Puckett.

District 5

Republican Matthew Ridenhour faces another formidable challenge this year in Democrat Susan Harden for a seat representing most of southeast Charlotte. It’s a district that has leaned conservative in past years.

Harden, a longtime Charlotte resident, is an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She’s smart about Mecklenburg’s struggles with economic mobility — particularly regarding education — and she’s right when she says commissioners need to have a better relationship with the Charlotte City Council and CMS school board. But Harden also sees the board having a platform to speak on issues such as Medicaid expansion and voting rights, which she feels passionately about. That should concern voters who think the board and meetings are already fractured and unfocused as it is.

Ridenhour continues to be a strong representative who works hard for his constituents, thoughtfully approaches issues and largely avoids board rancor. Voters in District 5 should give him another term.

District 6

This south Mecklenburg district has incrementally become less Republican as more people move in. Is it enough to unseat 22-year incumbent Republican Bill James, who is running against Democrat Susan McDowell? We hope so.

We appreciate James for his commitment to transparency, but he has a long history of embarrassing Mecklenburg County with bigoted and racist remarks, and he continues to be invisible to his constituents outside of board meetings.

McDowell says she shares the values of a district that’s becoming more diverse. She says she’s fiscally conservative, and she believes the county and country urgently need to confront racial and income inequality. She also wants the board to renew efforts to be a leader on environmental issues.

Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor

Voters can choose two of six candidates for this board that addresses stormwater issues and works with county residents and businesses to encourage them to conserve natural resources. Two candidates — Nancy Carter and Barbara Bleiweis — may be more qualified for the jobs they want than any other candidates on the Mecklenburg ballot. Each is a board member already, and each displays not only a precise and deep knowledge of county and state environmental issues, but a vision for how the board can play a more meaningful role moving forward. We recommend both.

You can see all the Observer editorial board’s endorsements in one place here.

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