Bill James unopposed, fight for at-large seats

Nine-term Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James will not face a registered opponent after no one filed to run against the county’s longest-serving commissioner last month, though there will be a battle for the three open at-large seats on the board.

James faced challengers in recent elections – including others from the Republican Party – but will at most have to deal with write-in candidates this year after no one filed in February to run against him in District 6, which in addition to Pineville includes the Ballantyne area of Charlotte, Matthews and Mint Hill. And without a campaign to worry about this year, James said he is keeping his focus on county business and looking toward a couple key issues coming up in his next term.

“To me, I just think that this upcoming term is an opportunity to refine some of the policies that Republicans and some Democrats worked on,” James said. “We accomplished a lot in two years: a change over in management, (revaluation) redo, hiring of a new manager, restructuring of (county) government. So it has been a busy period recently.”

And it will continue to be busy for a county commission that next has to approve a budget and down the road will deal with another round of school bond money. As for the 2014-15 fiscal budget, James hopes to see a nearly 2.5-cent tax decrease to match a past tax increase from the county, though he said he isn’t holding his breath. The school funding debate could be more challenging.

“… I anticipate some of the debate deferred before will occur (toward the end of the next two years) because most of the (2013) bond money for schools recently approved focused on the inner city and didn’t have a lot for Districts 1 and District 6,” James said. District 1 covers the north Mecklenburg towns of Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville. “One of the things … I do want to make sure is District 6 gets its fair share of capital dollars for new schools. … I have a very basic approach, which is to build as many schools in District 6 near neighborhoods as possible.”

James also is interested to see what plays out in the unincorporated area of Mecklenburg County around Lancaster Highway that identifies with both south Charlotte and Pineville. James and Pineville leaders were at odds last year over what to do with the neighborhoods, which include Danby, Woodside Village, Woodside Falls, Winghurst, Strathmoor and Glenfinnan, as Pineville had the right to annex the communities or extend its land-use regulations over the area. That may have changed due to new annexation laws. James has said in the past he would prefer the town take in the communities, but  former Pineville leaders were unwilling to do so, saying it would be too much of a burden for Pineville’s staff to handle.

Pineville’s right to annex the area was outlined in a 1984 agreement and will expire in August, after which Charlotte can take over the communities if the city wishes. James said he is hopeful Pineville leaders will change their opinion on the neighborhoods now that the town has a new mayor in Jack Edwards and a new town administrator in Haynes Brigman.

“I don’t know exactly if that has changed the attitude of the new Pineville mayor over what they plan to do, (but) they’re going to have to deal with it sooner rather than later,” James said. “What they do about (the neighborhoods) kind of depends if that area becomes kind of an orphan or whether the city (Charlotte) swoops in and annexes
them.”

James has become entrenched in his seat in the heavily Republican south Mecklenburg district. There are more than 46,000 registered Republicans in the district, compared to 37,000 unaffiliated voters and 35,000 Democratic Party voters.

“I enjoy serving on the county commission and I know there are people who say I should go to Raleigh or do something else (in politics), but I actually believe I’m in a place where I can contribute the most because I can use my accounting skills during these various … budget problems that come up,” James said. “I was the first person in (1996) that said we needed a bond fund, (which) took me 16 years to accomplish. Sometimes in politics you just have to keep plodding along and trying to change things at a slow pace.

“I feel like I’ve been successful. (We have) neighborhood schools in District 6 … we’ve received our share of park funds and school funds over the years. I think it’s just a question of standing up for the people that you represent. That’s the basis of the district system.”

Pineville voters will see a contested election for the board of commissioners’ at-large seats, which are voted on county-wide. Five Democratic candidates and two Republican candidates are running for the three open at-large seats, meaning the Democratic candidates will face a primary vote on May 6. Democratic candidates include incumbents Pat Cotham, Trevor Fuller and Kim Ratliff in addition to Elaine Powell and Ella Scarborough.

The three candidates with the highest number of votes will face the two Republicans for the three seats. The Republicans are Scott Carlisle ad Emily Zuyus.

Pineville voters also will see a number of N.C. General Assembly races. Dan Clodfelter (D – incumbent) is running unopposed in N.C. Senate District 37, while Pineville voters could see one of three N.C. House of Representatives races depending where they live in town: District 92 (which also includes Huntersville) will see Robin Bradford (D) face Charles Jeter (R – incumbent); Becky Carney (D – incumbent) is the only person to file for District 102; and Jacqueline Schaffer (R – incumbent) is the only person to file for District 105.

Local voters also will see the U.S. Senate contest and U.S. House of Representatives District 9 seat on the ballot.

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