A variety of circumstances made it impossible for the Lincoln Herald to conduct video interviews with the candidates for Lincoln County Commissioner in the Republican primary next Tuesday (March 15th). We did, of course, attend the Candidates Forums sponsored by the East Lincoln Betterment Association and the West Lincoln Area Council of the Chamber of Commerce. What follows is our take on the seven candidates seeking the three GOP nominations for County Commissioner this Spring. There are only two Democrats running so they will advance to the General Election this Fall against the three top vote-getters next Tuesday. We hope to be able to do the video interviews for the Fall election.
Anita McCall, who ran for Commissioner two years ago and lost, says her experience with engineering makes her a good choice. McCall has expressed the opinion that architects are taking advantage of the Commissioners' lack of knowledge of engineering to jack up the price of projects.
She wants to split the Planning Board into two groups: one for the east and another for the west and require that all members of each vote on proposals for their area (but not for the other).
She has accused current Commissioners of tarnishing the county's image and of filling boards with appointees from the "good old boy network."
McCall supports the no-kill policy for the Animal Shelter and wants the County to establish a local spay/neuter clinic which she says can be financed by grants.
McCall says teacher supplements should be increased.
She favors adding "impact fees" to the cost of new homes in an effort to slow development.
McCall lives in Lincolnton.
Carlton served on the County Commission from 2006-2010. When he was on the Commission, he voted against tax incentives for industrial development-and at the Candidates Forums held recently, he made it clear that he wants to limit all kinds of development. At the East Lincoln Betterment Association Forum, he told the audience, "the state says it will make highway 73 four lanes in 2025. We should tell developers, we'll approve those 400 homes in 2026." Carlton said at the same forum that apartments should be "taken out of the mix" of proposed developments. "If we continue to do what we're doing, we're going to be just like Huntersville and Mooresville," he says. "We have to start saying no."
Doug Broome said when he filed that he wanted to "send Carrol Mitchem back up highway 27 without a job." He faults the current board for not completing the implementation of the no-kill program at the Animal Shelter. "That should have taken about nine months; it's been over two years and it's not done."
Broome says the Commissioners have approved thousands of new homes in east Lincoln without thinking how that affects schools or traffic problems.
He also says he wants to reinstate prayer before Commission meetings.
Broome says the Commissioners should have approved the Whitehouse Xtreme Sports Park. He also disagrees with the move of County offices to the old Lincoln County Hospital location without more public input. "That should have been put to a (public) vote."
Broome lives in Iron Station.
Like McCall, Rich Permenter ran for County Commissioner two years ago and lost. Since then, he has attended almost every County Commission meeting. "I've tried to make sure that I'm very aware of what's going on and knowledgeable of County business," he says.
Permenter, whose father spent his career with the Coast Guard, joined the Marine Corps at age 18 and served two tours in Vietnam. After that, he served 30 years as a commissioned officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. His jobs at NOAA included Chief of Operations for the west coast fleet, commander of a ship and Director of Special Projects.
He says he discovered Lincoln County and Lake Norman while driving his daughter from Virginia Tech, where she was a student, to visit his parents in Florida. "We decided this was the place to retire. I can say now, we made a good decision."
Permenter, like Carlton, lives on the lake.
Permenter terms the rapid growth in recent months in East Lincoln "unplanned, unmanaged and unacceptable." He says Commissioners need to spend more time talking with people in affected communities. "I'm a big believer in management-by-walking-around," he says, "and being retired, I have the time to put into this job."
Permenter says he believes some people didn't vote for him two years ago because they didn't know him. "I hope that has changed," he says. "I've tried to be even more involved in community affairs."
Permenter says he understands why some people in western Lincoln County are concerned that the UDO (unified development ordinance) has put too many restrictions on them. "We need to make sure the standards fit the community. The East Lincoln Development District standards are too restrictive for the west Lincoln area. The rules need to be adjusted to the community."
Robert Avery, a retired homebuilder from Crouse, has spoken at dozens of County Commission meetings over the last year. His principal subject has been a request that Commissioners create a survey of county residents on issues and expenditures. He has also complained about the Tax Department's Schedule of Values and a few other issues, but the primary theme of his candidacy is public involvement in Commission decisions.
"I got tired of asking them and getting nowhere," he says, "so I decided to run for election and try to fix it myself."
Avery says the fines levied against the Animal Shelter in December were "simply a matter of not obeying the law. The state has regulations on what must be done, how many animals the Shelter can have, how they must be fed, rules for keeping veterinary records."
He believes the recent changes to the UDO were good. "There's a big difference between East Lincoln and West Lincoln, you can't treat them both the same."
He believes the Tax Department's mapping and other procedures need to be upgraded to something similar to what is being used in Gaston and Catawba counties. "We've got to modernize," he says.
Carrol Mitchem is now the longest-serving elected official in Lincoln County. After Larry Mac Hovis lost to Roby Jetton for City Council last year and Dr. John "Les" Cloninger resigned from the City Council for health reasons, Mitchem holds that honor. He was first elected in 2002, served four years and lost in a second primary to Bruce Carlton. He ran again in 2008 and has been on the Commission since. He and Cecelia Martin are the incumbents seeking re- election this year; Alex Patton announced months ago that he wouldn't run again.
Some reporters have painted Mitchem as a hick from the sticks. He quite often amuses those attending County Commission meetings with his humorous rhetoric about matters being discussed.
When Lincoln County was considering whether to remain a part of the planning organization that includes Charlotte, he referred to the Mecklenburg-Union-Metro-Planning-Organization (MUMPO) as "mumbo jumbo."
When the Commissioners were talking about changes in the solid waste disposal program, he joked about just how big his wheelbarrow might be when told that construction and demolition waste (C&D) up to a wheelbarrow load could be taken to the convenience sites.
When a representative of Shea Homes talking about the size of berms at the edge of the Lake Norman Quarry adjacent to Shea's Trilogy development said the desire for larger ones might be psychological, Mitchem later responded to his lack of a significant reason to object to Hedrick Industries request to expand its mining operation by quipping, "it might be psychological."
Mitchem's humor may be "backwoodsy," but part of his demeanor is an insistence on common sense reasoning.
Mitchem rates his performance as a Commissioner an 8 out of 10. "I've done what I thought was best for the County," he says.
Mitchem became the center of controversy after a newspaper reporter asked about prayers before Commission meetings, telling Mitchem that a judge had ruled prayers before Rowan County Commissioners meetings unconstitutional and asking how he would handle that in Lincoln County. The reporter was obviously looking for a story--and made it one, not just locally but on tv and in newspapers statewide. Commissioners first created a "prayer by request" policy, then changed that to a "moment of silence" after a Muslim delivered a prayer before one of the meetings. Mitchem, who had said he wouldn't listen to a Muslim pray, waited until after the prayer to come into the meeting room.
Mitchem has yet to vote to approve a County budget. For various reasons, he has voted "no" on the final question each year he has been on the Commission.
Mitchem got involved in the controversy over the Confederate flag after the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina. He hosted a "flag rally" on property across the road behind his Hull's Crossroads restaurant, where both the American flag and the Confederate flag were displayed and a black former West Lincoln football player was among those speaking in support of the Confederate flag, calling it "a part of my heritage."
On the question of Animal Services, Mitchem says he and other Commissioners who voted to make the local Animal Shelter no-kill in 2013, were voting for a philosophy, an aspiration. "It takes time to do things," he said, "We have made great improvements. The number and percentages of animals being euthanized has declined dramatically. I offered copies of the report at the West Lincoln Candidates Forum. I want the best care for animals we take in at the Shelter and I'd love to see them all find homes, but we've got to use some common sense. What happened that got us into trouble with the state (fines were levied in December by the Dept. of Agriculture) was in part because we got overcrowded trying not to destroy animals. That problem has been addressed and Kelly (County Manager Kelly Atkins) is working on some other improvements. This is an issue that needs attention--but it's not the only need or issue the County needs to handle."
Mitchem lives in far western Lincoln County where he and brother Wayne operate Mitchem's Farms; he also operate Mitchem's Kitchem restaurant at the intersection of highways 27 & 274.
Cecelia Martin is this year's chair of the Commissioners. She lives in Crouse and with Mitchem is one of three candidates from the western part of the county in this year's election, although she says she's really closer to the center of the county than the western end.
Martin says she approaches each issue that comes before the Commission on a "case by case basis."
She defends decisions the Commissioners have made regarding development in the East Lincoln area. "Those people who live there chose the area, they should expect that others might do likewise." She says public hearings and expert testimony have gone into the decisions that have been made and notes that the County Planning Board has assessed the proposals and the Commissioners haven't varied from their recommendations.
"Some requests have been approved, others have been denied, and others have been changed with stipulations put in that protect neighboring communities and the environment and help to ease the pains of growth."
She defends the move of County offices to the old hospital site. "We took a long, long time to make that decision, and I first made a motion to expand our offices downtown, but nobody seconded that motion." Martin says it was a carefully considered decision that she hopes will work out best in the end.
She believes the purchase of the R.B. Cronland property on Salem Church Road was another good decision. "It will help us to serve the public better," she says, noting that moving the Senior Center to a ground-level operation is one big advantage.
On the Animal Services question, she believes great progress has been made. "Just three years ago, the County was using an inhumane gas chamber for its method of euthanasia. We now have the lowest euthanasia rate of any county in our area. I've been told that it really takes 3-5 years to accomplish changing to a no-kill shelter. We're working on it, and I believe that while there's still room for improvement, we're headed in the right direction."
Martin says things she wants to see done by the County include expansion of the libraries including a new West Lincoln Library in the near future.
When she was elected in 2012, Martin--along with Mitchem and Alex Patton-- beat out three other candidates for the GOP nomination, one of them Commissioner Martin Oakes, who was elected to the Commission in 2014.