Board of County Commissioners candidates

Question # 1 Parks & Greenways

The Park and Recreation Commission submitted a resolution to the BOCC on February 8th that calls for the acceleration of land acquisition for greenways, parks, and nature preserves by budgeting at least $35 million per year to buy land beginning in FY23, as well as several other strategies.  Do you support this investment? What will you do to ensure that adequate resources (funding, staff, land) are available to accelerate land acquisition and construction of parks, greenways, and nature preserves?

Leigh Altman (D, At-Large)(i): I strongly support the acceleration of land acquisition as evidenced by my advocacy from the dais and my votes. I was proud to have voted to raise the previous BOCC’s allocation of $6.6 million to $20 million and am eager to invest more. I look forward to hearing from staff regarding the considerations around faster land acquisition and to provide the necessary resources to the Manager’s Office to speed the process.

Patricia {Pat) Cotham (D, At-Large)(i): I support it. I received a State Award for my advocacy for greenways and parks, so I have a RECORD of speaking out for them. I will do everything in my power, as I have done in the past, to advocate for greenways and parks. I also advocated hard years ago for identifying markers so if a person had heart attack or accident, Medic would be able to find the injured person. I am proud of that. So glad a constituent alerted me to that need.

Arthur Griffin Jr. (D, At-Large): According to the most recent Mecklenburg County Pulse Report, our County is the 41st most populous county in the United States. To keep up with this rapid growth and provide adequate recreational resurces, we must respond with commensurate funding for acquisition of land, construction of parks, greenways, and nature preserves. I support the Meck Playbook and to the extent possible, commit to reviewing all necessary data to determine the funding level I am willing to commit to.

Mark Jerrell (D, District 4)(i): "Land acquisition is one of the most urgent needs in our community and I unequivocally support the need to invest (at least) $35m per year for the purposes of land acquisition. It is imperative that we approach this effort with a sense of urgency to meet the needs of our community with respect to parks, open space, nature preserves and greenways, which can (and should be) utilized as transportation corridors, which provide greater access to services for many of our residents in under-served communities. The Board of County Commissioners must take the lead in the development and implementation of a strategic plan that is transparent, community-driven, has a focus on long-term management and provides a high level of accountability to ensure our staff has the adequate resources to meet the challenge. In addition, it is important to note that government cannot do this alone and cannot operate independently, but should play a key role in establishing the conditions needed for success and galvanizing key stakeholders to include all bodies of government, community leaders, conservation organizations and others to help achieve our goals."

Laura Meier (D, District 5)(i): I support Mecklenburg County's plan to acquire more land, and we are doing that right now. I have been and will be a proponent of preserving our green spaces, and I support the FY2023 plan. To ensure the funding is available, I will continue to advocate to staff, county leadership, and my colleagues on the Board of County Commissioners for more land acquisition, particularly in areas of the county that are park-poor. This is a tricky dance we must do as when we allocate more funding for one item, we could very well endanger funding for another, equally important issue. We must take a look at the county's hefty fund balance and allocate some of this money to issues that are not necessarily needing sustainable funds. In the end, if we don't have equitable green space, parks and nature preserves, we will create harder problems to solve, such as mental health, public health, and climate change. It's long past time to act, and I plan to continue to be an advocate for the preservation and acquisition of green space in Mecklenburg County.

Jeremy Brasch (R, District 6): I do support parks, greenways and nature preserves. It is unlikely I would support $35 million a year to purchase land for additional parks. I would need to know a lot more information before I agreed to support that line item at that amount for this purpose. 

Susan Rodriguez-McDowell (D, District 6)(i): Yes, I do support the Park & Recreation Commission request and I plan on bringing a request that is slightly more than what they asked for, such as a $40-50 million in land acquisition investments. I will advocate for adequate staff for park & rec staff and for wages designed to retain and attract employees to our park assets.

Question # 2 Transformational Mobility Network

Last year the Charlotte Moves Task Force recommended an investment in a  “transformational mobility network” (TMN) of transportation projects and proposed a funding strategy for the network that centers on a “One Cent for Mobility” countywide sales tax. However, there has been little visible progress on moving this forward, even as new federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill will create time-sensitive opportunities for our area to compete for federal dollars that will require a local match.  Do you support the need to secure a local funding source to build the TMN? If so, what do you see as the BOCC’s role in moving the process forward? If not, what do you propose as an alternative to support mobility for all County residents?

Leigh Altman (D, At-Large)(i): I strongly support the need to secure a local funding source to build the TMN and am actively working to promote areas of agreement between our partners who need to be at the table to make this a reality. A regional transit plan is critical for the well-being and future of Mecklenburg County and to achieve our goals around equity, environmentalism, accessibility, and a high quality of life.

Patricia {Pat) Cotham (D, At-Large)(i): Transportation falls under the city. When the city came to us about two years ago-the presenter could not answer my questions as to why the was not invited to participate until it was done, and they needed funding. I represent the towns and North Meck had paid the tax for 20 years and received no new roads. They felt like their tax dollars went to the train to UNCC. Also, I talked with former Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, and he told me no one ever contacted him about helping with a meeting with the railroad in North Meck to get them to release use for a train. My constituents in North Meck needed answers and assurances. I talked to several Council members who told me the staff did the report. They did not seem happy. I would like to see a designee from the County Manager to participate in the process. I would like guarantees for North Meck. I would like to see more expansion of bus service for jobs in in outlying areas. Restaurant workers, Maid for hotels etc., have a hard time getting to work on the weekends. Again, this is a city issue so I would like to listen to what they think as they have more information than I do.

Arthur Griffin Jr. (D, At-Large): "Although 51% of Mecklenburg's workforce comes from outside of the county, I still support most efforts to increase economic development opportunities for our city, county and region. And I support the general notion of improving transportation and mobility assets for our residents. However, I am concerned and waiting to read more about and understand the plan's effort to address equity and access of opportunity for all of our citizens that includes blue collar and low income workers. In 2011 when the Blue Line was identified by the City, there was a drastic change in the racial and income composition along that transit line with fewer African Americans and a steep increase in residential income according to research by the UNCC Urban Institute. I am waiting to read about the Transportation Mobility Network's plan to address displacement,  housing affordability and minority economic development opportunities. In 1997, I supported the one cent sales tax and the promises of then Mayor McCorey that affordable housing would be along the transit stations. Today, there is no affordable housing at transit stations along the Blue Line."

Mark Jerrell (D, District 4)(i): I believe a local funding source is vital to the long-term sustainability of transportation and mobility infrastructure in our community. As our community continues to grow, it is critical that our residents have access to services, jobs, and amenities without over-reliance on a car. The investment/funding would also provide a level of equity for our under-served communities and populations, increased access to housing, employment opportunities and positively impact the environment. The community and residents would also see an improvement in overall physical and mental health, as residents would no longer be left in isolation and confined to their current footprint. The role of the BOCC should be to advocate legislatively, facilitate discussions, educate the community, work with all governmental entities, and provide spaces for substantive community feedback around the needs of Mecklenburg County residents. 

Laura Meier (D, District 5)(i): "Investing in transportation is one of the greatest needs in Mecklenburg County. We are living in a booming region with unprecedented growth. We have to move people. We have to create easy access to transportation for all our residents so that our residents can take care of their families-- to get to work, to get home, to get to childcare, to get to school, to get to the grocery store (food deserts abound in Mecklenburg County, and we must give people access to food). Our roadways are congested, simply put. The damage these idling automobiles cause to our air is abhorrent, not to mention to our physical and mental health. We are behind other major metropolitan areas who have already begun the process of establishing a transportation system, as well as the use of greenways as a mode of transportation. I know we can do this, and I believe the people will agree that we have no other choice but to build a system that works for everyone. The BOCC's role is simply to vote to put the item on the ballot. First the city must do its job of lobbying the legislature to agree. I completely support allowing the people to have a voice in a new tax. "

Jeremy Brasch (R, District 6): I support applying for federal funding for county projects when the finding criteria benefits our residents.

Susan Rodriguez-McDowell (D, District 6)(i): I do support the "transformational mobility network" in theory and I have become engaged in conversations with my District 6 mayoral representatives in the towns regarding their concerns on where the taxes generated in their towns are allocated for transportation spending.  These mayors are rightfully questioning the use of their constituents tax dollars and wanting those dollars to stay as local as possible to aid in their residents travel options. There are many lenses to view these investments and sustainability and climate are extremely important to me.  A major role for the BOCC is the decision to place the "One Cent for Mobility" countywide sales tax on the ballot. It is also incumbent upon us to support it or an alternative - the status quo is clearly unacceptable.

Question # 3 Environmental Leadership Action Plan / Climate Change 

The Mecklenburg County Environmental Leadership Policy (adopted by the BOCC on March 16, 2021) states that “the County government should operate in a manner that protects our natural resources, acts as a model of environmental stewardship, and uses County resources wisely for the benefit of its citizens.” The policy’s Action Plan acknowledges that “Climate change threatens the iconic landscapes, natural resources, wildlife and human population of our region.” Do you support county action to address climate change and if so what would action will you champion?

Leigh Altman (D, At-Large)(i): "I am deeply concerned about climate change brought on by human activity. I strongly support County action to address climate change and voted in favor of the Environmental Leadership Action Plan. The single largest source of carbon emissions within County government operations is our buildings — far more than our fleet. I recently served on the committee to interview firms that will advise Mecklenburg County on the deep energy retrofits we will undertake to reduce this source of emissions. The goal is to have a master plan drafted with a triage approach and retrofit on average two buildings per year to get to net zero. Mecklenburg County is also consulting with an expert to advise where solar would be best deployed within the confines of the County."

Patricia {Pat) Cotham (D, At-Large)(i): Yes, I support. I would support the whole program. I would like more education on the most needed actions from experts.

Arthur Griffin Jr. (D, At-Large): To the extent possible, I support all actions enumerated in the Environmental Leadership Policy adopted by the BOCC on March 16, 2021. And if faced with having to choose between many good options, I would champion, "no segment of our population should intentionally or unintentionally bear a disproportionate risk from pollution or face accessibility restrictions to the decision-making process, i.e.hazmat locations.

Mark Jerrell (D, District 4)(i): "I am extremely proud to serve on the Environmental Stewardship Committee and to have supported the Environmental Leadership Action Plan. I believe our intentionality outlined in the plan demonstrates our desires to be good stewards and set a course for a thriving community in the future. It is important for the County to leverage our influence, lead this effort through example and an Inter-Governmental approach to create the conditions needed to scale our efforts, foster cooperation, and ensure substantive change. The Environmental Leadership Action Plan outlines goals, which I voted to support and will work to expand moving forward. Some of the focus areas include: Transition County facilities and fleet to net-zero carbon energy sources by 2035; Practice waste minimization and recycling at all County facilities • Identify and fill resiliency gaps in County operations; Require environmentally friendly designs including net-zero capable buildings in all new facilities and retrofits and when feasible reuse existing buildings and infrastructure; Make a good-faith effort to include social, economic and environmental considerations in purchasing decisions for goods and services; Acquire land for recreation, ecosystem preservation, recycling, storm water management and to protect the quality of life in our community; Manage, maintain and conserve County properties to create resilient ecosystems, including grasslands, forests, wetlands and aquatic environment; Implement environmental practices in day-to-day business operations; Provide employees with opportunities and incentives to learn and practice environmentally sound behaviors; Partner with municipalities, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations that have common goals and interests to efficiently implement this policy; Work with business partners receiving County funding (CMS, CPCC, Libraries, Medic) to make capital and business decisions that prioritize environmental stewardship; Routinely review state and federal legislative action that either assists or hinders implementation of this policy; Conduct outreach and raise awareness about environmental conditions, opportunities for involvement and actions being taken by Mecklenburg County; Embrace justice through equal protection and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations to include using the County’s racial equity toolkit when implementing the action plan, and more broadly, during environmental decision-making"

Laura Meier (D, District 5)(i): I absolutely support the county having a leading role in protecting our natural resources. I believe the county should follow through with their plan to have a net-zero carbon fleet by 2035, and our buildings should have environmentally-friendly designs, as well as transition  to net-zero carbon in our facilities. We should hold our community and business partners responsible as well, encouraging them to follow suit. The county must establish themselves as the leader in environmental policy. 

Jeremy Brasch (R, District 6): I support a reduction in county personal property tax for county tax payers that own and use electric and plug in hybrid electric automobiles.

Susan Rodriguez-McDowell (D, District 6)(i): I have been a member of the Environmental Stewardship Committee from it's inception and in fact supported it's creation. In our BOCC FY21 budget I proposed and acquired support for hiring a Director of Sustainability as an addition to the county manager's office. The position was filled in 2021 and has become an integral part of moving the BOCC's environmental agenda forward. I have always and will continue to support actions that address climate change and advocate for moving toward a carbon neutral footprint for the county as soon as possible.  

Question # 4 Air Quality

During the stay-at-home period in 2020, Mecklenburg County saw measurable improvements in air quality and reductions in harmful ground-level ozone that were attributed to less driving and therefore fewer vehicle tailpipe emissions. What will you do as a County Commissioner to ensure healthy air quality for all residents as our population grows? 

Leigh Altman (D, At-Large)(i):  "The County is the designated monitoring entity for federal air quality requirements, and staff monitors stations and regularly tracks data on the quality of our air. Second, Mecklenburg County administers grants that help remove vehicles and off-road equipment using diesel and replace them with more efficient vehicles. Third, the County ensures regulatory compliance with air-quality related permitting. For example, gas stations or manufacuring plants must have a permit for emissions which the County monitors. But for me, in addition to the above important and necessary work, I believe we have a fundamental imperative to be successful in the TMN buildout. Only by reducing single car ridership in favor of mass transit will we succeed in reducing tailpipe emissions and reach our air quality goals."

Patricia {Pat) Cotham (D, At-Large)(i): I always support air quality needs. From the beginning I have been to events at LUESA to learn more about air quality. I remember learning years ago about a big fire in Asheville and how it negatively affected Mecklenburg. I have been invited and I attended conferences with Air Quality Engineers (before Covid) to learn more about air quality not only outside but in tall buildings and schools. I have met with companies several times who have installed new air quality systems for CMS. I have taken the initiative on this topic and that has helped me speak out about healthy air quality. I will always remember when I had Chinese high school students who lived with me, and they had never repeat never seen the stars or the moon because of air pollution. One boy told me he was "sickly" when her arrived-but a week later-he said he could not believe how much better he felt. Our air quality might not be great, but it was better than where he lived in China.

Arthur Griffin Jr. (D, At-Large): To support the Environmental Leadership Policy with specific emphasis on green construction for the county and its partners, electric vehilces, and targeted resident education about climate change.

Mark Jerrell (D, District 4)(i): "Air quality is extremely important to ensure a high quality of life for Mecklenburg County residents. Poor air quality has a direct impact on health outcomes and adversely contributes to medical conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, lung disease, heart disease, decrease in life expectancy and much more. While the impact can be measured in economic terms, it is also an issue of equity, as socio-economically disadvantaged and communities of color are often disproportionately impacted, as reflected in data related to health outcomes. As a County Commissioner, I will continue to support policy and funding that promotes walkable communities, greenway expansion and advocacy through our legislative agenda. I believe that the establishment of bold policy is one of the most effective tools we have to influence behavior and change current outcomes. It is imperative that we create a plan that includes specific ways to incentivize positive behaviors, establish goals, reduce barriers to progress, ensure accountability and educate residents. I am extremely proud of the work of the Environmental Stewardship Committee and the implementation of the Environmental Leadership Action Plan which has a major focus on racial equity and environmental justice. In addition, the Inter-Governmental Relations Committee initiated a joint resolution with the City to promote the need for cooperation around building an inter-connected network highlighting alternative modes of transportation. I believe we must continue these efforts to mitigate the harmful effects of poor air quality."

Laura Meier (D, District 5)(i): We are at a crucial moment here in Mecklenburg County. We are growing faster than we can build roads. We must, absolutely must, stop relying so heavily on cars, and build more public transportation, greenways, sidewalks, walkable communities and livable neighborhoods. We simply do not have a choice. 

Jeremy Brasch (R, District 6): I support a reduction in county personal property tax for county tax payers that own and use electric and plug in hybrid electric automobiles. 

Susan Rodriguez-McDowell (D, District 6)(i): I will continue to advocate for environmental justice, and strive to learn how I can be a part of changing policies that could work to make system wide changes to our air quality. I will continue to vote for funding to electrify the county's fleet and reduce harmful emissions. I will use my platform to raise awareness on the ways that residents can contribute to better air quality for our community. 

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