By Pat Cotham
Editor’s note: Mecklenburg County commissioners had the opportunity to give remarks Dec. 3 after taking the oath of office. We are publishing At-Large Commissioner Pat Cotham’s remarks because she addresses multiple issues and makes references to challenges affecting our specific towns.
On election night, I was so grateful for the overwhelming support that I had received. I was humbled to have received precious votes from Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters throughout each of the six districts. I wish I could thank all of the 244,074 of you who placed their precious votes for me. But I will thank you with my actions. I will thank you by being visible in the community. I will thank you by studying the issues. And I will thank you by my willingness to listen to different perspectives.
I made a good decision on election night. I spent the evening uptown until 11 p.m. with our homeless neighbors. I wanted to be with them because they keep me grounded and focused.
As I begin my fourth term, I commit that I will always conduct myself professionally, and I will continue to build relationships with all elected officials and governing bodies. I want you, the voter, to know I will always represent you, and I will work to get things done for the people.
Our board has changed a lot since the last election, but I remember in 2012 when I was fortunate to be one of the new four. We were the newbies. We were excited as you are and happy and ready to go to work and we did. I look around and see four new commissioners who want to bring a positive attitude and new ideas, and I am thrilled. Each one of these commissioners is passionate about serving and will bring new levels of experience and expertise. They will be the jolt of adrenaline that will bring us together. We need them, and I look forward to learning from all of them as colleagues. Together, we need to listen to our bosses – the people who are paying the bills. They deserve more than a seat at the table because they own the table. That’s the people. We will all listen to them.
We have a great community. A great county staff is a big reason for that. Our outstanding county manager, Dena Diorio, continues to show bold and common-sense leadership with great results, yet we still have families who are struggling. Our wonderful county employees are working long hours to distribute short-term services to people in need. I’m especially proud of the work they have done to help veterans and our homeless neighbors. Our services help husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, and moms and dads who just need some help so that they can be on their way in life.
Yet, next week we have snow coming and I hope we can help protect our vulnerable neighbors who are freezing on a bench uptown. I hope we will do better this year with warming centers.
I’m all about big ideas and we need some.
Let’s talk about the business community. We have to grow our economy for everyone. Not everyone is feeling the good results of the economy. We have to learn more about obstacles that professionals in the development community face. The more we develop businesses, starting with real estate development, the better off we will be to grow our economy for everyone. We need political will to solve problems like housing. That means courage. The county cannot be an obstacle to real estate development and business. I am so proud of the improvements we have made in code enforcement, and I thank our manager for that.
We want a vibrant community for all. The affordable housing issue is not a community problem. I don’t think we can just say it’s a city issue. We need to step up and support the city and the towns on this issue.
Revaluation is around the corner. We are so well prepared this time and I thank again the manager and her staff, who have improved every aspect of this project. Homeowners and renters are nervous about the potential of a big spike in taxes. But we need a steady hand to keep our taxes low, so economic development continues and people can stay in their homes and apartments.
We also need to be more aware of our six towns. As I look back on my notes from 2016, I said when I was sworn in that I would love to have each of our mayors sit with us one time during a board meeting. We could benefit from their wisdom. Maybe a school board member and a legislator could join us at one of our meetings. Maybe they might invite our chair to sit with them at our meetings. The people want us to work together but we have to show action on this.
Good schools are important to our neighbors and our economy. The most important influence over a child is the ability to raise student achievement in the classroom by having a great teacher in every classroom. We should not play politics and take a gamble with our teachers. Instead, we should take decisive action. Our actions must show that this board’s priorities remain clear that we support our children and our school communities. We need to peel back the onion on educational issues to rebuild trust and have the best schools and reward teachers so they feel valued.
I hope our superintendent and our school board will overturn their decision and again welcome us to join them in congratulating graduates and shake their hands on the biggest day of their life. As commissioners, we need to see the great results of collaborative work.
We have many unique problems in our community that are tearing families apart.
I have attended way too many funerals of young people who have died from suicide. The stigma of mental health prevents all of us from knowing the facts about mental health. Heroin and substance abuse live in our community and affect all of us. We have to do more as our loved ones are suffering and dying. We have too many homicides and one recently at Butler High School. We cannot be numb to violence and to guns. We have to do better.
To solve problems, we have to use all of our talents of this board and work collaboratively with other bodies of government, local nonprofits and our community organizers.
As a Democrat, I’m excited about a board of all Democrats, but it comes with the price of additional scrutiny. Likely, we might feel like we’re under a microscope. I commit to all voters that I will always listen to different opinions, and I believe that even though we are all Democrats, we will disagree sometimes on issues – probably a lot of times.
I do hope that more people will come to our meetings and sign up to speak. Your voices and opinions are critical and we will listen to you.
I again congratulate all of my colleagues, and I hope we can all work together with respect. I congratulate Chair George Dunlap, and I know he wants to be the leader we all need him to be. I will do everything I can to help him in that role.
I thank my family, Tricia and John Cotham; my grandsons, Elliot and Ryan, who support me every day; and my mighty campaign team, Jonathan and CL, who helped me get my message out to the people. I want to thank my Facebook and Twitter friends who share their joys, their struggles and their hopes with me.
We have work to do. Actions speak louder than words. The people are watching us. Let’s show up for them and work together for the people.