Barbara Dement’s resignation from the Matthews Board of Commissioners was a reminder about how life just happens.
Dement was among 23 candidates in the Matthews and Mint Hill area that hurled themselves into hard-fought campaigns during the tail end of last year. In the throes of a campaign, you never really consider anyone resigning from their seats.
But it’s becoming increasingly more common in the Charlotte region.
Several other resignations come to mind. Within the past four years, I’ve seen elected leaders resign from posts in Charlotte (John Autry), Hemby Bridge (Gary Anderson), Indian Trail (Monty Keistler, Amy Stanton and Mark Wireman), Lake Park (Kristen Bowman), Stallings (Kathy Heyse), Waxhaw (Fred Burrell) and Union County (Lance Simpson).
Indian Trail serves as an interesting case study. Stanton took a job out of town, Wireman cited work getting busy and Keistler left for “personal reasons.” They all left within two years of a four-year term.
That’s why I am a little skeptical about Mint Hill’s plans of putting a bond referendum regarding term limits on a future ballot. Voters will decide whether to extend elected leaders’ terms from two to four years, as well as staggering them out.
“This particular year, we had almost a full turnover of the board of commissioners, so you have to get a little concerned about continuity,” Simmons said during the Feb. 13 commissioners meeting.
Matthews and Mint Hill have been fortunate to have experienced leaders serve over the past decade. But you have to attribute that to the voters for placing such a high value on experience.
Both towns faced the potential of entirely new boards with the 2019 election. Matthews Mayor Paul Bailey was the only incumbent to lose, but he was defeated by a sitting commissioner in John Higdon.
What voters may not realize when it comes to granting elected leaders longer terms is that when someone leaves a board, it’s up to the board to decide how they fill that vacant seat. They could potentially opt to appoint the next-highest vote-getter in the most recent election, but more than likely, they’re going to appoint someone that best aligns with their vision.
In recent years, Matthews and Mint Hill have appointed former commissioners to fill vacancies.
Matthews replaced Joseph Pata in 2015 with George Fossett, a commissioner from the 1990s. When Commissioner Tina Ross died in office in July 2018, Mint Hill summoned Mickey Ellington back to the board months after a tearful sendoff.
Mecklenburg County commissioners put a similar referendum on the ballot in 2015, but that failed. Charlotte City Council mulled it over but chose not to go through with it.
I realize some elected leaders feel they are constantly campaigning under two-year terms, but I find the current system keeps the community engaged. If Mayor Simmons and commissioners Mike Cochrane, Dale Dalton, Patrick Holton and Tony Long continue to listen to their constituents as they did during their campaigns, they may see long reigns.
When you go against the will of the people, however, you get voted out.
If we lived in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, then four-year terms would be appropriate.
But the communities surrounding Charlotte are exploding. Last week, a story appeared in our newspaper that estimated the region’s population is expected to increase by 1 million people by 2030.
Changing demographics bring new perspectives and different attitudes.
Plus, a lot can happen in four years. A commissioner may want to take a break from public service, go for a work promotion or move closer to grandchildren.