City’s future in the balance Tuesday

Tuesday is an important day in Mount Airy, when the candidate field for two of the open seats on the city Board of Commissioners is narrowed to just two candidates.

The at-large seat, presently held by Jim Armrister, is being sought by four candidates: Armbrister, Gene Clark, Gail Proffitt and Jerry Taylor. The North Ward seat, held by Dean Brown, is being sought by Brown, N.A. Barnes and Bruce Springthorpe.

We don’t generally do candidate endorsements, particularly with local elections. There’s often little difference between candidates. Political party affiliation doesn’t mean anything at this level, and everyone usually runs on the platform of saying they want to bring more jobs, make better schools, and repair aging infrastructure.

We are not going to change our practice — we won’t be endorsing anyone in Tuesday’s primary, but this year there are stark differences among some of the candidates in ways that will take the city down divergent paths, depending upon who is elected.

First of all, we want to counter some dishonest ways in which some of the candidates have been characterized by a few vocal groups.

As best we can determine, every candidate is in favor of positive development in downtown Mount Airy. None of these candidates have said anything publicly that could lead a reasonable person to believe otherwise. They are all for development, both downtown and throughout the city.

Some who are seeking these offices, as well as the South Ward seat held by Shirley Brinkley and the vacant mayor’s post, believe that development should be primarily private-sector driven, with the city and its advisory commissions serving in a support role, fostering a climate in which new businesses can grow while existing business owners are allowed to continue operating, free of excessive government entanglement.

Others voice a desire to force a certain preconceived idea of what development should be onto the downtown business district, to disregard the hard work and rights of those already operating their own businesses or owning land and buildings in the district, and to ignore the realities of what the private sector market does and will support.

Not to overstate this, but the debate at the center of this primary, and next month’s general election, really isn’t about whether there’s a carpet installation business and a car dealership on a certain street as opposed to some dream of restaurants, art shops and a downtown hotel.

The heart of the debate is preserving private property rights — one of a handful of bedrock principals that differentiate the United States from most nations around the world — verses those who might decide government, or a small group of individuals influential with a government, forcing changes on others with little regard to ethics or the reality of the business market place.

The debate is also about how advisory boards appointed by the government are allowed to operate — do they follow explicit, simple instructions as given to them by the elected body, or will advisory groups be allowed to ignore such instructions, go off on their own and do as they please, with no repercussions, no regard for the rest of the community?

Those are real issues, the underling issues at the heart of the city’s Redevelopment Commission and efforts of determine the course of where this city — not just the downtown area, but the entire city — will go over the next few years.

We are not endorsing candidates, because ultimately voters need to make up their own minds and then live with the consequences of their votes.

But in this election, the candidates have staked out their positions quite clearly, and the differences are considerable.

Now it’s the voters who must decide. We hope voters decide by showing up and casting a ballot. Whichever way the primary goes Tuesday, the worst tragedy of all will be if voters decide they simply don’t care and let a small minority determine the city’s future.

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