City race has roomfor more candidates

Friday is the final day for candidates wishing to run for the post of mayor or several city commissioner seats to file to do so.

Thus far, incumbents Jim Armbrister (in the at-large commissioner seat), North Ward Commissioner Dean Brown and South Ward Commissioner Shirley Brinkley have filed to run, and South Ward Commissioner Steven Yokeley — who has been handling the duties of mayor since Deborah Cochran’s resignation in March — is the only candidate announced for the mayor’s post. City resident Gene Clark has filed to run for the at-large seat held by Armbrister and Bruce Springthorpe Tuesday filed to run for the North Ward seat.

In the past, when we’ve had city elections with few, if any, contested races we’ve said that might very well mean city residents are pleased with those in office, happy with the job they are doing.

That might be the case this time as well, but we have a difficult time believing no one has issues with the present commissioners. We don’t say that because we have any particular problem with the general job the commissioners and mayor pro tem are doing, but because there have been some sharp divisions showing between the board members in recent months, and some board practices we do find questionable.

This board has taken to the troublesome practice of often meeting behind closed doors, even when it doesn’t have to, to conduct city business. Out of those closed-door meetings have come the city’s secret purchase of the former Spencer’s textile mill — a purchase we still maintain clearly broke state law — as well as the formation of the controversial and unpopular downtown redevelopment commission.

This board has been inconsistent in its administration of city ordinances requiring residents to hook onto city water and sewer, allowing some to slide by without doing so while others have gone to considerable expense to comply with the city code.

This board granted a controversial rezoning to an out-of-town developer wishing to put apartments just off of South Franklin Road, a project which seemed to go against the wishes of the city residents who live near the proposed development and, at least to us, seemed to violate the spirit of the city’s zoning ordinance. Ultimately, the board’s decision was overturned in court.

That’s not to say this board has been a failure, or mired in constant controversy. Quite the opposite in many respects. This board presided over an impressive drop in real estate tax rates of 10 cents over the past five years while continuing to provide, even improve upon, largely excellent city services to residents.

Most of these commissioners have been onboard as the city year-end fund balance grew from concerning low levels to healthy — perhaps even too large — levels now. And the board has been proactive in trying to maintain a pro-business environment to attract jobs and spur economic development.

But it’s clear this board has had its share of controversy, and it has increasingly produced split votes on issues, with some lively and honest discussion between the members and the public.

That’s why we are puzzled at the apparent apathy among city residents now. The various members of this board clearly have different opinions on a number of issues coming before them, and some of their actions have been what we would consider not in the best public interest, so there’s definitely room in the election race for individuals with different values to run.

Time is running out, however. The deadline to file is Friday, at noon. We have no ax to grind with those on the board, but we do believe city residents would be well served with alternative voices in the race.

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