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If you have any political ambitions, specifically inside the Mount Airy city limits, this is the time to apply to City Hall to fill Mayor Deborah Cochran’s vacant commissioner’s seat.
Last week, after Teresa Lewis reiterated her interest in the seat, the city council voted to take applications until Thursday at 5 p.m. for the board seat. Lewis told the council that she applied for the job when she ran for mayor. Lewis, who garnered 900 votes in her second-place finish to Cochran, says that she has the necessary business and civic experience for the post.
The council agreed to a motion by Commissioner Dean Brown who put forward the week-long timetable for applications. The board has not yet decided on how they will select a commissioner. Candidates could be asked to field questions or they could be named to the seat by a majority vote.
Other potential applicants include Gene Clark and Paul Eich, who finished third and fourth in the mayor’s race.

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When it comes to interest in local government, actual power has been trumped by potential influence. The vacant mayor’s post, a position that doesn’t have a vote on any municipal matters (barring ties) but serves as the figurehead for the city, has four candidates. The two expiring council positions, which can directly approve budgets and policies, have just one candidate each.

Even Deborah Cochran, a sitting commissioner not hesitant to vote against spending items, is interested in giving up a regular vote for the mayor’s post. Cochran issued this statement Friday, the last day to file, announcing her intentions. She’ll face off against Paul Eich, Gene Clark and Teresa Lewis in a Oct. 6 primary that will cost the city around $10,000, with the top two vote getters advancing to the general election. Mount Airy’s elections laws are the only ones that call for primaries when there’s more than two candidates for a seat.

Yet neither primaries nor really general elections are much needed to determine who will fill the two open council seats. Incumbent Jon Cawley is the only one vying for the North Ward seat and  Steve Yokeley is the only one seeking the South Ward seat David Beal is vacating.

As for the mayoral candidates new to local politics, Eich is the one well-known to anyone who attends council meetings. He’s been at almost every one for the past year and a half and often speaks during the public forum sections. His positions are very conservative when it comes to fiscal matters, as he has advocated laying off employees, cutting back employee compensation and eliminating the city’s manager’s contract in order to reduce taxes. He’s no stranger to elections, having run in 2001 and 2003 for an at-large council seat in Charlotte. Neither bid was successful, but he made a strong showing both times.

Clark is a high ranking officials with furniture company Ligna who issued this statement announcing his campaign plans.  Lewis, who owns temporary staffing service Workforce Carolina, released this statement Tuesday on the day she filed citing her considerable experience with numerous community organizations as qualifications for mayor.

In the last four years Mount Airy’s municipal elections have gone from 2005’s no-opponent snoozer to 2007’s lively field of challengers. This year it’s a little of both. Given the multitude of fiscal and economic issues facing the city, can a strong mayor make a difference? And who would be the candidate best able to utilize the position’s influence?

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Elkin’s elections got a bit of drama at the last possible hour, when Terry Kennedy put his name into the race and made for four candidates vying for three seats. He joins newcomer Cicely McCulloch and  incumbents Gambill Aldridge and Joe Walker on the ballot. Harold Lee Wagoner, a board member for decades, is stepping down.

All four candidates are owners of businesses in town, with McCulloch a co-owner of Diana’s Bookstore, Walker owning AllStar Rentals, Aldridge owning Basin Creek Realty and Kennedy owning Kennedy Land and Homes.

Given all the debate regarding Fibrowatt, I was honestly surprised some new candidate didn’t run on that issue and make for a more competitive field. But even with just four candidates, someone will have to be the odd one out in this race. Will it be one of the newcomers or could an incumbent actually be ousted?

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Four years ago Dobson’s municipal elections were about as boring as you can get, with all the incumbents running unopposed. Not so this year, with six candidates vying for just two commissioner seats and Kenneth Earnest challenging two-time incumbent Mayor Ricky Draughn. The rundown of commissioner candidates includes former board member Kermit Draughn, recent commissioner appointee Wayne Atkins and newcomers Ron Atkins, Jonathan Snow, John Lawson and Ted Ring.

Maybe the interest in elected leadership reflects the loss of administrative leadership in the past couple of months. Town Manager Lynn Burcham remains on suspension pending the results of a DA and SBI investigation into alleged misuse of funds. The town has contracted with a private company to help run things in the meantime, but it’s nonetheless meant a more hands-on role for elected officials as they piece together projects to expand water and sewer infrastructure. Are the Draughns still the best ones for the job given their experience or is it time for some new leadership?

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We won’t see any changes to Pilot Mountain’s elected leadership based on the filings. The two incumbents — four-term veteran Carolyn Boyles and Andrew French, who was appointed to fill out Mayor Earl Sheppard’s term last year — are the only ones to put their names in the ring thus far. In 2007, 2005, and 2003, these races were competitive however. What’s more, this  happens to be one of the more dynamic periods for Pilot Mountain, with projects to create an education and value-added agricultural hub called The Pilot Center along with improvements to downtown all in the works. Could a write-in candidate emerge?

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The May 20 edition of the Messenger has a snapshot of facts and figures surrounding the proposed Mount Airy city budget for 2009-2010, all culled from the more expansive budget message you can read here provided by City Manager Don Brookshire. Documents this big can be critiqued in whole bunch of ways, but the central theme of this one seems to be “spare some pain now, bite the bullet later.” Unless the city plans to significantly cut back its scope of services (which is always an option) the budget essentially puts future city councils in the hole for all the supplies, capital purchases and pay raises left out this time around. But it does provide a bit of much needed tax relief and spares water users any more rate hikes. Given the current trajectory of the  economy, is this the right approach to take?

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What does it take for the Mount Airy City Council to use a Civil War analogy regarding central government overstepping its bounds? The possibility of the state ABC Commission taking over operations of the local liquor store. This bill actually has a number of municipalities in a tizzy (though I doubt many have commissioners joke at a public meeting “let (the state) know that in the past when something like this happened there were shots fired at Fort Sumter”), as the legislation authorizes the state to merge or close local ABC commissions if they’re stores aren’t making a healthy profit.

Based on the most recent ABC finance records, Mount Airy’s store made a 11 percent profit in 2008, better than most other ABC commissions including those in Elkin and Dobson. But a bigger concern than a shuttered store among commissioners is that the revenues the store generates won’t remain in the community. Each ABC board has a lot of leeway on where to distribute the profits, and the ones in Surry set aside large chunks for local government and/or community organizations. The state could have other ideas on how to spend that money.

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