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Mercer for mayor, Nunally for At-Large

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Calvin Mercer

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

Greenville residents will be well served by either of the current City Council members running for mayor, but Calvin Mercer’s voting record and embrace of transformational ideas gives him the high ground in a race between the two dedicated public servants.

Mercer, a 10-year member of the council and its current At-Large representative, faces P.J. Connelly, the first-term council member from District 5. Ernest Reeves and Curtis Pulley also are candidates. Reeves did not participate in The Daily Reflector’s endorsement interviews. Pulley, a devout Christian, said he is seeking the position to fulfill a heavenly vision and directive.

The divide between Mercer and Connelly is illustrated by their stands on the city’s involvement in the Imperial Tobacco site. Connelly said he does not believe the city should have given the owner a market value price for the site after securing a $400,000 grant to clean it up. Mercer voted with the rest of the council to pay $1.05 million for the site. If the council had voted with Connelly, the site would have returned to the owner.

Connelly has a good instinct to secure the best deals and make sound financial decisions, but his no vote on the Imperial site ignored the big picture. It would have been a bad decision to give the site back to the original owner after investing the time and effort to clean it up just so the owner could turn around and sell it to the highest bidder.

Now the city owns a site that is garnering interest from several investors interested in mixed-use development. The process is expected to bring the city good return on its investment while allowing it to guide how the site is utilized.

Mercer also supported the redevelopment of White’s Theater downtown. Connelly makes a good point that the nearly $600,000 the city spent on the building could have had a great economic impact if used more broadly to incentivize jobs downtown and elsewhere. But we agree with Mercer that the deal struck by the city to guarantee a private investment of at least $1 million was needed to restore what had been an eyesore to a jewel that will be a lively addition to the downtown economy.

We also disagree with Connelly’s stand against a resolution opposing HB2, which limited city’s autonomy, and his recent vote against an exotic animal ban, which would have barred traveling exhibits to truck in caged animals like tigers and elephants for show.

Mercer has been one of the strongest voices on the council for the city’s park system, greenway system and sidewalks and bike lanes along city streets. Connelly also is a proponent but such initiatives rank lower on his priority list. He led the council in June to devote a greater portion of park money in the current city budget to street maintenance and lighting.

He also led the effort to privatize Bradford Creek Public Golf Course. We hope the deal will generate revenue for the city, but it remains to be seen whether it will and how it will affect service to residents.

Connelly has been criticized by complete street advocates for leading the council to vote against a N.C. DOT plan to widen Evans Street. In fairness to Connelly, the resulting negotiations with DOT led to a better plan that did more to protect property owners without sacrificing much needed sidewalks and bike lanes.

Despite criticism to the contrary, Mercer is a thoughtful steward of the public treasury. He has voted for modest increases in taxes and fees on occasion but has voted to lower them as well. Increases that went forward were throughly considered by the council and judged as necessary to sustain governmental operations.

Unnamed political opponents currently are attacking Mercer because he raised concerns over a student housing development on Charles Boulevard. His position favors a campaign supporter who also builds student housing. He has been open about his position on the matter, and his concerns have merit regardless of whom they benefit.

The law does not prohibit citizens and business interests from lobbying city officials, nor does it bar officials from advocating for their causes. We would be naive to suggest that either Mercer or Connelly is immune from such activity, whether it takes place in the open or privately.

Both men are campaigning because they want to do what they believe is best for their community, and we think that it was clear from conversations with both that they care deeply about the city and all of its residents and will listen to and fully consider all concerns.

We feel either man will be a strong leader for Greenville, and know few decisions they make will please everyone. We believe Mercer on the whole has made better decisions than Connelly on the council and that is why we are endorsing him for mayor of Greenville.

At Large

Brian Meyerhoeffer and Chris Nunnally both bring youth and enthusiasm to the open race for the At-Large seat on the Greenville City Council, not to mention law degrees.

Meyerhoeffer, 40, is a director in ECU’s Office of Integrity. Between his military upbringing, his educational pursuits and climbing the corporate career ladder, he has lived in many communities, but Greenville grabbed his heart and his imagination when he attended East Carolina in the 90s. He gave up corporate law and moved here for good in 2012 to raise a family.

Nunnally, 37, is a native; a graduate of J.H. Rose High School. He graduated from East Carolina with a music degree and played professionally in New York City. He earned a law degree while he was there then moved back home in 2008. He now has his own practice specializing in dental and medical mergers and runs a private music school.

Meyerhoeffer is a self-proclaimed “Greenville nerd” and boasts about his adopted hometown to out-of-town friends. He said his experience working with a diverse client base in corporate law and at ECU and the contacts he has made through the work will be valuable helping city government recruit new business and jobs to town. He said the city needs to do better job of selling itself as a safe place and one that is business friendly.

Nunnally speaks passionately and with great command of the issues surrounding the city’s growth and the challenges that come with that. He believes the city needs to be walkable and bikeable with a dense urban core and smart roadways but says what that will look like and how to fund it will be an ongoing conversation.

Both men believe the city needs to manage its finances carefully and have the professional skills to be good fiscal stewards on the council. Neither has held public office so there is not a voting record to judge them against.

Meyerhoeffer has worked at ECU to help recruit scores of professionals to the city from across the country and internationally. Nunnally has a record of public service including a seat on the city’s Historic Preservation Committee. In addition to operating his school in west Greenville, he has taught at J.H. Rose and The Oakwood School.

His law practice exposes him to the needs and demands of the city’s medical community, and music and teaching have helped him form ties in west Greenville, the city’s arts community and with students and families from throughout the city.

Because of their passion, professional background and obvious ability to do the job, either Meyehoeffer and Nunnally would serve Greenville well as an At-Large representative to the City Council. Because of his diverse work and deep ties to the community, Nunnally gets our endorsement.

Correction

Thursday’s endorsement in the District 5 race incorrectly characterized the reaction of Will Litchfield to a proposal by opponent Tom Best that Greenville should try to become a pilot city for self-driving vehicle. Litchfield said during the endorsement interview that he wanted to focus on his own ideas, not those of Best. We should not have interpreted that as dismissive.

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