Among the decisions that will be made by Scotland County voters today is who will serve as mayor of Laurinburg for the next four years.
The two candidates — incumbent Mayor Tommy Parker and his challenger, former mayor Matthew Block — have offered very different visions of what they would do as mayor.
Parker says the mayor should be a “cheerleader” for Laurinburg who tries to to put the best face on actions taken by the city council whether he agrees or not.
Block sees that as being too deferential to city council. He claims Laurinburg needs a mayor who will mix it up with city leaders. While the idea of a rabble-rouser-in-chief sounds cool, we are unsure how workable that is.
If city council is in the habit of adopting polices that fail to promote our best interests, we don’t need a mayor that strenuously objects — we need a new council.
Block certainly wasn’t the kind of firebrand mayor during his first term that he talks about today.
He has repeatedly criticized Parker for failing to speak out about recent utility rate increases. But where was the publicly expressed outrage coming from Block when the council he presided over raised electric rates by 16.9 percent? (We should note that Parker also served as a council member when the electric rate jumped by 16.9 percent and as mayor when it went up by 3.5 percent.)
Parker voted for the increase and Block went along in 2008-2009 because the city needed the extra revenue to keep the electric fund financially solvent. We suspect that is the same reason that the water rate was increased by 35 percent, and that the council is only considering a 7 percent rate decrease to electricity. The city has to pay its bills or curtail the service. It is as simple as that.
For people grappling for reasons to explain why their utility bills are so high that answer is less than satisfactory.
Block knows that and has tapped into the very real anger that our elected officials are doing what they want and not what we want.
That is how we get suggestions that the Laurinburg City Council has some clandestine plan to keep utility rates high to pay for a Taj Mahal-like City Hall. Such silliness might be laughable if Parker had done a better job selling the electric rate deal or was more sympathetic to citizens struggling to pay their bills.
Instead we get a campaign bogged down on an issue that neither Block nor Parker can do much about if elected.
Block may be right about Laurinburg not needing a cheerleader as mayor. But we also have to question if we want a “Mayor Block” who says he is “depressed about living in a dying town.”
What we need is a mayor that loves Laurinburg because of her potential, not in spite of her faults.
We need a mayor who understands how to build partnerships with the community, with businesses, with the state, with other towns and with other local leaders.
We need a mayor who knows how to create new models for providing city services.
We need a mayor who represents every segment of Laurinburg — and not just during election season.
We need a mayor who can attract business, but who can also attract and retain young people and families.
What we don’t need are candidates seemingly trying to secure votes for the price of a fish plate or a box of chicken.
The only buy-in they should concern themselves with is pushing the idea that we all have a stake in seeing a better Laurinburg.
If you find that candidate, vote for him.