EDITORIAL: Chet Mann for Sanford mayor

Aug. 25, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

The issue: The city of Sanford mayoral race between two-term incumbent

Cornelia Olive and challenger Chet Mann, the two Democrats who appear on the Sept. 10 ballot. With no Republican candidates to face in November’s general election, the winner takes the four-year seat to preside over Sanford’s City Council.

Our view: While Olive has been a visible and able administrator, the city council (and the City of Sanford) need a game-changing leader who can move Sanford out of the perpetual crossroads in which we’ve idled for too long. Mann’s plan of action and for action, boosted by his energy and his proven effectiveness in the community, makes him the candidate Sanford needs now at this juncture in the city’s history.

A few years ago, the Second Century campaign developed a new marketing and branding slogan for Lee County: we were to become “Well-Centered,” a tagline which reflected our location and, hopefully, our high quality-of-life index.

In too many ways over the years, though, Lee County and Sanford have instead become “high-centered.” That term refers to what happens when a driven car literally bottoms out, stuck on obstacle on (or off) the road and its wheels lose contact.

If you’ve ever high-centered, you know that pushing the accelerator to the floor gets you nowhere. Traction is lost, fuel is wasted. In order for the car to be moved, some external force has to rock it off the obstacle before movement occurs.

Sanford’s not exactly stuck, but think back - how long have we been saying we’re at a crossroads? Many of the same obstacles we’ve been discussing for a decade now are left without resolution. Meanwhile, political discord has grown rampant and incivility unchecked. (Check out the online attacks by county Tea Partiers on anyone who supports the city’s bond issues.) Partially because of the divides the Lee County board of commissioners are creating and fostering in Lee County, the city council has a chance to set a decidedly different tone here. Instead, while some of its members doze through meetings - a few of which have lasted only 20 or 30 minutes - opportunities have been lost or squandered.

But this election brings a new opportunity. With three of seven council seats and the mayor’s position up for grabs between now and November, there’s a chance do an old-fashioned “burnout,” to rev the engine and throw up some dust on the past. Even though Sanford’s mayor only votes to break ties, the position has the potential external force to ignite debate and spark change and help put the crossroads in the rearview mirror.

Incumbent Mayor Cornelia Olive’s efforts to give Sanford traction haven’t been without a host of successes, including beautification efforts and a real alternative solution (Family Promise) to the city’s homeless problem. She lends a reasoned voice and has represented Sanford well on the state and national stage.

But few would argue that Sanford has prospered exceedingly under her watch. No real solutions are in sight for some of the city’s other persistent issues, such as crime and political impasses. You can’t pin all that on the mayor, but in eight years at city hall Olive hasn’t been able to muster the votes necessary to fix or even address some of the city’s more pressing issues, instead leading to unsatisfactory stalemates and lack of traction. She’s encouraged council members to become more active and more prepared, but there’s been too little to show in the “results” column.

Challenger Chet Mann has cultivated results in business and in the community. His service to the local YMCA, the Lee County Arts & Community Center, the Lee County Education Foundation, the chamber of commerce and the Central Carolina Community College Board of Trustees - despite the county commissioners’ efforts to remove him from that job - has proven Mann knows the difference between the gas pedal and the cruise control button. He’s a rare candidate who ideas are backed up by specific, strategic plans, and he’s openly expressed a willingness to try and fail - but to try, nonetheless, to move Sanford from high-centered to well-centered.

Will he succeed on the council? We think he can and he will. He’ll have his work cut out for him: his leadership in the LEED-PAC has already made him a whipping boy for a segment of the Lee County blogosphere, but Mann is man enough to fight relevant battles and to get out in front of ideas and work on them, instead of just reacting. He says he wants to “close the deal,” and we think his strengths and determination will compel more dialogue and progress in Sanford - and making us more well-centered by virtue of the process.

We need traction. Chet Mann can be the external force which moves Sanford on down a better path.