The economic recession re- inforces the need for competent elected leaders. Hills borough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who faces a primary challenge Tuesday, has brought maturity, vision and common sense to a board struggling to cope with this changing economy. The county will need that even keel from its governing board if it hopes to weather tougher times ahead.
Any candidate can rail against government spending. But the questions facing Hillsborough commissioners are much more complex: How does the county meet required levels of service, protect the quality of life and grow the economy with a declining tax base? How does it cut overhead and still maintain a professional work force and billions in infrastructure? And at what point are some services spun off to the private sector?
Resolving these questions involves more than voting up or down on the budget. They require an ability to think through what is wrong with an institution and adapt. Sharpe was the lone commissioner who warned three years ago that the collapse in housing meant the county needed to fundamentally rethink its role and scope. He pushed consolidation with other public agencies. Sharpe also was the first commissioner to move against then-County Administrator Pat Bean after it became clear that the 33-year county employee was wedded to the bureaucracy and unprepared to guide the county through the recession. And Sharpe has been the primary player in pushing the county to be more creative in attracting clean, high-paying jobs.
A commissioner elected countywide needs to balance the needs of both the cities and unincorporated areas. Sharpe recognizes strong cities are the economic engines for the entire region. His stance on managing growth offers rural Hillsborough its only chance to maintain its pastoral appeal. He has improved the county's working relationship with its many regional partners. And at a time public cynicism about government is high, Sharpe is unmatched on the board for his willingness to hear all sides of an issue.
No local race in Hillsborough's primary has more far-reaching implications. Yet only Republicans will effectively decide who wins this seat, for the winner on Tuesday faces no Democrat in November and no serious challenge in the general election. This is no time to shoot blindly in a quest for change. Sharpe has brought change to Hillsborough, and he is best equipped to keep providing it through difficult times.