Note: To find other articles on this website about local election information search Election 2020.
In the upcoming November 2020 election, four candidates are vying for one open seat on the board of supervisors for The Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District:
- Gregory Denlea
- Rich George
- Duncan St. Clair
- David Michael Rice
The Board has five members: two appointed and three elected in staggered terms. This non-paid board of supervisors meets monthly to establish local soil and water conservation priorities based on the needs of the district.
CWM contacted each candidate with questions about their plans and experience. Their answers are reprinted below, and have been edited for brevity. We were not able to interview David Michael Rice, despite efforts to contact him.
But first, a few paragraphs outlining the importance and impact of The Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District (MSWCD):
Conservation Districts represent an important and overlooked constituency in the county: farmers. Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) supports their conservation practices and advocates for protecting their land and livelihoods. This advocacy extends to the urban agriculture industry – a nascent but powerful industry here in Mecklenburg County. District Board Supervisors become important spokespersons for communities who can lead in agricultural policy-making resulting in long term positive impacts on such areas as eradicating food deserts and food insecurity.
Conservation Districts have a unique opportunity to learn best practices from over 3,000 peer districts in the nation. By tapping into this vast network of conservation professionals, MCSWCG is able to share best practices on multiple fronts (tree canopy, storm water, forestry, agriculture, etc.). In this regard, the District serves as a peer and independent environmental advisor to city and county officials.
Conservation Districts can provide a vast spectrum of educational opportunities, such as structured programs like the Envirothon, to local workshops for small-scale stream solutions. The District has latitude to work with private and public sector organizations (NC Cooperative Extension and the NC Forest Service USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service) to develop and implement workshops that meet local needs. And much of what they do is with limited budgets and resources.
The ideal Supervisor is one who has – first and foremost – a passion for public service, a passion for conserving natural resources, and a willingness to understanding MCSWCD’s mission and its statutory authorities. This passion, built on history and successes and a willingness to advance the overall agenda of voluntary conservation through program development and funding opportunities, is paramount of such individual.
Charlotte Women's Movement Interviews with MCSWCD Candidates
Question 1: What is your conservation passion and how will you integrate that into the mission of MCSWCD?
Dr. Gregory Denlea: My work will complement the work of staff by providing good governance, understanding staff resource development and utilization, and campaigning to enlarge the district’s funds. Being the first district to create the position of an urban conservationist, I believe ours should have multiple urban conservationists, and that we ensure that every child in our school district receives environmental conservation education. In addition, the availability of food and quality drinking water for all are crucial.
My objectives: further environmental education, develop cost share programs for urban farming, continue clean-up and conservation of our waterways, extend opportunities for the production of microgreens through hydroponic farms, and partner with the government to generate funding.
Rich George: My passion to combat our worsening climate crisis drives me to serve and is outlined in my strategic plan of: EQUITABLE access to natural resources; OPTIMAL usage of natural resources for agriculture, housing, recreation and industry; and SUSTAINABLE natural resource management.
Food safety and security are top priority, especially in food deserts.
With limited regulatory and enforcement power, MCSWCD must educate, excite and empower residents about their relationship with food, while ensuring rich soil and clean water to grow it. Ideally, they will begin to ask: Where does my food originate? Why is my food important? How can I grow my own food? Since healthy food naturally depends on healthy soil and water, I will focus on eliminating our most dangerous contaminants.
Duncan St. Clair: In Mecklenburg County, we have a tree canopy. In other counties, they have farms. All across North Carolina, land use in counties varies incredibly. For us, we are urban, sub-urban, and natural environments in various degrees. I want to expand micro and urban farms so that Mecklenburg County has MORE farms. It doesn’t seem as though preserving large farms is effective. If you turn around, they become subdivisions or parking lots, etc. I want to present ways normal residents can become passionate about a farm/gardening or tree canopy preservation – integrating this into the mission of Soil and Water Conservation.
Question 2: How much time are you able to commit to the office?
Dr. Gregory Denlea: Fifteen (15+) hours per week which includes time spent with these governmental organizations:
- Soil & Water Conservation District
- Storm Water Drainage Committee Meetings
- City Council meeting (especially the Transportation Committee meetings of which the environmental committee is a subset)
- County Commission
- CMS School Board
- North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation Commission
- North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Division of Soil and Water Conservation
- North Carolina Conservation District Employees Association
- C. Foundation for Soil and Water Conservation, Inc.
- North Carolina Resource Conservation and Development Association
- United State Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service
Rich George: Beyond participating in MSWCD monthly meetings, I anticipate spending approximately 8-10 hours per week on MSWCD business PLUS time spent partnering with other agencies (e.g., Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, TreesCharlotte) that are critically important to a healthy County environment. As a self-employed Chief Brand Strategy Officer for Brandsymbol, I can devote as much time as needed (within reason) to my MSWCD Supervisor duties since my professional projects can be flexibly executed any time of day or night…as long as I meet predetermined client deadlines.
Duncan St. Clair: Time is invaluable, and easier to simply not waste it than commit to it. I don’t know how long it will take to churn out micro and urban farms all across Mecklenburg County; the sooner we start the better. I also do not know how long it will take to adopt a coordinated approach to tree canopy preservation. But without working toward it, none of it will happen. I commit to the cause, rather than a specific amount of time. I think it more effective to commit to the cause, and complete it.
Question 3: What makes you uniquely competent to serve and contribute to this Board?
Dr. Gregory Denlea: I am experienced in environmental assessment and education, conservation, have a business background and been a Charlotte resident for the past 18 years. I want to collaborate with other leaders, educate constituents on soil and water conservation, and promote open dialog with other conservation agencies at all governmental levels.
I will maximize the capture and expenditure of state, federal, and county funds for the restoration of our local wetlands, the cleanup of our local waterways, the preservation of our farmlands and natural habitats and the education of our community on conservation. I will also serve as a primary connection between conservation groups like the Sierra Club and local, state, and federal organizations when prioritizing initiatives and developing/communicating our common goals.
I am running to represent our community at the state level. The SWCD is a sub-division of the State of NC and falls under the NC Association of Soil and Water Districts. Mecklenburg County is unique from other SWCDs out of the 96 in our state because we are predominantly urban; traditionally the SWCD has supported rural cost-share programs. My candidacy for district supervisor proposes to transform our SWCD through education, communication, and collaboration.
Rich George: My professional expertise as a Brand Strategist serving Fortune 100 companies is ideally suited to complement MSWCD’s successful work to date. Specifically, these skills will allow me to define and deliver:
- STRATEGIC PLANNING that drives MS&WCD activity by: a) defining a clear roadmap to success; b) developing a comprehensive database that combines existing information into a single, searchable resource to facilitate fact-based decision-making; and c) detailing stakeholder input needed to protect and promote Mecklenburg resources.
- STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPSthat maximize MSWCD visibility, funding and impact by: a) coordinating environmental plans with City of Charlotte to supplement SEAP carbon reduction; b) collaborating with stakeholders to solicit expertise and experience; and c) communicating clearly, consistently and compellingly, leading to common understanding and objectives.
- STRATEGIC PRIORITIESthat deliver MSWCD goals, including: a) soil health needed to reconnect County residents with fresh, healthy food, especially in disadvantaged communities; b) water quality focused on single-use plastic and micro-plastic contamination, in conjunction with County and City agencies; and c) green infrastructure to stimulate job training and creation.
Duncan St. Clair: I was born in Charlotte and have lived here most of my life, so I have seen what’s been going on for some time. However, this is certainly the most unique qualification I bring: I care, and I’m pretty good at caring.
Question 4: What experience in environmental issues do you bring to this office?
Dr. Gregory Denlea:
- My experience in soil and water conservation projects: Worked on water conservation projects with the California Conservation Corps, national park trail building and maintenance, wildland forest firefighting, and urban conservation projects (e.g. tree planting).
- Education: I hold a relevant and recent master’s degree in environmental assessment from NC State University. I also have an undergraduate bachelor’s in science in environmental science from Washington State University
- 16 years teaching environmental science at the University of Phoenix
- 30 years management and governance experience in multiple industries and currently serve on multiple boards in our community
- Active member in the community and servant in the church
Rich George: As an aggressive climate-crisis warrior, I am equipped with global expertise built on the world’s latest scientific research. As a 10-year resident of Mecklenburg County, I am energized to act and impact our local environment. As a tribute to my late fiancée, I am inspired to defend life-sustaining biodiversity.
Specifically, my environmental and animal-rights advocacy includes:
- Certified member of VP Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps, with extensive training on combating global climate crisis, and environmental/social/racial injustice
- Active member of Mecklenburg-area non-profits protecting natural resources:
- Sierra Club: National Text Team (Biden GOTV); NC Climate Change Subcommittee
- Audubon Society: 2020 NC Legislature Virtual Advocacy Presenter
- NC Conservation Network: Mecklenburg County Delegation Presenter
- NC League of Conservation Voters
- Volunteer with CharMeck Animal Shelter
In addition, I am the product of my family’s small farms in central PA. I deeply appreciate fertile soil, fresh air, and clean water. I clearly understand the importance of fresh, healthy food, and strongly support local agriculture struggling against global food conglomerates.
Duncan St. Clair: It no longer seems that “experience in environmental issues” is something that you need professional training or advanced degrees in. Just look around – we are all experiencing environmental issues. I want to connect people to solutions: urban and micro farms. I want to help residents preserve the tree canopy. Making micro and urban farms and tree canopy preservation a board member’s priority, this is an invaluable contribution that benefits everyone.
Final comments and contact information for each candidate:
Dr. Gregory Denlea: I am honored to be invited to participate in the Charlotte Women’s Movement article. I attribute my candidacy to attending Civics 101, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Do not hesitate to reach out to me directly for any reason. Visit me on Facebook. Email me or call: 704-713-3554.
Rich George: I fully support Charlotte Women’s Movement, and greatly appreciate the opportunity to share my progressive, environmentally-driven platform with your members. Further “E*O*S: A NEW DAWN FOR MECKLENBURG’S ENVIRONMENT” information (including my strategic plan presentation) can be found on my Facebook page then by clicking on Photos/Albums for the slideshow. Reach me by phone: 910.229.4337