Council QuickiesNews & Opinion

Council Quickies: City Workers Speak Out

May 8, 2023

Patrick Cannon, city workers
City council heard from city workers on Monday during a public forum for the proposed FY 2024 budget. (Photo courtesy of City of Charlotte)

Charlotte City Council met for committee discussions followed by a business meeting on Monday night — one that featured non-action on one agenda item, effectively killing an idea that’s been in the works for many months: extending Charlotte City Council terms from two years to four.

Committee Discussions

Before Malcolm Graham led a discussion about the Jobs and Economic Development Committee, city attorney Patrick Baker recommended that council excuse Tariq Bokhari from the room during discussions of Eastland, as he is a minority owner of Carolina Esports Hub, which is included in the latest “QC East” proposal for the space. Because it was just a committee update, however, he was allowed to stay.

Graham said the proposals for a Target and the one for an aquatic center are off the table to fill the 20 acres left empty by David Tepper at Eastland Yards. Graham says the QC East proposal was submitted so recently he hasn’t read it yet.

The new proposal, dubbed QC East, would be an $83-million partnership between three existing companies — Charlotte Soccer Academy, Southern Entertainment and Carolina Esports Hub — that would come together to build a gaming, athletic and concert venue in the space.

There’s also a public-private option that’s being discussed with Mecklenburg County, said Graham, but there aren’t any details regarding what that would look like. He says there have been informal discussions with city and county staff on that but “there isn’t any meat on the bone yet.”

James ‘Smuggie’ Mitchell voiced his frustration with the constantly changing deadline for these proposals, as assistant city manager Tracy Dodson said there’s another 90-day extension to look at the options left on the table and do community outreach for feedback on all of them.

Public Forum

Dominic Harris with Charlotte Water kicked off the public hearing on the proposed FY 2024 budget. He said that since Marcus Jones took his seat as city manager, city employees have been seeing pay raises “by leaps and bounds … But there’s a line that many city workers still fall under.”

Kevin Carr with Solid Waste Services said, “A lot of us are not making the same salary as our competitors” in the private sector. He would like to see a 15% pay raise rather than the proposed 6% so that Second Harvest Food Bank no longer has to feed folks in his department.

Derek Davis with Charlotte Water said “It’s a slap in the face” to see police officers getting 8-10% pay raises while utility workers like himself are getting 6% in the proposed budget, especially when the city is proposing funding the raises for CMPD officers through higher water rates.

Local activist Kass Ottley said, “We cannot talk about upward mobility or Corridors of Opportunity while 75% of city workers are being left behind.” She pointed out that she knows multiple city workers who have lived in hotels since last year and most can’t afford to live in the city.

Zakee Cook with CFD asked that the proposed budget’s plan to separate pay plans for police and fire be fixed to allow the two departments to remain united in their pay plan rather than compete.

Tim Bell with CFD challenged the city manager’s claim that there is a zero-vacancy rate in the department, stating that CFD is at least 20 people short and expecting retirements to make things worse in the coming year. The proposed budget would add 42 additional fire staff.

Tom Brewer with CFD says there are staffing shortages at all levels of the department and firefighters are asked to work an overwhelming amount of overtime. “You as Charlotte City Council have the duty to fix this.”

Multiple environmental advocates addressed council during the public forum to say that the city is not doing enough to reach its Strategic Energy Action Plan goals since approving said plan five years ago. They’re concerned that it is now falling by the wayside.

Roy Pegram with Solid Waste Services said he was highlighted in the Charlotte Observer last year as a city worker who has to live in a hotel. He still lives in a hotel today, where rent has gone up as well as other costs of living and every week he has to sacrifice something to make ends meet.

Four-Year Terms

Dimple Ajmera made a motion to defer the decision on whether to add a referendum to the 2023 ballot to extend city council terms to four years and add a new district, which would effectively start the whole process over, meaning it would not get onto the ballot until 2024 at the earliest.

A substitute motion to approve putting it on the ballot for 2023 failed in a 3-7 vote (Braxton Winston, Renee Johnson and LaWana Mayfield were the Yes votes; Victoria Watlington was not in attendance last night). A motion to defer also failed, effectively killing the effort to extend council terms for the next year.

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