Not everyone could be a winner, but some folks really went out of their way to go in the opposite direction, and for that they deserve a call out.
Worst Event Planning: Latta Plantation
Any event planner will tell you, it’s all in the way you present your function that affects whether the public will show up — or in worst-case scenarios, how they’ll react to screenshots of your plans shared widely around the country on social media.
That’s what happened when folks began sharing the description of an event called Kingdom Coming, scheduled for Latta Plantation in Huntersville on Juneteenth weekend.
“Come out to Historic Latta Plantation for a one night event,” the description read. “You will hear stories from the massa himself. Federal troops (Yankees) have him on the run and his former bondsmen have occupied his home and are living high on the hog. Hear how they feel about being freedmen.” It went on to promise that white refugees “have a story to tell as well,” and that Confederate soldiers would be expressing their feelings about the downfall of the Confederacy, seemingly centering everyone but the enslaved person on a holiday meant to celebrate their emancipation.
The response was swift, and it quickly expanded past social media. Before the month was over, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners decided not to renew the lease for Historic Latta Place Inc., which for years ran the circa-1800s farm where people were once held as slaves and forced into labor, and operated it as a “living history museum.”
Site manager Ian Campbell, a Black man, did release a defensive statement that took shots at the mayor for her statement decrying the scheduled event and blamed the “media corps of yellow journalists” for stirring the public into a frenzy over the event.
In the end, HLP was forced out on July 1, and the county is currently doing community outreach to plan for the reopening of the historic site in an inclusive and respectful way.
Most Shameful Business: City Inn on Nations Ford Road
In January, WSOC reported about City Inn’s dastardly practice of shaming tenants who had fallen behind on rent during the pandemic. Management of the motel, located on Nations Ford Road in southwest Charlotte, put up a display in the lobby depicting the drivers’ licenses and photos of all tenants who had fallen behind on payments in a time when an eviction moratorium had made it illegal to kick such tenants to the streets.
The display also listed how much each resident owed, showing totals ranging from $2,000 to more than $7,000, with phrases like, “Shame on you.” This made some renters feel like the motel was trying to shame them into leaving, even though they had nowhere to go.
One tenant told WSOC they were worried about identity theft, as management not only had copies of tenants’ drivers’ licenses but Social Security cards as well. Another renter confronted the motel manager about the board and was told the owner is frustrated: “She said, ‘He wants his money, and he wants you all out of here, so this is the last straw.’”
Worst Faux Outrage: White Privilege banner at Charlotte Catholic football game
“Sniff sniff. You smell that?” and then “PRIVILEGE” painted in white letters surrounded by dollar signs. This was the banner held up by Butler High School cheerleaders at a football game against Charlotte Catholic in October.
In the course of any high school football game, tons of stupid things are said about the opposing team. The banner echoed the kind of harmless jawing we’d all do at a bar if we met someone who went to Charlotte Catholic, a $10,000-per-year private school with an 84% white population. But right-wing media picked up the local story, as outlets like The Blaze, the Daily Mail, and Fox News wrote weird dog-whistle stories about the banner.
Twitter users who don’t even live in North Carolina demanded the cheerleaders be expelled. Some even called the banner a hate crime. All of this for a bunch of high school cheerleaders who had an idea they thought was funny. It wasn’t a racial slur, or a call for discrimination. It was just some kids with Office Depot paper and some markers. Chill.
Worst Petty Fight: CMS & Meck County fight over funding
If you have been paying attention to local Charlotte politics, it is no secret that our local governing bodies have regularly and consistently failed to effectively support Black and brown communities, poor folks, and people of nearly every other marginalized identity. On more than one instance, this systemic failure has turned into a technicality-laden game of Pass the Blame between governing bodies, and this petty-passing was in full display in this summer’s dramatic mediation between the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education and the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners (BOCC).
Citing concerns about equity in CMS schools, the BOCC threatened to withhold 56 million dollars allocated for public education. The stipulations of this funding debacle led to accusations that the BOCC might be overstepping their role by enforcing equity quotas in CMS, particularly when the BOCC can make concrete contributions to equity in school by funding things like affordable housing and public transportation.
In the end, the struggle was resolved through mediation, which stipulated that the BOCC would release the funds to CMS and, in return, CMS would provide several updates with data on their progress toward equity. Play stupid games; win stupid prizes.
Most Inexplicable Police Response: Gastonia Police Department
We got a glimpse at the lack of ethics within the Gastonia Police Department during protests there in 2020, and this year they said, “Hold my beer,” as one incident in particular showed their lack of empathy — for those struggling with homelessness, for veterans and for animals alike.
On Oct. 13, Gastonia Police arrested Joshua Rohrer for panhandling at the same intersection he had been setting up at for months. Rohrer, who served in the U.S. Army from 2002 to 2008, was set up at an intersection near the Gastonia Mall with his best friend, a female service dog named Sunshine, who was trained to help Rohrer cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. When Gastonia PD arrived on the scene following a 911 call, witnesses say officers asked for Rohrer’s ID. When he complied too slowly, officers slammed him against their car and cuffed him.
In response to her owner being assaulted, Sunshine nipped at one of the officer’s boots, so another officer shot her with a stun gun. Sunshine ran away as the police threw Rohrer to the pavement and arrested him, charging him with panhandling and resisting arrest. While Rohrer was in jail, Veterans Affairs advocate Dave Dowell tracked down Sunshine, but she subsequently escaped the advocate’s care. When Rohrer was released from jail the next day he searched for his dog, only to discover that she had been struck by a car and killed.
A GoFundMe has been launched to provide legal fees and housing costs for Rohrer, who is depressed and devastated by the loss of Sunshine.
Worst Government Response: Mecklenburg County, Tent City
Mecklenburg County’s eviction of some 200 homeless residents from Tent City in February was about as disruptive and cruel as could be. After waiting to take action until a rodent infestation presented a public health hazard to Tent City residents along 12th Street, the Mecklenburg County Public Health department gave them only 72 hours notice to clear out. County officials stated that residents were entitled to 90 days of hotel housing, and while officials made efforts to inform Tent City residents of the order, local activists said that many residents didn’t know about the eviction order or the resettlement plan.
While not as violent a response as we’ve seen in other so-called liberal cities where police have been let loose on tent communities, clearing residents out without offering a new place to go, folks who were placed in the motel here in Charlotte still fell victim to theft, assault, COVID-19 risks, health problems (including mental health and drug addiction) and lack of shelter for pets and service animals. The chaotic eviction led a lot of already downtrodden Charlotteans to lose property, pets, community and stability. The impact of the eviction is felt to this day.
Worst Government Non-Response: CMS silence on sexual assaults
Title IX investigations are notoriously shrouded in silence and bureaucracy, and CMS policy is no exception. This summer, in response to months of public interest and critique about how sexual assault allegations were handled at Myers Park High School, the school system insisted that there were only two recorded rapes in the school systems over the last 10 years — a statistic that seems wildly disconnected from reality given the sheer volume of students enrolled in CMS schools over the last decade.
As outspoken criticism rose, the Board of Education formed a “task force” made up of students and community members to address concerns. Unfortunately, CMS never provided the public with any information about what this group would actually be doing. And as the task force met, pressure increased with public incidents and mishandled sexual assault allegations involving Olympic High School and Hawthorne Academy.
Almost a year after public concerns were first raised, CMS seems to be no closer to a tangible solution and evidence of the glaring problem seems only to be increasing. This strange saga of non-action continues with the most recent announcement by Superintendent Earnest Winston that the school system will not handle all Title IV allegations at the district level. The question of course remains, what exactly will the district do?
Worst Corporate Response: Colonial Pipeline Huntersville gas spill
If you accidentally spilled 1.2 million gallons of gas in a nature preserve, what would you do? Would you report that it was only 63,000 gallons, most of which had already been removed? Would you keep county residents in the dark about it for two days? Would you go out of your way to bewilder concerned locals with reams of jargon-y reports or with canned company lines? If you answered no to any of those questions, then Colonial Pipeline needs your PR expertise.
Though the spill was initially discovered in August 2020, it wasn’t until January 2021 that the company admitted the full magnitude of the rupture, which was the largest spill in the U.S. since 2000. Now, over a year later, Colonial Pipeline is still trying to clean up — both the gas-soaked ground in Huntersville and the abysmal state of its public image.
Worst Restaurateur: Juli Ghazi of Pure Pizza
COVID has upended our lives in so many ways. One that’s less talked about is how it really laid bare the values and science acumen of people we thought we knew. For years, Pure Pizza’s owner, Juli Ghazi, had made it her brand to be an ally to the marginalized in her community. She was a vocal opponent of HB2, she donated pizzas for protesters against police brutality, and assisted organizations feeding the homeless. She’s been quoted in more than one “Meet this Girl Boss”-type interview as believing “food is community,” and she has a responsibility to protect it. So it’s understandable that many of her Plaza Midwood regulars were shocked and dismayed in August when she announced on social media she would not be enforcing mask mandates in her restaurant for customers or employees, nor would she be asking employees to get vaccinated, then went on a long diatribe of anti-mask, antivax misinformation on her social media channels.
When her longtime patrons, including some who are disabled and immunocompromised, expressed their disappointment at her shift in values, she dismissed them as “trolls” and doubled down. A bevy of alt-right and evangelical commenters swarmed, vowing to drive from out of town, without masks, to patronize Pure Pizza. She did not dismiss them or even check their rhetoric. There goes the neighborhood.
Worst Restaurant Policy: The Goodyear House
Earlier this year, we were sent a Facebook post from a server named Forrest who had a story she wanted to tell.
She alleged the popular NoDa restaurant The Goodyear House had been misappropriating tips through an illegal tip pool.
Queen City Nerve contributor Dion Beary and Nerve staff writer Pat Moran looked into the story, and not only were they able to verify Forrest’s story, but also uncover a restaurant chock-full of toxic intimidation, with management sending an “us-vs-them” message in which servers were told if they spoke publicly about the situation, the restaurant would likely be boycotted and it would hurt their tips even more.
Larger than what was exposed about one restaurant is what was exposed about Charlotte media. Every outlet in the city knew of the story; all refused to report it.
The close relationship between restaurateurs and lifestyle-obsessed news outlets took precedence. One little tip pool taught us a great deal about restaurant management, social media outrage, local reporting and more.
Worst Idea: Criminalize direct support to the homeless
The annual 2021 State of Housing and Homelessness Report recently found that the number of people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte saw a staggering 55% increase from June 2020 to June 2021.
In June, there was a tent city growing by the day, in plain sight of people passing by who became understandably horrified and wanted to help. Sometimes they did so by just stopping and dropping off supplies. Job losses from the pandemic had exacerbated homelessness, which was already high from Charlotte’s ongoing failure to offer affordable housing. The moment called for strong leadership and good ideas.
That’s when Charlotte City Council member Tariq Bokhari stepped forward at a city council meeting and, with all the unearned confidence of a corporate tech bro, offered up this hot take: We should make it a misdemeanor to give food, money and clothes directly to people experiencing homelessness.
Yes, he believed calling the cops was the bold idea he needed to speak into existence. Our own Councilman Karen, the self-described “Innov8r.” He’s still simpin’.
“They’re only making themselves feel good,” he said, referring to people taking direct action to make sure their neighbors don’t starve or freeze to death. “I think we need a heavier dose of tough love amongst this community, especially amongst those who continually give money, and food and clothing directly to these folks.”
Although these DC Comics-villain-esque words made some international headlines, they didn’t draw much pushback from his fellow council members, which leads us to think maybe Tariq is the one who’s not getting the tough love he needs.
We’ve got a message for Tariq: The cops are never gonna love you the way you love them. They’re not here to handle major social problems for you, whether it’s homelessness or civil unrest. That’s on you and your colleagues to create systemic equity through policymaking before the ever-deepening fault lines between classes rip our city apart and swallow us into an abyss.
So take the boot out of your mouth, rise from your privileged perch atop District 6, and go experience the parts of Charlotte that don’t have mansions and Louis Vuitton stores. Maybe you’ll see ways resources would be better allocated to serve all of Charlotte’s citizens. Maybe the broader perspective will help you find your misplaced humanity.
Biggest Anticlimax: Charlotte City Council Elections
It was at a Charlotte City Council meeting in February that questions first began to come up publicly about whether the city would even be able to hold its scheduled and much-anticipated municipal elections in 2021. City staff knew they would need to redraw districts due to the city’s rapidly growing population before any elections could be held, as any results based on 2010 Census data could easily be challenged in court due to disproportionate districts.
Before they could carry out any redistricting, however, they would need the data from the 2020 Census. But would the 2020 Census even be available in time for the city to use in its redistricting discussions? And would those discussions happen quickly enough for a new map to be drawn and the polls to legally open? Or would elections have to be postponed?
The storyline had some cliffhanger moments but ultimately proved to be anticlimactic as it became clear pretty early on in 2021 that setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic would mean the data wouldn’t be ready in time. On June 28, council officially made the decision to push back municipal primaries to March 8, 2022, and the general election to April 26, 2022. In other words, we’re stuck with who we’ve got for a few more months.
Don’t Let the Door Hit You: Richard Burr
It seems that Richard Burr, North Carolina’s senior and lame duck senator, felt he was just not rich enough. During his third successful run for U.S. senate in 2016, Burr announced he would not seek a fourth term.
Little did he know then, facing the twilight of his political career, Burr would encounter an unexpected windfall in the form of a deadly pandemic.
In early 2020, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr received classified warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies about the danger posed by COVID. Publicly, Burr downplayed the danger posed by the virus, while privately he dumped roughly $1.6 million in stocks that he knew would take a hit.
Then he called his brother-in-law, who promptly dumped his stocks. Then he warned the wealthy businessmen who make up the Tar Heel Circle about the impending crisis, while withholding that dire information from the general public.
After an investigation, the Justice Department declined to press charges against Burr, but now he’s under a new investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for his insider trading, as well as his failure to warn Americans about the looming pandemic.
It seems that amassing an impressive nest egg was far more important to Burr than saving any of the 743,000 Americans lives lost thus far to COVID.