Charlotte City Council met for the first time this year on Monday night for a business meeting that featured public feedback sessions on three issues city staff has been working on for some time, giving residents a chance to sound off on recent Charlotte MOVES Task Force recommendations, potentially extending city council terms from two years to four years, and efforts to change street names around the city that honor Confederate leaders and known white supremacists.
Charlotte MOVES Task Force and the One-Cent Mobility Tax
At a Dec. 14, 2020 council meeting, the Charlotte MOVES Task Force, headed by former mayor Harvey Gantt, presented its final report, including recommendations that center around the development of a “transformational mobility network,” (TMN) which includes the new CATS Silver Line as well as hundreds of miles of rapid transit bus lanes, greenways, cycling networks and new roads.
To fund the TFM, the task force recommends the city place a one-cent sales tax hike on the ballot this November. The tax would be expected to raise $6.6 billion in 30 years, which would help with the overall cost of the TMN, estimated at $12 billion over a span of decades. If approved by voters in 2021, the tax would need approval from the North Carolina General Assembly.
Each of the eight speakers on this issue spoke in support of the TMN, most of whom serve on committees that either played a role in developing the plan or have endorsed it publicly, such as the Charlotte Regional Transportation Coalition.
Sam Spencer, chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, told council members he was speaking as a private citizen, though the commission did endorse the TMN. Spencer spoke of how developing smart public transit infrastructure can help combat climate change on the local level. He pointed out that with 169 rezoning applications filed with the city in 2018, the city council approved enough petitions to add 157,000 car trips to Charlotte streets every day, which at that rate would add over a million car trips per day to the city’s streets over a decade.
“Not only is that unsustainable, it’s the sort of science-denying, irrational behavior you’d expect from a maskless bachelor party in South End,” Spencer said. “A lifetime of land use and transportation decisions that the city’s made without a comprehensive plan, and without a transformational mobility plan, have made the Queen City less resilient to climate change and less adept for a changing world.”
Committee Recommends Increasing Council Terms, Salaries
At a Nov. 2 city council strategy session, the Citizen Advisory Committee on Governance (CACG) presented its final report, including recommendations for council’s consideration that would change the structure of the council itself. The recommendations include switching from two-year terms to four-year terms (if approved by a referendum), staggering those elections and making them nonpartisan.
The committee recommended keeping 11 members and the mayor, though it did suggest that one at-large seat be reassigned to a newly created district. The committee also recommended that council members and the mayor be given salary increases to be comparable to those of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners.
While most of the suggestions were passed rather easily by the 11-member CACG, the idea to make city council elections nonpartisan passed by the slimmest margin possible, 6-5. That was the issue at the center of Monday’s discussion, as all four speakers spoke against that specific recommendation.
Jane Whitley, chair of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, said she agreed with most of the CACG’s findings, especially the salary raises, though she opposed the recommendation for nonpartisan elections, stating the decision would lead to lower voter turnout and prevent members of either political party from choosing the candidates that represent their ideologies.
“Removing party labels from the ballot would probably force the county party executive committee to endorse candidates in the primary in order to remain competitive and run competitive races,” Whitey said. “This is done in other NC counties and frankly it causes problems … It’s much healthier for voters to have the opportunity to select the candidates to represent them through a primary election with everybody involved.”
Echoing those sentiments, Antoinette Mingo pointed out that nonpartisan elections often lead to more support for candidates of higher socioeconomic status, rather than working-class candidates.
Following that public forum, CACG co-chair Amy Peacock addressed the speakers’ concerns, stating the committee found nonpartisan elections to be the preferred practice in 90% of cities deemed to be “peer cities” to Charlotte, and more than 93% of North Carolina jurisdictions with populations over 50,000.
Efforts to Change Racist Street Names
At the Dec. 14 council meeting, the Legacy Commission presented its final report, including recommendations to change street names that honor Confederate leaders and known white supremacists, as well as reimagining civic spaces to create “a new symbolic landscape that is representative of the dynamic and diverse city Charlotte has become and reflective of the inclusive vision it strives to achieve,” according to Monday’s agenda.
The street names up for change include West Hill Street, Stonewall Street, Morrison Boulevard, Barringer Drive and others. At the Dec. 14 meeting, staff and council members discussed renaming the streets to honor civil rights leaders and other iconic Black figures such as Reginald Hawkins, Julius Chambers, Elizabeth “Liz” Hair, Ella Baker and others. Other council members spoke in support of using names “rooted in healing” such as Apology Way and Equality Street.
Monday’s public forum on the issue brought out two speakers who were against the recommendations, with the first speaker, Eileen Paul, making a bizarre comparison between long-dead white supremacists and still-living prisoners, stating that both deserve a chance at redemption and rehabilitation. The second speaker, Joey Parker, claimed that identity politics was not what the Black community needed, and that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Each of the three issues will now be brought back to committee for any changes that need to be made based on public comments or other concerns from council members. They will be discussed further at Charlotte City Council’s upcoming annual retreat this month, then voted on at a later date.
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