Building Investment Opportunities In Charlotte:
Putting HB2 behind us and repairing our city’s credibility, both in our communities and around our state, won’t be an easy task. No matter which side of the controversy you’re on, the impact has been clear. To move ahead, we must encourage renewed investment in our city and get back to the business of Charlotte, which is business. We have a number of opportunities on the horizon: renewable energy, urban agriculture, ride-sharing, fin-tech, construction, and many others.
Creativity and imagination will be needed going forward, and I will lend my voice to those new and innovative solutions that will invigorate our city. If we work together, we can build a prosperous new future for our city with opportunity for everyone.
Wasteful Government Spending:
Elected Officials Giving Themselves a 'raise':
As a recent article in the Charlotte Agenda has pointed out, City Council members receive enormous latitude when it comes to being reimbursed for "official" expenses. Furthermore, no city council member, including the Mayor, is required to present a single receipt for their expenses. This kind of reimbursement scheme leaves itself wide open to unethical practices and corruption. It is also a convenient way to hide compensation increases, a.k.a. raises, with little to no accountability.
As a basic safeguard toward integrity, we must establish a system of complete transparency and accountability governing how our elected officials use their allowances. Documentation of expenses via receipt is a basic requirement of almost every business; our city government should be no different. Furthermore, a non-partisan review board must be in place to monitor and review these reimbursements periodically. These minor changes would help to ensure that city funds are being used responsibly by our elected officials, and would provide greater transparency for the people.
Public Money for Private Projects:
As a Charlotte taxpayer, I oppose my tax dollars being used to subsidize pet projects, particularly for billionaire owners of sports franchises. I am speaking of course about the controversial plan to build a Major League Soccer stadium in the Elizabeth neighborhood. Using our taxpayer money to subsidize this project is corporate welfare, plain and simple, which has no place in a free and fair market. The people of our city are already taxed to fund schools, roads, police, public parks, and so on. Our taxes should go to the services and projects that meet our basic needs and provide for the common good. To be clear, I’m not opposed to a Soccer Stadium, I’m opposed to using taxpayer money in its construction.
Rather than use taxpayer money to build a stadium, such funds should be used to improve and build public amenities that all of Charlotte can enjoy. Improving and expanding our greenways and parks, upgrading their respective facilities, and providing both bike lanes and sidewalks are improvements that all of Charlotte can enjoy without having to pay an additional fee.
The issue of housing is important in any city, and Charlotte is certainly no exception. Charlotte is bursting with new residents, and while we are struggling to keep up with the demand for market-rate housing, our city has also seriously lagged in providing affordable and workplace housing for our most vulnerable populations. Currently, the waiting period for available housing at the Charlotte Housing Authority is six months long. Charlotteans deserve a consistent policy from our city government that serves all of our fellow citizens. Currently, the City Council’s tendency toward clustering low income housing developments together only serves to worsen the economic prospects of our vulnerable communities, and creates a de facto economic segregation of these communities from the rest of the city.
At the same time that our low-income residents are struggling to find and maintain affordable housing, our youngest workers just starting their careers are also struggling with a lack of affordable housing options. This lack of reasonably-priced apartments, townhomes, condominiums, and other housing options in the Queen City will make it more difficult for a new generation of Charlotteans to build wealth and pursue the American Dream.
The clustering of affordable housing developments makes it more difficult for such communities to benefit from the shared economic prosperity our city has to offer. Currently our representatives in the City Council have moved away from their own policy of not placing new affordable developments too near already existing ones. The City needs to adhere to its own guidelines in this matter to prevent the unintentional creation of systematically impoverished communities.
Increasing the housing stock will necessarily improve affordability. As supply meets demand the cost of homes will not outstrip our workforce’s ability to purchase, or rent, a home for themselves or their family. A policy of incentivizing high density and mixed use residential development, particularly nearest to our urban core, will provide a better selection of potential new homes. At the same time, the high-density developments, if planned correctly, will also add more space for new businesses to serve these new communities. The City Government must not stand in the way of developers who have found mutually profitable solutions to our housing shortage and we must ensure that our up and coming generation have access to homes they can afford.
Roads and Traffic:
As Charlotte continues to grow, the congestion we face is likely to increase. We will need to continue building upon our existing transportation projects to ensure Charlotteans have the best transportation infrastructure we can provide.
The LYNX light-rail project, for example, has been a massive success in revitalizing the South Boulevard corridor and opening access to Uptown from South of the city. Building up our mass transit networks will be a necessary part of improving public transit. Using transportation funds to widen I-77 and I-485 for use by all will also help to alleviate congestion as our city grows.
That being said, we've seen the difficulties that can come when our city and state lack the funds in lean budgetary years to invest in or approve capital transportation projects. While building more and better roads, and expanding the light-rail, can be great investments, they still fall short of a comprehensive approach to our infrastructure needs. New technologies and services have opened an avenue to whole host of new options for our communities, many of which are underutilized.
For those Charlotteans dependent on CATS to get around, the current hub-and-spoke model of our transit map can be a significant hurdle to getting around town in a timely manner. This issue is especially acute for these fellow residents when it comes to finding and maintaining gainful employment.
I applaud CATS CEO John Lewis Jr. for already identifying the current hub-and-spoke system as old and outdated. A more decentralized system in conjunction with the light-rail will offer better, faster services for people who need to get around town. Increasing the number and frequency of buses and trains, both at peak and non-peak ridership hours, will also allow our citizens without cars to get to and from work more effectively. Much of our new employment growth is in the service and retail industry. Providing these shift-based workers with better transit options will ensure no one gets stranded when they don’t get off shift until after the last bus has run its route for the night.
Regarding new technology, private enterprises have a significant role to play in providing transit solutions for a 21st Century workforce and community. Ride-sharing services are not only a great option for people to get around town, but they also provide employment opportunities for our fellow citizens. While these new services have caused disruption for traditional taxi services, City Hall must not stand in the way of these innovative business models, particularly when they provide a valued service for our communities.
The current plan to spend $655 million building a Toll Road along I-77 has sparked controversy. To some it seems like a solid plan to help tackle our city's growing congestion problem, while to others it looks like cronyism and corporate welfare.
Among the contested points of this plan is a condition of the contract between NCDOT and Cintra, which would see that the profits generated from the tolls will go to not Charlotte but to the managing company.
There is also the contention that this project may not alleviate congestion at all, but rather worsen the situation.
There are many in Charlotte, and indeed across the county, who don't want to see their tax dollars go toward building a road which is managed by a private company.
This seems to many like a bad deal for Charlotte taxpayers.
Simple. No public money for private roads.
In a truly free market any business ought to be allowed to use its own funds to buy land and build a road. Roadways however are a legitimate function of local government we are already being taxed for. As such we have a right to access our roadways without additional fees being levied.
If a private company wants to build a toll road in partnership with the city, it MUST be accessible to ALL road traffic. As it stands currently, the proposed I-77 toll lanes would be closed to freight trucks forcing them to use the free lanes and thus contributing to congestion.
Tolls must have fixed rates at the point of entry. The current plan would allow a motorist's bill to increase while already on the Toll Road. The current pricing structure of the I-77 Toll Lane is potentially unethical as customers have no control over pricing.
Public Safety and Police:
The rate of violent crime in Charlotte, and its perceived increase in the past 12 months, is an understandable concern for many Charlotteans. At the same time, trust between our police department and the communities they serve is an important and understandable concern. As Charlotte continues its unprecedented growth, our officers will need to be better trained and equipped to serve the needs of our growing population. With that challenge comes the worthwhile task of fostering improved community relations while also providing for the safety of all Charlotteans in their neighborhoods and communities. I for one believe our city and our police department is up to the task.
However, we are often hamstrung by the preconceptions that tragically lead to unintended negative consequences. The War on Drugs is a prime example of a well-meaning policy that has had a disastrous impact on poorer communities. Radically rethinking our approach to these issues is needed to get at the root of the problem and ensure that all Charlotteans can enjoy the fruits of our shared prosperity.
Community policing is an effective tool for reducing the crime rate in many cities across the U.S. This strategy must be prioritized as public safety is not only a legitimate role of government, but a prime responsibility. For the CMPD to be effective, the men and women who serve in its ranks must be seen as part of the community they serve. Liaison officers and partnerships with community groups are effective tools in reducing crime rates while also fostering community trust. In addition to these efforts, the robust use of civilian oversight and advisory boards will assist in the development of greater accountability and transparency for the department. Finally, improved training for our police officers to disregard minor infractions, and instead focus on curbing violent crimes and related activities, must be at the forefront of our community policing efforts.
We must move away from punitive policing and victimless drug offenses. Within the courts, we must seek compassion in the criminal justice system and work to help people who deserve a second chance, rather than punish and disenfranchise folks for the rest of their lives. In light of the spiraling opioid epidemic nationwide, what is most needed by drug addicts, many of whom were good, hard-working and law-abiding citizens before they fell on hard times, is rehabilitation rather than imprisonment.
We must move away from using civil asset forfeiture as a means to supplement the police budget. This spurious practice is an affront to the principles of a free and democratic society like ours, which was founded in part on the belief in an individual’s right to property. The theft of private property from our citizens by the very law enforcement meant to protect us from such larceny is at its core unethical. Federal and state governments have construed this power to be necessary for interrupting criminal organizations that operate on cash funds. Certainly, if assets are seized from a drug dealer or human trafficker, they can be used to pay restitution to their victims. However, in the absence of an indictment, any real victims, and based solely upon the suspicious of wrongdoing, the government should have no power to confiscate the property and assets of its citizens.
City Cooperation with ICE:
Immigration has become a hot-button issue for many Americans around the country, and no less so here in the Queen City. While there are many passionate voices advocating for the rights and protections of undocumented individuals here in Charlotte, we must remember that, on a local level, we can do little regarding Federal or State laws. As a City Council member, I’ll advocate as best I can on the behalf of ALL Charlotte residents who wish to live, work, and contribute to our common prosperity. At the very least, we Charlotteans can put pressure on our state government to pursue policies that benefit all of our city’s residents.
With regard to law enforcement and immigration status, the focus of CMPD’s efforts should be on where violent crime in our communities and our undocumented population intersect. I reject the notion that there is such a thing is an “illegal” person, and living someplace without “papers” is at best a victim-less crime. I do not support the use of law enforcement resources to detain otherwise law-abiding, productive members of our Charlotte community, regardless of their immigration status, if they have not committed a crime against their fellow residents.
Justification for ICE / CMPD cooperation:
Violent crime is something that all Charlotteans are concerned about, whether they are citizens or not. When federal agencies like ICE put their efforts towards the apprehension of drug dealers, human traffickers, and others who pose a threat to our community, cooperation with those agencies is certainly warranted. If we can build robust community-police networks that engender trust between our law enforcement and the communities they service, our police officers will be in a much better position to apprehend dangerous individuals like the ones ICE is investigating.
However, victim-less crimes ought not to be a focus of ICE / CMPD cooperation. While the Federal government will do as it pleases, Charlotte’s focus must be on keeping our communities safe and not rounding up peaceful, productive people.