Disgruntled south Charlotte residents known as the South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers (SMART) met at Raintree Country Club last week to unveil plans for a town of Providence and independent school district.
The group believes having a charter and a model of operating systems will give their fight to secede from the city more credence if their petition makes it to the N.C. General Assembly.
About 30 people attended the meeting June 14.
Several stacks of the charters covered a table near the entrance to the meeting room. The groups logo a business man whistling while he shovels cash into a money pit labeled center city adorned one of the handouts.
Neon-lettered signs on display at the front of the room read: Let my people go and End unfair bias against south Charlotte.
The meeting opened with the Pledge of Allegiance and a recording of God Bless America.
Led by Raintree resident Tim Timmerman, SMART formed last October due to frustrations with what residents say are high and ever-increasing taxes that offer little return for the region.
We have the vision, the end were seeking, said Timmerman. Were trying to get people in the street.
Their charter for the new town states: We, the citizens of South Mecklenburg, do hereby establish the Model Town of Providence. In keeping with the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson we, in spirit, dissolve the political bands which have connected us with the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. This action comes as a result of the citys neglect and unending appetite for more revenue for center city interests from its South Mecklenburg citizens at the expense of the safety, security and voice of those same citizens.
The group started to gain attention when Republican county commissioner Bill James of District 6 suggested the area south of N.C. 51 should secede from the city of Charlotte.
SMART has since spear-headed the south Charlotte de-annexation movement.
James didnt attend the June 14 meeting, but issued a statement via Timmerman: Focus on the goal, Jamess letter read. It will require steel and grit to race down those engaged in name-calling.
Thank God for Bill James, said Timmerman.
So far, the online petition has about 500 signatures.
The group has yet to form boundaries for the town.
The charter says it will include communities based on voluntary participation from Myers Park in the north, through SouthPark to the Union County line. The area is bounded by Steele Creek in the west and the Matthews-Mint Hill area in the east.
The region SMART is discussing could have as many as several hundred-thousand people.
And, according to the charter, subject to the approval of the Town Council, other areas may request to be part of the model town effort.
South Mecklenburg resident Scott Babbidge, a former teacher and husband of a teacher, presented SMARTs virtual model for an independent school district.
Were not just going to sit around and wait for the legislature to break up CMS, Babbidge said. Were taking step two before the legislature takes step one.
Babbidge says the virtual model has a board of trustees and a CEO instead of a superintendent. If the school district were formed, the elected leaders would have taxing power.
But ultimately, he said without south Mecklenburg tax dollars being funneled to city center, the schools in south Charlotte would improve even more.
In 2005, hundreds of people talked about splitting CMS into small districts. But the movement fizzled in 2006, in part because Superintendent Peter Gorman was hired, and he promised to make the district less Charlotte-centric.
That hasnt happened, SMART activists say.
Even through the group now has charters, the paperwork is big on ideas and short on specifics, some residents say.
Ken Lindholm, who attended the meeting and asked several procedural questions, said he isnt sold on the SMART plan.
Im trying to fully examine if its the right thing, said Lindholm, who said his son and daughter have gotten a great education at South Mecklenburg High. I think a lot of important details have been left out....Why would the state legislature want to get involved?
Robin Shaw, whose daughter just graduated from Providence High, said she attended the SMART meeting because she likes the idea of operating more as a community.
However, she added, because some of the best schools in the state are located in south Charlotte, the argument for a separate school system isnt as convincing.
I think its going to be a tough sell, said Shaw. How are you going to get support when your kids get an extraordinary education?