Welcome to Charlotte, Ron Carlee. You are taking over as manager of a wonderful city, but you certainly have your work cut out for you.
Far more than when your predecessor, Curt Walton, was named manager in 2007 and when his predecessor, Pam Syfert, was selected in 1996, Charlotte faces daunting challenges and needs a manager who will do more than primarily keep a steady hand on the tiller.
You take over a city that has already annexed just about all it can, and needs a different way to grow the tax base. It is a city whose geography features sharp socioeconomic divides. On one side of that divide are people struggling to get by; on the other are some people who seek to secede rather than continue to bear the majority of the tax burden.
You will report to a City Council that can’t seem to pass a budget or capital plan that makes smart investments in the city’s future. Competing agendas are natural, but the animosity (and inexperience) on your City Council has at times undercut its ability to be effective.
On top of those megatrends, you face a number of burning fires. The legislature wants to take the city’s airport. The council and public are divided over a $119 million streetcar extension. The council is pushing for a restaurant tax increase of close to $1 billion to fund a $144 million request from the Carolina Panthers.
Mayor Anthony Foxx says that in all your time as manager in Arlington County, Va., you “managed to do that job with virtually no one mad at him.” We’d be amazed if you can pull that off here, but here are a few ideas that might help toward that end:
• Be transparent with the City Council and the public, and communicate proactively. This has not been a strength of Charlotte or Mecklenburg County government. Maybe you can help. A little openness goes a long way. You could have a staff member be a constant thorn in the side of the management team, reminding them about the public’s need for information. The Observer’s editorial board, and we bet many other journalists, would be up for periodic meetings with you to talk about what’s going on.
• On a related note, encourage public debate over big issues. Want people to trust their city government? Don’t propose billion-dollar restaurant tax increases without explaining what they’re for. Don’t push a billion-dollar capital plan without having considerable public discussion of it. Don’t say you can’t release a report on airport security because the TSA has labeled it as classified when it hasn’t.
• Build a relationship with the governor and the legislature. Things have been rocky between Charlotte and the honorables in Raleigh of late. Maybe you can help build a bridge there. Go meet with Gov. Pat McCrory and others.
• Take a broader view of the city. We’re an interconnected region, and most problems don’t stop at the city limits. Work closely with the leaders of Mecklenburg and surrounding counties; some problems can be better solved with a little collaboration.
A word about your pay. Some people will understandably be offended that the Charlotte city manager in 2013, at $290,000, makes almost 40 percent more than the Charlotte city manager in 2007. But we also recognize that’s not just a Charlotte phenomenon – that you’re being paid what the market will bear.
If you can effectively tackle everything you’re about to face, you’ll be worth it.