Issues of roads, schools and elected representation drew several hundred people to the Ballantyne Breakfast Club’s annual priorities meeting.
“It was a good meeting,” said Ray Eschert, founder of Ballantyne Breakfast Club. “I really felt like people were engaged in some good conversation.”
The annual meeting, held Feb. 18 in a ballroom at the Ballantyne Hotel, offers community members the chance to talk to representatives from government agencies and businesses. The 2016 meeting drew a large crowd that shouted questions at Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools board members about potential changes that could break up neighborhood schools.
This year’s attendees seemed more equally dispersed between tables around the room. Table hosts include CMS Superintendent Ann Clark and members of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department.
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Eschert said representatives from the Charlotte Department of Transportation fielded questions about the expansion of I-485, and Bissell staff members said some asked about the rumored sale of some of the company’s holdings. Bissell is the developer and owner of Ballantyne Corporate Park and other Ballantyne buildings.
Some attendees said they attended the meeting to talk to elected representatives, some expressing disappointment that several tables reserved for elected officials were empty.
U.S. Rep. Alma Adams from District 12 was the only U.S. elected official represented; staff member Kay Tempo spent several hours talking with community members.
Other elected officials who attended including state representatives Andy Durbin and Dan Bishop, Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor, CMS board member Paul Bailey and Charlotte City Council members Ed Driggs, Claire Fallon, Vi Lyles, Gregg Phipps and Julie Eiselt.
Officials said they had cordial and informative conversations with community members regardless of their political beliefs. Dulin said people talked to him about concerns that CMS is too large of a school district and had questions about how government works.
Caroline Harwood attended the meeting with her son Tyler Semon, who is 24 and becoming more politically involved. Both live on the outskirts of Ballantyne.
Harwood described herself as a “die-hard Democrat” who doesn’t want “apathy to kill democracy.” She said she was politically active when she was younger, and recent political changes had sparked her interest again.
She said she came to the meeting to learn more about voting preliminaries, and Semon said he was interested in meeting elected officials. He’s recently started Young Americans Mobilized, which is described on Facebook as a group calling for President Donald Trump to release his tax returns and “properly divest from his businesses,” that will champion social and legal justice for all people, and will expect lawmakers to protect the environment.
Ballantyne resident Norm Zimmer, who described himself as “anti-Trump,” said he was shocked that Adams was the only federal representative who set up a table at the meeting.
He said politicians have a duty to learn what their constituents and the general public “have on their minds.
“You have to get out there,” he said.
Charlotte City Council member Driggs said his discussions with community members focused on local issues, such as development, school crowding and traffic. He said attending community meetings was an important part of his job.
“We have to work hard as elected officials to get people to participate in government and not just speak up when they have a complaint,” he said. “The worst thing when you’re trying to represent people is when you don’t hear from them.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.