The last few years have demonstrated that Charlotte has joined the big leagues of large and complex cities with sophisticated and complex problems. Like other large cities, we face vexing challenges related to affordable housing, racial equity, transportation, land-use and planning and community safety. And we compete with large cities across the U.S. for corporate relocations, for skilled talent and for major sporting events.
Our city is evolving and we need local government to evolve as well. The current City Council structure dates back to the 1970s when Charlotte had 300,000 residents. Yet the work of the Council now has gotten more complex. Policies set by elected officials have a profound, long-term impact on not just Charlotte, but the entire region. To do the job well, individual council members oftern spend 50-60 hours a week in meetings, committees, working on constituent issues and out in the community.
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It is time that the Charlotte community, along with our state representatives, have a discussion around a different model that matches the structure of cities with whom we compete. Charlotte is the only city of our size with a weak-mayor form of government that has two-year terms. Of 20 peer cities, the only other two that have two-year terms are Raleigh and Boston. However, Boston is a strong-mayor city, and full-time city council members make $99,000 a year. (Charlotte's City Council members earn $32,709 with expenses, representing 50 percent less than the average of our weak-mayor peer cities outside of North Carolina).
Charlotte voters signaled they were ready for a change by electing five under-40 new council members. These council members are in their prime income-earning years and are foregoing income and career-growth potential to serve the city. New council members will easily take a year to understand the workings of city government, and then they will begin campaigning again just a few months later. And, during the eight months of campaigning, civic leaders and city staff will attest that city business will be disrupted and stalled.
In today’s Charlotte, the reality is that city council roles can only be held by those who can afford to forgo income. That hardly allows for complete representation by the people. All of us are here because we choose to serve, but there is a price to service which does not reflect the complexity of the city we are today. It is time for a discussion around how that might change. The community must weigh in, and we need our state representatives in the discussion, as it may involve approval of the General Assembly.
Let’s agree on a governing structure that attracts and allows the best people with the right intentions to work on these issues.
Eiselt is an at-large council member and mayor pro tem. Email: julie.eiselt@