State lawmaker, charter school parent – and now Charles Jeter will lobby for CMS

State Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville at a 2015 meeting on the Interstate 77 toll road.
State Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville at a 2015 meeting on the Interstate 77 toll road. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

He’s a recently departed Republican lawmaker who warned last month that Charlotte can’t expect much from the General Assembly in Raleigh.

He’s a charter school dad who’s now speaking for North Carolina’s second-largest school district.

And he’s not a lawyer, but he just joined the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools legal team.

Welcome to Charles Jeter’s latest adventure: He started work Monday as CMS government relations coordinator, a $91,000-a-year job that reports to General Counsel George Battle III. Jonathan Sink, a staff lawyer who did similar work, recently left CMS to work for Mecklenburg County.

“They need to have a fierce advocate in there,” Jeter said. He believes his two terms as a state representative from Mecklenburg County, which included a state leadership post as House conference chairman, will prepare him well.

Jeter’s three children attend Pine Lake Prep, a K-12 charter school in Mooresville. He said that decision, which his wife made after their daughter went to kindergarten at Torrence Creek Elementary in CMS, was driven by concerns about crowding in north suburban CMS schools at the time.

Jeter, who was named a 2015 “champion of choice” by the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association, says he has respect for charter schools and the traditional system. “We have a responsibility as a community to do what’s right” for CMS, he said.

CMS has more than 147,000 students and serves about three-quarters of Mecklenburg County students.

Jeter, who lives in Huntersville, was twice elected to represent House District 92, a strip of western Mecklenburg County that he calls “the seahorse” for its odd shape, running from the northern to southern ends of the county. He had filed to run again this year and won the Republican primary, then resigned his post in July, saying the job in Raleigh didn’t leave time for his family.

I sure as hell hope Charlotte doesn’t need anything legislatively. Because they’re not getting it.

Charles Jeter, about two weeks before starting as a CMS lobbyist

He said he also got out of his trucking company and began a search for a job that would tap his passion and skills while paying the bills. CMS board member Rhonda Lennon, a friend from the north suburbs who chairs the board’s intergovernmental relations committee, mentioned the new governmental relations job. Jeter says he applied and went through the lengthy selection process.

On Monday, he showed up to his new office in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center clutching a red spiral notebook he had borrowed from his daughter. He popped into the meeting chamber downstairs to watch the school board convene for closed-session interviews with superintendent finalists.

Battle, the general counsel, is the only CMS employee who reports directly to the board, rather than to the superintendent. Regardless, Jeter said the key to keeping his job during a time of transition – next year brings a school board election as well as a new superintendent – will be proving his worth.

By his own account, speaking for Charlotte-Mecklenburg in a state legislature dominated by rural and suburban Republicans could prove challenging. Jeter’s former House seat went to a Democrat, and Jeter talked about the situation in a post-election Observer analysis.

“I can assure you the urban areas of North Carolina won’t have more of a voice – they’re going to have less,” Jeter told Observer reporter Jim Morrill. “I sure as hell hope Charlotte doesn’t need anything legislatively. Because they’re not getting it.”

When asked about that quote Monday, Jeter smiled and recited it verbatim. He said he thinks the city of Charlotte, which sparked the House Bill 2 furor with its LGBT ordinance earlier this year, faces more resistance than CMS.

“There’s a lot of places we can have wins in education,” Jeter said. One example: He hopes the state will return control of school calendars to local boards, a move he pushed for unsuccessfully in the General Assembly.

Jeter’s job also includes working with county and federal governments, which join the state in providing money and making some of the rules for public education.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms