Hundreds of south-Charlotte residents had the chance to meet the new Mecklenburg County sheriff, discuss traffic concerns with Charlotte’s Department of Transportation and even learn some wintertime fire-safety tips during the 2015 priorities meeting earlier this month at the Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge.
Hosted by the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, the meeting is held every February and has become well-known over the years for giving residents one-on-one interactions with high-ranking officials within the city, county and state.
Ballantyne Breakfast Club founder Ray Eschert said the meeting is important for residents to learn about the priorities of various departments for the year, “but also, at a certain level, to give the residents an opportunity to talk to those officials to express the concerns that they might have.”
During the meeting, residents met with officials from the N.C. House of Representatives and the Senate, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners, the Charlotte City Council, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools board, Charlotte Area Transit System, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, the YMCA, Wingate University and more.
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Making his debut at the meeting as Mecklenburg County’s newest sheriff, Irwin Carmichael met with residents throughout the morning. He said he hoped to educate residents on what the Sheriff’s Office does, including overseeing jails.
“It’s also great to have an opportunity to meet my constituents and find out their needs,” Carmichael said.
During fiscal year 2014, sheriff’s officers also screened more than 1.1 million visitors to the Mecklenburg County Courthouse and confiscated more than 7,700 contraband items from people entering the courthouse, including weapons and knives, according to sheriff’s office data.
Anjan Shah, who lives in Stonecrest, said he primarily wanted to attend the priorities meeting to discuss new development in the area and whether existing infrastructure can support it.
He explained the difficulty he has getting onto the highway from his home, which is, “as the crow flies, a quarter of a mile from 485,” he said.
“The key issue I was asked about, as always, was the rapid pace of development in our area and concerns about infrastructure issues, particularly traffic,” said Councilman Ed Driggs, who represents District 7, where Ballantyne is located.
Shah said he was grateful for the opportunity to share his concerns with officials face to face, adding, “I sure wish there were more people who came out to these forums where people can interact with elected officials.”
Resident Rita Mullins said she and her friends from the Carmel Village II condominiums came to discuss their concerns and have some questions answered. For instance, the women wanted to make sure they knew the fire codes for grilling on balconies at condos.
“We wanted to know them so we can enforce them,” said Mullins. “It’s a real safety issue.”
Greg Francus, a fire educator with the Charlotte Fire Department, said officials appreciate the opportunity to educate the public on safety precautions they should follow.
“The most important thing to do in your home is to make sure you have working smoke alarms,” he said.
He said residents should consider getting a carbon-monoxide detector as well, especially given that people use more fuel-burning appliances during winter, which can lead to a buildup of carbon monoxide in the home.
CMS board Chairwoman Mary McCray said the meeting also is a great time to hear from residents about what concerns are on their priority list.
“It’s a huge town hall meeting of small towns,” McCray said. “I consider this to be one of the premier opportunities for people to network and have that open forum.”
Past CMS District 6 representative Amelia Stinson-Wesley said she’s noticed that more people have attended the meeting over the years.
She said that more entities are represented outside of traditional government departments now, pointing to Wingate University, which recently opened a location in Ballantyne.
Mullins said she appreciates being able to find and talk to all the officials she needs, all before noon.
“If you’re cold on an issue, you might spend four hours on the phone before you find the right person,” she said. “This facilitates the ease of getting the services you need.”
Arriero: 704-358-5945; On Twitter: @earriero