Politics & Government

Charlotte City Council’s divide over HB2 strategy begins to show

The Charlotte City Council’s divide over how to respond to House Bill 2 was on display this week, as both sides grappled with whether and how to hear about the economic impact of the controversial law.

One group of council members believe that the city did nothing wrong in approving new legal protections for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, and they have shown no signs of wanting to vote to repeal their nondiscrimination ordinance as an olive branch to the General Assembly.

On the other side are a group of Republicans and Democrats who either voted against the ordinance in February, or who were part of a trip to Raleigh to meet with legislative leaders about a possible compromise.

After Monday’s zoning meeting, at-large council member James Mitchell asked that his economic development committee receive reports from groups such as the Charlotte Chamber and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority about the impact of HB2.

Mitchell, a Democrat, voted for the city’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance. But he was part of a group of four council members who went to Raleigh last week to meet House Speaker Tim Moore. They also spoke with Senate leader Phil Berger by telephone.

Democrat John Autry, one of the staunchest defenders of Charlotte’s ordinance, challenged Mitchell’s request. Autry’s questioning suggested that he thought Mitchell intended to use the presentation as a pretense to propose a city repeal of its ordinance. Repealing the city’s ordinance could allow Raleigh to also change HB2.

“What’s the objective of this?” Autry asked. “How does this effort move the dial?”

Autry later said during the meeting: “The impact is evident to all of us. There is nothing that could come forward from the committee that this council could act on that would have any impact on HB2. … HB2 isn’t our purview, it’s not in our wheelhouse.”

Besides Autry, council members Patsy Kinsey, Julie Eiselt and LaWana Mayfield were skeptical about Mitchell’s idea to discuss the issue in Mitchell’s committee. Al Austin wasn’t there.

All five voted for the nondiscrimination ordinance.

The four council members who attended last week’s meeting in Raleigh were Mitchell, Mayor Pro Tem Vi Lyles, and the council’s two Republicans, Ed Driggs and Kenny Smith.

Mitchell defended his request.

“It isn’t about moving the dial; it’s about getting information,” he said.

Driggs questioned Autry’s position.

“We are in an unprecedented situation,” he said. “It would be naive to suggest we have no part in this. We need to seize any opportunity we have to be part of a solution. Some of what I’ve heard from the General Assembly is that total inaction on our part is not helpful.”

The council eventually reached a compromise. Instead of the presentation being made to Mitchell’s committee, it will be made before the entire council.

Mayor Jennifer Roberts was mostly silent during the debate. But if six council members voted for a symbolic repeal of the city’s ordinance, she could veto their decision.

When asked about using her veto, Roberts has said all options are being considered. She also has said that LGBT rights are “non-negotiable.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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