Charlotte’s Democratic mayoral candidates Tuesday night defended the city’s civil settlement with the family of Jonathan Ferrell during a wide-ranging debate at the Ballantyne Hotel.
They also agreed on seeking a regional approach to transportation, on balancing the city’s growth and prosperity and on improving the city’s relationship with the General Assembly.
In their first televised debate, the candidates avoided personal attacks and, in fact, rarely disagreed.
Moderator Tim Boyum asked the candidates how the $2.25 million settlement the city reached with the Ferrell family in May looked after the trial of police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick ended last week in a mistrial. Kerrick had been charged with manslaughter in the 2013 death of Ferrell.
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Council member Michael Barnes and Mayor Dan Clodfelter said the settlement was in the best interests of both the city and the Ferrell family. David Howard, a council member, said the city was taking “control of its own destiny” with the settlement.
Jennifer Roberts, who was not involved with the settlement, said the trial showed her the need to improve police training.
In response to a question, Howard was the only one who said he favors a retrial. Prosecutors have yet to make that decision.
On transportation, three candidates not only defended the streetcar system but argued for an expanded transportation network.
Barnes argued for extending light-rail north to Kannapolis and south to South Carolina, while building a streetcar system that included areas beyond the current east-west corridor.
Howard called for commuter rail to Iredell County.
One problem for any system is funding. Roberts advocated “conversations” about ways to pay for an expanded system.
Clodfelter said “part of the problem is we’re not thinking big enough.” He advocated extending the streetcar beyond its current planned end on Beatties Ford Road. He said it should swing down to the airport and circle not just to the old Eastland Mall but down to SouthPark.
Speaking in Ballantyne, candidates also addressed a complaint often heard in the southeast community: that residents pay more in property taxes than they get back in services.
“It’s true that the bulk of property taxes comes from the wedge of southeast Charlotte,” Barnes said. But he added that through citywide investments such as the Community Investment Plan, a long-range capital plan, the city would ease the burden on the southeast.
Clodfelter cited earlier city infrastructure investments that helped create Ballantyne. The problem, he said, is “taking a short-term view on what it takes for a long-term investment.”
Roberts, a former Mecklenburg commissioners chair, talked about how she learned to balance resources when a proposed schools bond failed in 2005. Officials rewrote it to ensure that all parts of the county benefited.
“We all rise and fall together,” she said.
Howard also said the inner city helped make initial investments in Ballantyne. “I would remind them how important it is for us to move forward together,” he said.
Howard favors the same approach to dealing with the legislature. Since 2013, lawmakers have tried to take over the Charlotte airport and eliminated a tax that brought the city $18 million a year. Now they’re debating a bill that could cost the city millions in lost sales tax revenue.
“I think the state wants to know that we get it, that we’re not in it for ourselves,” Howard said.
Barnes said after the state tried to create an authority and then a commission to take over the city-run airport, “It certainly felt like we had a bulls-eye on our back.”
Roberts said she would get regional leaders to help make the case that Charlotte is crucial to the state’s economic vitality.
The only former legislator in the field, Clodfelter said Charlotte has to show it appreciates the needs of the entire state. “We’ve got to take ownership in Charlotte of problems in other parts of the state,” he said. “The dialog has to change its tone.”
He also called for a “new grand bargain” between the state and local governments.
“We can’t do these one-off fights on issue after issue,” he said.
Sept. 3: Early voting starts at Central Piedmont Community College. Other sites will be open Sept. 8-12.
Sept. 15: Primary.
Oct. 6: Runoff (if needed).
Nov. 3: General election.
On the ballot
▪ Michael Barnes
▪ Dan Clodfelter
▪ Roderick Davis
▪ David Howard
▪ DeJawon Joseph
▪ Jennifer Roberts
▪ Edwin Peacock III
▪ Scott Stone