Charlotte city council at-large: Sean Gautam on the issues

Sean Gautam
Sean Gautam

Name: Sean Gautam

What office are you running for? City Council at-large

Party: Democrat

Neighborhood: Fairmeadows

Political Experience: First time candidate for public office. I serve on two City of Charlotte Boards, which has given me valuable insights into city affairs and operations. I serve on the Charlotte International Cabinet (sponsor of the Immigrant Integration Task Force), and Business Advisory Committee (a key advocate for small businesses). I serve on the Charlotte Chamber’s Legislative Agenda Task Force, which shapes and promotes a Charlotte-friendly legislative agenda with Raleigh lawmakers. I also serve on the Education and Workforce Development Committee of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.

Family: Married for 15-years. My wife is native of France and a naturalized American citizen who holds a Ph.D. in Financial Economics. We have two children, both in CMS language immersion magnet, learning French and Chinese. My son, who completed 5h grade, earned the President’s Award for Educational Excellence from the President of the United States Barack Obama.

Work Experience: Served as the Chief Financial Officer of a national financial consulting firm in the DC area with FORTUNE 500 clients. Started with the firm as a junior Financial Analyst and worked up to the CFO position within a few years. Worked in DC for 10 years and earned my law degree from Georgetown Law School while working full time. Relocated to Charlotte to become a U.S. citizen in 2008 and to launch my own financial services firm. Founded an investment advisory firm providing retirement and financial planning to middle-class families.

Community service: Business Advisory Committee; Charlotte International Cabinet; Charlotte Chamber’s Legislative Agenda Task Force and Education and Workforce Development Committee. Board member - Opera Carolina and Vice-Chair at WDAV. Rotary member and past-president. Member of Charlotte Chamber and Latin American Chamber. Member, Champions Group of Women's Inter-Cultural Exchange. TreeMaster with TreesCharlotte. Volunteer and support - Trees Charlotte • Charlotte Boxing Academy • Girls on the Run • Charlotte Bridge Home • Care Ring • Classroom Central • Y-Readers Salvation Army • Servants With A Heart • Rotary Foundation • Alexander Youth Network • Y-Readers

Campaign contact: www.sean4CLT.com; Phone: 704-430-8277; Email: sean4CLT@gmail.com; Facebook: www.facebook.com/gautamsean

1) Why are you running for office?

The mandate of the City Council is to ‘work together to provide policy decisions that benefit the community as a whole.’ I believe this objective is NOT being met.

I will bring bold new initiatives to address chronic issues – lack of economic mobility, poor transportation planning, failed projects like the Eastland Mall, lack of growth in East and West Charlotte, limited affordable housing choices, anti-LGBT policies, racial profiling, high rates of unemployment and instances of excessive police force. Charlotte does not have a long-term vision or financial plan. We are not prepared for the next recession. I will make sure that our ENTIRE City Council holds quarterly town-hall forums all over Charlotte, to understand community concerns.

I have specific plans – 1. Create Opportunity Zones in East and West Charlotte that provide Opportunity Pathways by offering targeted incentives and vocational job training. 2. Implement a software Gaming-Coding After-School program at all Mecklenburg Recreation Centers and Public Libraries. 3. Connect our airport to Center City. 4. Implement more public transit choices. 5. Create a unique week-long cultural festival in Charlotte that makes all cultural venues accessible with a single ticket purchase. 6. Help rebuild Charlotte’s tree canopy. 7. Implement fast-track licensing and permitting process. 8. Promote Charlotte as a city for active and healthy lifestyles. 9. Create a Non-Profit Services Coordinator position, who can serve as a one-stop information resource on specific services available from non-profits. 10. Create a ‘functional zero’ program to shelter the homeless.

I am serving on TWO City of Charlotte boards – Charlotte International Cabinet and Business Advisory Committee. I have gained deep insights into the many opportunities knocking on Charlotte’s door. I have engaged with city staff and stakeholders on issues ranging from the Immigrant Integration Task Force, Economic Development, Small Business Initiatives, Incentive programs, Business Inclusion, MWSBE initiatives, Open Data Portal, Neighborhood and Business services, Youth Employment programs and others.

I was compelled to run for City Council due to lack of engagement by City Council on important issues, like the Municipal ID, LGBT rights, bungled I-77 toll road contract, and yes, the still dormant Eastland Mall site. Google Fiber is laying a super-fast internet highway that will place Charlotte in an elite rank of cities. What is the City Council doing to leverage this opportunity to help our youth or unemployed? What are we doing as a city to improve economic mobility?

I plan to take bold action on City Council with specific plans and initiatives that WILL work.

2) What would be your top priorities if elected?

My top priorities will focus on five key areas – 1. Devise a long-term Vision Plan for Charlotte, 2. Implement a Recession-Proof Financial Plan to manage budgets, 3. Improve Neighborhoods for Better Economic Mobility, 4. Focus on Youth Engagement with Vocational Training, and 5. Enhance Transportation infrastructure.

To elaborate on the five key areas:

1. Devise a long-term vision plan for Charlotte that encompasses issues pertaining to economic mobility, safe neighborhoods, transportation choices, job opportunities and business creation. I will seek community input to identify priority areas in Charlotte that need attention, and then seek to designate them as ‘Opportunity Zones’. Opportunity Zones will provide intentional and strategic programs, such as business incentives, vocational training, mentorship, and gaming/coding instruction for youth in recreation centers and public libraries.

2. In order to manage our frequent budget crises and handle the next recession, I will propose the creation of a more clearly delineated ‘Reserve Fund’, which will be funded with budget surpluses and savings. In times of financial crises, the Reserve Fund holdings will be utilized.

3. The key to economic mobility lies in neighborhoods with specific characteristics identified by Harvard researchers. More specifically, Less segregation, Lower levels of income disparity, Better schools, Lower rates of violent crime, and Larger number of two-parent households. On City Council, I will focus on more affordable housing options to promote dispersion and reduce segregation. Creating ‘Opportunity Zones’ will help to promote economic mobility.

4. I have proposed a new program called 'Code for Success', that will provide gaming and coding instruction to Charlotte youth in Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s 18 recreation centers and 20 public libraries. Code for Success will offer gaming and coding programs to youth between the ages of 10-18. Acquiring coding skills will be a game-changer for our youth, and it will open new doors to lifelong opportunities.

5. Greater transportation choices for the community are critical for the success of Charlotte. Connecting Charlotte-Douglas Airport to Center City should be a priority of City Council. I will help to lead community forums to engage our community in the 2030 Transit Plan. I will support the implementation of 'Flex Hours' to encourage employers, including the City of Charlotte, to offer flexible work shifts to their employees to reduce peak-time road congestion. I will propose the development of CATS apps to provide real-time bus/rail arrival times. The city’s Open Data Portal project is a platform for creative solutions. I will lead efforts to devise new creative transit solutions.

3) Would you support the city's proposed expansion of its non-discrimination ordinance to include the LGBT community, including a provision that would allow transgender residents to use the bathroom of their choice?

Yes. The Federal Government has issued recommendations via OSHA that support the use of bathrooms based on choice. Major FORTUNE 500 companies also offer such policies that do not discriminate against LGBT individuals. In the 21st century, for Charlotte to be considered a welcoming city and globally-competitive, as a City Council member I will support policies that promote basic human rights and civil rights. I will also encourage respect of religious norms and practices such that those individuals with firmly-held religious beliefs are able to practice their beliefs privately in their faith communities. Since fundamental human and civil rights endow freedoms to ALL individuals, LGBT people should not be excluded from the enjoyment of those rights in venues and facilities that are public or commercial.

4) Do you support the N.C. DOT's plans to add express toll lanes to Interstate 485 in south Charlotte and U.S. 74? Or would you prefer to widen the highways with general-purpose free lanes?

As a City Council member I will first and foremost seek community input before making any decision. My first preference will be to widen highways with general purpose free lanes, especially in areas within city limits and in areas with close proximity to the city. I will support toll roads as secondary choices for inter-city travel from origination points that lie beyond city limits. I will review the financial impact of any toll road project to ensure that toll lane fees do not serve as a ‘stealth tax’ on commuters who already bear considerable expenses relating to travel including car payments, gas costs, insurance and parking fees. If the positive financial impact of toll roads outweighs the expense borne by commuters, I will be supportive of toll lanes.

While I am supportive of toll lanes to a limited degree, I believe the decisions relating to the construction of toll-lanes on I-77 were poorly made. The provisions of that contract are detrimental to the community at large and those provisions will limit future expansions. Toll roads provide an alternative to congested public roads such that the convenience of faster travel times is available at a fee, in lieu of the alternative of spending longer times on the road and incurring higher gas expenses. The cost-benefit considerations provide alternatives to commuters without forcing them to use toll roads.

NCDOT’s first prerogative should always be to widen existing highways with general purpose free lanes. If public funding limitations pose insurmountable challenges, only then as a last resort toll-roads should be considered with funding via public-private partnerships.

5) Would you support spending hospitality tax dollars to renovate or rebuild the county owned Memorial Stadium in hopes of the city winning a Major League Soccer franchise?

Yes. With the caveat of due consideration and careful analysis, use of hospitality tax dollars will be a sound investment to support the prospects of winning an MLS franchise to Charlotte. Soccer is gaining in popularity nationally and Charlotte is taking intentional steps to be considered as a soccer powerhouse. The timing of this ‘investment’ will be opportune, and even in the case of not winning an MLS franchise, a renovated or rebuilt Memorial Stadium will still serve as an attractive venue for other sports events.

I presently serve on a multi-organizational Soccer committee, as part of the initiative launched by the Charlotte Chamber, Mecklenburg County, the City of Charlotte, Rotary and Charlotte Independence team. Recent exhibition soccer games have demonstrated the huge appetite of soccer fans, and as a growing sport in the U.S.A. Charlotte has very good prospects of adding an MLS franchise in addition to its portfolio of the Panthers and Hornets.

Landing an MLS franchise will result in significant visibility and positive financial impact to Charlotte. As the demographics of Charlotte evolve, recognizing that 15% of the population is foreign-born, it will be prudent to pursue the addition of an MLS franchise. As with any investment, a degree of calculated risk must be taken to achieve that objective. Before committing any tax dollars, it will be prudent to devise a game plan that prioritizes the pursuit of an MLS franchise as the primary objective, and also plans for secondary and tertiary options. The Hospitality & Tourism Alliance and the CRVA should be invited to provide input for the planning committee.

6) Would you support an increase in the general sales tax to support more transit projects, such as additional miles of streetcar and a commuter train to Lake Norman?

Yes. As the population of Charlotte grows, tax receipts should increase in some proportion to the population percentage increases. Transit projects will be critical to the success of Charlotte’s future in order to be globally-competitive. To the extent a general sales tax increase is necessitated to support more transit projects, I will be cautiously supportive of the increases, IF the transit projects demonstrate a Return on Investment (ROI) that exceeds the cost considerations. In other words, if the transit project results in higher economic impact to Charlotte’s economy, I will support a tax increase as a form of ‘investment’. Corridors along rail transit projects have generally resulted in increased investment and construction, which have demonstrably increased the economic value to the city. I will be supportive of transit projects, if those projects align with the City’s vision plan and clearly demonstrate greater economic opportunity for a broad section of the Charlotte community.

As an example, it is estimated that the Blue Line cost $470 million to build, but it resulted in about $1.7 billion in private development (last set of estimates from 2010). With the extension of the Blue line, CATS estimates an additional $4.4 billion in development and property appreciation. As long as the cost figures are lower, the positive financial impact and better quality of life will certainly warrant future expansions. One of my key initiatives will be to promote the connection of Charlotte-Douglas airport by light rail to center city Charlotte. This ‘Green Line’ light rail corridor will change the dynamics of Charlotte significantly.

7) There has been a significant amount of redevelopment in neighbors close to uptown, with older, sometimes historic buildings being demolished for new apartments. Would you support more restrictions on tear-downs?

Yes. Demolishing historic buildings arbitrarily will destroy the character and uniqueness of this city. As a council member. I will support restrictions on tear-downs with an equitable process that will provide both the developers and the community the opportunity to articulate their plans and concerns in a detailed manner. In some instances a teardown may be inevitable, however, the community should have the first right of refusal by proposing solutions to preserve those historic buildings without relying excessively on taxpayer funds. If a building is clearly attributed to criminal activity or public safety issues, I will support a tear-down of the building. I will also support and promote ordinances that help to preserve the character and façade of older buildings, while still allowing for re-construction and renovation to current building codes.

8) A goal of the city is to increase affordable housing. In some instances, however, the City Council is asked to approve rezoning requests for low-income apartments, even when an area plan says single-family homes should be built on a site. Should the council follow the area plan recommendations or approve multi-family projects to increase affordability?

Providing affordable housing choices is a critical mandate of City Council. If the City Council does not increase affordable housing choices, it will be a major failure of its mission to serve the community at large. The Harvard study titled ‘The Impacts of Neighborhoods on Intergenerational Mobility’ highlights the importance of diverse neighborhoods, which results in greater income equality and opportunities. I will be in support of multi-family projects to increase affordability. The highest and best use of precious land should come before any other consideration. As such, area plan recommendations should not be followed blindly by City Council, but the Council should undertake due diligence to consider multi-family projects in single-family home areas, IF the project is not egregiously discordant with the character of the neighborhood. The decision to approve a multi-family project should take into consideration public transportation choices, proximity to public schools, crime statistics, demographics, household income levels, health facilities, and shopping centers.

A common-sense approach would seek to approve such projects in neighborhoods that are not too disparate in terms of demographics so that all residents who live in that neighborhood have access to key services commensurate to their needs. Forcibly juxtaposing residents with inconsistent demographics will not be beneficial and that may lead to an uncomfortable social environment. Careful planning and discussions with community leaders will help to assess the viability of such projects. If data, analysis and community input support the approval of multi-family projects, I will strongly support those projects.

9) Should the city change its guidelines for offering Business Investment Grants for companies considering expanding or relocating to Charlotte?

Yes. The city of Charlotte needs to be more innovative in its negotiations with businesses relocating to Charlotte to help revitalize East and West Charlotte. A tiered structure of grants should be offered to provide a higher level of incentives for businesses to set up operations in under-served areas. The current 'Business Investment Program' (BIP) is focused mainly on serving medium and large businesses and the list of eligible businesses is too limited. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are completely EXCLUDED from this program. At present, businesses no reasons to go to areas that have been neglected for far too long. The incentive structure should also be different based on the sizes of the companies that seek to relocate or set up operations. Small businesses and entrepreneurs have very different needs compared to those of large companies. I have participated in many city discussions pertaining to business investment grants, and I believe there are opportunities to offer more creative alternatives, especially to small businesses.

As I have proposed, the creation of ‘Opportunity Zones’ in under-served areas of Charlotte will be designed to offer graduated incentives in those zones to encourage investments by small, medium and large businesses.

The incentives arrangements offered by Charlotte are based on property tax considerations, which completely neglect a huge section of businesses that lease or rent their place of operations. As a city, we need to provide a more creative offering of incentives that will spark entrepreneurs and small businesses to create growth and new opportunities in East and West Charlotte.

Use of incentives in a creative and innovative manner can significantly change the dynamics of Charlotte.

10) What makes you the best candidate?

I consider myself one of four good candidates for Charlotte City Council. I am a proven leader with a strong track-record of service, experience and leadership who is ready to serve Charlotte and bring new initiatives.

As an immigrant from India in 1993, I became a proud American citizen in Charlotte in 2008 after a long and arduous process. I earned my MBA and law degrees in the USA, often working three jobs. I started my financial services firm as an entrepreneur in Charlotte. I know what it takes to realize the American dream.

I am the only new candidate currently serving on two City of Charlotte boards - Business Advisory Committee and Charlotte International Cabinet. I have a strong professional work ethic, coupled with a solid grounding in finance and law. My level of engagement in any capacity has been committed and diligent. Furthermore, I understand the importance of Charlotte’s relationship with Raleigh, which is critical to move this city forward. I may be the only new candidate who has visited the General Assembly in Raleigh to understand the legislative process.

Serving on city boards has provided me with deep insights into city affairs, such as the Business Investment Program, Open Data Portal project, Quality of Life Explorer, Municipal ID considerations, and others. I also serve on the Charlotte Chamber’s Legislative and Education Committees and participated in inter-City trips with Charlotte leaders.

My involvement on boards and organizations has been educational about how Charlotte works. I understand the economic importance of the arts and sciences for Charlotte and I am an alumnus of the ASC’s Cultural Leadership Training program. I serve on the boards of Opera Carolina and WDAV, and I have also volunteered hundreds of hours to support our community and schools. I am a TreeMaster with TreesCharlotte who co-chaired a 1,200 tree-planting initiative. These community engagements have shown me many critical needs Charlotte faces.

In my 10-years in Charlotte, I have met with many leaders to learn of THEIR visions for Charlotte. I have met and engaged with leaders from the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, Hospitality & Tourism Alliance, Charlotte Regional Partnership, Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Foundation for the Carolinas, Center City Partners, University City Partners, Northend Partners, CPCC, UNCC, JCSU, Johnson & Wales, CMS, Arts & Science Council, Rotary, Latin American Chamber, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Carolinas Healthcare System, Care Ring, TreesCharlotte, Hidden Valley, Lockwood, and many other organizations. All of these interactions with Charlotte leaders have helped to shape my vision for Charlotte and give me unique insights into the huge leadership talent we have in Charlotte.

With 15% of Charlotte’s population being foreign-born, greater diversity on Charlotte City Council will be beneficial. Deriving inspiration from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have started with a dream. I believe in action, and I do not have any aspirations for higher political office. This is why I believe I am a good candidate for Charlotte City Council At-Large.

11) What else should voters know about you?

I believe actions speak louder than words. I believe in bold action and bold ideas. Even as I have been out campaigning, I have made time to commit myself to serving the community. I recently visited a homeless shelter for women (Gracious Hands Housing), to learn about how I could help. I will be volunteering with my children at Charlotte Boxing Academy, two days before the primary election, because I believe in 'Service above Self'.

I was nominated to serve as the president of a 60-year old Rotary club within 6-months of joining the club. I enjoy calligraphy, drawing and painting. I have authored two books – one an investment guide (Risk-Specific Portfolio Investing) and the other a thriller (The Knight Conspiracy). I have been a motorcyclist since I was a teenager, and I have always owned a motorbike. I completed my first skydive from 14,000 feet in 2014. As a teenager in India, I was inspired by American business leaders, and I wrote to and received responses from Carl Icahn, William Hewlett, and some other business leaders. The best advice I received was to ‘keep plugging away’ and never give up. I even did a stint as a custodian hauling trash from dorms, while I was pursuing my MBA in grad school. Sometimes I did three consecutive 8-hour shifts sleeping two hours over two days. Good times.

The U.S.A. is the land of opportunity. Good leaders can bring that opportunity to everyone. I wish all candidates the best of luck in their endeavors to serve the Queen City of Charlotte.