Name: Mike O'Hara
What office are you running for? Charlotte City Council - District 4
Political Experience: 1987 Candidate for Mayor in Manchester, Maryland.
Family: My wife Patti and I have been married for thirty-years. We have four children that all served in the United States Air Force, three remain on active duty. We have a daughter-in-law that also served in the Air Force, and a one-year old grandson with another one on the way. We also have a four-legged family member. A rescue dog, our second, a German Shepherd named King.
Work Experience: I am a twenty-seven year veteran of the financial services industry starting at Maryland National Bank to NationsBank/Bank of America and currently at Wells Fargo. I have led large geographic dispersed teams and a variety of functions involving human resources, finance, information management, supply chain, ecommerce, and home mortgage.
1) Why are you running for office?
I love Charlotte and I am proud to be a part of this community. We have a great city and we owe that debt not to great government, but great citizens, our southern spirit and hospitality. The welcoming arms we extend to those that want to live and work in Charlotte, like myself who came here 21 years ago. Government has its place to help provide safety, proper planning, and the necessary infrastructure to benefit all and keep us on our path forward. Good government and strong elected leaders with vision and the fortitude to drive change can help, but government needs to operate within its boundaries and with reason. The wrong leadership doesn’t move us forward but creates headwinds. We need bold leaders for tomorrow. Visionaries, who want to solve issues at their root cause and not put temporary solution in place until the next election. I will drive the conversation with ideas to move us forward. I will watch the bottom line to ensure that the city always remembers who is paying the bill, the taxpayers. I will be that strong voice for the residents of District 4 and that strong leader for Charlotte.
2) What would be your top priorities if elected?
1. Livability --- Integrated planning for growth, keeping taxes low, and solving transportation issues.
a. I would support a balanced plan for growth. This balance must include a reasonable mix of green space with retail, multi-use and single use homes. The focus would be on developing areas in need of an economic turnaround and keeping all areas of our city prosperous and beautiful. The existing approach of our local government is to pack density wherever it can as a revenue and efficiency play. The result is that the government has not increased its efficiency and has not reduced its expenses.
b. Keeping Taxes Low: Governments are skilled at year after year expanding their budgets, but less skilled at justifying to the taxpayers how they have spent the precious resources of the community. Our local government is no exception. I will hold the City Manager accountable for informing the citizens and the council of how each penny was spent and what was being done to create a more efficient government operation. I will challenge the City Manager to define what plans and programs were put in place to cap and reduce expenses and report weekly on their progress. I am not interested in cutting expenses by cutting services. Quite the contrary. I am interested in making sure we spend each dollar wisely so that we can do more with our dollars by eliminating waste.
c. Transportation: There is no simple solution that can occur in timely way to solve this issue. Our district needs a comprehensive transportation review. To date, these transportation plans are done in isolation. The growth in one area of the city does not take into account the transportation network in another area of the city that may feed into or out of that growth area. Even the city’s master plan does not look at the problem holistically. I would propose that any growth become dependent on the total transportation network impact and that the growth cannot move forward until transportation can keep pace. I do not want to pave more fields with roads, I want smart planning that takes into account the right network of transportation that is safe and effective.
2. Rebuilding trust between police and our communities through my four-point plan.
a. Create an Officer in Residence program to incent police officers to live in underserved or troubled areas..
b. Create an upper-level school program (grades 11-12) to provide early training for those with an interest in law enforcement as a career. This program would train on social, cultural, and economic issues as well as community service to help understand the communities they will serve.
c. Intensified recruiting efforts to ensure the police department reflects the community and has representation from the communities it will serve.
d. Annual required paid community service time (32hrs) for law enforcement officers to work in challenged and underserved communities to help build trust and rebuild communities.
3. Organic economic growth through investment in entrepreneurs and small businesses.
a. Fast Path for starting a business – An easy program to navigate through government bureaucracy. A one-stop online presence to launch a business without having to engage three different government agencies. One site that links all the appropriate agencies.
b. Link private and public partnerships with entrepreneurial networks and entrepreneurs. An improved version of a Charlotte Center City Partner type model specifically to help grow small businesses.
c. Lobby high tech companies to Charlotte – Government is missing a point person and advocate in Government.
4. Government Transparency – I would propose a District Scorecard that shows the taxes paid (sales, property, other) by our district and the reinvestment of those taxes in our district (businesses, programs, infrastructure, business development, public safety, and other government expenditures) . There are many types of reinvestment. For example, paving a road is an investment, but this total value is offset if the firm paid to repave the street is not located within the district or the city. Investing in Charlotte businesses is good for our city and our economy. In the current city operation I have yet to see a scorecard that shows our citizens where the government spends its money and how much is spent with businesses based in Charlotte.
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?
I understand the passion on both sides of this issue, but all voices must be represented and not just one perspective. I do not support the ordinance as originally proposed. What I would support is that establishments with more than bathroom for each gender be allowed to designate a portion of those facilities as transgender. This would then apply to larger facilities like sporting venues, convention center, schools, malls, etc. Venues without multiple facilities would remain gender specific. While this does not meet the requests on both sides, it is a compromise that listens to all interests.
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?
I do not support toll lanes. Period. This is the fear with the approval of toll lanes on I-77 north. Once government gets a taste of additional revenue, soon every road will be a toll lane and our citizens will not be able to navigate anywhere around our city without having to constantly pay a toll. One need look no further that Florida or Maryland to see how toll road expansion has migrated from major interstates to common every day commuter roads. Road should be bought and paid for with the existing revenue stream and free to use for the taxpayers that paid for them.
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?
I do not support subsidizing a sports franchise. If Major League Soccer views Charlotte as a viable city then they should work with investors and partners to find, build, or contribute to a stadium. It is unlikely that a renovation of the existing Memorial Stadium to fix years of neglect will be suitable for a MLS team. I do not support building another publicly funded stadium. Having said that, Memorial Stadium has been neglected and I do support using some funds to ensure the safety and usability of this venue for high school games and other events. This fills a gap in the market for some events and the stadium can be useful. I would like to look at the numbers and costs and see how bringing it up to a safe and usable standard benefits the taxpayer.
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?
No. The streetcar is an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars for the benefit it provides. It is a novelty, impedes traffic, and with the overhead wires detracts from the beauty of the city. There are less costly ways to move people than the streetcar. As for a commuter train, I generally like the idea. I would want to see how this could be funded without additional taxes, what other localities would contribute, and what already existing funding can be used.
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?
We need to strike a balance between our past and the future and between the rights of property owners versus government regulation. Our older buildings, that are maintained or historic provide elements of character add charm to our city. I would support a more thorough vetting process to ensure that proposed tear-downs do not detract or alter the character and balance of an area or takeaway a building that has significance in Charlotte's history.
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?
The plan is a plan for a reason. It is the course we have reviewed and established for an area. When you toss that by the wayside or alter it you have negated the process by which it was built. The planning process factors in schools, transportation, roads, infrastructure and how they would be supported. Changing this can impact the quality of life and expense to the taxpayer. We do need to look at how we can weave affordable housing into future plans and areas, but not continually add rezoning to a plan that is already established. If we want to pursue this than we should revisit the entire plan for that area to ensure all factors are weighed.
9) Should the city change its guidelines for offering Business Investment Grants for companies considering expanding or relocating to Charlotte?
I do not support trying to "buy our way" to growth and prosperity. It will not work. There will be minor successes and a lot of misses. I would propose that we look at ways to strengthen and grow small businesses here in our own community. Let's invest in our citizens, our entrepreneurs, and help them build the next technology company right here. Two years ago Facebook employed 450 workers. Today, it employees 11,000. We need to support companies that can bring that kind of growth to Charlotte along with other small businesses.
10) What makes you the best candidate?
I am a listener, a thinker, a problem solver. I will find solutions that solve issues not just pass them on to the next election. I have the life experiences, the business background, and the passion to be a difference maker for this city and for our citizens. I am an idea guy. I will not back down from doing what it right for our community from offering ideas that can start the conversation rather than accepting the status quo. I will lead and drive the conversation to move us forward. We share common ground, we are all part of this community, we all love our city, and we want our city and our citizens to prosper. That is how I will represent you, our district, and our city.
11) What else should voters know about you?
I cover a lot of bases with a wide variety of interests. I am writing my first novel. I have about 85,000 words done with another 15,000or so left to write. The novel is science fiction and combines two things I an very interested in, science and World War II history. I am an avid supporter of the space program and write often about little known aspects of the program than many may not have heard about. When the space shuttle program was active I was a guest of NASA at several launches and landings.