A vindictive Charlotte mayor?

The Observer editorial board

Council member Ed Driggs seeks more money for affordable housing

Council member Ed Driggs seeks more money for affordable housing
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Council member Ed Driggs seeks more money for affordable housing

There’s a fine line between being hard-knuckled and petty, between letting everyone know who’s boss and trying too hard to show it. It appears Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts stepped over that line last week with Charlotte City Council.

On Friday, Roberts announced new committee assignments for the council, and they included one noticeable demotion: District 7 representative Ed Driggs, a Republican, was removed from the prestigious Economic Development Committee despite his deep background in finance.

Why? It could be that 11 days earlier at a council meeting, Driggs had proposed using $18.5 million from hotel/motel tax revenue to pay for a building that would link Bojangles’ Coliseum with Ovens Auditorium. Doing so would free up the $18.5 million for something else – Driggs proposed using it for affordable housing. It was a good idea, but it lost in a 5-4 vote.

Driggs Robert Lahser rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Although Driggs had previously talked about the proposal, it seemed to catch some Democrats off guard. That included Roberts, who this board said missed an opportunity to be a persuasive voice for a strong affordable housing idea. A few days later, Roberts called on the council to make affordable housing a priority, and she seemed to give a nod to Driggs’ plan as “innovative.”

But now, the mayor has yanked the veteran councilman from Economic Development. It is, certainly, a bad move for the city. Beyond his banking background, Driggs was respected by his peers for his thoughtful, collegial approach to economic issues. He’ll be replaced by council newcomer Carlenia Ivory, a longtime community activist and Democrat who was appointed just last month to replace Al Austin in District 2.

“I would have suggested against it,” District 3 representative LaWana Mayfield told the editorial board Monday. Mayfield, a Democrat, serves on Economic Development, which now has no Republicans. “We’ve had a number of things we’ve been working on for years now. To switch it up isn’t good.”

This isn’t the first time Roberts has raised ire on City Council by pulling committee assignments. Patsy Kinsey and Claire Fallon lost committee leadership roles in 2015 after they supported former Mayor Dan Clodfelter for re-election. More recently, Vi Lyles was removed as vice chair of Economic Development shortly after declaring she was running against Roberts.

Such assignments are one of the few real powers a Charlotte mayor has, but it’s a big one, because much of the work that gets done in city government goes through council committees. The mayor indicated Friday that her motivation for the Driggs move was “spreading opportunity to every corner of the city.” She reiterated that in a statement to the editorial board Monday.

Driggs was careful about speculating on Roberts’ motivation, but said Monday: “The timing raises questions.” Three other council members indicated to the editorial board that they have little doubt the move was retaliatory. Why does it matter? Those members and others say Roberts is thin-skinned and largely not collaborative with council, and that explains why she’s had few significant accomplishments in her first term. (Mayfield said those struggles might have more to do with Charlotte lurching from HB2 to the Keith Scott shooting in the past 18 months.)

It’s notable that those critical remarks were on background. Council members don’t want to be next on the receiving end of the mayor’s wrath. But such lashing out isn’t leadership. It’s vindictiveness, and that’s not good for Charlotte.