Each year, the Observer’s editorial board looks ahead to some critical questions Charlotte and North Carolina face in the upcoming 12 months. Today, we answer last year’s questions, then ask three more about issues that will shape our quality of life in the year ahead.
Did the N.C. legislature repeal and replace HB2?
Yes, sort of. In March, the N.C. General Assembly passed HB 142, which repealed a law that gave the state a black eye and cost it millions in tax revenue. All of N.C. was hurt by HB2, but especially Charlotte, which lost business ventures and the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend.
HB 142, which was signed by the governor, wasn’t really a repeal, however. Under HB 142, cities are forbidden from passing ordinances ensuring that gays could not be denied a table, or a hotel room or a taxi because of whom they loved. That was a key component of HB2 – the freedom to discriminate and an inability to forbid it.
But HB 142 accomplished its goal. The NCAA quickly announced that it would bring 36 championship events to North Carolina through 2022, and the NBA announced that Charlotte would get to host the 2019 All-Star Weekend. It was genuinely good news, and North Carolina should celebrate it, but the shameful impulses that drove the passage of HB2 were kept alive with its repeal, and people who value anti-discrimination protections for gay people were willing to sacrifice them to get the games back.
Did Jennifer Roberts win another term in the mayor’s office?
No. Roberts, the incumbent Democrat, never made it to November’s general election ballot. She lost to eventual mayor-elect Vi Lyles in the Democratic primary.
Roberts was done in by both external and internal storms. HB2 brought intense political and economic fallout, and the Keith Scott shooting and subsequent unrest called into question Charlotte’s image as a progressive New South city on the rise. Roberts drew scrutiny in both instances – for not anticipating how Republicans in Raleigh would react to Charlotte’s non-discrimination ordinance, and for a lack of public leadership in the days after the Scott shooting.
Roberts also had a strained relationship with Charlotte City Council members, including those in her own party. That wasn’t helped by an op-ed she penned for the Observer after the Scott shootings that threw her police chief under the bus for transparency issues.
All of which was enough for Charlotte voters, who decided to turn to the steady Lyles, a city government veteran, to lead the city forward.
How has the new CMS superintendent fared?
It was an uneven year for Clayton Wilcox, who got off to a rocky start before he even started his tenure as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ new superintendent.
First, an Observer report revealed that he wasn’t the initial choice of some school board members, and that one promising candidate had backed out. Then, an Observer editorial board investigation revealed that while superintendent at Washington County (Md.) Schools, Wilcox had apparently agreed to a University of Maryland research study of student-athletes without letting the athletes, their families or district leaders know about it. Wilcox told the editorial board he hadn’t agreed to the study, despite being quoted earlier lauding the study’s results.
Then, on his first day on the job, Wilcox pushed through raises of more than $30,000 and $40,000 a year for CMS administrators, the Observer’s Ann Doss Helms reported in July. That included creating an $85,000 a year job – manager of culinary development – for his chief of staff’s husband. It was a tone-deaf maneuver, and teachers lit up message boards for days.
Wilcox has since navigated a magnet school expansion approval and student assignment changes without incident. For the sake of CMS and its families, we hope he’s turned a corner.
Will a younger Charlotte City Council be different?
Charlotte’s City Council has five new members, each under 40 years old. It’s a signal that voters want new perspectives on issues the city has struggled to overcome – including economic mobility and inequality.
There’s reason for both caution and optimism. History is filled with fresh faces and good intentions that got chewed up in the grind of politics and government. But this council’s youth movement has mass going for it – not just one or two voices that can get lost in the cacophony of municipal government.
We like that the new council members already are showing some inventiveness – Democrat Larken Egleston and Republican Tariq Bokhari plan to host a podcast after each Monday meeting. That’s a good sign that the council – or at least the new members – will be transparent and communicative with their constituents.
One thing we didn’t like: Among the first topics for discussion – introduced by new at-large member Braxton Winston – was a raise and longer terms for council members. That’s a valid issue to debate, but starting their tenure with an ask invites suspicion that the new faces are in it for an old reason – themselves.
We hope that’s just a blip, and that this younger council offers the fresh energy and vision that our vibrant city needs.
Will we get fairer N.C. legislative elections?
It’s more possible than ever. Federal judges have assigned a “special master,” Stanford University law professor Nathan Persily, the task of drawing new N.C. legislative districts. Persily submitted his final recommendations last month.
N.C. Republicans, who drew those lines in 2011 and tried again this year, don’t much like Persily’s effort. The problem? The new map “imposes race-based redistricting on the state against its will,” said Phil Strach, the attorney representing lawmakers.
Of course, Persily never would have been called upon had those same Republicans not drawn unfair maps by packing minorities into legislative districts, diluting their voting power. Thankfully, judges have recognized that, and we expect they’ll look favorably on Persily’s map.
A note: If approved, Persily’s proposal would improve Democratic chances for only two or three more House seats and two in the Senate. To gain a House or Senate majority, Democrats will have to do it the old-fashioned way, by persuading voters. Now, at least, they should have a more level playing field to work with.
What will happen to the Carolina Panthers?
We know this about Charlotte’s NFL team: Things are going to change. Owner Jerry Richardson is selling the team at season’s end after reports of misconduct with four employees, each of whom received hush money to keep quiet.
We don’t expect the Panthers new owner to move the team. Both Richardson and the NFL have reason to want to keep the Panthers in Charlotte. It’s part of Richardson’s legacy, and Charlotte provides a growing, thriving and successful market for the NFL. We’re pleased at the potential of a local ownership group forming, and we hope NFL owners – who make the final call on who gets to join their exclusive club – put a thumb on the scale for buyers who want to keep the team here.
But you know what’s just as scary as the prospect of the Panthers leaving? Having Charlotte officials too desperate to keep the team. That’s what city council member James Mitchell sounded like when he told CBSSports.com that his committee would ask the new owner: “What else can we do? What is your checklist to make sure you’re committed to the Charlotte community?”
The city will soon face hard questions about public contributions to a new Panthers’ stadium. Let’s not empty the checkbook before anyone even asks.