It’s possible that no year can live up to the extraordinary newsiness of 2016, but 2017 gave it a good try. It was Donald Trump’s first year as president, after all, and it was Roy Cooper’s first year as N.C. governor. In Charlotte, there also was no lack of big headlines. From issues at the Mecklenburg Health Department to a bid for MLS soccer to the election of a new mayor, the editorial board had a lot to ponder. Here’s what we said about some of the biggest news stories:
Jan. 15: Charlotte’s $100 Million stadium question
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County faced a question that vexes many cities and counties: How much money, if any, should be put toward a professional sports stadium? In this case, it was Major League Soccer and a local bid from Bruton and Marcus Smith.
“We're having a harder time identifying the return from $100 million the city and county would spend toward a $150 million MLS stadium in Elizabeth just southeast of uptown. That's the amount in a proposal presented to Mecklenburg County commissioners last week, the Observer's Steve Harrison reports.
The proposal also calls for a local ownership group led by billionaire race track owner Bruton Smith to pay $50 million toward the venue. The county would donate the land - worth $12.9 million - and own the stadium, but the Smiths would manage it.
What do Charlotte and Mecklenburg get in return? The economic benefits of an MLS team are iffy at best. Economists overwhelmingly agree that pro sports franchises don't bring much, if any, new revenue to cities because teams largely don't spur new spending of entertainment dollars...
The optics are even worse: As Charlotte and Mecklenburg officials tackle the urgent problem of economic immobility for low-income families, do we really want to be writing a $100 million check so that wealthy franchise owners-to-be don't have to?
We don't think so. Having an MLS franchise would be fun for Charlotteans, but it also needs to be a good deal. This one isn't.”
April 2: We were wrong, Mr. Berger, about the governor
When N.C. Republican leaders Phil Berger and Tim Moore said that Gov. Roy Cooper had agreed to a bill that would repeal HB2 but leave the LGBT community vulnerable to discrimination, we were skeptical. Cooper indeed signed HB142:
“But, as it also turns out, we now have another governor you might not be able to believe. We wrote that about Pat McCrory, too, shortly after he broke a campaign promise not to sign legislation that would restrict abortions. McCrory made a political calculation with that decision – if he had vetoed the abortion legislation, he likely would've faced an embarrassing override from the conservative House and Senate...
Cooper also made a political calculation last week - that it was worth getting HB2 off the books, and that the progressives angry with him now will eventually come back to him the next time he's fighting Republicans. Cooper also might have calculated, as some progressives have, that this was the best deal he was going to get from Republicans.
But there's a danger with political calculations. When you start basing decisions on strategy and forget about vows - or about what's simply right - then voters lose faith in what you tell them.
Of course, McCrory and Cooper are far from the first public officials to say one thing and do another. And it's certainly true that voters have a heightened tolerance for spin - or at least a greater expectation of it. But we still want to believe that our leaders will keep their word, especially when it's a significant declaration. That's what we thought Roy Cooper would do. We were wrong.”
May 21: Questions mount at health department
It was an unnecessarily turbulent year at the Mecklenburg Health Department. First came revelations about the mishandling of nearly 200 Pap smear test results. Then came word that director Marcus Plescia had demoted the person who blew the whistle on the Pap smear scandal. Plescia eventually was ousted.
“It's essential that the Health Department be run properly. Thousands of low-income patients rely on clinics in west and southeast Charlotte for sound medical care. The department also regulates restaurants, child care centers and swimming pools and works to prevent the spread of illnesses.
But according to several current and former employees, the clinics under Plescia's leadership are in disarray. Some patients wait for hours while others receive inaccurate test results and don't get needed follow up attention. Some county commissioners said they have heard similar complaints from employees, and that workers are fearful they'll be retaliated against if they report concerns to management.
Given all the turmoil at such a public-facing agency, it's concerning that the county does not make Plescia or other executives available to talk to reporters. They should urgently want to convey to the public how they see the situation and what they are doing to fix it.
Clearly Plescia is armed with impressive credentials and has some good big-picture ideas about county health. But the health director, or someone with great authority right under him, needs to be able to make the trains run on time. If he can't or won't, the county needs a new conductor.”
Aug. 15: Charlottesville pushes Trump to the margins
It’s difficult to pick a moment that sums up Donald Trump’s first calendar year as president. But in the midst of the tumult came Charlottesville - two days of hateful demonstrations that ended in a horrifying death. The president, with an opportunity to condemn the hate groups that descended upon the college town, instead blamed the unrest "on many sides."
“Be clear about that: The president, who is quick and unafraid to talk about what and whom he dislikes, was reluctant for days to call out racists and bigots. Hate groups got the message. On Saturday, the founder of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer praised the president's comments. "No condemnation at all," Andrew Anglin wrote. "Really, really good."
We also should make no mistake about hate and this country. Despite the strong and heartening words from all corners of Washington this weekend, the threat of deep-rooted racism continues to be very real in America, perhaps more now than anytime in recent decades. We must remain vigilant about identifying it and fighting it, and that begins in the White House. which employs as the president's chief strategist a virulent nationalist whose Breitbart bigotry has helped fuel the anger we saw in Charlottesville
Still, we learned something this weekend about the limits of a president's - at least this president's - influence. On a bleak Saturday afternoon, the nation feared the power of Donald Trump's failure to denounce white nationalism. As it turns out, the president and his words were never weaker.”
Oct. 15: 'Student-athlete', died Oct. 13, 2017. RIP
With its feeble final ruling to years of bogus classes at the University of North Carolina, the NCAA forever put to rest the notion it has long tried to push with a straight face: That athletes in big-time sports are "students first" working toward college degrees.
“The NCAA, in its final report years in the making, imposed no serious penalties on UNC despite the school operating and condoning one of the most egregious academic/athletic scandals in history.
The primary defense offered by the so-called "Public Ivy" was so self-defeating that it worked: We didn't offer bogus classes to athletes; we offered them to everyone! That's a technicality that got the NCAA off the school's back despite being only partly true. But it is undeniably a sad, shameful admission for the nation's first - and, in some minds, finest - public university.
So while the school dodged official sanctions like a postseason ban, vacating of tainted championships and probation, it could not avoid the body-blow to its reputation.
Also marred - further marred, we should say - is the reputation of the NCAA, which showed once and for all that it is incapable of fulfilling its mission. Its cowering in this case sends a message to schools nationwide: Do what you want. If you say it's OK, it's OK with us.”
Nov. 8: Lyles delivers final dagger to GOP’s hopes
Charlotte voters decided in 2017 that they wanted a steadier leader, unseating incumbent Democratic Jennifer Roberts in favor of fellow Democrat Vi Lyles. That’s a good choice for our city, even as Charlotte’s ever-leftward political tilt is less-than-ideal.
Democrats rolled yet again, with Vi Lyles winning the mayor's race and Democrats sweeping the four at-large City Council seats to maintain their 9-2 stranglehold. On the school board, which is officially nonpartisan, seven of nine members will lean more left than right.
This is, in the main, an unhealthy thing for Charlotte. Nations, states, cities, companies - all organizations, really - benefit from a competition of ideas. Extremes are reined in and policies and solutions are sharpened to produce better outcomes. Perspectives are broadened, and arguments are tested and reshaped.
While that makes us worry about taxpayers' pocketbooks, and too much groupthink, we certainly value Democrats' progressive stances on many issues. And we congratulate Lyles, who becomes Charlotte's first black female mayor. She has the background, the heart and the temperament to lead the important conversations this city has to have right now...
Political winds inevitably shift over time, but combine Smith's mayoral loss with Edwin Peacock's in 2013 and 2015 and John Lassiter's in 2009 (along with Scott Stone's in 2011), and it's evident that Democrats call the shots around here and are likely to do so for years to come.”