A new chapter for Charlotte City Council

A new chapter for Charlotte City Council
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Monday is the last meeting of the current Charlotte City Council members, whose rocky tenure started just before a pandemic, and ends with a vote on one of the most consequential policies for the city’s growth in years.

Why it matters: It’s a passing-of-the-torch moment after almost three years, far longer than council members are normally in office. It’s been a term marked by major economic development deals and big-picture planning, by bickering and ethics complaints, by protests and promises.

Tonight is the last meeting for mayor pro tem Julie Eiselt and council members Larken Egleston, Matt Newton and Greg Phipps — all who either lost (Egleston) or who did not seek reelection (the rest).

  • Tonight, council will vote on the Unified Development Ordinance, which will guide the city’s future development.

Flashback: This group of city council members was sworn in in late 2019, months before the first cases of coronavirus arrived in the U.S. and changed just about everything. It was the next phase for five of the six members from the “millennial-majority” council elected in 2017, who were featured in the Wall Street Journal as the face of our fast-growing and young city.

By then, the cracks in that harmonious image had already started to show, in decisions like the divisive vote to support hosting the Republican National Convention in Charlotte.

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Then, as the pandemic spread, council’s Monday meetings went virtual.

  • Like the rest of us, council members grappled with shoddy internet connections and random interruptions. The new virtual reality often made for a tense working environment; attending meetings in-person eventually became a point of contention.

Photo: Screenshot from the city of Charlotte’s livestream of an exasperated Mayor Lyles during a meeting in 2021.

Yes, but: This council’s had its share of high points. Among them: Major League Soccer officially awarded Charlotte an expansion team (December 2019), Atrium Health kicked off plans for a med school campus and innovation district in midtown (March 2021) and a transformative mixed-use development broke ground at Eastland after years of planning (August 2022).

Transit also has been a major focal point for this council. This spring, they approved the Strategic Mobility Plan — a framework supporting transit proposals already in the works. One is the proposed Silver Line, the east-west light rail line — although a funding plan for that project is in limbo. And the Gold Line street car has struggled with reliability issues since it opened last year.

[Related Axios story: How Charlotte plans to get cars off the road]

We took a look back on memorable moments over the last few years:

  • March 2020: The first COVID-19 case is reported in Mecklenburg County. The city closed its facilities to the public and sent some employees to work from home. Council and Mayor Vi Lyles convened a Community Recovery Task Force shortly after.
  • April 2020: Five council members voted against accepting $50 million in federal grant money for security costs to put on the RNC. It still passed, with a majority of six.
  • May & June 2020: Protests erupted over the murder of George Floyd. Council member Braxton Winston was among those arrested during a protest on the first night. The charges were later dropped. Also, CMPD trapped and tear gassed protestors, in a method known as “kettling,” on June 2, leading to immediate backlash from city leaders and multiple lawsuits.
    • The night after the”kettling” incident, several council members and the mayor, along with then-chief Kerr Putney, met with protesters in a “town hall” outside the government center. They marched and kneeled during a demonstration.
  • August 2020: The RNC that leaders spent two years arguing over turned out to be a mostly virtual convention, with about 330 delegates visiting the city.
  • October 2020: After a contentious strategy session, several council members and the mayor went out for a drink at Hattie’s as a way to show camaraderie. But even that backfired: Queen City Nerve publisher Justin LaFrancois posted a picture of them, sparking an online debate over whether they were abiding by masking policies.
  • October 2020: City council signed off on the SAFE Charlotte recommendations in the wake of calls for police reform, which include providing $1 million to nonprofits addressing systemic causes of violence, providing incentives to officers to live in the communities they serve and developing a non-sworn officer response model for mental health and homeless calls. But some activists involved with the plan said it didn’t go far enough.
  • January 2021: At-large council member James “Smuggie” Mitchell resigned because of a conflict of interest that arose when he took a job as part owner and president of a construction company that contracts with the city.
  • June 2021: City Council voted 6-5 to approve the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, a vision for the city’s growth that includes allowing duplexes and triplexes by-right in single-family areas.
    • During the months-long debate over the plan, members attacked each other and city staff in public and private settings. Republican Ed Driggs apologized for saying that “smart people can outmaneuver dumb people,” in reference to his fellow members.
  • June 2021: Council approved moving all 2021 council elections to 2022 because delays in the Census prohibited them from redrawing the districts, as required by law every 10 years. Republican Tariq Bokhari lobbied to hold the at-large races, but that proposal was struck down. During the meeting, he and Malcolm Graham got into a tense exchange in which Bokhari said Graham had no respect for anyone other than himself (interaction at 2:38).
  • August 2021: In a rare show of unity, they passed an ordinance that prevents discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, natural hairstyle and other factors
    • The unanimous vote was significant, considering it was a 2016 nondiscrimination ordinance that led to the state legislature’s HB2 law, which stained North Carolina’s image around the country.
  • November 2021: Charlotte launched a $250 million public-private equity initiative, led by Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, to address racial inequity. But that effort has been marred by controversy.

What’s next: Incumbents Dimple Ajmera, Braxton Winston, Tariq Bokhari, Malcolm Graham, Victoria Watlington, Renee Perkins Johnson and Ed Driggs will remain when the new council is sworn in on September 6. The 9-2 Democratic advantage will also stay the same.

  • But there will be two new faces, and two familiar ones. Marjorie Molina and Danté Anderson will represent districts 5 and 1, respectively, and previous council members James “Smuggie” Mitchell and LaWana Slack-Mayfield will return as at-large representatives.

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