2018 is over, but electric scooters, mumble rap and porch pirates will persist. So will several big issues affecting our region. Things we’d like to leave in the past, such as the October school shooting in Matthews or political divisiveness, will continue to manifest until we solve the root cause of these problems. Here are 11 big issues that we’ll continue hearing about this year.
We’re two months removed from the November 2018 election and the Ninth District still doesn’t have a representative in U.S. Congress.
Republican Mark Harris had more votes than Democrat Dan McCready, but the state hasn’t certified the results yet due to concerns about questionable absentee ballots in Robeson and Bladen counties.
Union County boldly called on the state to certify the results. Commissioner Stony Rushing raised a valid concern about the need for constituent services in our district.
One of the strengths of Congressman Robert Pittenger’s team was their ability to cut through red tape when it came to helping veterans, seniors or low-income people navigate the federal system.
Perhaps we’ll see a lengthy investigation.
I believe charter schools will continue to be debated on multiple fronts in the coming year.
Locally, it will be interesting to see if Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will continue to look at charter schools more like competitors or if they’ll begin to view them as partners.
The state granted the towns of Matthews, Mint Hill, Huntersville and Cornelius the authority to open and operate charter schools, which prompted CMS to give those towns an ultimatum: build or miss out on future CMS construction.
Leaders from CMS and the towns have started meeting to study demographics and the school district’s logic behind drawing school boundaries.
More broadly, people will continue to debate the effectiveness and inclusiveness of charter schools compared to their traditional counterparts.
The state approved a handful of charter schools in Mecklenburg and Union counties in 2018, most notably Apprentice Academy High School, which opens in 2019 in our coverage area of Union County.
Mark Watson begins his tenure as Union County manager in 2019.
Human resource directors typically don’t stand in the forefront of county government, given the nature of their jobs. It will be interesting to see if he’s more vocal or authoritative than his predecessor, Cynthia Coto, during commissioner meetings.
Watson has the advantage of running an organization with veteran department heads, many of whom he has known for a long time.
While the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners has been dominated by Democrats for years, this marks the first term in decades that Democrats hold all of the seats. Members have publicly said that just because everyone is a Democrat doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements among the board.
I’m curious to see if Commissioner Vilma Leake continues to hold grudges against colleagues Pat Cotham and Ella Scarborough or if she’ll play nice this term.
Republican National Convention
Even though the Republican National Convention isn’t scheduled to arrive in Charlotte until August 2020, a lot of groundwork will go into preparing the region for hosting such an undertaking – especially with today’s volatile political climate.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has already rolled out a series of workshops designed to establish common ground among the city’s various demographics. Security will be a key element to the region’s planning.
CMPD will likely request more funding in terms of manpower and equipment while working with neighboring jurisdictions as it did during the Democratic National Convention in 2012.
Republican groups in Mecklenburg and Union counties will recruit heavily for the event, while Democrats, Libertarians and some unaffiliated voters will call on others to join planned protests.
A lot of the chaos will depend on what President Donald Trump says leading up to the event. Will he run again? If so, will he represent the Republican Party or maybe cash in his name recognition to start his own political party?
Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles pushed the city to increase the Housing Trust Fund from $15 million to $50 million. The Housing Trust Fund helps secure affordable new construction and rehabilitated homes.
The decision went before voters, who approved the measure at the ballot box in November by 68 percent.
Throughout 2018, leaders with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education and Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners have also expressed a desire to contribute toward a solution to the crisis.
Affordable housing has also trickled into discussions among the Matthews Planning Board, which launched a subcommittee to examine owner-occupied homes and rental properties in town.
Will these groups work together in 2019 to address the region’s growing problem? Expect it to come up a lot from political campaigns.
Kemba Walker was third in fan voting for the Charlotte Hornets’ 30th Anniversary Team this year, trailing only 1990s players Alonzo Mourning and Dell Curry. There’s no question, he’s the face of the franchise.
And after a 60-point performance earlier this season, national media began to see Walker as an All-NBA caliber player, which could play a huge role in his contract negotiations with the team at the end of the season.
Would Charlotte be willing to pay Walker a max contract even though the team has only made the NBA Playoffs twice during his first seven years? What if he qualifies for an even more expensive supermax contract for clinching All-NBA honors?
The Hornets were below .500 as of Dec. 31. Management has until Feb. 7 to decide whether to trade Walker for assets that could make the team more competitive or begin a rebuild. If a trade doesn’t happen, Walker may opt to play with another team.
This is a pivotal year for the future of the franchise.
Will President Donald Trump be successful in fulfilling a promise to build a wall along the Mexican border? If so, who will pay for it? Immigration is a divisive issue among Trump supporters and haters.
Locally, Sheriff Garry McFadden pulled Mecklenburg County out of the 287(g) program on his first day of office, opting to use his resources on preventing serious crimes and improving public safety in the community.
Last month, ICE Field Office Director Sean Gallagher described McFadden’s move as “an open invitation to aliens who commit criminal offenses that Mecklenburg County is now a safe haven for persons seeking to evade federal authorities.”
Gallagher promised a more visible ICE presence in Mecklenburg as a result.
N.C. Rep. Scott Stone urged McFadden to reconsider, noting it forced ICE to make arrests in public rather than the controlled environment of jail.
Don’t be surprised to see a few generic protests pop up locally based on national happenings.
School districts in Mecklenburg and Union counties didn’t just start talking about how to keep students safe after the fatal shooting three months ago at Butler High School in Matthews.
School districts were already moved by the Feb. 14 high school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida. Students organized walkouts to inspire more aggressive gun laws, while school boards sought higher budgets for security protocols.
After the Butler shooting, school districts had very public discussions about school safety. Expect those discussions to resume as school boards put together their annual budgets in the spring and make formal budget requests to county commissioners through June. I have no doubt that school districts will seek more tax dollars to add support staff and safety tools.
South Charlotte Partners is inviting leaders from homeowners associations and property management groups to a conversation with Charlotte Planning Director Taiwo Jaiyeoba on Jan. 10 at the Ballantyne Hotel.
This meeting is an opportunity to bring leaders together to discuss south Charlotte growth trends.
If South Charlotte Partners can continue to cultivate relationships with HOA and property management firms, there may come a point in the near future when the region could be ready for a municipal tax district.
Center City Partners and University City Partners are examples of tax districts that work toward increasing economic development of their regions. Similar tax boundaries could be drawn around SouthPark or Ballantyne.
While this may be too ambitious right now, I do anticipate discussions between city staff and council about how to give community groups more of a voice in development.
Tariq Bokari, who represents SouthPark on the council, mentioned during the council’s Dec. 17 meeting that there’s a need for a better resource for community groups to negotiate in a meaningful way with petitioners on zoning projects.
With the Monroe Expressway out of the way, expect major milestones for other express lane projects in the Charlotte region. 2019 will see the opening of the I-77 project and the start of construction for the I-485 project.
Express lanes allow drivers to voluntarily pay for a more reliable commute. Pricing fluctuates based on the number of vehicles in the lanes. Those who use the lanes can pay the toll via a transponder or via a mailed bill.
Transportation leaders have said the electronic tolls protect the lanes longer than merely adding general-purpose lanes.
An express lane will go in the median of I-485, between I-77 and U.S. 74, in each direction. Three smaller projects are associated with I-485: widening of Ballantyne Commons Parkway Bridge in Charlotte and improving John Street and Weddington Road interchanges in Matthews.
The I-77 project will have two express lanes added from Uptown Charlotte to Exit 28 in Cornelius, as well as one express lane between Cornelius and Mooresville.
The election of new leaders often sheds light on issues that need to be addressed over the next two years.
Several mayoral races in 2017 were thrilling, including Vi Lyles vs. Kenny Smith in Charlotte, Paul Bailey vs. Larry Whitley in Matthews and Elizabeth Callis vs. Bill Deter in Weddington.
Some communities saw major overhauls, like Charlotte, Indian Trail and Waxhaw, while others saw maybe one new face, if any, like Mike Cochrane in Mint Hill and Amanda Fuller in Wesley Chapel.
Campaigning kicks off with the filing period, which is when candidates turn in their official paperwork. 2017 was notable due to Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor removing his name from the ballot on the last day of filing.
Former Stallings Mayor Lynda Paxton made noise in Union County when she decided to run for an open town council seat.
In 2019, I’m interested to see if Democrats take over the Charlotte City Council like they have the county government. Will Republicans continue to hold all the seats on the Matthews board? Will elder statesmen, like Mint Hill Mayor Ted Biggers or Indian Trail Mayor Pro Tem David Cohn, commit to another term? Stayed tuned!