It’s one thing to vote in an election. It’s another to vote regularly on issues that drive the direction of a community. Visit most town halls in Mecklenburg and Union counties and you’ll find women leading discussions that will shape our region for generations to come.
There are dozens of examples of great leaders within our local governments, but we highlight six whose actions have stood out in recent months.
12th District U.S. Rep.
While the fate of the United States Postal Service has become a hot topic in recent days, Congresswoman Alma Adams has been voicing her concerns over the direction of the service for several weeks.
In a joint letter last month to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, she wrote, “We warn that your proposed operational changes will only make matters worse, resulting in a disastrous snowball effect where mail left at the facility accrues through no fault of the postal worker. That delay in delivery will cause harm to small businesses, seniors and Americans in rural, suburban and urban settings alike.”
Her message to President Donald Trump during an Aug. 18 press conference was simple: “Don’t mess with USPS.”
In recent months, Adams has brought more awareness to black maternal mortality rates, fought to get more funding for historically black colleges and universities, and sought to ensure people don’t fall through the cracks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic hasn’t slowed her down. Through July, Adams introduced five bills to address the COVID-19 crisis and cosponsored another 32 bills. Adams and her staff have also participated in at least 40 virtual events or meetings about the pandemic.
The revitalization of the former Eastland Mall site has been one of the biggest priorities for Dimple Ajmera since joining the Charlotte City Council in 2017. The council rezoned the site, which had been barren since 2010, on June 15, opening the door for the headquarters of a Major League Soccer team.
“We do need to address economic opportunities in east Charlotte,” she said at the time. “There are so many residents that are having to commute outside of the district to find a job. This will enable us to expedite the redevelopment of the site and bring economic opportunities close to home.”
Ajmera made history in 2017 by becoming the first Asian American to serve on the Charlotte City Council. Her story is one of inspiration as we mentioned in a January profile how she went from “cleaning hotel rooms to pay for college to managing multi-million dollar budgets.”
She ran for state treasurer in 2020, but was edged out by a small margin in the Democratic primary in March. She’s one of three council members being investigated for ethics complaints, but cynics could chalk up the timing of each of those complaints to political theater.
Weddington is a special place to Mayor Elizabeth Callis.
She grew up riding horses and hunting here and her father, Ed Howie, served as the town’s fourth mayor. So the last thing she’d like to see is Weddington lose its rural character.
A commitment to responsible growth was central to her reelection campaign in 2019. Specifically, her goal was to limit commercial growth to the town center at Waxhaw-Indian Trail Road and N.C. 84 as well as maintain the town’s one house per acre zoning requirement.
Callis expressed Weddington’s preferences for a new comprehensive plan this month but told county leaders the town was concerned about the commission’s discipline in approving rezonings. Despite the area being zoned for one unit per acre and future plans calling for low density, Weddington has seen several county rezonings over the past couple of years that double or triple the maximum amount of housing allowed, she said.
“People have a right to purchase land next to undeveloped land and know what to expect by looking at the comprehensive plan,” Callis said. The plan is in place for a reason and the goal and objectives should be followed.”
Wesley Chapel acting mayor
When Wesley Chapel Mayor Jan Smith had to step away from elected office in March to focus on medical issues, Amanda Fuller stepped up by taking on the role of acting mayor.
Fuller has continued to do what she has done before she was elected to the village council in 2017 – fight to preserve Wesley Chapel as a great place to raise a family.
She took a political risk in 2017 by launching a petition opposing a proposed commercial rezoning. The council at the time ousted her from the planning board, but residents rewarded her with a seat on the council two months later.
Fuller now presides over the council at a time when developers are trying to locate large high-density residential and commercial development in unincorporated parts of Union County that border the village. These projects could drastically increase area traffic.
“People having drinking water is very important and should be our priority, but putting high density in every nook and cranny is not the answer,” Fuller told county commissioners this month during a meeting to discuss future land use planning. “It just creates more problems.”
She told county leaders the most frequent complaints from her constituents are failing roads, traffic, flooding and overcrowded schools – each of which is exasperated by high-density development.
Matthews mayor pro tem
Since the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd in police custody, Matthews Mayor Pro Tem Renee Garner has supported increased training and transparency for officers with the Matthews Police Department.
Last month, commissioners discussed the idea of installing a police review board comprised of citizens. While explaining how the review board could give residents a voice, she noted how over a decade ago, the town was not an area people of color felt comfortable driving through.
Retired police chief Rob Hunter told the board a couple weeks later that he was offended by Garner’s remarks, noting the officers he served with were dedicated and had high integrity. Garner acknowledged on her campaign Facebook page that while she would choose different wording, she did not lie.
“I am not fabricating a new truth, I am exposing reality to the disinfectant of sunlight,” she said, noting experiences outside of our own are real.
“My intention was to emphasize the importance of community engagement, not to insult our police force or call anyone onto the carpet,” she added.
Garner rose to political prominence by raising concerns of the public when it came to the proposed widening of Monroe Road.
Centene Corporation announced July 1 that it planned to invest $1 billion into a new East Coast headquarters in the University City area, which would create more than 3,237 jobs. It was a huge boost for the city after months of grinding through COVID-19 response and protests regarding police brutality.
“This project comes to us during an important time for our community,” Lyles said commemorating the occasion. “We are now more than ever committed to creating a diverse, welcoming and inclusive community with career opportunities for everyone. We believe in this time there is nothing more important than our residents having a good-paying job and a place to live. That’s our vision for everyone.”
Lyles made history in 2017 by becoming Charlotte’s first female African American mayor. She explained on the Aug. 2 episode of UNC-TV’s “Carolina Business Review” how race has become a major focal point of her second term.
“When I became mayor, I thought if we did affordable housing and had adequate public transportation, things would work,” Lyles told show moderator Chris William. “But the overarching lens that I have to look through for every decision now is whether or not it relates to the idea of resolving the racial divide in this city as well as a solution for that. … One of the guiding principles has got to be equity now.”