About 20 area residents who wanted to talk with legislators about state issues brought plenty of questions with them to the Mint Hill Town Hall Saturday, April 13.
They asked about implementing a voter ID law, the county’s revaluation, tax reform, control of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, bills opponents say would reduce local government control and more. But all topics hinged on one thing: communication, or what some residents saw as a lack thereof.
North Carolina Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Republican, hosted the meeting, which also included N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews. Tarte represents District 41, a new district which covers north Mecklenburg, then runs down the eastern edge of the county to include parts of Matthews and Mint Hill and several south Charlotte neighborhoods.
“The perception is you guys went to Raleigh and just started messing with stuff and it’s like ‘Why are they doing this?’” Mint Hill Mayor Ted Biggers said at the meeting. “We get asked on the street ‘Why are they doing that?’ and we’d like to know.”
Biggers said the lack of communication from local legislators has been a “major frustration” with Mint Hill officials. That’s especially true, he said, as officials in both Matthews and Mint Hill recently approved resolutions to support local control. Among their concerns is N.C. House Bill 150, which would restrict municipalities’ authority to enforce design controls through local ordinances.
“Many of the initiatives we like and see merit in but we like to be notified and not surprised with them. And the ones that we don’t like and don’t see merit in, we would certainly like to have a chance to discuss those with our legislators before that gets put on the floor in Raleigh,” Biggers said this week. “I think a lot of it is folks are new to the job and are learning that yeah, they’re elected officials but there are elected officials below them that need to keep informed.”
Brawley, who is a sponsor of HB 150, said the bill stems from a Cabarrus County lawsuit that went to the N.C. Supreme Court.
“The (N.C.) Supreme Court has declared that your ordinance is illegal, it’s unconstitutional,” he said. “If you are sued, you will lose. Under (House Bill) 150, you have the right to get those agreed to under conditional zoning.”
Biggers was quick to respond.
“I disagree with you that we’d lose every time. That’s just your opinion,” he said. “It’s not your job as a legislator in the state to interpret what the state Supreme Court says. There’s some other important issues I would have worked on before this. Taxes, transportation, safety, schools – that’s what we want you guys dealing with.”
Lloyd Austin, Mint Hill mayor pro tem, agreed.
“The builders have agreed to this, so why would the legislature try to take this away from us?” he said. “Be careful, very careful, what you’re doing with these bills on these towns, because you’re punishing those who do things right.”
The topic of poor communication came up again during discussion of a bill that would remove control of the airport from the City of Charlotte to a regional authority. Bill Dixon, a Matthews resident and former Matthews town commissioner, said he understood the importance of keeping the airport as a major hub for the region, but the push for an authority wasn’t explained to constituents.
“Everyone could just see this as a grab,” he said. “If you’re not careful … you’ll be a one-term or two-term (Republican) legislature. You are moving in a bad direction.”
Both legislators agreed the issue wasn’t being presented clearly to the public.
“It’s being portrayed that it’s a fight between Raleigh and the Charlotte City Council. That we’re picking a fight with them and we’re not,” Brawley said.
For ways you can contact your legislators or to read proposed state bills, visit www.ncga.state.nc.us.