Friday, August 9, 2013

Find answers behind candidate rhetoric

Campaign season is here. As always with local elections, voters must first try to sort out he candidates who know which end is up regarding local government, and only then dive into figuring out who they agree with on the issues.

This is not always easy. Read on for some helpful questions for Charlotteans.

(If you're wondering, in North Carolina municipal elections are in odd-numbered years. In Charlotte, the mayor and City Council members serve two-year terms and are elected in partisan elections. So you can hardly turn around between elections. This year we have a Sept. 10 primary, with the possibility of an Oct. 8 runoff election, and then a Nov. 5 election.) 

In an earlier life, I had the honor and duty as an editorial board member at the Charlotte Observer, of helping interview all the city and county candidates as part of the editorial endorsement process. You might be surprised to learn:

  1. How many candidates are crazy as loons. People who complain about editorial pages' so-called bias (hey, they are PAID to have opinions) sometimes concoct intricate conspiracy theories about some endorsements, when the truth is that you really don't want to endorse a nut bucket, yet you can't call someone a nut bucket without risking a libel suit. The good news is that usually the nut buckets don't make it through the primary. And in my experience, looniness crosses all party lines.
  2. How hard it is to get candidates to take a position. Sure, some will be forthright. But too many won't go beyond being in favor of low taxes, fighting crime and loving barbecue and sweet tea.

Today I spotted the always-revealing local candidate questionnaire from the local real estate and development community political action committee known as SPPACE. Click here for a link to it. This may shock you, but sometimes candidates will put one thing in the questionnaire for developers and something else entirely in the questionnaire for, say, an environmental group.

And later, I had an email from an acquaintance who's putting together a Charlotte City Council candidate forum for her neighborhood and wanted some ideas for questions that might - if she is lucky - elicit answers that go beyond predictable rhetoric. Here's what I came up with. If you encounter any Charlotte candidates and want to ask them any of these, you're welcome to:

1. Does the Charlotte-Mecklenburg zoning ordinance need an overhaul, as the city is considering? Please explain your answer.

2. With annexation no longer possible and with the majority of single-family residences in the city having stayed the same or lost value in the most recent revaluation, what should the city do to protect and enhance its tax base?

3. Traffic is only going to get worse. The historic practice of “just add more lanes” is expensive and disruptive in established neighborhoods. What should the city do to boost mobility? 

4. More than half the city’s property tax revenue comes from the pie-shaped wedge lying south of uptown. Is that a problem? Why or why not? If it’s a problem, what should be done about it?


Mary Newsom said...

The following comment comes from City Council member Warren Cooksey, who tangled unsuccessfully with the comment function and came away unsuccessful:

Are you sure the opening sentence of #4 is correct? On the map I've seen commonly tied to this topic, only residential property value is shown; commercial property value is not. [Mary here: I'll check on this and try to clarify.]

Furthermore, the northern tip of the wedge on that map is located in Plaza-Midwood, which is more northeast of uptown than south of it.

The map also doesn't take into account the percentage of the city's population that lives in the wedge, which is a significant oversight when evaluating the geographic sources of residential property tax revenue.

All that said, if you're working with a different map and/or different data, I can stand corrected. Meanwhile, I do hope every candidate is asked question #1 many, many times.

Mary Newsom said...

To reply to Warren Cooksey's query above, I found this in a 2012 editorial in the Charlotte Observer: "South Charlotte represents about half the city’s tax base." It doesn't define "South Charlotte," and "about half" isn't real specific. I'll see if I can find more details on the tax base issue.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte's Plaza Midwood and South End are two areas that have indeed appreciated greatly in recent years in spite of recession. What is common between these areas in terms of zoning is that they have a form-based overlay of PED (Plaza) or TOD (South End). I'd say that pretty much says the answer to #1 will lead to answering #3 and #4. Oh, and since these areas have good transit (either LYNX or frequent bus), they also address #2.

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