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Charlotte, NC

Aug. 21, 2007

City manager gets kudos for honesty

Newly appointed City Manager Curt Walton paid a visit Tuesday to the Forum. At the end of the session he received plaudits for honesty, even when the answers he gave "were not what people were looking for."

In his initial remarks, the manager covered the November transit tax issue, school bonds, environmental issues, economic development and public safety.

He then carefully labeled as a "personal belief" that in the two decades he's been in Charlotte there had been "a general loss of civility and constructivity, if that's a word.

"We have a good tradition of working through issues in a relatively collaborative way." The incivility in the community "threatens how we go forward.

"We are a big city... but that doesn't necessarily mean we have to take on the behavior of large cities." There is, he said "a better way we can go about doing business.

"It's important to disagree... that we have that disagreement and debate in a constructive way that is constructive and inclusive.... I've seen some slippage in that in 21 years....

"We are watched by our children, and by people who want to come here to live and work. We all owe ourselves and each other to make Charlotte-Mecklenburg the best we can make it.... We cannot do that without working together."

Walton said that while the city might or might not be the entity to take the lead role in encouraging civility, he said he would take responsibility for ensuring that the city staff he now leads "puts forward that we value what everyone is saying."

On issues raised during questions, Walton said:

-- The community is losing an average of five wooded acres a day to development. "If we stay on this track we will probably have trees in museums to go look at."

-- More people live along the Catawba River "than there is water for them to drink." The Catawba is Mecklenburg's water supply.

-- The city's efforts to ensure minority business participation in city contracts are "constrained" by legal issues and are "not meeting the targets... that the African-American community prefers.... The SBE program was about as aggressive as we could be in this legal environment."

-- He has not settled on a personal goal for environmental action, but suggested it might be something like having the city plant 10,000 new trees over the next 10 years to offset the trees lost to development.

-- Davidson, which actively disperses affordable housing, "bears watching" but "Davidson is a very different community.... I don't know that in Mecklenburg any [housing] initiative would go unchallenged from the development community." He said it would be more feasible to concentrate city action on controlling appearance -- trees, sidewalks, planting strips -- so that all neighborhoods are inviting.

-- Questioned why medians in low-income neighborhoods are unkempt compared with those in Ballantyne, Walton noted that the Ballantyne medians were never ceded to the city, and are privately maintained. The state owns some unkempt medians, while city budget cuts in the last few years have limited city maintenance of those it owns. "It's not something that the city can universally deal with," but he encouraged citizens to report problems.

-- Asked about coordinating new development with existing school facilities, Walton noted that the development community is "a very powerful industry and we can often feel run over by it... it's also our golden goose.... We haven't come up collectively with a decision."

-- Asked about how the city could encourage intergovernmental decisions to solve regional problems, Walton suggested keeping the focus on infrastructure. Everyone understands that people need water, sewers, roads. "The Issue that will bring us to the table quickest is infrastructure."

-- Asked whether the cultural arts development on South Tryon Street would help attract young talent to the city, Walton said the planned dance theater complex might help, but "we don't have a lot of funkiness to us.... We will not be a hotbed in the next five years for that creative class... we need to change our thinking a little bit." He suggested viewing arts and culture as an industry to be courted.

-- A questioner suggested that Charlotteans had been "engineered out of living together" over the last century. Walton said his south Charlotte neighbors "really only care about schools." Some may not even know if they live inside or outside the city.

"I think I would tend to agree with you that we don't take care of each other very well." He said fast growth and increasing diversity may have stretched people's ability to reach out to one another, and he suggested that the faith community was less engaged in the process than it used to be. He recalled that when Hispanic in-migration began a decade ago, the city's outreach efforts failed because officials failed to understand that immigrants often did not share Charlotteans' trust of government, "particularly of police." He said he thought the city was "probably on the early end" of efforts to bridge those gaps.

-- Asked about relieving traffic congestion, Walton predicted that with undeveloped land disappearing, the major focus of city activity in the future would be on rebuilding intersections, not in widening roads.

[Additional coverage of Walton's visit will be added to this space anon.]




During Tuesday's Forum, presider Sarah Stevenson acknowledged the presence of Hattie Leeper, better known as "Chatty Hattie," the first black female deejay on WGIV-AM in the 1950s and 1960s.

Leeper produced bands, managed her own record label, later taught at Gaston College, and has been inducted into the Black Radio Hall of Fame.

Deacon Jones said, "Growing up, I had the occasion to listen to WGIV. And when I had the occasion to go off to basic training and Vietnam and some other places, I always wanted to have some thought of comfort from home. So I took Chatty Hattie on tape with me. And I just wanted to say thank you. You got me through a lot."


The Forum welcomes all persons to its meetings beginning at 8 a.m. most Tuesdays of the year
at the West Charlotte Recreation Center, 2222 Kendall Drive, Charlotte, NC
down the hill from West Charlotte High School.