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From left: DSS Director Mary Wilson; Eric Campbell, assistant city manager; Jeffrey Stovall, city chief information officer;Keith Parker, director of public transit; Willie Ratchford, head of Community Relations Committtee; and Curt Walton, city manager.

Aug. 26, 2008

Making introductions

Four recently appointed African-American city and county executives visited the Forum Tuesday. The group was assembled by Willie Ratchford, executive director of the city-county Community Relations Committee. The get-acquainted session drew about 25 people.

Social services

Mary E. WIlson, director of Mecklenburg Department of Social Services, was hired in June by the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners. Wilson was already in Charlotte, having been executive director of the Friendship Community Development Corp. in Charlotte.

After such short tenure, Wilson merely promised to review all department activities and focus on efficiency. Only if efficiencies are pursued, she said, would she be in the position to ask county commissioners for additional staff if reviews suggested gaps in the department's coverage.

But she referred to the Aug. 19 murder of Ashante Mayfield, a teenage mother, in noting that the community has no shelters available to teen mothers.

And she said she would try to tell the public the story of her clients' lives.

Residents, she said, "just don't understand and they want to know why 'these people' don't get a better job," why some cannot raise and manage their children. "I want to be the messenger to tell that story.... We just have to understand what it means to be the working poor."

Public safety

Eric Campbell, assistant city manager, was hired in March from Petersburg, Va. He began work in April.

Campbell's venue is public safety, including police, fire, the Community Relations Committee and Business Support Services.

He expressed a preference for being a "liaison" and a "facilitator" an antidote to the "distinct corporate structure" used in Charlotte city government that he said can leave it distant from its community and its citizens.

About crime he said that "you can't arrest your way out of it." Asked later what he meant, Campbell said a focus on arresting people "really doesn't solve the issue.... How do we collaborate to start eliminating and reducing the crime rate in t eh community?... Where does that responsibility lie? Whose primary role is it to deal with the issues here?" He noted that the community had at least 50 agencies dealing with young people.

Information technology

Jeffrey Stovall, the city's first chief information officer, was hired in April from Sprint Nextel in Kansas. He said his interest is in planning now future investments in computers can be guided by the city's mandate to serve its citizens. Earlier planning for computer purchases have created databases that serve individual parts of city government. Getting the systems to share data has been difficult. Even the 311 operators that can access data across various city services do not have access to it all.

"It's not seamless... there's information that even 311 doesn't have access to."

Better planning "is about enhancing our ability to service our citizens." It might also save some money, he said.


Willie Ratchford introduced Keith Parker as "one of the most popular people in Charlotte because of the price of gasoline. Parker is CEO of public transit, and for many people that means the popular light rail line.

But Parker said he remains focused on bus service, which affects the bulk of transit customers. And he recalled that only a year ago a referendum on the ballot was designed to repeal the city's key tax source for public transportation.

"Many people have forgotten about that," he said.

While applauding ridership, Parker said he was focused on "holding on to it." Preparations for next fiscal year's transit budget are about to begin. He promised a very public deliberative process.

He said the transit system would, next summer, launch improved service serving the airport and the westside. The routes would combine hybrid buses with their own color scheme, plus state-of-the-art bus shelters with digital read-outs of the time of the next bus's arrival.
"It will be service that's better than anything else we have... and you'll see it on the west side that has said for so long that they've been left out."

The manager

City Manager Curt Walton was making a return visit to the Forum. He sprinkled his comments with humor: He noted that in his first year there were four or five high-profile staff retirements, "which I chose not to take personally."

But true to the "distinct corporate structure" of city government to which Eric Campbell referred, Walton would not address issues under study, including inclusionary zoning.

About timing of construction of the streetcar linking Beatties Ford Road and Eastland Mall, Walton said the City Council would make "some sort of a decision" in the first half of 2009. He didn't say what he would recommend.

He did say that "our problems in Charlotte-Mecklenburg are so complex that they cannot be addressed without collaboration from all levels of government along with nonpfit and faith communities.

Children in crisis

Willie Ratchford said that the City Council had asked the Community Relations Committee to examine issues relating to young people. A "here's-where-to-find-help" booklet will be ready in September. And as part of their study, Ratchford said the CRC had noticed that it is not just the children of low-income adults who are being neglected.

"There are people in the middle class who have nice jobs in the tall buildings" whose 10- to 13-hour-a-day jobs mean that "they're not participating substantively in the lives of their children.

"We have children in this community who are in crisis and they need our help."







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