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The Ridenhour – Cotham Townhall Meeting


Last night, for what I believe is the first time ever, two Mecklenburg County Commissioners from different Political Parties held a joint town hall event at Morrison Regional Library. District 5 Republican Matthew Ridenhour and At-Large Democrat Pat Cotham spent roughly ninety minutes discussing issues and answering questions.  The duo was joined by the two Republican Charlotte City Councilmen, Kenny Smith and Ed Driggs, as well as Mecklenburg County Health Director Dr. Marcus Plescia.

Rather than post the entire event in one long video, I have broken it down by subject matter and will give a brief intro to each portion.

Due to another engagement, Councilman Kenny Smith (District 6) took the floor first.  His remarks were primarily focused on Monday’s Council meeting and the debate surrounding the proposed non-discrimination ordinance language change.

Following Smith, the floor was turned over to Dr. Plescia.  The bulk of his talk centered around cancer.  Specifically, the smoking ban in government buildings and parks going into effect March 18, as well as information on the free breast cancer screenings offered to women between 40-64 who do not have insurance. (So much for Obamacare, right?)  The county is seeking more participants in the screening program lest they lose their state funding.  March is also Colon cancer awareness month.

Dr. Plescia was asked if there was any data linking the smoking bans to benefits in public health and said that not enough data exists to draw any conclusions.  He further suggested the bans were about changing the perception of smoking.  (I almost thought he was going to say behavior, but caught himself.)

There is also some information on the legality of e-cigs as related to the new ordinances.

Next, both Ridenhour and Cotham took some time to talk about their working relationship and the nature of some of the bipartisan compromise that has been worked through on certain issues.

City Councilman Ed Driggs (District 7) brought up some fiscal matters from the budget committee, specifically the need for new prioritization as a result of the state’s elimination of portions of the business privilege license tax, and the fact that shortfalls exist in the water and sewer department.  It was suggested that the department may seek an indefinite 6% annual increase in the fees it charges customers, but the committee was not overly interested in entertaining that idea.  Driggs said the biggest issue facing the city and county is the licensing and permitting process for developers.  Pat Cotham also chimed in on this issue with some examples.  Driggs ends with some talk about the non-discrimination ordinance and the value of being a minority voice on council with the goal of “changing the conversation”.

Ridenhour then spent some time discussing the Parks and Recreation improvements coming to District 5 via the capital investment plan.

Things then took a turn to the whimsical. Ridenhour was excited to share that his work on bringing to town a “Christmas Market”, something Charlotte had a small version of up until about a decade ago, may be coming to light. The goal being to have rows of small vendors selling holiday related goods around Christmastime in a festive setting, perhaps in conjunction with the Holiday on Ice skating rink. Not to be outdone, Cotham began to talk about the need for renovation of the Charlotte Aquatic Center, but would prefer to build an additional pool facility on adjacent property.  She thought this would attract both college and pro competitions, provide jobs, and help Charlotte in her “big dream” to one day host the Olympics…perhaps as early as 2024.

During the Q&A section, James Tatro, Vice-President of the Charlotte Tea Party, asked about illegal immigration and sought the commissioners views on several of the proposals being brought to the Charlotte City Council regarding the elimination of the 287G program, city issued drivers licences, and in state tuition to secondary education students.

Agree or disagree with the actions of government, accessibility to elected officials and the ability to interact with them in a public venue is important in terms of accountability.  Both Ridenhour and Cotham have proven themselves to be ever willing to engage with citizens and provide detailed explanations of their positions.  The same can be said for Smith and Driggs.  This is to be commended.

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