City Council: Looking Back on Four Years’ Service
City Council: Reflections on Four Years
Election Day 2015 marks the end of my service over the past four years and three months on Charlotte City Council. Looking back, what I set out to do-protect core City services – police, fire and public works-in a challenging economic environment, has been accomplished. There are some lessons that learned in dealing with the issues that arose during my term. The first of these is consensus-building. I never saw myself having a monopoly on the truth and I began each debate on public policy by assuming that people who disagreed with me had good intentions.
The first test I faced was over the ‘Chicken Ordinance.’ If I had to vote on it without having had a debate or public debate, I would have voted ‘no.’ However, the young woman who favored the ordinance did her homework, as many of us on Council did in contacting communities with similar ordinances, overcame every objection I had. To craft a majority in support required safeguards to ensure that this should pose no threat or nuisance to neighbors. We ended up agreeing to a ‘sunset’ ordinance that had to be renewed after four years, a limited 10 licenses at any time, sign-off from every neighbor annual license renewal, a 25-foot setback to all property lines, enclosed cages, no roosters, a three chicken maximum, and no poultry processing as safeguards that would gain the support of a majority. I was the deciding vote, a decision I made while sitting in Council, after I concluded that there would be more to regret from saying ‘no’ than there was to fear from saying ‘yes.’
Oak Park presented a different problem. Young hooligans had taken the park over and were harassing homeowners and the patrons of an adjacent funeral home. After a neighborhood meeting where the principal complaints were aired – foul language, loitering in the gazebo, late-night disturbances and the like, Council adopted park rules that addressed these issues and the City posted them, making proactive enforcement easier. Now, on a sunny day, you can walk by Oak Park and see strollers – the surest sign that a public space is safe.
Not every issue can be resolved by compromise: Some are ‘either/or’ situations, such as the 4-3 vote (with me in the majority) to purchase the old National Guard armory and to use it for much-needed City storage. You can’t buy half a building, so, after a lengthy debate, building tour and much public discussion, one has to choose, knowing that reasonable people can disagree yet still work together in the future.
Sometimes, ‘either/or’ decisions go the other way, as looks to be the case with perhaps the final vote on an ordinance that I may cast: We approved, on a 6-1 vote (mine was the sole ‘no’ vote) to approve a ‘first reading’ of an ordinance allowing Sunday morning liquor sales. While I am not a prohibitionist by any means, I prefer to not further disestablish Sunday, and especially Sunday mornings, as being different from the rest of the week. While some of those who spoke in favor of the measure when it was first proposed stated that ‘you can’t legislate morality,’ I disagree, more strongly with the idea than with the proposed ordinance. Not acting in accordance with a moral code is still to act according to a moral code, namely, that which states that there are no moral guideposts. All legislation expresses morality; it cannot be otherwise. Nonetheless, I’ll walk away knowing that reasonable people can disagree on this, too, and that I agree with Voltaire’s statement: ‘I may disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ The Frenchman expressed what I grew up believing to be an essential part of the American Creed as well as anyone ever did, and I still base my actions in the political arena on that principle.
The lessons from these examples – find out the facts, do your own research, talk to the people involved, work to find common ground, and agree to disagree – served me well in dealing with other issues, such as our debates on enacting an ordinance mandating sidewalk snow removal. I hope that the benefit of my relating these experiences – and the lessons to be learned from them – serve the next Council in good stead as they deal with the issues that are sure to arise during their time in office. I wish them well and thank them in advance for their service.
-Lloyd A. Conway