Politicians, voters discuss, debate in Ballantyne

A number of recent political adversaries were brought together at the Ballantyne 2013 Priorities meeting this weekend, giving local residents a chance to grill the leaders of their choosing on the hottest topics of the day.

“We’re trying to engage the public and learn more about what’s going on,” said Ray Eschert, president of the Ballantyne Breakfast Club, one of the event’s co-hosts. Eschert said turnout was “maybe a little better than last year,” a sign more people are looking to get engaged in the issues of Ballantyne – or just that the city has a lot of controversial issues to deal with right now.

Charlotte City Council members mingled with members of the North Carolina legislature at a time when the city and state are at odds over control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Mayor Anthony Foxx spoke with Reps. Bill Brawley, of the Matthews area, and Jacqueline Schaffer, south Charlotte’s new representative for N.C. House 105 – both of whom were busy answering questions from Ballantyne residents.

“What I heard is there was a lot of conversation related to the airport,” Eschert, who walked back and forth between discussions, said. “Stuff like why do we need to rush (the airport issue) through, why can’t we review it?”

Foxx also was asked about the chances of the Ballantyne area becoming its own town – a topic championed by groups like the South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers, which had five members on hand Saturday reaching out to potential new members and talking about a number of local issues.

“I don’t know if the airport’s staying in Charlotte,” let alone Ballantyne, Foxx jokingly said, adding Ballantyne is “such a critical part of our city” that leaders have put a lot of work into, including extra police and road improvements, he said.

“We’re very committed to this area of the city.”

Foxx also used the opportunity to make a pitch for the city’s proposed capital investment plan, which would spend nearly $1 billion if approved in full on projects around the city. The purpose of the plan, in part, is to improve east, north and west Charlotte to take tax pressure off south Charlotte – a place many investors and developers are opting to go instead of other parts of the city.

“We’re trying to build a city where a lot of these growth issues can be spread around the city (and) relieve some of the pressure,” Foxx said. “(There’s) something in this for everyone,” Foxx added of the plan, which has seen a lot of negative feedback from south Charlotte – including the area’s council member, Warren Cooksey, who also was on hand Saturday.

New Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Heath Morrison also was on hand, looking like he couldn’t be happier talking with area parents.

Morrison and the Ballantyne Breakfast Club may meet up again soon so the superintendent can discuss some of the new initiatives he’s working on and address how things have gone so far for CMS under his leadership, Eschert said.

The Ballantyne Breakfast Club meets throughout the year to discuss key local topics for area residents. The next meeting is scheduled for April 6, though the planned topic has not been announced. The group also plans to hold the Ballantyne Festival again this year with the Morrison Family YMCA some time in October. The annual event brings candidates for city, county and state political offices together so area voters can learn more about their platforms.

This year’s election will include city council races, for which filing starts in July. The SouthPark-area council member, Andy Dulin, already has said he won’t run for re-election. Cooksey, of Ballantyne, has yet to say whether he will run.

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