Though yesterday started like most Easter Holiday’s do for the Mecklenburg County Commissioners, with the traditional “friends and family” Easter Egg hunt and pig pickin’ on the Federal Courthouse lawn on Trade Street, it ended with a few surprises that still have local members of the business, media and government community scratching their heads.
During the meal members of the Johnson C. Smith drum corps played rhythmic beats and fraternities, also from JC Smith, performed a choreographed step-show. Though the performance is an annual tradition, members of the Commission moving to the front of the stage and joining the festivities isn’t. Bill James was the first to make the move, grabbing the hands and pulling along Vilma Leake and Dumont Clark on his way up. By the end of the show all commissioners other than Chairman Pat Cotham, who was speaking across town at The United House of Prayer spaghetti brunch, and members of the Firehouse #7 crew (who had prepared the half pig for the pickin’) were bouncing and popping to a bizarre version of the Harlem Shake.
After the show, while wiping his brow and panting to catch his breath, James begin an impromptu town hall style meeting on the courthouse steps, exposing a new series of plans he hopes the group will follow up on and his thought process behind them.
James revealed that this past Holy Week had been one of eye-opening epiphanies, beginning with a dinner at the Jewish Community Center celebrating Passover, to an Friday fish-fry at the Belmont neighborhood YMCA, and finally at a Saturday night covered dish drag-show and Easter bonnet contest at the LGBT community center. “I’ve never met so many real and diverse people from the Charlotte community in all my years here” said James, “and pairing those meetings with the teachings of Christ and The Bible that are part of the week leading up to Easter brought about deep spiritual thought”.
It seems James had actually been reading his Bible and concentrating on the specific words of Jesus regarding the poor, the hungry and those in need. Morgan Fogarty, of Fox News Charlotte, pressed James for detail. “Mr. Commissioner this sounds a bit out of your wheelhouse, and we were just wondering if you could fill us in, when did you decide to put together this new agenda?”. Said James: “Saturday afternoon. I was trying to pick out a tie for the LGBT event that night and couldn’t decide between pink and purple…and that’s when it hit me…it doesn’t matter. And from there it just all fell into place.”
James also says Facebook pictures of friends visiting foreign lands and great cities inspired him. Seeing The Coliseum, The Golden Gate Bridge, the Pyramids, and so many amazing monuments and great places of the world shined a light on the realization that infrastructure, building great cities, and bringing people together was so much more than just short term. “Long term planning, bringing people together, and creating great places to live kept cities and nations strong and still, in some cases hundreds and thousands of years later, brings people to visit.”
What specific plans does James propose? First and foremost mass transit. James says that the north corridor light-rail line and the streetcar plans from Beatties Ford Road through uptown to Central Avenue just aren’t enough. “The people of Charlotte need solid transportation choices. I no longer just look around me from my neighborhood I barely leave or the homogenous group I surround myself with, but I look at us all as one Queen City Family. With that in mind those in the lowest income brackets as well as those who don’t wish to be auto-dependant need to have options.” With that James not only plans an airport light-rail shuttle spurring from the Lynx Blue line down Woodlawn to Billy Graham Parkway, but adds 18 new bus lines, an extension of the streetcar lines to include lines that run up the bus lanes in Independence Boulevard all the way out to Matthews, new lines serving Clanton Road, West Boulevard, Barringer Drive, and Wilkinson Boulevard. “When the people of these areas have options they will prosper, when they prosper, we all prosper.” said James.
Another proposal? Equal Schools = Equal Money. James is spearheading a study using his vast CPA skills to evaluate all CMS schools. The goal? Insuring that no school is not receiving it’s fair share. Said James, “The pie hasn’t been cut fairly for a long time. We like a lot of pie in the suburbs, it’s part of the ‘good ol days’ of baseball, hot dogs and of course pie. As you can obviously see, I like to fill my pie-hole. Where I’m from, we feel like we’ve brought together all the ingredients, have baked the pie, and should get the lions share. But I’ve realized that everyone contributes to the society as a whole, and everyone really likes pie and should have a chance at a decent sized slice or two. Plus Jesus always fed the poor, so I want to give them some pie”.
Overall James says he is now an optimist. “That was the biggest change I saw in James” said LaWanna Mayfield (City Councilman), “he just seemed happy, like he was actually enjoying something. He gave myself and my partner huge hugs, toasted a glass of sweet tea and said his hopes for the city and county had never been so high.” As Morgan Fogarty sped off on the “Big Cat” golf cart with Jerry Richardson towards the Stadium following the event she could be hard exclaiming “holy Shiite what an Easter!”