Mayor Presses Case for City-County Consolidation at DNC

Mayor Anthony Foxx hosts a conversation on regional government during the DNC

Just hours before he would give the biggest speech of his political career at the Democratic National Convention, Mayor Anthony Foxx was telling a group of community and business leaders Tuesday why consolidation of the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County was an idea at least worth studying.

With the carnival atmosphere of the DNC swirling past the tall windows of his Hospitality Suite on North Tryon, Foxx introduced Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson, who in 2003 became the first mayor of Louisville Metro, the consolidated government created through voter referendum three years earlier.

Abramson, who served as mayor of the City of Louisville from 1986 until 1999, described the 2000 consolidation vote as the culmination of a 40-year effort that finally succeeded when area business leaders came together to back the proposal. The merger with surrounding Jefferson County resulted in a Metro government with a 26-member council elected by districts. Voters also elect a strong Metro Mayor, and the Council annually elects a president from among its members.

The former Metro Mayor, who ran successfully for Lieutenant Governor last November, was short on specifics, but said residents of the consolidated government were generally pleased with the improved level of municipal services and greater accountability. “In the old days, when something went wrong, I always blamed it on the County,” Abramson joked. No more.

But the not-so-subtle sales pitch is unlikely to create any progress on the consolidation issue. Jennifer Roberts was the only member of the county commission was present at the roundtable, and not a single representative was on hand from any of the Mecklenburg towns. The County has until the end of the year to support the Mayor’s call for a consolidation study, but debates on the issue earlier this year went nowhere. The Foundation for the Carolinas has offered to fund the study, which in truth can be launched with or without government support.

Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson pitching the benefits of consolidated government

So is Mayor Foxx tilting at windmills on the consolidation issue? Probably. But by continuing to press his ambitious case for full political consolidation, he is also preventing any productive dialogue around opportunities for additional functional consolidation of city and county services. And while there may no longer be any low-hanging fruit in this area, the discussion is one worth having — and right now, the outcome is far more achievable.

It should also be said that consolidated government is not a prerequisite for a good regional vision. Charlotte has a long way to go on this front, with too little attention given to land use and transportation planning across county and municipal lines. The CONNECT initiative now getting underway by the Centralina Council of Governments is an important step forward in this area — maybe the Mayor’s energy would be better spent promoting this effort before he tries to convince voters to give up their local control.

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