The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County share a lot.
Municipal services, like the parks and recreation department. The Government Center in Second Ward. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district.
And quite a few times in its history, there have been efforts to further combine the two. The city and county have periodically talked about political consolidation, with the most recent serious discussion happening in 1996 (but here’s an olde-timey article from the 1970s about it).
In the last few years, those close ties appear to be wearing thin.
The most recent example came Tuesday when the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners voted to terminate the agreement in place since the late 1990s in which the county pays the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department to police them. Next year this will amount to about $18 million.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons for doing this. When the deal was struck, those areas were mostly woodland. Today they’re home to burgeoning developments and about 60,000 people. The Huntersville Police Department argued that they’re able to respond much more quickly to a car accident just outside town limits than a CMPD squad car.
But undoing this police deal puts a lot of things at risk. There’s no guarantee that the county will save money by negotiating individual deals with towns to police unincorporated land. The city of Charlotte might not play ball with filling in the gaps.
And while Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael is surely salivating at the prospect of getting to hire new deputies to patrol territory, I’m not sure that’s a good thing. While CMPD is far from perfect on the matter of racial equity, the department has taken a lot of steps toward uncovering its biases and improving. Carmichael peppers his public appearances with violent images of predatory bad guys looking to rape and loot and kill.
The more philosophical risk, though, is that we’ll continue to perpetuate a system in which affluent white families get better and more exclusive service than poor families who live in the city.
We’re already heading in that direction in some other fronts. There have been repeated calls for the county to break apartment from the CMS system and form their own school district. A bill in the state legislature would study exactly how to do that.
Why does it seem relations between city and county are at a low point?
There are a lot of things you could attribute it to. There’s the I-77 toll road issue, which Mecklenburg commissioners opposed and the City Council supported. The city and county also split on support for a Major League Soccer stadium in Elizabeth.
But it also has to do with the growing populations of the suburban towns, and their increasing willingness to wield their political clout. Plus there’s a Republican state legislature that’s much more sympathetic to rural and suburban interests than those of the inner city, and, of course, the increasing polarization between red and blue America.
But it would be a shame to balkanize Charlotte even more than we already have. Remember what happened when snow hit Atlanta? Charlotte has long prided itself on regional cooperation. Hopefully we can keep it that way.