We all have "off" weeks once in a while — weeks where nothing seems to go right. Perhaps Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx recently had one of those. Whatever the case, by Friday of last week, people all over the city were doing a double take.
It started last Sunday night, when Foxx sent a bizarre e-mail to his colleagues that The Charlotte Observer charitably described as "unusual and explosive." In it, he asked the 11 members of the Charlotte City Council to refrain from sexually harassing city staff.
The e-mail broadsided council members of both parties. Some privately expressed bafflement at what they clearly saw as a poorly thought-out social faux pas. In the process, Foxx implicated all eight male members of the council in front of the whole city, no doubt leaving their friends, associates, supporters and colleagues outside the council confused and suspicious. After parading the situation before the entire city, Foxx suggested everyone drop the matter in order to protect the victim, a female member of city staff.
Within 48 hours, Councilman Warren Turner was fingered as being the harasser by nameless politicians; a result Foxx must have known was inevitable. Things got stranger when Turner himself expressed bafflement at the fact that neither Foxx or the city staff had bothered to call him to ask for his side of the story before his face was splashed all over the local media with captions that included the words "sexual harassment."
It was exactly the wrong way to handle the situation in a city that prides itself on smart social protocol and doing its dirty laundry behind closed doors. By the end of the week Foxx wound up looking arguably as foolish as Turner, though no one wanted to say it out loud. Why wouldn't Foxx check with Turner before potentially making a fool of himself before the whole city if it turned out the allegations had no merit?
It wasn't the only courtesy call Foxx should have made but didn't last week. The mayor, who clearly wants to be known as a big supporter of the schools, hyped his plan to have the school system take over and profit from the city's old red light camera scheme that tickets drivers, an idea he's been pushing since his campaign last year. The school system could potentially make millions from the fines, he explained to any media outlet that would grant him an interview last week. Under Foxx's leadership, the city council even discussed the matter at its meeting. One problem, the Carolina Weekly pointed out: No one had ever contacted the schools about it.
"Nobody has made any overtures to CMS regarding this project," Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spokeswoman Cindy Robbins told the Carolina Weekly. "We can't weigh in on it at all, as the only thing we know is what's been presented in the media."
The folks at CMS weren't the only ones with their brows furrowed by something Foxx said last week. On Wednesday, Foxx told an audience at a Regional Realtors Association gathering that Charlotte was the "most well-positioned city in the country" to recover from the downturn, according to The Charlotte Observer. As evidence, Foxx offered only the news of some recent job announcements and the construction of a third runway at the airport, an attendee says. And that's it.
Given that the Charlotte-area unemployment rate hit a 20-year high last week, outpacing the state's record 11.2 unemployment rate, the statement left some perplexed. Charlotte's better positioned than many places to recover, but still reeling from the fallout of a banking and real estate crisis that might not yet be over.
Then this week, Foxx voiced support for closing the city's $7.7 million budget gap in part by demanding millions more from the school system to pay for the police officers that keep schools safe and school crossing guards the city funds. While you could argue those functions should be the schools' responsibility, hitting the system up for millions more now when it is firing hundreds of teachers and dealing with budget shortfalls in the tens of millions dropped a few jaws.
Ironically, just two months ago, city management easily "found" an extra $12 million to put toward the half-billion dollar streetcar Foxx has passionately pushed, yet can't "find" $7.7 million now without kicking the schools while they are down. The streetcar will make a nice tourist attraction, but won't actually carry additional passengers beyond that which public transit carries now.
It was truly appalling to watch the city grub for a few million by socking it to schoolchildren this week with the approval of a self-styled "education mayor" who spent months on the campaign trail just last fall telling us how he'd use his position to advocate for the schools.
"I have a lot of heartburn about those reductions," Foxx said. He should. In fact, he and city bureaucrats should be ashamed of themselves.
But there's always next week.