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Wheeler, Gays, CMS and more

A look back at 2003

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It was a year we won't be forgetting anytime soon, particularly if you're involved in any way with the local public school system. Or if you or a friend or family member is gay. Or if you watch TV. Or pay taxes. Or flush your toilet. Or care about your rights. Or think prisoners shouldn't be punching bags. Without any further delay, here's a list of some of the stories that made us pay attention in 2003.

Wheeler goes down

During a radio debate in 2002, Charlotte City Council member Lynn Wheeler explained why it was OK for the City Council to ignore the results of the arena referendum, in which 57 percent of voters voted against the project.

"We would have spit in the face of the voters if we had put together the same deal and went back and did it anyway," Wheeler said.

Voters, who apparently didn't care what kind of deal the city put together, agreed with Wheeler that they had been spat at. They returned the favor on election day, ousting the high-society uptown booster who only two years before had come in first in the Council at-large race. Though conservative Republican voters took the hit for throwing her out, Wheeler, a seven-term incumbent, lost votes everywhere from Myers Park's silk stocking precincts to election boxes frequented by conservative Bible-thumpers in the suburbs.

Meanwhile, the hole in the ground uptown where the arena will go got deeper as the city plowed ahead with construction on a building Council members had promised they wouldn't build if voters rejected it in a referendum. City bureaucrats celebrated by using $25,000 from the city's general fund to throw a celebration party largely attended by -- you guessed it -- bureaucrats. Oh, and Ms. Wheeler. All of this led the brainiacs at the Observer to conclude that the low voter turnout this fall must have been a sign that Charlotteans were happy with what local government had been up to. Sure, that's what happened.

Supremes Sanction Sex

After 227 years, the highest court of the freest nation on earth finally acknowledged the right of all Americans to participate in their favorite pastime in the privacy of their own homes without police interference. In the process, the court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas wiped out anti-sodomy laws across the nation. While members of the gay community can now legally have sex, they still can't serve soup, at least not at the Charlotte Rescue Mission. The Mission's leader, Rev. Tony Marciano II, refused to allow members of the Metropolitan Community Church to serve a meal to the rescue mission's clients because the church welcomes openly gay members. The law may change, but the country, and this city, still remains polarized over the issue of homosexuality.

Oil and Water at CMS

Decades after two famous legal decisions ordered the desegregation of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, schools resegregated in a single school year in 2003. This school year was the first in which court-mandated school choice, where parents can choose a school nearby, replaced forced busing of kids to integrate schools. The result was a parting of the races like oil from water.

White kids packed overcrowded suburban schools while brand new inner city schools were left half-empty. For the first time in perhaps decades, whether school board candidates were willing to build new schools in overcrowded suburban areas became a litmus test for school board members, many of whom promised more suburban schools in order to win seats on the board.

The fight over equity, where schools will go, and which kids get to attend them is likely to drag on for decades, but 2003 was significant in that it was the first year in recent history when parents had a choice of where their kids would go. With a newly elected school board tilted in favor of the "burbs, anything could happen.

You Want Condoms With Your Sludge?

For 11 years, David McManus complained to the city about the raw human sewage that spewed from a manhole 150 feet from his back porch every time it rained. Sometimes, he said, the added pressure would blow the manhole cover skyward, continuously spewing sewage several feet in the air. The woods behind his Lansbury Court home in south Charlotte are often littered with used condoms left behind after sewage spills. Then this spring, rainy weather finally unleashed a five million gallon sewage motherlode into a 10-foot wide stretch of McAlpine Creek that runs along McManus' backyard.

For years, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities has been getting away with spills like this as overburdened state regulators let major spills slide. But last month, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) finally took notice of a problem Creative Loafing has been harping on for two years after county regulators pointed out that 60 percent of the 21 million gallons the city has spilled in the last three years originated from a handful of sites. NCDENR is now demanding that the city clean up its act at each site, a first for the agency. So far though, City Council continues to remain officially oblivious to the problem.

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