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When City Council kills

Human life a low priority

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Somebody apparently forgot to hand Charlotte City Councilwoman Patsy Kinsey a copy of the talking points memo.

The official story was supposed to be that council was voting to override Mayor Pat McCrory's veto of a plan to buy and tear down the Parkwood Food Mart to "help" the people of the Belmont neighborhood.

The store is unsightly and generates a lot of "foot traffic," and on Monday the council voted to spend $472,000 to buy and tear it down. As a person who has driven past the food mart daily for years, I assure you that a lot of that "foot traffic" is local residents, most of whom are African-American, walking to the mart to buy food -- the very same residents the council claims it is "helping." As in many poor neighborhoods, people who can't afford transportation often depend on quasi-convenience stores for food. Now, they'll be SOL.

Sure, the vicinity around the store has had its crime problems, but that's what we have police officers for. Last Monday, the rest of the council members who voted to buy the store were on message about helping the area's residents except Kinsey.

"It is a route to the Uptown offices," Kinsey said. Which is what this is really all about. The neighborhood, which abuts a planned light rail route, simply isn't gentrifying fast enough to suit the city council. The vote to buy the food mart will expedite that process at taxpayer expense.

It's also why the council is only concerned about the foot traffic at this particular food mart, though food marts in many other low-income areas are also magnets for crime and vagrants.

It was part of a highly ironic month for city government, which played poor for the public while blowing big bucks and endangering lives. Two weeks ago, city transportation bureaucrats fanned out to sell the idea that the city is too broke to repave the roads according to schedule. Television reporters fell for this ruse at two stations. Their stories featured city bureaucrats agreeing that it's a shame that certain roads are in tatters, and claiming that the city could do nothing about it because the price of asphalt has doubled due to an increase in the price of fuel and oil. The roads would just have to crumble because the city now can't afford to repave them on schedule, which would cost millions more, the bureaucrats said. And there's supposedly no money for that.

Then last week we learned from The Charlotte Observer that the city is apparently too broke to properly staff its 911 call center. Because of this, people have been left waiting on hold while they bleed to death from gunshot wounds. According to the story, the city's 911 system isn't up to the national standard of answering 90 percent of calls within 10 seconds. In Charlotte, they hope to get to 85 percent of calls within 30 seconds, but they don't always make that goal either. Some callers have languished on hold for minutes. There's no telling how many people the city has killed this way who otherwise would have survived. (Don't neglect to pay your taxes though. The city will be prompt about taking your property if you do that.)

There are, of course, those who don't have to wait for the city's attention. Take developer Henry Faison for instance. He's been prompt over the years with donations to city council campaigns. He's developing a Wal-Mart along Independence Boulevard and wants nearly a million bucks for that project. Yes, a city subsidy for a Wal-Mart. Not exactly a chain hurting for dough. Neither is Faison, who is one of Charlotte's most prolific developers. Faison told the city he needs some of the money for a special road to the property and the rest for environmental cleanup on the site. Faison couldn't even tell the city how much this cleanup will cost because he says he doesn't know yet. But that was good enough for the city council to approve sending a proposal to throw half a million bucks Faison's way to the economic development committee, which almost always means he'll get the funding.

This is similar to the way the city paid $5 million to build a road that is essentially a private drive up to the doorway of big-box retailer IKEA in the university area. Another developer, Daniel Levine, recently walked away with $30 million for a parking deck for his Uptown development. Meanwhile, the city is in the process of blowing millions in property tax money on studies of a street car and Interstate 277 cap it wants to build. And city council obviously has plenty of money for its poor people removal project in the Belmont neighborhood.

But the city, you'll remember, is too broke to repave the roads. And if you're having a heart attack or have been stabbed multiple times, you'll just have to languish on hold or deal with your little problem on your own.

The Charlotte City Council apparently has other, more important priorities.

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