The Charlotte City Council recently voted to appoint Greg Phipps to fill the at-large seat left vacant with the resignation of James “Smuggie” Mitchell. When there’s an open seat that needs to be filled on the council, its members get to select their new colleague.
Good deal, right?
Well, maybe not so much for the dozens 0f candidates who thought they had a fair shot at landing the appointment.
Shortly after Mitchell resigned, a call went out across Charlotte for folks interested in filling Mitchell’s vacated seat. And y’all really applied — nearly 150 of you.
Among those nearly 150 people were former elected officials, community activists, educators, business people, young folks, aged folks, and folks with other diverse characteristics. A great many of them took time to pitch themselves to the council and to us, their potential constituents. They were incredible.
Some shared their resumes. Some shared their hopes for Charlotte. Some shared their fears.
They all shared…except for the person who got the appointment.
Turns out the joke was on us, because their new colleague is an old colleague — Greg Phipps, who has served before on City Council.
Phipps was appointed to fill a vacant seat in 2005, and then he got elected from 2013-2019.
No shade at Mr. Phipps, but the process reeks of back-room deals of the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club.
The mayor’s statement following the vote, paired with statements by council members before the vote, pointed to Mr. Phipps’ experience — and there is no denying that he is experienced. But if council members were going to place such a high premium on experience, should they have been straight up with folks from the start?
As a city, we constantly miss opportunities to be rather than to seem. We can actually be the progressive and inclusive city which sees and engages every neighbor. We can be the city which constantly interrogates the status quo to ensure that we are achieving equity and mobility for every Charlottean. We can be.
The decision to re-appoint Phipps (it’s not lost on me that he was sworn in on Groundhog Day) shows that we have our eyes too focused on the rearview mirror with the gear in reverse. But, as they say, “It’s the Charlotte way.”
It doesn’t have to be, though, friends. Let’s do the work.
Ray McKinnon is a minister, political operative, and activist. His wife, Kelly, their sons and he live in Northwest Charlotte.