In 1999, Scott Stone moved from Baltimore to Charlotte to fill a management position that Eric Davis, now chairman of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Board of Education, left vacant at engineering design firm Mactec.
Stone continued to work in Charlotte’s engineering industry, becoming vice president for Merrick & Co., a national civil engineering firm.
But Stone, who has never held political office, but ran unsuccessfully for the county board in Arlington, Va., in 1996, quit Merrick about a month ago to focus full time on his campaign for Charlotte mayor. He’s the sole challenger to incumbent Anthony Foxx, a Democrat.
Foxx declined to be interviewed, despite repeated requests from The Mecklenburg Times.
“I look at my two daughters, who will be going off to college in the not-too-distant future, and I want them to be able to come back to Charlotte and have the economic opportunities that existed here in the past, opportunities that aren’t here right now,” Stone said. “And we need strong leadership to make that happen.”
When it comes to fundraising, he’s way behind the incumbent, having raised a little more than $100,000 compared with Foxx’s $611,481, according to September campaign finance reports.
But he’s got a wealth of complaints about the way city government is treating the real estate industry.
Would you consider yourself to be a friend to the real estate industry?
Yes. As an engineer, I’ve worked in the real estate industy for many years. I’m a member of the CRCBR (Charlotte Region Commercial Board of Realtors) and was chairman of SPPACE (Shelter Providers Political Action Committee Enterprise, which is affiliated with the Charlotte-based Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition and contributes money to political candidates who are supportive of the real estate and building industry in the area.)
I’m someone who has taken construction projects through the rezoning and engineering process. I know the ordinances, the process and the challenges. I don’t think any council has been worse for the Charlotte real estate industry than the current City Council. Their ordinances are killing investments in this city.
The big three: post construction stormwater, the tree ordinance and Urban Street Design Guidelines. They’re all very burdensome, and they conflict with each other. They’re killing deals.
How would you do things differently in regards to those ordinances?
We need to look at what are the goals of all three and then revamp them together so they are no longer in conflict. The post construction stormwater ordinance should be closer to state standards. Right now, it’s inflexible and forces us to have to have the biggest stormwater-retention area than anywhere else in the region. Right off the bat, that’s taking away things like parking spaces and rentable units.
And the tree ordinance should be more flexible on the number of trees saved as opposed to replanting. And we need to remove some of the rules from the Urban Street Design Guidelines, like having to build bike racks and sidewalks at an industrial site. It’s ridiculous.
If you’re mayor, will the city become a better place for people in real estate to do business?
Absolutely. It’s not just about things like the ordinances. It’s a general mentality within city government.
City government is not service-oriented like it should be. City government needs to look at itself as a business and they’re here to serve clients; there needs to be a sense of urgency. We need to look at how to get things done and not hold things up, and that involves changing the process.
As it is now, everything goes through rezoning as a conditioning rezoning. That’s not necessary. We should have more standard rezoning. And city staff has way too much authority. There’s too much subjectivity. We’ve got to take away the uncertainty.
What’s your take on the Democratic National Convention and union labor?
We need to have the mayor stand up and say very loudly that he’s going to choose local workers over out-of-state unions, and the current mayor won’t say that.
His interests are national and not local. This mayor avoids every question when it comes to unions. He doesn’t say if he supports us as a right-to-work state or if he’s against collective bargaining for government employees or where he stands as far as out-of-state unions coming here as part of the DNC.
What are his goals? If the DNC says it wants to maximize union labor, and we have very limited unions locally, how do you do that? How do you use local labor and maximize union labor? You can’t do both.
We need to work with the DNC and set specific goals. The mayor, whether it’s me or the current mayor, needs to take a leadership role on that issue. I look at the DNC like a client. We have to make sure we fulfill their needs, meet their goals and show them a good time, but there needs to be that healthy tension as well.
Just like with any client, they want you to provide as many services for as little money as possible. But as a service provider, you have to make sure you get the most for yourself, while at the same make sure the client is well served.
If and when the economy recovers, what are the biggest challenges facing Charlotte’s real estate and construction industries?
Our overall tax rate is too high. We’re not competitive with our peer counties and cities across the state and region. As the economy improves, my concern is Charlotte will recover slower than everyone else.
We have the potential to fall victim to the doughnut-hole effect, where everything outside the city limits starts growing again, and Charlotte, because of it regulations and costs, does not participate in that growth. We have to get more competitive on taxes and on our processes, including the ordinances.
Does Charlotte need a full-time mayor?
No. I wouldn’t do it if it was a full-time job. I don’t think it’s intended to be a full-time job.
There’s a value in having the city manager run the day-to-day stuff and the mayor overseeing policies and big-picture issues. This helps maintain a consistency in the day-to-day operations. And by the job being part-time, it forces you to focus on the important stuff.
Besides, the mayor’s job only pays something like $25,000 a year, so I definitely plan on working somewhere else full time.
What is your plan for creating more jobs in Charlotte?
Go to cltjobsnow.com, and that spells out everything. I’m the only mayoral candidate who has a detailed plan.
The current mayor talks about how we’re on the right path and we’re seeing a net positive job increase. The problem with that is net positive growth means 2,000 jobs net over two years. That’s not a good number. On that pace, we’re 26 years away from recovery.
We have to do things differently. I have a detailed plan, and manufacturing and construction is a big part of it, including a Charlotte manufacturing apprenticeship program, which can really help grow the construction industry sector.
If elected mayor, what’s the first you’d do that would affect the construction industry?
I’d change the culture. I’d make it more businesslike and create a sense of urgency, and instead of killing deals I’d look for ways to make deals happen, and that involves addressing problems with our ordnances and tax rate.
What role should government play in real estate? It is appropriate for the city to set zoning for property and to approve site and engineering plans. However, I think it’s important that those decisions be based on objectivity rather than subjectivity.
When I submit a site plan, there should be a checklist of requirements, and if I meet all those then the city should just move on. The city shouldn’t try to design the site, which I think it does far too often. It’s a waste of time and money.
Boykin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.