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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Susan Burgess' Seat Belongs To Charlotte Voters (ALL Of Them!)

Charlotte City Council’s Gesture To Susan Burgess Is Touching But Wrong

It was a reminder that politicians aren’t just vessels for our hope and anger, but human beings.

Susan Burgess, despite terminal cancer, showed up for what will be her last Charlotte City Council meeting.

She absorbed the loving words of her colleagues. She gave a heartfelt speech. She cast her final votes and resigned with dignity.

When we think about how public service can be both civil and meaningful, we can always remember that moment.

There was just one false note.

But that note is still ringing. And City Council members apparently intend to keep playing it.

Burgess put forward her son, Jason, as a candidate to fill out the final 18 months of her term. Several council members support the idea.

As David Howard put it: “I need a real good reason not to honor his mother’s request.”

Well, let me try.

Susan Burgess is doing what mothers do. She’s looking out for her son. Her fellow council members are doing what colleagues and friends do. They’re trying to honor one of their own.

But doing the wrong thing for the right reasons doesn’t make it the right thing.

By all accounts, Jason Burgess is a smart guy. He’s a surgeon, a former walk-on basketball player at Carolina, a husband and father. He fits the legal requirement to fill his mother’s seat – they’re both Democrats, and the fill-in has to be of the same party. He also follows City Council tradition – fill-in members are people not likely to run for election later.

The only problem is his last name.

So many people have so little faith in government these days. It reinforces that lack of faith when politicians give jobs to their family members and friends. It makes politics feel like a closed shop, where the only thing that counts is who you know.

City Council is moving fast on this replacement. The deadline to apply (through is noon Friday, and the vote could come as soon as Monday. None of that allows for careful consideration. And a free pass onto Charlotte City Council ought to be carefully considered.

This is not a small town where everybody goes to the same grocery store. This is a big American city with a six-digit population and a nine-digit budget.

Jason Burgess said his mom is the one who suggested he call council members and ask for the job. He admits he doesn’t have political experience and will need help if he’s appointed.

So the question is: Would he be a candidate for the job – or would he even want it – if he weren’t the son of a council member with a terminal illness?

Surely there are other people at least as qualified who might be interested.

The city needn’t be in a hurry. This is an important decision. It’s not just about who gets the job, but about the message it sends.

Anybody who has a heart understands what’s going on. No one has bad intentions. All parties are just doing what they think is best.

But what’s best for them is not best for the people of Charlotte.

And that seat on City Council belongs to the people.

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Sources:, McClatchy Newspapers, WCNC, Google Maps

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