CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The decision was whether to accept federal funding for security-related costs for the Republican National Convention in August or find the tens of millions of dollars elsewhere. In the end, the City of Charlotte agreed to take the $50 million Department of Justice grant, but just barely.
It was a 6-5 vote, showing the divide in city council over the hosting of an event slated to bring 50,000 people to the Queen City during a pandemic.
"We don't want to be the epicenter of the next outbreak," said council member Matt Newton during the discussion. "We don't want to offer up our city as a petri dish."
While President Trump continues to assure the Aug. 24-27 convention is in good shape to happen and will take place, and the city is on the hook contractually to host, some on city council appear to be torn over the full-steam-ahead planning of the event.
When questioned during Monday night's council meeting about how the city was planning to deploy its resources, CMPD Chief Kerr Putney responded that they were moving forward as if tens of thousands are still coming for the convention, but there were also alternate plans if the event changes shape as the COVID-19 landscape does.
"We need to stop this charade right now," said council member Braxton Winston. "We know--we know--it is not going to happen."
Winston continued on that the Republican National Committee was welcome to come to Charlotte to figure out how to conduct a virtual convention, but said the city would not be in a position to handle the social distancing, testing, and isolation/quarantine measures needed for such a mass gathering.
"I think we have to be honest with our constituents," Winston said. "We will not be having mass gatherings of any sort -- whether they be political, entertainment-wise -- in late summer and for the foreseeable future."
Winston was one of five council members voting against taking the DoJ money, along with council members Newton, Dimple Ajmera, Victoria Watlington, and Renee Johnson.
When faced with the opposition against taking the funds, some pointed out that measure being voted upon was about fiscal responsibility, not about hosting the convention itself.
"A no-vote tonight does not cancel the convention," said council member Larken Egleston. "It does not somehow abdicate us of our financial responsibilities here. It, in fact, only further puts us on the hook with our own dollars to pay for the same things we could have paid for with federal dollars."
Also on the RNC-front Monday night, the council voted to give the city manager the ability to grant permits for gatherings like parades or protests on a "content-free" basis, like a lottery system.
Coronavirus wording was added to the language of the ordinance, but there are no specific coronavirus-related restrictions on gatherings spelled out in that ordinance.
Watch the full council discussion below or click here to watch.