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Politics

CMS Lobbyist, Former GOP Legislator Draws Ire Of His Own Party

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Charles Jeter
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Republicans don’t care much that Charles Jeter is now a lobbyist. Ex-Legislators do that all the time. But some have been surprised at the gusto for which Jeter now lobbies for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools when he was once aligned with the GOP on education issues, like charter schools.

Three years ago, Jeter was named a “Charter Champion” by the North Carolina Public Charter Schools Association. Today, two of his three kids attend charters.

“He obviously was a Republican legislator and fought vigorously with Democrats, so my guess is he wasn’t liked by the Democrats," Jim Puckett, a Republican Mecklenburg Commissioner, said. "Why CMS would hire the one person in North Carolina who had irritated both sides of the aisle is beyond me.”

Puckett said he and Jeter were once critical of CMS when he was in the legislature.

“When you go from attacking public education on a regular basis, and Charlie did — and I agreed with him — to suddenly 180 degrees on the other side, the disingenuous of where you stand is so blatantly obvious [that] it’s hard to take him at his word," he said. "Is this Charlie Jeter the conservative Republican or is this Charlie Jeter the hired gun?"

The animosity among some Republicans toward Jeter was highlighted this week in a story in the Charlotte Observer.

Two school board members and Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said that Matthews Republican State Rep. Bill Brawley told them in March that he would withdraw House Bill 514 if CMS fired Jeter. That bill — now law — allows Matthews, Mint Hill, Cornelius and Huntersville to open town-funded charter schools.

“He didn’t drop the bill and he didn’t say drop Charles," said school board Vice Chair Rhonda Cheek. "He tapped his finger on the table and got a little red faced and said, 'I will make House Bill 514 go away if you fire Charlie Jeter.'”

Brawley didn’t dispute that he doesn’t like Jeter, but told the newspaper he would never make such a threat. Brawley didn’t return phone calls from WFAE this week.

Jeter said he still considers Brawley a friend, though he said he realizes he may not be on Brawley’s Christmas card list this year.

“I think that they had reiterated what they thought Bill had said. And, I didn’t think much of it," Jeter said. "I have always like Bill Brawley. I like Bill Brawley to this day.”

Jeter compared his switch from GOP legislature to CMS lobbyist to famed quarterback Brett Favre switching teams.

“I would imagine that Green Bay fans didn’t like it when Brett Favre was throwing touchdown passes [for Minnesota]," Jeter said. "You felt like he was part of your team. You felt like he was part of your family. The flip side of that is, Minnesota paid him to do a job — and he did it. I am paid by CMS to advocate for the position for the board of education and the 150,000 students we have here.”

Some of the ill will toward Jeter stems from two years ago. In running for reelection in 2016, Jeter narrowly defeated Tom Davis in the Republican primary in March. Then he resigned his seat in July. That gave a boost to Democrat Chaz Beasley, who won the seat.

Jeter said the demands of being a legislator were too much, and the annual salary of $13,000 wasn’t enough. His trucking business was going under at the time, and he had been sued for $18,000 in unpaid bills.

Jeter today struggles with whether he handled his departure in the best way.

“I think there is some potential animosity there," Jeter said. "I get that. I made a choice that I had to make, and I regretted it. Well, I don’t regret that. I made the decision for me that I had to make. I wish it could have been done in a different way and a different fashion.”

Cheek said she passed Jeter's name to school board attorney George Battle in late 2016. Battle hired Jeter that December. His initial salary was $91,000. He now makes a little more than $140,000. Jeter said that’s because he has assumed a new role, and he said he's essentially doing the jobs of two people.

After HB 514 was passed, the school board in August passed the Municipal Concerns Act of 2018. The Observer reported that Jeter was instrumental in launching the controversial legislation, which some say was an escalation in the fight. The act could de-prioritize school construction dollars in the four towns.

Jeter said he doesn’t regret how he helped craft the legislation, nor a decision to not post it on an agenda.

In an interview, he was asked what he personally thinks about the HB 514 and the board’s response with the Municipal Concerns Act.

“I think it’s a fair question," he said. "I think I would be lying if I told you definitively one way or another if I told you what my answer would be.”

Cheek said she’s confident Jeter is still an effective lobbyist.

“We have had a lot of success over the last couple of years on many issues," she said. "Bill Brawley is one legislator. He does a great job of representing his people. He’s a ferocious fighter. There are a lot of other people in Raleigh that we have to work with on education issues, and Charles has a very good relationship with many of them.”

On Oct. 30, Wilcox is supposed to brief board members on the impacts of the Municipal Concerns Act. That includes possible boundary changes how construction dollars could be shifted away from the towns.