Charlotte, NC

Wednesday in Charlotte: CMS superintendent and Panthers HQ terminated, cop cars torched and more

Collin Cunningham
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston is out of the job after the school board voted 7-2 to terminate him on Tuesday.(Superintendent Earnest Winston/Twitter)

By Collin Cunningham

(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) Good morning, Charlotteans, and welcome to the chopping block! Everyone's favorite knife-catching stone introduced itself to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston on Tuesday, who was immediately fired in a decision that will cost the district over $575,000. We'll tell you what led to his termination, and why an $800 million Carolina Panthers headquarters planned for Rock Hill hit the can.

Also succumbing to damage were a quartet of police vehicles that someone set ablaze in Statesville, and today's Roundup exhibits Earth Day events with a few happenings to show preference for the planet on April 22. It is Wednesday, April 20, and here's what every resident of the Queen City needs to know until tomorrow.

But first, feedback: We want to hear from you to help improve the Roundup. Have a suggestion for changes or new daily features, or want to sound off on a recent story? Drop us a line in the comments section.

1. Earnest Winston's exit established: CMS details super's conduct, sets next steps
Upon Earnest Winston's firing, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools named chief compliance officer Scott McCully as its acting superintendent.(Scott McCully/LinkedIn)

What happened: After he spent less than three years with the district, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education voted to approve the firing of Superintendent Earnest Winston in a 7-2 decision that will cost the district nearly $577,000. The motion came at an emergency meeting on Wednesday, where board member Rhonda Cheek said the school system had "hired a good man" but "must move forward on a different path." Watch footage of Tuesday's meeting here and read Winston's response at this page.

What's next: Walking that path in acting and interim superintendent roles will be CMS chief compliance officer Scott McCully and former interim super Hugh Hattabaugh, the latter of whom lives in Florida but will step in for McCully on April 25, per WCNC.

McCully spent three years leading operations at Guilford County Schools, while Hattabaugh served as the successor to former superintendent Peter Gorman in what has become a revolving door of district leadership.

Over the past decade, Charlotte's largest school system has swelled to over 140,000 students and seen five individuals adopt the title of "superintendent" in some capacity: Hattabaugh through May of 2012, when the acting deputy superintendent, Ann Clark, entered the role before the board selected Dr. Clayton Wilcox in 2016. Wilcox remained for three years before Winston reached for the reins in 2019.

Winston's woes: After all board members besides Ruby Jones and Thelma Byers-Bailey voted in favor of firing Winston, the board released a 33-page brochure spelling out the superintendent's tenure and an independent investigation into his performance. Specific citations include the leader's response to sexual harassment at Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences, where a 15-year-old student claimed she had been suspended after reporting an assault.

According to WSOC, what the board referred to as "serious mishaps" on Winston's part also included students' dwindling academic performance, the slow rollout of new safety measures including clear bookbags with cancer warning labels and other decision-making factors.

2. Panthers pull out of $800M Rock Hill HQ contract
Despite the team's agreement with Rock Hill being absolved, the Carolina Panthers' website still advertises this HQ with a 2023 open date.(Courtesy of Carolina Panthers)

What happened: The Carolina Panthers spend much of their year devising new ways to run the ball back, but on Tuesday team leadership devised a new method to backpedal on something else: an $800 million contract to build a new headquarters and practice facility in Rock Hill. The decision to pull out of the South Carolina city follows nearly a month of a standstill at a 240-acre construction site between U.S. Highway 21 and Interstate 77.

According to CBS, the 700,000-square-foot facility planned for the area would have included a new indoor practice space for the team as well as options for entertainment, dining, retail and personal training.

Work first started in 2020, but coronavirus-induced delays put the project on hold. It resumed earlier this year, only to pause in March after WCNC reported that Rock Hill had failed to cough up $225 million in construction bonds that would have been used on roads, electricity and water systems. The municipality, however, contended that they had upheld their end of the bargain to Tepper Sports & Entertainment, a company owned by Panthers proprietor and billionaire hedge fund manager David Tepper.

Why it matters: If the Panthers' Rock Hill construction doesn't wrap by 2024, Front Office Sports reported that Tepper's holding company would lose out on $115 million in tax credits, first approved by the South Carolina Legislature in 2019. But a spokesperson for TS&E said company leadership would "sit down with the City and other interested parties to discuss the significant challenges ahead."

According to GoUpstate, the holdup could keep the Panthers practicing in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where the team has held annual preseason drills at Wofford College since 1995, pausing in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. Staties in Statesville: 4 cop cars combusted at local 7-11

A quartet of North Carolina State Highway Patrol police vehicles will be canvassing the Tar Heel State with burn marks and holes in their bumpers after 49-year-old Daniel Zelo dumped gas on the cars outside of the 7-Eleven gas station at 234 Turnersburg Highway in Statesville on Tuesday. No call needed to take place because the officers were already inside taking a break when the blaze began around 9:50 p.m.

The troopers rushed outside and spoke to a witness who pointed them in the direction of Zelo, still located nearby. Upon his arrest, Zelo's custody was transferred to the Statesville Police Department, which is investigating the incineration attempt, per FOX8.

4. Earth Day events: How to show preference for the planet in Charlotte on and around April 22

Friday marks Earth Day, a worldwide call to action that encourages people to celebrate the plants, life and diversity of the planet we call home. To help readers get green, here are a few cleanups and other Earth-conscious activities slated to occur around the Queen City this weekend. Readers can also check the Keep Charlotte Beautiful page for year-round volunteer opportunities.

Wednesday, April 20:

Thursday, April 21:

Friday, April 22:

Saturday, April 23:

More stories from the Queen City for April 22:

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I cover the city of Charlotte, North Carolina for NewsBreak's Creator Program. Check back often for daily headline roundups to learn what's happening in the Queen City!

Charlotte, NC

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