Thursday, July 27, 2017

A shadow Town Attorney for Davidson Town Hall?

That's what one would believe after reviewing the results of a recent public records request on former Davidson long-time Town Attorney, Rick Kline.  At least that would be the case when it comes to real estate transactions involving the town.

Regular readers of aShortChronicle will know that before he resigned his position with the town in 2015 (effective June 30, 2016), Mr Kline's position as Town Attorney and the conflicts that presented with his private practice representing developers was a hot topic for this blog.

This list of conflicts was problematic enough that Mr Kline even mentioned them as part of his comments when the position was handed over to current Town Attorney, Cindy Reid.  Below is an excerpt from a May 2016 column penned for the Herald Weekly and re-posted here.  That column covered why aShortChronicle covers what it does.  When it came to conflicts of interest, Mr Kline was the example.

"Some of those columns were down in the weeds on the state law governing exactly what is a conflict.  Others covered specific examples – more than one involving the long time Davidson town attorney, Rick Kline.  Those columns in particular seemed to strike a nerve.  Kline announced his retirement a few months ago, and his replacement was announced at the May 10th Board meeting.  The town’s Affordable Housing  Coordinator, Cindy Reid, will be stepping into the Town Attorney role.  At the meeting, as Kline was complementing the town’s selection of Reid as his replacement, it was interesting to hear him add “unlike me, she doesn’t have any potential conflicts out there.”"

That was in May of 2016.  So, it was really very surprising to see the results of a recent public records request through June 1st 2017 showing Mr Kline still very much engaged with Davidson Town Hall - particularly when it comes to real estate transactions.

The request which ran up to June 1st, 2017 shows invoices from Kline to the town for work done every month except December 2016 since his "retirement". Per a separate email from Town Hall, Davidson has "paid Rick Kline $10,453 since July 1, 2016 for projects related to the planning department, town attorney, and real estate".

In March and April of this year, that planning/real estate work was around the controversial Beaty Street RFP project and selling public land to an unincorporated group called Davidson Development Partners or DDP.

One $400 charge on April 6th was particularly interesting.  It's for a conference call with the Beaty Street developer.  The email record sheds more light on that meeting.  At about noon on April 6th, Assistant Town Manager Dawn Blobaum contacted Kline asking him to attend on short notice and meet with the developer's attorney because they were asking questions Blobaum couldn't answer.

What makes this interesting is it shows Kline's close involvement in pushing this project forward.  Just a little over 6 weeks later Kline was called to Davidson Town Hall as a witness of sorts for the project to refute activists' claims that the parcel should be used as a park.  That story and video can be seen in this post titled "Beaty Street: Lawyers, threats, and karma at Davidson Town Hall".  The public records request did not include Kline's invoice to the Town for any work done in May because, again, the request only went through June 1st and that invoice likely had not arrived yet.  It would be interesting to know if Kline paid for that testimony or for preparing for it?

If all of that doesn't bother citizens enough regarding Mr Kline's continued involvement at Davidson Town Hall after his "retirement" from official Town Attorney duties, the gray area continues involving his private practice helping developers as well.

In this single public records request, aShortChronicle counted no less than four private sector projects Kline is working in Davidson.  Three of these are unannounced at this point.  The one that is public is The Summit at River Run.  aShortChronicle will be working on stories for the other three as they develop.

The breadth and depth of this continued involvement by the former Town Attorney in development projects is important.  It should bother readers because of the obvious chumminess between Mr Kline and the town staff particularly in the Planning Department - the department that has very direct impact on decisions impacting Mr Kline's private sector clients.  The public records request is riddled with banter and jokes with one exchange being particularly telling.

On September 1st, 2016 Kline asked for a quick 15 minute meeting with Town Planning staff either that day or the next.  It was regarding the Summit at River Run project mentioned previously.  Planning Director Jason Burdett responded "Just like a developer.  Always wanting to meet with no notice!  How's 1130?"   To that joking comment Kline replied "Perfect!  And thanks for the compliment."

The saying "fox in the henhouse" comes to mind when one sees this kind of thing, and that is not good - not good at all.  But let's be clear, that is not the the fault of the "fox".  That is the fault of the Davidson Town Board who left the door to the henhouse wide open.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: New Exit 30 Hotel plan, Planning Board on Monday

It has been almost a year and a half since aShortChronicle first broke the news of the proposal for a new hotel next to the Community School of Davidson.  Then last August the first version of the plan (which was not well received, btw) was delivered.

Now, it appears the project is ready to move forward. 

On Wednesday afternoon, an updated version of the proposal was posted on the Town website.  On July 31, 2017 (this coming Monday) the Planning Board and Board of Commissioners will hold a Joint Work Session with the project team.  This starts the end game for what could be another contentious vote for this Board prior to election day.
See here for the gory details of the new proposal.

Below are the highlights...
  • The new proposal comes in at 4 stories rather than 6 in the original and includes 115 rooms.
  • The parking situation has not improved from the original.  113 spaces are provided, but only 64 are on site.  It relies on less shared parking with Woodies next door, but at peak usage will need all available street parking in the vicinity.
  • There is no mention of a rooftop restaurant in the new proposal.
Check back over the next few days for updates on this project and this Monday's meeting.  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

#DavidsonElection2017: After filing, the initial reading of the tea leaves says...

Who would have thought Davidson would end up being this year's ground zero for "most interesting elections to watch" in North Mecklenburg, but that's exactly how things are shaping up after the close of the filing period last Friday.

Both Huntersville and Cornelius have uncontested races for Mayor.  Mayor John Aneralla is seeking re-election in Huntersville.  In Cornelius, current Commissioner Woody Washam is unopposed seeking the Mayor's spot since current current Mayor Chuck Travis decided to not try for another term.  All of the remaining incumbent Commissioners in both towns filed for re-election except for Commissioner Rob Kidwell in Huntersville.  That means each of those boards are guaranteed one new face, but to get more an incumbent has to lose.  That's always a hard thing to do.

In Davidson, things couldn't be more different this time around.

Three candidates are vying for Mayor (John Woods, Rusty Knox, and Laurie Venzon).  This will definitely be Mayor Woods's biggest electoral challenge since becoming Mayor a decade ago.

Both Knox and Venzon are well known names in Davidson politics.  Rusty Knox comes from local political family, and he is well known in his own right as a musician.  Importantly, in recent years he has been leading the charge against many of Town Hall's most unpopular ambitions.  Venzon served previously as Mayor Pro Tem on the Board and is familiar with how Town Hall operates.  Between the two of them, the challenger best able to coalesce the "Not John Woods" vote and eat into Wood's loyal base, stands to take this contest.  However, if that doesn't happen, in a three way race Woods could squeak by with likely less than 50% of the total vote.

On the Commissioners side, things are no less chaotic.  This race has turned into a major contest with thirteen candidates filing for five spots.  Typically, such a large number of candidates is due to some known open seats going into filing.  Open seats where an incumbent doesn't file for re-election attract candidates because of the possibility of getting a seat without having to knock off a sitting Commissioner.  Going into the filing period that wasn't the case in Davidson.  All of the incumbents were mum on their intentions, so many assumed all would file for re-election. Ultimately, though two incumbents did not file - Mayor Pro Tem Beth Cashion and Commissioner Brian Jenest.  While there were rumors out there that these two might not file they were never confirmed, and ultimately having two Commissioners not file was a surprise to many.

So what caused the large number of challengers if it wasn't known open seats?  Issues and controversy, that's what.

It looks like a long simmering discontent with Town Hall finally boiled over and that spurred the large number of candidates with only a few of the challengers being well known names.  Incumbents Jim Fuller, Rodney Graham, and Stacey Anderson filed for re-election, but they are outnumbered by 10 challengers.  Due to controversies over the past two years that have emanated from Town Hall like the Catalyst Project, the Rural Area Plan mass rezoning, and most recently the Beaty Street RFP, any incumbent is probably at risk with Graham and Anderson more so this time due to their recent Beaty Street vote.  Of the three, Jim Fuller is probably in the safest position because he has been on the right side of these contentious issues much more often than not.

The dynamics of this race will be interesting.  With the real possibility of a 4-5 new faces on the Board and so many candidates to choose from, voters will have their work cut out for them.  If a solid slate of candidates comes together to challenge the remaining incumbents, or four challengers plus maybe Fuller, that could leave the remaining incumbents and challengers to resort to single shot voting to have a chance at getting on the new board.

aShortChronicle had previously told readers in this post from 2015 that single shot voting was a way to super charge your vote and help break the grip of incumbents.  This time around those incumbents may be the ones who need to use it.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Mayor Woods launches re-election campaign with denial laden email blast

Wasting no time getting on the campaign trail after filing closed on Friday, Davidson Mayor John Woods opened his re-election campaign with a lengthy email blast to what appears to be a long list of email contacts.

Here is the meat of the announcement without all the opening and closing campaign fluff.

"The work of the town will continue throughout the campaign, and I will remain fully focused and present on all deliberations, working with the commissioners and staff to make the best decisions for our community.
Our top priorities involve honoring our core values and enhancing Davidson's character and sense of place. Our current goals include welcoming our new Police Chief Penny Dunn, opening Fire Station #2 to continue to improve our excellent public safety, and responding to the need for expanded town hall facilities and downtown parking.  
We must renew our commitment to affordable housing, apply our planning ordinance to proposed new developments, and follow the vision we have established for ourselves. 
The financial health of Davidson is always a priority. Spending my professional career as a banker taught me that our continued secure standing will be protected with new employment opportunities and sound economic growth policies. It has been my honor to represent Davidson at the regional, state, and national levels, creating partnerships and collaborations that further our interests, wherever possible."

No mention of Mayor Woods's involvement and vote to create Mi-Connection, the worst financial disaster to ever hit this town.  No mention of his unfailing support for the I77 HOT Lanes project, the worst project in the history of the Lake Norman region.  No mention of the town's highest taxes and fees in the area or the new taxes to be imposed if Mayor Woods and the majority on the current Board get their way with their spending proposals - harming affordability in the process.  No mention of his support for unpopular local projects emanating from the Town Planning Department (Catalyst, RAP Mass Rezoning, Beaty Street) - projects that have sparked a 'Save Davidson" movement to save the town from the the kinds of things Mayor Woods supports.

Rather than a list of accomplishments, there is a lot of denial in this announcement - denial of what Mayor Woods has put this town through over the years.

As this election season kicks off and Mayor Woods faces his toughest re-election campaign yet, this denial laden announcement may very well have been the last one of these he ever gets to make.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Beaty Street vote: the fix was in before the meeting started

aShortChronicle has obtained the results of a public records request confirming what most people thought after last week's Beaty Street RFP vote.

The "votes" were in fact counted prior to the meeting.

The records request shows a flurry of activity the evening before the vote and the morning of to ensure the development team and staff supporting the project had the votes needed.  These emails show Assistant Town Manager Dawn Blobaum acting as the go-between for the DDP team and the Town Board

Readers will remember that on the Friday before the vote, the town meeting agenda presented an option that had removed the affordable housing component. Then on Monday it became known that was being replaced in favor of a payment in lieu option for that component.

On Tuesday, Commissioners Stacey Anderson, Rodney Graham, and Brian Jenest voted to support a new Luminous option that had on-site AH back in the plan.

So, what happened?

Public records show the following timeline:

Monday, July 10

9:56pm - In an email to the rest of the development team copying Dawn Blobaum, mention is made of nearly having the Beaty Street decision pulled from the agena "again".  It is also stated that "we believe we have reached a consensus with a majority of Commissioners" (emphasis added)

(Note: No emails show how this "consensus" was reached.)

9:58pm - DDP sends email to Dawn Blobaum with new plan that puts on-site affordable housing back in the proposal.

(Note: That is just 2 minutes after the first email.)

Tuesday, July 11

7:02am - Blobaum sends Commissioners the new plan with this request.  "Please let us know if you can support this tonight.

7:32am - Commissioner Stacey Anderson replies "I can support this."

7:36am - Commissioner Rodney Graham replies "Ditto".

7:55am - Commissioner Brian Jenest responds "I support the current proposal."

(Note: There is no comment from Commissioners Beth Cashion and Jim Fuller in the emails.  Both Cashion and Fuller voted "no" on this issue Tuesday evening.)

In these emails Commissioners Graham and Anderson also made other comments.  Graham asked for clarification of possible County support for parks in this area of Davidson, but said his support wasn't "contingent" on getting that update.  Anderson expressed concern for staff's ability to "support the effort that it will take to move this forward including the amount of anticipated public interest".

Later that same day, Commissioners Anderson, Graham, and Jenest stuck with their statements supporting the project - proving that what happened Tuesday evening was little more than kabuki theater.

Monday, July 17, 2017

WidenI77 set for response to consultant report on HOT Lanes contract

Cornelius, N.C. – (July 17, 2017) – On Thursday, July 20th Widen I-77 will be holding a town hall–style event to give their response to Mercator Advisor’s preliminary report on the I-77 toll lane project.  Widen I-77 held their last town hall meeting nearly 18 months ago, in March of 2016.

“We realize people value their time, which is why we don’t hold meetings unless there is a significant development,” said Kurt Naas, the group’s spokesman. “The consultant’s report is significant enough to warrant a meeting of this type.”
Mercator was hired by Gov. Roy Cooper’s Department of Transportation to study the impact of terminating the 50-year agreement with Cintra, changing the $655 million contract, or buying the toll lanes entirely and the right to collect toll revenue. Mercator is expected to give the DOT a range of the possible penalties for changing the contract at the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization meeting Wednesday night.

Widen I-77 has been evaluating the project and finding problems with the contract for almost five years.  It is because of the public outcry in the Lake Norman area that the study was commissioned. 

The meeting Thursday will consist of a twenty minute presentation followed by an extended question-and-answer session.  The public, elected officials, candidates and the media are invited to attend.

When:          Thursday, July 20th 
Time           7:00 pm
Where       Cornelius Town Hall, 21445 Catawba Ave., Cornelius, N.C. 28031

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Filing period half-time report for Davidson electoral contests

At the midway point in the two week filing period, this year's election in Davidson is setting up to be the most competitive in many years.

There will be a real race for Mayor with 3 candidates in the mix - all of them totally viable from an electoral standpoint.  On the Commissioners side of the ballot, 8 candidates have already filed.

Incumbents Mayor John Woods and Commissioners Rodney Graham and Stacey Anderson have filed for re-election.  The other incumbent Commissioners, Beth Cashion, Jim Fuller, and Brian Jenest have declined to answer when previously asked whether or not they will seek to stay on the Board.  (They were not asked again for this post as the public will find out soon enough anyway.)

The incumbents face a slew of challengers which will create interesting dynamics in the two different races.

So far, Mayor Woods faces Rusty Knox and Laurie Venzon.  Knox is very well known around town and has been leading the charge over the past couple of years against some of the unpopular ideas emanating from Town Hall.  Venzon is a former Commissioner seeking to return to the Board in the top spot as Mayor.  The dynamic, and danger from the challengers' perspective, in a three way race is that the challengers split the anti-incumbent vote and the incumbent squeaks by.

As an example, in a two way head to head race against an unpopular incumbent, it would seem likely either Knox or Venzon would beat Woods handily - say 60% to 40%.  However, in a three way race if Knox and Venzon split the anti-Woods vote and Woods's share of the vote is solid, then Woods could stay in office winning 40%, 30%, 30%.  In this scenario one of the challengers has to win an overwhelming share of the anti-incumbent vote.

On the Commissioner's race several new faces are on the ballot already.  There is also the distinct possibility of 1 or more "open seats".  In Davidson, all 5 Commissioners are always up for election at-large.  The term "open seat" just means an incumbent has decided to not seek re-election.  When that happens it attracts more challengers because it is guaranteed there will be a new face to fill each open seat.

Beating incumbents is always hard to do, but in this election, the incumbents have supported various unpopular projects in varying degrees over the past two years.  Between the real possibility of open seats and this incumbent unpopularity the dynamic of the race can change dramatically.  The top five vote getters make the Board, and this race is shaping up to be close with the potential of an anti-incumbent wave.

However, just like things can change in the second half of a Davidson Wildcats basketball game, we will have to wait and see what happens next week in the second half of the filing period.

The buzzer sounds and filing closes Friday, July 21st at noon.