Thursday, February 11, 2016

#NCGA: About those $15,000 boomerang checks...

The Charlotte Observer reported last week about the campaign coffers of Mecklenburg pols running for the NCGA.

In the report, the Observer reported, Rep Charles Jeter was "boosted by $16,000 from the House Republican caucus."

That of course would be a totally improper use of party funds since Jeter faces a Republican Primary opponent in Tom Davis and the party is not supposed to meddle in primaries.  It is also totally not true.

Yes, Jeter's campaign report shows a $15,000 contribution from the Republican Party House caucus on August 20th, 2015.  However, what the Charlotte Observer failed to report was that this money was returned to the caucus on December 1st, 2015.

So, what was that money shuffling really all about?  The answer to that is the real story.

Regular readers of this site will remember some stories from last year about shenanigans in the closing days of the NCGA long session - shenanigans  involving something called Affiliated Party Committees.  This was an effort by legislators to do an end run around the NCGOP after the top spots in the party apparatus were taken over by grassroots activists.

This money shuffling in/out of Jeter's account was part of a larger effort by the legislators to protect their money.  Or maybe another way to put it, it helped protect the money of the special interests that fill their campaign coffers.

As reported at DailyHaymaker.com, Jeter was not the only person to receive one of these $15,000 checks.  At least eight legislators received them.

Charles Jeter
Rob Bryan
Susan Martin
Nelson Dollar
Bill Brawley
David Lewis
Stephen Ross
John Szoka

As was mentioned in the linked Haymaker story, this was initially attempted to be explained as an effort to bolster campaign funds for legislators in risky districts.  The Haymaker clearly debunked that explanation.  It might have applied to Jeter in NC-92 because that is one of the few partisanly competitive districts, but certainly it did not apply to several of the others.

No, this was an effort to secure the House Caucus money, from any possible use at NCGOP HQ.

A peak at all the latest campaign reports for the above mentioned legislators shows that they all received $15,000 checks in late August.  Most were returned in late October/early November.  Rep David Lewis was particularly generous adding an extra 10 grand for a total of $25,000 sent to the caucus.

During just the last reporting period, Lewis raked in $58,800 from special interest PACs. That's not counting contributions from individuals who may also be rated to those same industries.  When you see that kind of money flowing back up to the caucus and you look at the sources going to the legislators sending the money to the caucus, it's safe to say some of it is special interest money that the caucus was "protecting" when it did all this shuffling.

Jeter's $15,000 check was returned on December 1st - the first day of the filing period for this election cycle.  Jeter's check was one of the last 2 returned.

So, circling back to the beginning, no caucus money will be helping Jeter in his primary against Tom Davis.

HOWEVER, this does show that on Jeter's watch as Republican Conference chair there was some "three card monte" shuffling going on with caucus $$$ due to a lack of trust between GOPe legislators and Grassroots activists who had stormed the barricades at NCGOP HQ.

What happened between August when the Caucus money was drained from the accounts and when it was returned a few months later?  Establishment operative Dallas Woodhouse took over as NCGOP Executive Director.

You may remember the Woodhouse name from these posts regarding HOT lanes connections.  See here and here.  He was the staffer at the Tom Tillis supporting PAC that funnelled $4.7 million in dark money to Tillis's NCSEN campaign.

Putting a hard core establishment guy in charge of NCGOP HQ made sure there were friendly eyballs watching, making it safe to return the money.

Always, alwaaaaaays, follow the money!!!  It will tell you a lot!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Three Davidson Commissioners drop ball on clear recusal vote.

Like Elvis, common sense has left the building at Davidson Town Hall!!!

Or maybe to be more accurate, it left the seats of Commissioners Jim Fuller, Rodney Graham, and Stacey Anderson on Tuesday night.

When the Davidson Board faced a question of allowing fellow commissioner, Brian Jenest, to recuse himself from voting on an issue directly related to a project his design firm is doing, these three Commissioners actually forced Jenest to vote after he said he had a financial interest in the vote.

Yes, you read that correctly.

These three commissioners forced a fellow commissioner to vote when he clearly said that if the issue did not pass, he could suffer a financial consequence.

aShortChronicle previously reported that Jenest planned to ask for a recusal on the redesignation of the historical area on the Westmoreland Farm property related to the Beaver Dam viewshed.  Jenest's firm ColeJenest&Stone is doing the design work for the West Branch development on the same property.  To his credit, Jenest followed through with that commitment.

Unfortunately, these three commissioners thought they knew more about Jenest's interests than he did and decided that he should vote against his own wishes.

Ultimately, only Commisioner Cashion showed common sense and voted to allow Jenest to recuse himself.

Start watching the tape of Tuesday's meeting at the 40 minute mark.  This is minutes after the public hearing.   If you want to watch the hearing, start at minute 19.

During the hearing and in the questions afterward it was clear that a significant portion of the proposed West Branch neighborhood, including the commercial neighborhood services portion, would no longer be in the historic designation if the change in historic designation was approved.  The impact would be that the Historic Landmarks Commission would no longer have design approval authority over more of the proposed West Branch development.  Getting that approval could have been a particularly tricky thing for the commercial area and removing that requirement has a definite benefit to Jenest's project with the Westmoreland family.

After Jenest was forced to vote, he abstained. That actually counts as a "yes" since he was not excused.  The historic designation change was actually unanimously approved.

So what does all this mean???

It means to have a "conflict of interest" in Davidson, you apparently have to have wads of cash being directly stuffed into your pockets a la Pat Cannon for a majority of the Board to recognize it.  Anything other than that is apparently some sort of gray area.

With all the potentially controversial development projects on the docket including the Catalyst Project  and potentially a new hotel at Exit 30, that's not a place where citizens want their government to be!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#NCGA - Big Solar looooves Charles Jeter!

That's just one of the takeaways from NC92 Rep Charles Jeter's latest campaign finance report that finally appeared on the NC BOE website on Monday.

Out of $30,000 in contributions from individuals, at least $18,950 came from individuals clearly associated with green energy.  That included 2 maximum contributions of $5,100 from Charlotte billionaire Jay Faison and his wife. Another $2500 came in from the NC Clean Energy Businees Alliance PAC.

That makes for a whopping total of at least $21,450 from people associated with a single business.  (It's at least that much considering there could be more squirreled away in other donations.)

Jeter's stunning total of solar cash for the second half of the year bested what Sen Jeff Tarte brought in from Big Solar in the first half of 2015.  His was a relatively modest $17,000.

What's the reason that's a big deal (other than the obvious implications of so much money coming from one type of business)?

The issue of solar subsidies has been a huge source of controversy this past year within the Republican House Caucus.

The issue even spilled over locally within the MeckGOP when former (emphasis on former) MeckGOP Chairman Curtis Watkins resigned suddenly after being accused of trying to recruit a primary challenger to House Majority Leader, Mike Hager.  Watkins works in the green energy busines, and Hager has been one of the leading voices in the NCGA opposing subsidizing that business.

Working in concordance with the NCGOP platform, conservatives like Hagar in the NCGA have been successfull in scaling back some of the mandates and subsidies imposed by Raleigh forcing higher usage of energy from sources such as solar.  To do that, they've often had to fight members of their own party.

Jeter currently serves as the Conference Chair for the House Republicans which means he is in charge of raising and managing the Caucus's campaign funds.

Fr conservative voters, it is easy to see how having someone in that position who is raising so much money for his personal campaign account from a lobby the party platform opposes, would/should be considered a problem.

Bonus Observation: In what has to be a rare thing for a state legislator, Jeter sported more than one billionaire donor.  Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson gave him $500.

Monday, February 8, 2016

UPDATED BREAKING NEWS - Possible new hotel at Exit 30?

This is a breaking news story. Please check back for updates. Updates at bottom.

Original Post:

Both parcels fully pictured
here are in question.  Town
owns land to right along
Griffith St. Total area 2.1 acres.
As aShortChronicle reported last week, Town of Davidson officials will be kicking off the renewed sales effort for the Downtown Catalyst Project Monday evening with a "pilot" roundtable discussion made up primarily of town advisory board members.

Now, this morning comes a piece of breaking news that could significantly impact this discussion.

According to a person on site Monday morning at the construction equipment that suddenly appeared last Friday at the parcel adjacent to Woodies Auto and the Community School of Davidson at Exit 30, the work taking place is part of "investigating a hotel" on the site.  When asked about the size of a potential hotel, the answer was that had not been determined.   According to the person at the site, even bigger projects had been discussed, but it looked like the idea of a hotel is one that could "go".

When development was originally discussed at the site a coulle years ago, it was a multiuse project with condos and office.  See this story here.  The idea of a hotel would be a significant departure from that plan.

Requests for more information are out to the Town Planning and Economic Development departments as well as those associated with the property.

In relation to the Catalyst Project, this could be a game changer.  When the initially proposed details of the Catalyst Project came out last October, the most controversial piece was the inclusion of a hotel at the site in town center.  The consultants from the UNC School of Government had floated the idea by developers and including a hotel as part of Catalyst and indicated it was well received as a way to gain more interest in the project.

Now that the idea of another hotel is apparently in the works, the question must be asked if Davidson could support possibly 2 new hotels.

If nothing else, it highlights the risk of the Town diving into the development business where they have little control over what the private sector may do that competes with a town related effort.

Update #1:  Martin Kerr of Flat Creek Construction in Davidson was able to confirm that a hotel developer is interested in the property.  The equipment on site is for soil testing.  At this time the hotel brand or size is not available.  More details should be available in a few weeks.  Mr Kerr did confirm a development application has not been submitted, but the town has been aware of the possibility of a hotel from preliminary discussions. No response has been made available from the town at this point.


Update #2: From town public information officer Christina Shaul...

"The Davidson Planning Department fields questions daily from residents and developers as to what could be built on a specific property. In these conversations, we typically discuss the planning ordinance and the development process. Most of these questions do not lead anywhere. However, once we do have a formal submittal for development, we make this information public by posting to our website. We have not received a formal development application submittal for the parcels in question.

The Davidson Commons East conditional master plan (last amended in 2013 to allow for Woodie’s) depicts two storefront and/or workplace buildings up to three stories and not to exceed 50 feet for the parcels in question. Any deviation from this approved master plan would require a conditional rezoning and approval from the Board of Commissioners."

Thursday, February 4, 2016

#NCGA - Pro-Toll Mayor Travis continues support of Pro-Toll Rep Fraley

There are lots of sayings in the rough and tumble game of running for public office.  One of them is “money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

With last Friday’s deadline for submitting campaign finance reports now in the rear view mirror, we get the first glimpse at how candidates are doing in this phase of the run-up to next month’s primaries.  That should definitely provide some interesting fodder in coming weeks for those who follow local elections closely.

With so much going on with the I77 tolls project recently, it seemed like a good idea to check up on the report for NC House 95 Representative, John Fraley.  Fraley is currently the only Lake Norman area member of the General Assembly still openly supporting the project and its controversial contract with Spanish firm Cintra’s local subsidiary -  I77 Mobility Partners.

When Fraley challenged Mooresville’s Robert Brawley for the seat back in 2014, his candidacy was widely speculated to be an effort supported by Raleigh power brokers backing the tolling project – people such as Thom Tillis, then the Speaker of the NC House.  Back then, Brawley had been involved in a very public spat with the Speaker largely over the plan to put HOT lanes on I77.

Fraley’s 2014 campaign finance reports were highlighted by huge loans to his campaign from his own personal funds totaling over $80,000.  He also raked in 10s of thousands of dollars more in contributions with much of that coming from out of state sources.  Much of that war-chest, to the tune of over $64,0000, was spent with a high powered and well connected Raleigh political consulting outfit called The Stewart Group.  Fraley’s campaign treasurer also happened to be the same firm used by most Republican US Federal candidates, a firm named CM&CO, out of Raleigh.  One of that firm’s largest clients that cycle according to OpenSecrets.com just happened to also be the Thom Tillis US Senate campaign.

With all that political fire power backing him, Fraley eked out the primary election victory against Brawley by a mere 106 votes.

However, all of that may not be the most interesting thing about Fraley's reports that cycle.  The most interesting was one donation from an address in Cornelius.  That address would match the address on Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis’s campaign reports.  However, the name on the donation was not that of the Mayor, instead it was from his wife.  In fact, the $2000 donation was one of the largest individual donations Fraley received last go-round.

All of that just provides a little background.  What does it have to do with this cycle, you may be asking?

Here are two things.

First, Fraley has raised and spent much less this time – a mere $20,000 raised and less than $3,000 spent – leaving him with cash on hand of about $23,000.  Things could certainly change after this report, but that’s a clear indication he believes he has little to fear from his primary challenger this time.  That would be political newcomer and anti-toll candidate David W Thomson of Mooresville.

The second is that one of his biggest donors, continues to come from that same address linked to Cornelius Mayor and HOT lanes supporter, Chuck Travis.  This time though, there is really no mistaking where that money originated.  The name on the check is Travis’s, or more specifically the “Chuck Travis for Mayor” campaign committee.  Travis raised an unusual amount of money last time for someone running unopposed – over $35,000.  It was many times what he'd raised for his previous local campaigns.

Travis serves on the state's Turnpike Authority Board, so sending some of his leftover campaign cash to a fellow toll supporter to use in this cycle somehow seems sort of fitting.
That brings to mind another saying…
“Birds of a feather….”

Davidson Catalyst Project - Take 2

When details about the so called "Downtown Catalyst Project" first hit the general public last fall, it is safe to say its opening reception and initial reviews were less than blockbuster. (Read this if you need a synopsis of that early part of this story.)

In fact, the reception was so bad, the presentation had to go back to editing.  Town economic development director, Kim Fleming put it another way.

“After the last public input session on October 20, 2015, we realized that there was a need to provide more information and seek more feedback on the Downtown Catalyst Feasibility Study,” said Economic Development Manager Kim Fleming. “We have outlined multiple ways to answer your questions about the study and receive additional input from citizens to help guide the future of the downtown area – we hope you’ll attend one of these sessions later this month.”

The sessions Fleming is referring to are a series of "roundtable" discussions designed for small groups to talk about the project.  They are planned for later this month.

Here are the details from the Town's press release.

"Citizens are invited to attend one of four identical roundtable discussions on the Downtown Catalyst Feasibility Study at the Davidson College Presbyterian Church Congregation House (218 Concord Road) on:

·         Thursday, February 18 from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m.

·         Thursday, February 18 from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

·         Thursday, February 25 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

·         Thursday, February 25 from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

These roundtable discussions are open to the public and we encourage your participation. Citizens will sit at tables and a discussion will be facilitated by town staff, members of the Davidson Board of Commissioners, and the Development Finance Initiative team. Space is limited, so we encourage you to save your space by registering for a session on our website at www.townofdavidson.org/catalyst. Those who are not registered will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis."


This all sounds good and Davidson residents should definitely pack these sessions.  If they are not a series of full houses, then town residents won't have anyone to blame but themselves for the decisions that are ultimately made.

However like any good "show" , there is a "pilot" before the series kicks off.  This show in Davidson is no different.

On February 8th, this coming Monday, there will be a dress rehersal for these open discussions.  How that goes could be telling.

Twenty two town residents have been invited to participate in this pilot.  Most would be called "insiders" to the goings on at Town Hall.  The vast majority of the invitees serve on the town's various appointed auxiliary boards.

When asked about the purpose of the "pilot", Fleming responded that "the purpose of the pilot session is to make sure that the proposed roundtable format addresses citizens questions about the study and provides enough time for citizens to provide feedback about the study. We will spend some time at the end of the session discussing what worked and what didn’t work with the roundtable to see if any changes need to be made for the additional 4 public input sessions."

While it's not necessarily a bad thing to have knowledgable insiders participating in the pilot, the participants also likely aren't representative of town residents at large.  So, it will be interesting to see how this goes.

Rusty Knox has been a leading voice opposing the Catalyst Project.  He's also one of the invitees to this initial pilot session.  Knox had this to say about the makeup of the "pilot" group after seeing the list.

Knox said he feels personally "the list is weighted very heavily towards town hall."  Knox goes on to say the list doesn't seem to represent the sentiment seen from the public at the raucous October 20th meeting where nearly every speaker opposed the project.

Davidson has one last chance to do this right.  If people feel these meetings are being manipulated or coordinated to achieve a desired outcome, when the curtain finally comes down on this show it won't be pretty.

Let's hope that doesn't happen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Roy Cooper's Political Bombshell

This past weekend the good folks over at WidenI77.org made public an Investigative Demand letter sent from AG Roy Cooper's office to I77 Mobility Partners/Cintra.

It's a very interesting read.

16 different demands for documents are made covering 3 main categoies.

  • Information about I77 Mobility Partners' public communications plan.  For a project that was supposedly a "done deal" the firm has been sending out a lot of ads and press releases still "selling" the plan.
  • Cintra's other failed projects in North America.  This would seem to be largely in reference to the issues brought up by Cornelius resident Diane Gilroy in a letter to Governor McCrory. Read the previous coverage at aShortChronicle on Gilroy's research here and here.
  • Financial related questions about the project.  The AG's office wants to know more about how much money Cintra expects from the state as well as communications to the ratings agencies.  Read the previous coverage at aShortChronicle on the HOT lanes debt here.

All of these things have been questions/subjects aShortChronicle has been covering for months, so it's nice to see the AG's office finally catching up.

However, we want to point out something specific related to the first bullet listed above.  The one related to the ads.  The fifth demand is specific to lobbying and ad placement.

"5. All communications between You and Ross Communications, Mercury LLC, and any other firm engaged to advertise, lobby, or communicate to the public or third parties regarding the I-77 Express Lanes project."

Regular readers of aShortChronicle will recognize the name Mercury LLC.  The firm and its "man in NC", Russell Peck, have been covered here, here, and here over the past several months.

If Peck's name is ringing a bell more recently, that may be because he's reprising his role from 2012 as Governor Pat McCrory's campaign manager.

Having your campaign manager's firm involved in an official investigation conducted by your opponent can not be a good thing!

If/when that political bombshell gets dropped on the campaign trail by the mainstream media, it will be fun to watch.