Sunday, July 24, 2016

Lower Speeds + Better Enforcement = Safer Davidson Concord Road

Last week marked one month since NCDOT lowered the speed limits along the length of Davidson-Concord Road on Davidson's east side.

Regular readers will remember the story which was covered extensively at aShortChronicle.

After publishing citizen video coverage of how harrowing the road had become, the long simmering issue of high speeds and dangerous pedestrian crossings finally got the attention it deserved.  Television media covered the issue and State elected officials got involved. Frustrated citizens then descended on Town Hall in May and June.

At the June meeting something unexpected happened.  NCDOT engineer Scott Cole did a 180 on the plan the agency had published just days before for the most dangerous part of the road for pedestrians.

On June 17th, the speeds were lowered and new signs went up.  As part of the deal to get speeds lowered sooner, Davidson agreed to increased enforcement.

Information provided by the Town shows a marked reduction in accidents along with increased enforcement in the corridor during the one month after the speeds dropped.

Data for June 17-July 17, 2016:

There were 6 citations and 5 warnings issued during that time frame and 1 accident.

The crash took place on Davidson Concord Rd. where it intersects with Apollinaire Dr.  It was a single car accident and the driver lost control of her vehicle when swerving to avoid hitting an animal that ran out in front of her.

Data for May 16- June 16, 2016:

There was 1 warning issued during that time frame and 0 citations. There were  4 accidents.

One accident was caused by a vehicle running off of the road and hitting another vehicle while overcorrecting (Davidson Concord Rd. @ Parting Oaks Ln.).  Another accident took place when a driver turned in front of another car and was struck (Davidson Concord Rd. @ Robert Walker Dr.).  Another accident occurred due to a driver failing to yield the right away to another vehicle before turning and they collided (Davidson Concord Rd. @ Robert Walker Dr.). Lastly, a vehicle rear ended another vehicle (Davidson Concord Rd. @ Barnhardt Rd.)

At the June meeting NCDOT argued against lowering the speed in the pedestrian heavy area because it could actually make it more dangerous.  The less than obvious logic was that an artificially low speed limit might lead to inconsistent driver speeds making it more uncertain when crossing the road.

When asked last week for a comment on the changes after a month of data, here's what the DPD had to say.

“We believe the speed limit reductions on Davidson-Concord Road make that part of town safer for pedestrians, bike riders, and motorists,” said Davidson Police Lt. Steve Ingram. “Our officers will continue to enforce the new limits.”

Based on the lower number of accidents it would appear DPD rather than NCDOT is right on this one.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ideas on paying for Davidson...

Several weeks ago, I penned a column on the full slate of financial issues facing the Town of Davidson, and for the first time since starting these columns for the Herald Weekly, the Town officially pushed back on how things were portrayed.

When it came to the town budget for FY2017, the Town objected to the use of the colloquialism “spending every dime” when referring to its spending plan.   The town argued that it wasn’t “spending” every dime because they were “putting $200,000 into a capital projects fund to meet the town’s future capital needs”.

Needless to say, the town didn’t give taxpayers any of their money back in the new budget.  Readers can decide for themselves if there’s a difference in “spending” taxpayer money now versus keeping taxpayer money for spending later.

The Town also didn’t like the point made in that previous column regarding use of fund balance (aka its savings account) to pay for the long awaited 2nd fire station.  Even though documents passed out to the public showed fund balance as a source of funding for the fire station, the town wanted it clarified that it now planned to pay for the second fire station with installment financing but could use fund balance to pay the debt service.

How that’s materially different is a bit of a head scratcher, but it seems to be in the same vein as the first point.  It’s easy to split hairs over wording.  It’s harder to actually address the points made on spending and priorities.

As Davidson continues discussions on capital spending plans (Commissioners had a quickly scheduled, “special meeting” billed as a “mini-retreat” to discuss the topic on July 11th) here are a few ideas Commissioners could use to pay for some of their desired projects without reflexively raising property tax rates which are already the highest in North Mecklenburg.

Ask Davidson College to pay more of its fair share towards the services it receives.

A 2014 study of fiscal impact analysis commissioned by the town from consultancy TischlerBise showed that Davidson College receives almost $200,000 per year more in services from the town than it pays.  Due to being a non-profit institution the college pays almost nothing, yet it receives a tremendous amount of service from the town – particularly from its fire department.

The Town wants a new downtown fire station. Davidson College could easily donate land for this project.  The College should also be asked to make a payment in lieu of taxes to offset its outsized use of fire services or to finance some of the debt to build a new station.

Implement a special assessment district to help pay for parking.

When the Red Line was all the rage a few years ago, Davidson Town Hall was more than willing to seek approval from local commercial real estate owners in the town center to help finance it.  The Town should be equally as willing go seek a Special Assessment District to help pay for a multi-million parking facility.  Frankly, if downtown commercial property owners and businesses who will benefit the most from such a facility are not willing to help pay for it, then maybe it’s not all that needed.

Make the Affordable Housing program self-funding.

Davidson is in the process of its first ever RFP for an affordable housing project.  This one is on Town owned land in the Bailey Springs neighborhood.  Based on a conversation with the new town attorney, Cindy Reid, it seems likely the town may give the land away for the project.  Regardless, the RFP did not require payment for the land.  Rather than possibly taking on debt for the Affordable Housing program, the Town should commit to making the controversial program self funding through payments in lieu from developers and no free land from the town for its projects.

All of these options and many others are harder than simply taking on debt and raising taxes, but that’s what elected officials signed up for when they ran for office.  It will be interesting to see which direction Davidson’s Board chooses.

This post first appeared in this week’s edition of the Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Do we really live in a democracy?

Do we live in a democracy?

The common answer to that question that makes everyone feel good has long been “yes”.  Democracy, or governing by the “will of the people”, sounds great.  But, the real answer to that questions is “no”, or at best a “maybe” or “kinda-sorta”.

We are definitely not a small-d democracy where everyone votes directly on everything, and the majority always wins.  If we were, then we wouldn’t have things like the Electoral College when selecting a president – a system where winning the popular vote does not guarantee victory.  Also the US Senate wouldn’t be set up the way it is with each state having the same number if Senators regardless of population.  The Senate wouldn’t allow something like the filibuster where one person can effectively shut down legislation.

No, we don’t have direct democracy in this country.  Instead we have that “maybe” or “kinda-sorta” version of democracy called “representative democracy” where voters select individuals to represent them in the decision making process.

Picking those people is the voter’s responsibility, but we are often playing in a rigged game.

With both major parties hosting their national conventions in the coming weeks more focus than at any time in recent history is on the process of nominating candidates for the Presidency of the United States.

Republicans started out well when it comes to a democratic process bosting a whopping 17 candidates seeking the party’s nomination.

By the end however they’ve ended up with a candidate, Donald Trump, who is so unpopular among many in the party establishment that there is a simmering #NeverTrump movement of party officials who would like nothing more than to figure out how they could steal the nomination from him.  They pursue this even though he is a candidate who helped lead to record setting turnout all across the country in the Republican Primary.  They’ve even been actively recruiting for a candidate, any candidate, who didn't even run this election cycle because the second place candidate, Ted Cruz, is almost equally as unpopular.

What the actual voters want is a seeming afterthought.

Things on the Democrat side, aren’t much better though.

Bernie Sanders made the race for the Democrat nomination much more competitive than many thought possible.  However, in the end he did not have much of a chance because of something patently undemocratic about the process – superdelegates.  Superdelegates are high ranking current and former party officials who are unbound by the primary voting results.  They can support any candidate regardless of how the voters vote.  Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming lead among superdelegates gave her a sense of inevitability.

Yes, Clinton won the overall popular vote in the primary making it more “democratic”, but in an endeavor like politics a manufactured sense of inevitability can become a self fulfilling prophecy.

Last week, the Pew Research Center released a telling set of data showing how all this has led to a breakdown in the candidate selection process resulting in more “unsatisfying” candidates than have been seen in over two decades.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the least “satisfying” candidates since 1992.  Trump matches the low water mark of 40% set by Republican George H.W. Bush that year, and Hillary Clinton also has the lowest satisfaction level for a Democrat since that same election.  Somewhat ironically, her 43% satisfaction rating as a candidate bests only that of her husband Bill Clinton who had an abysmal 33% in his first run for the Oval Office.

It may come as a surprise to many, but political parties are actually private organizations.  They are free to set up their rules as they wish and select their nominees effectively however they want.  Their goal is to win elections so that their people can become the arbiters of the power that comes with elected office.  Being small-d democratic is somewhere way down on the priority list.

Unfortunately for voters, this election cycle the processes in both parties have resulted in suboptimal candidates.  That leaves the question, do we live in a democracy?

This post first appeared in this week's editionof the Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com.

Friday, July 8, 2016

"Special Meeting" on Monday regarding #Davidson capital projects

The Davidson Board of Commissioners will meet for something called a "mini-retreat" on Monday evening at 5pm.

"Retreat" is typically just the fancy name for a meeting held outside Town Hall.  Really, there's nothing all that special about them.  In fact the only "practical" reason for having them is to keep away the prying eyes of the public.  To accomplish this, "retreats" are sometimes held far outside of town limits in places like Southern Pines or Blowing Rock.

However, for Monday night's "retreat" Davidson Commissioners will be staying close to home and visiting the Davidson College Knobloch Campus Center Room 209

The topic for the evening will be all sorts of big ticket spending items.  Here's the agenda...

Is this discussion a precursor to the long discussed General Obligation Bond effort?

You will have to attend to find out.  Per Town Hall, the meeting is open to the public but will not be recorded.

NOTE:  An earlier notice said the meeting would be on Grey Road.  The information posted above is the most current.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

July "1st Tuesday Mtg" (aka "transparency black hole") cancelled in #Davidson

The "1st Tuesday" informal board meeting is cancelled this month in Davidson.

That's per a Friday press release from the town.

What residents don't know is what would have been talked about if the meeting had been had.

Agendas for these 1st Tuesday meetings typically aren't published.  They are billed as "informal" meetings where Commissioners discuss various topics but no votes are taken.  Sparse minutes are made available after the fact.

The curtain was pulled back on these meetings last month when the meeting had to be called as a "special" meeting due to a date change.

Special meetings require agendas per state statute and the one for June 6th revealed that the 1st Tuesday meeting (this one being held on a Monday) actually discussed important items.

But when the Board got to the second part of the agenda, the June meeting had running video cut off - preventing citizens from viewing.

If Davidson is looking to turn over a new leaf when it comes to transparency, one idea would be to set town policy to record all town controlled meetings where there is a quorum of  Commissioners.

That would close the "transparency black hole".

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Thanks for a record month!

Normally, Summer is the slow time for local politics.  Fewer public meetings and fewer big decisions lead to fewer good stories.  Typically, the budget gets wrapped up in early June, and that's about it.

Not this year though.  June turned out to be the all time best month for aShortChronicle.

June set a record in monthly page views and also contained the best all time week and best all time day of the last 4 1/2 years.

June bested the previous monthly record of page views by a whopping 33%.  The previous record was set last November in the runup to the municipal elections.

What's interesting about these numbers is that even when removing the record day, it still would have been a record month by a significant double-digit percentage margin (15%).  Said another way, the record month was not solely driven by this outlier, but instead was driven by increased average daily readership.

That's something that bodes well for the future.

Thanks go out to all of you who read, provide tips and backgrpund information, and share the stories here at aShortChronicle.

Sometimes these stories rub people the wrong way, something evidenced by the pushback some of them receive.  However, by comparison the overwhelmingly positive feedback makes dealing with the naysayers all worthwhile.

Thanks again!  Your support is greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Meet the "Washam Neighborhood"...ANOTHER development by ColeJenest&Stone in Davidson

Commissioner Brian Jenest's firm is on a roll in Davidson.

Yesterday, David Boraks broke the story on a new neighborhood of 99 units on South Street involving Jenest's firm.  While this neighborhood is technically in Cornelius, it is on the Davidson side of the covered bridge connecting to Antiquity and feels like it's in Davidson proper.

Now comes notice via the Town of Davidson website that another ColeJenest&Stone designed neighborhood is in the works at the other end of town.

Meet the "Washam Neighborhood"...





From the town website...

"The Washam neighborhood is located on the south side of June Washam Road. The proposed development includes property located within the Neighborhood Edge and Rural planning areas. As proposed, the +/-52 acre Washam neighborhood would feature 80 housing units with +/- 20.6 acres of open space, yielding 1.6 units per acre with 40% open space."

"NVR-Ryan homes 'the Applicant' intends to develop the 52± acre site for a detached, single-family residential community. In conjunction with this development, the Applicant is coordinating with the North Carolina Department of Transportation and The Town of Davidson regarding the realignment of a portion of June Washam Road in order to provide additional traffic calming measures to support safer mobility in the area."


The highlighted comment about realignment is interesting.

During the June Davidson Board meeting the possibility of the Town taking over June Washam from the State was mentioned by one of the citizen speakers.  It was given as an example of the town being willing to take over roads to support development.

There was pushback from the dais from Commissioners Graham and Anderson indicating Commissioners were unaware of that possibility.

A March 25th email available via public records between ColeJenest&Stone, the developer, NCDOT and Town Staff indicates taking over June Washam as a topic of conversation.  What becomes of that and the "coordinating" efforts between the town, NCDOT and the developer remains to be seen.

However one thing would seem to be clear.

Town commissioners may want to take a more active role in keeping track of development conversations that could lead to requests to put the town on the hook.