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.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cooper zings McCrory in first debate with I77 storyline originally detailed at aShortChronicle

Stories broken at aShortChronicle a year ago appear to have resonated with the Roy Cooper Campaign.

Last Summer, aShortChronicle broke the story regarding connections between Cintra, the NCGOP, and the McCrory Campaign in posts here and here.  These posts are both top five of all posts at aShortChronicle.

During the debate last Friday after McCrory danced and deflected a question regarding the I77 Toll project, Cooper answered directly saying the contract with Cintra should be cancelled.  Then he zinged McCrory for the very connections outlined in those posts.  Cooper says "Governor McCrory's campaign staff was hired by this company" - meaning Cintra.  If you listen closely you can hear an uncomfortable chuckle come from McCrory immediately after that line.

Check out the exchange starting at the 23:30 mark of this video from Charlotte's ABC11 affiliate.

We here at aShortChronicle wouldn't be presumptuous enough to think the Cooper campaign wouldn't have known about these connections otherwise.  Finding out this stuff is Opposition Research 101 for any big time political campaign.  However, it is an example how the blogosphere can be well ahead of the mainstream media on what might eventually be important stories.

It could be telling that the Cooper Campaign threw this punch right off the bat in the first debate.  Did that happen only because the debate was in Charlotte? Or, do they plan to make a bigger issue of this in the campaign?

Only time will tell, but remember you heard it here first.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

$25,000 Info Kiosks in #Davidson...your money at work.

Just in time for the Brexit, the London-esque red phone booths on Davidson's Main Street finally have spung to life.

Davidson budgeted $24,727 in the recently ended fiscal year for the booths, software and touchscreens.

Next time you hear complaining about not having enough money to spend on the actually important things in town, you might mention this one.

Doesn't just about everyone have a smart phone in their pocket these days with this info?












Friday, June 24, 2016

A prime example of citizen activism

There’s a reason for the saying “you can’t fight city hall”.  It’s hard!

To get what they want citizens need perseverance, organization, and a willingness to push.  The recent successful effort to lower speed limits on Davidson-Concord Road provides a prime example.

To be fair, local residents weren’t so much “fighting town hall” in this case as the Town of Davidson had previously asked to have the speed limit lowered. The problem was that when NCDOT said “no” on each occasion, the town did not force the issue.

The situation came to a head this Spring when multiple videos surface showing harrowing scenes near a school bus stop in the area and as the new West Branch neighborhood proposed over 300 new residences on the Westmoreland Farm adjacent to the already dangerous Robert-Walker Drive intersection.

So, what did residents do?

In the interest of transparency, I was involved in some of the activities that follow,, but all of the heavy lifting was done by many other citizens.

Residents organized multiple trips to town hall leading to two packed meetings in May and June.  They worked with the media to bring the issue more attention.  They showed tremendous courage in speaking truth to power.  Most importantly, they did public records requests.

The public records request may be the sharpest arrow in the activist’s quiver.  The results of these requests provide information.  They shed light on who said what to who and when they said it
.
In this case it, these requests showed many interesting things.  Here are just a couple.

The public record showed on multiple occasions in 2013 and 2014, citizens asked the town how they could get involved.  Should they go to their legislative representatives?  Could they help with gathering petitions?

In at least three different situations during this time period, Mayor John Woods told different residents that if NCDOT did not agree to lower the speeds, the town would engage the citizens for these activities.  That never happened.

Why?

In another thread, the record shows NCDOT actually being open to the idea of lower speeds around Robert-Walker Drive contingent on the installation  of a roundabout.  However, the discussion was related to the proposed West Branch development and on street parking – not as a pedestrian safety initiative.  This conversation involved NCDOT and the developers, including Commissioner Brian Jenest whose firm is doing the project’s design.  Somehow, that information did not make it to the town board as a whole for nearly three months?

Again, why?

The answers as to “why” are not in the public record, but it does show the mounting pressure having an impact.

The first records request went in on May 3rd.  On May 4th, State Rep John Bradford posted on Facebook that he had been contacted by Davidson Mayor Pro Tem Beth Cashion on the issue.  He said “I’m ready to help.  I don’t know what can be done, but I’m willing to learn.”

That contact to state electeds appears to have been the turning point.

After the May 10th town hall meeting, Bradford again posted to Facebook saying he was coordinating with the State Engineer at NCDOT to have a closer look at the issue.  Shortly thereafter, State Engineer Kevin Lacy spent a Sunday and Monday in the area, and before the June 14th meeting the decision was made to lower the speeds along the entire length of the road including the area at Robert-Walker - without a roundabout.

Still though, the activists work wasn’t done.  NCDOT had made the speed reduction to 35mph by Robert-Walker contingent on the West Branch development being 25% occupied – potentially delaying it many months, if not years.

It took another trip to town hall and another round of impassioned speeches to  NCDOT Rep Scott Cole who was in attendance to get the speed limit lowered immediately.

As of last Thursday, the new speed limit signs are up.

Should it have been this hard?  No, it shouldn’t have.  In the end however, it yielded the results citizens were seeking - making it all worth it.

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A ghost(writer) in Davidson Town Hall!?!?

This week's edition of the Lake Norman Citizen features a piece on last week's Davidson Town Board meeting where Commissioners addressed Mayor John Woods's June 8th trip to Raleigh to meet with Senator Berger regarding the recently deceased HB954.

While The Citizen depicted the Board's comments as a harsh rebuke of the Mayor's actions, but the Board's actions could be more accurately described as a slap on the wrist.  A good bit of the article was devoted to a transcript of the Mayor's statement attempting to explain himself.

A little digging would have shown the whole exchange for the kabuki theater it actually was.

Fortunately for readers, aShortChronicle has done that digging.  A public records request was done on the subject meeting and the results - as usual - show there is more to the story.

It may come as a surprise (or not) that Mayor Woods's speech was not entirely his own words.  He engaged a ghost writer for a little fancy wordsmithery.

According to the records request, on or about June 12th Woods engaged a local firm called "A Way With Words" - run by long-time former Commissioner Margot Williams - to spice up his presentation.

Williams served as a Davidson Commissioner from 1995 to 2011.  In 2007, she along with Woods voted unanimously with the rest of the Board at the time to form Mi-Connection, so it's maybe not all that surprising to see her helping him with the current hot topic of the I77 HOT lanes.

The wording of the draft speech was so that Woods could own his "authority as mayor".  To that Woods responded "Excellent! Thank you!"  The draft included these lines.

"I voiced my own opinions, based on hundreds of interactions with citizens and law enforcement, on the need to improve traffic congestion in our region.  As mayor I am accessible in town and constantly approached by citizens about the current crisis, placing me in a unique position to gather information and concerns on a daily basis."

While Woods spared citizens those lines in his town hall speech, he did use them in at least one response to a supporter per the public record.

While Woods clings to the position throughout his comments that he was only expressing his opinion and not acting as "mayor", these missing lines from his comments at the town board meeting show that his opinion was formed precisely because of his position as mayor.  His response of "Excellent!" to the idea that the wordsmithery was done to "subtly" have him own his "authority as mayor" also belies the true situation.

It's hard to believe that a ghost writer was needed for small town politics.  It's really a sad statement on current affairs.  What's next - a TelePrompTer at Town Hall??

However, there is a lesson in it.

Remember to not always believe what you hear.  There might be a ghost in the room.


The last straw...HB954 left to die on the vine by NC Senate Republicans

Tuesday, the other shoe finally dropped on the latest best chance at stopping the I77 HOT lanes project.  The NC Senate Republicans met in caucus and decided to not advance HB954 which had passed overwhelmingly in the House.

Soon after the closed door meeting, Kurt Naas posted this to the Exit 28 Ridiculousness group on Facebook.


Last week when it became clear the fate of this bill would be decided this way, Naas told me he wasn't sure what to think about the delay in the caucus meeting to this week.

To that I responded that maybe, just maybe, the Senate was hoping to run out the clock on the session and pass this bill just before it ended.  That would have given Governor McCrory the face saving opportunity to let the bill become law without his signature.

According to StateScape.com in North Carolina...

"The governor must sign or veto legislation within 10 days after transmittal, or it becomes law without his/her signature. If the legislature adjourns for more than 30 days, the governor must act within 30 days after adjournment, or the legislation becomes law without being signed. If the governor vetoes legislation after adjournment, he/she must reconvene the session or the legislation becomes law despite the veto on the 40th day after session adjournment."

To that Naas said "You're an optimist."

And you know what?  He's right.  I am an optimist.  I want to believe the system can be fixed.  I want to believe people will do the right thing if given enough information.

But after seeing this on Tuesday and coming on the heels of Davidson Commissioners' inaction last week regarding the Travis-Woods visit to Senator Berger's office to lobby for the project, that optimism that people will do the right thing has finally been shaken.

The last benefit of the doubt has been given.  The last second chance has been granted.

It is time to set a new course.