Friday, December 28, 2012

2012: The Year of the Mecklenburg Activist

This past year saw several victories for grassroots activism and activists in Mecklenburg County.  Yes, there were defeats, and if you are a conservative some of those defeats are hard to swallow.  But here are a few of the victories which owe their success in large part to citizen activism.  Remember them.  Use them when a challenge seems too big to overcome.  You just might win.

  • Dan Forest Lieutenant Governor Campaign - This campaign is now the model for how North Carolina statewide elections can be won by harnessing the power of local activists. Here locally, activists with CAUTION (Common Americans United to Inspire Our Nation) formed a core of campaign supporters working tirelessly to get out the campaign's message. If it wasn't for these activists here and across the state it's hard to see how Dan Forrest would have become only the 2nd Republican Lt Governor in modern state history.

  • Mecklenburg County Revaluation - Every Mecklenburg County resident owes former Cornelius Commissioner Jim Bensman and his fellow activists in Cornelius a big thank you for their relentless efforts in pushing for an audit and review of the botched 2010 revaluation.  Together with SMART (South Mecklenburg Alliance for Responsible Taxpayers) they kept the pressure on county staff and our elected officials.  Without that pressure nothing would have happened.

  • 4-Year Terms Defeated in Davidson  - This year, the Town of Davidson in North Mecklenburg saw the reemergence of the topic of 4-year terms for Town elected officials.  There can be little doubt that commissioners would have unilaterally made this change back in 2011 if not for local activism against it.  When the issue resurfaced this year, activism from aShortChronicle blog and other locals once again helped ensure it did not happen - protecting the voters' voice at the ballot box.

  • Activists Rise to Positions of Influence - Matthew Ridenhour, a leader in the Charlotte Tea Party movement, and Claire Fallon, a former community activist with the Northeast Coalition in the University City area, have begun making their respective marks as elected officials.  Ridenhour becomes the first person elected to office in Mecklenburg County directly associated with the Tea Party, and Fallon has achieved the status of "Chief Fly in the Ointment" of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx's dreams of an expanded Streetcar.

From Statewide to hyper-local, Mecklenburg activists shaped and influenced many of the most important debates in our communities this past year.  It is an exhausting and often thankless effort, but one that is needed.  I'll leave you with a quote I heard from Don Reid years ago at one of his famous Thursday breakfast meetings in South Charlotte.  To many, Don is the godfather of Mecklenburg conservative activism.  If you think a challenge is too big to tackle, remember these words.

"To achieve great things, attempt something where only divine intervention will allow you to succeed."

Update: Christian Hine over at reminded me that the North Mecklenburg Republican Women also did an amazing amount of work this last political season.  Apologies for not mentioning them in the initial post.

Here are a couple of numbers that I could hardly believe. I had to double check them to make sure they were correct. One NMRW volunteer made over 30,000 calls during this campaign season from the Republican Victory Centers. You read that right. 30,000 calls. Another knocked on 3000 doors.

That’s a level of dedication you won’t see too often but is required if you want to win.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Noel for Neighbors Brings Record Donations

Bradford Neighborhood
This year's "Noel for Neighbors" brought in a record haul for the Davidson Housing Coalition. 

Over $24,000 was donated as part of the luminary event that lights up the town.  That's a 50% increase over last year which was also a record.  This event is a great example of citizens helping each other and a beautiful addition to the holiday season here in  Davidson.

For more information see coverage.

Noel for Neighbors: big night for festive lights - 12/09/12

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday!

Hug the little ones a bit tighter this year for those who can't.  Think of our military serving far from home and away from family.  Take a moment to remember the true meaning of this season.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Davidson Community Garden Reaches 1-Ton Goal!

The Harvest that Reached the 1-Ton Goal
On Thursday, The Davidson Community Garden harvested the final pounds needed to reach its annual goal - a ton of food donated to Loaves and Fishes at Ada Jenkins - just in time for Christmas.  Starting in early spring the garden has produced all year long bringing in dozens of new volunteers as well as the many pounds of fresh produce.  The largest harvest in a single weekend was 112lbs in early September.

The credit for all this really goes to Connie and Eddie Beach of South Street.  They have been tireless in their devotion to this worthy cause.  The below is an exerpt from a nomination letter submitted for them for Davidson's "Jack Burney Award" for community service.  While they were not selected this year, with results like this they should be contenders in years to come.

"This nomination is for Connie and Eddie Beach of South Street for their efforts launching the Davidson Community Garden. Connie and Eddie founded the Davidson Community Garden 3 years ago and have worked tirelessly ever since to make the project a success. In three short years the garden has gone from an empty lot by the railroad tracks to a productive garden that will donate nearly a ton of food this year.

Located on Potts street behind Fuel Pizza the garden has quickly become a landmark in the town. This endeavor embodies everything that makes Davidson a wonderful place. The weekly gardening sessions are open to all. It is one of the few places where people from River Run to the West Side regularly congregate. The garden provides educational and service opportunities for students from elementary school up through Davidson College. The garden itself is a form of public art when in full bloom, and it also has numerous stepping stones handcrafted by local elementary school students. The garden feeds the needy through the food pantry at Ada Jenkins with thousands of pounds of fresh produce donated to date. Recently, Summit Coffee has started trying to compost all of its coffee grounds - an effort that started with Eddie regularly taking 5 gallon buckets of grounds to the garden. Connie is constantly thinking of the next thing the garden can do and how it can be improved. She has reached out to every possible resource to gain donated equipment, supplies and seed - even getting several loads of transplants from the North Mecklenburg jail's greenhouse. She also regularly coordinates groups such as the Boy Scouts and High Schoolers from CSD to come out for workdays. Starting this Fall 8th grade classes from CSD will come to the garden regularly to participate.

It is really quite impressive what the two of them have done in a short time with very limited resources. Their leadership has created one of the true gems in Davidson."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Expected Response to Unspeakable Tragedy

As the father to small children, the thoughts of what happened in Newtown are too horrible to contemplate.  The thought that it can happen anywhere shatters one's sense of security.  When you live in a town like Davidson which sounds so similar to Newtown, it hits particularly close to home.  What those families and that community are going through is unthinkable. 

Then the emails started.  That's something I wish we as a nation could have avoided.
First, I received a copy of a speech by Darrell Scott given before Congress in 1999. Mr Scott is a parent of one of the Columbine victims.  He has a second child who is a survivor  His speech went viral when it was originally given, and it has done so again in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  The gist of the email is that guns and the NRA are not to blame for these horrible events.

Later on Saturday came with its national push for vigils to End Gun Violence.  Lori Haas, a leading anti-gun activist whose daughter survived the Virginia Tech attack called for the vigils around the country.

Within 24 hours of the Sandy Hook tragedy, two different emails from two different parents of children involved in two different similar tragedies espousing two different heartfelt political views.

Then came the expected hoax email.  This one from "Morgan Freeman" blaming the media for creating the monsters who commit these crimes by giving them too much attention.  Yes, it was a hoax, but the media response in some quarters was not.  Before being revealed as not Morgan Freeman's words the email elicited some defensive responses.

All of those emails raise points that have some merit.  All of those points will get their hearing in the near future.

I just wish those emails could have waited a few days.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Davidson Wants You! Really???

"The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have one."

It appears that the Davidson Board may have done just that Tuesday night in what was a reported discussion about the lack of diversity in interested volunteers for Town advisory boards.  Having had similar discussions with multiple Board members in the past, I don't doubt the sincerity of the concern.  However, I don't have much confidence the Town will be able to truly remedy this situation without also accepting the major source of the problem - themselves.

In this case I'm using "Town" to include elected officials, staff, and their associated supporters active in the local political scene.  Together, this group creates a nexus of interested parties who vigorously protect the status quo. 

Diversity of opinion is not all that welcome.  Dissent is discouraged.  Dissenters are targeted.

One has to look no further than last year's political campaigns for local office to see this dynamic in action.

In late summer of 2011, the Davidson Coalition for Fiscal Responsibility (DCFR) formed to express concern about certain Town policies - primarily around spending.  The group was also focused on transparency in Town affairs.  (Full disclosure alert:  I was a founding member of the DCFR.)

The response was swift and concerted.  The wagons were circled. 

Almost, immediately a group formed calling itself "Positively Davidson".  (See Davidson defenders organize new group 10/13/11.)  The leaders of this group make up the core line of Town defense.  Its email distribution doubled as a campaign contact list.

Letters to the editor of various local papers were written disparaging the DCFR.  The word "divisive" was used repeatedly to describe anyone who disagreed with anything done by the Town.  People who attended DCFR meetings were labeled as somehow not loving this town we all call home.

Emails were circulated - many, many, emails.  Some on those emails serve on the advisory boards already.  Some were appointed this week.  Some work for the Town itself.

...and the Town wonders why they have difficulty attracting new blood from across the entire town and not mostly from the town center?  Really???

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Day the Transparency Davidson

"I’d like to emphasize that once we have a clear plan in place, we will communicate to our citizens via multiple methods, to ensure they are aware of our plans."

Those are the words of our town's Public Information Officer, Christina Shaul, regarding the $6.3 million Capital Improvement Program which passed unanimously Tuesday night. (The actual long-term number will be even higher as the Town still didn't include over $2 million for a new fire station.) Ms Shaul's comment was in an email I received back on October 22nd - plenty of time to get the word out about how much money the Town would spend prior to the vote.

Here is the agenda item for the CIP from the Town Board meeting where it was passed. The below was posted up through late Tuesday morning without even the attachment of the details. The link now has the attachment - added just hours prior to the meeting.

Normally, agenda items have a detailed summary. Normally, there are attachments giving the details. Normally, this information is available to the public before the meeting.

Normally, local governments possess a sense of obligation to keep their citizens informed about important decisions.

The Town has spent considerable time and expense upgrading it's communications infrastructure in the past few years. However, this infrastructure was not used to distribute detailed information for this most expensive decision since the Mi-Connection purchase. Not an email blast, not a Facebook post, not a Twitter tweet on the final details or cost. There was not a public hearing. There was not a PSA over the Town's phone messaging system.

There were 50+ emails from the Town over the past three months. Dozens of Facebook posts and Tweets sent. Not a single one of them was dedicated to giving the public any details about the financial impacts of this decision or the assumptions behind it.

Now, here's the truly sad part.

After last year's election cycle where transparency was a campaign issue, one would have hoped the Town and elected officials would do better to see that this type of thing does not happen. Several candidates who are now elected officials even stated their support for putting large expenditures to a vote of the public. While the CIP does not require a public vote, the level of spending is significant. One would have hoped it might have reminded those officials that clear communication to the public about spending has an impact on public trust in government.

Those hopes were dashed Tuesday night.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Trifecta of Transit Tales Tucked in Today's Tabloids

First of all, no offense intended to the serious news outlets that posted these stories.  Tabloids you are not, but when the lead is buried as deep as it is in these stories, I couldn't resist the 6-word alliteration.

From ... Student leaders give commissioners a wish list - Apparently one of the wishes of Davidson College students does not appear to be improved mass transit to Uptown Charlotte. 

"Commissioner Brian Jenest asked if students might head to Charlotte more often if better mass transit were available. He noted that downtown Charlotte streets are filled with young people on weekends. He got a lukewarm response, at best, with a couple of students saying they go to Charlotte for special events, such as concerts. And one student said he’s concerned about safety in Charlotte: “I wouldn’t go if you choked me.”

I am sure that must have come as a surprise to those on the Davidson Board who have been staunch supporters of the proposed Red Line. Of all the things mentioned in the meeting with Davidson College students, the Red Line has arguably been the largest focus of Town effort for the past year or two.  At Thursday's meeting, it was roundly snubbed by one of the groups (students) that would presumably make up a significant segment of the local Davidson ridership.

From Charlotte Business Journal ... Andy Dulin rules out mayoral run - Buried behind a diversionary headline is the real story about Charlotte Democrats being willing to go after their own at the ballot box over the Charlotte Streetcar.

"Whether Dulin seeks re-election is one of several questions swirling around council. This week, Fox affiliate WCCB-TV reported that Mayor Foxx wants District 2 councilman James Mitchell to run for an at-large seat as part of a bid to unseat Democrats Claire Fallon and Beth Pickering. The reason: Foxx is frustrated with their opposition to the streetcar extension, a political football that killed the Capital Investment Program proposal this year."

I used to know Claire Fallon when I lived in the University Area.  She was a supporter of Anthony Foxx during his initial bid for Mayor in 2008. To think the good Mayor would turn so quickly on someone for something as unpopular as the streetcar shows how far the pro-transit folks are willing to go in support of these projects.  It is sad and should be somewhat frightening to Charlotte voters.

Also from the CBJ ... Bank of America to sell 24-acre site near UNC Charlotte - What's not even mentioned in this article are the past mentions of site's location near what had been the full length of the Blue Line Extension - past its now terminus at UNCC.  Now that the BLE will never reach its full original length due to the exorbitant costs of the project, the property mentioned in this article won't be able to connect to the Uptown banking hub - certainly making it less useful.  That probably has as much to do with selling the property as does its reference to the bank's telecommuting program.

Transit. The gift that keeps on giving new and intersting twists in the local political scene this holiday season.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

History Repeating Itself in Fiscal Cliff Negotiations

The White House position on the Fiscal Cliff negotiations goes something like this...

"President Obama campaigned on higher taxes for the wealthy, and he won.  As a result that's what he now demands." 

To me, that sounds eerily like what happens in the semi-famous quote by Alexander Tytler from the 1700s on why democracies fail.

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."

Of course, it's unfair to pin the current situation completely on President Obama and the last election.  We've been voting this way for quite some time at all levels of government.  Maybe the only difference is that he's being more up front about the consequences.  Unfortunately, his hardball response today to the most recent Republican offer seems to indicate he also buys into the last part of Tytler's prediction.

Tytler was talking about the democracies of ancient Greece and Rome.  I wonder what the history books will say about us?