Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013!

Here at aShortChronicle we just want to say "thank you" for a great year!

2013 seemed like a marathon battle for good government.  In many ways it took a toll on the local activist community.  In other ways it made it stronger.  Personally, running for office was a great life experience even though it did not quite work out.

2014 promises to be a fast paced year with the possibility of multiple bruising primaries in the spring and North Carolina being the center of national attention with the US Senate race next fall.  It will be fun to watch.

This past 12 months we've covered and participated in some great stories with your help, and we look forward to ruffling a few feathers in 2014.  Our local pols will give us plenty of opportunity, I am sure.

Before then however, have a safe and fun New Year's Eve!!!

Friday, December 20, 2013

A house divided...

cannot stand is the saying.

While I don't think that saying really applies to the Republican Party here in North Mecklenburg, things are going to get very messy over the next few months.

Tuesday saw the announcement of a new group forming in the area called Lake Norman Conservatives.  The group's first event is ambitious - a candidate forum for the US Senate race.  Three of the five announced candidates are apparently confirmed, but that list does not include Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius.  I'd be surprised if he does.

This new group has its genesis in the controversy over toll roads - a controversy that has its roots in the actions of our elected officials - primarily Republicans. (See here, here, and here for just a few examples.)  Those actions were bound to ultimately end in this result - a division within the ranks of the conservative movement in the area.  Regardless of what happens from here on out, people need to remember where the blame really lies for that.

There are good, committed people on both sides of this dividing line, and I hate to see them lining up against each other.

Wednesday saw the entry of recently re-elected Cornelius Commissioner John Bradford into the NC House 98 race to represent North Mecklenburg in the NC Legislature.  This is the second time in two election cycles where a Cornelius elected official announced plans to run for a higher office immediately after a municipal election cycle - the other time being when then newly re-elected Mayor Tarte jumped into the primary for NC Senate 41.  Tarte was successful and maybe Bradford will be too.  However, if I was a Cornelius voter I'd be pretty annoyed with my Town Board repeatedly being seen as a stepping stone to higher office.

During the last campaign when Bradford was the target of the "Fire Bradford" signs posted by the Widen I77 activist group, the campaign pushed back by releasing a long list of endorsements.  One of those endorsers had this to say...

Local businessman Joshua Dobi, expressed concern if Bradford were not to be re-elected. “Considering the amount of turnover we have had on the Commission this year I would be very worried if John Bradford were not to be re-elected to the Cornelius Town Commission. His service is vital to the health of our town government. 

Apparently, Bradford does not share that same "worry".

Expect to see comments coming out of the Bradford camp like "this just came up", or "people started asking me to run" etc, etc.  Do not believe them.  The rumor that Bradford was thinking of running has been circulating for a while now.  The first bit of evidence received here was less than ten days after the last election.  Also, comments by the other announced Republican in the race, Lynette Rinker, make it sound like she might have had the inside scoop a while ago.  In hindsight, her references in her campaign announcement to being "a full-time legislator and working for you will be my only job” may be an attempt differentiate herself from Bradford who owns a real estate management business.

This race will be interesting to watch, but frankly, as a conservative, neither announced candidate excites me all that much.  The biggest local issue this year has been the widening of I77 with tolls and both of these candidates come down on the wrong side of that issue.  They are in the same camp as the person who they are trying to replace - Speaker Thom Tillis.  It's hard to see many of the local activists I know supporting either of them enthusiastically.  What would make it more interesting is if a third candidate jumps into the race.

I can think of a few people who I'd like to see, but unfortunately, there is no chatter, swirl, rumor or innuendo to report on the possibility of that.

Monday, December 16, 2013

New idea to avoid tolls on NC's highways...too little too late?

Recent days have seen some interesting comments regarding transportation funding from NC Senator Jeff Tarte.  Here's one from his Facebook page.  The comments revolve around funding sources allowing the state to avoid tolls on our roads. 

I've got to say, there is a good bit I like about this idea of dedicating new revenue to these seemingly intractable problems.  It's out of the box thinking which is always a good thing from our elected officials.  I particularly like the notion of dedicating revenues from physical, State resource like oil, gas, and wind(?) to physical, State resources like infrastructure.  It reminds me of something the Town of Davidson did recently where it dedicated money from selling some right of way for a gas pipeline towards future improvements for town greenways.

However, there is a part of me that always asks "why"?  Why bring this up now?  Why start floating ideas for alternate funding sources to avoid tolls when the date for signing the I77 HOT lanes contract looms right around the corner to implement tolls?  Could it be that the finances are not working out as "critics" of the HOT lanes plan have been saying all along?  Could it be that toll operators need more money to make their schemes work?  Senator Tarte sent out an email just days before the last election assuring people this was not the case and that NCDOT's General Trogdon had told him the numbers "do work".  (Of course that was just days before the good General went to work for a pro-toll company, so take that for what it's worth.)

For a long, long, time now we've all been told that tolls were the only way we would ever get the widening of I77 done in the next few decades.  Is Senator Tarte's idea really a solution that allows us to avoid tolling a widened I77 in the next few years?  At this point the only way for us to know would seem to be the demise of the HOT lanes plan before signing a 50 year contract next spring. 

Senator Tarte has not been what you'd call a strong opponent of the HOT lanes plan for tolls on I77.  He has not been out there fighting its implementation.  If this idea is workable, it would have been a great one to throw out there and fight for as the HOT lanes plan was being steamrolled forward.  So in some ways, this idea may be too little, too late.  But in the off chance it sees the light of day at the Legislature, let's take it at face value and look at what challenges it might encounter.

Specifically, is there enough money to make a difference and who else in state government wants to sink their teeth into it?

Recent numbers from industry lobbyists indicate as much as $4 billion could come to North Carolina from offshore drilling alone.  That sounds like a lot, but spread over a long period of time and with an uncertain starting point it's likely not enough money to make a huge dent the road funding problem. To make the numbers truly work for roads, let alone education, the legislature would likely need to significantly increase the severance tax paid by drillers.  Currently, ours is the lowest in the country and to create a truly significant income stream, it likely needs to increase.  From the DENR's 2012 study on the impacts of expanded energy exploration:

Those same industry lobbyists that are promoting energy exploration will likely fight any increases to these taxes and fees.    Putting forward a bill recommending the significant increase of this tax to compare with that of a state like Texas would be a real indication that the North Carolina is serious about creating an income stream to meet the scope of these problems.

Once that money is raised, for Senator Tarte's idea to work it looks like it would have to get in line behind ideas from other powerful state interests.  From that same Department of Environment and Natural Resources study, the DENR made these two funding recommendations:


These recommendations were codified in S76 - Domestic Energy Jobs Act. which passed earlier this summer as the HOT lanes debate went into high-gear locally.  This bill dedicates energy industry revenues to such things as preserving "cultural heritage and quality of life".  Good things to be sure, but probably not things in line with spending money on roads or even education - meaning implementing Senator Tarte's idea would require additional legislation.

And the DENR is not the only one that has it's eye on this pot of money.  Our State's Commerce Secretary also want's a piece of it to create a "slush fund" similar to Texas's for economic development incentives to recruit businesses.  

I commend Senator Tarte for throwing out ideas.  It takes significant ideas to make significant changes.  However, for this idea to work it will require a huge effort to corral the needed revenue and then fight off the sharks that will certainly be circling.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Davidson swears-in new elected officials. - VIDEO

There are a lot of great things about living in a small town like Davidson and being able to participate in your local government in an up close and personal way is one of them.  As the first of what will be a regular feature here at aShortChronicle, here is video of tonight's swearing-in ceremony for Davidson's newest batch of elected officials.  Call it our little contribution, free of charge, to openness and transparency in local government.  We won't be able to get every public meeting on tape, but we'll try to get the important ones!

Link to Video of Swearing In Ceremony

NOTE:  You may need to turn the sound all the way up.

This video contains:
  1. The farewell to Commissioner Connie Wessner who was not re-elected this term.
  2. The swearing-in ceremonies for Mayor and Commissioners.  With a nice small-town touch, these were all done by the family members of each official.
  3. The election of Beth Cashion as Mayor Pro Tem and the assignment of commissioners to various nominating committees..

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Looks like smooth sailing for new Board's first meeting...

After being circulated by a reader, last Friday's post on the Mayor Pro Tem selection for the next Board got a response from Town Hall.  Actually, it received multiple responses.

Commissioner Graham said there had been no discussion of anyone other than Beth Cashion.

Mayor Woods was "dismayed" and asked if my "goal" was "to foment confusion and distrust".  He then asked that I retract the post and "allow the Town Board to do its work for the citizens of Davidson."

In response to those comments here's the update to Friday's post.

Word has come in from Mayor Woods and Commissioner Graham that they will support Beth Cashion as Mayor Pro Tem.  Very glad to hear that!  They said they had not discussed otherwise and what I printed was incorrect.  In hindsight, I probably should have asked them directly to verify before printing this piece.  My concern was that the town follow tradition, and so I posted what I had heard.  I am glad I was wrong.  I'm more than glad to hear that there won't be a controversy around the subject tomorrow night - a night that should be a celebration for all involved.

That may not sound like the desired retraction they were looking to see, but I am truly very glad that the Board will go forward according to tradition.  As for my goal being to "foment" anything, nothing could be further from the truth.  My goal as always is to pursue open and transparent government wherever possible.

After an election season...
  • where the incumbents all ran as a slate, a nontraditional and divisive tactic for Davidson;
  • where Mayor Woods endorsed only incumbents, something multiple long-time Davidsonians told me they had not seen by a sitting mayor in previous elections;
  • where regarding Commissioner Wessner's defeat Mayor Woods was quoted after the election saying "it's a surprise and frankly it's a disappointment, but we're dealing with it"  - a feeling that means one of the two new Board members caused that disappointment
I don't think it should surprise anyone that people may be thinking more non-traditional actions might be in the offing.  I for one am very glad to hear that apparently is not the case.

This blog reports what I come across in the daily discussions I have with people in town and elsewhere regarding local politics.  I don't "make things up" - an accusation that was directed at me today by one of our electeds.  If people disagree or don't like what they hear, and that includes elected officials, they are more than welcome to submit comments.  I'll print them.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Will transparencey improve in Davidson with new Board members? - UPDATED

We'll see starting tomorrow...

Two seemingly small things are on the agenda for Tuesday's Town of Davidson Board meeting, but of course small things can have big impact.  What makes these interesting is that the first of these occurs with the current/outgoing Board and the second after the new/incoming Board is seated.

An agenda item for new appointments to the Town Advisory Boards has be buried in the "consent agenda".  The consent agenda is where you send things that are unimportant, things that don't warrant any public discussion, things that the Board "just needs to get through" so to speak.  That hardly seems the place for important town appointments including replacement for new Commissioner Beth Cashion who serves on the Planning.  There are also several spots open on the Livability Board and the Design Review Board.  These are the three most important advisory groups for the Town, and yet, the names of the nominees are not even posted in the agenda a day before the meeting where they will be appointed. (These were added the agenda sometime Monday after this post.  See here for the list.)

Commissioners Jim Fuller and Rodney Graham serve as the Board members on the current nominating committee made up of Mayor Woods, senior Town staff, and chairs of the current committees.  It would serve the public interest and the ideal of government transparency if they did the right thing and asked to have this pulled from the consent agenda and voted on separately at tomorrow's meeting.

I'm sure the folks nominated are qualified.  I'm sure they will do a good job and know the town well.  Most will likely have completed the Town's Civics 101 class where they will have been indoctrinated in the "Davidson Way".  The only question is will they have been selected to truly represent a cross section of town residents.  Having their nominations buried in the consent agenda does not let the public know that.

The second and not-so-small small item to be voted on comes after the new Board is seated tomorrow night.  That's the new Board meeting schedule.  As discussed in the previous post, the new Board will vote on the Mayor Pro Tem.  However, after that they will vote on their meeting schedule.  One item that will improve town transparency actually appears to not be on this proposed meeting schedule.  That's the in-home meetings Commissioners have been having on the 3rd Tuesday to ostensibly discuss "team building".

However, the "special meeting" in March of last year seemed to be discussing actual Town business.  It was no longer just a wine and cheese fest but an actual meeting that really should be held in Town Hall.  While these in-home meetings do follow the letter of the open meetings law and citizens are invited.  They do not seem to fit into the spirit of being "open".  How many people are going to actually feel at ease going into someone's house?  Not too many, would appear to be the answer from reviewing the meeting minutes.

Let's hope removing this meeting is a sign of good things on the horizon from the new Board when it comes to being open and transparent.

UPDATE: The Advisory Board appointments were added to the agenda Monday after this post.  See here for the list.

UPDATE #2: At Tuesday's Board meeting in an updated agenda, these were pulled from the consent agenda prior to the meeting and voted on separately.  They passed unanimously.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Will Davidson's Town Board Respect Tradition with Mayor Pro Tempore Selection? - UPDATED

A rumor is swirling that an effort may be afoot to prevent Commissioner-elect Beth Cashion from claiming the Mayor Pro Tempore spot when the new Town Board is seated next week.  Tradition has it that the highest vote getter from the Board is selected for this position.  If such a move is made it will be a sign of discord to come and a lack of acceptance on the part of the remaining incumbent Board members and Mayor Woods regarding what actually happened this past election cycle.

Let's all hope for the sake of our community that it does not come to that.  I certainly hope that they would not put us on the same discordant path that Huntersville took this week with its new Board - starting off on the wrong foot and diminishing the role of certain commissioners.

So, you may be asking what is the Mayor Pro Tem and why does it matter?

Well, in the words of Commissioner Brian Jenest, the current holder of the position, Mayor Pro Tem is just a "fancy name for the guy who got the most votes in the last election."  Those were his actual comments at the Summers Walk forum during the campaign.  (See the 13:45 mark of the DavidsonNews.net recording at the link.)

As you can probably imagine, there is a little more to it than that.

The Mayor Pro Tem serves as the "backup" when the Mayor is not available.  Ostensibly, the Pro Tem's main responsibility is to run the Board meetings if the Mayor is unavailable.  However, this person would also go to events and meet with people as the Town representative if the Mayor could not - making the Pro Tem position a little more important than just a seat filler.  The Pro Tem at times can become the "face" of the Town.

For a Town leadership that absolutely craves solidarity and abhors any type of disagreement, having the number two spot filled with a newcomer to the Board, someone who will have ideas independent from the Mayor's, is not desirable.

During the recent campaign, candidate Beth Cashion repeatedly faced a question designed to embarrass her.  Every forum except for Summers Walk asked whether candidates used Mi-Connection.  This question even came up at the last minute to be included in the DavidsonNews.net candidate profiles.  The question implied that not subscribing to the town-owned cable company somehow should disqualify someone from public office.  The question implied that if a new candidate was not a subscriber they somehow did not support the town.

Beth Cashion was the only candidate who had to answer that question with a "no".  She answered it well.  She answered it repeatedly. And apparently, the voters appreciated it - giving her by far the most votes on election day.  My guess is voters cared more about electing someone who won't get us into obviously bad decisions like Mi-Connection rather than if that person spends their household money to bail out the politicians who do.

Beth Cashion absolutely deserves the Mayor Pro Tempore spot, and her fellow Board members should unanimously elect her to that position on Tuesday.

UPDATE 12/9/2013:  Word has come in from Mayor Woods and Commissioner Graham that they will support Beth Cashion as Mayor Pro Tem.  Very glad to hear that!  They said they had not discussed otherwise and what I printed was incorrect.  In hindsight, I probably should have asked them directly to verify before printing this piece.  My concern was that the town follow tradition, and so I posted what I had heard.  I am glad I was wrong.  I'm more than glad to hear that there won't be a controversy around the subject tomorrow night - a night that should be a celebration for all involved.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Revenge or "healing" for Huntersville

Monday night looked like it might be "revenge"...

After a tough campaign for Mayor, one that became personal and fairly nasty at times particularly around the widening of I77 with HOT Lanes, Mayor Jill Swain was quoted in the Lake Norman Citizen as saying "my next step is to start working to help Huntersville heal from all the negativity generated in this campaign."

Things started off well for the newly minted Huntersville Board on Monday night with the unanimous selection of Commissioner Melinda Bales to serve as Mayor Pro Tem.  Bales received by far the most votes in the election for the Huntersville Board being the only candidate to break 3000 ballots.  As tradition has it she became the Mayor Pro Tem serving as Mayor Swain's "backup" even though there are other commissioners with longer tenures on the Board.

Things quickly turned south after that.

The second vote for the new Board ended in a tie when Mayor Swain put forth a recommended set of committee appointments that clearly stacked the deck with commissioners from "Team Swain" (Ron Julian, Sarah McAulay, and Jeff Neely) receiving 7 assignments including all of the most important and influential posts.  "The Others" on the Board (Melinda Bales, Danny Phillps, and Rob Kidwell) received a combined total of 3 spots.

When it came time to vote on the assignments "Team Swain" and "The Others" split 3-3 with Mayor Swain casting the tiebreaker in favor of her picks.  See below for the details.

Here are a couple of the low-lights of this set of assignments around the major transportation issues affecting our region.

Mayor Pro Tem Bales gets the LNTC post while Sarah McAulay gets sent back to the CRTPO (formerly MUMPO) post.  While the LNTC sounds important, the real transportation decisions for our region are made at the CRTPO.  Instead of sending the highest vote getter for Huntersville to CRTPO, Mayor Swain chose to send the person who tried to shut down debate at that group on the all important widening of I-77.  See this video where Chairwoman McAulay prevents members of the public from speaking at the public hearing on widening I-77.

Commissioners Phillips and Kidwell get the Arts and Sciences Council and the Huntersville Historical Society posts respectively.  They received endorsements from the WidenI77.org and Commissioner Kidwell specifically thanks that group on his Facebook page for their support and tells the Lake Norman Citizen regarding I77 "I think it clearly was the issue of the toll lanes," he said. "I believe that was the major factor in me getting elected to the board and I hope this is something we can talk about as a board and get settled." 

Sending "The Others" to these committee assignments while giving the plum assignments to "Team Swain"  seems like a strange way to start the healing process.  But then again, maybe it all makes sense in @SwainsWorld

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Davidson Sees More Spending in Recent Election

This is the last in the series on Davidson's recent election season, and it's time to take a quick look at how money was raised and spent.

It's safe to say that this election was probably the last where most candidates go into it intending to spend little or no money.  That is certainly a change for Davidson, but it's not necessarily a bad thing.  It will mean that candidates need to spend more time on campaign finance reports in the future.  But that will also mean that more transparency will be required in how money is raised and spent.

In the past, Davidson candidates almost always signed what's called a Certification of Threshold form at the Board of Elections stating that their campaigns would stay below the legal limit of $1000 eliminating the need for detailed campaign finance reporting.  It was a very convenient way to file since small town elections really don't absolutely require large sums of money.  This cycle started out much that same way.  With only Stacey Anderson and Beth Cashion starting their campaigns intending to spend more than $1000, all of the other candidates, myself included, intended to spend less than the threshold.  By the end of the campaign however, all but Commissioner Jenest appear to have raised and/or spent more than the threshold.  This is based on reporting done by DavidsonNews.net as well as a review of the campaign finance reports on hand to date at the Mecklenburg Board of Elections. 

Here are some interesting highlights:
  • Candidates used consultants (possibly a first for a Davidson election) - Challengers Stacey Anderson and Beth Cashion used local consultants to support campaign marketing.  Commissioners Jim Fuller and Connie Wessner used an Asheville based company to support mass mailings. 
  • DavidsonNews.net received campaign dollars from every candidate in the form of purchased web ads.  The incumbents all purchased individual adds as well as what can best be described as a "team" add featuring all of them.  Mayor Woods also purchased adds endorsing the incumbents.  (An add on DNN runs about $300/month depending on the size of the banner.)
  • The least effective spending?  Commissioner Fuller also purchased a $100 add in the Davidsonian published by Davidson College.  Based on a quick review of the voters from the College zip code 28035 (yes, there is a College zip code!) only 6 college students voted this election.
So the obvious question is why did so many candidates, particularly the incumbents, go into the election intending to spend little to no money, but end up spending more than anticipated?

I can only speak for myself with any certainty, but the logical reason is that it was a closer race than the incumbents expected.  For example the mass mailings done by Commissioners Fuller and Wessner put each of them well over the threshold.  If they intended on doing that from the beginning, they would never have signed the form committing to stay below the spending limit.  For myself, what put me over the threshold was the unexpected receipt of in kind contributions in the form of ads on my behalf when I received the Police Benevolent Association endorsement.   I was also fortunate to receive more donations from supporters than I originally planned.  (Obviously, an unexpected and very nice surprise.)

Some will say that all this is a bad thing - seeing money coming into our local elections as just another sign of a bygone era.  However, in a counter-intuitive way, it may mean more candidates feel able to enter the contests for our elections.  Here's why.

While most candidates did in fact self-fund their campaigns, I proved that a candidate who could not fully self-fund a campaign could still be competitive even as money became a tangible part of the election process.  Yes, I had to raise some money.  However, Davidson is a generous town, and I was overjoyed to be able to raise enough for what I needed.  Could I have raised and spent more?  Would it have made a difference?  "Yes", and "probably" are the best answers to those questions.  Honestly, I think that I ran out of time before I ran out of money, but that's the thing about elections - you always have too little of both.