Thursday, May 30, 2013

2014 NC Senate Race Starts to Take Shape

A few big things happened this past week giving shape to the NC Senate contest which will likely consume much of the political oxygen in the state over the next year.

Late last week a new Super PAC was formed to support a potential run by NC Speaker and North Mecklenburg Representative, Thom Tillis. See Super PAC to tout North Carolina House speaker via "The Center for Public Integrity" for details on the PAC.  It's led by establishment political consultant, Michael Luethy. 

The PAC formed as Tillis said he was taking the Memorial Day holiday weekend to do some final considering on taking the plunge and officially entering the race.  However, the wait is apparently over as the WRAL in Raleigh is reporting Thursday evening that Mr Tillis has officially announced as candidate for US Senate.

Also this week, NC Labor Secretary, Cherie Berry, announced that she would not be running.  This takes one of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination out of the contest.  Ms. Berry enjoyed widespread name recognition as the "elevator queen" with her picture posted in every elevator in the state. (Everybody rides elevators!)

Other candidates will likely announce soon. However, with Dr. Greg Brannon already in the race - running as the "liberty" candidate, and Reverend Mark Harris of Charlotte considering a run as well, Republican primary voters will likely have at least one choice from each of the three main wings of the Party - Libertarian Leaning Republicans, Socially Conservative Republicans, and Establishment Republicans.  Dr. Brannon has been traveling the state gaining support among grassroots activists including Tea Partiers.  Reverend Harris helped lead the effort to pass Amendment 1 last year gaining him support among Social Conservatives.  Speaker Tillis rounds out the group as the only announced Establishment candidate.

How this all pans out for the Republican Primary next May will be very interesting to watch.  While Speaker Tillis should enjoy an immediate advantage in fundraising, he also has problems to address - mostly of his own making.

In recent weeks, there has been a brewing revolt in the Legislature among more conservative House members.  Much of that revolt stems from a sense that Speaker Tillis has been managing bills this session for the benefit of a future Senate bid, overly moderating many pieces of legislation when the Republicans have super-majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.  That will likely only get worse now that he has officially announced  There is also lingering animosity in certain quarters that he influenced various legislative primaries in the past election cycle, supporting more moderate candidates over more conservative choices.  Finally, there are specific policies such as his support for toll roads which will impact voters in certain locals around the state.

How these issues all play out will likely have a significant impact on the Republican primary, and none of them will likely go away easily.

One thing is for sure, these events will all make next week's NCGOP Convention in Charlotte much more interesting to watch.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Davidson Town Board Meeting from the Twitterverse

Tuesday evening's Davidson Town Board Meeting 

6:05PM...
monthly work session underway...

Q3 building permits double what they were last year.

wins "Great Main Streets" award from NC Chapter Amer Planning Assoc 1of5 winners

Mayor Woods accepting Great Main Street award...

6:26PM
Mayor Woods updates on Red Line...Preparing White Paper Rpt encouraging Norfolk Southern to engage in P3 project.

...Proposed White Paper to be paid for by Charlotte. Hope is it will replace capacity study by Norfolk Southern


// Capacity study now on hold according to Mayor Woods.  This "white paper" seen as way to move project forward.  Commissioner Venzon asked about how this paper would replace the capacity study.  Mayor Woods seemed to imply that there were other reasons for Norfolk Southern balking at project other than just running freight and passenger rail on the same track.

Mayor Woods update on transit funding report..."we're not going away"..."TIF the entire system"..."assessment districts"

Comm Jenest on "spirited" MUMPO mtg last week...descibes HOT decision as "just moving project to next step"

6:43pm
Affordable Housing update...hand picked jumpstart committee made up of developers and real-estate pros

Affordable Housing program has no wait list for purchase but does have one for rental.

Comm Wessner sees risk in discussing this turning into complaining about program as a whole

Affordable Housing...most new & resale houses are moved past 60day threshold - open to buyers not mtg income lvls

New Neighborhood has successful Afford Housing...built voluntarily, not b/c of Town ordinance - ironic

Affordable Housing meeting w/ developers tomorrow, 5/28. Comm Wessner notes concern public will react negatively

Afford Housing rules didnt apply to recent vote on Senior living facility @ exit 30 b/c they don't have kitchens

//This was an interesting discussion.  Many of the Commissioner's comments were addressed at managing the public's interpretation of what it means that this is even a topic of conversation.  There was concern that even talking about the affordable housing program would be interpreted as a lack of support for the program.  Much concern that getting developer input would be looked down upon by some in town.  They made it clear discussing this does not mean a lack of support.  Hard to say what support should look like considering that the program has no waiting list for the vast majority of the housing that developers are being required to build.  Getting developer input would seem appropriate under these circumstances.

7:11 PM
econ dev update... 137 MSC people transfering to . Will be a big influx of new families to the area.

retail attraction strategy...Jj Wade bldg for retail and Pickled Peach, sandwhich shop tentative for 7/1

Summit Coffee was tentative for tonight on CNBC...has been put off.

//See DavidsonNews.net story here.

7:17pm
Communications Update..."request tracker"...citizens can submit requests 24/7!!! goto

Request Tracker SLA frm immediate 4 emergencies upto 14 working days for non-safety issues. curr usage: 1-2 per wk

Myr Woods voices concern doesnt lead 2 losing "small town personal feel" (could say same for the digital kiosks in the budget)

Mayor Woods announces anonymous grant he negotiated for funding additional pedestrian flags for pedestrian safety

... open meeting adjourne, heading into closed session

7:35PM

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day...Thank you for our freedom!

Flags at Half Mast
Color Guard
Today is a special day for our country where we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the rest of us to live free.

We all owe a debt of gratitude to our military that can not be fully repaid.

Maybe one of the best ways in trying to do so is teaching our children and grandchildren the meaning of freedom.  To that end I wanted to pass along something I came across recently while reading a book with my daughter.  It's from the "The Trumpet of the Swan" by E.B. White.

After Louis the swan's many adventures, the zoo keeper aka "The Head Man" is trying to convince Louis that he and his beloved Serena should stay at the zoo to live out their days in peace and security...

"If you and Serena stay here, you'll be safe.  You'll have no enemies.  You'll have no worries about your children.  No fox, no otter, no coyote will ever attack you with intent to kill.  You'll never go hungry.  You'll never get shot.  You'll never die of lead poisoning from eating the shotgun pellets that are on the bottom of all natural lakes and ponds.  Your cygnets will be hatched each spring and will live a long life in perfect ease and comfort.  What more can a young cob ask?"

"Freedom", replied Louis on his slate.  "Safety is all well and good: I prefer freedom."

To those men and women who protect our country, who are willing to make the sacrifices necessary...

Thank you for our freedom!

Taps
(Pictures from Memorial Day service in Cornelius, NC)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Post 200...Observations on writing a blog

200 posts...

That's a lot more than I thought I would have written at this point - almost 3 posts a week for nearly 16 months straight.  Over the course of those posts I've learned a few things about the process of how to do this, and believe me, it is a process.  Some things totally make sense when you think about them.  Some are odd and a bit counter-intuitive, but they also strike me as interesting.

Here are the top 4...

1.  Publish Regularly -  This probably sounds obvious, but trying to publish new posts on the same days of the week on a regular basis seems to improve readership.  At the beginning, posts came rather haphazardly whenever something came up.  Once I started trying to be more consistent sticking to days of the week, readership on those days improved.  To that end, recently you may have noticed aShortChronicle posts are coming out Monday/Wednesday/Friday (or more accurately, late the evenings before).  That seems to work well and will probably be the plan going forward.

2.  Promote Posts Consistently - New posts get put on Facebook and Twitter immediately and linked to comments on related stories on other web publications such as other blogs or news sites.  Hat tip to David Boraks from DavidsonNews.net for explaining to me the different ways to use Twitter and Facebook for getting out a story.  Promoting one's own stories may seem a little self-serving, but then again if nobody knows they're there nobody is going to read them.

Now, for some of the less obvious...

3.  Patience is a Virtue even in Web News - Sometimes, waiting for a story to develop is better than blasting something out just to be "first".  I can't tell you how many times I've waited on printing something just to see how it played out.  Waiting always pays off rather than really embarrassing oneself by spouting off like bloggers have a bad reputation of doing.  I've learned that the hard-way a couple of times.  Writing a "correction" or a "retraction" is not what you want to be doing with any sort of regularity.

4.  Never expect a story to get a lot of page views.  The web will always surprise you. - The stories I've expected or wanted to get a large number of hits almost never do, and the ones that have gotten the most come out of left field.  Three of the top four posts since writing this blog fall into that category of  being a "surprise".

  • One was the story about a Stand Up North Carolina meeting in Mooresville featuring talk show personality, Vince Coakley.  Soon after that story, Vince Coakley was taken off the air at WBT Radio and that story got a huge number of hits for people searching on him. 
  • Another in that same category was this piece about the dustup between Governor McCrory and Charlotte City Council over the proposed Charlotte Streetcar.  That story got a bunch of hits weeks later when Mayor Anthony Foxx was selected as the nominee for Transportation Secretary.
  • The most read story in the history of aShortChronicle remains "HOT Lanes: The Empire Strikes Back".  That maybe should not be that much of a surprise considering how passionate people feel about this toll road project, but what is surprising is how that one story almost single-handedly changed readership patterns for the blog.  Enough people read that one story on a wide enough scale that daily page views have stayed almost double than before it was published - even on days when there isn't a new post.
For anyone else who writes a blog or is thinking of starting, as a testament that #1 and #2 work, readership of aShortChronicle gauged in page hits has nearly quadrupled since January of this year when I started doing both of these things with some regularity.  However, as important as these are, a bigger lesson may be to  just keep writing and trying to find interesting stories presented from different angles than the more traditional media.  You never know which one will take off and be a game changer.

Check out the new "Blogger's Chronicle" page at the top of the blog for other posts on writing the blog.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Revolt and Retribution

NC Speaker Thom Tillis now appears to have a full-blown revolt on his hands after this week's H267 vote-to-not-vote on toll roads.  Retribution from the Speaker's office came swiftly with the sacking of Robert Brawley from the Chair of the House Finance Committee the day after the vote.

Much has been written in the past two days about "the letter" Rep Robert Brawley wrote that was read into the record Wednesday before turning in his gavel.  No doubt, the letter was full of some really tough stuff, but readers should remember one thing.  Rep Brawley's ouster from the Chairmanship of the Finance Committee came before the letter was read - not because the letter was read.  According to reports, the Speaker's office actually requested the letter be read into the record and did not know its content before it was read.  That's important to remember because some lawmakers appear to already be indulging in a bit of revisionist history and blaming the letter itself for the majority of the controversy.

While there certainly are good reasons why that letter should not have been read on the NC House floor and Rep Robert Brawley has already apologized for any "discomfort" it caused, blaming that letter for the bulk of the ongoing controversy could not be further from the truth.

For many in the activist community this toll road debate is no longer about roads.  It is about heavy-handed government - things like sacking someone from a chairmanship for speaking his mind in an important debate.

Here are two videos courtesy of ConstitutionalWar.org, the first is of activity on the NC House floor during the H267 debate on Tuesday.  This is what transpired the day before Robert Brawley was sacked and before his letter was read on the House floor on Wednesday.  The second is from this week's MUMPO meeting also on Wednesday where citizens were not allowed to speak on the I-77 HOT Lanes project after signing up to do so.

As in many revolts throughout history, retribution for speaking one's mind is what fans the flames of the insurrection instead of putting them out.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

H267: Redux - NC House really, really, really doesn't want to vote on tolling you.

It became clear today at the State Legislature that elected officials really, really, really don't want to vote on tolling you.  They don't want to go on record when they decide to raise your taxes via tolls while keeping all the gas tax money you already pay.

Here's what happened.

Due to a technicality, H267, which has been written about extensively in these pages, apparently did not have the third reading and vote conducted correctly last week in the flurry of activity during cross-over. That meant that the bill had to come back to the NC House floor today for another vote - setting the stage for what turned out to be a disappointing display for anyone who wants open and transparent government.

A handful of brave legislators took this opportunity to buck leadership and put forth an amendment to re-insert language into the bill requiring an "act of the General Assembly" prior to implementing tolls on any existing interstate road. This is nothing but the language in the original version of the bill filed back in March. The intent of the amendment was to force the NCGA to specifically approve each tolling operation - including the I77 HOT lanes project. See the amendment here.  (Note: The fact that the amendment did not mention I77 or any road specifically would imply that the original bill would have in fact applied to I77 - something that House Transportation Committee Chair and Mecklenburg Representative Bill Brawley denied to the Charlotte Observer in this article back in March.)

The amendment failed 16-99.

You read that correctly.  Only 16 members of the NC House were willing to support an amendment that asked nothing more than they vote before implementing tolls on roads that will impact citizens for decades whenever one of these projects is initiated.

Now, here's the kicker as well as evidence of some serious arm twisting on this vote.

Not a single one of the original bill's primary sponsors voted for this amendment!!!

Reps Torbett, Collins, and Floyd were all present and none of them voted for an amendment that was exactly the same as the original bill they filed.  Rep Wray was absent today and did not vote.

So, one has to believe that these representatives would not have voted for their own bill, OR there was some serious pressure applied to them to not vote for this amendment.  Wonder where that pressure came from?  Who has the juice to get someone to vote against their own bill?

As for the brave souls who voted "Yes" on this amendment, here they are.  They all deserve a big "thank you" for doing what is right.

Democrats - Earle; Harrison; Luebke
Republicans - Blust; Brawley, Robert (not Bill); Brody; Bumgardner; Catlin; Cleveland; Conrad; Ford; Holloway; Lambeth; Pittman; Speciale; Turner

From Mecklenburg County, only Democrat Beverly Earle voted for the amendment.  None of the county's Republicans stepped up to do the same.

This is your government.

Monday, May 20, 2013

UPDATED: Urgent Opportunity To Remedy Issues with H267 and I77 HOT Lanes

This afternoon, WidenI77.org posted an important notice titled - Urgent! Big Opportunity to Stop Toll Lanes Tomorrow- Please Help.

This is a chance for you to help make something wrong, right again at the General Assembly.

If you are a regular reader of aShortChronicle you've seen the posts about how H267 went from being a bill requiring the General Assembly to vote on toll lane projects to being a watered down bill that simply restricts how tolls are implemented in North Carolina.

Please take a moment and check out the above link.  This may be your best chance to impact the I77 HOT Lanes project.  Please, don't miss it.

UPDATE: Only 16 legislators have the courage to vote for amendment requiring NCGA vote of approva on each new toll project. Check back for more later.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Red Line project gets quiet boost from Raleigh. More to come?

Earlier this month, aShortChronicle reported on a statement by a reporter at a May 5th press conference on the I-77 Hot Lanes.  That statement was "the folks in Davidson were told, 'get behind us and we'll do the Red Line'".   (See  "Threats, promises, and holes in the HOT lanes dike..." for the full story.)

That statement was made as part of a question asked by Israel Balderas, formerly of WCCB Charlotte.  One week after this press conference it was announced that Balderas no longer worked for the station.

In the days following that press conference and after this post on the WidenI77.org website, there was a spirited back and forth via email between Davidson Board members and WidenI77.org.  Both aShortChronicle and DavdisonNews.net were copied on the email exchanges.  In those exchanges, two Davidson Commissioners strongly pushed back on the insinuation that there was any horse trading going on regarding the toll lanes and the Red Line.  (While these emails are public records open for anyone to see, the Commissioners' names will be omitted here since they were not asked for a quote.)  That push back resulted in updates to the WidenI77.org blog post retracting the direct implication that Davidson made a direct trade for its HOT Lane support.  WidenI77.org also requested a similar apology from Davidson's Mayor John Woods for accusatory statements he made during a recent interview claiming that those who oppose the HOT Lanes are spreading "misinformation" and causing "confusion" and "hysteria".

All of this just provides background for what happened last week and will happen this coming week.

At last Tuesday's Davidson Town Board meeting, Commissioners expressed unanimous support for the HOT lanes - sending Commissioner Jenest to the 5/22 MUMPO meeting with instructions to support the toll lanes.  (See "Davidson voices support for toll lanes" from the latest Huntersville Herald.)

Earlier that same day at the NC General Assembly, legislation that impacts the Red Line started to move, racing to beat two deadlines.  Senate bills S103 and S104 were combined into a single bill to update the rules around Special Assessment Districts and to extend the sunset for the existing SAD legislation.  The combined legislation under Version 2 of S103 sped through the State Senate during what is called "cross-over" week to beat the first legislative deadline and passed the Senate on 5/16.  This deadline is critical because bills that have not passed one chamber of the NCGA by cross-over are effectively dead for the next 2 years.  Passing the NC Senate allows the second Red Line deadline a chance to be met.  If the NC House now approves S103 and it becomes law before June 30th, the SAD sunset clause will be extended for another 2 years.  This extension is absolutely critical to the current Red Line financing plan.

This coming week events will take place that affect both the HOT Lanes and the Red Line. 

On Tuesday, 5/22, MUMPO will vote on amending the region's Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and the Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) with language supporting the HOT Lanes project.  The meeting agenda can be found here.  Ironically, the education session before this meeting will be on the legislation "now pending in the General Assembly that, if enacted, will significantly change the way transportation projects are funded. Potential impacts of the legislation will be discussed."  This refers to Governor McCrory's new transportation plan.  The irony is that immediately after learning about legislation which could impact funding for projects like widening I-77, MUMPO member are expected to vote on a plan based on what will likely be old and out of date rules within a few months.   

Also on Tuesday, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) will receive the results of a blue ribbon panel that has been compiling ways to find more money for the region's rail transit plans.  One of the proposals according to previous reports here and here is to request an additional 1/2 cent transit tax - something that requires General Assembly approval to even put on the ballot.  While the number one problem for the Red Line at the moment may be Norfolk Southern, in the long term more money is needed, and the recommendations from this panel along with any NCGA approvals is where it will be found

Citizens should take Davidson's commissioners at their word when they state there has been no direct horse trading on the Red line for HOT lanes support.  However, there is no denying that Raleigh is already moving to support the Red Line and that the Red Line will need more support from the NCGA in the future if the project is to go forward.  When Davidson casts its vote to support HOT lanes on Tuesday, the Town certainly will not be rocking the political boat in any way that could hurt the chances for its most favorite project - the Red Line.

Bonus Observation:  The political waters are continuing to swirl for the I-77 HOT lanes as more local politicians come out of the woodwork to openly oppose the project.  See the most recent Charlotte Observer article here.  As was stated in the post about the May 5th press conference, this is going to get messier before it is all over.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Davidson Community Garden gets its own water supply!

As was reported back in April, the Davidson Community Garden far surpassed its goal fundraising goal to get its own water meter.
Over the past two weeks there has been a lot of work done. It took longer than expected to get CMUD out to do the installation, but I'm happy to report the work is now complete.  The DCG has a permanent water supply!

Eddie Beach says "the 3 yard hydrants are operational...and GREAT!!!"

When those hot days of summer get here (eventually), the garden and the gardeners won't have to worry about that most critical component - water.

It also comes just in time for more planting as the donations to DCG keep on coming.

From the latest email blast to volunteers...

"The good news for the garden just keeps on flowing! The horticulture program at North Meck High has generously donated both flower and vegetable seedlings, and a kind neighbor is bringing them up today, just in time for us to plant." (Note: Meet at DCG at 10am on Saturdays to volunteer.)


Thanks to everyone in the community who helped make this project happen!!!






Wednesday, May 15, 2013

H267 - George Orwell comes to Raleigh

Today, the General Assembly added insult to injury for those opposed to tolling I-77 via HOT lanes.  Once again this regards House Bill 267 - the bill which mysteriously changed names and intent during last week's House Transportation Committee. See Tuesday's post for the original story - NC House Hides from Voting on Toll Roads in North Carolina...Government Transparency is a Casualty.

The insult comes in the form of the Fiscal Note added to the bill today - Wednesday, May 15th.  Here's the selected excerpt from the note that applies to this local project...

"Based on current law, this bill applies to the project selected under S.L. 2012-104, which the DOT has determined will be used to construct high occupancy tolling (HOT) lanes on I-77.

The I-77 toll project is expected to open to traffic in FY2017 and current plans have the toll revenues paying for related upgrades to existing lanes and constructing new portions of the highway that will not be tolled to replace the affected existing lanes, as required in Section 1(a)(2). Eliminating the language on lines 22-23 in Section 1 (a)(3) and adding the restriction to limit the use of toll revenues to increase capacity will cause DOT to shift funds from another project for these impacted sections of I-77. It is not known how many sections will be impacted or the cost that will need to be shifted."

The reference to S.L. 2012-104 is likely a typo that should read S.L 2012-184.  A call is in to the Fiscal Research Division to verify, but since 104 refers to Deannexation and 184 is the law that authorizes a pilot Public Private Partnership DOT project that is almost certainly the case.

The reason this is such a slap at voters in North Mecklenburg is that when H267 was initially filed as a measure requiring a General Assembly vote on toll projects, local pols were downright adamant that H267 would not apply to I-77.

In an Orwellian move straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Four, a bill that had nothing to do with I-77 HOT Lanes now has everything to do with I-77 Hot Lanes.

This is our government.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Davidson 2014 Budget Hearing This Tuesday

Davidson Staff and Commissioners have been working to put together a budget for the next fiscal year which starts in July.  By law municipal budgets must be approved by the end of June, and to meet that date the Town scheduled a public hearing for this Tuesday, 5/14.

Here's a link to the proposed budget if you are interested in some light reading.

Some of this year's highlights:
  • How much does Davidson owe to Mooresville after the renegotiated interlocal agreement for Mi-Connection which caps Davidson's payments and ownership of the company?  Answer:  At the end of this current fiscal year, Davidson will have $574,121 on the Mooresville credit card for what the Town owes but has not paid for Mi-Connection subsidies.  This accounts for money Davidson had "overpaid" in previous years due to the retroactive nature of the updated interlocal signed last year.  Under next year's proposed budget this debt to Mooresville will go up to a total $1,278,268.  Against these debts, Davidson has socked away $600,000 in it's capital project account.  This debt will continue to grow until Davidson's portion of the annual subsidy drops below $1,000,000.  This year it will be over $1,700,000.
  • Will Davidson's Fund Balance be comparable to other towns its size under this budget? Answer: Davidson will remain below the average fund balance for municipalities our size - 39% vs a 49% average.  That's a result of a conscious decision by the Board to spend rather than save. When the Mi-Connection interlocal was renegotiated and Davidson freed up $1,000,000 in cash flow last year. the Town Staff initially indicated the money would be socked away to raise Fund Balance up to the 49% level and get Davidson in line with our peers financially. (See "EFFECT ON DAVIDSON BUDGET" in the linked article from DavdisonNews.net.)  The Town Board thought otherwise.  Davidson elected officials chose to use all of the available cash on more spending - approving a Capital Improvement Plan with many millions in spending over the next 5 years.  The Town fund balance will likely go down some when Davidson gets the final numbers on the County revaluation fiasco.  That may result in the Town paying up to a few hundred thousand dollars over the next couple of years for the overpayments since 2011.  
  • Will Davidson's Town Board meetings be televised under this budget?  Answer:  It appears not.  However, meetings may have audio recordings made available. There's simply not enough money left to video meetings - something that would truly help engage the public and give people who can't attend a better sense of what goes on at these meetings.  While the Town can't find the technological resources to enhance government interaction with the citizens in this way, it has found dollars for resources targeted at visitors.  The budget includes $26k for 3 digital information kiosks at South Main, Downtown, and Circles areas.
  • What's the good news out of this year's budget? Answer: No property tax increase.  Remember, it's an election year.

Monday, May 13, 2013

NC House Hides from Voting on Toll Roads in North Carolina...Government Transparency is a Casualty

Something happened quietly at the last meeting of the NC House Transportation Committee which should disturb and anger anyone who believes our government should operate in an open an honest manner.  There's simply no other way to put it.

As readers of aShortChronicle know, House Bill 267 was filed in early March with the title - NCGA Prior Approval/Interstate Tolling.  This bill would have required an "act of the general assembly" before any tolling could take place on an existing interstate road in North Carolina.  The initial story was covered here and a follow-up was covered here when Committee Chair and Mecklenburg Representative, Bill Brawley, signed on to the bill as a sponsor.

As has been reported previously, upon its initial filing opponents of the I-77 HOT lanes project initially thought this bill might provide an opening to stop this effort to implement tolls locally.  However, Rep Brawley as well as Co-Sponsor John Torbett of Gaston County immediately began to backpedal on the bill's impact to I-77 saying, without any solid or documented justification, that I-77 would in fact not be impacted by the bill.  No additional vote would be required. (See here for more on that.)

Last Thursday this bill finally was heard in Committee, but the NCLEG.net page for the bill was not updated.  Friday night, aShortChronicle received this response from legislative staff as to the status of the bill.

"The bill passed with a couple of changes.  It will be reported out Monday and the new version will be on the internet after that." (Emphasis added.)

Today, that report came.

Here's the new version of the bill with a new title - Limit Tolling on Existing Interstates

This is a completely new bill with no mention of the NCGA voting.  "Only a couple of changes" becomes something "completely and totally different".  This new bill now focuses on how tolls can be implemented rather than the General Assembly voting on when they can be implemented.

Unfortunately, this type of activity has become par for the course in this debate about tolls on I77.  Transparency and dealing in good faith went out the window some time ago for tolling supporters. 

Here are some other examples:
  • See this story for details on a public meeting between transportation officials, consultants, and municipal elected leaders conveniently organized to avoid State open meetings laws.
  • See this story for how constituents were treated on a visit to Raleigh to discuss the I77 project with the Speaker of the House.
  • See this story about the surprise vote in Cornelius which prematurely cut off debate on the topic in the only town with elected officials willing to speak out aggressively against the project.


If this is what stands for good, clean government, we are in trouble.  It's more like win at all costs even if that means destroying the public's trust.

At that, our leaders are being more than successful.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cornelius Commissioner Blasts Town Decision to Support I-77 HOT Lanes

After last Monday's surprise vote in Cornelius where the Town Board took a split decision supporting I-77 HOT lanes, many of the project's supporters were surely hoping this would bring a quick end to the discussion in North Mecklenburg by snuffing out the only vestiges of resistance among the local town boards before ramming this project through at the next MUMPO meeting.   
 
Unfortunately for them, that was not to be.

Cornelius Commissioner David Gilroy published the following on Sunday May 12th as his regular "Cornelius Update" newsletter.  Read this and ask yourself if you think this discussion is ready to be put to bed.

Begin Commissioner Gilroy's comments to end of post...



Hello Everyone,

This entire Cornelius Update is focused on the critical I-77 Toll Lanes issue - arguably the most important question currently facing North Meck and one that will fundamentally impact our daily experience and quality of life for several decades to come. Public frustration levels on this issue are beginning to boil over in North Meck and for good reason. The 3-2 vote to affirm Toll Lanes at our Town Board meeting this past week, was undoubtedly the single worst decision I’ve witnessed in my 8 years serving Cornelius. Based on the flood of emails I received, I am well aware that many of you share my profound disappointment in Chuck Travis, John Bradford, and Lynette Rinker for their ill-conceived and close-minded decision. I’ll explain where we are now on this issue, and then suggest how folks who want to channel their anger can get involved. Given the length here, you may want to read when you have a few minutes to spare.

A lot has changed since 2010 when we started exploring Toll Lanes as a means of widening I-77. Even since my last Newsletter 2 months ago when I wrote, “Political realities make financing General Purpose (GP) Lanes impossible for the foreseeable future”, the pace of change has been dramatic, and we have every reason in the world now to reconsider. In fact, anyone with an open mind taking a fresh look must acknowledge a compelling emerging opportunity to widen I-77 with GP Lanes on the same timeline as Toll Lanes, if not sooner. Here’s why -

  • State funding & prioritization. Our NC Legislature is now moving Governor McCrory’s proposed Strategic Mobility Formula sponsored by this region’s own Rep. Bill Brawley. The potential new law offers $16 billion over the next decade for statewide and major regional transportation needs – with a much higher priority put on “congested arteries serving major cities”. The Observer’s article on Tuesday called this forthcoming new law “the biggest overhaul in state transportation spending policy in 24 years”. A core principle of this new regime is funding more roadway capital projects based on a “data-driven” approach, not the same old political approach of the 1989 Highway Trust Fund Act, which would be outright cancelled.

  • Regional funding & prioritization. MUMPO (Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization – the key allocator of funds for our region) formally adopted an entirely new methodology and criteria (“Roadway Project Ranking Methodology”) on March 20, 2013. This new criteria explicitly puts far more weight on objective factors highly advantageous to I-77 GP Lanes (e.g. Reduces Congestion, Access to Employment Center) and far less weight on factors disadvantageous to GP Lanes (e.g. Center City, Impacts Air Quality which now carry no weight at all). Carefully considered analysis presented to our Board by Kurt Naas and Vince Winegardner suggest that GP Lanes would go from the infamous MUMPO ranking of #93 circa 2010 to the top of the list, if not the #1 project in the region. For those of us who drive around this region every week, this is purely common sense.

Even if the Strategic Mobility Formula legislation doesn’t pass this session, GP Lanes would still go to the top of the list in NC if MUMPO’s new methodology supports the project. This is because I-77 GP Lanes have always scored extremely well at state level on a quantitative merit basis, but have lacked MUMPO’s political support in the past which is key.

So, when Speaker Thom Tillis, whose words have huge impact and for good reason, famously said “good luck getting GP Lanes through MUMPO” earlier this year, in a meeting with several local officials and the Widen I-77 organization, he may have been right then, but the regional and state framework for highway funding is now changing radically almost real-time.

So, why no similar change in the views of many of our politicians, as reflected in Cornelius’s idiotic vote Monday night? Several reasons, all inexcusable:

  1. Ego and psychology. Travis, Bradford, and Rinker (all close colleagues of mine who do not take strong policy disagreements personally), like so many other politicians, have strenuously and loudly made the argument in recent years that “it’s toll lanes or no lanes”. We all understand the powerful instincts in human nature against admitting when we might be wrong
  2. Defeatism – Many of these I-77 discussions exude an attitude of defeat – “we’ve lost; there is no hope; Charlotte owns MUMPO and they’ll never support what's fair and makes sense in North Meck because they simply don’t care, etc.” This is self-fulfilling of course; as long as North Meck leaders don’t challenge status quo thinking, then Charlotte politicians are happy to let us pay tolls forever
  3. Government inertia – “hitting the pause button” is never something government at any level does well. A massive enterprise like the current $550 million Private-Public Partnership (P3) conceived in 2010 and coordinated across innumerable local, regional, and state government entities long since took on a life of its own and an aura of inevitability. It’s the “way the wind is blowing” and so many of our politicians go along to get along unfortunately
  4. Absolutism – for me, the most painful reason why North Meck is “sleep walking” into a minimum 50 years of paying several dollars each way to avoid ever worsening gridlock on I-77, is the reason John Bradford gave for voting for Tolls, “unless we have 100% confirmed proof of GP Lanes in the near future, then I choose Toll Lanes.” There are huge unknowns and risks associated with Toll Lanes (see WidenI77.org for a full set of facts and insight about managed Toll Lanes realities) and similar projects elsewhere have gone terribly wrong (see recent Washington Business Journal article about an eerily similar P3 structure set up in Virginia in the late '90s now in disarray with financial failure, crazy-high tolls, and hyper congested GP lanes AND surrounding secondary roads - Greenway Mess), why in the world would we err on the side of Toll Lanes as Bradford suggests?

All of us in local, regional, and state leadership owe our constituents an intense effort to due diligence a GP Lanes option. With the rapidly changing framework for roadway projects in NC, now is the time. NC DOT will not sign the contract for Toll Lanes until the end of the year, so there is sufficient time to act. Clearly, development and good faith due diligence of an alternative option is simply smart planning. After all, I-77 must be widened ASAP, and there are still uncertainties around Toll Lane economics and feasibility. $170 million of the $550 million on the Toll Lane project is NC taxpayer funded anyway – can some way be found for these same dollars to go to GP Lanes (especially since we would only need as little as half of this total)?

As a first step, I made a motion at our Board meeting to respectfully ask MUMPO to analyze how a GP Lanes option would be evaluated under their newly adopted prioritization methodology (even if only to provide a preliminary, informal assessment). Common sense, right? Yet Rinker, in her confused, highly charged thinking on this subject, broke our tie in voting this motion down, even though earlier in the evening her chief criticism of the Widen I-77 analysis was that Naas and team had not yet worked directly with MUMPO personnel.

How can you help? Go to WidenI77.org and learn more. Sign the petition. Attend the next meeting (info below). Email lrinker@cornelius.org, ctravis@cornelius.org, and jbradford@cornelius.org and demand that Cornelius send a message to MUMPO and regional/state politicians that a serious, fresh look at GP Lanes is needed given the emerging, entirely new framework for transportation spending in NC.

WidenI77.org working session:
Date: May 14th
Time: 7pm
Place: Cornelius Town Hall,
21445 Catawba Ave., Cornelius

 

Dave Gilroy

Commissioner, Town of Cornelius

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tea Party vs. GOP Establishment...Battle Comes to Mecklenburg's Doorstep

A couple of interesting events have happened in the past few days which may signal a looming battle within the Republican party between the establishment GOP and Tea Party grassroots activists.  What makes this more interesting for us here in Mecklenburg is that it would be right on our doorstep.

Early this week rumors began to swirl that the GOP establishment is seeking a candidate to primary conservative legislator Rep Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County.  This comes on the heels of last week's brouhaha between Rep Pittman and Speaker Tillis over comments Pittman made at a Cabarrus County meeting of the We The People grass roots activist group.

Primaries come as nothing new to Pittman.  He survived a primary challenge last election cycle - beating challenger Jay White by 51.46% to 48.54%.

Making matters worse, the rumors swirling have the potential challenger being from Mecklenburg County,  moving to Cabarrus specifically to challenge Pittman.  Those rumors generated this response on Twitter from one connected conservative activist in Cabarrus...


While I prefer to not use the RINO label, this gives you some sense of what's waiting for someone crossing county lines to challenge Pittman.  Pittman also enjoys support from Tea Party types outside of Cabarrus who would likely join the fight in the event he receives a primary challenge.  He has raised his profile by taking the lead on some of the strongly Pro 2nd Amendment legislation working its way through the General Assembly.  During the most recent Mecklenburg GOP convention, a resolution was debated at length specifically to show support for Pittman's efforts.  There will likely be many volunteers crossing county lines to support Pittman along with any potential challenger against him.

The second event that could have local impact is something that actually won't be happening.

The upcoming NCGOP convention in June will be held in Charlotte.  Local grassroots activist Jack Brosch has thrown his hat in the ring for NCGOP Chair against Claude Pope - the hand-picked candidate of the Raleigh establishment.  A third candidate Mattie Lawson, a Tea Party leader from the Outer Banks, had briefly also joined the contest, but on Wednesday put out this announcement:


This well-considered decision shows a maturity of the Tea Party movement to not repeatedly make the same mistake and dilute support by running multiple candidates for the same contest.  It also shows an understanding that concentrating forces on a confined battlefield - such as a Convention floor - allows for a much higher likelihood of success.

Convention elections are all about who shows up.

Talk of a primary against Larry Pittman when the convention is in his backyard and his issues are what currently animates the party faithful could very well be what drives more "conservatives" to show up in Charlotte this June and create some unexpected surprises for the State GOP.

Monday, May 6, 2013

About that "new" regularly scheduled meeting for Davidson's Commissioners...

First of all, apologies to the readers for letting this one slip by me, but I was as surprised as many of you were at the notice today regarding a new "regularly scheduled" meeting for Davidson's Town Board scheduled for tomorrow, the first Tuesday of the month.

Here's the info on what that meeting will be.

Until April's Regular Board meeting where this change was put through as part of the "consent" agenda, the Davidson Board met on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday's of the month for the Regular meeting and a Work Session respectively.  The Board also has begun meeting over the past several months at commissioners' homes on a monthly basis for a "Special Meeting" aka "team building".  (See here for more on those meetings to decide if you think they are really just "team building".)

The new meeting on the 1st Tuesday of the month is actually a replacement of the old small group meetings held with 1-2 commissioners and Town Staff.  These small meetings did not meet the criteria for the State Open Meetings Law and were therefore not open to the public.  This new meeting will be open to the public and is a step in the right direction towards transparency.  (It would be better if it wasn't in the afternoon when people are at work, but it's a step in the right direction nonetheless.)

While this meeting had not published agenda, per an email for the Town's information officer, Christina Shaul, the following items will be discussed:

- FY 13-14 budget update
- Davidson retirement residence
- Film ordinance
- Bank robbery
- Pedestrian and bike safety program development
- Town Day 2013, ideas for 2014

Ms Shaul also verified that no votes will occur at these new 1st Tuesday meetings even though a quorum will be present.

Now, if we can just get video recording of the Regular meetings (at least) and truly meaningful meeting minutes, that would be some real progress.

The updated meeting calendar with all of these meetings can be found here.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Threats, promises, and holes in the HOT lanes dike...

Fat Boys in Mooresville may turn out to be the unlikely place where the struggle to stop unwanted HOT lanes in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties took a momentous turn.  Or, what happened there Sunday may turn out to be just another bump in the road before NCDOT, MUMPO/Charlotte, leaders in the General Assembly, and the consultants all get their way over the rising voice of the people.  Whatever the ultimate outcome, the press conference held by Rep Robert Brawley along with members of WidenI77.org ensures this story gets much messier before its conclusion.

Rep Robert Brawley's statement and his switching positions from support to opposition to I77 HOT lanes makes him the most senior elected official and the only member of the General Assembly to publicly oppose the project.  This is significant - so significant that a reporter present asked if Rep Brawley was concerned about any consequences from Raleigh for speaking out.  This reporter relayed being told by other area politicians that "the moment you step out and start saying you are against the toll road, you get a phone call from Raleigh and they either tell you 'get behind the toll road or you lose other projects'.  The folks in Davidson were told, 'get behind us and we'll do the Red Line.'"

Rep Brawley's response?  

"Threats do not bother me."

He also went on to clarify that he did not expect to be threatened over changing his position - something we should all be glad to hear.

However, if one Representative in the General Assembly breaks what has effectively been a "code of silence" in opposing toll roads, might others not be far behind?

Maybe more importantly though is the horse trading that is possibly going on to garner support for the HOT lanes project.  The reference to Davidson being bought off by ensuring the Red Line goes forward is disturbing to say the least.  This question was asked on camera by a reporter with multiple competitors in the room.  It was asked seemingly without concern of being called on it.  If there is any truth to that, it needs to be cleared up exactly what that means.

And as a backdrop to all this drama in Mooresville?  There was a wall of petitions on display representing the thousands of signatures WidenI77.org has collected.  One member claimed 15 full sheets were collected on Saturday at the Cornelius Dragon Boat festival.

Those petitions contain the email addresses of the signers.  Email addresses are the lifeblood of any political campaign.  With WidenI77.org planning to put out a voter guide this election season, those politicians - unlike Rep Robert Brawley - who end up on the "wrong" side of this issue will likely face an email list of several thousand telling voters who wants to toll them and who doesn't.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Logjam breaks for H267!!! Where will it go?


Good news arrived today for those wanting to see where the Legislature truly sits with tolling projects in the State.

Whether in response to the prodding in the previous post here at aShortChronicle or as just a fortunate coincidence, H267 was added to the agenda for next week's House Transportation Committee meeting.  The original agenda for the meeting sent out at 3:51 this afternoon did not include the bill, but 15 minutes later at 4:06pm a "correction" arrived that added H267 to the bottom of the May 7th agenda.

It will now be the 15th  bill on the agenda - making for a very busy afternoon.

Whether the brakes get applied again after this hearing or the bill keeps moving is anybody's guess, but at least the public will get to hear some real feedback on the bill from legislators.

That's a good thing for citizens, for voters, to hear.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

H267 Being Slow Rolled to Help Toll Roads?

Back in early March, H267 - NCGA Prior Approval/Interstate Tolling - was submitted and promptly sent to the House Transportation Committee.

Upon its submission, those opposing the I77 HOT lanes project were initially encouraged that this may be an effort to find a way off the toll road track by allowing the General Assembly a way save face and put a stop to these efforts at double taxation (gas taxes as well as tolls) for driving on some of our roads.  Hopes were even higher when House Transportation Committee Chairman, Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Meck) of Matthews, signed onto the bill.  (See here and here for earlier posts on this story.)

However, that encouragement and those hopes were short-lived.

Rep. Brawley argued in this Charlotte Observer article soon after the bill was filed that "the General Assembly approved high-occupancy toll lanes for Interstate 77 in 2012 'because it was the only way to get additional capacity to I-77 North in the next 25 years'" - reiterating the pro-toll position heard from many of the project's supporters and also implying that this bill would not pertain to I77.

aShortChronicle received this response from one of the bills original sponsors, John Torbett (R-Gaston) regarding if I77 would be covered by this bill.

"I feel I-77 has already been determined and changing it would be a step backward. This bill should take effect on any new thoughts relative to tolling additional Interstates"

The exact action in 2012 which specifically authorizes tolls on I-77 has not been identified to date.  That does not mean one does not exist, but it also does not clearly mean that H267 would not apply if it was passed in time to impact the I77 tolling project.  In 2012, the NCGA did provide the authority for a pilot Public Private Partnership tolling project with H1077 - the definition of a project that would fit the I77 HOT lanes.  However, that session law does not specifically mention I77.

If the HOT lane supporters are intending to use H1077 as the reason H267 would not apply to the project, that would seem to splitting some pretty fine legal hairs.  Here's why.

If the intent of H267 is to require a vote before implementing tolls on a specific highway only when the planning for the project starts after a certain date, there is no date in H267 which would exempt I77 in the proposed bill.  Also, if the intent of H267 is to require a vote on each and every specific highway toll project if it touches existing lanes then it would apply to I77 as written because the I77 toll project uses at least a portion of an exiting lane slated to be converted to tolling.  That would be the existing HOV section of the road.  Finally, in the event H267 was passed as worded, to insulate the I77 project from any legal challenge for not having an additional vote on it, the prudent thing to do would be include language to specifically exclude I77 from being covered by the bill.

However, all of that is irrelevant if H267 just languishes in committee and never sees the light of day.  Unfortunately, that appears to be what is happening.

Since H267 was introduced in early March and sent to the House Transportation Committee, there have been no less than 7 scheduled meeting of the committee on these dates - March 19, March 26, April 2, April 9, April 16, April 23, and April 30.  The five most recent meetings all considered bills introduced after H267, including the highly complex H817 which covers Governor McCrory's proposed new plans for State transportation expenditures.  That highly complex bill was considered and passed through the House Transportation Committee mere days after the Governor announced the sweeping changes to how transportation money is spent in this state.

So, why has H267 languished?  Why can't a very simple bill that asks for an up or down vote by the Legislature on toll projects even get through committee?  One has to wonder why it has not been given the green light?

Certainly, toll road supporters know why.


Update: The day after this post, H267 started to move - being scheduled for the May 7th House Transportation Committee meeting.  See Logjam breaks for H267!!! Where will it go?