Thursday, December 25, 2014

Finding a Room in the Inn

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ –Matthew 25: 35-40

Back in February of this year, there was an unexpected controversy around the installation of a sculpture by Canadian artist Tim Schmalz called ‘Homeless Jesus’.

The piece was placed in front of St Albans Episcopal Church in Davidson.   Unfortunately, it also made the news across the country and internationally with the unfortunate tag line of “somebody called the cops on Jesus” when someone phoned the police after mistaking the statue for a real homeless person.

While the vast majority of local comments were supportive of the statue, not everyone thought it was appropriate.  Some did not like the location.  Others said they did not like the idea of Jesus being portrayed as vulnerable or needy.

Many supporters said it made them think more about the homeless, or that it was a good conversation starter on a subject that too often gets pushed into the shadows.  Particularly here in North Mecklenburg where there may be fewer visible occurrences of homelessness to remind people on a regular basis, the statue certainly could serve that purpose.

However, the real value in that sculpture would be realized if it inspired people to actually do something rather than just talk about its artistic or religious merits.

On this Christmas Day, readers should know they have the opportunity to do just that by volunteering for the Room In the Inn program run through Urban Ministries in in Uptown Charlotte.

Room in the Inn (RITI) recently started up its annual program to provide shelter during the winter months for those in need.  Through this program, houses of worship and other organizations open their facilities for the night and provide a warm place to sleep along with three meals (dinner, breakfast, and a bag lunch).  “Neighbors” as the guests are called can get a hot shower and pick up things like extra toiletries if needed.

A night at a RITI facility provides a much needed respite from the street, and unfortunately there is too much need for these services.  Last winter nearly 1500 different people took advantage of the program.

To pull off that kind of effort is no small feet.  A single night at a single facility takes many volunteers - drivers to and from the Urban Ministry Center, people to setup, people to bring dinner, one or two volunteers to spend the night with the neighbors, and people to help with early morning breakfast preparation and cleanup.

It could take as many as a dozen different people to get it all done.

Most facilities who participate in RITI are only able to do a few nights a week – at most.  Some may only be able to do one or two.  However, it is cold every night during the winter.

One big reason more nights cannot be offered is that it takes a lot of people to fill all those volunteer spots.

In Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson there are fifteen different organizations participating in Room in the Inn.  If you are looking to do something different in the coming year, seek out one of those groups and offer to help this winter.

Even if it is once a month or only once or twice a year, that can make a real difference.  If enough people were to do just that much, more of those facilities that have the space available might be able to do more nights.

Unlike Mary and Joseph who were having trouble finding a place to stay on that first Christmas Eve, more people who need it would then be able to find a Room in the Inn.

For more information:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Is it 2016 yet? Senator Burr targeted by Senate Conservatives Fund

With 2014 elections just now in the books, it is already time to start looking to the next round of US Senate contests.

Earlier this week, the Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former SC Senator Jim Demint, sent out this survey targeting the senior NC US Senator, Richard Burr.  The survey titled "North Carolina Grassroots Survey" appears intended to gauge enthusiasm among conservatives for a primary challenge when Burr comes up for reelection in 2016.

Among the most inflammatory of the statements in the survey was Burr's donation of $20,000 to a PAC supporting the Thad Cochran campaign in the Mississippi runoff last June.  Money from this PAC was used to purchase adds implying that Cochran's opponent, conservative Chris McDaniel, was a racist.

They were probably the worst adds run in the entire country by any campaign, and they were run by the Republicans against one of their own for no other reason than maintaining political power for the Republican establishment.

The Mississippi contest was not a case where Republicans might lose a seat if the so-called Tea Party candidate was the nominee.  Mississippi is deep red as a state, and McDaniel would have won the general election if he had been the nominee.

Mississippi was the worst example of incoming Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell's pledge to the liberal New York Times last March to "crush them everywhere" - speaking of conservatives.  Soon after that rant he also began running ads targeting the SCF specifically.

When it comes time to support candidates for 2016, conservatives and establishment Republicans need to remember where Senator Burr stands on the issues raised in this recent SCF survey.

Remember that your money may get spent on adds like the ones Senator Burr helped pay for in Mississippi.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Poking the Bear aka Asking Questions

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

When you write a column like this one that regularly pokes and prods local government to do the right thing, eventually they poke back.  That finally happened on the recent column regarding the Town of Davidson’s proposed planing ordinance changes.

Last week, Town of Davidson senior staff was quoted in another area publication on the topic of the controversy surrounding the proposed changes, and it was pretty clear that staff took issue with what yours truly had to say.  Those same concerns were never expressed to me directly, but then again, I suppose that's to be expected too.

The person who was quoted, Assistant Town Manager Dawn Blobaum, happened to be the person who I pointed out helped found the local office of the Lawrence Group – the consulting company that has done a large amount of work for the town over the years.  The other person quoted extensively in the other publication’s article was recently retired UNCC professor David Walters.  Walters also has a long history with that same consulting company.

Now let’s be clear, there is not anything intrinsically wrong with using consultants.  However, it does show that in this case staff and the consultants they use are cut from the same cloth.  It does show that they would likely approach things with the same world view.

Fortunately for us - the citizens – unelected staff and their ideologically-driven paid consultants do not set policy.  That is the responsibility of our elected officials.

On that note, I will take the generally positive feedback received from a majority of Davidson Commissioners on my earlier piece as a good sign the points made were valid concerns.  That feedback was received both before and after the piece was published.  Frankly, since commissioners are the ones who will vote on the proposed changes, that’s the feedback that matters most.

That brings me to the second point regarding the columns I write.

When the Weekly Herald approached me with the idea of writing a regular column on local issues, I will admit it was a pleasant surprise.  It was validation that maybe a few more people than readers of political blogs might be interested in the topics I typically cover.  When the subject of money came up, I told them that I would do it for free.  The Herald does not pay me a dime.

My writing over the years has focused on bringing more transparency to local government and trying to provide readers a window into how things really work  The possibility of encouraging more people to take an active role in their government makes any criticism directed at me well worth it.

Make no mistake about it, pushing for change and trying to get government to act more transparently is a task that involves many more losses than wins.  Though, wins do occur.

The most obvious recent one would be the property tax revaluation refunds issued this year by the County and local municipalities – refunds that absolutely would not have occurred if not for the tireless work of local citizens to get the flawed 2011 revaluation corrected.

Another would be the citizen pushback that resulted in Davidson abandoning a 2012 push by officials to implement 4-year staggered terms for Commissioners and the Mayor.  That change by it's very nature would have prevented voters from ever voting out a majority of elected officials in a single election – even if they had made decisions that deserved such a result.

I recently told one local Commissioner that controversy over issues like the ones currently being discussed in Davidson could easily be avoided if government simply put out information they know will be controversial in a more easily accessible way.   Give your average resident a realistic chance to understand what is being done without forcing them to weed through a ton of technical information and then controversy is much less likely.

An example of how that could be accomplished actually occurred on December 9th at the second half of public hearing on Davidson’s planning ordinance changes.  On the subject of allowing corner retail in the Village Infill area, Commissioner Cashion asked planning staff how many corner lots are currently vacant.
Vacant lots allow for the maximum square footage of retail under the proposed changes.  The number and location of these lots may be the most obvious question to ask about this section of changes.

The answer from the town’s planning staff: “Off hand I don’t know, but we could do that research.  I don't believe there are many.”

Maybe the answer is buried in the detailed documentation somewhere.  After two years of work, one would certainly hope so.
However, until those kinds of obvious questions start being answered before they are even asked, there will always be room for columns like the ones featured here.

This post originally appeared in this week's Herald Weekly!.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Impact of Redistricting on North Mecklenburg

With the dust finally settled on our national elections with the runoff in Louisiana, it is time two look forward to a new US Congress and State General Assembly.

This past election saw Republicans maintain their super majorities in both houses of the State Legislature.  They also added a Representative in the state’s Congressional House delegation in addition to winning a second US Senate seat.  That's a significant change from just a few short years ago.  In fact, North Carolina has seen one of the more dramatic changes of any state in the country as far as the party of our elected officials with lawmaking authority is concerned.  With that in mind, it’s worth taking a look at how we got here.

It ultimately comes back to a national effort aimed at state-level legislative politics.

Most people who follow politics are now familiar with the political map being shown on any news show discussing the US House of Representatives – the one that shows a sea of red Republican seats with the smaller number of blue Democratic seats centered along the coasts and around a few urban centers.

That map is no accident.  It is the result of a concerted effort by Republicans over the past several years  – an effort called REDMAP or the  REDisticting MAjority Project.

REDMAP originated with the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) after the 2008 elections in preparation for the 2010 Census, and its subsequent constitutionally required redistricting.  The goal was to gain control of more state legislatures and influence the redistricting process across the country to draw more Republican-friendly districts at the State and Congressional levels.

The REDMAP effort was greatly enhanced by th.e Obamacare fueled Tea Party wave that swept the country during the 2010 election season.  The end result for North Carolina was the first Republican controlled Legislature in 140 years.  Redistricting ensued, and the past two Federal and State election cycles have occurred under the new districts.

The results?  The state’s Congressional delegation has moved from 8 – 5 favoring
the Democrats going into the 2010 elections to 10 – 3 favoring the Republicans after the 2014 cycle.  Over these same cycles, Republicans have secured election-tested, veto-proof super majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

For its intended purpose, REDMAP cannot be considered anything but an unmitigated success for the GOP here in North Carolina.

So, how has this impacted voters choices here in North Mecklenburg?  Here, the results have been more mixed.

On the Congressional level, the NC 9th has the dubious distinction of being one of 77 House districts nationwide (and the only one in North Carolina) where one party ran unopposed in 2014.  Between the heavy Republican slant of the district, and Congressman Robert Pittenger’s proven willingness to spend whatever it takes to win an election, the odds of winning were too long for any challenger to step into the fray.

At the State level however, things remain fairly competitive.  North Mecklenburg has parts of two NC House Districts and one NC Senate district.  While Senator Jeff Tarte (R) of Cornelius has the NC Senate 41 district fairly well wrapped up, on the House side things are much tighter.   Those seats are NC House 92 held by Rep Charles Jeter (R) of Huntersville and NC House 98 to be held by newly elected Rep John Bradford (R) of Cornelius.

According to the latest Civitas Institute rankings of partisanship in legislative districts, NC-92 was the only district in the state won by a Republican in a Democratic leaning district.  The district has a 2012 Civitas Partisan Index (CPI) rating of D+1.  Jeter won the district this year with 52.5% of the vote – an increase over his margin of victory in 2012 at 51.4%.

In NC House 98, Bradford did win Speaker Thom Tillis’s old seat by a fairly wide margin – gaining 55% of the vote.  That slightly outpaced the CVI rating for this district of R+9.  However, that high CVI rating should not be take as an indication this district is the result of gerrymandering.  It is actually down from the 2011 rating of R+11.

In fact all of the districts representing North Mecklenburg have seen decreases in the Republican-leaning nature of their districts.  Another analysis done by Professor Michael Bitzer of Catawba College shows more Mecklenburg precincts outside of Ccarlotte becoming more “blue” or at least less "red" in recent years.

As an example, the precinct around Davidson College used to be the only blue precinct in the whole North Mecklenburg area.  Between 2008 and 2012, other blue precincts joined NC-98 on its southern edge in North Charlotte.   Thus, its reduced CVI rating.

So, what does all this mean to you the voter?

It means that local voters should continue to hold their elected representatives accountable.  Particularly, at the State Legislative level they still have incentive to listen.

As the Mecklenburg electorate continues to change, their jobs in Raleigh will depend on it.

This post originally appeared in last week's Herald Weekly

Friday, December 5, 2014

Davidson Planning Ordinance Rewrite - Round 2

Davidson’s November monthly Town Board meeting saw one of the more spirited public hearings in recent memory.  Like a stunned boxer taking a flurry of punches in the opening round, the Town Board and Town Staff did not respond in real-time to citizen complaints about proposed changes to the town’s planning ordinance.  Per the town's own notes on the meeting fully 16 of 19 commenters opposed some aspect of what the town planners propose changing.

The public hearing is scheduled to continue at next week’s monthly meeting on December 9th, and it will be interesting to see if the Town comes out with a different strategy for Round 2.

The planning ordinance rewrite effort has gone on for two years already, and it’s costs have been adding up.

Initially, the Town brought in the Lawrence Group – a national planning and design firm whose local office was founded with the help of Davidson’s Assistant Town Manager, Dawn Blobaum, back in the 1990’s before she jumped from the private sector over to town hall.  The firm helped with an assessment and some of the initial work to the tune of roughly $75,000 for its efforts.

However, that represents just a small percentage of the overall cost.  As the project drug on, Town staff has taken direct control of the effort – spending an untold number of hours on the project.  A cost for all of that work was not available from the Town.

Finally, in this year’s budget there is an additional $25,000 for the Town Attorney, Rick Kline, to review the changes.  This covers his time spent in this fiscal year as well as back billing for work done last fiscal year.  It is a cost over and above the $50,000 budgeted annually for Mr Kline’s part-time work as Town Attorney

It is fair to say that a lot of time and expense has gone into the project, and to the town’s credit they have tried to get public input.  Part of the reason the first hearing was so well attended is that the Town spent $1300 sending 1400 letters to every household in the community impacted by the plan’s various rezonings.  It is unfortunate that after all that time and effort, the proposals produced seem to be taking the town in the wrong direction according to many.  It is a direction most residents and visitors to Davidson will be very surprised to see.

Some of the changes to the current ordinance will allow by-right development that might shock those who cherish Davidson’s small-town charm.  Normally, under the current rules these types of changes would have to go through a rezoning or some other action that would require specific approval – often from the Town Board – for changes of use for a given property.  If the proposed changes pass, that may not always occur.  Here are just a few examples that might surprise people:

1. The new Village Edge zoning designation allows 4-story buildings in town on certain specifically designated properties.  Several of these these are on or just off Main Street.  Does this sound like what you think if when you think of “Davidson”?

2. Retail would be allowed in the Village Infill area on any corner lot.  This will mix commercial uses into neighborhoods that have always been purely residential.  How would you like a bar or restaurant next door, or any other storefront for that matter replacing your neighbor’s front porch?

3. Developers will have more “offsite” options for meeting their affordable housing requirement.  In practice, this will allow high-end developments to potentially push their affordable housing requirement into other neighborhoods.  Does that sound like it's what middle-class residents want who already live in the town’s more moderately priced communities?

As was mentioned by Commissioner Graham after the hearing paused November 11th, the proposed changes impact more than just the 1400 property owners directly impacted by the rezonings.  Everyone who lives in Davidson will be impacted by these changes in some way.

Davidson officials were given a lot to think about at the November meeting.  Hopefully, they will come back with better answers than they did in Round 1, and hopefully they will once again  have a full house to hear them.

The bell rings for Round 2 at 6 PM on Tuesday December 9th at Davidson Town Hall.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Immigration Trap

There has been a lot of whaling and gnashing of teeth by Republicans over the President's executive order last week regarding immigration policy.  Cries of "amnesty!" have been flying around to get the conservative base riled up, and by all accounts it's working.  Proposed responses from Republicans range from shutting down the government, stopping implementation of the executive order through budget restrictions, to the ever present threat of legal action up to and including threats of impeachment.

The real question is would any of those responses work without giving the President exactly what he wants - relevance.

Make no mistake about it, the last round if elections dealt a damaging blow to President Obama and the Democratic Party across the board.  There is now little-to-no chance the Democrats regain the US House until after the next Census, and even that would depend on a wave election in 2020 comparable to the Tea Party wave of 2010 to give Democrats more control over redistricting.  The US Senate is not that much better for the Democrats either.  This article from lays it out.  Basically, with the Conservative Democrat being a dying breed and with there being 25 dependably Red states and only 11 dependably Blue states, the polarization of the electorate and the design of the Senate will conspire against the Democrats in the future.

With that type of reality staring down on the President and his party, what is the best thing for him to do to remain relevant?  Drag the Republicans into a nasty fight over a hot button issue like immigration and hope they overreach.

If Republicans want to avoid that and actually accomplish something, the path forward is relatively simple.  However, it would require the type of political courage the Republican Party leadership has not shown in the past, and there is probably little reason to expect it now.

Here's the simple two step plan.

1.  Each and every Republican candidate for President in 2016 needs to clearly state that on day one of their presidency, the executive order signed by Obama will be repealed and enforcement will begin.

2.  Rather than attempting to attack the legality of the President's executive order, Republicans should accept the legal underpinnings of it and then use that same logic to force its undoing.

Here is why this would work.  It is doable, and it is doable quickly.

Each Republican presidential candidate can unequivocally state their intentions to undo President Obama's executive order, and the mere possibility of a Republican win in 2016 which might undo any programs that start from Obama's order would certainly slow down its implementation and acceptance.

The new Congress could quickly pass a bill that would go to the heart of the legal argument behind Obama's executive order.  All they have to do is pass a clean budget bill using reconciliation in the Senate if necessary to double the funding/capacity of the existing immigration enforcement system.

The logic behin the President's order is this.

As long as the immigration enforcement machinery is operating at capacity, the President is within his authority to prioritize who will be pursued for deportation.  The system currently can only process about 400,000 deportations a year. The administration's stance is that they have been hitting that number for the past few years, so now they are simply defining a large category of people they won't pursue.  This is legal as long as the system continues to operate at capacity.

Republicans should fund doubling the system's capacity in a clean budget bill.  Send it to President Obama and let him veto it if he wants.  At the minimum it exposes his action for what it really is - a backdoor amnesty.  It also would shoot a giant hole in the legal basis for his action that might undo it.  If he signs it, the Republicans would get what they "say" they have wanted all along - tougher enforcement.

But that takes us back to the political courage issue with Republican leadership.  No serious person could believe they truly want tougher immigration enforcement.  They have had chances before and done nothing.  There is simply to much campaign money flowing from organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce which enjoys the cheap labor lax immigration enforcement allows to believe Republican leadership would ever bite the hand that feeds it.

And that may actually be the biggest problem with ever achieving true and effective immigration reform.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Playing Three Card Monte on Public-Private Partnerships for Trains

Three weeks ago we told readers about the effort by the Metropolitan Transit Commission to gain support for its upcoming legislative agenda in Raleigh. That agenda included requests for three items:

1. Legislative permission to use Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) to finance transit projects.
2. Permission to access certain Federal loan programs for transit projects.
3. Repeal of the sunset provision for existing Special Assessment District (SAD) legislation.

These items had all been presented as critical to financing future transit line development including the stalled Red Line commuter rail project.  We raised concerns about why the MTC was pushing this along so quickly - asking local commissioners to approve supporting resolutions by it's November 19th meeting.  Of particular concern was the idea of using P3s as a mechanism to finance rail development.  With all of the controversy around the P3 project for the I77 HOT Lanes, it seemed this was being rushed along too fast for the public interest.

Then something unusual happened at Davidson's board meeting on Tuesday November 11th when the resolution was to be discussed.  Two of the three critical items disappeared - the P3 and Federal loan program requests had been removed.  Only the request to remove the SAD sunset provision remained.

Davidson's Board unanimously approved the slimmed down resolution with little debate.  On Monday of this week the Huntersville and Cornelius Boards passed the same resolution 4-2 and 4-1 respectively.

So, the obvious question...

"Why was the resolution trimmed to just one item?  Specifically, how did the controversial P3 provision disappear?"

In a November 6th email on behalf of CATS CEO, Carolyn Flowers, to MTC members, Flowers had this to say regarding the authorization to use P3s to finance transit projects:

"With respect to the public private partnership (P3) position, legislation enacted in the 2013 regular session, SL 2013-401 established a statutory framework for local governments to enter into P3 arrangements. Initially, CATS staff believed the 2013-401 framework was of limited use in implementing 2030 Plan projects and we started considering a new framework.  Over time, staff understanding of what types of P3 arrangements would be utilized for 2030 Plan projects evolved to the point where it is believed SL 2013-401 will provide a sufficient framework. For this reason, the proposed public-private partnership position may be removed from the agenda."

In response to an emailed question regarding this change, Flowers said “outside counsel recently confirmed that 2013-401 can be used for any capital project, including transit infrastructure projects”.  Flowers confirmed the outside counsel was law firm Parker Poe.

Parker Poe has a long history of connections to Charlotte transportation issues.  One of its partners, Anthony Fox (no relation to US Transportation Secretary and former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx) served on Charlotte's "Committee of 21" regarding local road needs.  He was also appointed by Charlotte to the proposed new Charlotte Douglas Airport commission.  Parker Poe is also the same firm where former long-time Charlotte City Attorney, Mac McCarley, went after leaving his job with the City.

Prior to receiving input from outside attorneys, there was good reason for CATS staff to not think this session law was applicable to building rail lines.  SL 2013-401 was spawned by House Bill H857.  When H857 was written, it was not intended to create law to be applied for transportation projects.  This was confirmed by Rep. DeanArp (R-Union) who was one of  H857's primary sponsors in the General Assembly.

In fact, one of the “whereas” clauses in H857 specifically states it does not impact projects administered by NCDOT, and NCDOT helps administer rail projects where State money is involved.  However, the whereas clauses of a bill only describe the intent of the bill.  They do not become part of the law itself.  H857 was intended for public buildings, not transportation infrastructure.  Somewhat ironically, according to Rep Arp it was meant to bring more transparency into the use of P3s, but he agreed in this case is sounded like the law generated from his bill was being used beyond its original intent.

In this case, the legal eagles in CATS’s employ seem to be sacrificing the spirit of the law by following the letter of the law.  For CATS and the MTC it is much easier to claim they have the authority they need, rather than going through the messy process of actually being granted that authority.  In doing so, the public is once again deprived of participating in the discussion.  As importantly, if this position stands, the Republican-led General Assembly would not have to vote on allowing CATS to use P3s for rail transit financing - bypassing an opportunity for more legislative oversight.

Regardless of how you feel about rail transit in general or the proposed Red Line specifically, we should expect more from our government agencies than a game of three cardmonte using legal loopholes to get what they want.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bradford neighborhood delivers scathing public hearing comments on affordable housing implementation.

We've obtained a copy of the comments delivered by the Bradford HOA president at the public hearing on the proposed planning ordinance changes.  Posting.them here for anyone who wants to review.  Does your neighborhood have similar issues?

Regardless, it was great to see citizens being active in their community.  We need more.of that.  Comments begin below..

Public Comment Regarding Davidson’s Affordable Housing Ordinance
Delivered to Davidson Town Commissioners on Novemb!?er 11, 2014

My name is Juliet Bowden, and I am here with residents of Bradford to share our concerns related the Town’s Affordable Housing Ordinance and its implementation.
Our neighborhood has endured 6 years of troubled history with the Affordable Housing Ordinance, and the Town’s implementation of it.

There has recently been much discussion and focus on the policy merits of providing affordable housing. And there is also much focus and discussion on the impacts of such policies on developers. However, there is rarely discussion regarding the real impact of such policies on the neighborhoods subject to the ordinance. Neighborhoods, mind you, that consist of tax-paying Davidson residents like those in Bradford who ironically have had the least voice in the matter, yet have been significantly negatively impacted.

This is partly because of the stigma associated with speaking out against affordable housing. This is also because neighborhoods like ours have largely been cast aside as bystanders to business dealings between the town and the developer. Bystanders who can suffer economic damage as a result of those dealings between the town and the developer.

So as not to go down that path of stigma and social misunderstandings, we would simply like to let the facts from our experience speak for themselves to hopefully inform meaningful changes to both the ordinance as well as the manner in which the Town implements the ordinance.

Bradford’s First Experience with Davidson’s Affordable Housing Ordinance

In early 2008 the developer started building the first of three affordable homes in Bradford up at the front of the neighborhood near the River Run entrance.
In October of that same year, Bradford residents discovered that the developer had worked with the town to revise and develop additional Affordable Housing units.
This plan entailed consolidating three adjoining single family lots and constructing there a 10 unit complex.
At the time, many of the residents who had purchased homes in the neighborhood were unaware of the material fact that more than 3 were required to be built.
Since this was drastically different from the original plan for the subdivision, residents were taken aback that no input was sought in advance of this revised proposal.
It was puzzling how just several months prior the Town had required a charrette for a proposed pool in the neighborhood, but did not seek residents’ input on significant changes to the developers Affordable Housing plan or land usage in Bradford until the residents had discovered it was in the works and pressed the issue.
As a result of pressing the issue, residents held a meeting with Town staff in which residents were invited to voice their concerns. Town Manager Lemon Brice, then Town Planner Kris Krider and Cindy Reid were present. The developer was also invited, but did not attend. Around 40 – 50 Bradford residents did attended that meeting.
At this meeting, residents brought up valid issues around building a 10 unit building in Bradford, but were instead treated with disrespect and called “NIMBYs” (not in my back yard) by the Town staff.
If there was anything constructive that came out of this episode, it was to be Bradford’ case against a 10-unit structure and building units for the lowest AMI in rural areas. Residents brought to light with the Town the significant issues such as density versus dispersal of units, access to public transportation and public services, parking issues, access for emergency vehicles and the apparent mixed messages from the Town regarding the importance of transparency and public input. The issues brought forth by residents at that meeting were dismissed by the Town and residents were told, as they have always been told, that the developer has to fulfill his obligation and it’s his legal right to do it this way.
However, Bradford just learned this year from the Town that the 10-unit building could not have been built anyway because the deed restrictions filed in 2008 broke with Bradford’s covenants which the homeowners brought to the Town’s attention back in 2009 – another interesting facet of this saga that calls into question concerns over the Town’s wherewithal to implement the ordinance.

Second Experience with Davidson’s Affordable Housing Ordinance

In 2008 the Bradford developer attempted to build three homes for the Affordable Housing Program.
The first of these homes was purchased for $203,500 within the Affordable Housing Program by a family who works in Davidson. A month after moving in, a mechanics lean was placed on the property because the developer had not paid his sub-contractors.
The other two of these three affordable homes were not finished by the developer, foreclosed on, and sat unfinished with building materials laying on the property among weeds and debris until they were finished and sold in 2011 and 2012.
One of the foreclosed affordable homes was purchased by the Town in 2011 and sold to an Affordable Housing homeowner for $120,000 – although identical the home that had sold for $203,500 under the Affordable Housing Program.
The other foreclosed home was released from the Affordable Housing Program and was sold by the bank for $112,000 and is now for sale on Craig’s list for $225,000.
This was the first of a few significant Affordable Housing failures that Bradford residents suffered from.
Third Experience with Davidson’s Affordable Housing and Other Ordinances
After attempting to build three affordable homes in Bradford, coupled with the failing housing market, the developer packed up in 2010 and called it quits. Leaving the 75 residents of Bradford with a string of bills and unfinished work that required the homeowners to take up special assessments and raise dues in an effort to pay for approximately $83,000 of developer debt: $22,000 Duke Power contract, the electricity bill, the developer’s annual contribution of $11,000 per year for mowing his lots and common areas, and in 2012 Bradford Homeowners received a foreclosure notice and tax bills totaling $17,000 for the back taxes the developer owed on the common areas which coincidentally the developer deeded to us with the assistance of his attorney Rick Kline.
What do these have to do with affordable housing? This is evidence of a ripple effect that can occur when a poorly conceived and poorly implemented ordinance places a burden on both the Town and the developer – a burden that is however born to a great extent not by the Town nor the developer, but passed on to the residents who have had little say or representation in the matters.
In addition, the Town endeavored to reduce its losses in Bradford by requiring the developer to sign an agreement to deposit $25,000 for each lot sold into an escrow account for street repairs. Once again, the Town with its attorney Mr. Kline along with the developer’s attorney Mr. Kline managed to mitigate risks for the developer and town, but passed the developer’s debt for the residents of Bradford to shoulder. What has recently come to bare once more in Bradford are the repairs to the streets that satisfy the developer’s obligation and satisfy the Town’s requirements, but ultimately residents shoulder the burden of this deal. This is just one more debacle that has left residents significantly distressed over the appearance of our streets.
Take a look at the work that was recently completed on the streets in Bradford. It reflects and underscores our statements that the Town’s implementation of its ordinances can cause additional harm to a community.

Lessons Learned from Experience

We know that a one-size-fits all approach does not work as each neighborhood has different attributes that affect the feasibility of affordable housing, such as proximity to public infrastructure, developer wherewithal, etc.

We know that implementation is just as important as what’s written in the ordinance.

We know from experience that developers will knowingly or unknowingly pass an unfair economic burden of compliance onto residents.

We know that it is unacceptable to have a continuing lack of transparency into agreements between developers and the Town and selective adherence to policies aimed at seeking citizen input, etc.

Bradford residents learned a lot about the ordinance over the past 6 years and learned a lot about their own neighborhood. We know that while we may not meet the AMI housing perfectly, in the spirit of the Town’s mission and the Affordable Housing Ordinance, Bradford is the kind community that Davidson seeks to encourage with its Ordinance. We have economic diversity, ethnic diversity, single family homes, town homes, garage apartments and homes that a lot of people would consider affordable.


We need relief. We’re not asking for relief for the developer. We, the residents who have been harmed the most by the administration of the Ordinance, are the ones who need the relief. We have naively assumed that a town of our size, a town where the mission statement and ordinances are written to promote the wellbeing of its citizenry, would do the hard and necessary work to ensure that its citizens are not mishandled and crushed in the process of achieving those goals.

We ask for the sake of Bradford that the town stop instituting any changes to Bradford using the same attorney as the developer’s attorney as we know this to be unfair to the homeowners of Bradford.

We know that our difficulties are not what was intended when these ordinances were written, but the Commissioners need to take a very hard look at not just the ordinances themselves, but how staff go about implementing them. We request that the Commissioners take a step back and give the process of creating ordinances that support the ideals of our community more time and public input.

Lastly – We believe that a community that makes provisions for and cares the smallest, weakest and most vulnerable of its citizens is one worth supporting and living in.

Thank you.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Is Davidson's mandatory affordable housing ordinance on the ropes?

The affordable housing ordinance in the Town of Davidson has been taking punches from all sides recently.  As one of only three mandatory affordable housing ordinances in North Carolina (the others being in Manteo an Chapel Hill), the relatively small program has withstood several controversies over the years while consuming an outsized amount of attention at Davidson Town Hall.

The program currently includes just 56 for sale units and a small number of rentals.  However, according to data provided by the Town earlier this year as many as a third of the for sale units have been sold to individuals who did not strictly qualify.  That means the houses sold with the required deed restrictions but not necessarily to owners who were below the maximum income thresholds - somewhat limiting the program’s impact on its intended target population.

Some other examples of past controversy surrounding the program include:

- The 2007 land swap between local developer Lawrence Kimbrough and the Town in exchange for an exemption from the ordinance for his high-end development off of Pine Road.  At the time, another local developer, Rodney Graham, now a Davidson Commissioner, spoke out and strongly questioned the validity of the transaction.  Graham is a strong supporter of affordable housing, but his past concerns show that even supporters see potential issues with how the ordinance has been implemented.

- In 2011, the Town attempted to buy two houses built for the program in the Bradford neighborhood after they went into foreclosure.  The move occurred after a closed session of the Board which caused concern in the town regarding transparency.  Ultimately, only one of the homes was purchased by the town, and the other was bought by a private investor.

- In a lesser known event in 2012, the town stepped in to help a small number of affordable housing owners with appeals after the most recent county revaluation when their homes were valued at more than they could legally be sold for under the ordinance’s strict resale requirements.

These events and others have led some to question the fairness of how the town administers the program.  Those simmering questions finally boiled over recently with a lawsuit filed by two local developers questioning the validity of the ordinance under NC state law and during a public hearing Tuesday night regarding the town’s Planning Ordinance re-write which includes extensive changes to the Affordable Housing rules.

Davidson has been down the litigation path before over its development policies, and the results have not usually been to the town’s favor.  After spending Town resources defending policies where it has overreached, Davidson was forced to settle past lawsuits over the Summers Walk and Davidson East developments.  The Summers Walk lawsuit eventually led to the repeal of the town Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance and was a precursor to the current lawsuit involving Affordable Housing

What is new to this affordable housing discussion is what happened Tuesday night – public pushback from Davidson citizens.

Several members of the Bradford neighborhood and it's HOA Board attended the public hearing to make clear their concerns with how the affordable housing program has affected their community.  Bradford HOA President, Juliet Bowden, delivered a blistering 10 minute speech relaying the overall history of the neighborhood and the issues it has had with the Town’s continuously changing story on how affordable housing will be implemented.  Much of those concerns center around the plan to consolidate program units into a 10 unit apartment building.   A plan that was a surprise to neighborhood residents.

One of the highlights of her speech was when she repeatedly mentioned that long-time Davidson Town Attorney, Rick Kline, has also served as the attorney for the neighborhood’s developer.  “Uncomfortable” is the word that comes to mind.  The shaking heads from audience members who were not Bradford residents tells you what many people thought about that situation.

Ms Bowden’s comments were followed by the HOA’s Treasurer, Ron Sewell.  After mentioning that some were interested in pursuing legal action to get relief for the neighborhood, Mr Sewell invoked the “Davidson Way” of talking things out as the much preferred option.  He also asked for a moratorium on building affordable housing in some of the impacted neighborhoods until that can be done.

Is mandatory affordable housing on the ropes in Davidson?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  One thing for sure is that it certainly does have a fight on its hands.

Full disclosure alert, I live in the Bradford neighborhood but had no involvement preparing any of the neighborhood remarks.  However, we have attained a copy of the HOA President's comments.  Check back later today for those.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

NC Supreme Court Debacle for Republicans

After last Tuesday, Republicans now securely hold all the levers of power in the state - election tested super majorities in both houses of the Legislature, the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor offices, both US Senate seats and 10 of 13 seats in Congress.  It is becoming harder to say that NC is truly a purple state.

However, all was not rosy for the GOP last Tuesday.

Just before Election Day, we told you about the most important but least known races on your ballot - the races for NC Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, while Republicans romped across the state and the nation, these non-partisan races went heavily for the Democrats where they one all three associate justice races and flipping the seat held by Republican Robert Hunter.

As the smoke clears, it has become obvious the most likely path for Democrats to stop the conservative direction of the state comes in the courts.  That will be much easier to do in coming years.  In the next three election cycles only one of the more conservative justices will be on the ballot.

Flipping one of those seats is all that needs to be done.

Ironically, it appears that one of the voting changes pushed through by the Republican legislature may have helped cause this situation.  Check out this piece over at the The Voter Update.  They postulate that removing straight ticket voting contributed to the dramatic reduction in voter drop off for these non-partisan races this cycle.

Only about 15% of voters skipped these races this year where 25% skipped in the past.  The idea is that under straight ticket voting people thought they voted for these races when in fact they did not.  By removing the straight ticket option, people took a closer look down ballot and did not skip these races as often.

It also could be that the Democrats just did a better job of getting their message out about progressive judges.

Over at commenters relayed stories about conservative activists that would not hand out voter guides that included the judges because of who else was on the ticket.  Here locally, the County Republican party also had trouble fully staffing the polls with volunteers this cycle.  Handing out the judge information is critical on election-day.  Often, it is the only piece of information people will take.  Without it, many voters have no idea who to vote for in these judiciary races.

In a cycle where Republicans won a statewide Senate race and received a majority of the combined votes in the races for US Congress, they somehow missed out on solidifying control of the State Supreme Court.  That's a mistake that could turn out to be costly.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Questionable Tactics in “Education” Tax Campaign

The size of the defeat for the “education” sales tax referendum in Tuesday’s election likely surprised many in Mecklenburg County Tuesday night.  Whether you supported it or opposed it, it’s doubtful too many thought the margin would be over 20 points. (38.8% For, 61.2% Against to be exact.)

As someone who longs for transparent and honest government, it was very disappointing and hard to watch how this sales tax referendum unfolded from beginning to end.  There were several troubling aspects which taken together make it feel like it was the right thing that this did not pass.

Was this a process that had community buy-in from the start?  No.  The Chamber of Commerce and even the School Board were taken off guard when the County Commissioners decided to put the tax on the ballot in a split 5-4 vote - mostly along party lines.

Was a sales tax the best way to fund CMS salaries long-term?  No.  It is too variable a revenue stream.  What happens when the next economic downturn hits?   Would those raises turn into pay cuts when sales tax revenue dips as it always does during a recession?  Would the other organizations slated to receive funds from this tax face cuts to keep CMS salaries from falling?  Too many outstanding questions were left unanswered.

Was the tax even a guaranteed source of revenue for education?  No.  While supporters of the tax claimed during the course of the debate that it would always be for education, the truth is that a future Board could have redirected this money to anything.  This tax revenue would have been general revenue and not legally tied to education spending.  The reason the ballot question on Tuesday did not mention education was that this was not an “education” tax.  Those who supported the tax were anything but clear on this fact.

This last point came up at the candidate forum at River Run in Davidson.   The candidates for NC House - 98 were asked whether or not they supported the tax increase. Republican John Bradford said he did not - citing this lack of a guarantee as his reason why.  Democrat Natasha Marcus who supported the tax shot back that Bradford's stance was a "dodge". The truth is that Bradford was right.

But maybe the hardest thing to watch was how public institutions targeted to benefit from this tax, danced right up to the line on what was legal for them to do in promoting its passage.  On more than one occasion they did things which were questionable and possibly over the line while pushing for the tax.  In addition to a small body of case law, there are two general statutes in North Carolina that govern what can and cannot be done by public institutions regarding elections – including referendums.  One set of laws is about spending public money.  The other is about “electioneering” around polling places. 

G.S. 160A-499.3 states “a municipality shall not use public funds to endorse or oppose a referendum, election or a particular candidate for elective office.”  G.S. §163-166.4(a) states “No person or group of persons shall hinder access, harass others, distribute campaign literature, place political advertising, solicit votes, or otherwise engage in election-related activity in the voting place or in a buffer zone.”

At some point both of these laws were bent well past their breaking point by our public institutions and officials, but since nobody will likely challenge them in court nothing will be done about it.  A cynic would say our public institutions know that they will not be challenged in an expensive court case, so they have no fear of stepping out of bounds when it suits their needs.

The library system and CMS created fliers that indirectly promoted passing the tax.  They technically stayed within bounds and did not explicitly encourage voting for the tax.  However, both fliers certainly implied bad things would happen if it did not pass.  The Library was challenged on the placement of its fliers inside facilities that also served as early voting sites.  To avoid running afoul of the electioneering law these were removed – a sign the library knew they were pushing the legal limits.

The Arts and Science Council and the Town of Davidson went even further.  They both explicitly encouraged voting for the tax in materials they created.  The ASC had multiple posts on its website encouraging people to vote for the tax.  Davidson Mayor John Woods was encouraging the same in the town’s latest newsletter which came out late last week just prior to election-day.  It’s hard to see how the ASC’s actions do not break rules governing non-profits.  The same could be said about Davidson’s use of a publicly funded newsletter to encourage passing the tax.

As County officials go back to the drawing board on the question of funding education, the size of this defeat as well as the actions of these institutions need to be taken into account when deciding how to do it.  Using questionable, strong-arm tactics to raise revenue has proven not to work.  Maybe now it’s time for Commissioners to figure out how to live within the County’s existing means. 

Bonus Observation: Check out this interactive map for where the sales tax actually passed.  It's telling that Davidson precinct 206 was one of the few precincts where it succeeded (just barely).  Overall it, still failed for the two town precincts, but Davidson was closer as a municipality than any other in Mecklenburg County.  

Having the Mayor use public funds to tell everyone to go vote for something likely made the difference.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Like Frankenstein…It’s Alive!!!

With Halloween upon us this week, we bring you the latest transportation spending monster being planned for Mecklenburg County.  This one involves new ways to fund a project that just won’t die – the Red Line commuter rail from Charlotte to Mooresville as part of the regional 2030 Transit Plan.

The Red Line received an apparently fatal blow last June when Norfolk Southern indicated track sharing with commuter rail did not fit the long-term plans for the company’s O line corridor which would be used for the project.  However, that has not phased the mad scientists down at the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) who have been hard at work coming up with new and creative ways to finance floundering rail transit efforts - including the Red Line.

Earlier this month, the road show to start gathering support in North Mecklenburg for that creative financing kicked off in Davidson.  The MTC is requesting the towns support the following as part of its 2015-2016 Legislative Agenda for the next General Assembly.  The MTC wants:

  1. Authorization to use Public Private Partnerships as a financing mechanism for transit.
  2. Authorization to access certain low interest Federal loan programs usable for transit infrastructure.
  3. Removal of the sunset provision on Special Assessment District legislation so they can be used for long-term transit projects.

Immediately after the September MTC meeting, canned language for supporting resolutions was distributed to all of the participating towns.  The request was to have resolutions passed by the Commission's member boards by the MTC's November 19th meeting.

Of the North Mecklenburg towns, only Davidson has seen the presentation from LNTC Chairman Bill Thunberg at this point.  He is doing the road show on the MTC’s behalf.  Davidson will likely vote on any supporting resolution at its November meeting.  If Huntersville and Cornelius vote on such a resolution by the originally requested date, they would likely need to do so at the same meeting where the information is presented to their Boards.  That puts Board members in a real bind if they are trying to make an informed decision.

Giving limited time to review information is a standard tactic when trying to ram something through.  Pushing this through while most people are focused on something else - like our current elections - is also a good way to slide this by the voters.

Why would the MTC want to do this?  A couple of reasons come to mind...

Authorization of P3s for transit financing sets up the same sort of monstrous projects we are seeing with the I77 HOT Lanes.  During the entire HOT debate, elected officials have been using the fact that the NCGA "authorized" the use of P3s years ago to abdicate any responsibility for it.

The earliest plans for tolls on I77 were tiny compared to what the project has morphed into now. Authorizing P3s for transit financing without knowing how a project would take shape in the future will result in the same thing for a project like the Red Line.

The second reason to rush this through is that paying off these projects will require going outside the half cent transit tax originally approved by voters.  If this agenda goes forward, the local economy will be stuck paying for a much larger percentage of these projects than voters originally supported.  Before gutting the property tax base with tools like Tax Increment Financing and Special Assessment Districts to pay off any massive new loans from the Federal government or the P3 private partners, the MTC should have to go back to those same voters for additional approval.  You can be sure that is not something transit supporters want to do. 

At the October 14th meeting in Davidson, Mayor Woods described supporting the MTC agenda as a “benign and routine request”.  It is anything but that, and we’ve previously seen this same kind of horror movie with this same cast.

Former Mooresville Mayor Thunberg and Davidson Mayor Woods were instrumental in pushing for the creation the money-hemorrhaging Mi-Connection cable company back in 2007.  It too was presented to the public as something that just had to be done.  Like Dr. Frankenstein himself, as Mooresville’s Mayor, Thunberg cast the tie-breaking vote that actually brought Mi-Connection to life.  It was a disastrous decision for both towns.

Now, as the LNTC Executive Director and the MTC Vice-Chairman, Thunberg and Woods are showing the same zeal in pushing for the Red Line and transit.  With that in mind, elected officials on the various town boards would be very smart to decline supporting the MTC legislative agenda.  At the very least they should not support it without a commitment to go back to the voters first on any new financing plans.

Will enough LKN commissioners oppose something destined to be more “trick” than “treat” for area residents?  We will all know soon enough.

This post originally appeared in the Herald Weekly

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Most Important, Least Known Races on Your Ballot Next Tuesday

For the first time in sixteen years a majority of the North Carolina Supreme Court faces election on the same day.  This Tuesday four of the seven seats are up for grabs - a situation brought about by a random combination of retirements, appointments and the regular election cycle.

Conservative judges Barbara Jackson, Robert Edmunds, and Paul Newby are not up for election this cycle. If you want to vote for judges to give them some additional support, then choose:

Mark Martin for Chief Justice and Bob Hunter, Eric Levinson, and Mike Robinson for Associate Justices on election day. has all the details on the races.  It's worth checking out the whole page beyond the below excerpt.


North Carolina's judicial elections are technically non-partisan. However, it is a state where the justices' political affiliations are clearly known and political parties may publicly endorse candidates. Currently, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has five Republicans and two Democrats on its bench. In 2014, four seats are up for election, meaning that a majority of the seven-member court is up for grabs.

Three Democratic seats and one Republican seat were initially up for election this year. Two of those seats--the chief justice position and Justice Martin's open seat--were given new, Republican incumbents thanks to appointments by Governor Pat McCrory in August 2014. That resulted in the chief justice position changing from a Democratic incumbent (Sarah Parker, who retired) to a Republican incumbent (Mark Martin, who is running for a full term in 2014). Going into the November elections, two seats are occupied by Republicans and two by Democrats.

A partisan flip is not possible, even though a majority of the court's seats are up for election, because it would require Democrats to win all four seats and there are no Democrats in the race for chief justice.

Republicans, on the other hand, have a chance to monopolize the court if they can oust Justices Cheri Beasley and Robin Hudson. North Carolina is already a Republican-dominated state, where the GOP holds the governorship, a majority in both legislative houses and a majority on the supreme court. This is referred to as a Trifecta Plus by Ballotpedia. A court fully controlled by the Republicans would be favorable to the similarly controlled executive and legislative branches if any of their new laws are challenged in court. More information on state government trifectas is available here: Ballotpedia: State government trifectas.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Could toll-road protesters decide the fate of the US Senate?

Well, the honest answer to that question is “probably not”, and in the grand scheme of things we should all be glad that’s likely not the case.   With global crises like Ebola, ISIS, and a potentially sputtering world economy to put things in perspective, it is surely a good thing for the order of the cosmos that control of the upper chamber in the US Congress is not solely dependent on the outcome of what happens with 26 miles of interstate through the Lake Norman area.

As was mentioned here two weeks ago, events elsewhere in the country took this race off the critical path for the Republicans some time ago.  Even though the race between Tillis and Hagan has tightened in the past two weeks, North Carolina now looks like it will be a bonus seat if the Republicans take over the Senate rather than the critical linchpin it was at the beginning of this election cycle. 
None of that however changes the fact that the I77 HOT Lanes issue could still be critical in the outcome of the contest here in North Carolina.  In a contest like this where every vote counts, any issue that sways a few thousand votes one way or the other could be the difference.

In the case of the HOT Lanes, the credit (or blame) for making that difference goes to the WidenI77 activist group.  Led by Cornelius resident, Kurt Naas, along with several other dedicated volunteers, this group has been relentless in getting out their message about preventing tolls.  Recently, they have been cranking up the volume. signs have been popping up in North Mecklenburg at prominent intersections.  One was seen recently floating near the Exit 30 causeway on Lake Norman during Friday afternoon rush hour¸ and this past Saturday one of those signs along with about two dozen protesters were outside of a Thom Tillis campaign event at the Republican “victory center” on Catawba Avenue in Cornelius.

Two dozen protesters may not sound like much, but if that is what you focused on then you would be missing the point.  That small number of protesters held signs that said things like “honk if you oppose tolls”.  Standing there for a few minutes, one got a real sense for how this issue could impact this election.

The noise from those horns and the number of drivers honking them said all you need to know.
Over a five minute period that Saturday evening a good 40% - 50% of passing cars honked.  Some were a quick beep-beep.  Others gave a long angry blast.  Sometimes they came in flurries where every passing car laid on the horn.  At other moments it would be just one in a group.  There was also the person the scooter giving the protesters a fist pump as he rode by.   The most entertaining had to be the man on his bicycle in full cycling regalia giving the protesters a thumbs up as he pedaled past.
Assuming that not everyone who opposes tolls bothered to honk, it was pretty clear in this incredibly unscientific poll that tolls are incredibly unpopular.  That unpopularity could turn into consequences on election-day. 

Here’s why…

Mecklenburg and Iredell Counties have almost exactly 10% of the State’s registered Republicans.  They also happen to be the two counties where residents will be the most familiar with the tolling issue.  Anything that siphons off even a small percentage of those Republican votes from Thom Tillis could throw a monkey wrench into his campaign’s efforts to overtake Kay Hagan.
That siphon could come in the form of former North Mecklenburg legislator and conservative firebrand John Rhodes who is mounting a write-in campaign for the US Senate.  He is a familiar name in conservative circles and has garnered a respectable level of support among local tea party activists.  He is also opposed to tolls.

On the street last Saturday evening several of his supporters were seen holding those signs encouraging people to honk.  If enough of those honks turn into votes, it could spell trouble for Team Tillis.

This post was originally published in the Herald Weekly

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Anti-Toll Effort Gets Some National Attention

While the race between Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan has been getting plenty of national attention (it may eventually be the most expensive Senate race in history) there has not been much attention from national media on a subject that is raging here locally - tolls on I77.

That changed with this story in the Washington Times.

Thom Tillis Senate bid imperiled by tea party toll-road disdain -Washington Times

We first reported on this issue possibility impacting this national election over a year ago.

The anti-toll group WidenI77 has been ramping up their efforts lately sending out a fundraising letter for a possible legal challenge as well as becoming a more visible presence around the area with signs and protests.

More on this story here later this week.

As election day nears it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Community Outreach on Tolls: “Ministry of Truth-style"

One would be hard pressed to find a local issue in recent (or not so recent) memory that has caused more confusion, anxiety, and distrust of state and local government than the proposed HOT Lanes project for widening I77.  At the root of all that distrust has been the ineffective communication to the public all along the way.
In what would seem to be an effort to remedy this, last November NCDOT put out a job posting for a position called “Director of Outreach and Community Affairs” to cover the Charlotte region.  This past spring, former Charlotte City Councilman Warren Cooksey stepped into the job. 
The job title and hiring a local would seem to be a good thing, but reading the job posting may leave you with a different opinion.
“This position supports community relations and public affairs for all NC Department of Transportation activities in the Charlotte area, including highway, rail, transit, bike/pedestrian and aviation.  The position develops and implements communication strategies, programs, and initiatives designed to inform Congressional, State, and Local Elected Officials, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Rural Planning Organizations, Chambers of Commerce, transportation associations, the media, and various stakeholders on how innovative projects and techniques help achieve Departmental objectives.  The Liaison serves as a senior staff member and responds professionally to internal and external issues, helping make decisions on the appropriate organizational response to the public and news media.  The position provides communication expertise supporting project delivery by crafting marketing materials on promotions and time sensitive campaigns.”
Under the “Skills” and “Experience” sections it lists managing relations with government agencies, private and public interest groups, and members of the media.  The position also requires a “thorough understanding of the political process and experience in the intergovernmental relations arena.”
Unfortunately, judging by the description and job qualifications, this Director of Outreach and Community Affairs position sounds like it would fit in just fine at the “Ministry of Truth” from George Orwell’s 1984.  Rather than a position designed to ensure the public is informed adequately and in a timely manner, the position appears focused on managing the information flow to ensure NCDOT gets what it wants.
Former Commissioner Cooksey with his connections and experience is the perfect man for the job.
In recent months, Mr Cooksey has covered all the bases the job description requires.  He has met with the Lake Norman Chamber to promote the project, and last week he was back at Charlotte City Council on the other side of the dais fending off questions from councilmembers.  He recently debated Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy, a HOT Lanes opponent, at the Don Reid weekly breakfast in South Charlotte, and he is scheduled to debate members of WidenI77 at an upcoming meeting of the Bastiat Society on Public Private Partnerships.  These last two are interesting because they are conservative groups and some of the strongest opposition to the toll lanes and P3s has come from the political right. 
Mr Cooksey has also put his understanding of the political process and experience in intergovernmental relations to good use.
Emails show he was at the center of efforts to keep meetings closed to the public when HOT Lanes contractor Cintra came to town in August.  Mr Cooksey defended the use of a legal loop hole to do this – a loop hole that ensured no town board had a quorum of elected officials at any meeting.  On a separate occasion he offered to coach County Commission Chair Trevor Fuller on HOT lanes when Commissioner Fuller came to Davidson for a public forum.  Finally, this past week he oversaw the public open houses on the project – open houses scheduled well after NCDOT says there is nothing that can be done to stop the project.  The sessions were complete with the debut of a utopian video of the I77 HOT lanes in action with no mention of the real toll rates and no presence of any traffic on any lanes.
If all of this does not sound like “community outreach” to you, it gets even better.  One should not expect Mr Cooksey to be spending too much time on all those other transportation methods mentioned in his job description .
There is a reason why Charlotte is the only region in the state that actually has this position for NCDOT.  It was transferred to NCDOT’s Charlotte Division from the NCTA – the North Carolina Turnpike Authority.  The position is a toll road position transferred to the local NCDOT office because this is where the action is with the tolling – now and in the future.
George Orwell would be proud.
This post was first printed in the Opinion Section of this week's Weekly Herald.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Debate #2 for NC-98 This Thursday at River Run

Last Thursday saw Democrat Natasha Marcus and Republican John Bradford face off for the first time in the race to succeed Thom Tillis in the NC-98 House seat in the NCGA.

The next day an attack add from the Bradford Campaign hit mailboxes.  The mailer took an interesting approach by linking Ms Marcus to President Barack Obama.  That might seem like a tactic more fitting for a Federal race than one at the State level, but Ms Marcus did lead the local chapter of Organizing for Action in support of the Obama campaign.

Maybe there will be some fireworks as Ms Marcus pushes back?  Attend this Thursday to see in person.  The details are in the below press release.


A ‘Meet the Candidates’ Forum scheduled in Davidson, NC on Thursday, October 16, 2014
Residents in Davidson, NC and surrounding communities are invited to participate in a ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum, Thursday evening, October 16, 2014 at 7:00 PM at the River Run Golf and Country Club Ballroom located at 19125 River Falls Drive, Davidson, NC, 28036. The event may cover Federal, State, and County races and many key issues, such as transportation, education, State and Federal budgets and economic development. This event will be held just seven days before early voting begins, so it could be an excellent way to hear from the candidates prior to casting a vote.

Come early and stay late to dialogue one-on-one with those willing to serve and represent you in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Washington, DC. This will be an excellent opportunity to hear from the candidates about their plans for the future. 

The format will include a moderator and time keeper so that each candidate has an opportunity to respond to participant’s questions. Prior to the 7:00 PM start, index cards will be provided to record questions by the participants and to allow the moderator an opportunity to plan and pose the questions to all candidates during the forum.

We encourage everyone to attend this event.

Sponsored by the River Run Property Owners Association, Government Affairs Committee. Questions: Jim Copio / / 704-892-7573