Thursday, December 31, 2015

Taking a cue from Steve Martin, John Candy, and Chevy Chase this coming new year

Among many small family traditions during the holiday season, my wife and like to watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” at least once or twice between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This year we also through “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” into the mix.  These are two classic movies, with relatively clean humor, that really encapsulate the  “whole” season – not just the fun parts, not just the happy parts, but also the excruciatingly “real” and frustrating parts.

This year though, something jumped off the screen and hit me in the face.  Or, maybe I should say something that wasn't there did.

Both of these movies were made in the  1980s - 1987 for the Steve Martin/John Candy Thanksgiving classic and 1989 for the Chevy Chase Christmas installment of the Vacation series.  Back in the late eighties, here are the things you didn't see in the movies – no cell phones, no smart phones, no pagers, and no laptops.  There weren't any digital cameras taking photos of everything.  People weren't constantly checking their email or Facebook.  They weren't constantly posting on Twitter or Instagram.

Instead, if you were out and about and needed to communicate with someone – anyone - you made a phone call, and to accomplish even that simple task you needed to find a pay phone and have the change to drop in the coin slot.  People showed up unannounced.  People didn't  know where everyone else in the family was at all times.

Somehow they survived.

Soon after these movies were made I went off to college in 1990.  That's where I first saw someone with what could be called a modern hand held cell phone.

There was one guy, and from what I can remember only one guy, who had one of these things.  He walked around the campus with that phone constantly glued to his ear.  Who he could be talking to was anyone's guess, but he certainly thought being the only person with the latest technology was something of a status symbol.

The point being that just 25 years ago there was only one guy on that entire college campus with a cell phone and now if you go there they will be ubiquitous.  However, instead of actually talking to other people, most of today's college students will be rapid fire texting or posting their latest activity to one of the many options on social media.

The irony is that as the ability to connect with other people has grown because everyone now has the technology, the actual connecting with other people has decreased because we don't even talk any more.

The idea of the rapid pace of change taking its toll on us was the focus of Reverend Jody Seymour’s sermon a few weeks ago at Davidson United Methodist Church.   In his sermon, Reverend Seymour mentioned something called the Law of Accelerating Returns.  When it comes to technological change this law states that change is exponential, not linear.  Extrapolated over the course of an entire century, it means we will experience 20,000 years worth of change in the 100 years of this century.

When I think about that lone cell phone user just 25 years ago and compare it to the communications technology we have now, it's not hard to believe.  It is also a little bit daunting to ponder the implications.

So with that in mind, this is my New Year’s Resolution.

I am going to pick one day a week where I don't use any technology that didn't exist in the movies “Plains, Trains, and Automobiles” or “Christmas Vacation”.  The one exception can be work related email but that will be kept to a bare minimum after hours.

The goal is not a test of willpower to see if I can do it, but a conscious attempt to just slow down and ponder how fast life can be these days.  It will be an attempt to ensure that ever increasing speed doesn't cause me to steamroll my way through life this coming year.

We’ll  see how long it lasts!

This story first appeared in this week’s Herald Weekly at huntersvilleherald.com.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Team Tillis sends in the Storm Troopers... Empire Strikes Back Part Deux

One of the first posts at aShortChronicle to get significant statewide traction was one called HOT Lanes: The Empire Strikes Back.

It recounted the story of how activists from WidenI77.org trekked to Raleigh in 2013 to meet with then-Speaker Thom Tillis.  They hoped to avoid a long confrontation by convincing the elected official most responsible for the I77 HOT lanes project to change course.  It did not work out that way. Rather than engaging in a productive meeting, the pro-toll Empire attempted to crush the Rebels through a display of overwhelming force.

Well, nearly three years later, history seems to be repeating itself with Team Tillis releasing its Storm Troopers from across the state and beyond to engage anti-toll activists in the battle for cyberspace.

Recently, the anti-toll Rebels engaged the Senator's proxy (aka his wife, Susan Tillis) when she posted in the LKN Election Connection forum on Facebook.

Ms Tillis, posted a glowing bit of commentary about the Senator's work in the area of Veteran's affairs - good work to be sure.  However, it was almost immediately met with comments on tolls, underscoring how the Senator's support for tolls has poisoned the well for him among many locals.

Team Tillis, aided and abetted by one local journalist, engaged in a day-long running back and forth over tolls totalling nearly 300 comments while simultaneously feigning indignation that the anti-tollers had somehow "hijacked" Ms Tillis's Facebook thread.

Team Tillis members Carmen Cox Ledford from Sanford North Carolina and John W Turner of Raleigh were imported to the battlefront to do the heavy lifting.

Ms Ledford is a long-time Republican Party activist.  Her online footprint shows numerous pics of her and Ms Tillis as well as the Senator.  The same goes for Mr Turner online profile.

Below are a couple examples.

Carmen Ledford on the campaign trail with Susan Tillis
John Turner giving award to Thom Tillis
In fact Turner introduced himself to the local debate with this comment on the LKN Election Connection Facebook Group.  It would appear for him, conflict was a foregone conclusion.


To be very, very clear...it appears both of these people have done lots of good work particularly in the area of veterans affairs and education choice.  They should be commended for those efforts.

In this case however they seem to be playing the role of the "good soldier".  Unfortunately, when it comes to defending those who defend this toll plan, this time they've gone over to the Dark Side.

The same niceties can not be said for this third example.

Another Tillis supporter who has shown up on the toll debate scene is one Carlton Huffman.  Huffman is in the center of the below picture from CharlotteObserver.com. it shows him on stage at the Senator's primary campaign victory party with long-time local Team Tillis member, Anne Clifford.  (Clifford has also recently been aggressively engaging the anti-tollers.)



Huffman hails from Granite Falls, NC and currently works for the state GOP in Wisconsin.  He is also no stranger to causing political turmoil.  As a former legislative aid in Raleigh, he was involved in at least two controversies during his short time there.  In one case, he circulated emails poking fun at some grammatical errors of children trying to participate in the legislative process.  In another he anonymously placed a controversial letter on desks in the NC Senate chamber as the Senate was about to debate a bill.  Check out this story and its embedded links for more details.

Soon after these incidents, Huffman no longer worked at the NCGA.

Huffman is also no stranger to meddling in the affairs of other localities.  This profile of Huffman's activities when working on a political campaign in the Hickory area is revealing.  Highly suggest reading it and its links.  Frankly, Team Tillis should be distancing itself from this guy.  The fact that they aren't is telling.

For those pesky activists in the Rebel Alliance however, there is one point to take away from seeing the Empire bring so many from "lands far, far away" to this fight.

It's an example of how little support the pro-tollers have locally to engage the fight themselves.

To those pesky Rebels engaged in that fight, "may the force be with you."

Friday, December 18, 2015

More Toll Related Fraley Campaign Finance Funny Business in NC95

A few weeks ago, we told you about a number of bright red flags in NC-95 Rep John Fraley's initial campaign reports when he ran last cycle.

Those dubious items included:
  • the large amount of out of state donations in addition to his own mega loan of $75,000 to his campaign
  • the use of paid campaign workers
  • the diversion of copious amounts of cash to hardball consultants closely linked to the Raleigh establishment
  • receiving a large donation from the family of Mayor Chuck Travis - a long standing supporter of the I77 toll project and a board member of the state's tolling authority.

As bad as that list is, unfortunately there's a bit more.

When Rep Fraley filed his year end campaign report in 2013, the first major report he filed, he served as his own campaign treasurer and did a very thorough job of capturing the required information from donors.  Maybe too good for some people's liking.

The State BOE website shows that in April of 2014, the Fraley Campaign filed an ammended report.

At first glance that April ammended report looks intended to just correct a couple of minor accounting errors.  A few dollars here and there are recategorized, nothing unusual.

However, one also notices the contact info on the donor list has also been "updated".

As previously mentioned, while serving as his own treasurer, Fraley had been very thorough.  Nothing was missing as far as contact info for donors goes.  For a first time report, that was actually pretty impressive.

The interesting thing about the updated report is that it actually removed info.  Every donor was reformatted and had some of the not required info provided in the original report struck from the report.

One donor had a bit more than that taken off.  Want to guess which one?

Out of 50 donors, only the donation from the family of Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis had more info removed.  Instead of the required address info it now just said "NC" - an error that does not meet the minimum standard.

Typically, ammended reports correct errors.  They don't introduce them.

Plus, when the only introduced error makes it more difficult to identify the source of a potentially embarrassing contribution, that is certainly something that makes one go "hmmm...".

So, how did this happen?

One tried and true "explanation" for this type of thing is to throw the campaign treasured under the bus.  Often campaign treasurers are the candidates themselves or other people who may not do these things for a living.  It is believable for them to admit a mistake and beg forgiveness.

However, that tactic would not really work in Rep Fraley's case.  You see, in February of 2014 Fraley changed his campaign treasurer from himself to one Collin McMichael.  McMichael signed the ammended campaign form with the eror.

Who is Collin McMichael?  He just happens to be the professional campaign finance accountant used by many of North Carolina's Federal Republican candidates.  According to OpenSecrets.org,  McMichael's firm, CM&CO LLC , received $291,181 for its Federal work alone in the 2014 election cycle.

Who was CM&CO's largest customer that cycle?

That would be the Thom Tillis campaign.

That's the same Thom Tillis who is the godfather of the I77 HOT lanes plan, the same Thom Tillis who appointed Mayor Travis, whose wife made the donation in question, to the state Turnpike Authority, and the same Thom Tillis who had the dustup with former NC95 Rep Robert Brawley over the toll issue just before Fraley decided to primary Brawley last cycle.

So, here's the situation...

A high-dollar campaign finance accountant makes a "mistake" by removing information on a donation that could raise a few eyebrows.  It occurs around a highly volatile issue, and the people involved all have connections back to Senator Thom Tillis.

It could all be just an innocent coincidence, but it certainly is one of those things that make you go "Hmmm..."

Friday, December 11, 2015

New HOT lanes Jersey Walls...more safety issues, accidents, road closures to come

The Charlotte Observer reported Friday on what may be the first highway stoppage due to an accident related in some way to the HOT lanes project and the new Jersey Walls in place since construction started.

From the Observer...

"Northbound Interstate 77 is shut in Huntersville early Friday afternoon after a tractor trailer jack-knifed just north of the Gilead Road exit, firefighters said. The wreck happened around 12:30 p.m. near Exit 23. State highway officials said it could take until 4 p.m. to clear the scene."


Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article49228865.html#storylink=cpy
Where is the mention of the HOT project you ask?

That info comes from Facebook via the actual first responders on the scene.


I happened to be driving a mini-bus on I77 very early Friday morning before this happened.  It was my first time doing so since the lanes have been narrowed for the HOT lanes project.  Let me just say for large vehicles, these narrowed lanes leave little to no room for error.

Back in the day, I used to have a commercial licence and drove city buses and large box trucks.  I can tell you, these lanes are tight!

If this project continues going forward, get used to more of these accidents.  They will continue to happen.

End a big week with your comments to CRTPO!

This Monday, the anti-toll movement put a big exclamation point on last month's elections.  At the swearing-in ceremonies in Huntersville and Cornelius the newly sworn Boards ratcheted up the pressure against the toll project.

In Huntersville, after an historic election that saw the defeat of an incumbent Mayor and two incumbent Commissioners based largely on their support of the I77 HOT lanes project, the new Board unanimously passed a strongly worded resolution asking that the contract for the project be “terminated”.  The resolution included 13 different reasons, or “whereas” clauses, for requesting NCDOT terminate the contract.

In Cornelius, things were a bit more personal with the new Board apparently considering a resolution criticizing Mayor Chuck Travis’s quasi-official actions supporting the project in contradiction to the Board majority’s long standing opposition to it.  A vote on a resolution was deferred, but even considering it as one of the new Board’s first items for discussion sends a clear message.

However, even with these strong moves, not everything has been going smoothly for the community effort to defeat the tolls.

The details behind the previously announced “Select Committee” in the NC House to discuss the subject were released last Friday.  Those details failed to inspire confidence that the Committee will lead to any quick action.  The committee is made up of 20 members and has a charter to look at all sorts of transportation issues, not just the I77 project.  It also includes members of who are known supporters of the HOT lanes such as Mooresville Rep John Fraley.

Also, the recent “I77 Summit” held in Cornelius in late November failed to draw Governor McCrory’s attendance.  Instead, he sent the usual suspects from the NCDOT to rehash their same talking points.  He also continued to hide behind the actions of the region’s main transportation planning body, the CRTPO - saying only that body had the authority to cancel the project – a position which would seem to undermine his own authority as Governor.

So, while clearly the local opposition is gaining steam there is just as clearly much more work to do if the powers that be in Raleigh are to be convinced this project needs to be re-thought.

As luck would have it, an opportunity for citizens to contribute to that work is currently underway.

Every four years the Federal Department of Transportation reviews how the various regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations are doing.  In this area, that body is the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, or CRTPO.  The public comment period for this quadrennial review of the CRTPO runs through next Wednesday, December 15th.

Local citizens should have plenty to say regarding how the body has handled this issue.

Who can forget former Huntersville Commissioner Sarah McAulay serving as the CRTPO Chair and unilaterally shutting down toll opponents during the public hearing on the HOT lanes?  Her actions as the Chair of the body in general as well as during this public hearing specifically have a great deal to do with why she is a “former” Commissioner.

Who can forget the CRTPO ignoring over 700 comments opposing the project before the body voted to approve it?  Defying common sense, the CRTPO actually approved a toll project without giving the public any clear idea what the actual tolls would be.

Who can forget Charlotte – which holds a near majority of the votes on the CRTPO -  snubbing the Lake Norman area municipalities and not even bothering to attend the recent “I77 Summit”?  The City’s actions show a clear problem with how CRTPO is structured in that Charlotte really does not have to listen to the other members, and city leaders have proven they won't.

The November press release from CRTPO says the Federal review is to ensure it “follows a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive transportation planning process.”  Based on the above examples, the body sure seems to fall short on at least a couple of those points.

To provide your own comments, send an email to Loretta.Barren@dot.gov with the Federal Highway Administration by December 15th.

This column first appeared in this week's Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Select Committee on I77 tolls...and a bunch of other stuff

Late Friday afternoon, Mollie Young (Dir. of Communications, Speaker Moore's Office) sent out a press release finally announcing the formation of the Select Committee within the NC House mentioned by the Speaker back on November 16th.

Back then, it sounded like this committee was going to be specific to the I77 HOT Lanes project.  In fact, it even gave anti-toll opponents a little hope that maybe it was being formed as a way to kill the project.  The announcement of its formation coincided with the planning for the I77 summit which of course didn't draw the Governor and was blown off by Charlotte

The details in the press release should temper any optimism to a great degree that this committee will quickly achieve the desired result.

Here are a a couple of quick observations...

The committee is Chaired by John Torbett of Gaston County.  Torbett has been a good soldier for the pro-toll forces in the House.  Torbett was a co-sponsor of an earlier toll related bill H267.  We've covered the shenanigans around that bill extensively.  See herehere and here for a sampling.  Having Rep Torbett with his hand on the reigns of this Committee should not give the anti-toll crowd a warm fuzzy feeling.  This is the same Rep Torbett who "forgot" to file any campaign reports this entire year and recently had his campaign committee temporarily shut down by the State BOE.

As further evidence this Select Committee is not stacked with anti-toll politicians, you'll find Rep John Fraley's name also on the list.  Fraley is pro-toll all the way as we told you about here.

Finally, unlike the select committee setup by former Speaker Thom Tillis which was focused on ramming through the idea of using Public Private Partnerships which helped give birth to the I77 project, this new committee covers a broad expanse of transportation issues and has a lot more members.  It is hard to see his committee getting to the point of suggesting ways of killing the I77 project any time soon.

Here's hoping that's not the case

Press release and entire committee list below...

Speaker Announces New Transportation Select Committee
Will Review I-77 Managed Lanes Project and Other Issues

Raleigh, NC – Today, Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) announced the House Members who will serve on the newly formed House Select Committee On Strategic Transportation Planning And Long Term Funding Solutions.

“The appointment of this committee is a crucial next step in addressing the growing transportation and infrastructure needs in North Carolina,” Rep. John Torbett (R-Gaston) remarked. Torbett will serve as the Committee Chair. “This committee will allow the House to continue to build on the successes we achieved in last year’s budget.  I am humbled by the opportunity to chair the committee and look forward to leading North Carolina into a more competitive future by addressing the needs of our transportation network.”

The Committee will have the authority to look at a number of issues including, but not limited to, current and future transportation projects, such as the I-77 managed lanes project or the I-95 corridor improvements.  The Committee may also study port modernization, rail access, technological advancements in infrastructure construction, autonomous vehicles, and the impact our transportation network has on North Carolina’s global competitiveness and economic growth potential.

“There has been a tremendous amount of discussion and information that deserves scrutiny and reconsideration as we look at how the State is going to fund transportation in the future,” stated Rep. Charles Jeter (R-Mecklenburg), who will serve as Vice-Chair of the Committee. “This committee will allow us the opportunity to review current concerns and ensure future decisions are made with the best interest of all North Carolinians.”

The following House Members were appointed to serve on the committee:

Representative John Torbett (Chair)
Representative Charles Jeter (Vice-Chair)
Representative Phil Shepard (Vice-Chair)
Representative Frank Iler (Vice-Chair)
Representative Jamie Boles
Representative Debra Conrad
Representative Josh Dobson
Representative Nelson Dollar
Representative Jeffery Elmore
Representative John Fraley
Representative Pat Hurley
Representative Linda Johnson
Representative Susan Martin
Representative Michele Presnell
Representative Paul Tine
Representative Rena Turner
Representative William Brisson
Representative Becky Carney
Representative Ken Goodman
Representative Howard Hunter III

The Committee will meet at the call of the Chair, and plans to hold its first meeting the week of December 14th.
###
________________________________
OFFICE OF THE SPEAKER
16 West Jones Street | Room 2304 | Raleigh, NC 2

Sunday, December 6, 2015

More Catalyst Project Meetings Planned

Davidson's "new" Town Board will be sworn in on Tuesday at the regularly scheduled December monthly meeting at 6pm.

Normally, the swearing in meeting for a new Board is nothing but formality and completing required actions such as appointing committee assignments, electing Mayor Pro Tem, etc.  New work is not typically started or old work finished.  That's particularly true if there are new Board members who might need some ramp up time, or to even just let them "enjoy the moment."

But since Davidson's "new" Board is the same as the "old" Board, that's not the case this time.  Instead, they are charging right ahead with what will likely be the most controversial topic for the town in the next term.

At the pre-meeting scheduled for 5:30, the Board will discuss its next steps on the Catalyst Project.  The agenda item includes a full court press communication plan for soliciting feedback.

It looks like it incorporates some of the suggestions heard at previous info sessions.  That's a good thing.  However, knowing that certain town staff are fully behind the project, citizens need to definitely keep their attention on this topic and look at the information presented with a critical eye.

See here for the details on the next 3 months.

Things are about to start moving quickly, so those interested in this topic need to get ready to participate.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

As technology leaps ahead, towns need to focus on MI-Connection sale

The  Board of MI-Connection, the cable company owned by the towns of Davidson and Mooresville met last week to hear the latest numbers on its operations .  Fortunately, while the company is still a long way from being profitable, the numbers are at least headed in the right direction.  A press release provided by Christina Shaul, Davidson’s Public Information Officer provided the following positive news.

“April Bell of auditing firm Dixon Hughes Goodman shared results for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015.  She stated that MI-Connection is seeing a very positive trend in financial results.

During his review of the financials, MI-Connection CEO David Auger shared that revenue is up 3.74% in Q1 2016 versus Q1 2015. Expenses are favorable in Q1 FY 2016 versus Q1 FY 2015, by .62% . EBIDA (Earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization, a key metric used by cable operators to measure performance) grew by 17.41% from Q1 FY 2015 to Q1 FY 2016.”

That’s definitely what taxpayers who have been subsidizing the company want to hear, rather than things are headed in the opposite direction.  It is validation that the operational improvements at the company over the past few years are paying off.

The release went on to say MI-Connection will soon offer whole-home DVR, the ability to stream content on any iOS or Android device, and the ability to remotely program your DVR.

Again, that's good to hear, but those are new services for the company, not new to the industry.  As a small company, innovation will always be the company’s Achilles heal.

A recent telecom industry announcement exemplifies that and should hopefully ensure the political decision makers keep their eye on the ball and continue working to get the company ready for sale at some point in the relatively near future.

The impact of this recent announcement actually was foreshadowed here locally a few years ago.

Back in 2011, I remember sitting at a political event in Davidson just as election season was ramping up.  Davidson Commissioner Rodney Graham, was making some comments about Mi-Connection.  Graham had made an unsuccessful attempt at the Board in 2007 as one of the few candidates at the time to question the idea of the town getting to the cable business.  He was getting ready to make what would be a successful run in 2011.

At that meeting I remember Graham holding his phone in the air and talking about some day being able to get internet speeds over wireless that rivaled what one could get from a cable company.  That would be the day things started to look much more difficult for the municipally owned cable operation.

Well, that day may have quietly gotten a significant step closer with an announcement by T-Mobile three weeks ago for its new "Binge On" service.

While wireless phone carriers can't offer data speeds that match the newest offerings being rolled out traditional cable companies – including  Mi-Connection’s, the newest 4G LTE wireless networks offer speeds sufficient for high quality video streaming as well as many other uses.  The one drawback has been the cost of streaming lots of data over these wireless networks – until now.

T-Mobile’s “Binge On” product removes that barrier by allowing unlimited DVD quality video with the purchase of a minimum wireless data package.  All of the top name streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are available with “Binge On” as well as Sling TV which offers many of the top live TV channels including ESPN.  Now, a customer can become truly mobile with their video, voice, and data all coming from a single provider, and that provider is not the traditional cable company.

Are there drawbacks and limitations to going fully wireless?  Yes, there certainly are.  If you are into lots of gaming or have other high-bandwidth needs for business uses, going completely wireless may not be for you – today.  Long-term this type of continued change in technology could make it a different story.

Commissioner Graham was holding his phone at that meeting just four years ago.  What will things look like four years from now.  Hopefully, our current crop of political leaders won't make us find out.

Bonus Observation:

Ran out of room for this in the version for the Herald Weekly.

Not only will MI-Connection be facing more competition from new technologies in the future, but they will also have to go head-to-head against Time Warner.  In a conversation with the developer of a large new neighborhood underway in the MI footprint, it was made clear that both MI and TWC have been offered the opportunity to supply service to the new neighborhood.

The developer wished to remain anonymous because details had not been finalized. However, it does show that competition is going to be growing particularly around the edges of the MI footprint.

How MI stands up to the challenge will be critical.  New customers from new neighborhoods have been critical to the company's recent growth in subscribers.   The Langtree development at Exit 31 would be the prime example.

Can the company continue attracting large numbers of new customers in these neighborhoods if it has to face real competition with relatively unlimited resources?  That will be the big question going forward.

This post first appeRed in this week's Herald Weekly at HuntersvilleHerald.com

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

#NCGA House-92: It is ALL about the HOT lanes.

At least that is what you would think from looking at Democrat challenger Chaz Beasley's website. The only issue mentioned on his campaign site home page is his opposition to I-77 HOT lanes project.

Beasley says he intends to file this Thursday at 12:15 p.m. according to his Facebook page.  He will be the first challenger for incumbent Republican Rep Charles Jeter of Huntersville who currently holds the seat.

Beasley repeatedly says "we" have opposed the HOT lanes project since the beginning. However, it is a bit unclear exactly what Beasley means by "we".

A search of the Exit 28 Ridiculousness Facebook page does not show a single comment by Beasley nor does one find anything else where he is on the record as opposing the project or has worked at all with the groups of activists trying to stop it.  That would include on the sites for the Mecklenburg Young Democrats where Beasley served as the immediate past president - a position that would have allowed him a platform to espouse his supposed opposition.

Regardless, his emphasis on the project shows the importance of it as a campaign issue.

NC-92 is one of the few competitive districts between the parties in the entire state, so any number of issues could swing the election to one party or another.  If voters believe that Jeter is not doing absolutely everything possible to stop the project, then it could cause enough voters to swing to Beasley simply because he says he opposes it.

Proof of Beasley's actual opposition may not be required.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

#NCGA House 95 - Following the money for the next round of anti-toll driven elections

With filing for the 2016 elections opening on Tuesday, the race for NC House 95 is shaping up to be ground zero for the next round of anti-toll activist fury.  The current issue of Cornelius Today alludes to such, referring to an email from Greg Wallace of the I77 Business Plan with the subject "Target Acquired".  The "target" is apparenly NC-95 Rep John Fraley.

At the end of October former long-time State Rep Robert Brawley of Mooresville announced his intent to setup a rematch from the last round of legislative elections.  Fraley edged out Brawley in the primary last cycle by just a little more than 100 votes.

(Brawley recently said he was also looking at the Governor's race, but we think a better choice would be this rematch.)

Both Brawley and Fraley are Republicans, and this is a heavily Republican district, so the real election will occur in the March primary.  With that in mind, we took a look at the campaign filings for the 2013 primary to see if there was any indication of what we could expect.

What we saw in Fraley's filings was not pretty!!!

When Fraley filed in late 2013 to challenge Brawley, there was widespread speculation among anti-toll activists that he was put up to it by pro-toll forces in the Raleigh establishment.  Fraley recently came fully out of the pro-toll closet with his comments in this article  from the Mooresville Tribune.  However, a close look at Fraley's finance reports provides validation of those concerns from back in 2013.

Fraley kicked off his 2014 campaign fundraising by "loaning" his campaign a whopping $75,000.  The mega-loan to a campaign by well heeled candidates has become all too common in local elections.  As we've written before, it is intended to shock and awe potential opponents (and those who might donate to them) into dropping out or not running at all.  The massive "loan" also begs the question "what will Fraley do to pay himself back?"

During the 2014 primary, Fraley spent over $11,000 on "polling".  In fact, his first campaign expense was a $6,000 expense for polling work prior to his actually filing for office.  For a legislative race in a district that a covers only one county, that kind of spending sure seems indicative of someone who doesn't know what his neighbors want and is just holding his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing.

Fraley also had other eyebrow raising expenditures.

There are numerous expenses to several different individuals listed under the category of "Field Representative".  Another way to read that would be "Paid Campaign Worker".  Notably, few to none of these people appear to be from the district.  Again, when you have to pay people to work for you rather than having enough volunteers to get the job done, what does that say about a candidate's connection to the local area?

However, the most disturbing expenditures in Fraley's primary campaign reports are he massive expenditures to The Stewart Group.  In this short cycle Fraley's campaign sent $64,062.20 to this Raleigh political consulting outfit.  The Stewart Group is highly connected to the Raleigh Republican Establishment.  Read up on the outfit's founder Dee Stewart in these stories from the DailyHaymaker.com here, here, and here.  (Make sure to read the comments.)

Any candidate who hires these guys to work for them should be highly suspect.  Having them on a campaign's payroll should induce any voter to run the other way, and run fast.

All of that is just some of the ways Fraley chose to spend his campaign cash.  Where Fraley got his campaign cash beyond that mega loan from himself is also interesting.

The first thing that jumps off the page from his campaign's original filing covering the period until the end of 2013 is the large amount of out of state cash Fraley raked in.  Numerous donations rolled in from New York to Florida, from Massachusetts to Tennessee - as well as several other states.  The largest individual contribution was a $4,000 check from someone in Florida.

It is one thing for residents in Cornelius, Davidson, and Mooresville to take an interest in elections in a fellow Lake Norman town like, oh let's say Huntersville.  One has to wonder though why so many people from across the country would spend money to get a state legislator elected in another state.

But maybe the most interesting contribution of all was a $2,000 donation that came with an address in Cornelius.  It was the largest local campaign contribution in the 2013 year-end filing.  The address listed also happens to be the same address listed on Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis's 2009 campaign organization form.  That would be the same Mayor Travis named last year to the state Turnpike Authority by Thom Tillis.  That's the body in charge of the state's toll roads.  It would also be the same Mayor Travis who recently returned from Texas to tell us how great Cintra's toll roads are working in the Lone Star State.

However, the name on this donation is not that of the Cornelius Mayor, but it does match that of his wife.

One can learn a lot about a candidate by looking at where they get their money and how they spend it.  Rep John Fraley's campaign reports should tell anti-toll voters all they need to know.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Feds taking comments on CRTPO...give 'em an ear full.

In the aftermath last week's "I77 Summit", the region's primary transportation planning body, the CRTPO, has become the center of attention when it comes to the I77 HOT lanes project.

The Governor is hiding behind the group, saying the only way he'll consider stopping the project is if the CRTPO tells him to do it.  The NCDOT is saying any newly constituted CRTPO body would not be able to reasonably decide the issue quickly because the body could have several new faces after this month's elections.  If any actionable item did come out of the "Summit", it was Rep Charles Jeter's stated intention to file a bill to reduce Charlotte's influence in the CRTPO when the Legislature reconvenes for its short session next year.  The Charlotte Observer has even recognized that the City's decision to skip the summit looks bad and jeopardizes the legitimacy its current setup as a decision making body.

Charlotte has long used its weighted voting power to effectively make decisions in all but unilateral fashion for the entire region.  As we said in this story here back in 2013, Charlotte often acts like the playground bully effectively saying "we'll take our ball and go home if we don't get our way".

Frankly, there has been little that individuals can do about that setup.  That is, up until now.

WidenI77.org is encouraging the public to send the below email (or any respectful email of your choosing) to the Federal Department of Transportation before December 15.  The quadrennial review period for the CRTPO is currently underway at the Federal level and the DOT is taking comments.

Send your email to Loretta.Barren@dot.gov and let the Feds know how the current setup is effectively allowing Charlotte to milk the surrounding region while not allowing the surrounding region an effective mechanism to stop it - or at least to be treated fairly.

Sample email below...

Subject: CRTPO Public Involvement Process

Dear Ms. Barren-
The CRTPO is in need of reform. During the past several years they have minimized or ignored public input. With a very lop-sided voting structure, one city benefits greatly while the needs of the other towns and the region are ignored.
For example:

  • During the July 2015 public comment period, CRTPO received over 700 individual comments opposing the P3.0 TIP.  CRTPO approved the TIP citing, among other reasons, the fact that the TIP had to be approved quickly or they risked losing federal allocation in October.  Therefore, the public comment period was moot.

  • While developing the P4.0 project list, CRTPO received over 250 public comments urging adoption.  At their September 16, 2015 meeting, CRTPO took the extremely unusual step of postponing approval. In direct opposition to public comments, CRTPO subsequently removed a project from the list and approved the list at their next meeting.

  • On May 23, 2013 CRTPO (then MUMPO) Chairwoman Sarah MacAulay unilaterallydenied all citizens the opportunity to comment during the public comment period. Eighteen had signed up to speak on the controversial I-77 private toll project.

  • At their December 12, 2013 CRTPO meeting, TCC staff recommended against including a public comment period for TCC meetings.  CRTPO accepted this recommendation. A public comment period for TCC meetings does not exist.

  • The public comment period policy for MUMPO meetings used to be three minutes per person and ten minutes per group. CRTPO revised this to limit the public comment period to twenty minutes total, regardless of the number of speakers or groups.
  • Groups wishing to make a formal presentation must notify CRTPO ten days in advance.

  • Mr. Ned Curran serves as an alternate delegate for NCDOT Divisions 10 & 12. Curran is also Chairman of the NCDOT Board and CEO of Bissel, a major land developer and property manager in South Charlotte. On August 19, 2015, Curran voted for the P3.0 TIP as the Division 12 delegate. I believe it is a conflict of interest for a major land developer to decide road and transportation improvement projects.

  • Ms. Sarah McAulay serves as Chair of CRTPO. On August 19, 2015, McAulay introduced a motion to approve the P3.0 TIP which includes seven Huntersville projects. McAulay owns or co-owns three properties with direct frontage to at least one or more of the projects and six properties in close proximity to one or more projects.  I believe it is aconflict of interest for a CRTPO member to decide road improvement projects from which they may directly benefit.
These comprise serious flaws in the CRTPO’s planning process, have seriously eroded public trust and fail to serve the public interest. Per 23 U.S.C. (i)(5) and 49 U.S.C. 1607 I am therefore requesting you reject CRTPO’s certification until substantial reforms are completed.

Sincerely,

Name

Town

Friday, November 27, 2015

Davidson growth set to explode...no catalyst needed.

As staff and elected officials in the Town of Davidson continue to ponder the proposed Downtown Catalyst Project, there is a looming wave of explosive growth just on the horizon.  This is growth that will happen whether or not the town's own project "catalyzes" anything.  Frankly, knowing this is going to happen it is hard to believe the Town itself is looking to promote even more growth through its own efforts.  Maybe the town should change the Catalyst's name to something like Accelerant.

The first project if it materializes could have the most direct impact on the supposed need for something like the Catalyst project in the town center.  In the past we've told you about potential development at the old Davidson Clinic site on South Main.  That previous development plan fell through this past summer, but that property - as well as the adjacent two parcels - are now showing as "active contingent" on real-estate sites - meaning a sale and new development could be imminent.


At almost six acres this site is nearly double the size of the Town-owned land proposed for the Catalyst Project. Whatever this site on South Main eventually becomes, it will certainly be big (and controversial), but it will also achieve the town's goals of 'connecting' South Main in ways the Catalyst never would by creating a center of gravity at that end of Main Street.  Also, there will almost certainly be a significant retail/commercial component of any development that size which meets another stated town goal for the Catalyst.

As of last week, a proposed development plan had not been submitted according to Planning Director, Jason Burdett.  There is also nothing on the town website as of this writing.  However, this is definitely something to keep a close eye on.  Things appear to be in the works and could move fast.

The second major development is closer to coming to fruition.  That regards what is going on out at Westmoreland Farm.  We originally told you about surveying activity at the site almost three months ago.

A records request to the town turned up some additional information.

The below picture called a "bubble diagram" was put together by staff at Commissioner Brian Jenest's firm during the discussions leading up to passage of the planning ordinance rewrite earlier this year.  The purpose of the diagram was to provide a conceptual picture of what could be built under the new ordinance.  To be very clear it is not a proposal.  However, it does give a sense of the scale of any development that could be on the way.

 

A week after the Town Board passed the planning ordinance rewrite back in April, a planner from ColeJenest & Stone contacted Town staff saying "we are working towards a schematic site plan for the Westmoreland property along Davidson-Concord Road and have a few questions/requests".

That combined with the work seen recently and the counts on that bubble diagram would indicate another development with potentially hundreds of units is on the way.

While again, like the South Main project no site plan has been submitted, it is clear something is in the works.

Finally, this coming Monday, November 30th, the Davidson Planning Board will hear a request from the developers of Summerswalk regarding removal of the planned neighborhood retail at the front of the neighborhood along 73 to be replaced with more townhomes.



The proposal, also submitted by ColeJenest & Stone, appears to have the approval of the Town Planning Department.  The staff recommendation says "this master plan amendment is appropriate and in line with the town’s current development policies".

One of the stated reasons for the Catalyst Project is to increase the commercial tax base for the town.  Removing a planned commercial area - even if it may not be built out for some time would seem to run counter to that goal.

If the recent pushback from town residents was not enough to convince Town Hall that the Catalyst Project is not needed or should be drastically scaled down, maybe this looming wave of growth will do it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanks for a great 6-months!

With this being Thanksgiving week, I wanted to take a moment to thank the readers of aShortChronicle for a great last six month's.

In the nearly 4-year run for this blog, the last six months have been special.  To the site's long-time regular readers, thanks for your support over the years, and to the newer readers thanks for making the site's growth happen.  A special thanks goes to the members of the E28R Facebook page.  The large number of shares, likes, and comments has added significantly to the overall reader base.

Here are a few stats that show what has happened recently.  In the past 6-month period...

  • the average monthly page views is up more than 500% over the previous six month period.
  • 9 of the all time top 10 posts for the site have occurred since June 1st.
  • the site has had several days with over
    1000 page views - something that had never happened even a single time before.

For a site that started out with a target audience of local elected officials, town staffers, and a relatively small number of local politics news junkies, this kind of growth is validation the stories covered here interest a wider audience.

Certainly, there has been no shortage of stories to cover this past half year.  That can be seen as a good thing or a bad thing, I suppose.  Regardless, our local political scene has provided lots and lots of material.

I am thankful to be able to cover it, and thankful readers seem to think it is worthwhile.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Charlotte Streetcar's Costly (and Bogus) Success

Monday's Politico had a blurb about the Charlotte Strretcar that reiterated the old canard that it was actually a good idea.

From Politico...

In July of 2013 — after Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx had left his mayoral seat in Charlotte to be a Cabinet official for the Obama administration — the secretary returned to his home town to help christen a streetcar he’d fought hard to get going, arguing that the investment wasn’t “a project to nowhere.” Writing this month for POLITICO Magazine’s “What Works” series, Charlotte Magazine Executive Editor Michael Graff explains that no step before or since the streetcar’s approval “has been without controversy. Supporters, mostly Democrats, lovingly call it a 'streetcar,’ and they’ll tell you it’s a valuable instrument that now transports 47,000 riders a month — about double expectations. Opponents, mostly Republicans, condescendingly call it a ‘trolley,’ and they’ll tell you that it cost $37 million just for this phase with $100 million more to come for extensions in the next decade.”
The problem with that?

Charlotte already had a mass transit option which arguably was providing the bulk of this service before the streetcar was built.  It is called the Gold Rush Red Line.

Prior to the streetcar opening, the Gold Rush Red Line ran the full distance from Presbyterian Hospital to Johnson C Smith university.  According to this late 2012 document from Charlotte Center City Partners, it carried 65,000 riders per month.

When the streetcar opened in 2015, the Gold Rush cut its route roughly in half because the east end of the route was now serviced by the streetcar.  A few months later, the streetcar was trumpeted as a huge success carrying 47,000 passengers per month.

The problem is that since the new streetcar covered roughly 1/2 the same territory as the old full Gold Rush line, it stands to reason that a big chunk of the streetcar riders were actually former Gold Rush riders.

Using that same ratio of 1/2 and accounting for some growth since 2012, roughly 32k-35k of the streetcar's ridership was likely just canibalized from the old Gold Rush line.  That means the streetcar is really just prividing just 12k - 15k "new" rides per month.

When you factor in that people go both to and from a place that translates into just 6k - 7.5k new round trips per month.  Then if you figure most people using this for work ride daily that is roughly 25 trips per month - translating to just 240-300 new individuals riding the streetcar regularly per month who weren't already using the old Gold Rush.  (The number could be lower because some people may make more than on trip per day.)

The cost of the current streetcar was $37m.  That translates into $123k - $154k per new person using the streetcar who was not already using the Gold Rush.

The real kick in the teeth to all this is that the folks in the Charlotte government center think this is great, and they want to spend $150m more to extend the streetcar - all while forcing LKN residents to  pay for a toll road and massive infrastructure improvements that benefit the city as much or more than anyone else.

Charlotte is willing to fight for money to benefit just a few hundred while being willing to condemn 10s of thousands to the misery of tolls for 50 years on I77 through its control of the CRTPO.

That is not right and it needs to change.

Monday, November 23, 2015

I77 continues to stir the pot for local politicos

In the ongoing fallout of this month's election, Local politicos have continued to spin, react, position, and use the I77 HOT lanes issue to varying degrees of effectiveness.

In a press release last Monday where his pending toll road education trip to Texas along with Davidson Mayor John Woods was revealed, Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis chose to take the "whistling past the graveyard" approach.  Considering what happened to his fellow pro-toller, Mayor Jill Swain in Huntersville, it seemed a bit tone deaf for Travis to say...

"First and foremost, I want to thank the residents of Cornelius for the vote of confidence to serve as the Mayor of our wonderful Town. On election day, even though I was unopposed, I received the highest number of votes of any candidate running for office in our Town. I appreciate the trust that you have placed in me to lead our Town for the next two years. I take the role of Mayor seriously and respect the responsibility to hold this office."

While the bubble was burst regarding the vote totals in the unopposed Davidson and Cornelius Mayoral races in this piece last week.  Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy's said it more directly in his most recent newsletter in Sunday.

"Note to Davidson’s Mayor John Woods and Cornelius’s Mayor Chuck Travis who are both lovely gentlemen, but have been hand-in-hand for years with Swaine in supporting I-77 Tolls (which the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce recently stated would cause “irreparable damage to our region”). With no doubt whatsoever, both Woods and Travis would have similarly gone down in flames had they faced any viable opposition."

Then there is State Rep Charles Jeter.  Though, in Jeter's case, rather than his own statements, he was on the receiving end of multiple ads on the subject of the HOT lanes - ads that came from two completely different directions.

The first ad appearing in local papers said Jeter is the one with the power to stop the tolls...




The second appeared on a billboard along 77 saying Jeter is the one to blame for putting them in place...



In the aftermath of Monday's "summit" where the State once again kicked the can back to CRTPO and with candidate filing for the NCGA set to open December-1, we can likely expect the hard hitting comments on tolls to keep coming.

The topic was an effective one in our recent municipal elections and will likely be in the forefront for many elections to come.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cornelius and Davidson had elections, too!

With all of the attention given to the election results in Huntersville, it might be tempting to forget that all of the local municipalities had elections two weeks ago.  Not much has been said about the elections in Cornelius and Davidson, but voters there also trekked to the polls earlier this month.

Last week, some more detailed numbers were available from the Mecklenburg Board of Elections that  are worth a look.

As one might expect Huntersville had the largest number of voters heading to the polls.  With competitive races and by far the largest population, that is not surprising.  However, when it comes to turnout rate, that top “honor” goes to Davidson.

14.61% of Davidsonians headed to the polls, followed by 13.93% of Huntersville’s registered voters, with only 13.25% of Cornelius’s voters making it out.  While saying the “honor” goes to Davidson for the highest turnout is true, that needs to be said with some serious air quotes around it.  It is a pretty sad state of affairs when all three towns had less than 15% turnout.

A closer looks at the numbers in the Mayoral races also revealed some interesting tidbits.

By now most people are aware if how lopsided the contested race in Huntersville turned out to be.  But what may surprise people are a couple of things that occurred in the uncontested races in Cornelius and Davidson.

At first glance both contests had margins of victory for the incumbents reminiscent of what you might see in Castro’s Cuba or the Kim Dynasty in North Korea.  Chuck Travis won in Cornelius with 93.9% and John Woods won in Davidson with 87.9%.

Write in candidates got a cumulative 6.1% and 12.1% respectively in the two towns which actually seems a bit high – particularly for Davidson.  However, after looking at the turnout data provided by the Board of Elections, it is clear there was a significant protest vote beyond even just the write-ins.

in North Carolina only votes where a candidate is actually selected actually end up being  counted – meaning if a ballot is left blank for a given race, that ballot is not counted in the total winning percentage.  These ballots are considered “spoiled” for this given race where they are left blank.  Not counting these ballots, makes the actual winning percentage look artificially high versus the overall total of voters who went to the polls.

So, what were the actual winning percentages when these “spoiled” ballots are included?

In Cornelius, Mayor Travis got 74.20% of actual ballots cast.  In Davidson, Mayor Woods got a little less, coming in at 72.66%.  In fact in PCT 127 on Davidson’s east side, Woods actually slipped below 70% with only 69.6% pulling the lever for him.

So, what does it mean when more that 25% of voters won’t cast a vote for the only name available on the ballot?

An inquiry with the UNC School of Government did not turn up any academic research on the subject of “protest votes”, but a quick comparison to Huntersville sheds some light on it.  In Huntersville where people had two choices and both candidates were reasonable options, the overall protest vote was just 0.4%.

It would seem that Davidson and Cornelius just need more candidates and more options. If they had them, those candidates would likely be starting from a pretty solid base to make a run at the top spots in these two towns.  In fact, if  those options had existed, we very well may be taking about replacing all three Mayors in North Mecklenburg rather than just one.

Clearly, the main issue driving the electoral shellacking in Huntersville was the I77 HOT lanes.  It stands to reason, that same issue was at work creating the high level of “protest” voting in Davidson and Cornelius where both mayors had similar stances as Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain.

This post originally appeared in this week's Herald Weekly at huntersvilleherald.com.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tolling Trifecta at #NCGOP HQ

Has anyone else been wondering why Gov Pat McCrory has been so staunch in his rock solid support of the I77 HOT lanes project?

In the face of rising public opposition and mounting evidence more than a little something is rotten in Denmark with this deal, the Governor decides he is going to stand with his boys from Cintra rather than with the people he represents.  Who does that?

Here's who...

Back during the summer we told you the sordid tale of two recent NCGOP Executive Directors and their close ties to the Governor as well as Cintra.  See here and here for those details.

Then just a couple of weeks ago we told you about the obscene (and anonymous) $4.7m donation given to the Carolina Rising PAC which benefited Thom Tillis in his campaign for US Senate.  Carolina Rising was formerly operated by current and recently appointed NCGOP Executive Director, Dallas Woodhouse.

In that piece we wondered if Dallas Woodhouse could make it a "trifecta" of shady connections between the top spot at NCGOP HQ, the I77 HOT lanes project, and Cintra.

Well, the other shoe has now dropped on that one.

On Tuesday, the Raleigh News & Observer reported on tax documents put out by the people behind OpenSecrets.org showing that one of the largest Super PACs in the country, Crossroads GPS, was behind the huge check to Carolina Rising.  Crossroads GPS is a PAC founded by none other than Karl Rove, advisor to former President George W Bush.

For more analysis on the Woodhouse connections in this plus other shenanigans, check out the DailyHaymaker.com stories here and here.

So where is the connection to Cintra?

When researching the pieces covering two of Woodhouse's predecessors as NCGOP Executive Director, Chris McClure and Russell Peck, one other politically connected name also popped up but the pieces did not seem to fit.  That was Patrick Rhode, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Cintra, USA.

Now those pieces fit perfectly.

The first two jobs on Rhode's LinkedIn profile are Deputy Director of National Advance Operations for the Bush Cheney 2000 campaign and Special Assistant to the President of the United States, the White House.

These are positions where he would have worked closely with Karl Rove, President Bush's right hand man, and the man behind Crossroads GPS.

From the rest of Rhode's resume it seems pretty clear the most valuable skills he brings to a job are his political connections.

He has been at Cintra for going on 8 years now a time span that more than covers the entire history of the HOT lanes efforts here in NC.

Loop this all in with the storyline we told you about here covering the impact of ALEC (including Cintra's involvement) in the history of the I77 HOT lanes, and you get a pretty clear picture of what is going on.

Highly connected, very powerful people with more money to throw around than most people will see in a lifetime want this to happen.

Governor Pat is not going to stand up to them.  Let's hope we can find a judge who will.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I77 Summit details released...results pre-ordained???

Below are the details released for the coming "summit" on I77.

It does not look like the goal is cancellation of the Cintra contract.  That is disappointing.

One can see the meeting going something like this...

Toll opponents make a valid point.  NCDOT/Cintra says "no that is not true."

Repeat ad nauseam.

To be clear, I hope that is not the case, but the info below does not give that impression.

Hopefully, when the final agenda comes out it has some concrete actionable items on it.

From Rep Charles Jeter to all invitees...

The CRTPO/Municipal Summit will be held at Cornelius Town Hall on Monday November 23rd at 9:00am. 

Please advise asap if you are planning on attending or know if you cannot attend.  We need to make sure we are properly set-up based on the number of invitees planning to attend. 

An official agenda will be forthcoming, but here are some answers to the FAQ’s I’ve received…
  • Will the meeting be public?  Yes
  • How long will the meeting last?  We hope to have a productive and organized meeting, however, we do not want to cut off any questions or discussion.  The meeting length will be up to the participants other than my promise of having a hard stop at noon.
  • What do we hope to accomplish?  The purpose of this meeting will not be a complaint-fest of arguing back and forth.  This is designed to separate fact from fiction regarding the project and to determine what options exist and the ramifications of any alternate solutions that will may be presented.  This summit will not be limited to the current project, but will include a discussion of managed lanes region-wide.  As a result, we believe it is imperative for all CRTPO represented government entities to attend. 
  • Who will facilitate the meeting?  I will lead the meeting and will be very strict in keeping decorum.  Regardless of anyone’s predisposition to this issue, we are all trying solve the transportation issues of our region and any attempts to turn this into a circus will be immediately stopped. 
  • Will there be any presentations?  Yes, both the NCDOT and the Lake Norman Chamber will make presentations, though I have asked each to be brief. 


Mayoral HOT Lanes Bucket Brigade finally comes clean!

A couple of articles in Tuesday's Observer leaves little room for misinterpretation that all three local mayors have been working against the will of the people when it come to implementing HOT lanes.

Not that there ever was really much doubt.  We've covered there antics over the past few years in pieces like this, this, and this.

Today, first there is this piece recounting outgoing Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain's unequivacle support for the HOT Lanes project saying to the Observer...

“What we need to do now is we need to move forward. We need to let this happen.”

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/o-pinion/article45204528.html#storylink=cpy

During the campaign all we ever heard was that saying Swain supported tolls was somehow spreading misinformation.  It appears those who defended her on this point were the ones being less than truthful.

In the second article in the Observer, it was revealed North Meck Mayors Travis and Woods have apparently been planning a boondoggle to Texas for "months" now to see Cintra's tolling operation.

“This is a fact-finding mission for information sharing and forecasting that we can report back to our community."

They better hurry.

Somewhat ironically, on the same day that story hit the news, this one out of Texas also broke.  It looks like the legislative tide has turned in the Lone Star State against managed lanes projects like the I77 HOT lanes.

In Texas...

"House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett signaled he’s on a war path to end toll managed lanes at a hearing of the Select Committee on Transportation Planning last week."

Those are the current facts on the ground in Texas.

How much do you want to bet we don't hear anything about that from the Travis-Woods fact finding tour?

Bonus Observation:  The Observer made a big point of saying Travis and Woods are paying their own way to Texas and Cintra/NCDOT aren't covering the bill.

That being the case, paying their own way is the only way they could go.  After last week's pasting at the polls in Huntersville, does anyone see the Cornelius or Huntersville Boards paying for it?

Monday, November 16, 2015

PSA: Local Business Groups Plan Future I77 Update

Put this one on your calendar for a few weeks from now.

With lots of action over the past few days on the I77 issue including the surprise start of construction Monday night, Lake Norman area business groups will planning an update on the project.

Following the example set by LKN Chamber President Mike Russell at last week's press conference, they are not about to "lay down".

By the time this event rolls around, there will likely be lots of interesting updates. The so-called I-77 summit with the governor or his minions at the NCDOT will have already occurred. There also could have been an injunction filed by state legislators.

Here are the event details:



What:  Business Update on the I77 Toll Road Project

Who:   Lake Norman Business leaders and owners

When:  Dec. 2nd at 2 PM (allow 1.5 hours)

Where:  Days Inn in Cornelius (Exit 28 across from the Acropolis Restaurant - 


  • Impact of the toll road plan on business access and congestion (John Hettwer - Former  LN CoC Chairman)
  • Changing political environment (Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett)
  • Law suit to stop the project (WidenI77 Spokesman Kurt Naas)
  • How the business community can help find a better I77 solution for our businesses, community, and future


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Davidson election by the numbers

Update: The original version of this post incorrectly stated Davidson Pct 206 only had turnout of 8.8%.  The correct turnout was 15.1%.  Double counting of data on the MeckBOE caused the error.  Apologies for the error on my part.

Well, numbers have finally rolled in this past week that give a little more color on the recent election in Davidson.

One might think with so little choice on the ballot there wouldn't be much to gleen from the election.

Not true.  You just have to look closely.

Based on preliminary turnout numbers provided by MeckBOE, turnout was down this cycle with only 1267 voters heading to the polls this year versus 2139 voters who turned out in 2013.  That's a 40% drop.  Not good.  Not good at all.

In this piece written before the election, we covered the topic of how to "supercharge" your vote through selective voting, or withholding a vote that might otherwise be cast.

Here is a look at those numbers.  In the uncontested Mayor's race the impact of this certainly tempers Mayor John Woods "victory".


Woods "won" the race with 87.89% of the vote while there were 127 write-in votes, or 12.11%.  Compared to 2013 the write-ins were up significantly in terms of both raw numbers and percentage of the vote.  In 2013, there were only 86 write-ins for just 4.89% of the total vote.

Things get even more interesting when looking at the "undervote", or those who cast a ballot but left the Mayor's race blank.  When the undervote is included only 72.6% of voters pulled the lever for Woods.  Again the totals were different when looking at the precinct level.  69.6% in 127 versus 73.5% in 206.

As a frame of reference, the hotly contested mayoral race in Huntersville had tiny numbers of these "protest" votes.  There, only 7 write-in ballots were cast and even fewer left the race blank.  Well over 99% of voters made a selection from the two listed candidates.

Davidon's high rate of protest votes in the Mayor's race certainly says more about the need for candidates than anything else, but if over 1/4 of voters won't vote for a sitting incumbent even when that incumbent is the only option, that is certainly not a good thing.

In the race for the Board of Commissioners, again there were not any real surprises with who won.  All of the incumbents were reelected.  However, it is worth noting that the top 3 vote getters were all people on record as opposing the I77 HOT lanes project.



Some readers may be surprised to see that political newcomer Michael Angell received as many votes as he did.  Angell ran what can best be described as a "stealth" campaign.  Or more directly, he did not do a lot of traditional campaigning.  One could likely attribute this to the fact to the was the only candidate openly opposed to the controversial Catalyst Project.  That may have been the only thing many voters knew about him, but for well over 500 voters that was enough.

A couple of positive things can also be seen in the data.

First, none of the candidates were terribly skewed in where they got their votes relative to the other candidates.  Meaning all of their percentage vote totals between precincts were fairly close - between 35-45% from precinct 127 with the remainder from precinct 206.  Since 206 has a much larger share of registered voters, that seems about right.

Also, there was a decent amount of "strategic" voting - meaning voters did not always fill out a full slate of votes.  The overall undervote in this race was also about 1/4 of the votes that could have been cast.  However, in this type of plurality election some under voting is common, and it appears voters still voted for 3-4 candidates on average.


There is always something interesting in the numbers even in races where there is not much competition.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

After allies shellacked at polls, I77 HOT lanes contractor makes surprise announcement

In a surprise move, Cintra/I77 Mobility Partners announced Thursday that construction would begin this coming Monday on the I77 HOT lanes project.  The surprise announcement comes just over a week after pro-toll politicians took a shellacking at the polls.

The announcement also comes on the eve of a press conference called by members of the local delegation to the General Assembly.  The meeting will be Friday morning at the LKN Chamber.  The Chamber has been fighting the toll project alongside local activists.

This all sets an interesting stage for a supposed "summit" on the issue sometime next week with Governor McCrory.

This move could be seen as a sign of confidence by the company they will prevail in their January showdown in court with WidenI77.org, or it could be seen as a sign of panic at the recent change in the politics on the ground here in North Mecklenburg.

Either way, it amps up the pressure on the state level politicians to do everything they can to stop the project, or their own political tenures could end the same way as those in Huntersville did last week.

Press release below from I77 Mobility Partners PR flack, Jean Leier (pronounced liar).


Charlotte, N.C. (November 12, 2015) – I-77 Mobility Partners today announced that construction of the I-77 Express Lanes in the Charlotte and Lake Norman region will begin this Monday, November 16, 2015. A public-private partnership is providing a $648 million investment for a 26-mile expansion that will alleviate traffic congestion in one of North Carolina’s most important corridors.

Construction of the I-77 Express Lanes will occur in the median of I-77 with minimal disruption to commuters. Occasional lane shifts and closures will only take place in overnight hours. However, with day and night activity in the work zone, motorists should drive safely and stay alert at all times.

“I-77 Mobility Partners is excited to begin construction. The project will bring reduced traffic congestion, spur economic development through the hiring of 50-100 local firms and deliver a choice 
for North Carolina drivers at little cost to taxpayers,” said Jean Leier, Director of Corporate Affairs at I-77 Mobility Partners. “We are committed to regular and ongoing communications with residents, commuters and businesses in the area to ensure a successful and safe project.”

Construction will start in the area south of Exit 23 Gilead Road to north of Exit 28 Catawba Avenue. Traffic control measures include restriping the roadway and shifting the lanes, installing a concrete safety barrier near the median and placing road markers along the project area. Initial construction work involves clearing the land and grading of the area. In 2016 drivers will see construction work along most of the 26-mile project.

Once the project is complete, dedicated express lanes will run adjacent to the existing general purpose lanes. The number of general purpose lanes will remain the same as today. Drivers will have the choice of using the express lanes to avoid travel delays, the general purpose lanes or a 
combination of both. Carpoolers with three or more occupants (including the driver) may use the express lanes for free. The full 26-mile project is slated to be completed in 2018. 

“We believe this project will provide a benefit to I-77 users as an improvement to their daily quality of life,” Leier added. “With less congestion, drivers will have more time with their families or at the office, be able to make more service calls, and have greater access to goods and services.”

Area residents are encouraged to sign up for email updates by visiting I-77 Mobility Partners’ website: http://www.i77express.com/newsroom/newsletter-e-alerts/

Updates also will be posted to our social media channels:

  •  I-77 Mobility Partners Facebook page
  •  I-77 Mobility Partners Twitter page