Well, it looks like Mr "Who Knows" has gotten his nose out of joint.
That's the first takeaway from a letter sent last week to WidenI77.org founder Kurt Naas along with State and Local elected officials regarding some financial analysis on the HOT lanes Naas published back on July 24th.
Let's just say this. Cintra's Mr Javier Tamargo didn't like what WidenI77.org's Mr Kurt Naas had to say on the financial setup of his HOT lanes deal.
In his document, Naas points out a number of ways this project is/may/or could be not in the best interests of North Carolina taxpayers. Tamargo responds by often answering claims different than the ones that Naas was making or by simply saying the equivalent of "no, that's not right" but then providing no real proof why he says that. Maybe most importantly, Tamargo closes with what can best be described as a veiled threat - giving Naas 10 days to retract his comments in writing...the "or else" is implied.
This makes the second time in recent weeks that Cintra/I77 Mobility Partners has levied ominous warnings at those who oppose their project. The other was against Diane Gilroy in a story over at the Carolina Journal. Somewhat ironically, Diane Gilroy is the wife of Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy who asked Mr Tarmargo the question on toll rates that elicited the now infamous "who knows" response in the above picture.
This all comes on the heals of the release of another anti-toll document on the CharlotteAgenda.com website titled "10 thing you don't know about the toll lanes planned for I77 north". The post has gone viral on a local level receiving over 37,000 page views in a few days. Combine this with the 739 comments received by CRTPO for their upcoming meeting where 720 of the comments were anti-toll. That's according to analysis distributed by Cornelius town staff . It shows 97% of respondents opposing tolls - a stunning figure.
Take all of that together and it's clear those who are pushing these tolls on the region should be worried about the rising opposition. Which brings us to the most disturbing part of this letter, how it appears to have been generated and distributed.
According to emails obtained via public records requests, the creation and distribution of this letter appears to have been a coordinated effort between the private party I77 Mobility Partners and the state NCDOT.
The below is an email sent on the morning of Wednesday 8/12. It's from Mobility Partners' Director of Corporate Affairs to NCDOT officials at the highest levels - including the new Secretary of Transportation, Nick Tennyson. The tone of this email should make it crystal clear to anyone that this is not the first communication on this subject. The level of detail on how this is being communicated shows it to be a highly coordinated effort. See the below timeline for the partial chain of events gleaned from the other emails received via public records. There are likely more emails that would fill in more gaps if one was to keep digging.
10:25am Jean Leier Director of Corp Affairs w/ I77MP sends letter to NCDOT staff
11:13am Scott Cole Division Engineer from NCDOT sends to Bill Coxe of Huntersville, Bill Thunberg with LNTC, and a bunch of people in Charlotte including Bob Cook - the main staffer for CRTPO.
11:49am Bill Coxe sends to Mayor Swain and others in Huntersville staff. Mayor Swains response makes it clear she has not received it from I77MP confusing the document from Naas with the viral posting from charlotteagenda.com
2:59pm Leier sends directly to Sarah Mcaulay
4:19pm McAulay thanks Leier for the document saying... "Jean Leier, thank you for the information. If I have questions about reading the document, I will contact you. Again, Thank you, Sarah McAulay"
4:21pm Mcaulay tells Bob Cook to send to CRTPO Members and TCC.
5:43pm Cook emails roughly 50 people involved in CRTPO.
Two things to note on Cook's email to CRTPO members.
1. A shocking number of people including many elected officials are using personal emails for government business making them nearly impossible to track. They include some of the biggest pushers of this deal. Ned Curran (NCDOT Board of Transpotation), Brian Jenest (Davidson), and Dumont Clarke (MeckBOCC).
2. Cook possessed the letter for a day and a half before McAulay told him to send it to CRTPO. Who else did he send it to in that time? A records request was not sent to Charlotte, but that would be interesting to know.
So, here you have both parties in a public private partnership, Cintra and Governor McCrory's NCDOT, actively working to apply pressure and disseminate information just days before a critical vote at the CRTPO. In fact, they were circulating that letter before its intended recipient/target even received it according to the above timeline. You also have the Chair of the CRTPO and the body's staff, Sarah McAulay and Bob Cook, actively involved in that dissemination.
In response to all this, WidenI77.org's Kurt Naas indicated on Saturday evening that there will be a response. He said to be on the lookout for a press conference prior to the CRTPO vote.
This should be fun to watch!
Bonus Observation: Who is Jean Leier, I77 Mobility Partners Director of Public Affairs and the person at the center of Cintra's pushback?
According to her LinkedIn profile, Leier's previous job was as head PR flack for Charlotte's mass transit system, CATS. The one municipality that will get any real benefit from this project through infrastructure paid for by LKN residents has its former mouthpiece working for the P3 contractor.
The public/private revolving door keeps turning. Ain't our government grand!
Update: See the WidenI77.org response here.