Are Local Police Departments Really Struggling With a Staffing Issue Part 2

Another week, another fake news story from the Herald Citizen. The only remaining weekly newspaper in the area ran an embarrassingly one-side cover story two weeks ago asking how local police departments in Mooresville, Cornelius, Huntersville, and Davidson can compete with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (“CMPD”) when it comes to staffing. And last week the paper essentially ran a press release from the Mecklenburg Chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (“SSPBA”) about police-to-citizen ratios, but slapped a byline with Lee Sullivan’s name on it and called it a story. Mr. Sullivan was the writer of both recent “stories” in the Herald. Running a press release providing only a single viewpoint used to be frowned upon in the world of journalism, but that was back when real journalists still existed. [Note: I will no longer directly link to the Herald from my site when referencing articles. If you want to give them the clicks, you can visit their site directly.]

Oh, and did I mention the Mecklenburg Chapter of the SSPBA also ran a full-page ad in last week’s paper encouraging people to contact elected officials in Huntersville and support a pay raise for the Huntersville Police Department (“HPD”)? Full-page ads in the Herald aren’t cheap. I wonder if the dues paying members of the Mecklenburg Chapter of the SSPBA who don’t work in Huntersville support the decision to use their dues to support raises just for HPD officers?

They say perception is reality and the perception now is that if the Herald provides favorable coverage of an issue/individual/organization that coverage will be rewarded with advertising revenues. The Herald is no longer in the business of reporting news, it has now moved into the business of shaping opinion by reporting only carefully selected facts in their “stories.” At least the former Citizen made an effort, albeit weak, to separate their news and opinion sections with their “Talkers” column. The Herald needs to address this publicly if they want to maintain any credibility as a news organization. Or, they could decide to embrace their new role as the official propaganda arm of local government and just rename the paper the Herald Comrade.

Notably, the SSPBA reported spending $36,548.48 during the 2017 municipal elections in NC according to their most recent campaign finance report at the State Board of Elections. This includes approx. $8,000 to local candidates in Huntersville and Cornelius. Five out of six of your current Huntersville town board members received $1,000 contributions from the SSPBA: Bales, Boone, Gibbons, Hines, and Walsh; Phillips is the only commissioner not to receive a contribution. Joe Sailers also received $1,000. Will these $1,000 contributions have any effect on the decision by the town board to award raises to HPD officers this year?

Since the most recent Herald story focused on police-to-citizen ratios instead of just comparing starting base pay figures, a few thoughts about this ratio issue.

Mr. Sullivan describes “an officer-to-resident ratio recommended by the FBI” of 2.23 to 2.51 sworn officers per 1,000 residents in his story. Mr. Sullivan does not, however, provide any citation or source for this “recommended” ratio. After researching this supposed FBI staff level recommendation, I can only assume the 2.23 to 2.51 ratio comes from a 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics report summarizing law enforcement employment data. The second page of the report contains a table showing the national estimate of sworn officers per 1,000 U.S. residents from the years 1992-2012 ranging from 2.23 in 1992 to 2.51 in 2008. Interestingly, a footnote to this table states, “Counts provided from the UCR police employee data are based on a convenience sample of agencies that voluntarily reported to the FBI and do not represent a national sample [emphasis added].” Nowhere in this report does it state this range is to be used as a recommendation for staffing levels. The report also states on page 3, “In each year from 1992 through 2012, more than two-thirds of the agencies that reported employment data served jurisdictions with a population of less than 10,000.” Not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison with the current estimated population of Huntersville being over 60,000.

I welcome a response from the Herald or Mr. Sullivan with the source of the reported FBI recommended staffing ratio.

The most recent police employee data I could find at the FBI’s website from their 2016 Crime in the United States report (the police employee data for 2017 hasn’t been released yet) also provided some helpful information. According to the report, the nationwide average of sworn officers was 2.4 per 1,000 residents. This 2.4 figure does fit within the range reported by Mr. Sullivan, however, the “user’s note” included with the report seemed to contradict the notion that this was any type of recommendation. The “user’s note” states in part, “Because of law enforcement’s varied service requirements and functions, as well as the distinct demographic traits and characteristics of each jurisdiction, readers should use caution when drawing comparisons between agencies’ staff levels based on police employment data from the UCR Program. In addition, the data presented here reflect existing staff levels and should not be interpreted as preferred officer strengths recommended by the FBI [emphasis added].”

There are many recognized staffing models for local police departments and the population or per-capita based staffing model has it detractors. For example, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (“IACP”) published an article on this issue a few years ago that explained their position against using police to population ratios as a basis for agency staffing decisions. “Ratios, such as officers-per-thousand population, are totally inappropriate as a basis for staffing decisions. Accordingly, they have no place in the IACP methodology. Defining patrol staffing allocation and deployment requirements is a complex endeavor which requires consideration of an extensive series of factors and a sizable body of reliable, current data.”

You can also read two other reports on this issue here and here from the International City/County Management Association that are critical of solely using population or per-capita based staffing models as a basis for staffing decisions. Even Cornelius Chief Bence Hoyle recognizes that population ratios aren’t the ideal way to make staffing decisions. The Herald reported that Hoyle said he knows about the FBI recommendations and other statistics concerning police staffing, but he believes the type of community, and the type of calls for service [emphasis added] are factors that merit more consideration.

The town shouldn’t incentivize higher crime rates by punishing HPD for their good work in helping to keep crime at historically low levels by reducing staff or cutting pay. But, maybe before deciding whether to award pay raises to HPD officers, the town board needs to determine what problem they’re actually trying to solve with a pay raise? As I discussed in my last article, the argument for raises based on parity with CMPD’s starting salary is based on unfounded assumptions. And as I’ve just outlined above, clearly the argument for raises based on an officer-to-resident ratio is also not convincing. Maybe the Herald will have yet another “story” out this week with a new problem being faced by HPD and other local departments that will require further analysis.

Here’s a novel idea – why don’t we actually ask our officers what they think about these issues and what problems at HPD may need to be addressed instead of simply relying on information in ads and social media posts by an interested party like the SSPBA? Surely the town could come up with an anonymous survey option to address officer concerns about retribution?

Huntersville simply cannot win an arms race with Charlotte when it comes to officer pay. The FY17 operating budget in Charlotte was $634.9 million! The approved FY17/18 operating budget in Huntersville was $35.5 million. Do we really think CMPD and the Charlotte city council will sit idly by while their 157 open positions remain unfilled if HPD is able to raise it’s starting base pay to match CMPD’s?  It’s unfortunate the SSPBA and HPD seem to be taking advantage of the staffing issues Huntersville is currently facing due to the recent resignation of the town manager to push through a significant raise for employees in one department of the town. Again, let’s hope the Huntersville town board takes the time to analyze the complex issue of appropriately staffing the police department before simply throwing more money at the problem in the next budget.


Are Local Police Departments Really Struggling With a Staffing Issue?

It has been a few weeks since I’ve been motivated to write about much, but budget season in Huntersville is just around the corner so I’m sure I’ll have plenty to write about soon enough. Thankfully the local paper is a never-ending source of motivation whenever I’m in a slump. Serious question time – now that the Herald bought the Citizen and we only have one local weekly paper, does that mean the Herald Citizen is now the “only experienced, professional, legitimate news outlet in the Lake Norman region?”

The cover story of the Herald Citizen last week alerted readers to the alleged struggle all four local police departments (Mooresville, Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson) are currently facing over staffing issues. The story featured quotes from the chiefs of all four departments expressing similar concerns over staffing. But don’t worry, according to the author this feature story was totally not a coordinated media blitz by local police departments since he lets us know that these concerns were expressed in the same way in separate conversations without knowing what the others said.

Let’s start by admiring the lengthy but brilliant analogy (the reader knows it’s brilliant because the author even quotes Chief Hoyle agreeing with the analogy) used by the author comparing the alleged hiring struggles of local police departments to a small-market baseball team losing a talented prospect to the loathsome Yankees of New York. In this analogy, the four local police departments are your AAA ball club and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (“CMPD”) is the Yankees, get it? Except maybe the analogy isn’t quite as good as Chief Hoyle says it is because small-market teams expect to lose their best prospects to the big league and even the loathsome Yankees have to compete with other “large-market” teams to retain their best players. In addition, even the loathsome Yankees and their vast resources can’t pay a high enough salary to prevent players from getting injured or retiring. And maybe the four local police departments just can’t offer the same opportunities that CMPD can no matter their starting base salary. What if an officer’s career goal is to be the best murder police in the world (yes, I learned everything I know about police work from watching The Wire)? Fortunately our local departments won’t be able to help that officer achieve that goal, while CMPD offers far too many opportunities for an officer that wants to be good murder police.

Maybe the 140 or so words used on this brilliant analogy could have been better used asking some specific questions about the staffing issues facing the local departments instead of just running a story full of unfounded assumptions.

Here are a few suggested questions for the local police departments that the author can ask in a follow-up piece, and for Huntersville in particular since Chief Spruill states that his department is the most vulnerable.

  • How many officers did you lose last year to CMPD? How many officers did you lose the past 5 years to CMPD for comparison?
  • How many officers, if any, have you lost to CMPD since they announced their lateral hiring push back in November?
  • How many officers did you lose last year to retirement?
  • How many officers did you lose last year to relocation, being hired by departments other than CMPD (including private security or police), injury, leaving policing for another profession, being hired by the Yankees, or any other reason?
  • If each respective town board approves a budget that includes salary increases for officers to match the starting base pay of CMPD, will this solve your staffing issues?
  • How many current officers in your department were lateral hires from other departments? Should your department be concerned about poaching officers from other towns that don’t have the budget/resources to pay their officers the same starting base pay you pay your officers?
  • None of the local departments list more than 3 current openings, while CMPD lists 157. Chief Dunn is quoted as saying that staffing issues in Davidson might be putting officers at risk because the number of officers on the street is below what it needs to be. Does this mean CMPD officers could be at risk as well due to their staffing issues and, if so, do the local departments have any obligation not to hinder attempts by CMPD to remedy their own staffing issues?
  • Is CMPD’s staffing issue resulting in higher crime in neighboring towns like Huntersville? If so, what is the best way to remedy this problem?
  • Is it possible any of the local departments are currently overstaffed and could afford to lose a few officers to CMPD?

Complex issues require serious analysis to reach solutions. Let’s hope each town board takes the time to analyze the complex issue of appropriately staffing their respective police departments before simply throwing more money at the problem in the next budget.




In Their Own Words – Aneralla & Kidwell Edition

The special meeting held by the board last week and my coverage of it here generated interesting responses from both Mayor Aneralla and Commissioner Kidwell. The mayor took to the dais last Wednesday prior to going into closed session and told of his lack of sleep and expressed outrage not over taxpayers being screwed by the former town manager and Teron Service, Inc. under his watch, but because four commissioners called or supported calling a special meeting “behind my back.” [Informing the mayor of your intent to call a special meeting before you do so is not a condition of calling a special meeting per NCGS 160A-71(b)(1).]  Commissioner Kidwell, in response to a constituent who emailed him expressing concerns about the monies paid to a former commissioner and the resulting asbestos violation the town received, emailed this person (this email is public record) that there are always three sides to a story and in the middle is the truth. Commissioner Kidwell also failed to identify the Teron payments that took place under his watch so it’s understandable that he would rather avoid accepting responsibility in his last few days as a commissioner and blame some blogger for allegedly spreading half-truths than take any action to protect taxpayers in the future.

Their own words are presented below without comment [well, maybe with a few comments…].


Mayor Aneralla from the dais in town hall on Nov. 29: “I just wanted everybody to know I sit here today under much duress and disappointment having lost a lot of sleep the past few days. I’ve been mayor of the town of Huntersville for the last two years and am proud of many of the successes we have had working as a board with staff. I consider the individuals on this board as friends and I look forward to the next two years. I have tried to lead this board in a professional manner, open manner [except for only complying with the board’s procedural rules and state law regarding open meeting laws after being harangued by this blogger…] and for the most part have been proud of how we have conducted ourselves, but not always, especially today [telling that he never uttered a peep when Commissioner Bales accused him of collusion in a public meeting, but this issue he takes a stand on…]. Without the courtesy of informing me or Commissioner Bales or Kidwell, once again behind my back, the remaining commissioners decided to call today’s closed session meeting on the Friday after Thanksgiving [maybe they would have called it sooner if anyone had discovered the relevant information before then…], only four days before a new board is sworn in. This is truly disappointing. Not only do I believe calling this meeting is childish, vindictive, inappropriate, ill-timed and unethical [kind of like these remarks…], this meeting reeks of the same politics many on the board criticized previous boards to allow and why so many citizens are disgusted with politics and politicians. I see no difference in calling today’s closed session meeting to the awarding of the HFFA contract eight months prior to the expiration and the month before the election [calling a special meeting to attempt to address taxpayers getting screwed and pushing through a vote on a flawed contract to intentionally screw taxpayers are completely different…]. To call a closed session meeting with a lame duck board is simply petty, personal politics at its worst [again, it’s telling the mayor isn’t outraged about taxpayers getting screwed, he’s outraged some on the board attempted to do something about it…] There are two things I hold  most dearly in my life – my family and my reputation. As we head into this closed session I want my fellow board members to consider what they have left of their reputations and what they want them to be [I’d stack the reputations of the two commissioners who called the special meeting up against the mayor’s any day of the week and it wouldn’t even be close…].”

Commissioner Kidwell via email on Dec. 1 at 9:24 am: “Thank you for the email. Unfortunately some of what Mr. Rowell had expressed in his (2nd) blog was information discussed in a closed session meeting [no it wasn’t, I clearly indicated I was making educated guesses, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what happened in the closed session when you consider the mayor’s statement prior to closed session AND when you consider neither Bales nor Kidwell voted to go into closed session…]. The fact that that information was shared outside the ethical boundaries of our oaths [again, nothing was shared outside of anything and Commissioner Kidwell cites no specifics in support of this assertion…] is severely heartbreaking and I am disappointed in whom ever did it [not as disappointed as I am in your votes the past two years…].

But I will tell you that the individual responsible for hiring Teron has already been relieved of his duties and job [although he quickly got hired on as the town manager in Waxhaw…]. That individual was the former town manager.

What transpired after the county alerted the town happened exactly as it should. The town manager went to a meeting with our attorney and staff and said get to the bottom of it [when was this meeting and which staff was told to get to the bottom of what?].

Only recently, Wednesday of this week [which would have been Nov. 29…], did the county come back and say there is no violation [actually no they didn’t say this, the county merely said they consider the violation closed…], which at that time, the current town manager then sent out an email with all the information to the board [this email from the town manager was sent A DAY AFTER my initial story on this issue and only after the town board called a special meeting, a complete coincidence I’m sure…].

Our town manager is Directed to handle the day-to-day operations of the town. He should not have to be micromanaged and tell us about every single aspect that was going on, until he has all the facts [or until some pesky blogger reports on his neglect and he has to go into spin mode…]. I personally like to have all the facts in front of me before I make a rash decision or jump to conclusions.

Unfortunately the former town manager messed up big-time [but he still got a nice severance and quickly landed a new job in Waxhaw…]. But on the bright side our, current town manager not only saved the town thousands of dollars by bidding out the contract to tear down the houses [no, he just didn’t waste thousands of dollars for no-bid work to a former commissioner…], but also made sure that the contractor tore them down correctly according to Mecklenburg county code.

My real concerns for Huntersville going forward, as a private citizen, is that the town board, allows our manager and staff to perform their jobs without trying to tell them who to hire, fire, or discipline (as it is illegal for a board to direct the town manager to do such things) [Commissioner Kidwell cites no evidence in support of this assertion of illegality…].

There’s always three sides to a story. There’s the story the person A has. There’s the story that person B has. And in the middle is the truth [whose truth, Commissioner Kidwell?].

Thank you again for reaching out and your support over the past few years I truly appreciate it. I hope this email answer some your questions and clears the air that has been fogged by political agendas [whose political agenda, Commissioner Kidwell?].”

Vincent Failed to Disclose Asbestos Violation to Board

Did you know the town of Huntersville received a Notice of Violation from the County’s Air Quality Department in August because the contractor used to demolish town-owned properties failed to submit any of the necessary asbestos surveys and NESHAP notifications? If you weren’t aware, don’t worry, neither was the town board. They only learned of this violation about a week ago and it wasn’t because the town manager informed them. And in case you haven’t already guessed, the contractor responsible for failing to submit any of the necessary asbestos surveys and NESHAP notifications that resulted in the violation was Teron Service, Inc.

So not only did Teron screw the taxpayers of Huntersville out of thousands of dollars for no-bid demo work with the approval of former town manager (now currrent town manager of Waxhaw) Greg Ferguson, they couldn’t even be bothered to submit the standard asbestos related paperwork. That’s just plain sorry.

By the way, I’m still waiting on Melinda Bales, Brian Hines, Joe Sailers, and Nick Walsh to publicly disavow the support they received from the owners of Teron, Ron and Teresa Julian, during the recent campaign.

The notice of violation is attached below. It speaks for itself. The attached emails also make clear that three people with the town (then interim town manager Gerry Vincent, town employee Michelle Haines, and town attorney Bob Blythe) knew about the potential violation as early as July 11 – over a month before the notice dated August 29 was sent to the town. If appropriate action had been taken by the town in a timely manner to address the concerns of Air Quality, it’s possible no violation would have been issued. Instead, all three town employees sat on this information for months and likely would have never disclosed it to the board. As of this morning, all three individuals are still employed by the town.

Meck Air Quality - Teron

Why would Vincent fail to disclose this information to the board? Doesn’t seem like something an award-winning town employee would do (Vincent was voted the North Carolina Assistant Manager of the Year for 2013-14 by the North Carolina City and County Management Association). Is it possible he’s just so lazy that even notifying the town board of something so serious was too much work for him, or is it possible he was trying to keep the board and taxpayers in the dark about the no-bid Teron work prior to the election?

A special town board meeting was held yesterday at 10am in town hall for the purpose of discussing personnel. No action was taken after the board came out of closed session. The last time the board called a special meeting to discuss personnel was earlier this year in January and it resulted in the board accepting Mr. Ferguson’s resignation. Assuming the board called this special meeting for the same reason – to discuss the job of the town manager, it’s probably safe to also assume Vincent still has a job because the votes weren’t there to accept his resignation.

Mayor John “don’t you know how smart I am” Aneralla made his position clear prior to the board entering closed session when he publicly chastised the board members who called the special meeting. If Aneralla didn’t want Vincent gone, I’m also going to make an educated guess that his BFF Dan “I like to lie on campaign mailers” Boone wouldn’t go along with Vincent no longer being the town manager either. Another safe assumption is that if Aneralla and Boone wanted to maintain the status quo, Melinda “I throw around unfounded accusations of collusion without repercussion” Bales wasn’t in favor of changing the town’s leadership either. Because we all remember how adamant Commissioner Bales was about maintaining the status quo at HFFA despite the millions of reasons why a management change was needed. But, you know what they say about assuming so I welcome any comments from Aneralla, Bales, or Boone correcting the record.

Let the 2019 race for Huntersville’s next mayor begin.


Huntersville Paid Former Elected Official $97,025 For No-Bid Jobs

If the newly elected Huntersville town board thought they wouldn’t have much to worry about over the next two years, they can think again. Adopting a new policy requiring stricter thresholds than currently required by state law for when formal and informal bids have to be approved by the town board would be a good place to start. By taking the lead and becoming the first town in North Mecklenburg with a policy on bid thresholds, the new town board would be doing their part to help protect Huntersville taxpayers against corrupt town officials in the future.

Ron Julian was an elected member of the Huntersville town board from 2007-2015. He was an appointed member of the town’s board of adjustment before that. He is currently licensed by the state as a general contractor with a limited building license (License #54760). As a long-time public official and licensed general contractor, you would fully expect Mr. Julian to be very familiar with the laws and regulations regarding submitting bids, including the thresholds under which formal or informal bids are not required. It was this knowledge of bid thresholds, combined with his relationship with former Huntersville town manager Greg Ferguson, that resulted in Mr. Julian and his wife being paid $97,025 by the town for demolition and repair work from August 2016 through January 2017.

According to the UNC SOG, under North Carolina law (specifically Article 8 of Chapter 143, sections 129 and 131), local governments are required to bid out purchases of “apparatus, supplies, materials, and equipment” costing $30,000 or more, and contracts for construction or repair costing $30,000 or more. Local governments do have the ability to adopt stricter thresholds than state law that would require bidding on other types of contracts or for contracts costing less than $30,000. If Huntersville had already adopted a policy requiring oversight by the town board of contracts less than $30,000, it’s highly likely the contracts discussed below would have been awarded to a business other than Teron Service, Inc.

Teron Service, Inc. (“Teron”) is a North Carolina business incorporated by Julian and his wife, Teresa Julian, in 1996. You can view the company’s annual reports filed with the NC Secretary of State’s Office here. Mrs. Julian is listed as the company’s President and Mr. Julian is listed as the Vice-President. The nature of the business is listed as “consulting.” Teron holds a valid contractors license through Mr. Julian. There is no website that I could find for Teron, but according to the company’s listing in the Huntersville Chamber business directory the focus of the business appears to be property management. I was unable to find a listing for the company in the Lake Norman Chamber’s business directory for some reason.

In June 2016, a proposal for demolition work was submitted by Mr. Julian on behalf of Teron to the Town of Huntersville [see below]. The proposal listed 13 properties to be demolished at a total cost of $142,600.00. This proposal did not include the cost of any asbestos surveys. The former town manager never informed the town board that he was awarding demo work to a former town commissioner.

Teron June 2016 Proposal

Pursuant to a records request, the earliest record I was provided of any discussions about the demo work awarded to Teron was an email from town employee Michelle Haines to then town manager Greg Ferguson dated July 25, 2016. Haines’ email to Ferguson stated, “Here [sic] a letter that you can print and send to Ron to move forward with demos on the first 4.” The letter below was attached to the email. If the initial demo proposal from Julian was dated June 17, 2016 and the first record of any discussion about this work that I was provided was dated July 25, 2016, how did the demo proposal come about to begin with? How would Mr. Julian know to submit a proposal for demo work if the town manager had not issued a public request for proposals?

Teron ltr 7-25-16

Despite submitting a proposal to demo 13 properties, Teron was only paid for demo work related to 7 properties: 6 per the original proposal and 1 additional property located at 8824 McIlwaine Rd. related to construction of the new fire station. The six properties from the original proposal the town paid Teron a total of $63,400 to demo were: 102 First St. (1,000 sq. ft.), 101 3rd St. (915 sq. ft.), 307 N. Main St. (1,050 sq. ft.), 309 N. Main St. (906 sq. ft.), 311 Main St. (900 sq. ft.), and 201 Walters St. (1,778 sq. ft.). The town paid Teron $29,500 to demo the McIlwaine property (2,931 sq. ft.). [see checks/invoices below] Interestingly, none of the Mecklenburg County demo permits for the seven properties above listed Teron as the contractor. Each permit listed “Black & Sons, Inc. W C”, a contractor based out of McDowell County that has an H classification license – which covers grading and excavating work, but also allows them to perform demo work. Black & Sons, Inc. has been in the demo business for over 20 years and regularly does work in Mecklenburg County. So why wouldn’t the town just hire Black & Sons, Inc. directly to perform the necessary demo work?

Teron checks (redacted)

The monies used to pay Teron came from four different funding sources according to the town. There may be some explanation for why so many different funding sources were used to pay for this demo work, but this is just one example of why I encourage elected officials and residents to go through the budget line-by-line, so questionable payments like these can be scrutinized in a more timely manner.

  • Invoice #102116-102: Fire Station ($29,500) – Building Improvements – McIlwaine
  • Invoice #01132017-311: Planning ($7,800) – Contracted Services
  • Invoice #01132017-102: Planning ($8,000) – Contracted Services
  • Invoice #111616-201D: Governing Body ($16,000) – Demo – Anchor Mill
  • Invoice #091816-309: Public Works ($7,800) – Land – 2-way Pair
  • Invoice #091216-307: Public Works ($16,000) – Land – 2-way Pair
  • Invoice #091216-101: Governing Body ($7,800) – Demo – Anchor Mill
  • Invoice #081216: Public Works ($4,125) – Repair Main Building – two-way pair

I’m sure it’s a coincidence the payment for demo of the McIlwaine property was just under the $30,000 threshold that would have triggered an informal bid under NCGS 143-131.

The final payment listed for $4,125 was paid to Teron not for demo work, but for “repairs” to the dwelling at 319 N. Main St. performed in August 2016. The approx. 1,000 sq. ft. dwelling had apparently been damaged by a hit-and-run in July 2016 according to a police report. When competitive bids were later submitted for demo of this property, the bid was awarded to a company that quoted $4,850. The demo permit for 319 N. Main St. was issued by the county on June 27, 2017. To recap, the former town manager decided it was a good use of taxpayer money to spend $4,125 to repair a rental property to collect a few more months of rent (which it had stopped collecting by at least May 2017) only to demo the dwelling less than a year later at almost the same cost.

So why was Teron only paid for demo and repair work through January 2017 despite seven of the properties on the original proposal still needing to be demolished? Could it have something to do with former town manager Greg Ferguson’s sudden resignation on Jan. 9, 2017? The last payment issued to Teron according to records I was provided was dated Jan. 27, 2017 for work performed on Jan. 5 and Jan. 12, 2017.

On March 31, 2017, an email was sent from Ron Julian to Michelle Haines stating, “Attached is the quote for the demolition of the Town Properties. Let me know if you need any additional information.” No attachment was provided to me and it’s unclear if the quote described was the same quote previously provided by Teron in June 2016. Haines next emailed Teron on April 25, 2017 asking for a demo quote for 109 W. Church St. by May 1st and advising this dwelling may contain asbestos. Ron Julian emails Haines back the next day with a quote for 109 W. Church St. On May 11, 2017, Teron emails Haines asking for a status on these projects. Haines emails back the same day and states, “You should receive a letter in the mail from me today or tomorrow. It was determined to re-open the proposals, and if you wish, you may revise your proposal previously submitted. There is a new submission deadline of May 23rd.”

Who determined to re-open the demo proposals and why is unclear from the emails I was provided. But, if this was an attempt by then interim-town manager Gerry Vincent to remedy the wrongs of his predecessor, why did he never take the opportunity to disclose to the town board the payments already made to Teron? It is difficult to believe Vincent, as a long-time, award-winning assistant town manager under Ferguson, did not know about these no-bid contracts being awarded to a former town commissioner. Putting the remaining demo work out for bid was simply the bare minimum required of a competent town manager, and it was to be expected for someone who was interviewing for a job like Vincent was at the time (he was not made official town manager until July 17, 2017). If Vincent failed to inform the town board about this, what else is he not reporting to the town board?

Mr. Vincent is clearly carrying on Mr. Ferguson’s mushroom style of management when it comes to the town board, feed them excrement and keep them in the dark.

Near the very end of the two-and-a-half-hour-long town board meeting on June 5, 2017, the town board voted 5-0 (with Guignard recused) on Other Business Item P. to award demo contracts for seven dwellings to National Recovery & Wrecking Co. There was no public discussion by the board prior to the vote on this agenda item. If you’ll recall, the agenda packet for this particular meeting, which was dominated by the budget vote, was 297 pages. Buried on page 292 were two pages related to awarding of the demo contracts, including a competitive bid matrix from Teron and three other companies (Black & Sons, Inc. was not given an opportunity to bid on this work despite having performed the prior demo jobs) for demo of these seven properties [see below]. Teron’s bid was more than double the second highest bidder and almost 2.5 times higher than the bid submitted by National Recovery. The total eventually paid by the town to National Recovery for demo of seven properties, including a full asbestos abatement inspection, was $43,570.

060517 Demo Proposals

Based on the competitive bids submitted for the June 5, 2017 vote by the town board, it’s clear taxpayers were vastly overcharged by Teron for their prior work. Let’s hope the new board takes immediate action to ensure taxpayers are better protected in the future.

A final note. I have been a resident of Huntersville for four years now. The efforts at this blog are intended to improve transparency at town hall and ensure efficient use of taxpayer dollars, it’s not personal. As everyone is aware, I have been the campaign treasurer for the Danny Phillips campaign for the past two election cycles, so many people are likely to dismiss this as merely an extension of campaign politics. It isn’t. But, if you think the strident opposition by the Julians to Phillips and Guignard in particular during the recent campaign was based on principles and not personal, I have a no-cost transportation alternative to Charlotte to sell you. Mr. Julian paid for voter cards that were handed out at the polls on election day endorsing Melinda Bales, Brian Hines, Joe Sailers, and Nick Walsh. It will be interesting to see whether any of those four will make any public comments about their support by Mr. Julian going forward.

I’ll have more on this story later in the week.


Huntersville Board agenda – Nov. 20, 2017

There is a town board meeting tonight at 6:30pm – the pre-meeting starts at 5:30pm. You can view the agenda or download the full agenda packet here. You can watch a live stream of tonight’s meeting at the town’s Ustream page here. I can’t cover every agenda item so I always encourage residents to review these agendas and discuss any items of interest with the mayor or a board member because even a single motivated resident can make a difference on how the votes turn out on some of these.

Some thoughts below on one agenda item in particular – the vote on whether to spend $177,835 to purchase 11 new police vehicles. Later this week I’ll be reposting my very popular series of columns about Small Business Saturday and the buy local movement – you might remember these columns as the ones that resulted in my services no longer being needed at the Herald Weekly. And next Monday I’ll share some thoughts on a former elected official in Huntersville who has been paid at least $92,900 by the town since leaving office.

Other Business:

– Item C: The board will consider whether to approve a budget amendment allocating $177,835 from the general fund balance to the Police Department’s budget to purchase 11 police vehicles.

According to the town’s financial director, as of Nov. 6, 2017 the balance of unspent DOJ/Treasury equitable sharing funds available to Huntersville PD was approx. $395,261. And this is up from the total unspent funds of $347,807.19 just earlier this year in March. The last time HPD spent equitable sharing funds according to the equitable sharing certifications filed with the federal government was in FY 13/14 when approx. $414,704 was used for overtime, communications/computers (the bulk of the spending that year – $399,123.38 for radios) and weapons/protective gear.

According to the Justice Department’s Guide to Equitable Sharing for State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, law enforcement equipment, including vehicles, is a permissible use of equitable sharing funds. You can read the Guide here – page 16 outlines the permissible uses. This same permissible use is outlined on the equitable sharing certification form. I have attached the most recently filed form for reference.

2017 Equitable Sharing

If you’re unfamiliar with equitable sharing and civil asset forfeiture and why HPD has almost $400K available to spend in addition to the $11.5 million provided by taxpayers in the FY 17/18 budget, you can learn more by reading the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit report here.

Why should general fund monies be used to purchase these vehicles when HPD appears to have more than enough in equitable sharing funds to cover the costs? The $177,835 being requested by HPD could go to satisfy many other needs in the town since it is money from the general fund. The equitable sharing funds available to HPD, however, are restricted and can only be used by HPD for law enforcement purposes.

Hopefully those board members willing to question requests from HPD will seek more information from Chief Spruill before voting tonight to allocate monies from the general fund.


HFFA Progress, But Still No Severance

A quick update on some encouraging news from the new management company at Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics that was overshadowed by the local election last week. Swim Club Management (“SCM”) CEO Brian Sheehan made remarks during the public comments portion of the town board meeting last Monday regarding a few key areas of improvement. You can listen to his comments from the Nov. 6 board meeting beginning at the 48:50 mark here.

HFFA now has an updated, more interactive website that you can check out here. The site was updated to better enhance the experience of members and has far more information about the facility, including class schedules, than did the old site.

Membership software has been updated to better track who is entering the facility. In conjunction with updating the membership software, SCM intends to audit membership rolls to help better define the various membership categories available and ensure appropriate revenues are being collected for each membership.

Since taking over management responsibilities in early September, SCM has collected approx. $15K in outstanding membership fees and has reduced NSF (non-sufficient funds)
 charges in each of their first two full months of processing membership fees. NSF fees were typically being assessed under prior management due to old or incorrect credit card information. These fees were being passed along to the town – i.e., the taxpayers. According to Huntersville Finance Director Jackie Huffman, “for the twelve months in FY 2017, declines and chargebacks averaged $17,131 per month, with a high of $22,677 and a low of 11,831. September and October 2017 have been processed at $15,270 and $10,023 respectively.”  SCM anticipates this downward trend to continue due to measures they have implemented to decrease the reliance on credit card payments.

Finally, SCM has added staff in certain areas while at the same time they are projecting annual payroll to be $100K lower than last year. If you add the savings above to the approx. $125K the town is saving just on the management fee alone ($183,564 v. $58,500) SCM has made close to a $250K impact on the HFFA bottom line in just the first two months. But, this is to be expected when you hire a management company who treats taxpayer dollars as they would their own dollars and has an actual incentive to make HFFA profitable.

It’s often hard to tell truth from fiction over the din of local elections, but it’s hard to argue with the numbers SCM is producing in just their first two months at HFFA.

And while we’re on the topic of HFFA – why has the town still not paid a termination fee to the prior management company for 6 months base management fees and for severance? The town was sent demand letters over two months ago by nine individuals with a payment deadline of Sept. 15, 2017, and we’re well past that deadline. It seems pretty easy to figure up the 6 months of base management fees total – $183,564 annual, so $15,297 x 6 = $91,782. Maybe it’s the 8 weeks of severance that is the sticking point. (You might remember the severance language being added to the last minute contract rushed through immediately prior to the 2015 elections…) Again, seems like that would be an easy calculation, so why didn’t those demanding severance just ask for a specific figure in their demand letters? Is it possible no specific figure was demanded so the public wouldn’t find out how much certain members of the prior management company were being compensated?

Funny thing, I saw a figure of $200K cited by at least two people during the recent campaign as the cost to taxpayers for severing ties with the former management company at HFFA – Joe Sailers and Jeff Neely (who currently lives in Davenport, FL where he enjoys making up fake news). No basis was ever provided for this figure despite my requests for more information. It’s almost as if the figure was completely made up as a campaign tactic to damage the four candidates who voted in support of a management change at HFFA. Even if you add the management fee total of $91,782 and the total severance demand of $95,287.29, you only come up with $187,069.29. And that’s assuming the town would ever pay severance to all nine individuals – which, hopefully, the town will not.

HFFA has cost Huntersville taxpayers millions since it opened – not even including the millions in property taxes sacrificed by the town board in July 2000 when they agreed to allow Duke Power to extend the term during which McGuire Nuclear could not be involuntarily annexed into Huntersville in exchange for accelerating tax equivalent payments to the town so HFFA could be built. If you’re reading this and didn’t live here in 2000 which is very likely, the town board members in July 2000, according to Meck BOE records, were Alex Barnette, Tim Breslin, Charles Guignard, Bill Pugh, Jr., and Jill Swain – along with Mayor Randy Quillen. Interestingly, the minutes from the meeting when this agreement was voted on have still not been located…

Let’s hope the positive trends at HFFA under SCM continue so maybe Huntersville taxpayers will be able to use those hotel/motel funds currently going to HFFA for something else one day other than subsidizing exercise.