Huntersville Board Agenda – Jan. 22, 2019

Full agenda packet for tomorrow night’s town board meeting can be found here. The regular meeting begins at 6:30, pre-meeting starts at 5:45. Plan on watching it via FB live again this week due to work still being done to implement the town’s new A/V system (work on the new system has started at least).

The agenda packet is only 26 pages so this should be a short meeting, only two items on the consent agenda. One public hearing called for next month on allowing golf driving ranges in rural districts and approval of an easement agreement with Verizon.

The most interesting item will be during the pre-meeting when the newly formed “Public Arts Commission” intends to ask for $10K in public funding. If you’ll recall, this group was created by a 3-2 vote (Commissioners Boone and Phillips opposed, Commissioner Gibbons absent) at the March 19, 2018 town board meeting. According to the draft minutes from their Jan. 9, 2019 meeting – the Arts Commission’s chair, Scott Mumma, intends to ask the board for $10K in the FY19/20 Budget, $5K to be used to seek matching grants and $5K for “membership costs” to be paid to at least two art affiliated organizations outside of Huntersville. Less than a year old and already wanting taxpayers to give them $10K… thanks, Commissioners Bales, Hines, and Walsh! Remember, government only grows in one direction.

Eric

Chief’s Departure Signals Positive Opportunity For HPD

After almost five years on the job, Huntersville Police Department Chief Cleveland Spruill provided his resignation to the town last Friday, December 14. He started with HPD in May 2014 after a long career in law enforcement that began in 1987. People immediately started asking why the seemingly sudden resignation, but rumors of the chief’s potential departure have been circulating for weeks now, especially over at HPD HQ. Another rumor that I still haven’t been able to confirm yet is that the town is considering giving Chief Spruill the Bearcat as a retirement present.

In case you’re worried about how the chief is going to pay the bills, don’t. He’ll likely be receiving his Special Separation Allowance (“SSA”) courtesy of Huntersville taxpayers once his retirement is official next month. What is the SSA you’re probably asking? Just a special benefit provided to eligible retired law enforcement in NC to see them through to social security eligibility when they reach the age of 62. Huntersville taxpayers are currently paying for this benefit for two other individuals.

So why does the chief’s departure signal a positive opportunity for HPD? Because the town now has a great opportunity to finally fix the morale problems that have been plaguing the department for years now, even before Chief Spruill was named chief. As I’ve already pointed out, low pay isn’t what’s wrong at HPD if you talk to the rank and file officers. And it appears the town has finally decided to do something about the real problems at HPD by naming an interim chief from outside the ranks of the current HPD leadership. The same problems I’ve written about before still apparently exist at HPD (abuse of surveillance equipment, abuse of the take home vehicle policy, abuse of overtime, etc.) so Interim Chief Bence Hoyle is going to have his hands full when he takes over in early January.

Sources within HPD have been reaching out to me since the news of Chief Spruill’s resignation last week to share some thoughts. No officer is still willing to speak on the record for fear of retaliation – which is justified since from what I hear command staff has been doing everything they can to find out who all is talking to me.

Regarding the breaking news last week – one source stated, “Most of us were jumping for joy when the news was made official. Now a few more in leadership need to be next on the chopping block.”

Regarding the next chief – the same source stated, “The worst possible mistake would be to just promote from within the current leadership ranks. The town needs to cut ties with most of the ranking command staff and maybe even demote or fire some of the lieutenants.”

Regarding Spruill’s time as chief – another source stated, “When Spruill came in, things temporarily improved, but he allowed command staff too much control so the problems under Potter continued. Spruill eventually seemed to disconnect from the department and many rank and file officers for unknown reasons. He let too many in command just tell him what he wanted to hear, while those same command staff undermined him behind his back as if they wanted to set him up for failure. These same people will now do whatever it takes to protect themselves when the interim chief starts in January.”

Here’s a suggestion for the incoming interim chief – instead of wasting time trying to find out who all is talking to me, why not spend time attempting to fix what’s wrong with the department and then no one will have a reason to talk to me. Might I suggest something easy like an anonymous, legitimate survey amongst all the officers as a start to get some honest feedback? For example, feedback like this from another source about HPD HQ being used like a free afterschool daycare. “How is it fair that Major Graham, who makes over $100K, has his kid dropped off at HQ in the afternoons after school and is allowed to hang out for 2-3 hours and run all over the place? If this kid gets hurt at HQ who is responsible? What if a criminal gets loose or if a major call comes in – who is going to babysit the kid while we’re all responding to the call?”

How is that fair, indeed. When leadership gets to play by different rules, whether at HPD or any other company/organization, we all know what effect that has on morale.

The town has a great opportunity to finally fix some of the problems at HPD when the interim chief starts in a few short days. And the town manager is going to have a very important decision to make when it comes to naming a full-time replacement for Chief Spruill in the next few months. Let’s hope we keep moving Huntersville in the right direction with a chief who will finally hold all officers to the same standards and require command staff to be accountable for their actions and the actions of their subordinates.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Huntersville.

Eric

Smile, Huntersville, HPD Is Watching You

Digital video cameras, covert audio recording systems, pole camera systems, cell phone surveillance systems, license plate readers, and GPS trackers. And this is just the surveillance equipment we know about. Why does the Huntersville Police Department need all of this surveillance equipment and who are they tracking with it? Is HPD violating our civil liberties? Is HPD using GPS trackers in violation of the law to circumvent the warrant process? Let’s hope not since the law is pretty clear on this being a super no-no. If you’ve ever been pulled over by HPD on questionable grounds and you’d like to share your story, feel free to reach out, your privacy will be protected.

[Six (6) page document below. You can click through the pages by using the arrows at the bottom of the document.]

HPD surveillance response

Where is the town board on this issue? Who is providing oversight on all of this surveillance? What data is HPD collecting on residents? Who are they sharing this data with? Why is the town board not concerned about the potential for abuse this stockpile of surveillance equipment poses? What good is all this surveillance equipment if the town can’t even keep Public Works equipment from getting stolen (twice this year already!)? Why is HPD sitting on over $600K in asset forfeiture funds as of May? The town board should be demanding answers from HPD at Monday night’s town board meeting about all of this surveillance equipment, but they won’t. And the unsupervised surveillance of Huntersville residents, any anyone who travels through Huntersville, will continue…

But hey, if you don’t have anything to hide you shouldn’t be worried about HPD watching you, right?

Eric

Problems Persist At HPD Despite Pay Raises

I questioned months ago whether low pay and pay disparities were the only reasons officers were leaving or thinking about leaving the Huntersville Police Department (“HPD”). Spoiler alert – they aren’t. Low morale is another major problem within the department. And while the salary issue may have been addressed by the town board, our elected officials have been woefully inept at addressing the well-known issues at HPD causing low morale. The morale situation has become so bad at HPD that sources within the department have reached out to me for assistance even though they know they are risking their jobs by doing so. No officer has been willing to speak on the record at this time for fear of retaliation.

So, what are some of the issues affecting morale at HPD according to these sources? For starters: high ranking officers circumventing the 911 system to hide their personal problems, family members of high ranking officers being given preferential treatment after being lawfully stopped by HPD, rental vehicles supposedly needed for investigations being used like personal vehicles, officers abusing the secondary employment policy by getting paid for outside work while on the clock at HPD, EEOC complaints being filed, and just all around wasteful spending on things within the department that don’t make the community any safer. I’ve submitted multiple records requests related to a number of these items over the past week and plan to continue to investigate since the town board is unwilling to do any investigation of their own. I guess you could say I’m only taking the banal advice from the dais to say something if I see something…

Another source of ongoing contention is the abuse of the take home vehicle policy. This abuse has clearly continued with the tacit approval of the town board despite my reporting on the problems with the policy earlier this year (remember those $1,000 SSPBA contributions? I ‘member…). The current take home vehicle policy is not only costing taxpayers potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, it also continues to be used as a reward for favored officers even if they don’t qualify for a take home vehicle according to HPD’s own written policy. Officer T. Seth Hager continues to be allowed a take home vehicle paid for by Huntersville taxpayers for his 80+ mile round trip commute to work each day even though he has only worked a total of THREE (3) K9 deployments so far this year according to data from the KBCOPS system provided by a source within the department.

Where is the oversight from HPD command staff?

Finally, the issue of overtime pay. According to sources, the majority of overtime is going to higher ranking officers, primarily certain lieutenants. One source described the situation as follows, “Some lieutenants openly brag about all of their OT, but they’re not even the ones responding to road calls. Most days we have more officers sitting in the office than we do on the road and by 4pm it’s usually a ghost town at HQ.” [Huntersville PD HQ is located at 9630 Julian Clark Ave. in the business park.] With crime being so low in Huntersville it would seem odd that so much OT is required, especially if that OT is going to higher ranking officers sitting behind desks at HQ. “We just have way too many chiefs and not enough Indians, too many supervisors,” is the root of the problem according to one source. The top-heavy nature of the department is a problem the town board is very familiar with after having just sat through many hours of discussion about pay bands and pay raises. The frustration with the situation was obvious when another source explained that, “When you walk into HQ you can even see certain lieutenants watching Netflix or youtube on their computers so why do they need all that OT when they could just be spending time in the office during normal business hours actually doing their work?”

According to town staff, overtime pay is counted as compensation by the NC Local Governmental Employee’s Retirement System. Why does this matter? Because all NC taxpayers are on the hook for the massive $40 BILLION in unfunded liabilities for state retiree pension and health benefits. If only we had an elected official in Huntersville who supposedly understands pension issues and could help explain the consequences of pension padding to the other board members…

Where is the oversight from town hall?

When is the town finally going to require an independent audit of HPD?

What is it going to take for town hall to take some action, any action, to address these issues affecting morale with as much vigor as they addressed the issues of low pay and pay disparities?

There is more to come. I am currently waiting for responses to multiple records requests and will provide updates once more information is obtained. But, the worst part is what I’ve described above isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. You can only hide behind a hashtag for so long before the truth is revealed.

My offer still stands. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share about the problems within the department, feel free to reach out to me. Your privacy will be protected.

Eric

Local Freedom Hater Served Justice Sandwich

Hurricane Florence may be on her way towards our area, but Hurricane Justice already made landfall in Cornelius earlier this week and the Miltich residence was directly in its path. In case you weren’t aware, Mr. Michael F. Miltich, an elected member of the Cornelius Town Board, FREAKING SUED one of his constituents, Ms. Michelle Ferlauto, in July because he was super mad about some words she typed on the internets and because he hates America and Freedom and getting called out for being a liar liar with his pants on fire for lying about comments he was recorded making about Cornelius firefighters. I’ll link the actual lawsuit at the bottom of the page in case you want to show your kids what a frivolous suit looks like.

[IMPORTANT NOTE: PLEASE DON’T SUE ME TOO MR. MILTICH, THIS IS ALL JUST MY OPINION AND IS TOTALLY PROTECTED POLITICAL SPEECH CONCERNING A PUBLIC FIGURE (See U.S. CONST. am. 1.) BECAUSE IT’S STILL NOT ILLEGAL TO MAKE FUN OF POLITICIANS IN AMERICA.]

Thankfully for Ms. Ferlauto, the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice this week [see Dismissal below, along with copies of Ms. Ferlauto’s Answer, Motion to Dismiss, and Motion for Sanctions] due to the stellar legal work of local attorneys Jim Dedman of Gallivan, White & Boyd and Eric Spengler of Spengler & Agans. If you, too, have been sued by a butthurt elected official in your town for exercising your free political speech, or if you need assistance with any other legal issues, I would highly encourage you contact either of these fine members of the bar. If they hadn’t agreed to defend Ms. Ferlauto pro bono, the costs for her to defend this garbage lawsuit could have potentially been devastating. And the cowardly Mr. Miltich knew this, which is why he purposefully chose to sue only Ms. Ferlauto despite multiple other individuals and media outlets discussing/reporting his recorded comments about Cornelius firefighters, because he mistakenly thought she was an easy target and he could use a suit against her to score political points. I wouldn’t recommend you hold your breath waiting for Mr. Miltich to file a similar bogus lawsuit against any local media outlets or any other individuals.

Miltich Dismissal

Miltich Answer

To be clear, dismissed with prejudice means there was NO SETTLEMENT by Ms. Ferlauto. She didn’t have to delete any social media postings and she didn’t have to sign any non-disclosure agreement as demanded by Mr. Miltich. Seriously, he tried to get her to sign an NDA before he’d agree to drop his COMPLETELY FRIVOLOUS LAWSUIT. Instead, she simply stood her ground against a bully and punched him in the nose – figuratively speaking, of course – and he went crying back to his mommy JUST SIX DAYS after her attorneys filed a Motion to Dismiss and a Motion for Sanctions in their answer to the lawsuit. Unfortunately, two attorneys had to waste their valuable time in dealing with this frivolity and Ms. Ferlauto has had to deal with the stress of being sued ever since July – not an easy thing to deal with for most non-attorneys.

Why so many other local elected officials and local politicos are still being seen in photos on social media with Mr. Miltich even AFTER he attempted to silence the political speech of a constituent is beyond me.

The good folks in Cornelius deserve better. If Mr. Miltich was in possession of any decency he would resign immediately.

Eric

Miltich Suit

Firearm Brandished Inside New Huntersville Recreation Center

Sadly, schools aren’t the only soft targets we need to worry about locally. According to the incident report posted below, an unnamed individual brought a firearm into the new Huntersville Recreation Center around 2:30pm during basketball open gym back on Sunday, July 22 and threatened at least one person at the Rec Center.

Why has this incident not been reported by any local press and why did the town board not discuss this incident last week during their August 6 board meeting? How long have board members known about this incident? Have there been other incidents involving firearms at the Rec Center or other town facilities that haven’t been disclosed yet?

What steps, if any, have been taken by the town to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future? Was a risk management assessment ever done by the town at the new Rec Center to determine if security measures were appropriate?

Is it known whether the suspect is a Huntersville resident or someone from out of town? Has any description of the suspect been made public or posted at the Rec Center to alert staff/members in the event the suspect returns? Has the suspect even been banned from the facility? Has there been an arrest yet?

Does the town just need to install a larger NO GUNS ALLOWED sign since clearly the suspect didn’t see the sign currently posted at the entrance prohibiting guns otherwise they obviously wouldn’t have brought their gun inside? The incident report indicates the Rec Center has a sign posted at the entrance that no firearms are permitted inside – the sign must have been installed after this picture posted on facebook was taken during the grand opening ceremony back in January.

When I contacted the Rec Center to inquire about basketball open gym hours I was told by the person who answered the phone that basketball open gym had to be shut down for a while due to it being super booked, but to check back in September when it might be back open to the public. So, is town staff being instructed to misrepresent why basketball open gym hours aren’t available at the facility primarily set up for basketball if a member of the public inquires?

Would the town be better off selling this facility as soon as possible to the highest bidder so the town can both decrease its liability exposure and so taxpayers don’t have to continue to subsidize the recreational choices of others?

So many questions.

2018-07-22 Rec center incident report

Eric

Bales and Hines Bring Social Justice Activism to Huntersville

The person in the photo above is Bree Stallings, an artist and self-described activist from Charlotte, and she is standing beside a piece she created on a column inside the Knight Theater back in 2016. You can read more about the piece here. Ms. Stallings and her work were being promoted by a town staff member at the very first meeting in June of the newly created Public Art Commission. If you’ll recall, thanks to Commissioners Melinda Bales and Brian Hines, and with the support of Mayor Aneralla, this new group was created by a 3-2 vote (Commissioners Boone and Phillips opposed, Commissioner Gibbons absent) at the March 19, 2018 town board meeting.

According to the minutes from the initial meeting of the Public Art Commission on June 13, Huntersville town employee Alison Ahrens provided a quote for an “interactive piece” by Ms. Stallings priced at $14,220. No description of the “interactive piece” was provided in the minutes. Why was town staff promoting one specific artist from Charlotte at the very first meeting of the Public Art Commission? Are there no artists in Huntersville who could possibly be of service to the town? This isn’t the first instance of the town promoting Ms. Stallings and her work – she is one of the featured artists named at the town’s Hello Huntersville Festival website and also has a piece currently being displayed at the town’s Arts and Cultural Center (the old library building) near Town Hall.

 

Also in attendance at the June 13 meeting was a representative from Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas Healthcare System), Anna Robinson. Ms. Robinson expressed interest on behalf of Atrium in sponsoring Ms. Stalling’s “interactive piece” to include some type of branding recognition for Atrium. Why was Atrium the only business interest represented at the June 13 meeting? Were any other local businesses contacted to see about their interest in being represented at the June 13 meeting (or the subsequent art commission meetings in July and August) or their interest in promoting local public art? Is Atrium just attempting to use the town’s Public Art Commission to garner some positive local PR after their recent legal issues?

Of note from the minutes of the second meeting of the Public Art Commission on July 11, commission members had to be instructed by town staff that a private facebook group used to discuss town business was not allowed. The private facebook group has since been shut down according to town staff. And this after discussions about holding additional meetings at a private residence or restaurant at the June 13 meeting. Kudos to town staff for working so quickly to educate the Public Art Commission on North Carolina open meetings laws. I am still waiting, however, on a response from the town on whether any steps were taken to preserve any discussions related to town business that took place in the private facebook group before it was shut down.

Why such a push from the mayor and town staff for “public art” in the area around the Gilead/Old Statesville intersection near Town Hall? Is this merely an attempt to benefit “downtown” interests at the expense of taxpayers in other parts of Huntersville?

Again, the town should not be in the art business and the town board should not be put in the position of having to make decisions about something as subjective as art. Will Commissioners Bales and Hines be supportive of this “interactive piece” proposed by Ms. Stallings if it is used to promote social justice causes important to her that may not be as important to a majority of Huntersville residents?

The most recent meeting of the Public Art Commission was scheduled to be held yesterday – August 9. I will provide any relevant updates once the draft minutes from that meeting are released.

Eric