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

 

 

Forced Charity – Ada Jenkins Edition

– For the Christians among us, we should consider that when God gave Moses the commandment “Thou shalt not steal,” he probably didn’t mean thou shalt not steal unless you can get a majority vote [on the Huntersville town board]. – Dr. Walter Williams

The town board held a pre-meeting discussion on various budget items Monday night, including whether to increase funding for the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson. The request for additional funding was placed before the board at the behest of Commissioner Brian Hines. The town manager’s budget initially recommended $10K be given to Ada Jenkins (consistent with the amount over the past two years), but Commissioner Hines asked that the full request of $20K by Ada Jenkins be funded. Commissioner Boone later made a recommendation that only $15K be given to Ada Jenkins and this was supported by Commissioners Boone, Bales, Hines, and Walsh – with Commissioners Gibbons and Phillips opposed. Ada Jenkins has provided no specific purpose for which any funding from Huntersville will be used – only that they need the money so they can “continue to provide quality, cost-efficient services to Huntersville residents in need.” Ada Jenkins has paid staff so what guarantee do Huntersville residents have that their tax dollars will even go to “services” and not salaries?

So, why focus on $15,000 out of an operating budget of over $39 million when the money is only going to a nonprofit? Because, (as I’ve said before) every penny spent by the town board is money that could have been put to a more productive use if left in the hands of private citizens. Further, money taken by force and used by government on non-essential functions like charitable giving means less money is available for essential town functions like police, sanitation, fire, or roads and sidewalks.

The comments from the four board members supporting this increase were arguably some of the most disconcerting comments I’ve heard from the dais in a few years, particularly the comments of Commissioner Hines. Between his statements made in support of increased funding for Ada Jenkins and his vote to start a public arts committee, Hines has given up any pretense of being a conservative, much less a fiscally conservative advocate for stewarding taxpayer dollars as advertised on his campaign literature. I understand that not everyone reading this considers themselves a conservative, or even a fiscal conservative, but if you do consider yourself a conservative then be sure to keep this discussion in mind during the next campaign when you hear Commissioner Bales, Boone, or Hines describe themselves as anything even close to conservative (you won’t have to worry about Commissioner Walsh ever describing himself as conservative).

You can listen to the roughly 13-minute discussion beginning at the 20:10 mark here.

After Commissioner Hines introduces the request, Commissioner Bales begins by justifying her support for the increased funding because it’s her understanding that Ada Jenkins provides services that the town could provide so this funding would comply with the new charitable giving policy adopted by the town board in 2016. The only specific example she cites is workforce development. Commissioner Hines then rattles off a list of the services they provide such as community health services, a dental clinic, educational services, and human services (whatever that may be). Later in the discussion both Commissioners Bales and Walsh again repeat this justification about Ada Jenkins providing services that the town would have to provide otherwise, and Commissioner Walsh even makes a misguided attempt to compare funding of Ada Jenkins to funding the non-profit entity that provides fire/EMS services to the town.

Here’s a question for Commissioners Bales, Hines, and Walsh – which specific services provided by Ada Jenkins do you support the town providing directly? [Commissioner Gibbons posed a similar question to the supporting board members, what services does Ada Jenkins provide that the county does not?] Should the town start a dental clinic? Should the town begin paying rent and utility bills for residents? Should the town start a free medical clinic? Or, should the town start a workforce development and job placement program?

Commissioner Hines continued his plea by stating the need for Ada Jenkins is greater than ever and cites their mission of helping individuals build lasting solutions for health, education, and financial stability. I don’t recall Commissioner Hines running for office on a platform of using taxpayer dollars to build lasting solutions for health, education, and financial stability. And if he thinks the need for Ada Jenkins is greater than ever, how much of his own money has he contributed to them in the past year or any year? I’ve asked this question of all four board members in favor of taking money from taxpayers and giving it away to the charity of the board’s choosing and only Commissioner Walsh has responded thus far. Of course, Commissioner Walsh didn’t answer the question of whether he’s given Ada Jenkins any of his own money so I think we can all safely assume what the answer to that question is.

Commissioner Hines goes on to state that the town’s contribution (whatever it ends up being) is only a small part of Ada Jenkin’s $1.5 million budget so “it’s more of a symbolic thing” letting them know we’re supporting you, a thank you… “I think it would be a goodwill gesture to them…” It appears that Ada Jenkins is doing just fine fundraising on its own without taking money from Huntersville. But, more importantly, why does Commissioner Hines think it appropriate to use other people’s money for mere “symbolic” or “goodwill” gestures? It’s noble of people to give to charity with their own money, but it’s immoral when politicians forcibly take money from one person to benefit another under the color of law.

Commissioner Boone interjected his comments (at approx. 26:30 mark) and for one shining moment it sounded as if reason might prevail when he started off by stating the board is pretty quick to just throw $20K or $10K around and it’s not our money to be throwing it like that. Kudos, Commissioner Boone! But, alas, just as quickly he reverted back to sitting on the fence and suggested only giving Ada Jenkins an additional $5K instead of $10K.

I guess every other priority of the town must be fully funded if we have extra money to dole out to select charities of the board’s choosing. If that’s the case, I would suggest we’re being overtaxed. These same four individuals in favor of giving your money to charity also happen to be the same four board members (along with the mayor) who unashamedly take advantage of a subsidized membership at HFFA using $312 of your tax dollars every year (Commissioners Gibbons and Phillips have rejected this subsidy).

For the “it’s just $15K, it’s just a few pennies per resident, it’s no big deal” defenders of this expenditure, let me remind you that taking one penny from someone by force is just as immoral as taking $15K from someone. No one is stopping anyone in Huntersville from giving any of their own money to Ada Jenkins or any other charitable endeavor. If Commissioner Hines tried to take 33 cents (or whatever the actual figure comes to) from every Huntersville resident by force for the benefit of Ada Jenkins he would be guilty of a crime. But, because he can use the power of his elected office to take the money through taxes it’s considered legal.

If you sought elected office because you needed an increased sense of self-worth by giving away other people’s money, please just resign now.

Eric

May 14, 2018 Budget Workshop Meeting

The Huntersville town board held a two-hour long budget workshop meeting this past Monday to discuss various items from the town manager’s recommended FY 18/19 budget. You can watch the video here. (fyi – you’ll need headphones with the volume turned up high to hear most of the conversation.) Public comments on the FY 18/19 budget will be heard during the upcoming town board meeting on Monday night. If you really want to make a difference in how your tax dollars are spent, review the recommended budget, watch the budget workshop meeting, and show up Monday night with some informed comments/questions for the town board to consider prior to their final vote on the budget next month. And if you’re unable to make it in person Monday night, email your comments/questions to the town board.

A few highlights from the budget workshop. The town will be paying far more for electricity next year because of an  incorrectly installed meter. How this meter was installed incorrectly or how many other incorrectly installed meters may exist at other town buildings wasn’t discussed. A department head once again has no answers for the board when asked about alternative costs for a proposal just like he had no answers for the board about why he didn’t put a recent maintenance contract out for bid – costs don’t matter when you’re spending someone else’s money. A town board member demonstrates their inability to interpret a budget while trying to score political points. HFFA is finally in the black for the first time in years (maybe ever?). HFD, Inc. Chief Dotoli gets some batting practice in while the board tosses him a few softballs right over the plate. And an hour long discussion about police pay that ends in no clear consensus for any additional pay or step-plan for HPD besides the 4% pay raise being recommended for all town employees.

– Intro remarks by town manager Huffman (always worth listening to her discuss anything budget related)

– 10:10 mark – Parks and Rec discussion

– 19:30 mark – Electricities discussion

– 29:05 mark – HFFA discussion

– 40:00 mark – HFD, Inc. discussion

– 55:00 mark HPD discussion

Eric

Huntersville Candidate Continues Misleading Endorsement Claims

Even though we’re over a year away from the 2019 town board election here in Huntersville, one candidate has already started campaigning on social media where he is also continuing his pattern of making misleading endorsement claims.

As some of you may recall, Joe Sailers repeatedly claimed on social media and in person during the 2017 town board campaign that he was “endorsed by Police and Fire.” This claim is completely false. Mr. Sailers was endorsed by the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (“SSPBA”), not the Huntersville Police Department, and Huntersville Fire Department, Inc. (“HFD, Inc.”) is prohibited from endorsing candidates by law since they are organized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Another candidate was even forced to publicly correct the record for Mr. Sailers by citing the above facts after he repeated his misleading claim during a candidate forum at Northstone. But, as recently as last month, Mr. Sailers was still making the claim that “both the firefighters and police dept. supported me in 2017 and I hope they will do the same in 2019…”

While it’s true Mr. Sailers did receive the endorsement of the SSPBA, along with a campaign contribution of $1,000, it’s not as if the SSPBA endorsement was hard to come by during the 2017 campaign. The SSPBA spent over $36K on campaign contributions statewide in NC during the 2017 election, including contributions of $1,000 each to Huntersville candidates Melinda Bales, Dan Boone, Mark Gibbons, Brian Hines, and Nick Walsh. And yet these candidates were somehow able to refrain from making the misleading claim that they were endorsed by the Huntersville Police Department.

It’s also true that Mr. Sailers likely had the personal endorsement of many individual members of HFD, Inc. (Full disclosure – Mr. Sailers has a family member who is an HFD, Inc. firefighter.), but a personal endorsement does not equal an endorsement by the entire fire department. To the best of my knowledge, however, HFD, Inc. never publicly protested, nor made any effort to deny, Mr. Sailer’s claims during the campaign. In fact, HFD, Inc. even allowed one of Mr. Sailers’ family members to use one of their fire trucks to promote his candidacy during an event at Rural Hill last Fall.

Here’s what the IRS has to say about 501(c)(3) organizations like HFD, Inc. and political campaigns.

“Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

So why go after Mr. Sailers this far ahead of the 2019 election? Because he has already made public his intention to run again in 2019 on social media. More importantly, it is imperative the voters in Huntersville elect town board members who are going to do their research and ask tough questions and dig into every line item of every budget – even that of HFD, Inc.’s., instead of people like Mr. Sailers (and Walsh and Boone, and to a lesser extent Bales, who have made clear they have no intention of questioning HPD and HFD, Inc.) who wouldn’t question them at all.

Choosing to give HFD, Inc. the almost $600K budget increase they’re seeking this year will have consequences for all of us. Where will the money come from to pay for this budget increase? Will taxes have to go up next year, on top of the property tax increases already coming for most Huntersville homeowners because of revaluation? What if as a result of a tax increase by the town and property taxes also going up a family is forced to move out of Huntersville next year (or another family isn’t able to move here) because they can no longer afford to live here? Will the town board consider this and other potential consequences before agreeing to a budget increase for HFD, Inc. this year?

It’s a smart move politically, of course, to seek and claim the support of police and fire. Both local police officers and firefighters have spouses, children, and friends who are voters and that adds up to a lot of votes in a town with a low voter turnout in local elections. Chief Dotoli is already pushing for Station 5 when the paint on Station 4 is barely dry. Does the town even need a new fire station and who is going to decide where it goes – HFD, Inc. or the town board? If Mr. Sailers had been elected there wouldn’t be a question HFD, Inc. would get the budget increase they’re seeking and get the green light to build Station 5 wherever they want just like they did with Station 3.

With HFD, Inc. seeking almost $600K in new spending this year, HFD, Inc. already looking to build a new fire station, and with property revaluations coming next year, Huntersville taxpayers cannot afford to have board members like Mr. Sailers who won’t question our fire services. Huntersville taxpayers cannot afford another $3.5 million catastrophe like Station 3 that came about after a prior town board in 2008 neglected to question the circumstances around its site selection. More to come on Station 3 next time.

Eric

Is HFD, Inc. Seeking A $171K Slush Fund?

According to the FY 18/19 Budget Plan presented by Chief Dotoli on behalf of Huntersville Fire Department, Inc., they are seeking new funding in the amount of $171,039 to fund an “Incident Commander” position to be on duty 24/7/365. Chief Dotoli stated during his presentation to the town board on April 2 this position would be filled by five (5) existing HFD, Inc. members. The chief attempted to break this $171K figure down at the dais before the town board by claiming it amounts to $17.50/hr x 24 hrs a day x 365 days a year. If you do the math that equals $153,300, leaving a difference of approx. $17,739. The chief’s total amount requested is much closer to $19.50/hr. I’m still waiting for some clarification from someone on this discrepancy.

Paragraph 11 under the Agreement section of the town’s current fire services contract with HFD, Inc. makes very clear that HFD, Inc. is not a department of the town and that the town shall have no control over the operation of the fire department… and shall not approve or disapprove of the membership or in other manner supervise any element of control over fire department. This lack of any control over the operation of HFD, Inc. (except in limited cases involving equipment) includes decisions about salaries and personnel. The chief can make any claims he wants during a budget presentation, but HFD, Inc. is under no obligation to spend the $171K on five “Incident Commanders” if the town agrees to the additional funding. The chief has already made clear this funding will not be going towards new hires, so which existing members of HFD, Inc. does he intend to provide this additional funding to and how much does he intend to give to each of these existing members?

Since we all know government only grows in one direction, if the town board agrees to $171K for FY 18/19, how much more will HFD, Inc. ask for next year? $173K? $175K? Whatever the amount in the future it will become a permanent, recurring line item in HFD, Inc.’s budget and taxpayers will be obligated to fund it regardless of whether it is spent on “Incident Commanders.”

In most negotiations it’s standard to ask for more than you think you can get. You can’t really fault the chief for seeking an additional $171K of taxpayer money this year, but that doesn’t mean the town board has to agree to give HFD, Inc. any or all of what they ask for. It even says so in paragraph 5 under the Agreement section of the contract. “By this Agreement, Town is not obligating itself or future Boards as to the level of support given to fire department…” We’ll find out the town’s position on HFD, Inc.’s budget in a few weeks when the manager’s recommended budget is unveiled.

And just a reminder, according to HFD, Inc.’s most recently available audit they reported sitting on $1,221,987 in cash at the end of FY 2017. How does a non-profit amass over $1.2 million in cash? One budget cycle at a time.

Eric

Commissioners Walsh And Boone Have Some Questions To Answer

People have been asking me ever since Monday’s town board workshop meeting whether we elected Commissioners Dan Boone and Nick Walsh to represent the interests of the entire town or just the Huntersville Police Department? Many of these same people are also asking why Commissioners Walsh and Boone seem to be so intent on advocating for raises for HPD instead of raises for all town employees? I have plenty of questions of my own for Commissioners Boone and Walsh, but this article isn’t about me and my questions, this is an effort to get questions answered for the many, many people who have been reaching out to me with questions this week, questions that I have been unable to answer.

The main question people have been asking is what is the problem Commissioners Walsh and Boone think they are trying to solve? Commissioner Boone began the discussion of police pay raises Monday by describing an email he sent to all other commissioners with 14 questions so they could all have the same information to “solve this” – but he never defined what problem needed solving. People have asked me if the problem is just about HPD losing officers to CMPD then why is it so difficult for Commissioners Boone and Walsh to answer simple questions about HPD staffing? For example, people have asked me how many officers did HPD lose to CMPD last year, and are we losing more officers to CMPD (or other police departments) than is typical in a year, and if the board does agree to this “step plan” and pay increase that brings us closer to the starting pay of CMPD will this solve HPD’s staffing issue?

A resident of Huntersville even attempted to ask Commissioner Walsh about this issue directly at his town commissioner facebook page after Commissioner Walsh stated on April 10, “We need to stand up for the police department and support a new pay plan. This will slow down the exodus of officers we are currently experiencing.” This resident asked what seemed to be a very simple question, “How many HPD officers are currently exodusing the department?” It’s been three days and still no answer from Commissioner Walsh! People have been asking me why Commissioner Walsh won’t respond to such a simple question given how much he campaigned on communication between the town and residents and that making efforts to increase the quality of communications to the residents and businesses of Huntersville to get citizen input prior to making decisions that affect the town was one of his major campaign platforms?

People have asked me what if maybe the problem that needs solving at HPD isn’t actually related to officers leaving because of pay, what if the problem is more complicated and related to problems within the department, problems, for example, that have failed to address why HPD could have officers earning more than sergeants. Some people have even asked me how many HPD members are even in favor of moving to a step plan style pay schedule as opposed to pay bands or other pay schedules? These same people also ask how many steps are going to be included in the new step plan if the town moves in that direction? And one question I keep hearing is how much will pay raises for HPD cost the town in the long-term since higher pay equals higher retirement benefits. So many good questions by the people, so few answers.

People have asked me about the company line being pushed by both Commissioners Boone and Walsh that every HPD officer the town loses costs the town $100K. How are they calculating this figure people are asking? Even town manager Jackie Huffman can’t figure out how they are arriving at $100K and she’s real smart when it comes to numbers. Near the end of Monday’s workshop meeting after yet another reference by Commissioner Boone to the alleged $100K cost of officers leaving, Mrs. Huffman politely attempted to question how Commissioners Boone and Walsh arrived at this figure and said she struggles to see how we get to that $100K. She made it clear she was not in favor of turnover at HPD, but she did not want to be intimidated by a figure she couldn’t back up. People have also asked me if it’s ironic that Commissioners Walsh and Boone are attempting to convince our town manager to give pay raises to HPD to stop CMPD from poaching our officers from Huntersville when Huntersville poached our town manager and finance director from Cornelius?

And it’s not just the people asking questions, even the mayor had a question for Commissioners Walsh and Boone on Monday about their step pay plan, “What if it means a 2-cent tax increase?” To which Commissioner Walsh excitedly replied, “What if it does?” I’ve had a lot of people ask me about that remark from Commissioner Walsh and why he’s so eager to raise our taxes? A few other people have also asked me about Commissioner Walsh’s reply to Commissioner Boone’s email asking about support for the step plan. Commissioner Walsh reportedly replied, “They’ve [HPD] asked for it, give it to them!” These people are worriedly asking me if Commissioners Boone and Walsh are so eager to give HPD what they’re asking for because they each received a $1,000 campaign contribution from the Southern States Police Benevolent Association? I’ve tried to assure the people asking me this that our current town board members are above reproach and would never act in response to receiving a $1,000 campaign contribution.

Finally, a handful of people have asked me if it’s true that the town is considering changing the unofficial town hashtag from #OneTownOneTeam to #OneTownOneTeamOnlyOneDeptGetsARaise? I have told these people there is absolutely no truth to this rumor whatsoever.

The people have spoken and it’s clear they want answers from Commissioners Walsh and Boone. Will the people get their answers before this year’s budget is approved?

Eric