Random thoughts

This column originally appeared in the Sept. 29, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. I’ve included the services contract below between Huntersville and Huntersville Fire Dept., Inc. – I’m going to try to start including source documents whenever possible here at the site since this was something I couldn’t do at the paper.


Some random thoughts and questions on topics in and around Huntersville a la the great Thomas Sowell (Google him, kids).

• Two questions about the recently announced Lake Norman Transportation Commission replacement, the North Meck Alliance, composed of officials from Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson. Why did Huntersville taxpayers fund the LNTC for years if apparently town officials are now meeting without any cost to the taxpayers? And how long before our elected leaders will be advocating for a new, salaried executive director for this North Meck Alliance?

• Did you know the Huntersville Fire Department is not actually a department of the town but a nonprofit corporation that contracts with Huntersville to provide fire, rescue and other emergency services? The most recent service agreement (see below) between Huntersville and the Huntersville Fire Department, Inc. was signed in October 2012 for a period of five years. This contract will be up for renewal next year during an election year. It will be interesting to see whether any current town board members advocate for a competitive bidding process for fire services prior to agreeing to a renewal of the current agreement. 

Fire services K

• The most depressing aspect of the presidential election isn’t the candidates we have to choose from, but how many individuals seem to believe the next president will have a greater impact on their lives than the impact each individual can have on his or her own life. Start learning more about your local government prior to municipal elections next year if you want to make a difference in an election with real impact on your life.

• Why is it that certain media outlets insist on referring to riots as protests? Some media outlets even elaborate and label what occurred in Charlotte last week as “angry” or “violent” protests. Why were police officers in “riot gear” if it was just a protest? Even if the “it was a book” narrative is later discredited by evidence (similar to the “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative discredited by the Department of Justice report on the Michael Brown shooting), has this narrative now become irrefutable fact in the mind of the protesters and their sympathizers? And how long before we begin to see articles in credible publications praising the rioters for all of the economic development opportunities they created by destroying so much property in Uptown? Just think of all the glass makers who will benefit financially when they are paid to repair all the broken windows in various Uptown businesses. Not to mention all the police officers who will benefit from being paid overtime. And the defense lawyers who will get paid to represent all of those arrested during the mostly peaceful protests.

• Finally, if the recent solicitation ordinance passed by a 4-2 majority of the Huntersville town board is really all about safety, why is an exemption allowed for applicants with at least $2 million in liability insurance? Don’t the lives of people who work for organizations with just enough insurance liability coverage matter too? Since this ordinance was passed ostensibly to ensure the safety of those soliciting contributions and not to raise revenue for the town, I expect town board members to push for the application fee to be a mere $1. Commissioner Rob Kidwell cited the recent death of a homeless man soliciting on an off-ramp in Charlotte as a reason this ordinance was needed. If it is up to the town government to ensure people don’t get run over while soliciting on interstate off-ramps, is it also up to town government to ensure those people have enough money so they don’t need to beg to begin with?

There is no “but” in free speech.

The column below originally appeared in the Oct. 20, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. Funny thing, when my editor emailed to inform me my columns would no longer run in the Herald she actually wrote, “I’m all for freedom of speech and opinions, but not when it affects our funding that enables us to write those opinions.” I like to think her parting words were an intentional homage to my rigorous defense of free speech a month earlier, but I have my doubts.

Since this column appeared I’ve been following the plight of Dr. Jordan Peterson in Canada. If you’re interested in the free speech debate, I would encourage you to follow him on twitter (@jordanbpeterson) or you can watch the free speech debate he participated in back in November on his youtube channel. Protections against compelled speech may be stronger in America than in Canada, but remember, the protections afforded by the First Amendment will only last as long as the majority of citizens (and judges) think in terms of free speech absolutism.


Have you ever heard someone say something along the lines of “I’m all for free speech, but …” during a two-minute hate over the latest outrage of the day? Do you know anyone who thinks it is a criminal offense (it isn’t) to engage in “hate speech”? Or have you ever seen anyone on your social media platform of choice place blame a speaker for acts of violence done by others in response to mere words uttered by that speaker? Unless you live a life of quiet solitude in a houseboat on Lake Norman, the likely answer to all three is Yes.

I am a free speech absolutist. I do not believe there is any line that can be drawn between speech that is acceptable and unacceptable because, ultimately, that would mean someone should be given power to decide when that line is crossed; I have yet to meet a person I would trust with such power. 

I am also not a child and do not need to be protected from the words or ideas of other adults no matter how much I may disagree with them. But, I do realize my outlook on speech is shaped by my own experience, which differs greatly from the safe-space seeking, trigger-warning needing, constantly offended group of future leaders currently being churned out by our high schools and colleges. The protections afforded by the First Amendment will only last as long as the majority of citizens (and judges) think as I do.

Laws prohibiting certain speech are unnecessary when violence or threats of violence are enough to silence a speaker. From Socrates to Galileo to civil rights protesters to Salman Rushdie to Charlie Hebdo in France, there have always been those willing to use violence or the threat of violence to silence their opposition rather than face them in the arena of ideas. We can now add Huntersville to this ignominious list.

Longtime Huntersville residents Ashley and Sean McMillan live on Beatties Ford Road and have had a hay bale on their property facing the road for the past five or six years that they often decorate. They decided this year to show their support for the Trump/Pence campaign by painting “Vote Trump 2016” on the hay bale. Ashley said this is the first time they have decorated the hay bale with any political message,. On the morning of Friday, Sept. 30, they awoke to find their car broken into with Ashley’s gun and other items stolen, and the hay bale vandalized with a red slash through the Trump sign.

Ashley told me she immediately repainted “Vote Trump 2016” onto the hay bale the morning of the vandalism, but later the same day decided to paint over it with a simple heart since the family was about to leave town for a few days leaving the house unattended. She is still supporting the Trump/Pence ticket but made the decision against taking a public stance again to avoid subjecting her family to further criminal acts. Her message to Herald readers, “We need to come together as a community and not judge each other on political beliefs alone.” 

Please contact the Huntersville Police Department at (704) 464-5400 if you have any information that could lead to an arrest in this matter.

Our public discourse suffers whenever people like the McMillans are forced into silence by violence or engage in self-censorship to avoid criticism because they hold less than popular opinions. This applies equally to all you miscreants who steal or destroy campaign signs every election cycle. It’s against the law, and it’s only indicative of your inability to engage in reasoned debate so just stop with the sign-stealing.

Nothing I have said here in defense of free speech is new or unique, but these things bear repeating from time to time. You can read John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” (specifically Chap. II) or “Kindly Inquisitors” by Jonathan Rauch, or search “Hitchens Freedom of Speech” on your podcast app, for a much more eloquent commentary on the virtues of open debate and unfiltered discussion.

Huntersville Board Agenda – Dec. 19, 2016

There is a town board meeting tonight at 6:30pm. You can read what’s on the agenda here and you can watch a live stream of the meeting here. Rick Short does a good job at his blog of covering agenda items for Davidson board meetings so I decided to attempt the same for Huntersville. If you want to review the full agenda packet including supporting documents, you can download a copy by clicking the “Full Packet” link at the town’s agenda and minutes page. I can’t cover every 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 items.

Other Business:

– Item E: The board will be debating whether to adopt a new ordinance prohibiting domestic animals to be tethered unless attended by a competent person AND eleven (11) conditions are met. I still have questions about why this new ordinance is even needed since Huntersville already penalizes abuse of animals under 94.36, but the tethering ordinance language has at least been revised so that a violation will not result in jail time. [Update: This measure passed – not surprisingly.]

– Item G: The mayor is pushing for approval of a new interlocal agreement with Davidson and Cornelius to form the “North Mecklenburg Alliance.” I wrote about this briefly in my Sept. 29, 2016 Herald column. This new advocacy group is unnecessary – the three mayors are already free to get together anytime they choose to talk about how great the Red Line is going to be once they can finally figure out how to actually pay for it. But, as currently drafted, the real problem with this agreement is the “Chuck Travis clause” in Article 6(b) that allows the towns to not authorize the Alliance to represent their interest before any legislative body. This is backwards. It should be the Alliance that has the obligation to request authorization from the towns before being able to advocate a position before a legislative body, the towns should not have to take action to ensure the Alliance does not advocate a position that town opposes. [Update: This measure – surprisingly – did not pass after the mayor voted against in order to break a 3-3 tie with Commissioners Boone, Kidwell and Gibbons voting in favor, and Commissioners Bales, Guignard and Phillips voting against. Commissioner Bales raised a valid concern – what happens if Huntersville gets outvoted by the other members on an issue, say supporting the Red Line? We’re the larger town, why cede such authority to two or more smaller towns?]

Consent Agenda – An aside, Huntersville consistently has more items on their consent agenda than Cornelius or Davidson. This is problematic from a transparency standpoint because it makes it possible to avoid debate and a separate, recorded vote by each elected official on controversial items.

– Item F: As part of the consent agenda, the board will be voting to approve a budget amendment recognizing insurance revenue in the amount of $6,311.72 and appropriating this revenue to the Police Dept’s insurance account. [Update: Chief Spruill stated at the meeting this specific appropriation was the result of a patrol car hitting a deer. I will be sending a records request for more information.] 16 of 23 meetings this calendar year have included a similar item on the consent agenda totaling $46,668.95. No information or documentation is ever included in the agenda packet explaining the basis for this insurance revenue. I’m not sure how Cornelius or Davidson deals with these appropriations because this item rarely, if ever, seems to appear on their agendas.

Commissioner Boone began the practice of asking Chief Spruill to explain these appropriations at the Jan. 19, 2016 meeting, but apparently the board has dispensed with this practice because another explanation has not been requested since that meeting to the best of my knowledge. At the Jan. 19 meeting, Chief Spruill explained the specific appropriations on that agenda were related to a motor vehicle accident involving an officer and a hit-and-run causing damage to a parked police vehicle. Hopefully the board will get back to requesting more information on these items or at least require more information to be included in the agenda packet to improve transparency.



Huntersville still waiting for change

The column below originally appeared in the November 17, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. I will be adding past Herald columns here at the site to create a searchable archive while I work on some new content.


Elections have consequences… or, at least they used to. No, I’m not talking about the election for president last week because that election will most definitely have some profound consequences. A year after Huntersville voters overwhelmingly elected a new mayor and town board, there have yet to be much in the way of consequences at town hall. Maybe it’s expecting too much of politicians to vote for meaningful change when it isn’t an election year.

The new mayor and town board had the opportunity to lower taxes this year, but Mayor (John) Aneralla and Commissioners (Melinda) Bales, (Dan) Boone and (Rob) Kidwell voted in opposition

Total budget expenditures increased overall, and the police department budget alone increased by almost $900,000. There have been no board-directed personnel changes. An ad hoc oversight committee was formed in January to oversee the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics Center, but no report on any recommendations has been presented at a town board meeting. The contract for the Bearcat armored vehicle was not canceled, and now the town has a 13-year-old used armored vehicle it has to pay to upgrade and maintain. 

 The recently approved new fire department building is already almost half a million dollars over the original budget presented, and yet still passed by a 4-2 vote.  And the mayor is already attempting to reverse what has been one of the few changes made, leaving the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, by pushing for Huntersville to join a reformulated regional planning group.

Even though there has been dissension amongst the board members on many of these items, it’s hard to argue that the current mayor and town board have done much to change the status quo.

Most notably, construction of the toll lanes is continuing unabated despite the new mayor and board unanimously adopting a resolution requesting termination of the toll contract and after receiving assistance from local legislators. If the tolls are now all but a foregone conclusion, what is going to motivate the anti-toll voters to turn out again next year? Voters eventually need something to vote for once the anger and frustration subsides over what they were voting against.

With regards to the anti-toll voters, some closing words on anger and civility. This presidential election produced an excessive amount of commentary on the need for greater civility and less anger in politics. Elections at all levels are as divisive as they are because of what is at stake – both real and perceived. How are Republican voters supposed to act civil when they believe the government is taking the fruits of their labor by force for illegitimate purposes, or that the next president will attempt to make their families less secure by working to repeal protections afforded by the Second Amendment? Conversely, why should Democrat voters not be angry when they think members of the other party are engaging in racial discrimination by enacting voter ID laws or hurting the poor by not expanding Medicaid?

Toll opponents have received their share of criticism over their tone, some of it warranted, most of it not. But people can be passionate (especially online) when they feel their livelihood is at stake or they have been lied to. Of course, if you’re looking for civility online you’re looking in the wrong place. Politics in the past weren’t as civil as people like to recall (anyone remember Burr shooting Hamilton or the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings?), and future elections likely will not be as civil as people hope.

 If you are really interested in improving the discourse surrounding our elections, both nationally and locally, you should be working to make government smaller. A smaller government is less likely to redistribute your income or violate your natural and civil rights, which would in turn decrease the importance of elections and increase the level of civility surrounding politics. It probably also wouldn’t hurt to turn off the nightly cable news circus and maybe read a book instead. And just avoid social media completely for the next four years if at all possible.