HPD Chief Openly Defies Town Manager

Over the past weekend I saw that the Huntersville Police Department (“HPD”) was yet again using town resources to promote a private business – this time, HPD is promoting an Arizona based security company, The Knox Company, that sells rapid entry security boxes (a little safe that holds keys that only fire/police are supposed to be able to access so they don’t have to break your door down in case of an emergency) for the exterior of homes and businesses. The promotion can be found at the bottom of a registration page for an upcoming active shooter training HPD is hosting. I sent an email Saturday morning to the town manager and HPD Chief Bence Hoyle pointing out that HPD is yet again using town resources to promote a private business even after the town manager had emailed a Manager’s Directive to all town employees just two months ago on June 10 (after it was brought to the town manager’s attention that HPD was promoting a local gym and hosting a local CPA at HPD HQ for a seminar) telling all town employees to stop independently promoting private businesses using town resources unless such a promotion/advertisement had been referred to HR first so a bid process or request for proposals could be initiated related to the service or product.

Below is the email response I received from Chief Hoyle at 1:14 AM (yes, AM) Sunday morning.

I authorized it and have advised them to continue. It saves lives by allowing first responders to get into a dwelling faster. We have specific keys to those boxes and when we see those boxes we know how to get in without destroying things. CMPD, Huntersville Fire, and CMS use them as well. 

We partner with many vendors to improve lives and yes it is profitable for some Im sure. But we cannot work without our partners and we will continue to do so. We have stopped promoting golf tournaments because you didnt like it even though they were NOT for profit, and we will jump through hoops for partners that may only benefit a few, but when it comes to saving lives we will partner without hesitation. Citizens have a choice to use them or not, but you cannot expect an public private partnership to be one sided. Sue us and let the courts decide but i think it legal, justified, and a good thing for the community. 

The chief’s email speaks for itself, but I have a few thoughts.

His response not only makes clear he authorized the promotion of a private company in violation of the town manager’s directive, but that he intends to continue to do so in the future without hesitation when it comes to saving lives. (The chief provides no evidence of any lives in Huntersville being saved by a Knox product or any similar product.) This level of open defiance of a superior’s orders would never be tolerated if a lower ranking HPD officer or subordinate town staff member did the same thing. But, the chief is able to get away with such insubordination because he is an unelected bureaucrat with no fear of being disciplined because of his long-standing relationship with the town manager.

The chief’s citing of other agencies that use this product has nothing to do with his direct violation of the town manager’s directive. I didn’t question the use of this product in my email, I simply pointed out that promoting the product using town resources was wrong. This product is not unique – a quick online search for “commercial key box” brings up numerous other similar products designed by many of the top security brands in the country, many of which are far less expensive than the Knox version, so how did HPD decide to promote this brand over all others? (The models being pushed by HPD are between approx. $250-$320.) I shouldn’t have to point out to the chief that just because other agencies do something, doesn’t mean HPD needs to do it too – if CMPD jumped off an I-77 overpass would HPD jump off an overpass too?? Funny thing, he doesn’t list Cornelius PD as another agency using this product even though he was the chief there for over a decade.

The chief failed to provide any details about who else HPD partners with “to improve lives” and who is it profitable for and how much profit is being made, but this is information the town manager and town board should require the chief provide. Again, I didn’t question the practice of partnerships that work to reduce crime in Huntersville, I questioned the practice of using taxpayer resources to show preferential treatment by actively promoting specific private businesses to the exclusion of all others in violation of the town manager’s directive.

No, chief, HPD didn’t stop using HPD email to promote golf tournaments because I didn’t like it – the practice was stopped for two reasons: a) it was just plain wrong to use town resources to promote a golf tournament that was in no way related to Huntersville or HPD with an entry fee of $175 and no details on where the money goes, and b) the officer responsible for promoting said golf tournaments who is also a member of a NC LLC that runs a weekly cash golf league at Birkdale recently “resigned” from HPD and I’m guessing the rest of your officers have actual police work to keep them busy while on duty instead of sending emails about golf.

New chief, same as the old chief. Still hiding behind “saving lives” as a blanket justification for any action/expenditure without any evidence of any lives being saved by whatever action/expenditure is being pushed. No different than the prior chief using the same justification to waste taxpayer dollars on an armored vehicle that sits in a storage bay all year until it gets brought out for display only at National Night Out and a handful of other public events.

Maybe someone can help explain to me why exactly the town manager had to have this one individual as his chief of police and couldn’t even be bothered to do a national search, much less a regional search, for a new chief? Do the town manager and town board support our chief of police telling a resident asking a reasonable question about a town department openly violating a directive from the town manager to “sue us and let the courts decide?” Apparently so because not a word of protest was uttered by anyone at the dais Monday night even though they were all included on the entire email chain. It’s election season so I expect even less out of our local politicians than usual – it’s much easier to take that $1,000 campaign contribution from the SSPBA to keep quiet about problems at HPD than to actually take a stand for what’s right.

Huntersville deserves better. #AuditHPD.

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

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

 

 

Ada Jenkins Reports $942K Revenue Loss On Latest Tax Form

After the Huntersville town board voted 4-2 (Hines, Boone, Bales, Walsh in favor) last month to continue the immoral practice of forced charity, I decided to take a closer look at the beneficiary of this forced charity, the Ada Jenkins Center in Davidson (“Ada Jenkins”). I began by requesting their recent Form 990’s (the form the IRS requires tax-exempt organizations to file on an annual basis) from the executive director of Ada Jenkins, Georgia Krueger, which she provided. And then, unlike the four Huntersville board members who voted to spend $15,000 of other people’s money on Ada Jenkins, I sent some questions to Ms. Krueger so I could learn more about some of the information found in Ada Jenkins’ tax forms. Below are the ten questions I submitted followed by the response (or lack thereof) I received from Ms. Krueger yesterday.

  • How much in total contributions did Ada Jenkins receive from any local, state, or federal government body in your last reported FY from July 2016 through June 2017?
  • How much in total contributions did Ada Jenkins receive from any local, state, or federal government body in your FY from July 2015 through June 2016?
  • How much did each body listed in response to Questions 1 and 2 contribute respectively to Ada Jenkins?
  • Per your most recent 990, under revenue – why did Ada’s contributions/grants decrease from a reported $2,806,115 in the prior year to a reported $1,863,505 in the current year?
  • Per your most recent 990, under expenses – why did Ada’s salaries/other compensation increase approx. $142K over the prior year when revenues were down approx. $942K over the prior year?
  • How many paid staff does Ada Jenkins currently employ – both full-time and part-time respectively?
  • Per your most recent 990, on pg. 31/39 under Fundraising Events – where did you hold the dinner/auction for Event #1 that listed rent/facility costs of $61,278? And under revenue for the same event – please explain line items 1, 2, and 3, i.e., why is gross income less than gross receipts?
  • Please list all sources of food donations to Ada Jenkins other than from individuals.
  • Why did the number of recipients listed as receiving food assistance in FY 14/15 – 4,315, decrease to 1,628 recipients in FY 15/16?
  • Is Ada Jenkins currently accepting new clients for any of its services/programs? If no, please specify which services/programs are not currently accepting new clients. [Ada Jenkins is currently accepting new clients per the response of Ms. Krueger.]

Mr. Rowell, 

As requested, I have sent you each of the 990’s. However, I am choosing not to answer your questions below. Ada Jenkins is an amazing center of hope for many people-the largest number of which are from Huntersville. We work closely with our client-partners, through a system of integrated services that support the entire family in reaching economic security. That is obviously life changing for the better. 

We are taking new clients. 

Georgia Krueger

Executive Director

It’s always interesting when someone in charge of an organization funded with tax dollars tells a taxpayer to, politely, go pound sand when they start asking questions.

Ada Jenkins has benefited from $170K in tax dollars from Huntersville since 2003, including the $15K in the budget the town just approved earlier this month. They have likely received a similar amount from Cornelius and Davidson over the years since Cornelius budgeted $15K in this year’s budget while Davidson budgeted $32,500 ($20K in maintenance funds and $12,500 from the town’s non-profit pot). In addition, Ada Jenkins will receive $25K from Mecklenburg County and another $25K from the state. If my math is right, that’s $112,500 in taxpayer funding that Ada Jenkins will benefit from in FY 18/19 (and that’s assuming they don’t receive any money from the federal government as well). I wonder if any of the elected officials from any of the bodies listed above would get a similar response from Ms. Krueger if they asked the same questions I did?

Ada Jenkins reported salaries/employee benefit expenses of $1,210,132 on their most recent tax form. Ms. Krueger reported an income of $84,019 on the same form, so where is the remainder of this salary money being paid? And why did salaries increase last year while Ada Jenkins reported that their expenses exceeded revenues by $56,033? This doesn’t seem to be a sustainable business model.

Another interesting note from their most recent tax form, Ada Jenkins has been utilizing the services of a professional fundraiser for the past two years. The interesting part – the company is located in Georgia! I thought everyone in Davidson bought local? Apparently the folks at Ada Jenkins need to learn to “Turn Around, Shop In Town!”

You can find copies of Ada Jenkins’ most recent Form 990’s below.

Ada Jenkins Form 990 2016

Ada Jenkins Form 990 2015

Ada Jenkins Form 990 2014

Eric

HFD, Inc. Attorney Issues No-Contact Letter in Response to Records Request

I sent three (3) records requests to the town of Huntersville and to Huntersville Fire Department, Inc. (“HFD, Inc.”) between March 15 and March 21, 2018. All three requests have been denied by HFD, Inc. Chief Jim Dotoli. On March 23, I emailed Chief Dotoli seeking clarification of HFD Inc.’s position regarding my requests and offered to speak with him whenever convenient about public records law in NC and its applicability to HFD, Inc. if the department intended to deny my requests and he never responded. This morning I emailed our town attorney, Bob Blythe, and cc’ed our town board and Chief Dotoli and requested Mr. Blythe provide an opinion on whether HFD, Inc. is subject to a request for public records pursuant to NCGS Chapter 132. Approximately two hours later I received the letter below from Jesse Jones, Esq. of the McIntosh Law Firm in Davidson.

2018-03-28 HFD Atty Ltr

This is how HFD, Inc. responds to a citizen requesting records. Instead of complying with the law they hide behind their lawyer. The biggest problem is now I don’t know whether I have to call Mr. Jones, Esq. first if my house catches fire. I wonder how much HFD, Inc. is going to request from the taxpayers for legal fees in their upcoming FY 18/19 budget?

So what did I ask for that caused HFD, Inc. to retain legal representation? On March 15, I requested a copy of any invoice(s) or record of payment(s) from Huntersville Fire Dept., Inc. to JMC Design & Fabrication. On March 20, I requested a copy of any invoice(s) or record of payment(s) from Huntersville Fire Dept., Inc. related to any and all gym/fitness/exercise equipment purchased for use at Fire Station 4 including, but not limited to, treadmills, row machines, elliptical machines, weight racks, dumbbells, flat and adjustable benches, and TAG Fitness functional training systems. And on March 21, I requested a copy of any invoice(s) or record of payment(s) from Huntersville Fire Dept., Inc. related to travel expenses, including flight, hotel, meals or other related expenses, for HFD, Inc. member travel to Smeal Fire Apparatus in Snyder, NE for the purposes of inspecting a new fire engine.

HFD, Inc.’s reluctance to respond to these three straightforward requests makes you wonder what they are trying to hide?

Maybe HFD, Inc.’s social media team should stop using the #OneTownOneTeam hashtag they’re so fond of and start using the more fitting #OneTownOneTeamUnlessYouAskTooManyQuestions hashtag instead?

Eric

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…].

Eric


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?].”