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?].”

Vincent Failed to Disclose Asbestos Violation to Board

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

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

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

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

Meck Air Quality - Teron

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

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

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

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

Eric

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teron June 2016 Proposal

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

Teron ltr 7-25-16

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

Teron checks (redacted)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

060517 Demo Proposals

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

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

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

Eric

Huntersville Continues to Struggle With Transparency

The problem with putting a camera in town hall so your town board meetings can be live streamed is that sometimes people actually watch the meetings.

A closed session was listed on the agenda for the pre-meeting held this past Monday, August 21. The ostensible basis for this closed session was described on the agenda as “receive confidential information, Attorney-Client Privilege.” As I’ve written about before at this site, NCGS 143-318.11 sets forth the situations when a public body is permitted to go into closed session. The statute also states in section (a) that it is the policy of this State that closed sessions shall be held ONLY when required to permit a public body to act in the public interest as permitted in this section. [emphasis mine] The word shall makes this mandatory – meaning that when the Huntersville town board goes into closed session, they shall only do so for one of the ten (10) limited reasons listed in the statute.

To ensure a public body adheres to the limited exceptions to the open meeting laws in NC set forth in NCGS 143-318.11, section (c) states that a public body may hold a closed session only upon a motion duly made and adopted at an open meeting. Every motion to close a meeting shall cite one or more of the permissible purposes listed in subsection (a) of this section… a motion based on subdivision (a)(3) of this section shall identify the parties in each existing lawsuit concerning which the public body expects to receive advice during the closed session.

Now let’s compare the statutory requirements in NCGS 143-318.11 with what actually transpired on Monday night. The closed session was called at the end of the pre-meeting discussion over how to proceed with the town’s legal needs after the retirement of the current town attorney at the end of this year. You can watch the video here, the closed session is called at approx. the 23:54 mark. Mayor Anarella begins by saying he needs a motion to… when he is cut off by Commissioner Guignard before finishing the sentence. Commissioner Guignard says so moved, and then the mayor finishes… to go into closed session. He asks for a second and a second is made (I was unable to determine who offered the second). After hearing no discussion he asks all those in favor to vote. The vote to go into closed session is unanimous. The mayor then tells those in the audience he is sorry but they’re going to have to leave because the board is going to have a closed session… which is when the video ends abruptly.

Is it possible that as soon as the video cut off the mayor proceeded to comply with NCGS 143-318.11 by citing the permissible purposes for which the closed session was being called? Sure, anything is possible. But given the mayor and town manager’s attitudes towards transparency, it’s highly unlikely. Why is it so difficult for the Huntersville town board to follow the law when it comes to closed sessions?

Is the town involved in litigation that residents should know about? If not, what legal issues were discussed during the closed session? According to David Lawrence and Frayda Bluestein with the UNC School of Government, “the exception [NCGS 143-318.11(a)(3)] permits a public body to discuss any legal issue with its attorney. The attorney-client privilege does not cover nonlegal discussions between attorney and client. Thus a public body may not hold a closed session with its attorney to obtain his business or political advice.” If you’re interested (because why wouldn’t you be interested in the exciting world of open meetings law in NC?), you can find a more in-depth primer from the UNC SOG on closed sessions under the attorney-client privilege here.

The town manager and town attorney were both present when the closed session was called. Neither spoke up to advise the board they were not in compliance with state law. Maybe the next town attorney will be more willing to encourage transparency and compliance with open meetings laws. But no commissioner was heard to object to the closed session procedure either. Only two commissioners – Boone and Gibbons – are still in their first terms. The other four commissioners have served the public for many years now and we should expect more from them. I welcome a response from any current elected official or town staff member – or even from one of the town board candidates – on this issue.

I sent a request to the town clerk this morning for minutes and/or a general account of the closed session held on August 21, including identification of any legal issues discussed. I will update this post upon receipt of any records.

Eric

Crowdsourcing the Huntersville Fire Dept., Inc. Contract

I know how much the journalists at our local fake news outlet, the Lake Norman Tax the Citizen, hate it when my stated agenda manifests itself behind the dais at town hall, so I thought I would outsource this latest issue to other Huntersville residents for their input. As I reported here back on July 7, the town’s current fire services agreement with the Huntersville Fire Dept., Inc. (HFD) is set to expire in October. The town board agreed during their July 17 meeting to review revisions to the contract at their next meeting on August 7.

The language in paragraph 15 states that if neither party gives notice to the other at least sixty (60) days prior to the final termination date of this Agreement – which would appear to be October 15, 2017, such non-action shall be deemed a mutually agreed upon renewal for another five (5) year period on the same terms… This 60 day deadline is quickly approaching next month – either August 15 or 16 – which means the town board will have to take action on the contract at the upcoming August 7 meeting or else the contract will automatically renew prior to their next scheduled regular meeting on August 21.

I have included a copy of the current fire services agreement below. Please review and offer any feedback or suggestions you may have in the comments. Are there revisions the town could make to ensure a better deal for taxpayers? Is greater transparency needed to ensure accountability of taxpayer dollars? Why would the town ever agree to title all vehicles/equipment in the name of HFD even though taxpayer dollars were used for their purchase? (See paragraph 14.) Is five years the appropriate length for the term of the contract?

Time is of the essence so start offering up your suggested revisions as soon as possible!

Eric

Fire services K

Huntersville Fire Dept., Inc. Contract Questions

The following excerpt is from my column in the Sept. 29, 2016 issue of the Herald Weekly.        

Did you know the Huntersville Fire Department is not actually a department of the town, but a non-profit corporation that contracts with Huntersville to provide fire, rescue and other emergency services? The most recent service agreement 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.

It’s been over nine months since that column ran and neither town staff nor the town board has taken any public action on the Huntersville Fire Dept, Inc. contract renewal. [See contract below.] The stated rationale to rush a vote on the HFFA management contract right before the last election and eight months before it was set to expire was something about the current management company needing time to plan for the future. We are a mere three months away from the current HFD, Inc. contract expiring, so where is the same sense of urgency from town staff or the town board on rushing a vote on the renewal of this contract?

Here’s my question for town staff and the town board – why isn’t this contract for services being put out for bid like the management contract for HFFA or like any other contract for services with the town? If I was a cynic, I’d be tempted to suggest HFD, Inc. is receiving preferential treatment because it’s an election year and no politician wants to be accused of being critical of firemen in an election year.

Huntersville budgeted $3,455,464 for fire services in the recently approved FY 17/18 budget. This is up almost a million dollars over last year. How much of this increase is related to salaries/payments for HFD, Inc. employees?

The current management company at HFFA has agreed to slash their management fee by $25K – back to their 2011 contract fee – solely because the town put the HFFA contract out for bid. Funny how competition works to lower prices. Could the town achieve similar savings on fire services by putting the HFD, Inc. contract out for bid? In light of the massive budget overruns for the massive new fire station #4 being built on McIlwaine, maybe a little more oversight and competition wouldn’t hurt.

An aside: How is it that taxpayers were charged far more than originally budgeted due to cost overruns for Station #4, yet HFD, Inc. recently took to social media to show off their brand new Tahoes?

The language in paragraph 15 states that if neither party gives notice to the other at least sixty (60) days prior to the final termination date of this Agreement – which would appear to be Oct. 15, 2017, such non-action shall be deemed a mutually agreed upon renewal for another five (5) year period on the same terms… This 60 day deadline is quickly approaching next month – either August 15 or 16. There are only two more regular town board meetings scheduled before that date.

If nothing else, the town needs to provide notice prior to the upcoming deadline to re-negotiate the terms of this contract to make fire services more transparent. There is no line-item breakdown for fire services in the town budget. Despite the vast majority of their funding coming from taxpayer dollars, there is also no requirement in the contract that open meeting and public record laws apply to HFD, Inc. Wake County already has an entire section in their fire services contract specifically requiring such transparency from their fire departments.

It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to also re-negotiate the terms of paragraph 8 so the town doesn’t have to pay twice for vehicles/equipment in the event of termination or cancellation of the Agreement. That’s right – the town doesn’t even own the vehicles/equipment it purchases for HFD, Inc. with taxpayer dollars. Paragraph 9 may warrant review as well so HFD, Inc. doesn’t just get to distribute its assets to non-profits upon dissolution.

Today is officially the start of filing for local elections. It will be interesting to see if any candidates for office in Huntersville decide to make the HFD, Inc. contract renewal an issue on the campaign trail.

Eric

Fire services K