Huntersville Board Agenda – 21 January 2020

The full agenda packet for Tuesday night’s town board meeting (no meeting tomorrow night because of the holiday) can be found here. Two pre-meetings at 5:00 and 5:15 (that should be live streamed), regular meeting starts at 6pm. It’s only a 30-page agenda packet for this meeting so if you ever wanted to review an entire packet and provide some questions/comments to the town board this would be the meeting to do so. Again, what’s most interesting is what’s NOT included on the agenda – any discussion about the 913 page, $150K investigative report into HPD that the town is refusing to release any information about to the public. Your tax dollars paid for it, but you’re not entitled to know anything about why our police department was being investigated and not a single elected official in Huntersville has spoken out against the town’s suppression of this report.

Of note:

  • Item 6.B. – HFD, Inc. Budget Request. It’s that time of year again already, when all the town departments and outside agencies like HFD, Inc. come before the town board to justify being awarded taxpayer dollars – $4.3 million just for HFD, Inc. last year, and without almost no oversight at all of how those monies are spent. The HFD, Inc. chief will appear before the town board and provide them a written report with updated stats from the last year along with a budget breakdown for the requested funding for FY 20/21 – so why is this report not included in the agenda packet so the town board and residents can review it BEFORE the meeting? Because that would allow for too much time for the board members or residents to review the figures and budget request ahead of time in order to properly prepare any questions that might need to be asked of the chief from the dais. It’s just $4 million or so of your money, no need to really dig into how the money will be spent. Transparency!!
  • Item 9.B. – Approve Conterra Fiber agreement. A contract for AT LEAST $89,000 in upfront costs (because we all know construction projects never go over budget) and recurring monthly charges of $900 (which is $10,800/yr) to provide for installation of fiber between HPD HQ and town center. So many questions about this item that need to be asked by your town board – here are a few I’d suggest asking to start. First – cui bono – who benefits? Where is the money for this project coming from – which line item in the HPD budget? Why not wait and include this item in the capital requests for HPD in the upcoming FY 20/21 budget, why the immediate need to move forward with this project now? What will this $900/month “maintenance fee” go towards, and will the town still have to pay for internet service with another third-party provider? If so, how much will those costs be and will that offset any alleged savings over the current $1,910 monthly fee being paid to CenturyLink? How did the town’s new IT Director, Larry Davis (a former Cornelius employee), determine this new fiber network was even needed after just being in Huntersville since July? Who else did Mr. Davis receive “informal quotes” from and why weren’t those quotes included in the agenda packet? Why does the contract with Conterra include three cameras with coordinates at Gilead/21, at Gilead in front of the hospital, and at Gilead/McCoy? Is this just another step in setting up the dark fiber infrastructure necessary to implement town-wide surveillance by HPD? Are there any conflicts between any town employee and Conterra that need to be disclosed?

More about the company HPD wants to go into business with that is based out of Charlotte. Conterra Networks is majority owned by Court Square Capital, a private equity firm with approximately $6 billion of assets under management, with the remaining ownership largely held by Conterra Networks’ management team.

#AuditHPD
#OneTownOneTeam4Life

Eric

Huntersville Board Agenda – 6 January 2020

The full agenda packet for tomorrow night’s town board meeting can be found here. Closed session pre-meeting at 5:00 with the town attorney to discuss a lawsuit filed by the town, regular meeting starts at 6pm. It’s a 236-page agenda packet for this meeting. Again, what’s most interesting is what’s NOT included on the agenda – any discussion about the 913 page, $150K investigative report into HPD that the town is refusing to release any information about to the public. Your tax dollars paid for it, but you’re not entitled to know anything about why our police department was being investigated and not a single elected official in Huntersville has spoken out against the town’s suppression of this report. And I’m sure the electeds and former electeds who pretend to care about transparency are going to be outraged that no copy of the lawsuit the board is going into closed session to discuss was included in the agenda packet. I requested a copy on Dec. 31 when the agenda was published and have yet to be provided a copy. But, this isn’t a complaint! I’m still #OneTownOneTeam all year in 2020!

Of note:

  • Item 8.A. – “Hunter House” rezoning request. Must be nice to still have property that the town didn’t forcibly take for a road project to request a rezoning for. Property owners directly across the street on Old Statesville can’t say the same. #OneTownOneTeam
  • Item 8.C. – A text amendment request by the LNEDC (aka, Ryan McDaniels) to yet again benefit new, big business in Huntersville to allow for larger signage. When is the last time the LNEDC did anything to benefit existing businesses in Huntersville? And in case you’re under the impression we live in a free society, just look at all the rules Huntersville has about putting up signs. #OneTownOneTeam
  • Item 9.A. – Final vote on the Oak Grove rezoning request. Town planning staff recommends approval, the planning board voted 6-2 against based on reasons the town staff found no issues with. Be sure to listen for any objective reasons provided by any town board members who vote against this rezoning. And if this project can’t get approval, will all those who have worked in opposition be willing to buy the property from the owners so it can remain undeveloped, pristine open space forever? #OneTownOneTeam
  • Item 9.C. – The Ordinance Advisory Board needs to be shrinking, not growing. I agree with making a town board member nonvoting, but why would the town board increase membership on this advisory board that has become just another layer of bureaucracy and basically a mini-planning board? #OneTownOneTeam
  • Item 9.D. – Consider approving the new Ranson/Rosedale Park master plan. $0 financial implications for a new town park?? Why is Parks and Rec staff allowed to put an item on the agenda and attempt to claim a new park is going to have $0 financial implications when that new park is proposed to have parking, restrooms, landscaping, multiple “play” structures and fitness equipment, not to mention the ongoing responsibility of Parks and Rec to maintain. Will any town board member inquire about the costs of this new park before voting to approve? #OneTownOneTeam
  • Item 9.F. – Consider appointments to the “Public Art” commission. Just a reminder your local government is engaging in the arbitrary process of art criticism, which is totally never problematic at all. Also a reminder that the town board should immediately disband the “public art commission” and allow an art group similar to the Old Huntersville Historic Society model to form if enough citizens are even interested in such a group. #OneTownOneTeam
  • Item 10.D. – Just another $84K in taxpayer monies going to greenway planning. #OneTownOneTeam
  • Item 10.E. – Just more CDBG entanglement with the general government. And at what cost to the town? No town board member could even tell you what strings come attached with this funding. #OneTownOneTeam
  • Item 10.F. – Adopt Uniform Guidance Procurement Policy. Why is this new procurement policy under the consent agenda? Why are we just moving to adopt now? Why is the town being encouraged to use federal surplus equipment? How is this a “cost reduction” if it increases federal purchasing of excess equipment? Is this new policy tied to a specific project? Just a reminder it is never appropriate to include an item under the consent agenda if there is a single question about the item. #OneTownOneTeam
  • Items 10.G. & 10.H. – Two more public hearings for rezonings during the 3 February 2020 board meeting.

#AuditHPD

Eric

Huntersville Residents Still Not Being Told About HPD Investigation

An investigation into the Mooresville Police Department continues to have an impact. The most recent reporting indicates another high ranking member of MPD, who was also the original whistleblower, may be fired. Meanwhile in Huntersville, the same agency has concluded a similar investigation into the Huntersville Police Dept. and yet no one in town appears to knows anything about the report. The town manager has confirmed the 913 page report (14,000 pages including appendix/attachments) cost the taxpayers $150,000 and yet the public still knows nothing about the report or why the investigation was even done in the first place. This $150,000 was paid out of the HPD budget from “contract services.” If only someone had been calling for a line by line review of the HPD budget and the $700K+ in “contract services” that is never broken out by line item so that the taxpayers would have a better idea what the money is being used for…

The town board had an hour long closed session related to “personnel” preceding Monday night’s meeting, which I have to assume was to brief them on this report, but not a single staff member or town board member provided any overview or summary of their closed session briefing – because apparently us regular, un-elected residents don’t need to know the basis for or the results of an investigation into our police department. Mooresville has already had their chief resign, demoted two high ranking officers, and now apparently intends to fire a captain, all as a result of the ISS investigation into their department, but a similar investigation into HPD results in zero changes?

When are the residents of Huntersville going to learn any details about the ISS investigation into HPD?

#AuditHPD

Eric

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