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.

My time with the Herald Weekly is over.

I was informed by the Herald Weekly on December 1 my columns would no longer be accepted because of a “firestorm of backlash” in response to my column published on November 24. The column is reprinted below. My editor said advertisers were “considering pulling multi-thousand dollar contracts, and we’ve had businesses say they will never advertise with us,” but she declined to disclose the identity of any of these advertisers or those threatening a boycott of the paper. Thus far, I have not had a single one of these courageous individuals or businesses express their disagreements with the column to me directly. I can’t really blame the Herald for being so quick to give in to threats of a boycott rather than stand up for free speech, but for those of us still hopeful in thinking other rational adults are interested in the open exchange of ideas it is yet another disappointment.

I know of at least one advertiser – the taxpayer subsidized Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatic center – dropping ads from the Herald in Spring 2016 after I merely questioned why taxpayer dollars were being used to subsidize a gym. The fact that the town of Huntersville is still susidizing an organization that punishes dissent is baffling.

I am extending an open invitation to any individual or business or municipality that threatened the Herald with financial repercussions if they allowed my columns to continue to publicly state their reasons for disagreement in the comments section so we can attempt a dialogue. I won’t be holding my breath. My columns may not be running in the Herald any longer, but that’s the great thing about the internet, they let anyone write just about anything here. And I welcome Herald readers who may have enjoyed my past columns to follow me here for future musings on local government and other exciting topics.


To Shop Big or Small For The Holidays?

It’s that most wonderful time of the year again already, but whether to shop big or to shop small for Christmas is the question. Should you support the local businesses in your community by buying local or support the nameless, faceless shareholders of some giant corporation by buying at a big box retail store?

Small Business Saturday (the national marketing scheme developed in 2010 by American Express to incentivize more shoppers to use their Amex credit cards during the holidays) will take place again this Saturday, Nov. 26, so I decided another column on the merits of the buy local movement was in order.

Let me just repeat at the outset so as not to be misunderstood by readers – local entrepreneurs should be encouraged, and successful local business models should be recognized. I am well aware of the benefits of small businesses, including how many jobs are created every year by small businesses locally and nationwide. I consider myself pro-market not pro-business, however, and I do not think it is a proper function of local government to promote “local” businesses over other businesses.

Ideas help to shape public policy. The ideas behind the seemingly innocuous “buy local” movement are no exception and locally the consequences are demonstrated most clearly by Davidson’s “Turn Around Shop in Town” campaign.

The Town of Davidson’s website kindly reminds its residents that, “instead of driving to our neighboring towns to make purchases, we’d like everyone to turn around and shop in town!”

The catchy slogan used to promote Davidson’s buy local campaign could just as easily be read as an imperative instead of a recommendation.

Just think of the economic benefits that could be generated if a town levied a fine against residents who did their shopping elsewhere, or, if it a town simply mandated its residents do all of their shopping at local businesses within town!

Of course, every other community bordering that town would naturally respond to that town’s actions and mandate residents also do all of their shopping within each respective town, which would generate even more in economic benefits, right? No more money escaping the confines of our local communities because of residents jumping on Amazon from the comfort of their homes and fulfilling all of their shopping needs with just the click of a few buttons.

This may sound absurd but not to someone who believes the unsupported figures cited on Davidson’s website that local businesses return more money to the community than chain stores.

Why exactly keeping more money in the community matters is never actually explained by the economic development managers and buy local supporters who cite such figures, as if money itself is the key to prosperity. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention in economics back in college, but I always understood increased productivity as a result of labor specialization and economies of scale to be the key to prosperity – the opposite of what the buy local movement advocates.

Last year I listed a few questions you could pose to buy local supporters. Here is an updated list in case you feel like arguing about something other than the presidential election over Thanksgiving dinner.

Most importantly – how do you define local? Why does keeping more money in the local economy matter? Why is buy local so often linked just with food – why not a buy local smartphone movement? Should buying local (or only buying things Made In America) be mandated by law or just enforced through public shaming on social media?

I don’t begrudge Davidson or American Express their marketing schemes – but let’s dispense with the notion that anyone believes we should revert to a subsistence economy. Ultimately, the #buylocal movement is just another way to let everyone on social media know you care more than they do.

For a more thorough discussion on this topic, I would recommend “The Locavore’s Dilemma” by Pierre Desrochers & Hiroko Shimizu, but only if you can find a copy at a local bookstore.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!