On CMS’s decision to hire Charles Jeter

[Jan. 19, 2017 update – Thanks to Ann Doss Helms at the Charlotte Observer for writing a follow-up story today on this issue. You can read it here.]

Why did the Charlotte Observer need almost 650 words in their article on December 5, 2016 just to announce former elected official Charles Jeter (R) as the new government liaison for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools? It’s almost as if someone involved with CMS felt they really needed to justify to the taxpayers why this hire was worth at least $91,000 of their tax dollars a year. But, even after reading all those words in the online edition of the Observer I was still left with unanswered questions about CMS’s hiring of Mr. Jeter.

  • Why would a former politician who resigned unexpectedly at the end of July citing the need to devote time to his young family then apply for a job less than three months later that will likely require him to travel back and forth to Raleigh on a regular basis? And in case you didn’t follow the District 92 House race too closely – the seat flipped from (R) to (D) in November after Mr. Jeter’s unexpected resignation.
  • Why would CMS hire a former elected official when he would be prohibited from even doing his job until 6 months after he left office pursuant to the “cooling off” period for lobbyists in North Carolina? [See NCGS 120C-304(b).] This one was easily answered by the NC Ethics Commission after I started reviewing this issue. The 6 month “cooling off” period is not applicable to Mr. Jeter because he was actually hired as a local government liaison, not a lobbyist, and local government liaisons are only subject to Article 5 of the lobbying law according to this 2011 formal advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission. What’s the actual difference between a lobbyist and a local government liaison? Good question.
  • Even though he’s only a local government liaison, not a lobbyist, he still has to register as a liaison with the Secretary of State’s Office just like his predecessor. [See NCGS 120C-502(a).] Why then has Mr. Jeter still not registered as a liaison with the Secretary of State’s Office as of the morning of January 17, 2017? You can search for yourself here.
  • If he “got out of his trucking company” as the article stated, why is Mr. Jeter still listed as the President of this trucking company according to the Secretary of State’s website?
  • There are nine board members on the CMS Board of Education – why was only one, Rhonda Lennon from District 1 (which covers Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson), cited in the article as mentioning the job opportunity to a friend? When did Ms. Lennon mention this job opportunity to Mr. Jeter and how many other friends did she mention the job opportunity to? Surely other board members mentioned this great job opportunity to their friends as well, right?
  • Since Mr. Jeter said he went through a “lengthy selection process” in the Observer article, and since surely other board members mentioned this great opportunity to qualified friends, how many other qualified applicants did Mr. Jeter beat out for this $91,000 a year taxpayer funded job?

I decided to send a records request to CMS on Dec. 13, 2016 to help answer some of these questions. My requests are below along with CMS’s responses in italics.

1) The date the job was first publicly posted and all forms in which the public job posting occurred, e.g., online, newspaper, etc.; [Received January 3 – The position was posted on the CMS job board 10/7/16 – 10/14/16.]

2) The job description or any description of job duties listed; [Received January 4 – see below.]

3) The anticipated or expected salary range listed; [Received January 3 – As advertised in the job posting, the salary range is $71,572.00-$91,187.00.]

4) The number of total applicants applying for this position before it was filled; [Received January 3 – #4 and #5 are requests for information rather than records (I’m awaiting a response from CMS Legal on whether these items can be released)]

5) The total number of applicants interviewed for this position before it was filled; and

6) The date and manner in which an offer of employment was extended to Charles Jeter. [Received January 3 – Date and manner in which an offer of employment was extended is personnel information that isn’t open to public record.]

CMS_Job Description

After the initial responses from CMS we learned the job was only posted for one week and only at CMS’s job board. We also learned Mr. Jeter was hired at or very near the maximum salary since, according to the Observer article, his new job will pay him $91,000 a year. What we didn’t learn was how many other people applied and/or were interviewed for this job during the “lengthy selection process” described by Mr. Jeter or how long after the job posting was he actually offered the job.

On January 6 CMS finally responded to requests 4 & 5 by stating – CMS Legal has determined that no records exist of this information. I asked for clarification – Does this mean the answer to numbers 4 & 5 is zero (0) applicants? Or, does this response mean that no records exist of any applicants applying or interviewing, but that the number is not zero (0)? On January 9 CMS responded to my request for clarification – The response to points 4 and 5 is: there is no record(s) that exist pertaining to the applicant number or number of candidates interviewed.

Still not being satisfied since I originally requested records or information, I revised my request and asked another way – 4) How many total applicants applied for this position before it was filled; and 5) How many total applicants were interviewed for this position before it was filled. CMS responded the same day on January 9 – Thank you for your follow-up inquiry. The items requested in 4 & 5 do not fall in the category of personnel information that is defined in the personnel privacy statutes as public information. Additionally, we have a concern that disclosing such information runs the risk of someone being able to identify the applicants and that would be a disclosure in violation of the personnel privacy laws.

Now we were getting somewhere. So someone at CMS had determined requests 4 & 5 didn’t have to be answered because of personnel privacy laws. But what specific laws were they relying on? Again on January 9 I asked for additional information – Please have CMS Legal specify any and all statutes in support of their refusal to provide the requested information. The next day, January 10, CMS responded – NCGS 132-6.2(e) states that a public agency is not required to respond to records requests by “creating or compiling a record that does not exist.”

I still wasn’t satisfied with CMS’s response to what I thought was a simple question so on January 10 I requested a time to discuss over the phone. After not receiving a response I left a voicemail with my point of contact at CMS requesting the same. On January 11 the Chief Communications Officer at CMS, Kathryn Block, emailed the following response in part – CMS has considered items four and five and determined that disclosing such information runs the risk of someone being able to identify the applicants. This would represent a violation of personnel privacy laws. CMS takes the privacy of its employees and applicants very seriously. Therefore, we are unable to fulfill this portion of your request.

To recap: CMS initially declined responding to 4 & 5 because no records existed. No wait, they said, it’s because responding would violate personnel privacy laws. On second thought, they said, it’s definitely because no records exist and we don’t have to create records that don’t exist.  Seriously though, we can’t disclose the requested information because it would violate personnel privacy laws.

Which is it CMS, no records exist or disclosing the number of applicants and/or interviewees would violate personnel privacy laws?

I decided to consult with Jonathan Jones, Director of the NC Open Government Coalition, who helpfully explained the limitations of a records request. He stated, “[CMS] is only legally obligated to provide records and not information. That’s why it ends up being a potentially valid response to your requests. It’s not a valid response if a record does exist that would answer your request for information and they would rather withhold it for personnel reasons. You can’t argue both because  either the record exists or it doesn’t.”

Essentially, CMS responded to my questions about the number of applicants and interviewees with a “No Comment.” Fair enough. But, based on the job only being posted for one week at the CMS job board and based on CMS’s conflicting responses and absurd conclusion that revealing the number of applicants would somehow result in someone being able to determine the identity of an applicant, it’s also fair for me to infer there was only one applicant and one interviewee – Charles Jeter.

Another example of your tax dollars hard at work in Mecklenburg County.

Eric

 

Taxpayers still keeping HFFA afloat

This column originally appeared in the Jan. 21, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. You can find my second HFFA column here. The column below is relevant once again because HSW (formally known as Health Works, Inc.), the management company in charge of the HFFA, is requesting $25,000 in bonus money per their contract with the town. The agenda for the upcoming board meeting on Tuesday night has the bonus money budget amendment request listed as Item K. under Other Business.

Interestingly, HSW is still using weighted metrics as outlined in their 2011 contract, not the weighted metrics outlined in their 2015 contract (attached below).  So upon further review it appears HSW is using the 2011 metrics because the 2015 contract was not effective until July 1, 2016. I assumed incorrectly the 2015 contract was effective immediately upon execution in October 2015, hence why it was rushed through by the prior board, but that’s clearly not the case.

Let’s hope this current board takes a more inquisitive approach to the self-serving metrics review document submitted by HSW in support of their bonus request than did the board in 2015.

Eric


The Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics facility located on Verhoeff Drive is partially funded by taxpayers. This may be common knowledge to longtime Huntersville residents, but many newer residents are likely unaware that tax dollars are used to support HFFA. You definitely wouldn’t know it based on the HFFA website, except for the small Huntersville town logo on the home page.

For those Huntersville residents who were living here in the late ’90s when the HFFA was originally proposed and voted on, don’t worry; this column will not rehash the contentious debate over whether funding a gym is a proper function of town government – mainly because it isn’t. But, since taxpayers are still funding this facility after more than a decade in existence, it is reasonable to question whether their tax dollars are being spent properly.

HFFA proponents like to point out that it has gone from an entity that was in need of funds from the General Fund to operate, to operating solely on hotel/motel/prepared food taxes. Politicians like these “good” taxes because it means avoiding taxing residents directly to fund their favored projects (unless you’re a Huntersville resident who chooses to patronize a Huntersville restaurant). While it’s true that general fund money is not currently used to keep the doors open at HFFA, it is used for any bonus paid to the management company, like the $50,000 approved in 2015. But this misses the larger point: What are the opportunity costs of using limited taxpayer funds to run a gym?

A few more facts most Huntersville residents without a passing familiarity on submitting records requests may not be aware of. The HFFA is managed by a company named Health & Sports Works. This company has managed the HFFA almost exclusively except for a short period immediately after it opened. The initial management contract in 2002 between Huntersville and HSW provided for a management fee of $30,000 for the first year, $40,000 for the second year, and a fee of $50,000 during each subsequent year.

The renegotiated contract in 2006 saw management fees significantly increased to $153,750 annually, along with a potential bonus payment of up to $50,000. In 2011, Huntersville renegotiated with HSW and agreed to an annual management fee of $158,362.50 (a strangely specific amount…) with the potential of a $50,000 bonus. Finally, two weeks before the recent election and eight months before the contract was set to expire on June 30, 2016, the prior town board voted 4-2 to approve a renegotiated contract with HSW at $183,564 annually. [See most recent 2015 HSW contract below]

HSW 2015

Going from $30,000 annually to $183,564 annually in little more than a decade sounds like a massive cost increase, but surely it’s because this is the market rate for managing a facility like HFFA, right? A reasonable question, but not one that was answered prior to the vote on Oct. 19, 2015, approving the renegotiated management contract, which was not even made available for public inspection at the town’s website until the morning of the vote.

The town manager made the decision not to put out the management contract for competitive bid, a decision that was fully supported by town board members Melinda Bales, Jeff Neely, Ron Julian and Sarah McAulay. State law does not mandate this type of contract be put out for competitive bid, but decision makers have no basis for comparison and are not ensuring tax dollars be spent in the most efficient manner possible without a bidding process. When the town can find time to request bids on landscape contracts costing between $46,000 and $65,000 annually (which was scheduled to be voted on at Tuesday night’s town board meeting), it is beyond implausible the HFFA management contract shouldn’t have been put out for bid.

The current HFFA management contract requires the town to pay a fee equal to six months of management fees if terminated prior to July 1, 2019. This gives the current town board at least three years to request a competitive bid be prepared to determine if HSW is indeed the only qualified company to manage the HFFA. Let’s hope that’s enough time.

On limited government and the HFFA

This column was supposed to have appeared in the Feb. 18, 2016 print edition of the Herald Weekly. It never appeared in print, however, it did end up online and can still be found at the Herald’s website. The Herald editor informed me she had received some questions about my initial HFFA column in January 2016 so I provided all source documentation and never heard anything further until she informed me after I submitted the second column on HFFA below that she was going to have to put the column on hold. I subsequently learned HFFA had decided to pull their advertising dollars from the Herald – to this day they continue their ad boycott of the Herald, but do continue to advertise in the other local weekly paper.

It’s usually frowned up for entities funded by taxpayer dollars – like the HFFA – to engage in viewpoint discrimination. Apparently the First Amendment isn’t high on the list of concerns of the Huntersville Town Board since the HFFA is still being funded by tax dollars.

Eric


Frederic Bastiat famously defined government as the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. By this he simply meant that it is within our nature to seek the greatest amount of pleasure while expending the least amount of effort. Man can satisfy his endless wants and desires in one of two ways: by ceaseless labor and the application of his faculties to natural resources; or by seizing and consuming the products of the labors of other. This fatal tendency of man, to satisfy wants and desires with the least possible effort, is the origin of plunder, which is why Bastiat explains legislators should ensure the law maintains justice by protecting property and punishing plunder.

You’re probably asking, what does any of this have to do with the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics center? The HFFA is just one example in Huntersville of the law being perverted by allowing taxpayer funding (i.e., the products of the labors of others) to be used to support, in my opinion, an improper function of town government. Many readers will disagree with this position and the idea of any limits on town government other than what a majority of the Town Board can agree to.

But, it is budget season in Huntersville and the proper function of town government is something that needs to be debated by our elected leaders when deciding how to allocate the scarce revenues available for the large number of potential beneficiaries. If less money went to HFFA, more money could be allocated for Rural Hill for example. Reasonable people can disagree over whether Rural Hill should receive any taxpayer funding, but based on current statutes they (along with Latta Planation, the Hugh Torance House & Store, Visit Lake Norman, etc.) are eligible to receive funding from the same pool of money used to fund HFFA. [See pg. 106 for funding levels here.]

Ideas and elections matter, even on a local level. The current Town Board was elected, in part, because voters disagreed with the prior board’s overall philosophy on governing, which could be summarized by a motto similar to the Panther’s this season – “Keep Spending.” While the makeup of the Town Board has changed, the same special interests remain and are intent on maintaining the status quo.

HFFA proponents will be heard to proclaim, but how will the citizens of Huntersville stay healthy if taxpayer dollars aren’t used to keep the HFFA open? And what about all of the “economic development” Huntersville benefits from by the HFFA hosting events?

To which I would respond, how do the citizens of Huntersville keep from starving without the town using taxpayer dollars to operate a grocery store? How did any Huntersville resident do sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, run or swim before the HFFA was built?

If we are to accept the premise that the HFFA should continue to be subsidized by taxpayer funding because it is the centerpiece for health in Huntersville and the surrounding communities and because of the alleged economic benefits, should it follow that all other sources of competition be eliminated to maximize these health and economic benefits? Should the Town Board close all other gyms and pools to increase membership at HFFA? When the non-taxpayer subsidized Fitness Center at Birkdale was forced to close due to financial reasons, many former members joined the HFFA. Think of the increased revenues at HFFA if all the gyms in Huntersville were closed and their members all joined the HFFA!

There remains approximately $1,022,940 [See pg. 68 of the audit here.] to be paid on the mortgage for the HFFA through the year 2020 before taxpayer dollars will no longer be necessary for debt service. The question for current Town Board members is what happens after 2020? Will taxpayer funding continue to be used for the current facility, or will HFFA finally be expected to become profitable?

These and other questions will persist as long as the law is used to take property from one person and give it to another and any attempts to censor such questions should be discouraged.

Forced charity isn’t charitable

This column originally appeared in the April 21, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. It’s an election year so it will be interesting to see how many requests for funding come in from external organizations and whether this town board ensures any such funding constitutes a “public purpose.”

[Update: attached below is the external agency funding policy adopted by the Huntersville Town Board in May 2016 after this article was originally published.]

Eric


If any readers are inclined to think my purpose in writing is to further my political aspirations, this column should put such notions to rest.

The Huntersville fiscal year 2016-17 budget is currently being prepared, so if you’re a Huntersville resident you still have an opportunity to influence how your tax dollars are spent before the budget is passed in June. You can view budgets going back to 2011-12 [this has since changed, ’14-’15 is the oldest budget available now online] on the town’s website under the finance department page to learn how your tax dollars have been spent in the past. If you do review any recent budgets, you’ll come across a section entitled “Special Appropriations.” [This was actually changed in the ’16-’17 budget after publication of this article. Items formerly under Special Appropriations can now be found under Hotel/Motel/Prepared Food Tax Fund.] The budget describes special appropriations as expenditures to external organizations for public purposes. A better description would be forced charity.

According to the UNC School of Government, the North Carolina Supreme Court has not specifically defined the term “public purpose,” but has decided the issue on a case by case basis. The N.C. Supreme Court uses two principles in determining what constitutes a public purpose: the activity must have a reasonable connection with an appropriate function of local government, and the activity must benefit the public generally as opposed to special interests or individuals.

Town commissioners approved $192,423 for Special Appropriations in last year’s budget without detailing any of the public purposes served. A larger amount was requested from the town but funding was denied to Angels of ’97 and Catawba Presbyterian Church, although Angels of ’97 has received at least $7,000 in the past. The majority of funding, $150,423, went to the Lake Norman Economic Development Corporation. The remaining $42,000 went to four organizations: $22,500 to ASC North; $15,000 to the Ada Jenkins Center; $2,000 to the Olde Huntersville Heritage Society; and $2,500 to Latta Plantation.

The town does require every organization seeking a taxpayer-funded Special Appropriation to fill out a form documenting the organization’s nonprofit status and describing how any funding would benefit the citizens of Huntersville. [See below] This is helpful to those organizations that already know this source of funding exists, but information on how to request a Special Appropriation does not appear anywhere on the town’s website at present [and still doesn’t appear after a search today]. This lack of transparency should be corrected by the current town board if they intend to continue to provide taxpayer funding to external organizations.

Special Appropriations

[The external agency funding policy below was adopted in May 2016 after this article was originally published.]

External agency funding

Why focus on $42,000 out of an operating budget of over $33 million when the money is only going to help local nonprofits? Because every penny spent by government is money that could have been put to a more productive use if left in the private economy. Further, money taken by force and used by government on non-essential functions like charitable giving means less money is available for essential town functions like police, sanitation, or roads and sidewalks. And if you disagree that government takes your money by force, I would encourage you to attempt to opt out of paying your local property or vehicle taxes this year and see how the Town of Huntersville responds.

As the population of Huntersville continues to increase, which will result in more revenues, the list of potential charities seeking taxpayer funding is only going to grow. How will the town board say no this year or in the future to a request from Ada Jenkins, Angels of ’97, the Olde Huntersville Heritage Society or any other organization when funding has been provided in the past? The inability of too many politicians to say no to funding non-essential functions of government is one of the reasons our national debt is over $19 trillion – a number that cannot and will not ever be repaid.

Most of us have little to no control over how Raleigh or Washington spends our money, but we do have some ability to influence how our money is spent locally. Let your town board members know prior to a vote on the budget if you agree that Huntersville should stop funding select charitable organizations and instead direct more money in this year’s budget to more important priorities.

Huntersville government continues to grow

This column originally appeared in the May 19, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. Budget season is almost upon us again. There’s plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the town budget in order to ensure your town board members are asking the right questions during budget workshops over the next few months.

Eric


The proposed (now adopted) Huntersville budget for fiscal year 2016-17 is available on the finance page at the town’s website for review. I would encourage Huntersville residents to read over the budget in its entirety so you can learn more about how your local government is funded and how those funds are spent.

I would also encourage residents to contact the mayor and town board members between now and when the budget vote takes place in June so your voice can be heard on what the budget priorities should be over the next fiscal year. We may be in the midst of a presidential race, but what goes on at Huntersville Town Hall arguably has a more direct impact on your life and the life of your neighbors than anything done by our next president.

“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So government programs, once launched, never disappear.”

This quote from Ronald Reagan is taken from his “A Time for Choosing” speech in 1964. Mr. Reagan obviously wasn’t referring to local government in Huntersville, but his fundamental point about government remains as valid today as it was 52 years ago. Compare total expenditures in the proposed budget (including Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics and Electricities funds) to other recent proposed Huntersville budgets: total expenditures of $47.3 million in FY 2012-13; $48.8 million in 2013-14; $53 million in 2014-15; $55.7 million in 2015-16; and now $57.9 million in this year’s proposed budget.

How much longer will Huntersville be able to sustain this growth in government without another hike in the property or sales tax or increased fees? If this continual growth in the budget is not directly related to expenditures on essential functions of local government, should expenditures continue to increase at this rate or should the town board request the town manager better prioritize spending? The budget will obviously grow with Huntersville’s population, but the board should continue to ensure growth in expenditures is tied to revenues.

Some additional questions on two specific items in the budget.

Why is $14,700 budgeted for digital server space if the town isn’t going to make all public meetings available by video? I supported the current board’s decision to increase transparency by moving to stream all official meetings online, but apparently some meetings of the board are not worthy of being filmed. As of Monday, May 16, video of the May 2 pre-meeting budget presentation was unavailable at the town’s video page on Ustream. The budget work session on May 10, where a quorum was present, was also not live streamed, ostensibly due to difficulty with the audio.

If our tax dollars are going to continue to be used for streaming and server space, I would like to see this board demand any and all public meetings in town hall where a quorum is present be live streamed, unless an exemption is applicable.

The budget summary states that HFFA receives no general-fund appropriations. Why the need for continual reassurances? HFFA is subsidized with taxpayer funding, and without this annual subsidy covering their debt ($305,024 this year on p. 101/106) I believe they would very likely be forced to close, with or without general-fund appropriations.

If you accept the premise that subsidizing HFFA is beneficial to Huntersville because of the economic development revenue generated, it only seems logical to ask why the town doesn’t fund similar facilities for other athletic activities.

For example, how many cycling events could the Huntersville Family Velodrome draw? Or, think of how many non-residents would come to watch fights at the Huntersville Family Mixed Martial Arts Octagon.

But if we don’t spend the money on HFFA what will we spend it on? So goes the refrain from Huntersville elected officials. Only a politician would never think to return money used for non-essential government functions back to the taxpayers.

It takes vigilance to ensure government at all levels isn’t spending your money in objectionable ways. Now is the time to let your elected officials know if you object to anything in the proposed budget.

New town board keeps same old tax rate

This column originally appeared in the June 16, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. It’s now officially an election year in Huntersville – let’s see how many elected representatives turn into fiscal hawks in this new year. Maybe we’ll even have a few brave candidates run on a platform of actually lowering taxes instead of seeking office just to maintain the status quo.

Eric


Huntersville residents won’t vote for mayor and town board again until next year, but the 2017 Huntersville election campaign officially began with the budget vote last Monday night. The town manager’s initial proposed fiscal year 2016-17 budget totaled $57.9 million. [View the ’16-’17 adopted budget here.]

Commissioners Mark Gibbons, Charles Guignard and Danny Phillips supported a budget amendment that would have reduced the overall budget while also lowering the property tax rate by 5/8 of a cent from 30.5 cents per $100 assessed value to 29.875 cents. Commissioners Melinda Bales, Dan Boone and Rob Kidwell, along with the tie-breaking vote from Mayor John Aneralla, voted against the amendment to lower the tax rate, instead supporting a budget that did reduce overall spending but kept the tax rate unchanged at 30.5 cents.

Some may consider a partial-cent reduction in the tax rate insignificant because, anyone who lives in a $300,000 home can afford to pay about $19 more a year in taxes, right? Try taking about $19 from a random stranger on the street by force and you’ll likely find out how significant $19 is.

Politicians rely on the short-term memory of most voters. It will be interesting to see if the voting public remembers this budget vote next year and holds accountable those politicians who made specific campaign promises to lower taxes.

Here are a few other highlights from the first six months of the new board. 

They agreed to sell the Anchor Mill site to a developer, which should finally result in that property being a net positive for the town in terms of productivity and revenue. 

They created a land ordinance committee to review town ordinances in an effort to make the town more business friendly. 

They voted to withdraw from the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, which led Cornelius and Davidson to do the same (although Davidson is joining a new transportation partnership with areas in Iredell County). 

They passed a resolution in favor of allowing alcohol sales at certain town functions. 

And, most importantly, upon being sworn in they immediately moved to increase transparency by live streaming meetings. There is still room for greater transparency, however, by ensuring all meetings where a quorum is present are filmed unless a statutory exemption is applicable.

This board has can point to many accomplishments in its first six months, but could have done more by reducing the tax burden on Huntersville residents.

I asked the two newest commissioners, Gibbons and Boone, three questions so readers could learn more about them. Commissioner Boone was given an opportunity to respond but declined after initially agreeing to participate. I think candidates for local office should get asked more often about their influences and views on the office they’re running for so I took the opportunity to do so below.

What, in your opinion, is the proper role of local government?

Gibbons: I view the proper role of government is to look out for the rights and freedom of its citizenry. That includes defense, in a town setting that is a police force; infrastructure, including roads and public schools; and providing safe water and sewer access. Beyond those things, everything else done by government infringes on the private sector and taxes the citizens to do so, which restricts individual freedom.

What has surprised you since becoming an elected official?

Gibbons: What has been the biggest surprise to me is the lack of awareness by citizens of what is going on in their own town(s) which also means low participation. I am a firm believer that with rights and freedoms come responsibility. I am also surprised that many elected officials take whatever government agencies and the staff put out as final and rarely question it. That has gotten us in a big mess here in North Mecklenburg.

Who are your intellectual influences?

Gibbons: My biggest intellectual influences include, but are not limited to; from modern politicians, I have been impressed with Tip O’Neill and Newt Gingrich. Both men were able to get things done with an opposing party president in office. I also enjoy reading Charles Krauthammer and Thomas Sowell.

Where is the Huntersville PD BearCat?

This column originally appeared in the June 30, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. The 2003 model BearCat armored vehicle was finally delivered in late July, after publication of this column, and coincidentally just in time for it to be shown off at the National Night Out celebration. The bill of sale is included below. My favorite justification for this purchase given by the town manager and police chief – it has less than 6,000 miles on the odometer! Initial purchase price of the thirteen (13) year old armored vehicle was $31,500 – I haven’t seen any reporting on how much the police department has spent on the vehicle for upgrades and/or repairs since it was delivered. Maybe an inquisitive town board member can find out how much the town has spent on the BearCat since it was delivered at the first board meeting of the year on Jan. 17.

Fortunately, the armored vehicle has yet to be deployed related to any actual criminal activity in Huntersville to the best of my knowledge.

Eric


“Our officers and citizens deserve this kind of protection… Isn’t your life worth $82,000?” That is the response Huntersville Police Chief Cleveland Spruill gave in a June 2015 Herald Weekly interview justifying his request for a BearCat armored vehicle in last year’s budget. If Huntersville officers and citizens indeed deserve and require the protection of an armored vehicle, why is the town still not in possession of the used BearCat paid for last year?

A used BearCat was purchased by the town in October 2015, according to Spruill. [see bill of sale below] It has not yet been delivered, however, due to a purchase agreement allowing the seller to keep its used BearCat until they could acquire a replacement armored vehicle. He explained the BearCat was to have been delivered in May, but unanticipated delays have pushed the delivery date back. Spruill still does not know exactly when the BearCat will be delivered. 

BearCat bill of sale

The town paid approximately $31,000 for the used armored vehicle. Initially, $165,900 was requested for its purchase, but only $82,500 was allocated in the budget. What happened to the approximately $50,000 in savings for the town? Was the balance of the money spent on something other than the BearCat, or will the balance be spent on improvements to the used vehicle when it’s finally delivered? 

And who is the seller currently benefiting from the use of the BearCat paid for by Huntersville taxpayers? That would be the City of Alexandria (Va.) Police Department, which is where Spruill served immediately before becoming chief in Huntersville in May 2014.

This entire episode raises a number of questions besides whether the prior town board should have even approved the purchase of an armored vehicle. Why was this purchase agreement not approved by the town board? How much longer will Huntersville residents and officers have to wait for the BearCat? How much would it cost to cancel the contract and use the original funding allocated to immediately buy a used BearCat from another seller? Even if the used BearCat is finally delivered from Alexandria, how much additional funding will be needed to make repairs or upgrades?

On a similar note – The FY 2016-17 budget was approved earlier this month by a 4-3 vote, and a major point of contention was over the $1 million budget increase being sought by the police department. Supporters of this massive increase in spending, including president of the local Police Benevolent Association chapter Tom Slymon, pointed to two specific statistics as justification: a 30 percent increase in violent crime and a 15 percent increase in property crime in Huntersville. These statistics were supplied to the mayor and town board by the police department in a memorandum dated June 1, 2016, but the data are not publicly available on the police department’s website. [see memorandum below]

Bi-weekly 6-1-2016

Mark Twain has a famous quote about statistics, if I recall.

The time periods used in the memorandum are not clearly defined, but incident report data are provided through May 29, 2016. Year to date rapes and robberies in 2016 are reportedly up 100 percent, while aggravated assaults are down 5 percent, totaling a 30.43 percent increase in violent crime (murder remained at zero). Only three robberies were reported in 2015, and six so far in 2016. Zero rapes were reported in the first five months of 2015, but there have been five reported in the first five months of 2016, according to the data. 

I don’t know how going from zero to five rapes equals an increase of 100 percent, since percentage change is meaningless when starting from zero, but, more importantly, what is the police department in Huntersville doing to address the increasing rate?

Given the current disdain for the Bill of Rights among many in this country, I feel the need to remind readers that arrest and incident reports are not convictions, and those arrested are innocent until proven guilty.

Safewise.com, an online publication, ranked Huntersville 18th on its list of the 50 Safest Cities in N.C. in 2015. Huntersville will surely fall out of the Top 50 this year if the statistics being reported by the police are accurate.