Huntersville Board Agenda – Dec. 19, 2016

There is a town board meeting tonight at 6:30pm. You can read what’s on the agenda here and you can watch a live stream of the meeting here. Rick Short does a good job at his blog of covering agenda items for Davidson board meetings so I decided to attempt the same for Huntersville. If you want to review the full agenda packet including supporting documents, you can download a copy by clicking the “Full Packet” link at the town’s agenda and minutes page. I can’t cover every item so I always encourage residents to review these agendas and discuss any items of interest with the mayor or a board member because even a single motivated resident can make a difference on how the votes turn out on some of these items.

Other Business:

– Item E: The board will be debating whether to adopt a new ordinance prohibiting domestic animals to be tethered unless attended by a competent person AND eleven (11) conditions are met. I still have questions about why this new ordinance is even needed since Huntersville already penalizes abuse of animals under 94.36, but the tethering ordinance language has at least been revised so that a violation will not result in jail time. [Update: This measure passed – not surprisingly.]

– Item G: The mayor is pushing for approval of a new interlocal agreement with Davidson and Cornelius to form the “North Mecklenburg Alliance.” I wrote about this briefly in my Sept. 29, 2016 Herald column. This new advocacy group is unnecessary – the three mayors are already free to get together anytime they choose to talk about how great the Red Line is going to be once they can finally figure out how to actually pay for it. But, as currently drafted, the real problem with this agreement is the “Chuck Travis clause” in Article 6(b) that allows the towns to not authorize the Alliance to represent their interest before any legislative body. This is backwards. It should be the Alliance that has the obligation to request authorization from the towns before being able to advocate a position before a legislative body, the towns should not have to take action to ensure the Alliance does not advocate a position that town opposes. [Update: This measure – surprisingly – did not pass after the mayor voted against in order to break a 3-3 tie with Commissioners Boone, Kidwell and Gibbons voting in favor, and Commissioners Bales, Guignard and Phillips voting against. Commissioner Bales raised a valid concern – what happens if Huntersville gets outvoted by the other members on an issue, say supporting the Red Line? We’re the larger town, why cede such authority to two or more smaller towns?]

Consent Agenda – An aside, Huntersville consistently has more items on their consent agenda than Cornelius or Davidson. This is problematic from a transparency standpoint because it makes it possible to avoid debate and a separate, recorded vote by each elected official on controversial items.

– Item F: As part of the consent agenda, the board will be voting to approve a budget amendment recognizing insurance revenue in the amount of $6,311.72 and appropriating this revenue to the Police Dept’s insurance account. [Update: Chief Spruill stated at the meeting this specific appropriation was the result of a patrol car hitting a deer. I will be sending a records request for more information.] 16 of 23 meetings this calendar year have included a similar item on the consent agenda totaling $46,668.95. No information or documentation is ever included in the agenda packet explaining the basis for this insurance revenue. I’m not sure how Cornelius or Davidson deals with these appropriations because this item rarely, if ever, seems to appear on their agendas.

Commissioner Boone began the practice of asking Chief Spruill to explain these appropriations at the Jan. 19, 2016 meeting, but apparently the board has dispensed with this practice because another explanation has not been requested since that meeting to the best of my knowledge. At the Jan. 19 meeting, Chief Spruill explained the specific appropriations on that agenda were related to a motor vehicle accident involving an officer and a hit-and-run causing damage to a parked police vehicle. Hopefully the board will get back to requesting more information on these items or at least require more information to be included in the agenda packet to improve transparency.

 

 

On the vote to replace Rep. Charles Jeter

The column below originally appeared in the Sept. 8, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. Mr. Jeter has been back in the news recently when it was reported in the Charlotte Observer CMS hired him as a lobbyist at an annual taxpayer funded salary of $91,000. How exactly a lobbyist produces $91,000 worth of value to the taxpayers isn’t explained in the Observer article. The Daily Haymaker has questioned this use of taxpayer funds since Mr. Jeter isn’t yet a registered lobbyist and is actually prohibited from even registering as a lobbyist until the “later of the close of session as set forth in G.S. 120C-100(a)(4)b.1 in which the legislator served or six months after leaving office” per NCGS 120C-304(a)(2).

Despite being in extra innings at the moment, the current session in which Mr. Jeter served before resigning is likely to end before the six month mark after he left office – which, if you calculate it based on when he formally resigned with the Board of Elections, August 9, and not when he informally notified party leadership of his intention to resign on July 25, would mean Mr. Jeter isn’t even able to register as a lobbyist until on or about February 9, 2017. Were there no other qualified candidates considered by CMS who could start work immediately? I have sent a records request to CMS in an attempt to find this out and will report back when/if I receive a response.

Funny how neither one of our local weekly papers was able to find space to cover this issue this week – but what do I know, I’m just another one of those outlets for fake news online pandering to the un-informed masses.

And my offer to provide a records request template to anyone interested in submitting their own records request still stands. Just send me an email.

Eric


How did we ever find outlets for our self-righteousness before social media?

My current social media platform of choice is Twitter, which at least keeps self-righteousness and virtue signaling limited to 140 characters (although Twitter’s increasing culture of censorship has me looking for an alternative platform).

The latest non-toll related online social media outrage du jour took place last month after the vote to replace former state house representative Charles Jeter.

Mr. Jeter notified Republican party leadership of his sudden intention to resign on the morning of July 25, citing personal reasons. He did not provide formal notice of his resignation to the state board of elections until the afternoon of Aug. 9 – 15 days later. There has still not been any explanation provided by Mr. Jeter for the 15-day delay in providing formal notice of his resignation to the appropriate officials at the board of elections. He has declined requests for comments via Twitter.

Why is this 15-day delay important? Because rules allow the Mecklenburg County Republican Party to nominate and vote on a replacement candidate in the event of a resignation, but only after notice has been given to the appropriate officials. The vote to replace Mr. Jeter did not occur until Aug. 17 – the same night, coincidentally, a vote took place to nominate a replacement for former Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherford County. Mr. Hager, by comparison, gave appropriate notice of his resignation on or about Aug. 12, and the replacement vote promptly took place a week later.

The candidate nominated to replace Mr. Jeter on the November ballot, Danae Caulfield, has a severely limited number of days to campaign before the election putting her at a distinct disadvantage compared with her Democrat opponent, who has reported raising over $100,000 this election cycle. The 15 days Mr. Jeter delayed in formally resigning did nothing to increase her electoral odds. [UPDATE – Caulfield did end up losing the election by approx. 3,676 votes. Could this margin have been overcome with more time to fundraise and campaign?]

You would have assumed wrong if you assumed the social media outrage referred to at the outset was directed at Mr. Jeter for his delay in formally resigning. Instead, Facebookers took to their keyboards to furiously vent about the Mecklenburg GOP executive board and Justin Moore, the nominee voted to replace Mr. Jeter for the remainder of the current term.

You see, this was just another example of the GOP elites conspiring to trample anti-toll conservatives by not voting for Mr. Jeter’s primary opponent from earlier this year, Tom Davis, even though Mr. Moore has also always opposed the I-77 toll plan.

Mr. Davis was apparently entitled to the replacement vote, according to some posts, because he nearly defeated Mr. Jeter in the primary. According to this logic, these same individuals would be expected to support Sarah McAulay and Jill Swain to be nominated for town board or mayor in the event of an absence since both were runners-up in the last election – an unlikely scenario.

Many were upset with Mr. Moore for not running for both slots, to finish the term and get on this fall’s ballot, since an incumbent running in November would have been more likely to prevail. But Mr. Davis made clear prior to the Mecklenburg GOP meeting on Aug. 17 he did not intend to run for the ballot slot (and, in fact, did not run for the ballot slot), and I have yet to hear the same criticism leveled against him.

If you really want to effect change locally, you have to show up to your party’s annual precinct meeting at a minimum. It will be interesting to see how many of those expressing their outrage online actually show up to be counted at next year’s precinct meeting.

An addendum: I received a few emails asking for records requests templates after my most recent column on public records. This led me to think there are likely other members of the public who want more information from their local government on various public policy issues or elected officials. So, if you’re interested in obtaining information related to a specific public policy or elected official, send me an email with details and I’ll consider whether to follow up with my own records request.

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.

Eric


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.

Eric


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!