Mar 302007
 

Concern over the ‘busing’ issue continues to set off the ‘alarm bells’ with many county residents who have read the media reports or emails as word has spread about the vote taken at the last School Board work-session.Union County Busing

Apparently, troubles at Monroe Middle has presented school board members Kimberly Morrision-Hansley, Carolyn Lowder and John Parker with a political spring board to advocate busing in Union County on a grander scale.

Currently, the school system employs a neighborhood school attendance model. Any other model will require busing of the children to school – for whatever the reason; racial balance, socioeconomic diversity or just raising an EOG score.

At the March 20th, school board work-session, after almost everyone had left the meeting, myself included, goals were set for the upcoming redistricting of Elementary schools “J” and “K”. The goals were as follows (with quality education and equity/fairness being over-arching goals):

1. Neighborhood schools
2. Effective and efficient operations
3. Stability
4. Parental Involvement

Bear in mind that Elementary schools “J” and “K” are being built in Stallings and Hemby Bridge areas.

District 6 representative Kimberly Morrison-Hansley, John Parker (At large), and Carolyn Lowder (District 2) voted against the above goals and the concept of neighborhood schools.

As reported in the Enquirer Journal, Mrs. Lowder said their feeling was..”If we don’t do anything but look at the neighborhood schools concept and turn a blind eye….we’re just going to exacerbate the problem.”

What problem? Is there a problem in Stallings and Hemby Bridge or was this just a political statement? Mrs. Lowder never seems to be at a loss for words, perhaps she will explain further. I, for one, want to hear her rational.

Connect the dots

During the break between the Site Base Team presentation and School Board work-session, two District 6 parents approached their representative Kimberly Morrison-Hansley and asked about her position on busing. Ms. Hansley’s answer completely astounded the two parents. She said, “In all fairness to ALL my constituents, I will make one statement to everyone!” Wow, this is not a national stage, climb down off that high horse and talk to your constituents.

Well folks, Mrs. Hansley’s voted against ‘Neighborhood’ schools. Takes away the guess work in my view as her action makes it pretty clear where she stands on busing.

Unfortunately for everyone living in District 6, Ms. Hansley evidently lacks the the courage to face the people she represents nor does it appear she plans to represent the wishes of those living in District 6 — least ways on this issue.

District 6 parents, ask yourself, how will Ms. Hansley vote when the four new schools being built on Cuthbertson Road, in Waxhaw come before the board for district assignments.

Tuesday, April 3rd is the next regular school board meeting, where the public is permitted to make comments. If you have a opinion you’d like to express to the school board, then by all means attend the meeting at 7:00pm at to Benton Heights Elementary (click for map)

Mar 302007
 

ClassUnion County’s Monroe Middle School (MMS) is in a crisis. For the last three years running, end of year testing has ranked the school as ‘low performing’.

Regardless of where this school is located — the issue is serious. Achieving better scores will require a co-ordinated effort, an absence of hyped emotionalism and more even important, an end to the politics of division, pitting one socioeconomic and ethnic group against another.

Superintendent Ed Davis and the School Board are well aware of the issues. A school system as diverse as Union requires different solutions tailored to the problem. Monroe Middle’s dismal test scores didn’t just happen — in the era of published ‘School Report Cards’, everyone is cognizant of the numbers and the consequences. This past year, Dr. Davis put forth two major initiatives, one concerns over-crowded schools and the other to address under-performing ‘High Priority’ schools.

There is a mechanism in place already, the school administration needs time to implement and adjust.

Make no mistake — it’s in the best interest of the students, administrators, elected officials and citizens to solve the problems at this or any other distressed school. We can all agree on this point.

Not a Silver Bullet, but…

On March 20th, the MMS Site Base Team went before the Board of Education. Team Chair Ms. Alicia Felix began her presentation stating that this ‘is not about busing, I repeat we are not here about busing’.

As a method of discovery and problem resolution, Ms. Felix advanced a proposal of forming a ‘Task Force’ which would include a school board member to examine the issues and possible solutions more closely, then report back the board with recommendations in redistricting in time to effect the 2007-2008 school year. I am troubled by the forgone conclusion offered that changing the student mix is again the only apparent answer to the school’s problems.

During the presentation Monroe Middle School’s principal Mr. Montrio Belton made a number of extraordinary statements in my view.

“The school is not going to get better, until you give us a student base someone can work with.”

“The students need peers to model themselves on. All they are exposed to is the same environment.”

According to Mr. Belton, the quality of students are the problem. If the school system wants better test scores — give ‘me’ better students! To bolster his first statement, MMS’s principal stated students need peers (of different demographic groups) to model themselves. A forced socioeconomic student body is a time and again proven failure. Look for another solution.

Please note Monroe High School’s scores in the following table. Some how, the teachers of Monroe High, are taking the same students ‘dragging’ down the Middle School’s test scores and excelling. Granted, this is maybe comparing two types of apples, but nevertheless, the achievements are undeniable. Lets examine, what Monroe High is doing right, while we look at what is wrong at MMS.

 PERCENTAGE OF STUDENTS REACHING
PROFICIENCY LEVELS III AND IV ON
 END OF COURSE TESTING

(state mandated)

High School

Black Hispanic White
Forest Hills 63.2 74.8 88.5
Monroe 80.7 74.8 95.5
Parkwood 57.1 54.8 87.2
Piedmont
56.7 73.9 85.1
Porter Ridge 68.6 78.6 85.0
Sun Valley 69.5 81.0 87.3
Weddington 73.4 76.9 89.7

I am sympathetic to the issues on Mr. Belton’s table, it’s high stress job. But, I can’t help but wonder if the administrator’s apparent attitudes contribute to the problem. MMS is receiving a tremendous amount of resources; money, top teachers and special programs to address the performance issues. The per capita spending per student is more than double their western county peers and class size is less than half as well.

If the School Board plans to form a task force or utilizes the current team that Dr. Davis has in place, then I would expect that every element of the problem be researched. In addition to redistricting, perhaps the school administration should consider a system of rotating principals assignments in ‘Low Performing’ schools as part of the resolution process.

It’s is easy understand that high stress assignments could cost the school system some very able principals and administrators.

Mar 292007
 

Since late summer 2005, Union Power and the homeowners of the Stonegate subdivision in Wesley Chapel have been battling over the placement of a power substation adjacent to their neighborhood.

What’s a permit among friends?

Union Power’s plans for a substation was first discovered in August 2005, when they applied for a ‘condition use’ permit from Wesley Chapel. No prior notice was given, no signs were posted, Union Power just showed up at the Planning Board meeting for the first stage of the process.

For years, the previous Wesley Chapel Council had been very cozy with the top management of Union Power, so cozy that Union Power permitted the Village Council to ‘borrow’ the company’s boardroom for meetings and planning retreats. So it was no surprise to see a Council-member and former Planning Board Chair huddled with the principals as the Planning Board reviewed and forwarded Union Power’s substation application with a positive recommendation — in less than an hour.

Belatedly on September 29, 2005, Union Power held what they must have thought would be ‘fire-storm’ quenching ‘Neighborhood’ meeting at Weddington United Methodist Church. Invitations were extended to area residents and subdivisions, including Stonegate and as distant as Berkshire, east of Waxhaw Indian Trail Road. Union Power had engineers, landscape experts, maps, aerial views, other sub-station comparisons and even a real-estate expert to assure residents that a power substation would not hurt home values. It should be noted that none of the Union Power representatives or ‘experts’ were allowed to discuss any other locations for the substation.

Two months after the Planning Board approval, a couple events took place that derailed the ‘fast-track’ Union Power was on for it’s permit. First, it took more than a month to hire a new attorney to serve during the permit process, made necessary by the recusal of the Village’s attorney, who had represented Union Power in the past. Second, the November elections brought four ‘newcomers’ into office with a resounding 2 to 1 vote plurality.

Of the previous council, only Jim Mullis remained (up in 2007), the rest of the board consisted of ‘appointed’ members, chosen to maintain the ‘old guards’ power and to approve the 3rd Village shopping center, sold for developement by a sitting councilman, but that’s another story.

The lame duck council called for a public hearing, in spite of the 800 letters of protest from Stonegate and other residents. The ‘old guard’ tried to push the substation forward, but the time remaining in office grew short as the opposition was grew stronger. Finally, they postponed the public hearing, arbitrarily specifying the exact date and time, in a churlish attempt to distrupt the new council’s inaugural meeting.

A Grueling Permit Process

The ‘Substation’ public hearings were well covered by the local media; the following articles provide an excellent review of the process.

The Enquirer Journal: Wesley Chapel council sets date for hearing on electrical substation

The Union Observer: Substation meeting draws sparks

The Union Observer: Wesley Chapel leaders reject Union Power’s substation

Wesley Chapel’s Village Council denied Union Power a conditional use permit for the site they chose by a 3-1 vote.

Incidentally, a fact not revealed until well into public hearing process, Village Council-member Jim Mullis is related to Danny Boatright, the property owner whose land was under conditional sale to Union Power.

Rubbing Salt in the Wound

Call this an ultimate slap in the face. An action so spiteful, so dispicable, the sheer audacity speaks volumes of just what is important to this corporate bully.

After losing the battle, fair and square I might add, with homeowners in Wesley Chapel, Union Power exploited a county donut hole (1) and purchased the 4 acre parcel across the street from the original location. The parcel was barely large enough to meet their needs, they’d just put the minimum screening as the rural county zoning ordiniances required.

This time, Union Power announced the purchase with a few well placed signs strategically aimed at the Stonegate subdivision. They even held a little ground breaking ceremony — just more salt in Stonegate’s wound.

The Stonegate homeowners are a resilient group of hard working people, who are not going to just roll over for such tactics. They appealed the county zoning permit granted to Union Power, but lost at the Board of Adjustment and are now appealing though the courts.


WBTV News Broadcast
Wednesday March 28, 2007 – 6:00 News
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Victory at any cost

Union Power is a member owned utility, customers are shareholders of the corporation. In a monolithic power play, the co-op spent countless thousands of dollars on half-page newspaper advertisements, high priced lawyers and consultants — just to flatten the local opposition. No negotiation, no communication — just the exercise of raw might and money.

The WBTV report brought out an interesting perspective, one that has not been examined in depth. How much Union Power was willing to spend of co-op money to win. Like a scene from the movie ‘Godfather’, Union Power ‘made an offer nobody could refuse’ when the agreed to pay $90,000 per acre on the first location and over $125,000 per acre for the second location. As mentioned in the report, the adjacent property went for $42,000 per acre — Union Power paid more than triple the going rate.

How can they justify this waste of shareholder money.

It appears the answer is that ‘they don’t have to’.

To some winning at any cost is justification enough.

Reader Note: Union Power Co-operative is an ‘unregulated’ utility – exempted by the NC legislature.

  1. parcel of land under county zoning jurisdiction []

Mar 272007
 

It seems that Mecklenburg State Senator Dan Clodfelter does have other work besides waging a legal war against Wesley Chapel’s ETJ.

Mr. Clodfelter authored a bill that would double the current ‘transfer tax’ of $1 per every $500 of real estate value. The state and a few ‘favored’ counties will net $141 million in transfer fees this year alone.

OxesAs reported in the Charlotte Observer, “Clodfelter said the bill could be changed, if it goes forward at all. He said he introduced it before this month’s deadline in case it’s needed as a vehicle for proposals from a commission studying North Carolina’s tax system.”

Introduced just before the Senate deadline, only in case the bill is needed. That’s a familiar refrain? Finance Committee members must share strategies.

The proposed tax is popular among the cash strapped counties, who see this as a means to reduce pressure on raising property taxes, tied directly into the growth engine, but not solely dependent on new home construction as an impact tax would be.

Union County’s ‘Developer Majority’ commissioners have voiced support of the ‘Transfer Tax’ idea among other ‘new’ revenue ideas offered during the recent Planning Conference.

More evidence that ‘Residential growth doesn’t pay for itself’; we need something to begin to balance the tax burden after 10 years of subsidizing the home builders with cheap sewer and bonus building densities, a ridiculous give-away during this ‘mother’ of all home building booms.

Charlotte Observer: Realtors launch ads against tax plan

From the story:

“Taxing the equity in your home is like taxing the American Dream,” one ad says. “It’s a bad idea.”

“What we’re trying to do is educate the public and get them involved in the dialogue,” said Tim Kent, executive vice president of the 42,000-member organization. “We’re confident that the public is opposed to a tax on equity, and they’ll let their legislators know about it.”

Meanwhile, NC Realtors spokesman Tim Kent said “there are other ways to handle such costs.” None of the advertisements mentioned ‘other ways’, just that the ‘Transfer Tax’ isn’t it. Perhaps Mr. Kent could explain how this tax is any different than other taxes homeowners pay.

It is just another case a self-serving special interest group looking out for it’s industry, fearing a negative impact on sales, that warrants saying anything, regardless of how misleading.

The ‘American Dream’ doesn’t belong to one party or one industry — over-crowded schools and over-burdened roads, now that’s a NC reality!

Mar 242007
 

Every once an a while, I think it’s a good idea to poke our political noses over the fence and see what’s happening on the national level. I know it’s a tough to tear oneself away from Union County, as we such drama going on — who needs anymore. Besides, who can compare with the entertainment value our local politicians. To that end, it seems to be a matter of trailing zeros on the donation checks.

This video was posted anonymously to YouTube.com and caused a major ruckus among the Democratic party politocos and the Hillary allies in the mainstream media. The scariest thing is how close to the truth it all is.

‘Hillary 1984′ Attack Ad

NewsMax.com: Hillary Meets ’1984′ Big Sister

…”They get to call Hillary Clinton a pablum-spewing pseudo-fascist, without having to own it.”…

Billing Records????? Flying ashtrays??? Vince Foster Suicide?? So many questions — darn few answers.

I have to admit it, I am just not a fan of Mrs. Bill Clinton. No sax no appeal.

Mar 212007
 

Over the past two weeks, contrary to various news reports and articles, Union County citizens are being asked by Senator Goodall to believe only his good intentions. He denies charges that his efforts to undercut Wesley Chapel’s quest of fair and due process(1) is at the behest of developer community, who lavishly financed his last campaign.

A campaign, where he ran unopposed, but raked in tens of thousands in contributions from local developers.

He is asking you to ignore the language of the local bill(2) he submitted to strip Wesley Chapel’s ETJ zoning authority, legally granted by Union County’s Board of Commissioners last November, rescinded by the new ‘Developer’ majority in December and now subject to the two year phase out stipulated by statue.

Senator Goodall wants you to ignore what you see and hear in this report:


WBTV News Broadcast
Wednesday March 14, 2007 – 6:00 News
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WBTV On Your Side Investigation: Is Influence ‘For Sale’ in Union County? Part II

Charlotte Observer: Wesley Chapel dispute grows

He is asking you to ignore past campaign promises, like this one:

    There are big differences in our district. The further east you go, the poverty level increases. In Union County, I think its balancing quality of life — retaining the farmlands with economic opportunity that growth does offer us. That’s the challenge. And solutions to those issues need to be worked on and decided by local officials. I would support them by not trying to make those decisions in Raleigh.” — Eddie Goodall written response to the Union Observer candidate questions.

Fast forward to the present and contrast the following except from the Senators ‘Press Release’:

    “Factors that pointed toward state legislative intervention are: the potential substantial legal cost to taxpayers, the potential protracted time-line of litigation, the ETJ landowners’ added uncertainty and restrictions regarding their property rights during negotiations or litigation, their uncertainty with respect to representation and, the ability for ETJ powers to be removed after twenty-four months. In addition to respecting the law and the town’s autonomy, I also represent all of Union County and must attend to its interests.”

The good Senator fails to mention or acknowledge an agreement between Wesley Chapel and Union County to co-manage the ETJ property during the litigation process, thereby removing landowners ‘uncertainty’ and frankly placing the burden on the court to solve the issue.

When you carry a hammer like ‘local legislative authority’, then chipping a corner off North Carolina’s Constitution is not a real problem, now is it.

Article XIV, Section 3 of the North Carolina Constitution, which provides:

    Whenever the General Assembly is directed or authorized by this Constitution to enact general laws, or general laws uniformly applicable throughout the State, or general laws uniformly applicable in every county, city and town, and other unit of local government, or in every local court district, no special or local act shall be enacted concerning the subject matter directed or authorized to be accomplished by general or uniformly applicable laws, and every amendment or repeal of any law relating to such subject matter shall also be general and uniform in its effect throughout the State.

Regardless of how Senator Goodall presents his perspective, his actions of taking Commissioner Kevin Pressley’s side in the case of Wesley Chapel vs Union County speaks volumes. He was quick to protest House Representative Pryor Gibson’s legislation giving ETJ for Wingate and Marshville, bypassing the Union County Commissioners in the process, but here Wesley Chapel followed the statue to the letter only in the end to be double-crossed misinformed by the Senator who apparently has left impartiality at the curve.

Come on Senator, you can’t expect people to believe your acting the citizen’s interest when an effected developer claims Wesley Chapel’s ETJ will nix a deal he had with the ‘Developer Majority’ for a mixed use rezoning, costing him $3 million and this same developer is one of your largest campaign contributors.

“If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, then by cricketty! it must be a Senator Eddie Goodall”

  1. The Village of Wesley Chapel has filed suit to force Union County to adhere to NC Statue governing ETJ. []
  2. RULE 39.1. Local bills; (a) A public bill is a bill affecting 15 or more counties. A local bill is one affecting fewer than 15 counties. Local bill are typically passed without debate or question. []