Nov 112014
 

Revelations Rekindle Long-Running Concerns
in Indian Trail

by Dan Way
Associate Editor

A former Indian Trail town planner testified under oath in Sep­tember that in the early 2000s, town leaders ordered him to commit illegal acts in approving developers’ plans. The revelation has rekindled long-running concerns about govern­ment corruption in the Union County municipality.

For years, town watchdogs and former elected officials have contended that former town manager John Munn, now deceased, improperly received $400,000 in pay beyond his part-time, $45,000 annual salary, and that ex-mayor Sandy Moore also received ex­tra compensation to which she was not entitled.

Town Council has routinely de­nied public records requests related to those issues.

Critics now say former town planner Lee Bailey’s sworn testimony corroborates what they have claimed all along — developers pull the strings of town government, and town of­ficials skirt the law to accommodate them.

“The town’s agenda is a partner­ship with these developers. It has been for years,” said former mayor John Quinn, who defeated Moore in 2007 and served until 2011.

“This obsession of urbanizing Indian Trail was just curious to me. Somebody had to be benefiting from it because the residents weren’t happy” with the rapid growth, rising crime, and lax enforcement of building and planning codes under Munn’s 10-year tenure that ended with his firing in De­cember 2005, Quinn said.

Bailey “claims that he was di­rected by the mayor to engage in ille­gal activity” to approve development plans, said attorney Steve Smith, who deposed Bailey in September.

Smith represents the Bonterra Vil­lage subdivision homeowners associa­tion against the developers, R.D. Har­rell Company, in a $1.5 million lawsuit alleging shoddy construction of roads and storm-water systems, substandard repairs, and noncompliance with plan­ning guidelines. A settlement was reached in October.

“Abso­lutely not, that’s ridiculous,” Moore, the for­mer mayor, said of Bailey’s alle­gations. “I have no idea” why he would say that.

“I cer­tainly hope” all development projects during her tenure were done according to code and legal standards, Moore said.

Smith said Bailey, who was dis­missed in 2005 by Munn, “was clear in his deposition that none of those [un­lawful] activities were related to Bon-terra.” He was unable to press Bailey about the alleged illegal acts during the deposition, he said, because the plans for Bonterra were approved in 2001 before Bailey started working for the town.

Moreover, Bailey signed a non­disclosure agreement with the town. Indian Trail gave him a partial waiver of that agreement to discuss Bonterra matters only.

“I think it’s highly unusual for a planning director to have a confidenti­ality agreement,” Smith said.

“I can’t answer that,” Moore said when asked about the nondisclosure agreement. “I think that’s probably part of personnel records that are part of North Carolina law.”

Smith asked Town Council on Sept. 23 for the partial waiver. Some council members unsuccessfully at­tempted to rescind the entire speech ban “because they didn’t see the utility in continuing to  keep these secrets  from the public,”  Smith said.

During the deposition, town attorney Keith Merritt said he represented both Bailey

and the town. “I think that’s extremely, extremely unusual” for a town-Paid attorney to be at a deposition in a case in which the town is not a party, Smith said.

“The town was there to protect its own interests. They were not there to protect Lee Bailey’s interests, I guaran­tee you that,” Smith said.

When he tried to ask Bailey ques­tions beyond the scope of the confiden­tiality waiver, Merritt “objected on the basis of privilege, and directed the wit­ness not to respond,” Smith said.

Smith said Bailey testified that when he was town planner “he was uncomfortable because certain devel­opers had unusual access to the mayor and to John Munn.”

Smith said developers got plan approvals for areas that “would not make monetary sense [unless] they had control over the local politicians who could direct sewer and water to those areas.”

As mayor, Quinn had testy rela­tions with the council as he investigat­ed Munn’s salary and other town poli­tics. He has tried unsuccessfully to get a local or state law enforcement agency to investigate Indian Trail.

“Why doesn’t anybody care?” he asked after Bailey testified about the town’s alleged illegal activities. “He said it under oath.”

Quinn provided Carolina Journal with an audio recording made several years ago in which Bailey made state­ments similar to those in the deposi­tion.

“I wasn’t rubber-stamping all the plans and letting things ride,” Bai­ley said on the recording. While there were threats and attempts by Munn and Moore to bully him, “There’s no smoking gun” in which he was threat­ened with “any bad acts.”

Quinn asked if the actions Bailey was asked to perform were criminal in nature.

“Probably,” Bailey responded. “But you know, at this point I have no

interest in going back and creating [in­audible]. John’s passed away, and San­dy’s no longer mayor, so what would it accomplish?”

Jonathon Baer has been attempt­ing for years without success to get information about Munn’s salary over­payments and public documents of other town business.

Baer believes there is a “culture of corruption” that leads to “the atti­tude that the only way to get informa­tion or the only way to have any kind of transparency is for the citizens to sue the government, and that is pre­posterous.”

He said Bailey received compen­sation with the confidentiality agree­ment.

“When you put two and two together, it looks like hush money,” Baer said. Quinn called it a suspicious “golden parachute” laced with several months’ pay.

Former councilwoman Mercedes Cass said Munn was fired because “there were a lot of crooked things go­ing on.” He threatened to sue council members individually if they withheld payments he said he earned.

No formal contract could be found to show Munn’s salary was only $45,000 for 25 hours of work per week. Council members ultimately declared Munn was owed the hundreds of thou­sands of dollars, citing accounting er­rors as the reason the payments didn’t appear earlier.

Cass said Moore received over­payments as mayor of $200 monthly, approved by Munn but not authorized by the council.

Former state representative and senator Fern Shubert briefly succeeded Munn as town manager.

“There was a whole bunch wrong with that picture” involving Munn’s pay, she said.

When his attorney threatened council members, “I begged them not to pay him that money” because there was no record of it ever being autho­rized, Shubert said.

She signed an agreement with the council to be paid the same amount Munn received, she said. The council did not pay her the higher amount when it was discovered how much Munn had paid himself.

Both Shubert and Cass said Munn’s pay was the source of heated discussions in closed meetings, records of which remain sealed despite state laws requiring them to be made public.

Smith said when he first started talking to Indian Trail residents, he had an initial impression they were “con­spiracy theorists.”

“At first blush it sounds kind of fantastic and incredible, but the more you get into it, the more you see what these people are telling you is true, and it’s very suspicious,” he said. CJ

Carolina Journal – Nov. 2014

Oct 312014
 

Elections are always contentious, a battle of messages and wills, but historically in Union County it has been the Primary Elections where the dirty tricks, brown manilla envelopes secreted to the EJ (Enquirer Journal newspaper) and nasty in your face brouhahas at the polls have taken place. The School Board races of years past have been a little more congenial.

Not so in 2014, with redistricting, a 15% County tax increase and a $91 million judgment hanging over taxpayers heads, the contentiousness of this election was all but guaranteed. Some of the school board candidates have visible alignments to sitting board members, which has fueled much of the angst and disgust.

Many people are incensed by tawdry acts such as sharing e-mails sent by concerned parents to board members with pro-redistricting citizens, bombastic Facebook and twitter posts by other board members have created a toxic atmosphere. Add to the mix, a registered Democrat running for the at-large seat, lying to voters about her affiliation and telling people that she is conservative, given the date, a witch’s cauldron at the polls.

THE CUPCAKES GROUP

Continuing with their failed 2012 strategy of strangling the school budget from the inside, the “Good Old Boys”, otherwise known as the Jays & Co. have once again jumped in with both feet by supporting Dennis Rape for the At-Large seat this year. Their 2012 Dream Team candidates; Yercheck, Stewart, Helms and Guzman double crossed them and created a new side, seemingly hell bent on raising the eastern schools to academic parity with the newcomer clusters, even though it requires busing from the west to achieve it.

I will have to invent an appropriate nickname for the BOE gang, so it will be easier to distinguish and track the groups antics. In the meantime lets call the Yercheck, Stewart, Helms and Guzman ensemble the “Cupcakes”. (In fact, as I have thought about this, I will have to write a post about all the county level groups and explain their roles.)

So just for score card purposes, indications are the CupCakes are supporting Richard Yercheck, Jason Marton, Leslie Boyd, Jimmy Bention and Casey Carver. The GOBs are the money and manpower behind Dennis Rape which leaves Sean Maher and Melissa Merrell as only candidates without a special interest group, unless you count the parents of the 5800 students whose lives were up-ended.

THE INCONVENIENT CAMPAIGN RULES
It seems that rules just don’t seem to matter to Dennis Rape and his advisers. His campaign has all the earmarks of Union County cronyism, over the top comments, false accusations of opponents, a “Hit Piece” on a candidate in the EJ (the EJ’s forte over the recent county elections).

Hugo Chavez as may be dead, but his tactics are still alive in eastern Union County.

NCGA Statue: 136.32(b) Campaign Signs

RapeBanner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday, I found this gift (pictured below) in my paper box. I heard about it previously and since I live in District 3, I wasn’t surprised to get one of my very own. I would be willing to bet that the authors of this expensive flyer are the same ones supporting Dennis Rape — just a wild guess of course.

I may fault the messenger, but it’s difficult to fault the message, as each bullet point is somewhat to mostly accurate.

The school board did sue the county, largely necessitated by belligerent tactics by the Commissioner majority plus one, who never had any intention of funding the schools properly. It really turned ugly when a couple of  commissioners went apoplectic, once they discovered the betrayal of their grand scheme, orchestrated by Yercheck and Kevin Stewart. The county was over-matched in court, and as a result taxpayers bear the brunt of the cost for the Hatfield and McCoy’s to wage a budget war.

Finally, I don’t think comparing Obama to Yercheck is really fair. It’s like comparing Bernie Madoff to a shoplifter, though I’m sure the flyer recipient gets the idea.

Tuesday’s almost here and perhaps we will find out whether or not western county residents and parents can find the polls and participate.

IMG_20141031_0001

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

Apr 022014
 

spinHave you ever had one of those days where you feel like you’re in a time warp? You know déjà vu all over again and again?

Stony Rushing is running for County Commissioner, after eight years of relative obscurity. Oh, he did pop-up in the 2008 Commissioner race, not as a candidate, but as the lead in a smear campaign for then (and now) Commissioner candidate Tracy Kuehler. That backfired and Tracy was elected despite his efforts.

So here we are in 2014 and what is amazing, at least to me is that we are starting right where we left off, eight years ago.

Once again the idea of an APFO (Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance) has risen from the ashes of a court of appeals decision that left Union County unprotected from the excesses of the developer controlled towns like Waxhaw and Indian Trail, who historically has been epicenter of  hyper-growth. Meanwhile the County has facilitated more growth by rescinding the water allocation policy and buying more water access from our neighboring counties.

Stony was and will likely be supported by the Home Builders and Developers as he was in past elections. The Home Builders didn’t like the APFO so Stony didn’t (and once again doesn’t) like the APFO. In fact, Stony has made it the lead issue of his 2014 campaign, once again characterizing has unconstitutional in North Carolina, in what is now almost generic, Stony only tells half the story.

Here is the simple fact, Union County’s APFO was overturned in NC Appeals Court for only one reason. Impact Fees! In the fall of 2006, County Commissioners voted 3-2 (Stony against) in a now famous (fix’n to get a whipping) meeting, now steeped in Union County lore. This original AFPO as presented by the Union County APFO Task Force DID NOT include mitigation fees of any kind and was eventually its undoing.

Union County still needs an APFO to prevent the building boom from once again overwhelming our school facilities.

The following article is from NC School of Government professor Richard Ducker points out that court objected to the Voluntary Mitigation Fees (as impact fees) and suggested that a straight APFO would be within the state statutes.


Coates’ Canons: Are Adequate-Public-Facility Ordinances Adequate?

With respect to many of the adequate-public-facility ordinances adopted by North Carolina counties affecting public schools the answer is apparently no. On December 8, 2009, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Union Land Owners Ass’n v. County of Union, struck down Union County’s high-profile public-school adequate-public-facility ordinance (APFO) on grounds that the ordinance was not based on appropriate state enabling authority. Similar ordinances have been or are currently enforced in the counties of Cabarrus, Lincoln, Stanly, Franklin, and Currituck, all rapidly growing counties on the fringe of metropolitan areas. Are local governments now prevented from taking the adequacy of public facilities into account in making future zoning and land subdivision decisions?

Planners have long advocated directing growth into areas that currently enjoy excess public facility capacity or that will be served by public facilities concurrently with the build-out and occupancy of the development (hence the term “concurrency”). Generally the idea with respect to public schools is that if a proposed development’s impact will not overburden the capacity of schools serving the development, the project is approved. If the impact will overburden the system, the project is denied approval. What distinguished the Union County ordinance were regulations that allowed the county to approve a development subject to certain conditions intended to mitigate the impact of a project on school capacity. Possible conditions included: (1) deferring initiation of development for five years; (2) postponing development until school capacity became available; (3) scheduling the development to match the rate of school capacity growth; (4) redesigning the proposed development to reduce the impact on school capacity; (5) requesting minor plat approval so as to exempt the proposed project from the other ordinance requirements; (6) offsetting any excess impact on school capacity resulting from the proposed development by providing a voluntary mitigation fee (VMF) to the county to build or expand schools; and (7) constructing school facilities to offset the capacity deficiency. The approval condition that apparently attracted the most attention from the court was the “voluntary mitigation fee.”

The court was clearly influenced by the case of Durham Land Owners Ass’n v. County of Durham, 177 N.C. App. 629, 630 S.E.2d 200 (2006), which invalidated Durham County’s public school impact fee for lack of statutory authorization. The court also noted the fact that Union County had sought but failed to obtain local legislation authorizing school impact fees in 1998, 2000, and 2006. The APFO may have seemed like a back-door attempt by the county to gain revenues from developers for schools despite the absence of express authority.

The Court of Appeals examined the zoning and land subdivision control enabling statutes. G.S. 153A-341 allows counties to use zoning “to facilitate the efficient and adequate provision of . . . schools . . . and other public requirements.” G.S. 153A-331 allows county subdivision ordinances to “provide for the orderly growth and development of the county . . . in a manner that will avoid congestion and overcrowding and will create conditions that substantially promote public health safety, and the general welfare.” The broad reach of this language made clear that the problem in the eyes of the court was not necessarily the purpose of APFO regulations; instead the difficulty apparently was the means employed by Union County in achieving these purposes. The court found no zoning or land subdivision authority to “impose fees or similar devices upon developers of new construction.” If the use of the VMF was a key tool implementing the ordinance, perhaps the outcome of the Union County case should come as no surprise.

How would a “pure” APFO ordinance fare that would link development approval to public facility adequacy but without a “mitigation” fee option? Discretionary standards involving public facility adequacy are sometimes used by North Carolina local government in ordinary land subdivision plat approvals and decisions involving special-use and conditional-use permits; financial mitigation measures are not involved. Perhaps an APFO system more clearly established to manage the pace of growth rather than to assign public facility costs to developers would have much better chance at passing the legal test.

What should give local government attorneys and planners pause, however, is the Spartan nature of the analysis of the Court of Appeals. The opinion includes little mention of the many North Carolina cases interpreting our zoning and land subdivision control authority. No mention is made of the case law from other states in which similar APFO provisions were upheld, a matter analyzed in amicus briefs. No reference is made to the difficult planning circumstances in which Union County has found itself during the last decade. There is no apparent recognition that inability to slow down the pace of development in rapid-growth counties to coincide with the pace of school construction may result in counties using other defensible measures to slow or halt residential development. There is little express guidance about what it would take to fashion a legally defensible alternative regulatory system.

There is another shoe that may drop that is not evident from a reading of the opinion. In the Durham County impact–fee case of 2006 the Court of Appeals ordered the illegally collected fees to be refunded, but found no authority to enable developers to collect interest on the amounts due. In 2007 the General Assembly enacted G.S. 160A-363(e) and G.S. 153A-324(b), both of which provide that if a development fee or tax, or even a monetary “contribution,” is found to be unauthorized, then the local government must return the collected taxes, fees, or contributions along with six percent (6%) annual interest. It appears that the legislation was adopted in anticipation of this very kind of Union County litigation.

On August 13, 2009, before the Union County decision was announced, a Cabarrus County superior court judge invalidated certain APFO provisions in Cabarrus County’s unified development ordinance on similar grounds. Cabarrus, Stanly, Lincoln, Franklin, and Currituck counties need to review their options and are trying to determine whether their APFO regulations can be reworked to conform with existing authority. The story also continues in Union County. The Union County Board of Commissioners voted on December 14, 2009, to petition the North Carolina Supreme Court to accept the case for discretionary review.

via Are Adequate-Public-Facility Ordinances Adequate? « Coates’ Canons.

Feb 122014
 

Due to the overwhelming response of UCPS parents from all parts of the county, a group has compiled real solutions based on facts, data and statistics gathered from committees formed from tthe January Rally in Wesley Chapel.

The Joint-Committees is striving in a continued effort to maintain a quality educational environment for ALL UCPS STUDENTS. We will continue in a united effort to tell our current BOE that redistricting is not the answer.

And to remind our elected officials that they have the opportunity to table the proposed redistricting and work with their constituents in creating solutions that will benefit all students and families.

Finally, this is not about overcrowding; the BOE numbers show the highest we go during this temporary bubble is 1041 – 4 years from now.

Please view the following presentation:

Please NOTE: The maps in the presentation are used to indicate the schools location, not to indicate proposed cluster boundaries.

Dec 232013
 

WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) -

A report reviewed by WBTV shows problems at Union County DSS go deeper than the current child abuse charges against a fired supervisor.

Investigators said Wanda Sue Larson, and her partner Dorian Harper, chained an 11-year-old boy outside with a dead chicken around his neck. Now we’ve learned an audit from almost three years ago showed Union County DSS mishandled seven out of ten randomly chosen cases.

In November 2013, Union County officials asked the state to review all the cases Wanda Sue Larson handled in her ten year career as a child protective supervisor.

But Union County Commissioners said they were not aware that a 2011 report done by the North Carolina Department of Health and Social Services showed that out of 10 cases reviewed by the state only 3 conformed to the state’s standards as being handled properly. One family waited six days for a DSS worker to investigate a serious child abuse complaint.

A reporter with the Associated Press, Mitch Weiss requested the 2011 report from the state. He said in February 2011 Union County had 45 days to put together a plan to explain how DSS would address the problems highlighted in the report.

“Union County put together a plan but they didn’t implement the entire plan,” said Weiss, “So three years later you still had some of these outstanding issues.”

Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said the county is managing the problem.

“How do we fix that? Its going to be the responsibility of the county commissioners from this point forward to make sure we look and see what reports were available to us that we never got and couldn’t have gotten under the previous structure,” said Thomas, “And that we hold staff accountable to make sure we are moving forward. That’s the only way to fix this mess.”

via Report: Union County DSS mishandled cases – WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC.


State report detailed problems with Union County DSS in 2011

MONROE After a Union County child welfare supervisor was charged with handcuffing a boy she had guardianship over to a porch with a dead chicken tied to his neck, county officials sought help reviewing cases handled by her – and the rest of her department.

They asked the state Division of Social Services to review not only Wanda Sue Larson’s cases but how Union County Department of Social Services deals with all child-welfare cases – adoptions, foster care and child protection.

But what some county officials didn’t know was that the state had already found problems with the agency nearly three years earlier as part of a routine review.

via State report detailed problems with Union County DSS in 2011.

Dec 092013
 
Mayor's Mug Shot

Mayor’s Mug Shot

From the EJ:

Mayor, board members topic of special Waxhaw meeting

Dec. 07, 2013 Heather Smith

WAXHAW — Mayor Daune Gardner is one of topics of a special called meeting of the Waxhaw Board of Commissioners.

Outgoing Mayor Pro Tem Erin Kirkpatrick called the meeting Monday at 11:30 a.m. in the town hall conference room to talk about several topics. One topic is Gardner’s “office, reimbursement for improperly charged Town credit card expenses, expenses charged to Town Credit Card non-compliant with Travel/Reimbursements and budget.”

Any action would be the last for outgoing members of the board. It comes a day before Waxhaw’s new commissioners take their oaths of office. The timing did not escape Gardner’s notice.

“As a matter of precedent, it is customary for outgoing elected officials to defer items of new business to the incoming members, particularly items that may be controversial,” Gardner wrote in a letter to the editor.

The commission will also discuss two other volunteer town board members, William Hardman and Jason Loseke, who were members of the board of adjustment and parks and recreation committee respectively. Hardman was also an unsuccessful candidate for town commissioner.

Gardner drew criticism in May when she was charged with DWI by a Waxhaw Police officer. As news of her arrest spread, so did allegations she broke town policy by using the town credit card to pay for alcohol. The board of commissioners voted to censure her.

Gardner is still awaiting a decision on her charges. Her next court appearance is Jan. 15, 2014.


The story above doesn’t begin to tell everything. That would take a book.

I wish to point out a couple of inaccuracies in the mayor’s comments. For one, the issue of the mayors credit cards and repayment is old business, and Waxhaw has a long history of the outgoing board conducting business prior to the new term and seating of new members.

From my anonymous sources, this meeting was not ALL the doing of Mayor Pro-Tem Erin Leigh Kirkpatrick, two other commissioners asked for items to be added to the agenda. The latest word is that one of those two have now decided to skip the meeting — We will have to wait an see.

The mayor earned her second DUI last May. She has DEMONSTRATED a pattern of alcohol abuse, irresponsibility and PUBLIC ENDANGERMENT.

HOW many people have had their lives disrupted or destroyed by drunk drivers?

In addition to that, there are unresolved questions concerning the USE of TOWN CREDIT CARDS to buy ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES. In a previous meeting the commissioners voted to remove the mayors travel budget and credit card privileges. The fact that SHE WAS GIVEN THEM TO BEGIN WITH boggles the mind.

Hey WAXHAW are your taxes SO LOW that you can afford to fund MAYOR PARTY anywhere she chooses to go.

TAXPAYERS and CITIZENS deserve better, but to all the in MAYOR EXCUSE SQUAD one note:

If the mayor was a regular citizen, I wouldn’t have a thing say about her behavior, but she is an elected official. Elected OFFICIALS must be held to a higher standard. We can’t allow sympathies or other emotion to cloud the issue.

She has embarrassed the citizens of WAXHAW, making you a laughing stock of the region. Nowhere that your mayor goes can she hide the facts, nor is the ridicule of Waxhaw. Stories about the Mayor’s behavior have been in the Raleigh media and of course the internet.

WE have to regain control of our elected officials, but it starts at the local level. YOU HAVE TO CARE AND DEMAND ONLY THE BEST or you get what they are only too happy to give you.

BY THE WAY, in tomorrow’s regular meeting, YOUR MAYOR has placed on the agenda, requests to restore her travel budget and credit card privileges.

Apparently the mayor has certain expectations of the new board members, taking the OATH OF OFFICE tomorrow night.