1.4 Million More Tax Dollars (Downtown Parking Deck)(UPDATED 11/25/19)

While the Mayor and the Fayetteville City Council are “up in arms” about contributing 7.5 Million in city money to the planned Civil War Museum, these same politicians are poised to give another 1.4 Million tax dollars to Prince Charles Holdings for a parking deck that the citizens of Fayetteville won’t get to use.

If you have missed this blog for the past few years, here’s a refresher:

P.C.H. is building a parking deck right now. They are behind schedule. We (the city) are buying the deck from P.C.H. “at cost” once it’s finally finished. After we buy the deck from P.C.H., we are obligated to lease most of the spaces in the deck to P.C.H. for 15 year terms for a really cheap price. It seems strange, right? Why would we buy the deck from P.C.H. just to lease it back to P.C.H.??? Well, it’s called an “economic development incentive.” Instead of giving P.C.H. cash (which is unconstitutional), we are being creative and “economically encouraging” P.C.H. to invest downtown by allowing them to make money off of a parking deck exchange. Presumably, this passes constitutional and legal muster, although many, including yours truly, disagree.

Now, the cost of the deck has risen, again. P.C.H. is falling on hard times, again. Taxpayers need to bail them out, again.

The City Council will vote to give P.C.H. the money at the upcoming meeting on November 25. Perfect timing, now that the election is over.

The cost of the Prince Charles parking deck has now more than doubled the entire cost of the City’s expected contribution to the Civil War Museum. At least the public will get to go use the museum, and with the rate of construction on Hay Street, the museum will probably be completed long before we ever see a Hyatt Hotel in downtown Fayetteville.

By the way, we’re not even borrowing this money in the form of bonds. (That was the original plan). This “extra” money that we have gladly used to line P.C.H.’s pockets is being taken from the general fund, away from important “city” obligations (loose leaf pickup, police, fire, parks, speed bumps, etc.).


Breakdown

This thing is beyond ridiculous.

It’s honestly starting to feel like we’re being scammed, and the frustrating part is that our City government is complicit. Simply wait until after the municipal elections, then throw another 1.4 Million Dollars at our new “business partners,” even though we have a completely enforceable contract price of $14,845,000 $16,345,000 already.

Here’s exactly what will happen at the upcoming meeting: all of the council members and the Mayor will express “grave concerns” about giving P.C.H. the additional funds. They will post-pone the vote a few weeks seeking “assurances” that Fayetteville will “recoup its investment” over time.

A few weeks later, they will vote to give them the money.

It’s happened before.


When they ask for more money in a few months, I’ll change some numbers around and re-post this article.


UPDATE – NOVEMBER 25

Tonight, the City Council and the Mayor unanimously voted to give our development partners the money. They claim it is for “SOFT COSTS” that the City is obligated to pay under its contract with the developers.

The developers have already breached the contract in two ways:

  1. The original price went up 1.5 million several months ago; and
  2. The deck was supposed to be completed October 1. It isn’t finished.

City Leadership hasn’t seemed to mind either breach.

But I hope you will sleep at night knowing that you, as a taxpayer, honored your end of this deal.

Maybe you’ll get to park in the deck one day.

Cumberland County Commission Districts Are Unconstitutional

That’s a bold headline, I know. Here’s why it’s true:

One Person, One Vote

Cumberland County’s Commission is strange in the way it elects its members. The Current Districts were selected in 2011. Here’s the map:

  • Two individuals are elected out of District 1. District 1 had 70,965 registered voters in 2011.
  • Three individuals are elected out of District 2. District 2 had 121,545 registered voters in 2011.
  • Two members are elected “at-large.” Everyone in the County gets to vote for these members.

This one is pretty obvious. If you live in District 1, you only get to vote for 4 out of the 7 members of the commission. If you live in District 2, you get to vote for 5 out of the 7 members.

This violates the principle of “one-person, one-vote” that was established by our Supreme Court several decades ago. I’m not going to give you a legal treatise on the subject, but the gist is this: districts should be formulated in such a way to ensure that everyone’s vote counts the same.

It’s an equal protection problem when a system is set up to give certain people more “say” in their elected body. Right now, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that a voter in District 2 has more power than a voter in District 1 in Cumberland County.

Racial Gerrymander

These Districts are “odd” for a reason. They were set up this way to ensure we had at least two minority members on the County Commission:

  • District 1 is 58% Black (registered voters). The two current commissioners from District 1 are black.
  • District 2 is 60% White (registered voters). The three current commissioners from District 2 are white.

Click “Download” to read the County Commission’s Own Data from 2011. “Alternative A” was chosen:

You’ll see that Cumberland County literally drew its commission district boundaries along racial lines. Nothing else, but race, seemed to matter.

Those in charge selected this map in an attempt to comply with the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act. They wanted to ensure that minorities had an opportunity to get elected. This requirement is no longer law. It was struck down, one year later in 2012 in the case of Shelby County v. Holder. The Supreme Court held that states and counties (like Cumberland) no longer had to ask permission from the Justice Department when making changes to their election systems.

Cooper v. Harris

In 2011, at the same time Cumberland was drawing its commission districts, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature gerrymandered the living daylights out of our state’s congressional districts. Republicans “packed” African Americans into districts to ensure Republicans would win the majority of the seats. They succeeded.

The plans were challenged, and struck down.

The Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to draw districts on racial lines in the absence of a compelling government interest that was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Following the Voting Rights Act is a compelling interest but you have to show that minorities have a history of losing before you pack them into their “special district.” The map-makers hadn’t done this, so they lost.

Breakdown

That’s a lot of law summarized and condensed into a blog post. All you really need to know is this: times have changed, and the law has evolved with the times. Cumberland County’s election system hasn’t.

Charles Evans, an African American, recently won an at-large seat on the Cumberland County Commission. African Americans have won multiple county-wide judicial races as of late, and once everyone is sworn in, the Fayetteville City Council will be made of 7 African Americans and 2 Whites.

In short, we shouldn’t racially gerrymander in Cumberland County. It’s not needed. It’s a vestige of the past, and it further factions our community, increasing racial tensions. More importantly, it’s unconstitutional.

These maps are ripe for a judicial challenge. If they are not challenged, they will be re-drawn in 2021, and when that happens, they should be drawn fairly and give every citizen of Cumberland County an equal say.


Note: Thanks to City Councilman Ted Mohn for drawing attention to this issue.

Turnout and Progress

A random sampling of the turnout from Tuesday’s Municipal Elections in North Carolina:

Durham County: 18.32% Turnout

  • Durham has “at-large” seats on its City Council

Wake County: 13.25% Turnout

  • Raleigh has “at-large” seats on its City Council (not on ballot Tuesday)

Mecklenburg County: 17.05% Turnout

  • Charlotte has “at-large” seats on its City Council

Guilford County: 17.93% Turnout

  • Greensboro and High Point have “at-large” seats on their City Councils.

New Hanover: 17.93% Turnout

  • Wilmington has “at-large” seats on its City Council.

Cumberland County: 9.5% Turnout

  • No “at-large” seats on Fayetteville City Council.
  • Two incumbents lose with vote counts in the hundreds:
  • Myron Pitts calls election results “historic” because minorities and women win. Pitts makes the case against “at-large” seats in the Fayetteville Observer:
  • Pitts credits his brother for leading the charge to eliminate three “at-large” seats in 2001. Pitts said “at large seats concentrated power in the hands of just a few” and the council would “be more representative of our diverse city” if the three at-large seats were eliminated.

A quick summary of the arguments for at-large seats:

  1. The ability of each citizen to vote for more than one member creates more voter “say” in the composition of the council.
  2. More “say” leads to increased election participation, interest, and voter turnout (see all the cities above for proof).
  3. At-large representatives are more responsive to the needs of the entire city and must gain city-wide consensus to lead.

A quick summary of the arguments against at-large seats:

  1. Only rich people can afford to run city-wide. Minorities and women (presumably less affluent) will not win and the Council won’t look like Fayetteville as a whole.

We can keep having the lowest turnout in the state, or we can follow the lead of Durham, Wilmington, Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, and High Point and put some at-large seats back on the council.

Fayetteville has evolved, and African American and women candidates are winning city-wide and county-wide races in record numbers. Pitts should welcome this news. These were historic elections and they demonstrate that fears of rich, white people controlling everything are out-dated.

Progress with the times, Fayetteville. You’re better than 9.5%.

On Eve of Municipal Election, Fayetteville Desires More Choice

The results of our City Council “Make-Up” poll are in. The overwhelming majority of participants support the addition of “at-large” seats to the Fayetteville City Council:

This is not surprising. Right now, each Fayetteville citizen gets to vote for two out of ten decision-makers in City Hall (the Mayor and their particular district’s councilman or woman). To put it a different way, your vote impacts only 20% of your city’s government, and the rest is left to others across town.

Twenty percent doesn’t get you very far, and we’re in a pretty sad state right now. We just had the lowest municipal election turnout in the State of North Carolina, and I doubt we’ll see any kind of sea-change tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow’s election, I won’t be voting. The Mayor and my City Councilman (Johnny Dawkins) are unopposed. There’s been no write-in campaign in my district, unlike District 3. I have no say, besides chirping about it on an internet blog.

I would like some more say, some legitimate say, and it seems from the poll results that many agree with me.

This change would absolutely make a difference. It’s time to put some “at-large” seats on the council. It’s time to get the entire City of Fayetteville involved in choosing its leadership.

The status quo is stagnant.

REMATCH.

If you were reading this blog last year, you’ll note that I covered the Kirk deViere – Wesley Meredith battle for North Carolina’s 19th Senate District extensively.

You could say I know what I’m talking about when it comes to this race. Last year, I publicly predicted each candidate’s share of the vote within .03 of a percentage point, two days before the election. It’s one of the greatest success stories in the history of Cumberland County political punditry.

In all seriousness, it looks like “Senator” Meredith didn’t take kindly to sitting out this last term, and he’s raising money for a rematch:

Someone’s gotta pay for those glossy, glittery ads.

If you’d like to help ensure our mailboxes are painted pink next year, I’m sure Meredith would love to see you at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden.

This “swing” district is a microcosm of the partisan battle going on in this state. The race is worth your attention if you care about politics, at all.

Just be careful this time around. That glitter gets everywhere.