“Top 9” for 2019

At the end of 2018, I wrote a “Top 8 for 2018” post that included links to the 8 most-viewed blog posts on this site for the calendar year.

I’m a fan of tradition, so here’s your top 9 posts for the year 2019:

9. Cumberland County Commission Districts are Unconstitutional: This post examines the racially gerrymandered nature of Cumberland County’s Commission Districts and discusses recent court opinions that call into question their constitutionality.

In short: The districts are drawn on racial lines without a compelling government justification. They need to be redrawn.

8. Historic Pandering in NC-09 Congressional Race: This post discussed the political history of the Lumbee Tribe and recent Republican gains in Robeson County. It will be interesting to see whether Robeson County supports Trump in the 2020 election.

7. The Case for At-Large Seats – Fayetteville City Council: I wrote this one after abysmal turnout in last year’s municipal elections. Fayetteville’s City Council Districts chop the City into 9 in-congruent parts. At-large seats would give Fayetteville voters the ability to choose more than one member of their city council and would create council members accountable to the entire city, not “their” particular districts:

“Council members have an incentive to look after “theirs” without regard to the needs of those in other districts or the city as a whole. As it stands today, the Mayor is currently the only decision-maker on Hay Street that is accountable to all of us. “

6. The Giving Trees of Fayetteville: This post analyzed the controversy over the City Council lowering fines for cutting down large trees in town. I pointed out a mistake in the Fayetteville Observer’s coverage of the issue and took the position that the fines were excessive, angering some of my readership.

5. When the Law Says it All: This post examines the legality of Fayetteville’s Downtown Development Project (a parking deck) under the North Carolina Statutes governing these projects.

Facility for a public purpose??? You be the judge…if the deck ever opens.

4. Dirty Bucks and Studies (Downtown Fayetteville): In this post I compared the parking infrastructure problems in downtown Fayetteville to the shoes I used to wear to church as a young man.

Image result for dirty bucks

You also have the double entendre of “dirty” money in politics. I had fun writing it.

3. Prince Charles Holdings Under Scrutiny: This one discussed the News and Observer’s investigation into Fayetteville’s downtown development partners:

Readers of this site know I’ve been critical of the parking deck deal with Prince Charles Holdings for well over a year. I don’t believe it is a good allocation of tax payer resources, and it arguably violates the public purpose requirement of the North Carolina Constitution. In short, it’s an economic windfall for Prince Charles Holdings. But should we be surprised??? These guys literally wrote the book on how to do these deals. Of course they’re going to come out on top.

Today, the massive crane kept lifting steel in the air as construction continued downtown. The stadium should be done in a few months with the parking deck to follow. We seem to be stuck in this deal, despite the cost overruns. It’s going to happen.

In the last analysis, it’s a sad day for the City of Fayetteville when our downtown “business partners” are being exposed in “sunshine week” at the News and Observer.

Play Ball!!!

2. “Write-In” Campaign Gains Traction in City Council Race: This one was a case-study in Fayetteville politics: we often chirp an awful lot about things that don’t really matter. In this case, Mayor Colvin and Val Applewhite helped start the commotion around Dominique Ashley’s write-in campaign for city council. I fell into the trap, as did many others. On election day, Ashley was trounced by the incumbent, Tisha Waddell.

1. Full Court Press Downtown: This post is the culmination of all the problems I’ve had discovering the details of Fayetteville’s downtown development project. The plans for the deal have evolved into some kind of ephemeral legal smoke, and you can’t get a straight answer from anyone that should know what is going on. It’s frustrating, to say the least.

I can honestly tell you (and I hope I’ve gained your trust after these few years) that our City leaders have no idea what’s going on with this deal. Someone else is driving the ship.

In the end, it’s an irresponsible way to play with the full faith and credit of the City of Fayetteville.


I’ll try to keep shining a light in 2020. Maybe we’ll get somewhere.

Thanks for reading.

Cumberland Left Flank May Flip 8th District in 2020

Cumberland County has long since been carved into congressional districts that run a three-mile drive west. When your geographic voting block is on the flank of a district and cut in half, you lose political power, and hence, importance.

Congressional candidates (all seemingly from the western half of the District) will stop by from time to time if a new road or factory opens or they need money a few weeks before an election, but that’s about it.

This hasn’t been good for those of us that live here. We can’t elect one of our own and we get little attention.

But all that may change next year…

Washington Insider

Republican Incumbent, Richard Hudson, was groomed by the G.O.P. to be the 8th District’s Congressman. Robin Hayes held the seat from 1999 to 2009, and Hudson was Hayes’ District Manager for over half of that time. Hudson learned the ins and outs of the District along the way, and he’s never faced a serious challenge since first winning the seat in 2012.

Hudson’s “mentor” has since been indicted for corruption and bribery charges.

Image result for robin hayes indicted mugshot"

As far as I can tell, Hudson’s never had a job outside of Republican politics. He is, however, very effective at touring all of the places where real people work.

Image result for richard hudson factory"

Hudson even married inside the beltway. Hudson’s wife is the Chief of Staff for Kellyanne Conway.

Image result for kellyanne conway donald trump snl"

Which leads me to Donald J. Trump….which leads to me to 2020, where we find that the 8th District is not quite as safe as it once was for Mr. Hudson.

The District went from “red” to “pink,” as one might say on a farm somewhere in Montgomery County.

Hudson still had a reason to smile after the changes. Pink is better than blue or purple for a guy like him. But after a particular announcement last week, Hudson knows he’s got some serious work to do to hold onto to his seat.

Cumberland Challenger

Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson thinks she can win a pink district and has decided to challenge Hudson in 2020.

Image result for patricia timmons-goodson"

I think she may be right, and it will all start with her hometown.

2020 will be a referendum on Donald Trump. Democrats are sick and tired and will vote like it.

You’ll also have a highly contentious race for Governor up for grabs.

Image result for dan forrest roy cooper"

Roy Cooper will be fighting for his political life. Dan Forrest is a smart, eloquent politician and is going to come after Cooper with a boat-load of money behind him. As a result of these high-profile races, there will be massive turnout.

Cumberland County will show up to the polls in 2020. Just trust me on that.

If Timmons-Goodson does what she should do in her home county and steals enough women voters from Hudson throughout the District, she can flip this seat.

More to come on this one in 2020.

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%.