Every December, I like to do a post that features the most-read stories on Cross Creek Divide for the calendar year. I don’t know how you feel about 2021, but it flew by for me. Most of us put politics to the side while we tried to gain some sort of control back in our daily lives. Omicron wrecked all that, and now we face more unknown.
On top of that, the City of Fayetteville has a leadership crisis. Our local politicians didn’t accomplish much, choosing instead to yell at and censure one another rather than come together for the betterment of our community. I chose not to write about this drama. It doesn’t deserve your attention.
We can only hope that 2022 will improve. A lot of new folks have decided, for whatever reason, to enter the political fray. You’re going to see a lot of new names up and down your ballots this year, and this is a good thing. I hope you’ll value a person’s ability to cross partisan and racial lines as you assess their credibility as a leader. We can’t keep fighting all the time.
The Carolina Cabinet With Nat Robertson: I was on the radio back in May with Nat Robertson and we discussed a lot. At one point, I argued that Donald Trump should take credit for the vaccine and encourage his supporters to get it. This was the headline in the Washington Post last week:
A few weeks ago, former Fayetteville Mayor, Nat Robertson, announced that he is running for Congress in the new 4th District.
He’s got some company:
Here’s a map showing the new 4th District in pink:
A Republican Primary featuring Robertson and Szoka will be an intriguing political battle.
It also scares me a bit.
To win the primary, they will have to appeal to rural, white voters in Harnett, Johnson, and Sampson counties. This is farm country, and these are Trump supporters. Many have shouted “Let’s Go Brandon” in the recent past.
There’s a hatred simmering under the surface in America right now, and a lot of politicians are fanning the flames for personal gain. Here’s one of them, also running for Congress in North Carolina:
Szoka and Robertson have always been able to stay above the partisan fray. They’ve built consensus in their respective arenas and each has done a great deal of good for Cumberland County. I’ll just say it: both men are statesmen and either would represent us well in Washington.
I just hope they don’t lose their souls trying to out-Republican one another. We’ve got enough of that going on right now.
There’s a debate going on right now in the halls of Congress about how to tax billionaires. Apparently, they’ve done well in the pandemic. Democrats want to spend Trillions on infrastructure, but they can’t spend money they don’t have without increasing the deficit. Billionaires have a ton of money, but they are very good at avoiding taxes, often by “sitting” on their assets. Under the current tax code, billionaires aren’t taxed unless they “realize” a gain in their assets by selling them for more money than they paid to get them.
For example, Elon Musk holds a lot of Tesla Stock. His Tesla stock holdings can quintuple in value in a few years. Musk doesn’t pay a dime in taxes unless he sells some of his shares. Billionaires like Musk can maintain their extravagant lifestyles by simply borrowing against their holdings. This borrowed money isn’t “income.” The short of it is you get to be filthy, greasy, grimy rich and not pay taxes.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
There’s a big tax bill that’s coming due at the end of this year in Cumberland County. The money our local government receives from this bill will be used to pay for local infrastructure, specifically, a baseball stadium. At least, that was the plan…
Your local government spent close to 20 Million Dollars to “stimulate” economic development downtown by building a parking deck for private developers. They called it “Project Homerun.” The developers were to take the free parking deck and develop on top of it. It was supposed to be the tallest building in Fayetteville and look like this:
The idea was sold as an economic “win-win” for the taxpayers and the developers. Fayetteville could build its baseball stadium on borrowed money, without having to raise taxes on its citizens. The city’s debt would be paid back over time from increased property tax revenues in the area around the stadium. A fun new way to borrow money called a “Synthetic TIF” (Tax Incremental Financing) was utilized.
Years later, the deal still feels synthetic. The deck is just a deck.
It’s going to be a deck for the foreseeable future, but we’ve still got a stadium to pay for.
Tax Bill Coming Due
The developers increased the cost of Project Homerun multiple times over the course of several years of delayed construction. In return for increased taxpayer investment, the developers “guaranteed” they would pay a certain amount in property taxes back to the city. In 2019, the developers agreed to a “Minimum Assessed Tax Value” of $45,000,000. Click “Download” to view the Agreement:
If the developers don’t pay by December 31, they’re breaching their contract with the citizens of Fayetteville.
But that’s nothing new.
In my view, this one comes back to the “Golden Rule” of American politics: whoever has the gold makes the rule, be it Elon Musk or our “partners” in downtown Fayetteville. This principle of course, is undemocratic, and we tend to hate it as Americans. Still, we know it’s around us, all the time. We call it “Good Ol’ Boy” or give it some other name, but we know its there. I’m a lawyer and a politician’s son. Trust me, it’s there. In this case, sadly, we’ve made it the centerpiece of downtown Fayetteville.
This deal and others like it are facilitated behind the scenes, where money, power and influence are wielded outside of the public’s view. When you try to dig into it, you get lots of documents. But the documents are amended more often than they are enforced. You never know what’s really going on. You’re not supposed to.
Perhaps the most egregious mistake (be it intentional or not) our local leaders made in this case was keeping the identities of the investors a secret. I’m convinced that the majority of our City Council doesn’t know who they are. We can’t find out through public records requests. I’ve tried. When I asked Nat Robertson (the Mayor at the inception of this project) on his radio show if he knew who the investors were, he responded: “I know by rumor only.”
When a government is not transparent, it falls on our free press to investigate and publish the truth. We screwed that one up too:
“City risks aside, the idea in some quarters that the Prince Charles people are getting over is not true. This is a true partnership, to include the Woodpeckers, where the partners are hand-in-hand and will rise or fall together.”
Do you see the absurdity of this editorial from 2019? Who are “the Prince Charles people“? Did you even bother to ask?
It’s funny we tolerate the lack of transparency in our public institutions because we don’t in our personal lives. As a practical matter, would any of you continue to do business with partners you don’t know? How about if they never do what they promised? Of course you wouldn’t. Neither would the Mayor or the members of the City Council in their own affairs. But when it’s someone else’s money at risk, they’re more than happy to go into the back room, shielded from the press and the public meetings law under the guise of “economic development,” just to get the short end of another deal with another mysterious LLC.
Can we not do this, this time?
Say “No” For Once
Our development partners, whoever they are, have failed to meet their contractual obligations at each and every turn in this multi-year saga. Each time they came back to the well, our City Council and Mayor obliged. It’s a near certainty that these developers are going to ask for another amendment in a few months when their 2021 tax bill comes due. They will probably blame Covid-19, even though the contract required that they begin construction on top of the deck in 2019, before Covid hit the United States. But reality doesn’t matter, only public perception, and it’s hard to perceive anything in the dark.
It’s time for our city leadership to stand up to these folks, in public. Enforce the contractual rights of the citizens of Fayetteville. We paid for this mess. If the taxpayers can’t realize our gains, at least let us recoup our losses.
In the meantime, I’ll keep shining the flashlight as far as it’ll go, and I hope you’ll keep reading.
I had the chance to visit Charleston, South Carolina this summer. I went fishing and drug Mrs. Richardson along. On a Sunday morning, we left the shipping channel and rounded Fort Sumter on a high tide to chase redfish behind James Island. The waves lapped against the old brick walls in the grey dawn. These walls survived artillery fire and hurricanes and the waves of a thousand flood tides. They’ll be there when we’re gone.
I also visited a Revolutionary War prison that housed the Patriots of Charleston during the British occupation. I saw a certain flag in the museum, designed by a South Carolinian in 1775:
As Americans, we don’t like being told what to do by a powerful executive. If we did, we’d still be British citizens.
Speaking of waves, we can’t agree on how to deal with them:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced results from a study Friday that found unvaccinated individuals were 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people.
The research, spanning more than 600,000 people in 13 jurisdictions, also determined that unvaccinated populations were over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized — figures that underscore COVID-19 vaccines protect recipients from deaths and hospitalizations. The study also showed that unvaccinated people were 4 1/2 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than the fully vaccinated.
Despite the data, Republican Governors in the South think making people get a shot is government overreach. Here’s Alabama’s Kay Ivey:
Today, the RNC announced it would sue the Biden Administration over the new mandates.
You shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not. If our history has taught us anything, it’s that freedom comes with a price, and that price is paid in blood.
Unfortunately, in America, the pain is often self-inflicted.