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New U.S. – Mexico aviation bilateral

And that may very well not be a good thing for Charlotte travelers going to Mexico City using US Airways’ existing nonstop flight. Here’s why: The current aviation treaty between the U.S. and Mexico restricts the number of airlines per nation that can fly a particular route to two (to Mexico City) or three (to tourist destinations in Mexico) with “route” defined by market, not airport. In addition, Mexico City International Airport (MEX) is capacity (slot) constrained and its difficult to get additional landing and takeoff slots at reasonable times.

Current daily US Airways flights to Mexico City are: Charlotte 1, Phoenix 2
Current daily American Airlines flights to Mexico City are: Dallas/Ft. Worth 5, Miami 4, Chicago O’Hare 1
American Airlines is not among the pair of U.S. airlines allowed to fly to Mexico City from either New York or Los Angeles though it does codeshare on Alaska Airlines’ LAX-MEX service.

The details of the new deal between the two countries, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, haven’t been announced yet. However, the rumors are that it will include a lifting on the cap on airlines on a particular route. If that’s correct, then CLT is definitely at risk of losing its Mexico City flight. The new treaty isn’t going to eliminate slot caps at MEX, which means that the new American still can have only 13 flights a day to there. And let’s be honest here: It’s questionable whether keeping the existing Charlotte – Mexico City flight would be the best use of one of those limited takeoff and landing rights, if both NYC and Los Angeles become possibilities 13 months from now for the merged airline.

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Some NASCAR HOF loans to be written off?

Catching up on stuff. So it seems that the city is asking Wells Fargo and Bank of America to forgive a $19 million ($21 million with interest) loan for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Why is the city doing this? Well, this quote from the UPoR sums up the situation nicely:

The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, which manages the hall for the city, said […] that the hall lost $1.4 million for the fiscal year that ended in June.

In the previous year, the loss was $1.6 million.

The CRVA is optimistic that the hall’s finances are stabilizing, as attendance has essentially leveled off.

Attendance at the hall this year was 169,724, down from 176,838 visitors in 2012-2013. The CRVA had originally estimated the hall would attract about 400,000 visitors annually.

“We feel good about stabilization,” said CRVA chief executive Tom Murray.

No one operating a business would ever feel good about “stabilizing” at losing $1.4 million a year. Nor should taxpayers feel good about running a $1.4 million a year deficit on a museum that commemorates a family-owned for-profit business. Or, again, like with the National Whitewater Center, have banks write off loans for local economic development projects — at some point no bank will be willing to offer such loans. The NASCAR Hall of Fame, the project that keeps take from local taxpayers.

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George Dunlap speaks

On Facebook, about Pat Cotham, Harry Jones, and the Charlotte Observer. You can pretty much imagine what he said. In case you’re wondering though about the specifics, Peter St. Onge of the UPoR provides a summary.

The Mecklenburg County Commission: highly dysfunctional but also highly entertaining, in a watching-a-train-wreck-in-slow motion sort-of way. If you’re into that sort of thing, of course.

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Independence Boulevard toll lane?

The UPoR reports that the state is considering converting the existing reversible bus lane on Independence into a reversible HOT lane. What?

I’ve lived in this town long enough to see the purpose for that Independence reversible lane change a couple of times — originally, it was suppose to be a reversible HOV lane. Then, somewhere along the way, it was determined that it didn’t meet current standards or was otherwise unsuitable for use by the general motoring public but CATS’ skilled bus drivers could safely make use of it. So it has always operated as a busway. Now comes word that for a mere $13 million the lane can be used as a reversible HOT lane. It’s exactly these sorts of whipsaw changes that undermine faith in government. I would most certainly like someone for the state or city department of transportation to explain to the public why the lane is now suitable for use as an HOT (or HOV) lane now when previously that wasn’t an option. Somehow I don’t imagine government officials volunteering an answer to that question…

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Revelations Rekindle Concerns in Indian Trail

Carolina Journal’s Dan Way has a story out today on past management and compensation practices in Indian Trail. Because of the local interest, I’ll reprint the story in full:

RALEIGH — 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 ex-mayor Sandy Moore also received extra compensation to which she was not entitled.

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

Those residents 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 stormwater 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 Bonterra.” 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 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 rubberstamping 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 without success for years 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’s 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 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. 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.

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Most major malls open at 6pm on Thanksgiving

So reports the Charlotte Observer. Which is to say that Thanksgiving, once the second most important holiday, is increasing becoming just a speed burp in the holiday shopping madness. Sad.

Bonus thought: Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post as a pretty amusing column out on the ever expanding Christmas shopping season. A highlight:

Is it any wonder there’s a war on Christmas? Christmas is a territorial aggressor.

No wonder people are irate that you’re erecting a Nativity scene in the town square. You’re erecting it there on Nov. 5th! We’ve barely recovered from the election! Maybe there would not be such a war on Christmas if Christmas had not invaded Thanksgiving. And this year it was clearly making a play for Halloween. Columbus Day is next. No one even celebrates Columbus Day anymore, so it is unlikely to put up much of a fight.

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Critics Seek Regs For Ride-Sharing Services

Have a new column out for Carolina Journal on ride-sharing services. It reads in full:

Regulation stifles innovation, resulting in poor-quality products at higher prices for consumers. And removing long-established regulations takes a massive effort, usually driven by obvious massive benefits that an emerging new industry offers.

That’s the difficult situation ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft are facing today as they attempt to provide an alternative to existing taxicabs.

While the concept of private individuals using their own cars to transport passengers for money may seem like a new concept, it’s not. It first happened a century ago, as the mass production of the automobile suddenly saw an estimated 62,000 “jitneys” — slang of the time for a nickel, the typical streetcar fare — operate in 175 cities across the country.

Jitneys didn’t last long, though. They effectively were regulated out of existence across the country by 1918, in large part to protect the streetcar industry, which had better political connections. Since then, taxicab companies have faced regulations, usually from local governments, with the usual result protecting existing cab companies from competition.

Where the absurdity of such regulation reaches its zenith is at many cities’ airports. The situation at Charlotte Douglas International Airport is typical. In 2011, the Charlotte City Council approved a special set of regulations on cabs operating at the airport. The justification was that the cabs running in the Queen City weren’t nice enough and would give visitors a poor perception of the city.

The solution: Upgrade a limited number of cabs to a nicer standard, with special markings showing they are allowed to pick up fares at the airport. Only a limited number of companies — three to be exact — were permitted to operate cabs that could pick up passengers at the airport.

This is madness. These limits let the city pick winners and losers. The companies allowed to operate at the airport make a lot of money; those that aren’t have a huge disadvantage compared with the favored companies.

It’s no surprise that the winning cab companies are generous political donors. Patrick Cannon, who in 2013 was elected mayor of Charlotte, received 10 percent of his total campaign contributions from the taxicab companies selected to operate from the airport. There had been allegations that now-former mayor and convicted felon Cannon, who will begin serving a 44-month sentence on public corruption charges on Nov. 18, may have tried to shake down cab companies wanting to get in on the airport action.

Even if the charges aren’t true, the current arrangement simply encourages corruption. Still, plenty of politicos and bureaucrats have no problem with the status quo, as it gives them power over marketplace transactions. And forcing locals to rely on cabs that visitors might find too decrepit doesn’t send an encouraging signal about the general quality of taxi service in the city.

Uber and Lyft have done very well since coming to Charlotte. These services let passengers book rides using a smart-phone app. The drivers are independent contractors using their own vehicles. Drivers share their fares with the service.

“What they’ve done in the past five to six months is scary,” said Obaid Khan, co-owner of Charlotte-based Diamond Cab, to The Charlotte Observer. “They’ve set their rates so low small companies like us can’t compete with them.”

Khan wants to see Uber and Lyft regulated more strictly or have regulations loosened on cab companies.

The General Assembly is working on new regulations for ride-sharing companies. The best outcome would be a framework allowing ride-sharing companies to serve the customers who value that alternative while liberating taxi companies from excessive, costly regulations through which the government often picks winners and losers.

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Legends of the Fall

That’s the title of JLF head’s John Hood’s column today examining the varies reasons — low turnout, “voter suppression”, gerrymandering, candidates not tying themselves closely enough to President Obama — Democrats are giving for their stinging defeat in the midterm elections. John analysis? All those alleged causes don’t add up. A sample:

Just as Republicans would be foolish to react to their 2014 successes with triumphalism or complacency, Democrats are foolish to react to their 2014 losses with denial or misdirection. Yes, Kay Hagan lost primarily because of her close association with an unpopular president. That was, of course, the GOP strategy. And because the central message of Hagan’s 2008 campaign was that Elizabeth Dole voted 92 percent of the time with President Bush, Republicans may be forgiven for seeing poetic justice where Democrats see bad luck.

You can read the rest of John’s column here.

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The UPoR on the school board

From an editorial in the The Charlotte Observer today:

Crisis is instructive. It tests all the things we want in our leaders, including integrity and truthfulness. Until [Mary] McCray and the school board realize that,[Heath] Morrison’s resignation will remain a dark cloud over the district, including employees such as acting Superintendent Ann Clark, a Morrison deputy. We’re not sure what the board is gaining with its secrecy, but it’s already lost the public’s confidence.

Exactly.

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Court Fails To Draw Line In DWI Blood Draw Case

My court story of the month for Carolina Journal is on the legality of forced blood tests in DWI cases. The article in full:

RALEIGH — Drunks don’t always make the most cooperative suspects. But it’s not clear how aggressively police can pursue evidence, such as blood samples, when they apprehend a suspect who’s suspected of driving while intoxicated. And a recent ruling by the state Court of Appeals hasn’t settled the matter.

On Dec. 28, 2010, Chatham County Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Fyle responded to a call reporting suspicious activity. Fyle found Ronald McCrary apparently sleeping in a red Isuzu Trooper parked poorly in a driveway of another person’s home. When Fyle opened the car’s door, he noticed a nearly empty bottle of vodka. McCrary smelled of alcohol, had red and glassy eyes, and couldn’t stand up to perform field sobriety tests. Fyle arrested McCrary for driving while impaired.

Soon afterward, McCrary began complaining of chest pains and demanded to be taken to the hospital. Emergency medical services personnel were called. At that point, Fyle stated his plan was either to bring McCrary into the sheriff’s office for processing if EMS personnel cleared him or obtain a blood sample without a warrant if McCrary were transported to the hospital.

Fyle’s sergeant ordered McCrary to be taken to the hospital, where his “belligerent conduct accelerated.” McCrary also refused to provide a blood sample; one was taken without his consent.

McCrary eventually was convicted of driving while impaired and communicating threats. He was sentenced to consecutive 120-day prison terms on the charges.

Drawing blood is a search

At trial and again before the N.C. Court of Appeals, McCrary argued that the results of the blood sample should be suppressed.

Federal and state courts have recognized that taking blood from someone amounts to a search under both the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions. Searches conducted without a properly issued warrant are unreasonable unless conducted with probable cause and under exigent circumstances. And last year, the U.S. Supreme Court in a case called Missouri v. McNeely held that “in drunk-driving investigations, the natural dissipation of alcohol in the bloodstream does not constitute an exigency in every case sufficient to justify conducting a blood test without a warrant.” In McNeely, an officer drove a suspect to a hospital to obtain a blood sample without first obtaining a warrant after McNeely said he would refuse a breath test.

The question before the appeals court was whether the circumstances in McCrary’s case rose to the level of an exigency. Two of the three judges on the Court of Appeals’ panel held that it might, although a trial court needed to make that determination.

“We find this case to be more similar to State v. Granger than to McNeely,” wrote Judge Donna Stroud for the court.

In Granger, the Court of Appeals held that exigent circumstances existed when a DWI suspect required hospital care and no other officer was available to stay with him while the officer left to obtain a warrant.

The appeals court ruled that the trial judge should have made specific findings of fact about whether a magistrate had been available and how much time it would have required to obtain a warrant.

Judge Ann Marie Calabria dissented from the majority holding, finding that Fyle overstepped his authority and it was not necessary to ask a trial court to look for more facts.

“In the instant case, the trial court’s unchallenged findings demonstrate that Deputy Fyle’s actions fall squarely within the ambit of the example articulated by McNeely.”

The key to Calabria was that Fyle had decided to obtain a blood sample well before any exigent circumstances may have developed at the hospital.

“Deputy Fyle simply ignored our Supreme Court’s long-established directive that ‘a search warrant must be issued before a blood sample can be obtained,’” she wrote.

“He then sought to impermissibly benefit from his failure to seek a warrant by asserting that an exigency existed at the moment the blood draw was to occur. At this point, it was far too late for Deputy Fyle to consider, for the first time, whether a warrant could reasonably be obtained. ”

N.C. Court of Appeals rulings are binding interpretations of state law unless overruled by a higher court. Because of Calabria’s dissent, the state Supreme Court is required to hear the case should McCrary appeal.

The case is State v McCrary, (13-1059).

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