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Archive for June, 2009

From Tea Party to Charlotte City Council?

hhIt is official now, the local Tea Party protest movement has spawned a challenge to our status quo leadership. Craig Nannini, Navy vet and electrical engineer, is running for Charlotte city council at-large as a Republican.

“Charlotte is going broke. I’m a Navy veteran, so I’m familiar with the phrase ‘spending like a drunken sailor.’ That’s what our city leaders are doing,” declares Nannini, a new father who lives with his family off of Mallard Creek Rd. in north Charlotte. “They give away millions on pet projects to the politically connected. I want to ensure that every Charlottean is able to successfully accomplish their dreams.”

Nannini plans an official campaign kick-off tomorrow at 6pm at Jackson’s Java in University City.

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Is Bernie Madoff Really That Much Worse Than Jim Black?

Read over the accounts of the Ponzi scamster’s sentencing and see if the descriptions and accounts comport with how Jim Black behaved. Or not.

Also note that Madoff did not get away with claiming that some assets were jointly owned with his wife, hence beyond the reach of the court in regard to paying his fines and forfeitures.

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All Aboard the Crack Train to Detroit

We are not making that up. Amtrak was used to smuggle drugs across the country.

Which is another reason North Carolina should steer the hell clear of building “high speed” rail lines.

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Kissell Would Crush McCrory

Anyone touting out-going Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory as the guy to take down Rep. Larry Kissell must not have noticed how McCrory ran last November in the Charlotte precincts in that congressional district. Bev Perdue waxed him.

Understand what is going on here. The GOP knows that the best chance to pick off a sitting congressman is after his first term, hence all the Kissell “target” talk. The next trick is to gin up media interest in the district, not to mention chum the waters a little for the consultants, by floating a big name or two, names that have raised and spent serious money in the past. That might get a “buzz” going on the race, which then might build on itself. Linking McCrory to the race accomplishes both goals, just so long as no one looks at the underlying numbers too closely.

This is not to say that Kissell cannot be beat. On the contrary, he is vulnerable to an outsider with a clear track record of opposing corporate bailouts, corporate welfare, and the Obama bailout mania. Much of East Charlotte has already decided that Pat McCrory is not that guy, however.

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Programming Note

I’ll talk to Tara on WBT 1110AM shortly after 3pm today on the topic of employment in our region as compared to the job outlook in the Triangle.

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Lakefront Property? Jim Black Has Lakefront Property?

David Bass updates the increasingly curious tale of Jim Black settling his $1m. fine by deeding over some scrub land in Matthews to the state while holding onto more valuable assets.

At this point it is fair to say absolutely nothing makes sense about this deal. Wake County officials say they did not even know Black owned lakefront estates in Iredell County, a fact which both the News & Observer and the Uptown paper of record had reported at the time Black received his fine and sentence.

I, frankly, do not believe that claim of ignorance. But even if true, it is a startling admission of incompetence, one that leaves taxpayers worse off while benefiting convicted flim-flam artist Jim Black. This state of affairs immediately suggests the question, why? Why with everything going against him, a lien against his Tryon St. office to compel payment of his fine, at least $4m. in real estate assets, a $500K balance on his fine, why did Jim Black get another sweet deal from official North Carolina?

The most direct answer is to buy his continued silence, a silence that has been a topic of discussion from the day Black pleaded guilty, often prompted by Jim Black himself. I think word came down to Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby in a roundabout fashion from those in positions of power within and without government that Jim Black had suffered enough, that he should take whatever deal Black’s attorney offered on the fine and move on. Put this whole sad tale behind us. Forget it even happened.

Down the memory hole, as it were.

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Ditch Jimmy Carter, Bring On Performance Contracting

The Uptown paper of record has unwittingly stumbled into an on-going local scandal, albeit via a sack-cloth and ashes, shared sacrifice routine worthy of the sweater-wearing peanut farmer from Georgia.

Here’s the deal, if we are well and truly serious about more energy efficient facilities management for our public buildings then we’ll have new performance contracting agreements in place by the end of the week.

The concept is simple and used all over the country — except Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Entities contract with an energy services company to find and implement energy savings. The company gets paid in relation to what they save the building owner. If the savings do not match projections, the contractor takes the hit.

Seems like a no-brainer until you realize it would mean that our local bureaucrats would have to give up control of some aspects of facilities management and commit to playing fair-and-square with costs and expenses over a number of years. Can’t have that, can we? Nope.

In fact, Mecklenburg County officials no too long ago shot down any consideration of performance contracting for energy savings after a single meeting with a contractor. The complaint was that company would “make money” out of the arrangement. And that was that.

It shouldn’t be. We can futz with thermostats a few degrees here and there, feel all smug and oh so progressive, delude ourselves into thinking We Made a Difference or — demand that our tax dollars are used wisely and to maximize energy efficiency in all the millions of square feet of public buildings we heat and cool each year.

This being Charlotte, can you guess which one it will be?

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Where Is the Techie Outrage? Or is NC Too Backward?

I’m more than a little underwhelmed by the response to the clear intent — several weeks old now — on the part of the state of North Carolina to manufacture an excuse to tax Amazon.com sales in the state.

Cutting through the legalese, the state holds that Amazon’s affiliate linking program constitutes a nexus under which the state may require Amazon to levy tax on all its sales in the state. Amazon quite sanely has said, well, if that is the case, we’ll just blow up all affiliates in the state rather than start paying tax on transactions which cost the state nothing in terms of services provided to secure, the traditional test of any transaction tax.

With that move we are starting to hear from some of the NC folks who are losing their Amazon affiliate commissions, but precious little from the supposed social media mavens and iFutzers who are oh-so cutting edge and hip. A clear to call to action, then.

Attention hipsters, Facebookers, and Twitter-ers — Your elected officials in Raleigh have just declared war on the 21st century. What are you going to do about it?

Update: There is a petition out there against what they are calling the NC Affiliate tax.

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CLT No Longer State’s Jobs Engine

The latest unemployment numbers paint a grim picture for Charlotte. No matter how you slice it, by county or region, the Triangle now has a more stable and functional labor force.

In fact, when you lob in Durham along with Raleigh-Cary, the 741K jobs in that region for May almost matches the 750K in Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord. The metric to watch going forward will be if the QC actually gets pushed out of first-place in the state in terms of raw jobs. Certainly the Charlotte region’s 12 percent unemployment rate already looks week compared to the Triangle 8.5ish rate, not to mention the $26m. in unemployment benefits Mecklenburg received in May compared to $20m. in Wake County.

The trend is unmistakable. Fewer and fewer people are doing productive work in the region, more and more rely on government transfer payments. Charlotte has always a cadre of nearly unemployable, low-skill workers. Their numbers appear to be growing.

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City Tax Goof: Who Gets Fired?

Say you made a mistake at work. Say you overcharged customers by $2.6m. and got your company sued because of it. And suppose that lawsuit cost your company — oh, I don’t know but figuring from City Attorney Mac McCarley’s cost of moving a finger to do anything chart — say $500,000 for the company to litigate over the past few months. Then your company settles, admits it was wrong, is on the hook for plaintiffs legal fees too.

Would a pink slip exactly be a surprise? Yes, yes it would if you worked for the city of Charlotte.

Trying to collect business privilege tax on the gross receipts of building contractors was an obvious violation of state law. Contractors are not retailers and state code capped their local privilege liability at $10 a year. Yet here was the city demanding the maximum $10,000 in business privilege tax from contractors. And waited to get sued before admitting the mistake.

Meanwhile, the developer of the aborted condos at EpiCenter still owes over $78,000 in 2008 property tax. The city-favored Bryant Park development owes over $31,000.

The gnomes on city staff were out shaking down the wrong folks. Wonder how that happens? I don’t.

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