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Archive for May, 2011

Uptown Riot: Will Scott Stone Double Down?

GOP mayoral candidate Scott Stone is heading to the Transit Center this afternoon for a media event. Good. Too often Charlotte’s various dysfunctions have been allowed to be one-day stories. It is not political opportunism when basic questions about city policy and action remain in doubt; it is just healthy civic discourse, especially following a homicide.

To that end, however, will Stone have the stones to demand that the controling legal authority — whomever that might be — release all the transit center video surveillance footage of the incident so that the public en masse might have a better understanding of what happened, who was responsible, and how we might go about fixing it?

We’ll see. Stone’s release follows:

Stone Warns that Uptown Violence is not Isolated Incident
Mayor more concerned about protecting city image than protecting Charlotte citizens

Charlotte, NC – Charlotte mayoral candidate Scott Stone called on the current mayor to take a stronger stance on the ongoing gang violence and the activities associated with the recent Uptown riot. Stone’s comments follow the violent riot that occurred in Uptown Charlotte over the weekend, leaving one dead and 70 arrested.

“The current mayor is more concerned about protecting the city’s image than he is about protecting our citizens,” Stone said. “The DNC coming to town has nothing to do with the daily challenges we face. Ongoing gang crime in our commerce centers, such as Uptown, will dramatically impact economic recovery and kill jobs. People will not go to dinner and shows in Uptown if they do not feel safe walking down the street.”

Stone called on the mayor to get engaged in the issue. “Our current mayor has severely misjudged the situation and has been invisible. He believes that this weekend’s riots are an isolated incident which only needs investigation. However, this is an ongoing problem. We have gangs in Charlotte and we need a mayor who is willing to admit that if we are going to fix the problem.”

Stone called for aggressive pro-active enforcement of existing anti-loitering laws and curfews as a first step. “Our officers on the street are frustrated. They are held back from being proactive in on-the-street enforcement,” Stone said, citing direct discussions with CMPD officers. “Our officers are constantly worried about taking necessary and appropriate actions on their patrols because they are worried about the ‘political correctness’ environment which too often drives their actions and decisions.”

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Robin Lassiter?

Leave it to the The WaPo to provide some of the most sensible reporting on North Carolina’s political present and near future.

In sum, Republicans statewide are calling audibles from the same playbook John Lassiter rode to humiliating defeat in the 2009 mayor’s race in Charlotte. Namely, fret about and lament Democratic turnout — and ways to supress it — while at the same time courting black and Latino votes (recall Lassiter kicked off his campaign with visions of a streetcar at Eastland Mall), denegrate their own conservative base as troglodytes pining for the days of Helmsian hegemony, ignorant of the ways of the Modern World, and raise as much money as possible by carrying water (and legislation) for the rent-seekers and the special interests.

The one thing Robin Hayes has right is that many GOPers around the state do not get that Barack Obama will be very hard to beat in North Carolina in 2012. Not impossible. Hard. But Republicans will have to give voters something to work with — and for — beyond “Stop Barack.”

Charlotte will be ground zero for the Obama re-election operation — no doubt about it. And North Carolina is intended to be the launching pad for Obama’s assault on the Southeast. Of course the WaPo exhumes the ancient Nixonian phrase “Southern Strategy” to cast Obama in a crusading light against the forces of darkness. But in truth that is not what Republicans have been running — and winning — on until recently in the region. A “Suburban Strategy” is more like it.

Besides, bringing up Jesse Helms in the context of 2012 is really off-base, especially with regard to the Charlotte region. The moderates have more or less owned the GOP locally since the mid 1980s, certainly with regard to higher offices. Statewide, the Jim Martin wing of the party was both more moderate and at least as influential as the Congressional Club wing. With this perspective, some supposed experts wind up sounding pretty stupid, to wit:

“This is no longer only the party of Jesse Helms,” said Paul Shumaker, a GOP strategist based in Raleigh who advises, among others, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). “I tell my clients, and I tell others: ‘You need to quit looking through the rearview mirror, and you need to start looking through the windshield.’”

Now understand why Obama — and Bev Perdue for that matter — can look to 2012 with some confidence. While the NC GOP leadership listens to consultants like Shumaker who bend reality to create pithy Hotline-ready quotes and hired-gun crypto-lobbyists on how to position this and frame that, the Democrats are preparing for a land war with a single objective: Turn out every registered Democrat possible.

Republicans statewide — and especially locally — continue to simply assume that registered Republicans and indpendents who skew conservative with automatically flock to cast votes for whatever stuffed-shirt Shumaker et al put on a ballot.

I think they are in for a rude surprise.

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Quick, Who Owns The Transit Center?

It is a classic public-private partnership — a joint venture if you will — between the city of Charlotte and Bank of America. In other words, no one owns the Uptown Transit Center. And its sole tenant — CATS — hires out private security to patrol the property.

Except when 30,000 anti-social types clog it up, in which case the trouble gets handed over to CMPD.

See a problem here? Because no one entity is well and truly responsible for the Transit Center it is essentially a no man’s land. And blurry property rights leads to blurry rule of law — as the full-on riots of the other night show.

Not a week ago I had someone roll their eyes at me when I said that the Transit Center would have to be closed when the DNC comes to town. Too big a security risk, I tried to explain, nothing at all to do with “showcasing” Uptown as too many local fools seem to think.

Now what do you think the odds might be that CATS is running buses out of the facility willy-nilly? Gunplay and mayhem are not the kind of thing the Secret Service considers acceptable.

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Fire Sylvia Cherry

Wow. Yet another scandal in plain sight; yet another criminal justice scandal in plain sight in Mecklenburg County.

Recall the public was initially told that Martin Diamond, 23, was “accidentally” released from jail after being charged with four felonies, including rape. Then it turns out that magistrate Sylvia Cherry lingered over Diamond’s case, meeting with him for over one hour before deciding to reduce his $105,000 bond to zero. When that was reported, Chief District Judge Lisa Bell was forced to remove Cherry from her position while Bell “investigated” the case.

Now look at the incredibly low bar Bell has set for Cherry’s conduct:

“No issues with magistrate Cherry,” Judge Bell said. “She has always had a reputation as a hard worker — very loyal, very reliable.” … “I cannot find anything illegal or inappropriate. There was no undue influence or outside influence or evidence that she considered anything that she should not have considered in making this determination,” Judge Bell said.

Ahem. Judge Bell, the inappropriate conduct was releasing a man accused of a violent rape on nothing more than a promise to show up at court. That in and of itself demonstrates that Cherry is unfit to serve as a magistrate. Period.

But check the standard. Did Cherry do anything illegal? Do we have her on tape accepting a bribe to release Diamond? No? Then everything is great. Just like everything is great in a Mecklenburg County judicial system full of certainly incompetent and probably corrupt judges and lawyers. The local justice system is nothing but one big ring of undue influence with one simple goal — get paid.

Here’s the kicker, releasing accused sex offenders with zero bond is old hat in Mecklenburg.

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Greater Media Jumps The Shark

At least in Charlotte.

WBT is now half way to becoming just another syndicated booster-rocket for the same half-dozen logorrhea suffers the rest of the nation endures. Still, Tara Servatius had to see this coming.

As I said when BT said bye to Pete Kaliner in March, once Bill White left in January there was no advocate for actual local programming at the station — that I could see. You could tell by the way — at least from my listener perch — segments were choked down in length and Servatius was steered away from her local strengths and told to ape the national and international tropes favored by uber-doofus Sean Hannity, who was just down the dial at 1660AM.

At the same time, it was an open secret that Greater Media looked at the numbers Rush Limbaugh delivered Servatius and wondered what a syndicated Jason Lewis could do in that spot. I’d be shocked if Lewis does not end up 3-6 on BT. Greater Media could then plug their Boston-based property Michael Graham into the 9pm-12 slot Lewis inherited after Kaliner’s departure.

And maybe the station’s numbers would improve with that lineup, who knows? I just know I’ve been listening less and less this year and know that Tara was responsible for one of the most interesting bits of radio I’ve ever heard when she interviewed — at length — Wachovia/Wells Fargo chief economist John Silvia. That was real, actual value add broadcasting for the local community.

Can’t imagine that WBT will have much more of that in its future.

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So What is Craig Horn Smokin’?

Cuz the guy has lost touch with reality.

Six years after citizens of North Carolina were told that the hassel of having to sign for pseudoephedrine and otherwise subject themselves to state surveillance for the crime of having the sniffles would curb the horrors of meth production, state Rep. Horn (R-Weddington) and the usual round-up of incompetent law enforcement agencies are here to say that only prescriptions for pseudoephedrine will arrest an uptick in meth production.

What lunacy.

Nothing will stop meth except an end to the Drug War. Meth exists because it is a cheap, powerful high — one that is not dependent on overseas smuggling to distribute. Outlawing the component parts of the meth merely creates new categories of profitble smuggling opportunities. Retail quantities of pseudoephedrine and ad hoc cookers which so vex country bumpkin sheriffs across the nation will be replaced industrial-sized operations beyond the reach and out-of-sight of our confused Drug Warriors.

In any event, I cannot wait to see the fiscal note associated with any actual legislative language which would require scripts for pseudoephedrine.

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The Tillis Train to Nowhere

Fascinating 72 hours.

First, the state Senate spits out a budget which notices that state government does not have the money lying around to fund low-priority, low-impact projects like CATS’ $400m. Red rail line up I-77. State Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Matthews) even says out loud that spending more money on CATS’ trains would take money away from other more important transportation projects around the state, a connection which local transit boosters have denied for over 20 years.

But then House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Carroll Gray) turns around and says the $22.5m. for the Blue line extension would be put back in by the House and senate restrictions on committing state money to the Red line would — presumably — also be removed. Meanwhile, CATS CEO Carolyn Flowers piped up with the non-sequitar that a removal of state funds would mean no federal funds, nevermind that there are not enough local funds available to do more than build a rump of a Blue line extension to UNCC. The Red line — as currently conceived as a heavy rail commuter line — will never quality for federal funds as the South Blvd. line did (about 50 percent of the total cost) because the ridership is far too low and the line’s impact on reducing congestion on 77 almost invisible.

Want more? There is absolutely no reason why the General Assembly could not throw some part of $64.6m. back into the NC DOT general construction fund by tweaking state law to allow for the use of half-cent dollars to build HOT facilities up 77. Recall the original enabling legislation of the half-cent allowed for funding of HOV facilities and equipment, just not roadways. If the tolling system for 77 were to cost $10m. to 15m. then it should come out half-cent transit tax revenue instead of allowing CATS to hoard it for its $9.5b. train-building dream.

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Slot Swap: Something Old and Something Odd

OK, had a chance to think about the Delta/US Airways slot swap some more. In some ways, it’s pretty much what we saw before. That is to the say, one of the final steps in US Airways integration of America West, to the creation of an airline with four points of strength — Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington Reagan National — instead of the eight that the two airlines had when they merged in 2005.

So what does US Airways do with 42 extra slots at Reagan National (DCA)? Well, the verbiage now is much like the verbiage when the deal was first proposed nearly two years ago:

US Airways plans to add at least 15 new destinations from Washington, to its network as a result of the transaction and competition will be further enhanced by US Airways adding service to popular destinations that are currently served by other carriers.

In 2009, the airline listed 15 places it would add service to/from DCA: Seven destination served at the time by other carriers (Cincinnati, Ohio; Des Moines, Iowa; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Madison, Wis.; Montreal, Canada; Miami, Fla.; and Ottawa, Canada), as well as eight cities that had no daily nonstop service to/from DCA at the time (Birmingham, Ala.; Islip, N.Y.; Ithaca, N.Y.; Little Rock, Ark.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Pensacola, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; and Tallahassee, Fla.).

In exchange, for the DCA slots, Delta is now getting 132 slots — it was 125 in the original 2009 deal — at LaGuardia (LGA), reducing US Airways’ LGA operation to just the Northeast Shuttle (DCA and Boston), plus Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.

Domestically, the issues created are the same as in 2009:

• US Airways had used LGA as one of its connecting point for people going to/from secondary destinations in New York state and New England. Thus passenger flows will have to go over its other hubs, mainly PHL and DCA but also to a degree here at CLT. Will we see more nonstops from CLT to such secondary destinations as a result?

• Note Des Moines (DSM), Madison (MSN) and Grand Rapids (GRR) on the list of places US Airways said they want to serve from DCA. Delta offers a single daily regional jet flight to each of these places from DCA. US Airways doesn’t currently serve MSN or GRR at all and DSM has US Airways service only to Phoenix.

Doubt you’d want to offer just a single flight a day to a city. As we’ve noted before, US Airways has been pretty unwilling to add service to second-tier Midwest destinations. Does this change now, and they add service from DSM, MSN, and GRR to Charlotte and/or Philly as part of this? Os is the previous announcement of service to those cities just something to help get the feds to sign off on the deal with US Airways having no intention to serve those markets?

• There’s also an aircraft size issue. LGA service is a bunch of 50-seat regional gets and 37-seat turboprops. DCA would be gaining larger aircraft that that and that goes even beyond the 42 slot pair gain. That larger jet capacity has to come out of somewhere, and that answer has to be in part CLT. Presumably, we’d gain a lot of 50-seaters and 37-seaters here to make up for that — unless US Airways’ wholly-owned commuter divisions were going to get downsized as a result of this.

Then there’s the international side of the transaction. In the original deal, US Airways would also gain slots in Tokyo and Sao Paulo. Japan is now Open Skies so the Tokyo part is now pointless. The latest press release contains this bizarro statement though:

US Airways also will acquire from Delta in 2015 the rights to operate additional daily service at one of world’s most important business destinations – Sao Paulo, Brazil. As US Airways continues its strategic expansion into South America, the additional rights would allow it to operate two daily flights to Sao Paulo and continue its existing daily service to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

It sound like US Airways is getting something of value here. But open closer examination, no, not really. Brazil goes Open Skies in October 2015 anyway and even before that there are 14 additional weekly flights to Sao Paulo available in each of October 2013 and October 2014, so if US Airways wanted to add a second daily flight to Sao Paulo in 2015 — or even late 2013 or 2014 — they could very probably do it anyways.

Best guess is that this may involve some sort of slot guarantee for US Airways’ planned first flight to Sao Paulo, which would use leased slots from United. The lease is up in spring 2015, so there could be a gap, and this may be some sort of insurance policy in case United doesn’t extend the deal for the last six months of the slot-restrictions.

Bonus observation
: Speaking of US Airways and Sao Paulo, isn’t it about time for the airline to announce its first Sao Paulo flight, which is suppose to begin in November or so? Or can’t they get landing and takeoff times in Brazil to make it viable?

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Mark Haines, RIP

CNBC anchor Mark Haines has died.

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Stone: Redo the Reval

Interesting blast from GOP mayoral candidate Scott Stone:

Charlotte mayoral candidate Scott Stone delivered a letter today to County Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Roberts, which called for the county to go back to the drawing boards on the current revaluation process. Stone called for this “Reval Redo” so that process can be performed more fairly and so that the values more closely reflect actual market values. … In his letter, Stone proposed that the new process consist of three main elements:

1. Set a guideline of 10% maximum change in property value. For any property values outside of that range, the burden of proof should be on the county appraisers.

2. Set the maximum average increase to no more than 4%, which is in line with the growth in values since 2003 according to S&P / Case Shiller. The initial reval process had set an 8% average increase.

3. Plan to perform a new revaluation in 2014 as there will likely to be an improvement in the economy and property values will have stabilized, providing the county and the city with better data upon which to levy taxes.

In reverse order, don’t be so sure about a recovery by 2014. And I’m not certain and 2 and 1 would not require a change in state law to compel the county to change its assumptions.

Still, it is undisputed that the reval seems wonky in both detail — with some massive run-ups of 50 percent and more — and in the macro — where the revenue neutral rate should probably be closer to 75 cents than 78 cents — which only magnifies the size and scope of the tax hikes now under discussion.

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