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Battle over renegade mayor rages; no confidence vote at 6 pm

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June 14. By Dave Yochum and Dave Vieser. NC Sen. Jeff Tarte is expected to lead a press conference tomorrow in Raleigh to refute the personal opinions on I-77 tolls made by the mayors of Cornelius and Davidson in Sen. Philip Berger’s office last week during Town Hall Day.

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Mayor Chuck Travis of Cornelius essentially went rogue on his Town Board: Back in December the board voted 5-0 to censure the second-term mayor around his comments on tolls and widening I-77 between Lake Norman and Charlotte.

Travis’ visit to Raleigh verges on a bizarre lack of respect for the five elected commissioners, not to mention what may very well be a majority of ordinary citizens and business leaders (See reader poll).

The retribution is swift and will undoubtedly be painful. At 6 pm today the Town Board will meet in an emergency session to pass a resolution of no confidence in the Charlotte architect. A poll of town board members indicates the vote will go 5-0 against the mayor.

At an art center committee meeting last night, the embattled mayor would not say whether he would resign in the face of tonight’s vote. “Come to the meeting,” was all he said, while walking briskly away from a Cornelius Today reporter.

Dear Mayor Travis: With regards to your recent trip to Raleigh to support the toll lanes — Have you lost your mind? I don’t live in Cornelius, but plan to volunteer to help your next Mayoral opponent.

– Dan Pliszka

Travis, who was himself a town commissioner before becoming mayor in 2013, has not been known for attending functions in the business community and building relationships. His supporters say he works quietly for the good of the town. He is a member of the NC Turnpike Authority Board of Directors.

Nevertheless, town board members say they will strip Travis of as many duties as possible, as soon as they can, up to and including removing him from key regional commissions as well as crafting their own agendas for the bi-weekly town board meetings.

That is a privilege given to the mayor.

Travis’ behavior has launched a firestorm of criticism and counter-measures in the battle to end the 50-year contract with Cintra, a Spanish-rooted entity with a series of ethics difficulties here and abroad.

Dear Mayor Travis: You did not speak for the residents of Cornelius. I will support the call for your resignation.

– Sally Cleveland

Members of various local governments, including the mayor of Huntersville, John Aneralla, will stand behind Sen. Tarte—the former mayor of Cornelius—to send a message of solidarity against the toll plan to the Senate.

Others attending include Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam and Commissioner Dave Gilroy, both established and respected business leaders. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett says he will attend. Rep. John Bradford, a former Cornelius commissioner, will also attend, helping provide strong visuals for media.

“We will try to undo that which the two mayors created,” says John Hettwer, a former chairman of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce. He said more than a dozen Lake Norman area elected officials will make the two and a half hour drive to Raleigh to protest Travis’ and Woods’ actions.

Dear Mayor Travis: I am a resident of Cornelius who currently commutes to Charlotte daily for work…you are not effectively representing me!! Nor do I feel, are you representing the desires of most of your constituents…

– Nicole Priddy

Bill Russell, CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber, said the trip to Raleigh is another opportunity to make the case for canceling the $650 million contract.

“I truly believe, when our future generation looks back on our actions today, they will say we did everything possible to make this the best community and region it could be. That is the responsibility we have to the future and we dare not fail in that task,” Russell said. Of course, he is joining in the convoy to Raleigh.

Much to their consternation, Travis has told some local leaders he will “ride out the storm.” He does have support. A former chamber chairwoman, Hilary Broadway, took to Facebook to call out the Town Commission and express her support for Travis. “They should be ashamed of themselves. I am embarrassed for them. I publicly support Mayor Travis,” she said on a Cornelius Today news post on Facebook.

The entire issue is complex and fraught with both emotion and fact. But the track record of Cintra’s parent company, Ferrovial in Madrid, and even some of its units has been called into question, especially after a 50-year contract with a foreign company was apparently hastily signed by the NCDOT.

Dear Mayor Travis: As mayor, you do not have the right to attempt an override of the Board’s and the people’s wishes. I consider your actions to be malfeasance and dereliction of duty.

– Jack Wilson

Law360 reports that a federal judge booted Louis Berger Aircraft Services Inc. from a terminal contract for a U.S. Navy base in Spain. The Ferrovial company, according to the judge, withheld information from the U.S. Navy.

A year ago, the NCDOT sped up its timetable to sign the contract with Cintra, over the objections of political leaders and anti-toll organizations like Kurt Naas’ WidenI-77 group.

NCDOT is fighting back, defending the contract. NC Transportation Secretary Nicholas Tennyson now says it will cost $800 million if the state cancels the I-77 toll lane contract with Cintra and finishes the interstate expansion itself.

The $800 million includes a $300 million cancellation fee, according to figures included in Tennyson’s letter to key senate transportation committee members.

Dear Mayor Travis: I am at a loss for words when I found out about your meeting with Phil Berger. Do you listen to your constituents? Do you really represent us? … You need to answer to the people that elected you. I eagerly await the answer to your betrayal.

– Judiane Fournier-Young

The $800 million estimate is actually higher than the budgeted amount of $650 million to construct the added lanes which cover a 26 mile project.

Tennyson’s letter is just the latest volley in a spirited debate over House Bill 954 which would cancel the Cintra contract.

The bill passed the House with strong support but has bogged down in the senate transportation committee.

In his letter Tennyson denies that the contractor is in default, and warns that canceling the contract would jeaprodize $261 million in vital road work to be funded as part of the toll lane project through one time bonus allocation money.

The general assembly is in the midst of a short session and is hoping to recess by July 1′ giving lawmakers little time to vet what has become a very controversial and contentious issue.

Resignations by mayors are not unheard of. Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon resigned after his corruption arrest in 2014. While Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto did not resign amidst scandal, his council stripped him of his powers.

Travis has never been accused of corruption or even impolite behavior. But Hettwer and John McAlpine say Travis assured them he was against the toll project last July just before the candidate filing closed. Based on Travis’ assurances, McAlpine did not run, Hettwer said. Travis has not responded to questions.

In 1982 Cornelius Mayor Wesley Rood abruptly resigned. Commissioner Nannie Potts stepped up to the plate and became Cornelius’ first female mayor, as well as first African-American mayor.

Discussion

8 Responses to “Battle over renegade mayor rages; no confidence vote at 6 pm”

  1. According to the Charlotte Business Journal (see link), the cancelation of the 77 contract would be so costly it would halt the expansion plans of other needed roads. With the compromise given to add more entrances to plan, why not move forward with project? I no longer understand the opposition.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/queen_city_agenda/2016/06/ncdot-ripple-effect-of-i-77-toll-lanes-bill-costly.html?ana=e_clt_bn_newsalert&u=gxeE3aOGL4TXrY16Vx7k5KPSaqz&t=1465920407&j=73996602

    Posted by mike durkee | June 14, 2016, 12:17 pm
    • The majority of media publication is directly from the government officials or is spun to appear favorable to their position that has been the crooked standard operating procedure for this over the past 5 years. They have ignored all facts and analysis. Here is Kurt Naas factual rebuttal submitted to a Senators request:

      Last night a Senator asked me for rebuttal points to the $800M Pinocchio report. Here is my response:
      > First, DOT is trying to say it would cost $150M more to cancel a contract than the entire project is worth. That defies credulity.
      >Second, in an attempt to paint as dire a scenario as possible DOT is deliberately co-mingling CONTRACT costs with CONSTRUCTION costs. Their $800M number is composed of a $300M cancellation penalty and $500M project construction.
      >Third, both of those numbers are grossly inflated, to the point of irresponsibility:
      >>For the cancellation penalty calculation DOT hired not an independent financial consultant but rather a tolling firm that has worked with Cintra before. They simply used Cintra’s notoriously optimistic revenue estimates to derive the $300M number. (In ten years Cintra predicts $48M in revenues which would make the project the highest grossing in the U.S.)
      >> For the project cost DOT assumed construction of the entire 26-mile project. The bulk of the cost is toll-specific construction in Charlotte while the actual bottleneck widening would only be through LKN. By DOT’s own estimate the LKN construction would be on the order of $150- $250M.
      >Fourth, DOT neglected to include $313M cancellation benefits. These are composed of a $94M taxpayer contribution, $144M bonus allocation and $75M toll subsidy.
      >Fifth, payment under default circumstances would not be based on Fair Market Value but rather 80% of outstanding debt. DOT reported that Cintra has spent $110M to date, another number that defies credulity given the project is still in the clearing and grubbing stage. (By way of comparison, the entire I85/I485 interchange cost $93M.) 80% of $110M is $88M. Even this number is highly inflated; what would prevent Cintra from drawing all of the remaining debt in order to increase the penalty?
      In conclusion, a high-side estimate of the total cost of penalty + construction would be on the order of $88M + $200M = $288M. The total benefit, as stated previously, would be $313M.

      Posted by Richard | June 14, 2016, 1:37 pm
  2. A former chamber chairwoman, Hilary Broadway, took to Facebook to call out the Town Commission and express her support for Travis. “They should be ashamed of themselves. I am embarrassed for them. I publicly support Mayor Travis,” she said on a Cornelius Today news post on Facebook.

    I should be ashamed??? You are embarrassed for us? What a bunch of bull.. So I guess Hillary would prefer that politicians can do whatever they want and not be accountable to its citizens.. I’m embarrassed for Hillary and she should be ashamed of herself.

    Posted by Joel Pfyffer | June 14, 2016, 1:05 pm
  3. I think it is sad that he has greater allegiance to his appointed role with the NC Tolling Commission (Thanks to his friend Thom Tillis) than he does to the people he was elected to serve, and that he lied to prevent qualified opponents to trust and not run against him last November.

    Posted by Richard | June 14, 2016, 1:32 pm
  4. Having a known and confirmed liar as Mayor is a sad day for Cornelius. It is just not who we are. As a town (I have lived here for 21 years) we need to have a conversation as to how a self centered liar, was ever put in a position of leadership. As for Travis, he needs to decide if he wants to continue as Mayor when the vast majority of the citizens and business community of our town has recognized you for the liar that he is. It is kind of like staying at a dinner party that you are uninvited to and your presence is not welcome.

    Posted by Rick | June 14, 2016, 1:36 pm
  5. So, the Spanish company, convicted of public graft, is playing its own games. Let our veterans use this as a vocational training program, put our folks back to work on Federal program dollars, and we will come in at a fraction of the projected costs. Give us the surplus government equipment – we will gut the majority of costs to make this affordable and effective, then use our model to help rebuild our entire crumbling US infrastructure at a fraction of the projected costs. There is a them here. We are prepared to make this happen. Please feel free to contact me. And Mayor, I get the short end of the stick from the VA, so my disability does not go very far. I can not afford tolls – you are ostracizing me because I am injured – that is one of the most self-serving and ingenuous comments I have seen in a long time. Do you have any perks or enhanced income because of your views?

    Posted by Craig Northacker | June 14, 2016, 1:52 pm
    • He is on he board of the NC Turnpike Authority. You would have to assume it is their mission to spread toll roads in NC, otherwise there is no purpose for it.

      Posted by Phil | June 15, 2016, 6:46 pm
  6. There is no doubt the mayor was breaching his censure placed on him Dec., 2015. He was censured in the first place because an anti-toll board was elected with him as pro-toll (because he ran unopposed) and was vocally misrepresenting the town anti-toll sentiment. He was representing NCDOT views with his actions in Raleigh, being their mouthpiece to try to stop the grand position in the Senate to stop the project.

    He was asked to resign by myself and I believe others because he served two masters that conflicted; Cornelius best interests and its citizens wishes vs. the Turnpike Board which exists to roll out tolls throughout the state.
    He refused to choose. Now the choice was made by his actions and the board is simply doing what they must do as elected officials.

    As to why this plan is so bad, imagine all the freeways you frequent are limited to two lanes and one in four – seven vehicles is a semi and you are limited to that for 50 years more, so are your kids and grandkids . The large city below you has an International Airport and something called an Intermodal that serves to greatly expand freight traffic at the airport, and your 2-lane freeway is ever increasing with truck traffic. Your freeway is your local road to get to the next towns. So you don’t there anymore. Businesses lose customers. Your alternate route is one single lane road in each direction . The state had studies in 1990 and 2001 that concluded the interstate needed to be widened to four lanes both ways for 50 miles. And you have no mass transit, no trains, extremely limited bus service and no light rail and no HOV lanes. People who moved in 15 years ago, plus, were pleased to see there were plans to expand the freeway to four lanes in each direction.

    Then the big town below you and the state DOT did an odd thing. They widened the lanes for the big city up to the city limits. But left the rest of the freeway two lanes, creating a bottle neck that wasn’t there before. Congestion started. Then the DOT opened the final loop of a freeway (I485- that took 27 years to build) and widened the freeway you use to get back and forth to work to six lanes to accompdate this final link merging traffic into your main route. But they still kept the freeway outside the big city limits to two lanes. So now you have an even bigger bottleneck than before that never existed.

    Suddenly, the DOT is sold on the concept by a foreign company and seminars from the toll pushers, mto build, manage and charge fees to add two lanes for cars and buses only, no trucks where it was planned to build free general purpose lanes. You are now stuck in two-lane interstate heavy traffic, with daily accidents -sometimes three to four accidents and shut down sections of the interstate making everyone take the single lane side road to get to your destination. Your daily commute goes from 20-30 minutes to 2-21/2 hours on any given day.

    Instead of widening the Interstate you rely on, the DOT sells the right-of-way to a foreign company despite vocal citizen disapproval. For 50 years. And you will have to pay $5-$10 each way every day to get to work, or sit in the congested lanes. $2500-5000 a year or congested traffic. Meanwhile all the other freeways near you have been widened from 3-5 lanes in either direction, some widened twice with free lanes. You have been paying gas taxes for decades and getting no more lanes while all the money collected goes elsewhere. Your area has been neglected for over 20 years, yet it is the main artery through the state for trucking north and south from Ohio to FL.

    Question: Think of the highways and side roads you use. What would it be like if they were restricted to two lanes for 50 years? Add in the main route for semis and how much congestion would you be living in? For 50 years. Would you accept it?

    Question: Can you afford $2500-$5000 a year for each driver to get to work on time? Can your friends and family?
    If they can then they are part of the 5-10 percent that will use the toll roads. So we are using the right-of-way (dirt) to build roads for executives and elite. The 90% are stuck in congested traffic.

    The big city and DOT did such a good job creating this this six lane down to two bottleneck that the bond sellers used this fact to promote success for the bonds. “The bottleneck will not be fixed” the brochure says.

    The locals, surprisingly, have rallied against this project with both feet and the opposition has been growing at every turn. This is one of the cruelest, meanest, sell out in road planning I have ever seen.
    And we are mad as hell an not going to take it!

    Because it is such a simple fix! Just widen to take away the bottleneck and traffic will flow once again, in both directions.

    There is much more to explain, about accelerated depreciation, history of going bankrupt and sticking the state with debt, large debt while the contractor makes out like a bandit. And the roads being built lower quality so that semis can’t use them so that if the state takes over due to bankruptcy or buyout they would have to be torn up and rebuilt to allow semis, to this crazy road design has not been safety tested, will add to the congestion with merging from left and right into only two general purpose (free) lanes, to cameras on all lanes reading license plates even if not in the hot (fees) lanes, to the contractors history of corruption, several companies involved, to bribery charges and settling for huge fines, to defrauding the U.S. Govt, to bankruptcy on their own tolled lanes in Spain, to a live contract that can be edited and changed in secrecy, to connections to ALEC and their control, to incredible conflicts of interest in the big city, to losing businesses and resisents to their counties and states (Rock Hill), to no economic impact study done by the state, though the state did one for I95 and offered for the locals to ride free but made a deal with the truckers so they cancelled I95 tolls, etc.

    The project is overkill and wrong for our geography, but the big city got its hooks in it and is fighting to push it through. Because that’s how they roll. Over anyone else to get what they want. And the DOT is very happy to comply.

    For some reason we think we can and should do better for our and the states future.

    I

    Posted by Anette Powell | June 14, 2016, 4:58 pm

What do you think?

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