May 252012

Great schools are key to economic future

Union County has no professional sports arena, research triangle, or major university. We are not known as a financial center, a tourist destination, or technology hub.

Yet, even in the absence of attractions like these, we have been one of the fastest growing counties in the United States. Some will tell you it is because the taxes are lower; some will claim it is the small-town rural feel; but MOST will tell you it is because of the reputation and performance of the school system.

Our schools have become a very high-profile draw for residential growth which, in turn, leads to retail growth and creates the labor market for industrial growth. This ultimately translates to new business and jobs, a more vibrant economy, lower unemployment, and a better quality of life — all of which were direct promises made in the last election.

Because we don’t have the other typical inducements, the quality of education drives the entire economic health of this County. That, in turn, determines the revenues, the tax base, and ultimately, the tax rate. The issue of school funding has been discussed, spiritedly debated, and is very emotional for a lot of people. It affects not only those that have school-aged children, but every citizen in this county in terms of property values and the desirability of this County to others, today and in the future.

It strikes me that every time there is a disagreement on an issue, Commissioner Rogers and I are accused of “playing politics.” Well look around. This is the government and this is a political board—everything we do is politics. However, I did find my flyer from when I ran four years ago, and it states very clearly that I stand for “funded schools” and “continued emphasis on education.” I am not “playing”.  I am standing up for what I said I would and for what the people are continuing to tell us they want from their elected officials. The current proposal of one-time funding of teacher assistants, while not the most desirable solution, is quite simple. We have the means to help stop, or at least delay, this damage to our children’s education and the overall quality of life to the citizens of this county.

We can pass the buck and the blame, get hung up on semantics and control, or we can decide to preserve and protect the number one economic driver in this county and take care of our kids and our future! It has been said that the monies from the hospital belong to the taxpayers — to the people.

So far, the only request that I have heard via email or public comment is to preserve the integrity of the school system — especially for our youngest children. The voices of the people have been very clear, very consistent, and very specific. I believe we have two more meetings before we must adopt the budget and I urge every Commissioner to put personalities and blame aside, revisit the promises they have made and priorities they claim to have and do the right thing in the name of our children.

Tracy Kuehler
Union County

 Posted by at 6:28 pm
May 242012

Draft Kuehler effort begins

by Heather Smith
Enquirer Journal – May 24, 2012

A petition to put Commissioner Tracy Kuehler on the November ballot is circulating among western Union County residents.
The terms of Kuehler and fellow commissioner Kim Rogers end this fall. Neither filed for reelection. Richard Helms and Frank Aikmus were the only people to file. Since there was no competition, it appeared both were presumed to be the future commissioners.

But a number of residents on the county’s western side want to see Kuehler on the ballot. John Whitley, Union County Board of Elections director, confirmed that Weddington Mayor Walker Davidson filed the paperwork to begin a petition. The group must collect 5,097 signatures by the deadline of June 29 at noon, Whitley said.

Davidson said he would like a different point of view on the commission. When he saw that only two people filed for two seats, he anticipated the need for a third option.

“The number one reason is that I’d like to have an election in November,” Davidson said. “Voters deserve to have a choice.”

Residents had some interest in the petition earlier, but the recent debate about increased funding Union County Public Schools prompted more people to sign.

“They feel like there are only two people, Kim and Tracy, who are speaking up for our schools,” Davidson said.

A YouTube user called “TheVillageSpine” created a video critical of commissioners Jonathan Thomas and Todd Johnson, as well as Aikmus. Links were posted to several Facebook profiles Tuesday. The video focused on requested funding for teacher assistants made by the school board to the county. The video suggests that Aikmus, like Thomas and Johnson, would not financially support county schools.

The video ends with the words, “Let’s have an election in November, not an appointment.”

Kuehler reposted a link to the video Tuesday, with a message about the petition and her original decision not to run for reelection.

“Since my decision not to run, a huge issue has emerged that I am very passionate about, and the support shown by citizens all over the county for my stance has been overwhelming to say the least,” Kuehler wrote on her Facebook page. “Based on that support and passion, I respectfully agreed to run if the required signatures were obtained.”

While she does not know Aikmus or Helms personally, Kuehler said their political views are likely not different from the current board majority.

“I won’t be able to do much with one vote, but you need someone on the other side asking questions,” Kuehler said.

So far, the group has collected about 1,000 names, Davidson said. That leaves less than a month to collect about 4,000 more. But many of the petitions are still circulating, he said, and even more have recently gone out as anxiety over school budgets rise.

“Based on the recent interest and how much interest it’s gotten in the past few weeks, I think it’s possible,” Davidson said.

The Enquirer Journal – Draft Kuehler effort begins.

The following link is for the Petition Form. Download and print it. It is acceptable with just your own signature, but you can always ask your neighbors to sign as well.

[Click Here] for PETITION

For information as where to send your signed petition – please email the VillageScribe.

NOTE: In the EJ story above, there is a reference to a video from a YouTube user named VillageSpine. Do not be mislead by the similarity in names, the Village Scribe DID NOT produce or distribute this video.

 Posted by at 5:50 pm
Apr 242010

esterday, many of you received an email blast from the executive board of the WCWAA concerning the possibility of the park being forced to shut down. The prospect is unthinkable to every parent whose children use and depend on the park — except of course, to a few county government bureaucrats.

Once again it seems that Union County is bedeviled by people with glaring ‘Conflicts of Interest’ being in a position to act in behalf of the own personal interest. The park issue is no different and here is why!

Would it surprise you know that Union County HIRED an outspoken adjoining property owner to the park and according to the Enquirer Journal article included below, a leader of the park opposition? This individual is now employed as Storm Water Engineer in the Union County Public Works Department and has been since 2008!!! The very department trying to close WCWAA by regulatory fiat! This isn’t an X-FILE, folks!

It has been obvious from the start, that the adjoining property owners are trying to leverage the floodplain issue as a way to bankrupt and close the park. Were they to have “Agent on the Inside”, such a circumstance could and would have certainly aided their cause.

I find it curious and remarkably convenient that someone would leave their job as an engineer with the City of Charlotte at the same time they were embroiled in the WCWAA issue, only to take a job with Union County. But for the sake of argument, lets assume the actions by the county towards the park were not influenced by this employee, instead lets examine why the County would hire someone with a history of being actively involved in a local controversy and place that individual in the inevitable position of giving the appearance that decisions were made for personal benefit.

Over the years, I have hammered the point, that imagined or real conflicts of interest shake the foundation of trust in government and I have grave misgivings with the conduct, perspective and impartiality of some county staff members, involved in this matter.

Here’s more.

It was recently revealed that a (another) County UCPW employee inadvertently or ‘accidentally on purpose’ neglected to provide email correspondence she had with a state agency, which was the subject of a “Freedom of Information” (FOI) filing. The WCWAA representative only found about the missing items, when the same FOI request to the state revealed the emails.

Apparently, from the content of the emails, it is be easy to understand why someone might be reluctant to comply, because what those emails revealed was a unilateral decision by this employee to refuse the state’s suggestions of how to mediate and quickly solve the park’s problems.

Emails held back from WCWAA Freedom of Information request:

Email 1: From Ed Curtis of NC Emergency Management, declaring a CLOMR (Condition Letter of Map Revsion) was an option to resolve the park compliance issue. View Email 1 – 2008-03-07

Email 2: County employee questions whether a CLOMR is an valid. View Email 2 – 2008-03-10

Email 3: Email from Ed Curtis saying that a CLOMR IS an option, refuting the County employee assertion. View Email 3 – 2008-03-14

Email 4: Email where County employee responds saying “What’s to keep them from removing a bucket load of dirt and calling it good”? View Email 4 – 2008-03-17

Email 5: Email from Ed Curtis taking the CLOMR option off the table. Email 5 – 2008-03-17

And still more.

One of the issues yet to be resolved is establishing a base flood level. This is done by comparing a flood map from prior years to current. The County staff magically produced a 1997 map as base of comparison and subsequently declared that WCWAA field construction had created a one foot rise.

When the WCWAA asked for a copy, the staff sent only the elevation map and was unable to provide the accompanying high-res aerial photos, stating that they ‘were not’ available. WCWAA had to track down the surveyor who produced the maps to get the photos.

Would it surprise you to learn that photos showed a subdivision grading underway, a road and cul-de-sac in place and that Union County was willing to make one-foot rise judgment, while ignoring obvious contributions of a subdivision (do note: Union County permitted a subdivision to be built in a flood plain) grading had on the flood plain.

Click here to view WCWAA area 1997 photo the County staff didn’t have.

Once this information came to light, Commissioner Kuehler met with the County Manager and Director of Public Works, to ask for an explanation of this behavior. She is still waiting…

What’s next.

If you consider all the facets of the WCWAA case; the upstream and downstream development construction, the lack of County permit enforcement, park engineering issues and the need for the park, it is plain to see that reasonable compromise and accommodation could have prevailed — it should have prevailed. Had there been any interest by the Union County staff or 2006-2008 Commissioner majority, the solution would have be found and implemented by now.

It wasn’t.

Instead, with a bureaucratic belligerency as evident by the emails and actions taken to date, the solution to keeping the park open has been left in the hands of cold, black or white thinking regulators who weld FEMA no-rise regulations like it was handed down from Mount Olympus.

There WAS an opportunity that the state offered Union County, that was taken off the table in a self-righteous zeal, disguised as professional opinion. That’s the way I read those emails. That’s the way I interpret the withholding of the emails from the FOI request. I can argue that there is a prejudice against the park, against those who built it and especially against those who use it.

The decision by Baucom, Mills & Pressley to sue WCWAA for compliance, the way it was added as a last minute agenda item, to the 3-2 vote is proof of the mindset. Openshaw and Lane were in the minority.

Meanwhile western Union County hasn’t a single park to call it’s own, and the park we do have and fund 95% ourselves is a target.

The current Commissioner majority is working towards finding a resolution, but they need the active support of WCWAA members and involvement in the process.

Below is a post I wrote in 2007,

The following post was published in the VSO on Septemeber 18, 2007

WCWAA Blindsided by County Commissioners vote

Last night, in an action that was nothing short of ‘premeditated’, Union County Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley blindsided the Wesley Chapel Weddington Athletic Association (WCWAA), when they voted to order county lawyers to begin legal actions against the association regarding flooding issues affecting adjoining properties.

Without benefit or courtesy of the customary public notice, Commissioner Pressley added the WCWAA issue to last nights agenda and after a brisk discussion with staff, Commissioner Mills made the motion to start legal ball rolling. Commission Openshaw objected to the ‘unfairness’ of taking action without giving prior notice and voted against Mr. Mills motion as did Roger Lane.

Media Coverage

Enquirer Journal: WCWAA, neighbors at odds over fill dirt, flooding near park

The Other Side

In a letter to WCWAA members early last month, Gary Hibler, President of the association stated :

    ..there are a very few families who own property in close proximity to our athletic fields who would like to shut us down. In short, they are accusing us of undertaking actions which increased the flooding of their properties even though most of their properties were already in whole or in part in the flood plain when they bought them. I state emphatically to you that these accusations are unfounded, untrue and that WCWAA has constantly followed the technical and procedural requirements of all governmental and regulatory agencies. We constructed our facilities and are operating them in a lawful manner. The engineering firm that we obtained to assist us in our construction has confirmed on several occasions that under no circumstances has WCWAA done anything which has aggravated the tenancy of the surrounding properties to flood.

In recent months, the commissioners have had a number of closed (secret) meetings with the County and staff attorneys to discuss the issue and during the discussion last night, Mr. Pressley alluded to a meeting with the WCWAA representatives, who he said were given 7 days to respond. Evidently when they didn’t, then Pressley and company were provoked to act.

What the contributing factors are or whose at fault, pardon the pun, is very murky at best. The county flood plain rises as the more development takes place. For example, how much has the new Shea Home development (Hollister) contributed to the flooding? The more water is displaced the higher the flood plain rises everywhere else. The real question is whose agenda is served by this premature action.

Frankly, I was surprised that Baucom, Mills and Pressley took time away the many early Christmas gifts they handed out to the county developers, with the ‘new’, previously secret sewer policy ((The sewer policy enacted last night was crafted only in closed session and in many peoples mind illegal, as it violated NC open meeting rules.)) that gives all the sewer and WATER homebuilders need to construct the more than 8100 homes in the pipeline, but that is subject of another post.

 Posted by at 3:57 pm