Saturday, November 12, 2011

Election Message

I'd like to thank everyone who voted for me.  The fact that about 3,400 people in this town cared enough to cast a vote for me is astonishing, especially considering that I started out as a virtual unknown.  It's proof that there is traction for the message in Wilmington and that given the right circumstances it could gain steam.

I'd especially like to thank the people who volunteered for me.  This is an enormous group of people: people stood for two weeks or so at the polls for early voting; people have gone door-to-door with me; people have helped me put up signs; people have worked the polls; people have donated money.  What all of you have done truly amazes me, and the fact that I can count you all as friends has been probably the best thing that happened to me this year.  I do not consider this a defeat now that I know all of you.
Some people might say that the outlook for Wilmington is pretty grim, and I'd agree.  I've mentioned before that our unemployment is up, spending is out of control, and 9 out of 10 business owners say that it's easier to do business with other city governments than it is with Wilmington.  Unfortunately, the people who got into office, with the potential exception of Neil Anderson, simply represent the status quo. 

I don't think, however, that the people who voted for me can give up, because we know that more government is not the answer.  Only a return to lmited government and individual rights will solve the problems caused by massive government over-reach.  We know the solution to the problem, and we can't give up because eventually the problems are going to get larger and larger and will affect more and more people.
I wish you all good luck, and will be taking a much needed step away from the limelight for now.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Response to CFPUA Article

The StarNews has an article today trying to give all sides on the CFPUA.  Unfortunately, it's missing the one most important fact in the discussion: citizens of Wilmington are paying more with the Authority than they would be paying without it.

Simply look at pg. 11 here; the CFPUA's own document proves it.

Now, the CFPUA can make an argument that they're managing it well.  They may have a point.  I've heard other people who disagree.  I don't have the intimate knowledge of the day-to-day workings of the CFPUA to really comment.  My main argument has always been that there are structural problems with the set-up of the CFPUA that make it disadvantageous to Wilmington.

Now, let me just address a few things said in the article:
“You never hear any solutions,” candidate Napier Fuller said during the Americans for Prosperity forum last month. “Anyone who says it can be abolished is crazy.”
I'm proposing a solution (return to the city/county system,) and it's not crazy. The Interlocal Agreement that formed the CFPUA can be amended with a simple majority vote of the City Council, County Commissioners, and the Authority Board itself, which is appointed by the City and County.  This means pretty much anything can be done with the CFPUA as long as you have a majority vote of the 12 people on the Council and Commission.


City Council member Ron Sparks, who is also running, said the city would get its infrastructure back, but would also get 50 percent of the $380 million of debt. 
“How are you going to pay for this debt? You end up with an inefficient system and more debt,” Sparks said. “Now that we’ve formed it, we have to learn how to work with it. I am for keeping it and working with it.”
First off, we gave a lot of this debt to the CFPUA when it was formed, at least $67M in enterprise bonds.  Maybe more.  The paper trail is so convoluted its hard to tell.  Secondly, people don't seem to realize that the taxpayer owns, controls, however you would like to put it, both the city government and the CFPUA.  They are both public municipalities.  The taxpayer is paying for that debt whether they're being billed by the City or CFPUA.  There are, however, structural advantages that make it better to have Wilmington handle its own water and sewer.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"And If You Refuse, the City Can Simply Put a Lein on Your House"

Watch video here.  Highly recommended.  Unfortunately, I can't manage to embed it here.

If approved, a leaky roof or cracked front steps won't go unnoticed.  While these buildings won't likely be demolished, the business owners will be forced to make improvements to their property.

O'Grady said not everyone is on board with the idea, but he says too many places are deteriorating in downtown Wilmington, taking away from its appeal.  He said the process isn't as threatening as it sounds, and is just a way to keep small problems from getting out of hand.
Take a look at the cracked steps in the video. That's what we're dealing with here. Can you say "over-reach?"

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fact Checking the "Fact Checker"

Shelby Sebens of the StarNews has finally decided to "fact check" some statements made in the City Council race.  This is a welcome and unexpected development.  Unfortunately, our "fact checker" needs a bit of fact checking herself.
"Fact check": "The newly opened Wilmington Convention Center isn't being paid for with room occupancy tax."

I've already made my opinion on this abundantly clear.  The city had to go into a fund of about $14M this year to keep the convention center from going into the red.  The difference between the costs and the revenues for the convention center are about $5M.  At that rate, the $14M will be dried up in a matter of years.

If you read closely, you'll see the majority of this "fact check" actually supports what I've said.  The one thing that contradicts it is this:
Wilmington Finance Director Debra Mack says the latest models show the convention center will remain solvent through 2038, when the debt is paid off, with revenue from the parking deck and room occupancy tax funds.
Ahhh yes, a "model." I wonder what the assumptions are for that model, because, you know, models can be tweaked. Do you think Shelby actually took a look at that model and the assumptions in it or simply took Debra's word? If you think she looked at the model, I've got a Skyway Bridge to sell you.

Now, I've found Debra to be extremely professional and competent, but any rational person would have doubts after reading this:
Even if the city can find a hotel developer to build next to the convention center, new financial models show the newly-opened facility running in the red by 2020.
Who was that written by and when was it written? It was written by none other than Shelby Sebens in a StarNews article less than a year ago. I guess our financial situation has improved so much that the convention center is suddenly more viable!

Can anyone do anything but shake their head in disbelief?  Apparently, the model has changed and there's not even a mention of how it changed.  Is that investigative journalism?

Simply look at the events section of the convention center website.  There are five events booked in the next four months!

If you believe this new model rather than the old one, $2M in room occupancy tax and a scant amount in rental fees are going to be enough to pay over $7.5M a year.  It's crazy.  I don't even mention parking deck revenues, because there are no parking deck revenues (something Debra Mack might want to look into)!  There's an $800k deficit in the parking fund.

Of course, Bill Saffo says things like there are hundreds of events booked at the convention center and he's never fact checked.  Do you see those events booked when you walk or drive by?  Are they listed on the website?

"Fact check": "Funding for street and sidewalk repairs is decreasing."

Shelby doesn't attribute this to anyone, but just says "candidates" in general have mentioned this. 

She then goes on to say that the funds for streets and sidewalk repair increased by $250k this year.  That's true.  However, does Shelby's memory (or knowledge) only go back a year?

Let's take a look at two years ago:

(This information can be found at pg. 26 in the pdf here.) 

As you can see, the roads budget decreased from $10M two years ago to $1M today.  That is exactly what I've been saying this entire time.

Is it fair to only look back one year when looking back two years gives a vastly different impression?  Apparently, Shelby either doesn't know or care.

"Fact check": "The Cross City trail is behind schedule."

Here's what the article said I said:
Fulton recently criticized that [the Cross City trail is] behind schedule and missing parts.
To my knowledge, I've never put my criticism like this.  What did I actually say in the Green Builders forum, which is the only place I can recall publicly commenting on the Cross City trail?
"The third leg of the Cross City trail is about a year behind schedule."
And what was said in the supplemental documents for a City Council meeting just a month and a half ago?
In an agreement entered into on January 25, 2011 between the City of Wilmington and the NCDOT, the completion date [of the third leg of the Cross City trail] was extended to September 30, 2011.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation has agreed to an additional extension of the completion date of the project until June 30, 2012.
The original completion date was Sept. 30, 2011, which was then extended to June 30, 2012. Do you not call that being about a year behind schedule?

But that's not the end of the "fact checking."  After saying that "overall the project is ahead of schedule" (because its not taking the 20 years they originally gave themselves,) the article says:
The first phase and part of the second phase of the project was completed in January, a few months past the construction deadline.
Yes, folks, it's "past the construction deadline," but it's still ahead of schedule.  Then the article says:
The third phase of the project was also a couple of months later than the construction completion date.
Of course, the use of the word "was" indicates that this is past tense and everything has already been completed.  The article then goes on to say:
What's left: The bridge that will span the Bradley Creek Floodway joining the College Acres neighborhood to the Autumn Hall Development is expected to be bid and awarded by December and take five months to complete.

The intersection improvements at Shipyard Boulevard has a final design and once permitting and easement acquisition is complete, construction on that section will begin. This should occur within the next few months, Beatty said.

Other sections...
Etc., etc.  It goes on to list a whole slew of sections that have not been completed.  Isn't it curious how this section that "was" completed still has construction on it?

I never made the claim attributed to me, to my knowledge.  I mentioned specifically the third leg and my claims are supported by city documents released just a month and a half ago.

(P.S. StarNews, if you're actually interested in getting a story, go to Rill Rd. and ask the people there if the construction on the Cross City trail has been efficient.  It's a complete nightmare and they'll tell you so.  They'll give you facts and pictures to back it up.  However, I believe they've already been in touch with you and you've reported nothing.)

Fact Checking the StarNews

Of course, I don't have time to fact check every distortion the StarNews publishes, but let's just mention a few stories that I know the StarNews knows about and has decided not to report on.

Story the StarNews knows about but is not reporting: The City of Wilmington has a $37.7M unfunded liability as a result of underfunding their Other Post-Employment Benefits program.

I have brought this to Shelby's attention, as I have to other people in local media, and they've simply chosen not to report it.  This unfunded liability is going to put the city under an enormous burden, but apparently the Cape Fear Fair livestock exhibit is more important to report on.

Story the StarNews knows about but is not reporting: The City of Wilmington's Home Ownership Program gives out second mortgages at 0% interest and the approximately $1M program has a deliquency rate of five times the local average.

I brought up this program to Shelby at least eight months ago or so, and the response I got was basically, "Yeah, I've heard about that but don't know too much about it."  How's that for investigative journalism for you?

Fact Checking the Incumbents

Since the incumbents aren't "fact checked" in this, I'd like to provide some fact checking of my own.

Bill Saffo and Margaret Haynes: "Half of the city budget is spent on public safety."

This is the granddaddy of them all, and has even been blindly regurgitated by the StarNews.  It's used to make it seem like the City Council is being conservative with your money, like they're only spending money on essential services.

Let's take a quick look at budget figures.  The total city budget is about $128M.  The total Police Department budget is about $24M.  The total Fire Department budget is about $15M.  That adds to $39M, not even close to half of the total city budget.

What happens is they refer to the general fund as the entire city budget and they expect you to be ok with it.  They spend millions of dollars in other funds: the convention center fund, fleet maintenance, parking, the golf course fund, technology replacement fund, etc.  Are we not supposed to include this in the total budget?

I brought this up all the way back in February to a StarNews reporter who reported the same distortion.  Here is the response I got:
"Thank you Mr. Fulton. I will ask them about this when the city reopens tomorrow. I've never seen that before."
As you can see, the author isn't going to look up the information for him or herself, but is going to ask the city to explain it.  This is not investigative journalism. It's being a complete lackey for the city.

Laura Padgett: WAVE has 2 million unique riders.

This was said during the Green Builders debate and I called her out then.  Nevermind the fact that "unique rider" in WAVE world doesn't mean the same thing as in the real world.  There are only 200k people or so in the county, so it'd be virtually impossible to have 2 million "unique riders" in this county.  "Unique rider" in WAVE world means number of times people have purchased trips on WAVE, regardless of the actual number of people who have done it. 

The real issue, however, is that for the last fiscal year the number of "unique riders" was given as 1.5M.  Ms. Padgett then suddenly bumped it up to 2M.  Are there any numbers to back this up?
Ron Sparks: Criticized the p-card story in the StarNews.

Ron was particularly assertive in his criticism of this story, calling it out in two separate debates.  Had he even read the story at the time he was criticizing it?  I know the answer to this question, and will say that if I were a journalist in the local media, I would be asking this question.

Friday, October 28, 2011

9 Out of 10 Downtown Business Owners Say Wilmington Government Less Supportive of Businesses than Other Cities'

Is anyone surprised?


(Circle 1)      11. IF you have ever owned or operated a business in another city,  is the City Government of Wilmington or MORE  or  LESS  (circle ONE)  cooperative and supportive of businesses than the City Government of the other city you  have done business in? 
What other city have you owned a business in? ­­­­­_________________________________________ 
                                More – 10%   Less – 90%
Other cities noted as previous places of business; Norfolk VA., Conyers NC, Nyack NY, Charlotte NC, Burlington NC, Hampstead NC, Tampa FL, Washington DC, Carrboro NC, Winston Salem NC, Richmond VA, Apex NC, Virginia Beach Va, Tuscaloosa Al, Durham NC

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Red Light Camera Article

To see just how egregious these cameras are in Wilmington, go here.

USA Today:

Some contracts restrict police from doing things like lengthening the yellow signal [Lengthening a yellow light by 1 sec. can reduce accidents up to 40%] and leave taxpayers holding the bag if the contracts are terminated early, says the report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the federation of state public interest research groups.

"The most problematic contracts require cities to share revenue with the camera vendor on a per-ticket basis or through other formulas as a percentage of revenue," the group says. [This is what happens in Wilmington]

[...]"In 2011, camera vendors employed nearly 40 lobbyists in Florida, whose agenda included killing a bill that would have required municipalities to adopt longer yellow-light times to increase intersection safety," the report says.