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Cornelius News

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


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.