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Cornelius News

Still waters run deep: Mayor, Town Board disagree

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ANALYSIS. By Dave Yochum. It’s looking more like the mayor of Cornelius and the Town Board are going through a public divorce. Mayor Chuck Travis, an almost universally acknowledged good guy, successful Charlotte businessman, family man, community friend, and North Carolina native, is at odds with the Town Board.

In addition to what amounted to a public rebuke—Commissioner Dave Gilroy uses the word “censure”—over the I-77 toll fiasco, the board and the mayor aren’t communicating very much in the wake of their December public meeting.

The mayor was partly behind canceling the board’s first meeting in January, much to the chagrin of Commissioner Jim Duke who expressed his concern at the next meeting, held Jan. 19.

The mayor did not attend, and Mayor Pro Tem Woody Washam presided.

Committee appointments, a big thing for people who are elected to serve, were changed around by the mayor—and put back under pressure. A special planning retreat at The Peninsula Club was cancelled because of snow Jan. 23, was never re-scheduled, much to the consternation of at least two board members.

“Chuck has chosen not to be where the community wants to go, so the community is going without him,” says businessman John Hettwer, a man who could put bluster in a filibuster.

Hettwer was recently elected chairman of the I-77 Business Plan, a group of powerful business leaders, including former Chamber Chairman Mike Russell and political leaders like Sen. Jeff Tarte, himself a former mayor of Cornelius, not to mention Peninsula resident Kurt Naas, founder of the WidenI-77.org, the original anti-toll group.

Hettwer is the owner of Payroll Plus and a former chairman of the Lake Norman Chamber, which has always been a force to be reckoned with in Cornelius politics. The chamber came around like a mighty ship this past spring on the managed lane project, coming out squarely against the 50-year contract with Cintra.

Travis, meanwhile, continues to serve on the state’s Turnpike Authority. And, perhaps out of a sense of independence, or the fact that he was running for re-election unopposed, never responded to Greg Wallace’s candidate survey around tolls last summer.

This is where it gets more interesting.

Another member of the I-77 Business Plan, John “Mac” McAlpine V,  says he met with Travis on the last day that candidates could file to run for office in the fall elections; this would have been in July of last year.

Based on their conversation, McAlpine says he opted not to run for mayor, and he let key influencers like Hettwer and Wallace, an executive with Rusty Wallace Racing, know that the mayor was firmly in the anti-toll camp.

Exactly where the mayor is on the subject was confusing enough that he issued a press release. He also traveled to Texas at his own expense to look at a managed lane project there, but failed to debrief members of the town board before or after.

The five members of the non-partisan town board voted to censure him around the toll issue.

“This censure of Mayor Travis is simply about accountability. In the past few years Travis has exercised very poor judgment on the most critical issue that has faced the citizens of North Mecklenburg in the last 50 years,” Gilroy said.

The five board members essentially agreed that everyone needs to understand that the mayor is out on his own when it comes to his statements about I-77.

Travis did not comment about the meeting with McAlpine, nor would he discuss what Hettwer has to say, but he did re-send his press release outlining his position on the tolls.

Here is the question we sent the mayor, and copied McAlpine and Hettwer:

“A potential candidate for mayor, Mac McAlpine, met with you on the last day of filing to discuss your position on the Cintra toll lane project.

“I understand you assured him you were opposed to the tolls, and he opted not to run for mayor based on your conversation, which was shared with business leaders like John Hettwer who had already checked in with you and, therefore, chose to not run a candidate in the mayoral election.

“Now they feel betrayed. Do you think citizens were short-changed by what appears to be a lack of openness and, ultimately, a lack of debate during the election season on this subject?

“Of course, you ran unopposed, and the Town Commission has voted 5-0 to separate themselves and the town from you on the subject of I-77 and tolls. If you would comment, please…”

Travis responded this way:

“My intent has always been to fix our broken interstate. I will forward all correspondence with Resolutions signed and the request made to Secretary Tennyson where I state that I stand with my Board as the Mayor, no different than any conversation with others.”

He also re-issued the press release, which was sent before the Town Board voted 5-0 to censure an almost universally acknowledged good guy, successful Charlotte businessman, family man, community friend, and North Carolina native.

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