Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

The Politics of Business

Russell thoughts 1Tip O’Neil, the 55th Speaker of the House and perhaps one of the most influential members of the United States Congress once said, “All politics is local.” He coined the phrase in a 1992 Congressional campaign running against an attorney who was heavily financed with out of state campaign contributions. What O’Neil was referring to was the principles that a politician’s success is directly linked to his or her ability to understand fully and influence the issues of their constituents.

The last few weeks and the week ahead will see a flurry of campaigning for local office and school board by both incumbents wishing to hold onto their seats and newcomers looking for an opportunity to serve. This year’s town boards are quite competitive with perhaps the most ever seeking an opportunity to represent their community.

The last local election could have been seen as a referendum on I-77 as tolls at Lake Norman figured prominently into the debate. There is no question that transportation – whether they are state roads or under local control – are critical in the minds of voters.

The Chamber has aggressively advocated for the cancellation of the Cintra Contract and moving forward with general purpose lanes since we adopted a Resolution calling for that action in June of 2015.

At a recent trip to my dentist, he pointed out I-77 has significantly impacted his business as they almost daily have to shuffle appointments from patients who are caught in traffic. Those of course are  patients who choose to reschedule!Reagan

This election cycle, voters in Mecklenburg County will decide the fate of a $922 million Charlotte Mecklenburg School Bond. As I write this article, your Chamber Board has not taken a position on the Bonds and may not.

As business leaders, we understand that education – public and private – is the foundation of our economic and business development. Our schools provide our workforce and the future generation which will inherit our communities tomorrow.

One of my favorite politicians of all time was Ronald Reagan. I met Reagan when I was National President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees).

It is well documented that Speaker O’Neil and President Reagan were constantly at odds. O’Neil said Reagan was the most ignorant man who ever occupied the White House and “a cheerleader for selfishness.” In his memoirs, the Speaker was asked about the attacks on the President and how the two seemed to remain friends. O’Neil commented, “Before 6:00 pm it’s all politics.”

Reagan himself once quipped, “If you’re afraid of the future, then get out of the way, stand aside. The people of this country are ready to move again.”

Our economy seems to be doing quite well and I believe our citizens are ready to get moving again. The businesses of Lake Norman have looked to the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce for 30 years to help create jobs and provide an environment that encourages entrepreneurship and business development.

The bottom line is we as business, community, and elected leaders cannot go back and change any mistakes that were made yesterday but we can create a brand new beginning. A change that begins with us, one person and one community at a time. It is the charge we have from our past and the responsibility we owe to the future.

Bill Russell

This column was written originally for the October Lake Norman Chamber Splash Newsletter and appeared as a Guest Column in the October 4th issue issue of the Lake Norman Citizen Newspaper (Page 32), Photo taken at the 72nd Annual Meeting of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) Portland Oregon, June 1992.

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October 30, 2017 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), Politics, Transportation & Road Improvement, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The voice which will not be silenced

Russell thoughts 1On January 2, 1996, I was hired as President of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, then known as the North Mecklenburg Chamber.  The Chamber at the time was working aggressively to bring a new High School to the area.  Our region was seeing dramatic growth, yet the schools were overcrowded and the CMS leadership in Charlotte relied on bussing North Mecklenburg children to schools in Charlotte as the answer.

While local elected officials and business leaders lobbied our School Board, the real change came about because parents and citizens said enough is enough. A successful lawsuit brought by local parents challenged the status quo and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools were forced through the courts to stop using kids as pawns in their student assignment policies.

The North Mecklenburg Education Committee, Chamber of Commerce, FUME, and Town elected leadership worked together to bring new schools to North Meck. There are several significant individuals who played a key role from the county commissioners and school board representatives of District #1 to the parents and citizens who simply stood up to the bad policies impacting our children.

It’s funny how in twenty years some things have changed and some things have not. Once again, we see North Mecklenburg getting short changed – this time in the form of transportation improvements. Our elected leadership in Charlotte still holds the trump cards in a high stakes game which has dire consequences for the quality of life and commerce at the lake for the next 50 years.

Only…it is no game.  This nightmare is for real and the stakes are the legacy we leave for the generations to come.

Just as parents took the lead in an education lawsuit almost two decades ago, local citizens have banded together to stop the HOT lanes.  Widen I77 has a court date set for January 8th as they contest NCDOT’s contract with the Spanish firm Cintra.  Just over $100,000 has been raised by Widen I77 through fundraisers and local citizen contributions.I77 Traffic Jam

Running on a different path, the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) will take up the issue again January 20th and could decide to ask NCDOT to cancel the contract with HOT lanes at the lake. Currently, the City of Charlotte controls 46% of the vote. There is a touch of irony that once again an individual, who does not reside in North Mecklenburg, could decide the future of a region for decades to come.

All that said, just as it was almost two decades ago when I arrived at the chamber, it will not be the influential “Power Players” that wakes the lake and with it…the state.

It will not be a Governor, Senator, State Legislator, or town board who stops the madness.  It will be the grassroots.  The mom who takes to the road everyday with her kids, the store owner trying to carve out a living, the young person just out of college, citizens, and parents – just everyday people who have been pushed way too far.

It will be one voice amplified thousands of times in a voice too loud to be silenced. A voice which will not be ignored until the will of the people prevail over the power of the few. And a voice which grows, louder, and louder, and louder each day.

But make no mistake, what started as a ripple in the waters of a lake will wash across this state, leaving change in its wake.

Bill Russell

January 4, 2016 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce, Transportation & Road Improvement, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pennies for Progress

 200px-SfogWhen I was ten, my grandparents took me on a trip to visit Six Flags over Georgia.  Carowinds, today’s regional amusement park, was still years from breaking ground. We loaded up the car and down the highway we went.  Granddaddy, not one to splurge on unnecessary items, had purchased a Mercury  automobile without air conditioning.   No matter!  Grandmamma had packed a bag with Cracker Jacks, Cheese Nibs, and cool orange sodas.

While the trip down seemed uneventful, withstanding the anticipation of a ten year old, the return trip proved to be quite amusing.  We left Atlanta about mid-day on a hot July afternoon.  The late start and the fact we had no AC began to take its toll on the inhabitants of granddaddy’s new car.  About the time we reached Greenville, granddaddy began flapping his arms in great anxiety.  Mumbling to himself he seemed to be quite agitated.  Grandmamma asked him what seemed to be the problem.  “My arms keep sticking together, “ he complained.

“What kind of deodorant did you use this morning?” my grandmamma inquired.  “I don’t know.  Whatever you had on the counter,”  he retorted with a grimace on his face.     I could see a look of thought before she responded back at him.  “I didn’t have anything on the counter ,” she said.  “The pink can Louise.  I used the deodorant in the pink can.”  Grandmamma looked straight ahead and then responded with a shrug, ”No wonder you’re miserable.   That was my hair spray.”

Today’s drivers do not need to use hair spray as deodorant to get agitated with driving.  Our congested roads are getting more crowded each day.  Even with out of control gas-hikes, our traveling seems unabated.photo_1245200218530-1-1

     If the Village at Lake Norman project is approved by our County officials and gets the green light from NC DOT, many of our road needs could be addressed.  However, our Charlotte regional road projects still exceed $6 billion in funding.

Our neighbors to the south in York County (SC) have taken matters into their own hands with a road campaign called “Pennies for Progress”.   A temporary sales tax approved by the voters prioritized regional road needs throughout the county.  The 1997 campaign raised $185 million for 14 road projects.  The tax, set to expire in 2009, was reapproved in 2003.  Ironically, Jerry Helms, the Vice President for Operations at Carowinds, chaired the initial campaign and recently addressed the elected leadership of Lake Norman’s four lake towns.

Helms stressed that the success of the referendum was establishing trust in the campaign by creating a tax that sunset after raising the funds; prioritizing the road projects; ensuring road projects were spread evenly throughout all areas of the tax district; and having an independent board (with no government composition) oversee the program.

707-279388-133086_embedded_prod_affiliate_6Some have suggested a Lake Norman “Invest a Head” program modeled closely after York County’s Pennies for Progress.  Like the latter program, it would be imperative to keep the program accountable by making sure the revenue mechanism is temporary and requires voter approval.

Granddaddy Russell was never amused when I recounted the trip back from Atlanta.  He passed away many years ago but those memories always bring a smile back to my face.  And I’m quite certain if he were here today, he’d agree – York County’s Pennies for Progress … certainly made a lot of cents!

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Transportation & Road Improvement | , , , , | Leave a comment