Russell’s Ramblings

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

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

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

SPECIAL BUSINESS BRIEFING: The Business of Tolls – Myths, Misinformation and Mayhem

tollsThe Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce will hold two separate special business briefings on Tuesday August 11th and Tuesday August 18th from 6:30 to 8 pm at The Galway Hooker Irish Pub located at 17044 Kenton Dr. in Cornelius. While the chamber of commerce would like to encourage local business owners and managers to attend, the special business briefings are open to the public. Chamber leaders will be joined by Mecklenburg County Board Commissioner Jim Puckett as they cite the business and economic implications of the proposed Toll Lane plan on the Lake Norman economy.

The Chamber initially took a firm stance that the widening of I-77 from exit 36 to just below exit 23 was critical to the overall economic health of the region. Bill Russell, president of the chamber and an ex-officio board member of the Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission, points out that local elected and business leaders were presented with the option of widening I-77 through tolling or waiting 20 years or more for the project to be funded with general purpose lanes.  “We did not think putting off relief for 20 years was an option,” he said.  “However, it would now seem the proposed HOT Lanes will not relieve congestion – it actually guarantees it!”

Past Chamber Chair John Hettwer agrees, “Like many business owners in the last few years, I was battling through the recession, building my business, and confident our elected leadership was looking out for all of us.  Unfortunately, they were being given misleading information by the NCDOT, and we now find ourselves in a fight for the economic and business vitality of our region.”

Jim Puckett, Mecklenburg County Commissioner for District #1 has been a longtime opponent of the toll project.  “I- 77 is the lifeline of North Mecklenburg and South Iredell counties and the current design and tolling plans will have a devastating impact on the future of our region and economic development going forward.  With the current ill-conceived plan contracted to last 50 years NOW is the time for the business community to push for a better solution. “

Chamber leaders hope to use the meetings to further educate businesses and citizens on the impact of tolling at the lake and plans to move forward.  Russell said he hopes citizens and business owners will attend one of the two meetings and encourage their friends and neighbors to attend. “I know a great many elected leaders, including our governor, say it’s far too late to stop this project now.  Perhaps so, but on the other hand it’s simply never too late to do the right thing.”

August 11, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment