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

Thoughts from a cluttered desk – What direction are we headed?

What direction are we headed?

AliceIn Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, there is an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat
“–so long as I get somewhere” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

I’m sure many of us feel like Alice.  Stuck in the congestion of I-77, if we wait long enough, we’ll get to our destination. The promise of express lanes to expedite our travel seemed like a solution months ago given the option of HOT lanes or no widening of I-77 at all. The leaders of the chamber of commerce felt the former option was the only option.

There are times looking back on this issue, I feel like our elected leaders…and yes…the business leaders too, including me, struggled with the right road to our funding. How do you get “there” when you don’t know where “there” is?

As I write this, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce has joined other business and citizen voices in calling for the cancellation of the contract between NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners. It is an action on our part brought about by the groundswell of residents, small business owners and chamber of commerce members who saw the direction we were headed and said that is not the direction we need to go.

The Lake Norman area is unique. The Interstate which runs through the heart of our lake communities, yet is the common bond uniting our region, makes us different than other cities and towns in North Carolina.  I-77 is a local road.  It is how we get from one community to the next.  We may live in Huntersville, work in Cornelius, go to church in Davidson, and shop in Mooresville – but for many of us, we use I-77 to get there.I77 express lanes

Tolling and Public – Private Partnerships may well be the means to fund road improvement projects in other areas of the state.  That said, it’s not the best option for Lake Norman.

It doesn’t take a Cheshire Cat to figure out that not any old road will do. The path we were headed down was the wrong road. It was bad for the citizens living here.  It was bad for business. More importantly, it was bad for the legacy we leave to our children –  those who will inherit the results of our decisions today.

I sincerely hope we change the direction of this dialogue, and more importantly take a different direction in our actions. I’m not sure if we will be successful or not.  I simply know now, and I think I’ve always known, we have to try. We have a responsibility to the next generation of Lake Norman citizens and we dare not fail in our task.

W.E.  “Bill” Russell, CCE IOM

July 6, 2015 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment