The Art of Utilizing Public Works for Public Support
Firethorne Campaign Organizers, and their candidates - particularly Joe Pollino, appear to have mastered the art of garnering votes for political favors with public funding. Perhaps the most definitive example occurred this year. Marvin's Council majority appeared not to know anything about previously adopted Road Resurfacing Policies or Schedules on which they had voted. The lapse in their memory's allowed all of Firethorne's roads to be added to the NCDOT 5-year work plan, allowed those roads to be placed directly at the top of the list, allowed Firethorne roads to supersede roads Providence Glen and sections of Marvin Creek, which were already scheduled.
Council Minority Road Priority Questions Stir Dramatic & Puzzling Reactions
In early Fall, 2018, Councilwoman Shkut had finally been recognized as a Council member, followed by three court decisions to dismiss Mayor Pollino and Vandenberg's attempt to remove her from office. As information became available, Councilwoman Shkut began catching up on projects underway. One of those projects was the road resurfacing contracts set to be accomplished this year, 2019. However, something about the list, the accelerated speed, and the budget didn't quite seem right to Shkut.
Shkut began asking staff for background information and historical documents. It wasn't long before the Council was being asked to approve contract changes and Shkut and Epps began to question sudden changes which added all of Firethorne roads to the contract, while other subdivisions, like Providence Ridge and part of Marvin Creek, had been removed.
The Orchestrated Protest Occurring on April 10, 2019
On April 10, 2019, Shkut's and Epp's insistence on the provision of information, was suddenly met by a coordinated protest from angry residents in Heritage Oaks, who had been told Shkut and Epps were trying to remove their roads from the road resurfacing list.
In a dramatic showing, Chairman of Marvin's Planning Board, Mr. John Jones (now named in a lawsuit) dumped a bucket of broken asphalt on the wood floors of Marvin Village Hall. Presumably, this was intended to demonstrate the current state of Heritage Oaks' roads. Exchanges grew so heated that Councilperson Dispenziere called Union County Sheriff Deputies to the meeting for security reasons. Meeting attendees who were not privy to Firethorne Election Campaign motivations didn't know what to make of the uproar.
Now, public records appear to substantiate Shkut and Epp's suspicions regarding the sudden amendment in the road resurfacing schedule and the bolstered funding effort required to support project changes. The sudden change brought Firethorne Roads onto the project list; to the top of the project list; to the tune of $380k in Marvin taxpayer dollars, without any supplementation in road-sharing contributions from NCDOT.
The Pollino Election-Year Conundrum
In late 2018, Firethorne Campaign Organizers became aware, that Mayor Pollino, proud Firethorne Club member, hadn't had a particularly successful mayoral leadership year. Abdication of duties; a government shut-down; attempts to have an appointee physically removed from office; a sweeping attempt to change the Village Charter (among other things) left Mayor Pollino's fitness for office in question. Meanwhile, Firethorne Election Campaign Organizers have learned that mobilizing Firethorne subdivision and club member votes have the potential to accomplish a lot in Marvin's election arena. But a problem was arising this year. Engaged citizens were in agreement on Pollino's lagging mayoral performance and bad press.
The question, for Firethorne Election Campaign Organizers became: How do we motivate Firethorne members to vote?"
The answer appears to have been found in road resurfacing projects and public funds.
Sudden Schedule Change: Firethorne's In; Marvin Creek Portions & Providence Ridge, Out!
In March, Firethorne Election Campaign Organizers grew suspiciously defensive when Councilors Shkut and Epps began questioning why the adopted 2017 policy was being ignored, sudden road resurfacing schedules and a ~$380,000 contract to fund those changes with an exorbitant proportion of Marvin's taxpayer funds. Meanwhile roads scheduled to be resurfaced, in Providence Ridge and Marvin Creek were suddenly kicked off the list. (See Village Engineers Approved 2017 Work List Prior to Mayor's Meeting vs after Mayor's meeting)
Prior to August 2018 no Firethorne roads were scheduled to be resurfaced. (See See 2017 Adopted Road Policy & Schedule Showing No Firethorne Roads Scheduled) In fact, Council meeting audio records confirm Mayor Pollino continuously asserting that roads in Firethorne didn't need resurfacing any time soon because Firethorne's HOA Board had resurfaced those roads when the HOA installed speed tables in and around 2014. (See 2014-2017 Audio Records.)
When Did the Change in the Schedule Occur?
The Council majority wanted Councilors Epps and Shkut to believe Village engineers and/or NCDOT officials initiated this change and statements to this effect were repeated over and over again. Yet, public records reveal something quite different. For one, calls to NCDOT officials say the change was precipitated by Village staff in April, 2018. Now, correspondence in public records appears to confirm this.
On April 25, 2018, Interim Administrator, Chris Robertson asked MarvinVillage engineers to provide her with documents to show which roads were scheduled to be resurfaced. (See Mayor Asks About Adding Roads to Engineers Road List)
☙ Village engineers respond with a document that reflects the Adopted 2017 schedule. (See Village Engineers Approved 2017 Work List Prior to Mayor's Meeting)
☙ The Interim Administrator responds by saying she had just held a meeting with Mayor Pollino and Mayor Pro Tem Dispenziere.
☙ The Interim Administrator then puts forth "follow-up questions" arising from this with Mayor Pollino and Dispenziere, which clearly convey an intent to 'add roads' to the previously adopted 2017 road resurfacing schedule...
Sent: Wednesday, April 25, 2018 1:00 PM
Lara and I met with our Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem about bonds and roads this morning and have the following follow-up questions.
...can you give us a cost to re-assess the roads in the under 90 categories that are in the "Remaining Section" (meaning not those in the 48% that are in the NCDOT work plan for the next few years)?
...Could that work be done before the May 8th council meeting?
...is there an opportunity for the Village to piggyback on the 2019-20 work NCDOT will be doing by adding in roads we want to re-surface...
...would putting out a bond referendum to cover roads not on the NCDOT work plan for the next few years hurt us...?
More Unlawful Actions Behind Closed Doors
This four-year schedule had never been discussed in an open meeting, nor had the Council been given the opportunity to vote on this change, in a lawful, open meeting. Instead, behind closed doors, Mayor Pollino and Dispenziere, accelerated the Village’s adopted road resurfacing schedule, increased the road resurfacing budget and revised NCDOT’s work plan to include all of Firethorne's subdivision roads. Within weeks, Councilman Salimao resigned, Councilwoman Mary Shkut was appointed, a new Village Administrator had been hired, and the Village Planner resigned; all within the span of two-months.
The next time the road resurfacing schedule was presented to the Council, was August, 2018. In seems Pollino and his majority were able to take advantage of a new Administrator, a Council member's resignation, and a new Council member appointment, to advance a "four-year-road-resurfacing-schedule" which (a) broadened scope (b) grossly accelerated tax contributions, and (c) allowed a reconfiguration of the road policy in order to directly benefit the Mayor's voting base in Firethorne.
By the time the contract had been presented, Councilwoman Shkut had been asking questions about the status of initially adopted schedules, previously adopted policies and why the contract was suddenly diverging. No one was providing answers. Councilwoman Shkut said, "Although I was not really involved in road policy, I distinctly remembered the existence of an adopted policy and 5-year schedule. It took me hours to comb though old packets and documents, but I finally found a reference to it. And thankfully, staff was able to pull it up for me this morning, hours before this meeting...What I don't understand is; 'how is it that those of you who voted to adopt this policy, never once mentioned it in response to all of my questions about how this new schedule was initiated?" (VC Meeting Audio Records: Feb - April 2018) The adopted policy to which Shkut was referring can be found here: 2018 - 2016 PCI Inventory Rvsd. to Appear as Engineers New 4-Year Schedule)
Firethorne Roads Paid by Taxpayers Alone / Beyond Powell Bill Allotment & No NCDOT Cost-Sharing
In the past two years, NCDOT funding and Village of Marvin Powell Bill funds have been combined to resurface scheduled roads and bring said roads up to Marvin road standards, just prior to the Village’s acceptance of these same roads in the municipal road system. NCDOT contributes a share of the costs in exchange for being relieved of future responsibility for said roads. However, this year there were some differences and an astounding financial coincidence.
Firstly, the Village’s contribution to resurfacing roads was twice as much as the Village initially planned to expend on road resurfacing and acceptance each year.
Secondly, and more importantly? The Village's road resurfacing costs totaled exactly what it cost to resurface all of the Firethorne roads which had just been added to the Village / NCDOT work plan. This means the resurfacing and acceptance of Firethorne’s roads were entirely funded by the Village of Marvin and does not appear to be part of the Village/NCDOT cost-share program in the same affordable way other roads have been covered. (See Council Report: Firethorne Roads Paid w Village Funds w/o Cost Sharing)
Public projects like this tend to be pretty good incentives for voters. Were these public expenditures arranged in exchange for 2019 mayoral votes?
There is no way to know for sure, whether votes were garnered in exchange for publicly funded favors. However, there is one thing we do know... Mayor Pollino and Dispenziere's visit precipitated some extreme changes in policy, and an unusual degree of voting enthusiasm, among Firethorne voters, definitively correlates with a major public works project in the neighborhood.