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Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Here is a quick breakdown of the Hickory Daily Record article regarding Boost Hickory's (BH) failure to comply with the State Board of Election's (SBOE) financial disclosure laws.
Boost Hickory committee late on finance report - Hickory Daily Record - Frank Bumb - November 3, 2014
Right off the bat we are given the standard, weak, textbook excuse for not filing the reports on time. It's the political equivalent to "the dog ate my homework." Campaign 101: "I just didn't get (the notice)" - Mike Thomas; Partner at Patrick, Harper, & Dixon LLPC (Psst - that's right folks. He's a Princeton-educated lawyer).
Why did this even become an issue? This one even has me stumped. There was actually never a need for the Boost Hickory Committee to register with the SBOE. Despite Mike Thomas' claims, Boost Hickory IS NOT a state wide campaign. Hickory having residents in multiple counties means absolutely nothing. The BH Committee could have simply registered with the Catawba County BOE. However, that would have meant being held accountable by a government entity much closer to home and more focused on holding BH accountable to applicable laws.
It is clear from the partial list that has been made public that at least 44% of the money raised by the BH folks came from CORPORATE sources. While completely legal, clearly this shows the lack of widespread public support for this referendum (Tax Hike) by the thousands of average citizens that would eventually be strapped with the increased tax burden needed to repay the Hickory Inc. version of corporate welfare.
Even while FINALLY making SOME of the disclosure report public, Attorney Mike Thomas has done this community a huge disservice by not allowing the voting public their civic/legal right to properly vet these numbers. Voters are unquestionably entitled to as much information as possible so that they can make the most informed decision they can. Granted, while many voters would not personally search through public databases to research the plethora of campaign finance reports, various media sources do routinely report on such things and make that information available to the public in a more reader-friendly style. Every candidate that is on the ballot in Catawba County properly filed their disclosure reports ON TIME - Boost Hickory failed.
What could be concluded from this act of defiance? Well, now that we have seen SOME of the numbers, it could be concluded that BH views the fine that will be imposed by the SBOE (likely to be around $350) as a mere pittance compared to what they have raised and spent on this "Tax Hike" initiative.
Why is any of this even remotely important? Is it about simply not complying with state law? No! Is it about illegal signs and not complying with local ordinances? Not even close.
Those so closely associated with BH have long and publicly boasted of their trustworthiness and their adherence to being completely transparent.
Trustworthy: Adjective - taking responsibility for one's conduct and obligations. Regarding the illegal signs. The City of Hickory notifies EVERY campaign of all applicable election/campaign ordinances. Included in this information, it CLEARLY outlines the guidelines pertaining to campaign signs. Moreover, it is written in VURRY (that one is for you, Rudy) understandable language. To be sure, there is NO ambiguity to the guidelines. Yet still, Boost Hickory (with one week left in the campaign) blitzed the City with the biggest campaign signs that have ever been seen locally. The City's limit on political sign size is 16 sq.ft. Boost Hickory busted through that with signs that were 3x's over that limit. This was on top of the City notifying Boost Hickory of the sign ordinance and having them remove a sign that was 2-story's in height (approximately 600 sq. feet) that was draped off the roof of the Hollar Mill building -- a previous and future Inspiring Spaces/Boost Hickory beneficiary and committee member.
At any rate, despite having been notified that the 10'x5' signs were illegal, Mike Thomas still claimed that Boost Hickory knew nothing of any illegal signs and refused to voluntarily comply with City ordinances. Now, that's a long way of illustrating that Boost Hickory folks indeed don't take responsibility for their conduct and obligations.
Transparent - Capable of being perceived or understood; plain or clear; obvious; hiding nothing. Regarding the disclosure reports. Again, this leads back to allowing voters access to as much information as possible and in this case legally required information. Isn't it telling that nearly half of the contributions come from corporate donors? One might even be critical of the lack of diversity of the reported donors. Well, one might be critical IF they had the pertinent information in time. Displaying such a disregard for Hickory's citizens' right to know must surely raise questions about Boost's flimsy and empty claims of trustworthiness and transparency.
And, to be fair, the State Board of Elections' financial disclosure laws are easy to understand. Surely a partner at one of the City's most notable law firms - Patrick, Harper, & Dixon - shouldn't have had that much trouble interpreting a simple reporting deadline timetable. And while Mike Thomas did the right thing by making public the report, doing so the evening before Election Day certainly deserves no commendation. Mike Thomas (Boost Hickory) only did what the law required him to do.
It should not go unreported that this information would have never been made public had it not been for an inquiry by a citizen. Moreover, that very citizen has received nothing but harassment from at least one City Council member for publicly questioning Boost Hickory's failure to comply with the SBOE. That City Council member went as far as to even insist that the citizen was "misinformed" about the facts -- the very facts above.
If there is one thing that we can take away from this that will be applicable in the future, it is this - FUTURE CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE MIKE THOMAS will easily fit the Hickory Inc. mold!!!
Let me leave you with this last thought. Make no mistake about it, the Boost Hickory Referendum should not be passed. It is not because we should not invest in our City or in ourselves and each other. Vote against this Referendum so that on November 5th, we can demand that our elected officials get to work on an investment strategy that truly takes into account this entire City. For what it's worth, a good start would be to add more seats to the table and make sure that everyone that wants a seat is welcome and respected. By involving more people in the decision making process, a more acceptable, more effective, and stronger plan can be developed and would be supported by the citizens.