Friday, May 13, 2011

Merchant/James email battle: Trying again

Some of you no doubt wonder what's going on with yesterday's blog on the fiesty email exchange between Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board member Trent Merchant and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James. About the time that readers were getting interested and weighing in, comments shut down, then the blog itself disappeared.

No, we didn't censor the item. There have been massive problems at that started late yesterday afternoon and are just getting resolved. The site status report promises that yesterday's blogs will reappear at some point. (Update: the original blog has been restored without comments; I hope those will be recovered, too.) For now, here's the background on the issues that sparked the exchange.

And here are the emails, with a response by James that landed in my inbox shortly after shut down. -- Ann Doss Helms

From: Bill James []
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 11:44 AM
To: Trent Merchant
Subject: CMS nightmare tax increase

CMS Nightmare tax increase

5-4 school board vote would force tax increases on 144,000 additional Meck citizens
Citizens already receiving tax increase at 'revenue neutral' will be hammered harder

CMS district 6 rep Tim Morgan is swing vote for tax increase
District 6 receives most tax increases of all County Commission districts

For some time, there has been a push to 'leave the tax rate the same' at 83.87 cents).

Chairman Roberts and other D's have pushed for it but for the most part there has not been any hard evidence of the pain it would inflict on citizens here in Mecklenburg.

Yesterday, at my request from several months back, County staff outlined how many people would be hammered if the tax rate stayed the same (sometimes called 'rate' neutral).

To begin with, even at 'revenue neutral' 157,966 households would have a tax increase ('revenue neutral' is dropping the rate to 78.83 cents). I think that rate is too high and believe we need a 'revenue negative budget'.

As bad as raising taxes on 157,966 households (630,000 people approx), IF the rate stayed the same (at 83.87 cents) an additional 36,128 households (aboutr 144,000 more people) would receive a tax increase.

On top of that, the folks who received a 'moderate' tax increase (if there is such an animal) at 'revenue neutral' would be hammered into Mecklenburg's red clay dirt.

A 5% tax hike would turn into a 27% tax hike. If at revenue neutral your tax hike is already 30%.... well, you can do the math.

It would be brutal. Revenue Neutral is already a brutal tax increase which is why I believe the Commission needs a revenue negative budget to lower the extreme tax increases within that pool of 157,966 households (630,000 people).

I am still waiting on that report to come in.

The school board voted to ask for $50 million with the District 6 Republican Tim Morgan (brother of Charlotte Chamber head honcho Bob Morgan) casting the deciding vote for this tsunami of a tax increase.

I note that in terms of the number households with a tax increase by District the order is (at revenue neutral):

District 6 38,074 REPUBLICAN
District 5 36,599 REPUBLICAN
District 1 34,813 REPUBLICAN

District 2 17,594 DEMOCRAT
District 3 15,909 DEMOCRAT
District 4 14,953 DEMOCRAT

It makes me wonder why the Republican from District 6 (which already will have the MOST tax increases in the whole county) would vote to make the matter worse for those in his district when almost all of the money raised by giving CMS $50 million more would benefit people in other districts.

There will be those that say he is looking at the bigger picture or helping out the less fortunate. All good qualities but in the end I think it is because the Chamber wants the increase.

Ultimately, Mecklenburg County citizens can not afford what Tim Morgan, the CMS school board majority and the power elite in Charlotte are dishing out.

If you sit on your hands next week at the public hearing (19th) don't be surprised if your property taxes go up 50%.

The link below is a PDF posted on my web site of the info from the County.

From: Trent Merchant
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 10:38 PM
To:; Tim Morgan
Cc: Eric C. Davis;
Subject: RE: CMS nightmare tax increase

Bill - I want to thank you for your hard work and for yet another installment of your hard-hitting analyses on vital topics via e-blast.

And thank you for reminding me to focus on those things that are most dangerous to my quality of life, rather than simply enjoying said quality of life. Based on your previous missives, I have spent many hours in recent years watching my back, lest African-Americans emerging from the depths of the moral sewer might try to harm me - and watching my backside when I take my children to local parks, certain that I will accosted by marauding packs of gays.

Now I realize that our greatest threat has been right under our noses all along - and its name is Tim Morgan. To think that I believed all of his corn-pone talk about fishing, camping, Boy Scouts, his faith, and his children... Morgan the Megalomaniac has deceived us all as he has found a way to single-handedly raise my taxes, despite the fact that the School Board has no taxing authority. How dare he!

My feeble memory of last night's meeting was that, after 7 months of discussion, a majority of the board voted on an initial budget request to reduce overall funding to CMS by about $64 million. And I could have sworn that when he made the budget motion, Tim Morgan specifically called on state legislators to do their part in protecting funding for public education. And I thought that when he called on the county to restore a significant amount of funding, he was thinking about the schools in the district that you share with him - you know the one where class sizes are already large and will get even larger next year - where your constituents will lose 2/3 of the elementary teaching assistants, many of whom have masters degrees, who have all the qualifications to be teachers except for formal certification - and where 1 key staff member will be cut from every school.

But after reading your clarifying missive, I realize that everything was up in the air until Tim cast his dramatic vote. And I see that Tim has been little more than a sinister puppet controlled by elitists like his big brother. How could I have missed all the signs of the intra-family psychological beat-down that has surely been decades in the making? When Bob Morgan went to head the Gastonia Chamber of Commerce some years ago, we should have recognized that he was going big-time on us... why didn't you warn us then, Bill?

Bill - I understand that before becoming a full-time local politician whose livelihood depends on being re-elected every 2 years, you were a CPA with a reputable firm - so maybe you can help me with a potential cash flow problem that I see developing at home. The recent reval increased the tax value of my modest middle class home by 36%. If the County Commission leaves the tax rate the same, I will pay $108.86 more per year in property taxes than I would if you went to a revenue neutral rate - that is more than $9.07 per month! Sir, this is an outrage! How will we make ends meet in my home? I understand that my children and their peers are important, and that strong public schools lead to a more viable workforce, stronger tax base, and lower crime rate over time - but at what cost? Surely not $108.86.

I look forward to your continuing insight on this and related matters.

And if you do not have insight to share, I remain confident that you will continue to weigh in on other topics on which you feel the urge to incite and inflame. We are all counting on you.

In humble gratitude,
Trent Merchant
CMS Board of Education, At Large

-----Original Message-----
From: William F. James, Jr [
Sent: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 10:52 PM
To: 'Trent Merchant'; 'Tim Morgan'
Cc: 'Eric C. Davis'; ''; 'Don Reid'; ''; 'Jeff Taylor'; mark pellin; Dan Bishop
Subject: RE: CMS nightmare tax increase

Trent -
I think if the guy representing the folks bearing the brunt of most of the tax increases in Mecklenburg wants to vote for that tax increase it is between him and the voters. Who am I to get in the middle of that except to point out that it occurred and he was the lone Republican doing so.

As for your $108.86 potential tax increase - glad you think it is paltry.

I wonder if the public agrees. Using your logic all 194,000 should be pleased with your decision last night.

I got a call from someone in Plaza-Midwood. They had a 117% increase in the value of their house. They are not the only ones.

I think your deficit problem is not with your cash flow.

Tim can defend himself even if his vote isn't particularly defensible.] 


Anonymous said...

Trent Merchant can't add if he thinks his property taxes will only increase $9/month. I don't agree with some of what Bill James says but he is the only representative that looks out for the property owners! Thank you Bill for having the guts to call it like it is! I won't be voting for Trent next go 'round.

Larry said...

Bill is a CPA:

CMS touts Trent's experience:

Trent Merchant was appointed by unanimous vote to the Board of Education in 2006 and was elected in 2007 to serve as an at-large member. Merchant is an executive search consultant with Coleman Lew & Associates. He is a former teacher, administrator, coach and theater director with a decade-long career in independent secondary education. In addition, he was a professional actor and artistic associate with an award-winning theater in Atlanta. Merchant graduated from Washington and Lee University with a bachelor’s degree in African and Asian history, and from Wake Forest University with a master’s degree in American history. He and his wife have two young daughters and a son. Merchant chairs the Board’s Legislative Committee and serves on the CMS Policy Committee. His salary for serving on the Board is $1,019.79 per month.

We at and support Bill for helping us on our taxes when we need the help the most.

Dan said...

I am NOT a Bill James fan, but on this one... Trent Merchant is a jerk!

Good Grief said...

Anon 2:18 - the guy's point was not that his taxes would only go up 9 bucks. it was that that was the difference it would go up if they kept the rate the same instead of going revenue neutral

Larry - they all have bio clips on their websites. What is your rambling point this time?

I don't like my taxes going up but we have to pay for some things. Maybe if the county commission reigned in the cab rides for DSS and donating to evry non-profit, there would be more money

Anonymous said...

trent merchant is such a smug ahole

cltindependent said...

Bill James hates government but loves his government job. Most troubling about his email was the fact that he felt tax dollars from one district shouldn't support other districts. We are in one community. Of course District 6 dollars may go to District 1 or 2 or wherever else. Trent should ignore Bill James because he thrives on attention, that's what he does. I'm in the same boat as Trent, the $10 extra a month won't kill me either. Some kid not in school and looking to do a robbery during the day (as happened in a district not long ago) just might. I don't support CMS laying off teachers and their assistants. If Charlotte can't afford the 50 million to keep our schools in good shape we are in more trouble than I thought.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it was the right issue or not, but I am glad that somebody finally had the guts to call out Bill James, and not just look the other way while he embarrasses our community.

Larry said...

Why would I have a point, I just wanted to say that James is a CPA who was taken to task for his ideas by an individual who has a very interesting business background, according to what he allowed to be posted on the CMS website.

If anyone is not aware Bill has always been on the side of the people fighting since he was mistreated for doing the right thing and was fired for reporting something he should have, and settled with one of the largest financial institutions to keep one of the most beloved financial leaders in this city from being embarrassed, or so the legend goes but who know, maybe I made this up.

Anyway, anyone who follows Bill knows he does some of the most beneficial financial analysis and can make the most complicated government statements easy to understand for all of us.

And notice how the Observer runs to him when they need something very complicated but then turn around when they need ratings and do a hit piece on him.

Bill is a treasure and we in Mint Hill and Matthews go and vote for him even when he is the only one running just to show we support him.

Larry said...

CMS Strategy:

We need cute kids begging for money.

We need rallies.

We need people saying a few bucks a month is not that bad.

We do not need a CPA telling us that he has looked at the Budget and could cut so much out of it that it would mean we could not ask for the 55 million from the County.

Trent you go head to head with Bill and make him look bad.

If we have any of that My People we will lose ground time and people will want to know the growth of Hispanics in the system and we don't need that kind of notice.

Anonymous said...

Trent's email was well conceived and written. He certainly gained my admiration.

Anonymous said...

Typical government thinking. By essentially saying, "It will only cost you about $9 more a month. Is that going to kill you?" you show how governments view their budgets in a void, blind to the other pressures taxpayers face. Ask the voter who has lost his job, faced a pay cut, is paying much more for gas and groceries than he did last year, paying for his kid to take AP exams or play sports, etc., that it's just $9 more a month. It's $9 in light of everything else. Those little amounts quickly add up when many voters have already trimmed their budgets about as much as possible. If only government would learn to live within its means as well.

Larry said...

Hey CltIndependent:

You act as if areas do not want to help other areas. Perhaps we are the problem.

Perhaps like the rest of Charlotte/Mecklenburg we have seen that the many, many taxes we have wasted for the last several decades on CMS have been wasted and now we want the spending reined in.

If you think the drop out rate for African Males is agreeable then perhaps you might wish to tell us what that number might be or call CMS and find the shocking number yourself.

Perhaps you will also want to find out why the Observer did a story a few years ago where they said my asking for help during a meeting in Raleigh, that it was Beyond Human Dignity when I told them what that percentage was and has now only gotten worse.

Anonymous said...

just a 'cup o slaw and a chicken sandwich'

Liberals always think any tax increase is OK.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I left Charlotte and CMS.

Anonymous said...

I am by no means a math wizard, but I find it very hard to believe that Trent Merchant's home value went up 36% during the recent revaluation, and that if the tax rate stayed the same that would equate to $108.86 a year. On a $100,000 house for example, using his numbers, a 36% rise in value would be $136,000. Then to find the increase in tax it would be $36,000 / 100 = 360, then 360 * .8387 = $301.93 / year. If his true number is $108.86, his house must be in the $85,000 range (AFTER the reval), which I just can't believe...

Good Grief said...

Anon 3:51 - Merchant never said that. Read the emails. Of course the reval makes the check to the county bigger

I repost from earlier: the guy's point was not that his taxes would only go up 9 bucks. it was that that was the difference it would go up if they kept the rate the same instead of going revenue neutral

Anonymous said...

Merchant must live in a $65,000 house. Genius...

Anonymous said...

Both of them together couldn't pass a basic math course offered at McDonald's on buy one get one free night.

Ghoul said...

For Good Grief and several others,

This is a repost of a comment I left on the news story version of this before it was deleted, because facts are not allowed on the Observer website.

Trent Merchant is a bold face liar, when he say his taxes would go up $9 per month.

Merchant's home was last valued at $143,800, and is now valued at $178,500, or a 24% increase. Property valuations are public record and can be viewed here:

Merchant last paid $1925 in taxes on his home. Tax bills are public information and can be seen here:

Now $90 is a solid waste fee, and I have seen nothing about it going up, yet. So $1835 in his property tax bill will increase to $2366, or a $440 increase, which is $36.67 per month, a far cry from $9 per month.

Anonymous said...

If anyone is not aware Bill has always been on the side of the people fighting since he was mistreated for doing the right thing and was fired for reporting something he should have, and settled with one of the largest financial institutions to keep one of the most beloved financial leaders in this city from being embarrassed, or so the legend goes but who know, maybe I made this up.
More rambling tripe from the self-appointed avatar of "we."

Anonymous said...

Bill James is a homophobic racist worm.

Larry said...

Why is it people just love hiding behind the anonymous postings and shoot from their little dark holes at others.

What kind of people are these?

Are you just that scared somebody might just know you have an opinion?

Pamela Grundy said...

Good question Larry. Can't wait for the outraged responses from the folks who are always outraged when I question the use of anonymity. What do you think of Larry's statement, folks?

Anonymous said...

How many many aliases does Larry use?
There have been few beloved politicians in this town in the six+ decades I've lived here. Both of these individuals have outlived their usefulness merely by their continual self-promotion and grandstanding. No matter how pointed the wit and sarcasm Mr. Merchant used, it was wasted on the wrong audience in a battle of wits with an unarmed individual. Mr. James represents a constituency of ? and Mr. Merchant represents no one but himself as witnessed his hopeless behavior at Harding High last fall. "A pox upon both of thee."

Larry said...

Larry uses this one Anonymous.

Thanks for helping Pam and I make our point.

PS: Pam we often disagree on things but I admire that you make sure people know the opinion is from you and not an anonymous source.

Larry said...

And apparently the poster above is wondering who Bill represents?

He represents us in Mint Hill and Matthews and part of South Charlotte.

That is the district he was elected in and no one seems to have a problem with people from the other districts, when they say they are taking care of their people.

Especially the Observer and Media. So unless you have some answer to that question hope you understand.

Dolley said...

This is like an episode of dumb and dumber - although at least Bill can do the math. I am not surprised Trent is unable to do simple math - he is the same buffoon who decided folks living 2 miles from Myers Park needed to be bussed across town to East ("for the children") while SURPRISE his kids, who live 8 miles away in a gerrymandered district, should continue to go to Myers Park. He is the proverbial sychophant who will vote the way the uptown boys tell him to in hopes that NEXT TIME he'll be invited to the big frat party. Don't worry Trent, I'm sure your invite just got lost in the mail....

ncdave77 said...

Two showboating politicians doing their thing... but politics aside, Trent's email was hilarious and well-written. It doesn't make me want to pay more in taxes (sorry Trent!) but it did make me smile.

Anonymous said...

If it is ONLY $9.00 per month, then it obviously is not that big a deal. So let's just forget about it and let me keep my $9.00. If it is no biggie for the giver then it is as equally no biggie for the taker.

And by the way, your math needs checked.

Anonymous said...

Trent Merchant is a jerk and so is Bill James. Why do people vote for either one of them. We have BIG problems in this city. This type of dialogue is not helpful in the least.

Anonymous said...

Thank Goodness Lloyd Scher is not on the Board. He want to get in on the email action.

Anonymous said...

Bill James' comments are thoughtful, professional and data driven.

Trent Merchant....what is this? High School?

Anonymous said...

Larry, Larry, Larry, you are trying so hard to defend this jerk James. By all of your ramblings, we see you trying so hard to influence others to your warped way of thinking. What's in the water in Mint Hill? You are sounding more like Rock Hill SC all the time.

Anonymous said...

The greatness of America was built by those like Bill James and millions of others. BJ is but a minor player in the scheme of things and simply a protege of why and how this nation began and sustained itself through turmoil destruction and death for 500 yrs since it was founded by blessed European Xtians following orders to spread the truth to become the greatest nation on earth. The thankless ungrateful evil haters of truth are well notated and will recieve their due in the end ... Be ever vigilante against these evil ones working for their father in hell. Keep fighting the good fight ... The just reward awaits in the end.


Larry said...

Oh sorry I am trying to influence people to my way of thinking by posing comments..... oh wait is that what the anonymous commenter is also doing and yet is admonishing me for?

Anyway it seems that we have people who have awaken to the new reality that CMS is a money waste of tax dollars and only wants to get more money to burn.

So keeping the churning going is the way they keep thing stirred up and your eyes off the problems. The same with the rest of the Government. It is a great day in America.

Anonymous said...

Trent Merchant was mad when he posted and I'm glad he spoke up. CMS has been such a gem that Charlotte has to offer families in this area--it's been an excellent school system. To watch the teachers scrambling and struggling to try to make due with the staggering effects of the cuts has been heartbreaking. (If you haven't seen this, try volunteering in any CMS classroom for a day.) And now deeper cuts? And the accusation that CMS is some kind of greedy villain and can't "live within its budget?" I am constantly surprised at the low values and low sense of community spirit by people in this area who seem to think of themselves as high minded. (And I do NOT include CMS teachers in that accusation!) People who care more about keeping their taxes as low as possible than about the children in their own community getting a reasonable education! Do people feel no sense of their connection and interdependence as a community? Is the only sense of feeling to be for the thickness of the wallet in one's pocket? We pay taxes for a reason. Okay, so the residents of this area willingly let the libraries close up and the parks turn to weed lots and the streets turn to potholes. Maybe those abandoned lots that were parks can soon be the hang out for kids dropping out of the public schools--a place to start getting educated by whomever is hanging out on the streets during the day? That should cure the property tax increase problem since property values should fall considerable in those pretty neighborhoods. A couple of years from now there can be an emergency need to expand the prisons here. Maybe prisons will be this area's new growth industry.

This community is dismantling a school system that the business community, the county, and the state has been able to rave about to draw companies and employees--with no sense of regret? While I'm grieving what we are losing here, I'm also sending my resume out to places where the communities seem to recognize the value of education, and the schools aren't in such peril. It really is heartbreaking, but I dearly want to raise my children in a community that shares my values--and I wish I were seeing that here.

Anonymous said...

To the bleeding heart anonymous: Throwing in more money is obviously not a solution, or it would have worked by now. Or at least gotten better. CMS is a money pit, with no end. Something else needs to be tried before we lose another generation of kids.

kantstanzya said...

Regardless of what you think of Bill James or of his stand on this particular issue at least he stated his case clearly and with facts. Trent Merchant responded with a sarcastic personal attack. It was very unprofessional and one that the Observer would have gotten all over Bill James for had the email senders been reversed. Remember all their lecturing editorials about Larry Gavreau not treating other members with respect on the school board?

One reason the Observer published the emails is because James is on their hit list and they saw Merchant as doing their dirty work for them. In this case it backfired. James came out the winner for at least being a serious public official....agree with him or not. Merchant needs to be sent back to middle school.

Anonymous said...

Trent Merchant's public persona of being smug, arrogant and unlikable negates most everything he says or stands for. He spent that much time crafting a sarcastic response to Bill James, but can only delete emails sent to him from concerned citizens of the long problems at CMS. What is their to like about him, unless you are one of his daughters or family?

Anonymous said...

I recently listened to a conversation of south Charlotte moms seriously discussing switching from CMS to private school. Trent is one of the reasons-throw away money on testing that parents don't want, and then go beg for more money.

Anonymous said...

Not a math genius but my calculations are if Merchant's taxes go up 36% and that is only 109 per year, that puts his total tax bill at $302 a year. I assume that is County only.

If the rate is .8387 per $100 doesn't that put his home value at about $36,000? What kind of a shack does he live in or did I miss the decimal somewhere?

nosportnut said...

I would give James and Merchant five across the lips if I met them in public. They are both conceited, pompous twits who are not dealing with reality.

Anonymous said...

I'm no fan of Bill James, and after reading the pompous (and surely self-congratulatory) email by this guy (who is Trent Merchant anyway?), I'm no fan of him either.

I find it very uncomfortable, but here I am - on Bill James' side on this one. All fluff and math aside, doing anything beyond 'revenue neutral' would be wrong, and I'm putting this mildly.