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Pittenger Forced Me To Endorse Pendergraph


Fern Shubert

It seems odd to defend The Charlotte Observer, but Robert Pittenger’s attempt to make me the fall guy in his Waxhaw annexation leaves me no choice. His comments in “Observer didn’t tell whole story about annexation and me” were a continuation of the misinformation campaign he apparently started in 2003. I don’t like being lied to and I really don’t like it when people spread lies about me. This is to set the record straight.

I could quibble with a couple of items in the July 1 story that so upset Mr. Pittenger. I was actually amused by the suggestion Pittenger supporter Tommy Tucker has no ties to Pittenger because he claims he does not invest with him, but the story was not about who financed Tucker and the lies Tucker used to get elected.

(By the way, Tucker’s company sells HVAC equipment and, no surprise, he enjoyed builder/developer support. An amazing number of former Senator Aaron Plyler’s Democratic supporters also helped pay to spread the lie that I couldn’t get a bill passed in the Senate. Tucker and Pittenger need to co-ordinate their stories better. If I couldn’t get a bill passed, how could I have put through the Waxhaw annexation?)

My only real objection was Morrill’s failure to tell his readers, few of whom have extensive knowledge of the legislature, that Pittenger’s statement that 100 percent of local bills pass, made to excuse the fact he voted for a bill of direct benefit to himself, is easily proven to be untrue.

My favorite example of a local bill failing spectacularly is S46 in 2001, sponsored by Senator Aaron Plyler with Representative Pryor Gibson handling the bill in the House because I would not, which I personally helped go down in flames. (In a 120 member House, it got 25 votes.)

Contrary to Mr. Pittenger’s suggestion, I’m not criticizing him because I support Pendergraph. I support Pendergraph because I really don’t like how business was (and is) being done in Raleigh. Pryor Gibson’s recent attempt to use deceit to obtain funding for the Garden Parkway shines a light on a dramatic and very expensive example of crony capitalism teaming up with corrupt government officials who are bi-partisan when it comes to personal profit.

But to get to the details of the Waxhaw annexation, details Mr. Pittenger clearly would like to go away.

I wondered in 2003 why so many people seemed to blame me for an annexation that I did not initiate and could not block, but now that I’ve seen the letter sent to the press when questions were raised about Pittenger’s involvement in the Waxhaw annexation in 2003, the reason is clear. According to the June 26, 2003 letter signed by Waxhaw Mayor Jack Hemby:

“The Town of Waxhaw has been attempting to annex the area in question for over two years. After failed attempts we asked Senator Fletcher Hartsell and Senator Fern Shubert to sponsor a bill to bring this land into Waxhaw. This bill was requested by the Town of Waxhaw and not Senator Robert Pittenger.”

I have no idea who wrote the letter, but I know I was not contacted by anyone from Waxhaw concerning the annexation. No one asked me to run a bill. No such bill was even introduced. The repeated attempts to suggest a bill was introduced to permit the  annexation when, so far as I know, no such bill was even requested in 2003 is part of a pattern of misleading the public. And from the sentence referencing Pittenger, the reason the letter was written is clear.

How odd that just before the letter was written, Waxhaw officials were denying any involvement in the annexation. Suddenly, after people named Pittenger as responsible, a letter from the Mayor specifically denying Pittenger’s involvement and trying to pin full responsibility on me and Hartsell appears.

And in 2003, Mike Simpson initially disclaimed any involvement in the annexation.

Now Pittenger cites “An email from Councilman and Waxhaw Town Administrator Mike Simpson to senators requesting their support” but fails to mention the June 22, 2003 email was only sent to Democrats. If the Democrats all voted with Pittenger and Hartsell, as could be expected, no one could stop the  annexation in the Senate.

The op-ed Pittenger just wrote continues the myth of a bill when it references a statement from Curtis Blackwood, who actually represented the affected area, and says “Without his critical support, there never would have been a bill. He would say I never discussed it with him.”

I believe Representative Blackwood when he says Pittenger never discussed it with him, both because I have found Blackwood to be honest and because Pittenger had no need to discuss a non-existent Waxhaw annexation bill with a freshman Republican in a Democrat-controlled House if the annexation already had Jim Black’s support.

If you ask Blackwood, and I did, he doesn’t remember anyone asking him to take a role in the Waxhaw annexation at issue, which makes sense as it was never even debated in the House. When H705 was debated in the House it was about a Matthews annexation. The only time the Waxhaw annexation was even presented to the House, it was a concurrence vote on the House Bill that Jim Black co-sponsored after it was amended in the Senate to include Waxhaw. Adding an unrelated issue to a bill that has already passed one house is a well-known legislative trick to enhance the chance of success by avoiding the usual procedures, but it only works with the support of the legislature’s leaders.

Robert Pittenger came to me on the floor of the Senate, with Fletcher Hartsell following him, and told me Hartsell was going to amend a bill coming over from the House, H705, to help Waxhaw with a satellite annexation and he hoped I would support the  amendment. At Pittenger’s request, I arranged a meeting with Steve Pace to learn about his proposed development. Pittenger led me to believe that Pace-Dowd owned the land.

At that time, for all practical purposes, the NC House was run by now-disgraced former Speaker Jim Black and the Senate was run by Marc Basnight. Both were Democrats and both bodies were firmly in the control of the Democratic legislators.

Fletcher Hartsell was a very unusual Republican since he was a very close political ally of Marc Basnight and the Democratic leadership in the Senate. As I was the Senate Republican Whip, to say we had our differences is a considerable understatement, though our relationship remained civil. When Pittenger said that a bill Jim Black co-sponsored with Gulley in the House was going to be amended in the Senate by Hartsell that told me that the Democratic leadership in both houses had signed off on the annexation. I  wondered at the time and still do how Hartsell was persuaded to take the point on an annexation not even in his district.

When I met with Pace, I was very relieved to learn that what was planned was not nearly as bad as I feared. The density was greater than the one-house-per-acre permitted in the county, but there were no plans for commercial or very high density. And I was told that if their plans were not approved, Pace-Dowd would probably sell the property and there was no way to predict what would happen then.

My main concern became what to do about a bill I had sponsored to try to rein in satellite annexation because I’m not a fan of satellites. The bill included a provision permitting voluntary annexation to a satellite under the same rules as voluntary annexation to any town and I was concerned that it could be combined with Pittenger’s proposed  amendment to permit the commercial or apartments that appeared most objectionable to residents in the immediate area.

I agreed not to oppose Pittenger’s annexation amendment (made by Hartsell) if I could amend the bill to make it clear my bill did not apply to that particular annexation. Yes, I made a deal and felt lucky to get it since I didn’t think it likely I could have stopped the annexation had I tried. (Admittedly, given what Pace-Dowd planned, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about stopping it. I believed Steve Pace when he said that if they didn’t go forward, what went there might well be worse.)

So I readily admit, as I always have, that I agreed to accept the annexation provided it could not be used to anchor additional development that might be considerably less desirable, but I had nothing to do with initiating or carrying forward the annexation. So who did?

Robert Pittenger.

Sorry, Robert, but you picked the wrong fall guy.

And if you doubt it, go to and take a look at the documented proof of who actually ran the Waxhaw annexation bill. The post is titled “Proof Positive Pittenger Pushed Controversial 2003 Waxhaw Annexation” and it provides just that: proof Pittenger pushed the annexation, not me.

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