City staffers knew about Cross Charlotte Trail budget months before manager, council and public

Staff knew of trail project shortfall

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - City of Charlotte employees working on the Cross Charlotte trail knew about the $77 million shortfall months before the public, the council and even the city manager.

New emails obtained by WBTV raise questions about whether some staff members attempted to “hide” information about the Cross Charlotte Trail (XCLT) from the manager’s office.

In April, WBTV uncovered emails showing city staff knew about the budget shortfall as early as October. 2018.

New emails obtained by WBTV through a public records request show Engineering and Property Management staff had the new numbers even earlier.

An email from September 7th shows there was a request to cost out the entire XCLT program through construction.

Over the next couple of weeks city contractors started sending in estimates for portions of the trail and by September 26th city staff were circulating new cost projections for the XCLT.

That information stayed hidden from council and the public until January 7th well after a November vote to approve another $5 million in bonds for the project.

WBTV interviewed Engineering and Property Management Director Mike Davis in March regarding the previous batch of emails.

“Could the public and council have known before January 7th ?” WBTV asked Davis

“What I’ll say is that the development of a project like this plays out over years, it’s sort of a fluid thing,” Davis said.

“Do you feel your office has been fully transparent in this process?” WBTV asked.

“Yes,” Davis responded.

But new emails obtained by WBTV raise new questions about the city’s transparency.

On September 20th engineering employees were emailing about an upcoming meeting in which Davis would be passing along information to City Manager Marcus Jones’ leadership team. The employee wrote “per our last meeting with Veronica, I hid the slides we didn’t think were relevant for Mike Davis to communicate up to the manager’s office.”

The attached PowerPoint shows slides crossed out about cost escalations for different trail segments.

During a phone call Tuesday Davis, who did not write the email, said the word “hid” was meant to describe a function on PowerPoint in which the slides would still be accessible if needed. He said it was not an attempt to keep information from the city manager’s office.

But while cost estimates were finalized in late September engineering did not meet with city leadership until October 8th. It wasn’t until November 30th that the city manager received a note detailing the new cost projections.

Some city staffers think the talk about costs was put off for too long.

Right after engineering staff met about the new cost estimates one of the project leaders wrote “I’m glad something(sic) things got out on the open yesterday. A more robust conversation about the Cadillac trail versus good enough needs to be had.”

According to emails obtained by WBTV Charlotte is not getting the Cadillac version. City Manager Marcus Jones proposed moving forward on the XCLT with $54 million through a variety of funding sources while leaving two segments in the north part of town on hold until later.

But one of the earliest cost projections received in September showed the project could cost as much as $134 million.

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