Thursday, August 28, 2008

Column for Aug. 27, 2008

Are we letting Selma become a third world nation?

I truly want Selma to become "A Charming Place to Be". I am sure most of us who pay attention and especially pay taxes want that for our little town. Sometimes I wonder if this can be accomplished, though. Recent observations make me wonder. After visiting the homes and neighborhoods of friends in Garner and Clayton and then coming home to Selma, I wonder if we can be so charming.

The past couple of weeks have given me some interesting views from the comfort of my own little quarter acre of land. Right across the street from me live some immigrants of dubious legality. There have been some loud parties with plenty of cerveza and Mariachi music until 1 AM. There are chickens running around in their yard (which is contrary to town ordinance), and they do not go to the laundry mat. Instead, they hand wash their clothing in a tub on the front porch, dump out the wash water, and hang their wet laundry on the fence in the back yard. They allow their two or three year old daughter to run around stark naked in their yard and in the inflatable wading pool.

I applaud the industrious nature of the woman of the house in washing clothes. I am just glad that I am not the neighbor with whom she shares a fence. The chickens have not been seen quite as much the past couple of days, so I wonder if they ended up on the grill. I have no problem with little naked children in the privacy of one's own home or way out in the country. Bath time with my five year old features a little naked bottom running around my house. Such is the beauty of having children. He just is not allowed to do that in public, or even in my front yard.

If someone drove through my neighborhood looking for a new home and saw chickens, naked toddlers, a Mexican beer bash, laundry being done on the front porch and/or tossed over the fence, I would be looking elsewhere.

A few other things of which I took note are that the town recently did some tree work right next door. The tree was probably dying in some areas and needed to come down, not to mention being a threat to the power lines. I was quite honestly glad to see the town taking down the old tree. It is a remnant of the whole streetscape concept from a half century ago, so I hear. It demonstrates what can happen to nice ideas for which follow through and long term planning have been neglected.

The tree was taken down section by section, and I could feel the entire house shake when trunks and branches hit the ground. It was a sizable tree trunk. Now there is a sizable stump in the front yard of the neighboring house. There are huge gouges in the lawn of the affected lot from falling branches. The sidewalk has been smashed and a large sink hole is in the sidewalk. I have personally stumbled in it a few times while walking my dog.

I have often lamented the lack of sidewalk maintenance in this town. I find it to be a worse liability than some old, rusted water tower that stood vacant for decades and was torn down two years ago. I used to do risk management and liability mitigation as part of my career. Instead of making the sidewalk better, the town has left the sidewalk in worse shape than it was with the tree standing in place and created a greater walking surface hazard than existed previously, not to mention an unsightly blight upon the already ugly sidewalk and often uncut lawn. I am thinking about going to the tree trunk and counting the rings to find out just how long ago that tree has been neglected. The big, ugly stump and pulverized sidewalk have been there for a few weeks now.

If I was driving around town looking for a new home in a charming place to be, saw the big old tree stump sticking out of the ground, the knee high grass of the abandoned home in front of which the tree was removed, and walked on a broken, sunken sidewalk, I would think twice about buying in Selma. I know that I would certainly think that Selma had become a third world nation if people have to do laundry on a porch in a scrub bucket, there is knee high grass, and chickens roam the streets and sidewalks. I would think that the town does not take care of its infrastructure if I saw the broken sidewalks and a stumpy streetscape.

One aforementioned issue is because of allowing third world illegal aliens to invade our nation. We are in danger of losing our culture if we neglect our duties to the nation, to the rule of law, and have to "press one for English" constantly. We are in danger of losing potential residents if we neglect the enforcement of tall grass ordinances and laws against barnyard animals in the town limits. We are in danger of losing our infrastructure and liability lawsuits if we do not take care of our town assets such as sidewalks and public walking surfaces.

I know we can do a better job as a town. I commented a few months ago upon the strategic plan, as proffered by the mayor's planning committee. The plan had rightly listed a lot of strengths and weaknesses of the town. These are a few of the weaknesses we have, which are mostly self inflicted or inflicted upon us. A little extra effort in enforcement, in making Selma an unpleasant place for illegal immigrants to reside, and in taking care of our own town property can go a long way towards improvements in making Selma "a charming place to be".

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Column for Aug 21, 2008

Leave your self righteousness at home and Oktoberfest alone

I know that this is not going to be a popular subject with many readers, but I have never been one to shy away from tough topics. I am going to deal with personal opinions and "sacred cows", so to speak.

Months ago, I was pleased to see the Selma Town Council give their vote of support for Edelweiss Cafe here in town to put on an annual Oktoberfest. Edelweiss is a unique restaurant with a unique cultural flavor and flair. Having been to Germany and experienced some of the culture, I fully appreciate what Steve Reed has done with his restaurant. Later, the town council decided to wait for a full public hearing on the changing of an ordinance that would permit the sale of alcohol on town property, such as on a closed off Raiford Street. That delay almost cost the town the festival this year, since there was a lot of money and planning on the line in order to pull off the event. Fortunately, the town council decided to pass an ordinance that would allow the sale of beer on the street. The ordinance has tight restrictions, and the proposed event had the same sorts of controls over the distribution and consumption of alcohol.

When I first moved to Johnston County, we were effectively a "dry county", with sumptuary laws that disallowed sales of liquor by the drink. It was fine for the county itself to sell liquor apparently, just not bars to serve it. That was a huge double standard. What that meant was the one could only find a limited number of restaurants in the area. Johnston County had plenty of barbeque and fast food joints, but nothing like Outback, Texas Steakhouse, Applebee's, or even Sweetwater's when they were in business. I lamented the lack of restaurant selection for a long time. I moved to Johnston County after living in North Hills in Raleigh for years, and was quite used to upper quality dining establishments.

I remember that I worked for the local radio station in town when the subject of liquor by the drink was up for discussion. A local pastor who ran the radio station argued against the passing of the law on reasons of temperance and a feared rise of DWI and resulting fatalities from automobile collisions. Of course sumptuary laws (prohibition) in the United States did not work out so well after the passing of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Well meaning but misguided Christians (primarily Protestant) and temperance organizations lobbied hard for their version of holiness to be forced upon everyone in the entire nation. That lasted only thirteen years before the 18th Amendment was repealed, but not before thousands of people died from the black market forces and organized crime created by the sudden illegality of alcohol manufacturing, distribution, and consumption. Al Capone made millions of dollars from his illegal distilling operations. Similar laws failed miserably in Canada, Russia, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Ironically, Muslim nations often impose harsh penalties for violation of prohibition laws even today. And yet many Christian ministers are critical of Islam (as am I) for their intolerance to any paradigm other than their own.

The same sort of false holiness was pitched to the Selma Town Council in the form of opposition to the ordinance change to allow such alcohol sales "for the public good" by local clergy. I find it interesting that the very people who preach about the first miracle of Jesus, turning water into wine, are the same people who want to limit or prevent anyone from access to the same beverage or others like it. I have had the theological discussion with ministers on the "evils" of alcohol consumption. However, the very nature of the concept of temperance is not abstinence, but the avoidance of excess. I have seen ministers who argued tooth and nail against alcohol preach a fiery sermon then go eat like cultured hogs. That not only is hypocritical, but is gluttony, and the antithesis of temperance. The Apostle Paul warned us to "be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess", not to abstain from wine all together. The Corinthians were admonished for getting drunk during communion, not against imbibing said beverage. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, not control of others in the name of the public good. If it was not a sin for two thousand years of church history to consume alcohol, except in those circles in which busy bodies wished to foist their personal convictions upon others. It certainly is not for the reason of properly interpreted scripture. I am not much on mass consumption of alcohol, but I usually do choose the wine over the grape juice each Sunday during communion just to stand by two thousand years of church tradition.

I have long heard it said that when it comes to dealing with the faith, we should handle things thusly: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. This is one of those areas in which pet doctrines can be muscled upon others in the name of holiness or public good, since it is easy to fall for the concept. Nobody who is highly moral believes that drunkenness is a righteous thing. Furthermore, I have seen some build a case from the Bible, however unfounded or inapplicable the verses turned out to be, especially when placed in their proper contextual setting. The consumption of alcohol in and of itself is not sinful, nor is it righteous to attempt to ban others from partaking therein. There are some explicit and obvious truths that are issues of sin and appropriate public policy, such as prohibiting the slaughter of innocent life. Prohibiting someone from having a beer in downtown Selma at a well regulated event is not one of those obvious truths. If to you imbibing alcohol is a sin, then to you it is sin, according to the Bible. That does not mean that your personal conviction is good public policy or holy, much less applicable to others.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Column for Aug. 14, 2008

I have heard for almost two years about a possible new large shopping center coming to town at exit 97 and Hwy 70 near JR's. The major story was on the front page of last week's paper about the proposed project. Originally, the rumor was that a Home Depot and maybe a Target store were coming. Recently, I have heard more rumors. As you may have read, the developer has made a presentation to the town council.

The developer mentioned possible tenants such as Target, Bass Pro Shop, Cabellas, JC Penney, and IKEA, along with up-scale restaurants and motels. Keep in mind that these are just suggested possibilities. I am all for such a development, so don't get me wrong. However, keep in mind at this point, the developer is selling the idea and soliciting to get $15 million or so in reimbursements from the town for infrastructure improvements.

Personally, I am dubious over the claim of a Cabella's. I would absolutely love to have a Cabella's nearby. I may want to live in one. However, one already was proposed for Four Oaks and that project crashed and burned. Cabella's announced that they were going to put one in to Richmond, VA and figured that one here would be too close to their other proposed location. I find that claim fallacious, however. One can look at the map of their existing locations on their web site and shoot holes through that philosophy. I am not going to drive three hours to go to a Cabella's if that is indeed their strategy. If they reconsider Johnston County because of a better location, highway access, and other development, then hallelujah. I would be thrilled with a Bass Pro Shops, as well.

Anyway, this development would certainly be good for the town for several reasons. First, the developer wants to be voluntarily annexed. Great. They would bring a lot of revenue for electricity and water, if development and subsequent tenants were to become Selma utility customers. The tax revenue would be wonderful, but there is a problem - the developer wants 60% of the sales tax revenues generated for 15 years plus a refund of the difference in property tax values between the property taxes now versus the value of the developed land. To me, this is the rub.

I have no problem with the concept that if the entire development and the subsequent businesses are going to be Selma utility customers, that the town needs to extend the utilities to the customers who would be using our services. That is no different to me than the idea of having to extend water and sewer to a subdivision that would be annexed by the town or when Cisco went in it present location.

I do not even have an issue with the concept of sharing in the expense of any other infrastructure such as roadway improvements that will mutually benefit both the town and the developer. I do not consider those things to be corporate welfare. I consider them to be mutually beneficial and the cost of doing business to service customers. I may not like the idea that a town is in business to sell products and services such as water and electricity that are available from private industry, but that is another discussion for another day.

I do, however, consider total reimbursement for all related improvements to be a corporate welfare program. Taxpayer dollars should not be spent on woo a development, especially in an area that they find to be enticing even without our monetary support. If the facilities that the developer is going to build and the prime location are so attractive to the businesses that were bantered about, then it should not be a large risk to the developer. Furthermore, it should add to his revenue and not be the burden of the town.

As a town, we can certainly assist with expediency of zoning, utility, and other regulatory issues. However, I do not believe in paying someone to come to our town, especially for fifteen years.

In the interest of fairness, however, there were previously offered incentives for development in town, such as on East Anderson Street. If we offered them to one party, we should extend the same offer to any other development planners that come along. I may not like it, but fair is fair. As I recall, the offer tendered for that proposed development zone was a tax break for five years, and that included property taxes only.

It will certainly be interesting to see what "develops" in this situation. I am all for development of fallow ground and expanding this area. I am dubious as to the claims that "as much as $500 million in sales tax is leaving the county each year to go to Wake, Wayne, Wilson and Nash counties." That sounds like an excessively high estimate. It is part of the sales pitch.

I do agree with this quote, though. "Dougherty added that Selma is unique in the county in that it is ideally situated to host such a regional complex. He cited I-95 and US 70 and major thoroughfares. He said Exit 98 is excellent for such a complex because it has great access. "There’s no other city right on the an interchange like this," said the developer".

Either way, I am looking forward to seeing the addition to the town.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Column for Aug. 7, 2008

Welkum too edukashun in the Yoonited Statz uv Amerika

When the Selma Elementary School instituted a dress code, I pretty much supported the idea. Even when I was in elementary and high school, there was an expectation of appropriate attire. As I look back at old school pictures, I marvel at the clothes we wore, although they were not as risque as outfits often are today. They were funky looking clothes, but it was, after all, the 1970's. I still chide my mother for dressing me in such weird clothes whenever we look over a photo album together. In high school, I grew up in an area where flannel button shirts, blue jeans, and work boots were normal attire for a large portion of the school year. We wore Buck knives in leather holsters on our hips (just like in "The Dukes of Hazzard") to school every day and never thought anything of it, nor did the school administrators. A Buck knife was seen as a necessary tool, not a weapon. Anyway, rabbit trail aside, I supported the school dress code until recently.

As I had written previously, I have been active in the life of a boy who is now five and about to enter kindergarten. In a couple of months, this boy will become my step-son, so I have an active interest in his success at school and getting him prepared for it. His grandmother took him shopping for some clothes, but you don't generally find school uniforms at Macy's. I took him and his mother to Target last weekend to buy the requisite school clothes and supplies we would need. After all, the school system was kind enough to post the uniform code and school supply list on the internet for us to find (after hunting down the information by surfing a while).

Like I said, I was all for a school dress code. I believe in modest apparel. What I found, however, was that clothes that should be perfectly acceptable by public standards are not necessarily so for school uniforms. The real trick was finding clothing for winter while still in August, of which we found nothing but a few pairs of pants that met the criteria. We did find some polo or golf type shirts. The real problem was finding them in solid colors with no brand logo on them, and in the appropriate size 5. The boy already had some nice, appropriate shirts in his closet, but they had stripes and a Polo logo. Those shirts are plenty nice for church, but not for sending a tot to kindergarten, apparently. We can buy solid shirts in orange, red, blue, purple, black, white, or whatever color we want, but they can not have logos, pockets, or stripes. If the school REALLY was shooting for a school uniform, one style of shirt of one color should be required, but I digress.

For pants, a good looking pair of corduroys or nice, new blue jeans are taboo. Wow, that would have shot my whole school career attire down, except for the bell bottom hound's tooth or plaid pants my mother used to buy me, along with white patent leather belt. I do find the requirement for cotton twill only to be a bit excessive. We are talking about 5 to 10 year olds, not teenagers. For kindergarteners, we are talking about children who just recently learned to wipe themselves after using the bathroom, may have just learned to tie their shoes, and have recently gotten used to the use of forks. They may still often use "sippy cups". Maybe my future step-son is the "Messy Marvin" of his day (wow, that is dating me a bit), but there is extensive clean up after each meal. He play rough with me, his toys, and my dog, so I am dubious about not putting the lad in denim to go to school.

I am not disturbed so much by the cost of adhering to the dress code, though. I would have to buy him new clothes anyway, since he has grown like a weed just since I first got to know him late last year. We did find some $5 polo shirts and $10 pants. It was the exclusivity without adherence to a true uniform standard that sort of annoyed me.

Here is what DID annoy me...the school supply list. Parents are expected to purchase an entire shopping list of materials and simply turn them over to the school at the time of a parental conference. We are expected to furnish brand name crayons, markers, scissors, baby wipes, paper towels, hand sanitizer, Ziploc bags, tissues, dry erase markers, napkins, highlighter markers, index cards, and more. We are not supposed to put the child's name on anything except his change of clothes and his book bag.

I am sorry, but the last time I looked, we still live in America, not the former USSR. Furthermore, I just got my Johnston County property tax bill this week and I am wondering why I am paying all that money in taxes, the school system keeps asking for more money, we constantly are having school bond referendums, and I am being asked to supply basic classroom materials. Does the school not have a janitor? Do they not have cases of paper towels somewhere in that building? Are the teachers not supplied with dry erase markers to write on their boards? Chalk was used in my day, right through college and that worked fine, but I can understand using dry erase boards now. But still, the school system, with all the millions of dollars we are paying in taxes for their operation, should be furnishing something as basic as paper towels. If the school can not afford the materials, I am sure we can afford enough dry erase markers for the entire school system by cutting Superintendent Parker's salary to a reasonable level for what he does for a living. I will do the same job only better for half of what he makes. That is an official offer to the Johnston County Board of Education, by the way. If not that, then one less assistant principal at the elementary school would furnish all the paper towels we would ever need.

Why I mention the USSR is that by confiscating the materials that we are furnishing for the classroom as a whole, we are teaching communism. When I was in kindergarten, all I had to show up with was my daily lunch and/or snack. The rest was taken care of by the school system, which was much smaller than that of Johnston County with a much smaller budget and much older facilities. Furthermore, we learned. We did not have issues in which we did not pass mandates for performance. As a matter of fact, the state where I grew up used to consistently score in the top of the national SAT averages while having the lowest per capita state expenditure per student for education in the country. Thus, I know that education is not a matter of dollars and materials can be furnished for said education.

Sure, when I got older, I had to furnish my own book covers, but an old paper bag from a shopping trip to the A&P did fine. I furnished my own notebooks eventually, but they were MY notebooks for my use alone. By taking the crayons that I purchase and pooling them with that of others, we are employing a communist system. I was told by the office staff that 60% of the students at Selma Elementary are Hispanic and from families in which English is not the primary language. If Jose and Maria can not afford to buy a 27 cent box of Crayolas, that is their problem. It is not my responsibility to furnish their children with crayons, markers, glue, and paper towels. I bought the crayons, so I know how much they cost. I bought my boy some pencils with his name on them some time ago. I surmise that he will not be able to use them at school, since not all children are so named. We are supposed to protect the self esteem of some illegal immigrant children or even some poor family's kids by furnishing them with Crayolas? All this redistribution of school supply wealth has got to be all one big joke, right? That is liberal academia social engineering with lower educational results for you.

First, I am ticked that the schools are not furnishing these supplies after we are constantly being asked to "pony up" an ever increasing amount of tax dollars for their operation. Then I am extremely annoyed that our children are being taught communisitic principles for politically correct reasons. If you can not afford a trip to Wal-Mart or the dollar store for your child to bring his/her own supplies and not take from others, then I suggest that you forgo that next DVD purchase, 12 pack of beer, tattoo addition, or carton of cigarettes and buy some 22 cent glue sticks and crayons (at least the non big named crayons were 22 cents, but the school specifically requested the five cent higher Crayola brand). Better yet, let the school system slash its over bloated bureaucracy and maybe we could afford to buy the needed supplies instead of double taxing us by demanding a grocery list of supplies before the first day of school. It gets better, though. We were informed that we will be furnished an additional supply list later. Doggone communists of academia. I miss America.