Monday, July 27, 2009

Column for July 30, 2009

I want to tell you the story of a friend of mine named Paul. Paul was a teenager whose life was on a downward spiral. He was just 18 years of age and was about to flunk out of high school. With just a few weeks left in the school year at Garner High School, this boy of Puerto Rican extraction was on the street after having a major fall out with his family. He had no place to turn. The pastor of the church I attend is the chaplain for the Garner Police Department. Garner PD has officers at the school and there was a relationship being built through the high school administration, as well.

Garner High School is full of crime, drugs, and gang activity. The school population is more than some Johnston County towns. There are a lot of at risk students there, and Paul was one of them, well known as such to the school's resource police presence.

The pastor and one member of the congregation met with Paul that night and hooked him up with a hotel room for the night as well as intervention with his family for living arrangements. There are a lot of details to which I am not privy, and other details that I do know and would take up more space to relay than I have.

The pastor of the church dealt with the school to help ensure that Paul would not be just another statistic. Paul did not want to be a stereotype and wanted to make something of his life. Unfortunately, Paul had no motivation to succeed. He was an intelligent guy, but he was mentally and physically lazy. There is no good way of saying it, and I know that he would agree.

Different men of the church took Paul "under their wings" and hounded him to get to school and graduate. Despite their assistance, Paul had already missed well above the allowed absence limit by something like 20 days. At the behest of the pastor, the school administration agreed not to force Paul to repeat his senior year of school and waive the issue if Paul would pass his final exams.

Even with that waiver, Paul failed one final exam and was going to fail for the year. With pleading, prayer, negotiations, Paul was allowed to repeat the one literature class he failed during the summer session. The favor of God was with my friend Paul. He eventually passed that class after much cajoling and pressure by the pastor and others to actually show up to class and study. His discipline was just not there on his own to succeed.

Paul then became a lot more involved with the church fellowship. Different men who owned businesses allowed Paul to work with them and even transported him to work a job he managed to get. Paul even helped do some work on my home here in Selma. He came to church on a regular basis and even to men's prayer meetings. He was getting Godly male advice and love for the first time in his life, apparently.

When deciding what to do with his life, Paul said that he wanted to become a Marine. There was one problem. Paul was not exactly tiny at 260 pounds. Paul started to get motivated towards a goal for possibly the first time in his life. He started exercising, dieting, and working to lose the necessary weight to enlist. His recruiter worked out a weight waiver for him if he got down to 205 pounds. Eventually, Paul was able to ship off for Marine Corps boot camp.

This past Friday, I had the distinct honor of traveling with a group of men, including the church's pastor, to Parris Island to see Paul graduate along with almost 600 other Marines. He had changed his attitude, prepared himself for the rigors of Marine Corps training, and mostly had to deal with the physical challenges of being porky by Marine standards.

I was amazed at how Paul had gotten down to a svelte 185 pounds, was a lean fighting machine, and had a lot more confidence in his communications. Now this obstinate, lazy Puerto Rican boy who squeaked through high school by the skin of his teeth has become a man of honor and discipline, and is on his way to a military career in computer networking.

It never ceases to amaze me how prayer, persistence, God's grace, and the love of God shown through His servants can help transform a life. I am proud of Paul, as well as the men with whom I am associated in their pursuit of one of God's lost sheep. Oh, that I had many more such stories to tell.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Column for July 23, 2009

As usual, since I have been a resident of Selma, I have been following the news about the upcoming municipal election. I peek at what is happening in other towns, but obviously my main focus is upon the town in which I reside, as it should be with residents of every town.

Many people neglect the municipal level of elections and instead focus on the national political scene and maybe even state level. However, no level of government affects your daily life more than the municipal level. Unfortunately, this is most often the most neglected level in terms of voter participation, media coverage, and even candidate participation.

It is at the municipal level (and often the county level) that decisions are taken regarding the water you drink, the electricity you use, the sewer rates you pay, and the property and sales taxes you pay. It is also where you are told whether or not you can build a home or business, whether you have to repair or tear down a dilapidated house, if you have to mow your lawn, and sometimes even how fast you can drive.

The deadline for filing for municipal elections has come and gone already. This year's election will either be very interesting or very dull. I have not decided which. I guess that time will help me with that conclusion.

Incumbents Debbie Johnson and Jackie Lacy have filed for re-election to the Town Council, and Charles Hester has filed for the mayor's job yet again. Hester has two opponents for the upcoming election and there are a total of five people running for just two seats on the Council.

Four years ago, Debbie Johnson was quoted as saying that she was not sure if she was going to run in that election cycle, but she did anyway. Four years later, she apparently thinks that she is a good enough representative to stay in office for yet another term.

Jackie Lacy is an interesting case. I have been to many Council meetings and observed all members of the Council and the Mayor. I like Jackie as an individual, but as a representative in government, I am underwhelmed. I have plenty of more commentary on the ladies, but I choose to exercise self-restraint.

Mayor Hester has been a controversial individual for both of his two-year terms. Though I appreciate the propensity to actually lead, it is no secret that I strongly disagree with his dictatorial methodology and bullying tactics. I don't care how long one has spent in the military in a previous career, a municipality (or any other representative republic) is no place for those tactics. I agree with many of Hester's views but I equally, vehemently disagree with others.

With two opponents this year, it will be interesting to see how the vote is split and whether that will help or hinder Mayor Phineas T. Bluster. With less than a 25 vote swing in the last election, Chucky could have lost to a relatively unknown candidate. In all probability, had the polls not closed an hour later than normal in the east precinct, yielding time to make numerous phone calls and truck in voters for his cause, we would have had a new mayor.

Here is something I want everyone to remember regarding the incumbents. It was under the watch of Debbie Johnson and Jackie Lacy that we got the spending and budget crunch Selma had that resulted in employee layoffs, budget cuts, questionable accounting practices, and are now on our third town manager. It was under theirs and Hester's watch that we had property taxes raised three out of four years, had attempts at forced annexation, and attempts to control private properties up to two miles outside the town limits…all for money and power.

Speaking of property taxes, Tommy Holmes is running again for the town council. Though he and I agree on taxation, one can hardly be a "one issue" candidate year after year. I don't know if Tommy will make any headway this year, and I hope that he actually chooses to participate in candidate forums rather than sit them out yet again this election cycle.

The bottom line, my philosophy is not that we should kick out all incumbents and put in all new leadership. However, the quote from success guru Tony Robbins is axiomatic when applied to elections, not just business. "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten." Will voters remember this in November? I doubt it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Column for July 16, 2009

It is almost hard to believe, but this column makes three whole years of writing "LaPlante's Rants" here in "The Selma News". Over the past few weeks, I have been overwhelmed with a heart of gratitude and have been thanking God for his many blessings. I consider the opportunity to have been able to write my opinions and have people actually read them as one of those abundant blessings. I am grateful not only to God almighty, but also to Rick Stewart, the newspaper's editor, for his confidence in an ordinary guy and his offering me an extra-ordinary opportunity.

I appreciate being able to write things that are "positive" once in a while. Over a year ago, I got to share about a positive experience I had with the staff of Johnston Memorial Hospital, now Johnston Medical Center. Quite honestly, when I first heard about that name change, I was dubious as to its efficacy. I understood the reason behind the name change, since the hospital wanted to re-brand itself and change its image. The hospital wanted to grow into a quality medical center rather than be considered just a Podunk county hospital.

The change to Johnston Medical Center was actually indicative of an internal change. A year and a half ago, I had pancreatitis and was a patient in JMH for almost a week. A close personal friend of mine ends up in JMH regularly for treatment. In December of last year, my wife was dehydrated from symptoms of early pregnancy. Just a month or so ago, I was in a serious automobile wreck but was relatively unharmed (yet another blessing). I still went to JMH for treatment rather than going to Wake Medical Center, which was actually a few miles closer to the scene. On Monday, my wife and I went to the Women's Pavilion for the birth of our newborn son.

I am going to give credit where credit is due. Johnston Memorial Hospital has been transformed in some ways we can not otherwise see. In each of the aforementioned instances, the staff has been more attentive, more friendly, more professional, and treated people like they are people and not just a number or a source of revenue. In times past, while seeing friends and family being treated at that facility, I did not find the customer service to be all that great, much less the level of care administered. The staff has actually done a lot internally to enhance the medical center's image, starting with those very issues. The level of care and just plain customer service have come a long way since I first moved to Johnston County a dozen years ago from Raleigh.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed, and I have made it known to their management that I have indeed noticed such things. Just like when I am at a restaurant, I believe that if I am willing to complain about bad service or bad food, I had better be willing to compliment when I get outstanding service or food. I have literally scared waitresses at dining establishments by asking to talk to a manager when I get outstanding service. The poor waitress usually has no idea why I called for a manager until after my meeting with the boss. After I speak to a manager, I always explain that if I am willing to complain, then I had better be willing to compliment. I feel no different when dealing with co-workers or even with hospitals. JMH has come a long way from the bad service and quality of care that I remember.

In the Women's Pavilion, I got to talk to the unit's director and pass along my compliments to not only her operation but to the hospital as a whole. I expressed my gladness for these changes, which will go much further to change a reputation than advertisements on the radio or a name change. The personal touches we received today were indicative of a tremendous change in philosophy that I have witnessed in other areas of the entire hospital's operation. I am honored to report something very positive for Johnston County and for those who have worked hard at bringing a much better medical environment to the area. That is one thing for which I am thankful, and is to be counted among the many other blessings in my life.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Column for July 9, 2009

On the 4th of July, I got the pleasure of hosting a Canadian family for an evening. Since they are residents of a foreign country, they have never had the pleasure of experiencing an American Independence Day celebration. The sad part is that as a family, they all knew more about American politics and history than most Americans I know.

I must admit that I am not up to speed on Canadian history and politics as much as they are American. I do know a little since Canada and the United States share a lot of common heritage. The first LaPlante set foot in North America in what is now the province of Quebec. My ancestors on my father's side eventually came across the border into New England. Because I was reared near the Canadian border, I have had the pleasure of visiting Canada several times, have been around a lot of Canadians, and have enjoyed a lot of common heritage. After being here in North Carolina over half my life now, I am still finding myself deemed by Southerners as a Yankee. The odd thing is that I was actually born a lot further south than most here in North Carolina.

While my Canadian friends were here, we squeezed in a lot of discussion topics, including politics and religion. My friend, Timothy, has a lot of opinions on both topics. He is the author of several books, newsletters, does speaking engagements, and was even on his way to a conference to discuss such issues when he graced me with his family's presence.

His wife is from Trinidad, and she brings yet another perspective besides either Canadian or American. We all are staunch conservatives both in our political and in our religious views. Subjects were discussed such as the proposed health care system, liberal religious views, education, taxation, governmental control, gun control, welfare, representation, and different forms of government. We discussed how Canada was supposed to originally have a Constitutional Monarchy and how America is heading towards being one. I quipped that in order to afford the proposed health care system, the United States would have to annex all of Canada to widen the tax base enough to fund the system. After all, we could probably invade Canada using just The Salvation Army, much less our nation's standing army. I was informed that Canadian annexation probably would not help in that matter since they have a higher percentage of people on government assistance than we do here in the U.S. Canada is ahead of the U.S. in becoming more and more socialist.

I was informed about the problems Canada has with their health care system, the issues they had in getting family members treated by a doctor, and how they would have better health care if they were simply allowed to pay for services with their own money rather than waiting for government approval and payment. I was also told how horribly similar the American government is morphing into another Canadian systems of economics, form of government, and health care. Wow, I can hardly wait (I type while rolling my eyes).

My friend and his wife, along with the two teenagers were amazed at the firearms that a free American can accumulate if he desires. He expressed how difficult the permitting process was to obtain a single firearm, much less amass a collection of guns and ammunition. They had never had the opportunity to handle someone's rifles and look at handguns quite like they did last weekend and had fun doing so. Unfortunately, we as a state and nation are heading towards the same sorts of restrictions as other nations. I constantly get newsletters and email alerts, and read about various legislative efforts to bring gun control to America.

If you ever watched Schoolhouse Rock in the 1970's and 80's, then you at least have a slight clue as to the American Revolution and the Constitution preamble. I am hoping that people will dig a little deeper and learn more about American history and the reasons behind the politics they see every night on television newscasts. I also pray that people who claim a Judeo-Christian belief system will take their beliefs seriously and apply them to their beliefs towards the world. After all, why let some Canadian know more about your government and history than you do, eh?

Friday, July 03, 2009

Column for July 2, 2009

Sacred cows are mighty tasty. Especially when they are slaughtered by hypocritical politicians. For years, we have heard the mantra, "But it's for the children!" as an excuse to pass tax hikes, bond referenda, and implement spending and education plans that allegedly benefit children.

I had a debate with a friend of mine recently on the proposed budget cut proffered by the NC State Legislature's Health & Human Services conference subcommittee. The budget constraints are forcing across the board budget cuts, and that subcommittee has recommended cutting the SmartStart budget by $28.2 million.

According to the SmartStart's web site, "Smart Start is North Carolina's nationally recognized and award-winning early childhood initiative designed to ensure that young children enter school healthy and ready to succeed." Here we have an award-winning program that is being used as a pattern for similar programs across the nation being essentially gutted of the majority of its recurring expenditures.

As a parent of one child and about to have another within a couple of weeks, do I want my children to enter school "healthy and ready to succeed"? Of course I do. I just believe that such a thing is my responsibility and not a burden for the taxpayers of North Carolina.

I do not believe in the indoctrination of children by an education system, whether administered through a private organization or a state run school. I believe in a parent taking an active roll in their children's education and development. For many parents, programs such as SmartStart, More at Four, What to Be at Three, or Stuff To Do At Two are merely free babysitting services. But of course they are not free. We taxpayers pay the freight on those services. Sorry, but it is not the responsibility of the government to become surrogate parents or provide day care. If you can not afford the expense of children, I am sure that birth control prescriptions will be much cheaper.

I thought that the lottery was supposed to be the savior of education programs in this state. Personally, I am ambivalent towards a lottery. I could not care less whether the state has one or not, as I am not the prudish "it is gambling and a sin" type of guy on that subject. What bothered me about the lottery was that it was portrayed as the necessary savior of our education program funding woes. The lottery legislation was passed under questionable circumstances and on a false premise. That one sacred cow has failed to deliver the promised milk yield.

Now the same sorts of people who wanted to have government intervention and cradle to grave indoctrination systems have decided to cut their precious day care for toddler aged children. Their sacred cow is being butchered one piece at a time. Personally, I am finding it mighty tasty to watch the grilling commence. The "but it is for the children" crowd are eating burgers of their own creation.

If legislators in Raleigh really cared about education, they would have supported the school choice option. Just within the last few weeks, a viable alternative for local education had to shut down. Johnston Christian Academy on Buffalo Road in Smithfield ceased operation. That institution was one of my considerations for schooling of my own child. Now that choice has been removed.

If parents had the ability to take their allotted per child government spending to a school of their choice, then perhaps schools that will offer competitive learning environments would flourish, much as some charter schools do. Competition for students will have the effect of forcing higher quality education services to attract students, including at the government schools. It may not be politically correct, but it would surely be "for the children" and one more sacred cow we could slaughter.

I have heard it argued that the SmartStart proposed cuts would disproportionately affect children who do not speak English, can not afford day care, or have incompetent parents. I have compassion for them, I really do. However, since when it is the government's responsibility to remedy every single family's maladies? More sacred burgers to enjoy, perhaps? I hope so.