Friday, April 29, 2011

Column for April 28, 2011

For a long time, I have heard of Selma wanting to come up with some sort of method of business district enhancement. I thought it a worthy matter, so I joined the Selma Development Partnership several years ago. I gave it a couple of years of investment of my time and effort and quite frankly found the organization to be lackluster and ineffective. There was a lot of myopia on the part of the leadership at the time, I believe, and that caused the organization to flounder and dwindle. Since then, the leadership has changed and I hope that the organization goes in a different direction. From what I could see by the common sense changes made to the recent antiques and car show efforts, the group may be correcting its course.

In Smithfield, there is an effective organization, the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation. The DSDC markets available properties and works to develop the downtown business district. They also put on such successful events as the upcoming Ham & Yam Festival. The corporation is funded by a special tax district that levies additional property taxes on local business properties. For some time, I have heard rumblings from Selma merchants that they would like the town to do more to promote downtown business. Is the implementation of a special tax district and the formation of a development corporation for the town the proper method? Quite honestly, I am not sure either way. Though it works in Smithfield, I am not sure it will work here or not.

There are several differences between the two towns. Smithfield has a much more diverse downtown than does Selma. For years, I have disagreed with the focus on antique shops in Selma as a way to “re-invent itself”. I have always maintained that diversity is the key to a better business climate for the town. We've had several restaurants fail, primarily because of poor management or implementation. I do patronize the local antique shops when I am searching for something in particular. Other than that, I only go to downtown to pay my electricity bill, pick up a prescription, mail a package, or dine at one of the only restaurants left in downtown.

Basic economics dictates that business patrons will ultimately be the ones who pay the tax, regardless of in which form it is levied. A property tax will jack up the taxation of the retail properties, which will end up in increased prices to consumers. Even if a business leases the property, the property owner will pass along the increased cost to the tenant, who will in turn increase prices to compensate for the increased cost of doing business. For that reason, perhaps a special district consumption tax would be more appropriate, but I suspect that there are state government approvals that are necessary for that to happen.

I will say this, though. I have been told that the business district is taxed at a lower rate than my residential property. I don't know that validity of that claim, but if it is true, I have no problem with evening up the two rates and putting the revenue from the rate differential into a development fund.

I am not sure how the town would administrate the funding nor the personnel. I do know that the news articles I have read indicate that Selma or a non-profit corporation would hire a part-time person for the development efforts. That seems appropriate considering the size of the town. However, I still wonder about the concept of whether or not someone could devote sufficient time and energy to be effective in a part-time position. If not, then the extra taxation would be in vain.

I can only hope that Selma will arise to the occasion should the town's leadership and the merchants agree to move forward with this concept. Since we have a successful example for guidance in the next town over, perhaps if the idea moves forward, it may work out. Personally, I am rarely supportive of increased taxation, but I also see the need of better downtown development and planning in Selma, so I am torn on this issue. Selma has a lot to overcome in terms of its image and in location with respect to the rest of the area's business districts. I would have to learn more in order to be persuaded either way, but I do tend to lean towards the cynical side when it comes to governmental efforts.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Column for April 21, 2011

I am sure that the headlines and lead stories of this and other weekly newspapers will be full of information about the recent tornadoes that ripped through North Carolina last Saturday. I always thought it odd that my high school mascot was a Golden Tornado. Since that area has probably never seen a tornado, I doubt that they have any first hand knowledge of the weather phenomenon. They get blizzards and the occasional small earthquake, but no tornadoes. As a matter of fact, my mother was with us during the recent tornado event and got to ride out her first one ever. Having lived in North Carolina for the majority of my life now, I have seen first hand the force of tornadoes, especially ones that result from hurricane activity. Then again, North Carolina’s NHL team is called The Hurricanes. Go figure.

I struggle sometimes with tragedy, just as most people do. Sure, I have plenty of head knowledge of Biblical explanations and about the attributes of God. However, I don’t thoroughly comprehend the reason why some people are injured or killed and others live. I don’t always understand why some people had their homes destroyed and others were unscathed. I will nonetheless consider myself and my family to be fortunate that we were spared all but a few limbs having fallen from my old pecan tree in my back yard. I am grateful for our safety and my heart cries out for others who were not so fortunate at the same time.

When we saw the devastation in the gulf states as a result of Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Indonesia several years ago, the earthquake in Haiti, and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I am sure that we all had heavy hearts. Local businesses and charities are working hard to serve people affected by our own local storm. In North Carolina, we are accustomed to emergency response to natural disasters, since we are one of the most hurricane prone areas in the world. I have no doubt about the capabilities of our emergency service workers around here. Their courage and devotion to duty has always been outstanding.

I have pondered how I can be of greater assistance, as well. I figure if I can at least share some ways in which the general public can help, that is a minute thing I can do. I plan on doing more, but I can at least devote a column to the information. There are two organizing efforts I know of personally and know the people involved personally, so I would like to share them.

A local restaurant, Foodies At Heart, in downtown Selma will serve as a drop off point for items to be donated to storm victims. They are right across the street from Creech’s Drug store at 127 North Raiford Street. I have not gotten any more details at the time of this writing, so I encourage you to stop by, email, or call them. Their phone number is 919-414-8856 and their email address is

A warehouse full of clothing and household items is opening to provide free goods for Johnston County residents who had storm losses. Basic Needs Ministry’s clothing closet and thrift sales area welcome residents with referrals from Johnston County churches, schools, social service agencies, and nonprofits who provide basic services for those in need. The public charity’s warehouse is at 5533 NC Hightway 42 in Suite D96 (the backside of Peddler’s Village). I personally know and recommend the man who runs that organization. Call 919-661-6565 to get answers to any questions about Basic Needs Ministries.

I wish that I had all the answers to the question, “Why?”, but I don’t. I do know that our response to such events are just as, if not more important. That goes for not only our heart’s reaction, but also to our humanitarian activities. I strongly encourage all readers to consider how you can help the victims of the tornadoes that hit our region. The storms affected our own friends, family, and acquaintances in different ways.

I firmly believe that this is our responsibility first and not necessarily that of especially the federal government. James Madison, one of the primary writers of the document said, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” That is our job as friends, family, Christians, and citizens.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Column for April 14, 2011

There is an old saying, “Follow the money”. It does not take much to do so in the obvious financial and political shenanigans we are tolerating nowadays. We had people tarred and feathered, run out on a rail, and tossed tea into a harbor for less than we are putting up with today.

In looking at the federal budget battles, the budget is obviously about money. However, money is a means of gaining and keeping power. I grow tired of the argument that there is “non-discretionary spending” in the federal budget. That is, that there are entitlement spending obligations that can not be touched. Sorry, but if Congress set up a program with a law, Congress can change or abolish the law, thereby changing what is discretionary and what is not. This is why we read in the Declaration of Independence that people “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” and not by Congress. If Congress can grant the right, Congress can change that right. Then again, most of today’s actions and spending by Congress are prohibited by the Constitution.

I take issue with those who believe that we need the government to take care of people. I have no problem with helping others. I find it to be the Christian and just plain humanitarian thing to do. I do not, however, believe in making people into total dependents upon the government for their substance.

As I recall, we are supposed to rely upon our “Creator”, as referred to in the Declaration of Independence rather than government for our dependence. I take issue with those who state that it is only “Christian” to provide for people and that is why we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, which is a euphemistic way of saying taxation.

A great example is Harry Reid, United States Senator from Nevada. In a 2001 interview he said, "I think it is much easier to be a good member of the Church and a Democrat than a good member of the Church and a Republican." He went on to say that the Democrats' emphasis on helping others, as opposed to what he considers Republican dogma to the contrary, is the reason he's a Democrat. Reid is a convert to Mormonism. Of course the vast majority of his stances run contrary to not only the doctrines of The Church of Latter Day Saints, but to Christianity.

I firmly believe that taking care of people is an obligation to be shouldered by the Church and families first and government last. The Church family has an obligation to look after people both because of Scriptural command as well as the precept of loving your neighbor as yourself. As I assured one old classmate from high school, “You will never have to eat dog food as long as you know me.” She was lamenting her fear that she would become a poverty stricken old lady who could only afford to eat Alpo.

Political gamesmanship happens at all levels. It is just more visible at the federal level because we are talking about trillions of dollars and a constant national media presence rather than billions or millions and state and regional media. Senior citizens are often the volleyball batted about by political gamers. Every action, however, has an equal and opposite reaction, according to Isaac Newton. Local governments and the federal government alike are struggling with the idea of Baby Boomers retiring. My own mother just retired about six weeks ago from her job of 35 years. I will be picking her up at the airport withing a 24 hour window of this column being on news stands and enjoying her newly found freedom.

As millions of such people are retiring, counties and towns will be struggling with revenue losses from the boomers taking advantage of property tax exemptions. Politicians used the promise of such exemptions in an effort to lure voters with money to gain power via votes. Now the bill for these exemptions is going to require payment (or lack thereof, as the case may be). It is all about power and money.

I have run across many such examples in the news this week, but I only have so much space in which to rant. Just remember, follow the money and associated power, and most of your questions about politics, whether they be in government, business, or even in churches will be answered.

Column for April 7, 2011

I have been thinking about something that (eventually) President John Adams wrote to his son, the future President John Quincy Adams. He wrote, "...remember that all the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen." My twisted mind works like this. When I hear “to make you a good man”, I think of two things. First is the Biblical concept written twice in the Psalms and once in Romans, “...there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” That is not to say that one can not work to be transformed into a better, more useful man and citizen. It is dealing with the state of sinful mankind and the nature of man under sin. Thankfully, I have Christ and my righteousness is in Him instead of my own self.

My second thought goes to something the character Melvin Udall said, as played by Jack Nicholson in the wonderful 1997 movie, “As Good As It Gets”. When attempting to give a compliment to Carol the Waitress (as referred to by Udall and played by Helen Hunt), he explains that he started taking pills to help him with his personality disorder because, “You make me want to be a better man.”

Though I sometimes feel more like Melvin “good times, noodle salad” Udall, I also wish to follow the advice of John Adams. I have to be honest. Overall, I do like John Adams, but there are some things about his years as President of the United States that make me cringe. Still, that does not negate the good I can glean from him. I feel the same about Ronald Reagan and others.

When the newspaper comes out, do you read it? Do you take the time to learn about what is going on in your community? Do you participate in elections? Do you learn about issues or just whine about them? I have opinions on just about everything, hence the reason that I have this column. However, I still have to look at things objectively rather than just swallowing the proverbial Kool-Aid dished out by any party or lobby.

I feel this way even when I get “the sky is falling” type alerts from groups I wholeheartedly support such as Second Amendment advocates. I got one such email today decrying abrogation of gun rights by executive decree yet there were no details as to the problem at hand in the message. I don’t mind contacting my Congressmen as suggested in the email, but I need information upon which to base a rational decision. Sometimes the cries are legitimate, sometimes they are factually challenged.

I am writing this column just after participating in a two hour long discussion on the history of slavery in the world and eventually in America. It is because I have read on this topic over the years that I can speak somewhat intelligently on it and not be so incredibly emotional about it. I can not tell you how many times people of white and dark skin alike have gotten into heated discussion while I remained calm on the subject. Slavery was on this continent prior to Africans being introduced and was practiced by Black, White, and Native populations alike. I find the idea of owning another human being repugnant, but I also understand how slavery played a roll in world history, not just American history. Those who are factually challenged are generally the ones who are the most emotional about such topics or are willing to drink the Kool-Aid of their overlords of thought.

I cringe when I see people lament budgetary cuts in bloated, unsustainable bureaucratic spending. When looking at things objectively, it is easy to see that America has a spending problem, not a revenue problem at most levels of government. Those on government payrolls (and I used to be one of them) often miss the concept that the government as a whole needs trimming and therefore decry budget cuts. History shows what such unsustainable spending does to a nation. The factually challenged and self interested are again, usually the most emotional.

I encourage everyone to get involved, learn about your government, learn simple economics, study history, and responsibly consider how you vote. Do you want to “be a better man” (or woman) and a useful citizen? Then I passionately implore you to study towards that end.