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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of November 18, 2014

I began video recording the City Council in 2012, because of my desire that the City do it on their own as any modern 21st century community began doing long ago. I had people tell me that they couldn't make it to the meetings, but they would like to see what is going on. I was also told by some council members that my summaries did not truly reflect the record, so having a video/audio recording cannot be misinterpreted.

So below is the City Council meeting. With each agenda item, you can click on the links and it will take you to that specific point in the meeting. You can always drag the marker on the video display to the point in the broadcast that you are interested in seeing.

Agenda about the City Council meeting of November 18, 2014

Thoughts about the City Council meeting of November 18, 2014 - I didn't do an article of thoughts this week. I will incorporate thoughts into this article.


Invocation by Rev. James Bernhardt, Pastor, Northminster Presbyterian Church

Special Presentations
A. Mr. Bill McBrayer Presentation of the Furniture Academy at CVCC
Catawba Valley Furniture Academy
 Lori Price
Customized Industry Training
Lori PriceDirector, Customized Industry Training
Phone:  828-327-7000 Ext. 4284


B. Proclamation to Recognize Senator-Elect Andy Wells as Recipient of the North Carolina League of Municipalities’ Community Champion Award. 

C. Neighborhood College Graduation

Persons Requesting to Be Heard
A. Ryan Neitz, Regarding Cab Fare Rate Increase
B. Brian Taylor, Regarding Cab Fare Rate Increase
C. Cliff Moone


Consent Agenda:


New Business - Public Hearings:
1. Public Hearing – for Consideration of Voluntary Contiguous Annexation of 20.446 acres located at 2415 Springs Road NE. - Northlake Southstar, LLC has submitted a petition for the voluntary contiguous annexation of 20.446 acres of property. The annexation area is comprised of what was the former St. Stephens Elementary School site, which is currently being developed into a shopping center and out parcels. The annexation is being requested in order to connect the City’s water and sewer system.


2. Public Hearing – for Consideration of Closing a Portion of 15th Street NW. - McDonald’s USA, LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company (Tenant) and SRW, Inc., a North Carolina Corporation (Landlord) have petitioned to close a portion of 15th Street NW, containing .195 acres more or less. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on October 24, October 31, November 7 and November 14, 2014.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Amendment to City Manager’s Employment Agreement. -  After discussion in closed session of the City Manager’s FY 2013-2014 performance, City Council unanimously voted to consider in open session an amendment (first amendment) to the Manager’s June 22, 2004 employment agreement. Section 20: One Time Bonus. Employee shall receive a one-time lump sum bonus of $4,350, effective as of July 1, 2014.

2. Approval of an Agreement for Engineering Services with McGill Associate in the amount of $48,000 for the Hickory-Catawba Wastewater Treatment Facility - McLin Creek Wastewater Pump Station Project. - The Hickory-Catawba Wastewater Treatment Facility (HCWWTF) – McLin Creek Wastewater Pump Station is necessary for areas northwest of the HCWWTF to receive treatment services at the HCWWTF. The HCWWTF is approximately 20 feet higher than the area next to McLin Creek/Lake Norman, therefore a pump station is required to lift this sewer into the influent of the treatment facility due to providing gravity sewer to the tributary properties. The agreement with McGill Associates will be for the planning, engineering, and permitting work necessary to complete the project. This project will be funded out of the HCWWTF Upgrade Project budget contingency line due to the pump station being a future component of the completed facility. All funding for the project is split equally between the City and Catawba County in accordance with the financing agreement for the HCWWTP. Staff recommends approval of this Agreement for Engineering Services with McGill Associates in the amount of $48,000.

3. Update on Construction of Hickory Metro Convention Center Parking Deck.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The State Of Hickory 2014

Politics

This is the sixth consecutive year, I will attempt to describe where Hickory's Economy and Culture are currently at. Normally, I have done this report early in the year, but because of circumstances I haven't gotten around to it until now. This is my perspective of what I see in the community.

The last time that I did this report was in February 2013. We were coming off of the Ward Specific Voting Referendum that failed by a very narrow margin. We were headed towards municipal elections that were very vitriolic and there were very definite reasons for that. Many people are not happy with the direction of this community.

We have recently seen the community pass a $40 million Bond Referendum that has been stated to be an "Economic Revitalization" plan. We have seen Hickory Inc. throwing millions of dollars towards projects that they hope will turn the community's fortunes around. They are throwing every chip they've got on the table and writing every IOU they can in what they have described as actions of immediacy. As one person said, "Hickory's time is now."

Hickory Inc.'s storyline of 2014 involves the redevelopment and repurposing of the Old Mill buildings along the Railroad tracks towards the city core. The Old Hollar Hosiery Mill building and The Moretz Hosiery Mill Building have become and are becoming restaurant and retail shops. The Hollar Mill building even has an event center. The Lyerly Hosiery Mill Building is the new location of the logistics company "Transportation Insight". The Piedmont Wagon building is going to be the home of some light manufacturing and office space. No one can possibly say that these are negative developments.

Where one can question the above is when they look towards the tangled web of political involvement and the perception that these businesses have taken over the political process in the community. In the referendum that just occurred, we see that those involved in these developments gave fairly large (for a city this size) political contributions to the organization that pushed the referendum and in return it looks like they are reaping huge rewards. By many that will be explained away as the reality of modern day politics.

People complain about this type of political activity on the National level when talking about George Soros or the Koch brothers, Democrats have a big issue here in North Carolina with Art Pope playing the role he does in legislation, but everything gets explained away as good business practices here on the local level. 'Incentives are a necessary evil and reality in attracting and maintaining industry,' we are told. But, what about when it is combined with campaign contributions?

False Positives

We are told that we are getting back on track in the community. Catawba County's unemployment rate is reported at 6.4% -- magically down a full 1% a few weeks before the election, just as happened before the primary. 6.4% is still .6% higher than the national average, but is better than anything we have seen since April 2008 and way down from the 15% that we saw in the first two months of 2010.

The problem is that when we look at the Civilian Labor Force statistics, we see 71,001 people are in the Labor Force in the latest reported month. Unfortunately, the Labor Force is down over 1,000 people since the beginning of the year and more than 2,700 people since the beginning of 2013. The Labor Force is down over 4,400 people since back when we had those 15% unemployment rates. If we calculated the unemployment rate utilizing the workforce of around 75,400 people (rounded) that we had back at the beginning of 2010 and the current employed statistic of 66,457 (extrapolated from current statistics), then we would see an unemployment rate of 11.9%. Better, but not even close to the rosy scenario portrayed.

Now, some people will say that those people retired out of the workforce, but that has been debunked many times by many economists including the former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts. Older people are having to continue to work, because of the loss of retirement wealth related to the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. The real cost of living has also risen significantly over that span. The people that have been left out of the workforce are the young people looking to enter the workforce. The numbers are also skewed by part time and seasonal statistics.

Personally, I have known several long term unemployed people. A few found jobs after nearly a year of being out of work and a few more have been relegated to finding odd jobs to bring in a little income so that they could survive. I have a friend that talks about being on the Obama Diet. He eats what he can afford and he says, "that ain't much."

The reality is that the economy did not grow in anything other than an anecdotal or compartmentalized way. Once again we have seen a few businesses open and a few close, but nothing of real significance. The workforce numbers related above show continued stagnation. The number of employed in Catawba County has hovered around 66,000 people for several years now. There is no sign of a breakout.

We continue to see people working harder to try to maintain income at the same time that costs have escalated. Most people have certainly had to downscale their lifestyle. Wishful thinking seems to be the hope of the day. Reduced expectations and acceptance have become the new long term reality.

Acceptance

I think that many of us have come to the "Acceptance" stage in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's model of the five stages of grief. Many of us have felt grief about the direction of this community as it continues down a path of post-industrialization. Those of us that have addressed the realities of the past decade have been mislabeled by the misguided as pessimists or even worse, we have been said to hate the community.

These words, actions, and mindsets come from people who are suffering a similar fate to our own, but are stalled on the track. They are living in a world of denial and/or anger.

In the Kübler-Ross model, acceptance means that everything is going to be alright. People have come to terms that what has happened has happened and then open their minds to the possibilities related to current reality. Maybe it is time to cut your losses and move. You'll have to sell your house. You might have to walk away from it. The family might have to live apart, while you seek opportunities elsewhere. But, what people realize is that they aren't in bondage to their current circumstances. Of course this stage will vary based upon personal circumstances, but the common thread is that people have to keep moving forward... and society will keep moving forward.

Over the years that I have done the Hickory Hound, I have come to the realization that most people just don't care about economics and finance. They want the path of least resistance -- the easy route. They want to feel good at all costs, no matter what the long term repercussions. They want someone to tell them that everything is going to be alright, even if it isn't going to be. I've seen it when the Assistant City Manager here in Hickory does his quarterly financial reports before the City Council. He feels a need to spin the numbers in the best possible light and present it in the face of, "What's the good news?"

What you're selling, people aren't buying

In my opinion, this community has had too much of a salesman's mentality. In the face of structural economic and cultural disorder, we can't market and sell our way into prosperity. It isn't the message that is our problem. We need to change the core of our reality.

I have tried a sales career a few times that 100% relied on commissions to make a living. I am not naive, I understand that we all have to sell our goods and services, and even ourselves to a certain extent, in order to make a living. We all know that it is easier to sell a good, established product than to sell something no one believes in.

The bottom line is obvious. People inside and outside of this community don't believe in the local product. I think it is self-evident, by action, that the leaders in the community don't believe in the product they are selling. Their message comes across as contrived.

And what is the most important ingredient? Trust. A confidence/ an expectation that the good, service, and/or you will be provide a good (great) value for what the person has invested.

Look at all of the politics that surrounded the bond referendum. What did the people in charge of this referendum tell you? 'You must do this now or things are going to get worse, but this won't work for twenty years.' That was the message that was sold. Is there confidence in that message? No... that is a message of fear. Fear may sell in the short run, but it never wins in the long run. It won't sell to people outside of the community.

A tale of two Hickory's

I was sitting up late in the night/early in the morning after the election, when I began typing this creed of affirmation.

The group that pushed for the tens of millions of dollars of stimulus package here in Hickory, in 2014, sent out a flyer that sold a version of the novel "A Tale of Two Cities." In the Hickory Inc. marketing job version of "A Tale of Two Cities", we are pointed to two models of industrial cities, one is the rubble of modern day Detroit, Michigan and the other is the desired renaissance that is defined as Greenville, South Carolina. Two stark contrasts were embellished with photography and words in a way that only a marketing campaign can achieve.

The twist of license taken by the group of "Haves", who controlled this marketing and electoral campaign, in pushing the marketing embellishment of this flyer, poetically tells the tale of just where this community is. This novel "A Tale of Two Cities" was written by Charles Dickens and it depicts life amongst socioeconomic classes in London and Paris in the mid 19th century. It isn't a story about infrastructure. It is a story about class struggle in cities that thrived for those at the socioeconomic top and was a nightmare for those at the bottom.

The story represents the difficulty of the poor (Have Nots) who have been oppressed by the aristocracy (Haves). In the Paris part of the novel, we see the peasants brutalized, which subsequently proceeds to an equal and opposite brutalization of the French nobles during the resulting French Revolution.

The opening of the story describes two Worlds existing simultaneously in virtually the same geographical location:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
What does all of this relate to?

What we have seen from the "Powers That Be" in this community is a complete lack of empathy towards those who are struggling  in the current economy. Many of these prosperous individuals seem to think that those at the bottom created their negative personal circumstances. While that may be the case with some, that isn't even close to the case for all. One can see why those who have been fortunate can afford an optimistic attitude. No one faults them for that. Where they can be faulted is in the brazen lack of compassion and respect we have seen demonstrated by some of the decision makers in the community towards the working class.

Perception

In this community, we have seen certain actions taken that reek of overbearing authority and intolerance. There is an implied expression of, "You're either with us or against us" with these forces. That negative mindset is dangerous, because it keeps people from speaking up, when their concerns might be legitimate, their ideas might be better, or their contributions might make plans better than they otherwise would be.

Certain people have told us, 'We must do this now!' If you question them, then they personalize the issues with, 'They are the anti crowd... They are anti-Hickory... They're against everything... They hate me.'

This all relates to the Old South mindset of status and patronage. This has been passed down through the origins of the old British "Divine Right" system. The King appointed Governors to the colonies.. The Governor gave land grants in the name of the King. This was a way for the King to reward allies and strengthen his political power. The King in turn would receive a percentage of duties and taxes as the economy expanded and he would dispose of the monies as he saw fit. Your average person had very little in the way of rights.

That system is the system that led to the great plantations of the South. After the Civil War, the plantation system evolved into the sharecropper system, which then gave way to the company town/mill village system as the South was Industrialized. Over time, we see how this has led to a lot of what we see in this community today; here in the throes of United States Post Industrialization. The Mill Village is the model that this community grew up in and we still see the extremes of that class structured social system to this very day. The deal is that that model is antiquated in the modern post-industrial reality.

You are the company you keep

Think of the groups you engage with. Are you surrounded by a diverse group of people or are the people in your life pretty much like yourself. Such circumstances can surely shade your perspective. When I was a kid and attending St. Stephens Elementary there were a couple Black people and there weren't any Hispanics out of hundreds of students. Over the years, as I moved through school systems, on to college, and out into the workforce that all changed. The person who grew up in the Hickory of the 1970's is definitely not the person who is living in the Hickory of the 2010's.

In modern communities, most of the younger generations don't have preconceived notions about where they are supposed to fit in the social rank. Many of the older folks don't get this and try to enforce the old social order on the community, because it is what they are comfortable with. This is one reason why the younger folks are choosing to leave the community. They aren't comfortable with authority and intolerance.

That is what is drawing younger people into the big cities... well that and a chance to progress economically. There isn't a social ladder to climb in the big cities (think Charlotte and Raleigh) that there is here in Hickory and other small Old South communities. There aren't the social cliques, which have the feel of High School, where government and civic leaders just can't fathom that people don't want to live just like them. The younger folks aren't into rolling the streets up after dark.

There is a maturity that comes with the tolerance in the big cities. Whereas, we see a lot of the opposite of the "Big Fish in a Small Pond" ... "What we have here is a failure to communicate" syndrome in the smaller communities, such as ours.

It's the same ole story, the same ole song and dance my friends...

It is unfortunate that the track record of the leaders in this community has been failure when it comes to meaningful business recruitment that creates jobs. Local businessmen are famous around here for being bottom line, no nonsense tacticians. If you work for them, they won't tolerate excuses. They expect results. Unfortunately, their political practices don't put their money where their mouths are. All we have gotten politically is excuses.

The numbers bear out our lack of business development. It has been a decade of job losses and Labor Force erosion. In the early 2000's, the Labor Force in Catawba County had grown to 82,245 people with one month having an employed number of 78,540 and that was with a population of 142,529 people. Currently it is estimated the population has grown to 154,810, but as I stated above the workforce has fallen to 71,001 people and the number of employed has fallen to 66,457 people.

So in a decade, we have seen the population grow by 7.9%, which is very anemic; especially when one looks to the fact that the population has actually regressed by over 4,000 people in the previous 4 years reported. We can see why, when the Workforce has fallen by over 10,000 people and the number of employed has followed suit.

What we have seen is the same ole story. As I opened with my State of Hickory 2009:
On July 15, 2007, I was honored to contribute a Guest Commentary that was printed in the Hickory Daily Record (HDR). The article entitled "An All-American City deserves first-class leadership" is the lead entry of this blog and I am grateful to the Hickory Daily Record for basically allowing me to give a State of Hickory address at that time.

I still believe every word that I wrote in that letter to this day. 18 months later, we are still nowhere near righting the wrongs that were discussed. The hangover from the fiber-optic, furniture, and textile busts are obviously still haunting our community. The standard of living is getting worse in our community and we are enduring the brunt of the current recession, because we have not addressed the serious, underlying issues that we have faced during this decade. Eighteen months later, how much of a difference has that All-American City designation made?...

Looming on the horizon, Corning looks to be leaving and taking with them approximately 1,000 more jobs. There's nothing in sight to replace those 1,000 jobs. Valley Hills Mall has two anchor stores, in JC Penney's and Sears, that are financially troubled on the national level. What will happen if we lose one or both of those anchors in a mall that has already been struggling in the economic realities of this community and the stiff competition that it faces from better retail destinations in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Asheville, and even Mooresville?

What do our local leaders hang their hats on when it comes to business development? Well, we've been successful at attracting some new Fast Food restaurants. And the movers and shakers in the community seem to think we are going to grow our economic prospects with jobs that barely pay over minimum wage for most of the people that work in these establishments. Or maybe is it a mindset of "Every man for himself" and taking advantage of people. That certainly doesn't help the local Economic and Social Ecosystem.

Politically, we have seen a "Me Too!" mindset from local leadership, when it comes to the redevelopment of the area that has been called the Wingfoot District and the redevelopment of the Piedmont Wagon Building. Frankly, the self-adulation has been excessively exuberant this early in those projects' lives.

While those developments have prevented some further erosion in the local economy, they are not growing the pie. They are just rearranging the deckchairs. Moving businesses from point A to point B within the community. If we don't grow the local economy in a substantial way, the restaurants and retail shops at those locations will come from other existing businesses within this community. The tenants at those locations will locate there from currently viable locations... and then what happens to those previous locations?

We have also seen a marriage of those developers to the local government apparatus, where the property owners and some of their tenants have invested in the political apparatus of the community and its current office holders, while receiving many public financial benefits . By many, this is the very definition of what is defined as Crony Capitalism. In the past, we have already seen many of these arrangements at and around Union Square. How are established businesses in other parts of the city going to feel about these subsidies? We have seen property tax deferments, other tax deferments, building grants, partnership in building out property infrastructure and so on.

In the State of Hickory 2010, I made the following observation related to buildings and the marketplace in this community:
People are going to have to realize that these are just buildings. Marketplaces are determined by people, not buildings. If these buildings aren't viable, then they just aren't viable.

If something is not done Hickory will become irrelevant, if it isn't already. Look where the growth is in this area. It is in the eastern part of the county. Why is that? Because it is being pulled by gravitation towards Charlotte's economy, which while in recession is a lot more dynamic than Hickory's and that isn't necessarily because of size. Hickory is unfortunately built around keeping things cheap and cheap has a tendency to feed off of itself. We can't sell $250,000 condos, have nice gourmet cuisine, specialized bakeries, operate top-notch clubs, or do anything to attract industries of "the finer things in life" until we fix the economic structure of this community. We just don't have enough demand to create a viable market. People either cannot or will not pay for quality. Culturally, most people in this city don't understand what quality is and they are willing to bargain over it. As much as cheap begets cheap, quality begets quality.
If we don't grow the economy in a meaningful way, then these redevelopment projects are not going to make it, because we will lose population and real incomes will not afford people the ability to eat out and shop; and these places will once again be vacant in the long run.

Flirting with Collapse

What we see is a community that continues to flirt with collapse. The older people that run the show around here don't have that much to lose, so we haven't seen a sense of urgency in the past decade of decline. We haven't seen a willingness to step outside the comfort zone. Well, besides a $40 million bond referendum, which $15 million will go towards a business park and $25 million will go towards sidewalks and streetscapes. The business park at least makes an effort to directly create jobs, although we already currently have three such parks that have plenty of openings for prospective businesses. The Beautification projects, as the Mayor previously called the infrastructure upgrades, ehhh... not so much.

As I have shown before in past articles, it is the over 45 age set that has grown in the past decade. Most of the people who have migrated here are in the older demographics, while those who have left are in the age 44 and younger demographics.

Those in charge have continually taken actions that appear to have been efforts to buy time with projects that have nothing to do with job creation and growth. Look at the Business Development Committee as an example. The only thing we have seen this committee do is have some meetings and pass out some awards.

We have seen plenty of nice little, neat little, feel good gestures; but these endeavors haven't been effective in attracting industry. We were told that getting the "All-American City" designation was going to attract jobs. Hickory Inc. made efforts to win Reader's Digest awards... wanted to be Tennis Town USA... is a Play City USA. Local leaders brag about their vacations, their golf games, various sporting events... but it certainly seems like no one is even trying to get local businesses to work towards being effective in developing clusters of associated businesses based around our economic assets and strengths.

In the movie "Jerry Maguire", Cuba Gooding's character says, "Show me the money." We see Jerry having to bust his butt after losing everything. He'll do anything to appease his client, but the client just wants results. You are either getting it done or you aren't. There has to be accountability in the process. If something isn't working, then you have to change what you are doing.

There are so many little rituals attached to government and civics. Most of those little rituals don't mean a thing when it comes to "the Circle of Life". Everybody's just going through the motions with these little rituals and accountability and responsibility just get pushed to the wayside.

In Hickory, it seems there are a handful of people that think they are in charge of everything and you are supposed to go through them to get anything done. Well, how's that been working out?

Here's the bottom line... What's their plan? Who's working on the plan? And what are the results? What have we gotten? Where is the economic activity? NOTHING ELSE MATTERS... Everything else is a side show.

Accountability... Leadership has to be held accountable. You are paid to produce, If you aren't producing, then you've got to go. I'm paid to produce in my job. Why is it any different for a politician or bureaucrat? Are we paying people to be professional golfers? professional spectators? No... we are paying them to be leaders.

Here's the Good News

We all need to live by the principle of "something gained, something earned." Remain true to yourself about who you are and what you represent. You don't have to embellish your reality. Find personal solutions that work for you and that you can live with, while remaining true to yourself and moving forward.

Be responsible to/for yourself and for others. Responsible as in being answerable and accountable. That is what real leaders do. Be your own leader. Relying on yourself keeps you from being led astray. Look far off in the distance towards your desired destination. You can make adjustments along the way, but looking nowhere leads you nowhere.

Here's some really good news. You are in charge of yourself and you will be alright if you can find comfort in your current reality. Even if that is impossible to do 100% of the time, if you can accept the reality that destiny brought you to your current circumstances, then you won't be paralyzed in moving forward.

It is frustrating that certain people are intolerant of the messages I convey to the public, especially when our forefathers did everything within their power to give us the right to freely express ourselves. That is what Liberty is. It is even worse when many people just don't seem to care and so easily give up their rights and even might try to suppress yours.

Long ago I came to the realization that people are going to have different perspectives and some people aren't going to like what you say no matter how you say it. In getting the message out, as an advocate journalist, about where this community stands economically and socially, my goal has been consistency in ideology, endurance in the mission, and relating that the perceptions of the community are it's reality. All we have been through, are going through, and will go through have, has, and will have lasting social consequences as we move forward. Leadership, responsibility, and accountability needs to be taken seriously.

Thank You and may God Bless this community and help us to help ourselves.


The State of Hickory 2013
The State of Hickory 2012
The State of Hickory 2011
The State of Hickory 2010
The State of Hickory 2009

Unemployment Spreadsheet through September 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Agenda about the City Council meeting of November 18, 2014

This Agenda is about the Hickory City Council meeting that took place on the date listed above. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At right of this page under Main Information links is an Hickory's City Website link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the left of the page you will see the Agenda's and Minutes link you need to click. This will give you a choice of PDF files to upcoming and previous meetings.

You will find historic Agenda and Minutes links. Agendas show what is on the docket for the meeting of that date. The Minutes is an actual summary of the proceedings of the meeting of that date. You can also look in the upper right hand corner of the front page of the Hickory Hound and (will soon) find the link to the past history of Hickory City Newsletters.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below:

Please remember that pressing Ctrl and + will magnify the text and page and pressing Ctrl and - will make the text and page smaller. This will help the readability for those with smaller screens and/or eye difficulties.

City Website has changed - Here is a link to the City of Hickory Document Center:
pdf City Council Agenda - November 18, 2014 

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Hound Notes: I haven't posted anything in the last week and a half, not because I am going away, but because I am working on something in depth. I should be releasing it in the next day or two.

No Change!

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Invocation by Rev. James Bernhardt, Pastor, Northminster Presbyterian Church

Special Presentations
A. Mr. Bill McBrayer Presentation of the Furniture Academy at CVCC

B. Proclamation to Recognize Senator-Elect Andy Wells as Recipient of the North Carolina League of Municipalities’ Community Champion Award. 

C. Neighborhood College Graduation

Persons Requesting to Be Heard
A. Ryan Neitz, Regarding Cab Fare Rate Increase
B. Brian Taylor, Regarding Cab Fare Rate Increase


Consent Agenda:
A. Approve “Food for Fines” Amnesty Weeks at the Library, December 1-12, 2014. - Approval of the waiver of overdue fines for library customers who donate canned food items at either Patrick Beaver Memorial Library or Ridgeview Branch Library during the two-week period of December 1-12, 2014. One can or box of food will cancel $1.00 in overdue fines, and donated items will be given to Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry.

B. Call for a Public Hearing – For Consideration of Closing a Portion of E Avenue SE. (Authorize Public Hearing for December 16, 2014)

C. Special Events Activities Application for A Very Vintage Christmas, Caleb Hayworth, Operations Director, Vintage City Church, December 24, 2014 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:30p.m. Downtown Union Square.

D. Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs.

The following requests were considered by the Citizens’ Advisory Committee at their regular meeting on November, 2014:
 Ge Moua & Vicky Lee were approved for recommendation to City Council for first-time homebuyer’s assistance to purchase a house located at 816 5th Avenue SW, Hickory. They have requested $7,500 for assistance with down payment and closing costs. The First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan is zero interest, no payments and repaid upon sale, refinance or payoff of first mortgage.
 Bonnie Tolley was approved for recommendation to City Council for first-time homebuyer’s assistance to purchase a house located at 840 5th Avenue SW, Hickory. She has requested $5,000 for assistance with down payment and closing costs.
The First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan is zero interest, no payments and repaid upon sale, refinance or payoff of first mortgage. Funds are budgeted for these items through the City of Hickory’s former Rental Rehabilitation Program income received in FY 2012 and/or program income received
through the City of Hickory’s Community Development Block Grant Program. Each of the following applicants are being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s 2013-2014 Urgent Repair Program. This program provides qualified low income citizens with assistance for emergency-related repairs not to exceed $7,200.
 Tessie Dillingham, 222 8th Avenue Drive SE, Hickory, not to exceed $3,244 (She was a prior URP Applicant).
 John & Carol Holleman, 1825 8th Street Drive NE, Hickory
 Martha Killian, 523 29th Avenue Drive NW, Hickory
 Margaret Meunier, 534 29th Avenue Drive NW, Hickory
The Citizens’ Advisory Committee recommends approval of the request.

E. Approval to Block Parking on Union Square Along the Outside Perimeter, as well as the First Three Angled Parking Spaces, from 8:00 A.M. to Approximately 6:45 P.M. on Friday, November 21, 2014 for the Christmas Parade. - The City of Hickory Christmas Parade needs to have clearance for the floats to travel safely through Union Square. By blocking the parking spaces, this will allow for safe movement as floats travel south along 3rd St NW, turn left into Union Square, and proceed through to 2nd St NW. The Traffic Division has analyzed this request and feels it would be fitting. Placing cones to block the parking spaces first thing in the morning will ensure no one parks in the spots requested. After talks with Downtown Development Association, Hickory Police Department, and Hickory Fire Department, it was deemed this is the best way to proceed. All parking spots will be open immediately after the parade has traveled through.

F. Budget Ordinance Amendment Number 10.
1. To budget a $107 Library donation in the Library supplies line item. This donation is from Lenoir Rhyne University for the reception hosted by the Hickory Public Library for author Rebecca Skloot.
2. To budget a $40 Library donation in the Library books line item. This donation is from Mrs. Alice Spuller in honor of the Colonial Dames XVII Chapter to purchase a genealogy book.
3. To appropriate $7,145 of General Fund Balance (Funds reserved from North Carolina State Unauthorized Substance Tax) and budget in the Police Departmental Non Asset Inventory ($6,695) and Supplies ($450) line items. This budget amendment is needed for the purchase of software for the Forensic Analyst position in CID (Criminal Investigations Division). Funds are made available to the Police Department from the State and remain in General Fund Balance until appropriated.
4. To appropriate $26,400 of Miscellaneous Insurance Claims Payments and to transfer $5,793 of General Fund Contingency to the Fire Departments Vehicles line item. This amendment is necessary to budget a $26,400 insurance claim payment from Argonaut Great Central Insurance Company for damages to a 2014 Chevrolet Tahoe that was involved in an accident. An additional transfer of $5,793 from General Fund Contingency is needed to pay the difference for a replacement vehicle.
5. To appropriate $30,000 of General Fund Balance and transfer to Bridge No. 327 replacement project located on Falling Creek Road. The WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) was approved to pay for the Right of Way and Utility engineering for this project has been approved by NCDOT (North Carolina Department of Transportation) in the amount of $150,000 (Federal $120,000 and Local $30,000). Therefore a $30,000 appropriation is necessary to provide the local match.
6. To accept a $1,441 transfer ($255 Transportation Fund Balance, $1,186 General Fund-Fund Balance) from the Airport Taxiway B, S, North Apron project and return unspent funds to the original funding source. This amendment is necessary to close the Airport Taxiway B, S, North Apron project.

G. Grant Project Ordinance Amendment Number 3.
1. To budget a $30,000 transfer of Appropriated General Fund Balance and to budget an additional $120,000 of Federal Revenue in the Bridge No. 327 replacement project located on Falling Creek Road. The WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) was approved to pay for the Right of Way and Utility engineering for this project has been approved by NCDOT (North Carolina Department of Transportation) in the amount of $150,000 (Federal $120,000 and Local $30,000).
2. To decrease the Design line item in the Airport Taxiway B, S, North Apron project by $1,441 and transfer funds back to the original funding sources ($255 Transportation Fund Balance and $1,186 General Fund-Fund Balance). This amendment is necessary to close the Airport Taxiway B, S, North Apron project and return unspent funds to the original funding source.

New Business - Public Hearings:
1. Public Hearing – for Consideration of Voluntary Contiguous Annexation of 20.446 acres located at 2415 Springs Road NE. - Northlake Southstar, LLC has submitted a petition for the voluntary contiguous annexation of 20.446 acres of property. The annexation area is comprised of what was the former St. Stephens Elementary School site, which is currently being developed into a shopping center and out parcels. The annexation is being requested in order to connect the City’s water and sewer system. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on November 7, 2014.

2. Public Hearing – for Consideration of Closing a Portion of 15th Street NW. - McDonald’s USA, LLC, a Delaware Limited Liability Company (Tenant) and SRW, Inc., a North Carolina Corporation (Landlord) have petitioned to close a portion of 15th Street NW, containing .195 acres more or less. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on October 24, October 31, November 7 and November 14, 2014.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Amendment to City Manager’s Employment Agreement. -  After discussion in closed session of the City Manager’s FY 2013-2014 performance, City Council unanimously voted to consider in open session an amendment (first amendment) to the Manager’s June 22, 2004 employment agreement. Section 20: One Time Bonus. Employee shall receive a one-time lump sum bonus of $4,350, effective as of July 1, 2014.

2. Approval of an Agreement for Engineering Services with McGill Associate in the amount of $48,000 for the Hickory-Catawba Wastewater Treatment Facility - McLin Creek Wastewater Pump Station Project. - The Hickory-Catawba Wastewater Treatment Facility (HCWWTF) – McLin Creek Wastewater Pump Station is necessary for areas northwest of the HCWWTF to receive treatment services at the HCWWTF. The HCWWTF is approximately 20 feet higher than the area next to McLin Creek/Lake Norman, therefore a pump station is required to lift this sewer into the influent of the treatment facility due to providing gravity sewer to the tributary properties. The agreement with McGill Associates will be for the planning, engineering, and permitting work necessary to complete the project. This project will be funded out of the HCWWTF Upgrade Project budget contingency line due to the pump station being a future component of the completed facility. All funding for the project is split equally between the City and Catawba County in accordance with the financing agreement for the HCWWTP. Staff recommends approval of this Agreement for Engineering Services with McGill Associates in the amount of $48,000.

3. Update on Construction of Hickory Metro Convention Center Parking Deck.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of November 4, 2014

I began video recording the City Council in 2012, because of my desire that the City do it on their own as any modern 21st century community began doing long ago. I had people tell me that they couldn't make it to the meetings, but they would like to see what is going on. I was also told by some council members that my summaries did not truly reflect the record, so having a video/audio recording cannot be misinterpreted.

So below is the City Council meeting. With each agenda item, you can click on the links and it will take you to that specific point in the meeting. You can always drag the marker on the video display to the point in the broadcast that you are interested in seeing.

Agenda about the City Council meeting of November 4, 2014

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Hound Notes: I didn't put out Thoughts because the meeting only lasted a little more than 15 minutes. As I had thought in my Agenda notes. The Council wanted to get to their party and understandably so. 

With a 15 minute meeting, you will understand that there wasn't much to comment on. A public hearing on issues of vagrancy was postponed to a later time uncertain date. 

I will also be putting out something that will take a few days and plan to get back to putting out Economic Stories of Relevance.

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Invocation by Reverend Mark Andrews - St. Luke's United Methodist Church

Special Presentations
A. Presentation of Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Proclamation to Casey McCall, Shelter Director, Salvation Army.

Consent Agenda:

New Business - Public Hearings
1. Public Hearing – for Consideration of Amending Chapter 24 of the Hickory Code of Ordinance. - Delayed at this time

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Approval of a Contract with Thompson Gordon Shook Engineers, Inc. for Professional Engineering Services in the Amount of $91,243.78. - When the Falling Creek Road Bridge was inspected, it was found to be structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The people have spoken here in Hickory and they 100% support Hickory Inc.

Congratulations Hickory Inc., the people have spoken and decided to follow the "Economic" model that you say will lead to growth. I still don't agree with that model and don't have twenty years to wait on your development plans, but it is clearly and unambiguously the will of the people and you have a mandate to do what you propose. Hickory Inc. and Boost Hickory, you have gotten what you want and you should run with it without question.

Personally, I hold no sour grapes about this referendum. I am not ashamed and I stand by what I have written and laid out in relation to this subject, the referendum. After all, I was only reporting what you laid out without the hard sell and marketing. I will not rehash any of this here tonight.

Moving forward, I will not be commenting on this subject matter and will not complain about taxes in Hickory, because I do follow the will of the people. The people of Hickory have clearly chosen a path that they like and it cuts across party lines and the current demographics of the community.

And that is all that needs to be said...

Over and Out,
JT Shell

Boost gets Busted: Mike Thomas fails to comply with Campaign Finance Law


Here is a quick breakdown of the Hickory Daily Record article regarding Boost Hickory's (BH) failure to comply with the State Board of Election's (SBOE) financial disclosure laws.

Boost Hickory committee late on finance report - Hickory Daily Record - Frank Bumb - November 3, 2014

Right off the bat we are given the standard, weak, textbook excuse for not filing the reports on time. It's the political equivalent to "the dog ate my homework." Campaign 101: "I just didn't get (the notice)" - Mike Thomas; Partner at Patrick, Harper, & Dixon LLPC (Psst - that's right folks. He's a Princeton-educated lawyer).

Why did this even become an issue? This one even has me stumped. There was actually never a need for the Boost Hickory Committee to register with the SBOE. Despite Mike Thomas' claims, Boost Hickory IS NOT a state wide campaign. Hickory having residents in multiple counties means absolutely nothing. The BH Committee could have simply registered with the Catawba County BOE. However, that would have meant being held accountable by a government entity much closer to home and more focused on holding BH accountable to applicable laws.

It is clear from the partial list that has been made public that at least 44% of the money raised by the BH folks came from CORPORATE sources. While completely legal, clearly this shows the lack of widespread public support for this referendum (Tax Hike) by the thousands of average citizens that would eventually be strapped with the increased tax burden needed to repay the Hickory Inc. version of corporate welfare.

Even while FINALLY making SOME of the disclosure report public, Attorney Mike Thomas has done this community a huge disservice by not allowing the voting public their civic/legal right to properly vet these numbers. Voters are unquestionably entitled to as much information as possible so that they can make the most informed decision they can. Granted, while many voters would not personally search through public databases to research the plethora of campaign finance reports, various media sources do routinely report on such things and make that information available to the public in a more reader-friendly style. Every candidate that is on the ballot in Catawba County properly filed their disclosure reports ON TIME - Boost Hickory failed.

What could be concluded from this act of defiance? Well, now that we have seen SOME of the numbers, it could be concluded that BH views the fine that will be imposed by the SBOE (likely to be around $350) as a mere pittance compared to what they have raised and spent on this "Tax Hike" initiative.

Why is any of this even remotely important? Is it about simply not complying with state law? No! Is it about illegal signs and not complying with local ordinances? Not even close.

Those so closely associated with BH have long and publicly boasted of their trustworthiness and their adherence to being completely transparent. 

Trustworthy: Adjective - taking responsibility for one's conduct and obligations. Regarding the illegal signs. The City of Hickory notifies EVERY campaign of all applicable election/campaign ordinances. Included in this information, it CLEARLY outlines the guidelines pertaining to campaign signs. Moreover, it is written in VURRY (that one is for you, Rudy) understandable language. To be sure, there is NO ambiguity to the guidelines. Yet still, Boost Hickory (with one week left in the campaign) blitzed the City with the biggest campaign signs that have ever been seen locally. The City's limit on political sign size is 16 sq.ft. Boost Hickory busted through that with signs that were 3x's over that limit. This was on top of the City notifying Boost Hickory of the sign ordinance and having them remove a sign that was 2-story's in height (approximately 600 sq. feet) that was draped off the roof of the Hollar Mill building -- a previous and future Inspiring Spaces/Boost Hickory beneficiary and committee member.

At any rate, despite having been notified that the 10'x5' signs were illegal, Mike Thomas still claimed that Boost Hickory knew nothing of any illegal signs and refused to voluntarily comply with City ordinances. Now, that's a long way of illustrating that Boost Hickory folks indeed don't take responsibility for their conduct and obligations.

Transparent - Capable of being perceived or understood; plain or clear; obvious; hiding nothing. Regarding the disclosure reports. Again, this leads back to allowing voters access to as much information as possible and in this case legally required information. Isn't it telling that nearly half of the contributions come from corporate donors? One might even be critical of the lack of diversity of the reported donors. Well, one might be critical IF they had the pertinent information in time. Displaying such a disregard for Hickory's citizens' right to know must surely raise questions about Boost's flimsy and empty claims of trustworthiness and transparency.

And, to be fair, the State Board of Elections' financial disclosure laws are easy to understand. Surely a partner at one of the City's most notable law firms - Patrick, Harper, & Dixon - shouldn't have had that much trouble interpreting a simple reporting deadline timetable. And while Mike Thomas did the right thing by making public the report, doing so the evening before Election Day certainly deserves no commendation. Mike Thomas (Boost Hickory) only did what the law required him to do.

It should not go unreported that this information would have never been made public had it not been for an inquiry by a citizen. Moreover, that very citizen has received nothing but harassment from at least one City Council member for publicly questioning Boost Hickory's failure to comply with the SBOE. That City Council member went as far as to even insist that the citizen was "misinformed" about the facts -- the very facts above.

If there is one thing that we can take away from this that will be applicable in the future, it is this - FUTURE CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE MIKE THOMAS will easily fit the Hickory Inc. mold!!!

Let me leave you with this last thought. Make no mistake about it, the Boost Hickory Referendum should not be passed. It is not because we should not invest in our City or in ourselves and each other. Vote against this Referendum so that on November 5th, we can demand that our elected officials get to work on an investment strategy that truly takes into account this entire City. For what it's worth, a good start would be to add more seats to the table and make sure that everyone that wants a seat is welcome and respected. By involving more people in the decision making process, a more acceptable, more effective, and stronger plan can be developed and would be supported by the citizens.