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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Innovative Idea about the Future Leadership of our City, a local website about local happenings in our area, had a lot of coverage about this year's congressional race between Patrick McHenry and Daniel Johnson. It was excellent coverage that was very objective and didn't demonize either candidate. I learned about HickoryHumans when they endorsed the Hound, because of our coverage of local government meetings.

Perusing their website last night I came upon this article ( They suggest the possibility of Daniel Johnson being an option as Mayor of Hickory. I have to say, that I think this is a novel idea and after careful consideration I completely understand the logic. Daniel Johnson meets many of the criteria that this city needs.

I'm sure that the ones of you that have read much of this website will realize that I am thoroughly frustrated by our city's lack of direction. The proof is in the pudding, since 2001 our city's economy in general has been in a malaise. We used to have a business environment that was ahead of the curve and had better than average employment numbers. Now we have leadership that constantly plays the blame game with no apparent strategy for success.

I totally agree with what the article says about citizen involvement. That is one of the major objectives of the Hickory Hound. That encompasses alot more than talking a good game, schmoozing with the established media, and an overindulgence in building a foundation of PR tools. It means building one-on-one relations with the citizenry and having them know that you are taking an interest in the entire community's general well-being.

Why are the squeaky wheels always getting the grease. It hasn't been done for the "greater good" of Hickory as a whole. It wreaks of the buddy system. I think that is what has caused the ambivalence in our city that has led to the lack of participation in civic endeavors. Because the average Joe isn't an insider, so their opinion isn't going to be taken into consideration by the "Powers That Be." I hang out with average Joes and that is truly how the majority of them feel.

I think we do have some good leaders in this community. Brad Lail has been an excellent leader in this community. He has been a friend of mine for nearly 30 years. I can tell you that he always goes out of his way to represent all of the people. He definitely doesn't do this because he has to. He does this because he is a leader. He was the Class President at Newton-Conover in 1984 and he has always represented all of his constituents. I agree with him 80%+ of the time. When I don't, I respect what he has to say, because I know that there is a logical thought process behind it.

Bruce Meisner has had an excellent reputation as Councilman for years. He knows the ins and outs of that bench and he has always touted a pro-growth agenda. I have never had a personal conversation with him, but he seems to have a very congenial personality and he is highly regarded by many in Hickory's business community. I have heard alot of people say that he would make a good Mayor.

John Watts was a very good community leader. The man has vision. He was railroaded out of his City Council position, because he had common sense. He was said to be someone that didn't listen to the people's will. I have read what he said during the Lowe's Home Improvemnt debacle. Everything he said during that time has come to fruition and everything the "No Lowe's Near Schools" crowd said can now be construed as foolhardy. I have spoken with the man. Even with the hateful overtones of rhetoric that were heaped upon him four years ago, he still loves this city and wants it to succeed.

I hope that Daniel Johnson will stick around Hickory and become involved in our local affairs. The man definitely showed the moxie of a go-getter during this past campaign. I talked with his brother Will for 2 hours on election day. I'm a Republican, but listening to Will speak gave me a true understanding of what a Conservative Democrat is all about. I haven't had a chance to speak with Daniel, but I hope that I will soon have that opportunity. I think Daniel defintely has alot to offer our city.

I truly mean none of this as a slight to Mayor Wright. He is the leader of our city. The Hound is here to build up this city, not tear it down. We aren't just out here lobbing bombs. The Objectives of the Hound are truly that -- nothing more, nothing less. The Mayor will defintely have his opportunity to promote (and/or defend) his record and agenda. And he will have that opportunity from his Bully Pulpit. He is the Champ and whomever the challenger is; they are going to have to give the public a compelling argument to unseat him.

If there are any other names of individuals that you think might make a good leader, then by all means throw them into the arena. They may choose to run or not, but it is now 11 months until our next Mayoral race. With all that is going on in the world, it is going to be imperative that we make a good choice. So let us know what you think.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tax Money Spent on Downtown Interests from 2002 to Present

Here is a link of investments made by the City of Hickory in "Downtown Hickory" since 2002.

I got these numbers by reading the minutes of City Council meetings published online. These grants were approved in the consent agenda or directly approved by vote during City Council meetings.

By looking at the numbers, we can see that the vast majority of these grants and studies were done for the benefit of the area in the immediate vicinity of Union Square. 41 of 47 of these grants (87.2%) have been made within 4 blocks of the geographic center of the city.

55.3% of the total number of downtown grants were awarded to these City Center Private Businesses and the dollar amount totaled 23.3% of all downtown grants. The use of these grants included; replacing doors and/or windows, renovating facades, demolition, replacing awnings, landscaping, parking, and painting.

There has also been hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been directly allocated to the Hickory Downtown Development Association.

In the Hounds Opinion :
These numbers show a lack of singular purpose. It seems that people are just flailing away in the dark trying to make downtown work, but the equation just doesn't make sense. Come on, this darkness is self-imposed. Everyone that has lived here for the last 20 years knows what the problems are. We don't need more studies. Consultants have told city officials what needs to be done and it has been conveniently ignored, because it doesn't fit certain people's agenda.

An example? Consultants said that we needed more 4 hour parking downtown in 2002 (council meeting of June 16, 2002) and yet it was insignificantly addressed at the time. Guess what? It was reintroduced in the Catawba Valley Neighbor's article a month ago. The vast majority of the time it wouldn't matter if you allowed people to have extended parking times. Someone down there doesn't realize that having customers (and not running them off) is important to having a viable commercial area.

The tenants want Valley Hills Mall type revenues, but they want the bargain basement lease rates that they pay to operate on and around Union Square. They would never stand for paying half of what Valley Hills Mall tenants pay. Here in lies one of the major issues, because low rent equals low profit for property owners and thus low reinvestment in that property. You don't get something for nothing; cheap begets cheap.

A successful major retail anchor tenant would necessitate a complete change in the existing infrastructure (and philosophy) of the downtown area. Having more customers would lead to more revenues, but it would also mean more traffic on existing downtown streets and surrounding neighborhoods.. Would the Oakwood neighborhood stand for this?

It is my opinion, that the current cabal that runs downtown would not stand for a more robust downtown area and the traffic that would bring. These are the same people that so adamently opposed Lowe's Home Improvement on Hwy 127 and they did everything in their power to stifle the progress of the 127 corridor. Look at the minutes of the City Council meeting on November 16, 2004. The people that were opposed to that development are the same people that are heavily involved in the Hickory Downtown Development Association. No wonder our downtown is such a mess!

It is our opinion that these grants to private entities need to end. What is the citizenry getting out of this commercial welfare? For one of these $5,000 grants, the city could be obtaining close to $100,000 in funding, by using that money to pay for interest on the issuance of bonds. That would be more beneficial to our city. Grant money should be going towards creating commerce (and jobs), not towards beautification projects that create nothing. These grants are arbitrary and thus unfair. If the city is going to give certain businesses $5,000 for renovation, then they should give every business $5,000 for renovation.

The Hound's braintrust have some ideas on how to give downtown a new purpose, but we aren't going to propose these ideas yet, because we feel that people with a vested interest in downtown's current circumstances will not allow this vision to be properly vetted. Hickoryites are going to have to say, "No More!"

Union Square may be the geographic city center of old Hickory and historically it deserves to have a purpose, but we all know that it is no longer the economic center of this city. We don't need to force a square peg into a round hole by needlessly trying to return to the days of yesteryear. Nostalgia is great to dream of, but it becomes a burden on our economy by trying to implement a 1960s mentality into a 2010 world.

It is time that we move forward. There are issues in this city that have needed to be addressed for years. It is time to start developing the city as a whole. It is time to quit neglecting the rest of Hickory just to humor a few merchants in downtown Hickory. It isn't fair, it isn't just, and it isn't right.

Monday, November 24, 2008

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous - Fed Pledges Top $7.4 Trillion to Ease Frozen Credit

From Bloomberg - Fed Pledges Top $7.4 Trillion to Ease Frozen Credit

We cannot guarantee our way out of this economic mess! We cannot spend our way out of this economic mess! Bailout of Banks! Bailout of Insurance! Bailout of Investment Companies! Bailout of Deliquent Mortgages! What's Next? Who's Next? When does this stop? Where does this stop?

Harry Hipps has it exactly right in this article, This is Keynesian Economics on steroids. Franklin Roosevelt's schemes were a result of the tooling of John Maynard Keynes' socialist policies. We are revisiting that era. Roosevelt's policies did not get us out of the depression, they extended it.

It isn't time to spend. It is time to take a chainsaw to government spending. I think that most people realize this, but we weren't presented with that option during the past election. When you are in financial trouble, do you keep spending money? Are you presented that option?

Government can turn our money into Monopoly Money and enforce a confiscatory tax structure. We will now pay the price for the government's willing failure to understand Common Sense Economic Principles. Let's hope we can recover some day.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


It's time to change the city ordinance to make a clear statement on ethics.

Article II - Council Division 1 - Generally Sec 2 - 62 says:
Every member must vote unless excused by the remaining members. No member shall be excused from voting except on matters involving the consideration of his own financial interest or official conduct or other conflict of interest. A MEMBER WHO WISHES TO BE EXCUSED FROM VOTING SHALL SO INFORM THE MAYOR, WHO SHALL TAKE A VOTE OF THE REMAINING MEMBERS.

Now, what the heck is this? The section I printed in caps seems to suggest that if you don't want to vote when you have a conflict of interest the council can vote and you don't have to . But if you don't want to inform the mayor of your conflict of interest you don't have to and you can vote for your personal interest. What kind of ethics is this? If there is a conflict it is unethical and possibly illegal to vote. The code should be changed to read: A MEMBER WHO HAS SUCH A CONFLICT MUST INFORM THE MAYOR WHO WILL INFORM THE COUNCIL THAT THE MEMBER WILL NOT BE VOTING. There should also be sanctions including expulsion from the council if a member does not disclose a conflict of interest.

Let's say, hypothetically, that Sally Fox voted for city money to be used to promote downtown Hickory merchants (and thereby her personal retail business as well). Would we want to accept the City funds being used to line her pockets? What about all the other retailers in Hickory that would like to have the City's money promoting them? Obviously, the use of City money for personal gain would be unethical.

It's time to take ethics seriously. The level of anger and cynicism towards government is growing and is unhealthy for our democracy. Let's change this statute and run a cleaner City government.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of November 18, 2008

This newsletter is about the Hickory City Council meeting that I attended this past week. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At the bottom right of this page under main information links is a Hickory's Local Government link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the bottom of the page you will see the future dates for meetings scheduled for this year.

At the top of the page, if you click on the “Documents” link, 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.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 11/18/2008 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below.

The Invocation was made by Rev. David E. Roberts, II of Morningstar Baptist Church

Special Presentations:
A. City of Hickory Receives the North Carolina League of Municipalities Green Challenge Level 1 Award

B. Team City of Hickory Police Department and HPD Detective Heather McNally Receives the Catawba County 2008 Team Award in Conjunction With Other Participating Teams.

C. Presentation by Tracy Nestor & Connie Kincaid of the Hickory Downtown Development Association - Reporting on the Economic Impact of the 23rd annual Oktoberfest. – Tracy Nestor stated that an estimated 110,000 people attended the event. She stated that they estimated that at least 50% of the people came from outside the Unifour area. Area hotels tracked the number of guests (The numbers were given to the Western Piedmont Council of Governments). She stated that the event generated 732 room nights, which most of those rooms were reserved in blocks of 4 night increments by event vendors. She estimates the event generated $7.637million.

The Hounds View: I am sorry, but it is more than obvious that these numbers were contrived. She says that they received estimates on crowd size from EMTs, Firemen, and Police. She qualifies that vendors were in the hotel room nights estimate. There was an estimate on how much food money (and I guess this includes beer) that patrons spent. Estimates, Estimates, Estimates…

We all know that the vast majority of people that attended this event were from this area. Very few people came from outside the area (or out of state). This was not a destination event. Heck, the hotel numbers bare this out. These wild-eyed optimistic estimations are an embarrassment to report to council (though the mayor seemed to just lap it up). They tried to overstate their case and logic just doesn’t work here. It is thoroughly unprofessional to exaggerate numbers to this extent just to make yourselves look good. You end up looking like Cliff Clavin.

While this event is important to our city’s cultural vitality, it is a revenue neutral event. It is not a money generator. Most of the money generated went to a few bars and boutiques on Union Square or left town with the vendors traveling the circuit.

This was another missed opportunity by community leaders. We had this big captive audience and we could have used this as an opportunity to find out some vitally important questions. Why didn’t we get information from the street vendors? Event coordinators could have done some sampling and asked questions about demographic info, town of origin, what brought them to Oktoberfest, how often do they come to downtown Hickory, what brings you to downtown Hickory, what would bring you to downtown Hickory more often, etc.

These Cliff Clavin numbers were contrived to make this organization seem important so that they can come back and wheedle more money out of Hickory coffers in the future. The Downtown Development Association needs to get its act together. They seem to be more of a social organization, than based on commerce.

D. Presentation of Diplomas by Mayor Wright to the 2008 Neighborhood College Graduating Class. This is a civics project where citizens get a lesson in Hickory Civics. Three Graduates of this class made presentations. I have to admit that they were truly jazzed about what they had learned.

The Hound believes that Mandy Pitts is a fine representative for this city. I hear her on Hal Rowe all the time. I'd rather hear from her than Rudy any day. Rudy seems like he's trying to run 0ut the clock and Mandy is trying to extend it. Mandy, if I agree to do this neighborhood college thing, will you let me do an extra credit project on the settlement of the Buffalo's Sinkhole issue?

Council Reaffirmed and Ratified Second Readings of the agenda voted on at the last meeting.
Consent Agenda:
The City confirms the Voluntary Annexation of the Property of Brian and Tammy Frazier located at 2713 24th Street Court and authorizes a Public Hearing for December 16, 2008 to allow Drendel Investments, LLC to Close a Portion of 2nd Street Drive, NW.

Authorize Public Hearings for December 2, 2008 for a Proposed Ordinance Amendment to the Hickory City Code Chapter 20, “Nuisances” and a Public Hearing about a Proposed Ordinance Amendment to the Hickory City Code Chapter 18, “Motor Vehicles and Traffic” Section 18-183 – “Pre-towing Notice; Appeal; Removal Without Notice.” Public Hearing Regarding Approval of the Economic Incentive Development Agreement with MDI, Inc.

Social Items - Approval of Third Annual “Food for Fines” Amnesty Week at the City Libraries from 12/1–7/ 2008. Proclamation Recognizing Harold and Helen Punch’s 70th Wedding Anniversary and Declaring 11/12/2008 as “Harold and Helen Punch Day” in the City of Hickory. Grant Terry Miller a Thirty-Day Extension to Vacate City-Owned Property Located at 1370 12th Avenue, NE.

Business Items - Approve the Fire Hydrant Grant Application for Infrastructure Assistance for Sunbelt Furniture Xpress in the Amount of $5,000.00. (The City’s Economic Development Assistance guidelines state that City Council may provide matching grants of up to $5,000.00 for documented costs of additions to public utilities. The cost of Sunbelt’s expansion is estimated at $935,000.00 leading to creation of 20 new jobs at a median wage level of $19.00 per hour).

Approval of Property Tax Refund to Eastern Automation Services, LLC in the Amount of $284.14. Approve the Proposed Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) Submittal for FY 2010-2014 to the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). Approve Quitclaim Deed From the City of Hickory to Clinton Tabernacle A.M.E. Zion Church For Property Located at 145 Lenoir Rhyne Boulevard – Discussed in Departmental Reports.

Budget Ordinance Amendment: $2,500 Library donation from Lenoir Rhyne University, $705 of Miscellaneous Insurance Claims, To budget $500 of Airport property rental revenue for purchase of new tables, Transfer $9,744 from the General Fund to pay Randall Arendt for costs associated with the Commercial Corridor Workshop and Fifth Avenue/Optimist’s Park Affordable Housing Site Plan presentation, Transfer $195 from the General Fund to Amity Lane Capital Project construction.

New Business: Public Hearings
Petition to Rezone the Property Located at 2007 Startown Road
- This 10.92 acre property is located in Ward 3. The applicant proposes a rezoning from Catawba County Residential- 20 and City of Hickory Residential-1 to City of Hickory Commercial-4.

The property has frontage on Startown Road and is a short distance south of the Catawba Valley Boulevard/Startown Road intersection. The subject property’s location near that intersection makes the general area more suitable as commercial development rather than residential. While staff finds that the request is not consistent with Hickory by Choice, due to changing circumstances in the area, staff recommends approval of this initial rezoning. The Hickory Regional Planning Commission on October 22, 2008 conducted a public hearing and voted unanimously for approval of the requested rezoning.

Brad Lail wanted the property split zoned. The way the property is laid out, the part facing Startown Road is currently near O&I development. The rear of the property is near open space. C-4 status is the second highest commercial development level and he doesn’t want this zoned C-4 until there is a cohesive strategy. The petitioners main quest is to get commercial status for when they sell the property. The council unanimously voted against C-4 status, but unanimously accept O&I status.

The Hound Believes: This is no big deal right now, because the owners aren’t ready to sell the property, but city officials have to know that the property in front of this road is Huffman Cove Road, 29th Avenue NW and NE, 24th Street NE, McDonald Parkway, and Startown Road. In the next 20 years this will become a 4 lane from 127 to Highway 321. This is the outerloop corridor that has been proposed to be the third bridge to Caldwell (& Alexander) County.

Better get used to the idea of some razing and major development taking place in the not too distant future. There isn’t going to be residential along this major thoroughfare. Let’s not needlessly hamstring something that will have to be revisited by future city leaders. Look forward, not present, not past.

2. Petition to Rezone the Property of Third Gate Properties Located South of I-40 and East of 21st Street Drive, SE (Sweetwater Road) These four parcels totaling 35.4 acres are located in Ward 3. Proposal is to rezone from Limited Industrial to Planned Development – Mixed Use. If rezoned, the applicant intends to develop a mixed professional office park, retail/commercial space, and residential development.

This proposal was discussed at the Planning Commission meeting on 10/22/2008. They voted unanimously for approval of the requested rezoning. Staff finds that the request is consistent with Hickory by Choice and recommends approval. The council unanimously accepted the proposal.

Departmental Reports:
Second Reading - Approve Quitclaim Deed From the City of Hickory to Clinton Tabernacle A.M.E. Zion Church For Property Located at 145 Lenoir Rhyne Boulevard Staff recommends approval of the Quitclaim Deed and requests two (2) readings on November 18, 2008 due to time constraints between the church and their buyer. The Church is changing Locations and this actions takes away the covenants the city has on the deed so that the church can sell the property. The council unanimously accepted the proposal.

Award Bid to Tyco (MA/COM) to Purchase the P25 – OpenSky Hybrid Communications System in the Amount of $1,542,685.00 for The Hickory Police Department. The current 800 MHz radio system was purchased in 1994 and many replacement parts are no longer manufactured. The FCC is taking HPD’s radio frequencies and allocating them to Nextel. The FCC is requiring Nextel to pay for new mobile and handheld radios, a value of $800,000.00. With the receipt of the equipment from Nextel, the value of the radio system is $2,342,685.00, but the City will only spend $1,542,685.00. Tyco (MA/COM) is the City’s existing vendor and met all of the RFP standards. Tyco (MA/COM) was the second lowest bidder. The lowest bidder did not meet specifications, including no data solution which would require additional equipment and software cost. The City has negotiated free hardware maintenance for one (1) year at a savings of $61,000.00 and free software maintenance for three (3) years saving $186,000.00. The new radio system should last 15 to 20 years. The purchase will be made by a “down payment” of $500,000.00 from cash reserves and financing $1,042,685.00 for ten (10) years at an interest rate of 3.79%. The debt service payment will be $110,000.00 annually, funded from reductions in HPD budget for maintenance and equipment replacements for the old system. Staff recommends approval. Warren Wood showed that this new system will basically cost the city nothing. The council unanimously accepted the proposal.

The Hounds Take: Look at this system and tell me that we are a small town. This system shows how stupid the small town theory really is, doesn’t it?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A New Equation!!!

I need your help. We have got to get Hickory back on track. Don't think me strange to say that I do not mind putting this town on my back. I know that Harry Hipps has my back and I've got his, but what about the rest of you?

You see, I was raised to be a responsible human being. I'm no better than anyone else. I am just a common man with issues that make me different in many ways from most of you. My father died when I was 2 years old, he was 24. My mother was an overburdened, shellshocked widow at the age of 22 with three children, aged 4, 2, and 1. Looking back, I know that she did the best she could under such a tumultuous situation. She made mistakes, but that's part of being human.

So, I don't come from the standard mother, father core family like the majority of you. I was forced to grow up in many ways before I was even out of infancy. There were no father-son banquets or closely bonded relationship that men cherish with their father. I have always been the outsider.

I eventually had a stepfather, but he never was a father figure in my life. He was more of an overburdening enforcer of will. So I rebelled and never did respect his authoritarian nature. That is the reason I can't stand when an entity tries to overpower a weaker subject with brute force or intimidation.

My Grandfathers were great men in my life, neither were perfect, but who is. Leroy Shell led by example in my eyes. He was a good Christian and I saw him constantly go out of his way to help his fellow man. Vic Padgett was a gregarious man who had a multitude of friends. Whenever we went out somewhere, he was sure to know someone and easily strike up a conversation. They have both been gone for a while, but they are still in my heart and in my head. I think of them often.

My Grandmothers have both been steady influences in my life. Mattie Padgett used to be a local radio personality on WIRC for 50+ years. She is cool, because she can do about anything. She was in the military during WWII and she doesn't take lip from anybody. She is very strong-willed. Martha Shell was a nurse here in Hickory. She saved my life when I was a teenager, because she got me out of an anxiety riddled situation and gave me the independence that I needed to blossom.

I needed to give you that overview to let you know that no matter what happens in your lives, everything is going to be alright. We all have negativity in our lives, but the key is that we must turn it into a positive by learning from it. It is alright to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and don't continuously repeat them.

I hated my primary education. I didn't like many of my teachers, because I felt and still feel that they were petty. The ones I didn't like were generally the ones that thought they were there to play some kind of mind games. I was there to learn, not be indoctrinated with social class and structure, and so I was always an outcast. Sort of like James Dean in Rebel without a Cause. But, I did (and do) have a cause.

Read the Declaration of Independence We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Amen brothers, amen. I bathe myself in this statement. I glorify our forefathers who put their lives on the line so that we could be free from tyranny.

My family, my heroes, and my mentors have brought me to where I am today and given me the knowledge that I am unique and I have abilities and responsibilities to help myself, as well as my fellow man.

My problems are my own and it is my responsibility to solve them. That does not absolve me from the responsibility of helping others, when I can. When someone gets in the way of me solving problems, then it is my responsibility to figure out a way to get that person (or entity) out of the way so that I may resolve the issue. That is the reason I am beseeching you to help me move Hickory forward. It is our responsibility to change this city's purpose.

For too long we have seen the blame game. Blame Raleigh, blame Washington, blame Democrats, blame Republicans....where has it gotten us. Seven years of stagnation!!!

Our governmental leaders' vision is negative. Whether it is the negativity in dealing with the drinking establishments, the conflicts of interest, the hostile nature in which they have dealt with local businesses, the way certain council members want to take away our property rights, and then absolve themselves of any and all responsibility for the malaise our city has endured for seven years; it has got to be brought to an end.

It's not about vision. It's about the equation! Negative attitudes produce negative results.

Our city's leaders vision doesn't add up. So it is time to change the equation, because certain leaders just don't fit into Hickory's equation. We must get rid of the people with the negative attitudes, the people that tell us what we can't do, and the people that always want to play the blame game.

They need to show us what they are going to do, because all we have heard are excuses. They should look at it as a priviledge and honor to serve us, because I think that some of them look at the citizens as a burden. They are here to represent us all. The black, white, yellow, brown, tan, or green are supposed to be treated equally.

I need your help. I believe in this purpose. I believe in this movement. Please spread the word. Preach it from a pulpit or whisper it in someone's ear, I don't care. We need eyeballs. We need comments. We need participation. We need them to know that we exist and we need them to know that we are here to stay.

Take a chance. What's it going to hurt? We know that our city leader's vision has not worked. What indication is there that things are going to get better? It's up to you. Do you want to see us continue down this path of failure or do you want to see a new equation?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Watch Out Folks -- Taxpayer Alert -- Downtown Parking Deck

This is a recent article that was in the Charlotte Observer

Read this article and see if you don't think this is a trial balloon to interject the subject of a new parking deck downtown. If the people downtown want a parking deck, then they need to pay for it 100%, like any other business in this town would have to do.

Frankly, it is getting a little more than tiresome to see downtown development always brought up when we have so many other problem areas in this town that need to be addressed. We all want to see a progressive, vibrant downtown. I think there are things that can be done to get downtown going, but it isn't going to happen until we get attractions downtown that average people want to visit. Land a major corporate retail chain downtown and then there might be a reason to build a parking deck.

When are the people making decisions about our downtown ever going to be held accountable for the money that has been fruitlessly invested there. As I have said continually, the best way to make downtown more attractive is to get the areas around it up and going (Outside-In Redevelopment). Read about this in the Comments on Problems and Solutions forum that is linked in the top right corner of this page.

As for this Problem, here's a Solution Idea. Maybe you could issue a set number of placards (like handicapped parking placards) to these salons downtown that could be hung on the patron's car mirror. These placards would give the patrons 3 or 4 hour parking. You could charge the businesses a nominal annual fee for the placards. That way parking won't be taken up by employees, although I don't understand why they are never part of the equation.

I will give our City Leaders some free advice. If you try to build a parking deck with any city taxpayer money, then you will be hanging an issue around your neck that will be of no comfort. The average person goes downtown very little and the problem has less to do with parking, than it does with a lack of viable economic commerce.

Check out the average person shopping on Union Square. Do they look like the majority of the citizens of our community? Do you think average citizens are going to stand by and watch you continually subsidize a place where they have no interest, just to humor a vocal minority? It is time for Union Square to stand on it's own two feet.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

For Those Who Feel Me to be the Fool - expected $988 billion Federal Deficit for 2009
Read this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. The election is now over and here comes the news that they wouldn't release before the election. The government is going to borrow $918 billion in the next few months to finance all the bailouts. The government is projecting a deficit of $988 billion for the current budget year, which began Oct. 1, would be more than twice the record $454.8 billion set for the budget year that ended Sept. 30.

From Bloomberg - Fed Defies Transparency Aim in Refusal to Disclose
Nov. 10 -- The Federal Reserve is refusing to identify the recipients of almost $2 trillion of emergency loans from American taxpayers or the troubled assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

The new additions to the AIG Bailout bring the total of that bailout to $150 billion (up from $85 billion) and the total of Federal Bailouts to $2.044 trillion since June. You can read about this at our sister site "Common Sense and Clear Thinking."


This is the unedited version of a letter to the editor in the Your Voice section of the Hickory Daily Record on 11/8/2008 entitled "Election over, citizen activism still needed" -- by Harry Hipps

The election is over at last. Signs are leaving yards and the phone is thankfully quiet. So what now? Oh the politicians and their staffs will be working as usual, but what about you? Are you going to your couch and just hoping the new officials are going to do better? Our challenges haven’t gone away and this is no time for complacency.

The financial problems are huge and the national debt has increased tremendously in a short period. The world is armed and dangerous and Bin Laden and his crew probably aren’t much sweeter today than they were yesterday. Gas has dropped almost two dollars a gallon and the large gas guzzlers look awfully pretty on that lot; however, unless I miss my guess, no new crude oil has appeared in the ground and it’s a matter of time before price spikes return again. I’m not a pessimist by nature but these are challenging times.

Despite the promises of our new crop of political leaders, we need public awareness and action more than ever. The purpose of elections is to choose governance. The horse race aspect of elections creates interest and excitement but it is the day by day actions of government that is the real work of democracy. We can’t only speak every four years at the ballot box and stick our heads in the sand the rest of the time.

Read history and current events. Monitor your representative’s voting record. Write, call or email them on issues of concern. Write commentaries in papers and on blogs. Let the leadership know we are informed and we want results. Yes, everyone is busy and it seems a day slips away too fast. But our laws, our money, our system of justice, our freedoms, and so many facets of our lives are touched by government and we can’t afford to ignore it.

With the internet and communications the possibilities for citizen involvement is now greater than ever. Power is going to be exercised and if we are truly going to be a government “of the people, by the people and for the people” that doesn’t just mean your neighbor, your boss, or your friends – it means YOU.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Newsletter about the Moratorium Workshop on November 4, 2008

This was a review of Text Amendments, staff reports. and maps of the present situation as far as the Drinking Establishments go here in Hickory. (I rushed this before going to work and so I have now gone back and edited it properly)

Brian Frazier talked about the current situation and said that currently Drinking Establishments are permitted by right here in Hickory. Basically every other enterprise needs a special use permit to operate within certain zoned areas, but not drinking establishments.

The proposed ammendment would require Drinking Establishments to get special approval in areas zoned C-1, C-4, and C-5, and would not be allowed in NC-1. NC-2, or C-2. Under the proposed ammendment, 1400 tax map parcels will be available for proposed drinking establishments.

Sally Fox seemed to be very concerned about the Green Park corridor and how this proposed ammendment would effect bars in her area. Attorney John Crone emphasized that there would have to be a Planning Board Evidentiary (evidence, documents, & Testimony) Hearing representing the neighbors, that the council would have to abide by the rulings of that Planning Board hearing, and that any appeals would be heard in Superior Court. Jill Patton was concerned with the relation of drinking establishments to traffic patterns and parking. She believes that this proposed change will give neighbors a fair hearing.

Brad Lail offered that someone had told him that the proposed definition of Drinking Establishment is not consistent with the current ALE standard (which states that 30% food must be served in order for an establishment to not be considered a Drinking Establishment). Brian Frazier said the 50% level was (the city's) definition of the food-beverage threshold and was recommended by legal council. Councilman Lail asked what he meant be legal council? Mr. Frazier stated that it was Parker-Poe (legal firm) he was referring to. Mr. Frazier further stated that their (city staff's) position has always been the 50% threshold.
Mr. Lail stated that his problem with 50% is that it might exclude businesses that might want to locate in areas that we (the city) might want to stimulate with young people and activities. Mayor Wright stated that these businesses still have the right to apply for the special permit. They can go through due process and votes to see if they get it, to see if it is in fact something that adds value. Mr. Lail said that he doesn't understand the reasoning between 30% (ALE) and 50% (Hickory).

Mr. Frazier then addressed the issue of the city's Pedestrian Overlay District, which automatically allows a 50% reduction in the amount of parking needed by a business to operate under code. Under the proposal, The city wants bars to submit an Alternative Parking Plan to the Planning Director to gain an additional 20% parking reduction. Mick Berry stated that this applies to every business, not just a particular use.

Brad Lail asked a question of whether any change of ownership of a business on Union Square (Downtown District) would require submission of a parking plan under the new ordinance? Mr. Frazier said that yes they would have to prove that there was adequate parking, then said no if it were a similar type of business they would not. Mr. Lail then asked in the case of Drinking Establishment, Yes? Mr Frazier stated that it was a good question. Andrea Surratt said that she believes that they would require Special Permit. Mr. Leonetti showed where any C-1 zoned area does not require Off Street Parking. Mr. Lail then stated that he is worried about unintended consequences.

City Manager Mick Berry wanted the issue addressed as to how many of the 14 establishments in question would be effected by the issue of Grandfathering, because of transfer of ownership based upon current zoning. Mr. Frazier believes it to be less that 50%. Mr, Meisner wants the issue of inheritence of these businesses addressed. Mr. Crone wanted this carried further to the issue of what is the public policy rationale for putting drinking establishments at a higher bar? Mayor Wright wants to look further into this issue.

A great deal of debate took place next on the issue of 30% vs 50% Food to Beverage ratio. The Mayor and Mrs. Fox seemed deadset against lowering the ratio to the ALE standard.

Mr. Lail wanted to address whether the policy(s) is consistent with a vision of Hickory moving more toward a service industry type city. Mr. Meisner stated that he could foresee a battle coming between retail and services. Charlotte has moved more toward entertainment Downtown. Much debate followed as to whether this was good or not. Sally Fox stated that she believes there has to be a higher bar for our Downtown. The council seemed to come to a consensus that we need to do a comparison between ourselves and Burlington, which is similar demographically to Hickory.

Mrs. Fox stated that she didn't want to shut out information, but she didn't want to get caught up in other things like vision. We have a goal here (I presume of this proposed ordinance). Brad Lail wanted to know what the goal is, if we don't consider vision? Mrs. Fox stated that she thought they were establishing a process for reviewing drinking establishments. We (Fox further stated) pretty much know sitting at the table what our vision will be for our neighborhood core and somewhat what our vision is gonna be for downtown.

Mick Berry said that from a technical standpoint they have an obligation to stick to the ordinance that created the moratorium. The moratorium is in response to the public safety issue. Ms. Surratt brought up the issue that maybe downtown should just allow bars by right in C-1 only.

Mr. Crone stated that he liked the Special Use concept for Downtown, because some Condos might be going up in a section and a nightclub would have to apply for a permit to be next to it, something like that may devalue the property. He did state that if they meet the criteria, they meet the criteria. Mrs. Fox stated that these drinking establishments have become a drag on the area. She once again brought up that Green Park corridor is screaming for revilization. She says the problem is that we (the council) haven't raised the bar. She bemoaned over and over again "it has been a drag" several times directly to Mr. Lail. Mr. Lail stated that he has heard from folks that it is also an issue Downtown.

The City Manager and Council came to an agreement to have a staff presentation to council at the next meeting. Mayor Wright said he would like to encourage everyone, if you think of other info, then please report to city staff.

The Hounds Opinion: I believe that it is a good idea to regulate where these establishments are established to a degree, but let's hope that we aren't going to stifle future proposed entertainment establishments in doing so. We need to, without question, keep these establishments out of neighborhoods. We can all agree to that.

I don't think Mrs. Fox is consistent in what she has to say on this subject. She sounds totally negative on this whole subject, frankly this whole discussion has been negative. She says that the issue has nothing to do with vision, that the issue has been a drag on Green Park, and that the people at the table already have a pretty good idea of what the vision for the neighborhood core and downtown should be. Sounds like she has decided for council what the vision for her personal interests should be. I wonder how the rest of council really feels about this.

Brad Lail seems to have the best vision on this issue. We have to be flexible when it comes to issues of proposed businesses. His vision sounds like a vision of an upscale modern Hickory, which welcomes professional adults. He doesn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater just because we have a few establishments with some rebel patrons. And he is worried about the unintended consequences of this Moratorium (and Proposed Ordinances) on Drinking Establishments.

I honestly think that Mrs. Fox has some control issues. The city should not have (and should not seek to have) total locked down control over every aspect of our lives. The Hound has made it's voice clear on this issue. The current issue can best be dealt with by pulling these bar owners in and having a forum on this issue. The city's position should be that these bars will get a couple of free Police calls per month, followed by fees imposed on excessive calls to Police.

This is a much more reasonable response. The harsh, authoritarian approach to this issue speaks poorly about how some members of City Council want to impose their will, rather than communicate with citizens and build consensus on solutions.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of November 4, 2008

This newsletter is about the Hickory City Council meeting that I attended this past week. City council meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each Month in the Council Chambers of the Julian Whitener building.

At the bottom right of this page under main information links is a Hickory, NC link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the bottom of the page you will see the future dates for meetings scheduled for this year.

At the top of the page, if you click on the “Documents” link, 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.

Here is a summary of the agenda of the 11/4/2008 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below.

The Invocation was made by Rev. Cindy Jordan of Catawba Valley Medical Center.

Council Reaffirmed and Ratified Second Readings of the agenda voted on at the last meeting.

Consent Agenda includes making 10/17/2008 Bobby Boyd Day, 11/15/2008 is proclaimed "Welcome Home Vietnam/Southeast Asia Veterans Day."

The council approved the Community Relations Council Grant for Fall 2008, the cost is $2,750.00. The council approved a downtown appearance grant of $5,000 for Abacus Investments, LLC for property located at 313 4th st SW.

The the Hickory Downtown Development Association and the City of Hickory will use Union Square for the “Hickory Christmas Lighting Celebration in Downtown Hickory” on November 21, 2008 From 3:30pm - 8:30pm and for “A Hickory Holiday” Event on December 4, 11, & 18, 2008 From 3pm – 9:00pm.

Approved Submission of 2009 Urgent Repair Program Application for Funding to the NC Housing Finance Agency. The City will apply for $75,000.00 through this program to assist a minimum of 18 eligible homes with urgently needed repairs in an amount not to exceed $5,000.00 per housing unit and will provide $37,500.00 in matching funds, available from Rental Rehabilitation program income. An application fee of $50 is required by the NC Housing Finance Agency.

Approved Proposed Consent Agreement and Settlement from the NC Department of Environmental Resources. On 8/13/2008 the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources Division of Waste Management, Solid Waste Section issued a compliance Order with Administrative Penalty against the City of Hickory for allegedly discharging leachate, i.e. liquid emanating from waste containers, solid waste trailers, etc. into the storm water system on June 19 and July 9, 2008. The City resolved both problems and reworked the storm drain at the transfer station so it now flows directly into the waste water system and can be treated. The City was initially assessed a penalty of $13,265.96 and City staff negotiated with NCDENR officials, in conjunction with making the repairs shown above, to settle the matter for a reduced penalty of $9,640.00. The proposed agreement is the City’s best means for resolving the matter.
Budget Ordinances totalled $175,143 for Library donations, insurance claims, and of that total $171,910 of General Fund Balance is going toward the contract to pay the contract for the company Studio Cascade to Rework the "Hickory By Choice" Development Plan.

Informational Item - Report of Mayor Wright’s Travel to Rome, GA from October 26 – 28, 2008 to attend the 2008 Inter-City Visit cost $1,019.50.

New Business:
1) Voluntary Annexation of the Property of Lewis Ray Wagner Heirs
Located at 3630 Section House Road (20.99 acres). The annexation has been requested for the property to be developed for the location of a residential subdivision and in order to obtain city services. Currently, it will generate $814.00 tax revenues. Once the property is developed, the tax value and subsequent revenues would increase. It was mentioned during the presentation that 60 units maximum could go on the property. The council unanimously approved this annexation.

2) Resolution and Order Closing a Portion of 2nd Avenue Court, SW as Requested by Dennis and Merlin Detweiler. On August 27, 2008 a petition on behalf of property owners was submitted to abandon a portion of this right of way, which is no longer necessary for public use. It has been recommended by staff that the City retain a 25’ easement for any existing water and sewer utilities. The council unanimously approved this resolution.

3) Approval of Resolution Supporting Urban Progress Zone Designation within the City of Hickory. In July, 2006 the NC General Assembly passed legislation for the creation of a new tax credit program called Article 3J Credits. This program provides three types of tax credits to eligible taxpayers that undertake qualifying activities in North Carolina. The tax credits are used to attract and foster certain types of businesses in North Carolina. These credits may be combined to offset up to 50% of the taxpayer’s state income and franchise tax liability; and unused credits may be carried forward for up to five years. This resolution must be recertified each year.The council unanimously approved this resolution.

Departmental Reports :
Approved Contract with Studio Cascade, Inc. for Planning Services Regarding Hickory by Choice and Land Development Code Revisions in an Amount Not to Exceed $171,910.00.

Both Hickory by Choice and the Land Development Code are nearly a decade old and there has been demographic, land use and economic changes since the original document adoptions. On September 2, 2008 during a Special Meeting the issue was discussed during a special council session. After this meeting Studio Cascade, Inc. was chosen.

Also, an Advisory Committee is to be established by appointment of two appointees by each Council Member and four appointees by the Mayor; said appointees need not be from districts. the council unanimously approved the contract.

Councilor Lail stated that this was a very expensive proposition and that he wants to get full value out of this. Hopeful that we will get great results. He not only wants vision, but wants deliverables. Mayor Wright said that they should where buttons when they meet these people that says "No Extra Charges."

The Hounds View: There were 2 groups that made presentations at the September 2 special session of council. Praise God, that in my estimation the council chose the right organization to solve our (Lack of) Development problem.
A question that I would like to see addressed is the effects of code on commerce. How will this "Plan Designing Company" work to build in a positive structure with regard to the interconnectivity between neighborhoods and businesses in Hickory?

All to often I see neighborhoods pitted against businesses, with the mentality of not in my backyard. Examples of this would be the Lowe's Home Improvement battle, the Zagaroli project at the former Someplace Else, and Zagaroli's proposed project on N127 on the Whisnant Farm Property. There are going to always be challenges when then city is as densely populated as we are. How can we get neighborhoods to be more acceptive of businesses?

I am really happy about this idea of a citizen team being put together as a sort of liason in the fostering of ideas. There are many ideas that need to be brought together to create the positive vision that we need moving forward into the future.

Issues brought up about the reworking of our Development code according to Studio Cascade were 1)Access vs Mobility, 2)Land Use vs Function, 3) anticipating Growth. In 1999 the Development Designers seemed to be looking at development based on a paradigm of 1999, when they should have been looking at 2020 or 2030. They will tell you that they were looking down the road, but it is more than obvious that they weren't.

This plan is going to have to be open, flexible, and adaptable moving into the long term future. Paraphrasing what Coucilman Meisner said at the earlier meeting , "The new plan should deal with brevity. Businesses need simplicity and certainty."

When you create a 400 page thoroughly structured document as our plan is now, then you stifle the city's ability to live and breathe. It's like chaining a dog on a short leash.

Recognition of Persons Requesting to be heard - Eric Wendt of 367 4th st NW wished to address the council regarding City mismanagement. City Manager Berry stated that the man's issue had been solved regarding leaf pick-up and debris and he wasn't there to address the council.

The mayor stated at this time that people who request to speak are entitled by law to speak. He asks that they hold their comments to 3 minutes. People that desire to speak as a result of something that happens during the meeting, by vote of the council they can approve or disapprove a request to speak... As a matter of policy they try to give everyone a chance to speak.

Councilman Lail let the Mayor and Council know that, "with regard and respect to policies and procedures regarding a request to speak during a meeting, It is my (his) recollection that the state law on the matter had changed and that..."

Attorney Crone stepped in and said, "the matter has (had) been addressed some time ago and (council) enacted a policy that gives people the right to speak in a public hearing."

Councilman Lail stated "regardless of vote of council" and Atty Crone stated "Yes." Mayor Wright stated "that was what they intended to do anyway." The Mayor asked about any Matters not on the Agenda and then congratulated Council Lady Hoyle on an Award she is to receive in Orlando. The council subsequently went into closed session.

The Hound Strongly Believes: Hmmm...If I didn't know better, I would swear that the Mayor was addressing my address of the Council on the Jeanette Wester nuisance hearing at the last meeting.

Mr. Mayor, I believe as long as I (or anyone else) am respectful toward the council that I should be given the right to address you. If you will recall in this quasi-judicial hearing there was no way for the public to address the situation -- speaking for or against the proposed remedy. That is the reason I had to address the council at the end of the meeting.

As representatives of the people, the council needs to realize that they serve at the public's pleasure. In my opinion, anyone that feels otherwise should resign from office. I respect the office of the leaders of this community, but when I believe they are off base I will step forward to address the situation and believe that others should do so also.

I believe that the above is one reason why we get so little participation in local government. This shows another way that you seem to feel that you can arbitrarily accept or dismiss a member of the public. This time if you decide you don't think you are going to like what they have to say, then you are going to try to vote to shut them up.

Thank You Councilman Brad Lail for stepping up and being a voice for open government. Thank You Attorney John Crone for stepping up and affirming this right. Mayor Wright do you not understand how contentious that type of situation could become?

Yumm, Red Meat!!!

Time for a Positive Vision

Titled "Citizens must force optimism on local issues" in the Hickory Daily Record
(This is the unedited version of a letter to the editor published in the Hickory Daily Record on 11/4/2008)

It is time that we come together as a nation. I hope that the divisiveness that we have seen over the last few years will simmer down. Negatively pitting groups against one another based upon race, gender, and socio-economics will not solve our nation’s problems.

I would like to address problems I have seen at the local level. It’s time that we tackle some important issues. For nearly eight years we have seen our economy stagnate and local politicians have continually blamed Raleigh and Washington. This blame game has allowed very little to get done; especially when they never force the issue.

Hickory’s City Council members are non-partisan representatives, so this has nothing to do with party politics. Mayor Wright has even stated that he won’t endorse candidates, because he is fearful of retaliation if the other side wins. We all come to the table with our own philosophies, but on the local level we should put the Donkey or Elephant aside and do what is best for Hickory.

It is time that local leaders are forced to deliver a positive vision, mapping out the direction our city needs to head in the 21st century. Too many times we have seen a negative vision, with a pessimistic philosophy and attitude, of community leaders telling us what we can’t do. That approach is not working.

Look at Lowe’s Hardware for instance. The project turned out to be very positive for Viewmont. It has improved the area and the negative connotations that were brought up never materialized. The people opposed to the deal could have had the issues of positive development addressed, but instead we heard “Can’t Do.” These forces are still reluctant to admit that they were wrong.

The new Hickory Development plan will be addressed in upcoming months. It needs to be open and flexible to businesses that exist or want to locate here. We need to approach commerce in this area with a “Can Do” philosophy. We cannot continue to place onerous restrictions and regulations on businesses in this area and expect our city to progress.

That is where we as citizens come into the picture. It is our responsibility as citizens to ensure that our local leaders approach development positively. If they don’t, then please speak up. It is time to silence the bitter pills with an optimistic, “Can Do” spirit. We are the ones that have to live with the results.