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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Response to comments about my President Obama article below

OK, I may have drawn the ire of some by calling President Obama, "Darth Obama." Did it get your attention? That was the point.

I get stats on the participation of people in this blog -- no specifics. One thing that I notice is that lately no one seems to care about the local issues going on. I have listed specifics about the local situation as far as unemployment, crime, Hickory By Choice, The New Cloninger Mill Park, and other issues. There has been no extremism on the Hound and nothing in this article is extreme other than calling out the extreme path that this President is leading us down. $14 trillion dollars in guarantees and spending under his direction; some Bush's fault, some carried forward that could be stopped, and a lot directly attributable to this President.

I know that some have cast their lot in with this President, no matter what he does, and seem to have a vested interest in seeing him succeed at all costs. I clearly stated that my interest is not about Party Idealism. My interest is in getting this country headed back in the right direction. This is not about Obama. It is about the Republic, Representative Government, and the United States of America. This is about the viability of our nation.

The middle class is not to blame for the current mess that our bureaucracy has gotten us into. As of February 1, 2009, we are at 9% unemployment as a nation, 10% as a state, and 14% in this area. Most of us have not enjoyed the fruits of what has been going on in this country over the last decade. That is not a Democrat or Republican statement. That is an American statement. The President's quote was, "I know that America bears its share of responsibility for the mess that we all face." I am sorry, but America does not share the responsibility. The bloated bureaucracy is solely responsible for any American blame and the cause (out of control spending) of those issues is being exacerbated by this President.

As many have already heard, Abraham Lincoln stated, "You can please all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot please all the people all the time."

I am never going to please you all and that doesn't bother me, because it is impossible. Most people that have read this blog understand that I have no problem in addressing issues with my opinion, because I am real. And you are entitled to your opinion as well and I have respected those opinions. Point to where anyone has been censored on this blog, other than a couple of profane comments that were expunged.

To Anonymous: As far as the Darth Obama comment, what if I had drawn it as a cartoon. You know I am painting my picture with words. Have you seen Star Wars? Darth Vader was in charge of destroying the Republic and creating a Universal Empire. That is where we are currently heading and the comments that Obama made were made in favor of other nations at the expense of this nation's sovereignty. That is not a radical statement. If you believe that sitting back and letting Washington run the country into the ground because, "If your goal is to let off steam by writing articles blasting everyone and everything with which you disagree, power to you. But recognize that you lose the chance to make any real difference. You can help far more by helping those of us who want to make a local change for the better than crying to the wind about something that, in reality, you cannot make a significant difference."

The beauty of this country has been that we can try to make a difference where we wish. My goal is to seek Justice. I don't accept the defeatist attitude. If Washington pushes this country headlong into a national bankruptcy and takes away our liberty, then we cannot do anything for Hickory and I won't have made any difference. Can't you see that it all goes together?

Look at Geithner's comments about the dollar. The destruction of our currency is at the expense of America's citizens. You and I will pay the price for that. There isn't going to be any money left to do anything for Hickory, if we continue down the path that the state and federal government are leading us down. Soon you may realize that the people down here are in this together and the bureaucracy has been no ally. We have to have fair trade deals, we have to get back to producing products, we have to get people off of the dole, we have to quit throwing good money after bad.... How are Washington or Raleigh helping us to accomplish any of this?

To Ant: You know that I truly respect your opinion. I think you are cool, but many times we have to agree to disagree on certain issues. I completely disagree with that Op-Ed that you floated from the New York Times. The government has been the Numero Uno problem in this Banking Failure in so many ways (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Goldman Sacs, Wachovia, Bank of America, Merrill-Lynch, The Bonuses, Stock Options, Taxes, Arbitrary Regulation, The Bailouts, The "Stimulus, etc., etc., etc.). And yet, have we seen the bureaucracy accept any culpability?

In my opinion, I have not "demonized" Obama. It has been more than obvious that the President could care less about what we Bachelors of Science in Middle America think. I said one thing about his blame game policies and I am getting lambasted, but that is fine. It is just like the AIG situation where binding contracts don't mean anything. Do honor and integrity mean nothing anymore? I have clearly delineated between fact reports and opinion in everything that I have written. I will continue to express my opinions on subjects.

To Harry: I wish people could hear our private conversations sometimes. They think we march in lock-step. Folks, we have vociferous disagreements sometimes. Harry is a statesman. I am an advocate.

To Mike W.: I have given this President the benefit of the doubt, up to this point, and I have just sat back and kept my mouth shut. But sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in and I refuse to watch this country continually be bashed for political expediency. These countries do not and never have had interest in America's interests. America needs to protect its interests. The things this President has done have been huge mistakes. We are not going to appease China, if we default on our debt or inflate our currency. Look at what China has been saying about American and World Economics. That is a scary situation.

Check out the video of European Parliament Member Daniel Hannan loudly addressing British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. It is along the lines of what I said about our Bureaucracy and no one is calling him extreme, because rational people realize that it is the truth. Did you know this is one of the most viewed videos on Youtube over the last week?

The Hounds OPINION : As I have stated, I respect everyones opinion and I believe that I have done so. This isn't a newspaper, but I think the information I have provided has been valuable to this community. Me limiting my opinion is not going to make this a better website. You expressing yours is.

Please Wake Up!!! These National and State issues are very much relevant to Hickory's issues. We are by definition in a depression in this area. I know that some people have faired better than others, so they may not realize how much the average person is struggling. Unemployment is around 15% (in the Hickory Metro) today. If you include discouraged workers and part-timers, then that number jumps to about 25% of the local workforce. We all know people that are in this boat. Just think what the numbers are if you include those that are worried about losing their job. I guarantee that well over 50% of the people are in one of these categories. The anxieties are real.

This is not an issue of ego for me. This is an issue of Justice. Our Representatives are not representing us. We are a mere nuiscance to them. The American People don't deserve the blame. How many Credit Default Swaps have y'all been involved in? How many Sub-Prime loans have y'all been a part of? You want me to stay out of National Politics, then please tell the President to quit blaming Middle America for problems created by Washington's Bureaucracy and their special interest buddies.

This blog isn't just about City Council, Downtown, the Police, Hickory Alive, or county government. It isn't about egos or personalities. This blog focuses on the problems of accepting the status quo on all of the issues that we are facing. If you want to stick to reading local papers, to try and figure out what is going on, they are still available. I look at us as being food with flavor. There is always going to be something that someone doesn't like, but everyone can find something here that is palatable, and we do listen to suggestions.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

President Obama blames Us

Overlord Obama's quote: (Video at "Times Online" Link)
"I know that America bears its share of responsibility for the mess that we all face. But I also know that we need not choose between a chaotic and unforgiving capitalism and an oppressive government-run economy. That is a false choice that will not serve anyone. This G20 meeting provides a forum for a new kind of global economic co-operation. Now is the time to work together to restore the sustained growth that can only come from open and stable markets that harness innovation, support entrepreneurship and advance opportunity."

I say this from a position of anger, because I love my country, but I see our country being stolen away by the corruption, incompetence, and greed of the bureaucracy. Why does Darth Obama say, "I know that America bears its share of responsibility for the mess that we all face."

Who does he mean when he says America? I sure know that I have seen 3+ years of contraction in my personal economic outlook and I know many others in similar circumstances, yet our bureaucratic government continues to grow at an obscene pace. The people that have brought the political system to this level of corruption, we are now seeing, are the people that should be held responsible. So Lord Obama, do not cast the average American in with the arrogant ilk that you represent.

The Ivy Leaguers haven't a clue about where they are taking us. Why would they protect and defend the Constitution, when they have no personal constitution. All they stand for is materialism and petty self interests. They expect us to trust them, but why should we ever trust these people. I am certainly not inspired by people that are so quick to play class warfare and always pit groups of people against one another. How many more broken promises and stolen liberties will it take until the majority of the people wake up to the reality of what is going on?

This isn't about party politics to me. The Republicans led us down this road by not following through on their promises. John McCain was a tragic choice for what Republican ideals are supposed to represent. The Republican party has lost its soul. If the Republicans are not going to stand for the Republic, then it is time to dismantle the party. We cannot get to the promised land with directionless, me too, Country Clubbers at the helm.

Who do our representatives represent? From local to national government it is time that our reprentatives begin to represent the whole public and not just Special Interests.. Right now it seems that they only represent those that will help them protect their precious positions and status. The behavior I have seen lately, at so many levels, reminds me so much of a bunch of rats scurrying for survival. I pray every night that it isn't already too late.

God Save the Republic

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why the original Hickory By Choice doesn't work

The Hickory By Choice 2030 Project
An anonymous poster commented in the article "Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 1st Meeting": The original HBC plan was a good one. It was also created under a different city manager, different mayor, different council. Go figure.

Hickory by Choice has not been working. You can't blame Hickory By Choice on any of the city officials that were not present when HBC was instituted in 1999. The ideas behind it really are not implementable without major reconstruction and complete changes of reality. It is basically a dream, because the people behind it wanted to take an industrial city and turn it into a city with a sub-system of villages. We have to build a system around the realities of what people and the market demand, not what government wants to enforce.

The original HBC plan was essentially a scheme of self-preservation to please the Oakwood, Claremont, and other neighborhoods on the "right side of the tracks." It does not take into account the other parts of the city. Those other parts of the city were supposed to somehow fend for themselves within the structure laid out by this stifling Neighborhood Core system. The result: businesses continue to flock to the protected wealth areas of Hickory and the bad side of the tracks continue to deteriorate.

You want a statement of reality? What developer, proprietor, or corporation is going to want to build a neighborhood core around Ridgeview or Southwest Hickory under this current Hickory By Choice plan? They will continue to rot, while 127 and NW Hickory will continue the crowding process.

That neighborhood core (village) system might work in New York City, because NYC is built on a multitude of economies and 17 million people. It isn't going to work here without our local governmental leaders trying to run a completely authoritarian ship. It is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It isn't rooted in common sense, because it only helps those that are already established. It does nothing for start-up businesses or the up and comers who would like to take a chance on a riskier investment(which could lead to a greater reward) on what is perceived as "the wrong side of the tracks."

Market forces must be allowed to dictate commerce. The city can use creative encouragement to try to get businesses into blighted areas and away from what is being over developed, but the original plan looks like a plan that was put together by yuppie housewives. Common Sense shows that the results we have now are the consequences of the original vision. HBC was all about neighborhoods, and business was an afterthought to the equation.There was no taking into account that we need major commerce and industry inside the city limits to occur. That creates jobs for our citizens, while keeping the tax base inside of the city for the city to utilize for the citizen's well-being and quality of life.

Hickory City proper is basically a 5.5 mile by 5.5 mile area. Any commerce that occurs is going to abut neighborhoods. The key is not to run businesses off, because you don't like them. The key is to get neighborhoods to peacefully co-exist with businesses. And that is the order that it has to work. The bourgeois that came up with the original plan must realize that the rest of us have to work and earn a living wage. Most of us aren't able to do this in the society that this city has devolved into.

We don't have the advantage of many cities on the eastern seaboard. They were developed along a river or other body of water. We are landlocked, but we do have the Interstate, Highway, and a great geographical location to take advantage of, but are we fully taking advantage of those opportunities?

We can have a positive vision wrapped around the realities of life! The original HBC was a Utopian's dream. This plan must be rooted in Common Sense and principle.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hickory By Choice 2030 Workshop: 1st Meeting

Hickory By Choice 2030
Brian Frazier opened the meeting and gave a general overview of the orientation of what would be happening. He made introduction of Studio Cascade. He talked about the original document and reason for the creation of Hickory By Choice. There is a 16 member advisory committee that will be contributing to this process. They will also be working with City Staff, Studio Cascade, and the Hickory Regional Planning Commission.

Hickory By Choice is a document which is the Future Land Use and Transportation Plan. It is the vision statement and planning principle. It was adopted by Hickory City Council in 1999. For the most part it hasn't seen any amendments even though there were promises that it would be tweaked every year and majorly reviewed and rewritten every five years. The follow up Land Development Code (LDC) was introduced in 2001, which is the law. The LDC has been changed numerous times, because times, demographics, and the economy have changed.

1999 was pretty much the height of Hickory's economic prosperity. Things had changed for better and for worse in the previous 10 years. Things went well the first few years, but the documents now need to be addressed and changed. The LDC is over 430 pages. It needs to be made more user friendly. Hickory By Choice and the LDC need to be made copacetic. There are too many disconnects. The process will take 16 to 18 months. It will be all encompassing. There will be six workshops. Mr. Frazier wants participation.

William (Bill) Grimes of Studio Cascade addressed the workshop participants. He spoke about the demographic changes in the local area since 1999. Family income was a little over $54,000 per year. Household income was $17,000 less. In 2000, 29% of the people had a Bachelor's Degree and 20% of the population had not graduated from High School. Household size is 2.42 people per unit. The median value of the home is $143,000.

He stated that these plans are a monster. Hickory has done quite a bit of planning. They want to incorporate the policies of the smaller, special purpose plans into the LDCs. The comprehensive plans should be long range. The city will use these plans to prioritize what they will be spending their money on. Helps to make decisions about individual land use. It is a long range strategic tool. The development of this plan is an opportunity to let the community participate in the decision making process.

The best plans are built upon community input so that they truly fit the community. If written in a vacuum it will not be successfully implemented. Their needs to be a support system. He is not looking to drastically change the direction of Hickory By Choice. He wants to generate excitement among the populace.

This plan needs to have a large scope and it needs to be vision based. This will help it to be seen through. Plans are only as good as there implementation. Needs to be pragmatic. Elements should include land use, transportation, housing, economic development, the environment, energy, conservation, environmental protection, public facilities, services, utilities, and parks and recreation.

Hickory By Choice basically has not been changed in ten years. It is generalized. The Zoning map should be consistent with Hickory By Choice, but it hasn't been. The plan was supposed to develop neighborhood cores and centers, but our development has been along corridors. There is a definite disconnect. The Land Development Code has to be made more workable. Studio Cascade wants to bring consistency to these documents. This workshop was meant to critique Hickory By Choice.

The Vision is about empowering Hickory By Choice so that Hickory can be what it wants to be in the next 20 years. This is about ironing out our concerns and finding a way to address them. Hickory By Choice was developed during a time of optimism. We need to think about this a little more critically.

The overriding principle was to create a network of neighborhoods, housing, parks, and schools placed within walking distance of shops, civic services, and employment. Mr. Grimes believes this was pretty progressive statement for 1999. The neighborhood cores should only take 5 or 10 minutes to walk to a destination. The neighborhood core was complemented by a commercial core, which is a more intensely developed commercial area. 20% of the city's land was dedicated to industrial use.

The big issues are core development versus corridor. We have developed into corridors and this makes more sense, because of the movement of people. Development of "Cores" will necessitate strong policy intervention. We would have to view that there is something more important than economics. He isn't saying which is right or wrong.

Hickory is going to have to change its identity. How can Hickory change what it is known for. What will Hickory decide to become. The adaptability issue -- this plan will have to allow Hickory change what it is periodically. Identity, flexibility, and adaptation are the issues. Studio Cascade will help create a land use plan that is clear towards this direction and implementable through level policy. The goal is to get past Hickory By Choice (the vision) quickly and into the LDC (the laws) soon.

We tailed off into a group of 5 people (I estimate that there were 75 people at this meeting) and went over a worksheet that included statements on policy documents and goals that are vision related. These pertain to developments over the last 10 years. We were to rate the relative importance between 1(bad/totally disagree) and 5(great/totally agree). Mr. Grimes wanted us to spotlight what we felt were the most important issues.

The main issues that my group discussed were flexibility from any plan, a business friendly environment for development, reducing urban sprawl, reconciling commercial development with reality pertaining to costs and aesthetics, economic development based upon demand of consumers, Public Notification of City Changes in Ordinances by letters, and bureaucrats lack of understanding about what it takes to profit in specific businesses.

The larger group discussion: the first group discussed the inclusion and understanding of green industry, spoke of connectivity of travel, looking at social marketing instead of social engineering -- how do we promote this and get people to buy into it, channeling people to specific developed areas, what is the appropriate use for that, annexation and bringing in outside land, stoplights on 127 and working with the state.

The second group discussed business friendliness, businesses pick an area based upon employee lifestyle, issue of healthcare and the meaning -- does it mean increasing the identity or actual facilities, being change friendly -- environmentally, transportation, development, existing versus new structure development, historical protection versus preservation, redevelopment friendly -- need to be bold and visionary.

The third group wanted to add that we could use more flexibility and carrots towards developing new buildings. Instead of discussing what we don't want (negative), let's focus on what we do want (positive). Let's give density credits to attract businesses to locate in specific areas. Mr. Grimes contributed that this would mean that the community would be more proactive in determining what they would like to see and the city can facilitate the kind of growth that fulfills the vision.

The fourth group stated that we need a plan that is clearly articulated. The world has completely changed. How do we make Hickory attractive.

The Hickory By Choice 2030 Project
Studio Cascade awarded contract at November 4, 2008 City Council meeting

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hal Row's Show this AM about AIG Bonuses

I listen to Hal Row's program every morning. We are very fortunate to have a show such as this in this area. Bob and Sherry, John Boy and Billy, or those guys on 95.1 have no impact on this area, but I guess if you are looking for your fill of mindlessness, then have at it. I think Hal does very well in capturing the sentiments local area people are thinking and what they find important.

This morning he played psychologist and let people vent about the AIG bonus issue. I can understand people being upset about these bonuses after these people have made such bad decisions, but these are valid contracts. The biggest problem that we have with our economy is the issue of trust. If contracts aren't binding, then our society is finished.

It is time to get over the class warfare. The government for years has fomented anxieties between socio-economic classes and they go right down the middle and continue to destroy us all. For people of faith, we are supposed to not covet what others have. Why be jealous towards businessmen over this? If laws were broken, then put the put the buggers in jail; but if laws have not been broken then be honorable and honor these contracts. We may not like it, but it is the right thing to do.

A valuable lesson should be learned from all of this. The Congress and President are trying to divert the public's attention away from their incompetence. We owe $60 trillion in unfunded liabilities towards Social Security and Medicare. I said on Hal's Radio show that those unfunded liabilities are 30,000 times more than these AIG bonuses, but it is actually 300,000 times. That shows how ludicrous these numbers are. That Social Security money is gone. The Social Security "Trust" Fund is anything but trustworthy.

What about the monies being paid towards the President, Congress, and Bureaucrats' salaries and benefits. This country has been run into the ground under their watch. Let's cut their pay. Let's make their pay performance based. Let them go find their own health plan. Let them experience the drop in value of their 401-k. For too long, we have shielded the Buraucracy from moral hazard and we are now suffering the results. Who is regulating our governmental representation?

The guaranteed liabilties towards the banking system are over $14 trillion. Do you think we will get that money back. This is destroying our currency. The AIG money will be chump change, when the Hyper-Inflationary period kicks in. Just think of the people that did the right thing and saved for their retirement. Now that money will lose its purchasing power and security value. What will these retirees do?

The bottom line is that we have issues that deal with a lack of morals at the highest echelons of our government, We are destroying our society. We have no right to dictate how much money someone else earns. We don't have the right to say who deserves what. First they go after the rich guys and then they go after you!!!

Hal said we need to right letters to our Government Leaders. Here is a link to those addresses:
Hickory Regional National and Local Representatives Address List
State House Representative List
State Senator List
Contact for Hickory Government
Contact Catawba County Board of Commissioners

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Catawba County Unemployment Rate hits 13.1%

Posted in the Hickory Daily Record on March 19, 2009. The metro areas Unemployment rate is 13.6% (13.0 percent in Alexander County, 14.0 percent in Burke County and 14.6 percent in Caldwell County). These numbers represent unemployment as og January 1, 2009.

On January 1, 2008 the unemployment rate was 6.1% in Catawba County. That means there are 123% more people unemployed now than were unemployed one year ago. Drastic measures must be taken to change the direction we are headed in.

This does not take into account those who are have run out of benefits, those working part-time, and/or those who would be termed underemployed. It took this area a while to invent the conditions that have led to a debacle where close to an estimated 1 in 4 of our local citizens are suffering these real conditions.

Our local officials need to understand that now IS the time for drastic action. If those actions are principled, then people won't give up on our areas leadership; but if we see area leaders continue to play the blame game and state that they have no control, then it will be time to find a new direction.

We have gone from local leaders stating that things are looking up to saying problems aren't that bad to begrudgingly admitting that things don't look good (but the future is bright) to saying that external forces are to blame. All of this has happened since September. What reason would we have to support that kind of "no control" leadership, which is none whatsoever. You cannot get to this level of unemployment without everyone being responsible for part of the blame.

Some people belittled what I stated in the Wall Street Journal article in January, North Carolina's Celebrated Rebirth Proves No Match for This Downturn. Now we can see that the issues in that article cannot be denied. Read that article again and see if it is not right on target. Should we pray for mass emigration of the working class people in the Hickory Metro area or are we going to demand more from ourselves? We must reinvent this area!!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of March 17, 2009

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 3/17/2009 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below.

Invocation by Rev. Kathy Johnson
of the Greater Shekinah Glory Church (I thought this was a very inspiring and well thought out poem so I am sharing it at the link).

Consent Agenda:

Social - Proclamation – The Community Appearance Commission Requests that 4/25/2009 be Proclaimed as “Arbor Day” in the City of Hickory and celebrating Arbor Day in Hickory by giving out trees to citizens. This will be the seventh year that the City will officially celebrate Arbor Day and which will be held in conjunction with the Earth Day celebration at the SALT Block. The City of Hickory has been recognized as a Tree City USA since 2005 and by proclaiming April 25, 2009 as Arbor Day in Hickory, the City will be fulfilling one of its requirements for Tree City USA status.

Proclamation - Declaring 5/2/2009 as “Adult Life Programs’ Day” in the City of Hickory

Request From the Hickory American Legion Post 48 and Barb Hammond Smith VFW Post 1957 for the Use of Union Square for the Veteran’s Memorial Service to be Held on Sunday, May 24, 2009 From 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Business - Voluntary Non-Contiguous Annexation of the Property Owned by Claude Ray Shrum Located at the End of Timberland Hills Drive (Authorize Public Hearing for April 7, 2009)

Vacant Building Revitalization Grant to HPG Facility, LLC for the Property Located at 542 Main Avenue, S.E. in the Amount of $25,000.00
- The Vacant Building Revitalization Grant Program was established by City Council in September, 2008. The program provides matching funds up to $25,000.00 for projects seeking to renovate and rehabilitate vacant buildings. The applicant plans to renovate this facility into a retail self storage facility, which will have both outdoor and indoor units. HPG Facility, LLC plans to invest approximately $606,000.00 in the construction of the storage units. It has been determined by staff that $84,194.00 of the construction costs are eligible for the grant funding, thereby exceeding the $50,000.00 required amount to obtain the maximum grant amount. The Redevelopment Committee reviewed the application and recommends approval.

Community Appearance Grant to River Holding, LLC for the Property Located at 25 2nd Street, NW in the Amount of $5,000.00 - Hickory Community Appearance Commission approved the application. The grant request provides for an update to the property, which includes remodeling the front, side and back exterior areas of the building.

Approval of Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs

Recommendation for approval for assistance under the City's First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan Program - Christy Short 2705 N Center Street #78, Hickory Approved for up to $6,500.00

Recommendation for approval for assistance under the City’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program - Junie Rinehardt 815 8th Street Place, SE, Hickory Approved for up to $5,000.00

Transfer Cemetery Lot in Fairview Cemetery from Doris Byrd Hall f/k/a Doris Beard Heir of Pauline B. Hedrick and husband, Morris Ray Hall to Jerry Shook

Budget Ordinance Amendments
Social - Budget $25 Library donation from Cardinal Book Club for the purchase of a child’s book. Budget $1,500 of Springfest donations from Beaver Family Foundation Inc. ($500) and MDI ($1,000) in the International Council line item for the International Springfest event.

Accept and budget a total of $6,200 in donations for the Unifour Senior Games which is coordinated by the City of Hickory's Park and Recreation Department. Donations include State Employees Credit Union ($600), Humana ($1,000), Tenent/Frye Regional Medical Center ($500), Catawba Valley Medical Center ($1,000), Catawba Valley Community College ($1,000), Carolina Orthopedic Specialists ($500), Western Piedmont Council of Governments ($1,000), Hickory Orthopedic Specials ($100) and Catawba Valley USBC Association ($500).

Business - Appropriate $276 for Police Department Overtime. Appropriate $10,077 of Miscellaneous Insurance Claims from Nationwide Insurance Company for repair of a damaged Police Vehicle. Appropriate $18,905 of General Fund for security glass to enhance security for the Records, Desk and Magistrate areas. This appropriation represents a part of the remaining Police State Reimbursement balances from previous years (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007) that have been rolled into Fund balance at year-end. Budget $50 of Airport property rental revenue from the use of the multipurpose room towards the purchase of new tables for the room.

Development - Budget $7,502 of Community Development funds for housing rehabilitation and administration for HOME funds. Transfer $185,698 from the General Fund for annual routine repair and replacement projects for City facilities including: HVAC work, roof repair/replacement, painting, structural repairs and grounds renovations. City staff does an evaluation and prioritization annually of repair and replacement needs, and this work is a result of that evaluation.

Informational Items:
Mayor Wright Attended the 2008 NCLM Centennial Conference in Charlotte, NC From October 11 – 14, 2008; registration - $360.00

New Business - Public Hearings:
1 & 2) Resolutions Confirming and Levying Assessment Along a Portion of 2nd St Pl, SE– No. 03-07 & No. 04-07 - The City Clerk received a petition from the owners of property along 2nd St Pl, SE to install curb, gutter, and sidewalk along a portion of their street as per Section 29-2 of the Hickory Code of Ordinances. The City Council adopted a Resolution Directing that Street Improvement Project be Undertaken. Unanimous Consent of Council.

Notes about the Council - This was a very light agenda and the meeting lasted less than 20 minutes start to finish. Alders Meisner and Hoyle weren't present. Mayor Wright made mention of the salary reports that were in the Hickory Daily Record. He said he didn't see anything the city should be ashamed about and he is proud of the way that the city's staff has managed the tax payer's money. I think it would be fair to surmise that he was a little agitated by City Manager Berry's picture being on the front of Sunday's paper.

Alderman Seaver made mention that Hickory High's Key Club took first place in every major category at the district convention in Durham. This was out of over 240 clubs in North and South Carolina.

The Hound's Notes: Here are a few of the ironies in this whole Public Pay issue being outed.... 1) I hear Public Officials always talking about their pay versus other people's pay (Example Athletes). I don't hear the athletes squawking about their income being made public.... 2)The public salaries are a lot better than most of the private sector salaries in this area. Why not be happy about your job stability and your overall picture versus what other industries are doing around here..... 3)Now you know what that, "there out to get me" feeling feels like. The people in the private sector have been feeling that for years. 4)Many of the same people that have been shouting about the government being too secretive and not transparent just found out what transparency is all about and they don't like it. 5)These same people that scream about protecting and utilizing the 1st amendment are now shouting down someone for doing just that. 6)People that say that they won't have anything to do with the HDR, because of this article, are commenting all over the Hickory Daily Record Website.

I can go on. There are so many ironies. Most of the comments I have seen, on the HDR website, I construe to be from teachers. I know some great people who are teachers. They are humans just like the rest of us and I understand them being upset, but I think they must understand that this really doesn't matter in the end. Why do you need to justify what you make. Frankly, I think what teachers are making is about just right.

I support education. Education is about the students. We need to get all of this other stuff out of the classrooms. We need to get politics, salaries, and social junk out of the classroom. We need to get back to basics. We need to support teachers and students by giving them a non-hostile work environment. No bullies, thugs, or clowns disrupting classes.....We need to rethink the way that students are being taught. We need to move students in the direction towards creative based knowledge education or trade education at an earlier age.....These young people are our future. They are the machines that will make our lives better or worse as we grow older. We can keep fueling their minds with junk or we can start developing them in more creative/productive manners.....Once we get past this "It's all about me" attitude and figure out that we are all in this together, then maybe we can get this community and this country headed back in the right direction again.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Future is Now

Click the Link to Check out Catawba County Chamber of Commerce President Danny Hearn's article in the Hickory Daily Record on Sunday, March 15, 2009 entitled Future Economy Council Ahead of the Curve (unpublished on the Web).
Harry Hipps and I discussed our thoughts about issues involving the Future Economy Council. Of course, we want to be transparent, open, and honest about how issues directly impact this community’s future. We will inform and make everyone aware of the different types of dynamics that may be happening in our world and how quickly these impacts may change the world as we know it. We are living in exponential times and that is a scary proposition, but these challenges must be met head-on or our community will continue to fall further and further behind.

Yes, this is overwhelming to many people. The indigenous inhabitants of this area remember when the population was half the size that it is now. Now we are part of a global experience that scares many of our citizens. But, we cannot stop that change!!!

As Dr. Jane Everson defined, our community must become “nimble,” especially during these drastically changing times. These times will require a lot of creative and critical thinking. Most of our citizens are wary of this type of rapid change and suffering Anxiety at the thought of having to adjust to such a different world. Such change can lead to fight or flight syndrome and it will be the Future Economy Council’s responsibility to help adjust our citizenry’s mode of thinking.

Why are people so scared and reluctant to address these issues of change? Why be scared when you are powerless to stop it? If you can’t beat it, join it. The exponential rate of change is not stopping. Some of us have come to that understanding and embraced this new world, but some people remain in a state of denial.

The number one issue our area faces is the jobs issue. People must come to the realization that careers will no longer be determined by specific tasks. Employment will be determined by broader generalities. You will have to define yourself by the strength of your skill-sets. Whatever you are good at and your niche and interests will determine your career. These manifestations of your unique, and in many ways inherent, skill-sets will determine what you can do.

It will be important to increase the education of the workforce to achieve the flexibility, malleability, and diversity that any industry needs to move forward. The bottom line is that we are going to have to get the basics (reading, writing, and arithmetic) down before we can move to the levels of critical thinking that we need to move forward in this exponentially changing world.

The overwhelming nature of the change that is ahead can make people feel lost, but does that really matter? We have to work on giving young people a firm foundation of values and principles, to establish their well-being. Young people lose their identity when they’re morality is not built upon substance. The result is that they turn to ways of escape from stress. They start drinking and using drugs, which leads to bad consequences that put them behind at a young age. Many times these young people have developed into something that they really don’t understand.

It is debatable how developed that young people are after they graduate from high school or college. We all know that there is development, but at what critical level? The basic mindset may be established, but when these young people advance to the next stage of development, many times they regress to a stage that they are more comfortable with. Many people of our younger generation become accepting of mediocrity. But, what they have to understand is that nothing ever stands still. You are either progressing or you are regressing. Education and attainment of knowledge only end after you leave this life.

I believe that was what Jay Adams was getting at, at this meeting, when talking about the current economic mindset of the local community… (summarizing) that over the last nine years we have become lean and that has in many ways put us in a strong position, but we have also adapted down and become accepting of this extreme level of cost containment at the expense of growth. In my opinion that is an acceptance of mediocrity, because if we aren’t willing to take chances and make some riskier investments in this community, then we will never get back to experiencing dynamic economic growth. Cheap Begets Cheap!!!

One of the main issues that our nation faces is that we have been shielding people from the consequences of their actions. Most people fail due to their own actions, yet we have created moral hazards that encourage the least common denominators in society. We cannot sustain this current way of thinking. We aren’t growing the economy, we are punishing everyone that creates growth in the economy, and we are encouraging the worst of the lot.

The worst part of our system is that our Government is constantly riding roughshod over the little guy. They don’t go after the powerful special interests, unions, agencies, or corporations; but they are systematically nickel and diming small businesses out of existence by creating a nasty regulatory environment and barriers to entry for upstart entrepreneurs. Not only that, but government in all forms is eating up the world’s capital pool, by bellying up to the trough and borrowing money to spend on gluttonous, wasteful expenditures. This is being done at the expense of capitalism and the free market.

Our culture is not going to accept the government crowding out our way of life. We are going to see Black Markets and fraud spring up, if the government continues down this path. That will delegitimize our society, because people will begin bartering and trading goods and services to keep the money away from the government. You will also see professionals get desperate and play with the bills and the books. Why should we criminalize our citizens, by creating more and more regulations that cannot be understood or adhered to? Look at the tax laws that are already on the books. Do you think that system is working?

Did you see today where the Chinese government asked for assurances and guarantees that the United States would meet its debt obligations? What will the implications of that be? What will that mean to our freedom?

We want creativity. That creativity will lead to progress. Creativity will not come without incentives. We cannot afford to kill the incentives towards growth. Yet, this monolithic character called Social Government has the ability to destroy the individuality needed to inspire creativity. That is what happened in the Soviet Union and in Maoist China. Those countries suffered through decades of darkness.

It is understandable that people are apprehensive about what the human race is currently experiencing. We must advance ourselves, both as individuals and as a community, but neither should be done at the expense of the other. What is happening is more than a change in lifestyle. It is a redefinition of life itself. That is a frightening concept, but we cannot stop it, nor should we try to stop it. For trying to stop what this world is now experiencing could lead to cataclysmic consequences for mankind.

We cannot afford to run and hide, either at the local level or at the world level. We have everything to gain by participating in the global community, but we must prepare ourselves to be successful in such a world. That is what Harry Hipps and I hope this “Futures Economy Council” can do; establish the creation of a road map of preparation to help Catawba County, as well as the region, move successfully forward into the future.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Time to Start Transforming Catawba County

This morning, March 12, 2009, I was privileged to attend a meeting with some of the most important decision makers in this area. The meeting about Transformative Leadership is exactly what I feel needs to take place to move this area forward and get us ahead of the curve economically.

Danny Hearn started the presentation by showing us this video called Did You Know 3.0

Mr. Hearn explained that he is in the same position as us. He is a student of futurism and he is here to learn, not teach. He told us a story of a local area that dealt with this subject and how they basically ended the discussion shortly after the process began, because they were uncomfortable about the direction in which the subject was being taken.

Mr. Hearn briefly addressed the economy of the area and the current economic development happenings and opportunities that are taking place in the area. He spoke about the direction that we can take with this new Future Economy Council. As far as Community Events (and involvement), he spoke of creating a dialogue with the community, creating Futures Institutes for/with the Local Community Colleges, developing 21st Century Learning Webs, and establishing what will be known as Communiversities.

Some of the issues that were brought up by others were that we need to assess the strengths, assets, flaws, liabilities, and gaps that are currently present in our community. We need to develop an asset map and if we are honest and fully acknowledge our faults, then those issues will be easier to address. We are basically suffering from the structure of what this community has been, which has been closed "Process" oriented. We need to move more towards an open ended "Thinking" structure.

The Hound: I am going to compose a more thorough article this evening, which I hope to release some time tomorrow, that will show what this is all about and why I personally feel that this is one of the most important developments in the history of our local area. Folks, we need to be honest with ourselves. This area has always been self-reliant. There is not going to be any substantial money coming from Raleigh or Washington. We are going to have to take charge and make these changes ourselves.

Let's be honest, our area is suffering from the complacency and the false sense of security that was instituted long ago. After years of malaise, we must realize that we now have nothing to fear and nothing to lose. The future is here and we must control it or it will most assuredly control us. We can face this together and turn it around. If we don't, this community will continue to wither.

I hope that you will all join me and the others in embracing this concept. We look forward to addressing the key issues, instituting creative processes, and making the changes that will be necessary to get this community ahead of the curve and make it one that we can all be proud of.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cloninger Mill Park - 3rd meeting - The Master Plan - 3/10/2009

You can go back and read my excerpts from the first meeting that was held September 24, 2008 here (1st Cloninger Mill Park Meeting) and the second meeting on January 15, 2009 meeting here (2nd Cloninger Mill Park Meeting).

Here are Links to pictures and schematics that were presented at the Master Plan meeting along with my previous Google photo of the property (a couple aren't 100% focused, but you can see the end result):

My Google aerial photo of the property
Black and White Aerial Map
Final Master Plan photos 1 / 2 / 3
Site Analysis (1/15/2009) / Slope analysis / Soil Analysis / Site Photos

I can honestly say that everything that I have seen Site Solutions propose about this park has been A+. They listened to what the people of the neighborhoods had to say and they fully balanced it with what the needs of the community mandate.

Mr. Derek Williams made the presentation during this joint presentation to the City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission. He initially gave an overview of what had been discussed during the previous two meetings.

Further comments were that this area had originally been zoned R-1 and R-3, so this park does fall within those guidelines. Summarizing, he stated that Site Solutions took into account all of the buffers set forth in guidelines in dealing with the neighboring areas. He believes that Cloninger Mill Road will be expanded to 4 or 5 lanes in the future. Utilities abound near the property that are adequate for the park and its needs. There is a 12 foot setback along the perimeter of the property adjacent to the residential property, a 40 foot setback along the shores of Lake Hickory, and there is a 110 foot "right of way" associated with Cloninger Mill Road.

The local Neighborhoods didn't want parking on the east side of the park, but that just wasn't feasible. There is a FEMA floodway restriction that restricts development along the creek in the center of the park. Mr. Williams said, at this meeting in the question and answer session, that his personal preference would have been to have one road in and out of the park, but with the creek running down the center of the property it just wasn't feasible without incurring great cost and ecological damage to the property. At this site, what you have is two mountains and a valley between. 80% of the sight consists of slopes of greater than 10%. That is part of what gives the site its unique character. The natural features must be preserved.

There would be no way to give people access to the whole park without the two entrances. Site Solutions reduced the parking on the East side and increased the size of the parking on the West side to 50 spaces to address the neighborhood concerns. There will now be a playground and restrooms next to the West parking lot along with a picnic shelter area. East side parking will now be reduced to 25 spaces, which will also have a grassy area attached for excess overflow parking if needed.

Mr. Williams also stated that there would be a fence placed at the Northeastern Corner of the Park, so that outsiders wouldn't have access to the private boat dock that resides there. The closest building to any neighbors is 450 feet away from neighbors at Old Mill Landing. The closest trail is 150 feet from residential property lines. The plans call for natural buffers to limit the removal of natural vegetation along the outside lines of the park.

The order of magnitude estimated cost of the park is $2.9 million. The initial development phase is suggested to be along the western side of the park, near Cloninger Mill Road. The Parking Lot, Playground, Picnic Shelter, and some trails would be built during this initial phase. The park is suggested to have a Grist Mill theme, because of the former mill located there. There are monies that are available to help fund the park. Site Solutions feels that they put the city in a good position to go after that money.

Discussion by Council and Commission : Councilman Brad Lail asked about Order of Magnitude. Order of magnitude gives a good general idea of the costs of the park, but it is not detailed. It was stated that the DOT traffic count along Cloninger Mill Road is right inside of 20,000 cars per day. Mr. Williams stated that the developers want to maintain existing trails to the greatest extent possible, because it has less of an ecological impact. The trails can be done incrementally. The city can pick one major piece and move forward from there.

Mayor Wright asked about the residential lots available to raise funds. It was stated by Mack McLeod that there are 8 or 9 lots available for $27,000 a piece. The Mayor said that the real value comes with the commercial property (on the west side). The Mayor stated that the people who bought residential property, in the area, knew that there was a proposed park to be built on this site when they bought their homes. Bruce Meisner said the property was zoned residential and the city could have sold the whole east side for residential development. Mr. McLeod stated that this park was proposed in 1979. Mr. Meisner asked about Quadrant Park Funds. Mr. McLeod stated that some of those funds were used during this process.

Brad Lail stated that he sees two routes, the free market approach where someone brings the city a proposal and the other route where the city decides what would fit best on the property. Mr. Meisner mentioned a proposal from 6 or 7 years ago that was brought to the city. Summarizing, it was a scaled down version of the Ballantyne properties (located in Charlotte). Mr. Meisner stated that most of this property is located across from Commercial property that is already there.

Sally Fox asked if they must accept the commercial property as part of the proposal. Summarizing, City Manager Mick Berry said that it was a semantical issue and that it would be up to council to decide all issues pertaining to the commercial property's development. Mr. Meisner stated that the City Council would have total control over that commercial property. Mr. Lail agreed. The Mayor said they could even decide to make it part of the park. The Parks and Recreation Commission voted to accept the plan and forward it to City Council.

The Hound really likes this plan. I think that every issue was addressed thoughtfully and carefully by Site Solutions. I will say that without enabling the sale of the commercial property, then this park should not be moved forward. Council members must recognize that these are serious times when it comes to money issues. The city will profit off of the sale of that commercial property, the tax revenue generated by its value, and any sales taxes should their be retail or hospitality ventures on that property. We cannot afford to throw that opportunity away.

If the impending sale of the commercial property becomes an issue, then I don't believe the property should be developed on the public's dime. I think that either this is developed into a constructive venture with all of the amenities and safety concerns that Site Solutions has addressed or it is time to lock down the property and get people off of it for safety reasons. This is city owned property that is already basically being used as a haphazard park. Let's see this happen the right way instead of the simple way or the cheap way.

Friday, March 6, 2009

12 Steps to Fixing Our Nation's Financial Woes

This is a recognition that our Nation faces serious personal and national economic-financial issues. These twelve steps are integral to putting "We the People" back on the right path to fixing our financial problems. These Twelve Steps are derived and adopted from the original Twelve Step Program published by Alcoholics Anonymous. I truly believe that many people in this country have dependency issues when it comes to debt financing as related to materialism:

1) We must admit we are powerless over our material wants and needs and that our spending has taken over our lives and imperiled our future. Some people spend money as a way of raising their personal self-esteem. They have done this at the expense of their future economic viability. It is important to realize that those materialistic desires will never fill an empty soul.

2) We must realize that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. In my opinion, this doesn't necessarily have to be about God. This can be about having a Purpose in life. Refocusing on a Purpose gives one the force (or energy) to do good things and realize that life has meaning. Materialism leads to a "me" lifestyle and to greed and selfishness in a group setting and in culture. I think that this is much of the problem that our society is facing today, because instead of working together toward the furtherance of our society, we are all pulling in different directions to represent our own selfishness and greed. That is the reason we aren't getting anywhere. There has to be a balance between what is best for the individual and what is best for society.

3) We must make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him. To me this means that we have to realize that life isn't just about us as individuals. Each one of us have wants, needs, and desires. We have to learn that we cannot enslave others to fulfill our desires. We are all subject to the variables of life that relate to all of us as individual beings. That is one of the hardest aspects of life that we as individuals have to learn to accept, because we aren't going to ever be fulfilled. Life isn't about fulfillment, it is about acceptance of what the force conjures up though fate. You have to accept that things happen for a reason.

4) We must search ourselves and fearlessly and fairly evaluate our personal morality. Are you a good person or are you a bad person? Do you go out of your way to help others or hurt others? We are all sinners. None of us are perfect. We all have good and bad days, but we must realize that our actions have consequences to those that surround us and their actions have consequences to those that surround them. My personal actions can set off a wave of negative consequences that can have far reaching negative implications that we do not realize when we are stuck on ourselves as individuals. The opposite can also ring true. A positive attitude can also spread throughout a community and society. You will truly reap the harvest of the seeds that you sow.

5) We must admit to God, to ourselves, and other human beings the exact nature of our wrongs. No one is perfect, but the harder that we try to strive towards perfection, the closer we will come to achieving it. If we don't try, then we will never come close. It is alright to make mistakes, but those that do not admit or live in a state of denial about their errant ways will be doomed to repeat them.

6) We must be entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. We can't put off solving our problems. We must deal with them today. Procrastination only leads to more procrastination. Once we assess our lives and accept our transgressions, then it is time to remove them from our lives.

7) We must humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings. When we feel powerless and overwhelmed about our transgressions, then we need to pray or meditate and reach within ourselves for the willpower needed to keep from submitting to our weaknesses. That self-reflection will help one realize that they can attain inner-peace over time. The longer that you can remove yourself from the weaknesses, the easier they will become to deal with, but at some point they must be dealt with head on.

8) We must make a list of all people we have harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all. If we have financially taken advantage of others, then we must admit to them what we have done and do our best to make amends. This will help to clear a guilty conscious. If we owe creditors, then we must be upfront in our dealings with them. 99% of the time they will be willing to work with you, so will family and friends. If you are in dire straights, don't rob Peter to pay Paul. Tell your friends up front that you are in dire straights. I am sure that if they can help you, they will. But don't set up a timeline to pay them back, because if you don't meet it and they then need the money, it will put a strain on your friendship.

9) We must make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. If telling the truth to someone you care about will hurt them, then it is best to keep it to yourself. This goes for finances, as well as any other type of interpersonal dealings. If you borrowed money from a friend and blew it on something frivolous, then it's best to leave that out of the equation. Just be up front that you blew their money and that you will do everything in your power to make it up to them in the future. It may put a strain on your friendship, but you might not lose that friendship.

10) Continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it. When you fall off the wagon, then face it head on and deal with it, otherwise you will end up back at ground zero or worse.

11) We must seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for us and the power to carry that out. We can't lose sight of what we are doing by getting our personal finances and social lives back in order. Many times these vices snowball until they careen out of control. We must be honest with ourselves, because many times these self-inflicted wounds are forgotten once they heal. The emotional scars are there for a reason. Embrace them and learn from them. A meaningful life comes from making sure that those bad experiences are lessons that aren't constantly repeated.

12) Once we conquer our demons and realize a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, then we shall try to carry this message forward to others who may have a similar problem, and practice these principles in all our affairs. You have gone through all of this for a reason. Don't be embarassed about it. Teach and tell others about the hole that you dug for yourself. It goes back to the morality issue. Lead by example and others around you will do the same. If we all become self-reliant and at the same time charitable, then this world will surely be better for it.

In no way am I wanting to stir up a religious debate, but this is a moral issue. We have created a lot of moral hazard by telling people that it is ok to live beyond their means and that the Nanny State will bail them out when they get in trouble.. There is no way out of the bind that the government has put us in, but we as individuals need to learn about Self-Preservation and the role that it plays in Liberty and Personal Freedom.

Take Charge Folks, this game is nowhere close to over. We will restore this country back to its glory!!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Harry Hipps Commentary on City Government

The City Council Meeting of 3-3-09 was a great meeting that showed our City government at it's best and worst. First I'll comment on the best. The announcement of the agreement between ASU and Hickory to enhance educational opportunities here is great news. Sadly we have a large uneducated and undereducated population here. It affects our quality of life and is a drag on the economic development we can get here. Thankfully our leadership has correctly identified this as a vital area of needed improvement and this is great news for Hickory.

More of the positive things going on were highlighted with the committee reports, especially the presentations on Parks and Recreation and the Libraries. These folks are well focused on what we have now, trends for the future and showed a passionate and professional approach towards their areas. We are blessed to have citizens like this working for the betterment of Hickory.

The John Locke Foundation recently announced that Hickory had fallen from the 2nd highest in terms of taxation for a City our size to 13th. Spending what we need within a budget that is based on reasonable economic assumptions, being careful with debt and City investments are great principles to follow in City finances and this has been done very well. Kudos to all.

All was not perfect of course. The Appearance Committee gives out trees for Arbor Day to support Hickory's image as a tree friendly area, which most would support. After that they seemed to be fixated on downtown which seems to be characteristic of Council as a whole. To be fair, it's difficult to address some of the ugly, blighted areas of town within this committee since it involves economic vitality, specific landlords, and their concerns (or lack of concern) and a host of issues too large for an Appearance Committee. But it seemed at times that they are flailing around for a purpose and downtown is what's easiest to latch onto.

The final issue was what really showed the weakness of the overall approach to governance with respect to discretionary spending. As the Mayor pointed out, most of the budget goes to water and sewer services, fire, police, etc. After taking care of core services there isn't a large percentage of the budget that can be used for discretionary spending ($70 million out of an $80 million budget goes towards Water, Sewer, Sanitation, and Security) .

At virtually every Council meeting there are small amounts given for various projects. Some of these, such as facades for arts organizations, landscaping or building improvements for charitable organizations (such as the Salvation Army) are probably a good use of these funds since the community as a whole benefits from arts and we owe compassion to our needy. But, in my opinion, there are too many small scale grants that use City money for private interests. Not only is this unfair to the businesses that aren't as well connected politically, but it is getting in the way of larger, more important projects.

This was clear at the Council meeting when the prospect of putting some electrical lines underground was discussed. Duke Power is proposing splitting the cost 50/50 with the City to bury some power lines. This has been a much discussed desire of many citizens for a long time now. It would be a maximum of $300,000 per year for three years. Even at this large cost, only a couple of miles of lines would be done. Duke Power would be concerned with the lines that are most prone to being downed by trees and safety concerns, whereas the City is more concerned with the aesthetics of the lines. The lines done would be at or less than one percent of the lines in the City (I believe new construction will bury lines for future use).

The total cost of the entire City would be tremendous. A reasonable view is that this type of project will be very long term if ever. In addition, there are sewer lines in Hickory that are 100 years old. This is a ticking time bomb. At some point large expenditures are coming. My question is this: why are we piddling with small scale spending, like shrubs and windows for certain area businesses, when we need to start looking seriously at our infrastructure? We complain about the federal government spending so much on earmarks and pork barrel projects and then do it here.

We need to come up with larger scale plans for our infrastructure as well as larger scale development for some of our blighted areas, and stop the nickel and dimeing. There are pressing needs that are becoming more urgent. We need some serious thinking about our priorities. While raising taxes to pay for things is always an option, I believe we need to stop the trickle of small ticket items and think about the big needs we have.

The good, the bad, and the ugly - what a meeting.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of March 3, 2009

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 3/3/2009 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below.

Invocation by Cindy Jordan, Director of Spiritual Care Catawba Valley Medical Center

Special Presentations:
A. Presentation of FY 2009-2010 Board and Commission Work Plans Board / Commission Presenter - The Mayor stated that this was one of his favorite meetings of the year when we get to learn what our civilian volunteers are doing. Only 1 out of every 200 of our citizens participate on one of these boards.

1. Animal Control Advisory Board - Lt. Reed Baer 1) wants to increase the advertising of the Spay and Neuter program. City will help contribute to the cost of the procedure. 2) Coordinate with Catawba County Humane Society to get citzens to contact the Humane society - helps reduce animal control man hours 3) Animal Control Ordinance enforcement is meeting requirements. 4) Cost effective measures to deal with stray animals. Shelter costs are currently $71,756 they will rise to $97,894. A new medical program is responsible for the rise to try and get more animals adopted. Currently the shelter is averaging 210 animals being taken care of each day.5) Sponsor 2 rabies clinics this year to get animal vaccinated at a reduced cost.
(The Hound would like to see people have to obtain a license in order to breed animals. The fee should be equal to the cost of spaying and neutering any animals. We need to get control of the stray animal population in this community. It is inhumane to let animals breed and not take care of them.)

2. Citizens’ Advisory Committee Ms. Yvonne Setzer - Todd Hefner presentation. Trying to create affordable housing for the Green Park, Kenworth, Ridgeview, and West Hickory Neighborhoods. Currently working on a $3.92 million block grant.

3. Community Appearance Commission Ms. Jennifer Helton - presentation made by another lady 1) Funding for Downtown grants for aesthetic improvements. 2) New program being developed called "Friends of Downtown Hickory" 3) Continue funding of litter pick-up (currently 250 to 300 bags per month). 4) Graffiti Removal Matching Program. 5) Arbor Day Tree Celebration 6) Funding for Litter Education 7) Beautification (The Hound is just wondering why the Community Appearance Commission only has interests in Downtown. Here we go again. This community has more areas that need their appearance developed other than Downtown Hickory. By Gosh here we go with this graffiti issue through the back door. This area talks trash about the bad karma coming from Raleigh and Washington constantly, yet here they go doing the same exact thing. I can tell you that the Hound represents this community as a whole and I think that it is time that others start doing the same, instead of looking out towards their little niche, clique interests).

4. Community Relations Council Ms. Lisa Miller - Overall plan costs $17,000. Hallmark Grant Program. Connect, Improve, and Encourage community relations. Multi- Cultural Human Relations Events.
(The Hound believes in Community Relations, but this presentation left a lot to be desired. We need some specifics in a tight budget era. What do you do?)

5. Hickory Regional Planning Commission Mr. Brian Frazier - Revision of Hickory by Choice and the Land-Use Development plan.

6. Hickory Youth Council Mr. Alec Patterson - Promote community and general public knowledge in the hearts and minds of our youth. Requesting $3,600 for general uses, programs, and a possible Summer retreat. (The Hound Knows this is a good Investment, because we need kids to be more civic minded.)

7. Historic Preservation Commission Ms. Clem Geitner - No presentation

8. International Council Mr. Hani Nassar - Spoke about Springfest, Second language in schools. Having a hard time with financial goals due to the economy. Developing a guide for newcomers. Want to work with the public appearance commisiion to create some international signs in other parts of the city besides downtown. The Council proposes events such as movies at the Carolina Thetre featuring special Foreign Films. Want to work on a Speakers Bureau, a new brochure, and a website with a newcomer's guide.

9. Library Advisory Board Ms. Judy Ivester -Asked for no money. The Library is a focal point of the community. Technology plays a big role in and outside of the library. Last year their were 145,000 computer patrons. The computers allow for the use of a virtual library. Offers real time records. Last year the library counted on average 37,000 patrons per month and this year the number has risen to 39,000. This summer the library expects 41,000 people per month. Last summer it was not unusual to have 300 children show up for a children's program. The library is looking to increase and improve technology, customer service, and programming. Mrs. Ivester further discussed "The Big Read." (The Hound believes. Mrs. Ivester had the best presentation of the evening and she was spot on in her assessment. The Library is going to be more critical as a center of knowledge as we move forward.)

10. Parks and Recreation Commission Mr. Gary Stafford - Mr. Stafford went over the list of goals in the order of importance as 1) Support completion of phase 2 of the Ridgeview Recreation Project. 2) Development of the Clonionger Mill Park plan 3) Support 2005 Green Ways and Trails Master plan. The last significant investment in the Green Way plan was from 15 years ago. 4) Create a Dog Park 5) Develop a Community Garden 6) Create a City Endowment to support Parks 7) Create a Henry Fork Ampitheater 8) Create a Sandy Pine's Park from capital obtained by selling residential property at the Cloninger Mill Park site 9) Create a Park Ranger Program for the Hickory Park System. (The Hound liked this presentation also. It was brief and to the point, but I support everything they said and I liked the priority assessment.)

11. Public Art Commission Mr. Phil Barringer - Mr. Barringer showed the Art on the Bench project and how it was implemented. He addressed the focal project for the upcoming year, which will be a permanent fire sculpture created by an esyablished artist, local potter, and local citizens. It should be completed in the 2010-2011 timeframe.

12. Recycling Advisory Board Mr. Jeffrey Wright - Chuck Hansen presentation. Campaign to reach the Hickory City School System. All schools will participate in recycling. 600 Businesses participate. Looking to expand convenience centers to other areas. Currently just in NE and SW Hickory. Address and evaluate the recycling commodity issue. Looking towards recycling pallets, oil filters, flourescent lamps, and ballasts. Recyclables are down 14% since 2005, but this isn't necessarily bad -- due to improved recycling.

Consent Agenda:
Social Interest -- Call for Special Joint Meeting With Hickory City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission to be Held at the Highland Recreation Center’s Community Room on Tuesday 3/10/2009 at 11:30 a.m. to discuss Park Cloninger Mill Property Site Development.

Authorize Public Hearing about Curb & Gutter along a Portion of 2nd St Pl SE for March 17, 2009

Request From the Hickory Downtown Development Association for the Use of Union Square for the Hickory Alive Event to be Held on June 5, 12, 19, 26 and July 3, 10, 17, 24, and 31, 2009 from 3:30pm–12am

Request From the Hickory Downtown Development Association for use of Union Square for the Swingin’ Under the Stars Event to be Held on 5/24/2009 From 4pm–12am.

Approval to Discard Surplus Library Children’s Materials to the Salvation Army for Distribution to the Family Shelter and Boys and Girls Club - 60 picture books

Transfer of Cemetery Lot in Oakwood Cemetery From Estate of Louise Rowe Starnes to Anna Wallace. Transfer of Cemetery Lot in Oakwood Cemetery From Estate of Louise Rowe Starnes to Susan S. Steiger. Transfer of Cemetery Lot in Oakwood Cemetery From Estate of Louise Rowe Starnes to Joyce Sheffield. Transfer of Cemetery Lot in Oakwood Cemetery From Estate of Louise Rowe Starnes to Iva Rhyne.

Business -- Approval to Purchase 5 Specialized Police Package Emergency Vehicles From Armstrong Ford in the Amount of $110,420.00

Approve Change Order With Ronny Turner Construction Co., Inc. for Additional Work on the Clement Boulevard Connector Water Line Modifications Project in the Amount of $8,700.00

Budget Ordinance Amendments -- Budget a $1,400 donation from Klingspor Abrasives for the International Springfest event. Budget $1,200 of State Revenue from the North Carolina Humanities Council for the Big Read 2009 program. Budget a $10,000 donation from Catawba Valley Community College for the Big Read 2009 program. Budget a $50 Library donation from Ms. Hacker for an honor book. Transfer $5,400 of General Fund to the transportation capital bus shelter project for the purchase of 5 additional bus shelters as part of the West Hickory and Ridgeview Redevelopment plans. The total cost of the project is $27,000 which FTA is funding at 80% ($21,600) with a local match of 20% ($5,400).

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1) Hickory City Council to Elect a Temporary Chairman to Preside Over the 3/17/2009 City Council Meeting Due to the Absence of Both the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tempore - Mayor Wright, Alderlady Hoyle, and Alderman Meisner will be out of town, so Alderlady Fox will preside over the 3/17/2009 meeting. Council Agreed Unanimously.

2. Consideration to Participate in the Duke Energy Carolinas Underground Utilities Conversion Pilot Program - The North Carolina Utilities Commission has approved a pilot program for three North Carolina municipalities to convert overhead power lines to underground. The program is a 50/50 match of up to 0.5% of Duke Energy’s gross receipts in the City, which translates into approximately $301,000.00 per year for a total of approximately $903,000.00. The City and Duke Energy would each contribute approximately $900,000.00 during the 3-year program for a total of $1.8 million.

The program funds can be used for planning, designing and construction of power lines from overhead to underground, but will not cover for the conversion of phone, cable or other overhead wires. The cost of conversion can range from $350,000.00 to $3,000,000.00 per mile based on the type of facility and whether it is urban, suburban, or rural. It is difficult to determine exactly how many miles of power lines will be buried should the City choose to participate in the program. This project is consistent with the Hickory by Choice Future Land Use and Transportation Plan. In order to be considered as part of the program, the City must respond to Duke Energy by March 31, 2009. If selected, Council would need to increase property tax by .75 cents on July 1, 2009, to fund its share of this project

Discussion - The Council discussed the aspect of the costs involved versus the aesthetics. City manager Berry pointed out that the areas where you see a lot of lines is where it is going to cost more money. Mr. Berry said that Duke has to follow the rules of the utility Commission (so their hands are tied in their choices to a certain extent). The Mayor says that there will be other options besides tax funding. Manager Berry says that the Budget is a serious concern on this issue. They are worried about balancing the budget. Basically the options are General Fund or raise taxes. The Mayor said that he was sure that their would be some sort of courtship process before we got to the stage of needing to accept or reject the program. Ms. Hoyle seemed to believe that this isn't feasible under current economic circumstances. The Council voted to take the next step in the exploration process, but not commit to the project as this time.

Bob Vollinger requested to be heard on this issue. He is in favor of burying and consolidating overhead lines. He believes it is in the public's best interest. It helps reduce costs, increases reliability, and increases safety.

The Hound would love for all of these lines to go underground but that is unfortunately not feasible. I think participating in this program is a good idea. The city is interested in aesthetics, while Duke Power is interested in reliability. I am sure that there will be negotiations before any of this goes forward. Mayor Wright asked about power line mileage and the number brought up was 300 miles -- Chuck Hansen said, "At Least." Folks that would mean that it would cost at least $105 million to put these wires in the ground by my calculation and it will cost more than that due to some of the more complex areas. It is going to take a long time to get these wires in the ground. Maybe that is where we should focus our energy when asking for Federal Block Grant monies going into the future. (I changed the cost number once, because I doubted my calculation. I couldn't believe that it would cost $105 million to bury these lines, but after rechecking that number, I have found that that is the correct number.)
The Mayor announced that a Document was signed today creating the Appalachian State University regional partnership Greater Hickory Metro. It will increase the opportunities for higher education in this community. This will unify the branding and marketing of the Higher Education center. We are now in a position to have a better educated population. The employees of the Higher Education Center will now be employees of Appalachian State.

The Mayor hopes the Vision will be realized for Lenoir-Rhyne University. We will support L-R in accomplishing their lofty agenda. The Mayor believes that in the next 8 years that we will have a lot of opportunities in both public and private education in this area. Charlotte Observer Article about this.