Google Groups
Join To Get Blog Update Notices
Visit the Hickory Hound Group

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Race to the Bottom

We are racing to the bottom. That is what we are doing as a society, be it on the local, state, national, or world scene. As a society, we no longer strive for excellence. We are heading at breakneck speed towards Third World status.

Particularly in the Hickory area, we have bought into every aspect of this economic concept and it has taken a decade, but we have ruined our economy in this area and until we shift our focus, we are not going to improve.

In studying the dominoes that brought us here, I see a chain of events deeply associated with the long time business model of the area. We had built a vast manufacturing based economy that lasted decades until the 1990s. At that point, we had achieved full employment, which led to hyper-competition for labor during those years. Labor is the number one cost of a company's business expenses and the business owners and management looked at how they might be able to squeeze the labor model and increase their profit margins.

Along came the year 2000 and the stock market bubble involving high tech stocks. Much of the bust involved data communications companies, such as Global Crossing and Level 3 Communications, who were wiring the world. When the bust occurred, these companies drastically slowed down that wiring of Fiber-Optic cable and guess what? We had local companies such as Alcatel, Corning, and Commscope that were riding the crest of that wave. That is when our local economy hit the fan.

Up until June of 2000, it was thought that this Cable Industry business model would not end, but it quickly came to an abrupt and screeching halt. We all remember those days, when the first layoffs started in early 2001. No one thought it would last forever and it might not have, if it weren't for that infamous day in September, 2001.

What also coincided with this period of time was the influx of Hispanic workers into the area. When many laborers left their jobs working in textiles and furniture, working for $10 per hour, to go work for the cable companies making $15 to $20 per hour, the owners of those businesses looked for cheaper and more effective ways to control labor costs. That is the period of time when the State of North Carolina started turning a blind eye towards the massive in-migration of Hispanics into this community.

Now I know that the slacked-jawed amongst us are going to complain about me pointing out the obvious, but what I would like for you to realize is that I don't blame Hispanic Immigrants for wanting to come here. I have worked with many industrious Hispanics over the last 13+ years, since my days working at Bald Head Island. All they want is to improve their circumstances and be able to help their families.

What bothers me is the way that government and industry went about implementing this process. And what I at one time thought was a process, I have come to realize was all along a full blown scheme. It seems that there was no plan other than to bring foreign labor into our area to change the labor equilibrium by increasing the supply of labor. The purpose of which was not to fill labor capacity, but to suppress wages.

In this early 2000 period, we saw the perfect storm occur, because when the tech bubble burst, then additional labor supply increased at a time when the economy began slowing, causing demand for products to slow and thus demand for labor to slow also. The chase to the bottom had begun.

Instead of the old system, where migrant labor was sent home when their service was no longer needed, our government turned a blind eye, because in my opinion, many business owners wanted to continue to maintain their profit margins during the economic crunch.

That is where I am coming from. Business owners have failed to realize that their mindset that revolves around short term economic gain has created a cultural climate of long term economic pain for the middle class laborer. That is what I spoke of when I wrote in the article Getting Back on Track -- Creating a Legitimate Financial System, "A transformed investment model should take into account what impact an investment has on the community. Any investment needs to have a positive impact on what Catherine Austin Fitts terms the "Financial Eco-System" as well as yourself. If you make money, but everyone around you goes broke as a result of your investment, have you truly increased your own wealth (standard of living)?"

First, we saw NAFTA implemented and its effects on our economy. The blind eyed acceptance of illegal immigration into our economy saw a drastic reduction in the standard of living of the middle class, but people were able to keep their jobs for the most part, at that time. The next leg down came when the agreements in accordance with the World Trade Organization started being implemented fully. That next leg down was shipping labor demand capacity overseas.

What this has led to is built in excuses for business owners. "I had to hire illegals, because Americans won't do the work." "I had to hire illegals, because my competitors are hiring them and I can't compete." "I had to hire illegals, because they will do the work and they don't expect the money the lazy Americans expect." "I had to ship my labor overseas, because I can't compete against my competition."

The deal is that this is what industry wants and the Rich get Richer and the Middle Class and Poor get Poorer in this race to the bottom. Americans ARE willing to do the work, but they expect to be compensated fairly. Businesses are always going to have to compete. They certainly seem to expect labor to compete. Instead of asking government to not move us toward World "Free for All" Trade, they decided to utilize and abuse, not only people that were loyal to them in their country, but also take advantage of the illegals by low-balling their labor costs. They also decided to further allow the oppression and abuses that take place in many of these Third World countries and systems that they have sent those jobs to.

What good has any of this done? Our community has been decimated and the low skilled labor is cornered and has nowhere to turn. The cost of living continues to rise and yet income levels are stagnant or depressed. How are people going to make ends meet? Many older businessmen and governmental leaders, who pushed this race to the bottom, are at a loss as to how to even stem the tide of the drain that has been placed upon our community, while at the same time they are unwilling to accept any type of efforts that may be deemed 'Too Risky."

What does this mean to the quality of life in our community? Where will government income come from? Where will businesses find customers for their products, when much of the population can't make ends meet? How will we begin to grow the economy again?

The Prophet (HaHa!) Ross Perot from the 1992 Presidential Debate (He says 15 years):

The effects of NAFTA on the indigenous Mexican Population and the USA:

This is what I mean when I make the statement, Cheap begets Cheap. Everything in our community, when it comes to investment is about frugality. We don't need to be frugal. We need to create value. We need to make a profit. People have mistaken cost cutting measures with making a profit. You can cut your costs to ZERO and that doesn't mean you are going to make a penny. Many times you destroy your customer base by cutting costs at the expense of quality. Let me ask. Who is going to be more willing to ensure that they create an excellent product, an employee you are willing to invest in or an employee that you keep dangling on a string?

As a community, a state, and a country, we have to get back to the idea of excellence. Excellent products, excellent performance, excellent people, and excellent communities. We do that through respect and equality in the administration of justice. You can't look to take advantage of people by scheming them. It can't be about Dog eat Dog. It has to be about loving thy neighbor and helping thy neighbor and I don't mean that under the context of Unilateral Disarmament by being the so-called "bigger man." I mean that as in building relationships of trust, because once trust has been breached, it is hard to ever regain. But, is that not the valuable lesson that we have all learned. Whether we like it or not, we need one another to further our own personal growth.

If we get enough people to buy into the concepts that I describe above, and marginalize those unwilling to participate and play fair, then I truly believe that we will turn our economic lot around.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Communities encourage citizens, businesses and organizations to check out Google application

LENOIR - The communities of Lenoir and Hickory, counties of Catawba and Caldwell, and the towns and cities in between and close by were one of 1,100 communities to submit an application for the Google Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Request for Information (RFI) on March 26.

"Our application is and it has become our resume to Google," said Lenoir City Manager Lane Bailey. "The resume tells our story on how this project could help transform our community into a technology hub in the south, add to our economic development tool box, enhance community organizations, assist the medical community, and provide endless education opportunities for citizens of all ages - from school children to retirees."

The experimental network that Google would build would provide a broadband connection that is more than 100 times faster than the current connection. Communities along the U.S. 321 corridor, which is also part of the North Carolina Data Center Corridor, joined together to submit an application to Google. The momentum began while building the resume between mid-February to late March when community meetings were held, focus groups met, and government agencies worked together to put together the Google FTTH request. The momentum continues as citizens
read the online resume that includes the community's story on how this project could transform the area, demographics, business opportunities, community organizations, and how the community has continued to persevere during extremely difficult economic times.

"There is a lot to learn about our communities on the resume and whether or not you have an interest in the project or do not know how it wouldenhance our community, we encourage everyone to take time to visit the website to learn more," added Bailey.

To stay up to date on the Hickory/Lenoir Google project, join the more than 6,400 fans on the Woogle Hickory Lenoir Facebook page or check the websites of the surrounding local governments.

According to the Google, a community will be chosen by the end of 2010.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ray Cerda for Catawba County Clerk of Court Endorsements

I have read where Ray did not attend the Reagan Day picnic on Saturday and many people felt like he was not honoring those who attended by debating Ms. Bogle. He did want to be there, but he was attending a campaign workshop for veterans in Washington, DC put on by a veterans non-profit organization. These arrangements were made a couple of months ago and it was announced three weeks ago in the Hickory Daily Record. Ray has multiple avenues to contact him with questions as you can see if you click the picture below.

Below is a list of local community citizens who are supporting Ray Cerda. Click the picture to enlarge.

U.S. Unemployment: Rich = 3%, Poor = 31%

Unemployment for Those Who Earn $150,000 or More is Only 3%, While Unemployment for the Poor is 31% - (Washington's Blog - April 24, 2010)

Notes from this article
In the face of one of the worst economic environments in memory, those in the highest income groups had nearly full employment levels, with just a 3.2 percent unemployment rate for households with over $150,000 in income and a 4 percent rate in the next-highest income group of $100,000-plus.

The two lowest-income groups -- under $12,500 and under $20,000 annually -- faced unemployment rates of 30.8 percent and 19.1 percent, respectively.

Official figures put unemployment in the United States somewhere between 9 and 10 percent. But the official figures use a very different measure for unemployment than was used during the Great Depression and for many decades afterwards.

This article also points to what former U.S. Labor secretary Robert Reich states as the permanent destruction of jobs in America:
This means many Americans won't be rehired unless they're willing to settle for much lower wages and benefits. Today's official unemployment numbers hide the extent to which Americans are already on this path. Among those with jobs, a large and growing number have had to accept lower pay as a condition for keeping them. Or they've lost higher-paying jobs and are now in a new ones that pays less.

Yet reducing unemployment by cutting wages merely exchanges one problem for another. We'll get jobs back but have more people working for pay they consider inadequate, more working families at or near poverty, and widening inequality. The nation will also have a harder time restarting the economy because so many more Americans lack the money they need to buy all the goods and services the economy can produce.

An excellent summarization of the unemployment issue done by Washington's Blog last August - The Rising Tide of Unemployment in America: How Bad Will It Get, And What Can We Do?

The Hound knows that it rolls downhill. Many Executives want to make sure that they don't feel the pain and so they do whatever they can to preserve their own standard of living many times at the expense of others. It seems to me that the best managers have a firm understanding that they must put some skin in the game by cutting their own salary also.

Those managers who choose not to be a part of the team will be able to stem the tide of the negative economic climate over the short run, but eventually they will see their leadership fall into misfortune. The average laborer has to accept the way things are in this current economic debacle and keep moving forward. It is a matter of survival.

When we take a look at what has been happening, we see that people who were previously in the $50k to $75k range are taking paycuts and/or having to take on more responsibilities as fellow employees are laid off or reduced through attrition. People who are laid off and looking for new employment are expected to fall to the next tier down in income level. Someone that was making $50k per year has to take a $35K job, a former $35K wage earner is now working at a $25K job, and someone previously making $25k has to take a $20K job, etc.

People are left scrambling, because their expenses are the same or higher. The mortgage is the same, the car payment is the same, Insurance is higher, utilities are higher, fuel is higher, food is higher, etc. So people are going to have to find little side jobs to supplement their income and usually these are low to no skill jobs.

Where does this leave the Unskilled Laborer? The rest of us are underemployed and we are soaking up jobs that used to go to those with lesser skills. It means that they have little, if any, prospects to find full time employment. It means most likely that they will have to depend on Government and Society to help them get through life. And, in the end, that will mean more of a burden on the rest of society as we have to help those who essentially will be permanently unemployed.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Getting Back on Track -- Creating a Legitimate Financial System

The second wave of the World Economic Depression is upon us, states Webster Tarpley. I certainly don't agree with all of Mr. Tarpley's conclusions, because he doesn't seem to think Franklin Roosevelt ever did anything wrong and he seems to despise all that was Ronald Reagan, but I listen to his articulate points of view, because much of the historical context from which he speaks are very logical and well thought out.

He has spoken thoroughly on the subjects of the current economic crises faced by Greece and Iceland. He states that what we are seeing is Hedge fund mayhem -- Hedge funds vs. World Civilization. I don't see how anyone can disagree with this, especially when we see Goldman Sach's fingerprints all over these scenarios that have unfolded.

We have seen what has happened with the ratings agencies who are supposed to tell us how worthwhile investments are supposed to be. How many times over the last few years have Moody's and Standard & Poor's told us that these Country's and Corporate interests were fine, that everything was fine, only to wake up the next morning to see a tidal wave wash over companies where they have told us that everything was just fine. Look in hindsight at the health of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Where were these ratings agencies? They certainly don't seem to have much more of a clue than anyone else.

First of all, the accumulation of Financial derivatives that have created the economic debacle we are in needs to be reigned in. In my opinion, no one can legitimately intimate how these financial instruments benefit society. We have seen this time bomb go off and it is impeding the creation of capital. We need to begin fully regulating all of these instruments and the hedge funds that are so heavily invested in them.

Many of these Derivative instruments are nothing more than legalized gambling. Would you want your country or society invested in a Las Vegas Roulette wheel?

There needs to be a few things done in my opinion:

1) We need to Nationalize the Federal Reserve System.
It is obvious to me that the Fed has abrogated it's responsibility in overseeing Holding Companies and Financial Institutions. Once the Fed is nationalized, then we need to inspect the various Financial Institutions to discover where fraud has been committed in dealing with the derivatives issue and then render those contracts null and void. We must clean up this derivatives system in order to restore the viability of our financial system.
2) I agree with Tarpley and others who believe in a few simple steadfast underlying financial benchmark rules:
a) No more Adjustable Rate Mortgages.
b) No more Pay Day Loans and Usary laws need to be reinstituted and enforced.
c) Full regulation of Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and outright banning of Credit Default Swaps.
d) Limit the size of banks in some manner. We need to get away from the too big too fail scenario.
e) Reinstitute some form of Glass-Stegall to insure that Holding companies are limiting risks.
f) There should be a reserve requirement that obligates a financial institution that creates an instrument to hold a certain percentage of that instrument.
g) Institutional trading should be taxed (I believe at 1%). The "Too Big to Fails" created this mess. They need to pay to clean it up.
3) When it comes to fixing the local community economies in the United States:
a) It is time to institute fair trade policies at the national level. No more "Free for All" trade.
b) Create a local stock exchange, in which inhabitants of a community can invest in local businesses for capital generation.
c) Create a Micro-Lending syndicate in which entrepreneurs can obtain small capital, short term loans.
d) Invest in local educational infrastructure by creating partnerships with local businesses to offer mentoring and scholarships.
e) A transformed investment model should take into account what impact an investment has on the community. Any investment needs to have a positive impact on what Catherine Austin Fitts terms the "Financial Eco-System" as well as yourself. If you make money, but everyone around you goes broke as a result of your investment, have you truly increased your own wealth?
f) We need to move away from trying to control symptoms of our structure of governance and finance and move towards relating the framework of the structures to modern society.
g) Don't let politicians try to buy you with you and future generations money, after all it is our money not theirs. It is time for accountability and for investments to be logical. Investments should create value.
h) It is time to get unreliable information and data out of our lives. Turn off the TV and start delving into information yourself to get a more well-rounded picture of the subject of study. Corporate media outlets have an agenda and agendas impede intellectual growth.
i) Decrease your debt. Debt comes with strings. The less debt one has, the more liberty one has. Invest in tangible non-perishable assets, such as non-perishable food and food production systems, water filtration, and methods to get off the electrical and financial grid.
j) The greatest investment that one can make is in their being - mind, body, and spirit.

Do You Believe in the Pledge of Allegiance or is it just a ritual? Why do you say it, if you don't believe what it stands for? I would certainly respect you more if you don't say it, because you don't believe in it.

Because you know what it says, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

If you don't want to live in an Authoritarian-Banana Republic with Cronyism underpinning our Financial and Cultural Framework, then you better realize that we are going to have to take drastic measures, because we have gotten way off track. You need to realize that it rolls down hill. You might think, in the back of your mind, that you are a top dog and you will be alright; because you can take advantage of people on some level, but there will always be someone bigger and the time will come when they will roll right over you and not even think about it, like some don't think about the repercussions of what they are doing now.

If you want to save our republic, then we must have equal justice for all and the first step towards getting back on the right track is saving our financial system and demanding accountability from those in positions of power, from top to bottom, relating to that system.

Do you enjoy "Dog eat Dog?" Without equal justice for all, we are afforded a World of "Armageddon Rules" -- there are none!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of April 20, 2010

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 4/20/2010 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below

Invocation by Alderman Danny Seaver

Special Presentations:

A. Present Proclamation to Ms. Christine Cofer, Director of Western North Carolina Epilepsy Association Declaring the Week of April 18 – 24, 2010 as “Catawba County Hope Week” in the City of Hickory - This excellent program has been implemented to produce an abundance of food for residents of Catawba County who are in need. It utilizes underused property owned by Catawba County and the school systems made available to raise a community garden. They desire to partner with other non-profit associations and groups to help with the needs of the local soup kitchens. They desire for participation from local churches to promote the project.

The Hound has stated before that these Victory gardens
are an excellent idea and in the present economic predicament that we find ourselves in, we are going to see more efficient usages of means to an end. I think churches and schools should get involved in these worthwhile efforts. Why go buy all of these food items in a store when we can get back to our roots and get back to basics.

Schools should build greenhouses and develop water systems to include cisterns and other methods of irrigation. This should be part of the science curriculum. Feed the kids and send food home with them and teach them about nutrition. Just think about bringing basic common sense back to schools, instead of materialistic idolatry. Well Gollee!!! Shazam!

Consent Agenda:
A. Voluntary Contiguous Annexation of the Property of D & H Real Estate, LLC Located at 2440 Century Place, SE – McDonald Crossing Business Park (Authorize Public Hearing for May 4, 2010)

B. Proclamation Declaring May 6, 2010 as “A Day of Prayer in Hickory” in Recognition of National Day of Prayer

C. Proclamation – Proclaiming the Week of May 2 – 8, 2010 as “Municipal Clerks Week” in the City of Hickory

D. Approval to Open Patrick Beaver Memorial Library and Ridgeview Branch Library on Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 1:00 p.m. - Library full and part-time staff are scheduled to participate in a half-day staff training session on readers advisory resources and techniques on May 19, 2010. Therefore, staff requests approval to not open the two (2) City libraries until 1:00 p.m. on May 19, 2010. Providing readers advisory assistance regularly is one of the most basic functions of any public library and library customers expect staff to be knowledgeable about all genres. Duncan Smith, creator of the nationally-recognized online resource NoveList has been invited to conduct this workshop.

E. Approve Resolution to Discard Library Materials to the Friends of the Library for Their Fourth Saturday Book Sales April – June, 2010 - The Friends of the Library collect donated books and other materials throughout the year for their book sales. The donated books and materials are out of date, in poor condition or are no longer needed to meet the collection development goals of the library. There are 1,862 discarded library materials to be donated. The proceeds ultimately benefit the library, which is an appropriate means of disposing of unneeded materials.

F. Approval of Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs - The following applicants are being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s First-Time Homebuyer’s Program:
Adam C. Roberts 1330 5th Street, Unit 186 - Approval for up to $5,000 (Tara Woods)
Laura E. Tipton 1226 1st Avenue, NW - Approval for up to $6,500
Christopher W. Wildeman 1003 16th Street, SE - Approval for up to $6,500

Funds are budgeted for these items through the City of Hickory’s former Rental Rehabilitation Program income received in FY 2009 and/or program income received through the City’s Community Development Block Grant Program. Martha H. Thomas of 15 12th Street, NW is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City’s 2009 Urgent Repair Program for emergency related repairs not to exceed $5,000. Funds are budgeted through the City’s Community Development Department funding received in FY 2009-2010. The Citizens’ Advisory Committee recommends approval of all the above.

G. Award Bid and Approval of Contract With Moss-Marlow Building Co., Inc. for Repairs to the Henry Fork River Regional Recreation Park Picnic Shelter in the Amount of $133,575 - The Henry Fork River Regional Recreation Park Picnic Shelter was damaged by fire in January 2010 and suffered damage to the restroom, kitchen and part of the wooden shelter structure. Informal bids were advertised on March 22, 2010; five (5) bids were received and on April 8, 2010 they were opened and read. Said bids ranged from $133,575 to $182,400, with Moss-Marlow Building Co., Inc. being the low bidder. All costs for repairs are covered under the City’s insurance policy and will be paid directly to the contractor by the insurance carrier. Removed from the consent agenda by Alder Patton to clarify ask why this reimbursement from insurance is coming back through the council. She wants the city to go ahead and start on the project. Manager Berry essentially stated that it was procedural. Approved with Unanimous consent.

H. Transfer of Cemetery Lots in Oakwood Cemetery (Section 46, Lot No. 3, Block A, Spaces 1, 2, 3 and 4) From Alfred Raphael Headen, Jr. to Stephen D. Shores, David H. Shores, Robert B. Shores and James W. Shores (Document Prepared by Charles D. Dixon)

I. Approve Contract With Marlowe & Company for Federal Government Consulting Services in the Amount of $18,750 - City Council on April 6, 2010 directed staff to work with Marlowe & Company to research the possibility of applying for the Community Trade Adjustment Assistance Program Federal Grant. Said grant project will be to obtain federal funding for approximately $2.3 million dollars in infrastructure expenses associated with the development of a data center-related business park at River Road. The contract with Marlowe & Company is a limited contract for five (5) months through September 30, 2010 in the amount of $18,750.

J. Budget Ordinance Amendment No. 20
1. To budget a total of $1,200 of International Council donations in the International Council expenditure line item to be used for the International Springfest event.
2. To appropriate $3,101 of General Fund Balance and budget in the Seminar Registration line item ($1,401) and in the Training, Meals and Lodging line item ($1,700). This amendment is necessary to provide funds for two investigators to attend training on forensic video analysis and the law. $3,045 represents a part of the remaining Police State Reimbursement balances from previous years that
rolled into Fund Balance at year end. Therefore an appropriation is necessary.
3. To appropriate $3,045 of General Fund Balance and budget in the Legal Services line item to pay for 24 hour legal support. $3,045 represents a part of the remaining Police State Reimbursement balances from pervious years that rolled into Fund Balance at year end. Therefore an appropriation is necessary.
4. To budget a $1,000 donation from Hickory Springs for landscaping at Patrick Beaver Memorial Library.
5. To appropriate $16,000 of General Fund Balance and budget in the Planning Department's Vacant Building Revitalization Grant line item. This appropriation provides matching funds to assist the Armory Building in renovating the exterior of their building. This includes a new roof, repair gutters and flashing and to replace window glass. This building is currently approximately 63% vacant.

Informational Items:
A. Report of Alderman Meisner’s Expenses for the 2010 NLC Congressional Conference in Washington, DC to be Held From March 13 - 17, 2010; registration - $495, airfare - $595– Alderman Meisner reimbursed the City $347.90 for Spouse Expenses

B. Report of Alderwoman Patton’s Travel Expenses to the 2010 NLC Congressional Conference in Washington, DC From March 14 – 17, 2010; registration - $525; hotel - $807.24; airfare - $357.90; per diem - $168; airline baggage fee - $50

C. Report of Alderman Seaver’s Travel Expenses to the 2010 NLC Congressional Conference in Washington, DC From March 13 to March 16, 2010; registration - $445; hotel - $807.24; airfare - $267.90; per diem - $197; mileage - $52; parking - $16; taxi fares - $37; airline baggage fee - $23

D. Report of Mayor Wright’s Travel Expenses to the 2010 NLC Congressional Conference in Washington, DC From March 14 – March 17, 2010; registration - $445; hotel - $807.24; airfare - $1089.90; per diem - $180; mileage - $52; taxi fare - $24 – Although not required by City Policy, Mayor Wright chooses to reimburse the City $756.37 due to flight changes

E. Report of Mayor Wright’s Expenses for the 2010 Catawba County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting Held in Hickory, NC on March 25, 2010 – registration - $25

F. Report of Alderman Seaver’s Expenses for the 2010 Catawba County Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting Held in Hickory, NC on March 25, 2010 – registration - $25

New Business - Public Hearings:
1. Approval of Economic Development Agreement With Turbotec Products, Inc. - Turbotec Products, Inc. is to be located at 2042 Fairgrove Church Road, SE, and the adjacent five acres, Parcel. Turbotec Products, Inc. has 35 years of experience in heat exchanger technology and serves a wide variety of heating, air conditioning and refrigeration applications. They are requesting economic development incentives based upon a total new investment of $3,500,000 in the amount of 75% of the real and business personal property taxes for three years with a maximum total grant of $33,750. In year one it would be a maximum of $7,500 and year two the maximum of $13,125 and year three would be the maximum of $13,125. Catawba County will grant economic development incentives in the same proportionate amount and North Carolina has given a One North Carolina Grant to Turbotec Products in the amount of $79,863. This project meets and exceeds the minimum requirements of the City of Hickory Economic Development Assistance Guidelines that require a minimum investment of $1,000,000 and annual wages that are at or above the median industrial wage for Catawba County. Julie Pruett of the EDC made this presentation. The products produced by this company are energy efficient and meet energy star ratings. They promote green operations and programs and merit incentives as a most favored business under Green Energy standards. They plan to create 73 jobs over the next three years. These jobs will pay on average $37, 403 per year plus full benefits. The current Catawba County wage is $32,500 per year. The payout is a maximum of $7,500 in year one and $13, 125 for years two and three. They must meet minimum thresholds in job creation and investment. Clawbacks will be included if they don't met the minimum agreements. Sustaining of the jobs that they must sustain the jobs for an additional three years. Mayor Wright sated that 73 people (290 family members) will benefit from these jobs at a cost of $400 per job. The Mayor stated this is tremendous and that he wishes they could invest $4,000,000 and create 10,000 jobs like this. The council gave unanimous consent.

2. Petition 10-02 – Rezoning of the Property Located at 602 7th Avenue, NE From R-4 Residential to OI-2 Office and Institutional - This 1.77 acre property is located at 602 7th Avenue, NE and is owned by LTL Development, LLC and Lenoir-Rhyne College, Inc. The property owners petitioned to have the property rezoned from R-4 Residential to OI-2 Office and Institutional. The Hickory Future Land Use and Transportation Plan classifies the property as Primary Residential. The Land Development Code states that rezonings to OI-2 are inconsistent with the Primary Residential future land use classification unless the properties are within ¼ mile of an existing NC-1, NC-2, C-1 or C-2 zoning district or the property has frontage on a major thoroughfare. The proposed rezoning would be inconsistent with Hickory by Choice because subject properties do not meet the aforementioned requirements. However, the properties are directly adjacent to university property and since its expansion, conditions have changed. The Hickory Regional Planning Commission on March 24, 2010 conducted a public hearing and voted unanimously in favor of the rezoning. Staff finds the request is inconsistent with the current Hickory by Choice but does recommend approval of the rezoning as it responds to the changing conditions around Lenoir-Rhyne University. Dave Leonetti made the presentation which Council approved unanimously.

3. Approve Proposed Amendment to the Hickory City Code; Chapter 20 Nuisances, Sections 20-1, 20-2 and 20-3 - This Public Hearing is to propose revisions to the City’s Code of Ordinances, Chapter 20 Nuisances, Sections 20-1, 20-2 and 20-3. The current ordinance fails to address certain conditions that may constitute nuisances and recent changes in the North Carolina General Statutes related to the nuisances. The ordinance amendment includes the term “graffiti” to be added as a defined term and listed as a condition constituting a nuisance. Junked motor vehicles will be defined as more than five `years old and appears to be worth less than $500, and finally, the ordinance will contain language in dealing with property owners who chronically violate the nuisance ordinance. City Council in a January 2010 workshop proposed a partnership program that would split the cost of the cleanup of graffiti 50/50 with the property owners. That program can still be implemented if City Council chooses to do so in conjunction with the ordinance amendment. The ordinance amendments will become effective as of October 1, 2010 upon Council’s approval.

Reed Baer made the presentation about the three amendments. He started out be addressing the issue of Junk vehicles. The Statutes are Chapter 168-303 and 168-200 of NC General Statutes.

A Junk vehicle does not display a current license plate. If it does have a current license plate. then it can't be considered a Junk vehicle. The vehicle is partially dismantled or wrecked, cannot be self propelled in the manner in which it was intended, or it is more than 5 years old and worth less than $100. The only change they propose is to change the value from $100 to $500.

Alderman Lail asked a question about being able to keep a vehicle in these conditions in a garage or out of public view. Lt. Baer agreed. Alder Patton asked about the vehicle being covered. Lt. Baer stated yes if it is an approved vehicle cover.

Lt. Baer went over the statute involving repeat offenders. Currently each violation is addressed by a separate process. The new statute is designed for Chronic violators. These violators are anyone who owns property and has been given a notice of violation three times under the Public Nuisance Ordinance. Currently they have 5 to 6 violators that they are dealing with 9 to 10 times and going through separate processes. The proposed amendment would allow the City to take action to remedy the violation and place a lien on the property and collected as unpaid taxes, if the payment is not made. Upon a fourth violation Code enforcement would not have to start the whole process over again, but simply send employees to abate the nuisance and the costs would be assessed as above.

Alderman Lail asked if you own a building and it was tagged by Gang members or people beyond your control, would you be considered a chronic offender? Lt. Baer stated, "if the City chose to label that person a chronic offender." Alderman Lail asked if the city has the discretion to label someone a chronic offender or not? Lt. Baer stated that he was going to go through the hearing process.

Alder patton asked about a nuisance issue with a trailer park in the Highland area that has chronic issues. She stated that there are problems there with drugs and gangs. They do the very minimum they can get away with, can this be used there. Paraphrasing, Lt. Baer stated that it could. It would be a case by case basis. Individual trailers would be addressed. Alderman Lail stated that what he thought was being talked about were criminal nuisances. This would not address criminal nuisances, such as calls for service. This applies only to Chapter 20.

Alderman Guess asked what would prevent the property owner from saying that they permitted this Graffiti (which would cause it to not fall under this definition). Lt. Baer stated that they would have to prove that during the hearing process. Alderman Guess stated, So they couldn't give permission after the fact. Lt. baer stated they would have to prove it in the hearing. Alderman Lail stated, so the Police Chief would have to adjudicate to determine if something like this happens. Lt. Baer agreed.

Alderman Lail stated, so if a property is chronically tagged, then they could be considered a chronic offender, then after the third hearing, you would no longer have any hearings? Lt. Baer stated that stated that after someone is a chronic offender, then you would not have to have the meeting. If after the 10-15-10 days they chose to do nothing, then they could be labeled a chronic offender. There would be three separate hearings.

No one spoke against the Proposal
Speaking in favor of the proposal
Bobby Bush represented Hickory Springs Manufacturing. He stated that if you care for something and it means something to you, then you take care of it. If your building is tagged on a repeat basis, then hopefully you will get some support from the police department. He doesn't believe that intent is to leave you out their on your own to protect you property. We don't want downtown Hickory to become a slum. we want to encourage business and consumers to come downtown and if becomes like downtown Detroit, then we aren't going to be able to do that.

Jason Yates spoke next and stated that he really supports this program, because it makes all property owners responsible and accountable to all other property owners and the physical ramifications of upkeeping their property for the generation of the properties. It is very important to level the playing field for all affected people. Unfortunately all owners do not show others responsibility. He feels very strongly because three years ago he had an incident where some vulgarities were painted on a building behind the Tap Room
(it stayed there for 3 to 4 weeks) and during the International Spring Festival it caused him to lose some patrons. He approached the owner to remedy the situation and he would not. He asked the owner if he minded if he would clean it himself and he ended up doing so. Everyone was hurt because of someone else's inaction.

Gene Glaze represented the Downtown Development Association and is a property owner. He stated that Graffiti is a problem and most people get it. If you don't remove the graffiti quickly, then it is going to attract more graffiti, property values will suffer, and it will affect everyone's property values. It can happen anywhere. His own property has been targeted a half dozen times over the past 6 or 8 months. Most property owners get rid of it within an hour. People may own property and may not even know that the building has been tagged. They may not see their building every month or 6 weeks. This provides a way to let them know that there is a problem here. There are also some people that can't afford it and this opens that up -- this helps people with funding. Some people don't care and this will address that. There are a lot of people that won't remove it unless they were made to remove it or it is less expensive than the city makes them remove it.

Alder Fox asked Lt. Baer to go through the Pilot Program. $25,000 will be set aside. There will be a $1,000 per property cap suggested for each property. It will be coordinated with a media event to allow property owners to sign up. The process will be to call into the police department to file an official report, the police department then will coordinate with the planning department to meet with the property owners to verify that the graffiti is there. The property owner will sign a waiver agreeing to allow the contractor to do the work. The city will then pay the contractor and then the property owner will be billed for there part of the cleaning. If there is a failure to pay then the property owner will then be turned over to the collections agency.

Mayor Wright asked if there were any limitations on how much would be spent per particular property? How much does it cost to clean up an 8 foot by 15 foot graffiti? Lt. Baer stated that it depends on the surface. It could be a couple thousand dollars. Alder fox stated that we have 10, 12, 15 years worth of graffiti. Since we are proposing an ordinance, if we can have a pilot program of 6 months to a year, then we would have some property owners step forth and we could get a major portion of the graffiti cleaned up. We can get ahead of the game instead of lagging behind.... Once the pool of money is gone then it is gone.

Alder Patton stated that you could have one property owner with ten pieces of property that they don't take care of and they could zap half the fund and he has been at fault of not taking care of his properties for a long time and knowing what his responsibilities are. That is part of her concern about using funds with no limitation on the property owner.

Alderman Lail stated that the reality is that we are talking about high impact areas -- Downtown. And you can take those funds and probably do some good. And other major corridor areas where people coming in travel and maybe some discretion on what makes sense in terms of cleaning up and then revisiting this in six months. He is not in favor of doing the program and rolling straight to the amendment. He believes they should be considered separately.

Alder Fox stated that one of the areas that are affected by this is not just downtown, it is the areas of revitalization that they have already mapped out. Where the empty buildings are, this was one of their top goals for this year. The area down old Lenoir road is just riddled with graffiti. She stated that she feels the pilot program will dislodge the property owners. Mayor Wright stated that with the sunset, that the property owners will be subject to sanction, Alder Patton stated that she feels it is incumbent upon property owners who is probably looking for the city to play catch up. They have known the problem and they haven't done anything about it.

Manager Berry stated that as a point of clarification. The Ordinance does not go into effect until October 1st, 2010. The design is that with or without a program they can do public awareness for a 6 month period of time. People will know if they don't come into compliance that they will be subject to the procedure that Lt. Baer outlined.

Alderman Lail stated that he does agree that graffiti is a problem and it is speculated that graffiti breeds graffiti. He believes it is something that can't be totally ignored, but he does believe that it is the wrong approach in this economy. It is not the role of local government to hammer somebody with a stick. There are people that are tagged that really can't afford to (pay for the cleanup). Mayor Wright stated that he knows people that are taking desperate measures to get their property taxes paid. He also stated that there is a cost of graffiti that goes beyond just the dollars of cleanup.

He had a long conversation with a man who bought property here that didn't understand that we are a city of 100,000 people during the daytime and we get a lot of shoplifting. We all know that when a murder happens here that the people know each other. It isn't random and you don't see that in statistics. When you see graffiti in a city like ours, that in all respects seems to be a home town type place that we see along thoroughfares like in New York, Chicago, and Washington DC. He believes it can be a deterrent to prosperity. He would like to see the pilot program subject to fix dollar amount, per fix dollar 50% match, and per owner amount. The further conversation stated that the ending date of the pilot program would be October 1, 2010.

There was some further discussion on the issue that further reiterated the points made above. And there were points of interjection made by manager Berry and Attorney Crone about the context of the procedures taking place during this meeting and whether or not to pass the other amendments without the graffiti amendment. The Mayor stated that there is a grace period and at the next meeting they are going to discuss an assistance program. If there are serious flaws found during the grace program, then they can deal with it. It does have a negative impact. Visitors notice this. Alderman Lail stated that he is not in any way, shape, or form in favor of graffiti, but he doesn't think it is government's job or right for the city in this economy to pass more regulations on property owners.

The council voted 5 (Wright, Seaver, Lail, Fox, Patton) for - 1 (Lail) against. The Mayor made a motion to direct staff to bring recommendations concerning a program to provide financial relief for property owners who in good faith try to comply with our intent to eliminate graffiti in high visibility areas. The program would end concurrently with the October 1st date. The motion carried unanimously.

The Hound wants to get real on this issue. I lived through the Carter years in the late 70s and they were pretty bad and now we are in a full blown depression. I have heard it said many times. The Depression wasn't so bad if you had a job. Bingo!!!

You may be thinking, Oh boy, he is out there. No, I don't think I am. We're worried about cleaning paint off of buildings that are crumbling in many cases -- is that not ironic? I think that people are refusing to understand that our country is economically in the wilderness.
People just don't have a clue about the basic fundamentals of economics and money. Money has to be taken from someone in order to spend it. There was more of a discussion based around the Pilot Program, than there was about the graffiti issue itself. What is the cause of it?

The Mayor is talking on one side about people having to desperately grasp for dollars to pay their tax bill and on the other hand he is talking about how there is a cost that goes beyond cleanup. There is also the reality of the actual dollar figure that this is going to cost to clean up that has not ever been discussed by council, city staff, or code enforcement. Go look at Huffman Hosiery and tell me how much that will cost to clean up and then multiply that by a minimum 100 and probably more like 500. The Council is putting the cart before the horse and going into this blindly. What is this going to cost?

Then we have Gene Glaze, who seems like a nice gentleman that really cares about our community, talking about funding this cleanup. His words were that if
you don't remove the graffiti quickly, then it is going to attract more graffiti, then in the next breath he talks about how his own property has been targeted a half dozen times over the past 6 to 8 months.

Can you see the illogical summation? You are telling me that if you clean it up, then it will stop and then you have cleaned it up and it hasn't stopped, it has happened 6 times in the same place.

I agree with Mrs. Patton in her statement about owners not taking care of their property, we see that with the real problem that involves all of the dilapidated buildings around here. I think that is what Mr. Bush and Mr. Yates are getting at. I understand where Alderman Lail is coming from about property owners having the onus of more regulations placed on them in these difficult economic times. I think that business owners do need to be given ample opportunity to clean up their property, but yes they need to clean it up.

The money factor is weighed down by the way the city, and government in general, goes about contracting a favored business to do these procedures. I don't like graffiti either and yes I want something done about it. But $25,000 ain't gonna go very far, when the city pays people $100 an hour to do this. If the city would partner with volunteer groups and help facilitate and coordinate the purchase of materials through and directed by the Community Advisory Committee, then we could get buy-in from Church and Civic organizations and along with the public awareness and education campaign we can get somewhere.

I like Alderman Lail's suggestion also that minors need to have identification and sign a waiver in order to purchase spray paint and tools used to do this. I also think it would be great to have a graffiti art center in this community. If we don't get to the fundamental root cause of why this happens, then all of these efforts will cause money to be flushed down the drain that would be better off not being spent at all. The times we live in are not conducive to any type of wasteful expenses or the consequences thereof.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Quarterly Financial Report - Warren Wood delivered this presentation. They are wrapping up next years budget. There is a 42 million gap to close and most of that work has been done. Warren highlighted a couple of projects. $17.5 financing for the Northeast Wastewater Treatment Project funds were secured was financing at 2.48% by a state revolving loan. This is a $27 million project and it will take 2 1/2 years to complete. Bonds might not be necessary to facilitate the project. The Cripple Creek Project ($2.5 million) was secured from grants and interest loan forgiveness. $1.9 million is financed at 0% over 10 years and $1.19 million comes from the Clean Water Trust Fund. Clement Boulevard will be completed this summer. The traffic signal upgrade is 100% grant money. Will be completed in August 2011.

Through the first nine months of the year, the city has received 78% of budgeted revenues it should be 81% to 82% in revenues compared to the 5-year trend. while the city has also lowered expenses by 2%. He attributed this to the hiring freeze. Revenues are $5.5 million over expenditures. That number will drop by the end of the fiscal year.

Looking at the water-sewer fund, he stated that the projections are right on target as far as revenues and they have held up relatively well during the economic downturn.
The city has received 67% of budgeted revenues while it should be a little over 68% in revenues compared to the 5-year trend. the city has had expense of 54% compared to the 5-year trend of a little over 60%. They make a lot of debt service payments in the last 3 months of the fiscal year. Revenues are $3.1 million over expenditures.

Cash and Investments of $46.1 million are thrown off because CD's are now paying 1.5.% to 2%, which is better than the .1% they received a few months ago. Usually investments are spread across investments 1/3-1/3-1/3, right now the city has 64% of its investments invested in US Agency securities.

The last time we went through a recession we saw a drop in the tax base between 2003 and 2005, if the trend holds true it will effect the 2011-2012 budget. they are keeping an eye on this. Alderman Lail stated that is a function of rate too. We have kept the rate steady with regards to revaluation. We can make that green look however we want to. Warren stated that's a good point. This is all based on a 50-cent rate. alderman Lail stated that what this shows him is that since 2001, this area hasn't done much in terms of rising property values. Warren sated that in 1999 the rate was 55-cents and was dropped after the subsequent revaluation to 50-cents. Warren stated that they can make this look however they want to make it look based on how they want to set the rate.

Building Permit activity included a $30 million permit from Catawba Valley Medical Center. That property is not taxable, so it will not help increase projected future revenues. Without that permit, the city only issued $40.3 million in building permits, in 2006-2007 it was $76.5 million.

Warren stated that the Employment security commission is showing that since December we have seen a net gain of 1,400 jobs. The numbers show that we have lost 40,000 jobs since the peak in 2,000.

Positive issues going forward: Property Tax value has not declined, overall decline in revenue has bottomed out, strong fund balance position, $1 million in reserve for fuel spikes, contingency funding in place, City's health insurance costs are stable, inflation remains relatively low.

The Hound seems to think that Alderman Lail and Mr. Wood don't mind raising your property tax rate, which is what I have said the city is going to do all along. I am figuring that the revaluation will be a little inflated, which will mean that your rate is going back to 55-cents per thousand on the revaluation, it could and would be worse if revaluation were allowed to truly reflect the real estate depression.

Person Requesting to be heard: Ray Hunt stated that he thought he knew what was wrong with Hickory's downtown. He told the story of how he put the advertisement below into the Hickory Daily Record in 1984. He talked about how he had 5 city employees that came into his building and tried to condemn it. He is the property owner and they didn't call him about nothing, He stated as a matter of common sense they should advise the property owner of any structural safety hazard, especially from the building inspection department. If you expect the renter who is behind in his rent to inform the property owner... he's not going to ask the property owner to spend more money. He asked if the copy of the advertisement he passed out meant anything to anybody? He has had 70 to 80 of these framed around town. What he would like the council to do is that the building inspection department (or anyone that does an inspection) to show the property owner the courtesy of mailing him or her a copy of it? When it is a structural or safety matter, the owner should be contacted. He asked again if the copies of the advertisement meant anything to anybody? He talked about how he has taken a copy to the dentist and the receptionist had placed it in an area for all to see. She stated it was an eye test and an IQ test.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Randolph's Billiards versus the City of Hickory and the Drinking Establishment Ordinance

Here is a story that should be covered by the local media outlets in the area, but it won't be because of the context of the subject matter. I don't really think it is a controversial matter, except for the fact that the City of Hickory is doing everything above and beyond its power to shut down a long time local business establishment.

I believe that this story starts two years ago in the early morning hours of January 11, 2008. The story according to WSOC-TV in Charlotte. Buckey Bolden is accused of firing shots into a sport utility vehicle in a city parking lot behind Randolph’s Billiards around 2 a.m. Friday. Police said the two men inside managed to drive to the hospital just blocks away, but the passenger, 21-year-old Ben Thompson, died and the driver, George Hill Jr., is in critical condition. Two women were also injured in the incident but they were not shot. Investigators said they believe the shooting stemmed from an incident inside the pool hall.

Buckey Ray Bolden is still awaiting trial in the Catawba County Detention Facility under multiple counts including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, possession of stolen goods, trafficking in cocaine, and murder.

But here is where the story that I want to relate to you begins. An employee with Randolph's contacted me on April 2, 2010. This person had read the various articles that I had posted relating to the Drinking Ordinance and preceding moratorium that was passed last year. It was related to me that the Hickory Police Department was trying to shut Randolph's down.

I was asked to help find a reference to an article from a couple of years ago that had appeared in the Hickory Daily Record. The article was written in relation to police calls for service to local "Drinking Establishments." This Person remembered "Thee Playhouse" as the number one offender and that is about all they remembered. If anyone can help to find that article, please pass the information on to me so that it can be relayed.

When Yesterday's shut down, Randolph's received an influx of different clientele. They spent $64,000 last year alone in added security. They tried to hire off duty Hickory Police Department Officers and they refused. Randolph's Management contacted the Narcotics Division repeatedly about bringing in undercover officers and they spent $4,000 on a camera system and when they caught people looking to sell drugs, on camera, they posted their pictures with big red letters DRUG DEALER and banned them.

They tightened up the dress code and things were going really well. It was related to me that they really do not have as many problems as the public seems to think. Back in August, a Lieutenant with the Hickory Police Department came in and told Randolph's Management that the Restaurant/Quasi-Bar "127 North" was going to be shut down and they were assuming "that crowd that hangs out there" would be coming Randolph's way. If Randolph's had any problems, Randolph's should contact law enforcement and together they would devise a plan to neutralize any problems.

Two weeks later Randolph's met with ALE and HPD. Randolph's was told to call HPD with the problems related to not being able to get the people to leave the City parking lot at the rear of Randolph's. Randolph's management even suggested shutting down the parking lot, because not many of their customers even park there. "That parking lot just turns into one big block party and Randolph's knows they do not have the authority to make people leave a public parking lot."

Randolph's has been around for over 20 years and they have never really had that many problems other than the notorious incident from two years ago. They have not received tickets from ALE and they do everything they are supposed to do.

The management of Randolph's has been under a great deal of stress, because they could possibly lose everything. They have around 30 employees and some of these people are struggling to support their families in this economy. Trying to save everything for everybody is starting to take its toll!

When the case went to trial on April 10th, after the HPD rested their case, Randolph's lawyer made a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the City of Hickory had not proven their case. Judge Beecher Gray agreed. After some debate, the judge basically told the City that Randolph's would be getting their permits back and the city could either compromise with Randolph's and work with them to help solve the problems they were having or not. The City's representatives agreed to talk to the City Manager on Monday (April 13th) about helping Randolph's with the City parking lot which is the whole basis of the problem. Randolph's turns them away for what ever reason and then the people congregate in the lot and refuse to leave. Randolph's does not have the authority to make them leave since it is Public property. HPD tried to say it was Randolph's responsibility to clear the lot since some of them were their patrons.

Randolph's has waited patiently for 3 months and played by the City's rules. They have not filed an injunction because they want to get along with the city and they worry about repercussions in the future. Going into summer time, business slows down for an establishment such as Randolph's. People would rather go to the lake or grill out than be indoors playing pool. Even when they do re-obtain their permits, it will take a long time to recoup the losses they have incurred.

As of Monday afternoon, Randolph's has not received their permits. The Hickory Police Department contacted Randolph's lawyer Friday afternoon and agreed to meet with them on the compromises. Randolph's management feels that they won in court, but the victory has been short-lived. They feel that they are at the mercy of HPD and how far they want to drag this out. Randolph's management is fed up with the City stalling and what appears to be back door politics. They have played by the rules the entire time to no avail and they feel like the rules don't matter anymore.

The Hound loves saying I told you so and guess what "I Told you so." The city is upset by the stigma that came along with that murder two years ago. The man sitting in the detention center is allegedly involved in cocaine. The City apparently has a notion that there is some sort of trafficking taking place at Randolph's and my belief is they think they are going to put a dent in the trafficking by coming down hard on Randolph's.

But folks, they are wrong. Drugs are prevalent throughout this community, and like the innuendo suggests above, people will flow from bar to bar and the problems are going to tag along with them. What is even more ludicrous is the number of bars that masquerade as restaurants. A couple of these establishments reside right there on Union Square. Go to these places in the evening and see how many people are eating versus how many are there to drink. And let's be honest about whether those places have the same problems as Randolph's, because we know that they do.

It's a really stupid argument to suggest that Randolph's has the obligation or authority to do anything with the City Parking lot. After all, it is city property and therefore it is the City's responsibility to police their own lot. Theoretically, Randolph's could abuse their supposed authority. Could a Randolph's bouncer make people leave City Hall, Neill Clark Recreation Center, Jaycee Park, or any other City property? How far does their authority go? Can they use tazers, mace, or guns to get rid of the trespassers? If a Randolph's bouncer shoots someone in the parking lot, who has liability, Randolphs only or would the City become responsible?

That parking lot is used by patrons of the Cabaret , The Cell Block (formerly "Union Cellar"), the Tap Room, Josh's, Table 220, McGuire's and anything else around that area. People go bar hopping to all of these establishments. Is the city going to drop the hammer on these places at some point in time?

When I was younger, I used to go to Randolph's with friends to hang out and I never saw or had any problems. If there are any problems with Randolph's, it is probably related to this city in general. This city has an edge to it now. It is getting rougher. That is what happens when you have a real unemployment rate of over 20%. Combine people looking for a method of escape and people looking to make money and you will have an environment where drugs will thrive. The more dynamic the above variables are, the more dynamic the problem will be.

If we suspended search and seizure laws (and I am not suggesting we do) and went into local Bar/Restaurants, I believe that you would find as many drugs available at these establishments as you find at a Randolph's. There are always issues of underage people trying to drink. That is as American as Apple Pie. I believe that Randolph's is properly securing their premises. I don't think the City is properly securing theirs. Should we shut down the city? (HaHa!)

As was addressed by this blog last year, we are a nation of laws and not of men. One of Hickory's problems has been that certain chosen people get their way and the rest of us are told "tough." There are certain people in this community who have gotten away with a lot of stuff because of their last names. Are the leaders of this community smart enough to see that might be a big reason why this community has fallen so far. If you were a person from outside of this community, would you want to come here and play the games we have seen displayed time and time again?

People's livelihoods are at stake here. Does the owner of Randolph's deserve to lose his investment? Do his employees deserve to lose their livelihood? Is this the way that we want to treat a business establishment in Hickory? Can we afford to do this to local businesses? Do our city leaders believe in justice for all? What if they set their sights on your business next?

The Hickory Daily Record ran the article about Randolph's permits being taken and patrons assumed they were closed, so the place has been deserted. Hopefully, when Randolph's gets their permits back, the Record will write an article about what has occurred here to let people know that Randolph's is back in business 100%.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ray Cerda - Candidate for Clerk of Superior Court of Catawba County - Letters & Video from the Candidate

Leadership for the Courts
(click the picture & click to enlarge)

Ray submits his Resume to You
(click the picture & click to enlarge)
A video message from the Candidate

The Hound has to admit
that he likes what he has seen and heard about Mr. Cerda. We desperately need to bring 21st century style leadership to Catawba County. From what I have heard, the current Clerk Ms. Bogle (who has been in office for over 10 years) has systematically fought to keep a computer information system from being implemented at the Clerk of Courts office. To get any kind of a form to fill out, you have to appear in person. Does that sound like leadership for our modern society?

Look at Mr. Cerda's Resume. This tells us the type of professionalism and attention to detail that he would bring to the Clerk of Courts office. The man's record speaks for itself. What I like about Mr. Cerda is that he is giving us reasons to vote for him and he is not running a blitz attack on Ms. Bogle's record.

The Clerk of Court position is a very important position and people don't seem to realize that. It is time to modernize our court system and Ms. Bogle's track record shows ten years of an unwillingness to do so in a county with over 160,000 residents. If you want to move Catawba County forward, then we must demand that we run a 21st century court system.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Icelandic volcano displays our vulnerability related to the World Economy

Over the last few days we have seen displayed the fragility of our modern World Economy. Constantly we are told how small our world has become and how much smaller it will continue to become in the future. We are told that the World is being brought to us and laid at our feet. But, now we can see that we are still in the primitive stages of this modern World economy due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic Volcano that has brought air travel to a standstill along the North Atlantic air route.

Michael Tarm of the Associated Press has written some excellent articles for the Associated Press which tells the tale of the costly effects of this natural event - Volcanic cloud casts long shadow over US travel & Volcano illustrates world's interconnectedness Many in the travel industry on Thursday weren't asking if they would be affected — but how badly. Passengers could be stranded for days.

The fallout from the ash cloud looming over Europe illustrates just how interconnected our world has become. Thousands of planes fly millions of passengers and tons of cargo each day, providing the economic lifeblood of nations and businesses. The flights deliver products for sale or items as small as a specialized tool that lets a factory keep operating. The planes also bring medicines to hospitals and food aid to earthquake or hurricane victims. And they bring war and peace. Soldiers are often transported to and from hot spots by air.
This event is effecting flower shipments to America from the Netherlands, which should be beginning its peak commercial season here and the event is inhibiting Seafood purveyors from being able to obtain Fresh Salmon from Norway, Scotland, the British Shetland Islands and Iceland. This is a very important staple of many American restaurants, which could effect price and availability.
Lately, we have seen many vulnerabilities brought to bare by the World Trade System. How many of you have noticed that many restaurants have cut back on serving tomatoes or the price increase in grocery stores due to the Shortage of Tomatoes being produced in Florida - (WSJ - 3/3/2010). The cold temperatures in January destroyed roughly 70% of the tomato crop in Florida, which is the largest source of U.S.-grown fresh tomatoes this time of year.
Florida growers worry that they will have permanently lost even more market share to Mexican-grown tomatoes. According to the U.S. Agriculture Department, about one-third of fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers and sweet corn consumed in the U.S. this time of year come from Florida farms. About two-thirds of this type of produce is imported, and most of that is from Mexico. In recent weeks, weekly vegetable shipments from Mexico to the U.S. have soared by as much as 50% over year-ago levels, according to the USDA.
There is also an agricultural problem related to imports from Chile - (Damage Threatens Chile's Agricultural Exports - Dow Jones Newswire - 3/2/2010). Chile is among the world's larger exporters of commodities such as grapes, seafood and forestry products. It is the top supplier of table grapes to the U.S., the world's second-largest exporter of avocados and salmon, and the biggest producer of blueberries in South America. Chile's wine sector has been affected as the earthquake hit the center-south region of the country the hardest--the heart of the wine-making region. As for fresh fruit, grapes hold the largest export value to Chile and the earthquake comes at the peak of the harvest.
Over the last decade, we have been moving from a system of ancillary cultural food based demand to a system where we are heading towards relying on foreign nations to supply us with many of our staple food needs. Here is an article about the U.S. possibly allowing beef imports from Brazil. The beef was originally banned because of Foot and Mouth disease that was present in Brazilian cattle , along with a host of other problems. McDonald's is already importing beef from South America.
Here is an article, from February 2008, that shows the amount of United States Food that is imported. The latest stats from the article show that 15% 0f our food volume came from imports, but it was only 6% of the total food value. An interesting statistic from the article shows that 79% of our fish and shellfish are imported. I believe the relationship between volume and value obviously shows that we import food because it is cheap, even if we are importing many foods that are indigenous to specific parts of the world.
The following article from the Chicago Sun Times from July 2008 entitled It's from where? Food imports growing goes into full detail about food importation. The main thrust of the article involves food safety. The article states that the food importation trend could be worrisome for consumers, given recent scares over tainted toothpaste, lead-paint toys and adulterated drugs from China. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates all food imports, except meat (that's handled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), inspects less than 1 percent of the food coming into the United States, said Michael Herndon, a spokesman for the agency. The agency mainly tracks where the food is coming from and where's it's headed, he said.
What the Hound is getting at: The World "Free For All" trading system is leaving us vulnerable in many ways. I know that it was great when this system offered us availability of food commodities that we would otherwise not have had access to. Think kiwi fruit from New Zealand, Coconuts and Pineapples, Exotic Seafood, etc. There are many food items that are available now that weren't available when I was a child in the 1970s.
What we are seeing is that the importation of perishable, consumable commodities like food leave us vulnerable due to many combinations of variables including weather, natural disasters, transportation costs, sanitation concerns, tariffs, currency exchange rates, and foreign relations. These factors that affect the price and availability of commodities will not go away. We must make sure that we never allow ourselves to become too dependent on other nations for these necessities of life.
In my opinion, the closer our food supply resides to where we live, the better off we will be. I really believe in buying local when it comes to food. Support local farmers, farmer's markets, and locally owned restaurants. As a community we need to develop these supportive ties that can help our local food industries thrive. We need to move away from corporate processed food. We live in a wonderful climate for agriculture. We have a wonderful growing season. People need to take advantage of the possibilities that are presented to us.
We are interconnected, because of the technology of this modern world, but we cannot afford to take this World as we know it for granted. Doesn't the Icelandic Volcano show how life can change in an instant? And show that this isn't such a small World after all.
Think of the questions that revolve around the variables. What if there are weather or natural disaster events that interrupt availability of commodities? What if there are issues with the costs of petroleum based transportation? What do we do when we see that imported items aren't meeting proper sanitation safety guidelines? How do we deal with countries who are practicing unfair trade policies? What do we do if the dollar tanks causing imported commodities to skyrocket? What do we do if we have foreign relation issues with a country that we have grown heavily dependent on?
Can't you see? There must be a balance between interdependence and independence!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Below is a photo of where the last 500 viewers of the Hickory Hound are viewing the site from:

To date, the Hickory Hound has had 21,806 Unique Viewers from all over the World. Many of the targets you see above are people who have viewed this site on multiple occasions. The stats show that over 20% of the people that visit this site come back multiple times.This is something that I have heard expressed on many occasions. Many of these people have some sort of a connection with our area. I think that we should study these connections to make sure that we aren't missing opportunities. This ain't Podunkville any more!!!

This blog is read by almost as many people outside of this community as it is inside the community. The people outside of the community are Googling specific issues and this blog is the only source to find in-depth information on specific issues that have an impact on this community in relation to the local area, the State, the United States, and the World. That is the reason why my articles go to the top of the Google lists pertaining to the subjects discussed.

When it comes to people inside this community. We estimate that around 100 people read this blog on a continual basis, another 100 read it occasionally, and a few thousand people have read it and know it exists. When I think of phrases to describe our community, I think Lack of caring, Lack of passion, and Lack of compassion. I hate to make statements like that, but they are assessments of what I see. I'm not going to dig back into the lack of participation of the public pertaining to the local political scene. People act put out by anything other than trivial participation. Compare the lack of participation in local politics to the 2008 election when Obama ran. More than half of registered voters voted because of the hype surrounding that election, and honestly, you know that it was only about the hype. Hello, do people not understand that local politics is as important, if not more important than what is happening in Washington D.C.

This has been and continues to be a tough road to hoe and I have quit worrying about doing this for the community as a whole. What has to be done will have to occur in spite of the vast majority of people in this community, because it is more than apparent that they don't care about their own community. I do know that there are many people who are overwhelmed by work and taking care of their families, but fixing this community is going to be challenging and our backs are against the wall. We don't have time to devote to mindless hours of pop culture, conditioned news, and regimented politics.

It is my dream that we can restore balance to this community and get it back to where it was in the 80s and 90s. It is my dream that our young people will include our area in the equation of places they want to be when they get out of college. It is my dream that we can raise the standard of living in this area to a reasonable level. It is my dream that we will have a viable housing market and the commercial real estate market will bounce back, sooner rather than later, when the business cycle turns around or we discover new economic principles.

We have great assets in this community. We have people who are industrious and talented. We have serious issues that should be at the forefront of the nation's new paradigm. I think that people just need to get on board and take this community more seriously. You know, the Jon Reep shtick was funny in the beginning, but it is getting old. I don't think we should be pushing a "Billy Beer" agenda around here and I am definitely not on board. I know some very sophisticated people who live in this area and those are the people I am on board with, those are the difference makers, those are the game changers.

The Shuttle Progress took off and exploded. Hickory, we have a problem! These are dead serious times. There is no time for jokes. There is no time for frivolities. There is no time to sit on your hands and wish it was all just a bad dream. It is time for action! It is time to go find the pieces and put them back together so that we can fly again, so that we can get back on the path to progress. It's not going to be the same, but if we put the pieces back together right it will be better.

You need to understand, everything that each one of us does can make the difference. We all have an impact on this community. I don't like carrying a heavier load, but I am willing. We need champions for the cause. We all know the people who are on the right track and have the right mindset. We should invest in those people, lend them a hand, and encourage them when they are down. We need to encourage the trendsetters and create a support network to help them thrive.

I want to live to tell the story of this community's resurgence. I have friends that tell me it will be a generation before we even begin to act. I have compatriots who wonder why there is no sense of urgency to act. Sometimes I get physically ill thinking about how overwhelming the issues we face are. But, it's about the endgame. It's about surviving to thrive. I think about that Hollywood happy ending and we all have our roles to play. And people are watching this story play out every day. What will be your impact on our history?