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

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Follow the Yellow Brick Road (part 2) - How it relates to today

If you have not read Follow the Yellow Brick Road - The Wizard of Oz and 1890's Monetary Policy, I would suggest you do so, so that you will fully understand the context of the article below. I want to sincerely thank you for reading The Hickory Hound.

This allegorical relationship between the movie "The Wizard of Oz" and our country's economics and culture is something that I have heard before, but never really delved into to the point of being able to fully grasp the conceptual relationship. After reading much of the information, reading the book in the past, and remembering the movie, I believe I truly understand what Baum was getting at. He is telling you that family and relationships are more important than money.

The World is more complex than it was 110 years ago, but people are still the same. Read the characterizations of the main players in the story. Dorothy still defines that innocent young wide eyed person that doesn't understand the cruelty and crassness of the environment surrounding her. Toto represents the people who are good, but many times find trouble by sticking their nose in other people's business, even though many times they do good by exposing the man behind the curtain. Read about the Tin Man and see if it doesn't remind you of the people who are lost because of deindustrialization. Look at the Scarecrow, who now equates to the small businessman being squeezed by a financial structure and taxation system instituted by the government, through funding and support of moral hazards associated with the bad behavior of corporations deemed "Too Big to Fail" and a sense of entitlement and least common denominator expectations associated with a burgeoning underclass created by the imploding structure of the macro-economy.

The Lion represents the modern day leaders of the cultural and political world who complain, but are unwilling to take any real, aggressive action that might put their reputation at risk. The witches are the people in politics and economics at the top of the food chain, who are willing to do anything, and I mean anything, to support their personal interests and goals.

The Presidents still represent witches who are persuaded and controlled by the Wizards who personify the money interests of Wall Street, whether that be the revolving door that Goldman Sachs utilizes to control the regulation of the bureaucracy through conflicts of interest or the insider trading that JP Morgan-Chase utilizes in association with Goldman Sachs in rigging the markets through insider trading sanctioned by The President's Working Group on Financial Markets (the Plunge Protection Team).

Look at what happened two years ago when the banks began imploding, because of the moral hazard associated with their bad lending habits and the derivative investments associated with those loans. Many of the supposed leaders of our country, including President Bush, blindly came to their defense and agreed in conjunction with the Federal Reserve and the Treasury to take the money supply to astronomical levels under the guise that they were helping the American people. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money was supposed to help individual homeowners who had become underwater on their mortgages and help shore up a Housing system that was imploding due to the Economic bubble associated with the cheap money policies facilitated by the Federal Reserve. Two days after the bill was passed Bush's Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson redirected the scheme to give billions of dollars directly to the "Too Big to Fail" Banks.

We look at the campaign of 2008 and how Barack Obama and John McCain essentially ran in the same direction with Progressive platforms. Both of the men supported the TARP and other Banking bailout policies. Obama won because he sold the Average "Dorothy" type Citizens on an idea that he was the candidate who represented Change. In his term to date, he has not represented change. He is carrying out a furtherance of the policies of the George W. Bush administration. He has thrown his lot directly behind the Fat Cats on Wall Street at the expense of the Small Businessman (Scarecrow) and the Average Laborer (Tin Man).

The reason why the Tea Party began forming is because of the disillusionment of an American public that feels that the Legitimate American System has been stolen from us. Think back to August 2009 and those Town hall meetings that took place. Those Town Halls were not organized to function the way that they did. "Toto" showed up to expose the men behind the curtain. People were angry that their health care preferences weren't being represented. It is agreed that something needs to be done, but what has been done does not implement a system of healthcare liberation and choices, instead it institutes a system of top-down bureaucratic control.

I believe that many of the Dorothys are going to be awakened by what the Totos have led them into. People buy into the notion of Conservative-Liberal, Democrat-Republican, Left-Right... These paradigms are meant to divide and conquer. Look at what the parties have done. Do their actions match their rhetoric? Just like in 1890, when both the Democrat and succeeding Republican Presidents made sure to enforce a strict monetary policy tied to Gold, today we have seen a Republican President and his Democrat successor both support a monetary policy based upon Fiat currency, expansion of Federal Reserve Powers, protecting a world banking cartel, Laissez-Faire world trade policies, and I can go on and on with the similarities.

What the story of The Wizard of Oz teaches us is that "There's no place like home." Home is where we find comfort through family and the people that we love. That cannot be derived through the unquenchable, covetous desires programmed upon us through the ideas of the modern materialistic, bastardized "American Dream."

Look at what has happened over the generations to the American Family. It used to be that the family could live comfortably off of one income, usually derived from the father, while the mother stayed home taking care of the household and raising the children. That was a real job, that should have truly been appreciated. Over time, the mother was economically forced to go to work to help support family income needed to pay for rising costs. The system endorsed this transformation in the family structure as Women's Liberation. Has it really liberated anyone?

As time has gone on in this new family structure paradigm, and with the conception and implementation of Social Welfare, we have seen the cohesion of the Institution of the American Family decimated. Under this new structure, it is much more easy for the husband and wife to lose their commonality and grow apart, because their career becomes their identity and more important than their family. Many times this leads to divorce.

Much of the economic devastation we have seen correlates with the coming into middle age of the initial Latchkey Kids and the products of the Age of Divorce. As the Latchkey pioneer generation comes to the age of taking leadership roles, most are lost and ill-prepared because they do not have a principled foundation to fall back on. They are not prepared for leadership, because they have basically had to mentally raise themselves in a chaotic trial and error experience caused by this transformation in Family Values. What has been instituted is a mentality of isolation, survival, and taking care of ones self.

There is no place like home and the security and love that comes with it. I believe that is what we are missing today. Money cannot fulfill that need and as a society we have to get back to Family and Togetherness being the norm and not the exception. Ones relationship with the government should not take precedent over ones relationship with their family. I really don't know if we are too far down this road to get back to the soundness built upon a solid foundation of principles, but in my heart of hearts I know that it is what is right.

I refuse to espouse the ideas of the typically trite politician, who drones on about their belief that America's best days lie ahead. We cannot take that for granted! What we have seen is part of the evolution of our country; but just like that unbridled teen who is out of control, we have to begin to find our way through the personal practice of the principles of honesty, integrity, honor, and loyalty; and we need to get back to being productive. What we have gone through is not a lost cause if we learn from the errors of our ways; but if we don't, then we could surely witness the demise of this great nation in our lifetime. And like Dorothy, the power to solve our problems is within our own hands and it has been the whole time.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Follow the Yellow Brick Road - The Wizard of Oz and 1890's Monetary Policy

There are many people who interpret L. Frank Baum's fairy tale "The Wizard of Oz" as a Political Allegory based upon the politics of the 1890s. The most popular of these interpretations comes from a high school history teacher in upstate New York named Henry Littlefield, he surmised that Mr. Baum was very active in politics and the book was published, in 1900 not more than four years after Democratic Presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan delivered his "Cross of gold" speech at the 1896 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which supported the Democratic party's push to take the U.S. dollar off of the "gold standard" and place it on a "silver standard".

The United States had a bimetallic standard (Gold and Silver) until the Congress instituted the "Fourth Coinage Act of 1873." The Act embraced the gold standard and demonetized silver. Western mining interests and others who wanted silver in circulation years later labeled this measure the "Crime of '73". Gold became the only metallic standard in the United States, hence putting the United States 'de facto' onto the gold standard. The U.S. did not actually adopt the gold standard 'de jure' until the year 1900.

In the early half of the 20th century, Bryan's speech was considered to be one of the greatest political speeches in U.S. history. It was believed that inflation would result from from a change to the silver standard (because silver was a more abundant metal allowing more dollars to be printed) and thus make it easier for farmers and other debtors to pay off their debts by increasing their income. It would also reverse the deflation which the U.S. experienced from 1873-1896.

"Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

The Yellow Brick Road represents the "Gold Standard." As is the case today, the banking interests centered around New York City, who believed it was in the United States' best interest to remain on the Gold standard, and in the book (not the movie) Dorothy wears silver slippers and they represent the silver standard advocated by William Jennings Bryan.

Dorothy is a simple country girl who lives on an impoverished farm. She represents the American people and their values -- honest and kindhearted. It is also suggested that she may represent Mary Elizabeth Lease, known as the Kansas Tornado. Lease became involved in the Populist Party, drumming up support for their cause. She believed that big business had made the people of America into "wage slaves", declaring, "Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. The great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master." Although she is widely believed to have exhorted Kansas farmers to "raise less corn and more hell", she later said that the admonition had been invented by reporters. Lease decided to let the quote stand because she thought "it was a right good bit of advice."

The moral of the story, which is in the movie, the good witch tells Dorothy after the balloon leaves Oz, is that all along Dorothy had the power to go home, just as the solutions to America's problems lie in the ability of Americans to show faith in themselves and their abilities.

Toto, small and seemingly going unnoticed, reveals the Wizard for the fraud he is. He is thought to be another representation of average American people. Toto is probably a reference to the Prohibition Party, Toto being short for teetotaler. The Prohibition Party generally supported the free silver movement.

Uncle Henry: In the late 1800's, there was a famous farmer who was the editor of a leading farm magazine. His name was Henry Cantwell Wallace, and everyone called him Uncle Henry.

Cyclone: The tornado is thought to represent political upheaval, or the free silver movement. During the time period in which this story was written, farmers were suffering from federal deflation; they were receiving less money for their goods, and their debt was getting larger. They wanted the value of a dollar to have a fixed ratio of both silver and gold. Some politicians were behind this movement while others were not.

Munchkins: The munchkins were little people who represented the common folk. They were ordinary citizens of the United States. And in the same breath, the Lollipop Guild is said to represent child labor.

Silver Slippers: In the book, the slippers that appear on Dorothy's feet are silver, rather than ruby. Silver relates to the monetary political issues. Farmers wanted the value of a dollar to have a fixed ratio of both gold and silver.

The Wicked Witch of the East, President Grover Cleveland, represents Eastern Big Business interests. Cleveland led the fight for the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which had provided for the limited coinage of silver. Dorothy's house falls on the Wicked Witch of the East, leaving only the witch's silver shoes. The Depression of 1893 was believed to be caused by the tight money supply resulting from a lack of available gold supplies. This depression lingered through Cleveland's second term. As the 1896 election approached, eastern pro-gold-standard Democrats wished Cleveland to run for a third term, but he declined.

The Wicked Witch of the West represents William McKinley from Ohio (the west), who defeated Bryan to become President succeeding Cleveland. McKinley was against silver because he viewed it as a debased currency and overseas markets used gold, so he believed that it would harm foreign trade. The Gold Standard Act of the United States was passed in 1900 (ratified on March 14) and established gold as the only standard for redeeming paper money, stopping bimetallism (which had allowed silver in exchange for gold). It was signed by President William McKinley.

Good Witches of the North and South: The Good Witch of the North is thought to represent the workers of the north, whereas the Good Witch of the South is thought to represent the farmers of the south. This contrasts the wicked industrialists of the east and the railroad moguls of the west. The South was sympathetic to free-silver (the entire South voted for Bryan in 1896) so it's fitting that the south has a good witch.

The Scarecrow represents the plight of the American farmer at the turn of the 20th century. From 1879 to the end of the century a constant agitation for the expansion of the money stock (inflation) raged in the USA. Political parties were founded whose sole purpose was to make, by one means or another, the total money supply rise. Some favored the issue of paper money (Fiat currency)and some the return to the Bimetallic Standard. Farmers were the most cruelly struck of all by the deflation. In rural areas, wholesale prices of agricultural commodities fell at a rate of about 3% a year. This deflation meant that farmers who were deeply indebted saw the real value of their debts increase every year. Farmers were thus powerful backers of Bryan and the inflationist cause. While the Scarecrow complained that he didn't have a brain, he ended up being the most clever problem solver (resourceful) of the four travelers.

The Tin Man represents the plight of industrial labor, mechanized and dehumanized by a heartless industrial revolution. In the book we learn that he was once flesh and blood but was cursed. As he worked, his ax would take flight and cut off part of his body. A tinsmith would replace the missing part, and the Tin Woodman could work as well as before. Eventually there was nothing left but tin. For all his increased power to work, the Tin Woodman is unhappy for he had lost his heart. For Hugh Rockoff he represents the Populist and Marxist idea of the alienation of the industrial worker. He once was an independent artisan but is now just a cog in a giant machine. He joined the unemployed of the 1890’s, victim of the eastern goldbugs who didn’t want to increase the money supply by adding silver. He was rusted and immobile, which is a feeling that many factory workers had when businesses began shutting down because of a nation-wide depression. After losing their jobs, they felt helpless.

The Cowardly Lion - William Jennings Bryan. During the 1896 Presidential campaign that followed the Cross of Gold speech at the Democrat convention, his supporters accused him of backing off and he was looked at as too cowardly to lead the charge for a Silver Standard. He was seen as having a loud roar, but no bite, and no power. It is the cowardly blustering lion Bryan who is looking for the courage to defend the poor dumb farmer and mechanized tin man without a heart, but they all are led down the Yellow Brick Road to the land of Oz where the American dream is offered by false prophets that hide behind curtains with pretense of magic and sorcery and yet, in the end all roads lead to Kansas, where one can find happiness with the comfort of home and family.

Flying Monkeys: Flying monkeys were used in political cartoons to poke fun at politicians. While this may be the case, another speculation is that the flying monkeys represent Native Americans. When Dorothy and the gang meet up with the monkeys she is told, "Once we were a free people, living happily in the forest, flying from tree to tree, eating nuts and fruit and doing just as we pleased without calling anybody master...This was many ears ago before Oz came out of the clouds to rule over this land." This seems to relate well with Native Americans who were pushed off of their land by migrating eastern Americans.

Emerald City and Emerald Palace: The Emerald City represents Washington D.C. and the Emerald Palace represents the White House.

Wizard: The Wizard of Oz is thought to be Mark Hanna, McKinley's campaign manager, and the chairman of the Republican party. McKinley didn't campaign in the sense that we know it. He ran a "front-porch" campaign, where he stayed at his home in Canton, Ohio and received visitors and the press. The campaign was well-orchestrated by Chairman of the Republican party, Mark Hanna. Hanna arranged for the visitors and prepared their questions and McKinley's responses. Hanna was likened in the pages of the New York Journal to a puppet-master and ventriloquist who pulled McKinley's strings and made the dummy talk. He's the money bags. He's the guy with the money that's really manipulating the political system and keeping the country on the gold standard. In the original story, each of the characters, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man saw the Wizard differently. This shows a cynicism in politics for the way politicians change face for different people.

Satirical cartoon of Mark Hanna during 1896:

Proposed meanings
Oz: Gold is measured in ounces--oz for short--Oz.

The party follows the yellow brick road up to the Emerald City - They follow the gold standard up to Washington DC.

The Deadly Poppy Field, where the Cowardly Lion (Bryan) fell asleep and could not move forward, was the anti-imperialism that threatened to make Bryapoppyn forget the main issue of silver (note the Oriental connotation of poppies and opium). As noted before, the economy improved and silver ceased being the hot issue after the 1896 election. Populists were afraid that Bryan would abandon the silver issue and, in an effort to broaden his (and the party's) appeal, focus more on imperialism and the business trusts which dominated many industries. The Populists considered this an act of pure cowardice and wanted Bryan to fight for silver in 1900 as strongly as he had in 1896.

The enslavement of the yellow Winkies was "a not very well disguised reference to McKinley's decision to deny immediate independence to the Philippines" after the Spanish-American War.

In the Emerald Palace they enter 7 passages and climb 3 flights of stairs - In the White House they see 7 and 3 : 73. This represents the "Crime of '73." The Coinage act laid out above. It eliminated the coinage of silver and that proved to Populists the collusion between congress and bankers.

The Tin Woodsman is given "a new ax with a handle made of gold and a blade polished so that it glistens like burnished silver and a silver oilcan inlaid with gold and precious stones to oil himself " - The bimetallic standard will ensure the industrial worker that he won't be unemployed again

Really the portrait of the Great and Powerful OZ is not all that flattering - The Wizard is able to fool the people into thinking he is great and powerful, but is revealed to be an ordinary man. He solves the problems of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion by little more than psychology: bran (brain food) and pins for the brain (the pins being sharp wit); a fake heart for the Tin Man, and green liquid courage (Liquor) for the Lion. He can't really help Dorothy except by promising to take her with him in his hot air balloon. Apparently, Mark Hanna had transformed himself from a behind the scenes players into the sinister politician the populists hated. And the populists believed his transformation and promises were full of hot air.

Dorothy can go back to Kansas by "kicking the heels of her silver shoes together three times". - The power to solve her problems (by adding silver to the money stock) was there all the time.

When Dorothy returns to Kansas she finds that her silver shoes are missing: the silver issue was disappearing from the scene. In 1900, the US officially returned to the gold standard with the passing of The Gold Standard Act.

It is known that Baum voted Democrat and was sympathetic to the free-silver issue and had lived in South Dakota where he saw first hand the plight of the farmers.

Continue to:
Follow the Yellow Brick Road (part 2) - How it relates to today

The News Hour - Precious Metals
The Crime of 1873
The Rise and Fall of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a "Parable on Populism"
The University of New Orleans Project Oz
The Wizard of Oz as a Monetary Allegory - Hugh Rockoff

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Little Ambition + Home ownership = UrbanFarmOnline

Back in January, I received a gift certificate for Barnes and Noble and went there to see if there was anything that I wanted. Looking through the magazine section, I started looking at Gardening magazines, because I have been into Gardening, Sustainability, and enhancing the value of my property, since I moved into this house five years ago.

I ended up buying Urban Farm. This magazine is truly awesome and that issue delved in subjects like square-foot gardening, locally produced food, dealing with city ordinances, raising chickens in the city, and many other subjects. The magazine has been published quarterly since last Summer. The newest issue is out. I haven't purchased it yet, but I have already joined the Urban Farm Facebook page and I constantly check out what is going on with it and I have encouraged my friends to join..

Now Urban Farm has developed an Urban Farm Website that is very interesting. I really have to endorse what I have seen from the developers of this Urban Farm entity. You can register on the site and receive updates. They are having a grand opening contest that is offering a lot of prizes that will help you with your gardening and other hobby farming.

I truly believe that due to the economic times we are in that raising a garden and living a more sustainable lifestyle will become an essential part of successful personal finance. A few dollars and time can bring a value of hundreds of dollars. Instead of paying to go to a local gym, how about getting a workout with a shovel, a rake, and a tiller. Instead of paying to work out, you will be getting paid to work out.

Over the last few years, I have been able to Can and Freeze enough vegetables to get me through the winter, when it comes to cooked vegetables. I also have enjoyed the freshness of vegetables during the summer months. The best part is that the efforts are cumulative. As you turn the soil from year to year it becomes more fertile and easier to manage. Each year I have maintained the plots from the previous year and added new plots and projects to the current years activities.

I hope that you will check Urban Farming out. If it is something that you can't get into, I understand. But, I certainly hope that you will give this consideration, because in my opinion it is good for you and will be helpful to all of the people that touch your life. That is the reason why I am presenting this information to you.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Melt Up" - A great documentary about today's economic reality

This documentary goes into the true realities that we face in our current economic environment. I truly recommend this documentary as a great source of information about the subjects of inflation, quantitative easing, the federal debt, the annual federal deficit, the foreign trade deficit, the exploding costs of entitlement programs, and the effects they will inevitably render on our standard of living.

The documentary also provides proposed solutions to deal with these issues.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Houndvision: Garden Watering System

Please excuse the work in progress. These projects are the result from work that I am doing completely myself. What you will see are the four 275 gallon water containers at the corners of my house that are attached to my guttering.

The entire cost of this project, so far, has been less than $300. This includes the water containers that I purchased for $60 a piece and the gutter extensions. You will need a hacksaw to cut the gutters, but that is about it and some brute force to position the containers themselves.

I have the water containers centered on cinder blocks to allow gravitational flow through. I will eventually have the containers disguised by plants growing around them and I may eventually attach a pump to allow for a sprinkler type of irrigation system and/or drip hoses.

This has become a hobby and a way of life to attempt to create a more self-sustainable lifestyle. It will take time, but everything I am doing here creates value. I will get much more out of these projects than the initial cost requires, plus it is enjoyable and gives me achievable lasting goals that will bare fruit (or vegetables and herbs -- haha!!!)

If you decide that you want to attempt this, then shoot me an e-mail and I will give you some suggestions about how you can go about achieving this. And if you have any suggestions, I am all ears. I am learning a lot by reading Urban Farmer and Mother Earth News and fully endorse the principles of these resources.

Many of the plants that you see in the garden were the ones that I started in February and displayed on this site in the article -- My Scientific Garden 2010

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of May 18, 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 5/18/2010 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below

Invocation by Deborah McEachran, First Presbyterian Church

Special Presentations:
Presentation of Proclamation Declaring May 19, 2010 as “J.T. Poston Day” in the City of Hickory for Capturing the Individual Championship in the 25th Annual North Carolina High School Athletic Association State 3A Men’s Golf Championship. JT is a junior who has been a member of the golf team for the past 3 years, he is ranked #26 in state rankings. He is a two time conference player of the year. The teams, those three years, have finished 1st, 5th, and 3rd in the state. He won the individual championship by a 4-stroke margin.

Pulled from Reaffirmation Ratification:

Amendment to Traffic Ordinance By Prohibiting On-Street Parking Along Both East and West Margins of 10th Street, NE From the Intersection With 37th Avenue, NE North Approximately 900 Feet to the Intersection With 9th Street Drive, NE. Chuck Hanson addressed this issue. The City Manager stated that the amendment needs to be amended. The existing part of Falling Creek subdivision enters the Winding Creek subdivision. Cars were parking on both sides of the (Falling Creek) road making it difficult for the people traveling this road to navigate passed the cars. The city had put no parking signs up after the first reading and subsequently have found there are issues with the long time residential property owners of Falling Creek. The proposal is to not allow parking on the West side of Falling Creek (10th street) and the East side of the Winding Creek subdivision. Alderman Meisner stated that this had been a dead end street for 25 years. After a discussion of Procedural issues, the Council unanimously consented to the amendment.

Consent Agenda:
A. Call for Public Hearing on the City Manager’s FY2010-2011 Recommended Budget (Authorize Public Hearing for 6/1/2010) – To be presented to City Council as required by law and is available for review in the Office of the City Clerk, Patrick Beaver Memorial Library and Ridgeview Library.

B. Resolution of Intent for Petition of the City of Hickory to Close Three Portions of Right-of-Way Adjacent to City-Owned Property Located at 740 5th Avenue, SW (Authorize Public Hearing for 6/15/2010)

C. Establishment of New Council Priorities and Action Plan for FY 2010-11 - On February 2, 2010 the Hickory City Council established its top three objectives for the coming year. These objectives were developed during the 25th annual Council-Staff Planning Retreat held December 7, 2009, and continued on January 28, 2010. Each of these three objectives will continually be implemented through specific projects and goals during the year and progress will be provided to City Council on a regular basis. In addition to these top 3 objectives, every year the Hickory City Council adopts priorities and associated action plans that are derived from the annual Council-Staff Planning Retreat, the City’s master plans, formal action taken by City Council throughout the year, and the City Manager’s assessment of initiatives that need to be considered by City Council. These priorities and action plans are used during the fiscal year as a guide to ensure that City departments advocate the philosophy and goals defined by City Council for the City of Hickory.

D. Accept 2009 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant From U.S. Department of Homeland Security For Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors in the Amount of $62,208 - The City of Hickory submitted an application to receive grant funds from the US Department of Homeland Security to purchase smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. On April 23, 2010 the City was officially notified that a grant was awarded in the amount of $69,120, whereby 90% or $62,200 will be provided by the federal grant and the remaining 10% or $6,912 will be funded through the use of existing funds from the current fire department’s fiscal year budget. This grant will support and enhance the existing program for smoke and carbon monoxide detector residential campaign for the safety of the public from fire and fire-related hazards. The grant will allow the purchase of 1,000 smoke detectors at $20 each and 1,000 carbon monoxide detectors at $30 each along with $15,000 for a part-time person to assist in the delivery of said detectors.

E. Approval to Award a Community Appearance Grant to the SALT Block Foundation for Non – Residential Property Located at 231 and 243 3rd Avenue, NE in the Amount of $5,000 - The subject property is owned by Corinth Reformed United Church of Christ and is occupied by the SALT Block Foundation. The SALT Block Foundation desires to improve the visual appearance of the property by constructing an outdoor classroom, which is part of a larger $90,000 improvement project on the campus. The total amount of the improvements for the outdoor classroom is estimated to be between $13,959 and $14,250. On April 26, 2010 the Community Appearance Commission unanimously voted to recommend funding in the amount of $5,000.

F. Proclamation Proclaiming the Day of 5/7/2010 as “JuJu Phillips Day” in the City of Hickory

G. Approval to Issue Pyrotechnic Display Permit to Hickory Motor Speedway for Saturday, 5/29/2010 - The Hickory Motor Speedway requests permission to hold a public fireworks display on Saturday, 5/29/2010 with a rain date of 6/5/2010 in celebration of Memorial Day. Zambelli Fireworks Company will conduct the fireworks display. The Fire Prevention Bureau has reviewed all required documentation and will inspect the display area prior to the event to ensure compliance with all guidelines. Staff recommends approval.

H. 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:
Wesley C. Riley 1420 11th Street Drive NW – Unit 14 / Approval for up to $6,500 (Forest Hills)
Joseph M. Duckett 1827 17th Street NE / Approval for up to $10,000 (Police Department)
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 of Hickory’s Community Development Block Grant Program.

Peggy H. Little, 231 8th Avenue Drive SE, is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s 2009 Urgent Repair Program. This program provides qualified low income citizens with assistance 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, at its May 6, 2010 meeting, recommended approval of the above requests.

I. Transfer of Cemetery Plot in Fairview Cemetery from The Estate of Joyce B. Spencer to Colin Wesley Spencer and Lowana Gail Spencer

J. Lift Moratorium on Receipt of “Operation No Vacancy” Grant Applications Based upon the adoption of revised guidelines for the Vacant Building Grant Program at the May 4th City Council meeting, it is requested that City Council lift the moratorium on accepting new grant applications and begin review of them based upon the revised guidelines.

K. Federally Required Identify Theft Prevention Policy - In October 2007, the Federal Trade Commission issued the Red Flag Rules which require financial institutions and creditors, including municipalities having utility accounts, to adopt and implement an identity theft prevention policy by 11/1/2008. The deadline for implementation of the policy and being in compliance with the rules was eventually extended to 6/1/2010. Council adopted a policy in November 2008. Due to the extension of the enforcement date, full implementation of the policy, which requires formal training of affected staff and other key employees, was delayed. The rules also require that entities update their identity theft prevention policies as needed, and staff has reviewed and identified revisions. Provisions regarding current data security measures used by staff to protect sensitive and confidential customer and employee information have also been added.

Budget Ordinance Amendments

1. Budget $200 of International Council donations in the International Council expenditure line item to be used for the International Springfest event expenses.

2. Budget $1,038 insurance claim check from Hartford Insurance Company in the Police Department Maintenance and Repair of Vehicles line item. This claim is for damage to a Police vehicle on 02-24-10.

3. Budget $1,052 insurance claim check from Erie Insurance Company in the Water and Sewer Maintenance and Repair of Vehicles line item. This claim is for damage to a Ford 350 truck on 04-23-10.

4. Budget $118 insurance claim check from Nationwide Insurance Company in the Water and Sewer Departmental Supplies line item. This payment is for damage sustained to a fire hydrant on 03-05-10.

5. Budget $1,850 of revenue from Catawba County in the Water and Sewer Pipes, Hydrants and Meters line item. Catawba County received a grant for a Water Infrastructure Hook-up Program that WPCOG is administering. Therefore, Catawba County is paying Hickory for the water (and/or sewer) taps as well as the radio read water meters that are required for some of the locations that are hooking up to the system.

6. Transfer a total of $150,000 in unbudgeted investment earnings to the Western Piedmont Regional Transit Authority line item. This represents the City of Hickory's contribution to the Western Piedmont Regional Transit Authority's redevelopment of the old S & W Chemical site in West Hickory for their new Transit Operations Center. These funds will be reserved in General Fund balance for this project until the project moves forward.

7. Transfer a total of $100,000 from the Water and Sewer Fund to the Inter-Basin Transfer Capital Project Fund line item. This transfer is for the City of Hickory'sFY2009 and FY2010 obligations. These funds have not been appropriated;however, City Council had committed $50,000 per year in opposing the Concord/Kannapolis Interbasin Transfer. This completes the City's financial commitment to the Defense Fund.

8. Transfer $6,912 of Fire Department Training, Meals and Lodging funds to the FY2009 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. The grant will supply funds to purchase smoke and carbon monoxide detectors for residential occupancies, supplies for the program and one part-time position during the twelve month performance period of the grant. The granting agency will provide 90% of the total $69,120 funds and the City of Hickory will provide the required 10% matching requirement.

New Business - Public Hearings:
1. Approval of Resolution and Adoption of the 2009 Catawba County Multijurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan - Both Federal and State legislation require local governments to formulate and adopt plans whose sole purpose is to mitigate lose of life and property in the event of natural or man-made disasters. The City participated in the first plan in 2004 and legislation requires such plans to be updated every five years. The City of Hickory and other local governments located within Catawba County received a grant from FEMA to fund updating the current plan. Following months of input and analysis during committee meetings, a draft plan was submitted and approved. The final step of the process is for the plan to be adopted by each local government participating in the plan update process. Staff recommends approval of the Resolution in adopting the 2009 Catawba County Multijurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan update. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on May 7 and May 14, 2010. Cal Overby made the presentation. The council unanimously consented.

2. Land Development Code Text Amendment 10-01, Electronic Gaming Operations - This Land Development Code Text Amendment is to establish zoning regulations for Electronic Gaming Operations or what are commonly known as “Internet Sweepstakes Businesses”. Upon the Hickory Planning and Development Department’s research of these businesses, it was discovered there is an increasing number of other North Carolina municipalities and counties whom were also adopting zoning type regulations. There are currently six to seven electronic gaming operations within Hickory’s planning area. The proposed amendment would effectively grandfather the existing operations, since they existed prior to the enactment of this amendment. On April 28, 2010 the Hickory Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the proposed text amendments to Section 7.1, Section 7.2 and to Section 16.1. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on May 7 and May 14, 2010. Attorney Crone suggested that this issue be continued until June 15th due to pending lawsuits taking place across this state. Lawsuits, such as one in Raleigh, are preventing local, county, and state agencies from taking action against these types of enterprises. There is pending litigation taking place in Knightdale and Kannapolis. These ordinances are very similar to Hickory's. Attorney Crone want time to gather information to make a recommendation one way or another. The Council agreed to continue the issue until June 15th. Alder Patton asked about the relation of this issue to Hickory By Choice and when that document will be available? Brian Frazier stated that he is hopeful that the advisory council, staff, the pertinent department heads, and planning commission will have something made available in the next 30 to 60 days. He also stated that the text amendments would be incorporated into the Land Development Code. Alderman Lail stated that the State Legislature is considering this issue currently. The Mayor asked staff to look into how many Judges have ruled on this and if the rulings are going one way. What is happening in other states? The Mayor stated that there are companies in other states that own these establishments in North Carolina. He stated they may be unconstitutional in other states, but not in North Carolina. Attorney Crone stated that he and Staff attorney Dula are confident that the ordinance that they have (Hickory) is similar to other laws that are under scrutiny and therefore may not pass muster. Atty Crone stated that ultimately this will be in the hands of the legislature. There needs to be some uniform law that is constitutional. The Mayor stated that the legislature thought these were illegal. If we sit back and say we will never pass a law because we are worried that it may be unconstitutional, then we may never pass anything.

3. Consideration of Proposed Ordinance Amendment to the Hickory Code of Ordinances; Chapter 18, Section 18-181 Definitions The Hickory Code of Ordinances Chapter 18, Section 18-181 partly defines junked motor vehicles as being more than five years old and appearing to be worth less than $100.00 and fails to address recent changes to NC General Statute §160A-303 (b2)(3). Chapter 20 of the Code of Ordinances was recently amended defining a junked motor vehicle as being greater than five years old and worth less than $500 which now conflicts with Chapter 18. Therefore, staff requests Council to approve the proposed ordinance amendment of Chapter 18, Article VI, Section 18-181 so as to become uniform with Chapter 20. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on May 7, 2010. Council unanimously consented.

New Business - Departmental Reports:
1. Update – Screening of Outdoor Storage
- On February 17, 2004, City Council adopted amendments to Article 7 of the Land Development Code which placed specific screening standards on open storage. The amendments also enacted an amortization schedule, which gave noncompliant properties until March 17, 2007 to come into compliance. In December, 2006, Planning Staff requested time to meet with local businesses, property owners and the Chamber to formulate a more workable and equitable ordinance. In August, 2007, City Council conducted a public hearing regarding the resulting proposed text amendments, and approved an ordinance which allowed an additional three years (September 5, 2010) for those yet to comply with the 2004 ordinance. Planning Staff is currently conducting site visits of all properties that were known not to be in compliance in early 2008. According to the ordinance, all identified properties not in compliance by September 5, 2010 must comply with the ordinance or face civil penalties. Planning Staff intends to notify the owners of these properties, by certified letter, of the approved screening requirements and of the impending deadline at 30-day intervals, commencing on June 5, 2010. This item is being presented as a matter of information and requires no action by Council.

Brian Frazier addressed this issue by addressing the issue and showing a series of photos. In march 2004, 113 property owners were sent letters by registered mail stating that they were not in compliance with the new ordinance. In 2007, the council added an amendment requiring an additional 2 feet of fencing to salvage yards, recycling yards, and junk yards. Specificity was given to the type of material required. Over a period of time, 85 properties were deemed to be in compliance or were abandoned. ^ have gone out of business and some were given a waiver, because of safety concerns or Home Security issues. As of a week ago, 28 properties were deemed to be in non-compliance. It has been further determined, in the last week, that only 22 businesses are not in compliance. Mr. Frazier stated that he is going to personally go out and see if they are in compliance.

Most of these properties can meet the requirements by installing Vertical or Horizontal slatted screening that is 90% opaque or vegetation.

Wallace Roofing

Autobahn Specialists is basically screening junk and this will meet the Property Maintenance code

Jack Sipe Construction on LR Boulevard

Catawba Valley Wrecker and Repair. The cars are non-operable

Reese's Wrecker Service has goats occupying the abandoned property

If these properties are sold and become businesses that require screening, then they will have to come into compliance. When the council amended the code, most businesses had come into compliance. the code adopted in 2004 stated that the these types of businesses had to be screened from public view from tyhe public street. The ordinance was amended in 2007 to state that those types of businesses have to be screened from major or minor thoroughfares or from properties that are immediately contiguous to residentially zoned properties.

Mr. Frazier stated that only 22 properties are currently non-compliant. He will send out letters in 30, 60, and 90 day intervals to the property owners. If they do not come into compliance by September 6th, then they will get a later notifying them of their obligation to come into compliance and it will follow the next step in the process, which could lead to civil penalties, which vary, starting out at $50 per day, then $100 a day after a time certain, followed by $250 a day after a time certain.

Alder Patton asked if Mr. Frazier would go out and visit these sites. Mr. frazier added that he would and talk to the property owner. He also stated that he couldn't make a judgment based on some of the pictures , so there may be less than 22 non-compliant properties. Alder Patton stated that she hoped that he would push vegetation as far as the screening.

Alderman Guess seemed astonished that these businesses have been given six years. He stated that he doesn't understand 6 years. Alderman Lail stated that he wasn't here 3 years ago. Alder fox stated that there were some businesses that felt that this ordinance didn't pertain to them and hey chose to give them more time. She states that over 100 businesses respected the ordinance came into compliance. The Mayor stated it is time and explained that at the time some citizens were not happy with what they interpreted as the city's heavy handed approach
. He believes that there are some people that will be heard from again.

Alderman Lail stated that he is proud of the fact tghat the council grandfathers a lot of things and this issue was retroactive towards people that have been in business for 20, 30, or 40 years. In some cases you have to see this stuff to sell it. People have to see a camper on the back of a pick-up truck in order to sell it. It was not a cut and dry issue.

The first letters will go out on June 5th.

The Hound agrees with the Mayor that it is now time that these businesses come into compliance with the ordinance, unless there is truly an issue that does not allow them to do so. Alderman Guess needs to understand that this issue was murky three years ago, as to the way that it was instituted and facilitated. These screening costs can cost tens of thousands of dollars and do not have any positive contribution to the owner's bottom line.

I totally understand the issue of aesthetics and you can see some of the problems in the photos above. Some property owners seem to go out of their way to have junky property and I do not think anyone had any intention of condoning the promotional outward appearance of Junk yards, but we also undertand that companies such as Shook Builders and Sipe Construction sell and store construction products. These companies have been the fabric of our community for years and most of us have no problem seeing those materials and what they represent.

Six years is long enough, but three, under the circumstances that availed themselves at the time in 2007, was not enough. I have no problem with encouraged implementation of new paradigms of appearance being instituted. that is part of the evolution of a community. We can take our time and work with people and make sure that things are done right. The key is positive communication between the elected officials, the bureaucracy, businesses, and the Citizenry.

Additional Comments:

** City Manager Berry went over the continuation of the Google Initiative by partnering with the Hickory Crawdads for "Google Gotta Get a Gigahit night" on Tuesday, May 25th. You can go to the and get a voucher for a free ticket to the game and it will be $1 night for food and beverages.

The Hound
hopes that the city will encourage more promotional partnership opportunities towards the issues of progress. It is important to reach the average citizen who does not understand this issue and maybe efforts such as this can do just that.

** The Mayor had some encouraging comments about Fiserv's operation. The ribbon cutting was today and the mayor impressed about the appreciation that Fiserv's executives have for the community and our educational opportunities. 250 people are presently employed and this is expected to increase to 420 or more. They commented on how beautiful our city is and it is incumbent on us to always try to improve.

The Hound
certainly hopes that we can get more jobs such as these in this area. This certainly won't solve all of our problems, but it is a good start and hopefully it will continue.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What is your definition of Government?

I don't really understand people. I don't understand the Rich, the Middle Class, or the Poor. What do I mean by that? I don't know what they want. I don't know what they are looking for. I just know that the way things currently are is not sustainable and yet it seems that most people are clueless about what is going on around them. I look at the headlines in the local papers and they deal with the trivialities of life.

What do I see? I see rigged financial markets, inept and corrupt governmental leadership, I see mega-corporations that can basically do whatever they want by throwing their weight (money) around, I see costs taking off in the core necessities of life, and I see people that are clueless about priorities and preparation. Why do today what can be put off until tomorrow?

I know that I need to worry about myself, my friends, and those who are willing to listen and educate themselves about the relevant issues we are facing today. I need not worry about those who look at me as a pessimist. I am not a pessimist, but I am also not a wild-eyed optimist either. I believe that what we are setting up to go through is going to bring realistic expectations back to the forefront.

What we are seeing is a systemic problem. We are living in a time of flawed logic based upon unbalanced priorities. We are obsessed with consumption and pleasure based on Hedo-Economics. We must get back to realistic principles that take into consideration production, responsibility, conservation, thrift, and creating value.

Nearly two years ago we went down the path that has put us in the position we are in today. In the middle of September 2008, we set a course for spending our way into oblivion with no destination charted and no logical course established. All we did then and all we are doing now is throwing trillions into what appears to be a black hole. It sure seems that the more money that we put into this system that has been created, the deeper we go into the hole.

Now we are seeing the implosion of the European financial system. The Euro is close to freefall status with Greece leading the way and likely showing the fate of the other nations soon to follow in the Eurozone. The formation of the European Union and subsequent currency was supposed to create economic stability amongst its member states and keep this exact type of meltdown from happening.

This is all happening, because of the same uncontrolled and unregulated derivatives market that caused the Housing and Credit Bubble to burst here in the United States two years ago. And here we go again with governments looking to bailout the nations who have staggering debt burdens. In the history of mankind, has that really ever worked?

The heads of state are telling us to spread the wealth, while the World's conglomerate banking interests are consolidating the wealth and thus the power under their own corporate umbrella. Wake Up Folks, you are witnessing the undercurrent that has all of the makings of a James Bond Movie Plot, but this is real.

The problems we are facing are systemic. We have systemic fraud that has metastasized its way throughout the entire world's economic, political, and cultural system. It is like poison ivy that has invaded our property and has been allowed to fester long enough until the roots have become deep-seated. There are no easy solutions. It must be dealt with head on. You must dig out what you can and smother the rest. The problem will only worsen if you ignore it.

We are going to need government to help solve this issue, if we don't want the World to become Hell on Earth. But, it must be government of, by, and for the people. The governmental system we are seeing today is not working. Currently government is a Class System in and of itself. Here in the United states it was never meant to be that way. The Government was meant to represent the people's interest, not the bureaucracy's interest. We have way too many people who are getting rich as members of the bureaucracy, or attached to the bureaucracy, at a time when the Free Enterprise system is reeling. That is not the American System.

We are seeing a disintegration of our known way of life. Yes, we are headed into uncharted territory. This is not a normal business cycle. The Dollar is tied to the other World Currencies and Economies and as they go, we will be sure to follow, unless our nation's leaders begin to take steps to shore up the United States' sovereignty.

In my opinion, what we are going to see is strong inflation in staple commodities (Food and Energy) and you are going to see deflationary pressures on the discretionary economy (Luxury purchases, such as electronics, vacations, new cars, etc.).

People are going to have to help one another and this will be quite the conundrum, if we expect this help to come from the government side, because the issues we face could become quite overwhelming. How are we going to make available the resources under the current context of the Government's Bureaucratic Economics?

The government is going to have to become more responsive to the people. The government is not the bureaucracy. The government is the people. Currently, we see that the government, on all levels, has lost its mooring to its constituents and to it's constitution. Our government, as in the bureaucracy, no longer represents the values of the people. It represents the values of the employees of the government. This is another issue, when we look at its stability and sustainability.

The citizens are going to have to take back control of the government and that is hard to do when so many people don't seem to care. But, you know if you have been touched by the spirit of Liberty, and that spirit makes you understand that it is our obligation to put people into office that will represent credibility and accountability by instilling the tenants of fairness and justice for all. We need to be able to trust the leadership of our country. I know that this is going to be a long, hard, tedious struggle; but it is a struggle that we, the chosen, must endure.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Backwoods Corporatists want to throw up road blocks to stop access to 21st Century High Speed Broadband

Notes from the Raleigh News and Observer show how the Conglomeration of Cable, Telephone, and other data communications providers are doing everything they can to keep progress from taking place and to protect their niche interests and soon to be antiquated capital cash-cow investments.

NC cities, cable still at odds on broadband entry - News and Observer - Gary D. Robertsen - 5/9/2010 - a summary of the article points out several issues.

Big telecoms in North Carolina keep fretting about towns like Wilson and Salisbury getting into the broadband business. Ever since a 2005 appeals court ruling upheld the right of towns and cities to offer high-speed Internet to their residents, large cable and phone companies have been urging the General Assembly to throw obstacles in the way. Local governments, they argue, don't have to pay taxes and can subsidize their rates to undercut the corporate competition.

Those efforts, however, have failed as mayors and local governments argue the big companies won't offer the kind of super-fast Internet at reasonable prices they say attracts high-tech industries. "We're trying very hard by providing broadband to bring new local businesses to our community, to bring jobs," said Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz, whose city has borrowed to build a $30 million fiber-optic network it will begin testing in a few months....

A 2005 Court of Appeals ruling involving then-BellSouth Corp. and the city of Laurinburg, which leased its fiber-optic network to outside customers, determined high-speed Internet fell under the definition of cable television. Only a few municipalities have entered into the broadband network business since then. Wilson has made the most dynamic effort. Wilson city officials borrowed $28 million, without a referendum by voters, to lay the fiber-optic lines and build other infrastructure to create Greenlight, which offers cable, phone and Internet service...

Greenlight has drawn nearly 5,000 household customers since it began offering the service in 2008. According to its website, it has the fastest residential Internet speed in North Carolina: 100 megabits per second, compared to 15 megabits offered to Time Warner residential customers in Wilson....

Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, recently proposed a moratorium on local governments getting into the business while the issue is studied further. Hoyle backed down after opposition from the North Carolina League of Municipalities and several companies including Google, Intel and Alcatel-Lucent. But he replaced the proposal with a requirement that any debt incurred for building a broadband network must be approved in a referendum. "What's wrong with the people being allowed the right to vote on debt that they're going to be responsible for repaying?" Hoyle asked. Kelli Kukura, a lobbyist for the league, said cable television groups have spent hundreds of thousands defeating referenda on similar broadband projects in other states, with ad blitzes on their own cable TV systems...

More efforts at a compromise are likely on the horizon. High-speed Internet service could mean the difference between economic prosperity and malaise for small towns in North Carolina. "In the 21st century, broadband is what electrification and water and sewer were in other centuries," said Rep. Jennifer Weiss, D-Wake.
It is amazing how much time, money, and efforts have been utilized to stop progress, especially on this issue, here in the Great State of North Carolina. Do representatives in this State represent the Corporate interests or the well being and quality of life of their constituents?

If asked, here in our area, about a referendum on Telecommunications in our area, how would our citizens respond? I am sure that they would be weary of the price tag, but those of us who believe in modern cutting edge technology can fight that fight with one word -- CHARTER!!!

The simpler people in this area may not see the connection between high-speed broadband and economic development, but they certainly despise the boogie man that Charter Communications has turned itself into in our area and the people in Hickory aren't too enamored with CenturyLink (aka Embarq, Sprint, Century Telephone, or whatever they are called next week)..

Wilson's local Broadband infrastructure service - Greenlight - offers a package of 10Mbps internet (up AND down), HDTV w/DVR, and Phone service for $119 per month. a higher tier package consisting of 20Mbps (up/down), television with all premium channels, and phone is $170/month. These aren't teaser rates. These are everyday packages! Do Charter, Embarq, or anyone else offer this kind of service at anything competitive with this kind of price?

I understand that the local populace might worry about the initial cost of the outlay of this infrastructure and the management of the system. There will be a tax cost associated with such a project, but it is a true investment that holds merits of value.

As State Representative Jennifer Weiss of Wake County stated. "In the 21st century, broadband is what electrification and water and sewer were in other centuries."

Folks, this is how we communicate with one another. Are we going to let corporations hamper our ability to communicate with one another? This is the interstate highway of communications. We want to drive at faster speeds and these companies want us on dirt roads. I think that I have expressed in this blog the importance of the Broadband issue to our area. Any tax increases, in the name of this effort, should be 100% earmarked to this effort only and the entity should be established and operated completely in the open.

I think, along with many of my compatriots in this effort, that people would be willing to approve some increase in taxes in the name of this effort, if they feel that this effort would be fruitful towards the creation of new jobs, more competitive pricing, increased educational opportunities for the populace, increased opportunities and support for our existing industries, and a greater quality of life in general.

We all hope that the Google effort comes our way, but there is certainly nothing wrong with having contingency, thoughts, ideas, and plans available if we are not chosen by Google.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Response to comments about Chicken Salad

The following article is a response to Mr. Gary Ewing's comments regarding the airport issue discussed in the previous article entitled Making Chicken Salad out of Hickory City Government. I really want to thank Mr. Ewing for his input and context regarding the comments associated with the airport issue.

The third comment is not attributable to me. I have never left an anonymous comment on this blog.

But, I don't have a problem with others leaving anonymous comments. I have found over time that those comments are usually very reliable. People leave anonymous comments, because the information may be sensitive to their livelihood and subject to retaliation, so I don't mind anonymous comments that bring further context and dialogue to the discussion at hand.

Mr. Ewing, I don't believe that the person who posted this comment intended to besmirch you. I also know that besides yourself and Joe Brannock, that Steve Ivester was on that commission and so there were definitely aviation experts on board. I would love to hear about your notes. I certainly want to get together with anyone that will make themselves available to me, so that I may better understand this issue and the reason why our community's airport is being allowed to continue to flounder.

Just look at the common thread of most of the task forces that are created in this city. There are always people with great knowledge and passion associated with those endeavors, but in the end the people at the helm of the Whitener building do what they want to do, which I have heard many times runs contrary to the findings of the task forces.

As Joe stated, "the City had already decided what it wanted out of the Task Force."

Here is what I understand and believe. If the people at the helm of Hickory City government want your opinion, they will ask you for it. They know where they want to take us and they don't care to have people that they feel lack proper knowledge having any input.

I don't believe that it is about the city reacting versus acting. They act on what they consider to be their priorities (lifestyle issues, such as Graffiti and Drinking). The reason that they don't act on tough issues (usually dealing with economic growth), unless it is laid in their lap, is because it might be risky and there may be negative political consequences associated with any failures.

The general practice does not involve conservatism or conservative values, because lord knows how many times that they have been all too willing to interject themselves into issues of personal lifestyle and preference.

This city follows a route of austerity. They are very frugal and risk averse in practices of economics and social engineering. Austerity is associated with strictness, sternness, forbidding and uncompromising character. That describes this city in many ways. They tend to pigeonhole people and ideas. They have a playbook that they adhere to and do not deviate from.

I will not name names, but those who pay attention know them. They have one person that they go to about Economic Development. They have one person that they go to about statistics and demographics. They have one person that they go to about commercial real estate. They have one person that they go to about real estate development. They have one person that they go to about banking issues. And if you aren't one of those people, then basically you have no input.

The issue is about control of outcomes. And therein lies the problem. You cannot have creativity when you live in such a static world. The world is complex and ever evolutionizing and unpredictable. A world of such unknowns demands creative, "outside of the box" thinking. You cannot harness individuals (or concepts) with that type of mindset and ability.

We seem to have city leadership that refuses to accept and participate in this principle (of an exponentially changing world). Therefore we are stuck and cannot move forward from what have become dark ages for our community.

It's like a person that is standing still on the side of the road, while the car they were riding in drives off into the sunset. We may as well be moving backwards. It's a risk to hitch that next ride. We want to get to our destination, but we ain't gonna get there, if we don't trust ourselves to hitch that next ride. So let's get goin' people.

I have been told that I am too political. Well, I see things that just aren't right and I refuse to accept that "that is just the way things are" mentality. I have been told a lot of stuff that I don't want to believe, but it all keeps adding up.

I just want people to do the right thing. We have all made mistakes, but if we can move past where we are right now, and get back on the right track, I would be happy. All I ever wanted was what was sold to me as the American dream. Well, we aren't going to get there on the path that we are presently on.

I am an outsider and I don't want to be a member of a cabal. I truly want to see equality in justice and the pursuit of happiness. I want everyone to have a chance to succeed in this community. I am tired of seeing a rigged game!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Making Chicken Salad out of Hickory City Government

Sunday Morning in the Hickory Daily Record we once again were brought journalistically to the scene of the Buffalo's Sinkhole fiasco (Will the sinkhole ever be more than a hole in the ground? & Sinkhole timeline). Personally I don't see how this is a pertinent story, I thought we were past all of this. Must have been a slow news cycle. I guess since the L-R Boulevard extension issue was brought to closure in April that somehow the HDR thinks they can magically wave a wand and see this process brought to an end also.

Personally, I feel that the Sinkhole issue is old news in and of itself. I thought so when I wrote the editorial on August 10, 2007 entitled Buffalo's dumpsite drama too personal for city's leaders? After nearly three years, I still believe that the city can remedy all of this by condemning the property and cleaning it up, but the city has steadfastly refused to do so.

I love the Orwellian double speak from the City Manager that is provided in this article:
Hickory Manager Mick Berry said that's because currently, Mason's not violating any ordinances, despite the fact there's grass and small plants growing out of the mound of dirt on the property.

"Our code supports the property owners," he said. "We're not heavy-handed. He had to get the water flowing through the culvert, which he did. And he had to push the dirt into the hole or level it out, and he did. It doesn't look pretty, but he's in compliance."

The property also has to be fenced in, which Mason has done.

And although Hickory has sent Mason letters in the past, saying he was violating the public nui-sance ordinance, Mason has never had to pay a fine, Berry said.

"We use the possibility of the fines to get the property owner to (fix the property)," he said.

Raise your hand if you haven't heard the Mayor (and inferences from the City Manager) berating Mr. Mason over this issue in the past and using this issue as a political talking point. Do you remember all of the heavy handed propaganda that took place over this issue, especially in 2006 and 2007?

The light is shown on this issue by a comment at the bottom of the HDR article that relates to what many of us have heard behind the scenes:
Because of Rudy running his mouth, the City of Hickory (through its insurance carrier) paid the sinkhole folks $400,000.00 (no, that's not a typo - Four Hundred Thousand Dollars) to settle the lawsuit. They then tried to cover it up by making the settlement "confidential", despite the fact that state law says you can't do that.

It's interesting that in this timeline and article the HDR chose to completely forget about that little bit of info.
There seems to be a pattern here of the city using Civil Litigation in combination with Closed Session City Council meetings for political purposes. Apparently, City parties have consistently tried to usurp North Carolina General Statutes by requesting that settlements be kept confidential. If what they are doing is above board, then why does the city keep requesting that these settlements be kept out of public view? The appearance of impropriety is impropriety.

Look at the following comment posted on this blog in relation to the Randolph's Billiards Issue - Randolph's Billiards versus the City of Hickory and the Drinking Establishment Ordinance.
This relates back to the cleansing of Union Square that the Council has sought to accomplish.

People might recall that Cersil Brothers, who owned the old Ferguson Plumbing Building, sued the City over the refusal to issue their permits in August, 2008. They used a bunch of "funny math" about the number of arrests / incidents / etc at bars to support their call for a moratorium on the issuance of permits.

After several months, the City settled that case -- by paying out $10,000.00 to the Cersil Brothers, and that doesn't take into account the thousands paid to the various law firms to defend the action.

Ten Grand of Taxpayer's Money, not to build a taxpaying business within the City.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Oh, and the timing of that Settlement is pretty interesting, too -- it was approved on Election Day last November -- after Rudy, Sally and Jill had safely retained their seats. The vote came after the polls had closed, and after it'd been bumped on no less than three consecutive council meetings.

Wouldn't want those pesky facts out there to confuse the voters now, would we?

Coincidence? Then consider this - the Council also tried to sit on the release of the Settlement Agreement by inserting a "confidentiality" clause in it, despite the fact that state law specifically prohibits agreements with such provisions.
I was informed on Friday evening that Randolph's was granted their permits back on Friday May 7th at 5:30pm. This happened even after the Hickory Police Department had contacted Randolph's lawyer via certified mail, stating that they did not want to work with Randolph's management and the city wanted to go back to court to finish the hearing. The scheduled date would have been in September.

I have been told that before the alcohol permits were taken that Randolph's patrons were being written tickets left and right for parking in the City parking lot behind Randolph's. Apparently the issuance of these tickets has pretty much ceased since January. I have also heard that city employees have been directed not to frequent Randolph's and there would be consequences if they did.

The presiding Judge Beecher Gray stepped in and said he would rule on the motion to dismiss and he did. The City contended that they wanted to finish their case in court. The judge told them their case had already been heard and he would rule over the phone and then he proceeded to dismiss the case.

You see folks, this seems to be the rule around here. This is the heavy handedness that Mr. Berry states doesn't go on around here. Remember the open storage ordinance, was that not heading down a heavy handed path until certain people realized that they didn't have the numbers on council and cooler heads prevailed. I have also heard that the City of Hickory could possibly have to legally settle with the former establishment "127 North" over their heavy handed dealings with them and the losses of revenue that are directly attributable to those dealings.

When these city officials act in this manner are they representing you? Anything that city officials do, which the city is held monetarily liable for, is paid for by the taxpayers of the City of Hickory? Do you feel comfortable with the city throwing its weight around in this manner? Are you happy that a large portion of your tax fees are going to pay for unnecessary legal fees and settlements? All for what appear to be personal preferences, vendettas, and political purposes?

What are the rules pertaining to this Drinking Establishment Ordinance? I have never seen anything laid out in Black and White. Ambiguous ordinances, such as this, are what this city is known for creating and are just begging lawsuits. They are arbitrary and not equally enforced. Any laws constructed in such a manner are not worth the paper that they are printed on and are basically a waste of energy and effort.

Another good example of mismanagement is the Airport. Mind Blowing - The City's Mismanagement of the Hickory Regional Airport (and once again the story behind the story isn't pretty).
Part of what hasn’t been recognized here is that the sweetheart deal that Riverhawk’s predecessor got is DIRECTLY attributable to Mayor Rudy Wright.

Just after Mr. Wright took office, it was time to renegotiate with Profile Aviation. City Staff members had researched the earlier agreements and noted the problems – there was no control over Profile’s actions, essentially, and they acted as though they owned the airport. Hickory’s airport had a horrible reputation among pilots because of the way they were treated by Profile. Many opted to go to Morganton or Statesville for fuel (which was cheaper), service and overnight accommodations rather than to have to put up with the lack of service at Hickory.

There was a plan of action for improving things during the contract renegotiation. Unfortunately, Mayor Wright was good buddies with the guys that owned Profile. The result was that the discussion would occur in closed session at a council meeting and by the time Staff could meet the following morning already knew the negotiating parameters. Thus, nothing could be fairly negotiated because the other side already knew not only the strategy but the details of how it would be approached. Rudy was seen numerous times leaving Profile’s offices on Wednesday mornings, where presumably he’d briefed them on the prior evening’s meetings.

Imagine if the Panthers tried to play a football game, but the other side knew all their hand signals and how they intended to approach not only the game, but every single play. It’s much harder, if not impossible, to win that way – especially if the coach keeps intentionally sending you down the field the wrong way!

What ended up was a sweetheart deal that gave away the farm, all the cows on the farm, the crops yet in the ground and the farmer’s wife! That agreement was entered into over significant objections by virtually all of the staff members involved.

You can’t negotiate anything close to a fair deal under those circumstances. Look at the contract – there’s no independent audit provisions – Hickory’s income from the airport was based solely on what Profile TOLD them they made. There was no way to get to the books for an independent audit, no control over hours of operation, prices to be charged, etc.

Instead, all the control was given to Profile.

There was a chance to eliminate that when Riverhawk took over, but once again it was lost. We can thank Jill Patton and Brad Lail for failing to have any significant input into that, but in fairness, they had no records to review to know the issues. Instead, they knew only that which the contract allowed them to know – a contract that was overseen by Rudy for the benefit of his friends at Profile.

Hickory had a chance to take their airport back, but instead got a task force packed with people who either knew nothing about airports or were looking to skew the deal. How often does that kind of thing happen here? To figure it out, you really only have to look at who leaves and when. Tim Deike, who was the Airport Manager then, left about this same time. Coincidence? Or, like so many other department heads, did he realize that it’s not possible to fight that type of corruption without the support of a strong City Manager who has the balls to stand up for what’s right. Hickory could have easily taken over operations at the airport, and the income from those operations gone to make it self-sustaining. Instead, we end up with a tiny piece of the action, no control over the airport and once again the taxpayers get the short end.
Again, we see the City operating behind the scenes on this issue. From what I have heard the situation has worsened and there really is no chance of it getting any better. This issue is going to cost Hickory Taxpayers a bundle, when in essence the city has an asset of great value here. But, this venture is being operated under a buddy-buddy scenario and the guise of covering political missteps, instead of doing what is best for the citizens of the area at our airport. And is that not the essence of commonality that we are seeing involving all of these issues?

I heard Hal Row last week addressing the local economy. He stated that when the economy starts picking up, and times start getting better, that you usually start hearing things from people about business stirring up and things going on, but he hasn't been hearing anything. Well Hal, I'm hearing a lot of things about business in the area, but you and I aren't privy to those circles. We aren't invited. There seem to be all kinds deals being made in closed session at City Hall, at the meeting before the meeting, and/or on phone calls.

Which type of government do you trust, the meeting out in the open or the one behind locked doors? Didn't you always love the scenes when JR Ewing said, "Trust me?" These people are telling you to trust them. If everything is above board, then it is time to release all of these closed session minutes to the public. I seem to have misunderstood who these people are working for. Are they working for the Citizens of Hickory or Themselves?

I am also reminded of Ray Hunt, a property owner in Southeast Downtown (across from Clark Tire). He told me about his tenant, who has not paid rent in a substantial period of time. Mr. Hunt had previously told this tenant that he was going to have to get his stuff off of the property, because he needed to have work done on the building so that he could find a new tenant, one that would pay their rent. The current tenant proceeded to go to the city to report Mr. Hunt's building as untenable. The City sent officials to the building and issued code violations, but they never contacted Mr. Hunt, who is the owner of the building. Mr. Hunt is upset about the city never contacting him about the violations and how they could be remedied. The city is bound to have methods to contact the man. What if this were you? Wouldn't you be upset?

The Hound -- And this is the reason why I keep this blog independent and go to the council meetings and report as much as I can to you about them, even when I know that most of y'all scan over most of it.

I am your personal eyewitness at City Council meetings. 75% of the time, there is no other independent news gathering source present at the City Council meetings. They just get the information from the City's Communication Director Mandy Pitts. They get the information that the city wants them to have. Mandy does a great job doing what she does, but who does she represent? Does she represent the citizens of Hickory or does she represent the City Bureaucracy? She is no different than a PR representative at a corporation.

Look at a Corporation with $80+ million in revenues and hundreds of millions of dollars in assets. Would our local media outlets not dig further into issues involving that company, if they were doing things that negatively affected the stockholders of that corporation? Would a reporter go to the CEO or President of a company and ask them questions and take their word as the Gospel? Or would they dig for verifiable information and try to obtain corroborating information involving the story?

You see that is the City of Hickory, a corporation that takes in over $80 million in revenue and has a budget that is approximately the same. Mayor Rudy Wright is the Chief Executive Officer, City Manager Mick Berry is the President, and the other Council members are the Board of Directors of the City of Hickory Incorporated. And the Citizens and people who pay taxes and for services in Hickory are the shareholders.

I'm not going to beat the Hickory Daily Record over the head, if anyone wants to do so, then feel free to do so in the comments section. What was written on Sunday was about pulling an old issue out of the playbook without bringing anything new to the topic. What was the purpose of the article?

I just wish that the HDR would look into these issues more in depth and maybe do a series on some of them. Nothing notable or worthwhile can be written in 500 words or less. Demand some real answers from the City, and if they don't answer, then tell the public that they wouldn't. Look up some of the business agreements and relevant court documents... Talk to the relevant parties... And do some behind the scenes intelligence gathering. The Keys should be relevance and purpose. HDR, we need you to fulfill your role as the community's newspaper.