The Hound: Today we crossed the 50,000th Unique Viewer mark and last week, August 28, was the 3rd anniversary of the Hickory Hound. We have come a long way, but in the end we haven't gotten as far as I would like to be at this point in time. I truly appreciate those who care about this community and the encouragement that they have lent me during these trying times.
The following letter was sent to me personally through an anonymous source. The funny part is that at first I did not even open the letter, because I thought it was junk mail; but when I did, I knew it was very relevant to thoughts that I and others have expressed to one another in communications over the last several years. This is a source who I guarantee is one of those people who I describe above. These people don't like the direction in which this community is headed. They aren't complaining. Many of them are angry, frustrated, and fearful of what they see. The local media acts like a megaphone for our local government, never asking questions... never allowing debate. Why would people not be frustrated, when the perception is that local official's interests do not seem to embody our own.
I have redacted two statements in the letter that might distract from the topic at hand. Most of what is detailed in this letter has been expressed to me by several sources in the past; the vast majority of whom do not want to go on the record. Issues, such as these, are constantly explained away as isolated incidences by the leaders of this community. What we see is a pattern and that pattern establishes credibility of those who have chosen not to go on the record for fear of retaliation and implied intimidation. So without further adieu, I present a letter that says a lot about what is going on behind the scenes in the Halls of Governance of Hickory.
To whom it may concern,
How can the citizens of Hickory trust the judgment of a leader who cares more for his personal gains than the needs of the residents? In this case, I am talking about City Manager Mick Berry and his "Mormon pipeline." How can Mr. Berry continue to recruit, hire and promote only those with his personal religious beliefs?
Several years ago, he started an internship program that has brought the City of Hickory 5 interns - all but 1 were Mormons from BYU (Mr. Berry's alma mater). Yes, that is in Utah! Yet a very respectable Public Administration program is just up 321N at Appalachian State University, not to mention the various other schools that are much closer. His first intern, Mike Bennett, had a position created for him (although the rest of the city was in a hiring freeze). Since then, Mr. Bennett has been the recipient of several promotions and pay increases(while others have been under a pay freeze since 2008, his pay has changed from $40K to $75K). xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx.. Conflict of interest?
Mr. Bennett was the recipient of a "new" position, Assistant to the City Manager, that was created for him after his internship ended. He was then moved into a temporary position leading Piedmont Wagon (bus system) until it broke off from the city. He was then promoted to Finance Director in February of 2010. Then Mr. Berry created an entirely new department for him by combining Finance, Human Resources and Information Technology and called it Administrative Services only a few months later in June 2010. This was supposed to save money and improve services. What?! Yet there continues to be several city departments that only have 2 - 5 people, including the City Manager's Office. Were these promotions for Mr. Bennett offered to anyone else? No one I know saw or heard about these jobs! I think they were simply appointments made solely for him by Mr. Berry.
This practice was also evident in the Google fiber-to-the-home project that the City of Hickory and Lenoir bid to receive. Hickory hired 2 "consultants" to work on this application that was later awarded to Kansas City. It was stated that Paul Baird was a fellow Mormon. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. According to public records, Mr. Baird was paid $21,375 and xxxxxxxxxxx was paid $19,325! This was for about 2-3 months of work which could have easily been accomplished with volunteers in our community and cooperation with Corning and Commscope. Was this a good use of the city's money? Did it have anything to do with the Mormon relationships and keeping the money in the church? Also, neither of these people were engineers who could propose a design for Google - they were marketing people only. GottaGettaGigabit!
I read an Internet article about Mormon discrimination. And, no, it is not about other religions discriminating against them! There was a chart showing that Mormons were more often defendants rather than plaintiffs. Mr. Berry is using his position to further the careers and pad the pocketbooks of his fellow church members. Who controls the actions of the city manager? These are city tax dollars and I would much rather see our sanitation workers get a slight pay increase (when they have to work in extreme conditions and on many holidays) as opposed to another promotion for Mr. Bennett or $40K+ for Mormon consultants to work on a project with no direction!
A few months ago, there was a scandal involving City of Hickory employees who sold scrap metal from a demolition site. According to the Hickory Daily Record, this resulted in 2 people being fired and 4 on probation. Yet, according to sources inside the city, Mr. Berry decided to cancel his city cell phone and move the l-year-old Droid phone (paid for by city money) to his personal account. How can he publicly attack these workers for not maintaining the trust of the citizens when he takes home public property for his personal gain? It is even worse since he is the highest paid person in Hickory and the third highest in Catawba County!
Like many of us, I know several people who work for the City of Hickory. According to these contacts, morale is extremely low inside the organization. With Mr. Berry's personal agendas, unfair hiring and promoting practices, hiring freezes for non-Mormons and no pay increases since 2008, I understand why! As soon as the economy improves, we stand to lose a lot of good public servants.
If the Hickory City Council chooses to continue ignoring the self-serving, biased practices of our city management, then we (the citizens of Hickory) need to make a statement by replacing them! We are past due for a change in leadership. Hickory deserves a council and mayor that are progressive, innovative and willing to make a difficult decision when it is necessary. The time for strong conservatism and looking the other way has past.