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Monday, October 31, 2011

Does the way the Hickory City Mayor votes meet North Carolina General Statutes? -- Silence DoGood

Recently in a discussion in comments section of this forum concerning Reverend Cliff Moone and Mayor Wright, a couple of true statements were made that I found troubling.  So I decided to take a look.  Here is what I’ve come up with.

The following section is taken directly from the Hickory City Ordinances as published by Municode:

“Sec. 3.81. - Powers and duties.
      (a)   The powers and duties of the mayor shall be such as are conferred upon him by this charter1, together with such as are conferred by the city council2 pursuant to this charter, and no other.
      (b)   The mayor shall preside at all meetings of the city council3 and shall have the right to vote upon all questions. He shall be recognized as the official head of the city by the courts for the purpose of serving civil processes, and by the public for all ceremonial purposes4. He shall have power to administer oaths.  
      (c)   Such functions are enumerated in this charter as are conferred upon the mayor by general law shall be exercised by the city manager [sic].”
The next reference was taken directly from the North Carolina General Statues and is provided herein as a reference and footnoted in the section above to provide validity to that part of the code.  The footnotes are of my inclusion and not part of the original text.
      § 160A-69.  Mayor to preside over council. 
    The mayor shall preside at all council meetings, but shall have the right to vote only when there are equal numbers of votes in the affirmative and in the negative. In a city where the mayor is elected by the council from among its membership, and the city charter makes no provision as to the right of the mayor to vote, he shall have the right to vote as a council member on all matters before the council, but shall have no right to break a tie vote in which he participated. (1971, c. 698, s. 1; 1979, 2nd Sess., c. 1247, s. 3.)
Here’s the deal.  The Hickory City Code runs counter to Statutory law and as a political sub-division of the State of North Carolina, any ordinance to be valid and Constitutional, cannot violate North Carolina Law.  The Hickory City Code is invalid in my humble opinion in this section.  Take a look.  NCGS § 160A-69 provides that the Mayor, “…shall have the right to vote only when there are equal numbers of votes in the affirmative and in the negative.”  Now, in Section 3.81 of the Hickory City Charter, it gives the Mayor, “…right to vote upon all questions.”  Therein lies the problem.

NCGS § 160A-69 only gives the Mayor a vote when there is a tie vote among council members, or, “In a city where the mayor is elected by the council from among its membership, and the city charter makes no provision as to the right of the mayor to vote….”  In the City of Hickory, the Mayor is not elected by the other Members of the City Council, the Mayor is elected by popular vote by the residents of the City that are registered and eligible to vote.  While that last part of that sentence is applicable, the City charter does address and make provision for the Mayor to vote, both parts of that sentence have to be valid and applicable in order for the Mayor to be able to vote on each issue.  Otherwise, the Mayor is only eligible to vote in the case of a tie.  The hook is that conjunction word “and”.  If that word were “or”, then there wouldn’t be a problem.  However, that isn’t the case and both conditions of that portion of the statute, “…Mayor elected by other council members and the city charter makes no provision as to the right of the Mayor to vote…” must be met.  That means that every vote participated in by the Mayor in and for the City of Hickory is highly questionable as to validity.

Now, that isn’t saying that much in the grand scheme of things.  They all vote together anyway and it isn’t like his vote carried any weight or negated from the rest.  However, it is wrong, it is improper, and it is in violation of the law.  The City needs to change their Charter so that 3.81 is in compliance with the Statute.

My other hang-up is over the City Manager and the agenda.  After further contemplation however, it makes sense that the Manager would set the agenda, with the aid and input of the Mayor.  Having said that, it is the Mayor’s meeting to run and he may call the items calendared after the agenda is adopted by council or to amend the agenda and then adopt it pursuant to the rules used to run the meeting.  Since there is no State statute or City code that stipulates who shall have construct authority of the agenda, I’ll leave it alone with what I think.

Now what I see happening is, if the legal staff sees this as being a problem after enough people have talked about it, getting a text amendment to the statute bill introduced by one of our rubber stamp local legislators to have the wording changed so that the City doesn’t have to change their ordinance.  However, I see that as being a historically complex problem, given the way that most cities and towns are structured in this State.  But who knows.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- October 30, 2011

Bob Chapman -- The International -- On U.S. markets -- October 29, 2011 - It is now clear to the most casual observer that the world’s monetary and financial system cannot function without massive amounts of additional money and credit. That means the system no longer functions the way it should. Europe really doesn’t know what to do and neither does the Fed and the Bank of England. The exception is throwing more money at the problem and keeping interest rates near zero indefinitely. Many US, UK and European banks are insolvent. The real estate market continues to deflate throughout Europe with the exception of Germany, which never really rose in price. Again, there are no solutions offered to solve this problem. Just as there are no solutions elsewhere. These conditions tell us the euro has serious problems to face as does the pound and the US dollar. You have to then say to yourself against what. Each currency has its own problems, thus, the only alternative is to measure each currency versus gold and silver. These are the true benchmarks, and when compared over the last 11-1/2 years, versus nine major currencies gold and silver on average annually have appreciated more than 20%. That tells you anyone holding currencies has been a major loser.            In the US and the UK banks are insolvent as well, because books are market-to-model, not to market and many carry two sets of books. Without a total audit one does not know the actual condition of these financial institutions. Market players and investors do not want to know the truth, because they cannot handle it. It means it is the end of the game – it’s over. That is why Wall Street and the City of London casts a blind eye at all the government manipulation going on. They go with the flow hoping the system will keep functioning.               Americans and others have been sold a bill of goods concerning US supremacy in the business and financial worlds, which means they have been propagandized since WWII. It is beyond the capability of most Americans to understand that they have been sold one lie after another and they bought it hook, line and sinker. Even if they discover the truth making seminal changes is very difficult. Thus, you can have 70% of people over 65 years old that have discovered the truth that are generally incapable of acting on it. The 25% of these retirees that have investable funds are frozen in the headlights and few make the necessary changes to hold on to their assets. If their assets remained static inflation is destroying their purchasing power year after year. Some will switch into gold and silver related assets, but very few. Good people who have led exemplary lives could lose most of their assets if they do not make changes. Once the system goes down there will be no way back. Ask the people who didn’t listen in 1929.

As Occupy Wall Street and related protests inject themselves into the 2012 presidential campaigns, a new government report shows that over the past three decades the incomes of the nation’s top earners have grown far more rapidly than those of everyone else. The nation’s economic gains have been increasingly concentrated in the households of the top 1 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office, echoing previous studies cited by Occupy Wall Street protesters.      The 1 percent of the population with the highest incomes, average income grew 275 percent between 1979 and 2007, the report said. Middle-income Americans saw just less than a 40 percent rise during the same period, while the 20 percent of the population on the bottom saw an 18 percent increase.

A Dysfunctional System That Bankrupts A Generation - Zero Hedge - Wolf Richter - 10/26/2011 - Tuition has done it again: up by 8.3% for universities and by 8.7% for community colleges, according to the College Board. Here in California, tuition increases are outright ridiculous. Much of it will be paid for with student loans (though grants, scholarships, other aid, and tax credits will cover some of it). Student loan debt will exceed $1 trillion by the end of the year—a stunning amount. But unlike other debt, it cannot be discharged in a bankruptcy. The skyrocketing costs of higher education add to the strains already weighing down the middle class whose median household income has fallen 9.8% between December 2007 and June 2011 (Sentier Research) and whose real wages have declined 1.8% over last year (BLS) and around 9% since their peak in 1999.          We all support education; we want the next generation to be productive. So now, under increased pressure to "do something," the Obama administration has come up with a Band-Aid, which includes income-based payment limits and ultimate debt forgiveness in certain cases—an accelerated implementation of program improvements that would have taken effect in 2014. Looking forward, it is likely that more taxpayer funded relief is on the way. But the system itself is dysfunctional. The cause: a misalignment of interests within the complex relationships between students, universities, the student-loan industry, and the federal government.

Monster Prediction From BofA: Another US Debt Downgrade Is Coming In Just A Few Weeks
- Business Insider - Joe Wiesenthal - October 22, 2011
- In an analyst note, Bofa/ML's Ethan S. Harris drops a bit of a bombshell prediction: "We expect a moderate slowdown in the beginning of next year, as two small policy shocks—another debt downgrade and fiscal tightening—hit the economy. The “not-so-super” Deficit Commission is very unlikely to come up with a credible deficit-reduction plan. The committee is more divided than the overall Congress. Since the fall-back plan is sharp cuts in discretionary spending, the whole point of the Committee is to put taxes and entitlements on the table. However, all the Republican members have signed the Norquist “no taxes” pledge and with taxes off the table it is hard to imagine the liberal Democrats on the Committee agreeing to significant entitlement cuts. The credit rating agencies have strongly suggested that further rating cuts are likely if Congress does not come up with a credible long-run plan. Hence, we expect at least one credit downgrade in late November or early December when the super Committee crashes." This is quite a stunning prediction, mainly because nobody is talking about this. And though the experts were 100% wrong in thinking that a downgrade would increase borrowing costs, it did cause a major market jolt when it happened, leading to a major blow to confidence in August and September.

BOMBSHELL - Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules That Most Foreclosure Sales From Previous 5 Years Are VOID - October 19, 2011 (The Daily Bail) - Houston, we've got a problem - Bevilacqua - Amvona - Gregory M. Lemelson - (The Daily Bail) - The only thing surprising about this ruling is that it took so long to be made. This is black letter law, folks, the logical extension of the Court's Ibanez decision. Without a promissory note, a foreclosing plaintiff cannot show a legal injury, i.e., does not have standing to sue. Without standing, the action before the court does not qualify as a "case or controversy" under Article III of the constitution. Courts can only make rulings on "cases or controversies;" advisory opinions are a legal nullity. Consequently, a court that purports to enter a "judgment" where it has no subject matter jurisdiction has in fact entered a legal nullity on its docket; that "judgment" is void as a matter of law. As such, any such "judgment" entered where the plaintiff had no standing is open to collateral attack in any subsequent proceeding. What is more, subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived; were that the case, parties could falsely induce courts to make binding rulings--obviously non-sensical.         
(Amvona) - On Oct. 18th, 2011 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down their decision in the FRANCIS J. BEVILACQUA, THIRD vs. PABLO RODRIGUEZ – and in a moment, essentially made foreclosure sales in the commonwealth over the last five years wholly void. However, some of the more polite headlines, undoubtedly in the interest of not causing wide spread panic simply put it "SJC puts foreclosure sales in doubt" or "Buyer Can't Sue After Bad Foreclosure Sale" In essence, the ruling upheld that those who had purchased foreclosure properties that had been illegally foreclosed upon (which is virtually all foreclosure sales in the last five years), did not in fact have title to those properties. Given the fact that more than two-thirds of all real estate transactions in the last five years have also been foreclosed properties, this creates a small problem. The Massachusetts SJC is one of the most respected high courts in the country, other supreme courts look to these decisions for guidance, and would find it difficult to rule any other way in their own states. It is a precedent. It's an important precedent.

A Tightly Knit Network of Companies Runs the World Economy, Says Network Analysis - Popular Science - By Rebecca Boyle - October 20, 2011 - A small, tightly woven network of companies, mostly banks, wields disproportionate control over the global economy, according to a new study. To the thousands of protesters swept up in the global Occupy movement, it may seem like a case of science confirming the obvious. It’s based on a few extrapolations and assumptions that are open to debate, but the overall findings shed some light on the intimate ways 21st century capitalism works — and how those functions can undermine the entire system. The study's assumptions have attracted some criticism, but complex systems analysts contacted by New Scientist say it is a unique effort to untangle control in the global economy. Pushing the analysis further, they say, could help to identify ways of making global capitalism more stable.

Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world - New Scientist - Andy Coghlan and Debora MacKenzie - October 24, 2011 - AS PROTESTS against financial power sweep the world this week, science may have confirmed the protesters' worst fears. An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy. The study's assumptions have attracted some criticism, but complex systems analysts contacted by New Scientist say it is a unique effort to untangle control in the global economy.          Pushing the analysis further, they say, could help to identify ways of making global capitalism more stable. The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York's Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere (see photo). But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world's transnational corporations (TNCs).

Obama's job plan disconnected from reality?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Instilling Opportunity and Faith in the People of this Community

If Jesus wasn't appreciated by the people in Nazareth, then why should we who try to provide a message to our neighbors, friends, and family think we should be treated any differently than the Lord?

I have had communications with people who inhabit the four corners of the world and some of them you would recognize. Some of these people have expressly conveyed to me that they appreciate my opinion and the fact that I am awake and I Get It. Yet, some of the people of my hometown tell me that I am a conspiracy theorist and 99% of the people don't have a clue about the important events and contexts happening all around us. The lack of recognition by these people from my hometown doesn't bother me. Only their intolerance and ignorance of the message is frustrating. They go along with the program of the controllers and follow the path of least resistance, as though it is going to benefit them in some way. They are under a mistaken impression that as this World continues to implode, they will be unaffected. They should be preparing, but instead they would rather see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. What they don't understand is that they have shackled themselves to a code and allegiance that they don't even understand. And they are committing themselves to being lost forever!

Are you truly Patriotic? Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence? Do you understand and feel the words of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled banner or is this just a ritual to you? Have you read and studied any parts of the U.S. Constitution or do you just go by what a reporter or politician tells you? If you are an elected official or bureaucrat, do you not understand that you have sworn as your duty to defend and uphold these codes? If you have never studied them, then do you not understand that you are automatically not qualified for your job? Would you just hand the keys to a car to a teenager and let them out on the road without any supervision and/or training? Do you not understand that it is the same thing?

That is where we have gotten off track. We have many intellectually lazy people seeking status as leaders in the nation. That is the reason why we have lost our nation, because we have people who aren't trained to think critically when making critical decisions. These people are in over their heads, because they don't know how to find answers, which comes from asking the right questions. They don't study history and they don't have a clue about patterns. They aren't in over their heads, because of intellect. They are in over their heads, because they have their priorities mixed up. I am begging you. If you are in over your head, it is alright to admit it. If you don't have the time or desire to commit to public service, then let's find someone who does. Our lives and our livelihood are at stake.

I do not pretend to be a prophet. I have plenty of flaws. The story below, I convey to establish an understanding. We have a lot of people around here that are worthy of listening to. These people have great knowledge, passion, and talents. There needs to be more respect for the human assets that we have in this community. Sometimes we see an arrogance that gets in the way of allowing worthwhile efforts to develop and be fruitful. Maybe, if we give people, regardless of social status, an opportunity to express themselves, then we might be amazed at what was right under this community's nose all along. Let's spread opportunity and see what we can cultivate.

Why couldn't Jesus do miracles in His hometown (Mark 6:4-5)?
Reasoning from Scriptures Ministries

In Mark 6:4-5 Jesus affirmed that a prophet is without honor in his home town, and in view of that reality, He could not perform any miracles in Nazareth except for healing a few sick people. The people of Nazareth were apparently plagued by unbelief and paid little attention to the claims of Jesus.

At first glance, one might get the impression that Jesus' miraculous power was utterly dependent upon peoples' faith in order for it to work. That is not the meaning of this verse, however. It is not that Jesus was unable or incapacitated in performing a miracle in Nazareth. (Remember -- Jesus is the sovereign Creator of the entire universe according to John 1:3, Hebrews 1:2, and Colossians 1:16). Rather, Jesus "could not" do miracles there in the sense that He WOULD NOT do so in view of the pervasive unbelief in that city.

Miracles serve a far greater purpose, from the divine perspective, than just providing a raw display of power. Indeed, Jesus' miraculous deeds are often called "signs" in the New Testament because they serve to signify His identity as the Messiah. Since the people of Nazareth had already made up their minds against Jesus, and had provided more than ample evidence of their lack of faith in Him, Jesus chose not to engage in miraculous acts there except for a few healings of sick people. He refused to bestow miraculous deeds on a city that had rejected the miraculous Messiah. Unbelief excluded the people of Nazareth from the dynamic disclosure of God's grace that others had experienced.

Because of Nazareth's rejection of the person and message of Jesus Christ, He went on to other cities that did respond to and receive Him. We have no evidence that Jesus ever again returned to Nazareth.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Dedication of Conover Station

On Monday, October 24, I went to Conover to check out the Dedication Ceremony of the Conover Station. The following Youtube Audio presentation of the speech of Conover's Mayor Lee Moritz Jr. The people of Conover were beaming from ear-to-ear, as well they should be. They have taken a building that was probably headed towards being demolished and turned it into infrastructure that will represent the forefront of a new Economic Paradigm.

Conover City Manager Donald Duncan gave a presentation to the Future Economy Council of Catawba County in September of 2010 and I wrote about it in the article entitled A Conversation about Conover Station and Economic Development.What we see are a lot of aspects of the paradigm of Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle incorporated into the infrastructure, architecture, and character of this project. What is most impressive is that Donald Duncan has never addressed regulations in a manner of why the City of Conover can't do things. He talks about how they handled Regulations in dealing with the Federal and State Governments and obtained grants to help fund this project. This Can Do, Will Do mindset is refreshing in a World where government authorities are constantly telling us why things can't be done and won't be done.

Conover has done all of this in an economic slowdown. I watched other Media Outlet's, in my opinion,  negatively spin this development, because they can't see the future. "It will be a long time until passenger trains ever stop in Conover, 'If Ever.'" Well preparation is necessary and Conover is preparing for the future, which should be lauded and is much more than one can say for most of the communities in our region.

I believe rail is going to happen and I don't think it is as far off as the Blind who mislead the Blind would have you think. It won't be tomorrow, but we are getting closer and there is something in many of us that desire the days of rail and riding the train. But, this isn't just about trains. This is a multi-modal transportation center where buses will stop also. This is in the heart of downtown Conover, so it will help with Economic Commerce. Read the article that is linked above and you won't be blind anymore. You will get the gist of Conover's vision.

I am sorry that I forgot to take a picture of the outside of the building, but the slideshow of the audio shows the beautiful "modern rustic" interior of the building.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Commentary on Local School Board Elections -- Silence DoGood

Recently, a question and answer session was engaged in between our venerable local newspaper, Hickory Daily Record and candidates for the Hickory City and Newton Conover school boards. I focused on the candidates for Hickory and found them to be intriguing, to say the least.

For those who may not read the article, responses were solicited by the HDR to three questions. “(1) Why did you file for election? (2) Area school systems saved some stimulus money for this school year, but it must be used by the end of the 2011-12 school year. With a tight State budget and no stimulus money, how will you keep teachers and technology in the schools next year? (3) Is there anything in the system that needs to be changed or improve?” Not bad as far as questions go. Basically what is it that motivated you to run. All that federal money will dry up at the end of this term, what and how are you going to try and keep things running without cuts in delivery and ability, and what do you think that needs to improve or be changed. The responses are a critical reader’s delight and hence, the impetus for this piece.

The candidate at large and the candidate in Ward 4 are running unopposed, so the seat in contention is in Ward 6 between 4 candidates. Of the 4, it seems one was not too interested in responding to the questions. So here I go, in no particular order, analyzing the candidates.

Accordingly, Brandon Lee is obviously too busy to answer or has nothing to say. Either way, I would think that if you ask someone something 7 times and that doesn’t elicit a response, and that person is a candidate for public office, I’d say they aren’t too interested in people knowing where they stand, what they think, or what they want to do if elected to that office.

Next up is Larry Herman. He seems like a very frank and forthright person. I have no clue why he’s running for the school board. The overview of what Larry said is, the system works, nothing is broke, we’ve got money, we don’t need their stimulus money, we’ll survive. Laissez-faire governance and maintenance of the status quo for the K-12 generation, that seems to be what Mr. Herman is about, reading his responses to the questions. Now, if that isn’t a fair summation, that’s fine, but it is merely reflective of what he has written and submitted.

Talking about the budget, Larry thinks the budget is “nicely managed” and the financial department “always gets an award.” That’s all fine and good, but how, precisely are you going to deal with the loss of those funds? How are you going to vote when it comes time to make tough choices on what the schools really need or what you think they need. Nah, Larry seems like an okay guy, champion of education he just doesn’t seem to be. Nor does he seem to be willing to look at new ways, concepts, or processes that can maintain, or dare I say, improve the quality of education currently being offered.

Amy Monroe is up next in examination. She should certainly have time to devote to the endeavor of serving on the school board since she has no occupation. However there is nothing wrong with being a stay at home Mom, if that were the case. But Amy chooses to engage herself via the PTA and parental activism in things education. Which makes me wonder how willing she would be to serve if she did not have a vested interest in her own children in said school system. Self-interest is not a viable reason for coming into the realm of public service. Volunteering and tutoring are laudable attributes and pursuits. However, do those things provide the requisite exposure and experience to govern as Amy claims or merely allow one to share their own knowledge with others to fill a niche or void? I’m thinking it’s the later. Amy has a very Rainbow Brite perspective of what is currently and soon will transpire within the school system. The problem is, there is no pot of gold at the end as the storm clouds thicken. The rest of her response is generalized candidate boilerplate. Waffle, dodge, hedge, and give non-specific answers.

Finally Rebecca Inglefield. It is my opinion that she is perhaps the most qualified professionally and probably has the most commitment to the office. However, I do not think that one of the biggest challenges facing the school system is bullying. It is a problem, not the problem. Insofar as the community stepping up and supporting, I think they are supporting, to the extent that they are able to support. With current economic conditions being what they are, the elastic on that strap is at the breaking point. But Rebecca knows and states that for education to succeed, there must be a solid foundational basis and that has to be provided early on. Reading is the fundamental attribute to everything else. Math, science, art, poetry, or English is absolutely worthless and meaningless without the ability to read. That foundation is the basis upon which everything else is constructed. She understands and states precisely that. Therein, in all likelihood, lies the problem with Rebecca being elected; she makes sense and knows what she’s talking about and talks about the kids, not herself or how great the board is, was, or will continue to be.

Am I seeking to use this forum to endorse or recommend one candidate over the other? No actually, I’m not. I’m merely reading critically what’s written in response to the question posed. Read the question, read the answer or response, see how well it’s being answered. See if it answers the question to an acceptable level, if the answer makes sense, and finally if the answer comports to the notion of where and how the reader thinks the schools should be going.

The reason for this is to heighten awareness to and for education. Now, there are those among us who think that education is perhaps overrated, they made their way in the world without a formal education and they got along just fine. In a less complicated, less technologically advanced existence that was probably true. You could eek out a living and if you were incredibly lucky, even enjoy a modicum of success without benefit of an extensive formal education.

But that doesn’t mean that those folks were un-educated either or stupid. In days gone by, the basics, reading, writing, arithmetic, and science were the backbone to education. The keystone to everything is, of course, reading. Today, the ability of those graduating high school and even college to read on an adequate level is dismal. We have gone from being able to entertain ourselves with our minds to mindless entertainment. We have lost our ability to imagine our world, but simply exist in a world not of our creation. Folks, there is nothing wrong with daydreaming that I have ever found. The ability to imagine and see things not as they are, but how they could be. What is wrong with exercising our minds in the same manner as our bodies?

It takes a formal and technologically structured education with a solid foundational basis in science and math, a command of the language, along with the ability to understand the words as opposed to just looking at a bunch letters strung together in a particular order to succeed, or even get a start in that direction.

This is what’s at stake with this election. Who you elect and put on the school board will have a direct effect on the future. Not just your future, the future of society and this region, since graduates don’t just stay inside Hickory municipal limits. With education all things are possible. At the moment, we are sitting in between the past and the future in what we call the present. What is to become of the future without a solid foundational basis in education and the basic building blocks?

The foundational nexus upon which all other things are built is the imperative for a viable person, region, and economy. Some would contend it’s about less or more regulation, or fewer fees and taxes, or more fees and different taxes, or a host of other things. Rational people do rational things however and while it might not take a formal education to accomplish that or realize it, it does take a formal education to make it happen.

The investment is in the kids who will be our future. You want to make that as complete and comprehensive as possible. The alternative, of course, is going backwards. Of course, no one ever said that evolving means forward progression. It simply means changing. How are we preparing to change and who will guide it to give your children the most opportunity?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Newsletter about the City Council meeting of October 18, 2011

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 right of this page under Main Information links is an Hickory's City Website link. If you click on that link, it takes you to our city’s website, at the left of the page you will see the Agenda's and Minutes link you need to click. This will give you a choice of PDF files to upcoming and previous meetings.

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 10/18/2011 meeting. There were a couple of important items that were discussed at this meeting and the details are listed further below:

Please remember that pressing Ctrl and + will magnify the text and page and pressing Ctrl and - will make the text and page smaller. This will help the readability for those with smaller screens and/or eye difficulties. 

Invocation by Rev. Cindy Jordan, Community Clergy Member

Special Presentation:
A. Recognition of Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Donna Andrews In September, 2011, the North Carolina Recreation and Park Association (NCRPA) bestowed upon Donna its second highest honor, The Meritorious Service Award. - Mac McLeod presentation… Mac stated that he was putting on his hat as the President of the North Carolina Recreation Park Association for 2011. Back in September at their conference Donna Andrews was bestowed with the second highest meritorious service award. During 32 years of service, Ms. Andrews has touched and impacted the lives of thousands of children and adults. She has spent her entire time with one department and started out as Recreation Center Supervisor and now serves as the Assistant Parks and recreation Supervisor. She is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the entire department. She is responsible for the creation of programs such as Girl’s Soccer, Girl’s Volleyball, Track, Lacrosse, Wrestling, Fall Baseball, Adult Soccer, Adult Dodgeball, Adult Co-Ed Kickball, and Adult Co-ed Volleyball. As a member of NCRPA, she has served as the Region 8 Chair and hosted the annual conference in our hometown bringing in Kay Yow as the keynote speaker. She is a member of the Asheboro High School Sport’s Hall of Fame and a 1977 graduate of NC State’s Parks and Recreation program. She played Volleyball and Basketball at NC State under Kay Yow. She was the first Female athlete at NC State to receive an Athletic Scholarship.

The Hound thinks it is awesome that we have public servants such as this representing the City of Hickory.. I believe that we have plenty of people like this working for the City of Hickory and I hope that my critical opinions on some matters do not convey that I don't understand the Human Resources that represent the City.

B. Presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 2011 - Paula Hodges of Martin-Starnes and Associates (MSA) first came to the podium for the presentation. She stated that the audit opinion of Martin-Starnes is an "Unqualified Opinion" and that is what is expected from the local Government commission. There were no exceptions in this report to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). There were no findings in internal controls and there were no questions Where MSA did not agree with the City’s financial statements. This clean opinion tests the internal controls in compliance as in relates to compliance with State and Federal program funding.

Ms. Hodges stated that stated that there were no areas of non-compliance as it relates to Federal and State Grant Funding. This year Hickory has implemented a new reporting standard called the Fund Balance Standard. This new standard has changed some terminology and also the way that some of the funds are presented.

Deanna Rios, Hickory’s finance director, next came to the podium. This report is based on activities "government wide." The City of Hickory has received an award for its accounting management practices for the past 15 years. The Basic Financial Statements report Government Wide Financials; Governmental activities include transportation, public safety, and recreation which rely mostly on taxes. Business activities include water, sewer, and sanitation which rely on fees and charges. The Basic Financials shows Net assets reported were $201 million, which is up (a little over) $5.3 million over the last year. Unreserved Fund Balance increased by $750,000 from 2010, which is better than last year’s $600,000 deficit. Ms. Rios stated that we are holding steady in light of this economy, which is a positive. Assets exceeded liabilities by $201.3 million or $5,033 per citizen, governmental fund balances are adequate, but not excessive, the city has $5.45 of current assets for each dollar of current liabilities. The City has $4.73 of total assets for every dollar of total liabilities. Ms. Rios praised city staff for helping in this process.

Alderman Lail stated that he, Mayor Wright and Alderman Guess along with staff met with the auditors and asked questions and met privately with the audit firm to ask specific questions outside of the influence of the city staff about how the audit went. They were very pleased with the results and not surprised. Alderman Lail and Mayor Wright praised the staff at all levels.

The Hound thinks the Finance Department should be commended for its care in making sure that the city's ledgers are kept above board. Ms. Rios once again presented a cut and dried realistic picture. She stated that the numbers show that we are better off than we were a year ago, because money was put in the bank. The City is in a solid financial position even in a time of flat tax revenues. I continue to personally push to see the City take some risks to create growth. One needs to separate Accounting from Finance. We need to see some investments that will create cash flow towards new revenues.

The City will have to continue to be creative and thrifty with its finances over the next several years. Manager Berry even spoke about the issue of costs being cut about as much as they can be cut. Alderman Lail made a statement during the Warren Wood' Quarterly Financial report that some services might have to be cut back. The Chickens that I have spoken of are coming home to roost and we are starting to see the City coming around to the fact that the cutting days are over. We're going to have to start growing.

Consent Agenda:
A. Landscape Grant for Non-Residential Property Owned by Mayberry Partners, LLC Located at 910-950 Tate Boulevard SE in the Amount of $2,500.00 - The property located at 910-950 Tate Boulevard SE is owned by Mayberry Partners, LLC, and it is their desire to improve the visual appearance of the property by removing the existing landscaping materials and replacing them with new materials. This also includes the creation of new planting areas along Tate Boulevard SE. The applicant provided two bids in the amounts of $11,258.00 and $12,368.00. Since both the estimates are in excess of $5,000.00, the request qualifies for the full $2,500.00 grant. October 18, 2011 On September 27, 2011, the Community Appearance Commission unanimously voted to
recommend funding in the amount of $2,500.00.

B. Transfer of Cemetery Deed from Jeannie Poovey Jandrew and husband, David Jandrew to David Meriwether and wife, Roseann Meriwether in Oakwood Cemetery

C. Recommended Attendance Policy for Business Development Committee - In 2010, City Council appointed a Business Development Committee (BDC) consisting of seven (7) members representing business and economic sectors of the City of Hickory population. The guidelines state how members will be appointed with terms on an even and odd year schedule, but no attendance policy was initiated. At its October 5, 2011 meeting, the Business Development Committee unanimously approved an attendance policy which simply states: “Should a member miss 3 consecutive meetings, Hickory City Council will appoint another member to take the place of absent member.” The BDC and Staff recommend acceptance of the attendance policy as presented.

D. Citizens’ Advisory Committee Recommendations for Assistance Through the City of Hickory’s Housing Programs
The following requests were considered by the Citizens’ Advisory Committee at their regular meeting on October 6, 2011:
Natalia Villanueva was approved for recommendation to City Council for first-time homebuyer’s assistance to purchase a house located at 706 13th Street SE, Hickory. She had requested $6,500 for assistance with down payment and closing costs. The First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan is zero interest, no payments and repaid upon sale, refinance or payoff of first mortgage.
Betty Phillips was approved for recommendation to City Council for first-time homebuyer’s assistance to purchase a house located at 350 8th Avenue Drive SW,
Hickory. She had requested $6,500 for assistance with down payment and closing costs. The First-Time Homebuyers Assistance Loan is zero interest, no payments and repaid upon sale, refinance or payoff of first mortgage.
Kenneth & Carole McEahern, 1823 1st Street NE, Hickory, was awarded a City of Hickory’s Housing Rehabilitation Loan. The Citizens’ Advisory Committee
recommends approval for assistance not to exceed $10,000.00 for repairs to her home. Assistance would be in the form of a 3% interest loan for a 10 year period.

Each of the following applicants is being recommended for approval for assistance under the City of Hickory’s 2010 Urgent Repair Program. This program provides qualified low income citizens with assistance for emergency-related repairs not to exceed $5,000.
Lillie Carroll, 1661 B Avenue SE, Hickory, The Citizens’ Advisory Committee considered these requests at their October 6, 2011

E. Application for the Use of Union Square by Hickory Downtown Development Association for “A Hickory Holiday!” Event to be held on Thursday, December 8, 2011 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

F. Application for the Use of Union Square by City of Hickory for the “Christmas Tree Lighting in Downtown Hickory” Event on Friday, November 18, 2011 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

G. Budget Ordinance Amendments
1. To appropriate $90,652 of Water and Sewer Capital Reserve to the Water Plant Maintenance and Repair of Buildings line item. This appropriation is necessary to pay Utility Service Company, Inc. for full maintenance of the F Avenue Water Storage Tank. The contract maintenance includes visual inspections, physical testing for coating and structural integrity, tank interior cleaning and disinfection and interior/exterior painting. In addition Utility Service Company, Inc. also performs mechanical repair to lights and indicators as necessary.

New Business - Public Hearings
1. Amendment to Hickory City Code, Chapter 2, Section 2-1, Regarding Residence Requirements for Firefighters, Police Officers and Department Heads - Staff requests amendment of Chapter 2, Section 2-1 of the Hickory City Code regarding residency requirements for City of Hickory police officers and firefighters for the purpose of simplification and to update outdated terminology. The section referring to department heads was added in the 1990’s and does not require any changes. In order to simplify and add certainty to the residency requirement, the City Manager’s Office recommends that the residency requirement for police officers and firefighters be changed from “within 30 minutes commuting distance” to “within 30 miles commuting distance.” It is also recommended that the word, “should”, be changed to “shall” in this section of the Code in order to remove any doubt about the requirement. Finally, Staff recommends deleting the reference to being “connected to the City telephone exchange” in this section of the Code as this is outdated terminology. After this minor change, close to 100% of the City’s public safety employees will be in compliance with the new “30 mile commuting distance” requirement. Those few employees who will not be in compliance will be grandfathered. All public safety employees who are currently in compliance will be required to stay in compliance, and all public safety employees who are hired in the future will be required to be in compliance and remain in compliance as well. This public hearing was advertised in a newspaper having general circulation in the Hickory area on October 6, 2011.

New Business - Departmental Reports
1. Branding and Marketing Update -  The Business Development Committee (BDC) selected North Star Destination Strategies to develop a comprehensive branding and marketing campaign for the City. North Star identified “Hickory. Life. Well Crafted.” as the brand concept and strap line. The BDC and Staff have developed an initial implementation plan for Council consideration and input -

Alan Jackson the Chairman of the Business Development Committee addressed the implementation of the Branding Marketing Process. He stated that this was a continuation of the workshop that was held on September 1. He stated that a refined Logo and a slogan doesn’t do anything for us. This is all about the process of Branding and who we roll it out to. Everyone has been working on developing plans, programs, and projects and taking the brand that Northstar helped develop and helping lead to business development.

This is a one to two year plan…. We can’t pull the trigger on every project and idea, but some are more important than others.

Hickory Marketing and Economic Development Engine: The first goal is to appoint a Brand Manager. This person is responsible for the “Hickory, NC Life Well Crafted” branding and marketing initiative. This is to be done by the second quarter of 2011-12 and the responsible party is City management.

The next goal is to identify consumer “touch points” and brand them. How anyone comes into contact with Hickory. This will be done through social media, e-newsletters, telephone greeting employee identification, the regional webportal, publications, and any place where the city interacts with internal and external customers. This should be done in the next nine months ( the fourth quarter 2011-12/June 2012). The responsible parties are the Brand Manager, City Staff, the Business Development Committee, and Community Partners.

Then develop a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) and hire a firm to assist with creativity of the brand for not only the city, but community and private partners. The firm will be respoinsible for decveloping ads, ad placements, designs of new products, and materials for the brand. This should be done by the fourth quarter of 2011-12. The responsible parties will be the Business Development Committee and Hickory City Council.

Then develop a presentation to infiltrate “Hickory, NC Life Well Crafted” within the community and beyond. Create a program to present to area leaders, the community, and to educational institutions, civic, non-profit, and private organizations. Then form a “Life Well Crafted” Team, which will be a team made up of the City of Hickory. Tourism Development Authority (TDA), Catawba County, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), the Chamber of Commerce, and other partners promoting the brand. This will also be completed by the fourth quarter of 2011-12. Then purchase promotional items to help with spreading “Hickory, NC Life Well Crafted” message. In addition, work in tandem with the TDA, EDC, and other partners on promotional items. The responsible parties will be the Brand Manager and the community partners. The Brand Manager will Implement a graphic identity by developing templates for stationery, envelopes, media releases, business cards, fax cover sheets, e-mail signature, memorandum, forms, and other documents that represent the City of Hickory. The Brand Manager and the BDC will meet with stakeholders that were interviewed at the beginning of the branding project as well as share with Neighborhood College Graduates and city advisory boards.

City management, the Brand manager, Public Services, and the NCDOT will utilize the Wayfinding Project as part of this mission by placing the “Well Crafted” brand on the Wayfinding signs. The Brand will be placed on City Vehicles, sidewalks, water towers, city facilities, and banners throughout the city. The City will evaluate current events (races, walks, cycling, arts, concerts) and festivals and incorporate brand application where it is applicable and investigate new events to showcase the Brand. The City will develop programs throughout the community to promote the Brand. The Brand will be blended with ongoing advisory board programs and projects such as working with the Public Art Commission on the bench project and the Community Appearance Commission with beautification awards.

Alan spoke about the visibility and consistency of how Hickory is perceived by visitors or people looking on the internet throughout the world. The mission is that the Community will control the message of what they want projected. The Business Development Commission in this presentation is looking for approval of the City Council, a revenue source, and to develop a budget to present to City Council by November 15.

Manager Berry talked about the budget, funding, and costs related to this program. The revenue component is from resources that are already generated. He announced Mandy Pitts as the Brand manager. He stated that going through this process that they all knew that mandy was the right person. He talked about the hiring freeze that he called a selective hiring freeze and stated that there were a number of vacant positions that are fully funded, but not currently filled. They are taking one of those and are in the process of recrafting that position into a new position that will take over many of Mandy's current duties.

The Hound thinks what Alan said at the start is the most important statement he made. "He stated that a refined Logo and a slogan doesn’t do anything for us." Remember The All-American City Campaign? It was all about the slogan and the logo and the banners. Remember when I stood up about that and I was shouted down by some, because they said it would attract businesses to the area and create jobs. Remember those days when unemployment was 7%.

We don't have any more time or resources to commit to cutesy. We can't afford any more "Google Holler" type mistakes. We have this brand about "Life.. Well Crafted." Some people aren't going to get that, but it is about the craftsmanship in the area. That wasn't about Image. It was something that was ingrained in the people who created furniture, textiles, and other manufactured commodities in this community. The woodwork, the upholstering, the art of furniture and fabric and the attention to detail that was woven throughout this community. We once were committed to Excellence. Somewhere along the way we lost some of that edge and the overarching emphasis became a goal towards cutting costs, cutting corners, and maximizing profits at the expense of quality.. That's the reason why local furniture producers thought they could offshore their manufacturing capacity to China. Where has that gotten us?

I think Mandy Pitts is a great Public Relations representative, but even though some will get angry with me for asking a question, Were there any thoughts given to putting this Brand Manager position out for public view and inquiry to ascertain if anyone else had any ideas that might be innovative and worthy of consideration within the capacity of this Job Description. I mean a Job Interview process is not a bad thing is it? And with public positions isn't there supposed to be a process of "Public Notice?" Can the City just create and fill a position without a hiring process?

These are my concerns, but I do think Alan is a bright person and he has conveyed to me lately his desire to see action. I'm all in with that and I think that is the right attitude to have and that he is a very good facilitator, delegator, and coordinator from my experiences in observing him. In the end this effort has to be about improving the local business climate and growing jobs. If this thing is to work, it will have to move forward eventually of its own volition fairly soon. Artificial contrivances and fluff will just move on to more artificial contrivances and fluff. Words have to mean more than words. You have to feel them. Are the sum of these words greater than the words themselves. Here's to a professional directing this "Branding" effort into something meaningful.

2. Quarterly Financial Report - Warren Wood delivered this presentation. This is a report on the first three months of the fiscal year. For the first quarter, the City is .6% below budgeted revenues compared to the 5-year trend (19.8% vs 20.4%). Warren stated that given the current economic conditions that is a good number.

Expenses in the General fund are slightly above the 5-year average (26.25% vs 25.25%). Warren stated that we are a percent higher, but we still have our selected hiring freeze in effect and will start making ground up on that. The bottom line for the General Fund is that the city, when looking at the 5 year average in revenues over expenditures, The city has spent $1.27 million more than collected and it should be $722,000. One key thing to look at is how money is distributed from the State from Power Bill Money to maintain roads. These is a cash flow issue. Warren states that without this being the case the numbers would have looked better.
Looking at the water-sewer fund, which makes up 25% of the budget, he stated the numbers are running ahead of the 5 year average as far as revenues go (20.34% vs 20.26%). Expenditures are running ahead of where it should be (32.9% vs 26.2%). Finance has moved monies ahead into capital reserve faster than they normally would have at this point of the year, however, when that extra money is taken out the numbers line up the way that they should. He stated that the city has spent $1.3 million more than it has collected so far in the Water-Sewer fund. The 5-year average should have been $750,000 more than collected.

Warren once again went into the Building Permit issue and stated that there have only been 3 building permits issued so far this fiscal year. (The Hound: I’m not going to reiterate this information. You can Google “Warren Wood” +”Hickory Hound” + City of Hickory +quarterly financial report and see how this issue has not improved over the three years that I have been reporting this information). The most concerning issue is the lack of construction activity.

This quarter we saw 8 Residential Construction Permits granted. Alderman Meisner asked if this was units and warren answered yes and this includes the ETJ. Overall there have been 131 permits issued in Hickory and its ETJ. The value of those permits is less that $11 million, which does not bode well for future Tax growth. We have been seeing a 1 to 2% increase in growth related to new construction, but we may not see that this year.

Switching Gears, the City’s fund balance declined by $600,000 in 2009-10. This year it increased by $750,000. What was lost last year has been recouped. The city has a cushion with the fund balance. The City looks to have a fund balance goal that is 25% of its operating budget. The current balance is 27% of the operating budget. This has been accomplished by discipline and focus on control of expenditures. Revenues have not exceeded budget. We have not had financial problems. We have had budget difficulties and they will continue over the next couple of years. Cash Flow has not been an issue, because difficult budget decisions have been made. It is going to be difficult to expand services without recurring/expanding revenues. Alderman Lail interjected that at some point in time it will be difficult to continue the current level of services. Warren stated that that is where strategic investment and economic development opportunities are going to be important.

New Economic Development Opportunities are going to depend on spending cash reserves versus adding to the operating budget. Sometimes that is difficult for people to understand, when you are cutting staff and having a hiring freeze. The operating budget is sitting over on its own and the capital reserves are used for strategic investments.

Some of the opportunities include the airport, Multijurisdictional Business Parks, Redevelopment of Abandoned/Vacant Buildings, and development of City Owned Properties. This ties back into building and permitting.

The Hound thinks that Warren's presentation meshed perfectly with the presentation of the Comprehensive Annual Budget Report. In my opinion, the most honest assessment of the year is going to come during the first couple of quarters, because as the year rolls along, the City staff is going to have to start looking for more reason to justify the Mission of City Management.

City Manager Berry and Alderman Lail made statements of admission that conveyed a sense of anxiety. Manager Berry spoke about the need to find tax base revenue streams and Alderman Lail spoke to the possibility of the City possibly needing to cut back services. Asst City Manager Wood spoke to the issue of the lack of city building permits, which keeps tax revenues stagnant.

I have spoken about the problems associated with the airport. Warren spoke to possible opportunities at the airport. I think there is a lot more work to be done to realize these opportunities than many people with the City Government understand. There have been associations that have been squandered and there are plenty of bridges that have been burned. There are a lot of fences that will have to be mended and that is going to take years of hard work and accountability. That goes for a lot of the business climate with relation to the way that things have been administered. There is going to have to be an attitude of "How can we help you," when it comes to the business climate in Hickory. And some of that Unreserved Fund balance is going to have to be used to move some of these issues forward. Good to see that City Management is coming around to that realization.

One last word is to say that I think Warren Wood and the Finance department are doing an excellent job with the cards they have been dealt. It is not up to them to shape the mission. I have seen what is happening in Conover and what is starting to happen in Newton. There is a new culture forming in Catawba County and it relates to Action. Action means Risk. That doesn't mean we need to become gunslingers, but we definitely need to assume some risks. I also think that Hickory needs to coordinate with the communities around it. The worst investments that can be made are to be late to the dance and start creating redundant infrastructure. That isn't about bureaucratic structure. It is about openness, communication, and coordination. Can Hickory do that? I don't know.

Citizens requesting to be Heard -
Reverend Cliff Moone addresses the Mayor about City Politics at City Council

Hound Note -
This took a long time to get out, because it is chock full of information that will have a lasting impact on this community for some time to come. I spent at least 16 hours putting this together over the last week, so that I could convey it to you as logically as possible. I do this while committed to full time employment and personal obligations at the same time that I am feeling a bit run down. So please use this information and get involved in the process of our governance. Don't feel that you don't count, because you can be a difference maker. Thank you and God Bless. Peace To You.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Economic Stories of Relevance in Today's World -- October 23, 2011

NC Lawmaker Gets Big Pay while Loaning Friends Federal Money - NC Policy Watch Investigates - Sarah Ovaska - August 3, 2011 - As N.C. Rep. Stephen LaRoque tells it on the campaign trail, both state and federal government are too big, wasteful of taxpayers’ money and in the way of private business. Government can’t be all things to all people,” said LaRoque, a conservative Republican from Kinston, in a televised debate before his 2010 re-election. “We need more self-reliance and accountability.” But LaRoque, who returned in January to the N.C. General Assembly after a four-year hiatus, takes aim at government waste while quietly accepting generous six-figure paychecks for running two public charities funded with $8 million in federal dollars since 1997. He’s earned up to $195,000 a year heading the two small economic development organizations—the East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company—and used the non-profits to loan some of the public funds to his close associates and political allies. Past board members say they were kept in the dark about his pay...... USDA RECORDS also show LaRoque also used his non-profit to lend helping hands to fellow GOP legislators and the law firm he uses for political spats. (Pages 6-7) State Sen. Debbie Clary and state Rep. Mark Hilton, both received loans from LaRoque’s Piedmont Development Company of over $100,000 to help their private businesses, according to USDA records. The loans were two of just a handful approved at Piedmont Development Company, the non-profit he set up in 2003 to serve the western part of the state.The non-profit hasn’t made any loans in recent years, and risks losing some of its federal money because of inactivity, according to a letter USDA staff sent to the non-profit...... Hilton received a $150,000 loan in 2007 for “Hilton Ventures,” a rental property management company he owns along with his wife, brother and sister-in-law in Conover, according to USDA and N.C. Secretary of State records. Hilton was in the legislature at the time, but LaRoque was not. Attempts to reach Clary were unsuccessful, and Hilton did not respond to phone and email requests seeking comment.

The Hound: Let's here about Mark Hilton's stand on BIG GUB MINT when he is receiving at least a $100,000 low interest loan to help their personal "BIDNESS." This maney was earmarked for use of USDA projects. Let Mr. Hilton explain to us where his farm is and why he would use the Federal Tax dollars he constantly rails against.

USDA documents listing loan amount to Susan LaRoque’s former carpet business, State Sen. Debbie Clary, State Rep. Mark Hilton, Diener Law Firm, and board member Ricky Lanier’s Global Construction business:

$1 million gift to help spur next generation of North Carolina entrepreneurs - ASU News - October 22, 2011 - Appalachian State University has announced the naming of the new Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship in its Walker College of Business. The center will expand resources and tools, so that emerging entrepreneurs can develop the skills they need to start their own businesses and drive the economy. Top state leaders, including N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue, say entrepreneurship is a crucial economic development tool for sustained growth. “Entrepreneurship will continue to play an important role in job creation in North Carolina,” Perdue said. “Nurturing budding entrepreneurs with support through programs and activities, such as those that will be provided students through the Transportation Insight Center for Entrepreneurship at Appalachian, will help ensure a prosperous future in our state.” With a desire to mentor and foster entrepreneurial spirit, Transportation Insight, hopes the new center will enhance Appalachian’s reputation as a premier institution for entrepreneurship. Transportation Insight has been nationally recognized by Inc. Magazine for its entrepreneurial excellence. Referring to the logistics industry as one of the country’s main economic engines, Inc. Magazine has ranked the Hickory-based third-party logistics provider as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States for the last four years in a row. Founded in 1998, Transportation Insight is among an elite group of Inc. 5000 companies experiencing significant and continuous expansion in years 10 and beyond of doing business. That positive trend reflects the company’s entrepreneurial commitment to quality continuous improvement, the creation of long-term business value and the development of sustained competitive advantage for its clients.

Shareholders Say 'Bye, Bye' To Bank Of Granite
- WFAE News - Julie Rose - October 18, 2011 - Shareholders of one of North Carolina's oldest and most well-respected community banks met for the last time Tuesday and approved a merger they hope will save the bank from collapse. Granite Falls-based Bank of Granite is 105 years old. It's on the verge of being acquired by the parent company of another long-time North Carolina bank: CommunityONE. Early next year, the "Bank of Granite" name will disappear from its branches if the merger is approved. Many of the people who've invested in Bank of Granite over the years are the same people who've deposited their money with the bank and played on the community sports leagues it sponsored over the decades...... He invested in 1985 - during Bank of Granite's heyday. Each dividend he collected from the stock went toward buying more. "At that time it was touted to be one of the best run banks in the country," says Patterson, referring to a praise for Bank of Granite from legendary investor Warren Buffett in the 1990s. But the collapse of the housing market proved too much for Bank of Granite and by 2009 it was under orders from federal regulators to improve its bottom line or risk being taken over. While long-time shareholders now hope to minimize their losses through a merger, new investors see an opportunity. If the merger is approved by CommunityONE's shareholders on Wednesday, it's expected to close by the end of this month. The combined bank will be based in Asheboro. (The Hound: Another major loss for the Hickory Region. We need a local Financial Institution that will look out for local interests.)

Why Peter Schiff and Arthur Laffer Are Wrong about Herman Cain's 9-9-9 Tax Plan - Economic Policy Journal - October 20, 2011 - Bottom line, the part of Cain's proposal that has Schiff most excited, the consumption tax, will ultimately not fall on consumers, but on the incomes of labor and landowners, exactly where Schiff doesn't want it to fall! Schiff should be commended for pointing out that there is a fourth hidden 9% tax in Cain's proposal. But, there is a lot more that is wrong with Cain's plan. It first and foremost, through shell game antics, cuts down the hissing relative to the tax burden. It creates a new pipeline by which taxes can be raised, which Michelle Bachmann has correctly warned can easily lead to tax increases down the road. And, further, approval of elements of the plan (the consumer tax) in the fashion that Schiff gives approval, in addition to being wrong, lead to a grander endorsement of government micro-management of the economy. "Well, we cut this tax and increase that tax and it will really boost the economy." The problem is not the direction from which the taxes come, but the massive amount of government spending that goes on. Yes, Schiff does call for a cut in spending to eliminate the problem of the fourth 9 tax, but this is about micromanagement and fails to discuss the horrors of overall government spending in the economy. Cain's 9-9-9 proposal does nothing to address that. It is designed to stop the hissing. It's understandable why Laffer is for the plan. He is all about stopping the hissing and keeping taxes revenues high. It is much more difficult to understand how Schiff can say anything positive about this Cain move of tricks to con the masses.

Quote from Bob Chapman's International Forecaster - October 22, 2011 - The two-year recession supposedly almost ended 2-1/2 years ago. That is the official position - ask the permanently unemployed who’s job has been shipped to China, whether the so-called recession is over? Since June of 2009 median household income has fallen by 6.7%. That is some recovery, as unemployment rose to 22.6%. Those who
lost jobs and found new ones made 17.5% less in income. Those out of work remained jobless from 16.6 to 24.1 weeks. This year that number was 40.5 weeks, the lowest in 60 years. In addition the real median self-employed income has fallen 12.9%. That condition is prevalent worldwide. Whether governments and their handlers like it or not since February 2009 the US has been in an inflationary depression, which is worsening every day, with no end in sight. (The Hound: The Recession ended for the big wigs at the top of the food chain paid for by the bailouts. Some of them may not realize that the bailouts saved their equity (stock) investments. These are the same people telling you that things aren't so bad. They are in complete denial, because in the end they are seeing the marketplace shrivel, but it hasn't completely affected them. They may have had to cut back on that third vacation or wait to buy that next Mercedes, but they look at that as a reduction from the exuberance of the boom we went through in the late 1990s. The rest of us are scraping by, hanging on, and praying to God that we can continue to make ends meet and not end up out on the street).

Law Bans Cash for Second Hand Transactions - KLFY - Layayette, Louisiana - October 18, 2011 - Cold hard cash. It's good everywhere you go, right? You can use it to pay for anything. But that's not the case here in Louisiana now. It's a law that was passed during this year's busy legislative session. House bill 195 basically says those who buy and sell second hand goods cannot use cash to make those transactions, and it flew so far under the radar most businesses don't even know about it. "We're gonna lose a lot of business," says Danny Guidry, who owns the Pioneer Trading Post in Lafayette. He deals in buying and selling unique second hand items. "We don't want this cash transaction to be taken away from us. It's an everyday transaction," Guidry explains.... Besides non-profit resellers like Goodwill, and garage sales, the language of the bill encompasses stores like the Pioneer Trading Post and flea markets. Lawyer Thad Ackel Jr. feels the passage of this bill begins a slippery slope for economic freedom in the state. "The government is placing a significant restriction on individuals transacting in their own private property," says Ackel. Pawn shops have been forced to keep records of their clients for years. However under this bill they are still allowed to deal in cash.The Hound: It's all about Big Gubment, control, and taxes folks and big business trying to force people to buy from them. They are trying to move us towards a cashless society.

OCCUPY Wall Street: NYC - Real, Informed, Justifiably Angry Americans

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reverend Cliff Moone addresses the Mayor about City Politics at City Council

(Cliff's prepared statement starts one minute into the video)

During last night's City Council session (10/18/2011) the Mayor was called out for business as usual in relation to Personal Politics by Reverend Cliff Moone who approximately 10 months ago submitted an application to serve on the City of Hickory's Community Relations Council. By all right Mr. Moone, as a citizen of Hickory and through his qualifications as a church pastor, is more than qualified to serve in such a post. Mr. Moone first approached Alderman Hank Guess through a mutual connection about his desire to serve on the Community Relations Council and filled out and submitted all necessary and appropriate paper work in accordance with said position. It seemed as though it would be a go. Ald. Guess gave indications that he would be happy to nominate Mr. Moone for the position, but then backed out of support for Mr. Moone to serve in such a capacity, by saying to Mr. Moone that Mayor Wright had another person in mind to serve in said position. There was only one Caucasian position open at that time. Mr. Moone stated that this seemed understandable to him.

However, the position remained unfilled for several more months and Mr. Moone could not get a definitive rationale for the delay from the Mayor, after some time had passed the Mayor did make an appointment, but subsequently more Caucasian positions became available. This caused Mr. Moone to approach his ward representative Alderman Bruce Meisner, who informed him that he could not nominate Mr. Moone, because the Mayor would not approve his appointment. This occurred at the close of a Council meeting this Summer. Mr. Moone turned to Mayor Wright who was standing within five feet of Mr. Moone. Mr. Moone stated that he had said, "in that case the Mayor owes me an explanation of why he thinks I am not qualified to serve." Mayor Wright said, Well, we'll look at it some more."

Several weeks later, Mr. Moone heard from someone, whom he considers a reliable and reasonable source, that he wasn't appointed to the CRC, because he is a trouble maker. As the Mayor did not say this to Mr. Moone personally, he cannot attest to its accuracy. Still, because he has heard from several Council Members, including Council Member Fox, suggest that it is difficult to find citizens will to serve on city's varied committees and boards and it would be obvious that appears to be true or something like that. It struck me as odd that a long time pastor, CVCC instructor, and the first headmaster of the Hickory Christian Academy, as well as the former director of the Sylvan Learning Center should not be qualified or should be considered a "Trouble Maker."

To conclude, I stand here tonight having just received the honor of meeting and speaking with the President of the United States. And having been elected last Spring as the 10th District Democratic Chair, I stand here tonight to remove my name therefore from consideration, if it were ever considered, from serving on the Community Relations Council. In all honesty, I simply do not have the time. And while I would hope to serve the city in some capacity some day, now is clearly not the right time to do so. But, I thank you for a lesson in City Politics.

The Hound wonders if any of you get sick of this stuff.  Yeah, I applauded Cliff's comments at the end of the meeting, because he had the guts to stand up to the bullying. Isn't anyone tired of the bullying? The dynamics of all of this are utterly ridiculous. It is purely petty politics, because the Mayor is upset that Cliff has joined forces with the Citizens for Equity in Government. He is also upset that Cliff brought in the Chairperson of the Catawba County Democrat Party to dress down the Council about their handling of the drawing of the Ward maps.

Folks, I'm going to give you a hint. There is some bombshell information that is going to be dropped in your lap at a time of the choosing of the people who have the information. It is going to change the complete dynamics of your understanding of Hickory politics. That is all I am willing to tell you at this time, because it is not my information to divulge.

Alder Fox was speaking to Mr. Moone after the meeting about this issue and I wasn't going to butt into that conversation. Although I do have disagreements with Mrs. Fox, I honestly believe that she is supportive of people such as Cliff bringing their experience to the table of these Commissions. I then heard Alder Patton asking Cliff why he didn't come to her. Well, as he stated, "You are not my ward representative." 

What I state here is not personal, but I am sure it will be taken that way. While Alder Patton has made some great and valid points during council meetings and has been attentive towards listening to certain groups, I would argue that Alder Patton has not shepherded anything of substance through the council during her tenure. And this would have been no different. I have constantly witnessed her ask people why they (formally) addressed council and didn't bring their concerns to her. The reason why is because she has been ineffective. The least little push back she gets from the Mayor and she settles back into her seat. Effective leadership demands a lot more than reducing speeds through Hickory's arteries to that of a golf cart. Why does she always want everything kept out of public view? What was the true deal behind that Pride Festival?

The same goes for Alderman Guess. The Mayor is not a dictator, and as far as I understand, the position was open for anyone to appoint. It isn't like the Mayor has veto power. The Mayor has one vote. What is up with all of this kowtowing to the Mayor? HE HAS ONE VOTE!!! Hank could have gone ahead and nominated Cliff, but no, "The Mayor told me I couldn't." Hank I was there with you when you ran. You sat and had lunch with me and others at 1859 and told us what you were going to do. WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? 

I like to think that one day I'll be able to participate in the renewal and revitalization of Hickory, but there is no sense of urgency with these people. The Mayor's always looking into everything. What has he looked into that has achieved results? Too much looking. Not enough Doing! They are comfortable in what they are "doing." And I am sure in their close knit group they are in agreement. They certainly agree on everything in Council meetings. 99% of votes are Unanimous Consent or through the Consent Agenda. There seems to be a Unanimous Consent that there will be no debate in Hickory.

I am a Republican. I have a degree in Finance. I love business. I have a passion for economics and the issues thereof. Basically most everything I own I have earned. I am a person deeply rooted in self-reliance, but I also believe in helping others. Cliff is a leader in the Democrat Party. He and I differ on many issues. We don't differ about the desire for the end result when it comes to Hickory. We differ about the process of how we are going to arrive at that result. 

In the end, I don't care about the process. I care about results. Petty people get lost in the minutia of process and then let their egos get in the way. They can't see the forest from the trees. I can have discussions with people and agree to disagree on subject matter dialogue.  I know that this man cares about Hickory, its community and its people. I admire those qualities. Having a person like Cliff not be able to serve a formal role within the city's structure of governance speaks volumes about where this city's problems lie!!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Good Government isn't about the Property Tax Rate Folks!!!

We constantly hear this notion pushed forth by local officials that they have done us a favor by maintaining the Property Tax Rate. Within Catawba County that tax rate will be 53 cents per $100 of property value for the upcoming 2011-12 fiscal year, which is down from the 53.5 cents/$100 this fiscal year. In Hickory, the property tax rate will remain at 50 cents/$100 for the 17th straight year. In Conover, the property tax rate will remain at 40 cents/$100. In Newton, the property tax rate for the upcoming year will remain at 48 cents/$100 valuation.

What I have spoken of before and what my colleagues push forth in trying to bring the public to understanding is that the property tax rate doesn't tell the whole story. Yet, we have local officials that look at that rate as the local third rail of politics, just as we see with discussions about Social Security on the National Level. Local elected officials seem to believe that raising the property tax rate is a death sentence that will render them unelectable and City and County Managers seem to think that an increase in the rate will ultimately cost them their jobs. And on the other end, when they keep the rate at the same level, they seem to be pushing a notion that the maintenance of "The Rate" is the be all, end all of fiscal restraint and prosperity. Look at the City of Hickory where they may as well place it on a flag as a motto, "The City of Hickory has maintained the same Property rate for Umpteen Years."

I know what I am proposing is blasphemy to the Good Ole Boys who run the show around here and their Flock of Seagulls, but if you critically look at the numbers, then you will realize that "The Rate" really needs to be placed in a proper context. Let me ask, When one looks at the specific issue of property taxes and critically thinks about the issues that I have put forth above, then one realizes that the tax rate is the least of our problems. I doubt anyone who has owned a home could say that they aren't paying a lot more property tax now than they were 17 years ago. If "The Rate" is the Holy Sacrament of Taxes, then how could that be? Real Estate values escalated during the Real Estate bubble and the local governmental entities reassessed the value of your home over that time up and up and up and now they are reluctant to deflate those values to truly reflect the current resell level. They are reluctant to do this because so many people are basically financially illiterate and the local governments have fostered and taken advantage of that financial illiteracy through political hyperbole.

Once again let's get back to the bottom line. That's what local officials tell you they are all about. Mayor Wright, here in Hickory, constantly points to the fact that the John Locke Foundation rankings show that Hickory has tumbled to No. 15 in local tax burden ranking, which is seven spots below its No. 8 ranking in 2008, the largest drop of any city in North Carolina's largest population group. The list ranks 34 municipalities with at least 25,000 residents. At the beginning of the millennium, Hickory ranked 3rd in tax burden in 2000 and 2nd in 2001. So it appears that we are headed in the right direction when one looks at the taxes and fees. But, let's look at the cities who were ranked as one through five;; Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Asheville, Mooresville, and Wilmington topped the rankings of combined city and county costs per person. When one looks at the Economic Output and rankings of economic success, those five communities are frequently brought to attention by national studies and publications.

Can you see that those John Locke rankings show just one aspect of the economic dynamics of a community. They show the static cost of government per individual within specific municipalities in the State of North Carolina. This doesn't show the Standard of Living or the Cost of Living of those specific communities. And this definitely does not reflect an individual's Economic Opportunity within those communities either.

You see folks, it isn't all about cutting taxes. It is all about management. The money is not the Government's money. It is the people's money. It needs to be managed in the interests of the people of the community. We have so many local government officials that obsess about the unfunded balance in their communities that they aren't only cutting the fat, they have gotten to the point that they are basically cutting into the bone. Yes, there most definitely needs to be a rainy day fund, but when there is a surplus, then that means that the people of that community are being overtaxed. If there is a surplus, then in my opinion, it is OK to use it towards dynamic investment that can lay a foundation towards the creation of jobs or improving the community's quality of life. Letting that Unfunded Balance sit and rot at 2% interest, while the Nation is facing 10% inflation is not a savvy economic move. It means that that money is losing its value.

The final issue that I would like to summarize is the need to bring integrity back to the property tax system. Yes, local governments need monies to run governmental functions. Yes, we can argue all day long about what that entails,. But, the biggest issue is being square with the citizens. That is where the issue of Revenue Neutrality comes to the picture. We need to see a frank discussion with the public. The public needs to be told that the assessed value of their home is going to be reduced, but the Tax rate is going to rise so that the current level of governmental services can be maintained.

I don't necessarily agree with Catawba County Government's Real Estate Assessments and they are in charge of the assessments utilized by everyone in this County. I believe that they have seen such a drastic reduction in Commercial and Industrial Property viability and value, along with the loss of assessed equipment in those structures, that they have felt forced to maintain the burden on residential property owners. Residential Property values increased by 3%, while Commercial Property values fell by 3% and Industrial property values fell by 5%. The State mandates that revaluations are to be as close to 100% of market value as possible and Catawba County met this criteria. This is factored by a random sample of actual real estate sales that took place during the previous year at what is considered "Fair Market Value." But "Fair Market Value" does not take into account foreclosed properties sold by Banks at cut rate prices. We see a lot of this going on and in the end Residential Property Owners are having to compete with these properties when/if they attempt to sell their home. This honestly needs to be looked at and reevaluated by the NC General Assembly. Leaving the Banks in charge of the Hen House allows these home values to be overvalued.

I do appreciate that the County Manager and the County Commissioners have reduced the property rate to 53 cents to maintain Revenue Neutrality at the same time that they have aimed to make their budget more efficient . We have not seen the same from the local municipalities, who did not lower their tax rate to lower the burden. When we look at the City of Hickory, we also see that they are going to see a surplus in their budget, which will be used to increase the unfunded balance again and there is no stated purpose for what that excess capital is there for. If they aren't going to use the money, then they need to lower the rate.

I can appreciate local budgets being cautious. It is easy to see that the economy is not growing and local governments do not want to chase revenues that could lead to huge losses. But, we are going to have to spend money to make money. The Conover Station and the Eco-Complex are trend setting investments in these hard times that will pay huge dividends when the progression of those investments fall into place. These investments, in my opinion, will flourish under better economic circumstances. These tax revenues are the people's money. The people should be educated on this process and it should always be a transparent process. We should never hide the cost of government by increasing fees or overvaluing assets in an economic downturn. Level with the people and build trust. Don't underestimate their intelligence. In most cases it isn't that the people aren't intelligent enough to understand. It is that the government officials don't want to break the numbers down into terms that the public can understand. Maybe that is because they don't understand them themselves.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Obama, You are not one of us. You are not the 99%!!!

I come home and get on the Internet to check out the news. I go to ESPN to check out football scores and see the results of the Indycar racing finale for the 2011 season. And the cold hard slap in the face is that Dan Wheldon died in a horrific crash 11 laps into the race. Indycar Open Wheel is a perilous sport and I have now seen more than a handful of athletes die racing on the cutting edge.

Then I can't read anymore sports so I go check out the Drudge Report and I am about as sick as I can be. Sometimes I don't think after what I have seen over the last year my heart can go any lower. The front page of the Drudge Report has Czar Obama trying to co-opt the Occupy Movement and turn the class issue in his favor by talking about the 99%. Now, what I say here is going to raise the ire of the World Wrestling Federation Political Junkies, but Obama represents the one-tenth of one percent not the 99 percent.

Look at what Obama has done for the Wall Street Cronies and the Federal Reserve. He reappointed Ben Bernanke after Bernanke's complete mismanagement of the Banking Crisis. The Federal Reserve inflated the Real Estate Bubble through its artificial low interest rates. This hurts people who have retirement accounts, because it lowers what they can make on money market funds. Thus it hurts senior citizens. Then at the same time his Obamacare debacle looks to gut Social Security and Medicare at the same time it enriched the banking cartel's who own the Health Insurance Industry. Do you think the Health Insurance Industry represents the one-percent?

I have seen the lack of care afforded by our healthcare industry in my dealings with it through the health issues that my late grandmother had and my mother is now experiencing. I don't expect perfect care. I expect people to be treated with dignity and not looked at as revenue generators. The corporate medical machine looks at people for money, when they have found a way to exhaust people's money then they are left to fend for themselves. Folks, you better understand that from the get-go, because that is the dynamics of the game. The reason why healthcare costs have spiraled out of control is because of the convoluted system created through the marriage of Corporate Ponzi Insurance, the Corporate Ponzi Medical Industry, and the United States Federal Ponzi Bureaucracy.

Back to our President, look at how he represents himself in this tough economy. He gets to play golf all the time. His biggest face time is picking NCAA brackets and talking about sports. He and his wife are jetsetting everywhere on the public's dime and this is a man who has never held a job in the private sector. He is so far out of touch, he may as well be walking on the moon. He is certainly not the right man for the circumstances we currently find ourselves in. He is twiddling, while this nation's prospects are going up in smoke.

I have seen it all and frankly I've had enough. Everything in this country revolves around paper money and nothing revolves around the substance of empowering people and working to help them build and maintain a good quality of life. We can't build efficiencies into the system, because we have some money hungry jerks trying to screw people and not deliver on service and quality. You see all of these business owners, especially Corporate America including the Governmental Corporatocracy, looking to cut corners and give the minimum amount of service necessary to meet their legal obligation. You see the people at the top looking to deliver big bonuses to themselves at the expense of the consumers who purchase their products, while the viability of the middle class continues to be diminished, because they have offshored the productive capacity of our economy.

And I know you can't blame it all on Obama. Hell, he's just a puppet. In my opinion, he is the weakest President in the history of the United States. We always hear about Hoover, well this is your modern day Hoover. His administration  can't get out of the way of itself, which makes many of us wonder if they are doing this on purpose.

Obama's constant speaking out of both sides of his mouth has to make one wonder about his emotional and mental stability  How can one be that two faced and look at themselves in the mirror. I understand that he is just reading words off of a teleprompter, but let me ask you, who is writing what he reads on the teleprompter? And would you endure representing something you don't believe in? Would you not rebel?

The article from the Financial Times ( Obama extends support for protesters -Financial Times - Shannon Bond - October 16, 2011) states that Obama "offered more support for protesters against the global financial system after a weekend of demonstrations in cities around the world, but called on them not to “demonise” those who worked on Wall Street."

Now you WWE Democrat types looking to buy into what Obama reverbs off of his teleprompter tell me how that is possible. We look at the scandals that have beset this administration like Solyndra (not to mention the Fast and Furious Gun Running Scheme). We look at the Fraudclosure issue involving the MRSA robosigning issue and how government officials want to sweep this under the rug after all of these banks have illegally foreclosed on people after utilizing predatory lending practices, including zero down/ARMs, to put them in houses they couldn't afford. We see how rating's agencies such as Standard and Poor's and Moody's were rating junk assets as AAA for Investment Bank favors, such as Goldman Sachs, and Goldman Sachs is pumping and dumping this stuff on both ends. Hmmm... Now who were 2008 Presidential Candidate Barack Obama's biggest contributors?

We see all of this corruption on Wall Street in conjunction with the Federal Reserve and Government at all levels from this President and administration right down to Congressmen, Senators, Governors, Mayors, City Officials, and the Bureaucracy and no one goes to jail, but we aren't supposed to get upset or "Demonize" anyone.

Why do you think they are speaking out of both sides of their mouths? Because they don't want to be held accountable, because at the least they are incompetent, but more likely they are crooked.

We're going to see some justice. There always comes a time where the darkness of corruption is met head on with the equal and opposite light of justice. The events are never pretty. The people who caused this mess and have benefited from it are going to try to control the outcome. If they were smart, they would plead mea culpa and fork over what they have stolen and try to restore the health of our economic system, but I honestly think their greed far outstrips their intelligence. They are going to continue on speaking out of both sides of their mouths, not doing anything meaningful to restore the system they have corrupted, and trying to buy time. But, time will continue to move along and the economy will continue to worsen, because what we are seeing is not a normal business cycle. It is a breakdown crisis and what has broken the system is fraud and corruption and that must be addressed in order to move our economy and society forward.