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Saturday, September 8, 2012

"No Change!" will not work.

The following points that will be made here are important and I have made them before, but they are important and should not be dismissed. These are points that you really need to think about as we move forward. There are some around here who seem to have a problem with freedom of speech and/or expression.  They do everything they can to shut down anyone and their ideas who don't fit into the template of Hickory's accepted norm.  In the end, my point is that I think this community would be better off if it were to become more accepting of diversity of cultures and ideas, even if I'm not comfortable with what some others do and/or say.

In my opinion, there has been a general acceptance of the status quo that seems to be ingrained in the attitudes of many of the local citizenry.  I went to the Referendum forum the other night and witnessed the people from the "No" side and they certainly fit into a Status Quo - "No Change" mentality.

I was glad that these people spoke so that I could understand where they were coming from. The Mayor and four of six City Council members spoke and their message seemed to be that they haven't made any mistakes, it is citizen's responsibility to call them, they know what is best for the community, they are working hard at a thankless job, how the Yes people were just trying to divide the city and it's just one city... I heard no comprehension of their role as public servants.

Then there were the former City Council members who got up and told us that they were delivering our water, picking up our garbage, making sure the streets operated properly, and it is such a thankless job. They fussed about the current power structure being called a club and talked about how much tax they paid and about how the word Elite being attached to the Power Structure really bothered them, because they didn't know who these elite were. There was no mention of the little sweetheart deals they had been involved in that were tied directly to this power structure.

Then there were all of the people who spoke and informed us that they weren't from Hickory, that they had moved into Hickory, and seemed to have felt it necessary to tell we Yes people that we don't know how good we've got it. We don't know what being poor is. We don't know how good our leadership is. That they didn't know why we should want to change such a wonderful system of such kind and caring souls as we see on the Hickory City Council.

Well, what we saw the other night was the Power Structure in Hickory that we are up against. There was no diversity amongst that group. The people who spoke for the status quo were 60 to 75 years old. They are getting their pensions and they have their businesses, and when they want something the current City Council is right there for them. They take care of their own. They can't see things from another perspective, because they're drunk from the Kool-Aid.

I can understand the "No Change" group. They don't see anything wrong with Hickory City Council, because they are in the club with them. They don't see anything wrong with the Power Structure, because as long as it stays in place they stay in place. It takes care of their needs. Whatever they want, they get... Whatever they don't want, we don't get.

I heard it said again the other night by council members that we are in a good position to succeed and yet the economy here in Hickory has been stagnant for over a decade. When do we start down this path to success? The unemployment rate is over 11%. We have the second highest unemployment rate in North Carolina. Our per capita income rate is the lowest of any metropolitan area in North Carolina. We have the worst education attainment numbers of anywhere in North Carolina.  Our young people have fled and we are replacing them with seniors who are just above the poverty line. And the "No Change" group is telling you that everything is just fine. We are set up for success.

They said it the other night. The problems we have in Hickory are all National and International issues. There has been an acceptance that we can't do better, because of external forces; that the State and Federal Governments hold all of the cards when it comes to our Economic Development and none of our plight is our current local government's fault. I do not accept that conclusion. While I understand that the Federal Government has done us no favors, what I believe is that we can and should do better.

Yes, I understand that we have a City Manager form of local government. Does that absolve the Mayor and City Council in the decision making process, when they are responsible for hiring and oversight of the City Manager? Is the City Manager supposed to be responsible for everything? Folks, you do understand that they always have the ability to fire him or buy out his contract, don't you? So who is really in charge?

And guess who is supposed to bring city issues forward and vote on them? The Mayor and the City Council. It is supposed to work as a partnership, although this Council, for the most part, has abrogated that responsibility. The only thing the City Manager (and staff) is supposed to do is study issues and make recommendations. The City Manager has no vote!!!

The way that Hickory's local city government has worked is that it has provided cover for the Mayor and Council and built layers of bureaucracy that disband processes towards accountability. This puts the Mayor, Council, and City Manager in the position of protecting one anothers' interests and what we have seen, in my opinion, is our City Manager looking to please the Council and our Council waiting for the City Manager to lead the way.

We have stated what we firmly believe when we say Hickory has been directionless for the the last decade. These are revolutionary times we are living in and the Mayor and his friends just don't get It. I think he and his friends have a sense that they are vested in Hickory, but what they see as "Hickory" is the "Old Hickory" -- Textiles, Furniture, Mills, and Factories. Maybe it is a generational issue, but I don't sense that they can envision the new era that this world demands that Hickory move into.

Many of these "Old Hickory" people seem to be scared to death of change. I've told you about the meeting I was at nearly two years ago where the gentleman said Hickory just needed to get back to what it was and tweak around the edges a little. The Mayor at the Republican debate about this Referendum said that he didn't know what this was all about, but next it could be coming to you. And that this was a bunch of Democrats with a handful of Republicans involved. Then the other night with all of the seniors telling us how great everything is and we should be grateful. Where is the humility with these folks? It really hit home that none of them think about legacy and what the future holds for Hickory. All I heard was me, me, me, me, me...

"New Hickory" is represented by people who are struggling to find themselves and their identity in a world that no longer has a road map, while trying to break free from the constraints placed on it by the interests of "Old Hickory." "New Hickory" wants to join in with this new world's technology, and is willing to take more chances and be more creative, but "Old Hickory" is worried about what they construe to be risky ventures.

"New Hickory" has much more at stake in this adventure, because their future (THE FUTURE) is imperiled. What we need to see is the reality of all of Hickory coming together. "New Hickory" seems to be expected to create their own path to the decision making process. "Old Hickory" does not seem to understand that we have to encourage participation and start grooming the future leaders of this city. They seem to be more interested in hanging amongst themselves and the echo chamber of ideas, which leads to "group think."

I think that "Old Hickory" has always been obsessed with issues of Authoritarian Control and the people of this city were accustomed to being told exactly what to do. I remember the old days of hearing all of the whistles going off during the day at Hickory Chair. People were basically trained when to wake up, toilet, shower, shave, arrive, break, lunch, break, go home, and do it all again tomorrow. The "Powers That Be" made all of the decisions and the citizens were basically told not to worry themselves with details. That arrangement worked fine in the days of Bean Counting and Mass Production, but those days have long since passed. Yet, many of our leaders and citizens are systemically attached to those old ways and the nostalgia of the old days. Yet, those good ole days weren't so great for all.

"No Change!" will not work. We have to evolve. It used to be no big deal for teenagers to quit school and go work in a factory, but we have learned over the last decade how important knowledge truly is. But, with knowledge come opinions and that isn't something that the "Powers That Be" in this community seem to be comfortable with. The old mindset was, "If we want your opinion, we'll give it to ya." That mindset is not productive and it stifles creativity. 

I have said it before and I will say it again. We the People are the government and if we don't start demanding results, then we will see none. If we don't expect openness, then we shouldn't cry when the surprise hits the fan. We all have to work together to create hope for the future. The Mayor and Council have tried to intimidate people about this referendum and the changes it would bring. What are they really so afraid of?

Business as usual is a cancer in this community. We're attempting a cure. We have invested a lot of time and energy towards this effort to bring Hickory's government back to all of the people. We have done this so that none of us should have to be burdened with the prospects of a Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda Future.  This is the time to seize this opportunity that we believe can transform Hickory into a Can Do, Shall Do, Will Do Culture.

It is time to move forward by voting YES!!! to more citizen input. YES!!! to more creativity. Yes!!! to effectiveness. Yes!!! to efficiency. Yes!!! to accountability. YES!!! for this referendum.

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