If the phone calls coming into The Messenger’s office are any indication, there is considerable outrage from Mount Airy to Washington, D.C. and NYC about N.C. Granite Corp. losing a $5.5 million contract for work on the 9/11 memorial to an Italian firm.
A spokesperson with the 9/11 Memorial & Museum Committee says that they have no control over a subcontractor’s decision, which is where N.C. Granite submitted its bid. But the folks over at N.C. Granite say they were blindsided by the rejection, being told of the decision in an email.
Officials there say they will lobby for more media exposure on the decision and have already contacted their congressional representatives. In addition to losing the contract to a foreign firm, N.C. Granite now says it will likely have to lay off 40 workers at a time when jobs are hard to come by.

If you have any political ambitions, specifically inside the Mount Airy city limits, this is the time to apply to City Hall to fill Mayor Deborah Cochran’s vacant commissioner’s seat.
Last week, after Teresa Lewis reiterated her interest in the seat, the city council voted to take applications until Thursday at 5 p.m. for the board seat. Lewis told the council that she applied for the job when she ran for mayor. Lewis, who garnered 900 votes in her second-place finish to Cochran, says that she has the necessary business and civic experience for the post.
The council agreed to a motion by Commissioner Dean Brown who put forward the week-long timetable for applications. The board has not yet decided on how they will select a commissioner. Candidates could be asked to field questions or they could be named to the seat by a majority vote.
Other potential applicants include Gene Clark and Paul Eich, who finished third and fourth in the mayor’s race.

The state treasurer is sitting on a pile of cash waiting on North Carolinians, including a bunch from Surry County, to claim it.

By law certain unclaimed accounts and properties are transferred to the state treasurer after a certain period of time, but it’s still available for the rightful owners. Across the state that money and property are worth in excess of $700 million, and more than $1.2 million belongs to Surry County residents and businesses.

The amounts are both large and small, ranging from one of more than $23,000 down to a low of $1.50. The state’s treasurer figures that one in every eight North Carolinians has a claim, and over the past year about $28 million was returned.

Unclaimed property consists of bank accounts, wages, utility deposits, insurance policy proceeds, stocks, bonds, and contents of safe deposit boxes that typically have been abandoned for one to five years. Interest from the funds is used to support scholarship programs at the state’s universities and community colleges.

Usually the holder loses track of the owner because of some mistake in the address, but you’d think some of these entities would be easy to find.

Surry County’s list includes both hospitals, local attorneys and doctors and even a local newspaper and radio station. The Surry County Landfill is owed close to $500.

All told, on Surry’s list are six owed more than $10,000, 17 more than $5,000 and 134 with accounts in excess of $1,000.

There are 6,140 separate accounts on Surry’s list, a copy of which can be seen here.

You can also go online to nccash.com and search out and make claims for abandoned funds from any county in the state.

Take a look. This could be your lucky day.

When it comes to interest in local government, actual power has been trumped by potential influence. The vacant mayor’s post, a position that doesn’t have a vote on any municipal matters (barring ties) but serves as the figurehead for the city, has four candidates. The two expiring council positions, which can directly approve budgets and policies, have just one candidate each.

Even Deborah Cochran, a sitting commissioner not hesitant to vote against spending items, is interested in giving up a regular vote for the mayor’s post. Cochran issued this statement Friday, the last day to file, announcing her intentions. She’ll face off against Paul Eich, Gene Clark and Teresa Lewis in a Oct. 6 primary that will cost the city around $10,000, with the top two vote getters advancing to the general election. Mount Airy’s elections laws are the only ones that call for primaries when there’s more than two candidates for a seat.

Yet neither primaries nor really general elections are much needed to determine who will fill the two open council seats. Incumbent Jon Cawley is the only one vying for the North Ward seat and  Steve Yokeley is the only one seeking the South Ward seat David Beal is vacating.

As for the mayoral candidates new to local politics, Eich is the one well-known to anyone who attends council meetings. He’s been at almost every one for the past year and a half and often speaks during the public forum sections. His positions are very conservative when it comes to fiscal matters, as he has advocated laying off employees, cutting back employee compensation and eliminating the city’s manager’s contract in order to reduce taxes. He’s no stranger to elections, having run in 2001 and 2003 for an at-large council seat in Charlotte. Neither bid was successful, but he made a strong showing both times.

Clark is a high ranking officials with furniture company Ligna who issued this statement announcing his campaign plans.  Lewis, who owns temporary staffing service Workforce Carolina, released this statement Tuesday on the day she filed citing her considerable experience with numerous community organizations as qualifications for mayor.

In the last four years Mount Airy’s municipal elections have gone from 2005’s no-opponent snoozer to 2007’s lively field of challengers. This year it’s a little of both. Given the multitude of fiscal and economic issues facing the city, can a strong mayor make a difference? And who would be the candidate best able to utilize the position’s influence?

Elkin elections

Elkin’s elections got a bit of drama at the last possible hour, when Terry Kennedy put his name into the race and made for four candidates vying for three seats. He joins newcomer Cicely McCulloch and  incumbents Gambill Aldridge and Joe Walker on the ballot. Harold Lee Wagoner, a board member for decades, is stepping down.

All four candidates are owners of businesses in town, with McCulloch a co-owner of Diana’s Bookstore, Walker owning AllStar Rentals, Aldridge owning Basin Creek Realty and Kennedy owning Kennedy Land and Homes.

Given all the debate regarding Fibrowatt, I was honestly surprised some new candidate didn’t run on that issue and make for a more competitive field. But even with just four candidates, someone will have to be the odd one out in this race. Will it be one of the newcomers or could an incumbent actually be ousted?

Dobson elections

Four years ago Dobson’s municipal elections were about as boring as you can get, with all the incumbents running unopposed. Not so this year, with six candidates vying for just two commissioner seats and Kenneth Earnest challenging two-time incumbent Mayor Ricky Draughn. The rundown of commissioner candidates includes former board member Kermit Draughn, recent commissioner appointee Wayne Atkins and newcomers Ron Atkins, Jonathan Snow, John Lawson and Ted Ring.

Maybe the interest in elected leadership reflects the loss of administrative leadership in the past couple of months. Town Manager Lynn Burcham remains on suspension pending the results of a DA and SBI investigation into alleged misuse of funds. The town has contracted with a private company to help run things in the meantime, but it’s nonetheless meant a more hands-on role for elected officials as they piece together projects to expand water and sewer infrastructure. Are the Draughns still the best ones for the job given their experience or is it time for some new leadership?

We won’t see any changes to Pilot Mountain’s elected leadership based on the filings. The two incumbents — four-term veteran Carolyn Boyles and Andrew French, who was appointed to fill out Mayor Earl Sheppard’s term last year — are the only ones to put their names in the ring thus far. In 2007, 2005, and 2003, these races were competitive however. What’s more, this  happens to be one of the more dynamic periods for Pilot Mountain, with projects to create an education and value-added agricultural hub called The Pilot Center along with improvements to downtown all in the works. Could a write-in candidate emerge?

The May 20 edition of the Messenger has a snapshot of facts and figures surrounding the proposed Mount Airy city budget for 2009-2010, all culled from the more expansive budget message you can read here provided by City Manager Don Brookshire. Documents this big can be critiqued in whole bunch of ways, but the central theme of this one seems to be “spare some pain now, bite the bullet later.” Unless the city plans to significantly cut back its scope of services (which is always an option) the budget essentially puts future city councils in the hole for all the supplies, capital purchases and pay raises left out this time around. But it does provide a bit of much needed tax relief and spares water users any more rate hikes. Given the current trajectory of the  economy, is this the right approach to take?

Late last month Oklahoma did something totally unexpected in what is arguably the most conservative state in the country. Its legislature and governor proclaimed “Do You Realize” by The Flaming Lips as Oklahoma’s official rock song.

That the state would officially do something so whimsical is outstanding, and brings to mind the idea that perhaps North Carolina’s leaders should consider a brief break from downers such as the budget shortfall.

Wouldn’t it be great to replace the sleep-inducing official state song, “The Old North State,” (opening lyrics: “Carolina! Carolina! Heaven’s blessings attend her!”), with something a tad more contemporary?

But before we do, consider what some states other than Oklahoma have done, or tried to do.

In 1980 New Jersey attempted to honor its native son, Bruce Springsteen, and in particular his anthem, Born to Run.” A resolution in the legislature would have officially named the song the “unofficial theme of our state’s youth.” Uh, say what?

The resolution got sidetracked, however, when one state senator pointed out that the song’s lyrics included the line, “It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap,” and that the protagonists’ goal was to get out of New Jersey.

Five years later the Washington state legislature took up the issue of “Louie, Louie” by The Kingsmen, recorded in a Seattle garage, replacing “Washington, My Home” as the state song.

Despite considerable publicity and support, the effort ran out of steam, though Seattle has had “Louie, Louie Day” officially proclaimed.

One effort that had plenty of steam was that same year in Ohio.

Perhaps inspired by their Washington compatriots, the Ohio legislature approved “Hang On, Sloopy” by The McCoys as the official state rock song.

The McCoys were from Dayton and Sloopy was written about Dorothy Sloop, a singer from Steubenville.

So, back to North Carolina. What would be an appropriate, modern song for us?

Locally there could be considerable support for the theme song from The Andy Griffith Show or for Donna Fargo’s “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”

Beach music fans probably would be thrilled with The Embers’ “Carolina Girls,” and hip-hop enthusiasts would be sure to back Greenville’s Petey Pablo and his “Raise Up (North Carolina).”

But perhaps the most alluring somewhat recent tune is James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind.” Taylor was raised in Carrboro — his father was the med school dean at UNC-Chapel Hill — and in the late ’60s and ’70s no one was hotter on the folk rock circuit.

Although “Carolina In My Mind” never rose higher than number 67 on the national charts, there’s no doubt it holds special meaning for many Tarheels.

What do you think? We’re going to post this on our blog, which you can access at surrymessenger.com, so you can support one of these, or propose your own new North Carolina state song. Log in now and let’s get this movement going.

The latest unemployment figures were a relief locally …. almost. Maintaining the same 13.3 percent unemployment rate is hardly something for Surry to cheer about, but after so many months of steady increases, it’s nice to see the number reach a peak.

For a little more perspective on these numbers, check out this excellent animated graphic in Slate tracking job loss/gain over the last couple of years. You can pick any of the last 26 months and see how Surry’s job totals compared to a year prior, plus it provides cues on how the rest of the country was fairing. Quick take: Surry’s job losses started well before the rest of the country hit the skids, but it wasn’t the only part of the nation hurting as far back as 2007.