Archive for May, 2008

I’ve attached some photos I took recently of a few of the newly painted fire hydrants in Pilot Mountain, which interestingly enough were the source of a complaint at this week’s town board meeting. The concerned resident, Shane Hawks, is upset that creative hydrant designs could make it difficult for fire departments to determine the capacity and water pressure of each hydrant. He cited recommendations from the National Fire Protection Association, which say hydrant colors should be standardized (I couldn’t find these recommendations on the website, but I might not know where to look).

Furthermore, Hawks just thinks some of the designs are plain ugly, calling them “graffiti.” The town board disagrees, and plans to have more painted as a way to spruce up Main Street aesthetics. Local middle school students submitted designs to their art teacher and were chosen to do all the painting.

It’s an interesting idea that could easily be applied to any municipality in Surry. Thus I’m curious how the general public perceives such an initiative.

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In the interest of balance, time to take a look at a legislative bill from Don East (who represents Surry County in the state senate) after examining one from Rep. Jim Harrell III in the last blog post.

Thing is, East hasn’t been the primary sponsor for any new legislation not already requested by city officials. But he is a co-sponsor this interesting new bill that would drop the word “education” from the state’s lottery.

Since the lottery began in 2005 and started distributing about 35 percent of proceeds to education programs, there have been numerous legislative proposals to tinker with how the funds are used. But the bill East supports is purely symbolic. Its primary sponsor has said the idea is just to keep public schools in this state from being associated with gambling (not counting all the money they’ll still take in from said gambling or course). 

Now if we’re going to drop the word “education,” why not open the floor up to corporate sponsorships? I’m sure there are some credit card companies lining up to get their name on the lottery.

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The Memorial Day weekend provides an ample backdrop for politicians to tout their support for veterans. Thus we’re now seeing debate on competing versions of a new G.I. Bill to help pay for veterans’ college education.

Closer to home, there’s a new bill in the N.C. General Assembly (sponsored by local Rep. Jim Harrell III) that would make in-state college tuition free for all Purple Heart recipients at public universities. It’s an interesting question to raise, as states each have their own set of education benefits bestowed upon veterans. Some, such as West Virginia and Florida, already have tuition waivers for Purple Heart recipients. But that legislation failed in several other states, with one of the big criticisms being that it’s hard to estimate what it would cost taxpayers.

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An open letter to the Honorable Sarah Parker, chief justice, North Carolina Supreme Court.

Dear Justice Parker:

The people of Surry and Stokes counties need your help. Now. 

Without immediate action by you we will continue to have inflicted upon us a quality of justice that not only is an embarrassment to the local legal community, but raises doubts among all concerned that the standard of fairness that those coming into the courtroom deserve will indeed be upheld.

The issue is the continued assignment of District Court Judge Mark Badgett to preside over civil court in Surry County and both civil and criminal courts in Stokes County.

As you are well aware, Judge Badgett was suspended for two months by decision of your court after, among other things, having been found to have lied under oath to the Judicial Standards Commission. Why this simply merited a suspension and not outright removal, disbarment and an indictment for perjury remains a mystery.

During his suspension Judge Badgett was everything but contrite, stating that the actions of both the Judicial Standards Commission and the Supreme Court were unwarranted. He used his free time to campaign for re-election.

And during his suspension the Judicial Standards Commission, acting upon a separate complaint, handed down yet another recommendation for censure, finding, among other things, that he had lied again, and that his judicial temperament displayed ethnic bias.

Despite this recommendation, he was returned to the bench when his suspension expired. Consequently, he can continue to administer his form of perverse jurisprudence until your court acts again, which apparently would come no sooner than your September term.

Unless that is, you were to advise your appointee, Chief District Judge Chuck Neaves, that it would be in the best interests of the district — and justice — that Judge Badgett not preside over any court until yours has the opportunity to rule on the Judicial Standards Commission’s latest findings. That would simply be akin to remanding a repeat offender pending trial.

Apparently at this time you are the last resort for the people of District 17B. You have it in your power to restore the moral, ethical and legal respect necessary for our local court system.

We humbly ask that you use it.

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Gov. Mike Easley’s final budget proposal is out. His spending priorities (Easley staples such as teacher pay and higher education along with the hot button issues of mental health) are perhaps less interesting than the plan to help pay for it all through tax increases to cigarettes and alcohol. The cigarette tax hike can be considered really harsh, given that it nearly doubles the per pack tax of 35 cents, or viewed as fairly benign, given that North Carolina would still be in the lower half among all states in taxes per pack. Taxes to alcohol amount to 4 percent.

Tobacco was once a dominant economic force in this state, but it appears that its political and cultural influence has spiraled down significantly in recent years.

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Interesting little side trend from Tuesday’s local primary results. For once, the number of signs didn’t have a positive correlation to number of votes. Obama signs outnumbered Clinton’s (with the local campaign office ensuring that) but the Illinois Senator didn’t win Surry County. County commissioner challenger Jerry Fore trumped Jimmy Miller in the sign department but not the vote department. Opponents of mixed drinks in Pilot Mountain way outposted the proponents, but it wasn’t enough to get the majority of ballots to go their way.


Then there’s the Roy Carter v Diane Hamby Congressional primary. Carter did win Surry and holds a tiny margin across the district, but it’s not as big as you might think considering that he had a healthy legion of signs and Hamby had … zero. Her reasoning: she didn’t want them to pollute the landfill. Or maybe the powers of the internet (both candidates had facebook pages) make physical advertisements less essential than they once were before

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The Cross Creek annexation in July 1 will boost the city’s tax base by about 15 percent.

One of the interesting tidbits in the budget is a breakdown on how much the city will bring in from the annexation. The figure stands at just under $130 million, which increases the overall tax base from about $879.5 million to $1.08 billion. Under the current property tax rate of 63 cents per $100 valuation, that comes out to about $819,000 in annual tax revenues.

That’s not all free money of course. The city still has to borrow millions to add water and sewer service to Cross Creek. The annexations have also raised debate about needing to spend more on fire and police protection.

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The Mount Airy city budget is up on ready to view online. It will take at least a weekend to dissect it all, but the bottom line is a water fee increase of 8 percent and a tax increase to boot. The water rate increase is especially dicy, given outrage over last year’s 45 percent hike. The general fund could always subsidize the water/sewer fund to drive down rates, if we can find something out of the general fund to cut. Since the budget document is now in plain view, the work begins combing it for potential adjustments. Any impressions?

(and for context’s sake, here is where to find a breakdown of water rates in other North Carolina municipalities)

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Barring something happening quickly, Surry County will be in the unenviable position next week of having a known liar presiding over a courtroom in Dobson.

The two-month suspension of District Court Judge Mark Badgett expires Tuesday. At that point he can be reassigned to hold criminal, civil or juvenile courts in Surry and Stokes counties.

And that would be a travesty.

To briefly recap: Badgett was suspended by the state’s Supreme Court after it found that a recommendation of censure by the Judicial Standards Commission wasn’t sufficient punishment for a litany of offenses. Among its findings were that Badgett had engaged in “willful misconduct and persistent failure to perform his duties,” and that his testimony before the Judicial Standards Commission “was not credible,” and “especially troubling because [Badgett] was under oath and sworn to tell the truth.”

Badgett displayed not the merest scintilla of chagrin at his punishment, vowing to use his time off to campaign for re-election.

A week ago the Judicial Standards Commission, acting upon yet another complaint, again recommended a further censure of Badgett. This time it said his actions were “prejudicial to the administration of justice, which brings the judicial office into disrepute.”

And the commission said Badgett lied yet again, making “untruthful, deceptive and inconsistent statements” during the investigation that constitute “willful misconduct in office.”

And still the judge is vowing to soldier on, even proclaiming that he tries “to stand up for law and order.”

Someone needs to put a stop to this immediately. The state Supreme Court should rule before the suspension expires that he be removed from the bench. Or the N.C. State Bar should disbar him, making him ineligible to serve as a judge.

And if neither of those bodies acts in time, there is one final resort. Chief District Court Judge Chuck Neaves could simply decide not to assign Badgett to any court until the Supreme Court rules. Judge Neaves has no reason to put Badgett back into his judicial robes, and a multitude of reasons not to. Think of the message it sends when a liar presides over a court of law.

If it comes down to his call, Judge Neaves’ obligation should be to the people of Surry and Stokes counties, not to a rogue judge.

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