Archive for October, 2008

By now most political followers in Mount Airy have heard about Andy Griffith’s endorsement of Barack Obama, and by “endorsement” I mean his appearance in a video masterminded by Ron Howard that recreates a scene from The Andy Griffith show to demonstrate its Democratic support. The full clip can be seen here and, in my opinion, the spoof of Happy Days with Henry Winkler is far funnier.

What’s interesting is how fast word of Mount Airy’s “reaction” can spread, showing just how captive our public image is to the Mayberry brand. It goes like this, the Winston-Salem Journal does a quick story about locals reaction that only interviews a few people to come to the conclusion that folks here are unhappy about the clip. The article gets picked up by the Associated Press and within 24 hours it’s running in Charlotte, in Hendersonville, in northern Virginia, in Greenville (there they say it’s creating quite a stir) in Salisbury, and in Myrtle Beach. I could keep going, but you get the point.

What’s locals’ real reaction? Well everyone I ask has a different take, especially since it’s no secret that Griffith likes to publicly endorse Democrats. You’d have to interview more than a few people to get a true barometer. Just like you have to look beyond Mayberry to get a taste of Mount Airy’s true colors. But in the world of mass media, our identity gets shaped lightening quick to the outsiders looking in.

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In a race without campaign websites, series of campaign events or even catchy slogans, the Paul Johnson v Eddie Brown battle for county commissioner has been defined in large part by a war of words in print. Here’s a quick synopsis of our letters to the editor referencing this race (along with links to each). If I left one out, please let me know and I’ll edit it into the post.

First we have a response here to negative radio ads Johnson has run, defending Brown’s record in regard to land dealings. That drew a rebuttal saying the accusations are backed up by facts. Johnson was attacked himself in a letter here criticizing his management of county employees and of his own finances.

Both candidates got ringing endorsements as well speaking of their past accomplishments, Brown’s here and Johnson’s here. Craig Hunter, chairman of the county commissioners, weighed in with a lengthy account of Johnson’s record on the board that endorses his candidacy.

Still several days to go before the election. I’m sure more letters will arrive on this heated race. Read our preview here.

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“Project X” is fast going to turn into Project U.

Dean Brown may have given his pursuit of a state prison a mysterious sounding title. But now that’s it’s out in the open, it really comes down to what You think. This has all the ingredients of a classic economic recruitment project (search for a site, offering incentives, competing with other counties, determining the worth of the new jobs) but with a huge new twist — public support is critical. Unlike recruitment of private industry, pursuit of a prison will be out in the open, and the state politicians that will have to sign off on the final site don’t want to deal with backlash from picking an unpopular location. They don’t have to, as there’s plenty of locations to choose from.

This came up repeatedly in a presentation Thursday Department of Corrections officials gave to representatives from local government. Without public backing, the project is a no go. So the first question on everyone’s mind is, “what’s a fair and comprehensive way of determining public support, or lack thereof?”

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A lot of observers in the legal community didn’t expect a ruling from the N.C. Supreme Court on the Judicial Standards Commissions’ recommendation to censure local District Court Judge Mark Badgett until after election day.

But not only did a ruling come in before voters were to decide on sending Badgett back to the bench for a second term, it was about as harsh a decision as the court could have issued. Not only is Badgett removed from the bench, he’s ineligible to seek future judicial office in the state and can’t draw retirement benefits form his three years presiding over district court. You can read the court’s full ruling here.

Some excerpts to illustrate the tone and breadth of the ruling.

“Respondent’s untruthful, deceptive, and inconsistent statements to North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Wilson and his attempts to influence the recollections of Deputy Clerk Marion and Attorney Talbert constitute willful misconduct. Respondent was not under any compulsion to speak or make a formal statement to Special Agent Wilson. However, instead of merely relating the truth and letting the chips fall where they may, respondent willfully attempted to cover up his misdeeds from the Carreon hearing.This behavior is entirely unacceptable for a lawyer or a judge.


“Additionally, respondent made false statements from the bench to District Attorney C. Ricky Bowman in an effort to have Mr. Bowman sign a remittal of disqualification. Respondent also created a hostile work environment for members of the district attorney’s staff, complaining that they were a ‘burr in his side.'”


“Moreover, respondent was habitually rude and condescending to those appearing before him in the courtroom. Id. Respondent’s conduct throughout his tenure as a district court judge has been fraught with disrespect for the parties appearing before him, a persistent failure to be truthful, and a disregard for the laws and ethical rules that govern the judiciary.”

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One of the side debates that has emerged from forums held by The Golden LEAF Foundation is what a “living wage” comes out to in Surry County. The Foundation is awarding $2 million in grants for projects that forum participants deem priorities, and the top objective agreed upon is creating 750 jobs that pay a “living wage.” The group defined that as $9.35 an hour.

But how much of a paycheck does it take to cover all the necessities? There’s a lot of factors to take into consideration, as the national organization campaigning for living wages outlines. Part of it comes down to how many people the wage has to support. Keeping one person afloat would cost less than $9 an hour, supporting a family would cost much more, as this study factoring in Mount Airy’s cost of living expenses indicates.

What wage is set by the group will determine which projects get endorsed for the grants, since some have the potential to create high-paying jobs and some are aimed at just creating jobs period. An $9.35 an hour, a lot of jobs qualify, including those created by the tourism sector.

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We’re hitting crunch time when it comes to voter registration, with the deadline on Friday. Since the Democratic primary in May, 1,666 new voters have registered in Surry, almost evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and those unaffiliated. Take a look at county registration stats over the past year and it’s evident that the latter group, independents, is experiencing the largest growth. Compared to 2004, that demographic is up almost 25 percent in Surry, perhaps reflecting North Carolina’s recent battleground state status.

With the number of Democratic and Republican registrations almost even in Surry, those independents will go a long way in deciding who the county supports for state and national races.

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Jon Cawley doesn’t fancy himself a businessman, and his background doesn’t include lengthy experience in financial matters.

But the pastor and Mount Airy commissioner does have a lengthy and dedicated history helping sports and recreation programs. So he reacted to the news of the most recent loss of manufacturing jobs to Virginia thinking like a coach. Here’s his comments from last week’s city council meeting:

“Some of the reasons jobs have gone other places are not any one person’s fault. It’s a system I don’t like. A system where our neighbor has an advantage … “The sportsman in me asks ‘what does it take to win?’ We have to turn that negative 30 into a positive 30. We’ve got to attack that problem. We have to take the attitude of refuse to lose when it comes to putting people to work.”

Mount Airy football coach Kelly Holder would be proud.

It’s this competitive spirit that’s the backdrop of a forum later this month on the incentives issue that will feature those vying for elected office. Organizers say the focus is on how to win back jobs from Virginia by offering more incentives. But what are the rules in this game? When does cash for companies go against free market capitalism? If manufacturing industries get money up front, what about the insurance agency wanting to expand and hire 5 new people? Or the hotel thinking about arriving and wanting to hire 20? What about the industry thinking of leaving? Do they get incentives just to keep jobs here?

The Messenger has been invited to submit questions for the forum. Send us your suggestions.

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