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Archive for January, 2009

Securing council approval proved difficult, and reaching consensus impossible, the last time Mount Airy put together a budget. The hard part was that cuts had to come from somewhere lest taxes go up, and there was plenty of last minute wrangling to decide what got the axe.

So this year the council is getting a bit of a head start on setting priorities. As outlined in the Jan. 28 Messenger, they’ve gone ahead and ranked on a scale of 1-10 the necessity of every service the city provides. Average the scores out and you have rankings for more than 300 functions of city government that will serve as a starting point for discussions during this week’s council retreat on what can be cut in the new budget. While the items scoring perfect 10s or those with the lowest marks immediately catch the eye, it’s the middle range where some of the more interesting questions arise. Services that averaged between 6.0 and 8.0 are the kinds some would regard as luxuries while others defend as absolute essentials. Consider the following list, all of which scored low enough to at least merit some debate this week on their importance.

—maintaining sidewalks
—leaf collections in the fall
—Christmas tree collections in the winter
—cleaning the streets with a sweeper and flusher
—maintaining landscape beds such as the war memorial
—tuition reimbursements for city employees continuing their education
—public safety education programs for residents
—security surveys of business and residential properties
—recreation programs geared to teens or senior citizens

That’s just a sampler. Taken together the rankings could spark a lively debate on the proper role of local government.

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Teacher quality and merit pay have leaped to the forefront of the national diologue on public school reform, especially with President Obama tapping noted reformist Arne Duncan to serve as secretary of education. Given that focus, it’s uplifting to see that teachers in Surry County are still pushing themselves to improve in their profession through voluntarily completing the rigorous National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification process. Both the Mount Airy and Surry County school systems, along with Millennium Charter Scademy, have had teachers recently earn certification. They have plenty of company. A search of certified teachers turns up a total of 11 for the Mount Airy system and 77 for the Surry County system. Recent Messenger articles on the newly certified teachers has them expressing a newfound understanding and appreciation for more modern and innovative teaching strategies, ensuring  their methods stay fresh to keep up with new technology and learning styles. If President Obama puts any teeth into his rhetoric on school reform, that kind of committment to improvement will no doubt prove critical.

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foxxVirginia Foxx, Surry County’s representative in Congress, was thrust into the C-Span spotlight Thursday when she led almost three hours of debate on the U.S. House floor for her bill to cut off the remaining $350 billion in the bailout of the financial sector. The measure passed by a 270-155 vote, making national and even international news along with local coverage in the Jan. 23 Messenger. The bill is mostly symbolic, as the Senate defeated similar legislation last week and therefore ensured the remaining $350 billion goes to the executive branch. But Foxx’s ability to sway Democrats and Republicans to her side shows potential as a bipartisan player in Congress, provided she’s willing to compromise some and swing more to the center, which would boost her influence on Capitol Hill. Click here to watch C-Span’s archived video of Thursday’s debate.

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swearing-in4Today’s Messenger cover story, like just about every newspaper cover story in the nation revolves around the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Looking at the election and the previous campaign through a local lens, two things stand out. The first is that Obama’s Surry County supporters were vocal and passionate, the second is that it was a group distinctly in the minority. Local returns from both the Democratic primary and the general election show that Obama was nowhere near the majority choice among local voters. But whether he got their vote or not, Obama is the president for all of Surry County. Whether policies at the local government level snych up with his national stimulus plan could go a long way in determining whether he’s ever embraced by the majority of county residents.

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brookshire1After debating in closed session for more than an hour, the Mount Airy City Council reached unanimous agreement Thursday night not to extend City Manager Don Brookshire’s contract when it expires in April. Though the 11-page document has a number of provisions, it’s the page on severance that has at least a majority of the council concerned, the fear being that the city would be unable to pay that much should it need to send Brookshire packing. But what’s left murky is whether or not the manager’s 8th year in Mount Airy will be his last, as a number of city officials have said they want to retain him in the current post. In the next two months the council will have to decide whether to negotiate a new contract from the current document or trust that Brookshire will work as an at-will employee. There’s certainly plenty of negotiating points, the question might be who has leverage. Are there interim managers waiting in the wings for the city to snap up, or can Brookshire land another managerial job opening with better employment security?

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With all apologies to the Stephen Colbert book title I just appropriated, that phrase could apply to the first step in the Surry tourism partnership’s branding campaign to figure out how to better market the area. Last month the partnership hired design firm Madcat Group to coordinate a brand the entire public can buy into, and the first step in that process begins next week with a brainstorming exercise for tourism officials in which participants imagine themselves as Surry County and then describe their pros and cons. MadCat’s partners have stressed the need for the general public to participate in the branding process and buy into whatever logos and taglines come out of it, so the invitation is now open for anyone to visualize just what kind of person the human embodiment of Surry County would be. Is it someone you’d invite home for dinner?

Another note for those concerned that Mayberry has taken up too much (or not enough) space in the Surry brand — next week’s tourism meeting to start formulating the campaign will take place not at the arts council or downtown but at a winery.

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