Archive for the ‘Brook’s Blog’ Category

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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

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I posted last month about the phone survey regarding a Fibrowatt plant in Surry. Here’s the full transcript of questions and results for Surry and Yadkin respondents. Judge for yourself if you feel the questions are biased against the project.

In the meantime, the Charlotte Observer has now written a piece on the issue (first time in years I can recall that paper covering something in Surry) and it also ran in the Raleigh News & Observer. Both papers wrote their own editorials on Fibrowatt, with Charlotte taking making a straightforward appeal for caution while the N&O is a bit harder hitting about warning flags needing to go up.

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What does it take for the Mount Airy City Council to use a Civil War analogy regarding central government overstepping its bounds? The possibility of the state ABC Commission taking over operations of the local liquor store. This bill actually has a number of municipalities in a tizzy (though I doubt many have commissioners joke at a public meeting “let (the state) know that in the past when something like this happened there were shots fired at Fort Sumter”), as the legislation authorizes the state to merge or close local ABC commissions if they’re stores aren’t making a healthy profit.

Based on the most recent ABC finance records, Mount Airy’s store made a 11 percent profit in 2008, better than most other ABC commissions including those in Elkin and Dobson. But a bigger concern than a shuttered store among commissioners is that the revenues the store generates won’t remain in the community. Each ABC board has a lot of leeway on where to distribute the profits, and the ones in Surry set aside large chunks for local government and/or community organizations. The state could have other ideas on how to spend that money.

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The back and forth debate on a proposed Fibrowatt power plant in Surry County is way too complex to summarize in this space, although you can read some of the ongoing arguments here, here or here.

But no matter the reason, a majority of local residents are in opposition to the $140 million project, according to Yadkin Riverkeeper, an advocacy group for protecting the area’s river basin. The organization commissioned a telephone survey by non partisan Public Policy Polling, the results of which show overwhelming views against Fibrowatt or industrial development in general for the area. These findings would dispute county commissioners’ long cited claims that the majority of residents are in favor of the project.

When assessing any survey, however, it’s critical to look at the specific wording of the questions asked, especially with a complex topic like this. County commissioners say they’ve recieved complaints from those surveyed that the questions were skewed against Fibrowatt. I wasn’t surveyed myself, but I requested from Yadkin Riverkeeper a copy of the questions. I’ll report back if they’re sent over.

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State legislators sponsor a handful of bill each session and put their names down as co-sponsors for dozens more, few of which ever come up for a vote.

The latest bill filed by Rep. Darrell McCormick probably will fall into that “never see the light of day” category, but it’s intriguing if only for the precedent it would set just by making it through committee. McCormick, a Republican who represents eastern Surry County and all of Yadkin County, has proposed legislation allowing a recall of county commissioners in Yadkin between now and the end of 2010. Triggering such a recall election would require as many signatures as the votes received by the commissioner in the last election. I don’t follow Yadkin politics closely anymore, but I imagine this issue is fueling sentiment to pick off some commissioners with unpopular views.

If the bill somehow gets through the General Assembly, imagine how many other counties might ask for this same option. That alone probably sinks its chances, meaning voters will need long memories when commissioners come up for re-elections. Most unpopular decisions fade from view by the time the next election cycle comes round.

What other bills have our local legislators filed as primary sponsors this session? Rep. Sarah Stevens has called for Motorcycle Awareness Month, a sharper crackdown on public school bullying, and allowing teens aged 15-18 to receive volunteer firefighting and rescue squad training. Sen. Don East has called for reducing the corporate income tax rate,  giving each school board to authority to set its own school start date, and funds for a Forsyth Technical Community College campus in Stokes County. McCormick is among those behind the bill to change the name of the lottery and also wants to create a committee studying grandparents’ visitation rights.

All of these bills are worth more study on their impact if they make it out of committee. That’s a big if. There are long odds against any bill making it to a floor vote, espeically those filed by freshmen legislators in the minority party.

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