Friday, February 26, 2010


Absurdity, n.: A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.

Ambrose Bierce (The Devil's Dictionary)

County Commissioners Meeting

Not very many people attend County Commissioners meetings in Bayboro. That's too bad, because it's possible to learn a great deal about county issues and how county government deals with them.

In an earlier post, I noted Mr. Himbry's economic development proposal for a center for internet-based businesses.

There were two other items on the Feb 15 agenda that caught my interest.

County Sheriff Bill Sawyer presented a proposal to lower the speed limit on Hwy 306N near the Head Start School. During the ensuing discussion, he disclosed that the Sheriff's Department does not have either a certified radar system or certified operators. The implications for Oriental are that if we want enforcement for our speed limits, we will have to use our own certified equipment and operators.

In another matter, the county's auditor, Mr. Greg Adams, revealed that there had been several budget violations during the budget year. The audit also recalculated the County's unrestricted fund balance. During the previous budget year, the County's fund balance was reported as 38 per cent. This was apparently erroneous. For the most recent audit, the fund balance was recalculated as 22 per cent. The auditor also restated some fixed asset accounts.

Next Monday (Mar 1), County Commissioners will address whether to authorize solicitation of proposals for auditing services for the coming year.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Conditional Zoning Redux

Last Tuesday's meeting of Oriental's Planning Board included on its agenda discussion of Conditional Zoning.

As it turned out, the board did not discuss Conditional Zoning, but it seems worth reviewing the issue.

Conditional Zoning provides a legal way to negotiate with developers for exceptions to the rules of a particular zoning district. The changes would affect only a particular parcel and only for a particular business use. If the use went away, the rules would revert to those previously existing. It is a procedure that has proven useful in large cities with many specialized commercial and business districts. Some of us on the planning board at the time thought it might be useful to learn more. Maybe it could work in Oriental.

In 2007, Oriental contracted with ECC, our regional COG, for part time services of a planner, Mr. Rob Will. When Mr. Will briefed the Planning Board and the Town Board, providing examples of how CZ has been used in other places, I concluded that it would be of little use in Oriental. Because CZ can only be applied at the request of the property owner, and only for the purpose of attaining zoning rules already existing elsewhere in the Town, it seems unlikely it would be of any use in either of our two multiple use districts. That leaves its only possible use as a way of rezoning existing residential districts for business.

Of the existing residential districts, a large part of R-1 is covered by restrictive covenants, which would not be subject to Conditional Zoning. That leaves R-2 and R-3 as the most likely targets.

After extensive preparation of a proposed amendment to the Growth Management Ordinance, the Town Board scheduled a public hearing July 1, 2008, continued to August 5, 2008. A substantial majority of the public attending the hearing strongly opposed the measure.

On August 5, 2008 the Town Board voted to table the Conditional Zoning proposal until after a Comprehensive Plan was created.

No Comprehensive Plan was created during the tenure of that board.

If Conditional Zoning is to be considered again, the process should begin anew.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

...Liberty....for All

Can schools compel students to recite the pledge of allegiance? As the United States Supreme Court made plain in a 1943 case involving a family of Jehovah's Witnesses, the answer is "no." Notwithstanding this long standing principle, ensconced in state law and regulation, a Montgomery County MD teacher had school security police escort a student from class for refusing to recite the pledge.

Is there something about "...liberty...for all" that is unclear? Actually, as an article in The Washington Post makes clear, the teacher violated Maryland state law and regulation by his actions. Are we teaching Civics anymore? Maybe we should start by teaching the teachers.

A letter from the student's attorney to the school principal provides an excellent summary of case law and regulation concerning the issue.


I grew up in an era when ejaculation was a part of speech. Some such ejaculations (e.g. "balderdash!;" "darn!;") were acceptable in polite society. Other words and phrases were always unacceptable in the presence of women or children. They were known as expletives and were often deleted before printing (as in the Nixon tapes).

I served among sailors for three decades, attaining familiarity with expletives, most commonly beginning with "f." I never found it necessary to use them, believing they convey a poverty of vocabulary and lack of imagination.

Nor, I found, was such usage necessary to demonstrate manliness or authority. I commanded a warship without ever using an expletive beginning with "f." We got things done just fine.

For a literary caution against the use of expletives, I recommend "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" by Edgar Allen Poe.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.

Will Rogers

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sail Training: Building for the Future

One of the most heartening community efforts in recent years has been the building by local craftsmen of a sail training fleet of Optimist Prams. They built them the old fashioned way - out of wood.

Since then, each summer, residents of Oriental have been blessed with the sight of young sailors being introduced to the sport at the foot of Midyette Street.

We have Jim Edwards to thank for the concept and for establishing the training program.

It is good for Oriental because it livens our waterfront, brings families to Oriental, and trains the future generation of sailors. If we want to continue to be the sailing capitol of North Carolina, we need new sailors.

Jim wants to build a permanent sail training center and associated marina near the foot of Midyette Street. I have seen the proposal. It is a great plan and will be great for Oriental. It merits our support.

The proposed plan has been withdrawn, at least for now.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Recall Elections

Recall is a procedure allowing electors to remove and replace a public official before the end of a term of office.

Eighteen states permit recall of state officials (a nineteenth, Virginia, allows recall petitions but removal is by trial rather than by election). In addition, at least 29 states (some sources say 36) allow recall of local officials.

North Carolina has no recall provision for either state or local elected officials.

The U.S. Constitution has no recall provision for federal elected officials.

Most recall provisions were adopted early in the twentieth century, spurred by efforts of the Progressive Movement to introduce more direct democracy. Progressive Movement proposals consisted of a package, usually including the initiative (which allowed the public to initiate legislation), the referendum (which allowed the public to vote on adoption of legislation), and the recall.

As an indication of how widespread support for these measures was, in 1910 the State of Mississippi adopted a constitutional amendment providing for initiative, referendum and recall. In that case, it didn't take the Mississippi Supreme Court long to rule that the constitutional amendment itself was unconstitutional.

The Progressive Movement's package included some federal measures as well. The only proposed electoral measure actually implemented was direct election of senators, adopted by constitutional amendment in 1913.

Economic Development: "Lone Eagles"

Some time ago, I promised to share my ideas about economic development for Oriental and Pamlico County.

One of those ideas comes from a study I read about three years ago concerning economic development in small rural counties. The advice was to avoid "big game hunting," - that is, don't bother trying to recruit factories or other large businesses. Chances of success are minimal. Even if you succeed, the county becomes vulnerable to changes in plans that can put many people out of work at the same time with no alternate sources of employment.

Instead of that approach, the study recommended recruiting "lone eagles." These are defined as small companies with a customer base beyond the county or even the state. Using the internet, they can locate anywhere and still service their customers. The attraction to such companies might be the small town quality of life and the desire to take advantage of local recreational opportunities.

In fact, there are a number of such enterprises in Oriental and elsewhere in Pamlico County. In most cases, the owners like to sail, appreciate the climate, and are able to get access to high speed internet connections. That is the key infrastructure requirement.

We need to recruit more lone eagles.

Last Monday at the Pamlico County Commissioners meeting, Mr. Joe Himbry of Bayboro briefed the commissioners on a concept to establish a web-based business center in the county. This idea is one of the outcomes of the STEP program.

Mr. Himbry received authorization from the Commissioners to seek a twelve thousand dollar grant from the Eastern Region to do a feasibility study to validate the concept. If it is determined that such a center makes economic sense, Mr. Himbry will seek additional government or private grants to implement the concept. Again, high speed internet connections are the key infrastructure requirement.

I look forward to following the progress of Mr. Himbry's study.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

So Much for the Land Bridge Theory

History is written by landsmen.

When a landsman encounters a body of water, he sees an obstacle which must be bridged.

To a seaman, a body of water is a highway and a cornucopia.

It isn't surprising that the landsmen who write our history have insisted that the first Americans must have walked across a land bridge from Asia. They know when it must have happened: during a very brief geological period when the sea level was low and there was an ice-free path available.

Since we know when it must have happened, archaeologists searching for human artifacts and remains wouldn't dig below a certain level, marked by weapon points in the style called Clovis. This was known with certainty (it was thought), even though aborigines reached Australia 60,000 years ago, and there was never a land bridge.

Now archaeologists have found man made tools on the Island of Crete that seem to have been there more than 130,000 years. See yesterday's New York Times article, "On Crete, New Evidence of Very Ancient Mariners." Crete has been an island separated from the nearest land by about two hundred miles for more than five million years.

As Will Rogers pointed out, "it isn't what you don't know that will give you trouble, it's what we know that ain't so...."

I hope American archaeologists have resumed digging.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What Political Type Are You?

Another way of sorting voters out is by political typology.

Since 1987, the Pew Center on People and the Press has conducted surveys to analyze how many identifiable clusters (people sharing views on political values) there are in the United States. The number generally sorts out to about ten groupings, more or less.

What political type are you?

You can find out by taking the test at the Pew website:

After you take the test, you may find it interesting to read the Center's description of the nine typologies identified in 2005.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Political Spectrum

Where are you on the political spectrum?

We usually speak of individuals and political parties as though they lie somewhere along a straight-line scale from liberal on the left to conservative on the right. To some observers, this seems an overly limited scheme to describe a complex phenomenon.

A group of scholars have devised a more complex, two-dimensional scheme based on a Cartesian coordinate (x-y) scale. In this scheme, one dimension represents position on economic issues (left-right) and the other dimension represents position on social issues (authoritarian-libertarian).

If you want to know where you fit in a two-dimensional scale, check out the Political Compass web site:

Where do you fit? Take the test. You may be surprised.

Then explore the site. You will see an analysis of where last year's US presidential candidates fit in the scheme and where certain foreign and historical figures come in.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Political Representation: Who Can Vote?

At the time of the first federal census, only white male property owners (about 10 percent of the population) could vote. Some states had a religious qualification. None allowed women to vote.

By 1810 religious qualifications had been removed. By 1850, property owner and tax requirements were eliminated. Almost all white males could vote.

Beginning in 1855, some states imposed literacy tests, in part to limit voting by Irish-Catholic immigrants. From at least that time, there was increasing tension between the effort to expand the electorate and efforts to limit that expansion.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, candidates for the U.S. Senate from the state of Illinois, debated each other at locations all over the state. We often forget, though, that the only voters in that election were the members of the Illinois State Senate.

After the Civil War, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments granted citizenship rights to former slaves, including the right to vote.

In 1868, women in the Territory of Wyoming could vote, but nowhere else in the United States.

In 1889 Florida adopted a poll tax, followed by ten other southern states. In order to vote, one had to present poll tax receipts for every year from the time first eligible to vote. Most of these states also established literacy tests. It was at the sole discretion of the registrar to decide whether the registrant met literacy standards. This made it easier to prevent African Americans from voting.

In 1913 the 17th Amendment established direct election of senators. In 1920 the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. The 1924 Indian Citizenship Act granted Native Americans citizenship rights, including the right to vote.

In 1944, the Supreme Court banned "white primaries." From the 1950's on, a series of legislative initiatives and Supreme Court decisions eliminated the poll tax and literacy requirements, reduced the voting age to 18, reduced residency requirements and introduced measures making it easier to register and vote.

The work of expanding the electorate goes on.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Political Representation: Not a Simple Matter

We all remember learning the cry of American Colonials: "No taxation without representation!"

But what exactly is representation? This certainly is the basic question in a representative democracy.

We decided early in our history that the basis for representation and voting was geographic. That is, you had to live in the particular locality or district of the elected official to be able to vote.

To us, this seems obvious. But it isn't obvious to everyone. The British Parliament in 1776 believed they represented all the people in the empire, no matter where they lived. The thirteen American colonies disputed this.

Geographic propinquity also wasn't the principal of the French parliament. There, representation was by social and economic class: the three estates. The first estate was the [catholic] clergy; the second estate was the nobility; the third estate was commoners, mainly the more privileged towns.

In modern Lebanon, representation is apportioned by religion.

So there are other schemes.

But ours is geography. And since, unlike most European countries, we have no national gendarmerie and no internal passports, the mechanism for determining eligibility to vote in a particular district is voter registration.

As we enter a new political season, everyone should make sure his or her voter registration is up to date.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


"Trust everybody, but cut the cards."

Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Politics Ain't Beanbag

Beginning of candidate filing period in North Carolina calls to mind the aphorism of the fictional Mr. Dooley, creation of the humorist and editor, Finley Peter Dunne.

The part that's frequently quoted says, simply: "Politics ain't beanbag." The reader is left to surmise that there must be a game using bags of beans, not likely to cause lasting damage to the participants.

It is worth recalling the whole quote:
"Politics ain't beanbag: 'tis a man's game, and women, children 'n' pro-hy-bitionists had best stay out of it."

A quick glance at the list of candidates who have filed so far reveals that women are no longer staying out of the game of politics, even if it still "ain't beanbag." And that's a mighty good thing.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Really Super Bowl

Our household faced a dilemma deciding who to root for in last night's Super Bowl.

As graduates of Ole Miss, we were mindful of the fact that Peyton Manning's father, Archie Manning, had quarterbacked for Ole Miss in the 1960's, had been drafted by the New Orleans Saints and played superbly for about a decade for what was otherwise a dreadful team. Archie Manning has made his home in New Orleans. Peyton's younger brother, Eli, also played at Ole Miss and quarterbacks for the Giants.

Since there was an Ole Miss/Manning connection to both teams, we decided to go with sentiment and root for the team that had never been to the Super Bowl before. Besides, we had lived in Washington DC when the Baltimore Colts left that town surreptitiously and shamefully relocated to Indiana. In Baltimore (and Washington), that is still seen as perfidy. Like the Dodgers moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

For all of those reasons, we rooted for New Orleans.

The game was a delight to watch. When did you ever see a second half begin with an onside kick? The offensive coaching was daring. The New Orleans defense was superb. Plainly the strategy was to keep Peyton Manning off the field. Good idea.

A game that lived up to the hype.

Can't say as much for the ads. Not up to par.

And the halftime show? My wife remarked that she'd rather have seen marching bands. Would have been more entertaining. Maybe it's a generational thing.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Keep Shooting Until You're out of Bullets

There are a lot of different attitudes toward fate and inevitability.

The thirteenth century Persian poet, Omar Khayyam (as translated by Edward FitzGerald) wrote:

"The moving finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves On: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."

The 20th century theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr, composed a prayer, known as the Serenity Prayer, that takes a somewhat more activist approach:

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other."

Today on one of the Sunday morning talk shows, LA Times columnist Steve Lopez offered yet another approach to dealing with the future (of newspapers):
"I'm going to keep shooting until I'm out of bullets."

Or as the poet Dylan Thomas put it:
"Do not go gentle into that good night..."

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Didn't We Just Have an Election?

No one ever said Democracy was easy.

In North Carolina, we have elections every year. This year the filing period opens at noon Monday, February 8, and closes at noon Friday, February 26.

Offices up for election include: United States Senate and House of Representatives; State Senate and House; District Attorney for our district; Pamlico County Commissioners District 3 and District 4 and two at-large seats; County Sheriff; Clerk of Superior Court; Board of Education District 4 and two at-large seats. In addition, we will vote for one seat on the NC Supreme Court, four seats on the Court of Appeals and two Superior Court Judges.

The above offices may have both a primary election May 4 and a General Election November second.

Just to make things easier to understand, there are two seats on the Pamlico County Soil and Water Conservation Supervisory Board. The filing period for those seats is June 14 to July 8.

The Board of Education seats are elected at a nonpartisan election held during the May 4 primary.

Oh, yes. There will be one-stop voting and instant registration for the Primary election, the second (runoff) primary if held, and the general election.

Everyone will have plenty of opportunities to vote.

Mark February 26 on your calendar. That would be a good day to start finding out about the candidates.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Town Board Special Meeting - Interim Audit

The Town of Oriental has called a special meeting for February 10 to discuss "interim professional accounting/auditing assistance, and to address additional personnel matters."

This appears to be for the purpose of addressing a proposal made by Commissioner Venturi at last Tuesday's town board meeting that the town contract with the auditing firm of Pittard, Perry and Crone to perform a mid-term audit. The cost: $2400. The reason: "the books haven't been balanced since October."

This is a superficially reasonable proposal that completely misses the point of an audit.

The reason that municipal audits are governed by the NC Local Government Commission is because the LGC is the agency that issues bonds on behalf of towns. Audits are for three purposes:
(a) to determine the financial health of the municipality (we are healthy);
(b) to verify that enterprise funds like the town's water system are financially separated from other funds, including the general fund (our audit raised a problem about that, but the Town Board had already identified the problem and was working to correct it);
(c) to determine that financial controls as required by state law are in place. Our auditor identified a number of problems in that area (e.g. lack of a purchase order system) that have existed for years.

What the audit doesn't do is "balance the books."

If there is, as alleged, a problem with the books, we need to identify the problem we're trying to solve. Then decide what is the proper instrument to solve it.

If the problem is that the books don't balance (whatever that means) or that the bank statements can't be reconciled, or that the town manager (as he admitted Tuesday) has made some incorrect Bay River entries, we don't need an auditor to correct that. We need a bookkeeper. We used to have a part-time bookkeeper. What happened?

Even if there is no present problem with the books, we should retain a bookkeeper.

It never occurred to me when we hired Mr. Cahoon that we were looking for a qualified bookkeeper. We shouldn't be paying him as much as we do to keep the books. He needs to manage. He needs to watch budget line items. He needs to make recommendations about budget amendments or other changes in priority in a timely fashion and bring problems to the Town Board's attention. He needs to supervise the town's affairs.

An auditor is not a bookkeeper. No one on town staff, so far as I know is a qualified bookkeeper.

The town should hire a part time bookkeeper.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Use it or Lose it

Some people out there think since I failed to be reelected last November, I should sit down and shut up.

Fat Chance!

I value free speech and open discourse too much to do that.

If you simply observe public events quietly and passively without exercising the right to speak freely, there may come a time when your speech organs have atrophied.

The challenge to those who wish to speak up is to speak clearly while avoiding personal invective, pejorative labels, and ad-hominem arguments. That's my goal. I hope I write dispassionately, but please do not mistake dispassionate discussion for a lack of passion about the issues.

What I seek to do is identify whatever the real problem may be and to offer logical, well thought out solutions.

I may not always succeed, but I'd rather try and fail than not to try.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

February Town Board Meeting

Last night's (Feb 2) meeting of Oriental's Town Board was another discouraging excursion into recriminations. Most of the acrimony was on the sidelines, but for those who have been following town affairs, it was evident.

In January, one of the commissioners voted against adopting the minutes. Last night, all of the commissioners rejected the minutes. There was a lot of back and forth about audits and bookkeeping. One of the commissioners suggested scheduling a mid term audit, though exactly what the problem is to which that would be a solution was not apparent. In any event, she got no support for the idea.

Not brought up explicitly, but implicit in the agenda meeting and in other discussions is an alleged requirement for emergency access to the town manager's inner sanctum. Again, it is unclear what the problem is to which this is the solution. Nor does the discussion address the very real problem of protecting the integrity of sensitive personal and financial information which it is the town's duty to protect and of which the town manager is the custodian.

We need to get beyond the blame game and associated personal acrimony and into the business of identifying problems and developing solutions.

I have some ideas, which I will share over the next few days.

In the meantime, I have to get ready for a meeting.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

South Avenue and Commissioner Styron

I just saw today's edition of the Pamlico News and noticed on page 5 the statement that "Defendants named in the suit are Lacy B. Henry and spouse, Judy B. Henry and Sherrill Styron and spouse Phyllis H. Styron."

The Styrons are no longer defendants.

Sherrill Styron was named in the original suit because he and his wife then owned a small piece of land which included two hundredths of an acre within the South Avenue right of way. The late Garland Fulcher acquired the two hundredths of an acre by quitclaim deed from Ann Wadley Wing about 1995 and combined it with an adjacent tract fronting on the harbor. He transferred ownership to Sherrill Styron before the town filed its suit. Sherrill Styron sold the parcel afterwards to Chris Fulcher, disclosing in the deed that there may be encumbrances on the property.

Neither Sherrill Styron nor Chris Fulcher responded to the suit, and as a result the town won with respect to that parcel. That two hundredths of an acre is no longer at issue. Both Sherrill Styron and Chris Fulcher acted properly, and the town no longer has any dispute with either of them concerning South Avenue.

South Avenue: The Fence

The fence at the end of South Avenue has been there, as best I can tell from correspondence, since 1992. It is entirely within the boundaries of the town's rights of way for South Avenue and Avenue A.

The fence needs to come down as soon as possible after the Superior Court judge signs the final order carrying out the decision of the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Before removing the fence, there is a significant task that needs to be done - clean up the mess along the waterline and in the underbrush behind the fence. There may be residual machinery and other junk remaining from when the marine railway last operated. Under the terms of the last lease to Mr. Henry, anything remaining on the right of way at expiration of the lease belongs to the town.

Rather than wait until the town is able to obtain a clean-up grant, it seems to me a good idea to have a clean-up party. I would be happy to collect names of Oriental residents willing to volunteer to help in the clean-up. Drop a line to me, David Cox at I'll collect the names and pass them on to town hall.

You can read more about this case at TownDock.Net

Monday, February 1, 2010

Petition Denied!

In the case of The Town of Oriental v Lacy M. Henry over South Avenue, the North Carolina Supreme Court today announced it has denied Mr. Henry's petition for a discretionary review of last year's unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals in the town's favor. That leaves only the signing of an order by the Superior Court judge to complete the town's suit against Mr. Henry.