Monday, March 29, 2010

Voting: Right, Privilege or Duty?

Readers have probably noticed that I strongly support the right of every citizen to vote.

It's not hard to take this position, since it is the law of the land - both Federal and State law protect this right.

Administering the right isn't necessarily simple in a country whose records are maintained in fifty different states in at least fifty different ways, as well as in thousands of counties and municipalities.

I believe that voting is not just a right - it is a civic duty.

In some European democracies, voting is a legal obligation. Even for deployed military servicemen. Once when I was serving on a NATO staff during an international military exercise, the Italian military withdrew their contingent and flew them home to vote in a national election.

Our history as a republic began with very restricted voting rights. Over the past two centuries, we have made great strides in expanding the electorate. You may find it interesting to review the progress we have made here.

We have an election coming up. In addition to a North Carolina seat in the US Senate and a seat in the US House of Representatives, seats are at stake for County Commissioners, Judges, and the County Board of Education. In fact, the May 4 election, which is a primary election for most seats, is the ONLY election for the Board of Education.

Please vote.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Using Time Well

When I was a young boy, my grandfather took me fishing.

I helped him catch the bait by turning over a big plank on the ground and picking out earthworms and grubs before they buried themselves in the moist earth. Sometimes we went to the creek behind the cow pasture and seined for minnows or crawdads.

Sometimes we fished in the creek, usually with a cane pole and bobber.

Sometimes Grandad took me to the Illinois River or Spavinaw Creek or other streams in northeastern Oklahoma.

The truth is, I had no interest at all in catching fish. I was happy to eat them, but catching them provided no particular thrill.

But I valued the time I spent outdoors with my grandfather. I always learned something from him.

It didn't matter that he had only a third grade education. He was able to show me how to do things no one else would. He taught me how to milk a cow, how to ride a horse, how to drive a tractor. I learned how to curry a calf and bait a hook.

People talk about wasting time.

A few days ago, Trent Hamm, a blogger known as The Simple Dollar, examined the issue of "wasted time" and "wasted money."

It is well to reflect on his thoughts.

On Courts

"An appeal is when you ask one court to show its contempt for another court."

Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne, 1867-1936)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Voter Registration

Fifty years ago, I tried to register to vote. I met an obstacle course.

When I turned 21 and became eligible to vote, I was at the University of Mississippi. I wasn't allowed to register in that County. At my home of record, Washington County, the Registrar's office was open every other Wednesday afternoon during working hours. I also had to pay a poll tax. So I never had the opportunity to register before going off to sea.

Two years later, 1960, I was the ship's voting officer (among other duties) and had access to all of the information about registering and voting in all fifty states. I knew how to do it and what the deadlines were. I submitted a Federal Postcard Voter Registration Application to Washington County, Mississippi in ample time.

Months later, I received a reply regretting that the county had received the application too late.

Balderdash! Even if the form had been received too late (which I never believed), registration in Mississippi was permanent. There was no reason not to have sent a registration form, even if it was too late for the 1960 election.

The next time I was home on leave, I registered. This time, the Registrar could verify my complexion.

The Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act fixed the problem.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On the Other Hand

A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries.

Will Rogers

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose

Democrats never agree on anything, that's why they're Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they would be Republicans.

Will Rogers (1879 - 1935)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

On Choices

Under circumstances where you are "damned if you do and damned if you don't," I'd rather be damned for doing something than for doing nothing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's March 23: Have You Been Counted Yet?

Yesterday the USPS brought me a post card addressed to "Resident."

The purpose was to remind me to complete and return the 2010 Census questionnaire. Thanking me if I have already responded, the notice says "if you have not responded, please provide your information as soon as possible."

Some of you may be uncertain where to claim you live. To help you address this question, here is a quote from a briefing on election law prepared by the North Carolina State Board of Elections:
"A person may have an actual abode (residence) in one place and his permanent established home (domicile) in another, domicile being the place to which the person intends to return."

I hope my readers intend to return to Oriental.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Principles of Finance

"High finance isn't burglary or obtaining money by false pretenses, but rather a judicious selection from the best features of those fine arts."

Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne)

On Legislating

Legislating is hard work. The easiest thing for elected representatives to do is nothing. You make fewer enemies that way. It is also easier if you don't do anything new. Maybe pass a few proclamations recognizing the Sweet Potato Festival or Vietnam Veterans or such like.

Even in a small setting like the Oriental Town Board of Commissioners, it is hard to cobble together a majority of three votes out of the five commissioners in favor of anything new, especially if there is controversy. Think how much work it is to obtain a majority out of more than five hundred members of Congress.

Last night's vote in the House of Representatives on health care reform was an awesome accomplishment. We will all be better off as a result, as will our children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Public Good

I just read the New York Times review of a book I want to read. The book's title sounds like a downer: Ill Fares the Land, by British historian Tony Judt.

But according to the NYT, it presents at heart an optimistic view of possibilities facing us. The book is described as "a dying man’s sense of a dying idea: the notion that the state can play a significant role in its citizens’ lives without imperiling their liberties." Just the kind of book we all need to read.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

South Avenue Court Case Judgment

At the March 2 meeting of the Oriental Town Board, Mayor Sage asked me if Judge Crow had signed the final judgment in the case of Town of Oriental vs Lacy Henry et al. I confirmed that he had. Here it is:



"The Court, pursuant to the Opinion issued by the North Carolina Court of Appeals on July 7, 2009 and Judgment certified to the Superior Court of Pamlico County on the 27th day of July, 2009, in case No. COA 08-896, finds that there is no issue as to any material fact and that the Town of Oriental is the owner of the South Avenue terminus, more particularly described as the property located in the Town of Oriental bounded on the North by the land of Garland Fulcher, bounded on the South by the land of Lacy Henry, formerly Neuse Ways and Marine, Inc., and bounded on the West by Raccoon Creek (Oriental Harbor). Said land being the extension of South Avenue beyond the area of vehicular traffic and extending to Raccoon Creek and shown on a map entitled "Survey, Oriental Bulkhead Property" which is recorded in Map Book 1, Page 19, Pamlico County Registry, and that the Town of Oriental is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

"IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED, ADJUDGED AND DECREED that summary judgment is granted in favor of the plaintiff, Town of Oriental, against the defendants, Lacy Henry and wife, Judy B. Henry and that the Town of Oriental is the owner of the afore described real property known as South Avenue terminus and the claims of the defendants to said property are hereby dismissed, and the costs be taxed against the defendants.
"This the 5th day of Feb, 2010.

The Honorable Kenneth F. Crow
Superior Court Judge"

*Note: As I pointed out previously, the Styrons are no longer defendants in the case.

2010 Census Here at Last

This morning's mail delivered the 2010 census questionnaire to the Cox household. It contained ten questions for each member of the household. It took me about fifteen minutes to fill it out. I have put it back in the hands of the US Postal Service.

That was easy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pamlico - a Wilderness County

Attendees at tonight's (Monday, March 15) meeting of the Pamlico County Commissioners learned a startling fact: the State of North Carolina does not categorize Pamlico County as a "rural county," but as a "wilderness county."

This revelation was provided by Mr. Jim Gray, who spoke in favor of adoption of the proposed Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Strategic Plan. During the ensuing discussion, Commissioner Ann Holton reluctantly admitted the category might be accurate. Just the previous day she had to kick her golf cart up to top speed to get away from a bear. Mr. Gray emphasized the contribution that improved EMS services would make to moving the county out of the wilderness into the rural county category. He noted in particular the importance of enhanced EMS to economic development by encouraging population growth, especially among retirees.

Mr. Gray was one of three attendees who spoke up strongly in favor of the strategic plan during the public hearing. County commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the plan.

The plan is good news for Oriental and nearby locations. The first phase of the plan, covering the next three years, calls for establishing a satellite EMS location in the county's southeast region. This is expected to be at the Oriental Fire Station.

The second phase, over the next five years, will involve upgrading EMS to the Paramedic level. Pamlico County is one of fewer than ten counties in North Carolina to lack a Paramedic or higher level certification.

The plan is only a beginning. It will need funding to complete, but to all appearances, the county is now committed to making it happen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Time Has Come

Early this morning, those of us who remembered to set our clocks forward for daylight savings time woke up an hour earlier than the day before.

The theory is reminiscent of the fellow whose feet stuck out from his blanket. To remedy the situation, he cut a foot off the top of the blanket and sewed it to the bottom.

There should be a better way.

Why, for example, can't we just have daylight savings time year round?

Some say it's because the cows get confused about their milking time. I never saw a cow that could read a clock.

Then there are those who say it confuses the roosters.

Maybe we should recall how we got time zones in the first place. It wasn't for the cows or the roosters. It was for the railroads.

Before the railroads, every large European or American town had its own time. Time was told by the sun dial. Noon was when the sun crossed the meridian. (That's why morning time is denominated "ante meridian" and afternoon is "post meridian.")

Even sailing ships told time by the sun. Navigators used their best estimate of the ship's longitude, compared that to the Greenwich (or other) hour angle of the sun and calculated when the sun would be overhead. With the sextant, the navigator observed the sun's elevation. When it ceased increasing, he would declare that local apparent noon had arrived and (with the captain's permission) strike eight bells. The hour glass was turned and that became the beginning point for the next twenty four hours. So each ship carried a little bubble of time with it across the ocean.

So it was with every town. Each town had its own little time zone, based on its longitude. Church bells called the faithful to morning and evening prayers, sent the peasants into the fields and the workers to their tasks. It didn't matter if the next town was on a slightly different time.

Then came the railroad. It began to matter a great deal that one town's clock was five or ten or fifteen minutes different from the next town's clock. Printed train schedules became confusing.

To fix this problem, national railroads developed railroad time. When railroads began spanning continents as in America and Russia, railroad time became divided into zones.

In this day of computers, I see no reason we couldn't return to the prior arrangement of truly local time. Computers would have no trouble keeping track.

We already have a way that keeps track of time for events spanning many time zones. It is called Greenwich Mean Time. Since the dawn of radio communications, the US Navy has used GMT to keep track of messages, assigning a "date time group" to each message, based on the originator and the dtg of the message. It avoids confusion.

Ship and aircraft tracks use GMT. You can do the same with your GPS.

So why not a system based on GMT (using the 24-hour clock) coupled with real local sun time? To avoid confusing travelers, telephone cell systems could broadcast both GMT and LST. The change might even create a new market for time pieces designed to display GMT and LST.

And it wouldn't confuse cows or roosters.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Remember our Women Veterans

Tomorrow morning, March 13, 2010 at 11:00 friends of Florence Elizabeth "Betty" Brandon will gather at Bryant Funeral Home in Alliance to say good bye to a wonderful woman, one of a dwindling number of veterans of World War II.

I can't improve on the obituary of Betty that Melinda Penkava posted on Town Dock. I would like, however, to put her service in the United States Marine Corps in a larger perspective.

Women served as doctors in the Civil War and as nurses in many of our wars. But it wasn't until the United States entered World War I in 1917 that women were accepted into the uniformed services in significant numbers. 11,000 women volunteered for service during that war, almost all of them in the Navy and Marine Corps.

This was brought about by President Wilson's Secretary of the Navy, North Carolina newspaper editor and publisher Josephus Daniels.

Secretary Daniels sought authority to enlist women to serve in shore billets so the men could be sent to sea. Eventually, he decided he already had the authority and just did it. The newly-recruited women were categorized as "Yeoman (F)" and most were assigned to clerical duties. He did the same thing for the other service under his authority, the US Marine Corps. The women were colloquially called "Yeomanettes."

One of the early recruits, Frieda Mae Hardin, a 22- year old department store clerk in Portsmouth, Ohio, later described her experience: "I heard about the Navy taking women on a Saturday night, and I signed up first thing Monday morning," Mrs. Hardin said in 1997. "I wanted to do something more, something bigger and better."

Another woman who served in the navy in World War I was Mrs. Lena S. Higbee, Superintendent of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps. She was awarded the Navy Cross for her work. I once served on a WWII vintage Gearing Class destroyer named in her honor.

When the war ended, the women were released and went back to civilian life.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it seemed natural to reestablish the enlistment of women for the war effort, though not everyone agreed. Women were needed in defense industry as well.

Despite the opposition, the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve was established in February, 1943. About 20,000 women joined the Marine Corps during WWII. They made a substantial contribution. By the end of the war, for example, 85% of enlisted personnel assigned to Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps were women.

In the field, women served in some 200 different enlisted specialties, from aerial gunnery instructor to quartermaster, including radio operator, parachute rigger, control tower operator, cryptographer, auto mechanic and telegraph operator.

Our Betty was a quartermaster.

Let's join together to honor her service and that of those who followed in her footsteps.

Today women serve in 93 percent of all Marine Corps occupational specialties and serve in more than 60 percent of all billets. Women count for more than six percent of the Marine Corps and are an integral part of the force.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On War

There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.

Sun Tzu: The Art of War

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Audit Update

On March 1 the North Carolina Local Government Commission sent a letter to the mayor with its analysis of the most recent audit, pointing out areas where corrective action is needed.

Of the 23 control deficiencies and material weaknesses listed by our auditor, the Local Government Commission focused on a dozen: four control deficiencies and eight material weaknesses requiring corrective action.

Of the eight material weaknesses, one appears to be partially incorrect. The town was maintaining a fixed equipment ledger. The town manager admits he didn't completely understand what the auditors were looking for. Afterward, when the ledger was found, it proved to be incomplete. That is being corrected. Another material weakness cited - the lack of a contract authorizing the town to act on behalf of Bay River - was recognized by the town board last year. An agreement has been under negotiation since last August. Substantive issues remain.

The remaining six material weaknesses reflect policies and procedures put in place years ago. When the audit was presented to the public, arguments were presented from the floor to the effect that: "we're too small," "it's too much paperwork," "that's a really bad idea," and so forth. The Local Government Commission plainly didn't agree.

Similar arguments were made about the four "significant deficiencies." Again, the LGC didn't agree.

In closing, the letter observed: "Each of the items noted by the auditor was identified to assist the Board in improving the Town's overall accounting system. We urge the Board to develop a corrective action plan immediately and begin eliminating these serious internal control weaknesses."

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Census is Upon Us

I received notice today that the 2010 census form will arrive in the mail in about a week.

The task: "please fill it out and mail it in promptly."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Semper Fi

Yesterday morning Oriental lost one of its WWII veterans: Florence Elizabeth ("Betty") Brandon.

Betty was twenty-three years old when she left her small town in Pennsylvania and joined the United States Marine Corps. She served in San Francisco.

After completing her wartime service, she joined the multitude of veterans who took advantage of the GI Bill to get an education. She was able to walk through doors that would otherwise have remained closed.

She loved the outdoors and shared many adventures with her husband, Ken. She loved to read and was always working her way through a newly published work of history or biography.

She was a wise and witty woman. Her friends relish having known her and greatly miss her.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Support and Defend

This morning I took office as a newly appointed member of Pamlico County's Board of Elections. Sue Whitford, Pamlico County's Register of Deeds, did me the honor of administering the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of North Carolina.

This is the ninth time I have taken such an oath, modeled on the one prescribed in the United States Constitution for the President.

I take the obligation to support and defend the Constitution very seriously. One way or another, I have devoted my adult life to that endeavor.

As oaths of allegiance go, the United States oath broke new ground. In European monarchies, the usual procedure when the monarch died was for all military officers and high government officials to swear allegiance to the new king (or tsar or kaiser). But our constitution provided for replacing the president every four years or perhaps more often in case of death. In addition, the president was not a sovereign. The people were sovereign.

So to whom should federal military officers and other public officials swear allegiance? Should they swear a new oath every time a new president was elected?

The solution was an oath to "support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic." It also worked nicely as a presidential oath, avoiding the religious issues inherent in the British coronation oath.

The Board of Elections is a major player in defending the Constitution. If the people are sovereign, the way they exercise that sovereignty is at the ballot box.

I think we can be proud of the way elections are run in Pamlico County. I will work hard to make sure we continue that fine tradition.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Use it or Lose it II: Our Freedoms

Today's Pamlico News has a front page article reporting a case of alleged "cyber stalking" at Pamlico High School.

It's hard to tell from the report, but it seems as though some students at the High School created an entry on a social networking site pretending to be the targeted school official, and advocated obviously absurd actions on the part of students. It's hard to say what the content of the site was which so offended officials, since the site has been removed.

The great mystery is why school officials chose to make this a criminal matter. It seems as though the students in question intended the site to be a parody or satire.

It might have been used as a "teachable moment." It is now a wasted opportunity. Lawyers are involved. Too late.

A classroom discussion might have examined and discussed the literary history of satire, beginning with Jonathan Swift's "Modest Proposal." It might have examined acceptable boundaries of satire and parody. It might have examined issues related to the internet.

Classes studying History, Government and Civics might have examined the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This is one of the fundamental sources of our freedoms, that seems no longer as valued as it once was. In a 2005 study, high school students seemed to favor more government censorship. The First Amendment Center conducts an annual study, that unfortunately reveals widespread ignorance about and lack of commitment to this most basic freedom. The James L. Knight Foundation conducts detailed studies about the future of the First Amendment. The results aren't reassuring.

It doesn't help when people in authority get carried away.

About forty years ago, many young Americans wore T-Shirts emblazoned with the slogan: "Question Authority."

In a democracy, that's an essential practice.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Oriental Commissioners Approve Minutes

Normally that wouldn't be a big deal. Still, since the new board was sworn in December 1 of last year, this is the first time the commissioners unanimously approved a set of minutes.

Turning to substantive business the commissioners adopted a Special Project Ordinance for the refurbished fishing reef, as well as a budget amendment to establish transparency concerning where the money came from and how it is spent. This should have been done in 2007 when the project began. With the Special Project Ordinance, supporters of the reef project can continue to contribute indefinitely. There will be no time limit on when the funds must be spent. The project does not include any Oriental tax funds. One effect is that the approximately $20,000 collected to date for the project will no longer be counted as part of the town's unrestricted fund balance. It never should have been so counted, in any event.

In other business, the Board filled two of the three vacant slots on the town's Tourism Board, appointing Missy Baskervill, a resident of Arapahoe, and Grace Evans, a resident of Oriental who has long been active in promoting the town. The tourism board's substantial budget comes from the town's occupancy tax, the only tax the town collects for itself.

In addition to the vacancy on the tourism board, there is a vacancy on the planning board and three vacancies on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. Though it was not on tonight's agenda, Commissioner Warren Johnson has initiated efforts to reactivate the town's Water Board, hopefully in time for the visit by the Rural Water Center, who will begin an audit of our system March 17.

Notwithstanding these longstanding board vacancies, the commissioners discussed requests from the Planning Board and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee to establish additional advisory committees. More openings for volunteers.

After agreeing to proclamations for Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week and Arbor Day, the Board went into closed session to discuss a personnel matter. When they returned to open session, they continued tonight's meeting until March 8 at 4:00, probably to return to closed session.

Remember Arbor Day! March 20 at 9:30 a.m. at Lupton Park. Agenda: replace the destroyed magnolia.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Importance of Strategy

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.

Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu: The Art of War

Be Enumerated

This month, the United States Postal Service will deliver to every postal customer a questionnaire for the 2010 census. The Constitution calls it an "enumeration."

Why would the founders use a four syllable word when a single syllable word (count) might have done just as well? Because it was never just a count.

Here is the relevant passage from Article I Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution:

Section 2 - The House

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

(Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.) (The previous sentence in parentheses was modified by the 14th Amendment, section 2.) The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five and Georgia three.

So the census was never a simple count. It involved arithmetic, too.

The first census of 1790 and each subsequent census through 1840 listed only the head of household, but divided the count of household members into different categories.

From 1850 on, individuals were listed, and the census began asking some pretty personal questions. In 1870, the census wanted to know if the individual was "deaf and dumb, blind, insane or idiotic." From the 1880 census (27 questions), I learned that my great grandfather was illiterate. From the 1910 census, I learned that two of my great grandmothers had children I had never heard about. The 1910 census and the 1930 census seem to hold the record to date for number of questions (32).

This year's census asks 10 questions. It should take about ten minutes to complete.

Please complete it and mail it back.

Census data not only determines how Congressional Representatives are apportioned, it determines state and local apportionment as well. Not only that, population from the census is one of the factors the state uses to determine how to distribute tax revenue to counties and municipalities, as well as to determine eligibility for certain grants.

So filling this form out is important for your town, your county, and your friends and neighbors.

One last thought: many homeowners in Oriental and elsewhere in Pamlico County also have homes elsewhere. If you have an option about where you report that you live for census purposes, count yourself here. It would help this community, and it has no effect on tax domicile. That's a separate issue.

Most of all, make sure you are enumerated!