Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Oklahoma City Surgical Hospital Leads In Cost Transparency: Who Knew?

Want to know how hospital costs compare for surgical procedures? You mostly can't find out.

Unless you have the surgery done in Oklahoma City.

Good for them!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Public Access To Water: Big Problem On Chesapeake

Chesapeake Bay: 11,684 miles of shoreline, equal to the distance of the entire West Coast, from Mexico to Canada. But only 2% of it provides public access to the water.

Good article in yesterday's Washington Post about the problem and efforts to correct it. Some describe the Chesapeake as a large gated community.

It's hard to correct a problem this size. Once public access points are in private hands, the public never gets them back.

That's why Oriental's citizens have fought so hard to keep public access points like South Avenue in public hands.

It's all about the water.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: Mussolini Falls

July 28, 1943: Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivers a fireside chat on the fall of Mussolini. And what a chat it was!

No American who heard FDR speak on that day could fail to note that we were all in this together, and we were winning!

Not many leaders have ever had the skill of FDR at putting events into perspective.

Read the whole, inspiring fireside chat here.

And celebrate with a cup of unrationed coffee.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Voter ID Is Just The Beginning

We've seen this movie before. A couple of years ago, I called attention to the voter suppression effort in Texas.

Now Texas has to take a back seat to North Carolina.

This is all so familiar. Until the US Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional in 1944, Texas, like other states of the former Confederacy, held whites-only primaries. In 1960, when I attempted to register in Mississippi while I was serving at sea in the Western Pacific, the Washington County registrar told me they had received my federal post card application form too late. I knew that was a lie. I was the ship's voting officer and I knew that voter registration in Mississippi was permanent. How could I be too late for permanent? I also knew what the real problem was. There was no block in the application to indicate race. What if the registrar had inadvertently registered a black man?

Return with us now to the thrilling days of yesteryear.

Changes To NC Election Law: Down To Forty-Nine Pages

I just printed off a copy of HB 589, as passed by the General Assembly. Here is the text.

It should be titled the Voter Obstruction and Suppression Act of 2013. The voter photo ID provision has received the most attention, but there are a lot more provisions that need scrutiny.

Within Pamlico County, there was concern about a provision doing away with the direct record (touch screen) voting equipment that we use and are very satisfied with. The bill had called for eliminating them for all elections after January 1, 2014. We had done a quick estimate and concluded the change to scanned paper ballots would cost the County about a quarter of a million dollars. Implementation of that change has now been delayed until 2018.

That's about the only moderately good news. Details later.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fifty-Seven Pages Of Changes To NC Election Law

The Senate Rules Committee today engrossed the fifth edition of House Bill 589, known as "VIVA Election Reform." Initial reports are that the bill makes drastic changes to election procedures. The current version of what had been a fourteen page bill has expanded to fifty-seven pages and can be read here.

I am tempted to plunge right in with my first impressions of the bill, which are not favorable. I'll have more to say after I have studied the bill more carefully.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Warren Johnson July 3, 2012: "What Have We Just Done?"

At the public hearing on closing Avenue A and South Avenue, held July 3, 2012, twenty local citizens spoke. Half were opposed to the land swap and half supported it. Among the speakers were three attorneys. All three opposed the swap for legal reasons.

When the public hearing was closed, the Town Board began discussing what action(s) to take. It was a confusing discussion. Afterwards, many attendees asked for clarification. It appeared that many of the commissioners were also confused.

A few days later, I obtained a copy of the Town's audio recording of the public hearing. It was not until I listened to the recording that I was able to follow what happened, even though I attended the hearing.

As a public service, I am providing a complete transcription of the discussion by the Town Board following the public hearing:

Transcription Board of Commissioners of Town of Oriental meeting
of July 3, 2012, deliberation by Board members after closing public
hearing: Source – Official digital audio recording made by Town of Oriental
[Time in Hours, Minutes and Seconds From Start of Audio Recording]

[...Public Hearing Closed] 1:11:21

Bill Sage (Sage): 1:11:40
There are basically two halves to get to what all the experts seem to agree is a
legal end. And that is closing these street rights of way and acquiring in fee
simple the yellow lot as you see it there.

One train of thought is that we proceed as we are proceeding tonight with closing
the street rights of way and then accepting the donation of the property shown
there in yellow.

The other train of thought is that we treat it as or we approach it as an exchange.
NC State law provides for and empowers a municipality to exchange a property
interest *or an interest in real estate, or personal property for that matter, for other
property. And there is a procedure set out basically in section 160A-271 for an
exchange of property interests.
[*Not exactly. Must be property belonging to the Town. Not “an interest.”]

And one of the options that the Board has is instead of choosing which of the two
paths to take to touch both bases and go through not only the street closing and
donation process which we we’ve taken another step towards tonight by having
this hearing, but also to go through the exchange process. And that of course
would entail a postponement of a decision on closing the streets for purposes of
gathering the necessary information and giving the necessary notices that the
statute requires under the exchange provisions. And so we can proceed with
consideration of closing the streets or we can defer a decision on closing the
streets so as to bring forward the necessary notices and information to comply
with section 160A-271.

Barbara Venturi (Venturi): Point of clarification; what additional information would we
be collecting and putting out?

Sage : 1:15:19
Under 160A-271, the town may by private negotiations enter into
an exchange of real or personal property *[Note: “belonging to the city”] if it is satisfied
that it receives full and fair consideration in exchange for its property. And it requires
that notice to be given by publication of the meeting at which the town board will
consider the exchange. And the notice must state the value of the properties.
[Note repeated misrepresentation of the statute.]

Larry Summers (Summers): [whispering to Venturi “I have a motion on this...”]

Summers: 1:15:36 I’d like to make a motion...
“That’s enough to... receive it.”
[papers shuffling] [Summers submitted a written motion. No copy was
provided to the public in violation of NCGS 318.13(c).]

Sage: [Venturi recognized]

Venturi: 1:16:06
Indistinct... “model for openness”... indistinct...]
“If it is appropriate to follow two lines of action to ensure that all obstacle courses
have been dealt with, I move that we go forward on the full and fair consideration
including notice to the public, that would include appraisals as soon as appraisals
or evaluations of the properties and considerations...”

Sage: 1:16:53 “...Motion by Commissioner Venturi to pursue the exchange of property
provisions of section 160A-271 postponing a decision on the street closure until such
time as a public meeting is noticed to the public and published for consideration of the
exchange. Seconded by Commissioner Johnson, any discussion?” 

[Note: portion in italics is the motion on the floor as stated by the mayor.]

Summers: “I’d like to make a point of order to the attorney: Is what we are doing an
exchange of property or a closure of a right of way?”

Scott Davis: “I think it can fairly be viewed as an exchange.”

Venturi: 1:18:20 [Indistinct... “appraisals, comparison full and fair”... indistinct.]
“if it is considered a swap, we should at least value these things and provide the
ability to prepare these properties for the public.”

Warren Johnson (Johnson): “By doing so, will we not be covering all our bases?”

Scott Davis: 1:19:00 “That’s the theory. As Mr. Cox and others have pointed out*,
there are a number of ways to structure this transaction - I have spoken to no-one that has
come to the conclusion that we cannot achieve this result.
“The theorical [sic] differences are in how we get there.

[*Cox had previously suggested Town lacked authority for exchange and
suggested stand alone transactions with dedication to public or deed
restriction. Town response: “Don't tie our hands.”]

“There’s camp that likes an exchange agreement, there’s a camp that likes a pure
exchange, there’s a camp that likes a street closing and a donation separated.
“And we don’t have any case-law that tells us what the magic recipe is. *

[*Translation: “We can't find a case that says we can do this.”]

“So here, since we have folks who have alternate points of view, and there’s
nothing that precludes us from trying to accommodate those different points of views,
meaning there is no down side to doing it both ways, and there is potential up-side if one
way is determined to be superior...

“...[1:19:41] so to me it’s a rather easy path to go down, to take the more prudent
course to do it both ways, and hopefully, one of those two ways takes.”

Venturi: [Indistinct about fact that holding a hearing doesn’t mean the Board must vote]

Scott Davis: [no, you would do that later, and you’d take evidence and vote]

“I am opposed to this thing, and I’ll tell you what, we’ve been working on
this thing for seven months [subdued “oooh”s from the audience] [... indistinct...I hear a
lot of legal opinions anyone here a lawyer?” ...]

Jim Privette [from audience:] “yes”

Summers: “Experience in municipal law?”

Privette: “Yes. Municipal attorney in North Carolina.”

Summers: 1:21:34 “The other thing is: appraising the property. I look at this piece of
property, we don’t own the property, we own an easement, as Bill Marlow said,
and I look at that, what can you do with an easement?
“You can’t sell an easement, you can’t eat an easement, you can only close an
easement, that’s the only thing that you can do.

[Note: Summers got that right!]

“What we’re looking at doing is closing streets, and then being offered in
exchange, if we close the streets, you will receive X as a donation to the, for the
good of the Town.
“I think that’s a wonderful thing, and I think it’s a wonderful piece of property for

“Grace Evans brought up something that I think is really important here. One of
the reasons we have a problem now, with our anchorage, is because of the five
acres that was sent out there with Oriental Harbor Marina... We have killed the
goose that laid the golden egg for Oriental... That’s what we did and I absolutely
believe that.

“I would like to be able to go over and put my chair on that property on Saturday
night and watch the fireworks, but I guess if we do this, we can’t. I am a believer
in doing it, and if this motion fails, I will offer a motion to close the streets.”

Sherril Styron (Styron): “If it’s gonna take one more month to do it right, I don’t have a
problem with that, but Avenue A: I can see no reason for that not to be closed, whether
we are doing exchanging or do nothing else, Chris Fulcher owns the property on every
side of it.
“It goes nowhere, except dead-ends in his property... [words to the effect that
opponents envy Chris Fulcher]... no matter what we do, I think Avenue A should
be closed, and I’m prepared to do it tonight, unless the attorney feels like we need
to wait until next week.
“I’ve not heard nothing tonight that changes my mind on what we need to do. I
would love to proceed as quick as we can and close this out.
“But if Scott feels like we need to wait one more month I’ll go along with it.”

Sage: “Any further comment or questions? OK, Motion is postponing a decision and
complying with...”

Venturi: “Can we get an idea from the attorney...”

Scott Davis: “...You can bifurcate the street closing, if the board wants to. By separate
motion - you can determine tonight to close any portion that has been noticed, leaving the
remaining portion to be dealt with at some later date.”

Venturi: “I do agree with Sherill, I think Avenue A is nothing but a liability written all
over it. But we had a motion to move forward...”

Scott Davis: “And recognizing, I just wanna say this out loud;
“That if you determine later not to close the terminus of South Avenue, and you
close Avenue A tonight, It’s done. “And there’ll be nothing in exchange for that,
just purely a closing of Avenue A.”

Sage: “All in favor of the motion, say Aye.”

Johnson: “Aye”

Venturi: “Aye”

Styron: “What?”

Sage: 1:25:28 “All in favor of the motion for the Town to take the steps to comply with
section 260A-271, developing information on full and fair consideration. Say aye.”

Venturi + Michelle Bissette (Bissette): “Aye”

Sage: “Raise your hands to say aye... Motion carries, we will take the steps to comply
with the provisions of 160A-271.

Sage: “Motion to close Avenue A would be in order...*”
[*This move, following passage of motion to postpone confused both the audience and the Board.]
Summers: “I’ll do that one.

Summers: “I move that the Town of Oriental close the streets as indicated on this with the exception of the South Avenue terminus, on that motion that I handed out earlier, to close Avenue A and the other possible rights of way in the back portion of that property.”

Scott Davis: “Let’s edit that motion in the continuation of the discussion regarding the South Avenue terminus - is that part of your motion?
“You move to close Avenue A, it’d be nice in that motion to also continue the
deliberation in consideration - ”

Summers: “Let me restate the motion, if I may, Mr. Mayor.
“I’d like to move that the Town of Oriental close the following town streets, along
with any rights of way formerly indicated as being located in the area bounded by
the Western margin of the right of way of Wall Street on the East, the Neuse
River on the South, Smith and Raccoon Creeks on the West, and the Southern
margin of the right of way of South Avenue on the North - said street portions
being lawfully described as follows: Avenue A, and its got the other writing on
there, other possible rights of way, but to defer the closing of the South Avenue
terminus, to a specific date... the next full regular town meeting. The August

Sage: “Motion by Mr. Summers for this Board to close Avenue A and other possible
rights of way as described in the notice of intention in the area bounded on the West by Raccoon and Smith Creek, on the North by the South margin of South Avenue, on the East by the Western margin of Wall Street, and on the South by the Neuse River.
“Seconded by Commissioner Styron.”
“... and to continue consideration of the closure of the South Avenue terminus for
the August 2012 regularly scheduled Town Board meeting.

Scott Davis: “Another recommendation might be to further amend that motion to provide that you have found that closing the street is not land-locking property owners, and is not contrary to the public interest.*”
[*Another intervention by Town Attorney to include conclusions on matters not
discussed or deliberated on by Town Board.]

Sage: “Will you make an amendment?”

Summers: 1:29:29 “Yes, I will amend that... it is to the satisfaction of the Board after the hearing that closing the above-referenced streets are not contrary to the public interests, and that no individual owning property in the vicinity of the street or alley, or in the subdivision in which it is located, would thereby be deprived of a reasonable means of ingress and egress to their property.”

Sage: 1:29:43 Repeats Motion, asks for discussion;

Johnson: 1:30:25
“I can't imagine this transaction not happening next month. But
let's say it dies or goes away. What have we just done?

Styron: All we've done is close a street [or words to that effect].

Johnson: 1:30:25 Yes, but it's part of the transaction. If for some reason.[indistinct]

Sage: 1:31:20 Calls for vote. Announces motion passes, 4-1 (Johnson voting “nay.”
Noise in room, Sage gavels meeting.

Sage: 1:31:30 “Motion carries. An order will be entered closing the streets as described.”

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

South Avenue: What Has The Town Of Oriental Bought?

At meetings in June, Town Board members informed the public that the property offered by Mr. Fulcher in return for the Town closing certain public rights of way "now belong to us."

It's true. Even though the closings of Avenue A and South Avenue are under challenge in the courts, the Town has moved ahead with the deal. In late May, the transfer of property from one of Mr. Fulcher's Companies, Fulcher Point, LLC, was recorded at the Pamlico County Register of Deeds.

What did the Town get?

The deed itself is a "non- warranty deed." In other words, a quit claim deed. That means that whatever interest Mr. Fulcher may have in the property (if any) now belongs to the Town. No guarantees.

The property belongs to the municipal corporation, governed by the Board of Commissioners, in fee simple.

Can they sell it? Yes. All it takes is three votes on the Board and public notice.

Unlike Lou-Mac Park, there are no deed restrictions.

Is it dedicated to the public? No.

Can the Board dedicate it to the public? No. At the hearing of March 4 before Judge Alford, the Town's attorneys presented no case law supporting the contention that the Town can sell or trade a public right of way for something of value. But they made a very strong case, citing a case from the Town of Valdese in the 1980's, that future boards cannot be prevented from selling real property they own in fee simple. Nothing this Board does now can prevent any future Board from doing whatever they want with the land. There is no protection for the property as a public access point to the water, other than the will of the Board.

By the way, the Town Attorney told the Board at the public hearing on July 3, 2012 that there was no case law supporting what they were doing. "And we don't have any case law," he said, "that tells us what the magic recipe is." That should have set off alarm bells.

Is the property contaminated? Yes.

Fuel Tanks that subsequently spilled on Town's new property
(click photo to enlarge)
Some years ago, tanks containing 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled its entire contents onto the property. There is no record that the contamination was ever cleaned up.

Are there other problems with the deal? Yes. Too numerous to mention.

Was the land swap lawful? The court case is going forward to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. They will have the final say.

Was the land swap wise? You decide.

More background here.

Across The Steppes Of Central Asia

As I read this article, in my mind I heard the strains of Borodin's music.

Would you believe a seven thousand mile journey of freight trains carrying high value cargo from China west across Central Asia through Russia and Poland to Holland? It's happening. The economics of it are fascinating, but also what it tells us about developments in the heart of Asia.

It all began in the late nineteenth century with the Trans Siberian Railway. Propelled by long-forgotten wars.

Now the sinews of commerce are tying the region together in unimaginable ways.

And we knew nothing about it.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Paean To Local Pols

Two years ago I posted some thoughts about how grateful we should be to to citizens who answer the call to public service and stand for election. Just by filing for election, they serve the cause of Democracy.

Candidate filing for municipal office in North Carolina ended at noon yesterday. For the Town of Oriental, thirteen citizens filed to compete for five seats on the Town Board of Commissioners. Two filed to run for mayor.

We should celebrate them all.

That being said, those of us who vote need to remember we are not selecting a homecoming queen. The six candidates we elect will have real legal authority and real responsibilities. The decisions they make can affect what kind of Town we live in for the foreseeable future - months, years, decades or in some cases forever.

Selecting the Town's governing body is not a trivial matter. We each have our own criteria for candidates. Here are some of mine:

1. Commitment to the residents and to the future of the Town;

2. Attention to details;

3. Planning ability;

4. Sound, mature judgment;

5. Management and oversight ability;

6. Willingness to review key officials, including attorney;

7. Pursues and recognizes excellence;

8. Listens to citizens and exchanges information with them. Openly.

Some of our incumbents are deficient by these criteria. If I criticize any of them, remember: It isn't personal - it's business.

I started this blog while I still served on the Town Board. I did not want to play my cards close to my vest. I was happy for voters to know where I stood. I was equally happy for other members of the Board to know. If I was working on a proposal, I wanted the public to read it. Not that my drafts were "take it or leave it" ideas, but I wanted to exchange views. Waving arms and shouting at meetings isn't conducive to sharing. And ad hoc actions during meetings often turn out badly. I put one of my drafts on the Town web site once and caught a lot of flack for it. That's when I started the blog. I encourage every Town Board member to follow suit. I dare them to follow suit.

Why I Didn't File

I have been asked several times today why I didn't file to run for either commissioner or mayor of Oriental.

Short answer: my suits against the Town. Although there is no legal bar to my running for office and serving in office, had I been elected, it would be awkward every time the Town met with its attorneys to discuss the case. As a practical matter, it just wouldn't work, no matter how much I want to see regime change.

On the positive side, now that I no longer serve on the Pamlico County Board of Elections, I am free to talk about any of the candidates. I am free to disclose information to the public without being accused of putting an official thumb on the electoral scales.

Somewhat the same applies to Oriental Town politics. When I was elected to the Town Board in 2007, I knew that I would have to trim my sails to some extent in order to build enough support for actions I thought were needed. Every time a measure was voted on, I had to balance my personal opinion against the knowledge that at the next meeting, I may seek the vote of someone opposed to me on this one.

This isn't necessarily the same as what has derisively been called "log rolling." It is just the common-sense practice of picking your battles. If your object of seeking office is political posturing, it doesn't matter. If your object is to do things - to take action on behalf of the community at large, you need to exercise a bit of restraint.

I still want to accomplish things for the Town, but I am neither mayor nor a member of the Town Board. Nor do I seek those offices.

I admit I was more than a bit annoyed on March 4, when the Town's attorney, Clark Wright, explained to the judge that he should dismiss my complaint because I am "politically disgruntled" and running for mayor. I had never met Clark Wright in my life, had never disclosed any political ambitions with him or discussed anything other than legal procedures associated with the case. Nor will I ever in the future.

I may, however, now feel more free to disclose to the public the vast amount of misinformation they have been fed about the "land swap." I was more than happy for this to play out in the courts. But the Town has made it personal instead of a dispute about law.

I deplore that.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Drama At The Board Of Elections July 19, 2013

My wife and I arrived at Pamlico County Board of Elections a little after 10:00 am today to find that everything was calm and orderly. Lisa Bennett and the newly appointed Board had everything under control. One incumbent Oriental Commissioner was sitting quietly at a table outside the office reading through the filing papers for nearly two hours. Perhaps in indecision.

At that point, we already knew that Bill Sage and Lori Wagoner had filed for mayor of Oriental, and ten candidates had filed for the five commissioner slots, including the former town manager and a slate of his supporters.

Two more candidates filed, both from the old village of Oriental. Finally the incumbent, Barbara Venturi, got up from the table, went into the Director's office and filed for commissioner.

So as filing closed, Oriental had two candidates for mayor and thirteen for commissioner. Here is the story from Town Dock.

If past elections are any guide, that won't be the end of the story.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Filing Deadline For Municipal Elections

The deadline is noon on July 19th at the Board of Elections office at Bayboro (for Pamlico County).

So far, for the Town of Oriental, ten candidates have filed for the five seats (all at large) on the Town Board of Commissioners. Two incumbents (Warren Johnson and Barbara Venturi) have not yet filed for commissioner and no candidates have filed for mayor.

There may be yet more surprises in store tomorrow.

In the rest of the county, filing vacancies are:

Alliance: Three commissioner slots;

Arapahoe: Mayor and one commissioner slot;

Bayboro: Full slate;

Mesic: Full slate;

Minesott Beach: one commissioner slot;

Oriental: Mayor;

Stonewall: Full slate;

Vandemere: One commissioner.

Note: There is no upper limit on number of candidates who can file. If there are not enough candidates to fill all of the elected seats in a Town, the County Board of Elections has authority to extend the filing deadline one week, but no longer. If there remain an insufficient number of candidates, vacancies are filled by write-in votes.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pamlico County: New Board Of Elections Sworn In

There was a brief but well-attended ceremony at the County Board of Elections office in Bayboro at noon today. This is the time set forth in North Carolina General Statutes on the third Tuesday in July of every odd-numbered year, when newly-appointed Board of Elections members are sworn in for two year terms.

I was honored and deeply touched by remarks of the new Chair, Jennifer Roe and the Director of Elections, Lisa Bennett. It meant a lot to me.

I think the County is blessed with a good board that will serve the voters well in coming years.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: Battle Of Kolombangara

The night of July 12/13, 1943, in the Solomons near Kolombangara, three light cruisers and ten destroyers of TG 36.1 (Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth) engage one Japanese light cruiser (Jintsu) and five destroyers (Rear Admiral Izaki Shunji) escorting troop-carrying destroyers. Japanese torpedoes damage U.S. light cruisers Honolulu (CL-48) and St. Louis (CL-49), and New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Leander (which has replaced the lost Helena (CL-50)). Destroyer Gwin (DD-433), damaged by torpedo, is scuttled by Ralph Talbot (DD-390). Destroyers Woodworth (DD-460) and Buchanan (DD-484) are damaged by collision. Japanese light cruiser Jintsu is sunk by cruiser gunfire and destroyer torpedo; and destroyer Yukikaze is damaged.

At this stage of the conflict, nearly two years into the war with Japan,The US Navy still had no idea about the range, speed and explosive power of the Japanese 24" Long Lance torpedo, carried by all Japanese cruisers and destroyers. US forces continued to close Japanese surface ships to fire their own torpedoes, not realizing they were well within range of the Long Lance.

Cruiser Helena was lost a week earlier in the nearby battle of Kula Gulf.
A single Long Lance torpedo did this damage to the bow of USS Honolulu.

Today's New York Times Debate - Is North Carolina A Good Model For State Budgets?

No, it isn't.

Here's the debate.

Later today I'll give my take on the issue. The real question is: "good for whom?"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

First Candidate Files For Oriental Town Commissioner

I just learned that one Oriental resident has filed to run for Town Commissioner: Tony Tharp. Six and a half more days in the filing period.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 8th Hearing On Oriental Land Swap

Regular readers know that I filed a complaint last August against the Town of Oriental for bartering a public right of way (Avenue A) for a parcel of property.

Towns across the United States don't own public rights of way - they hold them in trust for the public. They may not sell rights of way, as the City of Los Angeles attempted to do in the 1920's. They may not barter a right of way.

This is as close to settled law as we have in municipal law.

But the Town of Oriental has put forward the novel proposition that they have the right to sell or exchange rights of way just like any other property they may own in fee simple. They even argued that legal theory in Pamlico County Superior Court and won dismissal of my complaint. Before the presiding judge entered his order, they closed a second public right of way (South Avenue) as a part of the exchange bargain.

I appealed the dismissal. Mr. Kirby Smith of New Bern is representing me in the appeal.

When the Town closed South Avenue, I filed a complaint about that action (there is only a thirty day window to complain).

The Town filed a motion to dismiss my South Avenue complaint and also filed a motion for sanctions against me for so filing.

The case was heard Monday afternoon. The judge did not grant either of the Town's motions. Instead, he stayed any further action on my complaint until after action by the Court of Appeals on my first complaint.

During the course of about a half-hour hearing, Judge Nobles seemed to understand my theory of the case enough to allow the possibility I might prevail. He utterly rejected the Town's motion for sanctions. "It is you who are at fault," he declared to Town attorney Scott Davis and Mayor Sage, "for the existence of two suits, not Mr. Cox."

He prudently decided to wait for the North Carolina Court of Appeals to act. I think it was a wise decision.

By the way, I am not the Lone Ranger in this effort. Many other residents of Oriental have supported and encouraged the effort at every step of the way.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fix The Potholes

Trying to explain what government actually does to people who don't believe in government can be very frustrating.

I have explained from time to time that the function of government is to fix potholes. Both figurative and literal potholes.

Anyone who has driven very far on our highways in recent years knows we have a lot of potholes.

Economist Mark Thoma posted an essay today on fixing things. It is worth reading.

In another post, Robert Frank writes from Berlin that "austerity doesn't work if the roof is leaking." Apparently the Germans have figured out they need to fix stuff. And it helps their economy.

Adam Smith And Cooperation Among Humans (And Dogs)

Not long ago, economic historian Brad Delong published some snippets of information for students in one of his courses. One snippet was a quote from Adam Smith about dogs and trading:

"Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog.... When an animal wants to obtain something either of a man or of another animal, it has no other means of persuasion but to gain the favour of those whose service it requires. A puppy fawns upon its dam, and a spaniel endeavours by a thousand attractions to engage the attention of its master who is at dinner, when it wants to be fed by him. Man sometimes uses the same arts with his brethren, and when he has no other means of engaging them to act according to his inclinations, endeavours by every servile and fawning attention to obtain their good will. He has not time, however, to do this upon every occasion. In civilised society he stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons....

"[M]an has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love...."

Jeff Weintraub observes that this passage from Adam Smith is both clever and deceptive. It sets up a false dichotomy and ignores other forms of cooperation among both dogs and man. Weintraub's essay is very much worth reading and can be found
here. Not everything works through the magic of the marketplace.

Friday, July 5, 2013

1776 For Economists - And Historians

1776 was not only the year of America's Declaration of Independence - it was the year Adam Smith published Wealth Of Nations.

As it turns out, Smith had quite a lot to say about colonies and colonizers. Here is a selection of his views. Of particular note is Smith's prediction: "From shopkeepers, tradesmen, and attornies, they are become statesmen and legislators, and are employed in contriving a new form of government for an extensive empire, which, they flatter themselves, will become, and which, indeed, seems very likely to become, one of the greatest and most formidable that ever was in the world."

150 Years Ago: July 4 At Vicksburg And Gettysburg

Many momentous events in American history have occurred on July 4. The first announcement of the Declaration of Independence was just one of many.

July 4, 1826: former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on that day;
July 4, 1831: former President James Madison died;
July 4, 1863: Confederate forces surrendered at Vicksburg, ending a long siege and putting the Union in command of the entire length of the Mississippi River, cutting the Confederacy in half and isolating the West;
July 4, 1863: Confederate forces at Gettysburg under command of Robert E. Lee begin a long retreat that was to end nearly two years later at Appomattox.

July 4, 1943: Task Group 36.1 moves into position for assault on New Georgia, Solomons Islands the following day, beginning in earnest the long retreat of Japanese forces that was to end two years later in Tokyo Bay.

Today's New York Times prints a thoughtful essay by Paul Krugman, entitled e pluribus unum. I recommend the essay, though I have a slightly different take on some of Krugman's thoughts.

"Is America in 2013," Krugman asks, "in any meaningful sense, the same country that declared independence in 1776?" Krugman's answer is "yes."

My answer is "maybe."

Krugman emphasizes on the one hand how different the country is now from 1776:
"America in 1776," he points out,  "was a rural land, mainly composed of small farmers and, in the South, somewhat bigger farmers with slaves. And the free population consisted of, well, WASPs: almost all came from northwestern Europe, 65 percent came from Britain, and 98 percent were Protestants."

Ethnically, he emphasizes, "we are...very different from the founders. Only a minority of today’s Americans are descended from the WASPs and slaves of 1776. The rest are the descendants of successive waves of immigration: first from Ireland and Germany, then from Southern and Eastern Europe, now from Latin America and Asia. We’re no longer an Anglo-Saxon nation; we’re only around half-Protestant; and we’re increasingly nonwhite."

I am one of that diminishing minority of Americans descended from the WASPS of 1776. All of my ancestors were here by then.

Before I buy into Krugman's assurances that "we are still the same country that declared independence all those years ago," I feel compelled to point out that from the beginning of our history, Americans have had vastly different visions of what the country is and should be.

From 1789 until 1865, there was a clear conflict between the vision of 1776 ("all men are created equal") and the vision of the Constitutional Convention, which facilitated slavery and other serious constraints on liberty. Even so, the Constitution gave lip service to "form a more perfect union" and "secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity."

Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address rescued the vision of 1776 from obscurity. The thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth amendments went far toward incorporating that vision as an integral element of the Constitution.

A good thing to remember in this Sesquicentennial year of America's Civil War.

We remain a Democracy. Securing the blessings of liberty is still up to us.  


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Pamlico County Municipal Elections

Municipal elections in North Carolina occur in November of every odd-numbered year. In case you missed it, 2013 is an odd number.

So you don't have to worry about the election for four more months, right?

Not exactly. As Town Dock reminds us this morning, if you want to run for municipal office, you need to file your candidacy during the filing period beginning noon Friday, July 5, 2013 and ending at noon July 19.

Even if you don't want to run for office but would like to see some new office holders, talk to others about running. Encourage them.

It matters.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Court Hearing(s) Update: July 8 Schedule

We've been a bit busy moving back into our hurricane damaged home Unfinished but livable), so I have made few posts. Here's what's new:

Town of Oriental has filed a motion to dismiss my appeal of the closing of South Avenue: On calendar for Pamlico County Court House at 2:00 pm July 8;
Kirby Smith, attorney retained to pursue my appeal of the order Judge Alford entered April 10 granting Town's motion to dismiss my appeal of closing of Avenue A, has filed a motion for a stay: On calendar for Pamlico County Court House at 2:00 pm July 8;
I have filed a motion for a temporary injunction against further actions by Town transferring rights of way to Chris Fulcher or anyone else until after completion of appellate process;
Town of Oriental has filed a motion against me alleging that I violated Rule 11 of North Carolina Civil Procedures and seeking sanctions: On calendar for Pamlico County Court House at 2:00 pm July 8.

Busy Monday at court next week.