Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Medgar Evers, Non-Violence And The March On Washington

The March on Washington is one of those events that people use to mark time and transformation. "Did you go?," people ask. "Where were you on that day?"

I was serving my country, stationed on Adak in the Aleutian Islands. Defending democracy.

We had no newspaper and no live television, but still I followed events in Mississippi and in the nation's capitol.

I knew of the entry of James Meredith into my alma mater, the University of Mississippi. Many college administrators and professors I knew were involved in the court battles. The University was under attack by the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission and the White Citizens' Council.

I followed the violent assault on federal marshals when Meredith was enrolled. Some lost their lives at that time.

I knew of the assassination of Medgar Evers on June 12, a little more than two months before the March on Washington.

The hallmark of response to white violence in those formative years of the Civil Rights Movement, whether in Montgomery, Birmingham, Oxford, or during the voter registration drives, was non-violence.

For anyone familiar with the violence by white supremacists against blacks in the south, the non-violent response, even in the face of massive efforts to provoke violence, was impressive. The level of organization, the discipline and restraint during large demonstrations, were unprecedented. (Well, there was the precedent of the Women's Suffrage Movement).

The power of non-violence to transform the political situation was certainly Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s greatest insight. He had read the writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi, a small brown man wearing only a loincloth and carrying a walking stick, had ended the power of the world's greatest empire in India.

What power!

Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that power and used it.

We are all the better for it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Seventy Years Ago In The Pacific: August 27, 1943 At Nukufetau

Marines (2d Airdrome Battalion) and Seabees (16th Construction Battalion) occupy the atoll at Nukufetau. The purpose is to set up an air base to support offensive operations later in the year against the Gilbert and Marshall Islands. Army troops (RCT 172 of 43d Infantry Division) land on Arundel Island, Solomons, for the same purpose. 

Nukufetau (178.375E 8.064S) is an atoll in the Ellice Islands group northwest of Funafuti. It is nine miles (14 km km) long and five miles (8 km) wide. Its reef-enclosed lagoon has just two passes on the northwest, of which the larger is Teafua Pass. Deafatule Pass  to its north is narrow and tortuous. The lagoon is too shallow for large ships. Supplies, therefore, had to be brought in by landing craft from Funafuti. The largest islet, Motolalo, was swampy and heavily vegetated.
Within a month after marines and Seabees came ashore, they had built a 3500' fighter runway (ready 9 October), and later in the month completed a 6100'  bomber runway was completed later in the month.

Things Are Hopping In Oriental The Last Few Days - Walmart is coming! Or Maybe Not

A large and growing group has formed to oppose Walmart's plan to open a Walmart Express just outside Oriental's Town Limit.

Walmart Express is a new concept, apparently targeted at small town grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and gas stations. It is being tried in two states (Arkansas and North Carolina) and one large city (Chicago).

Walmart Express won't bring any new economic activity to Pamlico County or to Oriental. It will, at best, replace existing businesses, putting locally-owned stores out of business and taking the profits off to Arkansas or wherever the Walton family vault resides.

There have been some good letters to the editor posted in Town Dock:

It's very difficult, but not impossible, to stand in the way of what Walmart wants.

Stand by for further developments.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pamlico County Commissioners Go For Wind Generators

After several months worth of effort, On Monday night, Pamlico County's Board of Commissioners voted five to two to adopt the Pamlico County Wind Energy Ordinance developed by the County Planning Board. Because the vote was not unanimous, there will be another vote taken at the Board's next regular meeting.

I spoke in favor of adopting the ordinance even though I agree with Neil Jones of Kimley-Horn and Associates that the ordinance is more restrictive than necessary. That can be fixed.

Well done to the Planning Board and the County Commissioners!

Oriental Planning Board: Back To The Future

Last night's meeting of the Town's Planning Board considered a number of issues that, to long-time residents, would have seemed "old hat."

One such issue was a request by Town Manager Wyatt Cutler for the Planning Board to revisit the issue of the Growth Management Ordinance limitation on overall building footprint. Section 77 of the GMO contains a number of limits on lot coverage. What got Mr. Cutler's interest is the provision limiting the maximum footprint for a building to 5,000 square feet in zone R-2, 6,000 square feet in R-3, 6,000 square feet for residential buildings and 8,000 square feet for non-residential or mixed use buildings in MU and MU-1. Wyatt pointed out that, curiously, there is no footprint limit in our most restrictive residential area, R-1.

These numbers were hammered out about six years ago with great acrimony in a series of meetings involving many members of the public. Like every such agreement, the GMO represents a carefully-balanced set of compromises among residents with differing views.

The present Planning Board showed no great enthusiasm to take on the issue of amending this part of the GMO. In fact, when Wyatt repeated his observation that there is no limit in R-1, Board member David White suggested that maybe there should be one.

Another old issue was raised during public comment period when local resident Pat Herlands asked the Board if they were considering reexamining the desirability of conditional zoning. All five members responded that they were not planning to reconsider that.

Here is an earlier post of mine from three years ago on the conditional zoning issue.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Oriental, NC Water Board

Yesterday (Friday, August 16), the Oriental Town Board held a special meeting to discuss the state of the Town's water treatment plant and the related issue of whether to adopt an ordinance officially establishing a town water board.

One of the mysteries to me is why that should even be at issue. The state of the Town's water treatment plant is atrocious, as a number of us learned during an official tour of the plant last May 21st. There can be no doubt that the Town Board of Commissioners needs to receive independent advice on the needs of the plant. All other standing advisory boards are established by ordinance. We know how many members there are, what qualifications are sought, how long the terms of appointment, what are the functions and responsibilities of the board. Why not do the same with the Water Board?

When I sought that information five years ago, I found no ordinance at all. Only rumors that such a board once existed. That is not acceptable.

At Friday's meeting, Captain Jim Barton, United States Navy, (retired) and Oriental resident, provided a well-organized, lucid presentation on what our water plant requires and what it doesn't have. He made it abundantly clear that the plant is not operating the way it was designed, and that these deficiencies have existed for years.

Maintaining water chemistry requirements for the Town's system presented no mysteries to someone who has been responsible for boiler water chemistry of a 1200 psi steam plant. Deviations from those requirements can cause catastrophic boiler failures and loss of life. Compared to that, the challenges of operating the Town's water plant are comparatively small, but nevertheless important.

The Town Board has had in its hands for months an ordinance drafted by Commissioner Summers that would have formalized an advisory board. Some board members argued that the ordinance wasn't perfect, and board member Venturi insisted that the Town Board should meet with the apparently nonexistent water board to discuss the ordinance.

At this stage, it appears that Captain Barton will be an essential member of any Water Board that is established.

Barton explained that under present Town Manager Wyatt Cutler, improvements have already been made. Other planned near term improvements include replacing inoperative control panels with more modern and reliable equipment, as well as replacing and repairing failed control valves.

These failures would not, in my view, have happened with a proper valve maintenance program and an effective Operation and Maintenance manual.

At Friday's  meeting, the Town Board appointed a drafting committee of perhaps a half dozen members.

Good way to get nothing done.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: Invasion Of Vella Lavella

Third Amphibious Force (Rear Admiral Theodore S. Wilkinson) lands Navy, Marine, and Army personnel at Vella Lavella, Solomons, thus by-passing enemy positions on Kolombangara, Solomons.This advanced the Solomons campaign considerably, but many naval battles were to follow.

Meanwhile, to the north, Naval task force under Commander North Pacific Force (Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid) lands U.S. Army and Canadian troops at Kiska, Aleutians. They find Kiska had been evacuated by the Japanese on 28 July 1943. Only casualties in the operation occur because of accidents or friendly fire incidents.

Vegetative Waste: A Case Study

Early last week, at Oriental's Town Board meeting, Commissioner Warren Johnson presented a "show and tell" demonstration of the vegetative waste bags the Town had procured, at a cost of about $4,000.

The "show part" was to demonstrate the enormous size of the reusable bags. Johnson called on the acting Town Manager, Wyatt Cutler, to assist him in spreading one of the bags out. The bag looked to have a capacity of about 100 cubic feet. It presented a rare dramatic photo opportunity, and newspaperman Jeff Aydelette of County Compass took full advantage. Jeff's photo graced one of County Compasses' inside pages. Pamlico News also reported the story.

The "tell" part was when Commissioner Johnson described the process and the cost to the Town. He related in amazement his discovery that Town Public Works employees were delivering bags to residents on request (tying up the employee for the time it takes for delivery) and then returning to pick up the bags full of waste, including branches as large as three inches in diameter.

Since a full bag could weigh hundreds of pounds, it might require a front loader to retrieve the bag. Once retrieved, the Town would have to pay for disposal of the waste.

Members of the public had a big laugh at the description, and the Board quickly voted to suspend the program while the Acting Town Manager examined options.

While both local newspapers reported what happened during the meeting, neither reported the rest of the story - or what might be called the "back story."

The idea of vegetative waste bags was first broached by Town Manager Bob Maxbauer at the Town Board's first retreat at River Dunes in January, 2012. Only three members of the public attended that session. As presented, the bags would be obtained at very little cost, and the vegetative debris would be deposited in a Town compost heap.

The "very little cost" turned out to be around $4,000 and the compost heap was never created.

Occasionally during meetings of the current Board, Town Manager Maxbauer made seemingly hostile remarks directed at Commissioner Johnson. Perhaps he apologized afterwards. I have no way of knowing.

I don't know if there is any connection between these events and Commissioner Johnson's pointed criticism of the vegetative waste project.

Investigative journalists might want to check it out.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: WWII In The Pacific - Bombing Kiska August 12, 1943

ALASKA (Eleventh Air Force): From Adak B-24's and B-25's fly 26 bombing, strafing, and radar and photo reconnaissance sorties over Kiska. From Amchitka P-40's, P-38's, B-24's, B-25's, and A-24s fly 70 bombing sorties over the island and are joined by B-24's, P-40's, and F-5A's flying 6 reconnaissance and photo sorties. Targets included the runway, harbor and shipping installations, army barracks, and the Rose Hill area. Lost is B-24D 42-40309.

My friend Ray Rundle, a Navy Communications Technician expert in communications intelligence then stationed on Adak, told the Army there were no more Japanese troops on the island. The Army didn't believe him. Army pilots insisted that Japanese troops remained and had fired anti aircraft weapons against Army bombing missions.

In fact, the Japanese troops had evacuated the island under cover of fog on July 28, two weeks earlier.

When the US Army invasion force stormed ashore on August fifteenth, the invaders found three dogs. US Navy Chief of Naval Operations Earnest King reported to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox that all they found were some dogs and freshly brewed coffee. When Knox questioned the report, King responded that Japanese dogs were very clever and knew how to make coffee.

Descendants of the Japanese dogs still lived on Adak when I was stationed there twenty years later. And Ray Rundle, who had been commissioned and promoted to the rank of Navy Lieutenant, had also returned to Adak.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tony's Back

There is always a bit of an empty spot in public discourse when Tony Tharp's blog disappears, as it did a week or so ago.

I don't read him because I agree with him, though I often do. I read him because he makes me think.

That's a good thing.

Today he says he has made his last comment on Oriental politics for awhile.

I hope that isn't true.

Nevertheless, there are bigger and perhaps more interesting fish to fry in North Carolina politics.

What is happening in this state is worthy of Tony's analytic talents.

What do you suppose he means by "worth plowing through?"

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Town Of Oriental Board Meeting August 6, 2013

NCGS Section 160A-81.1:

"The council shall provide at least one period for public comment per month at a regular meeting of the council. The council may adopt reasonable rules governing the conduct of the public comment period, including, but not limited to, rules (i) fixing the maximum time allotted to each speaker, (ii) providing for the designation of spokesmen for groups of persons supporting or opposing the same positions, (iii) providing for the selection of delegates from groups of persons supporting or opposing the same positions when the number of persons wishing to attend the hearing exceeds the capacity of the hall, and (iv) providing for the maintenance of order and decorum in the conduct of the hearing. The council is not required to provide a public comment period under this section if no regular meeting is held during the month. (2005‑170, s. 3.)
Sections:  Previous  160A-75  160A-76  160A-77  160A-78  160A-79  160A-80  160A-81  160A-81.1  160A-82  160A-86  160A-87  160A-101  160A-102  160A-103  160A-104"

At the beginning of last night's Town Board meeting, Mayor Bill Sage announced that he wants to try scheduling public comment at the monthly agenda meeting, held the Thursday prior to the regular (monthly) meeting. He explained this would afford more time for such comments.

A reading of NCGS 160A-81.1, which establishes the statutory requirement for public comments, reveals some interesting things:

1. The public comment period must be during a regular meeting of the council. It isn't clear that the agenda workshop, at which no business is conducted, meets the statutory requirement. Of course, nothing prevents the council from providing more than the minimum requirements for public comment;

2. It is the council, not the mayor, who may adopt "reasonable rules" for the conduct of the public comment period. I don't remember the council ever doing this.

Board members may assume that setting the rules is part of the mayor's duties as presiding officer, but that seems not to be the case. Another of those pesky technicalities.

Probably easily fixed.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

July 3 2012: Minutes And Transcript Compared

A week or so ago, I posted a transcript of the Town's audio recording of the Board's deliberation on July 3 of 2012 concerning street closings: here.

The accepted standard for complete minutes of public meetings is that the minutes should record what was DONE, (that is, motions and resolutions made, seconded, votes recorded, etc.) rather than what was SAID. By that standard, the Town's minutes for July 3 are not acceptable. Compare the audio recording above with the published minutes on the Town's web site here.

The minutes change the order of events and misrepresent the wording of the motions voted on and adopted.

I must say, the only commissioner in recent years who has compared the minutes with the audio and insisted on accuracy was Jennifer Roe. These particular minutes, on a matter of great importance and significance to the Town, are NOT accurate.

As we start thinking about forthcoming municipal elections, we should remember to keep the handling of public records in mind.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What Experience Should A President Have?

Jonathan Bernstein posts an interesting entry on his "A Plain Blog On Politics" concerning the experience we should look for in a presidential candidate here.

The post was occasioned by a comment by economist Brad DeLong, who opined that we should elect former governors in preference to Senators and Congressmen.

I admit I have often had similar thoughts. And then I would think about our experience in the twentieth century with former governors in the presidency. By no means has our experience been uniformly good.

I thought the discussion following Bernstein's blog post was quite good. I particularly liked "Kylopod's" entry, summarizing the resumes of our early presidents. A mix of experience very rare today. Only recent exception might be George H. W. Bush.

Matt Jarvis calls attention to one 2008 contender for the Democratic Party nomination who had similar depth of experience as our early presidents and who did every job well: Bill Richardson. He would have made a superb president.

Seventy Years Ago: John F. Kennedy And PT-109 In The Solomons

World War II PT-boats were fast, but little faster than Japanese Destroyers. Their armament was quite limited, and their torpedoes were no match for the Japanese Long Lance. But they were small, highly maneuverable and hard to shoot at.

It was the night of August 1, 1943 when PT-109 and Japanese destroyers were maneuvering at high speed at "darken ship" (no lights showing).  By 0200 PT-109 had slowed to idling speed, using only its centerline engine in order to minimize its wake so as not to be spotted from the air.

Suddenly the crew became aware of Japanese destroyer Amagiri bearing down on them at high speed. They had only about ten seconds to light off the outboard engines (PT-109 was powered with three twelve-cylinder Packard gasoline engines). It wasn't enough.

Amagiri sliced PT-109 in two, causing it to burst into flames from its high octane AVGAS. The skipper, John Kennedy, managed to get the eleven surviving crew members to a small nearby island. Two crewmen perished in the collision.

Kennedy went for help. On August 5th, Kennedy found native Solomon Islanders, who were able to help. The full story is here.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

It's All About The Water - And Rights Of Way

Last year, when I was offering the Town's elected officials every suggestion I could muster on how to avoid legal missteps on South Avenue, I advised them to seek an opinion from the Attorney General.

I wasn't flying blind. I had a copy of an advisory opinion issued by the NC Justice Department in 1995 addressed to Oriental's Town Attorney. The opinion thoroughly explored right of way law across the nation as it concerned streets leading to navigable waters. I even called Town official's attention to the letter, which I knew was in Town files. That's where I got my copy.

When the mayor replied that the Town didn't want its hands tied, I wondered if they had actually consulted the document.

As it turns out, the Attorney General's advisory opinion is posted on the NC Department of Justice web site here. It totally refutes many of the claims made by the Town's attorneys at the court hearing of March 4, 2013.

Another opinion, that of the North Carolina Court of Appeals in the case of the Town of Oriental v. Henry, also in the Town's files, counters many points made on March 4 by Town's attorney. Here is that opinion, on the Court of Appeals web site.

A careful reading of these two opinions will reward anyone interested in legal issues associated with rights of way, especially those leading to navigable waters.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

My Thoughts Of A Year Ago On South Avenue

In the interest of informing the public about the South Avenue case, I thought it would be useful to share a letter I sent to the mayor and Town Board last June 15, more than two seeks before the Board hearing on closing Avenue A and South Avenue. This was one of a series of similar communications to Town officials that I had sent starting January 28, 2012.

I had hoped by bringing legal precedents to the Board's attention that they would proceed with caution.

It didn't work. Here's the letter:

David R. Cox
409 Academy Street
Oriental, NC 28571
June 15, 2012

The Honorable William Sage
Mayor, Town of Oriental
507 Church Street
Oriental, NC 28571

Re: Proposal to Vacate South Avenue and Avenue A and Agreement between the TOWN OF ORIENTAL and G.CHRISTOPHER FULCHER et al

Dear Mr. Mayor:

I oppose the contract approved by the board of commissioners of the town of Oriental on May 17 between the town and Mr. Chris Fulcher. I oppose it not because of the resulting shape and size of the property accruing to the town, though I think a better result could have been negotiated.

I oppose it because it violates a fundamental principle of right of way law: “the governing body shall not sell or barter the streets and alleys which it holds in trust for the benefit of the public.”

I have no specialized legal resources, but have easily located authoritative legal references confirming that a town may not sell or barter a public right of way:

"a City has no power to sell or barter the streets and alleys which it holds in trust for the benefit of the public and cannot vacate a street for the benefit of a purely private interest." - Roney Inv. Co. v. City of Miami Beach, 174 So. 2d 26, 29 (Fla. 1937),

See also AT&T v. Village of Arlington Heights, 620 N.E.2d 1040, (“Municipalities do not possess proprietary powers over the public streets [which are] ... held in trust for the use of the public.”); 

Eugene McQuillin, Law of Municipal Corporations, (3d rev. ed. 1990) at § 30.40 (“[T]he estate of the city in its streets … is essentially public and not private property, and the city in holding it is considered the agent and trustee of the public and not a private owner for profit or emolument.” The power to maintain and regulate the use of  the streets is a trust for the benefit of the general public, of which the city cannot divest itself…”);

The contract which the town board approved on May 17 by a 4-1 vote sets forth a barter transaction, and transforms the town into a proprietor rather than a trustee of public streets.

This is not an obscure principle or an arcane technicality. It is fundamental. "...Whatever rights the city may have over its streets, its powers are those of a trustee for the benefit of the public, liberally construed for its benefit, strictly construed to its detriment." McQuillen at 569.

One of the most powerful protections of the public interest in rights of way is precisely the prohibition against selling or bartering them. That removes any temptation for the governing body to divest itself of rights of way held in the public trust for short term fiscal benefit.

To barter this town's most irreplaceable  long-term asset - public access to the public trust waters of our harbor - for real estate held in fee simple, will inevitably tempt future town boards to sell the resulting waterfront property to meet short term fiscal needs. Once sold, the public will never get it back. Ever.

To barter a right of way, dedicated in perpetuity by Mr. R.P. Midyette for the purpose of public access to the water, for a parcel of unrestricted real estate which a future board of commissioners could sell without even a public hearing does not protect the public interest.

Indeed, one of the present commissioners has expressed the view at a public meeting that the town SHOULD sell some of its rights of way. When someone suggested yesterday that there should be some restrictions on property acquired by the town in this proposed transaction, preferably a dedication to the public with restrictions that would preclude such a conversion to revenue by a future governing body, this same commissioner asked, "why would we want to tie our hands that way?"

Why? Because our rights of way are held in trust.

Town Boards may not always keep the town's future in mind. We need to help them do so.

There may have been a way to accept Mr. Fulcher's donation of property so that it was not a sale or barter and so the public's interests were protected by conditions of the gift. There may yet be a way.

The contract approved by the town board on May 17 isn't it.


David R. Cox

CC: Mr. Sherrill Styron, Commissioner
Mr. Warren Johnson, Commissioner
Mr. Larry Summers, Commissioner
Ms. Barbara Venturi, Commissioner
Ms. Michelle Bissette, Commissioner
Mr. Robert J. Maxbauer, Town Manager

Friday, August 2, 2013

Do You Know Who Your Commissioner Is?

Recent arrivals to the Town of Oriental sometimes ask: "who is my commissioner?"

Good question. The short answer is: "you don't have one."

One of the consequences of the fact that we elect all of our Town Commissioners at large is that no commissioner represents any particular part of Town. You can't, for example, call Commissioner Jones and say, "there is a pothole on my street that needs repair" and be confident that Commissioner Jones will look into it because he represents your district.

Our system of government, in other words, is not inherently responsive to citizen concerns.

This situation has been exacerbated in recent years by the Town Board's refusal to engage in exchanges of information with citizens at public meetings. Not only does this show a lack of respect for the public, it frequently deprives the Town Board of insights and information it needs in order to do its job.

There is a better way.

North Carolina General Statutes allow towns to modify their charters by ordinance. Such ordinances must pick from a menu of choices, and may allow a referendum on each change made.

One of the choices is to elect commissioners from districts, or a mix of commissioners from districts and at large.

I recommend a mix of three commissioners elected from districts representing equal numbers of residents plus two elected at large.

That way, we would each know who our commissioner is.