Tuesday, June 15, 2010
The Board of Aldermen voted for a resolution on June 10, 2010 to oppose the construction and operation of the proposed North Carolina International Terminal near Southport. Myself and Aldermen Ed Boguskie and Alderman Mary Ellen Poole voted in favor, Alderman Nelson Adams voted against it, and Alderman Jwantana Frink did not vote (which is officially taken as a vote in favor). Alderman Donnie Potter had to recuse himself from voting on the resolution on the advice of his employer, The US Army Corps of Engineers.
Mayor Robert Howard spoke against the resolution during the public comment period after turning over the gavel to Mayor Pro Tempore Poole (as dictated by Roberts Rules of Order). He also read a letter from Ports Authority CEO Tom Eagar wherein he apologized for his public reference to port opponents as follows: "They're a very small group. They're new to North Carolina. They're extremely biased. And, quite honestly, they're misinformed." The Raleigh News & Observer reported him as calling port opponents "know-nothings and transplants."
A rose is still a rose by any other name (that's Shakespeare, not me).
Eagar also mentioned in the letter that he and the Mayor should get together and have lunch.
He wants to meet with the Mayor, not the citizens of Southport!
Eagar's response was to meet with the Mayor, 2 aldermen, the city manager and have lunch. After the lunch he asked for Southport's help in getting a dedicated limited access road from the port to Highway 17. He also demured when asked if he'd come and talk with our citizens. After repeated requests, neither Tom Eagar or the Ports Authority staff responded to us. Even though the port would be immediately adjacent to our city, and the main gate for the port would be at the eastern end of our very own East Moore Street, the Ports Authority has never spoken to our residents about this project.
So, given that the Ports Authority has no intention of explaining to us the benefits or potential problems with their pet project, and no intention of giving Southport (a major stakeholder) any input whatsoever, it seemed naive--bordering on idiotic--to hold out hope that we would ever be able to influence this project. Mayor Howard claimed he could get a local resident a position on the NCSPA board. But locals know how that goes when we dealt with the NCSPA during the marina war. Southport had 2 citizens who were "on the board" during the process to determine the fate of the Southport Marina. The NCSPA simply held a basic meeting, adjourned to allow our 2 reps to leave, then reconvened to conduct the real business. Fool me once, shame on you. Now you don't get a chance to fool me again.
Why did this resolution need to be done now? The issue of funding the feasibility study is now before our state legislature. The State of North Carolina is in severe financial trouble, yet Governor Perdue snuck this item into the budget. The state's share of the study is $4.7 million. Fortunately, a number of assembly members from both parties caught it and passed an amendment to allocate ZERO funds for anything having to do with the proposed port. The vote was 104 in favor of the amendment and 11 against. The issue is now in negotiations with the state senate where Governor Perdue is still trying to squeeze the money out of the stone that is the state's revenues. All communication with numerous legislators, the Governor's aides and state agencies have included this question: what is the position of the local governments regarding the proposed port? They want us to make a stand. Well, we made one and I'm glad we can now communicate that to the rest of the world.
Some folks feel all the facts are not in regarding the port and that we need to see the results of the US Army Corps of Engineers studies before a decision can be made. Not only is this false, once many of the studies have begun--especially the environmental impact study--the project is already a done deal. This delaying tactic is a tradition among corporations and agencies who know how the game is played and are able to get their project past the unsuspecting public. Fortunately we are suspecting, thanks to No Port Southport and other advocacy groups. The bottom line is that once we get all the information from the Ports Authority and the Corps of Engineers, it's too late to do anything about it.
I've done a blog post about the port last year (see 2009 archive) so I won't go into the myriad of reasons why this port is an incredibly bad idea for our area. In fact, a port built in any area would be a bad idea given the current and future economics of the international shipping trade, the need for the USA to reduce the importation of cheap goods, the reduction in shipping of goods from China (their own bergoning middle class consumers want them), and the ability of existing ports on the East Coast to handle whatever increase in traffic may occur for many years to come. It would cost the taxpayers astronomically huge amounts of money on a bet that international container shipping will improve to the extent that there will be enough left over for North Carolina. If you want to read about a similar boondoggle perpetrated by a state agency, check out the Global TransPark in Kinston, NC.
Mr. Eagar's "apology" also included a promise to open a constructive dialog between the NCSPA and Southport's leaders and citizens. It was stated in identical language to his letter back in January when he made the exact same promises. This is called political rhetoric, wherein rhetoric is defined here as " insincere or grandiloquent language" by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Mayor Howard added more rhetoric when he made his plea to give the NCSPA and Mr. Eagar more time.
When the agenda item came around (placed there by your humble alderman) it was listed as a "discussion of the city's position regarding the proposed port." Mayor Howard asked me at the start of the meeting whether or not a vote would be taken. I responded, "If the Board so desires, a vote may be taken." This did not sit well with the Mayor. When I made my motion to pass a resolution opposing the port, Mayor Howard declared my motion out of order because it was on the agenda as a discussion item and the Board was not given any information in advance that a vote would be taken. Robert's Rules of Order, and parliamentary law in general, allows a motion to be made as long as it applies to the subject at hand. I appealed his ruling and a vote of the Board upheld my appeal.
There are several questions to ask at this point. We have conducted a public hearing about the port (January 2010) and had a long discussion during our vote to repeal the past resolution in favor of the port. What difference would it have made to wait another month? By then, the vote in the NC State Assembly would have been taken regarding the budget and we would not be on record as to our position. Was the delay requested playing into the hands of the NCSPA? Absolutely (see delaying tactics above). Is there something the opponents of the resolution--especially the Mayor--could have done to change the outcome? No, but they could have tried to embarrass those who were in favor of the resolution.
You may recall the very first board meeting when we were sworn in. The Mayor wanted Nelson Adams to be the Mayor Pro Tempore, a position he's held in the past. To do this he claimed that it was the city's tradition to elect the longest serving alderman to hold the position. This is completely false. Second, he made sure the audience was filled with a large number of folks from the African American community. Their presence was supposed to either intimidate us into voting his way, or to hold up those who voted for Mary Ellen Poole as racists. Alderman Poole won the vote and I voted for her. It has resulted in a number of African American citizens regarding me as a racist, but mostly it served to embarrass Alderman Adams who should have never been put in that position. Fortunately, Nelson Adams is a man of strong character and personality so he has not let that vote affect him in a negative way.
Minutes later Alderman Donnie Potter read his letter of resignation, which was accepted by the Board. He then made a motion to recommend his wife, Vickie Potter, to be his replacement. Alderman Boguskie seconded his motion and the discussion revolved around whether or not such a motion was proper. It was, and this was verified by the City Attorney. Opponents, including the Mayor, still felt it was wrong to vote on the replacement so quickly. Again, the question is what difference a month would make to the outcome of the vote. If the Board wanted to delay the motion (as with the motion regarding the resolution) they can vote to do so. The Board did not want to delay and Vickie Potter will fill out the remaining 18 months of Donnie's term.
The Mayor still felt that those on the board who led these 2 votes had done something unethical. He read a speech on June 14 (at the continuation of our board meeting) wherein he was embarrassed to be part of this Board after these actions and felt that we were engaging in "shock & awe" tactics that had been used by our predecessors many times. He also accused us of character assassination (of whom I am not certain). It was a damning speech aimed at pointing out to whomever was listening that Aldermen Boguskie, Poole, Potter and I were bad people--and worse leaders of our community.
This is especially rich considering 1) we'd done nothing that violated any rule, ordinance or parliamentary procedure, 2) delaying both motions would not have changed the outcome, and 3) the only connecting factor was that the Mayor disagreed with our vote.
Robert's Rules of Order clearly state that the presiding officer, in our case the Mayor, must be impartial. I've lost a number of votes that I consider important, but you don't see me making statements--that must be read into the minutes of the meeting--criticizing those who hold a different view. Having the Mayor do this not only violates his duty to be impartial, it attempts to undermine the majority rules process that is the hallmark of representative government. Clearly the Mayor wants things done his way, but he must bend or manipulate the Board members in order to fulfill his wishes. Examining the NC State statutes on the powers of the Mayor in a Council-City Manager form of government show that these actions are not in accordance with the letter or the spirit of the state law.
I cannot say how this acrimony will affect the Board and our efforts to improve the City of Southport for all of our citizens. We did have an excellent discussion yesterday (before the Mayor's speech) in which every member participated. The discourse was fruitful and was held with complete respect of each other's opinions. It is my hope that this attitude will prevail in all future work we do as a Board. I don't expect that we'll always agree, but you'll never hear me condemning other board members in public for their opinions or votes.
On va voir - Ken
Some good things are happening:
- Lowe-White Park is now open. It has new tennis courts, basketball court, nature trails, playground, and a real working drinking fountain and restroom facility. It's open from dawn to dusk.
- The Beautification Committee has been re-activated and will soon be working on initiatives to make our city even more beautiful (and to maintain our city's appearance).
- A Tourism Committee is working to establish goals for the city's tourism department and ways in which we can attract more visitors (especially of the overnight variety).
- A new ordinance to allow A-frame signs has been passed. They were previously illegal, but now there are a set of restrictions that sign owners must follow and a permit process. Information will be sent out to business owners within the next month before the ordinance is enforced.
- The city budget has been passed, which includes a 2.5% pay increase for our city employees and no tax increases for our citizens.
- The city has initiated a facilities assessment and spatial analysis for all city-owned buildings. This will allow us to determine the condition of our buildings, the best way to use each of them, and cost estimates to repair, restore or rebuild them.
- We are close to getting a new city website. Stay tuned for more on this.
- We have a new Alderman! She is Vickie Potter, the wife of Donnie Potter who had to resign for work reasons and recommended Vickie as his replacement. See my next blog post for more on this vote, but we welcome Vickie to the wacky world of municipal government.
The citizen proposal to allow chickens in the city limits died without board action. That means it can be revisited in the future (a "No" vote would have meant one year until it could be reconsidered). The public response was very cool to the idea and only 2-3 advocates made their voices heard at the public hearing and the public comment period during the meetings in which it was being discussed.
I am certainly willing to reconsider an ordinance to allow chickens, but there are 2 large items that need to be addressed before it has any chance of passing the Board of Aldermen: education of the public to convince doubters that chickens can be raised safely, cleanly, and without noise problems, and a solution for the enforcement problem.
If there are enough citizens interested in pursuing a pro-chicken ordinance for Southport, here are some things I can recommend.
- Form a dedicated group of citizens who can help educate our anti-poultry residents about the realities of raising backyard chickens.
- Craft an ordinance (using existing ordinances from other cities as reference) that will be enforcible and practical for Southport.
- Include in the ordinance a provision for volunteer involvement in enforcing the ordinance. We only have one animal control officer and no resources for hiring more anytime soon. Volunteers must be trained and have a full knowledge of both the city ordinance and the care of backyard chickens.
At this time the support for urban chickens seems to be soft, and the number of folks against them is high. If it's ever going to be a reality, at least the above steps should be taken.
My next blog will get down to the nitty gritty on some controversial issues--most notably the proposed port and the authority and influence of the Mayor. I strongly recommend you check it out.
Ciao for now - Ken