Petty politics serves no purpose

Published 10:46 am Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I’m confused…and nearing the age of 57 years, it perhaps will not be the last time.

As I was editing Amanda VanDerBroek’s article – “Northampton officials have change of heart” – for Saturday’s edition, it dawned on me that I had heard this story before.

In a nutshell, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners rejected a motion at their March 15 meeting to demolish a structure located on Old Emporia Road, north of Garysburg.

The structure in question was identified through the county’s Unsafe Buildings Ordinance. That ordinance takes affect when, according to my research regarding previous meetings of the Northampton Commissioners, structures are determined to be sub-standard, abandoned or otherwise dilapidated located on private property throughout the county.

In a February 19, 2005 article (N’hampton plans to bump up ‘curb appeal’) published in the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, the Northampton County Code Enforcement Department unveiled its plans to implement a program of removing dilapidated structures in the county.

According to department officials, the program will begin with a “friendly approach” to property owners on which abandoned and decaying structures are located. Those property owners will be notified at which time substantially dilapidated structure(s) are identified on their property. They will be informed about the county’s removal program and their cooperation in removing the structures on their own will be the initial request. After a reasonable period of time, if no action has been taken, the county will move forward and have the structures removed.

During the FY 2005 budgeting process, the Northampton County Board of Commissioners approved the measure and allotted $30,000 to the project. At that time, the commissioners were unified in the belief that…“the removal of dilapidated structures will protect the values of adjoining properties, protect the safety of neighboring residents and enhance the overall appearance of the community.”

The properties in question will be inspected and if found to be unsafe will be labeled with a placard stating that the structure has been condemned, followed by a notice to the property owner regarding a hearing that will be held before the inspector. If the owner of a building failed to comply with the order issued following an appeal, that person would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and the county would remove the structure and place a lien against the property for whatever costs were incurred with the removal.

Now, with all that said, it appears the idea of clearing eyesores from the county is no longer a priority, even among some commissioners that favored it originally.

At last week’s meeting, Commissioner Chester Deloatch suggested that the ordinance was “discriminatory” and that he was “500 percent against it.”

In all fairness, Commissioner Deloatch is consistent…he voted against the ordinance in February of 2008. But how he arrives at his “discriminatory” logic is beyond me. Maybe the county’s Inspection Department is favoring dilapidated wood frame structures over ones constructed of brick. And is Commissioner Deloatch now five times more opposed to this ordinance than he was in 2008?

I’m also confused with Commissioner Virginia Spruill. Back in 2005 when she was serving as Chairwoman of the board, Spruill voiced concern about a group of buildings located on the south end of Rich Square on U.S. 258. She said the buildings were a health risk and she was concerned about the county’s policy to address areas with high traffic first, rather than those which pose a health risk.

Apparently she was upset that the county was first targeting dilapidated structures to clean up where economic development was taking place, which, to date, is basically confined to the western end of the county.

Perhaps that led to her “no” vote last week. The property in question was north of Garysburg, not south of her home turf in Rich Square.

Even Commissioner Robert Carter, who voted yes to the ordinance in 2008, said no to demolishing the Garysburg structure.

My suggestion to the Northampton Commissioner is to put your petty politics aside and get on with the business of serving ALL citizens of the county. If you have an ordinance dealing with this issue, enforce it. When you choose not to, all the money – the taxpayer’s money (mine included) – it took to legally arrive at the point of demolition has been wasted.

Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at or 252-332-7207.