Not all thinking is stinking

Published 6:19 pm Tuesday, November 12, 2019

In this exact space on Oct. 30, I expressed my opinion for the elected leaders of my home county to carefully explore all costs associated with plans – as explained within a legal document (a Request for Qualifications or an RFQ) sent by the county to this newspaper – for “the construction of a convention center complex to expand the County’s recreational and wellness offerings and to further economic development within the County. The project site will be located at or near 625 Edwards Beach Road (NC State Road 1250), Henrico, North Carolina.”

Judging by nearly an hour’s worth of comments from three of the five Northampton Commissioners at their Nov. 4 meeting, I’m apparently not on board with their plans to see our county grow and prosper.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

I based the pretense of my column on exactly what the commissioners stated in the RFQ, and at a previous meeting of that board, one where former District Court Judge Alfred Kwasikpui specifically asked Commission Chair Charles Tyner if the intended purpose of buying the Lake Gaston property was for a “recreation, wellness and convention center” that was listed on the Strategic Plan the commissioners unveiled earlier this year.” Tyner confirmed this was indeed the land’s intended use (as reported in this newspaper’s Sept. 21 edition – “Northampton purchases lake property”).

At the Nov. 4 meeting, Tyner backtracked on that plan, saying it wasn’t a convention center, but rather a community center. There’s a hug difference between the two, as in their respective size and the amount of infrastructure needed to support them. If the project is a community center, then all the cost estimates I used in my Oct. 30 column are incorrect. A community center will not require millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements.

But there remain several inconsistences about the overall plan at Edwards Beach, which apparently will feature a building something along the lines of the county’s Health & Wellness Center in Jackson.

Mr. Tyner stated at the Nov. 4 meeting, “we know what it’s going to take for the water and wastewater; we’ve got engineers who told us what it’s going to take. Please note that this paper is wrong. We do know what it’s going to take for sewer; we’ve already investigated it.”

I assume, by that statement, that the RFQ (dated Oct. 22) has already produced a respondent whose bid for engineering services has been approved by the board and the firm has already explored all facets of the county’s development plans for Edwards Beach and submitted a cost estimate. By the way….that’s not the case; nothing within local, state, or federal government happens that fast.

Then, later during the comments period, Tyner stated, “This newspaper [me] talked about putting a hotel at the lake and we don’t have sewer up there. There’s nowhere to put the wastewater.”

To explain my reference to a hotel, they are typically linked to a convention center.

Later he touted the tax revenue the county receives annually for lodging at the one hotel located within Northampton’s borders (along I-95) and the desire to see more of them open.

I expressed my opinion on Oct. 30 based upon the fact-based data listed earlier in this column (announced plans by the board, all confirmed by the commissioners at previous meetings, and the RFQ). And I based my opinion on what occurred in Gates County – a wastewater project chocked full of cost overruns, which along with higher than expected costs on preserving their historic courthouse and adding a second, full-time EMS crew led to property tax increases there in two of the past five years.

As a Northampton taxpayer, I didn’t want to see this scenario repeated in my county. If stating that in an opinion, even it provoked a negative reaction from my commissioners, then I’ll continue using my constitutionally protected freedom of speech in hopes that my leaders wisely spend taxpayer dollars.

At no point in my opinion column from Oct. 30 did I berate or personally attack my elected commissioners in Northampton County. The purpose of the column was to make them aware that without proper oversight, what’s on the proverbial drawing board can sometimes lead us down a path we later wish we didn’t take.

I do not oppose growth, no matter where it occurs in my home county. Economic growth is good – whether it’s a mom-and-pop business or a new industry….all combining to add to the tax base, which hopefully leads to a lower property tax.

But yet two commissioners – Nicole Boone and Vice Chair Geneva Faulkner – chose to personally attack me.

“Some people have no vision; they will find fault, and want to divide us,” Boone said on Nov. 4. “It [my column] said get out while the getting is good. If you want to hold us back, then get out. But if you want to move forward for your children’s children’s children to be proud of Northampton County, then stick with us. But if you don’t, there’s the door, there’s the highway. If anyone has a problem with that, then that means your thinking still stinks in 2019 and you can quote me on that.”

Okay, I did, as I personally found her remarks, especially as an elected leader, unprofessional and distasteful.

Commission Vice-Chairman Geneva Faulkner stooped to an even lower level, dropping the “f-bomb” when sharing her opinion about mine. She said she feels there are some people who are content when it comes to certain people who are, “thriving off all of our tax dollars.”

“But as soon as the other people, the poor people, when something that is good for all of us starts happening, the thinking stinking folks start trying to pit people against other people by their [expletive deleted] up lives. The loud mouth is trying to devour us,” she added.

What I found extremely disheartening – other than an elected official using foul language in a public meeting – is that Mr. Tyner defended Boone’s comments, and did not

reprimand Ms. Faulkner for her vulgarity.

On a brighter note, I do agree with Mr. Tyner – and the remainder of the board if they are in agreement – of plans by the county to build an apartment complex in Jackson that will serve schoolteachers and other county employees. Rental housing is at a minimum in the county, plus there are grants and other financial incentives to support such a project.

I also wholeheartedly agree with Tyner’s statement that the board “wants to grow retail businesses that will generate sales tax, which the board will re-invest into the county. This is not about east vs. west; it’s what is best for the entire county. We want to re-invest those added sales tax dollars into the citizens of our county.”

Bringing new retail opportunities into Northampton County is something I can and will support. It’s a win-win for everybody.

Politicians at every level of government are often second-guessed. It’s how they handle that criticism which makes them either an effective leader or someone whose qualifications need to be closely scrutinized when their name appears on the next election ballot.

Instead of suggesting that an individual who does not totally share a commissioner’s views needs to move out of the county, or publically states that a citizen’s “thinking is stinking” or stooping to a level of public vulgarity in an effort to belittle someone’s opinion, try keeping an open mind to other ideas/suggestions from those footing the bill for your plans.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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