Michael Bobbitt: Notes From The Peanut Gallery (VC BOC February 4th, 2013)

The bench in the Peanut Gallery is hard especially during a near marathon Commissioners’ meeting.  Last night’s meeting started normally at 6 o’clock ending some three hours later, too late to find a downtown restaurant open serving dinner with an adult type beverage.  A long productive meeting filled with some surprises, some fore gone conclusions, and the new use of a common word. 

Veteran Affairs Recognition

The meeting opened with the NC Division of Veteran Affairs recognizing Ms. Sandra Grissom’s work for and with military veteran.  Her report is included among the many pages in the Consent Agenda Items section B monthly reports.  She does a great job aiding all holders of a DD214, or WD AGO, or NAVPERS.  

No Wake Zone and Solar Farm Zoning

These were two separate meeting topics; viewed together some inner workings of the Commissioners is self evident.  The no wake zone and the solar farm zoning both surfaced as topics at the January Board meeting.  Solar farming is a new business that has come to the attention of some owners of large tracks of land.  County zoning had to be revised to allow solar farming.  At the January meeting some Commissioners were reluctant to approve the zoning change. The sole voice at the January public hearing represented the seller of the solar panels.  During the Commissioner’s annual retreat sellers of the concept for solar farming made a full court press favoring the idea.  When introduced at the February meeting solar farming was an appointment item not a public hearing.  The distinction being this, for an appointment there is no public comment before the vote; for a public hearing the public is allowed to speak not necessarily be heard before the vote.  Apparently the rules require a public hearing when zoning change is initially presented; later amendments do not require a public hearing.  Commissioner Wilder was the solo nay vote for the zoning ordinance change. 

The no wake zone started as an appointment item on the January meeting agenda then became a public hearing for the February meeting.  Raymond Allen Hunter is a property owner on one side of Pughly’s Mill Creek.  In January he requested the Commissioners’ approve a no wake zone near is dock.  Mr. Hunter is concern for the safety of his grandchildren when they are in the water near his dock and power boats are churning up the water.  In January the Commissioners instructed the Planning Department to draft the request Mr. Hunter was seeking then to present the request at the next meeting.  For the February meeting the no wake zone was a public hearing item.  Along with Mr. Hunter three other residences on the same of the creek spoke favoring the no wake zone.  Malcolm Bobbitt, (not a known kin to me) is the owner of the other side of the creek and is opposed to the no wake zone because it would adversely affect his business.  Mr. Bobbitt told me before the meeting began that he learned about the public hearing that morning when a copy of the agenda arrived by snail mail.  The vote favoring the no wake zone was unanimous.  Later during the regular public comment period Mr. Bobbitt spoke again specifically to how the Commissioners approved a request for a no wake zone that was drafted without input from both sides of Pughy’s Mill Creek.  The point I am attempting to make here is this; unless you are privy in advance of the Board agenda changes to your property’s value or use may occur without your awareness or input.  

IT Recommendation and Economic Development

Here again I am combining two agenda items.  After what seemed to be a near infinite quest for the right device our County Commissioners voted themselves into the 21st century.  Mr. Kevin Brown, the county’s IT Director was finally able to get a decision from the Commissioners for the operating software and platform they will use for official Commissioner business.  Windows 8 is the software and the Lenovo ThinkPad tablet was acceptable for six, one preferred the ThinkPad Twist.  Following the long ordeal to buy a tool the Commissioners will use I have learned that Mr. Brown can heard cats.  Will we see the packet for the March meeting posted on the County’s website by noon on the Thursday before the Monday meeting or will it still be printed then scanned into Home In Henderson?  Will all the Commissioners start using their Vance County email address instead of personal or business email addresses? 

Stuart Litvin raised the bar for presentations to the Commissioners with his Economic Development presentation.  Commissioner Brown did ask how the Commissioners would know if a prospective client was untruthful in the information they were sharing adding this has happened several times in the recent past.  Mr. Litvin responded that Dunn & Bradstreet’s research data is instrumental in aiding in the determination.  Commissioner Taylor asked why according to Mr. Litvin’s report he spent time in California meeting with suspects for the Triangle North Marketing Mission.  Mr. Litvin said in the jargon of on economic development a suspect is a company or investor who might have more than a passing interest in hearing his pitch for our fair city.

Appearance Commission

Ms. Terri Hedrick, Chair of the Vance County Appearance Commission, along with Mitch Wyatt introduced the need for a County Environmental Manager as the highlight of their presentation.  Ms. Hedrick said the County once had a similar position then due to attrition and other requirements the position dissolved itself.   Commissioner Taylor requested a business plan for the position instead of generalities and an appeal to the aesthetic needs.  How would you calculate the collective savings resulting from an increase in ultraistic re-cycling programs and a decline in our black market of copper and other metals? 

Water Board

Before the Water Board session began, Chairman Hester called everyone’s attention to the large contingency of boy scouts in attendance.  I did not hear the name of the troop; their leader said they were attending to observe local government in action.  After some shared pleasantries Chairman Hester gaveled the Commissioners meeting to recess and called to the Water Board to order.  Sadly, the boy scouts were filing out while the Commissioners were changing their hats.  The contracts for the change orders were approved along with the additional design and inspection fees.  

Neighborhood Stabilization Program

Sometime last year eight new homes were built using taxpayers’ money from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.  These homes have not been sold although thieves and vandals have shown an interest in these properties.  This is a real Catch 22, to sell the houses they must be repaired with more taxpayers’ money, yet once repaired there appears to be no ready, willing, and able buyer for each houses.  Without the buyer the house sits vacant inviting the thieves and vandals to return for repeat performances.  Commissioner Brown made the suggestion, to install Plexiglas instead of glass windows.  Maybe the brink will bounce off the window and hit the vandal.  Commissioner Garrison wants a plan for selling these houses before more money is spent. Commissioner Taylor wants the buyer before any more money is spent to repair the houses. Chairman Hester expressed the obvious concern the repairs go undone the house will decline further making a sale more difficult and the eventual repairs most costly.  The conclusion was to kick the issue back to COG for a salws plan and to make only absolutely necessary repair