Michael Bobbitt: Notes From The Peanut Gallery

The following is a summary from my personal notes of the Vance County Commissioner’s September 12, 2011 meeting from my perch in the peanut gallery. These are the points of most interest to me.

1. Public Hearings:
Three public hearings tonight, only one had a formal signup sheet requesting permission to make public input. Could this be because no one is aware of the public hearings? Where are public hearings posted? A Commissioner told me in the newspaper. Why not also on the County’s own web-site? It doesn’t cost anything. I did not know to ask for a copy of the Rural Operating Assistance Program and the Dept of Transportation Secondary Road Program. I am lacking any factual knowledge of their presentation. As there was no discussion they were approved.

The public comment on the proposed zoning ordinance was the key that filled the chamber into overflow seating. The following is my summary of each of the fifteen speakers in sequential order plus one personal opinion of my observation. The Chairman set the ground rules for the presenters. We each had to state our name and address that is how I hear each speaker’s name, and we had three minutes.

  • Michael Bobbitt – my previous comments are posted on HiH here, and the actual presentation I gave at the meeting is at the bottom of this article.
  • Missed this guy’s name and could not hear what he said.
  • Robert Taylor – supporter of zoning. Protects his land.
  • Ruth Jones – I could hear only parts of Ms. Jones presentation, which included something about internet service in her part of the county, water and trash.
  • Max Bobbitt – 3rd generation farmer. The map has three shades of color on one his farms and is concerned zoning will devalue what he is doing. (Max and I are not related at least to my knowledge.)
  • Daryl von Williams – ‘this town makes it’s decisions on the wishes of a small group of people.’ ‘Whatever is going to happen will not be good for me.’ ‘Life is swirling like a vortex around me.’ ‘No one came to me to ask about my school.’ ‘Zoning is not going to fix anything in this county.’
  • Next up passed
  • Rick Brand – Favors zoning for three reasons. 1. I am head of the local Democratic Party and we endorsed this ordinance. 2. The commissioners currently have total control of county lands now and this will put controls on the commissioners. 3. As a member of the Henderson zoning board I support this ordinance.
  • Ken Kelso – ‘This is an amazing thing for special interest that you have done.’ Disagreed with decision on the shooting range but liked how that was done. I think he said, this is being done to help a few get a grant for a sewer line to Kittrell.
  • John Price – Started out commenting about the rifle range and thanking the commissioners for their swift action to halt that. Said he support the ordinance then started reading a prayer or something.
  • James Kerney – Lives in the city. Favors zoning.
  • Bill Edwards – said we are one of the smallest counties in the state. That Henderson and the EJT covers more than 50% of all county residences with zoning. (I did not understand his point there.) Encouraged adoption of the policy.
  • Talmud Burgress – Supports the ordinance because it protects his farm. Does not prevent farming. Good presentation
  • Next three in a row passed
  • Mitch White – Lives in the city. His is a member of the Vance County appearance committee. Believes zoning will stop illegal activities.
  • Sam Watkins – He never said his name and address at the podium and Chairman Wright never asked that he do so. Sam said zoning will bring jobs to the county and offered nothing to support his theory. Sam said it protects investments in property again he had nothing to explain how. [Note this is my editorial and opinion: When you are not required to follow the rules as outlined at the beginning by the Chairman as everyone else had to follow, then you must be someone with very special power. It is my impression from observing the non-verbal cues between Chairman Wright, some other Commissioners, and Mr. Watkins that very little real change has occurred here in the past 150 years. I digress.]
  • Margaret Jeffers – ‘My problems with the county go way back. Back when property was taken with no accountability’.

The end of the public comments came after fifteen speakers. The Chairman thanked everyone and recessed the meeting to allow the overflow crowd and the local paper to exit the meeting.

2. Enterprise Network Services Award of Bid – Wide Area Network. Ike Bunn, the technology consultant the county hired to develop the counties technology needs presented the results of his work accessing vendors to provide the county government a wide area network. A copy of the memo to the commissioners is posted elsewhere on HiH. Time Warner Cable won the award. Mr. Bunn stated only CenturyLink and Time Warner, two of the three bidders, offered the technology required now and into the future for the counties WAN. Commissioner Hester was displeased that a local firm did not win the contract and he did not understand that technologically the local firm is unable to meet the demands of the contract.

3. Timmy Baynes, Council of Governments Neighborhood Stabilization Program, stated that eight homes are currently refurbished and ready for buyers to present a bid to the Commissioners. Again without a copy of his packet all I know is what I heard and what I heard needed the packet to understand what he was presenting. The houses are owned by the County due to foreclosure. This program is designed for cities where the highest number of foreclosures has occurred. I did understand that effort has been made to make the house energy efficient and the appliances are in storage instead of an empty house. Thank you Commissioner Brown for asking the question. Check the local paper for more details on this topic; oh that’s right no local media was present it was after 7pm.

4. County has seven job openings apparently as the result of turnover. Openings as I heard it: 1 Sherriff detective, 2 firemen, 1 jailer, 1 child support, 1 social services. Check the County’s web-site for details.

5. Finance Director’s Report was regarding sale of surplus technology. Mr. Care asked if the hard drives had been cleaned.

6. County Attorney’s Report was the third highlight of the meeting. Seems the County and the City share ownership of a house at 2146 Water Street that is a tax foreclosure and someone is squatting there. To remove the squatter the County Attorney needs a Trespass Charge and the County Commissioners must request that as partial owners of the house. It is interesting how the legal system works.

7. In pending business was a discussion about the water project. Seems neither Commissioner Brummitt nor the County Manager are getting requested engineering and email information from the contracted vendor.

It will be a week or so before the paper reports that the next step on Land Use Planning (Zoning Ordinance) occurs on Monday September 26, 2011. A County Commissioners work session is scheduled for Monday September 26, 2011 at 3 pm in the Commissioners Chamber. This is the next time you can observe official county discussion on zoning. Observe is the operational word. If you sit and listen and quietly take notes keeping your mouth shut unless called upon you are permitted to observer your elected officials actually working. See you there.

8. The final event of last night’s meeting, I will summarize, pertained to the appointment of one person to the Vance County Animal Advisory committee. There were three applications for one position. One Commissioner asked the head of the committee, my apologies for not remembering your name, who he would select. He said all were acceptable to him and he preferred to select one particular person so the committee would be in balance by race and gender. He said that. So we can rest well knowing that the committee trying to protect dogs and cats is racially and gender balanced.

Michael Bobbitt


My presentation as told at the commissioners meeting follows:

Good evening, Chairman Wright, Commissioners, Mr. Asycue, county department managers and staff.

Vance County was formed 1881, through political gerrymandering to control the republican voters at the beginning of 1880s.

Vance County has been mired in political machinations since inception, only the shifting sands of the political parties and the fortunes of certain families have changed who controls this county.

Vance County today is as it started a mostly rural county with a segregated people.

Whether zoning the county will spur development, lower our high unemployment, and our high levels of poverty is open to debate.

On the blog site Home In Henderson, someone wrote that as member of a zoning commission they were very successful keeping undesirables from their property.  If your goal for zoning is to prevent undesirables from encroaching on your property, you and your neighbors should enshrine your deed with restrictions that deter the undesirables.

Many think that zoning protects their property from change and development that differs from their desired land use.  The members of a zoning commission are all politically appointees.  Some political appointees are too beholding to the wishes and whims of their benefactors.  They can show their gratitude with the reward of a desired zoning change.  The de’facto powers will always manipulate the politically connected to achieve a desired zoning change.

The US Supreme Court has recently ruled that a city can use eminent domain to transfer ownership of land from one private party to another regardless of zoning ordinances.

Late last month I spoke to one commissioner whom I presumed was open to the discussion of zoning.  I asked if the voters should be allowed to speak at the ballot box for or against zoning.  That commissioner said, I paraphrase, “I have attended all the classes; I have read all the material on zoning. I know more about zoning than anyone in my district.  There is no reason for the voters to approve this zoning ordinance.”

So here we are 130 years after this politically gerrymandered county was established wondering if the political machinations of this county are so deeply imbedded in our commissioners’ DNA they will enact zoning without a vote by the land holders.  Do the five commissioners who brought us to this point share the thinking of the one; you know more about zoning than anyone in your district so there is no need for the land owners to speak at the ballot box on zoning.

The county has existed without zoning for 130 years.  Is it too much to allow county’s [the] land holders to approval or reject this zoning ordinance at the ballot box?

Thank you