Michael Bobbitt: Notes from the Peanut Gallery Board of Commissioners October 6th, 2014

The following is my opinion and view of Monday October 6, 2014, Board of Commissioners meeting.

Public Hearings

Three public hearings were scheduled for the Board meeting one for a Rural Operating Assistance Program Grant and two were Rezoning Request. Only one person spoke during the time allotted for the three public hearings. He is a beneficiary of one zoning changes that converts 50 acres from Planned Manufactured Housing Community (mobile home park) to Agricultural Residential (solar farm). The other zoning change will allow for the development of low density housing and we all understand what that means.

Although the Board is required to hold the public hearings I wonder what is accomplished with public hearings especially since the public or even the land owners do not attend and speak in favor or disfavor. Generally speaking the Board’s mind is set before any public hearing so speaking in opposition is a frivolous activity unless you need to practice your oratory skills. How did our democracy get to this point or has it been this way since governments were formed.


Porcha Brooks, Tax Assessor presented seven requests for Untimely Exemption Applications. All seven property owners filed for the exemption after the June 1, 2014, deadline which automatically requires the assessor to deny the application. The State law allows the property owner to appeal to the Board for the exemption. In the paperwork presented Ms. Brooks states the exemption would have been granted had it been submitted on time. So there is this little dance where each request is presented to the commissioners who can ask questions of Ms. Brooks, then Chair calls for a motion the motion is approved or denied. The property owner is seldom present to answer the commissioners’ questions, such as how did you miss the due date.

Committee Reports and Recommendations

This part of the meeting is when Jerry Asycue, County Manager, summarizes the results of the various committee meetings held generally the week prior to the next Board meeting. Why do the taxpayers need to fund meals for the committee members and county staff attending the meetings? The Board approved filling of eight of the nine vacant openings withholding approval of the Lead Code Enforcement Officer as recommended by the HR Committee. Public discussion of the county manager search process was moved behind closed doors, unlike the city’s very public search process. The Board did publically discuss making contributions to the retirement system for part-time County-employed firefighters. How did the Board miss this item in their marathon seventeen hours of line by line budget review in May and June?

The Board sent almost 30 minutes discussing the County’s Battalion Fire Chiefs recommendation to the Public Safety Committee for the creation of a separate position for an EMS Director. The chiefs’ were unanimous of the need to separate the fire fighting responsibilities from the EMS responsibilities. This whole discussion is the outcome of the sudden and spectacular resignation of the previous fire chief.

Planning & Environmental Committee met just six hours ahead of the Board meeting to discuss and agree to extend a grant to Semprius, Inc. For the past several years Semprius has been attempting to manufacture solar cells the market place is willing to buy. Semprius’ principle investor bailed out shortly after Vance County obtained grant money and secured a loan for Semprius to build a production test site in Vance County. Semprius committed to employee upwards of 260 new high paying jobs mostly for Vance County residents. After two years Semprius has yet to develop a product the market place is willing to buy and only has 26 jobs currently and most of those are held by out of county residence. In July Semprius came to update the Board sharing their view of the world. Semprius then announce they were seeking Round D investment funds. Not one commissioner, including their cheerleader Commissioner Hester publically asked what is Round D Venture Funding. “In venture capital terminology … Round D is the fourth stage in the Seed Stage Financing cycle of a new businesses’ growth.” This fourth stage is generally for financing a merger or acquisition “and is not in the normal venture capital financing progression.” (Source: FinancialAdvisory.com/dictionary/terms/series-d-round) Again Commissioner Brummitt was the only commissioner who asked the business questions during the committee meeting. The Board gave approval to seek an 18 month extension from the NC Commerce Department.

Finance Director’s Report

I had high hopes especially on the heels of a $379,000 seven year embezzlement scheme David Beck, Finance Director, would have presented a quarterly financial report. He did not. Instead he presented a list of surplus (obsolete or damaged or no longer needed) office equipment. I especially liked the two handwritten pages of 51 items all without a written description. One can only wonder if the computer hard drives have been overwritten with 9s and 0s three times, or degaussed, or shredded to protect the county from data security leaks. Why can the city’s finance manager provide a quarterly report and the county’s does not?

Water District Board

Water District Board gaveled into session at 7:30 pm. A closed session was scheduled to allow the Water District Board to discuss (a) property matter so this part of the meeting was moved to near the end of the Board meeting. As it turned out it was multiple property matters. Following Jordan McMillan’s, Deputy County Manager, construction update and summary of water usage the Board’s cheerleader Commissioner Hester asked how many gallons are the customers buying. Water usage is down about $5.00 a month that EnviroLink attributes to customer’s getting use to the system. Or is water usage down because customers are reducing usage to hold their cost down since many realize the Board has no intentions of holding to the original base rate of approximately $20 a month. The committee presented to the Board proposals for county water in the city’s ETJ. Chairwoman Brown asked wh is there system expansion along Thomas Road and none near New Hope. It appears on the surface one has committed sign-ups for water and the other does not. Out of the closed session the Board approved four property matters each by a 5 – 1 vote. The property matter was the attainment of an easement in exchange for a free water taps. The single nay vote for each was the Chairwoman Brown’s

Closed Session

The Board of Commissioners went into another closed session following adjournment of the Water District Board. There was to be no public announcement on either of the personnel or EDC matters to be discussed in the closed session. Did anyone else notice the ground testing and boundary markings in the field to the west of the Staples Store? Was this the EDC matter? Is it more low cost housing?

Governmental Government Committee

This august committee had a meeting scheduled then two hours before the start of the meeting it was canceled without explanation. The purpose of the meeting was to consider adopting two resolutions from Surry County. The first regards the resettling of unaccompanied minors fleeing the violence in their home country for the safety and security of the US; the second request is for the release of an American citizen being held in Mexico on violation of their immigration laws. (The above is not the exact wording of the two resolutions. As the grandchild of man whose parents help him to flee his ancestral home lands avoiding annihilation solely because of religion the issue at our southern border touches a nerve). It also touched a nerve of Commissioner Garrison who made an impromptu impassioned plea for reason. The committee was unable (unwilling) to meet publically to discuss the resolution, yet able to individually approve the Surry County resolution. The resolution was tabled.