Botanist Andy Walker of US Forest Service discusses a failed road and culvert that remains impassable this summer in the Croatan National Forest following storm damage from Hurricane Florence last year. Jack Igelman / Carolina Public Press
Nearly one year after Hurricane Florence pummeled North Carolina’s central coast, Croatan National Forest is still recovering from an estimated $17 million in damage to the forest’s infrastructure and costs to respond to the storm.
The storm inflicted widespread damage to the national forest as well as to nearby coastal communities like New Bern.
However, the Croatan’s native and restored longleaf forests were relatively unscathed by the Category 1 hurricane’s 100 mph winds and, in some locations, more than 2 feet of rain.
“What failed were all of the man-made things, but the forest’s ecosystem is in good shape,” saidRon Hudson,Croatan National Forest district ranger.
Ever since Jeffrey Odham, then a candidate for Ward 6 alderman, ran on a campaign of running city hall like a business, I was apprehensive.
Once he took office, I started to see exactly what he meant.
He wasn’t talking about a business that puts customer satisfaction first. He was talking about the American concept of business efficiency — low cost, high profit, declining customer service, cut-throat competitiveness, and poor responsiveness to customer needs and wants.
There are numerous examples that bear this out.
There’s the example of City Hall pushing the Firemen’s Museum out of its old location on Middle Street into the old fire station on Broad Street. This was part of a push by the Board of Aldermen to get rid of surplus properties, even if the property is being used for the betterment of the community.
Once the Firemen’s Museum finished moving, the old building sat vacant. Despite some initial interest from buyers, the city was simply unable to sell the building.
Then a group of artists who had been forced out of their previous studio approached the city about renting the old museum property.
That brings us to another example, one of cut-throat competitiveness.
The artists wanted to rent the building for the non-profit rate (usually $1 a month or a year) or if not that, as low as possible, and in turn would provide numerous services and amenities to the community.
Something similar is happening with New Bern Farmers Market. The city tried to force it from its city-owned location on South Front Street to the old electric generation plant off First Street. City strong-arm tactics to get its way failed but only due to the proximity of municipal elections, which would occur at precisely the same time City Hall would be evicting the Farmers Market. Rather than face the wrath of angry voters, city leaders extended the Farmers Market lease for five years but increased the rent from $1 a month to $500 (the only example of the city charging a non-profit anything other than token rent).
City Hall plays the long game, however. If it can’t get New Bern Farmers Market to move, it plans to start its own, fraudulently going after government grants to help pave the way, with the ultimate goal of putting New Bern Farmers Market out of business so it can sell the property on which it operates.
Let’s also not forget the draconian utility deposits the city imposes on people having a hard enough time as it is keeping up with high utility costs.
Let’s not forget the place where you pay your electric bill. Until complaints came to light, they locked their doors 15 minutes before closing time and even closed their public restrooms.
The pettiness just keeps on coming.
These are not the only examples of City Hall being “run like a business,” they are just some examples.
Except where the law requires public participation, City Hall treats city residents (those without wealth, at least) as annoyances. City officials treat citizens disdainfully and ignore their requests whenever the law allows it.
Paradoxically, city workers continue to provide high levels of customer service despite what their management forces on them. Utility workers, police patrolmen, firefighters, desk clerks, street workers and more, they all get the job done.
My belief is that a city should not be run like a business, but should be run like a cooperative.
Citizens are stakeholders, not customers. The money they pay for their rents and mortgages, along with taxes they pay for goods and services, fund an organization that provides for the safety and well-being of these stakeholders.
They are represented by a board of directors, which in this case is the Board of Aldermen. It is each board member’s responsibility to interpret and represent the needs and wants of their constituency to the city executives that carry out those tasks.
But that’s not how it has been working.
Instead, ambitious city officials have been launching a series of vanity projects that will look good on their resumes and that they can point to with pride when it comes time for asking for raises.
Meanwhile, New Bern becomes less and less affordable, with some of the worst housing affordability rates in the state. That should worry everyone.
If entry-level workers can’t afford to live here, New Bern won’t have the entry-level workforce that is the foundation of New Bern’s commerce and tourism.
It takes a community to be a community, but go ahead, Alderman Odham and the rest who stand behind him, keep running the city like a business, searching for profits, and discouraging “undesirables” from living here.
City Hall may play the long game, but it doesn’t play the sustainable game.
The following New Bern-area residents were recently charged with animal cruelty by the Craven County Sheriff’s Office Animal Protective Services Division.
Melba Turner Jones, 49, of 510 Old Vanceboro Road, New Bern, is charged with felony kill animal by starvation.
Jones had three cats that she failed to provide appropriate food and water for causing their deaths.
Justin Broome, 27, of 402 Hart Drive, New Bern, is charged with cruelty to animals and abandonment of animals.
Broome left four pit bull terriers on his property with no access to food, water, or shelter.
Jebadia Jon Batchlor, 25, of 611 Johnson Street, New Bern, is charged with cruelty to animals.
Batchlor failed to provide appropriate food and water for a German Shepherd, pit bull, Pomeranian, and terrier, causing the animals to be underweight.
Sheriff Chip Hughes said, “There will be zero tolerance for animal cruelty in Craven County. We are aggressively going after folks like these individuals that think it’s OK to mistreat, abuse, and not care for their animals.”
By Dr. Michael Bitzer | With the pending decision by the US Supreme Court regarding North Carolina’s redistricting & partisan gerrymandering case, the Old North State once again could enter the annuals of history when it comes to redistricting efforts: first, the state dominated the jurisprudence regarding race, redistricting, and racial gerrymandering; now, the state, along with a case out of Maryland, could be one of the lead decisions regarding politics, redistricting, and partisan gerrymandering.
In order to get the full impact of the Supreme Court’s decision, it is best to get a sense of how this issue came to dominate the political landscape and how we got to awaiting the final opinion.
Following the 2011’s redistricting efforts, led by supermajorities of Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly and not subject to a governor’s review or veto (see NC Constitution, Article II, Section 22, Subsection 5), the initial congressional maps were challenged as racial gerrymandering. That legal challenge ended with the US Supreme Court upholding the lower court’s judgment that the congressional district maps were unconstitutional, based on racial gerrymandering (Cooper v. Harris, 2017).
Following the rejection of the congressional maps, Republicans, still with super-majorities in the legislature, went back to redesign the congressional districts and, understanding the role that politics play and that the US Supreme Court has generally been hesitant to enter the “political thicket” of partisan gerrymandering, redrew the maps. A fateful comment was made by Republican representative David Lewis, who chaired the redistricting efforts for the legislature:
“I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”
New Bern received a mediocre score for family friendliness in North Carolina from WalletHub, a website that produces data-driven articles ranking various subjects in various categories.
In ranking North Carolina cities for “2019’s Best Places to Raise a Family in North Carolina,” New Bern ranked 56th out of 87 cities. The top-ranked city was Cary, while coming in at 87th was Laurinburg.
In Eastern North Carolina, Havelock — you read that right — was the highest rated city in the survey, coming in at 35th. Other Eastern NC cities were Wilmington (44th), Greenville (53rd), Jacksonville (59th), Wilson (70th), Elizabeth City (75th), Tarboro (77th), Goldsboro (81st), and Kinston (84th).
Taking just Eastern North Carolina cities into account, then, New Bern ranked fourth, just behind Greenville and ahead of Jacksonville.
The rankings took into consideration 10 metrics, of which New Bern did better than average in just three: violent-crime rate per capita, unemployment rate, and playgrounds per capita.
New Bern ranked low in several categories, including percentage of families with children under age 17, median family income, and high school graduation rate. It rated near the bottom — 72nd — in housing affordability.
New Bern appears at the top of many lists, from Top Charming Small Towns to Top Small Retirement Towns, but these are typically niche categories. Raising a family is about as fundamental to a city’s purpose as you can get, and New Bern’s ranking, indeed rankings of all Eastern North Carolina cities, should raise some red flags and help policymakers in making decisions.
The data used in these rankings is entirely publicly available, and is the same information that companies look at when determining expansion and relocations.
True, New Bern is constantly looking for ways to up its game. But take one example, the planned Martin-Marietta Park. New Bern already ranks high for playgrounds per capita (24th in the state). Martin-Marietta Park won’t move the bar one iota in rankings such as these, even if it’s a park that is physically larger than most of Craven County’s smaller cities.
The focus should be where New Bern and Craven County are average or weak — median family income, quality of school system, high school graduation rate, poverty rate, and perhaps foremost, housing affordability.
Here are specific rankings for New Bern:
Raising a Family in New Bern (1=Best; 43=Avg.; 87=Worst)
64th– % of Families with Children Aged 0 to 17
57th– Median Family Income (adjusted for cost of living)
Habitat organizations across the country are mobilizing to influence policy and system changes at the federal, state and local levels
Nearly 19 million households across the United States are spending at least half of their income on a place to live, often forgoing basic necessities such as food and health care to make ends meet.
In Craven County, 33% or 13,370 households, are cost-burdened and having difficulty meeting their monthly mortgage or rental payments, according to the 2017 statistics reported by the NC Housing Coalition.
A family needs to earn $33,120 per year in order to afford a modest two-bedroom apartment at $828 per month, while the average renter can only afford a rent of $683 per month. The stability that housing should bring continues to remain out of reach for many people.
On Wednesday, Habitat for Humanity of Craven County joined Habitat organizations across the country to launch a new national advocacy campaign aimed at improving home affordability for 10 million people in the U.S. over the next five years.
Marking significant growth in Habitat’s commitment to ensuring that everyone has a safe and decent place to call home, the Cost of Home campaign seeks to identify and improve policies and systems through coordinated advocacy efforts at the local, state and federal levels.
Cost of Home focuses on improving housing affordability across the housing continuum in four specific policy areas: increasing supply and preservation of affordable homes, equitably increasing access to credit, optimizing land use for affordable homes, and ensuring access to and development of communities of opportunity.
Habitat for Humanity of Craven County already has taken several steps toward these goals. In April, Executive Director Mike Williams and Homeowner Services Coordinator Betsy McDonald spent two days in Raleigh with area State representatives to advocate for policies and funding to support affordable housing in eastern North Carolina. Mike Williams also serves as the chair of a sub-committee on the County’s long-term recovery alliance for housing options.
“The impact of hurricane Florence has made affordable housing a major shelter issue in all of eastern North Carolina,” said Mike Williams, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Craven County. “It will take creative and intentional housing legislation and policies, on local and state levels, to solve this issue.”
More details about Habitat’s Cost of Home policy platform and campaign activation are available at habitat.org/costofhome. For more information or to speak to Habitat Craven County about the campaign, please contact Deedra Durocher or Betsy McDonald at 252-633-9599.
Here are some ways you can support the campaign:
Post to social media.Use #CostOfHome, #CostOfHomeCraven, and tag @CravenHabitat.
Write or call your legislators.Tell them to support policies to improve housing affordability.
Tell three friends about the Cost of Homecampaign. Send them a link to this story and ask them to help.
Capture your loved ones’ life stories, voices, and images with Your Story.
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“People will often tell a journalist stories they won’t tell their own loved ones,” said Foster. “This is a way for people to have a record of the person they love, admire, and respect, that they can keep forever.”
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The current activities towards Environmental Justice and a Just Florence Recovery will be presented by Naeema Muhammad and Ashley Daniels of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and the Just Florence Recovery Coalition.
Date: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at 6:30 p.m.
Place: The Harrison Center, 311 Middle Street, New Bern
Environmental Justice is the effort to promote health and environmental equity, clean industry, safe work places, and fair access to all human and natural resources, especially for low income communities and peoples of color.
The Just Florence Recovery aims to help these communities get the resources now to continue getting help after the hurricane and flooding devastation, but also to build resilience in affected communities for future climate related events.
Ashley Daniels has been an activist with the NC Sierra Club in Wilmington and a founding member of the NC Sierra Club’s Equity, Inclusion and Justice Committee. She is an organizer for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and for the Just Florence Recovery.
Naeema Muhammad has been Organizing Co-Director with NCEJN since 2013. She has served as a community organizer working with communities dealing with waste from industrial hog operations and has co-authored publications regarding community based participatory research. She currently serves on the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary’s Environmental Justice & Equity Advisory Board.
Hosted by the Carolina Nature Coalition, and cosponsored by the Craven County Branch of the NC NAACP and the NC Sierra Club Croatan Group.
All presentations are free and open to the general public. Questions and discussion are always encouraged.
Further Information: carolinanaturecoalition.org or 252-626-5100