Category Archives: ELected Officials

Respecting Differing Opinions

SEABROOKS SAYS: Attention please.  This is a minor power move as I seize the liberty that comes to the publisher. The article (actually a letter) that follows was just recently written by my 90 year old friend, Presbyterian minister and business consultant who has mentored me for decades.  I believe lots of very interested Americans are currently dealing with this issue right now – maybe you  too.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW – WHAT WILL YOU DO?

 23 February 

Howdy,

As indicated earlier, my village was struck with a malevolent virus from which I am slowly recovering. I have set tomorrow as the day to celebrate my back to normal. 

Sadly, during these weeks, things have occurred that might define a wider gap between you and me. Things that I will say below might find a strong difference of opinion.  

I read the Brooks article about resistance. His reference to Bonhoeffer sounds like what the “opposition forces” are about. St. Benedict’s model has appeal for the likes of me. The more strident forms of resistance to which he refers sound like guidance from the mainline media. Brooks was interviewed in a February 1 article in Christian Century – “Chasing beauty, finding grace.” I liked that article better. I have followed Brooks for years and read, Character. I disagree with his politics, but respect his thoughtfulness and the influence that theology has had on him including that of Reinhold Niebuhr.

However, he and other good people have chosen sides in the current political and cultural conflicts with which I disagree. In my unique career and associations, I have come to respect those who build things more than those who critique the builders. The harshest thought that is with me now is that we are witnessing a well-funded and well-led revolution to convert America from the democracy that has been our history to state managed socialism.

When you have the money of George Soros, the legal pool of the ACLU (now full of funds), the still-in-tact Illinois syndicate, a brilliant and “enchanting” leader like Obama who is leading the charge to revive his legacy, political “tools” like Nancy Pelosi, and the vast media that has chosen to use its power for a crusade more than for information – you have a substantial opposition to an administration that won the electoral votes and is bringing to the government people who have track records of achievement and who, instead of seeking political power, simply want to contribute to a sustainable future for our nation.  

I have confidence that those now aligned with the administration that includes political support in both houses of Congress, most state legislatures and state governors will prevail because they have the Constitution, commitment to obey laws, leaders who have made things happen instead of those who have spent their lives climbing political ladders, and millions of citizens willing to sustain their support in spite of ugly intimidation from the organized and often compensated protesters in their faces.

Sadly, your Academy has mostly aligned with the opposition. I heard a Duke economics professor report that he and many colleagues propose a federally-funded, national employment for all with a minimum guaranteed compensation. Duke has a program to equip students on how best to protest Trump. Many conservative students must closet themselves from intimidation from their professors and many professors encourage protests that often include criminal assaults against private properties.

I check on the news at night and check on my on-line media reports the next day. The gap between what happened and the twist that the New York Times (NYT) gives has led me to unsubscribe to the NYT. I still follow the Christian Science Monitor and Wall Street Journal and a few periodicals.

I read the article by Paul Prather. Although there seemed to be a tilt toward assigning many Christians who support the President as being “hung up” on authority and fear, I did agree with his statement that, “Grace people need a little authoritarianism to keep us from levitating away on shimmering clouds, and Law people need a big dose of Grace to keep them from getting swallowed whole into their profoundly constricted sphincters.” I don’t agree with his final demeaning characterization.  

Sadly, I see little ground for dialog in our society today. Nevertheless, I am more optimistic than many because I believe that many of the policies and projects of the administration will prove to be beneficial to more Americans than was the case with the previous administration. When we see evidence of promise-keeping and leadership and achievement, more views will change.

I read your article, “Against Contempt.” I understand the concerns you express. I do not defend Trump’s rhetoric and wish that he could stop tweeting. He is the rough to Obama’s smooth. I look at what he achieved. I look at his family. I look at the loyalty of his long time friends. I watch the ways he seeks to walk his talk and the support that he is gathering to make that happen. I compare that with the “flame throwers” and “bridge dynamiters” and politicians that have made their careers and wealth based on the style of people like Pelosi who openly advised a vote for the health care legislation without it being read or debated. We can find out what it says after we pass it, was what she affirmed. 

You are successful. You win generous prizes for writing about your views. I hope that as your career, like mine, slows down to a crawl, you are happy with what you have achieved. I have not received $25,000 prizes and have not been successful getting a book commercially published, but I am happy with what I have achieved. The experiences and relationships of my career have afforded me a remarkable life in which I have learned much about the world and its people. God has been good to me and I have tried to be a responsible steward of the Grace with which my life has been blessed.

So, here we are – very separated in our views about the world in which we live – but, hopefully, continuing to respect each other and maybe finding ways to join the “little platoons” of citizens who strive to rectify the excesses of “numerous democracy” so feared by the authors of the U.S. Constitution.

Cheers and best wishes,

Irving

Reducing Rancor in Our Polarized Society: The Power of One

SEABROOKS SAYS: You, like I, spend very little time pondering the subject of polarization.  Jesse Caldwell does and you should know what he thinks.  Try adjusting your life by applying his three power=packed points.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The increasing level of open hostility and venomous attacks among people concerning political and social issues should have us all alarmed. The long respected American tradition of “ agreeing to disagree” seems to have been eclipsed with a “Reality TV” “Jerry Springer Show” aggressive display of name calling, personal attacks, and “one upped” insults. Fanatics on both the left and the right demonize people with whom they disagree. If not curtailed, this may be the greatest threat to our American way of life that we face. Truly, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Certainly we should all exercise our First Amendment Rights to Free Speech, and should never hesitate to hold our public officials accountable for their actions. But we should do this in a respectful way that does not intensify the decibel level of public discourse. Moreover, I believe that there are things we can all do as individuals to reduce the level of rancor in our polarized society.

  1. FIRST, LET US ALL MONITOR OUR TONE AND ATTITUDE

Courtesy, civility and a respect for everyone’s worth and therefore opinion can do wonders. As a young man, George Washington compiled a list of 110 “Rules of Civility”, which were the attitudes and values that helped shape his leadership. By setting the right tone, attitude and atmosphere in his Cabinet, this allowed our country to reap the best that men of opposite political beliefs, like Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, had to offer.

I love what my childhood friend from Victory School, Kandy Bradley Puckett, recently posted on Facebook:

While much of America seems to be getting more and more divisive, I’m going to
Be holding doors for strangers, letting people cut in front of me in traffic, greeting all that
I meet, calling people, “Sir” and “Ma’am, exercising patience with others, and smiling
at strangers. I’ll do this as often as I have the opportunity. I will not stand idly by and
let children live a world where unconditional love is invisible and being rude is acceptable.

2. SECONDLY, LET US TRY TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND ON ALL ISSUES

We all have our own beliefs and opinions. But none of us is perfect, and none of us can be right all the time. On most issues, those on opposing sides are people of good will, seeking to find an honest solution to a problem. May we listen to the views of others and seek to find “common ground” if it can be done without comprising our principles. “Tip and the Gipper” is a wonderful book that explores how Republican President Ronald Regan and Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill were able to work together on certain issues, despite being on polar opposite ends of the political spectrum, because they were willing to keep an open mind. Similarly, conservative Senator Orrin Hatch and liberal Senator Edward Kennedy, often at political odds with each other, were able to collaborate and co-sponsor many bi-partisan bills that became law, because they viewed what each proposed with an open mind.

3. THIRD, LET US SEEK CREATIVE WAYS TO REACH OUT TO OTHERS WITH WHOM WE HAVE POLITICAL OR PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES

Much of the animosity between different factions on issues stems from the fact that most of us do not understand the backdrop of those who disagree with us. If we were all to see creative ways to reach out to others with whom we have political or philosophical differences, and try to get to know them as people, I submit we would lessen the virulence in our society. It is hard to dislike someone who disagrees with you when they know and ask you about your children.

We can begin by sending a greeting card to someone of a different political party, persuasion, or race. We can move beyond that by asking them to lunch. We can turn unlikely and potentially negative situations into positive opportunities for good.

In 1983, Senator Edward Kennedy opened a mass mailed letter from Moral Majority Leader Rev. Jerry Falwell, which urged the recipients to “unite and defeat ultraliberals like Ted Kennedy”. Instead of becoming angry, Kennedy was amused and reached out to Falwell. This led to an invitation for Kennedy to speak at Liberty University, family dinners in each other’s homes, and a surprising but enjoyable friendship. Rev. Falwell prayed with Sen. Kennedy’s ill mother, and Kennedy wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for Falwell’s son for law school. If they can do this, why can’t we?

In conclusion, we can all help reduce the level of rancor in our land my monitoring our tone and attitude, keeping an open mind about current issues, and seeking creative ways to get to know someone who believes differently from us.

Let us not underestimate the “Power of One”. In the words of Edward Everett Hale:

I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
What I can do I ought to do, and what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I will do.

Jesse B. Caldwell, III
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge
Judicial District 27A

The Election Nightmare

SEABROOK SAYS: Charlie Gray is right on target. Our political and election system is a huge mess and extremely expensive. Unfortunately, what we have and use is totally outdated. Failure to improve shows the poor quality of representation by our reps in DC. NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

Every day at 10:15 am and 4:15 pm, I get a robo call on my cell phone from “unavailable”. Other times during the day, I get calls from California, New York and Nebraska. I, of course, do not answer them but it is maddening.

I understand that some people get dozens of robo calls each day. They are generally for political contributions. I have subscribed to “Do Not Call” but to no avail. It seems once you have contributed to a political candidate, which most good citizens desire to do, you are placed on a list. This list apparently becomes available to candidates and political causes from everywhere.

After November, there will be a slight break before the next election cycle begins. There seems to be a constant election, considering states offices and the House of Representatives. There is only one conclusion – our political system is broken. The elections last too long and are way too expensive. Instead of having one national primary on the same day, they are spread out from February to June. It is estimated that the democratic and republican candidates will spend over one billion dollars on each election. And in the end, who do we get – a dead-locked Federal government that cannot function.
Our constitution was drafted almost 250 years ago for 13 mostly agrarian states. It does not work for 50 diverse states in the 21st Century. Each state gets two senators, regardless of population. The president is elected by the Electoral College. This system has resulted generally in the Congress being controlled by one party and the Executive Branch by another. The Supreme Court is determined by which party gets to appoint the majority of justices, who serve for life.

Now, with constant and biased media bombardment, the population has been herded into opposing camps, resulting in bitter confrontation and more gridlock. Families and good friends are often estranged or scare to mention politics for fear of alienating someone. The whole thing is a mess and is tearing our country apart. The winner of this year’s presidency will be the candidate who gets less hate votes than the other.

Are we stuck with this terrible situation forever? What can we do? I’m afraid we will have to change our parties, our primaries and maybe our constitution. Abolishing all parties would be best and candidates could be judged on their qualification and positions. Primaries should be on the same day. Campaigns should be limited to six months, three for primary and three for general election. Campaigns should be financed by public funds, allocated by a candidate’s acceptability by the public as determined by polling data. States should be represented in Congress by population and everyone should be elected by popular vote. Gerrymandering should be prohibited and voting districts established by independent panels in each state, subject to court review to determine impartibility, political and robo calls should be prohibited.

There are many other changes that could be made to ensure our political process is fair and enjoyable for the candidates and the public. But to ignore the problem will only make it worse, leading to frustration, hate and division.

I don’t want to spend my remaining years dodging phone calls, talking about the weather and watching the hate and division grow in our country. Do you?
Let’s demand that something be done.

Charles Gray
Former attorney

Lean and Nimble

SEABROOK SAYS: Gaston County is extremely fortunate to have Earl Mathers as our county manager.  Our commissioners have just finished the budget for the upcoming year.  Earl shares lots of information about the financial issues we face in our new fiscal year.  Financially, we are doing pretty good! Now  that you know, what will you do?

 Gaston County Approves the FY 2017 Budget

During the last two years Gaston County has adopted leading edge budget practices in an effort to ensure that community and county commission priorities are as closely aligned with expenditures as possible. In fact, the implementation of the leading edge Priority Based Budgeting (PBB) methods have further streamlined an already award winning budgetary process in Gaston County.  We also take pride in the fact that the foremost authority on governmental budgeting, the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), has recognized Gaston County for excellence in its budget process for the last several years.  In addition, strong financial management practices was a major factor in a recent bond rating upgrade by Standard and Poor’s for Gaston County which enables the county to obtain more favorable interest rates in the financing of school debt. This bond rating upgrade will save the county tens of thousands of dollars.

Gaston County’s general fund budget for FY 17 is approximately $202 million. Although this may seem like a great deal of money to most people, most of what Gaston County does is mandated.   In other words, Gaston County has limited discretion in the activities it performs.  Despite the mandates, the county does have the ability and the responsibility to ensure that all activities are performed in an efficient manner.  PBB enables Gaston County’s managers to be more intentional and results oriented in their deployment of scarce resources, regardless of whether a particular program is mandated or discretionary.

Producing Gaston County’s annual budget is an arduous process involving months of intensive work. Typically, budget requests exceed available funds by a substantial margin and this year a total of over $25 million was trimmed from departmental and external requests in order to produce a budget that is balanced.  The FY 17 budget would be flat except for the fact that $3 million in additional debt service for two new schools and $1.5 million in teacher supplements are included.  These are expenditures that have considerable merit. Overall, Gaston County departmental budgets are flat for FY 17.  There are several significant expense items on the horizon, however.  These include the need to make a variety of infrastructure improvements which have been deferred for several years and upgrade the public safety radio communication system.  Leading expense categories for FY 17 in Gaston County are illustrated below:

Mathers pie chart

Fortunately, Gaston County anticipates revenue growth in coming years. Both property and sales tax revenues are expected to continue to grow and this will ease the financial strain that Gaston County has felt since the beginning of the recession.  In addition, the increase in debt service over the next two fiscal years will decline as older debt is retired.  Continued fiscal restraint on the part of county departments will also be necessary and desirable but, in general, Gaston County’s financial outlook is favorable.  Anticipated revenue growth for FY 17 is shown below.

Mathers graphLooking to the Future

There is a widespread belief that Gaston County is poised to achieve the kind of progress that will lead to greater economic parity with several of our regional neighbors. Some lament the fact that Gaston has fallen behind more affluent parts of the metro area and yet there are specific reasons that growth has been more gradual here.  Actually, considering the persistent generational poverty and other challenges confronting Gaston County, our performance has been quite strong in recent years.  Unemployment has fallen to around the state average and many of the jobs lost during the decline of the textile industry have been replaced.  Indeed, we now need to develop more industrial property which fits the needs of prospective industries and the FY 17 budget sets aside money for that purpose.

There is most assuredly room for continued advancement and if genuine collaboration in the public interest occurs there is reason for considerable optimism. Gaston County recognizes these needs and has made a variety of investments that we hope will yield excellent returns.  Colin Powell once said “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”  In order to achieve the success we all desire for Gaston County, we must allow our collective optimism to brush aside minor differences in a manner that promotes the common good.  Although every individual and all the organizational entities in Gaston County have a natural tendency to protect their own interests, lets’ focus on mutual efforts that will yield universal benefits as we design an even brighter future.

Earl Mathers
Manager, Gaston County

It’s Now or Never

SEABROOK SAYS:  Charles Gray is a highly-respected attorney who is now retired and who has great concern about the welfare of Gaston County.  Read about his concern for lower Gaston County and the access from there to the Charlotte area.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

The other day, I traveled through Tega Cay, part of Highway 49 and River Hills.  I was amazed at the growth and vibrant activity in those areas.  I continued on and saw new schools and new residential areas until I crossed into Gaston County on Union Road.  It was like going back in time – nothing but open, undeveloped land, all the way to Gastonia.  The same existed along New Hope Road. No activity.

The Garden State Parkway would have changed this, but the wisdom (or lack thereof) of our legislators killed that project.  But Gaston County has one last chance. With the announced residential and commercial project in Mecklenburg County, extending from I-485 to the river, the need for access becomes a priority.   The new southern bridge over the Catawba River gains more importance.

With the new bridge, we could see a road from I-485 cross the river and connect to New Hope Road.  With cooperation between private land developers, the Federal Government, the NC DOT, Gaston County, Belmont, Cramerton and Gastonia, improvements could be made to New Hope Road and connect it to I-485.  This would open up southern Gaston County to unbelievable development and provide needed access to the new Mecklenburg County development and the intermodal transportation center at the airport.

Gaston County would leave the dark ages and charge into the 21st century.  This, however, takes determined leadership at all levels. Will our leaders act or let another opportunity go by?  It’s now or never.

Charles Gray
Former attorney

The Golden Rule

SEABROOK SAYS:  It’s quite likely that very few in Gaston are aware of the teaching, training and work that go into the job of sheriff.  Here are comments on what works for Sheriff Cloninger.  NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO?

I can remember as a child my mother, Mary Jo Cloninger, teaching me the Golden Rule, which is “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” She had to use a “hickory switch” to emphasize the value of the Golden Rule on me. But as I have matured, I have come to appreciate these simple words.

Since having the honor to be the Sheriff of Gaston County, I have made the Golden Rule part of our philosophy at the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office. In my interviews with new employees, we discuss the Golden Rule and its value in serving the citizens of our county. I explain that we should treat everyone as we would want our own mother, father, brother or sister treated by any other Sheriff’s Office personnel in the same situation. It is my belief, that if my employees and I will try our best to follow the Golden Rule, then we will better serve the citizens of our county. Hopefully, we will reduce complaints and dissatisfaction with the jobs that we perform for the public.

But just take a moment and think what the effect would be on Gaston County if all of us just tried every day to follow the Golden Rule. Would we not have less conflicts and have a greater respect for one another? Would there not be a significant decrease in crime? Would Gaston County not become the greatest place in the world to live and raise a family?

I hope all of us will try to make Gaston County the envy of the whole world by trying to live everyday by the Golden Rule. We need to encourage all our friends, family and acquaintances to try to live by this rule also!

Alan Cloninger
Sheriff, Gaston County

Leading Officials or Official Leadership?

SEABROOK SAYS:

Gaston folks, here is a fresh approach to community leadership. James is a former member of the staff of our United Way who now resides in Asheville.  What do you think? NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO? 

Time for Growth in Gaston.

Gaston County, we have nine new neighbors. Welcome to the Charlotte Metro Region. I know some of you are making a face and saying, “We’re not Charlotte!” You’re right. The obvious is often true. We are Gaston County, and as Gaston County, we face a question: Does Gaston County have what it takes to be the benchmark for success in the region? I believe so. I believe a real desire for a dynamic, diverse community, with a waiting list for new residents, exists. I know might be overly optimistic, yet only about the waiting list.

Do we know ourselves? 

Our county is not at all different from most counties that surround a large city. We want to be in the game, but we want our identity intact. As such we’ve talked a good talk. We’ve met a good meeting. We’ve visioned a good vision. But did those efforts prove enough. I sat in those meetings. We talked, met, and visioned together. We made the effort out of care for this place. Informed by the same care, why don’t we ask a timely, tough question: What is it, Gaston County, that holds us up, that holds us back?

Whatever we’ve saved, for last or for later, now needs to come out of the box on the shelf and wow. If we indeed believe, and I think we do, in our worth and wonder, we now must prove it. Anyone considering jobs for Gaston County, investment in Gaston County, relocation of their family to Gaston County will politely listen to our praise of Gaston County. They will then watch what we do, compare Gaston County to the other counties. How well does our county supports our schools, provide infrastructure. Can Gaston County claim effective engagement with neighbors and a sense of connection to the region. What limits access to Gaston County; what sort of transportation plan is in place. Does Gaston County look like a county prepared for growth now and in the future?

Gaston County, do we know the answers to those questions? We need to know our strengths and our weaknesses. Like any community in our place, both can be found. What we do about is our opportunity to set ourselves apart.

 Follow your Leader

Gaston County, for all the talk of a leadership deficit, builds leaders every day. The leadership potential exists within the Economic Development, Human Service, and the Civic sectors. Leaders who can lend expertise and specialized skills, know the way around the issues relevant to our county. Sharing a plan informed by data, experience, and wisdom, they are all in for this effort. This leadership recognizes the benefit possible for all through more and better jobs, an increased tax base, and greater investment. We will find qualities such as competence, compassion, integrity, confidence, flexibility, and honesty informing these leaders. This is Can Do leadership.

If we look at the success of communities such as Greenville, SC; Asheville, NC; and Franklin, TN, the importance of collaborative work between the private sector and the public sector is clear. Our significant, critical work will require collaboration with elected officials, both municipal and county. Officials will navigate difficult, sobering choices; choices best informed by a clear understanding of overarching, complex goals. This calls for leaders sharing the vision, not handing down the vision; leaders beyond the confines of party politics, thinking and acting locally; leaders mitigating conflict with compassion, dignity and respect for all involved; communicating through wisdom, not social media. We require critical thinkers furthering well crafted policy, cognizant of the present and future outcomes. Can we remind ourselves too often that the image problem faced by Gaston County won’t benefit from the antics of ineffective, disengaged, political officials in the guise of leaders. Certainly not. Friends, let’s agree to follow great leaders by electing great leaders. This time. Every time.

James Burgess