The Economy: As the nation stands poised on the verge of jumping off the fiscal cliff, it only makes sense that the economy would be the top story of 2012. Jobs, lack of jobs, business creation, lack of business creation have topped the conversations in the community over the past years. As the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce took a bruising from county and city leaders in regards to its ability to draw jobs into the community, it reorganized and reinvented itself to try and better meet the many demands placed on it.
Chief among those changes was creating an entity within its fold to specifically focus on the small businesses already in the community. It is these businesses, which have managed to sustain themselves through the tough economic times who are the heartbeat of our community. Even with the resiliency that comes with small business, there have been setbacks. This time last year, the community was celebrating the opening of Wet Willie’s in downtown Fayetteville. We are not mourning it’s demise. The economy will continue to be the buzz word for 2013.
Downtown: Downtown businesses garnered many headlines during 2012, unfortunately, not all of them were good. Those businesses getting the most ink were the ones doing the most bad. Topping our list of bad downtown residents are The Prince Charles Hotel and Doc’s.
The Prince Charles, a venerable, historic building, has been a source of discontent for downtown for quite some time. In 2012, its problems grew greater at the hands of owner, John Chen. Chen, a New York developer, bought the building with promises of renovation and an upscale apartment/business center. Instead, he turned the building into a low-rent, by-the-month facility, all the while ignoring city codes and building codes as he “renovated” the hotel rooms to make them mini-apartments with miniscule rents.
When the city had its fill of Chen’s business practices, the city’s inspection office shut the building down and the city moved to have the hotel put on the auction block for fees owed. To date, Chen has managed to out-maneuver the city and kept the hotel off of the auction block, but the clock is ticking. Who knows what will come of the Prince Charles in 2013.
Doc’s, the restaurant/family fun center, also located in downtown drew many headlines in 2012. Built with private and public funding, Doc’s opened with much promise and closed in shame, as employees were put on the street without pay, loans went unpaid and the building began collapsing on Hay Street. Shuttered, the facility sits in limbo with plans being tossed about to make it into a charter school.
Racial Profiling: We would be remiss if we did not make mention of the most contentious (other than the election) issue to impact our community in 2012: charges of racial profiling.
In March, the issue came to a head, as the city accepted a report from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives that reported that while the city’s police department had a disproportionate number of blacks who are subject to traffic stop and warrantless searches, it could not say that Fayetteville police officers were guilty of racial profiling.
Consultants who reviewed the Fayetteville Police Department say blacks are disproportionately subjected to traffic stops and warrantless searches, but the analysts cannot say officers are guilty of racial profiling. In the midst of this debate, city officials discussed imposing a moratorium on voluntary searches following traffic stops. The City Council voted 8-2 in January to halt so-called consent searches of vehicles for 120 days while the consultants investigated claims that the practice disproportionately targets black drivers.
This discussion led to the dismissal of City Manager Dale Iman and the ultimate resignation of Fayetteville Police Chief Tom Bergamine. With 2013 in its opening days, the city is in the final decision-making process to hire a new police chief.
Extreme Home Makeover: Fayetteville/Cumberland County officials were doing a happy dance when the wildly popular television show Extreme Home Makeover decided to visit the city to build a home for homeless veterans. Local businesses, community leaders and non-profits geared up to support the show with businesses donating thousands of dollars in goods and services to make the project a reality. As the reality television show rolled into town on one of the hottest days of the summer, countless volunteers stood by for their chance to make history in the community. Even the nation’s First Lady got into the act, arriving in Fayetteville just a couple of hours before her cameo and leaving as soon as it was shot. The show revolved around the efforts of Barbara Marshall, a 15-year Navy veteran, who had opened up her home to homeless veterans. Her goal, with the assistance of Extreme Home Makeover, was to wide the reach of Jubilee House to include more families.
Months after the home was remade, it came to light the Marshall had no veterans staying in her home, and had, in fact, put them out shortly after the show aired. Veterans complained Marshall, who was represented as caring for them from the goodness of her heart instead charged them high rent and when they couldn’t meet her demands were put on the street. It later came to light that money, donated to ensure the house could stay in business, was instead spent by Marshall to purchase another home.
The unofficial board of the non-profit stepped in to take a look at the home’s finances and its programs. Today, the house touts a number of programs, although little is said about it in the media.
Politicians Acting Badly: Most politicians go out of their way to stay out of the headlines, but that isn’t he case with Cumberland County Commissioner Charles Evans. Evans, a former Fayetteville City Councilman, made more headlines out of the commission chamber than he did while in it.
Earlier this year, Evans was stopped for having an expired tag, an event which moved to above-the-fold headlines claiming the officer, who was also African-American had racially profiled him. While video footage of the stop, quickly gained hits on You Tube, it did little to boost Evans’ image in the community.
This is not the first time Evans antics have raised eyebrows and made headlines. Does anyone remember the cockroach debate that resulted in an exchange of words between Evans and then-Cumberland County Schools Superintendent Bill Harrison? What about the supposed shoving match between Evans and then-Commission Chairman Kenneth Edge?
In October of 2012, Evans again made headlines for failure to repay travel advances to the ABC Commission and for faulty reporting of travel expenses. It can only be hoped that 2013 will be much kinder to the gentleman from Cumberland County.