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Mr. Mayor: True or false? ‘Fayetteville never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity’

02centerMany Fayetteville and Cumberland County community leaders, elected officials and residents are scratching their heads. They’re wondering what in the world Mayor Mitch Colvin’s motives are for his abrupt 180 on supporting the $46 million North Carolina Civil War & Reconstruction History Center that has been destined for a statewide home here in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

I’m not a mind reader. However, my guess is it has something to do with some form of political maneuvering.

What sense does it make for a mayor who has led an aggressive charge for Fayetteville’s growth and economic development to suddenly and without cause object to a sanctioned economic tour de force like the History Center? It’s especially puzzling since Colvin initially endorsed the project and played a significant role in advocating for and advancing it. Colvin’s reversed position jeopardizes the chances of locating this state-owned museum in our community.

It defies logic when a smart man like Colvin goes on FakeBook (not a typo) and compares the combined $17 million budget requests of Greensboro and Asheville to a funding request for the construction of a $46 million state-owned museum. However, in the same post he did say something that was true if put in the proper context. He said, “Tell your state representatives we deserve more than this.”

How right he is. Fayetteville does deserve more. About $46 million worth — plus more jobs, more visitors via tourism, more statewide and nationwide recognition and more tax revenues from increased economic activity.

Colvin is a smart political operative, and his colleagues are all aware that this abrupt change of heart has an underlying motive. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make any difference what that motive is. Sudden, unexplained changes have never been good or beneficial to the taxpaying residents of Fayetteville. It is this kind of inside political baseball that has proven to be Fayetteville’s nemesis while reinforcing that haunting localized adage, “Fayetteville never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”

Besides abandoning his colleagues, Colvin may find it difficult to defend his position on several fronts. The most difficult will be his claim that Fayetteville residents have more pressing needs. Does he really want to go there? Especially when the city is confronting some pretty harsh criticism for spending $14 million of taxpayers’ money on a parking deck they cannot use? And, even more importantly, when the downtown development project — which includes the baseball stadium, the Prince Charles apartments and the classy hotel and office building housing those apartments — is completed, more money should be coming into the community. This economic stimulus plan publicly boasted it will generate $100 plus million of economic vitality to our city.

If this is still the case, then we are in the winner’s circle by adding this proposed statewide History Center to our city. Current estimates are that it will bring another $20 million in revenue to our community. If this isn’t enough to question Colvin’s decision and judgement, consider this: Colvin believes in education and awareness. In the past, he has joined dozens of local scholars, educators and community, civic and governmental officials in realizing the need for factual historical awareness and education about the Civil War and the Reconstruction periods.

Take a close look at downtown Fayetteville and you will see Colvin has provided us the leadership we desperately need to move the community forward. The question many are asking in response to his changed position is: Why stop now?

Next up, a Fayetteville Performing Arts Center? We’ll see. Let’s all hope the mayor sides with the people. Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

What we’ve abandoned

11BabyI never really understood the story of Rip Van Winkle — until recently, that is. It seems the more I look around, the less I recognize. It’s not that progress or change bothers me. In fact, I’m a huge fan of many things new and emerging. But I’ve come to regret some of the things we choose to abandon — namely values.

Back to Van Winkle. When he awakens on a mountain after a 20-year nap, he discovers shocking changes: his musket is rotting and rusty, his beard is a foot long, and his dog is nowhere to be found.

He returns to his village, where he recognizes no one. He arrives just after an election, and people ask how he voted. Never having cast a ballot in his life, he proclaims himself a faithful subject of King George III, unaware that the American Revolution has taken place. He nearly gets himself into trouble with the townspeople until one elderly woman recognizes him as the long-lost Rip Van Winkle.

When it comes to music, entertainment and even transportation, I’m completely on board with the changes. I like the new. I like the path we’re taking, and I can still enjoy the fruits of a harvest gone by without bothering anyone else with my sense of melancholy.

Technology? A little different, but I am usually quick to embrace the latest and keep my eyes peeled for whatever is coming over the horizon. It’s just that the devices we used before become more quickly obsolete.

Then we come to values. I can’t really discuss values without mentioning how closely aligned they are with the morals I live by. Those morals come from the Bible. Love God. Love others more than you do yourself. Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly. These are not catch phrases to me. They are the basis for the moral code I feel we’ve begun to abandon.

On a recent Sunday, I found myself having insults bounced off me while I was saluted with a single finger more than once by numerous passers-by. My offense? Holding a sign that simply read, “Pray to end abortion.” Four words. I didn’t speak a word. I didn’t confront anyone. I wasn’t blocking an entrance or a roadway. I was just standing on the public right of way near a closed clinic at which abortions are offered.

On one side of me was a couple who adopted a beautiful little girl from a young, unexpectedly pregnant mother who had previously considered abortion. On my other side were a couple of young women who had had abortions and who hoped to dissuade others from taking a similar path. They knew the heartache and regret it caused and wanted to intercede on other women’s behalf.

After a 20-year career standing in the gap for the defenseless as a soldier, standing in a similar way for the unborn is somewhat natural for me. It’s how I pray. It’s how I think. It’s one way I place value on others more than myself. When I observe our legislators considering whether a child in the third trimester of gestation is worthy of drawing its first — or second — breath outside the womb, I am grieved at what we’ve abandoned.

Our culture lines up for programs promising a better future for children while granting legal access to murder of the very children who could have taken part in that future.

Hope Mills Commissioners are irresponsible

05Jessie BellflowersEditor,

I am asking your readers to tolerate my response to Hope Mils Commissioner Jessie Bellflowers’ Letter to the Editor in the April 17-23 edition of Up & Coming Weekly concerning the proposed construction of the Hope Mills Lake bulkhead (retaining wall). Full disclosure: I am married to Mayor Jackie Warner and I am her biggest cheerleader. She will not be pleased with my thoughts and opinions that follow.

Hope Mills Commissioner Jessie Bellflowers or any “stiff necked” politician can rationalize away the reason they sometimes make stupid or illogical decisions in an attempt to regain the confidence and trust of constituents. Unfortunately, for Commissioner Bellflowers it’s “too little, too late” on this bulkhead issue.

Our Hope Mills summer is all but ruined. Not because of the need for a safe and sturdy bulkhead but because of the irresponsibility and mismanagement of the project by you (Bellflowers) and fellow Hope Mills commissioners. As a result of their inept leadership, disappointed Hope Mills residents had to forego Easter sunrise services at the lake, and they will forego all the traditional family fun-filled events and activities surrounding Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day. Yes, their (the commissioners’) poor decisions have inconvenienced residents and put Hope Mills taxpayers in peril.

Make no mistake about it, the real issues are not about the construction of the bulkhead, Jessie, so don’t patronize us. Instead, why not address the questions and real concerns we have like: Why is the bulkhead costing Hope Mills taxpayers $500,000 as determined by a single bid? Why was this major construction project request for proposal not sent out for a rebid? Why was this initial proposal hastily approved with very little discussion or empathy for the burden (of the) taxpayers who will be responsible for paying for it? Was this expensive bulkhead in the town’s budget? Who made the recommendation to cover the expense out of the town’s emergency reserve fund and what is the plan to replenish these funds?

There are so many questions and no sufficient answers. Many of us fear a tax increase is in our future. Yet, very little discussion or due diligence has been done by our elected. So, again, don’t patronize us, Jessie.

These kind of haphazard, irresponsible decisions, proposals and knee-jerk reactions by you and the commissioners are not sound business practices or decisions. And, they are unacceptable.

In closing, I want to remind the voters of Hope Mills that, all too often, elected officials become experts at spending other people’s money — like us — the taxpayers. And, I’m not even a C.P.A.

Alex Warner

Hope Mills, NC

Photo: Hope Mills Commissioner Jessie Bellflowers

Debt slows economic growth

06DebtNew research by two North Carolina State University professors has brought into stark relief the following facts: America is in a debt crisis, our economy is suffering as a result, and politicians of both major political parties bear responsibility.

Economists Thomas Grennes and Mehmet Caner worked with a third author, Qingliang Fan of China’s Xiamen University, to produce the paper. Published by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, it examines decades of fiscal and economic data for the United States and several other developed countries.

Their key finding is that when the indebtedness in a country reaches a certain level, it becomes a drag on economic growth. Low levels of debt don’t necessarily have this effect. If institutions borrow in order to finance valuable investment — to build or expand plants and equipment, improve infrastructure, etc. — that enhances productivity. The resulting gains can more than offset the cost of the debt.

But investments contain built-in uncertainties. Not all capital projects pay off. We generally borrow to fund the best bets at first, then the next-best bets, and so on. The more we borrow and spend, the less likely the spending will be worth it. What’s worse, we don’t always borrow to invest. We use credit to buy things for immediate consumption.

That’s not a big deal in small amounts. And it’s not necessarily disastrous even in large amounts if the good we purchase lasts a long time and has resale value, such as a house. But largescale borrowing to fund large-scale consumption is foolish.

The temptation is particularly strong, and the consequences particularly grave, government. Those who make the initial decision, the politicians, can get credit for what gets funded without getting personal blame years or decades later for the taxes or foregone expenditures required to pay off the resulting debts. And because governments don’t face the same competitive pressures that private institutions do, they are more likely to use borrowed funds either for questionable capital projects or for expenditures that are unquestionably consumption.

Generally speaking, states and localities are less guilty than Washington, D.C., is. Their rules require that operating budgets be balanced every year, which limits (but does not fully preclude) the use of public debt for consumption. Moreover, bonds that pledge the full faith and credit of state and local governments often require voter approval by referendum, which again serves as a brake, however imperfect, on reckless borrowing.

The federal government lacks these precautions. Even so, Grennes and his colleagues found that for most of its history, the federal government used debt sensibly. “During wars, spending increased, the government borrowed, and the debt ratio increased,” they observed. “After wars, the debt ratio gradually reverted toward the prewar ratio, without a clear long-term trend.” There may have been no formal constraints, but there was an “implicit contract that functioned as a coherent debt policy.”

That ended in the late 1960s, as the federal government took on new spending obligations, most involving immediate consumption rather than investment. Each new obligation had a powerful constituency, and often gained popular support (think Medicare). But the total effect was to boost federal spending above projected revenue. Rather than resolve the problem, Washington borrowed. What’s worse, during the same period federal tax and regulatory policies incentivized an increase in private borrowing, too.

The bill is now due. According to the new study, the annual rate of economic growth in the United States from 1995 to 2014 was more than a percentage point lower than it would have been in the absence of America’s debt explosion. That’s a very large effect.

What can be done about this? Previous attempts to use moral suasion or legislative pressure, such as the Simpson-Bowles Commission and debt-ceiling shutdowns, have fizzled. Another NCSU professor, Andy Taylor, advocates an intriguing set of federal budgeting reforms that may help. Or we could try devolving federal programs to the states, trusting that their preexisting safeguards will hold. As Johnny Mercer put it, something’s gotta give.

Love — our only hope

04LoveThere are no words sufficient to describe the depth of my sadness, dismay, and even anger, in response to how far too many people are reacting to the report by Robert Mueller, special counsel. I think he was assigned to search for Russian interference in our 2016 election and any collusion by the Trump campaign with Russia in that election. I say “I think” because I repeatedly read that the full scope of his mandate has never been made available to the public. A redacted version of the report was released to Congress and the public Thursday, April 18.

The report clearly stated that insufficient evidence was identified to show collusion with the Russians by the Trump campaign or any American. Given that, for nearly two years, we were told by a multitude of Democrats, and seemingly every liberal media outlet, that Russia controlled our president, it would seem there would be celebration in finding that he did not collude with Russia. Instead, the same people and media outlets that pushed the collusion narrative immediately shifted to arguing that the report gave ample reason for Trump being guilty of obstruction of justice.

The Mueller report said there were actions by the president that could indicate obstruction, but other actions countered reaching that conclusion. In the end, Mueller said he would not charge the president with obstruction but would not exonerate him. The obstruction decision fell to Attorney General William Barr. In a press conference shortly before releasing the report, Barr explained the process that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went through in deciding not to charge the president with obstruction. What Barr explained made total sense to me.

However, the rage regarding obstruction goes on full bore. Even as I started writing this article on April 19, The Fayetteville Observer has two articles that reflect this focus on obstruction while hardly mentioning the finding of no collusion. Here are those headlines: “Report provides layers summary could not” and “Analysis … Mueller paints damning portrait of Trump.”

After listening, on the radio, to the Barr press conference on Thursday and watching TV news reports and commentary, I was in bad shape by 6:10 p.m., when my wife Denise and I headed off to a Maundy Thursday service. The service was at First Baptist Church on Anderson Street, where Rev. Rob James is pastor. This service was filled with meaningful music, instructive and reassuring scripture readings and a sermon that reminded me there is only one way to overcome the division and hopelessness generated by, and reflected in, the Mueller report response.

James defined “maundy” as referring to a command, of being equal to a mandate. He said, “During Maundy Thursday, we are called to remember the last moments of freedom of Jesus before he is betrayed by one of his closest friends, before he is arrested by people he has seen every day in the temple, before he is mocked and ridiculed, before he is abused and spit on, before he is crucified and killed on a cross, before he is laid in a tomb.

“The commands that we are called to remember this night, the maundy of Maundy Thursday, are the things that Jesus told his disciples during those final moments of freedom: his commands, his mandates … in a very real way, his last wishes.”

James followed this by sharing his experience with his father as that father had been told he only had six months to live. His son was just a teenager. Thankfully, despite the doctors’ projection, his father lived three years. Over that time, he took the pastor on rides and talked about his (the father’s) life: the good, the bad, everything. When that father was at death’s door, he requested that his teenage son make some promises to him. James reviewed those promises with us, and then came to the last words his father spoke to him. He said, “Don’t ever forget that I love you and will always be proud of you.”

James kept the promises he made to his father. The critical point is that he kept those promises not because he expected reward but because he loved his father. This experience with his father clearly gives the pastor exceptional understanding of, and appreciation for, the last wishes of Jesus. One of those wishes appears in John 13:34-35 (New International Version): “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I left this sermon profoundly reminded that loving one another is our only hope for healing the divisions that threaten our very existence and for dispensing with the hate in our midst that is so obvious and destructive. However, reality challenged my capacity for believing that we can lay hold of loving one another. That is especially in doubt if our loving one another is to be driven by our recognition of Jesus’ love for us. In a nation where church membership is on the decline, especially among young people, and Christians are being pushed to the fringe of society, it does not seem likely that this “love one another” arrangement is possible.

Inspired, but still wondering if the “love one another” arrangement is possible in our time, Denise and I headed to the first baseball game being played by the Fayetteville Woodpeckers in our beautiful new stadium. Once in our seats and enjoying the game, we started talking with people seated around us. I was amazed that the atmosphere was so relaxed and welcoming.

Midway through the game, our team was down 5-2. At that point, there was a sense of concern throughout the stands. Despite being down by three, we kept pulling for our team. By the top of the ninth inning, the score was 5-5. We celebrated throughout the stadium. In the end, the Woodpeckers lost 7-5.

The point of sharing my baseball game experience is to acknowledge what happened in that stadium and how it speaks to loving one another because we love Jesus. At the low point in the game, when the outlook was not good, we kept pulling for our team. When the score was tied, we celebrated. When the Carolina Mudcats scored two in the ninth and went on to win, the crowd was still appreciative and supportive of our team.

Granted, this was just an entertainment event, but what happened there highlights the principle that common focus promotes unity. The fact is everybody in that stadium was committed to, and felt a connection to, the Woodpeckers. The result was a kind of unity that is missing in our country when it comes to the difficult issues that we face. A baseball game cannot fix what plagues us as a nation. But, if we have the common focus of loving Jesus because he loves us, we will follow his command to love one another. Therein is our only hope for overcoming the divisions and hatred that are wringing the very life from our nation.

Do not be fooled; no other focus will suffice. If you doubt the truth in that statement, consider what have become the objects of our focus, the Mueller investigation among them, and the results wrought by focusing on myriad subjects other than Jesus.

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