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Post-COVID-19 Fayetteville: Hear the music and smell the flowers

02 Dogwood FestivalWell, from where I sit it looks like Fayetteville is starting to come alive again after being stymied for nearly two years dealing with the COVID pandemic. We see more and more people venturing out eating, shopping and actively searching out events, activities and things to do outside the confines of their own home. Art, cultural and recreational events that were so bountiful prior to the pandemic are starting to make a comeback.

I recently received a call from Sarahgrace Snipes, the new Executive Director of the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival. She was very excited and eager to tell me that the City of Fayetteville has finally given them permission to use Festival Park for this year’s Dogwood Mini Fest. This event was previously scheduled to be held in April at Westwood Shopping Center, but again COVID-19 ended up being Dogwood’s party pooper. Since arriving in Fayetteville from Wilmington, Sarahgrace has literally “hit the ground running." And, standing up the Dogwood Festival’s Mini Festival at Festival Park on such short notice will be a major accomplishment. One that will be very much appreciated by this community. The Dogwood Festival is free to the public and will feature many of their traditional events like the car & motorcycle show, art and craft displays, local vendors and entertainers, and, of course, great food and a live music concert. Everyone needs to support this event on June 11 & 12.

Speaking of music concerts, Fayette-ville residents eager to be outside in the fresh air are turning out in huge numbers to the many musical concerts scheduled for the Fayetteville/Cumberland County community. Gates Four Golf & Country Club launched their Summer Concert Series on May 16 with a Beach Music Bash at The Pavilion. Their musical series of five monthly concerts will present award winning musical talent and entertainment ranging from classic Carolina Beach music to the Beatles and hits from the 60s. On July 17 they will present a Retro 80’s Rock Concert & Party. The Series is produced by the Fayetteville Dinner Theatre in conjunction with Gates Four and the public is invited. All the concerts are ticketed events but with a twist: all food, beer and wine are included in the ticket price. For the list of concert times and dates go to www.fayettevilledinnertheatre.com.

Another great outdoor music concert series was launched last week when Rock’n On The River showcased two great bands on the banks of the Cape Fear River at Deep Creek Outfitters. Hundreds of rock music enthusiasts turned out to see, hear and experience Mostley Crue and Shoot to Thrill. They did not disappoint. This concert series is produced and engineered by local Fayetteville resident Greg Adair with Healy Whlse., Up & Coming Weekly, 96.5 Bob FM and The River 106.5, and the support of dozens of local businesses. Their next event is on June 18 featuring Reflections II and the Journey tribute band Trail by Fire. Follow Rock’n On The River on Facebook for details.

Yes, Fayetteville is coming alive again. The sights and sounds of the joyful outdoors are everywhere. Seek them out, enjoy and support them. Here’s a few suggestions: Clark Park, Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Veterans Memorial Park, Lake Rim Park, Cape Fear Trail, the Rose Garden at FTCC and one of my very favorites, Fayetteville’s newest and most exciting destinations, the Sweet Valley Ranch and Dinosaur World.

So, whether you are into attending a local festival, enjoying a music concert on the river, or smelling the pretty flowers, Fayetteville and Cumberland County have a never-ending array of wonderful outdoor places for you to go, see, enjoy, relax and de-stress.

Thanks for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Caption: The Dog Wood Mini Fesival is schedued for June 11-12 at Festival Park. Musical entertainment, food and vendors are planned. (Photos of previous events courtesy of Fayetteville Dog Wood Festivals) 

Taking time to notice others can bring awareness and hope

Cho S2 press image 3 1 06Positivity with a ponytail. The music, the message and the motorcycle. These are just a couple of the taglines someone recently suggested for the daily radio show I have the pleasure of hosting on WCLN.

Ultimately, I'll probably not use either of them, but it's nice to know people take time to notice. That's something our sorely disconnected world needs a little more of: People noticing one another.

Over the past several months my wife and I have begun watching the independent video series, “The Chosen” from director Dallas Jenkins. None of us can comment with surety on how accurately the personalities of any of the Biblical figures is depicted, but the series has gone a long way to making them all more understandable.

“The Chosen” walks viewers through the early days of Jesus' time in ministry, offering backstories of the people we often reduce to supporting actors as we read the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the New Testament.

The more we learn about the environment in which these people and their stories were birthed, the better we understand the counter cultural message of the Gospel.

I think too often we conjure the image of Jesus wandering from lame to leper in a white robe with His hands held just so, speaking in language too haughty for most to comprehend.

That's probably far removed from the truth. Jesus was born into a gritty world, and a land which was dominated and occupied by Rome — an invading nation bent on ruling
the world.

As Jesus’ ministry unfolds in the first four books of the New Testament, what I see is someone who noticed. He noticed pain. He noticed suffering. He identified with those who were poor and hungry, weary from the weight of the oppressive occupation, and anxiously hoping for a heroic figure to swoop in and save them all. Ultimately that's what they got, but they simply missed it.

The Jewish people of that day had crafted a military hero from hundreds of years of stories. A hero who would defeat all the enemies of Israel, based on their current situation.

The hero who showed up, however, was a kind, understanding man who worked with common people to help them better relate to God and the people around them.

He taught them to love one another, and to treat even their greatest enemy with compassion.

Jesus taught us to do what we need to do more of to move this world and any situation toward a more peaceful resolution in every way: He taught us to notice.

When we truly notice those around us we begin to understand. We identify with their pain, we identify we their suffering, and when we notice those around us who are hungry and poor in any number of ways, we find the same hope that Jesus offered. That hope promises there is more in this world than our situation, and many ways to live a full life regardless of it.

Pictured above: "The Chosen" is the first ever multi-season series about the life of Christ. (Photo courtesy Angel Studios)   

Selling PWC down the river

02 churchIt’s that most wonderful time of year again, when the current temporary members of the Fayetteville City Council are tempted to sell the rights to the Public Works Commission for thirty years. In return, the Council will get a mess of pottage in a secret financial story of Biblical proportions.

This time the would-be buyer is an investment outfit from Louisiana called Bernhard Capital Partners. Let’s call this firm Bernie to keep things simple. The Fayetteville City Council will play the role of Esau. Bernie will take the role of Jacob. PWC will inhabit the role of Birthright in this story.

Ponder the story of Jacob and Esau from the Bible to see how this fits the City Council’s current flirtation with selling PWC to some out of towners for some fast cash.

Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah. Esau was born first which gave him the Birthright. This was a big deal in Hebrew times as the first born got the best parts of the family inheritance. Jacob grabbed Esau’s ankle in an effort to be born first. However, Esau emerged first securing his claim to the Birthright.

Years later, Esau had been out in the fields. He came home hungry as a starving bear. Jacob, being a homebody, had cooked up a mess of red pottage which is what they used to call stew. Jacob, sensing an investment opportunity, refused to give Esau any of the pottage unless Esau swapped his Birthright for a bowl of pottage. Esau’s blood sugar was way down which caused him not to think clearly. Choosing immediate gratification over the delayed version, Jacob agreed to swap his Birthright for the mess of pottage.

The deal was done. No birthright for Esau. It was a sweet deal for Jacob who was just out a bowl of stew.

So how does this story fit our very own City Council and its interest in selling PWC as an indentured servant for 30 years to some strangers? Apparently, the City Council was working out a double secret deal like the Manhattan Project with Bernie to sell off PWC. The Raleigh News & Observer spilled the beans in a story on April 13 blowing the cover off the negotiations of the proposed 30 years of PWC wandering in the wilderness under the tender mercies of an out of state company.

Turns out there is a non-disclosure agreement between the City Council, PWC and Bernie so the full details aren’t available to the roughly 140,000 electric, water and sewer customers of PWC.

As the Church Lady used to say, “Well, isn’t that convenient?” At the time of the writing of this column, the NDA was still in place and the details were still double secret. The News & Observer report said Bernie had offered $750 million to the City for the PWC rights for the next 30 years.

If the opening offer was $750 million, you know that the rights are worth far more than that amount.

PWC has been around since 1905. It is owned by the city of Fayetteville which means the citizens of Fayetteville. It has received numerous awards for being well run and providing excellent service to our citizens.

In the interest of full disclosure, my father E.H. Dickey was an electrical engineer for PWC for many years. He was one of those guys who got up in the middle of the night during storms to get the power back on. There are a lot of those guys at PWC who get up in the middle of the night to keep things running. They are local. Having local guys who live here take care of things here is a good thing. No one in Louisiana currently decides when to do maintenance in Fayetteville.

Under Bernie, that could change. Deferring maintenance is way absentee owners make more money. Do you want to trust an absentee owner to decide whether to spend money to maintain PWC’s equipment? I don’t.

All this comes under the heading of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Bernie may be wonderful. I don’t know. I do know PWC ain’t broke. Why gamble?

The makeup of the City Council is temporary. Council members come and go. Fayetteville’s citizens outlast councils. PWC has been run by local citizens since 1905 unless the Council decides to sell it into indentured servitude. The temptation for the current Council to sell PWC is going to be great. The Council would have a slush fund of $750 million to spend on all sorts of favorite ideas. How long do you think it would be until they spent that pile of money on pet projects? The current Council will be out of office, the pile of money will be gone, and Bernie down on the bayou will be setting our rates, deciding on maintenance, and putting us on voice mail before you can say “Oops!”

It was not a good idea to kill the Golden Goose to get her golden eggs. Indenturing PWC for 30 years to get PWC’s Golden Eggs today will be a decision we will all regret later. PWC is Fayetteville’s Birthright.

It’s your hometown utility. Tell the City Council not to trade 30 years of PWC for a mess of pottage. Tell your City Council to tell Bernie thanks, but no thanks.

Vote Yes Fayetteville: An opportunity for repentance

03 vote verticalIn 2006/7, I led the opposition to an effort to restructure the Fayetteville City Council. I was wrong. Vote Yes Fayetteville is a current attempt to change the Council make-up from nine single member districts to five single and four at-large seats. This is an opportunity for correcting a serious past failing, and I am taking it. I will do all that I can to help achieve this restructuring.

In 2006, I attended a meeting where several speakers made the case that the proposed referendum to change the Council structure would dilute Black representation on the Council. In that meeting, I agreed to lead an effort opposing the referendum. I did so even though I had signed the petition calling for the referendum.

My mind was changed because I accepted the argument that Black citizens face some challenges that are best understood by other Blacks. In addition, when looking at voting patterns in the city, it was clear that white citizens primarily voted for white candidates. This voting pattern brought in the likelihood that there was a racism component at work. There was also the consideration that running at-large is more expensive than competing in a single district and that would be a hindrance for Black candidates.

In the end, on February 6, 2007, the referendum passed and the process of implementing the new structure started. However, the U.S. Justice Department had authority to reverse the decision of Fayetteville voters and did so. The Justice Department concluded that that the 6-3 plan could negatively affect minority voting. That is, make the election of minority candidates less likely.

Opposing passage of the restructuring resolution gave our group members far better insight into the issues affecting all Fayetteville citizens, but especially Black residents. More clearly, we saw the societal and political blind spots: areas that needed to be addressed, but with different approaches and attitudes from what was the norm. For this reason, what had been the referendum opposition organization, “NO 2,” became the Fayetteville Area Coalition for Equality (FAYCE). I was elected chairman of the new organization.

The focus of FAYCE was on the needs of Black residents while endeavoring to have local governments treat all residents fairly and equally. It is absolutely critical to understand that it was not our aim to have any group(s) of Fayetteville citizens given attention to the detriment of any other group(s). Even though our focus was on issues affecting Black citizens, the aim was fair and equal treatment for all.

FAYCE had a clearly defined approach for pursuing our overall aim. Gathering facts and examining those facts, before taking a position on any issue, was central to that approach. There was also commitment to detailed planning for any project or action.

Our commitment to these principles showed through in the structure of our meetings, in how we addressed difficult issues, in developing a candidates’ guide for the 2007 municipal election, and sponsoring candidates’ forums for that election. In line with our desire to get facts and thoughtful responses and to accurately and productively inform citizens, we provided forum questions to the candidates in advance. In line with our approach, these forums were not about tripping anybody up; they were about informing citizens and encouraging reasoning over emotion.

Into 2008, FAYCE was proving very effective in pursuing the organization’s goals. Then came the 2008 North Carolina presidential primary. Barack Obama received 9 out of 10 Black votes. Don Worthington, a reporter with The Fayetteville Observer, called and asked me what I thought about Blacks voting so overwhelmingly for Obama. He quoted me correctly as saying, “If nine out of 10 Blacks voted for Obama, they may be guilty of the same racism they accused whites of in the past.” The main argument in 2006, against restructuring the Council, was that since whites overwhelmingly voted for whites, that voting pattern indicated the presence of racism. Continuing that reasoning, why would Blacks voting overwhelmingly for a Black candidate not also raise the possibility of racism?

Although there were some individuals who publicly agreed with what I said, the outrage in opposition was deafening. WIDU, a local radio station with a sizeable Black audience, was inundated with calls from people who were totally disgusted with my comment.

The level of disgust was eye-opening for me. Then there was this statement written by someone on Ron Harrison’s blog: “…FAYCE flounders — and honestly, it was beginning to look like an organization that could positively influence the community … which befuddles me why Merritt opened his mouth in such a manner.” The clear message from the outrage and comments, such as the one quoted here, was that I should have been quiet regarding a condition I believed could prove dangerous and debilitating for this city and even the nation. That was not and is not my approach to leading or living. I resigned as chairman of FAYCE.

The experience that I have reviewed to this point caused a major revamping of the framework within which I do my thinking. For instance, there was a time when, if the government said something was true, I accepted it without question; I was inclined to, without detailed examination, accept claims of racism as true; I believed that the vast majority of politicians were committed to doing what was good for all Americans; did not give extensive attention to the political process, governmental policies, or fiscal considerations. Every one of these components, and more, of my framework for thinking has shifted 180 degrees.

Against this backdrop, here is how I now assess Vote Yes Fayetteville. The 5/4 restructuring is required because the current structure of nine single member districts is doing exactly what, in 2006, those of us who opposed that restructuring claimed would happen if it were instituted; except, in 2021, the racial impact is reversed. In 2006, there were more white residents than Black. That is no longer the case. Eight of the 10 members of Council are Black and, during elections, indications are that Black citizens overwhelmingly vote for viable Black Democratic candidates. Applying the racism argument made in 2006/7 by those of us who opposed restructuring, and by the U.S. Justice Department in overruling the will of Fayetteville voters, the current Council structure requires some effort to even the playing field for white citizens.

Another point of opposition being raised again is that it is more expensive to run at-large than in a district and this puts Black candidates at a disadvantage. One response to this claim is to point to Blacks who are currently serving in at-large positions, such as: sheriff, chairman of the County Commission, and Clerk of Court.
In terms of fairness and equal treatment of all, the impact on white citizens of this at-large cost argument demands attention. It says to white citizens who have financial means, “You are able to provide substantial financial support to candidates or to your personal campaign; consequently, we must maintain a system that prevents you from participating in the political process in a manner equal to all other citizens.” This is totally unfair and certainly smells like discrimination.

There also seems to be greater attention to issues championed by Black residents than to those affecting all citizens of the city. The first of these regards the Market House; despite its otherwise very positive historical significance, because slaves were sold there, Council is giving significant attention to what might be done to quell outrage from some Black citizens and an undetermined number of white citizens. Of equal high priority with Council is satisfying demands for a citizens police review board that would have access to records and information that are not now publically available.

While there is tremendous focus on these two issues, the weightier responsibilities of local government are getting far less attention than is necessary or reasonably expected by the general public. Among these are understaffing of the police department, rising crime rates, failure to protect property during a season of protesting/rioting/looting, not proactively promoting economic development, questionable handling of infrastructure needs, and, in general, conducting city affairs in a fashion that divides rather than unifies citizens.

The negative consequences of the picture painted here are many, but the loss of white residents is one deserving of serious consideration by those who might oppose Vote Yes Fayetteville. Since 2000, maybe before, the white population of Fayetteville has been in decline. If this restructuring and other fairness/equalizing actions are not taken, Fayetteville will experience the same terrifying quality of life decline as other cities that followed our current course. Consider Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles and so forth.

At the bottom line, I contend that if this effort to restructure the Fayetteville City Council fails, it will show us to be a city where white citizens are treated unfairly, the primary indicator of racism in voting only applies to whites, and we are willing to protect these conditions at the cost of a dramatic decline in our quality of life.

Support Vote Yes Fayetteville.

Fayetteville, Cumberland County residents need to know who cares

01 Crime Stoppers LogoWell, now that our Hometown Utility PWC has ceased negotiations with Bernhard Capital, Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin and his cabal may be back to the drawing board for an alternative plan to raid the coffers of one of the most caring, well-managed and efficient utility companies in the state.

On two fronts, the entire ordeal of the prospect of allowing an equity firm with no utility experience to take over the management or our local utility was the near-perfect example of how the lack of transparency in local government can impact a community.

One: lack of transparency allows unpopular and unsavory schemes to hatch.

Two: When there is openness in government, it enables local media to report news and provide detailed information to the general public, keeping them informed on issues and situations that affect taxpayers' livelihoods and quality of life.

Transparency encourages elected officials to justify their actions. Free speech and transparency in government are vitally important in maintaining a free democracy. Of course, it helps when local elected officials care more about their constituents than they do themselves. In our community, it's sadly becoming pretty apparent they do not.

Those who care about the Fayetteville and Cumberland County community and its residents get involved with the community. Two recent Fayetteville events demonstrated this type of caring.

The local Crime Stoppers organization cares about our law enforcement officers. Fayetteville Crime Stoppers recently launched a county-wide appreciation initiative where they began visiting law enforcement agencies in Fayetteville and Cumberland County to present officers a full dinner gift card from Chick-fil-A. It was made possible through the partnership and generosity of local businessman Tommy Arnold, owner of Chick-fil-A, and the dedication of the Crime Stoppers organization. The initiative was launched May 6 with a presentation to the Fayetteville City Police Department by Arnold, Fayetteville Crime Stoppers Chairman Dr. Eric See of Methodist University, and Duncan Hubbard of Holmes Electric. These Crime Stoppers supporters and volunteers are people, businesses and organizations that care, and the Fayetteville community is better and safer because of them.

The Care Clinic on Robeson Street is another perfect example of a local organization dedicated to caring for the health and welfare of residents who cannot afford health insurance for medical and dental services. For over a quarter century, this invaluable and charitable non-profit organization has depended on a countless number of caring volunteers from all walks of life, funded only by generous donations and a few well-planned community events.

One such event was also May 6, when they held their annual Wine Tasting and Silent Auction at the Cape Fear Botanical Gardens. It was heartwarming to see the outpouring of community support for an organization that provides medical and dental services to residents free of charge. The event was a virtual "who's who" of caring residents, including Mike Nagowski, CEO of Cape Fear Valley Health Systems, and State Representative John Szoka. Unfortunately, conspicuously absent were members of our city and county management team and our elected officials. This was highly disappointing.

You would think this would have been the perfect time to come and support the Care Clinic and the people that do so much work for our residents. Our local elected officials missed this opportunity while sending a message of apathy to their constituents. No doubt, if asked, everyone will have a grand excuse for not attending, but the fact remains — “actions will always speak louder than words.”

Another saying our leadership should become familiar with: "No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."

As a media source, we work with hundreds of people and dozens of great invaluable organizations covering all aspects of quality of life in Fayetteville — people and organizations that care. These people and organizations make our life better and our community pleasantly unique.

We need leadership that respects, encourages and endorses those values. There is no hiding from the truth. Again, "actions will always speak louder than words."

In the coming months, all residents must pay close attention to the actions of those who seek leadership positions in our community. Their track record will speak volumes on how much they care about the Fayetteville and Cumberland County community.

Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

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