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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.

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.

Celebrating motherhood is not just for Mother's Day

11 N2105P21004CIn 1914, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially recognized Mother's Day as a national holiday. More than a hundred years later, the holiday has become a global celebration to honor the mothers who made sacrifices to raise generations of children and support them through adulthood.

While flowers or chocolates are a perfectly suitable way to say thanks, it's the way you live your life, the special words you say to her, or even those you write in a card that mean the most.

Before I even turned 18, I left home to join the Army, and never returned except to visit. And while I can still hope that my life in some way is a tribute to the mother who raised and launched me into the world, so much of what I know about mothers and their adult children I've learned from a front row seat to an amazing mother and grandmother — my wife.

On a recent Saturday, she made plans for as many as wanted to join us to gather their Nerf® guns and follow us, or to see how many we could fit inside each vehicle for a drive-thru dinosaur hunt in a neighboring county. It was a day of silliness including a lunch-on-the-road and picking strawberries at a local farm.

Later that same day, our son knocked on the door with his children who were excited to give us some small gifts they picked out for us while on a Spring Break vacation. As if that weren't enough, the following day, our daughter invited mom and me over for fresh strawberry pie and some fun conversation.

This is some of what being a mom is about. Loving your children, giving them your time and attention, and watching them blossom into parents who do the same. It's not all dinosaur hunts, gifts and strawberry pie, but those things stem from a life well-lived, and children well-loved.

The Bible has much to say about the joys, challenges and rewards of motherhood. In Proverbs 31:26 it says "She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue." That's what I see when I look at the woman — the mother — I've spent more time with than any other. Wisdom and kindness. A mother who loves her children and theirs. A mother who wants the very best for every single one of them, and stops to call, video chat, and pray for each of them on a regular basis.

There's not enough I can't say enough about the importance of motherhood, so if you're a mom — thank you. If your mother is still living, I hope you'll take it from here. Call her. Write a letter. Fill a card with words that will honor her and place it in her hands.

As you celebrate all that motherhood is and means, let me point you again to the Bible. If you only have time to read one small chapter, read Proverbs 31 where you'll find this in the 28th verse – "Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.

A tribute to mothers, sisters, friends

tribute 2I never truly understood the role of a mother until I lost my mother, Cora Jones, the night before Thanksgiving in 2007. I also lost the person who informed me of her death. My little sister, Chakita Jones, was murdered four days before her 26th birthday. My sister and mother were not perfect, but they did their best to give their kids the best. As a mother of seven, my sister gave her life to save her son’s life. When my sister was killed, she was shielding my nephew from bullets. During her last six months of life, my mother was more worried about me, Kita, and Josh than the fact that she was dying. Her biggest concern was making sure that I finished high school and enrolled in college. But, when Kita called me, my entire world changed. I had never experienced the death of a family member. When I lost my mother, I felt numb for months. When I lost my mom, I lost unconditional love. I lost my direction in life, motivation, and my will to continue with life. Yes, I had suicidal thoughts. While many will not admit it, this is a reality for many of us who have lost our mother. You will never get over it. Every year, I, like others, am reminded of the importance of a mother.

Mother’s Day is bittersweet for those who do not physically have a mother. We take the time to reflect on the beautiful memories she left us. However, we are constantly wishing that we can have one more conversation. Everyday, I wish that I can go back to 1360 Davis Street and sit on the steps under the tree with my mom while she has a cold beer after a long day of work at the cleaners.

 On Mother’s Day, me and Kita would visit her gravesite and reflect. Now, Kita is gone and I have to visit two gravesites. When my mom passed away, Kita was that last living piece of her that I had. Kita was four years younger than me, and no matter how much we would argue, I always knew she was going to be there. She provided that unconditional love that I needed at a trying time. We did not judge each other. When she had my niece, I watched her grow from a girl to a woman fast. Though she was young, she understood that she had to care for this life she was bringing forth. As we grew older, Kita had more kids and loved each one equally. At the time of her death, she was the mother of seven beautiful children. Realistically, I was in no position to take on the responsibility of seven more kids alone. So, I am forever thankful to my cousins Brittany, Courtney, and Iesha for being there. These women along with all the other females in my family stepped into a void that was created by a senseless act of violence. Before my mom passed, she met this woman that lived across the street from my aunt and they became friends. Over the years, Kia grew to be more like family and would become grandmother to all 10 of my mother’s grandchildren. She does her best to be present for every special occasion concerning the kids, just as my mother would.

 I will never forget the day I told Kita and Kia I was about to have my first child. They acted as if they were more excited than me. However, nothing will ever top the moment that my kid’s mother jokingly threw two positive pregnancy tests on me and said “congratulations, you a daddy now.” I jumped out of the bed and grabbed her instantly. She made me the happiest man on earth and gave me a reason to push forward. I was already confident in her mothering skills because she had a child prior to us meeting. I was the one who had to learn how to be a parent. She was the greatest teacher. When my son was born, I was constantly wondering if I was doing the right thing. I would always ask questions like “can I hold him,” “how am I supposed to do this,” or “are you sure I’m not hurting him.” She would always laugh while she helped me and reassured me that the baby is good. Like many mothers, G has made sacrifices to ensure that me and my boys can have peace ... and clean clothes. As a father, I must commend the mother of my children. She is a mother and business owner that loves to give back. Last summer, in the late stages of her pregnancy, she participated in marches and helped to serve the homeless at the Market House. Her maternal gifts allow me the opportunity to focus on providing for our family. There is no amount of gratitude that can be shown to express how I feel about her.

 She recently donated her time and hands to mothers that lost their sons in combat. Her company, Royal Stitches, provided handmade red, white and blue roses named American Flowers to veteran nonprofit Southern CC, Inc. as a part of their “Tribute to Gold Star Mothers.” CEO Tony Brown and his organization honored Gold Star Mothers with a day of pampering. Mothers received a makeover courtesy of Fusion Hair Salon. After receiving makeovers, the group of women were escorted to Pierro’s for dinner and Hummingbird to make candles. During dinner, the mothers were serenaded by Tony and a group of men. Before departing, each mother was given a gift bag that included American Flowers among other gifts donated by small businesses throughout the community.

 A mother is the most important person you have in your life. As men, we will never know what it is like to carry a child. Witnessing childbirth changed my life. I can only imagine how it feels to birth a child. But, women do it every day. So, salute to every mother. Happy Mother’s Day. Salute to every activist getting active. Peace.  

 

Pictured below: (left) Author Rakeem Jones and his sister Chakita.  (right) Cora Jones, the author's mother.

Photos courtesy of the author.

Keem and Kita

Keem Mom Cora Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Show us the details, Fayetteville

01 PWC FHUNote from Publisher Bill Bowman: I am yielding my space this week to Fayetteville resident, PWC ratepayer, and former District 8 Fayetteville City Councilman Ted Mohn. He is known for his laid-back common-sense management style, keen insights into complex city issues, and his razor-sharp analysis of what constitutes fiscal responsibility and good municipal business practices. Below he raises 13 pertinent questions about the proposal made to our city by Bernhard Capital to manage our Hometown Utility. These questions need to be answered before any further consideration is given to this proposal.

Fayetteville PWC is correct to request being released from the non-disclosure agreement with Bernhard Capital LLC. Citizens of Fayetteville and FAYPWC ratepayers deserve answers on this proposal. Fayetteville City Council should join our FAYPWC in being released from the NDA. Our Hometown Utility belongs to us and we deserve answers in a reasonably timely manner.

In June 2019, I attended a meeting at City Hall along with Mayor Mitch Colvin, Councilmember Tisha Waddell, FAYPWC Commissioner Darsweil Rogers, select Fayetteville senior staff and members from Bernhard Capital. Bernhard provided us a handout with background company information and the basic concept of how such an agreement might work. No specific financials were ever discussed. Everyone agreed much due diligence was needed for any further discussion for an initial financial proposal of this magnitude. June 2019 was the last time I heard of Bernhard’s idea until I noticed a closed joint-meeting between City Council, our FAYPWC Commission, Bernhard members and select city and FAYPWC senior staff. That meeting occurred on December 1, 2020, at Fayetteville State University. I thought it was odd at first but then I realized the extra space was most likely needed because of COVID-19 and social distancing requirements.

Fayetteville taxpayers and FAYPWC ratepayers outside city limits deserve details of the Bernhard proposal. Below are some of my simple questions:

1. How much actual cash will the city be provided upfront from Bernhard?

2. Is Bernhard going to pay-off all current city debt in addition to the upfront cash?

3. Who will set the FAYPWC customer electric, water and sewer rates?

4. Who will negotiate with Duke Energy for long-term bulk electric rate purchases in the future?

5. Will Bernhard pay actual property taxes versus how FAYPWC now pays Fayetteville money from their electric fund as payments in leu of taxes (PIT) as specified in the City/FAYPWC charter?

6. Will the potential new annual property tax payments from Bernhard be greater each year than the PIT money currently paid by FAYPWC to the city per the charter?

7. Will Bernhard actually build a satellite headquarters in Fayetteville and bring 200+ jobs like they told Lafayette, Louisiana, they were considering back in 2018 and never did?

8. Bernhard says they make their investment back by being more efficient in running business. During their due diligence what aspects of running FAYPWC will they make more efficient to save money which would go back to their investors?

9. Fayetteville PWC is a not-for-profit utility. Will the NC General Assembly have to update the charter to allow FAYPWC profits to be turned over to Bernhard and their investors?

10. Fayetteville PWC currently takes what could be considered profit and turns around and uses that money for infrastructure upgrades, extensions and improvements. Will Bernhard take that money to repay their investors or will they continue to invest in infrastructure upgrades and replacements?

11. Will Bernhard want some type of revenue sharing agreement where they automatically get “x%” of the initial annual revenue from the electric, water and wastewater fund regardless of projected/planned infrastructure needed upgrades identified by the FAYPWC?

12. Who will have regulatory oversight of Bernhard’s management of our FAYPWC’s electric, water and wastewater departments and funds?

13. How many years does this proposal last and what happens at the end of this proposal to the city, FAYPWC ratepayers and Bernhard investors?
Many questions still need to be answered and I’ve only scratched the surface. If Bernhard has done their due diligence to make this a win-win for the city of Fayetteville, FAYPWC ratepayers and their investors, I’d like to see their amortization tables on who is held harmless, who makes out and who gets the short end of the stick. I need to see these projections from Bernhard broken down by each utility fund to better understand what is being proposed and projected. I also want to see projections from our FAYPWC senior staff and whomever the city of Fayetteville might have hired to review all of this.

Residents and FAYPWC ratepayers deserve transparency on this proposal and we need it before our City Council and FAYPWC Commissioners take public votes on the Bernhard proposal.

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