What New Taxes Do You Want?

February 10, 2008

          I called the firm that the county commissioners have picked to ask about a potential new local tax to learn public opinion on this issue. For a fee of $10,000 they are to phone 400 randomly-picked taxpayers for their preferences on these questions: Do those callees want a new land transfer tax, an increase on the retail sales tax, or neither? The arithmetic on this exercise comes to an average of $25 a telephone call.  

        The polling people told me they couldn’t include my opinion unless I just happened to be one of those computer-selected. The chances of that are  less than my winning the state lottery.

           I wanted to be one of the callees because I have a strong fundamental opinion on this. I am against both taxes for a simple reason. They would be new levies on the necessities of life, which are already heavily taxed.

          Before necessities of food, clothing and shelter are further taxed, I urge that luxuries (of which an untaxed and low-taxed plenty are available) be considered. Taxing luxuries such as fancy cars, booze, and entertainment tickets won’t hurt anybody.

           How come these sources aren’t on the commissioners’ table?         


Site for Kidzu?

February 10, 2008

          A children’s museum for the Chapel Hill community is a great idea – already tried and true. To the organization’s appreciated credit, its energetic directors are seeking an improved location. 

          Lately a possibility is a yet undisclosed but potentially desirable site in Carrboro.  This notion is commendable in that it recognizes a community-wide location. Chapel Hill and Carrboro are in fact one community and a site in Carrboro enhances that idea. More facts of course remain to be learned. 

         Meanwhile the Kidzu Board has asked the Town of Chapel Hill to consider providing a new site in the Chapel Hill-Post Office/Courts building – quite a nice location with primary essential services already located there. 

         If it hasn’t yet been pondered, I’d like to propose another centrally-located but under-used municipal spot for Kidzu: the top of the Wallace Parking Deck. It was good enough a couple of years ago to be selected for a municipal business/residential site, when it fell victim to insufficient finances. 

         It’s virtually unused and has the most adequate parking possible (eifht under this space). It’s obviously available. It must be structurally satisfactory since it was chosen for a more complex use. Locating Kidzu there would not prohibit development above it. 

           –Am I off base with this suggestion?    

We Should Have Led the Way

January 17, 2008

          Today, the official Martin Luther King Jr. Day, set me to thinking again about the purpose of this observance. It seems to me that it is to further the elimination of racial discrimination and bring about natural racial integration. 

         I harken back to the 1960s in Chapel Hill when the local Board of Aldermen debated enactment of a public accommodations ordinance. That local law would have prohibited racial discrimination in local business service. After many months of deliberation the ordinance failed. The proposal brought on a lengthy trial of conscience throughout the community. As a member of the Town Board I sided with the majority that did not support this ordinance on legal grounds.          

          Those legal grounds were the fact that municipal governments had no authority to pass laws except those specifically authorized for them. It all became a moot question on July 4, 1964 when the national civil rights law took effect.

            Although I believe such authority might yet be illegal, I would support enactment of this local law as I look back on it today.  I’d do so on practical grounds, as much as for the fact that I heartily supported then and now the elimination of racial discrimination.          The population of Chapel Hill back then would have generally accepted that first public accommodations law to be enacted by a town.

           I believe we (the Town Board) erred in not passing that ordinance despite its questionable legality. We (the Board majority) didn’t see the forest for the trees. That is to say, we focused on trying to persuade individual businesses to drop their racial barriers, when the bigger picture was to eliminate all discrimination.

          Chapel Hill back then could have taken a leadership role in that regard. There was no racial violence here, but it was a time of great strife that we could have and should have avoided by leading the way.

Necessities to the ‘good life’

January 15, 2008

           Food, clothing and shelter, we know, are the absolute necessities of life. They are basic. There are additional things necessary to the “good life.”

          Just about all of us who blog and read blogs have the basic necessities of life. But we’re uptight about and too often lack the necessities of the “good life.”  We are on edge and confounded by the unmet need for them. 

         Here is my list for these other important necessities. They are (1) a plumber, (2) an electrician, and (3) A yard man. Add to the indispensable essence of each of them the words “personal, dependable, knowledgeable and friendly.”

          Not being a capable domestic handyman, I was frustrated until I hooked up with each of the above. I have them now and thank each of them for the “good life” I enjoy.


Is Chapel Hill ‘lousy’ with candidates?

January 14, 2008

          Is it wishful to imagine Chapel Hill at the center of the American and North Carolina democratically-elected universe? 

          A local (adopted) citizen, John Edwards, is yet vigorously campaigning for the United State presidency.          

          A recently  repatriated citizen, Jim Neal, seeks the NC Democratic nomination for the US Senate. (Add coincidental local geographic information: He lives in the mid-town home which was long that of the late 12-term US Congressman from Chapel Hill, Carl Durham.) 

         Beverly Perdue, the Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina, has been going full tilt for more than a year in her bid to become Governor.  Another Chapel Hillian, hometown  native Hampton Dellinger, is a candidate to succeed her as lieutenant governor. 

         We expect Speaker of the NC House of Representatives Joe Hackney, to again be un-opposed in his bid for re-election to this powerful post.

          No doubt there are and will be more geographically local folks to seek higher offices, so this is yet no big deal.

          But in looking back for a precedent I can only recall that a rather stuffy local lawyer many years ago announced that “at the request of my friends” he would run for election to the Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen. He received six votes.

What Sheldon White Saw Here

December 30, 2007

          He clearly recalled when Chapel Hill had only dirt streets, the town’s  first self-service grocery, and when the outlines of Durham and Raleigh  were  visible from Gimghoul Castle. He watched Horace Williams ride by on his horse from the front porch of his mid-town home.

    That was Chapel Hill as young Sheldon White first saw it when his widowed mother moved here almost 80 years ago. A careful hometown historian, Sheldon died here recently at age 93. He worked as a grocery store clerk, served five years in the Navy during World War II, graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill, and was a retired life insurance agent.Through all that, Sheldon dearly loved Chapel Hill and all its curious elements.

       Franklin was “Front Street,” and Rosemary “Back Street” — where he grew up in his mother’s boarding house. He could recall every store in the one-block downtown business district – including one of the seven independent groceries, where he started part-time work at $2 a week.

          Chapel Hill was a “caring place,” he said. “People looked after each other. Mrs.  R.B. Lawson was the one-woman personal welfare department who checked the jail every morning. When people couldn’t pay their monthly bills the merchants tided them over until times improved. The reason that NC Memorial Hospital had to be built, it was said, was to fill in the gap when \Dr. Brack Lloyd died in 1949. The crusty, revered doctor once said “I take care of all the blacks and whites – and damn few faculty.”

          –Of such are the vestiges of the vanishing village that Sheldon White watched and nurtured during his lifetime here.

Christmas Morning in Jail

December 26, 2007

          The year that I spent Christmas morning  locked up in the Chapel Hill jail is an event I inevitably recall almost every Yuletide. It followed a special 1963 Christmas Eve court hearing for a UNC English instructor who was arrested for the murder of his pregnant bride.

          Our family was at the breakfast table Christmas morning when another newspaper wretch telephoned to suggest we go interview Frank Rinaldi in his jail cell. I couldn’t imagine a rational defendantt granting such an interview but unwisely agreed to check it out. Surprisingly, the police desk sergeant and Rinaldi both acquiesced. We were admitted and locked in the jail cell. The policeman promptly forgot all about us until four hours later. It made for an interesting interview, but my wife was livid over the incident.

          Rinaldi was the beneficiary of a $40,000 double indemnity life insurance policy he’d taken out on his wife before they married that year. He said he was shopping for her Christmas presents the day she was found bludgeoned to death in their mid-town apartment. He was acquitted of the bizarre slaying following two trials. 

Christmas Without Plumbing

December 26, 2007

          Shortly after writing about the “Christmas morning in Jail,” I reflected on today’s equally memorable and bizarre “Christmas Day Without Plumbing.”

           That humbling truth is brought forcefully to mind by the disruption of the nearly 70-year-old septic tank that serves our hometown homestead. Yes, since the house was constructed in 1940 below the sewer line, it’s been served primitively but effectively by a septic tank. It functioned reasonably well – until Christmas Eve, December 24, 2007. 

           Maybe this had something to do with the 16 children and grandchildren  gathered so joyfully to enjoy a traditional family day together. Moments before the last ones left they discovered a rising pool of moist, aromatic liquid covering the lower floor.

          –Akin to the wonderful one-horse shay that ran for 100 years and a day, the cause was the buried line to the septic tank. Our blessedly helpful children shut off the water valve, mopped the mess out the back door, and departed for home, exhausted. –There was no place for them to sleep here.

          The important lesson of this Christmas day is simple and fundamental. Although I’d as soon the accident hadn’t happened, we’ve realized that we can exist and tolerate this inconvenience. We’re also more thankful for the under-appreciated tools of life. The repair crew will be here tomorrow. Neighbors have offered more help than needed. There’s a construction portalet next door, available to use if I truly wanted to do so.  Although I have the age-related malady shared by most other male octogenarians, it is tolerable. In youth, I thought camping out was fun.

           In summary, we’re still better off than millions of folk here and around the world. The troops in Iraq would willingly swap for our momentary plight. It’s therapeutic to be reminded of all this.

In summary, sincerely, Merry Christmas, blog readers.

Peace — and Quiet — Reigned in Chapel Hill

December 21, 2007

          Billed later as “Orange County’s Oldest and Strongest Bank,” Chapel Hill’s first financial institution opened in less than humble circumstances 108 years ago. It was  in a sort of lean-to against another store building, hard by the downtown locationof today’s successor BankAmerica.

          Judges Robert Winston and Crawford Biggs, Gen. Julian Shakespeare Carr of Durham and Chapel Hillians Dave McCauley and Charlie Lindsay put up $2,500 capital as original depositors.They hired Sam Peace Jr. of Henderson, who later recalled that he was at age 19 likely the youngest bank cashier in the country when he came from Henderson to take his $30 a month job in the spring of 1899, Peace had two years experience as a bank book-keeper and errand boy. 

          He later wrote that his 45-mile train trip to Carrboro, required four changes and took all day. Since the new bank had no safe he took each day’s cash home to his boarding house and slept on it.

          This local history came to light recently in a Christmas story written some years ago by Peace – who later became a successful industrialist and president of two banks. 

         He recalled returning home to Henderson for Christmas. Arriving there late  Christmas eve, he walked home and saw a lighted lamp in every window of the family home.  The sight moved him so that he sat down on the dirt sidewalk and cried.\ 

A Seasonal Paean on the Unappreciated Fruitcake

December 19, 2007

          The traditional holiday season fruitcake has an unnecessary and unfavorable image. Too many unappreciative people don’t give it a fair and tasty trial. As for me, I have never had a fruitcake I didn’t like.

          Admittedly, some are better than others. Those with a good healthy douse of brandy will always merit a better review. Those with too much bread-like ingredients may lack enough candied fruit and nuts. And those with a plenty of pecans are generally the best. The Southern Supreme  fruitcakery in Chatham County is, to my long-time tastes, truly THE supreme.

              Fruitcake eaten with coffee (or even ice cream) is a dining treat for all to enjoy.  

        Any unappreciative souls who want to give me their unwanted fruitcakes are welcome to do so.

Recalling the Danziger Dynasty

November 19, 2007

          Some years ago I wrote that a family of Austrian refugees here were “the Chapel Hilliest” people I knew. It all began when “Papa D” Edward G. Danziger opened his candy kitchen and local cultural oasis here in 1939. There was a sentimental reprise of it all lately at a Chapel Hill Historical Society program that featured recollections of the “Danziger Dynasty.”

         Papa, as devoted to Chapel Hill as anyone who ever lived here, had to flee the Hitler regime in Vienna and found his way to this community with the aid of local Quakers. Few people today recall the great civic and business legacy that he and his family which followed him here have left us.

           Papa’s Old World Restaurant and Gift Shop was for several decades a popular replica of the fabled “Viennese Candy King’s” place in his native land. (The Oasis Restaurant occupies Danziger’s downtown location today.

           A hearty and tireless baker, restaurateur and candy maker, Papa D was always involved in good works. His son, Ted, my closest friend until his death here in 1969 even outdid his father. Ted founded and opened the Rathskeller and three other popular establishments, and was vigorously active in community affairs. In fact, in his final days he was planning a grand new restaurant – one on a scale of the Triangle’s Angus Barn. This was to be on the site of the present Patterson Place strip mall off Durham Boulevard. 

         At the heart of all of this were the inseparable “Ted’n Bibi.” – Ted and Mary Alice (Bibi) Hoover Danziger, his Carolina classmate. Their two sons grew up here with our three sons and have made successful careers for themselves.  In the hectic post-War segregationist era of Chapel Hill the Danzigers were quietly courageous in opening their restaurants to everybody. When a noble endeavor needed a push “Ted’n Bibi” were inevitably behind the scene to help.

          That idea is one of the great things about Chapel Hill. It’s the people who chose to come here – as about 99 pct. of our population has – who have made and continue to enhance this place.    

Toward Eliminating the Image

November 19, 2007

          A growing movement sparked by Chapel Hill’s Downtown Partnership has made headway to improve downtown’s image.  

        Whether or not there is a negative image about downtown, the image is reality if you’re a customer.  If shoppers think panhandlers are on the sidewalk and they don’t like it, that is their reality.

          As it is said Biblically,  “The poor are always with us.” Chapel Hill’s corporate sense of decency and charity even attracts poor homeless people. But our sense of decency and charity also calls on us to confront this reality . 

         The Partnership’s project for face-to-face social counseling for homeless is a creative step in this direction. In the same vein is the “Spare Change for Real Change” idea, whereby we’re asked to donate money to help homeless people as a group rather than giving to panhandlers.   

Don’t Give in to Steroids

November 19, 2007

          It is simple realism to acknowledge that something will not work, and to stop trying to make it work. Seventy-five years ago it was this recognition that led America to repeal the Constitutional Amendment on prohibition. The “great experiment” was unenforceable and it was time to abandon it. 

         The comparison is pertinent today in relation to sports.  Some argue it would simply be realistic to pay big-time time scholarship college athletes, instead of skirting the issue for such “student athletes.” This may eventually be a realistic decision. I don’t believe we’ve come to that point yet. Enforcement of NCAA rules is difficult, but not yet impossible.                  

Likewise in all sports, there is a growing cry to acknowledge and permit the use of steroids to enhance performance. There are tests to detect this. The purpose of testing is simply to “level the playing field” for all athletes. 

       The mills of the gods grind slowly to accomplish this, as proven in the case of former UNC Olympic track star Marion Jones. Another case yet evolving is that of home run king Barry Bonds. The system hasn’t yet failed in those instances. 

           It’s simple justice to not to give anyone a chemical advantage they’d not otherwise have. The system to insure this hasn’t failed yet. 

Ravelette’s Revelation

November 19, 2007

          As we age we inevitably realize we cannot physically do what we used to do.  To the extent we acknowledge it, this realization is also a mental restriction. It’s realistic to accept our body’s physical decline. But it is not healthful nor realistic to give in to this completely.  With personal determination we can yet realize the satisfaction of accomplishment.   

       There is no better example of this than in the life of 67-year-old Marty Ravelette. Born without arms, he determined not to give in to that disability. In the 16 years he lived in Chapel Hill he inspired us to prevail over our own physical restrictions. 

          Until the moment of his recent tragic accident, he was quiet, confident and inspirational  in the way he showed that our shortcomings – all minor compared to his – should not prevent us from enjoying the good life.         

An Obvious Better Source

November 19, 2007

          Our county commissioners want to promote voter approval next spring of a land transfer tax referendum. Actually what is at stake is a new source of revenue for public school needs. While every other county that’s voted on imposing this tax has rejected it to date, Orange leaders fancy that it will pass here. 

         What I suggest instead is that we look for a better and fairer source of needed public education funds – a modest luxury tax. This is almost uniquely available for lucrative revenue in Orange County.           It is a tax that nobody would have to pay unless they chose to be subject to it – a reasonable surcharge on tickets to select entertainment events – particularly the very popular revenue sports of college football and basketball games.  The State Legislature would have to authorize this. (Actually this should be statewide legislation, but the revenue would be especially beneficial in this county.) 

         I have written and spoken on this many times before. The logic for it is increasingly more solid each year. In this county, state and country, we lavish huge sums of money on entertainment, but do not proportionately tax it. We raise the tax on food, clothing – and as proposed now on shelter, via a land transfer tax. These are regressive levies that everybody must pay. 

         How long, oh, how long before common sense in public tax policy will surface?