Board Meeting: 19 Sept. 2023

When I started writing this it was ten o’clock on Wednesday morning, September 20th. Last night the Ramseur commissioners held their regular monthly meeting after a short public hearing for a rezoning request. On most days like this, the video of last night’s meeting would already be available on the town’s YouTube account, but today that’s not the case, for reasons I have no way to know.

Instead of being able to watch the video and clarify a few bits I couldn’t hear well or otherwise missed, today I’m going to have to rely on hand-scribbled notes and my memory.

The public hearing had to do with a request to combine two parcels and adjust any zoning differences between them so that the owners, Haney’s Holding Co. LLC, could move forward with what they described during the hearing as a self-storage enterprise.

I’ve included a map showing the parcels in question from the county GIS website. The red line indicates the property they requested be combined with the adjacent property behind it, which fronts US 64. I don’t believe the corner property, at Greenhill Road and US 64, is part of the project. Please accept my apologies if my graphics skills are confusing to anyone.

The rezoning request was later approved during the business meeting.

After the public hearing, the meeting got underway with an invocation and pledge of allegiance, followed by the adoption of the consent agenda. For those unfamiliar, a consent agenda is a collection of reports, invoices, or other items that recur every month or so and most often pass without much discussion. When I received the email containing this month’s meeting agenda and support documents, one item on the consent agenda jumped out at me: a $ 2,000 payment to the Ramseur/Eastern Randolph Chamber of Commerce. The clerk’s notes indicated that the item had been approved by the board at the August 15th meeting, but I didn’t recall any such a decision.

Commissioner Parrish must have anticipated that question because when he amended the agenda to add several last-minute items he explained what this payment was. Last month the board agreed to purchase some holiday lights through a GvoDeals auction, however, by the time bidding was complete the final cost went “well above” the approved budget of $2,000, and because GovDeals will only accept wire transfers from one entity for a purchase, the R/ER Chamber of Commerce paid the full bill; the $2000 was a reimbursement from the town for the amount the board had agreed to spend.

I thank the commissioner for explaining that odd transaction, but a few questions do remain: what was the total cost, and will the Chamber be making an “in-kind” donation to the town for the balance so that all? Until that happens the new Christmas lights exist in a sort of legal no man’s land because two entities (town and chamber) cannot both own them. My wife leads a local non-profit here in the county and works closely with their treasurer to make sure things like that don’t fall through the cracks and cause bigger problems down the road. I’m sure the commissioner intends to see that this is resolved properly in the near future.

Speaking of amendments to the agenda, there were quite a few late additions last night, from several commissioners. Commissioner Parrish added four: the fire department equipment purchase, the holiday lights payment above, the reappointment of an ABC Board member, and an update on preparations for our annual ‘A Day On Main Street’ festival. Commissioner Hatchett added an update on the Ramseur Athletic Association’s efforts to get restarted, and Commissioner Brower added four items as well: a question about zoning issues regarding a fence, an issue regarding violation of the special zoning district known as the “downtown overlay”, remarks praising Public Utilities Director, Jason Helton, and a statement about Commissioner Cranford.

By my count, that’s nine amendments to an agenda that was completed and emailed to board members and other interested parties last Friday afternoon, four full days before the meeting. The addition of the fire department issue was at least announced, via email, the day before the meeting, and the consent agenda item was really part of a discussion regarding the disposal of the decorations that the new lights will replace, so it didn’t actually take up any additional time.

Commissioner Parrish does have a great deal on his plate, so I think we can afford him a little grace for overlooking one or two items from time to time. Commissioner Hatchett has been a board member for four months now, so we’ll attribute her forgetting to add her topic to the agenda to that steep learning curve we’ve been warned about, but Commissioner Brower gets no pass. She spends a significant amount of time in the administrative office every week; almost every day from what I’m told, and she has been a commissioner for almost two years now.

Two of Commissioner Brower’s items were zoning/code enforcement issues. I’m not familiar with the garage alleged to be operating illegally within the downtown overlay, but the fence in question has been up long enough to have green mildew (it’s actually algae) growing on it. Those should have been added to the agenda well before meeting night. As for her praise for Mr. Helton’s work, she could have slipped that comment into the discussion of water and sewer issues already on the agenda, and the inspection she referenced was not what I’d call stellar, but it wasn’t horrible either. Mr. Helton is a very competent and creative water plant operator, but there’s always room for improvement as the inspection report lays out.

As for Commissioner Brower’s comments about Mr. Cranford… that issue was settled last month and I moved on. What was the point of bringing it back up?

Moving on to the public comments section of the meeting, only one citizen had signed up early enough to be listed on the agenda. Mr. Sonnenfeld, who lives over on Elam Avenue somewhere, asked the board to cut him a discount on his sewer bill because he spent the hottest months of the summer watering his new Bermuda grass lawn. You know, since the water goes on the ground it doesn’t return to the sewer plant to be treated. I understood his reasoning but, as several commissioners correctly pointed out, that’s a slippery slope and if we do that favor for one person without anything legal to base it on, before long we’ll be letting everyone slide on water bills, fees, or code violations.

The other public comment was a last-minute sign-up from a lady representing the food pantry. I’m sorry, but I missed her name, and since I can’t review the video yet to listen to her remarks again I’m not even clear on what she said to the board. I missed most of her remarks because I was confused by the back-and-forth between the commissioners and the speaker during the first comment. Public comment rules in every meeting I’ve ever attended limit speakers to three minutes and board members are not supposed to respond to speakers during the comment period. Neither rule was observed last night, for either speaker. In the future, I hope citizens and other parties wishing to have a discussion with the board will be encouraged to ask to be added to the new business portion of the meeting, rather than the limited public comment period to ensure that all citizens are treated and equally.

Since I can’t review the video yet and avoid memory errors I’m sure to make, I think I’ll end this post here, but I would like to point out that I agreed with 90% or more of the decisions voted on last night.

Y’all have a good day.

Addendum: Just before 2:30 this afternoon, after several emails between myself and Ms. Akers, the video miraculously began working. As you can see, there are two copies visible on the screen as of this writing. I sent a tech support ticket to YouTube earlier today, so I don’t know whether they fixed an issue (unlikely, given two copies) or what, but I’m glad it’s working now.