Minister's Study

Ministering, writing, and wrestling in a land flowing with sweet tea and deep-fried food

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Missions Month

We just wrapped up missions month tonight. Darrell Hayes was the guest speaker for the last few days.

Our attendance has been down all month due to flu bugs circulating through the whole county (one local school was missing something like 130 out of 700 kids one day a while back, and a local hospital suspended visitation due to a few cases of Norovirus.)

But our faith promise pledge as of tonight was just over $42,000. That's $12,000 more than last year, possibly more than the church has ever had before.

It's not only great for the missions program; it'll enable us at the least to fully support a couple of very worthy ministries that we've been looking at for a while -- it's also great for the church itself. Churches that are missions-minded and missions-oriented, active in doing something about needs around the world, are healthy churches.

Survived the torture

The commissioners are finally done with their 3-day retreat. It only took them 386 years to finish. (That last number is the "time factor." It's like the chill factor -- how long it felt like, a figure strongly influenced by the amount of boredom involved.)

I'm going to have to tell the newspaper folk that I need to cut back a bit. This is three consecutive weeks I've worked solidly over 40 hours for the paper, and it's just too much. This week, I go back to my regular teaching and choir schedule for the church, and there's no way I can keep balancing both without sacrificing my family or my already-declining health. (Sanity would be a third possible sacrifice, but I gave that up years ago, the cost of getting through seminary with a wife, a church ministry, a job, and good grades.)

I'll try to post some more info on that Wright situation when I get the chance, and I've got some pretty cool pics from Moores Creek on Saturday to put up here when I get the time too.

My dad isn't doing too terribly well. He still can't swallow, and it's possible more nerve damage was done in his throat by this operation. There's talk of a feeding tube through his abdomen, I guess, but they want to run some tests and wait a bit first, I think. Those of you who are of the praying sort, he can still use your prayers.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A short Monday

Well, one more Monday is done with (and Tuesday, by now, I suppose). This was a short one -- I only put in 18 hours, getting off at about 3 a.m. on Tuesday instead of the usual after 6 a.m.

Tuesdays usually really stink -- even though I go in a little late after the 21-hour Monday, it's a bleary eyed, mind-numbing ordeal of proofreading and frantically fixing and plugging holes. This Tuesday was different, but no less bleary-eyed and mind-numbing. I had to be down in Rocky Point at 8:30 a.m. for the second day of the commissioners' retreat (remember what time I got off last night). And there I stayed until after four this afternoon, listening to the various speakers address the commissioners.

Of course, ordinarily on a Tuesday, when the last page of the paper is sent to the printer and we've chatted about the tentatively planned articles for the next week (called the "budget"), I'm free to go home and be a worthless blob of exhaustion. But tonight, we are still in special services for missions month, so off we went to church. Good service, but it's amazing that I stayed awake for the whole thing (shucks, it's amazing I stayed awake for my own special music.)

Also ordinarily, I would sleep in on Wednesday until my wife cruelly wakes me at some ridiculously late hour (often around noon). But tomorrow, the commissioners are meeting at 8:30 a.m. again. Although they were scheduled to be done after a half day, I think they looked at my sleepless, bloodshot eyes, and promptly decided to have one of their bimonthly meetings immediately after the end of the retreat. And they held over an item from today additionally that will probably take an hour.


By way of update, my Dad is out of ICU, but still in the hospital. He's having trouble swallowing.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dad not out of hospital yet

Just a quick update. Although the surgery apparently was a success, there are some post-operative issues (some apparently related to previous operations) keeping him in ICU.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Livin' on the run down South

Whew. Today has been crazy-busy.

Started with bus visitation, then came back to the church to change the sign for tomorrow's guest speaker. I forgot to bring my cell phone with me, which is apparently good, for it would surely have been ringing constantly on bus visitation.

A sort of distant cousin, by whom I really found out about Bible Baptist Church, pastors a small, but growing, church nearby (Victory Baptist in Holly Ridge). He has bronchitis and needed someone to come preach for him tomorrow morning. I also received a call reminding me that I was supposed to go visit some folk with a church member this afternoon.

So I dashed home after bus visitation and changing the sign, made a quick call about a situation at a writer's workshop I'm involved in, ate a quick lunch, and hauled my wife and daughter out to Moores Creek National Battlefield. They are doing their annual battle re-enactment stuff out there this weekend (neat battle, if you're into that sort of thing), and I had to take pics for the paper.

We weren't there long enough to get it all (I'll try to post some pics later), but home we had to dash, so I could head out to this other family's house. I got there with the other gentleman from the church, and they weren't home, so we decided to take a turn around the neighborhood and come back. We stopped at a church lady's house nearby (her husband passed away recently), and ended up staying there for nearly an hour.

When we went back to the folks' home, they were there, so we spent probably an hour talking to them. Then back home we dashed, where I met up with my wife and daughter again. Somewhere in here, I found out that I am needed tomorrow night out at Victory Baptist as well (not a big problem; if he's going to be sick and need help, he picked a great day for it, with this guest speaker covering both of my normal speaking slots at Bible Baptist).

My wife has been embroiled in a vicious battle with the family finances all day (when she wasn't on the national battlefield taking pictures), so I took her out to a local restaurant we haven't visited before.

And we discovered that we really are down South. With a very deliberate capital S. Not only were the french fries (of course), hushpuppies, mushrooms, shrimp, and fish fried -- we even got fried cheesecake. The only thing in the whole meal that wasn't fried was the cole slaw (ironically, I suppose, pretty much the only thing on my plate I didn't eat). I'll be tempted to check the menu next week to see if they've got that figured out too. By the way, the fried cheesecake was second only to the fried catfish -- both were terrific. I love living in the South.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Dad came through okay

I haven't been updating this enough the last couple of days to keep anybody posted, I'm afraid.

I found out just a few days ago that my dad's carotid artery was dangerously blocked. They scheduled the operation for today.

According to my mom, the operation was a success. He is recovering okay, I guess, though there is some pain and post-op bleeding. Those of you readers who pray, I'd appreciate your prayers for his recovery. It's been a rough few years for him lately.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Too long gone, plus dirty politics!

I'm realizing that I'm letting too much time lapse between these posts again -- it's a function of being ridiculously busy.

We're running down the stretch of missions month here, which means services Sunday-Wednesday this week and next week. And I'm doing an insane amount of work for the newspaper for a "part-time" employee.

Speaking of which, I put in another 21 hour day Monday. Yuck. From 9 AM to 6:15 the next morning, with something like 15-20 minutes supper break at home. That has got to stop. I don't know how my editor does it (and frankly, I don't know how long he's able to keep it up). He rarely sleeps at all on Monday, just works straight through from Monday morning until Tuesday afternoon. They ain't payin' us enough for that.

This week, the big thing was a political corruption kind of piece on the state level. It's new ground for our paper, kind of -- we've been basically a county-level newspaper up to this point. But with the political state of the state, someone tipped me to an interesting fact about one of our state reps' campaign finance reports. So I started digging (not just in his -- I looked at a few, both to check them out and to get a sense of perspective).

You know, someone, a dyed in the wool local Democrat, basically told me the other day my paper is trying to vilify the Democratic state representative from this county, Thomas Wright, while playing the Republican woman from the other side of the county, Representative Carolyn Justice, as an angel. (There is irony here -- this paper has long been perceived as favoring the Democratic Party and the western side of the county. We are also the only paper to really give play to the explanation of why they put forward their redistricting bill.)

Now, I'm sure, in fact, positive that Justice is a shrewd political operator with her own agenda. But when I look at campaign finance (and I looked through some of both her and his records), she comes off as practically angelic next to him. And that ain't spin or favoritism -- that's fact.

Not only does Justice get practically all of her money through individual donations from her constituents (and I didn't see any really noticeable pattern, like, say, developers paying a huge chunk of money), Justice also refuses to take money from Political Action Committees. Political Action Committees are special interest groups that give money to candidates. Wright gets a huge chunk of his money from PACs. He's chairman of the House Health Committee. And he gets loads of money from doctors, nurses, medical insurance companies, etc. And sometimes those chunks of money are coming while he's actively involved in pushing legislation for them or killing legislation they want dead.

It's not illegal, since people can give money to whoever they want. And most members of the House take money from special interests. But it sure looks ethically questionable to me.

Justice seems to have a squeaky clean record of reporting contributions. Wright, on the other hand, has been repeatedly cited by the State Board of Elections for turning in incomplete or late reports. At least once, they actually pulled his right to receive and disburse money.

Then you start looking at his actual donations received, and it just gets worse. For details for now, you can just look at the first featured article in this week's edition of the Post (the link is on the right). I'll try to make a separate entry with some details (and I don't think I even covered it all in the article), since the article will only be up for a week.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

NC State dual wrestling championship

That's where I was Saturday afternoon. One of the Pender high schools, Topsail High, was competing for the state championship for 1-A schools. They met Alleghany in the final, the same team they lost to last year in the finals, and lost again. There was some good wrestling, and some surprisingly not-so-good wrestling. Here's a few pictures from the event.

Democracy in action

Well, that was long and rather boring.

After limping down 100 miles of I-40 in my poor old car, I spent several hours with Commissioner George Brown, a lawyer, a tech person, another newspaper guy (I was quite disappointed when he showed up -- I figured we'd have the scoop on this), and State Representative Carolyn Justice. Justice was in and out as we bounced from spot to spot, as Brown tried to put together a better plan for the redistricting of Pender County.

My observations for the day (this is partly an attempt to organize my thoughts, in case I write a column on the experience):

  • The House of Representatives looks pretty much like an out-of-control high school classroom. The representatives wander from desk to desk talking to each other (those that bother to show up), while the speaker drones on about something no one is listening to. Occasionally, he'll pound on the desk and get everyone's attention for a few minutes, or a guest speaker will come in that they pay attention to, but then it's back to business as usual. There are obvious cliques and cool kids, and some (like the two that are supposed to represent our county) that apparently don't speak to each other unless absolutely necessary.

  • The research department has a really cool computer system for this redistricting stuff. I didn't even want to think about how much RAM that thing needed for what they were doing with those maps and numbers.

  • The food in the cafeteria for the representatives is hardly any better than what we ate in college, and it's a good deal more expensive. But the lady telling everybody what they could and could not take and how much it all costed seemed to be enjoying her job of telling the state's powerful elite what to do all day. Maybe a little too much.

  • Politics, when applied practically, can be very, very complicated. Especially when you get lawyers and court cases involved. Trying to figure out all the possibilities, requirements, rules, precedents, and guidelines for this redistricting is enough to make the head spin. And then you get into the matters of voting and election strategy that have to be considered, and your head wants to quit spinning and just fall off. It's complicated enough that no one I've talked to yet has all the answers, and I haven't talked to enough people myself apparently to get the necessary collection.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rippin' to Raleigh

Okay, I won't exactly be ripping. I'll be struggling along at 50 mph, because my car usually only makes 2nd gear.

But I will be going to Raleigh tomorrow, it looks like.

One of our commissioners, George Brown, is headed up there to get some information about redistricting, since our dear Representative Thomas Wright still has not withdrawn the bill to redistrict the county, although the county asked him to more than a week ago.

Unlike the last commissioner who went up there to get a map, this one has told all the other commissioners (albeit with short notice, due to trying to beat this bill through the house, if necessary), the press, and has spoken with key community members on both sides of the current dispute.

At this point, I may be the only person heading up there with him, but that still makes for far more openness and progress than we've had on this issue so far.

Blueberry bash

Where was I Saturday instead of on bus visitation (where, thankfully, I'm less a necessity now that we have those new men in the church helping out)?
In the morning, I attended Burgaw's Blueberry Pancake Breakfast. I was shocked to find that I was the only newspaper person there taking pictures. The event is a fundraiser for the enormous Blueberry Festival here in June. As fundraisers go, this one was mighty nice -- $5 for all you could eat (if you wanted to wait in line for another trip through) blueberry pancakes, locally produced sausage, etc. And they didn't make long, boring speeches or anything -- you just got your food and left, or hung around and ate. My wife and daughter hung out with one of my co-workers (there just for the fun of it rather than on business) while I trotted around and took pictures of the police chief and captain cooking pancakes and little kids eating blueberry pancakes smeared with blueberry sauce (and by the time they were done eating, it was the kids smeared with blueberry sauce.)

Looks like my daughter enjoyed herself, too. Note the impact of blueberries on tongue color.

Good day for tracts

Saturday was cold. Well, cold for here, anyhow. We've got nothing on our friends from Michigan.

I had a couple of things to cover for the newspaper and didn't go along (normally I don't work much for the paper on Saturdays, instead going on bus visitation, preparing for Sunday's message, etc., but last weekend one of our other guys was out of town, I only had to teach once on Sunday because of a missionary, and there was a lot going on around the county), but some folk from our church joined Ray Kennedy again in handing out tracts for the church he is planting up in Warsaw. The fellow who led them tells me they had about a half dozen professions of faith -- praise the Lord!

Another man who had apparently already been saved but has been struggling with drugs and alcohol told them he will start going to the church's new addiction recovery program.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Principal pig kissin'

As I promised earlier, now that the paper has had its shot at the principal kissing the pig for the fundraiser, here's a few pictures. This is Principal Robbie Cauley of Pender High School; he is smoochin' the porky for a fundraiser for the Spanish club, which is trying to send kids on a trip to Puerto Rico. I think they're even going to try to bring most of them back.

Here's the guy bringing in the pig. I think he's really wishing it were him that is going to get to kiss that cute little pink snout.

No hesitation here -- actually, I think the pig looks more concerned than the principal.

I guess somebody forgot to put the flavored lipstick on that pig.
Fortunately, the principal seems to be a pretty good sport. I'm still wondering if he'll pay me to take these down, though.

Another day, and night, and day done

Well, it's only 5 p.m., but as far as I'm concerned, the day is pretty much done. I may blog a little or something, but I'm warning all now that I cannot be held responsible for what I may or may not say. I trust the insanity is temporary.

Yesterday I started working here at the house at about 9 a.m. (I can sort through pictures much more quickly here than in the office, due to the foul nature of the Macs that infest the newspaper office.)

When I finished with the pics, I headed into the office, and scarcely looked back. Aside from a stop or two to grab things from the house, I was gone until 6 this morning, writing and covering various things. I lost count of how many things I wrote, and I'm sure some of them were pure refuse (the owner and editor agreed -- when I came in this morning, they had me write another editorial that didn't actually attack the media in general. I tell you, I shouldn't be held accountable for my actions past 2 a.m. or on less than six hours of sleep.)

I got back up this morning and was at the Burgaw town board meeting at about 9 a.m., and went from there straight to the office. I just got home. For anyone who is awake enough to check my math, I think that's 21 hours of work yesterday, followed by about two hours of sleep, then a little over seven today. Isn't that sort of thing like, you know, military special forces training or something? I wonder if they tell my sister about this in her Intro to Journalism class. "Yes, class, for our quiz this week, we will be participating in the Navy SEALS training exercise in the bay. Instead of mere bullets like those military boys train with, we'll be slinging around the real thing -- potential lawsuits! Those who survive the sleep deprivation verbal combat exercise will have earned the right to be chewed out by both sides in the community for favoring the other."

Must remember. I love my "part-time" job. Actually, I do.

Anyhow, I'll drop back by later and maybe post a few pics and anecdotes from the crazy and fun stuff over the last few days.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Some Mexican Azucar

Actually, it's Shuerger, not Sugar, and they're in Mexico, not from Mexico.

But in my rampage of reconnection with old friends, I called Jon up. He's in Zacatecas, Mexico, planting a church there.

Along with touching base with old friends, I was hoping Jon could help me find some Spanish-language discipleship material. There's a man in my church from the Zacatecas area, and we've been trying to start up a Spanish ministry built around him. But he's only been saved for a couple years himself, and he's not comfortable teaching on his own yet (and my Spanish isn't even close to good enough).

Anyhow, Jon has given me some information about a couple of good programs. I also put him in touch with Mike Harrigan; it seems that the Shuergers drive right through Harrigan's town sometimes when they're in the U.S., and Mike had mentioned to me that he was having a tough time getting missionaries out that way, especially for his missions conference. Funny bit of coincidence, that.

Finding friends

We've been trying to cancel our cell phone from NY -- we're getting slammed with overages and roaming charges or some such every month. But I wanted to contact everyone for whom that was the only way to get in touch with us before we cancelled it. So I went through it and called people over the last couple weeks (we knew more people than I realized!)

It's been a real blessing. There were some disappointments; one friend has been kind of keeping track of a bunch of us who went to school together, and while the word on some of the college guys was great, the word on others, particularly some of the "high profile" preacher boys, was pretty saddening.

I got back in touch with old college friends, old ministry friends, and old family friends. There's still a few I'd like to speak to in person instead of just leaving a message, but the task is done.

Along the way, I thought of a person or two I'd lost track of and wanted to see how they were doing. One was Mike Harrigan, who worked with me at the Bill Rice Ranch for two summers. We met again our freshman year at Pensacola Christian College; since neither of us had many pre-made freshman friends, we joined a collegian together and had a great time.

Eventually, he moved off-campus, we both got girlfriends, and we kind of lost touch. Well, I looked him up, and after embarassing myself by called his dad (who, with the same name, pastor's in Mike's hometown), I got in touch with Mike.

Turns out he has planted a church in New Mexico. It was terrific talking with him. I'd like to get out there and see him, his family, and his work sometime, but even if I don't, at least I know that he's faithfully plugging away, doing desperately needed work.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Congratulations to my wife

And no, not merely for putting up with me for seven years and some odd months.

I had other things to blog about when I got a moment (those are getting pretty hard to snatch), but this trumps them.

My wife is practically bouncing with giddy joy tonight, because she received her first acceptance letter for a piece of fiction.

After much perseverance, hard work, and dedication, one of her short stories will be appearing in Haruah. If you want to know more about it, here's her blog.

Congratulations, Joy.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

TV news

I am often either amused or irritated by television news reporters these days. Not that they aren't often otherwise nice folk, friendly, helpful, and all that. But I hadn't realized how much time we who watch television news spend being informed by the uninformed.

It startled me at first how arrogant television news crews seemed. When they showed up to the same event we print journalists were covering, they shouldered their way in, just assuming that they deserved primacy of place, regardless of whether they were there first or not.

Then I began to see that they were just taking what people gave them -- people were far more impressed by being interviewed with a camera than a notebook. If they were going to seek out coverage for their event, they thought it a much bigger deal to have the television crew there than someone from a newspaper.

And yet, for all of the attention, my observation is that the television news crews, at least locally, really know very little about what is going on. Now maybe, down in New Hanover County, where they're actually located, they're local experts. But out here in the rural areas that are still in their broadcasting area, when they come to cover something, they seem so uninformed. Now, it's not all the fault of the people who show up -- I think it starts much higher than that.

Monday (after the near altercation between the print journalist and the camera guy, who, to be fair, was there first this time), a news crew came in late. The reporter lady pulled me aside during a break. She explained that she had been handed the story 15 minutes before the meeting started (it's probably a 45 minute drive from her studio). She apparently had some notes from whoever was supposed to cover it, and she had one of my newspaper articles on the issue (I think I'd written three by then -- if you only had one, you were missing a good chunk of what had happened.)

She only got there in time for the second of two votes on the matter, and didn't understand that they were voting to "rescind" the bill rather than "resend" the bill. Between that brief chat and a phone call (in which she expressed the irony that she, a TV journalist, was getting information from me, a print journalist), I tried to fill her in a little and tell her where she could get the information to find out the rest. I meant to watch the evening news to see what she ended up with.

But really, there was no way that she could reasonably be expected to walk into the meeting knowing what was going on and hardly any way she could follow the meeting without that knowledge. I don't know how in less than a day she could find out all of the relevant facts and history of the situation. And there's no way that in a 45-second video clip, or probably even several minutes, she could explain the whole situation to someone who didn't understand it. Putting that on her is bound to lead to gross over-simplification or simple inaccuracies. And she might not even realize she's over-simplifying or being inaccurate.

This makes me wonder just how much of the news we get from television is produced like that -- put on the air by someone who hasn't been following a situation, may not understand it, and doesn't even have a fair chance of explaining it. Ironically, her broadcast was likely watched by far more people than have actually read accurate depictions of the events leading up to the meeting -- depictions, accompanied by good explanation, that have appeared in all three county newspapers. (The Star News in Wilmington has really dropped the ball on this, I think -- but that's no surprise to those of us who live in Pender County. Their Pender reporter seems both nice and intelligent, but she's even newer than I am, and the paper has historically done a terrible job of covering this county.)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I 'bout got jumped

During a break in the exciting meeting this morning, an older black gentleman pulled me aside. He identified himself as one of the individuals I had quoted in an article last week, and seemed quite distraught, saying things about me having misquoted him, tricked him, and wanting to know where I got his phone number. When I had no clue what he was talking about, we stepped outside the room while the meeting came back to order.

When I got out there, he laid into me. Now, this was quite a surprise to me. When I interviewed him on the phone, we had what I thought was a wonderful conversation. He is the vice-president of the local chapter of the NAACP, and when I couldn't reach the president quickly, the ex-VP referred me to this man. We spoke for a while, and I really enjoyed talking with the man.

But now he was quite irate. He was quickly joined by the president of the NAACP (who had returned my call -- he seems very good about that) in alternately interrogating me and berrating me. I could hardly get in a word edgewise, but eventually figured out that the older gentleman thought I had said the president gave me his number; I had really gotten it from the old VP (I'm quite positive that's what I had told him). Regardless of where the number came from, he holds a leadership position in an important group when it comes to the issue of redistricting to create a majority-minority district, so I couldn't see where the problem was in my talking with him, especially since I told him I was with the newspaper, interviewing him for an article on race and elections in Pender County.

But as the shouting continued, I realized what they were really mad at. I had quoted him when what he said didn't match up with what the others in the group who were pushing for the current redistricting plan said. He had apparently caught some heat from his group, because they were all supposed to be marching in lockstep on the issue. I think that I quoted him accurately and in the spirit of what he intended. But I gave a contrasting quote from a vocal black proponent of the bill, along with his quote suggesting that maybe it wasn't quite so crucial. Ironically, this group probably has no idea how hard I worked to actually find an actual minority who agreed with the principles and particulars of this redistricting proposal -- that was the hardest work about the whole article; catching up with a person who really believed in everything it stood for, and thought it, as a whole, would really be good for blacks. Even those who spoke up supporting it publicly had private reservations (at least one highly placed individual actively pushing this through privately admitted off the record that he didn't think the whole thing was best for blacks.)

But that's why they were yelling at me -- they were accusing me of deliberately calling the guy and tricking him into saying something that would sound like he was against the bill, so that I could just get a black person who was opposed to it. They were accusing me of trying to pit a black person against a black person. And while they were yelling at me, not letting me get a word of explanation in, over came a leader in the local Democratic Party and jumped in. "You're a minister, and you did this," he said. "You should be ashamed. You need to pray!" When he also went on along this vein, and none were inclined to listen to a word I had to say (and people were coming out of the meeting saying the conversation was disruptively loud), I just went back inside.

But I was mad. That's kind of unusual for me, really -- I don't get mad often, certainly not at people who are practically strangers. But this was uncalled for, particularly on the part of the Dem Party leader who jumped in uninvited and began to berate me, attacking my ministry, integrity, and spirituality without allowing a word of defense.

So at another break in the meeting, when most people had cleared out but this man remained, I went and spoke to him. I told him that I had done nothing immoral or unethical in writing the article, and I could explain what I had done if he actually cared to know, but that for him to attack me like that was most definitely immoral and unethical. He said, sure, he wouldn't mind hearing why and what I did. He then told me that the older man in question is dying of cancer, given two months to live, and isn't really qualified to express himself clearly -- I shouldn't have used him as a source. I explained that I had no idea where this man stood on the issue. I had simply started calling black leaders, and in particular the NAACP, about this issue -- it would have been unethical for me not to have done that on this issue. When I couldn't reach the president, and the ex-vice president referred me to the current vice-president, he didn't tell me anything about the man's health. When I spoke to him on the phone, we had a fine conversation, with no indication that he couldn't think or speak clearly. Having interviewed him, it would have been unethical of me NOT to have used his quotes, considering that he was the only officer of the NAACP I could reach in time for the article. I had my notes from our conversation, and I could assure him that I quoted the man accurately and fairly.

He blustered a bit about how he was just trying to protect a friend and would do the same again. Then he gave me a shot about taking the Republican side -- maybe I should write for the paper across the county that is perceived as the Republican paper. I told him I wasn't interested -- I'm a registered independent and voted a split ticket in the last election.

The meeting was starting back up again, so I had to go back to my seat. The fellow was friendly enough after the meeting, so hopefully no lasting harm done. It does sadden me that this older gentleman was hurt and doesn't want to speak to me again -- I liked him and surely meant him no harm. But I can't be responsible for making sure that every source is toeing the party line when I talk to them. It would be irresponsible, unethical, and immoral for me to withhold the truth from the people of the county in order to please a party group.

If the Republican Party had acted as dishonestly as the Dems did on this one, I'd be calling them out on it too. I would interview and quote without apology, so long as I was being faithful to the truth. And that's all I can do.

Maybe this is one of those things that some people don't like about the newspaper business.


There was barely room to exhale in the commissioners' meeting room Monday.

The fire marshall certified the room to hold 92 members of the public, plus press, commissioners and staff.

About 240 showed up. Plus press, commissioners, and staff. Most were shoed out into the hallway, or forced to stand outside the outer door and try to listen in. The press table normally seats four, one from each newspaper that tries to cover the county. Monday, three of us papers brought two people. And at least two or three TV news crews showed up (one of those is a story for another post, perhaps.) Print journalists from another publication or two showed up as well. I thought one of the print press people was going to get into a fight with one of the camera press people when he threatened to stand right in front of his camera until he could have a chair.

As soon as the first person spoke his piece on the redistricting issue, the chairman, F.D. Rivenbark, handed the gavel to the vice-chair (the chairman can't make a motion), and made a motion to reconsider redistricting. (Only one of those who originally voted in favor of it could bring it back up again.) Norwood Blanchard, the vice-chair, also showed that the overwhelming outcry of the people in the area had reached him too. Only the commissioner who originally put the redistricting proposal forward voted against reconsidering.

The public wasn't done speechifying. People from both sides got up to speak, some eloquently, some forcefully, and many just to say their piece. It quicky became apparent that most in the room not only wanted redistricting reconsidered on the county level, they wanted a specific resolution requesting Representative Wright to withdraw the bill for redistricting from the NC House of Representatives.

Now, legally, Wright can do whatever he wants to with the bill. He didn't need the county's request to put it in there, and he doesn't have to pull it out if the county asks. He can make any changes he wants, or not make any changes -- it's his bill, and the county has no real say. A few suggested leaving the bill in place, but modifying it to comply with whatever the county wants, based on public hearings and whatnot.

Seeing the swelling public tide of disapproval for leaving the bill in place, though, the commissioners voted to request its withdrawal. Of course, Wright has previously shown no indication whatsoever of caring what most of his constituents want or need. So there's the big question. Will Wright go ahead and continue the pretense that he was doing this because he thought the majority of Pender County wanted it (in spite of his deceit and the way it was ramrodded through)? Or will he simply continue to push the bill through anyhow, again ignoring the pleas of those it affects?

Of course, I called him after the meeting, or rather I called his office in Raleigh. They said to call his Wilmington home office. So I called there and left a message. But frankly, I don't expect him to return the call. I'll keep trying, for form's sake. But he has never returned a call from me or my editor. There are at least two other newspapers I know of that he won't speak to either. He told reporters two weeks ago when they caught him in person that he doesn't need us. Talking to him is a privilege, he says, and if we misbehave, it's a privilege that he can withhold.

I'm beginning to wonder when the majority of his constituents will realize that representing them is a privilege, and if he misbehaves, it's one they can withhold.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Why I love my newspaper job, part 4,523 (or so)

We got to see a terrific basketball game last night. The Pender Patriots played one of the Columbus County teams, South Columbus, I think, but it might have been East -- the Gators, anyhow. Ugly uniforms the Gators have, quite nearly as ugly as their namesakes. But man, they had some guys that could play a pretty game of basketball. One of the Pender players (I ran into him at the grocery store) told me the Gators were ranked eighth in the state. I'd believe it.

But after a tight, back-and-forth game marked by fast play and sloppy officiating, the Patriots came out on top. It's a big feather in their cap to win over that team as the season winds down. And it was a blast for my wife, daughter, and I. Particularly since we got in free with my press pass. And I got the proverbial front-row seat to take pictures of the school principal kissing a pig at half-time for a fundraiser. See why I love my work?

Once I find out which shot the paper plans to use, maybe I'll post a different one. Then maybe he'll pay me to take it down. Does that count as a separate reason for loving the job?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Holding its breath

The whole county seems to be holding its breath for Monday.

We had a job shadow at the Pender Post today, and she could hardly have picked a more boring day to come.

The commissioners meet on Monday, and it seems like everybody who cares about anything in the county is either getting ready or waiting to see what happens. We know that it's going to be a big meeting -- most of our real news this week will likely come from it.

So our poor job shadow (a pleasant, mature ninth grader from Pender Early College High School who wants to be a surgeon/journalist) got to watch us basically do prep work. Call people who don't answer their phones or don't call back. Call people who don't know what will happen until Monday. Call people who say to wait till Monday.

I had a call lined up with the director of elections for this morning; he's a great contact, very helpful, full of information for election neanderthals like myself, and he chats quite nicely. He was supposed to get some up-to-date voter registration information based on the new districts (I'm curious about whether the new plan actually produces a minority district or not -- I'm thinking it might not, either technically, or practically, when we look at census estimates for 2005 instead of 2000.) Other people wanted to talk to him too -- a TV news crew was on their way over, and another had already talked to him. A competing print journalist was waiting outside to talk to him when he got off the phone with me. I thought this would be a great conversation for our job shadow.

But it turns out that the data isn't available. Doesn't exist in a useful form. So we talked a few generalities, and that was that. Poor shadow. Hope she's good at holding her breath -- that's what the rest of us are doing.

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