Financial Declaration of Independence

September 30, 2008













‘WE, THE SAVERS’ | A 10-point plan

Interesting to note that in Monday’s Wall Street meltdown, the only S&P stock that saw its price close “up” was Campbell’s Soup. Nothing like a little Chicken Noodle to fend off Chicken Little.

The sky is falling, though, for the financial picture of many people. ING Direct placed a full-page ad in today’s USA Today talking about America’s “tough financial spot,” saying that while there’s no way to turn back the clock on the crisis, there is something we can do as individuals to alter the course.

Here’s the 10-point “Declaration of Financial Independence” proposed:

1. We will spend less than we earn

2. We will use our home as a savings account

3. We will take care of our money

4. We will defend our credit worthiness

5. We will ignore unsolicited credit card marketing

6. We will know the cost of borrowing

7. We will invest for the long term

8. We will take care of the things we have

9. We will remember what matters

10. We will be heard.

The ad appears on page 5A, and each of the 10 points comes with an explanation and advice.

Good stuff…hopefully our Congress will take heed and read it as well.


What Are Voters Saying? What About You?

May 11, 2008

No, it’s not another political post…

Rather, I’ve been asked by a local organization to come speak about the political climate in Lee County and what Lee County voters are saying… What message do you think the voters are trying to tell our elected officials? What do voters think about our leaders?

Better yet…how do YOU make your decisions about local candidates? What process do you use to decide whom to vote for?

Weigh in by commenting or e-mail me at I’ll be speaking to the group in July and researching the question between now and then, and will use your thoughts about what’s going on.


The Day After

May 7, 2008

A few thoughts the day after the May primary…if you feel so inclined, weigh in with your own thoughts by making a comment at the bottom…

Voter turnout in Lee County was 44.4 percent, with 13,450 ballots cast. The lack of contested primaries on the Republican side for Lee County Commissioner and the lack of a real race on the Republican presidential ballot likely kept the number of GOP voters much lower, comparitively, than Democrats, although final breakdowns won’t be available for a few days. The Lee County Board of Elections says Tuesday’s vote was the highest turnout since the 2004 General Election, which means that with decent weather this coming November, and with what promises to be a tight Lee County Commissioner race and, of course, a presidential ballot, turnout will likely top 50 percent.

Unofficial exit polls were done by some observers and poll workers, as always. I got a call late Tuesday afternoon from an ardent sales-tax opponent who predicted that the sales tax measure would be approved and that the Board of Education winners would be Dr. Lynn Smith, Shawn Williams, Cameron Sharpe and Mark Akinosho. I was taken aback by the concession and I held out hope this anti-tax person’s prediction would stand. But as you know by now, the sales tax was defeated by a 55-45 margin and current BOE Chairman Bill Tatum, not Akinosho, won back his seat on the board.

Sales tax vote: Most people with whom I spoke in the last couple of weeks understood the .25-cent sales tax question, and the vast majority of them said they’d support it. Its defeat was a little surprising; the margin of the defeat was very surprising. Another informal exit poller (he worked the polls for a BOE candidate) said today that the people he spoke with who voted against the tax said they did so because “our taxes are too high already,” and that he got the sense these voters didn’t understand the possible fallout from a defeat – that indeed property taxes might go up to help pay for repairs and renovations at Lee County High School and CCCC. Maybe my “sample” was a bad one, statistically, but it was clear from people I spoke with and people who talked up the tax that the more you knew about it, the more likely you’d vote for it. The big question now is: what next? What will the county and the school board do in response, and how will organizations like the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, which helped lead the fight for the tax (along with nearly a dozen endorsing organizations, including The Herald), respond? And might we see the issue back on the ballot in November? The gloating by the Americans for Prosperity and John Locke Foundation has been surprisingly tame today; parties in both groups are already making the call for a consensus-reaching group to form and then work within the county to address government spending.

BOE vote: Cameron Sharpe joined incumbents Bill Tatum, Dr. Lynn Smith and Shawn Williams in victory lane last night. I thought Mark Akinosho had broader support from both the “inside the bloc” crowd (supporters leaning toward the incumbents, including late write-in candidate John Bonardi) and the “outside the bloc” crowd (supporters leaning toward Sharpe, Kim Lilley and write-in candidate and former board chairman Ruth Gurtis), but not so. Akinosho finished 6th in an eight-horse race, ahead of only the two write-in candidates. One local political observer told me last week that Sharpe would win one of the four seats because he either knows or is related to almost all of Lee County…I don’t know about that, but now that he’s won the seat, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Will Sharpe reach out to Tatum & Co. and begin to dialogue about how he can become an asset on the board? Will Tatum and the others reach out to Sharpe and find a way to integrate him into the board? Or will we have a silent stand-off that results in 6-1 votes from here until at least the next election? (And will the provisional ballots put Lilley in the seat instead of Tatum? And provided Tatum does stay in, will he remain as chairman? And how much input will Gurtis, Sharpe’s mentor, now have?) Interesting to note as well that with with a little more than 39,000 votes cast for BOE candidates, the average voter voted for only 2.91 candidates – just less than three per person, when you could vote for four. Perhaps some bloc-only (sans write-ins) voting?

Commissioners: Board Chairman Bob Brown was ousted; former BOE member Richard Hayes will join fellow Democrats Ed Paschal and Jerry Lemmond, both of whom are seeking re-election, and Republicans Larry “Doc” Oldham, Dr. Andre Knecht and former commission board Chairman Herb Hincks on the November ballot. Voters will select three of the six. Lots to speculate on about these races. Brown didn’t provide great leadership as chairman and, like some of his fellow Democrats, he often looked toward de facto chairman Robert Reives before casting his vote to make sure he voted the way Reives wanted him to. Lemmond has widespread support because he’s very engaging and goes to everything – every event, every gathering – and he’s established great rapport with his constituency. Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see what kind of support Hincks gets. He helped establish Lee County as a two-party county a decade ago, and he’s enjoyed broad support from both parties in the past. But Hincks has wondered how much Republican support he’ll get come November; he’s become a little unpopular with some of the Republican elite. Paschal got in despite campaigning very little. The swing vote for a new chairman could be Hayes, if both he and Hincks win in November…but that’s getting way ahead of the game. Way ahead.

For now, I think most of us look forward to a brief break from politics…

Elections Coverage

May 6, 2008










ELECTION DAY | Follow results on Herald’s blog

Polls are open until 7:30 p.m. You can follow local elections results from The Herald’s blog by clicking here.

Editor Billy Liggett (and some of our reporters) will be blogging about the elections tonight and tomorrow, and I’ll have a post that finally answers the question: Does an endorsement by The Herald really help a candidate? Or does it hurt?

Stay tuned. And as they told us at the Chamber of Commerce policy luncheon the other day…vote early and often!


Just Mad About Mark

May 5, 2008

AKINOSHO ENDORSEMENT PEEVES | Did it really happen at O’Neal?

The Herald, like all newspapers, occasionally gets “hate” mail and calls from folks unhappy with our coverage, especially around Election Day. It goes with the territory.

Sometimes you can engage those who are unhappy in a good conversation. Case in point: I’ve spent part of my day today sparring with some of our more conservative readers (mostly via e-mail) about a number of issues, including illegal and poorly-placed political signs, First Amendment rights of Iraqi war vets, undone repairs at Lee County High School, blog postings, the fiscal wanderings of certain elected governmental boards, and whether the movie remakes of the old TV shows “Starsky & Hutch” and “Miami Vice” were worth watching.

Sometime you can’t talk to those who are unhappy. That’s when it gets frustrating. Case in point: the  following letter to the editor which came through our website ( and provided a fake e-mail address as the “sender”… There was a name and phone number attached, but they don’t correspond to what’s in the phone book and multiple calls to the number weren’t answered. Anyway, here’s the letter as it was received:

Subject: Akinosho Endorsement?
Letter Text:
I Can’t help but wonder did you really decide to endorse Akinosho at your meeting at the Herald or did it happen during a PTO meeting at the PRIVATE O’NEAL SCHOOL in Southern Pines where BOTH of you have children attending? Thanks for your opinion on what’s best for MY children in public schools, but I really don’t need an opinion or representation from people who choose PRIVATE school for their child, all the while saying they have our best interest at heart. Hope all is well At O’neal.

Obviously someone smells a conspiracy. Mark Akinosho is on tomorrow’s ballot for one of four Board of Education seats. Six candidates filed for the seats, including an incumbent (Bill Tatum) and two sitting BOE members (Dr. Lynn Smith and Shawn Williams) who were recently appointed to their respective seats; there are two other first-time candidates (Kim Lilley and Cameron Sharpe), like Mark, and two who have proclaimed themselves as “write-in” candidates (current board member John Bonardi and past board chairman Ruth Gurtis).

The Herald endorsed Akinosho, Tatum, Smith and Williams for seats. We didn’t consider Bonardi because our editorial board (Editor Billy Liggett, News Editor Kevin Degon and Special Projects Editor R. V. Hight and myself) didn’t meet with him. We also didn’t meet with Gurtis, who announced her candidacy after our endorsement, although we did endorse Gurtis for the seat the last time she ran. (A side note…it was our first time endorsing Ruth and she lost…every other time we didn’t endorse her, she won. Go figure.)

Two members of our editorial board don’t have children; another not only has two children who graduated from Lee County High School, but his wife had a long career as a teacher in the system. The Herald has worked closely with the system over the years and considers it one of our strategic “Community Partners,” and one of the highlights for me during my last year on the Chamber board was working very closely with Andy Bryan of LCS on a strategic response to the business community to dropping test scores and rising drop-out rates in our schools. We are supporters of a number of LCS programs (including Kids Voting), so we have plenty of connection to the system.

But the fact that one of Akinosho’s children, and all three of mine, attend O’Neal provides a recipe for controversy, at least to this letter-writer.

Seeking a board of education seat and having a child attend a private school outside the county is curious, and for some people, notable. The fact that one of Akinosho’s four children attends The O’Neal School, an independent college preparatory school in Southern Pines, has indeed come up during the election. Kitan Akinosho is a junior there and is actually also up for election – as president of next year’s senior class. She is the recipient of one of the most coveted scholarships at O’Neal. Two of Mark’s other children graduated from Lee County High School, however, and a fourth is a student at West Lee Middle School.

I asked Mark about it during a conversation I had with him when first meeting him about two months ago. As the parent of O’Neal students and as a member of the school’s board of trustees, I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I wasn’t even aware that Kitan attended O’Neal. (There are more than 40 Lee Country families represented down there, and I don’t know them all.) Our oldest child, a sophomore, knows Kitan, but I didn’t even know Mark until he announced his candidacy for the BOE.

For reasons Mark would be better to explain, O’Neal was a better environment for Kitan, who’s obviously a bright and talented student. (She had to be to win the scholarship she did.) But should he have to explain his educational choices for his children? For my wife and me, giving our kids every educational advantage was paramount in our decision to commit to O’Neal. Lee Ann, my wife, taught school in the Lee County system for four years, and our plan was always to home school…but for us, in the end, we felt the best place for our kids was at O’Neal. It doesn’t mean we’re not confident in Lee County’s ability to educate our kids…it’s just that O’Neal’s a better fit in terms of preparing them for college. And they’re excelling at O’Neal, where 100 percent of the graduates go on to college.

Did it impact our endorsement? I can’t imagine how. Mark Akinosho was on all four of our editorial board endorsement ballots, and I can only speculate that the O’Neal connection didn’t factor into the other votes.

It’s hard to say whether the letter-writer is more displeased with Mark or with The Herald or with me, but I think it’s possible to care about two school systems at once. Things are well at O’Neal, thanks…we all want them to be good in our schools here as well.


AFP’s ‘Distress Call’

May 2, 2008

The local chapter of Americans for Prosperity hosted a “mayday” event Thursday evening at the McSwain Ag Center in Sanford, calling it a “distress call” to defeat the .25-cent sales tax issue on next week’s ballot. About 35 or 40 people attended and saw presentations from two staffers from the John Locke Foundation.

You can read reporter Gordon Anderson’s account of the meeting in today’s Herald.

I have a great deal of respect for Lloyd Jennings, who heads up the local AFP chapter, as well as state AFP Director Dallas Woodhouse and many of the fine people at the John Locke Foundation, who do some wonderful work. But last night’s presentations featured the kind of fear-mongering and misleading claims that confounds the JLF’s detractors. In many ways it was a disappointing night that didn’t live up to its billing.

I wasn’t there infiltrating the event, even though The Herald has endorsed the sales tax measure on the ballot. I have attended a number of AFP events and salute Jennings for his heads-up work and appreciate AFP’s mission, which is to educate citizens about economic policies and mobilize them as advocates in the public policy process. But aside from opening remarks by Jennings, it was mostly the JLF show, with staffers Becki Gray and Terry Stoops making presentations – Gray’s essentially summarizing JLF’s recent “Regional Brief” about the sales tax and Stoops’ consisting of a broad overview of Lee County Schools spending over the years. The presentations were designed to convince you that Lee County was overtaxed (true) and that because the school system’s spending has increased so much, and because the county had plenty of cash reserves, the sales tax increase should be soundly defeated.

That’s where the problems started. These were the kinds of “superficial” arguments we touched on in our editorial, which you can read elsewhere in this blog (I posted it Sunday).

Among my observations from last night’s meeting:

– Gray talked about the $1.6 million Lee County had spent on “corporate welfare” over the last few years, calling those payments “bribes” that put other businesses at a competitive disadvantage. What Gray was really talking about, of course, was incentives. JLF opposes incentives paid to businesses and industries. I won’t outline all the pros and cons of incentives here, except to say in North Carolina, they’ve become a necessary evil; we hate ’em, but because everyone else is doing them, we’re at a competitive disadvantage if we don’t. At any rate, counting the $1.6 million in incentives awarded by the county as part of the $10 million the JLF counts as revenues that could be diverted to avoid having the sales tax implemented…it’s nice in theory, but not close to realistic. My friend Chad Adams, who works for the Locke Foundation, and I have spent hours talking about incentives. My take on it is like this: imagine if baseball legalized performance-enhancing steroids. It’d be horrible and would take a lot of fun out of the game…but if you played, and found your skills far behind those of players you were fighting for playing time against, wouldn’t you take them, even though you didn’t believe in them? What if it meant getting a roster spot and feeding your family? Incentives are the legalized steroids of economic development.

– the comment was made that sales tax supporters are claiming that the tax (and I’m paraphrasing the comment here) ” ‘will only cost you about a cup of coffee a day,’ but it’s actually a lot more than that.’ ” This was a problematic statement. Based on average retail spending in the county, the .25-cent sales tax increase (from 6.75 percent to 7 percent) will only cost the average family about $25 per year, according to the “Fair Tax” group headed up by the Chamber to promote the tax. Now I know the AFP and the JLF think this Chamber group is aligned with the devil himself, and they don’t trust their numbers…but $25 is the equivalent of $10,000 in annual spending on items on which the tax would be calculated (not including most non-prepared foods, prescription drugs and cars). It’s a good chunk of spending. A property tax increase of 3.5 cents to raise the same revenue will cost the average homeowner about $47, according to this same group, by the way. Assuming the sales tax passes, that $25 a year is equivalent to only about 7 cents a day. Assuming you only drink coffee on weekdays, that’s still only 10 cents a day. I’m not sure where you can get coffee for a dime these days…so to say “it’s going to cost you a lot MORE than a cup of coffee a day” is very misleading.

– Stoops talked about the increase in local education expenditures and showed some slides supporting his premise that Lee County Schools were overspending compared to student growth. There may be truth to that, but the problem with his data is that he didn’t discuss how unfunded mandates or additonal operating expenses related to new school construction contributed to the increase in spending. I don’t doubt Stoops has done his research, but you can present numbers in a lot of different ways to support a lot of different theories, based on what’s convenient for you. If you’re going to show off your new coin, show me both sides.

– speakers criticized the county for supporting the tax partly because the commissioners couldn’t be bound to any promises that the tax revenues would be used for repairs and renovations…in other words, since the commissioners’ apparent commitment to use the funds to help make repairs at Lee Senior isn’t binding, it’s a bad idea. But later in the presentation the county was criticized again because, “We don’t know what the plan is for the money!” Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

– there was talk about the county’s reserve fund, but no discussion of the county’s debt capacity. They go hand in hand.

– finally, the comment was made that Lee County needs to put more money into maintenance for its schools to prevent the kind of disrepair Lee County High School is seeing now. Although that might be true, and maybe Lee County High School is complicit in its own structural demise, the comment struck me as contradictory: on one hand the schools are spending too much money, but on the other, they need to spend more…

I went to the meeting open-minded but left with a stronger belief in the need to pass the sales tax. We’ll know in a few days how Lee County voters feel…

Forum Thoughts…

April 23, 2008

From left: Board of Education candidates Cameron Sharpe, Dr. Lynn Smith and Bill Tatum. Rounding out the field in the May 6 BOE race are Mark Akinosho, Kim Lilley and Shawn Williams. Read Gordon Anderson’s coverage in today’s Herald.

BOE FORUM | In the forum’s wake…

Thanks again to the candidates and those who attended our Lee County Board of Education forum at the civic center last night. We crammed a lot of questions and candidates into our schedule, so the night was a little long…but I think worthwhile. I’ve talked to a number of people today (in addition to those I spoke to after the forum) and most have said that “three or four” of the candidates stood out in terms of their performance. Predictably, the “three or four” differed depending upon the source. More on that later…

Before saying anything else, I’d like to recognize the students participating in the Communities In Schools’ Kids Voting program who helped ask questions…
From West Lee Middle School: Shaquille Stepney, Kiera Harrell and Matthew Harrison
From East Lee Middle School: Lupita Dominquez, Stephanie Quezada and Holly Stack
…as well as Alison Poole and her staff at CIS, who helped coordinate it all.

The kids did a wonderful job, as did our moderator, Carol Carlson. In addition, Randy Brewer, Jim Felton and the staff at the civic center did a great job as usual. They figured out a way to configure six microphones for our six candidates. It’s impossible up on stage to tell if what you’re saying is carrying to the audience, and powering six mics isn’t easy when you really max out at four, so all things considered I think things turned out OK. The major culprit last night was the questions: too long and too complex. That was our fault. We don’t give candidates the questions in advance…ideas for questions are submitted by readers and by our staff, and we hone those down into a set that covers the gamut in topics related to a particular race. The issues facing the BOE are complex, and the questions tried to reflect that…but next time we’ll make the questions more concise, which will make for less stressful night for everyone.

Who’s your pick? The Herald’s editorial board has concluded its endorsement work; our editorial with our four picks for the BOE will appear in Sunday’s edition. Your favorite candidate might well depend on your political persuasion, even though this is a non-partisan race: the Republicans I know tend mostly to favor the three newcomers (first-time candidates Kim Lilley, Cameron Sharpe and Mark Akinosho) while the Democrats I know tend to favor mostly the “incumbents” (Bill Tatum, Dr. Lynn Smith and Shawn Williams). Of course, the top four vote-getters will take seats, so if you vote for four you’ll have a mix of the old and the new on your ballot. In my very unscientific survey, the “fourth” name I’ve heard mentioned more than anyone else’s is Mark Akinosho’s.

Early exit. I’ll certainly concede that the night was a long one…we kicked off at 7 and didn’t finish until almost 9, so we lost a few in the crowd. One person in attendance was upset that a number of Lee County HIgh School staffers walked out after “their guys” (Tatum, Smith and Williams) spoke. I didn’t see it because I was up front, but apparently the staffers said it wasn’t related to not wanting to hear the “other” candidates. Rather, they had early mornings today and wanted to get home. I’m not sure how the person who told me this discerned all that, given the order of the speakers, but he was pretty adamant. At any rate, we normally include one break during our forums and next time will keep that in mind. If you got there for the reception at 6, having to still be seated and listening to speakers at 8:45 without a break is a lot to take in after a long day at work.

Doctor in the house? We listed Dr. Lynn Smith’s professional designation in the program, but didn’t do the same for Dr. Andre Knecht, who’s one of the Republican at-large candidates for commissioner. I didn’t realize it, but apparently in our stories about the commissioner race (we’ve not written much about the Republicans because all three at-large candidates will automatically be on the November ballot) we’ve consistently had the “Dr.” before Smith’s name but not before Knecht’s. We’ll fix that. No slight to Andre, who’s a chiropractor. Some “doctors” (not Smith, I don’t think…he’s an orthodontist) don’t believe in chiropractic care and thus don’t give much credence to the “Dr.” title given a chiropractor, but I sure do. Two neck injuries (one in high school, one in college) that went untreated led me to my first chiropractor visit about 20 years ago, and I’ve been a believer ever since.

Experience… Forum attendees got to see seven of the eight “at-large” commissioner candidates plus both the District 2 candidates. Not that it matters to anyone following the at-large race, but the average age of the Republican candidates (of which there are three) is 60; the average age of the Democrat candidates (five) is 69.4. So much for a happy retirement. The average age of the BOE candidates is 53.

Quarter-cent sales tax. Nearly everyone I spoke to last night about it was in favor of it. Our poll question about the issue on our website shows something different, but it’s important to remember that essentially the sales tax is really a referendum on our schools, and the need for improvements at Lee Senior. More on that next week…