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“Town Halls Have Become Town Hollers”

May 16, 2017

Longworth at Large

It seems like hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear about another town hall meeting gone wild. City Councilmen are shouted at over zoning laws. County Commissioners are shouted at over budget cuts. School Boards are shouted at over lack of classroom discipline. And Congressmen are shouted at over just about everything. Civil discourse between voters and elected officials is a thing of the past because most folks can’t check their emotions at the door. It is a sad state of affairs, and one that has been building to a boil over the last few years.

Certainly our nation has experienced raucous public meetings before, some of which date back to colonial days when we protested English controls. But, over time, we learned how to embrace a sense of decorum, even in the face of political upheaval. In other words, we knew how to act in public. With the dawn of television, our approach for how to hold civil discussions and meetings was formed by watching the likes of Jack Paar, David Frost, Tom Snyder, and William F. Buckley. These hosts conducted their programs with humor and respect. They asked intelligent questions and expected to receive thoughtful, intelligent answers in return, with neither party shouting over the other. Unfortunately, that era was replaced by the age of Jerry Springer, which then spawned the age of Reality TV (where Donald Trump once thrived). The lynchpin of those two more recent eras was dysfunction and disrespect. They lowered the bar of decency for viewers, and gave us a whole new template for how to communicate.

Perhaps I wouldn’t care so much how people treat each other on exploitive television programs, but now, legitimate news programs have sunk to their same level. Today’s news anchors and cable hosts routinely interrupt, talk over, and chastise their own guests, and encourage their panel of experts to do the same with each other. The result is that the audience can’t hear what anyone is saying. Moreover, when we emulate that same kind of bad behavior at town halls, the media then enables, encourages, and rewards us by televising and streaming our actions for all to see. Let’s face it. Flying off the handle has become the new norm.

The modern era of dysfunctional town halls began in 2009 when conservative Tea Party groups lambasted their Congressional representatives during meetings about Obamacare. Things got so bad that Rep. Brian Baird cancelled his town hall meetings because he was receiving death threats. That same year, violence broke out at town hall meetings in Florida, Colorado, Missouri, and Michigan. Now, 2017 is shaping up to be a repeat of eight years ago. Republicans put forth a horrendous healthcare package, not once but twice, and in the second incarnation, they all but eliminated coverage for pre existing conditions, while
allowing insurance companies to charge older people five times the premium rate as everyone else. The audacity and insensitivity of Republican Congressmen in shaping their healthcare bill, set in motion a series of town hall meetings across the country in which constituents acted like angry villagers seeking to destroy Frankenstein’s monster. Voters shouted down their elected officials at every venue, and in some cases, violence erupted, such as during a recent town hall in Utah. Finally, GOP Conference Chair Cathy Rodgers called her troops together for a sit-down with a former Sheriff, who, according to, advised the Congressmen on how to protect themselves during volatile town hall situations. Other Representatives didn’t need the security briefing, though. That’s because some decided to hold their meetings via teleconference, while others cancelled their events altogether.

Rep. Mark Walker (NC-6th) told me, “I love to have dialogue. I love to talk about the issues. I want to have a chance to share my beliefs, and then listen to those who may have an opposing view. But if you’re not even able to share, it makes things very difficult in these town hall formats.”

The thing is, we have the right to disagree with public policy and public policy makers, and we have the right to vote them out of office every two years. But yelling, screaming, interrupting, and making threats at a town hall meeting accomplishes nothing. Jerry Springer, Reality TV, and caustic news anchors have made it acceptable to be disrespectful, but by following their example, we’re not just the angry villagers anymore. We’ve also become the monster.

Our Town

May 9, 2017

Recognizing Kernersville’s Public Services and Engineering Departments

Last weekend, many Kernersville residents and visitors to our community enjoyed the festivities of Spring Folly, a favorite downtown event. While hundreds of barbeque sandwiches, turkey legs, and funnel cakes were enjoyed over the course of the weekend festival, there was very little trash on the ground, and the trash and recycling containers never seemed filled to overflowing. Throughout the event, Public Services employees worked hard to maintain the Kernersville Spring Folly as one of the cleanest festivals in the Southeast.
In Kernersville and elsewhere, for special events and throughout the year, Public Services and Engineering employees work to make everyday life run smoothly, even when bad weather or unexpected events intervene. They build and maintain our roads, collect trash and recycling, and protect the environment. To recognize these important functions in our community, our town will celebrate Public Services and Engineering Week, in conjunction with National Public Works Week, during the week of May 21st- 27th.
In addition to road construction, and repair and maintenance of 200 lane miles of roadway and 54 miles of sidewalk, Kernersville’s Public Services and Engineering departments are responsible for stormwater management, trash collection, recycling, yard waste and white goods collection, transportation planning, engineering, surveying, fleet maintenance, and geographic information systems (GIS) data management. These functions touch the lives of every resident.
Sanitation, one of the most important services, works hard to keep up with the needs of our growing town. Public Services division collects trash, yard waste and recycling from 6,545 households each week. When a severe summer or winter storm hits, Public Services employees come in after hours or on weekends to clear the streets of fallen trees, debris, and other hazards.
Mechanics in the Public Services garage maintain the entire Town of Kernersville motorized fleet, a total of more than 300 pieces of equipment, helping out all town departments.
Kernersville’s Earth Day event, which this year included an Art for Earth contest for local students, exhibits, and displays by vendors with information about eco-friendly services, was organized by the stormwater division of the public services department.
While Earth Day is celebrated once a year, Engineering and Public Services employees work throughout the year to protect our environment. Kernersville is located at the start of three major river basins, the Yadkin, Roanoke, and Cape Fear, and an important town function is to comply with the stormwater regulations for these river basins. Engineers review development plans proposed by developers to this end.
Public Services sweeps our curb and gutter streets, on a regular basis. This “clean up” improves the town’s appearance, and helps to keep leaves, grass clippings, and trash from washing down our storm sewers. This is important, because in the operation of a storm drain, unlike the sanitary sewer, there is no treatment or processing. Debris and pollutants flushed into the storm sewer go directly to creeks and rivers, so street sweeping reduces pollutants and protects water quality.
Kernersville’s recycling program has grown significantly over recent years. Last year, Kernersville collected more than 1,686 tons of household recycling. In addition to curbside household recycling, 828 tons of cardboard, 40 tons of metal, and 10.5 tons of electronics were collected for recycling.
The positive impact on our town of the services provided by the public services and engineering departments is far reaching. While our town benefits from their work throughout the year, it’s fitting this month, in recognition of Public Services Week, to say “thank you” to the people who devote their professional time and energy to public services and engineering, making our town a better and safer place to live, every day.
Dawn Morgan is the Mayor of Kernersville and writes a weekly column for the News.

Longworth at Large

May 9, 2017

“The Perfect Mother’s Day Gift”

Increasingly, national holidays seem to be more about buying candy, jewelry, cards, and turkey, than they are about honoring the spirit of the holiday itself. Mention Memorial Day, and most people will only talk about their trip to the beach. Mention Christmas, and Jesus takes a back seat to Santa. Mention Mother’s Day, and the floral industry starts to salivate. Speaking of which, the internet has been inundated lately with advertisements for this Sunday’s big holiday. Not only are we encouraged to buy presents, we’re even coerced into thinking that by doing so, we can elevate our status within the family. I cite as an example, the company who promises that their product is “The Mother’s Day gift to make you the favorite child.” It’s enough to make Anna Jarvis spin in her grave.

Jarvis, a native of West Virginia, was widely credited with having created Mother’s Day. Her mother (also named Anna) had opposed the Civil War, during which time she cared for wounded soldiers from both armies. In honor of her Mom who passed away in 1905, Anna launched a campaign to make Mother’s Day a national holiday. Then, while Congress dragged its feet, Anna staged a Mother’s Day celebration of her own in 1910. A year later, every State in the Union recognized Moms on a special day, and in 1914, President Wilson officially declared the 2nd Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

It didn’t take long for merchants to capitalize on and profit from what was supposed to have been a loving and solemn day of tribute. By the early 1920’s, Hallmark was churning out Mother’s Day cards, while confectioners and nurseries were making a killing from sales of candy and flowers respectively. Ms. Jarvis did everything she could to curtail the commercialization of Mother’s Day, including litigation and boycotts, but to no avail. Now, as a result, Mother’s Day isn’t so much a holiday as it is a cottage industry.

Don’t misunderstand me. There’s nothing wrong with giving your Mom a gift on Mother’s Day. When I was a kid, I made special gifts for her in school, like the wooden decoupage jewelry box, which she pretended was the finest such repository ever crafted. Later, as an adult living far from home, I routinely had roses delivered to her house for Mother’s Day, but I should have done more. Mom passed away in 2014, and I still miss her very much. I also carry a tremendous amount of guilt for failing to give her the one gift that would have meant more to her than all the flowers in the world. The gift she deserved was having the family together on Mother’s Day, but I lived in a different city and was consumed with work, so I sent flowers instead of myself. Those are visits I can never get back.

The other day I read an ad whose headline was, “Give Mom the perfect Mother’s Day gift”. The advertiser was offering a spa day, or a dinner for two. I can’t recall which. But what I do know is that it took me six decades to realize what the perfect Mother’s Day gift really is. It’s not the money you spend on Mom that matters, it’s the time you spend with Mom that matters. This Sunday, don’t just have flowers delivered to your Mother. Deliver yourself too.

Opinions Post

April 26, 2017