Stepheny In A Rocky Mount State of Mind – Reguarding The City Council

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “How about a glass of sweet tea!”  (Edit by SFH)
― A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I had a glass of sweet tea with a friend today who I deeply respect. It prompted this post. I always learn something new from our conversations.  I am at a disadvantage at times because we have a realist talking to a Pollyanna. When we discuss Rocky Mount politics, and we always do, our brilliant analysis turns out to be a simple reality – FOUR votes on the city council!  After all the work, investment and dreams poured into the revitalization of Rocky Mount, FOUR can trump anything.

The rationale behind this latest project of the hotel and the $18 million parking garage seems to be: we have been denied a hotel and garage for too long, so we shall have it now. This regardless of the concerns raised about costs and questionable projection figures. I hardly find this a persuasive argument against a less expensive means to an end. We better all agree about the urgency of  Richard Worsinger’s comments; that $62 million is needed for our water and sewer system infrastructure.  This should be sorted out ASAP or risk, “We could become another Flint Michigan!” A hotel and parking garage don’t seem important in light of this news.

It is a shame that when questions are raised by those with opposing views to the city council, there is a knee-jerk reaction. The only possible reasons for objection are racial. This accusation has worked beautifully to shut people down; a diversion from the real issues of transparency, accountability, and leadership.  But, as witnessed by groans and ‘enough already,’ one evening when one of the councilmen started in with that rhetoric, no one is intimidated anymore.  We all want the same things and that does not preclude a hotel and retail shops, but an 18 million dollar parking facility is out of the question.  The answers to all these decisions are found in the Main Street Program Approach and without the drama.

In another blog post, I mentioned I was reading Charles Krauthammer’s book, The Point of it All, which I have finished. Krauthammer’s view is a satisfying end to this sweet tea and delightful conversation kind-of-day. It provides this Pollyanna the inspiration to keep the faith with the future that is being built today on Main Street and beyond in spite of our realities.

Here is a nation founded on the edge of civilization –a tiny colony, living on the outskirts of the civilized world –that at a time when it needed it miraculously produced the greatest generation of political thinkers in the history of the world. Then a century later, when it needed a Lincoln to save the Republic, it found a Lincoln. In the first half of the 20th century, when it needed an FDR to get through the Depression and defeat fascism, it found him. In the second half, when it needed a Reagan to revive the country, he was there.

There is something about the American spirit–about the bedrock decency and common sense of the American–that seems to help us find our way, something about American history that redeems itself in a way that inspires all. Otto von Bismark said, “God looks after children, drunkards, idiots and the United States of American.” I think he still does. I hope he still does.”                Sept. 18, 2011, from an address to Hillsdale College                                                                                                                            

PS: Lord, we add to Bismark’s list,  Rocky Mount, and our future. Look after us too. – SFH

The City Council Meeting From The Second Row-Aisle Seat-July 8, 2019

I have a take on tonight’s Council Meeting that you won’t get from anyone else. On the way home, I thought, Andre Knight and Ruben Blackwell could charm the bees out of a tree. Here are these two handsome men, right off the cover of Gentleman’s Quarterly Magazine. Both have a great sense of style and wear their clothes well. Both men have great speaking voices. They are articulate, bright, and sincere. Tonight, they each had their moment in the sun; moving and memorable. Mr. Knight reminded everyone about the great work OIC does in the community. He personalized this with a heartfelt story about how OIC  has influenced his life, beginning with help to go to college.  You know how Usher walks on stage to sing? He often says, “Let the whole church say, amen!”  As Mr. Knight talked, there was soft amen- like reactions from the audience.

Mr. Blackwell spoke some lines from a Martin Luther King address that were inspiring, with his delivery style. His smile alone could melt butter. This is the kind of thing that can happen at a City Council meeting.  I wouldn’t have missed these ‘bee charmers’ for the world tonight. During the public hearings, many who spoke were at their best and made reasoned justification why an 18 million dollar parking garage and attending issues are a bad idea. There were a few comments I couldn’t make heads or tails of, and one man made a poor attempt at subtlety about not liking ‘crackers.’  There was good humor, especially from an older gentleman, who delighted everyone. I think every seat was taken. (I got there at 6:00 to be sure I got mine.)

What I didn’t get about tonight’s meeting is this position, which Mr. Blackwell, articulated beautifully, even if I don’t agree, that somehow the Edgecomeb side of life has been waiting for a hotel and parking garage for too long and the time is now, and by gosh, regardless of the cost to the taxpayers, the closed bidding process, or that there is no overall plan, or check and balance on what things actually do cost, this project is meet and right, so to do.  (a phrase from my Episcopal prayer book)

Don’t forget that the projections of occupancy and usage are a shot in the dark. I don’t believe people are that bent out of shape over the idea of a hotel, as much as they have rightful concerns about the costs, decisions being made by people under investigation, and the priorities across the board.  It’s hard to wrap our minds around a hotel and parking garage if we need $62 million for our water and sewer system infrastructure.


The Rocky Mount Bill of Rights Versus A $18 million Parking Garage

I have only a few pages left in Charles Krauthammer’s book, The Point Of It All. He has been gone a year now and is sorely missed. A syndicated columnist, political commentator, physician, he wrote columns in the Washington Post for 33 years. This book is a second collection about everything from baseball to chess, policy, the space program, the state of many things. A brilliant man whose writing, use of language, and clarity are as fine as any class you could possibly take on the subject of writing.

While reading my way along, I’ve been aware of many voices talking in the background as if a radio has been left on in another room. These voices are in deep conversation, some frustrated or discouraged, some saying nothing can be done, but many bent on hitting the pause button until the investigations into the wrongdoings of city government can be concluded. I know you have been hearing these voices too! The opening lines in the Lindell Kay Telegram article (Friday, July 5, 2019) sum up what these conversations are about.

“What started out as a simple non-binding letter of intent presented six months ago during a hectic Rocky Mount City Council meeting is poised to become an $18 million downtown parking deck.”                                                  Click here: READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE

Enter Charles Krauthammer – paraphrased – a few words from an address at  Hillsdale College celebrating Constitution Day. (page 268-269)

The essence of constitutional power — the separation of powers and the inherent rivalry among the branches would check the ambitions of any potential tyrants. The skeptics, however,  insisted on the Bill of Rights, not trusting that the enumeration of powers would be enough to actually prevent tyrannical rule. The Bill of Rights ensured that each citizen would explicitly be given a sphere of inviolability in the form of rights against the government–inside of which the citizen remains sovereign and free.  

My sense is that the crux of all these conversations taking place, regardless of how well stated they are, is that the proposal for a hotel leaves us feeling that we have no rights in the matter. City Council meetings are held, a sham of a public hearing takes place, but the vote has already happened. It is maddening.

Here is what Lige Daughtridge had to say the other day: “There are alternative uses for $18 million that could benefit downtown and the city far more,” said council candidate Lige Daughtridge, who has been a vocal critic of the hotel and parking deck proposal. “$10.5 million could solve the downtown drainage issue; we could speed up the installation of sidewalks and road repairs throughout the city. If the developer is serious in his belief of the success of the hotel, there are far less expensive ways for the city to incentivize the project, such as providing 140 surface spaces instead of a parking deck, or property tax rebates.”  So you see the conversation is not all nasty or thoughtless. There are those trying to protect the RIGHTS of Rocky Mount citizens when it comes to a project like this. A project we are told will happen, whether we like it or not, rather than what is prudent and a part of a master plan. No wonder we feel our Rocky Mount Bill of Rights are being treated as a no never mind!

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Come to the City Council meeting on Monday, July 8th at 7:00. Come early and if you are going to speak, try your best to be clear, reasoned, stating your objections and WHY. I’ll be there cheering you on.

Rocky Mount’s Summer Solstice – Marking the Day

Today, Friday, June 21, our longest day and shortest night of the year, the sun brightened our skies on the first day of astronomical summer in Earth’s Northern Hemisphere. As I write this at 5:22 in the afternoon, the sky is an amazing Carolina blue color.  The sun remains strong and there is a lovely breeze. It is the kind of day one would think should be marked as extra special, crossing another threshold into the next summer of our lives.

My guess is we all got on with our schedules without a flashback to bare feet, shorts and tee shirts, even bruised knees, already brown as berries. A summer that stretched before us with ice cream cones and a pile of books from the library. Our bikes raring to go each morning waiting for the day’s adventure. In my case, the background of the days seemed full of Cubs Baseball with Jack Brickhouse providing the running commentary.

In the earliest days, there was running under the sprinkler stripped down to underwear and later a swim in the pool or even better, sitting on the sand at Lake Michigan, smothered in a mixture of baby oil and iodine, for which my skin pays the price today. All of us with our memories of family and hot days with no air conditioning, open windows at night with bugs hitting the screens. And waiting – – for the 4th of July with grand fireworks at Northwestern University’s Dyke Stadium.

I have this feeling that as we begin real summer, trying to eat enough corn on the cob and watermelon, appreciating the smell of meat sizzling on the grill, it is as important a summer as there has been in a long time. The new Rocky Mount has arrived and like new plants in the garden, it needs looking after. We have an October election that gives us a voice according to our desires. We have new businesses opening, restoration/preservation taking place. Support these places, keep your eye on meetings that you need to get to in order to plant your flag for positive change. You catch my drift.

As the evening quiets down, and the last birds swoop across the sky, and the first day of summer begins to retreat, we have much to be thankful for. The return of a lost soldier, the neighbor across the street that puts your paper on the doorstep, friends who are the wind beneath our sails, and family, for better or worse, that God arranged. And for the possibilities in our lives, especially the possibility of this new Rocky Mount on a summer solstice evening.

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Rocky Mount Central Cafe Continues to Make Memories

Another initiation takes place at the Rocky Mount Central Cafe. It’s official, a true little citizen has now been baptized in the history, food, and people of a landmark destination downtown. Grammy was on duty today to pick up Annaclaire, 3-1/4-year-old great-granddaughter from VBS.  She wanted to go to Sonic, but I suggested this alternative. We called Mama for permission. “What a great idea!” So off we went. Annaclaire’s order… dog, French fries——and don’t mention this to Mama, I want Sweet Tea. Trying to walk a delicate line between, you can have anything you want, Love, and mindful of Mama’s rules, I asked for a SMALL cup. That seems right, don’t you think?

Three wonderful ladies that are the spirit of the Cafe each came separately to greet Annaclaire and say her name when she told them what it was. Folks came and went for lunch, many of them who knew one another. Guessing at their ages they had been eating at the Cafe for many years. Central Cafe is a small building but is bursting at the seams with memories.

Now another child will hopefully remember- I used to eat here with my Grammy. One last observation. Growing up in Evanston, IL. a famous Chicago hotdog was an occasion. It comes with ketchup and pickles. When I order mine that way at Central Cafe no one faints and falls out. Only dear Southern friends look at me askance as they order theirs with chili et. al. Next up: the carousel and train to further Annaclaire’s Rocky Mount memory making.  PS: The first thing AC told her mommy when we got home was, I had sweet tea!

It’s a Lovely Day Today – A Morning With SFH on Main Street

A June 4th morning – I have taken myself off to NABS  (Never A Better Sandwich) for a fresh baked Cinnamon bun, and dare I admit, sweet (tea). I am sitting outside listening to soft jazz, the most divine breeze stirring the leaves on the trees and the American flags flapping gently on the lamp posts. The Century Link Man in his service truck waves at me as he goes by. Peace!

The Douglas Block now and then: I can imagine the folks from years ago as if they are all still here. They appear like a ghost who steps through a wall or perhaps walking out of the cornfield as in the movie, Field of Dreams. Here they continue to shop, meet and greet, visiting the drug store, going to the movies, families with children in tow who have come to town. Once segregated, could they possibly imagine me sitting at the sidewalk cafe table listening for them, watching them from afar. I think about Ed Riley and Yalem, owners of the now-famous Smokehouse and this new coffee sandwich shop. If you know Ed, he is a great big bear of a man who gives hugs that rub the fur-fabric right off the proverbial Velveteen Rabbit. The sidewalk concrete space at the end of the building is waiting to be transformed into more outdoor seating.  With Yalem’s eye and creativity, I know it is going to be a destination.

I hope for a train to come by and am not disappointed.   I think too late to count the cars as we did when kids. There is no caboose at the end coming around the track, track, track. The long mile of cars heads south. After some photographs, I returned to the little table to further enjoy this scene, to honor The Douglas Block Story. This pleasant morning seems important to celebrate, to hope for all good things to come.

Take a minute and listen to Ella Fitzgerald singing It’s A Lovely Day Today…                           she got the whole scene just right.


Believing in Possibilities -A Rocky Mount Formula Guaranteed To Succeed

Louise Penny is a Canadian author that writes an award-winning mystery series. Recently I finished one of the latest, Glass Houses. Three Pines near Quebec is often the fictitious setting for this excellent series; a village someone finds when lost. In the Authors Note, Louise Penny writes – Some might argue that Three Pines itself isn’t real, and they’d be right, but limited in their view. The village does not exist, physically. But I think of it as existing in ways that are far more important and powerful. Three Pines is a state of mind. When we choose tolerance over hate, kindness over cruelty, goodness over bullying, when we choose to be hopeful, not cynical, then we live in Three Pines.

Here in Rocky Mount, we must embrace the state of mind that Louise Penny writes about: tolerance over hate, kindness over cruelty, goodness over bullying. These values were taught in the world I grew up in. I count it a blessing that I am able to see the good in people, recognize heroes and generous hearts. I was left with a collection of what I think of as sacred memories that inform how I see the world today. Simple things – I remember riding a bicycle home at twilight, the sound of a tennis ball on a clay court, a kiss goodnight on the front porch just short of curfew. People were honorable, they worked hard to give their children more than what they’d grown up with. Politics spawned statesmen. I know that a positive state of mind isn’t all that is needed when building a dream, but it is a must if the dream has any chance of coming true. Be sure you are sitting on the positive end of the teeter-totter.  With newly elected leadership, those with business acumen and a moral compass sitting on the other end, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

It doesn’t matter my age when June arrives, I have that ‘last day of school-feeling.’ Three months stretched out before us to reclaim the best of summertime. In addition to believing in Rocky Mount may I suggest a stack of books, tomatoes from the farmers market with Duke mayonnaise, salt, and white bread. Let’s look for fireflies in the shrubs, surely there are some left. Let’s make room on the garden bench to remember those who are gone, but never forgotten. Go downtown on a coffee crawl, get to the Mill for a cold glass of beer, dine at our restaurants, and shop. Enjoy the summer possibilities that life holds, especially the possibilities of Rocky Mount.



“Your Fifteen Minutes are Up!” A New Rocky Mount Is At Hand

In high school, one of the defining moments of my life was when I was given this admonition, to those much is given, much is expected.  This admonition when applied to our city council and officials in Rocky Mount, NC has led to disappointment and a lack of complete faith and trust, and now investigations into graft and corruption.

We’ve got serious problems, and we need serious people. 

Do you remember these lines from the movie, The American President? Michael Douglas also tells the character, Bob Rumson,  YOUR FIFTEEN MINUTES ARE UP! 

Terrick Pittman is running for the Council seat in Ward 1. A new voice and leadership to celebrate.

Rocky Mount is no longer a place you drive through on the way to somewhere else but a destination in and of itself. The city will always be cherished for the days filled with nostalgic memories and good people; an illustrious list of leadership provided by men and women with a moral compass, a philanthropic heart, filled with prayer and good deeds. We still need these qualities, but also the certainty of expertise in the business realm and the management of diverse professionals whose bottom line is productivity and outcome.

MacHaven opening soon thanks to investor Jesse Gerstl.

In a relatively short time, six years, since moving here, there is now a level of sophistication and business acumen needed like never before.  We’ve all been told at one time or another, Be careful what you wish for. With a lot of hard work and foresight, we’ve got what we wished for. Millions of dollars and over 1000 jobs just from Triangle Tyre Co, Pfizer, and CSX.  There are new small businesses and new investors arriving every day. What The Mill alone has brought to the community is changing our lives.

There is no room for people trying to hold us back. The community has had enough of those focused on personal gain, who continue to tell poor people it’s someone else’s fault that they remain in poverty and live in terrible housing. These same Councilmen and insiders continue to profit by keeping the economic conditions suppressed, which help when applying for grants. These same few (who care so much) and want affordable housing on Tarboro Street care little for the conditions of their own low income/workforce constituents.

This kind of leadership is not remotely equipped to deal with the new Rocky Mount. Infamous members of the city council usually under attack didn’t attend the CSX ribbon cutting. They don’t welcome this change, nor do they have the skills to handle it, they only want to control what they have managed to take at the taxpayer’s expense.  The good citizens of Rocky Mount are addressing these new times on social media with a turn towards positive, unifying objectives. Love Rocky Mount Facebook Page has sprung up to serve as a moral compass hoping to lead us away from racial rhetoric and unexamined ideas that members of the Council fall back on when questioned or criticized.

These times call for new competent, trusted business-minded leadership who have the talent and experience, and are equipped to lead the new Rocky Mount. That change must happen at the polls in October. PS: I’m not sure if Mr. Joyner is running for his appointed seat and or if Mr. Cummingham has made up his mind. Stay tuned on this Ward.






Consulting with Thomas Sowell on Rocky Mount’s City Government

Do you ever think about your ‘unlived lives?” When I do, it is more with curiosity than with regret. What would my life have been if I had pursued other avenues? We’ve come a long way from wanting to be a fireman or a professional baseball player; a ballerina, or a doctor with our plastic doctor’s bag and stethoscope. Now, if I had the money to do so, I would take myself off to SCAD in Savannah and enroll in their courses on historic preservation.  Short of that, like you, I am self-educated in ……you fill in the blank. My list would include gardener, flower arranger, and, and, and. Now I would like to be a writer with a keen enough intellect to add my voice to the political fray on Main Street in Rocky Mount, NC.

Thomas Sowell in 1964

Therefore, I have been revisiting by reading Thomas Sowell (/soʊl/; born June 30, 1930) an American economist and social theorist who is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. I couldn’t pick a better mind with my self-educated approach to local politics, joining all the others who want to Save Mainstreet and surrounding Edgemont Place and Villa Place, the neighborhoods that are waiting to play their part in affordable housing.

Mr. Sowell was born in North Carolina but grew up in Harlem, New York. Ultimately, he received a bachelor’s degree, graduating magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1958 and a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1959. In 1968, he earned his doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago.

Sowell has served on the faculties of several universities, including Cornell University and the University of California, Los Angeles. He has also worked for think tanks such as the Urban Institute. Since 1980, he has worked at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He writes from a libertarian conservative perspective, advocating supply-side economics. Sowell has written more than thirty books. He is a National Humanities Medal recipient for an innovative scholarship that incorporated history, economics, and political science.  I have deep admiration and respect for Thomas Sowell, the reason I have been consulting with him. I state my case again that until we have the results of the investigations, the current leadership must be put on hold in any major decisions and that the low-income housing on Tarboro street is the wrong answer in the wrong place. I put forth these three Sowell quotations as justification for my position in the matter.

One of the common failings among honorable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonorable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them. Thomas Sowell

Saying NO to Tarboro Street Housing For At Least 3 Reasons


Affordable housing in historic districts and Wards should be looked at as a sustainable method of housing development. Buildings are durable commodities that can be used for decades. The addition of historic districts, which Rocky Mount has seven, into the housing equation is a win-win for the community. We already have in place guidelines that require close attention to the built environment as a whole, which helps to protect people’s investment in our housing assets. Rather than building affordable housing over on Tarboro St., plopped down in a transient setting, we want singles, renters, 1st-time homeowner, retired folks living in neighborhoods. There is affordable housing of different sizes that may not be at its best but is savable, and once restored, house by house you have a neighborhood feeling good about itself again. You have diversity, woven into the fabric of neighborhoods that have been home to our Rocky Mount story and are home again to our next chapter.


The PARKING that will be needed for a flourishing and successful Event Center, and a revitalized downtown, cannot be highjacked. Definitely not for the wrong answers to affordable housing. Evidently, there are members on the City Council and their insiders who no longer care about the needed parking, as if the success of the Event Center and Main Street no longer matter to them. This suggests to me that they have moved on to the next idea of taking what they can and leave the taxpayers with the bill. I suspect that this information meeting is a rouse to cover what they believe is a predetermined outcome. A large attendance saying no is necessary for these reasons and yours. Make the best case you can.


Taxpayers have no reason to believe the city forces will change their trend line in this latest proposal;  lining someone’s pockets, letting the taxpayers subsidize this housing.  In summary: We have a vote of no confidence in leadership, we must safeguard our parking, and pursue the right solution for affordable housing by investing in what we already have, which will restore our existing Ward neighborhoods and historic districts.

PLEASE NOTE: The location of a Tuesday information session on a planned multi-family workforce housing development on Tarboro Street has been changed.
The public meeting will now be held in McBryde Auditorium on the Rocky Mount campus of Edgecombe Community College. The time of the meeting hasn’t changed and is still set for 5 to 7 p.m.
The Development Finance Initiative at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Government will facilitate the session with an hourlong open house followed by a presentation and question-and-answer segment. The City Council has committed to conveying property between 218-242 Tarboro Street via sale or lease to a development partner.