Crashing On the Rocks of City Government

The City Council Chambers

The Siren call lures nearby sailors to crash upon the rocks of the islands of dangerous creatures. It is their enchanting music and singing that calls them. I am lured by the story of Main Street and the significance of commercial and residential architecture. The corollary danger for me started with my research and learning. The more people that took me under their wing to talk, the more I grew to love the possibilities, I ended up crashing on the rocks of City Government. I found that possibilities are mismanaged, certain members of the City Council rig the system, talented and good people leave or are pushed out, and we have an investigation into maleficence and the skullduggery of leadership that casts a wide net of consequences.

Crashing on these rocks, my writing on the Main Street blog shifted to finding answers that explain the state of things downtown and in the surrounding areas of neglect. I hate having to grapple with the possibility that we will never have real prosperity; the prosperity of spirit in people’s lives in Rocky Mount because certain members of the City Council game the system for their own benefit.

The longer we hesitate to call out, name, remove, allow further deterioration of our buildings and housing, the further down the rabbit hole we go. Waiting is not soon enough for those who long for a decent life with an opportunity to lift themselves up. I’m talking about job availability for those willing to work hard after receiving a decent education. Waiting for a future in the sweet by and by shouldn’t be necessary with elected leaders, who are committed to Rocky Mount and a better life for people. The answer begins with your VOTE! Until we hold accountable those we have given the power to make a difference, Rocky Mount will continue to be sabotaged by self-interest, mismanagement, and greed.

The Masonic Temple on Church Street

I want us to be about: saving Mainstreet, the at-risk neighborhoods, restoring and repurposing, creating pride of ownership that promotes safety in our neighborhoods where people look out for one another. I want those who have made a mistake to have a job when entering back into society. I want a tour of our saved shotgun houses and a reason for people to return to Rocky Mount where they grew up. I want the Masonic Building on Church Street to become a boutique hotel, the Carlton House, one of our historic places, back in business. I want to stroll down Howard Street and sit at a cafe table talking to those who walk by. I want to see couples holding hands walking down Main Street headed to restaurants and coffee shops. People shopping and making memories with their grandchildren. I want to see all the entrepreneurs that took a chance on Rocky Mount rewarded for their belief, working hard to make their dreams come true in this place.

A Restored Shot Gun House

Like it or not, life is about politics, especially now. It is essential that the Councilman in Ward 1, after sixteen years, is replaced with Tarrick Pittman who brings a new vision. This is a great opportunity to vote for the new leadership that is running for the open seats in Wards 3,4,5. We want a new Major who has the experience to create jobs and understands the necessity of a trained work force. Be aware of those who sing the Sirens song again.  It’s election time and suddenly, “I care about you.”  I hope you agree we have had enough of crashing on the rocks of City Government.

Main Street Rocky Mount Returns September 3, 2019

This little girl in the birdbath is like me in spirit. How can it be time to give up this view of summer and accept that most of my plans never happened.

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

 Sonnet 18, William Shakespeare


I’m short a few weeks of finishing my 3rd novel, A Garden of Sweet Disorder, the reason I took August off from writing the Main Street Rocky Mount blog. Even still, I have posts ready to publish starting September 3rd. I had a wonderful week in Florida with generous friends who took me on adventures to see various stages of mixed-use developments. I came home with new insights concerning Main Street and our surrounding downtown core. For the first time, we will have a guest blogger, Rodd Myers, posting on three upcoming dates. I have great respect for Rodd’s background in urban planning, and his heart for preservation. Rodd is a past resident of Rocky Mount and a keen observer of what works in revitalizing communities such as ours.  These posts will add new insights when discussing Rocky Mount’s future.

I don’t actually write on an old typewriter, but it suits my imagination to pretend that I do. They say you should write what you know. One of my unlived lives is a career in Historic Preservation. The research I love in preparing for the blog  has helped me write the new book. Sarah Collins, the main character, shares my love of architecture. She works for The National Trust. Her essays and photographs about architecture are important to the story. The aftermath of Katrina also plays a part in the story. (As I write this I am watching the new hurricane, Dorian,  approaching Florida.)  A secret is revealed  that takes Sarah to Burford in the Cotswolds, the setting for the second half of the book. Those who have read  my first novel – Greening of a Heart will recognize Burford,  a world and set of characters that have become a big part of my life.

On Tuesday, I will slip out of the birdbath, and begin anew taking up the theme of the  Main Street blog: building a future and honoring the past. Please join me!



Stepheny Taking August Off to Finish A Novel – Leaving You With A Story to Think About -Keep the Faith!

Dear Readers:                                                                                                                                                 Posting a sign on the Main Street Rocky Mount door that says, Closed in August.  I have a third novel to finish so I’m taking a break from researching and writing the blog during the month of August. Even though my good buddy, Peggy Daughtridge, who I admire no end, tells me the novels are fine, but she prefers my blog writing, I can’t waste a good title that I have finally settled on – A Garden of Sweet Disorder.  (It is a phrase from a collection of English Gardens essays that I read. It refers to the design and planting of a cottage garden that appears random but is far from it.)

Here is a paragraph from the novel that doesn’t sound like my usual saving Main Street posts. In part, the story is about a young woman who goes to work for Historic Preservation in Washington, DC upon graduation. She is called home to New Orleans a few days before Katrina to discover that her father, a retired admiral in the Navy has led a double life.  Sarah was not offended but surprised that a prestigious law firm would hire a woman poured into a tight skirt, with a provocative unbuttoned blouse. Grinning, she lowered her voice and leaned towards Jackson. “I think your secretary may be an actress who has wandered onto the wrong movie set, one that is staged for a legal drama, rather than the private eye movie they are filming down the hall.” Jackson laughed. He enjoyed Sarah Collin’s sense of humor.  

In taking a break I want to tell you that a new friend introduced me to a story written by Richard Paul Evans, The Spyglass.  I  found a used, but a like-new copy on Amazon and ordered it because the story called to me…to us!

There once was a king who ruled over a darkened kingdom. Crops were planted and then failed, houses were built and then neglected, people were impoverished and dispirited. But when a traveler arrives at the crumbling palace, he shows the monarch his kingdom through the lens of an enchanted spyglass — a spyglass that shows him his kingdom, not as it is, but as it could be. The king’s imagination is ignited by the spark of faith, and with faith comes hope and change. By sharing his vision and inspiring his subjects to work alongside him, the king restores his land to glory…And though the old man and his spyglass were never again seen in the land, the kingdom continued to prosper and became again the great kingdom of old. Yet, despite their abundance of food, their beautiful buildings, their lush gardens, and majestic cathedrals, it was ever after said of that kingdom that their greatest treasure was their faith.

Think about this story while I try to finish my novel. I believe that newly elected leadership this fall will provide an enchanted spyglass for Rocky Mount that will allow us to see things as they can be and will be. It is by faith we shall be known. Keep that faith in my absence.                                         SCROLL DOWN FOR COMMENTS

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.