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PAGE 4-A, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 29, 1994
Reasons For Optimism,
Room For Improvement
Mark Start Of New Year
It takes a pretty crusty cynic not to approach the start of a
new year with optimism. And although 1994 has brought
Brunswick Countians some reasons to become crustier, there are
glimmers of hope which shouldn't be ignored.
Particularly encouraging is last week's creation of a commit
tee charged with improving relations between the county com
missioners and the Brunswick County Board of Education. The
proposal came from newly sworn Commissioner Leslie Collier,
who obviously heard the electorate's mandate for a more positive
approach to communication among the county's two most pow
erful elective bodies. That one simple measure could mean that,
for the first time in three years, a school system budget could be
settled upon without bitterness, squabbling or the involvement of
professional referees or jurors.
Another good sign is the appointment of Dr. Sam Kirtley to
the Brunswick County Board of Health after a year without no
physician on the board. Brunswick County's public health issues,
like its other social problems, have become increasingly complex
with profound ramifications for future quality of life along our
popular shores. Family physicians, more than any other profes
sionals, have a daily window to the roots and results of such
grave public health problems as substance abuse, domestic vio
lence, infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, illegitimacy, commu
nicable disease and substandard sanitation. That perspective is
crucial to sound, multi-dimensional public health policy-making.
The county's newly elected Sheriff Ronald Hewett swept
every precinct in the November election, an indication that voters
on the islands and the mainland, from Thomasboro to Leland,
share his vision of a department which serves the people and the
cause of law enforcement the best it possibly can. Brunswick
County's crime problem gets bigger and more serious all the
time. We're a rural community with big-city evils, and only a law
enforcement team and citizens working hard together can create
progress toward better protecting the innocent and catching the
Future progress in all those areas is likely to be dependent on
ingenuity, imagination and old-fashioned hard work and commit
ment. Brunswick Countians, along with their neighbors through
out the state and nation, have begun to realize that local problems
require localized solutions, not just a pipeline of tax dollars from
Raleigh and Washington.
It has all the makings of an interesting year.
New Study: More
Prisons , Less Crime
BY THOM GOOLSBY
A recent study by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
concludes what victims' groups in the Tarheel state have been claiming for
* ' years ? the N.C. General Assembly's steadfast refusal to
build prison cells in order to keep up with rising crime
has helped make North Carolina a high crime state.
Grand Experiment Was A Flop
Starting in the early 1980s, North Carolina lawmak
ers decided not to listen to the pleas for more prison
space by law enforcement officers, district attorneys,
judges and crime victims. Instead, state politicians lis
tened to liberal criminologists like Stevens Clarke of
UNC-Chapel Hill, who pumped out statistical studies
claiming that putting more people in prison failed to cut
the crime rate. The answer Clarke and his supporters in
the legislature put forward was that the state could prevent crime by spend
ing more .and more money on government programs.
While the gran^ liberal experiment of prevention, rather than incarcera
tion, was played out on our cities' streets starting in the early 1980s, North
Carolina went from a low crime state to a crime "hell." In the last decade
and-a-half, our historically low violent crime rate has gone up over 50 per
cent, making us the 11th worst state in the union.
As far as "total crime" goes, North Carolina ranks second-highest in the
nation. While our crime rate was growing out of hand, the Tarheel state had
the dubious distinction of ranking last in the building of prisons in order to
keep pace with rising crime.
Not Rocket Science, But Common Sense
The results of the ALEC study are clear. Since 1960, the states that have
neglected prison construction have seen the largest increases in crime, while
the states that have built prisons have had the smallest growth in crime rates.
The study just confirms common sense. If you keep crime from paying by
locking up the bad buys, things get better. If crime pays, things get worse.
It's not rocket science, but why haven't these common sense ideas caught
Victims Paid The Price
Over the past decade and a half, our decidedly left-leaning state legisla
ture has been too busy spending our tax money on preventative programs to
listen to any touch law-and-order agenda dealing with building adequate
prison space. Instead, the simply buried their he*ds in thc sand, claiming
that the state could not afford to lock up the criminals. They conveniently
forgot that by not locking up the guilty, they would consign tens of thou
sands of their constituents to being victims of the criminals they attempted
New Political Breeze
Now the political breeze has changed direction. All of the newly clcctcd
legislators ran as tough law-and-order candidates. They know first-hand that
the people of North Carolina are tired as usual. The voters want criminals to
serve "real time for real crimes."
Survey after survey shows that crime is the number-one public concern.
Making the right call on providing more prison space and keeping criminals
off our streets should not be difficult to do, since the problem is so very ap
parent. It's just a shame that tens of thousands of innocent people have had
to suffer before common sense kicked in.
Thorn Gaolsby is a trial attorney and teaches at Campbell Law School
New Year's Wish For The County Commish
"Nobody goes there anymore
because it's too crowded. "
? Yogi Btrm
I'm not much for making New
Year's resolutions, since I'm rarely
able to follow through on them. But
I don't mind suggesting promises
for other people to keep. Here's one
for the Brunswick County Com
Please, please, please, find some
where else? ANYWHERE ELSE?
to hold your meetings.
I have a cluttered storage room
under the house that would provide
more empty space than the "com
missioners' chambers" do on a typi
cal first or third Monday of the
For those of you who haven't had
the pleasure of observing your coun
ty government in action, let's just
say that ? even with nothing contro
versial to attract a big crowd ? there
isn't enough room in the audience to
swing a guppy, never mind a cat.
If there's a hoi topic on the agen
da ? such as a neighborly dispute
over whether to name a road "Billy
Bob Boulevard" or "William Robert
Way" ? the tiny space designated for
the public begins to resemble Times
Square on New Year's Eve.
Meanwhile, the hall outside fre
quently looks like the entrance to a
toy store that just announced a
Christmas sale on "Power Ranger"
action figures. You'd have more
chance getting a 50-yard-line seat at
the first Carolina Panthers home
game than you would at a Bruns
wick Commissioners' meeting.
The state has strict regulations
about the minimum area that must
be provided for convicted felons
during their all-too-brief visits to our
prisons and county jails. Unfortu
nately, no such rules exist for law
abiding citizens who want to find
out where their tax money is being
Brunswick County has an esti
mated population of 57,249. Yet
there are only 30 seats set aside for
the audience at a Brunswick County
Board of Commissioners meeting.
That means, if more than one out
of every 1,908 residents gets an at
tack of good citizenship and decides
to watch their local government at
work, one of them will have to re
Actually four or five people will
have to stay on their feet, since three
or four reporters usually attend the
meetings. We have learned to get
there early. If the "teevee news" per
sonalities show up, you will have to
wait in the hall, sincc they assume
the right to claim all standing room
for their cameras.
This is not (I repeat NOT) the
fault of the current commissioners.
They have only met in these hal
lowed chambers once. Nor can you
blame board members of the past IS
The meeting facilities were de
signed back in the 1970s as part of
the complex bunker system known
as the Brunswick County Govern
ment Complex. Back then, govern
ment expressed its esteem for the
taxpayers who built the complc* by
confining them to what we now call
the commissioners' "chambers."
(Original blueprints describe the
space as a "Janitorial Storage Clo
set/Smoked Filled Room.")
Year after year, new commission
ers get elected and take their scats
behind the name tags on the arcing
formica dais that protects them from
the rabble below. From up there, sit
ting in their big comfortable chairs, I
suspect everything seems fine.
But it's not fine, except for those
who spent a former life in a cattle
Unfortunately, the so-called "pub
lic assembly" building isn't much
better. This is where the commis
sioners move for big public hearings
and meetings that are expected to
draw large crowds.
This big. open room is also the
cafeteria. It has lots of space for
people to sit and eat. But at meet
ings, nobody can hear a word of
what's going on. Because, like most
cafeterias, the public assembly room
has the sound qualities of an empty
The acoustics are so bad that
commissioners at one end of the
table cannot hear what a fellow
board member is saying three chairs
down. The clerk requires a show of
hands to tally the votes.
As a result, the public comment
heard most frequently at public
hearings is, "What did he say?"
Last week, a former county com
missioner got a taste of life in the
trenches, when more than SO people
tried unsuccessfully to occupy the
cramped chambers. He never did get
a seat and ended up standing for
three hours in the doorway to an ad
"I don't know why I never
thought of it before," he said later.
"But it seems like they could hold
their meetings in one of the court
rooms." BINGO! GIVE THAT
MAN A CIGAR!
No matter how busy things get
over at the county courthouse,
judges like to be home in time for
supper. So there is always a spacious
room with good acoustics, padded
seats and carpet on the floor avail
able on the first and third Monday
nights of every month.
These rooms arc equipped with
some nice chairs (even good enough
for lawyers) where the commission
ers could sit. By turning the rttomey
tables around, they would face an
area where a couple hundred people
could sit comfortably without hav
ing their elbows lodged in each oth
If a commissioner wanted to look
really important, he could use the
big black stuffed chair where the
judge usually sits. Then there would
be no doubt about which member
was the chairman.
Happy New Year.
Some Odds And Ends From The In-Basket
It's dark at 4:30, the phone's not
ringing, the staff is happy and there
are brownies in the break room. It's
the final hour of the last work day
In the newspaper world, that's a
mixed blessing. On the one hand,
we get a weekday off, which for
most of us is a rare and wonderful
thing. On the other hand, the news
world as we know it grinds to a halt,
leaving us to look for new and cre
ative ways to fill the advertising
packed publications which precede
the big day.
It's also a time to start thinking
about purging some files, emptying
the in-basket and clearing the desk
top of a dozen Post-It notes to get
ready for a new year ? the Beacon 's
Along those lines, here are some
odds and ends off my desk:
A1 Granzow has a few choice
words for the dwarf nandina thieves
who've been preying on the Cala
bash Presbyterian Church. (The
thieves are not believed to be
dwarfs, only the shrubs.):
"You've gotten them all now; you
can leave us alone."
It was A1 who told us several
weeks ago about the first and second
heist of shrubs from the church
grounds. Since then, thieves have hit
twice more. He's sure the problem is
thieves rather than vandals, since the
bushes were very gingerly dug out
and taken away. A1 took my advice
and checked the area flea markets to
see if there were any mysteriously
good deals on mature dwarf nandi
nas, but found none.
Professional thieves who'd steal
from a churchyard at Christmastime
deserve a swift kick in the....pants. If
you know who swiped those shrubs,
call the Brunswick County Sheriff's
Department at 253-4321 and make a
bunch of Presbyterians feel better
about human nature.
Edna Polodi of Calabash says if
you haven't thrown away your
Christmas cards yet, don't. If there's
no writing on the left inside panel,
you can cut them in half and use the
picture side as a Christmas postcard
next year. Just use ballpoint or other
un-runny ink to draw a vertical line
down the center of the blank side.
Put the address and stamp on the
right and your message on the left.
After all, Edna says, you'll keep
some paper out of the landfill (or out
of your junk drawer) and save a lit
tle money. Besides, who generally
has more to say in a Christmas card
than you can write on a postcard?
Edna is resourceful. She is the
Beacon reader who last year passed
on the suggestion that if you travel,
you ought to carry a pair of latex
gloves in a 35-mm film canister in
your glove compartment to put on in
case you are in a position to help
someone involved in an accident.
That's practical and compassionate.
Charles R. "Buster" Humphreys'
self-published Panthers of the
Coastal Plain is back from the print
er and will be appearing on local
The courtly, delightful Mr. Hum
phreys, 83, has been tracking sight
ings of coastal panthers (cougars,
mountain lions, whatever you want
to call them) for more than half a
century. A bom naturalist, he grew
up exploring the Green Swamp with
his father, a civil engineer whose
name is on an 1894 Corps of
Engineers chart of the Lockwood
Folly River I was lucky enough to
Mr. Humphreys hasn't seen a pan
ther himself, but he's talked to
everyone he he could find who did
or might have, including me. I fall
under the category of not-sure-what
they-saw. He's absolutely certain of
the panther's continued existence
and he makes a strong case with his
data. Having been on the cutting
edge of scientific research during
four decades with Dupont, he has
the credentials to do so, too.
One post-Christmas postscript:
Eric and 1 ended a wonderfully quiet
Christmas day with a walk on Hol
dcn Bcach at low tide with clouds
squeezing a zipper of golden sunset
from the horizon to infinity. We
were alone at the end of the fishing
pier watching the cormorants on the
water when three dolphins started
arcing our way, coming close
enough that we could see their eyes
and hear them slice through the wa
ter. Two headed toward shore and
kept playing on into the breakers.
The third swam right out to the cor
morant party and sent them flapping
You have to live in a pretty spe
cial place to watch a Christmas
show like that.
0 Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his
deepest reveries ? stand that man upon his legs, set his feet
a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water
there be in all that region.. ..Meditation and water are
wedded forever. ? Herman Melville
m If you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality,
not only love but every living force maintaining the life of
the world would at once be dried up.
? Fedor MikhailovLsh Dostoevski
? The Puritans nobly fled from a land of despotism to a land
of freedom, where they could not only enjoy their own reli
gion, but could prevent everybody else from enjoying his.
? Artemus Ward
m We should be careful to get out of an experience only the
wisdom that is in it ? and stop there; lest we be like the cat
that sits down on a hot stove-lid She will never sit down on
a hot stove-lid again ? and that is well; but also she will
never sit down on a cold one any more. ? Mark Twain
m We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to
be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves
its never so little scar.... Nothing we ever do it, in strict sci
entific literalness, wiped out. ? William James