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Election forum raised some important issues
Joyce Green McLeod and Joyce Green during a recent visit to The Times

Finally, a hit of spring has arrived -- and we can only hope that it sticks around although we're undoubtedly due for a few chilly, perhaps rainy days this month.

But at least we've been seeing the sun -- and enjoying its effects.

Planting season isn't far off!

But for the foreseeable future, we still have this unusual March Primary Election to get through.

Early voting began last Thursday, March 3, and will continue through election day on May 15. Make sure you cast your ballot!

On the eve of the beginning of early voting, a fair number of people turned out for the Election Forum hosted by Louisburg College on Feb. 29 -- and the candidates had some time to make their cases.

As a self-described political junkie, I would have liked to have had more time, especially for county commission candidates who are facing some difficult challenges in the next four years.

But voters did get a chance to see the candidates in person and watch how they handled the questions which is a start.

One of the good things I heard -- pretty much for the first time -- was some candidates noting the importance of improving the county's infrastructure if we are ever to attract jobs.

Of all the things the county could be doing, beefing up its infrastructure has to be one of the most important.

And we're not just talking about water and sewer, both of which are important, but not the only things the county needs.

These days, decent, high-speed and dependable internet service is essential -- and not just to a few select areas.

Another essential infrastructure upgrade involves cell phones. Franklin County's cell phone service is spotty and poor. These days that is a major shortcoming that can be rectified if the will is there -- and it is up to county governments to put pressure on providers to up their game.

This isn't the first time these issues have been discussed. Remember the state program called something like Connect NC?

That started off with a lot of fanfare and a level of political support that turned out to be more hot air than substance.

If we're going to get anywhere, the county has to start planning ahead, not necessarily spending much money but enticing, forcing or incentivizing companies to provide better service, not just for industry but also for those who call this county home.

Beyond that, the county desperately needs a long-range utility development plan for its water and sewer service areas.

More than anything except zoning, the availability of water and sewer infrastructure drives development and determines where that development will happen.

Beyond that, the county needs to be taking a look at its available water supplies (that won't take long because there aren't many) and its sewage treatment capacity. The sewage treatment issue will likely become front page news again soon because the county appears to have given away the allocations of much of its treatment capacity but hasn't gotten those customers.

The way it has worked, a developer gets approval for X number of homes -- and the county allocates the treatment capacity that those homes will need.
Once the county reaches a certain percentage, it can't continue to allocate capacity.

The problem has been that many of those developments that have allocations have not been built. The county's capacity has been pledged but no new customers have been added to pay for construction of more capacity.

For reasons that are murky (a Franklin County tradition?) those allocations don't automatically expire and the county is locked into a long-term commitment that limits growth and development and leaves the sewage system starved for cash.

Expect to read a lot more about this if the local economy really rebounds and housing development starts to grow again.

School issue

There is one issue from the Election Forum that needs some clarification. Some of the folks running for school board blamed the long-standing judicial order that sets the ratio of majorithy-minority students in the schools for the enrollment imbalance in the county high schools.

That's not exactly true.

The issue is that Franklinton High School is nearing its design capacity (yikes, already?) while Bunn is growing slowly and Louisburg is shrinking. Some candidates indicated this imbalance can't be remedied by reassigning students because of the federal court order.

That's not correct. The school board can redistrict the schools in any way they see fit -- if they maintain the proper majority-minority (white vs black) ratios.

In other words, they can't move only white kids or only black kids. They have to do it so it is fair to everyone and maintains a racial balance that is acceptable.

Yes, the court order and the regular reviews by the U.S. Justice Department are a bit of an inconvenience. But as I've said before, they work a lot like a padlock. A padlock isn't a fix-all solution, but it helps keep honest people honest! (A crook will just break it and go on!)

The court order may require a bit more work and thought -- but it's been working well for many years without imposing an undue burden on anyone.

Yes, the schools' attendance areas can be changed to affect total enrollment at the high schools (or any other schools) but those changes have to be made fairly.

Smiling face

Sometimes sitting around writing about mostly bad things -- or politics -- can become a tad depressing if you let it.

But the one thing about this business is: you're never very far from people -- and one of our favorite people came to visit recently, brightening things up considerably.

In recent years, it was fairly common for us to have visits from a Thanksgiving Turkey or a Pilgrim, Santa Claus or even the Easter Bunny.

And no, those visits were not the result of some funny stuff in our coffee!

Those visits were from a well-known local lady named Joyce Green who used to slip into the office and distribute candy or other goodies that made folks smile.

She had turned the concept of character visits into a local folk art form -- and she always, always left many smiles in her wake as she visited stores, banks, or wherever.

But a few months ago, she was badly injured in a car wreck and many of us feared she wouldn't be back. Her doctor even suggested that she'd never walk again.

Fortunately, Mrs. Green -- or the Easter Bunny or whomever -- didn't pay much (any!) attention to that diagnosis and put her faith elsewhere.

We're happy to report that one day recently she stopped by the office -- with daughter Joyce Green McLeod driving -- just to say hello.

We had a brief but fun visit and, as always, she left smiles in her wake.

She said that she has convinced her daughter to continue the costumed tradition of smile creation -- but said she'd be checking in to see that she was doing it properly.

I hope she does, not because I think Ms. McLeod can't carry on the tradition but because seeing Mrs. Green up and about -- and as full of fun as ever -- is a rare treat.

Some things should never change -- and her visits are one of those things!

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