News-Star: Opinion

Two phone calls were worlds apart

The woman was calling to say she had reached her tolerance for fetching a wet newspaper out of the ditch in her front yard. She was calling also, apparently, to let off some steam.

As I jotted down her name and address, she proceeded to make disparaging remarks about The News & Observer and wondered aloud why she bothered to pick up a wet paper that wasn’t much to her liking. When I told her I worked in the Smithfield Herald newsroom and not the N&O’s circulation department, she launched into an unkind critique of the Herald.

I was actually relieved when we got cut off, but she called right back and accused me of hanging up on her. I hadn’t.

When I told her I would pass her information along to the circulation department, she said that wasn’t good enough. “I don’t trust you,” she said. Apparently, she had called before and I had told her then that I would pass her complaint along to the appropriate folks. I’m sure I did that – I always do – but my effort on her behalf had not produced the desired results, so she demanded a name and phone number so she could deliver her complaint in person.

I complied and was glad when the conversation ended. I wasn’t feeling the best that day, and a phone call filled with little but insults about me, my paper and my big sister paper only made me feel worse.

But the very next call that day was from a woman who called expressly to say she how much she enjoyed my columns in the paper. OK, she did have a small request, but she was never cross or insulting in making it; to the contrary, she was extremely pleasant, the polar opposite of the other caller.

This caller said she liked how my columns invited people into my life. She pointed specifically to columns about the deaths of my parents, who died last year within months of each other. “It’s like you’re talking to me while we’re sitting on your front porch drinking iced tea,” she said.

I try to write the way I talk, which is informal and conversational, and I write often about things happening in my life because those are things most everybody can relate to. A lot of us will send a kid off to college – I got a lot of comments about that column – and all of us, sadly, will lose our parents. I doubt my experiences are decidedly different from the experiences of others; instead, my columns allow people to recall their experiences and think to themselves, “Been there; done that.”

That second call didn’t make me feel any better physically, but it sure made that first call recede that much faster from the front of my brain. I welcome all calls on all topics, but I must confess that I enjoy some calls more than others.

Personal politics?

I get where Allen Mims is coming from. The longtime county commissioner lives in a grand house on a sprawling farm outside of Clayton, and he feels his lifestyle threatened by all of the development knocking on the door of Johnston County’s fastest-growing town. I understand that.

But I would encourage Commissioner Mims to ask himself whether some recent comments and actions are less about public policy and more about his personal antipathy toward suburban sprawl.

Not that long, the Town of Clayton approached Mr. Mims with an offer of cash in exchange for an easement that would allow a Clayton-to-Raleigh sewer line to cross his property. Mr. Mims rejected the offer, saying the easement was worth more than Clayton was offering. More recently, as a county commissioner, Mr. Mims delayed action on the terms of separate Clayton-Raleigh sewer deal, saying he wanted to personally determine whether Clayton had stiffed other landowners on their easements.

But as Mr. Mims well knows, any landowner not satisfied with an easement offer can reject the offer and let a judge or jury decide the appropriate value. No landowner needs a county commissioner to look after his or her best interests; by law, the courts can and will do that if called upon.

As for Mr. Mims’ contention that the Town of Clayton low-balled him on its easement offer, he might genuinely feel that way. But we suspect that Mr. Mims doesn’t really care about the money – really pocket change to him if his farm, house and car are any indications of his wealth. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Mr. Mims rejected the easement offer because he wants to play no willing role in bringing sprawl to his bucolic slice of Clayton.

Again, I get that, and that’s his prerogative. But when he holds up a deal between Raleigh and Clayton, Commissioner Mims needs to ask himself whether he’s protecting taxpayers or simply using his position to thwart the growth encroaching on his piece of rural Johnston.