For people good at it (not me), chess revolves around planning ahead. You don’t merely react to the previous move and work to avoid having your pieces captured, but methodically position pieces, sacrificing some to create situations moving toward the ultimate goal: getting the opposing king.
The Town of Garner moved around a lot of pieces in 2013. And it seems poised to capture the king that eludes some towns: amenity-adding and tax base-expanding commercial growth.
So, like last year, I present an arbitrary number of the year’s biggest stories in countdown form. Unlike last year I’ve been reporting on Garner for the whole year, so I can’t blame any oversights in the list on previous Garner beat-writer Sarah Nagem. I’ll work on cooking up another scapegoat.
So let’s get to it:
7. The most boring election in history. I can’t prove that, so we’ll call that hyperbole. But seriously, Garner. I’m a reporter. I figured an election might give me some accusations of scandal, incompetence, ideological rigidity or corruption. But no. Nothing. I couldn’t even get candidates to directly disagree on something. Do you have any idea what a let-down that is? Holly Springs’ Chamber of Commerce apparently hated its council. Morrisville’s mayor called a council member a woman-hater while another council member allegedly stole two-dollar gloves from a store because of course he did. And Garner gives me nothing. Candidates even said nice things about each other. Just amazing.
Of course, non-combustible elections are probably a good thing for literally everyone but me. Signs of at least competent and civil government, they indicate a population content enough with leadership not to be irate. Oh, and Gra Singleton and Kathy Behringer survived well-respected challenger Jeanette Hagwood with the most polite stiff-arms in human history.
Why it’s ranked here: You’d think choosing town leaders would rank higher. But honestly, even the candidates said they figured little would change if Hagwood, a competent women they both respected, had been elected. There is no Congressional run in any of these candidates’ future. Party leaders would have this bipartisan group strung up as an example to the others.
6. Council throws Jones Insurance a bone. Well, not everything was just All-America sunshine and Veterans Memorials in the council this year. Shortly after the election, council directed staff to work with Jones Insurance in an effort to stay local – after staff had ranked Jones’ proposal dead-last out of four and pointed out that Jones had the contract in the past and underperformed. The contract is small – in the $23,000-$36,000 range – but the broker negotiates a $1 million health insurance contract with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Why it’s ranked here: Partly, because Council disagreed on something, a rarity. Also, the previous broker saved the town six-figure sums annually by keeping premium increases down without hurting town benefits mid recession as prices skyrocketed. If Jones doesn’t perform, Singleton, Jackie Johns and Buck Kennedy could face some heat for overruling the professional staff and dissenting Behringer and Ken Marshburn in favor of the company owned by Jerry Jones – a prominent Garner resident, political contributor and friend of members of the council.
5. The 540 project plods forward: Prohibition of study of the Red Route was repealed. And NCDOT recently announced it would study 17 remaining route combinations, including iterations involving Red. From NCDOT to the town to the county: no one will say they think the Red Route (or any route other than Orange, mostly) should or will be built through southern Wake County. Even the federal agency (Army Corps of Engineers) forcing the study of it says they don’t care – they just don’t want to get sued for not making the state look at alternatives with less wetland impact. Basically, the math teacher is making the student show its work, lest someone accuse the student of cheating.
Of course it’s a chicken or the egg problem: by planning and protecting the Orange Route for decades NCDOT essentially chose a route at a point where the Feds didn’t want a choice made. Garner has shifted from opposing said study to requesting NCDOT to rip the band-aid off as quickly as possible. (The band-aid will take about two-years to rip off.)
Why it’s ranked here: It’s always a story when the Red Route is involved. Elected leaders have to take this seriously; the ramifications are huge. But since human impact will also be considered, the odds are not.
4. Garner is an All-America City: Garner sent dozens to Denver to compete in the National Civic League’s All-America City finals. Thanks to the Veteran’s Memorial, community and charity organizations like Community of Hope, diversity/inclusion, and town efforts to block 540, the town became one of 10 winners selected.
I had never heard of this award until learning of Garner’s application. But given the grassroots effort to fund the travel (thousands in donations materialized rapidly) the town managed to sell the community on the effort. The residential and business community seem quite keen on building up the town’s reputation.
Why it’s ranked here: Garner put a lot of effort (though not a ton of tax dollars) into this effort. It’s difficult to quantify the title’s impact. But Garner’s pride in itself as a community, though intangible, is also very real. So while most people in towns that haven’t competed for the award may have never heard of it, it matters to the town because, well, it matters to people in it. And it also serves as validation for a lot of the reasons people say they like to live in Garner.
3. School Bond passed: WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CHESS METAPHOR, KYLE? Ok, here’s where pieces start to shift. The school construction bond will build $180 million in schools in Garner. A new high school and elementary school will be built, and Garner Magnet High School and Vandora Springs Elementary will be rebuilt.
Garner had largely been left out of previous bonds – and almost was again. An early version took out the two renovations. But Town Council and Garner’s resident school board member John Tedesco pitched a fit, and the projects returned to the list.
Why it’s ranked here: Nine-figure investments move the needle, even if it funds projects Garner considers overdue. A town’s educational landscape is key to attracting residents. But is it the change the town wants? Some want a middle school instead of an elementary school, and officials will lobby to the board to that end.
2. Garner voters let council borrow $35.7 million: Garner voters came in just below the 57.7 percent approval rate county wide on the school bond, and outlying areas less so. But the four-part $35.7 million municipal bond – the largest in town history – faced much less opposition, with 66.5 percent to 74 percent supporting each of four elements.
The town, which has credit rating agencies praising its fiscal standing, will invest the money in a new recreation center, police station, town hall, various road and sidewalk improvements, downtown investment, and other projects. They will come with a 2.75-cent property tax increase.
Why it’s ranked here: The projects will change the public face of Garner. The need for many of them was quite tangible, and the high approval rating (Americans sometimes fail to agree that water is wet) indicated that many people trust the town’s financial acumen and responsibility, and want to see the amenities promised in the package.
1. White Oak Crossing to expand – a lot: This wasn’t a pawn move; this was bishop or queen. The $35.7 million bond will fund new local amenities, which is nice. Even nicer? Someone else spending more than double that figure to enhance the town and add amenities.
The biggest element: the announcement of outdoor gear superstore Cabela’s plans to build its first store in the state right at U.S. 70 and I-40. Developer Richard Barta said Cabela’s would “absolutely be on the list (of the five best anchors for a development) and probably top-two.” About $80 million in retail, restaurant and hotel space (a seven-story Drury Inn) will be installed on the north side of U.S. 70 near Jones Sausage Road. That work in 2014 will coincide with the already-initiated move of another chess piece: the road work at the confluence of I-40, U.S. 70, and White Oak Road.
Why it’s ranked here: White Oak Crossing was already a major retail hub for Garner, a town trying to increase the ratio of commercial to residential tax income. While many tenants have yet to be announced, Barta has said most of the space is spoken for, and he has stressed high-end development. The economic impact will be major, including a boost to the town’s tax base. Did we mention that Cabela’s will have an archery range?
Honorable mention: The town has officially cleaned up the ConAgra site, which it intends to market heavily in 2014 to bio-tech and pharmaceutical companies (or other industries with high-paying jobs); that should be a likely top story next year. Scotty released a new album. And though mentioned in the All-America item, the new Veterans Memorial merits seperate mention. It adds another dimension to Lake Benson Park and the $500,000, grassroots-funded project offers a unique tribute to veterans and the town’s respect for them.
And sometimes the little stories, the ones that don’t directly impact lives but merely influence them, deserve more credit than given. Charlie Reisbeck got his Make-A-Wish trip to the Galapagos. Hunter Lesslie became a special king of Garner High. Community of Hope launched a new jobs program. Joey Johnson survived what should have been a deadly wreck and gained perspective after the community stepped up to help his family out. Cases like these prove that life may seem to call check, but as long as you’re still breathing, it hasn’t called check-mate.
Happy New Year.