Run, if you dare

By Steve Woodward

Many citizens have in recent months found themselves grappling with unusual impulses. Such as: an overwhelming desire to punch Anthony Fauci.

Among these widespread urges, one in particular has caught many off guard. “By golly, I’m running for school board.”

Some in Moore County have thought about it simply because a board seat is reserved. You do not have to wait in line for it. In intense heat. Bone-chilling cold. Soaking rain. If you’re just some taxpayer with a piece of your mind scribbled on paper, you have grown weary of being told to line up, mask up and shut up. You figure a school board position might also grant immunity from the threat of physical removal by Moore County Schools security officers (although, I’m guessing, a few thought about dragging out David Hensley by the ankles after he recently outed their woeful lack of active-shooter training).

Beyond avoidance of harassment, many citizens across the nation have thrown their names into the ring as school board candidates. Others have enlisted hundreds to form community watchdog groups to monitor board activities, call out hypocrisy and, when necessary, tee up lawsuits.

For the rest of us now awakened to the ill intent running deep within the bowels of public education, we know that, short of running for a board seat, we must become more vigilant, ask more questions, demand greater transparency. That starts with paying attention to who is running in this very election cycle.

But I contend it must go further than that. Whether we support or oppose a particular candidate, what really matters is that citizens force these candidates to put an end to the platitudes and start talking straight, laying out detailed solutions to problems, both readily solved and complex.

Because once elected, some board members become masters of evasion, half-truths and data manipulation and, worse, they get better at it as time goes by. Exhibits A, A, A and A are named Caldwell, Carter, Dennison and Thompson.

But let’s say we give them the benefit of the doubt for a moment. When they were candidates did anybody ask them the questions I want to ask them, or the questions I will continue to ask the latest roster of candidates vying for two at-large seats in the May primary?

Probably not. We settled for, “We can do better and we will,” when queried about declining student performance scores on the fundamentals — reading and math. We settled for, “Why, won’t you just look at those graduation rates!”

But who is asking: Are we hiring the right teachers? Are we ever firing some of them based on tepid student performances? Who is responsible for learning outcomes if not teachers? Or, are the teachers caught in the middle?

Were they handcuffed by Moore County Schools and its dictatorial superintendent, the infamous and now departed Dr. Bob Grimesey? Or by the state Department of Instruction and feckless Superintendent Catherine Truitt? Or by the radical Left dominated state Board of Education, led by a Black Lives Matter militant?

None of the aforementioned wish to elevate your children. They desire to own your children. This being the reality of our time, I have no choice but to make candidates uncomfortable. In fact, I have a responsibility.

Rollie Sampson, “unaffiliated” at-large candidate: During a March 19 forum you said Moore County schools are declining because we have defunded essentials such as teachers’ aids. Who defunded them? The answer is, the defunders are the current and past board members supporting your candidacy. This suggests you have an ulterior agenda. What is it?

Robin Calcutt, “Republican” at-large candidate: Your time employed as a Moore Schools administrator saw you overseeing planning, accountability and research. That’s a lot of responsibility. Yet, this time frame aligns with a breathtaking decline in student performance scores. As a school board member, would you undo what you did as an administrator?

Ken Benway, lifelong Republican and retired active duty military: You have noted that security on high school campuses, particularly Pinecrest High School, is marginal, that students eat lunch in their cars with doors locked. What steps would you take to dismantle the Moore County Schools team of school resource officers (aka, a private police force answering to the Superintendent)? And then what?

Shannon Davis, Republican, Moore County parent and novice candidate: You are a staunch opponent of inappropriate books in our school media centers, and “woke” curricula. Please explain your game plan to systematically cleanse libraries of gender dysphoric content and a curricula of lesson plans that trample Christian values and American exceptionalism. How do you overcome the establishment as one person?

Pauline Bruno, longtime Republican Party volunteer, and retired career school teacher: You advocate for eliminating digital learning for young grade schoolers, and returning textbooks and paper-and-pencil activities. It is a noble but challenging goal. Please propose a blueprint that would activate this transition, addressing the inevitable costs of unwinding the digital programs and restoring traditional learning tools to classrooms? If this is desirable but not cost effective, there will be pushback.

Class dismissed.

Money grab

By Steve Woodward

Nick Picerno can’t sleep. He is having nightmares. But when he awakens, the nightmares persist.

The newest member of the Moore County Board of Commissioners — appointed to replace the late Louis Gregory — is also a former two-term commissioner and its chair as recently as 2016. Picerno is tired of answering to the false narratives that have driven reckless spending during the Wuhan Virus pandemic. 

“Several sources of funding came down from the federal government,” Picerno said during a live radio interview on WEEB on April 7. “They were very nice printing money and creating hyper-inflation. Print more money, (prices) go up. The Moore County (board of commissioners) is sitting at $19.4 million in COVID relief.

“(But) schools got a huge chunk as well. A good question for your school board members is, ‘How much did we get? How much did we spend? What did we spend it for?’ Show me that data, and don’t just tell me that data. Show me in a spreadsheet or a financial statement of transactions. Let’s say this, it was substantially more than what the county got.”

Who knows the number?

Says Picerno: “I do. It’s in excess of $33 million.” He also knows that $19 million has yet to be allocated. Against that backdrop, the school board is asking for a $7.7 million increase in its 2022-23 budget, 19.4 percent. When will the school board tell us how it will spend the $19 million? It did not come up during the April 11 Board of Education meeting.

Picerno has been around long enough to know that there is an insatiable appetite for funding requests by the the school board, even when there already is money in the coffers. 

“In 2016 we had a plan to build three schools,” he said. “(The school board was) not interested. They were not interested at that time. All they were fixated on was the Advanced Career Center at Sandhills (Community College).

“We knew they needed seats (more classrooms) at Farm Life and Vass. We were ready to build an elementary school. We had the money in the bank. No bonds needed. So what happened? Finally, in 2018, they figured out they needed to build an elementary school, and then three more elementary schools, and then a gymnasium in North Moore, and all of this stuff, and the bottom line is they went to the voters and the voters gave them a quarter-cent in sales tax, then they gave them a bond issue of $103 (million) for just the schools, and I’ll tell you about that. 

“That 103 is not 103. (If) people would take the time to look. When you sell a bond, which we did, one of the ways that you can get a lower interest rate is you sell it and the bond buyers will actually pay you what’s called a bond premium. When I was a commissioner the first time, normally we would take that bond premium and use it to pay (service the) debt. Not this time, the Board of Education came to the Commissioners and that $103 million that we got from the bond ended up costing us $124 million. The effective tax rate we would have gotten if we had kept that (bond) premium would have been about 1.8 percent. And you might say, ‘God, that’s a great mortgage rate’. Well, since we gave them all of the bond premium back, then the actual bond interest rate we are paying is the face value of the bonds — between three and five percent — for the next 20 years. 

“The debt service for Moore County Schools this year, current year, is over $5 million in interest alone. Think about that. Six years of interest payments builds a (new) school.”

The Commissioners cost taxpayers $21 million in 2018. 

Fast forward to the here and now. The school board says it must receive more funds from the commissioners to sustain public education in Moore County. Picerno directed citizens to an onerous document he has reviewed in search of financial transparency, the Annual Comprehensive Financial Report of Moore County.

“It’s not fun to read; it’s very boring,” Picerno said. “There are two pieces in here you should know off the tip of your tongue. Then you really know the numbers. It should be part of your DNA at this point. They say there is not enough funding. I have the numbers… [In 2021] the County gave them $30,350,000. The total revenue for that general fund was $30,753,000. They spent $28 million. They had $2.7 million left over. Is that underfunding? Wouldn’t you like that in your bank account? 

“I can go back to 2020. We budgeted $31.6 million; they spent $30.4 million. That’s $1.1 m left over. These are numbers from audited financial statements. These are the things that need to be communicated to the commissioners. Not language like we’ve got to be ‘tough and bold’. That gets nowhere with me. I don’t know about the other four; I can’t speak for them. But if you can show me the actual numbers and show me why and show me where you’re spending the (COVID) relief money, and how that fits into the plans …”

Nick Picerno is sleep deprived so that citizens can finally be awakened to the budgeting scams that drain our tax-supported resources.


By Steve Woodward

Even Moore County, a once reliable Republican foothold, can not escape the long shadow of political correctness in 2022. 

A no-brainer proposal to proceed with a plan to erect three Charters of Freedom monuments on Moore public land has been challenged repeatedly and, if and when it is built and unveiled, ultimately will be an attraction its founding organization did not envision. 

North Carolinians Vance and Mary Jo Patterson visited Washington, D.C., in 2011 for an immersion into the founding of the United States. They were inspired by seeing the original documents that chartered our freedoms as a nation — the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The following year, the Pattersons put into action an idea that followed them home from Washington. They formed Foundation Forward to bring the founding documents to communities across the nation based on the premise that far too few adults and children ever would have an opportunity to visit the Nation’s Capital.

Thus was born Charters of Freedom and its uncomplicated mission: “Create an educational non-profit that installs life-size replicas of the United States’ Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights in communities across America. Teach and preserve American history and civics, so all will know how our government is meant to serve and protect We the People.”

In the years to come 30 Charters displays would be erected in nine states. Less than two years ago, a volunteer with the Moore County Republican Party became aware that Charters displays had popped up in numerous counties across North Carolina. “What are we waiting for?” she asked.

Fast forward to Spring 2022. The Moore County Charters site only recently was approved by the Board of Commissioners, and its chairman, Frank Quis. This is the same board that has placed false barriers in the path of the project every step of the way. The same board that lost its will to do the right thing when confronted by opponents of the project from the local NAACP and its fellow apologists, demeaning America’s evolution from experiment to global beacon. 

The 18th century underpinnings of America are not sufficient, they insisted, because the documents do not reflect a country founded by racists slaveholders. Why stop with the Bill of Rights, the original 10 amendments to the Constitution enshrined in 1791? Expand the project, they said. Let our children know that ours was a nation deeply flawed at inception. And, thus, the Commissioners entertained a revised plan to add another brick-and-glass enclosed monument to contain the “Civil Rights” amendments of the post-Civil War era, the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments abolishing slavery in the mid-19th century.

Not good enough, the critics retorted. You must display the 19th Amendment granting the right to vote to women in the early 20th century (1919), and the 24th Amendment of 1964 that made poll taxes illegal. A writer of a letter to the editor in The Pilot went further, demanding a bright light be cast on the 25th Amendment that makes provisions for the removal of a U.S. president from office (an amendment popularized by Trump haters after Donald Trump was elected in 2016). 

Meanwhile, Moore GOP volunteers who had invested time and effort to bring the project to fruition broke ranks with the Commissioners when chair Quis said he was handing off the Charters to another board member. At the same time, two prospective sites were shot down.

But here we are. Quis returned to the fray after our dear friend Louis Gregory was compromised by health issues. Quis suddenly was a proponent. As early as May 2022, the Moore County Charters display is expected to break ground near the county courthouse in Carthage, the least accessible location of any others considered. The executive director of Charters of Freedom tells us that adding the amendments is “not something we do under the scope of our work.” In other words, of the Charters sites across our state from Murphy to Bolivia (western mountains to eastern shore), none have grappled with concerns about the validity of the nation’s founding documents.   

Finally, the Commissioners have yet to provide construction cost projections. The Pilot dutifully has reported that the project will be built on public land using private funds. This raises one of many questions. Will those funds pay for the expanded scope of the project? We do not know. And some big ones: Will local schools be interested in organizing field trips near the courthouse, where bus access and pedestrian gathering space is limited? Will the many tourists who visit Moore County ever find their way to the heart of Carthage, far removed from Pinehurst’s golf and Southern Pines’ vibrant shopping district?

Will our Moore citizens ever be willing to forgive the division and mistrust sowed by these Commissioners? We shall find out in November. 

Here’s Johnny

By Steve Woodward

The cyber-universe is a cesspool of trivial content that sadly has become a “news feed” for growing numbers of low-information citizens. Of course, my denunciation of trending ingenuity has been repeated in previous eras. Pessimists in our nation’s past feared the automobile, radio, television, cable television, computers, and cell phones. All would erode our culture, and, to some extent, they have. But we agree generally — to the extent we as Americans agree at all — that progress is progress. 

Thus, I rise to pledge allegiance to YouTube. It is the world’s greatest repository of video content, from solemn Presidential addresses, to historic achievements, great moments in sports, as well as humanity at its most inane. Not sure how, but recently I happened upon a 1993 Kennedy Center tribute to Johnny Carson. 

I was transported to a place and time in our country we can not recognize today, in 2022. Guests were dressed up in formal wear, aka, tuxedos and black gowns. The evening was not hijacked by profanity laced rants. There were no “Tax The Rich” designer dresses (AOC at a 2021 gala). It is doubtful anyone boycotted. Nearby businesses were not boarded up in anticipation of riots. It was an evening dedicated to a talented entertainer who was engrained in the fabric of American life for 30 years during a 60-minute NBC television show, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, 1962—1992. 

Seated alongside Carson was a young President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary, and countless other self-proclaimed dignitaries. A celebration of Carson was a celebration of Americana. The evening included a live procession by the University of Nebraska marching band, tubas, bass drums and all the pomp and circumstance. The native Nebraskan was reclusive throughout his career, but brilliant when the cameras and lights were on. Carson was a master at delivery, and a keen chronicler of every day life. He interviewed Hollywood’s biggest stars with proper deference; political power brokers with respect, and, famously, derived the most laughter when quirky farmers and other regular people, the kind of folks he grew up with in rural Nebraska, appeared as guests.     

Carson and his writers were keen observers of the political landscape, but not with the intent of lambasting one side while protecting and defending the other, which is the sole of objective of current late night hosts (Kimmel, Fallon, etc.). In 1988, a Carson monologue directed attention to a Senator from Delaware who was running for President. Sen. Joe Biden was accused of plagiarism while out on the campaign trail. Carson quipped that Biden had gathered his staff to assure them, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” 

The 1993 proceedings at the Kennedy Center included an appearance by then up-and-coming late night host David Letterman, who spoke with genuine admiration for Carson, a role model and mentor. The Letterman of the early 1990s was funny and playful; he would devolve into an angry curmudgeon, diminished by sex scandals, before exiting the late night universe in 2015. Letterman seemed back then a worthy successor to Carson. The same can not be said of today’s post-Letterman lineup, who have forsaken comedy for Trump Delusion Syndrome, cancel culture and gender fluidity. They’re so woke they don’t notice their imploding ratings.

The Kennedy Center Honors continue to this day, the arbiter of popular culture relevance. But it, too, has lost its way. Organizers expressed such unbridled revulsion toward the 45th President that Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump bowed out of the annual ceremonies during the Trump White House era. The official reason was that the President did not want to be a distraction. In 2017, singer Lionel Richie, dancer Carmen de Lavallade and television producer Norman Lear said they would boycott a White House reception that is part of the agenda. 

It’s a safe bet that Johnny Carson would have shown up in 1993 if George H.W. Bush had won re-election by defeating Clinton. His monologues were renowned for humorous shots at sitting Presidents from JFK to Bush 43. But Carson was not in the business of savaging their characters or demeaning the officeholder’s families. America could use a Johnny Carson about now. We could use a wink and a smile. 

On the tee, hypocrisy

By Steve Woodward

Let me get this straight. The United States sends billions of dollars to the human rights wasteland of Saudi Arabia to import its oil, but an American professional golfer is disgraced after expressing an interest in leveraging the Saudi economy by way of a proposed Super League featuring the world’s elite golfers? 

American golf legend Phil Mickelson is being canceled as if he had been caught on video beating his wife and abusing the family pet because he suggested a certain attraction to this as yet still conceptual Saudi league, and amid his reasonable dissatisfaction with the lords of the PGA Tour. Why the indignation? Because Mickelson also acknowledged that the Saudis routinely violate human rights and murder innocent people.

Among his most vocal critics — after Mickelson’s remarks were released by the author of a forthcoming Mickelson biography — was Rory McIlroy of Ireland, a PGA Tour veteran who resides in the U.S. McIlory lashed out at his fellow competitor’s supposed nonchalance about Saudi authorities who routinely kill gay people as exposing Mickelson as “naive, selfish, egotistical and ignorant.” That about covers the character assassination spectrum.

Undoubtedly, negative reactions by McIlory and other players emboldened sponsors to drop Mickelson as if he had been exposing himself to children on a playground. KPMG. Callaway. Workday. See ya, Phil.

But who has called out McIlroy’s blatant hypocrisy? No one, apparently. In January McIlroy finished third in the Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates, taking home north of $500,000 (excluding a hefty appearance fee, no doubt). It’s a wonder he was even willing to show up. Human Rights Watch identifies the UAE as a serial human rights abuser. The UAE has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to criticizing government officials. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Against this backdrop, tour professionals nonetheless typically include a stop at the Dubai Classic on their annual schedules.

Within the ladies’ ranks, LPGAers frequently play in the annual Shanghai Classic in China, a nation ruled under the iron fist of the Chinese Communist Party. The tournament was cancelled the past two years due to health concerns in a country where the Wuhan Virus was unleashed out of a lab that exists under the guise of research. In recent weeks, Beijing played host to the Olympic Winter Games, which went on without a hint of protest by American sponsors and TV rights holder NBC. Everyone who seeks to profit from turning their backs to China’s brutality toward dissidents and rural slaves seems to rationalize the tenuous relationships with ease. 

In China’s Xinjiang province, an estimated one million Turkic Muslims are detained in interment camps. This genocide has been ongoing since 2014.

Meanwhile, how many PGA Tour millionaires strut around wearing Nike golf attire and shoes made in China in partnership with a ruthless authoritarian government that manufactures the iconic “swoosh”-branded garb using what amounts to slave labor? 

It bears repeating that Nike athletes are paid millions of dollars to wear the brand before stepping foot on a golf course, or a basketball or tennis court. On the PGA Tour alone, there are numerous top players who are not perplexed by the Nike-China conundrum. Tiger Woods, of course, was Nike’s first golf star. But today, the roster includes elite players such as Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Francisco Molinari and Jason Day.

Oh, and Rory “The Pious” McIlroy. A few years ago he signed a 10-year Nike contract that will pay out around $200 million.