Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Our Big Day on Lake Norman

My sister Tanya, Brother Todd, and neighbor Karlie on a family Beach outing

From my earliest recollections, I cannot remember a time not filled with trips to the beach or lake. My summers were spent at Myrtle, Cherry Grove, and Ocean Drive with outings to Ebenezer Landing and many of Rock Hill’s (SC) lakeside parks.  As a child I spent many a morning and afternoon building castles in the sand, diving through the ocean’s waves, or collecting seashells from the shore.  Later into my teens and adulthood, I would trade in my pail and shovel for cold draft beer, visions of Carolina girls stretched out on the beach, and trips to Crazy Zacks, Mother Fletchers, the Afterdeck and Bowery.

When I was fifteen, I began taking trips out to Lake Wyle with my boyhood friends, Bryan, Bynum, Charlie and Eddie.  We would board Bynum’s small outboard motor boat which we used to pull each other on skis.  Thank goodness none of us were bigger than a minute as the small engine often strained to tug us out of the water.  I was perhaps the last of the bunch to actually learn to ski.

On one of our excursions out on Lake Wylie we were joined on the lake by a neighbor of Bynum’s, whose father owned a fairly large vessel but more importantly to us, had a young daughter that was the vision of absolute loveliness.  While only thirteen, she had all of us teenage boys transfixed as she stood before us in her little yellow two piece bikini.  If my blood had not stirred before, this young goddess would forever be etched in my mind as a true joy of life.

When I admitted sheepishly that I had no experience on skis, she offered to show me how behind her father’s boat.  My friends looked on with envy as I stepped aboard their vessel, donning a life jacket, and slipping into the water with this object of our fascination.  She wrapped her small bronze arms around my chest, showing me how to hold the rope, and encouraging me to bend my knees until the boat began its strong pull lifting me out of the water.  I wasn’t sure whether to fail at my attempt to gain another lesson or to succeed and feel her pride in our success.  That afternoon 35 years ago and the memories we all shared from our summers together are as fresh as yesterday.  The experiences with my family and friends aged with each passing summer are the well worn pages of my life.

Brian Sisson and Honesty

This past weekend Lake Norman played host to Big Brother Big Sisters of Charlotte as 138 kids and their Big Brother – Big Sister were hosted by 85 boat hosts.  I was fortunate again this year to be invited by former Huntersville Mayor Pro Tem Brian Sisson, his wife Tricia and daughter Kaitlyn.  The Sisson family hosted Big Sister Monica Croskey and her “little” sister Honesty along with Mecklenburg County Commissioner Karen Bentley.  Honesty, who attends elementary school in Charlotte, has been partnered with Monica for about a year.  Monica is a financial analyst with the City of Rock Hill and we spent some time talking about her employer and my home town.  By the end of our conversation, it was evident that Monica loves Rock Hill as much as I do and that the city has one outstanding Ambassador in Monica!

Brian tied up with several other boats hosting kids as they jet skid, rafted, fished, and swam.  We were all amazed as one young child who could be no more than ten caught a catfish among all the splashing, laughter, and noise.  Honesty spent most of her time lying on a float as she basked in the hot sun. The kids feasted on hot dogs and sodas before they headed out to McGuire’s Energy Explorium for a cookout. The afternoon on the lake will never be forgotten by the kids who enjoyed their “Big Day on the Lake.”

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to get together with my buddies Bynum, Charlie, Eddie and their wives as we swapped stories and reminisced about our youth.  Years from now, the kids of Big Brothers – Big Sisters will do the same.  They’ll talk about the afternoon that stranger’s opened their arms and their hearts and welcomed them in.  They did so with hearts as deep as Lake Norman itself and arms as wide as the shoreline it covers.

Honesty with Big Sister Monica Croskey

This past weekend the families of Lake Norman gave some wonderful children a very special gift and the families of Lake Norman received a special gift of their own from God.  Gifts that everyone will remember – “Our Big Day on the Lake”.

July 26, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Must Be Equal in the Eyes of Each Other

Helen Thomas - Former White House Press Corps Member

Last month, Helen Thomas, the legendary White Correspondent retired. The longtime White House journalist has covered every president since Dwight Eisenhower and broke several barriers for female journalists. She resigned her position as a columnist with the Hearst Newspapers in the wake of controversial remarks made in late May about the need for Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and return to Poland and Germany.  There was some discussion among talk show hosts that perhaps this prejudicial gaffe by an 89-year old legend should be overlooked. However, according to many who know her, this latest comment was not her first Anti-Semitic comment. It was perhaps the first caught on video and replayed for the world to witness.

The words we use not only say a great deal about how we feel on issues but reveal our very character. I remember long ago reading the quote, “True character is revealed at what you do when you think no one is looking.” The same can be said about what we say when we think no one may repeat it. As much as I have loved and admired my grandparents, all of whom are deceased now except my Grandmother Feemster, I still recall a Saturday afternoon hearing my grandfather use a racial slur that sent chills down my spine. Perhaps such language may have been in the main stream and considered acceptable by some fifty years ago, but it was certainly not acceptable just a decade ago when I heard it.

Even more recently, in a private conversation with several business leaders, I heard the CEO of a very prominent organization use a similar expression. This individual, still in a significant leadership position today, has perhaps the brightest intellect, business acumen, communication skills, and education of anyone I know. Yet, my perception of this individual as a community and business leader will perhaps never be the same. This one instance altered forever my view of this person. It doesn’t mean that they are not a good person or that they cannot change. We all make mistakes and I have made many myself. However, it is absolutely mandatory that as community and business leaders we learn from our mistakes, so that we do not dare repeat them.

Our Chamber of Commerce has created a diversity program whose mission it is to support the diverse minority business community in the Greater Lake Norman region and create access through education, networking, and advancement opportunities. In short, we realize that we are stronger as a region because of the diverse population that calls Lake Norman home. We are not born bigots with natural discriminatory views. We learn them – we also teach them.

Meeting President Reagan in 1992

One of the highlights of my life was meeting and having lunch with President Ronald Reagan.  Regardless of your political views, most concede Reagan brought about a renewed patriotism and a sense of optimism to our country. Reagan once said, “It is not enough to be equal in the eyes of God. We must be equal in the eyes of each other.” Let us all pray that we begin to live out that principle. Much sooner than later.

July 11, 2010 Posted by | Social Causes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Washington Political Paybacks Threaten North Carolina Local Governments

While Mecklenburg County struggled to create a budget to fund schools, keep teachers in classrooms, and maintain our library system, not to mention a host of other basic human services, U.S. Senator Harry Reid has found a way to pay back the union bosses for the millions of dollars they invested in funding national election campaigns in 2008. Reid has attached an amendment to a war funding bill called the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act (H.R. 413) where our public safety workers would be represented by collected bargaining mandated at a federal level. Reid deems this measure a matter of national security.

This federal legislation would supplant state collective bargaining laws and deliver thousands of new members to union rolls which have suffered over the years. Many municipalities, counties, and states would immediately lose control of public safety wages to negotiators and arbitrators. Currently, if a local police or fire department wanted to dismiss an officer, that decision is made within that department. If H.R. 413 is approved, no local government or department can remove the officer without appealing to the federal government or a source far removed from our area and unfamiliar with the needs and interests of our town or county. Local towns will no longer be able to determine pay scales and benefits and will lose all control; as will voters having a say in local matters where your tax dollars are required.

Sen. Harry Reid

Recently, I had a chance to address this bill and the potential unionization of our public sector employees with many members of our state delegation. The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is strongly opposed to both this bill and the Employee Free Choice Act, a benign name which disingenuously cloaks the fact that real choice is removed from the employee’s options. Both bills would threaten North Carolina’s Right to Work status and our ability to attract companies and corporations as an economic incentive.

I had a chance to meet with Ellis Hawkins of the N.C. League of Municipalities. The league and nearly all of North Carolina’s local governments are vocally opposed to collective bargaining in the public sector. All three North Mecklenburg towns of Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville have urged the delegation, both at the state and federal level, to oppose this measure.

Hawkins and his group have stated that this legislation is an expensive and unfunded mandate. “It’s going to result in the same services being delivered at a much higher cost.” Hawkins pointed out that the Town of Vellejo, California is a poster child for what can occur when local officials have no control over their own budgets and flexibility to reign in costs. In 2008, Vallejo declared bankruptcy after unions refused to negotiate contracts.  Three-quarters of Vallejo’s general fund budget went to public safety worker compensation. A bankruptcy appellate panel from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the city was insolvent and ordered the changes to the agreements.

While public safety workers need to be fairly compensated, creating more bureaucracy in the already difficult job of managing our public workers while adhering to tight local budgets, will only disrupt vital public services and lead to further tax increases on the backs of residents and business owners.

Union Bosses

Union bosses see their last best hope in filling their rolls and pocket books is to get this legislation approved while the politicians they helped get elected are still in office. It has been reported that two unions, the AFSCME and SEIU, have committed $94 million between them to fund campaigns in the coming election and bail out wounded incumbents who will support their position.

However, a change is sweeping this nation and voters are responding, electing candidates in primaries who are more focused on representing the people than the parties themselves; candidates who put the interest of their constituents ahead of political paybacks, union bosses, and “business as usual” politics. Senator Reid’s bill violates the most basic principle of American democracy and that is local control. His bill needs to be defeated and it must start at home. Please call Senators Hagan and Burr along with your local Representative and urge them to vote “No” to collective bargaining for public employees.

For information on your elected official visit www.VoteLakeNorman.com

July 6, 2010 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , | Leave a comment