Category Archives: Forsyth County

Winston-Salem as a Case Study

Since moving here in 2004 I’ve found Winston-Salem to be a fascinating study in how to revive a city that had been hit by multiple economic tsunamis in recent decades. It seems that others have taken notice, including a writer who penned a piece for the Christian Science Monitor about how a few US cities can teach the country a little something about democracy (h/t to my Mom for sending me the article). You can find the full article here (second story down), but here’s the segment focused on Camel City:

Winston-Salem, N.C., lost 10,000 jobs in 18 months after R.J. Reynolds moved its headquarters to Atlanta and several other homegrown companies failed in the late 1980s. It was the first of several waves of job losses as the city’s manufacturing base collapsed. Civic leaders chipped in to create a $40 million fund to loan start-up capital to entrepreneurs, hire staff for a local development corporation, and fund signature projects. One of them was the renovation of a 1920s Art Deco office tower into downtown apartments.

This activity helped spur Wake Forest University’s medical school to undertake an ambitious project to create a research park in former R.J. Reynolds manufacturing buildings next to downtown. The school has filled 2 million square feet of empty factories with high-tech companies and world-class biomedical researchers. An adjacent African-American church has turned 15 acres in the area into lofts, senior housing, and businesses. Downtown has attracted $1.6 billion in investment since 2002.

Now people gather to sip coffee, attend concerts, or take yoga classes in a new park in the shadow of the looming chimneys of a former Reynolds power plant. The plant itself is being repurposed into a $40 million hub of restaurants, stores, laboratories, and office space. Students, researchers, and entrepreneurs mingle in the halls and atria of all the former factory buildings, creating the kind of synergetic environment the innovation industry now craves.

Our very own Jeff Smith, of Smitty’s Notes, provides the money quote:

“It wasn’t one person or thing that made it all happen; it was everyone from the grass roots to the corporate leaders coming together,” says Jeffrey Smith, who runs Smitty’s Notes, an influential community news site. “We realized it would take all of us to get this hog out of the ditch.”

Much of the foundation for this renewal had been laid by the time I moved here with my family in 2004, but community leaders have continued to do what’s necessary to keep building upon it. For my job I get to spend a significant amount of time in neighboring Greensboro, a city that is slightly larger but quite comparable to Winston-Salem, and it’s been interesting to see how the two cities have proceeded from their respective economic crises. Winston-Salem has a lot of momentum, and it’s redevelopment seems to be benefiting from consistent collaboration among its community leaders, including elected officials as well as corporate and civic leaders. Greensboro, on the other hand, is making progress but it seems to be in more fits and starts; its progress seems to occur in spite of local leaders’ lack of cooperation and collaboration.

Sure, Winston-Salem has its problems and leaders sometimes disagree on how to proceed, but for the most part its leaders have shown how to lead a community out of the ditch and back on the road. Hopefully we keep it going for decades to come.

Camel City’s Own Version of Making a Murderer

The Netflix series Making a Murderer, a documentary ten years in the making about a case in Wisconsin that exhibited some seriously flawed police work and downright shameful behavior by prosecutors, has shed light on some of the flaws of our criminal justice system. Here in Winston-Salem we have the Silk Plant Forest case, which began with a terrible assault in the 90s and resulted in the conviction of a man that many consider innocent, as our own example of a flawed justice system.

The case has been covered extensively by the Winston-Salem Journal over the years, but it’s an article in the Raleigh News & Observer about how the NC State Bar handled a complaint filed against the prosecutors in the case that highlights just how flawed the system can be. From the article:

The path to Coleman’s complaint began in January 2008, 11 years after Smith’s conviction and as Smith’s lawyers were arguing for a hearing to examine evidence not heard at trial. Duke law professor Theresa Newman, who directs the Duke Wrongful Convictions Clinic along with Coleman, received an email from Arnita Miles, who identified herself as a former Winston-Salem police officer.

Miles said she was the first officer to interview Jill Marker at the store after the assault. According to Miles, Marker said her attacker was a black male. She also said Marker dictated a letter that night, as a last message to her husband, and asked Miles to give it to him. Miles said she passed it on that night to the lead detective…

Because of the push for a new hearing, the SBI assigned an agent to assist prosecutors. Following the emails between Newman and Hall, the agent interviewed Miles. The agent turned up problems which he shared in a report to the prosecutors.

Miles did file a report following the attack. In it, she wrote that she was not the first officer at the scene. She wrote that Marker was incoherent and did not describe her attacker. Miles told the SBI she could not explain the discrepancy between what she wrote in 1995 hours after the assault and her 2008 claims…

The Duke lawyers learned of the signed and sworn affidavit in June 2012, following a meeting between District Attorney Jim O’Neill and Swecker, the retired FBI agent with experience auditing criminal investigations, including a critical 2010 audit of the SBI crime lab.

Swecker came to the same conclusion as the Silk Plant Forest Citizens Review Committee: The investigation was deeply flawed and incomplete. Swecker did not conclude that Smith was innocent, but said he deserved a new trial.

At the meeting with Swecker and in a followup email, O’Neill cited the Miles affidavit as proof that Marker had identified her attacker as a black male.

“I am holding in my hand a sworn affidavit by Arnita Miles, who was one of the first officers at the scene and the person who spoke with Jill while she lay on the floor of Silk Plant Forest,” O’Neill wrote. “Despite this evidence, the Duke Innocence Project continued to parade the name of Kenneth Lamoureaux as the person who likely committed this crime, knowing full well that Jill Marker said her attacker was a black man.”

Definitely read the full article and see what you think. Personally this reaffirms my belief that in this case the prosecutors are less interested in truth and justice, and more interested in not losing a case. It’s also reaffirmed my belief that I need to research our current District Attorney Jim O’Neill, who is running for Attorney General, before I consider voting for him.

If You’re a Poor Kid in Forsyth County Then You’re Screwed

According to a recently released report Forsyth County, NC is the second worst county in the United States when it comes to income mobility for poor children. From the report in the New York Times:

Forsyth County is extremely bad for income mobility for children in poor families. It is among the worst counties in the U.S.

Location matters – enormously. If you’re poor and live in the Winston-Salem area, it’s better to be in Davie County than in Yadkin County or Forsyth County. Not only that, the younger you are when you move to Davie, the better you will do on average.

Every year a poor child spends in Davie County adds about $40 to his or her annual household income at age 26, compared with a childhood spent in the average American county. Over the course of a full childhood, which is up to age 20 for the purposes of this analysis, the difference adds up to about $800, or 3 percent, more in average income as a young adult…

It’s  among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 2nd out of 2,478 counties, better than almost no county in the nation.

Take a look at this graphic and you can see that there’s a huge disparity between the prospects for poor kids and rich kids in the county:

Source NYtimes.com

Source NYtimes.com

Forsyth’s neighbor to the east, Guilford County, isn’t much better off:

It’s among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder. It ranks 37th out of 2,478 counties, better than only about 1 percent of counties.

While it would be easy to say, “This should be a wake up call to the leaders of our community” I think that would be a cop out. This is the kind of thing that should concern us all because what do we think will eventually happen if we continue to allow a huge segment of our community to live in circumstances in which they perceive little chance of improving their lot in life? What do we think these young people will do when they lose hope?

So yeah, our elected leaders should view this as an early warning that they need to address these underlying causes of this disparity in opportunity, but this is bigger than them. All of us need to get engaged, through our schools, churches, civic groups, businesses and neighborhoods, in order to begin to make any progress in improving the prospects for our kids’ futures. The underlying issues are systemic – broken family structures, poor educational attainment, too many low wage jobs, etc. – and only a concerted effort by the entire community will be able to address them. If we don’t we will have much larger problems on our hands in years to come.

Winston-Salem and Forsyth County have made a great deal of progress in addressing the major economic challenges that were wrought by the declines of the local manufacturing industries, highlighted by the resurgence of downtown Winston-Salem, but now we need to make sure that the tide rises for everyone, not just those lucky enough to be born into well off families.

A Tale of Two Forsyth Counties

If you set up a Google news alert with the keywords “forsyth county” you’ll get a lot of news about two different places – Forsyth County, NC (where I live) and Forsyth County, GA. Today I saw a story about each from their local news outlets with the following headlines:

  1. Forsyth County Remains Healthiest in Georgia (GA)
  2. Forsyth County Slips Again in Health Rankings (NC)

If you read the articles you’ll see that Forsyth County, GA ranks first in its state and Forsyth County, NC ranks 29th in its state. So is my home county significantly less healthy than its counterpart in Georgia? If you look at a comparison of the two (see table below) using data from the countyhealthrankings.org you can see that Georgia has better numbers in many categories, but they really aren’t that far apart when you take into account the population size of each county. According to the US Census North Carolina’s Forsyth had 360,221 in 2013 and Georgia’s had 195,405 so even if you looked at some raw numbers that look pretty bad for NC, the population difference changes things. For instance:

Premature Deaths: NC 7,218 vs GA 4,234 but if you adjust for population size you see that NC’s is 2% of its population and GA’s is 2.16%. Still a decent difference but not as stark.

Then there’s this number:
Sexually Transmitted Infections: NC 755 vs GA 91

No amount of adjusting for population makes that better for NC (and gross!), and as you can see we in Forsyth of NC fare worse than GA based on our behaviors in general. Luckily we’ve got an awesome doctor/resident ratio to help deal with the consequences of our sins:

Ratio of primary care physicians to population: NC 945:1 vs GA 2,506:1
Ratio of dentists to population: NC 1,657:1 vs GA 2,677:1
Ration of mental health providers to population: NC 406:1 vs GA 2,246:1

Probably the biggest difference between the two counties, and a huge contributor to the health differences, is that Forsyth, GA appears to be far more affluent than Forsyth, NC.  In addition to the numbers in the chart below (NC’s child poverty rate 3x greater, single parent homes 2.5x greater violent crime 2x greater per capita) you have this data from the US Census: median household income (2009-13) in Forsyth, GA is $86,569 and in NC it’s $45,274.

Money may not buy love, but it sure does help on the health front.

Hunger in Northwest North Carolina

Through my organization’s annual food drive I’ve become very familiar with the work of Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC. Unfortunately that familiarity is why the recently released results of a study on food insecurity provides little in the way of surprises, but does serve to help remind me of why we’re so passionate about our efforts on behalf of the organization. If, after reading the following numbers, you feel like helping out you can make a financial contribution at our food drive’s online donation page at  www.helpsecondharvest.com 

Here are just a few of the sobering statistics:

  • Nearly 300,000 different individuals turn to our network of more than 400 partner programs for food assistance annually – or 1 in every 6 people living in our region.
  • Despite Second Harvest Food Bank’s continuing success in sourcing more food for our partner agency network (in the past five years, distribution has more than tripled from 7.9 million pounds to more than 25 million pounds), 44 percent of programs report having less food than needed to meet the needs of those requesting assistance.
  • 32% of those who receive food assistance through our partner agency network are children under the age of 18. Because programs that serve only children were not eligible to be sampled for the Client Survey, for example our BackPack and Kids Cafe programs and summer meal sites, this percentage underestimates the actual number of children being reached by Second Harvest Food Bank.)
  • 10 percent of those who receive food assistance through our partner agency network are seniors age 65 or older. (30 percent are age 50 and older.)
  • 78 percent of those who seek food assistance from Second Harvest Food Bank’s network live in households at or below the poverty level.
  • 57 percent of households have monthly incomes of $1,000 or less.
  • Over the past year, 72 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying for medicine/medical care; 31 percent of these households are making this choice every month.
  • 73 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for utilities.

    • 30 percent of these households are making the choice every month.
  • 72 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for medicine/medical care.

    • 31 percent of these households are making the choice every month.
  • 72 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for transportation.

    • 31 percent of these households are making the choice every month.
  • 64 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for housing.

    • 24 percent of these households are making the choice every month.
  • 24 percent of households report choosing between paying for food and paying
    for education expenses.

    • 9 percent of these households are making the choice every month.

Remember, there’s an easy way to help at www.helpsecondharvest.com.

Remembering Tanglewood

I’d heard that our little public golf course in western Forsyth County had once hosted a major tournament, but until reading Ed Hardin’s column I didn’t know anything about the 1974 PGA. It’s an interesting read:

Tanglewood comes to life at this time of year, a reminder of golf’s fleeting seasons and cyclical nature. The 1974 PGA Championship played here 40 years ago this week was one of the best tournaments in golf history.

And almost no one knows it.

That’s probably in part because it was a PGA, the least of the four majors in stature and style, a tournament seemingly locked in the ’70s with a great little storyline that gets lost in the strangest of ways…

Yet somehow, the 1974 PGA produced a classic finish. It’s doubtful that you have any idea how good a tournament it was. Almost no one does.

Lee Trevino won by one shot over Jack Nicklaus. Sam Snead, at age 62, finished third. Let that sink in for a second.

Trevino, using a putter found in the attic of a home he was renting that week, held off Nicklaus, who had hired a local heating and air conditioning salesman to be his caddie. Snead, 10 years after becoming the oldest player to win a tour event at the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open at Sedgefield, shot a 68 on Sunday to finish in a four-way tie for third, one stroke ahead of Player.

Here’s the kicker: you can play that same course today for as little as $29 a round. Since I’m not a golfer I don’t take advantage of it, but every time I drive by on my way to the tennis courts (Tanglewood has a very nice public tennis facility) I think about how envious my golfing buddies back in DC would be if they knew I lived 10 minutes from a course that good…and inexpensive.

Airing of Grievances Coming to a Commission Meeting Near You

A front page article in the July 15, 2014 Wall Street Journal makes the point that the recent SCOTUS ruling allowing prayers before public meetings is an opportunity for atheists too:

The former president of the Freethinkers of Upstate New York, Mr. Courtney says he plans to give a four-minute speech highlighting the notion that the country was founded on the authority of the people, and the importance of ensuring Americans of all types are heard.

He will be the first atheist to address the Greece town board. Before the Supreme Court ruling, the town board allowed a Wiccan priestess to deliver an invocation.

While Mr. Courtney disagrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling, he takes some comfort in his view that it weakened what he calls Christianity’s “de facto monopoly on invocations.”

“In a sense, it has opened the door for a bit of a free-for-all,” he says.

The article also mentions the Pastafarians who are planning to offer their own prayers. Personally I’d like to see observers of the Festivus holiday take their turn at the podium to air their grievances. Not familiar with Festivus? Check out the video clip below and you’ll get it.

Our own Forsyth County Commission’s case is mentioned in the article of course. That case has irked me long enough that I can’t stomach giving it another minute of my life to think about, but I will say this: the true test will be when the commission is faced with having to entertain an invocation from a hard core satanist. It’s one thing to listen to a non-believer offer up generic messages of inclusion and cooperation, but it’s an entirely different ballgame to listen to someone ask them to accept guidance from the devil. I wonder if they’ll take their own advice offered to the non-believers who’ve complained about the invocations in the first place – just step out of the room if you don’t like it?