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Oriental Board Approves Water For Walmart
Racism Accusation Leveled At Opponents
October 3, 2013
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How Many Residents Does It Take

Next to speak was Commissioner Barbara Venturi, who also rebuked Walmart opponents, not on racial matters but for their petition drive. She said she’d gone through the hundreds of signatures presented at recent meetings by multiple people and found duplications and signatures from Sacramento,CA and Raleigh. She said she went thru the petitions with colored markers and that 121 – 124 (she said she got two different numbers on separate counts) of them resided within the Town limits.

walmart oriental venturi
Commissioner Barbara Venturi.

The petition cited concern for local businesses if Walmart opened outside of town, and stated that the signers did “not welcome Walmart in or near to Oriental.” Venturi argued that the petition “doesn’t actually ask the town or the county to do anything.”

Further, Venturi indicated that she was not impressed that 121 residents of the town of 900 had signed the petition. “When 15% …of the community really, really wants something,” Venturi asked, “does that mean that that is the basis on which the board should act?“

A moment earlier Venturi had asked volunteer fire fighter Gary Ramsey, sitting in the audience, how many people lived in the fire district that included Oriental, as a way of showing that there was even less opposition in the wider area. Ramsey lives outside Oriental but opposes the Walmart. When Venturi claimed that only 15% in Oriental were opposed, Ramsey spoke out, breaking the tight rein the Mayor holds on public input during Board discussions.

walmart oriental
The public, seated on the front half of the room and the Board at its dais at the back at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“You’re assuming the other 85% would say yes” to Walmart, Ramsey said, “They’ve not spoken.”


From the back of the room, Roger Bullis called out, “121 have spoken, and you’re ignoring them?”

Mayor Sage rapped his gavel as Bullis continued to address Venturi, “You’re not speaking on the motion. The motion is about water.”

Venturi said that if the town had been able to get ETJ, or Extra Territorial Jurisdiction between Silverbrook Road and Hwy 55 as it tried to half a decade ago, the Town’s criteria on buildings would have applied “we’d be in a very different position today.”

She said she thought that the Town should pass a law that any future out of town development seeking town water should be annexed first. But Venturi was adamant that she didn’t think Oriental should demand that of Walmart. She said she was afraid that if so pushed, Walmart would opt instead to build a pipeline to County water.

walmart oriental
Commissioner Michelle Bessette’s one comment during the discussion was to ask Commissioner Venturi, “Is it not true that if we deny Walmart the water, we have lost the potential for water (customers) all the way out to Straight Road?” Venturi agreed with that view.

That would mean, Venturi said, that if county water extended from Straight Road to the Walmart store, other future development along Hwy 55 could opt for county water and not take the Town water, and therefore would see no reason to be annexed.

No other board member spoke to Venturi’s theory, nor noted that the County water would cost Walmart more. Because of the way the Board meetings are structured — with public comment only permitted at the beginning — there was also no opportunity for the public to challenge Venturi’s theory, (which did elicit skeptical comments outside, after the Board’s vote.)

Johnson: Water For Walmart Now, Annexation Later

Commissioner Warren Johnson said that he’d support providing water service to Walmart if the store agreed to voluntarily annexation after it is built. Commissioner Venturi said she thought that was “gambling” because Walmart could say no and opt for the County water and build the pipeline that she viewed as a threat.

walmart oriental venturi sage
From left, Commissioner Warren Johnson who successfully amended the motion to require Walmart to be voluntarily annexed if it goes on the Town’s water system, Mayor Bill Sage, and Commissioners Barbara Venturi and Larry Summers.

In the end the Board did vote 4-0 to approve water service with the Johnson amendment that Walmart agree to be annexed after it has built its structure.

Resident: Divide And Conquer By Board

Those opposed to the Walmart had wanted the Town to withhold the water, some as a symbolic gesture, others on the grounds that the Town was not bargaining well with a retail giant whose store outside the town limits would likely harm the businesses in town, who are the Board’s constituents.

Among the Board members Tuesday night, there was no mention of those concerns raised by the public at this and earlier meetings.

One speaker Tuesday night, tried to address that widening gulf. During the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, resident LIli Stern took issue with the Board’s “defensiveness” with the public. In particular, Stern said that the Board was taking a “divide and conquer “ approach toward the Walmart opponents.

She asked that commissioners “please stop pitting neighbor against neighbor. That is not what this is all about.” This is not, said Stern “a County versus Town issue, a generational issue, an income issue, a race issue or a come-here/been-here/born-here issue.”

walmart oriental lili stern venturi
Lili Stern, who grew up in Oriental and moved back a year ago took issue with what she said was “defensiveness” and a “divide and conquer” approach from some commissioners.

Stern’s comments at the outset of the meeting came before Commissioner Summers’ “Jim Crow” accusation an hour later. But rather than being prescient, Stern confirmed after the meeting that she said what she did because of an email she received Monday from Commissioner Venturi after Stern emailed Venturi asking her to “stand up to WalMart even if only in a symbolic way” regarding the water service.

walmart oriental
The dais at the Oriental Town Board’s meeting room where the Board vote 4-0 to put Walmart’s store on the Town’s water system if it agreed to be annexed after its store were built.

Venturi’s response to Stern (and cc-ed to other Commissioners and sent to at least one other Walmart opponent) ran for two pages. In it Venturi took aim at ‘come-heres’ who “want to dictate a gated community mentality to a community of multi-generationals.”

“The real long-term residents,” Venturi’s email read, “endure us come-heres.”

“Regardless of what you may think,” Lili Stern, who grew up in Oriental, told the Board Tuesday night, “there is a broad diverse coalition that has asked for your consideration. Please show us that you are listening.”

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Update: Walmart refused to be annexed in to Oriental, even under the condition that annexation could come after it built its WalMart Express store. Oriental town officials’ subsequent action was to let Walmart on to the Town’s water system anyway. Walmart said it would pay the town a sum each year equivalent to what it would pay in town property taxes. As of January 15, 2016 Walmart had paid the town nothing.

Related Stories

Letters To The Editor: Walmart, Water & Racism – October 2-4, 2013

Walmart Getting Oriental Water? Up To Town Board – September 28, 2013

Guest Column: If Wal-Mart Wants Town Water, Negotiate Well – September 28, 2013

Questions On Giving Water To Walmart, Numbers Show Town Could Negotiate Better – November 1, 2013

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Posted Thursday October 3, 2013 by Melinda Penkava


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