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Oriental Board Approves Water For Walmart
Racism Accusation Leveled At Opponents
October 3, 2013

Speakers: Don’t Give Water For Nothing

During the Public Comment session at the beginning of the meeting, Roger Bullis told the Board that until now, he’d not been vocal on the Walmart issue. What prompted him to speak Tuesday night was the idea of letting Walmart get water without even demanding it be annexed in to Oriental.

walmart oriental
Attendees at Tuesday night’s meeting, most of whom were there for the Walmart water discussion. And, a rare sighting at Oriental Town Board meetings, a TV news camera.

Bullis noted that it was businesses and residents in town who have paid property taxes for services – such as police and water – that were being provided to businesses and residences beyond the Town limits. The Town, he said, was sending the wrong message: “come bring your business next to Oriental. Get police and water and don’t pay taxes like those dummies who are in town.”

By not linking water service to annexation, Bullis said, ”I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to be annexed.”

Bob Miller told the Commissioners that “you don’t understand the depth of feeling” in town against the store, and that providing water with no strings attached was a “big mistake.”

”Annexation should come first,” Miller said, “not water.” He said the Board was enabling Walmart to do an end run around Oriental’s Growth Management Ordinance, which sets criteria for construction “All you have to do to get around it is build outside of town and then ask for services,” Miller said, noting that the Walmart corporation has typically built “where the least restrictions apply.“

walmart oriental
Oriental resident and former Planning Board chairman, Bob Miller.

Just outside Oriental, Miller said, Walmart can build a 12,000 square foot building – larger than Oriental’s GMO allows, can cover more land with asphalt or concrete than the Town’s impervious surface rules permit, and can put up a sign that would be in violation of the Town’s sign ordinance (an 80+ square foot sign is planned for the building alone – more than twice the 32 square feet that Oriental’s in-town businesses are allowed.) Walmart can do all that outside the Town limits, Miller said, “and then ask us for water.”

Miller suggested that since it would be more expensive for Walmart to tap in to the County’s water system, the Town was in a position to play a smarter poker hand. “‘Know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em,’” Miller said. “Have they offered to give us anything in return?” Miller got no answer then – as per the Mayor’s prohibition on dialogue between Board and public — nor later during the Board’s discussion.

Commissioner Charges “Racial Thing”

More than an hour in to the meeting, the Board got to 11th item on the agenda, “Water Service, Walmart” at which none of the concerns raised by the speakers were addressed. Four minutes in, Commissioner Summers, said, “I make a motion that we approve giving water to Walmart.”

Commissioner Summers then said he had something to say and directed his remarks not to fellow Board members but to the audience. At times bellowing, Summers cited poverty statistics, among them, that 40 people in Oriental lived below the poverty line.

He then sought to equate the poverty issue with race.

Summers said he belonged to a couple of groups that were, by his description, “primarily black organizations, ” one of them military. He implied that among those African-Americans he talked to, support for Walmart ran high. “What those folks tell me,” Summers said, his voice rising further, is “one hundred jobs, one hundred jobs, one hundred jobs.”

“There are 473 who are unemployed in this town.” Summers called out. “Would a hundred jobs help them? It doggone certainly will.”

(The 473 figure would put Oriental’s jobless rate in excess of 50%. The 100 jobs may refer to a combination of the 20 jobs Walmart has said the Oriental store would have – an unknown amount being full time — and the jobs at the bigger Walmart Superstore planned for Grantsboro. By comparison, the Town-n-Country employs 17 people.)

OTB Larry Summers Racist walmart oriental
Commissioner Larry Summers speaking at Tuesday’s Oriental Town Board meeting where he said it would be like Jim Crow racism to deny water to Walmart. The giant retailer is planning a store just outside Town limits. Opponents say it will harm in town businesses and that the Board should take that in to account before providing water. At left are Mayor Bill Sage, and Commissioner Barbara Venturi.

“This is also a racial thing,” Summers called out to the audience where his comment brought looks of surprise, and visible anger at the accusation.

Summers continued, citing cheaper cans of beans at Walmart for those under the poverty line as part of the argument that it would be racist to not provide Oriental town water to Walmart.

In his second direct mention of race, Summers said, “I think us making a moral decision that we don’t like Walmart is a grievous mistake and harkens back to the Jim Crow days the South was known for,” Summers stated, “and I don’t think we need to do that.”

Click here to hear Commissioner Summers’ comments Tuesday night. They are unedited.

The public was given no opportunity to respond to the Commissioner’s accusations of racism.

Posted Thursday October 3, 2013 by Melinda Penkava

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