Tuesday, October 28, 2008


One of the worst things that has happened to this country in the last 30 years is the demonization of taxation. I grew up with parents and grandparents who were what you might call FDR Republicans. They valued greatly that electricity had been run out to farms and ranches. They realized this had to be done by government. I’m an Independent but from memory, those Republicans in my family seemed much more reasonable when it came to understanding taxation.

Harping against taxes and exaggerating claims of waste has had the effect of hoodwinking people into thinking somehow they can have police and fire protection, clean water, sanitary systems, streets and highways, workforce training, parks and recreation, economic development and all the things taxes pay for….but be exempt from paying them.

It isn’t even being exempt…there is now a whole part of the population with a disconnect between what they want and how it gets paid for. I think it was Daniel Shorr recently on NPR who told about a person who insisted they didn’t want to be taxed for something…that the Federal Government should pay for it.:-)

There is waste in government and as we just learned the hard way, just as much waste in the private sector. So work hard to eliminate it. Starving serious community, state and national needs has done nothing to eliminate waste. For that matter, big tax cuts followed by running huge deficits hasn’t worked so well either, has it?

I don’t have all the answers but I do know we need to ditch the anti-tax rhetoric and get real.

Monday, October 27, 2008


As we near this election, I remember one in the early ‘90’s. A Raleigh businessman had bought the Durham Bull’s and announced he was moving them to Raleigh.

Promoters came to my little temporary office over in Brightleaf. At first they told me they were just moving the team out Downtown and out by RTP. RTP is a business park, 4 miles from Downtown Durham and encompassed on three sides by the City of Durham.

But Raleigh residents--for obvious reasons--have cultivated references to the Park as being in “in between” Raleigh and Durham, even referring to the “Raleigh” side of the Park. No harm in that? I guess there is a Durham side of the “State Capitol” too?

These gentlemen unfolded a document and started pointing to the location. “That’s in Raleigh, isn’t it,” I exclaimed. Now remember, I’d only been here a short time then. No, it is by the airport they explained. But the area they pointed to, while near the jointly owned airport, was definitely and more specifically in another city and county.

They had their business reasons for moving the Bulls…despite an NCSU student survey that revealed that out of town residents wouldn’t come to see the Bull’s in another location, these folks were determined a shiny new stadium with lots of parking would be a bigger draw…and besides they would still call the team the Durham Bulls…one big region, right, who cares if the team’s name and its location don’t match. If you buy that just ask NY Giants fans.

I learned later, Raleigh was considering assisting the move out of Durham with its new prepared food tax revenues as a resource.

Without its own prepared food tax to help with funding, Durham’s response was a referendum to build a new stadium over by the Lucky Strike Factory.

The referendum passed in the City but lost narrowly when votes County wide were tallied. All appeared lost but to the rescue came a determined City Council and a threatened law suit if Raleigh tampered with the Bulls.

The result, an outstanding new, retro Durham Bulls Athletic Park which in turn launched redevelopment of that whole district.

But Durham did something else right during that troubled time. It didn’t tear down the old stadium, the Historic Durham Athletic Park, site of the movie Bull Durham.

So different than the new Yankee Stadium which not only succeeds the true Yankee Stadium, but replaces it entirely…Durham saved the DAP. After all, part of the resentment over the attempt to move the Bulls wasn’t just the move to Raleigh but that Durham residents along with the vast majority of all Bulls fans, didn’t want the team to leave the old DAP.

Took us a while but now this spring, the DAP will emerge from a major renovation…and become a training lab for Minor League Baseball as well as the home team for the NCCU Eagles.

Durham was smart. There was no need to throw out the old with the new. And years from now, when the DBAP is also old…people sill will point to the DAP and say, that’s the real Durham Bulls ballpark.

But this isn’t just about nostalgia. Communities that evolve indigenous, almost temporal place based assets are destined to be the survivors as visitor destinations and top places to live while nearly all other settlements will have become clones.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I loved 24 hour news when it began , promising more channels, more coverage, more background. Now, I’m not so sure.

More channels, yes. But not more coverage, just a lot of similar coverage of the same things. And the channels end up chasing new tidbits to feed the appetite required to sustain 24 hours making it impossible to really do more background.

Now we have a billion channels but all chasing the same stories, the same angles, the same sound bites, often in a feeding frenzy…

We need more media coverage but at the local level and resourced to provide in-depth, feature and investigative reporting. But changes similar to 24 hour news proliferation has sucked the ad revenue out of local news media so we now have the worst of both worlds…superficial, repetitive coverage at one level and local news media that is only a shadow of what it was…

This is particularly concerning during elections. Political ads can trash, impugn, denigrate, distort, and obfuscate, because unlike business advertising, they are not regulated by “truth in advertising.”

We desperately need a news media paradigm at all levels with the resources to keep the process honest. I especially like the very few programs on TV and the radio today that try to dissect fact from fiction. There need to be more.

Or more media that will do like NPR did when one candidate kept repeating a deliberate distortion recently. All news media should just begin adding a “qualification of fact” right after repeating what the politician has again repeated. There has to be some check and balance to the power of negative advertising.

Right now, I read or watch reports of events and they seem more and more like newsletter articles. People say things that are printed with no confirmation, with no follow-up question to make them prove their point, and with no accountability while reporters interview other reporters as sources. And in this world…say something three times and its fact…just listen to those robo calls both local and national repeating assertions over and over without validation, without challenge…

Let’s find a way to put the local back in local news media. A couple of 24 hour news sources is fine but they are no substitute.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Let me second my friend and fellow blogger Bill Geist on “tipping” or the plague of low or no tippers.

Coincidentally, at DCVB we’re updating the tipping guidelines used to inform residents and visitors how and when to tip.

But it started me wondering, how many parents, how many schools cover tipping when they teach “life skills?” How do people learn to tip and what amount to tip and what a tip represents? Seems to me tipping guidelines should also be clearly posted where it is customary…,e.g. cabs, restaurants, bars, bell stands, night stands, etc.

Tipping represents two things. One, it is maybe the first form of performance based incentive or compensation and two, where customary, it is an implied contract between customer and business that a part of the person’s compensation will be tips. As an article on msnbc.com reported, we shouldn’t eliminate a tip altogether for the front line person who may be at the mercy of other employees. If we have a complaint, fill out a complaint form…don’t just stiff someone.

So why are people cheap? I wonder if a big piece of it is a combination of ignorance and lack of information.

Monday, October 20, 2008


As we watch a new generation of college students and young adults become energized about the political process, it reminds me of what I witnessed in the ‘60’s. And it brings to mind a great book called Generations; The History of America’s Future 1584-2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

First published in 1991, this is proving – 17 years later – to be dead-on accurate as a predictor and reflection of consumer behavior. You can still buy it on Amazon.com.

The authors break generations down by “type,” “principal callings,” “personality,” “life phase,” “cycle,” etc., “Boomers,” for example, were born in an “awakening” era, so it is no surprise that in our youth we revered authors like Emerson and Thoreau who were also idealists born in another awakening era.

An era lasts about 22 years.

But as boomers age, they are going through each of the other eras, e.g., “inner driven,” which began in 1981, “crisis 2003,” and “outer driven,” which will begin about 2025 when the youngest boomers will be about 65. If they live long enough, this latter group will see the beginning of yet another “awakening” era.

The parents of most Boomers, like my late Father (GI generation) and Mother (Silent generation), came of age during another “crisis” era, like we’re in now, the Great Depression and World War II. They were “civics” and “reactives” by type, not “idealists” like my generation. But their parents and grandparents were either “idealists,” born during an earlier “awakening” era epitomized by Franklin D. Roosevelt or like my grandparents, “reactives” like Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Millennials,” who were born during the “inner driven” era are now going through the “crisis” era as young adults, while my Mother, now 80, is seeing the beginning of an era like the one in which she came of age, the Great Depression.

Even more relevant to consumer behavior and marketing, these eras can be used to look at differences or cycles in the nurturing of children, gender roles, tolerance for risk, individualism vs. community, world view, behavior toward ideals, behavior toward institutions, sense of greatest need and vision of the future.

Take my word for it. Be patient. You may need to read and re-read it. And you’ll find this book a remarkable way to understand the past and see into the future.

Friday, October 17, 2008


When I attended a small breakfast on the floor of the breathtaking new terminal at RDU International Airport, I was reminded of the above quote by Garrison Keillor in a 1997 essay in Time Magazine.

There were people at this event from both owner communities, Durham and Raleigh and their respective counties. It was great to see friends from Raleigh, many of whom are people who pitch in to help Durham when a faction tries to insist we don’t exist or that we should cease to exist and just be a “region,” code for “an adjunct of Raleigh.”

Durham is obviously very threatening to the latter group. One man took a look at my name tag and told me jovially (but not at all kiddingly) within earshot of many others that once I retire, Durham will finally become a part of Raleigh. Oh boy, is he in for a surprise!

My theory is he would ignore Durham if, if, if, if Duke, RTP and many other great assets weren’t based here. But given these assets, a unique cultural identity and rankings among the most desirable in the nation, he can’t ignore Durham.

His arrogance, as Keillor theorizes about another city, is born of “insecurity.” … “In St. Paul, America's 57th largest city, we're all right with that. Nobody who sits near me at the ballpark seems to feel personally diminished by living in a minor league city. We do not consider ourselves fundamentally so different from Duluthites or Sioux Fallsians or Fargo-Moorheaders. We all eat the same brand of corn flakes, and one size sock fits all. However, in Minneapolis, the 42nd largest American city, there are people who imagine it to be the Manhattan of the Midwest, the Paris of the Prairie. This is embarrassing to us St. Paulites, like knowing a small man with a bad toupee who thinks he is Tom Cruise. What can you say to him, other than "Stop that?”

To paraphrase Keillor, this gentleman sees Raleigh as the “Manhattan of the South,” the “Firenze of the Carolinas, the “Paris of Coastal Plain,” the Sydney of the Mid-Atlantic” while viewing Durham an inconvenient obstacle to over-reaching…as “an inexplicable growth on its western flank,” “their New Jersey,” “their Pasadena,” and “a place you don’t go if you’re hip." And make no mistake, these people are into “hipness.”

How fitting this insight occurred to me at the airport, whose name is a result of this same insecurity when a Raleigh developer hoodwinked the war department in the ‘40’s into believing Durham was okay with switching the order of the cities in the name of the airport (making it the only airport with its 3-letter code out of alpha order).

Maybe in my next life, I’ll mount a campaign to help Raleigh be more secure…and thus, to adapt Keillor’s turn of phrase, “less like a small man with bad toupee who thinks he is Tom Cruise and makes you want to say “just stop it.”

Hmmm, Keillor is reportedly coming to Durham next May. Maybe he can reprise that essay!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


I made several attempts as the 60’s ended and ‘70’s began to enlist in the military. I had friends and associates dying in Vietnam. I had blown a knee out in high school and no matter how many times I tried to explain it away, they wouldn’t take me.

Ironically, during the same time, I was also turning against the war. And today I see how my outward drive to enlist belied how ambivalent I was inside. Funny thing about my wiring, I can’t stand sitting on a fence, so even when I’m conflicted I’m usually in motion.

But wiring is to my point…one of the things I’m looking forward to in my life after destination marketing…at least the part directly managing DMO’s, is writing some long postponed family histories.

I love history in general but researching my own background has given me insight into why some things seem in my wiring. People see me stand up for Durham, stand up against unfairness…even sounding much more combative at times than I meant too. People who know me though have always been able to sense the empathy that belies my more outward indefatigability (Bob Ashley’s term but I like it) in the face of issues.

I’ve never been anywhere near combat or served in the military. Nor was I exposed to it a lot growing up. But I must admit I find it throughout my background. My Father was in Europe in World War II and has all kinds of photos including some from the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. He wouldn’t talk about his time in Europe…only about how hard he worked to get home as soon as possible at the end of the War. Now that he’s gone I have a display case of all of his memorabilia. I keep it in honor of him but also because these items remind me of growing up and the sense of intrigue and “awe “ that came from going through these things…sometimes when my parents weren’t home along with how much I love and miss him.

I think he was down-low about a lot of stuff because he saw me play too much “cowboys and Indians” or “Blue and the Gray” and didn’t want to make it too real. And maybe because his best friend (the father of my best friend) had fought in both WWII and Korea and been a prisoner of war in both…although the latter was the subject of a lot of kidding between the two.

Maybe it was because my middle namesake uncle (really his cousin) and closest friend growing up was killed when the B-26 in which he was a tail gunner was shot down while bombing the Nervesa Causeway in Northeastern Italy while flying out of Corsica in 1944. A kind farmer buried the crew in his orchard, with their dog tags over each cross. At the end of the war my family had his body shipped home and reinterred on the ranch in a small family cemetery.

I visited that cemetery often. It was where I could make friends as a boy with four generations. I stay in touch with that hallowed ground via Google Earth even today.

The closest thing I had to a Brother was my uncle, 6 years my senior. He flew 300+ missions over North Vietnam as a decorated F4-C jet fighter pilot. A couple of years after he got home from two tours, he was killed in the line of duty working for what was then the DEA flying surveillance on the Dominguez drug family in Mexico. We spent a lot of time together before and after his time in Vietnam but we didn’t discuss that stuff…he knew my feelings about that war and I didn’t want him to feel any more pain than he did. He knew how proud of him I was, and still am. I was my Grandfather’s (his Father’s) “fortunate son” as the song goes, but while my uncle never could truly feel my Grandfather’s pride in him, I could.

My great, great grandfather grew up with Mark Twain in Missouri before he was called Mark Twain. They went west together but then split up after a failed attempt at mining in Nevada. My great, great joined the Union Army as a cavalry trooper during the Civil War and was stationed in Utah and Idaho making sure Mormons didn’t join either side, fighting Indians and keeping overland supply routes open. I’ve often wondered if he was involved in a battle that became the greatest massacre in American History in the last half of the 19th century, near Preston Idaho. I hope not. Two of my friends growing up are Shoshone, the tribe involved. I know now, didn’t know then, though, that my Great Great was slightly wounded saving his commanding officer and the graze left his mustache lop-sided:-)

I’m descended through my Fraternal Grandmother from my first ancestor on this continent, a Huguenot refugee from France who came over in the 1600’s, settled in Topsfield Mass, and fought in King Phillips War--the first major war between colonists and American Indians. It was the longest--and per capita, bloodiest--in American history. His name was Pierre de Chamois which in a short time became “Shumway.”

I don’t glory in what these people did nor was all of it admirable. But they did what they thought was their duty and I do admire that. They were obviously much tougher than I am. But maybe, just maybe, some of that DNA is what makes me, in the words of columnist Bob Ashley, “indefatigable” in defense and promotion of Durham.

Knowing this background, and even though I don’t believe the war in Iraq was necessary and in fact counterproductive to its alleged purpose, I’m even more convinced it is a travesty that no matter the good intentions…no matter how hard we try…this country never does justice in healthcare or any other way to the people who have, and continue to defend us.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Many restaurants not only support the prepared meals tax, they helped shape it, rolling up their sleeves to give constructive input on the uses. Chefs like Scott Howell and Wilma Dillard are even honorary co-chairs. The majority of Durham restaurateurs realize it is a tax on consumption, added after the bill, not a tax on restaurants. They believe Durham voters should make up their minds without interference.

The objections; however, of a the Raleigh-based state restaurant association is a reminder of those raised by a hotel chain or two when room occupancies taxes were introduced in the ’60’s and ‘70’s as a more fair and effective way to self-fund visitor promotion (vs. memberships paid only by a few cobbled together with grants). “This isn’t fair. Why are we being singled out, etc?” But the occupancy tax, where modest and used as intended, has been the biggest boon to attracting visitor commerce of any development in the last 50 years.

But the downside is the burden is born entirely by the 1 in 4 of all visitors who stay overnight in commercial lodging. The inherent inequity in the occupancy tax-only formula is that in Durham, for example, restaurants harvest 26 cents out of every dollar of visitor commerce, compared to 21% by lodging properties. I hear the restaurant associations, both national and state herald how important visitor commerce is now to restaurants (40% of fine dining, 20-25% of family or casual dining, and 15-20% of quickservice), but object to permitting their customers to help self-fund the costs of destination marketing and development. I don’t see that logic.

They herald what comes their way as the fruits of a special tax on lodging customers, but then strenuously object to being “singled out” as they put it, when asked to pitch in?

It seems that rather than playing the victim, many Durham restaurants are taking a better route, believing it is now time for restaurants to permit their customers (both day-trip and overnight) to help in the process of, not only drawing visitors, but developing and maintaining Durham as a destination. After all, this isn’t a tax on the businesses, though these businesses stand to greatly benefit. One particular vocal opponent is handing customers a flyer complaining about fuel costs and that the penny on the dollar meals levy will be a burden.

But he isn’t going to pay it. It doesn’t come off his bottom line. The proposed prepared meals tax is on consumption, and added after the bill. So the “Woe is me,” sentiment raised by the state association just doesn’t resonate. Restaurants complain when customers don’t tip…why are they objecting to their customers freedom to vote yes on a tip to improve Durham.

The reason occupancy taxes have worked so well (where used appropriately) is they took the old membership model, where a very few paid but everyone benefited, and made it much more democratic and effective. All the penny on the dollar prepared meals tax does is ask another group of direct beneficiaries to do the same in a very manageable, democratic way.

What’s even more puzzling about all of this is the state restaurant association itself helped pioneer the prepared meals tax in North Carolina during the last recession, delivering it on a silver platter to the state’s largest two cities and counties and scores of towns, including their home base Raleigh…and without any kind of referendum.

Then, as a 1999 email I have from the association tells it, some members got in a snit because the legislature repealed the tax on groceries. You see, those in the snit seriously confuse grocery stores and restaurants as competition. Huh? I may have missed a class or two during economics 101, but groceries fall under necessities and dining out falls under leisure activities. Restaurants don’t compete with grocery stores, they compete with other leisure choices.

To make things appear very hypocritical, while the association vehemently objects to Durham residents getting a clear and unfettered choice at the polls, it has turned a blind eye when convenient to requests of a powerful legislator or two when Fayetteville and the Outer Banks received the tax with no referendum required.

So if it works where the association pioneered it and it works when convenient, why be so adamant and hostile when a community like Durham wants to let voters decide, unfettered by outside interference on a proposal that is far more well thought out and to the industry’s benefit than any it has approved in the past? The state restaurant folks are good people, but this sure seems like a big double standards.

It is time for restaurants, as many Durham restaurant owners already believe, to be at the table…not just to harvest visitor commerce, but to let their customers, 40% of whom in Durham are visitors and non-resident commuters, shoulder some of the burden of developing and maintaining Durham as a visitor destination.

Usually the private industry points to elected officials as unreasonable. But in Durham’s proposed meals tax, elected officials have worked hand in hand with the Tourism Development Authority and other stakeholders including restaurateurs on a proposal that makes more sense than any prepared meals tax I’ve read about…dedicated uses that benefit restaurants and diners…, e.g., cleanup and beautification (food wrappers make up 20% of the litter stream), workforce training, visitor promotion, and building and upkeep of cultural, civic, and recreational projects like theaters, museums, etc.

Judging from news reports, the restaurant association dismisses these as “pet” projects. But this is the same group that supported this same tax in the state’s two largest communities and counties to pay for convention centers, a narrow type of visitor business that is proportionately far less beneficial to restaurants, than the types promoted by Durham’s uses.

After 50 years of seeing how well the special tax on overnight hotel guests works, you’d think the restaurant industry would more easily grasp how permitting their customers to play a part in visitor commerce would be a snap.

For now though, the association is taking the same “no and hell no” approach taken by early occupancy tax opponents, but it is only a matter of time. When the day comes though, and it will come, hopefully they get a deal with a fraction of the benefits in the Durham referendum.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


I’m incensed that Raleigh interests are meddling in Durham’s consideration of a proposed prepared food tax. Without questioning their motives, as Durham voters we just don’t need them to tell us how to vote.

Raleigh has had this tax since ’92. For a Raleigh resident to form and fund an organization called Durham Citizens Against The Food Tax seems insidious no matter who is “strapped to the front bumper.” While they have picked up the issue of regressivity, long disproven, there are still legitimate viewpoints on all sides. But Durham voters are perfectly able to sort through a full discussion of the issues without outsiders meddling and fogging the issues.

The discussion at the People’s Alliance resulting in that organization’s endorsement of the referendum is an excellent example of Durham’s ability for passionate, intelligent debate. But this Raleigh based so-called “Durham Citizens” group is betting that the news media will never have the resources to dig down and reveal it for what it is…or that even if it does, Durham voters will be so confused they will vote based on a smokescreen.

It reminds me of when Raleigh interests tried to steal the Bulls and move them to Raleigh (ironically intending to use Wake County’s meals tax which never did have voter approval). Significant Raleigh resources were deployed to help narrowly defeat a Durham bond issue to build a new stadium.

This type of interference from outside the community, especially from neighbors who are part of the Triangle family is arrogant, condescending and an insult to Durham residents.

Why shouldn’t Durham residents have the right to consider asking Raleigh residents working in Durham (3 out of 5 jobs are held by non-resident commuters) to shoulder a tax Raleigh has asked us to pay for the last 15 years when we dine out there.

Back off Raleigh. Last time I checked you don’t get to vote here.