Blue Ridge Muse News, views and musings from Southwestern Virginia Tue, 22 Jul 2014 22:13:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Speak out to Supervisors on proposed gas pipeline tonight Tue, 22 Jul 2014 11:12:01 +0000 A speaker on another topic at a meeting of the supervisors earlier this year.

A speaker on another topic at a meeting of the supervisors earlier this year.

Concerned about the propsed natural gas pipeline that an energy group wants to run through Floyd County?

Let the Board of Supervisors know Tuesday night at the second regularly-scheduled meeting of the month.  It starts at 7 p.m. at the county administration building on Oxford Street in Floyd and a public comment period opens the meeting.

The proposed pipeline is on the board’s agenda.  We understand some county residents are already planning to speak on the issue.

A full house at the Floyd Country Store last week heard speakers describe what could be a long, hard fight to stop the pipeline that will run from West Virginia to a distribution station in Chatham and pass through Giles, Pulaski, Montgomery, Floyd and Franklin counties before arriving at the station in Pittsylvania.

Company lobbyists are already working Virginia elected and appointed officials and have reportedly purchased the pipe and plan to start construction if, and when, approval is gained.

It is time for residents of Floyd County to speak out on how they feel about the project.

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Sarah Palin and the sad, inane fanatics who follow her Tue, 22 Jul 2014 10:32:45 +0000 Sarah Palin doing what she does best for Newsweek: Showing off.

Sarah Palin doing what she does best for Newsweek: Showing off.

The rabid following of failed Alaska governor and one-time vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is a mystery to anyone with an IQ above that of an average plant, but a recent letter to the editor of the Roanoke Times by Jon R. Harris of Roanoke illustrates the the outright inanity of some who genuflect at the feet of the tea party centerfold.

Harris didn’t like it a bit when Times columnist Dan Casey said naming a beer after former Times writer Beth Macy “is kind of like naming a university after Sarah Palin.”

Harris called the comment snide and took issue with any suggestion that Palin is less than perfect.

“The reality is this county needs more universities patterned after the work ethic, integrity, personal responsibility, transparency and accomplishments demonstrated by Palin in her tenure as governor of Alaska,” Harris claimed.

Yeah, that’s what he said.

Work ethic? The woman was known to be monumentally lazy as both mayor of Wasila, Alsaka, and as governor of the state.  She quit before her first term was over so she could cash in on her 15 minutes of fame from the incredibly stupid decision by the Presidential campaign of John McCain to tap her as a running mate in 2008.

Integrity?  The woman was caught in as many lies as George Bush, cheated on her husband with his business partner, eloped while pregnant and chased pro basketball players for one-night stands while working as a television sports reporter.

Transparency?  She tried to cover up her involvement in the firing of a state employee and got caught in other scandals.

Personal responsibility?  Palin compiled a long and documented record of avoiding accepting responsibility for any of her various failures, lies and misdeeds.

Accomplishments?  She failed to complete even her first term as governor, failed as a vice presidential candidate, fell flat on her ass as a TV commentator and the list goes on.  What, besides the endless pursuit of fame, has she accomplished?

Books document her use of cocaine, her adulterous lifestyle and her flamboyant promotion of herself.

Harris further claims her unfinished term as governor of Alaska demonstrates “the progress and benefits to her state and this nation, the bipartisan corruption she exposed and gained victory over, the perks of the office she refused, and the fiscal responsibility and transparency she brought to the state.”

Say what? Palin is a sordid political joke.  A study of her tenure as governor by a bi-partisan state commission found her short term littered with corruption.  She used state perks for personal use, lied repeatedly, and tried to cover up many misdeeds.

The only problem I found with Casey’s column is lumping poor Beth Macy with the likes of Sarah Palin — even in a parody situation.

Beth is a fine writer and deserved better.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is a pathetic example of the vapid, shallow, celebrity-driven state of politics today.


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FloydFest 13 kicks off at noon Wednesday Tue, 22 Jul 2014 07:04:44 +0000

The annual extravaganza called FloydFest kicks off at noon Wednesday for a five-day run just off the Blue Ridge Parkway — the 13th year for music and more in the mountains.

FloydFest has given me many storytelling, photographic and video opportunities over the years but this will be my final year chronicling the event for The Floyd Press and other media outlets.  After a decade of writing, photographing and filming events surrounding FloydFest I’m moving on to other things next year.  It’s hard to come up with new angles for coverage year after year and it’s time to move on.

FloydFest has become a mega-event among summer musical festivals in America.  It is now a full-grown summer commercial event.

The event brings national and international attention to the area.  Businesses benefit from increased sales.  It helps tourism in an area that needs all the help it can get.

The success of FloydFest has spawned growth of other festivals in the area – Bluegrass events at Chantilly Farms, Yoga Fest in Indian Valley and musical events in neighboring counties.

I will follow five days of covering FloydFest with 5 days shooting video at the Old Times Fiddler’s Convention at Galax in August — a bluegrass event that is 79 years old.



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Time to toss Facebook into the trash? Tue, 22 Jul 2014 06:29:02 +0000 fbookFacebook has become an endless muddle of repetitious cliches, back door ads and senseless videos that add nothing to discussions.

Like so much else on the Internet nowadays, it is awash with flaming, usually error-filled political rhetoric, unabashed hate and bigotry and useless material.

For too many, it has become a replacement for face-to-face conversation and what does pass for conservation lacks any serious intent to pass on knowledge or useful information.

It is a good idea gone awry.  It was once a place to reconnect with friends.  It was a valuable tool for communication with friends during recovery from a near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2012.  That is what keeps me using it.

But now it is too often impossible to wade through the tidal waves of nonsense that dominates the site each day.

I will remain a member because Facebook membership is necessary to communicate on some web sites but I will spend less time dealing with so much of the trash in the so-called “news feed.”

Call it a necessary evil.

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Boredom is not part of life around here Mon, 21 Jul 2014 10:34:46 +0000 0712114bored“One thing I can promise you,” I told Amy when we moved to Floyd County in 2004,  “we will be bored.”

I looked forward to boredom.  After too many years of covering excitement around the world, I was hoping for a quiet, boring life of relaxation in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia.

But the Floyd County I came home to after 39 years away was not the one I left — not even close.

Crime, driven by crystal meth, dominates the news.  Government, sleepy at best back in the 1960s, now appears just as political and hidden-agenda driven as what we left in Washington.

Boredom is not part of the modern lifestyle here.

Drug cases dominate crime news and fill the Circuit Court agenda.  Sex-related crimes — too often involving family members — aren’t far behind.

I sat in Floyd County Circuit Court one day and heard a convicted sex offender tell the judge that he molested his granddaughter because he loved her “too much.”

Another grandfather defended his grandson’s sexual abuse of a sister as “just the normal growing pains of a teenager.”

An assignment editor in Washington roused me out of bed one morning and told me to grab my cameras and head over to Virginia Tech because someone was shooting students and faculty.   It turned out to be the largest mass killing on a college campus in history.

Bored?  No way.

Last week had news of the chairman of the board of supervisors admitting he overcharged customers on sales tax for at least a year and probably longer.  Residents gathered later in the week to listen to ideas on how to stop a natural gas pipeline from carving up the county.

A former restaurant owner faces felony charges of embezzling from the town of Floyd because she didn’t pay the taxes she owed.  The former head of the county’s Farm Credit office and his son are in prison for engaging in child pornography.  A former county official lost his job for using a government computer to access child porn.

When I left Floyd County in 1965, Circuit Court met — at most — once a month.  Now it hears cases weekly.  The docket for Tuesday of this week is long.

When Floyd County became part of the New River Regional Jail system in Dublin, the estimate for prisoners from the county on a daily basis was a dozen at most.  Now the count tops 100 on many days.

The headstrong leader of Angels in the Attic is engaged in a bitter public fight against popular local charity Floyd Cares.

At the local Mexican Restaurant, several bad checks hang on the wall behind the cash register is the notice saying El Charro no longer accepts checks.  General District Court each Thursday listens to many cases involving bad checks.

On Wednesday, I head for the grounds of FloydFest to cover five days of music, camping and activities just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  At the same time, one of the original investors of the event 13 years ago walks around the streets of Floyd wearing a “FloydFraud” t-shirt.

Bored?  Nope.  Don’t have time.  Too much going on.

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Remembering James Garner Sun, 20 Jul 2014 18:47:15 +0000 James Garner: Actor, racer and friend.

James Garner: Actor, racer and friend.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to interview and — in some cases become friends with — a number of celebrities.

One of those was actor James Garner, who I met in his hotel room at the Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis and interviewed for more than two hours about his career, love of sports car racing and attitudes towards life.

He was in St. Louis for a race at Mid-America Raceway at nearby Wentzville.  His roles as an American Formula One driver in the film, “Grand Prix,” sparked an interest in racing and a racing team he helped support was testing and competing at the track.

“I got into acting as a fluke,” he said at the time, “and I decided to give it five years to see if it was a way to make a living.  At the end of five years, I was starring in ‘Maverick,’ so I decided to give it another five years.”

We ended up going out to dinner that night and talked about politics, government and what we both saw as the sad state of affairs in both.

We stayed in touch over the years.  I last heard from him while recovering from my near-fatal motorcycle accident in 2012.

“Get better and get back on the damn motorcycle,” he said. “We’re given a certain amount of time on this earth. What we do with that time is up to us.”

He married actress Lois Clarke in 1957 while appearing in “Maverick” and they stayed together for 57 years.

Garner called himself a “bleeding heart liberal” who marched in the 1963 civil rights march in Washington and advocated a number of progressive causes.  He voted once — and only once — for a Republican: Presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower and did so as a Korean War veteran.

Approached several times to run for office, Garner always said no, adding that “too many actors have run for office. There’s one difference between me and them.  I know I’m not qualified.”

He did serve as vice president of the Screen Actors Guild when Ronald Regan was president of the group.

“The only thing I remember is that Ronnie never had an original thought and that we had to tell him what to say. That’s no way to run a union, let along a state or a country,” he noted.

James Garner died Saturday at age 86.  His health had been going south for years.


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Stopping a proposed gas pipeline in Floyd County Sat, 19 Jul 2014 11:35:45 +0000 What happens when a natural gas pipeline explodes.  If one is allowed in Floyd County, it could happen here.

What happens when a natural gas pipeline explodes. If one is allowed in Floyd County, it could happen here.

Are Floyd Countians concerned about a proposed natural gas transmission pipeline going through the area?

From the size of the crowd attending Thursday night’s informational meeting at the Floyd Country Store, the answer would have to be: “Damn right.”

Speakers included Radford University professor Bill Kovarik, who told the crowd that Floyd Countians are doing the right thing by holding their own meeting before Mountain Valley Pipeline starts its public relations blitz to try and sell the landscape-destroying project.

A major topic of concern is the project’s effect on the county’s already-fragile water system.

“We have ancient fractures in these mountains,” environmental biologist and Radford University professor Jane Cundiff said.

“The best thing is to let it be known that we do not want it here,” said Floyd Country Store owner and Friday Night Jamboree operator Woody Crenshaw.

Floyd Press editor Wanda Combs, who covered the meeting, said one woman noted that “it seems very clear to me tonight that ‘Floyd County says ‘no.’ ”

Former County Administrator George Nestor, who held that job when a proposed project by Dominion Power was defeated by county resistance, told the group that “public opinion is what’s going to win this.”

But it may be a long and hard fight and could involve attempts to impose eminent domain on property owners.

Citizens for Preserving Floyd County (CGPC) is working to obtain more information on the project and, since the exact proposed route is not yet known, details are sketchy at this point.

Wills Ridge landowner Jason Burgard said he has been contacted and the Nolen family along Shooting Creek Road.

Others will be. That’s one known fact of the project.

As a reporter and photographer for most of my life, I have covered many accidents and explosions involving natural gas pipelines around the country and world.

I do not want to cover one in Floyd County.

(This story includes information from an article written by Wanda Combs of The Floyd Press)

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The Floyd Free Press? Fri, 18 Jul 2014 09:12:34 +0000 The Roanoke Times story on Page One of Friday's paper.

The Roanoke Times story on Page One of Friday’s paper.

The Roanoke Times got around to the Pizza Inn sales tax story Friday but made an interesting error in telling it.

According to The Times, the story emerged in “The Floyd Free Press.”

The Floyd Free what?  Sounds like one of those alternative weeklies that one finds in big cities.  OK, we also have the Detroit Free Press, among others out there.

But the Floyd Free Press?

The Times had some updates on the story that were not available to the Press at deadline this week and more details will be published in a story that I’m working on for next week.

Another detail in the Times story that was wrong stated that the overcharging problem may have resulted from reprogramming the Pizza Inns for a Floyd County sales tax increase that went into effect on July 1, 2012.

The .3 percent sales tax increase was a state increase, not one from Floyd County.  Floyd got none of the increase from anyone.

But my story reported that Pizza Inn owner and Floyd County Supervisor Chairman Case Clinger was OK with the state because he paid the required 5.3 percent state tax.

Another spokesman says something else. Joel Davison, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Taxation, told the Times that “all sales taxes collected must be turned over to the state. It would be illegal for a business owner to charge additional sales tax above the required rate and keep the extra money.”

Clinger says he isn’t planning to keep the money and has borrowed funds from a bank to pay it back.  An offer to pay it directly to the town of Floyd was rejected and he’s still looking for a recipient.

In the meantime, here’s what The Times reported about Floyd’s “Free Press”:

Pizza Inn’s discrepancy was first brought to light by the Floyd Free Press, which alerted Clinger to the problem when a reporter began asking questions on Monday.

That’s funny. What makes it even funnier is The Floyd Press is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett’s BH Media Group, which also owns The Roanoke Times.

And while both the Press and the Times hope to function in a society where the “press” is free, a copy of either newspaper is not free.  You pay for it.

Lord, you’d think papers under the same ownership would know each others actual names, especially when it comes to newspapers in neighboring counties.

But such things happen.   I’m make my share of errors in print over the years and some of them happened at The Roanoke Times when I worked there as a reporter from 1965-69.

The Times is also the newspaper that startled readers one Christmas morning with this headline about an auto accident that killed three people in Wise County:  “Three Wise Men Die in Crash.”

Such is life in the rapidly dwindling world of newspapers.

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Little old-fasioned Karma coming down? Thu, 17 Jul 2014 12:04:52 +0000 Floyd County Board of Supervisors chairman and Pizza Inn owner Case Clinger

Floyd County Board of Supervisors chairman and Pizza Inn owner Case Clinger

My Page One story in today’s Floyd Press tells of a a consistent overcharging of customers of Floyd’s Pizza Inn Restaurant, owned and operated by county board of supervisors chairman Case Clinger.

Pizza Inn has been charging customers 10.3 percent sales tax on purchases for at least a year — almost double what was really due.  The 10.3 rate is the sales tax rate for establishments located within the town of Floyd, which has a local option sales tax addition for food and beverages, but the sales tax for establishments located in the county is 5.3 percent.  Pizza Inn is close to the boundary line between the town and county but is clearly a county business.

The story already had tongues wagging Wednesday morning after Press editor Wanda Combs posted it on the paper’s web site at day before publication in the paper.  That practice is normal on stories involving breaking news because the paper operates in a competitive environment where a daily can easily get the jump on a weekly.

Questions from those who talked with me at Blue Ridge Restaurant over breakfast and later at the Floyd Country Store wanted to know how it happened, why it happened and why it went on for more than a year.

Clinger admits the overcharges but says he wasn’t aware of them until it was brought to his attention on Monday of this week.  They occurred on computer-controlled cash registers at the front counter of Pizza Inn.  The system comes from  a company that is no longer in business, he said.

How much money was involved?  That question is still open as Clinger reviews his books.  It will be thousands of dollars and he proposed Tuesday that the overcharges be given to the town of Floyd as taxes that he did not technically owe but ones that his restaurant accepted in misapplied charges to his customers.

A source close to the town government told me Wednesday night that Clinger’s proposal is not sitting well with some in the town and may be rejected.

Clinger promises a full accounting, explanation and resolution early next week when the internal review and accounting is complete.  He says that the practice continued for as long as it did because no one who noticed they were being charged 10.3 percent said anything to him about it.

Some county residents who talked to me Wednesday said they find it hard to believe the problem existed for a year without discovery, especially by a detailed operator like Clinger  Others said it could happen in a business where a computer controls such things.

Clinger’s problems brings glee to critics, especially those who have been on the receiving end of his budget knife.

A story like this is more newsworthy than normal because the restaurant is owned by an outspoken and sometimes polarizing public official.  It can, and most likely will, cause problems for him politically in the future.

Several ‘old rules” in politics:  One simply says “watch your back” and another says “make sure the skeletons in your closet are buried where no one can find them.”

One county businessman walked up to my table at the Floyd Country Store Wednesday afternoon humming the tune of a song that sounded strangely familiar.

Then I realized the song was Willie Nelson’s “a little old-fashioned karma coming down:”

There’s just a little fashioned karma coming down
Just a little old fashioned justice going round
A little bit of sowing and a little bit of reaping
A little bit of laughing and a little bit of weeping
Just a little old fashioned karma coming down

It really ain’t hard to understand
If you’re gonna dance you gotta pay the band
It’s just a little old fashioned karma coming down

Is it karma, justice or just some bad luck?  At this point, the answer depends on your point of view and the jury is still out.


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Gas pipeline public meeting Thu, 17 Jul 2014 10:03:19 +0000 An anti-pipeline protest in Washington in March of this year. No, Obama can't stop the proposed natural gas pipeline running through Floyd County but the people might. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

An anti-pipeline protest in Washington in March of this year. No, Obama can’t stop the proposed natural gas pipeline running through Floyd County but the people might.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Good turnout at a public meeting on the latest proposed pipeline project to traverse through Floyd Country Thursday night.

The project is already generating a lot of discussion — most of it negative — in the county.  The proposed pipeline would carry natural gas from West Virginia to a distribution center in Chatham in Pittsylvania County and would pass through Giles, Pulaski, Montgomery, Floyd and Franklin counties to get there.

Some Floyd County residents have been contacted and asked for permission to survey their land.  Most have said “no.”  Will the gas company try for imminent domain to force use of right of way?  That’s possible.

Those attending learned about the dangers of gas transmission.

Get out the flak jackets.  The battle has begun.

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