Letters to the editor

The speedway: Welcome to the shaft lane

I would like to address the subject of integrity and use the sale of the Asheville Motor Speedway as the catalyst.

Past owner Roger Gregg knows that racing isn’t cheap and takes not only lots of time and dedication, but money to participate. Since it takes a year to build a competitive race car, many drivers start on their cars for the following year during the present season. They spend much of their own money, and some of available sponsors’. Most drivers work hourly-wage jobs, and the percentage of their income necessary to support their racing is substantial.

Shortly after his clandestine sale of the track in May (sold with the stipulation that no further racing ever occur there), it was announced at the drivers meeting that, next year, there [would] be a change in the type of late-model stock car that [would] be allowed to race. Later, a new truck division [was] announced, and there [was] even a demonstration of these trucks by drivers from out of town. We [were] told that most of the other divisions [would] have only small, if any, changes in their rules, and the new 1999 rule book [would] be out “in a couple of weeks.” When asked about rumors of the track being sold, Gregg said, “It’s for sale, but there are no prospective buyers.”

Here’s a quick math lesson: 3,000 fans and drivers times a $12 gate fee x 22 races a year + $4,000 in concessions a week x six years’ ownership – $2 million [in operating] expenses = $3 million earned — off the very people Gregg sold down the river.

One question is: From where came the impetus to seduce these same people to further invest more time, effort and money in the coming season, which Mr. Gregg already knew didn’t exist?

Another is: Why all the uptown praise for Mr. Gregg’s civic-mindedness?

That answer is simple. RiverLink doesn’t have the money to maintain its own project, so they donate it to those who do: the city.

But whose money will they spend down there? Right! Yours. Hello, higher taxes, and welcome to the shaft lane.

Here’s the amusing part. In the Oct. 14 Asheville Citizen-Times, Gregg was quoted, “I was not guided in this transaction by my own monetary interest. I was guided by what I perceived as the best interest of the community.” Evidently, that excludes the part of the community that has netted him $3 million.

Betrayal, by definition, is ambiguous, so naturally there was a lot of confusion about the sale of the [speedway]. But, if you’re interested in a concise representation of the antithesis of integrity, go down to 410 Executive Park, and introduce yourself to the past owner of the Asheville Motor Speedway.

— Bruce McTaggart
Rookie Division driver

Tax the crack and bust the mob

I was outraged at the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down North Carolina’s tax on drug dealers as “unconstitutional.”

It’s been said, “There’s nothing certain but death and taxes.” Now those who make their money from narcotics trafficking — whether through street sales of crack, smuggling of South American cocaine, or laundering the billions of dollars that Americans spend each year on illegal drugs — can continue their careers in crime, without worrying about at least one thing that honest businessmen must face: sales taxes!

Why do laws so often punish hard-working, law-abiding citizens, while giving aid and comfort to criminals? For several years, I worked as a public-health disease investigator. I saw firsthand the tragic results of crack addiction: Young women prostituting themselves for a few rocks of crack; young men turning to crime and violence to get drug money or to protect their sales territory; families torn apart; and the rampant spread of syphilis and AIDS in low-income neighborhoods.

Many of the people I took in for treatment of venereal disease, or for counseling against further exposure to HIV, told me heartbreaking tales of lives ruined by crack cocaine — how addicts betray friends, neglect loved ones, lose jobs, and become obsessed with one thing: how to get more crack.

The former New York City commissioner of health wrote an eye-opening book, Dragon Within the Gates, about his sincere but unsuccessful attempts in the ’80s to stop crack from becoming the “driving force” behind the rapid rise in sexually transmitted disease (especially syphilis and HIV) and, also, in violence in “New Jack City.”

North Carolina has tried to control drug dealers by taxing illegal drugs at 100 percent of value, in addition to criminal penalties. It’s easier to convict on tax charges than on conspiracy or narcotics trafficking. The “Untouchables” of the U.S. Treasury Department nailed mobster Al Capone on tax evasion during Prohibition, when the Chicago Police were unable (or unwilling, due to Big Al’s big cash bribes!) to arrest him on murder, extortion or other charges.

Gangsters like Al Capone and his modern-day counterparts — ruthless street gangs, Colombian, Mexican and Peruvian cocaine cartels, and U.S. businessmen who launder drug money — don’t seem to care much about the woman who dies of AIDS, which she contracted as a “crack whore,” or the young man shot to death over a drug deal. Gangsters just want money. They are willing and able to use some of their profits to buy political and legal protection — to bribe a few weak and greedy politicians, judges, attorneys and even some law-enforcement officers to betray the citizens they are sworn to protect and the laws they are sworn to uphold.

Jesus said, “You cannot worship God and Mammon.” The love of drug money is the root of so much evil for so many human beings.

— Gary James Minter

Hemp advocates: far from self-serving

This is in response to the letter [Oct. 14] from Scott Latimore, who finds the hemp advocates’ agenda “selfish and low on the list of problems we need to address,” such as “a collapsing world economy, a major Senate race in North Carolina, and a media and an independent council [sic] who have gone over the top.”

I invite Mr. Latimore to actually look into the issues of legalizing hemp and the subsequent substitution of hemp products for wood-pulp products. The fact is, these matters relate very directly to the “problems” he feels need addressing.

Clive Ponting, in his comprehensive book The Green History of the World, shows how — throughout history — the economic prosperity of nations has been repeatedly curtailed due to the abuse of natural resources, specifically forests. [Rep. Charles] Taylor — recently cited for his “abysmal environmental record” by the Asheville Citizen-Times (which then proceeded to endorse him) — is a timber millionaire whose main concerns are big business and the destruction of trees!

The media, cowering under the “influence” of big business, fails to inform the public of connections between consumerism, environmental destruction and the illegality of hemp — and instead covers, ad nauseam, the likes of Ken Starr and [Monica] Lewinsky.

Furthermore, hemp advocates are involved in the preservation (and restoration) of the rights of individuals — not of corporations — in this nation, this glorious countryside, which we daily desecrate.

Mr. Latimore, in conclusion, asserts that the “genius” of the American system is compromise. A friend of mine, quite intelligent, observant and well-read, contends that our “genius” is genocide — but let’s agree with Latimore on his point, for surely, to play the game of American society is to compromise our beliefs, common sense, intelligence and our Bill of Rights.

— Bill Ogle

Mr. Gregg and racing’s sad day

Walking through the gates, I feel the excitement and see lots of hurried activity. As I take my seat, the command is given — “Gentlemen, start your engines.” Suddenly I hear the roar of powerful engines and begin to smell high-octane fuel.

This is my memory of a passion being born deep inside me for the sport I still love today. Thanks to Roger Gregg, this memory may never be possible for future generations.

Roger Gregg has made a lot of money the last several years from the passionate race fans and drivers at the Asheville Motor Speedway. When the air was cold and/or the rain begin to fall, the fans and drivers still came out to the racetrack and supported Roger Gregg. When legal and political opposition surfaced, these people were there. When this same man said racing would continue in 1999, the drivers immediately began making costly changes in their racing machines, to comply with the 1999 rule book.

Roger Gregg has now betrayed his supporters and secretly sold the speedway to make room for a park bearing his last name. My question for Mr. Gregg: How can you sleep with yourself?

[About $1.1 million was spent to buy the speedway grounds. In the future, a lot more money will be needed to tear down a piece of racing history and have engineers/architects design the new park, as well as for construction of restroom facilities, picnic areas and trails. When the rains come, this new park will be flooded. When the flood water recedes, money will be needed to make repairs and to clean up the debris and destruction left behind. To the new owner, I ask: Is closing the speedway worth it?

The Asheville Motor Speedway brought lots of money into the local economy. Each Friday, thousands of people would buy grandstand or pit tickets. Once inside, more money would be spent by the fans and by the drivers — on souvenirs, drinks, food, etc., as well as for new equipment and parts. Before or after the races, many people would spend money at area restaurants. The racetrack provided jobs for some and an opportunity for local businesses to sell products and/or advertise their services. Can the park provide this type of economic impact?

The racetrack provided young and old, alike, a place to have fun and stay out of trouble. History has shown that parks are great opportunities for drug dealers and troublemakers. Who will really enjoy this park?

In closing, I must say that it’s a sad, sad day in racing history. It will be difficult to see a facility that hosted such greats as Ralph Earnhardt, Jr. Johnson, Richard Petty, Jack Ingram and the Pressley gang just fade into a memory. Hopefully, this dark day will be a springboard to a bigger and better race-place for the dedicated race-car drivers and their fans!

— Michael Stamey

Spare the teacher … or spoil the system

How far can a teacher stretch before bursting? We may find out, this school year. It seems that more layers [of demands] are added each year to accommodate the school administration and the state.

Bear in mind that many of the programs are put together with little-to-no teacher input.

Elementary teachers must develop a personal-progress plan for lower-[achieving] students that is labor intensive and requires parent participation. Next, most schools are now doing the Readers Process program, which requires the daily tutoring of one child. Is it coincidence that the two schools that did Readers Process last year both failed to make exemplary progress? Next, there’s a special plan for gifted students that requires documentation. Next, throw in the usual pressure of end-of-[year] testing. Finally, add on the typical committee obligations and housekeeping paperwork. Enough already!

Whatever happened to regular classroom teaching, with some room for spontaneity? It is not that all these layers are negative, in and of themselves. Some of the student-achievement task-force recommendations seem valid. It is simply the sheer volume of more and more teacher demands that is wearing teachers down.

I fear the accountability issue has become overvalued. What about the barrage of percentages, printed in the Asheville Citizen-Times, to be used as a report card for individual schools? What does it really mean?

I give up. Further, a recent article in the same newspaper, published by a private foundation, presented a conflicting report-card for schools. Who to believe? I am quite impressed with the teachers who produce and endure. This includes the Buncombe County teachers, who probably share the same scenario. I hope you both get some needed relief soon, before you burst!

One final plea to Asheville City Schools administrators: Please do not further reduce the coverage of special programs at the elementary level for the sake of more strictly “academic” pursuits. I am speaking of art, music and physical education. I am disappointed that each elementary school does not now have a full-time specialist in art and music. That seems to be a step backward. Let specialists teach more of their subject to justify their presence. These special programs are important and certainly contribute to the education of the “whole child.”

— an Asheville City Schools parent
[name withheld at letter writer’s request]

Why not lead by example, officer?

It is difficult to talk about police policy in this country. Citizens and public officials, alike, tend to turn any discussion about the police into one about criminals and crime. True, without crime, there would be no need for police — but that does not mean that any criticism of the police is always directly relevant to crime. With that in mind, some disturbing trends in Asheville’s public policy ought to be examined.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, three police officers were standing in the shade in front of the BB&T building. They were drinking coffee and chatting informally when I passed by on my way to lunch. When I got to my restaurant, I noticed that one of the officers had parked his police cruiser illegally, half blocking a driveway. As there was no emergency, nor, indeed, any police business at all in the area, I was troubled by the arrogance with which the car was parked. So I placed a note on the officer’s windshield that said: “If I parked here, you would give me a ticket. Why not lead by example?”

I watched as the officer returned to his car a few minutes later, snatched the note off the windshield, and threw it on the ground!

Presumably, parking is not allowed in this area because it obstructs the efficient flow of traffic. Whether the space is blocked by a police car or a tourist’s Cadillac makes no difference. And littering, by anyone, is self-evidently wrong.

Later, I saw another police car create a traffic jam outside the Civic Center, where it was illegally parked near an intersection. As in the earlier case, it was an improper attitude rather than an emergency that led the officer to park his car as he did.

That afternoon, I also noticed a greatly increased police presence downtown. It is good public policy to have an officer visibly walk a beat — but put too many officers in an area, and one begins to wonder what is wrong. And that is exactly what went through my mind.

I once spent three days at a public music-and-crafts show in Denmark, attended by several thousand people, without seeing a single police officer. I mentioned to one of my hosts that, in America, you’d see an officer every 50 yards or so at an event that large. (Think I’m exaggerating? Go to any sports event.) He asked me why, and I was unable to give him a satisfactory answer. Standard and unexamined reasons, like “crowd control” and keeping the way clear for “emergency vehicles,” seemed contrived and self-serving.

The increased police presence near Pack Square is all the more disturbing when one realizes Big Brother is looking down on the whole show. Perhaps you haven’t noticed it, but he is watching you. I’m talking about the surveillance cameras positioned to observe, and presumably videotape, law-abiding citizens. Not criminals, vagrants and hooligans, but you and me, friend.

That’s the paradox of such intrusiveness: Cameras are justified as a crime-fighting measure (or “for traffic,” as if that makes any difference), yet end up being trained overwhelmingly on honest people. This is true no matter which city department controls them.

What is the ratio of criminals to honest citizens observed on any given day? I’ll bet not one crime has been solved by the use of those cameras. Video surveillance of public life by any governmental agency is inappropriate in a democratic society. It robs us of our dignity and mentally prepares us for ever more intrusive and outrageous measures — adopted, ostensibly, to fight crime.

I have written the chief of police about the case of the double-parking litterbug — not to get any particular officer in trouble — but because it provides an excellent opportunity to review police training in [the area of] public perception and civic responsibility. The Police Department is staffed by well-meaning people with the best of intentions. They just need to understand that their actions can have unintended consequences with the public.

As for the public-surveillance cameras, they ought to come down at once. They serve no justifiable purpose whatsoever in an open society. Unfortunately, I don’t think a letter to anyone in government will make any difference, as far as the cameras are concerned; it’s the kind of issue only the press can influence.

— Brad Howard
Black Mountain

[Editor’s note: It has been reported, but not confirmed, that detectives from the Asheville Police Department have been telling kids downtown that the police have three cameras of their own (separate from those mentioned in the letter above) monitoring downtown street activity.]

Adding insult to injury on the Cullasaja

Your assistance is sought in helping to save the Cullasaja River, a once beautiful trout stream in Macon County, in far western North Carolina.

Today, it was learned the N.C. Division of Air Quality issued a permit for an asphalt plant on a 250-foot-wide strand of floodplain alongside the Cullasaja. Within a one-mile radius, there is a school, two churches, a retirement village, and many other elderly residents. There was no public notice.

This adds insult to injury, as the river has suffered due to an undisclosed inter-basin transfer, a record drought, and pollution from the Highlands area.

“It’s hard to find salvation in sewage water,” the Rev. John Raby commented regarding his decision to stop baptizing in the river after the Highlands sewage-treatment plant went on-line. Other churches have also stopped the centuries-old tradition of river baptisms — some are now resorting to using swimming pools.

For 12 years, the N.C. Division of Water Quality failed to disclose an inter-basin transfer of up to one million gallons of groundwater from the Cullasaja/Mississippi River side (Little Tennessee River Basin — emptying into the Gulf of Mexico) to the Chattooga/Savannah River side (Savannah River Basin — emptying into the Atlantic Ocean). The permit grantee, the Cullasaja Club, with 350 proposed home sites, may use the water for irrigation of golf courses and domestic use. … The … permit was granted approximately 45 days after the resort town of Highlands received its permit to double its sewage capacity to a half-million gallons a day and discharge directly into the Cullasaja River. Among those the DWQ failed to inform were the NC Supreme Court, the NC Attorney General, USGS and the EPA.

Citizen monitoring of Highlands sewage treatment has produced high measurements of chlorine (29 times higher than the permit allows) and ammonia, both of which are harmful to aquatic life.

Within three years of going on-line, the new hospital experienced corrosion of its [sewer] pipes, causing spillage of raw sewage. A new line was rerouted to the plant.

The two lakes in Highlands are heavily silted and have poor water quality, and contribute little dilution to the treated sewage.

On Oct. 3, an unexplained 4-to-5-foot-high surge of black water roared down the river, following a 2-to-3-inch rain upstream in Highlands the night before. The surge was compared to a flushing of a toilet.

The week of Oct. 15, [drought-stricken] Highlands resorted to the use of porta-johns, due to the lack of water.

Please write Gov. James B. Hunt, Office of the Governor, Raleigh, NC 27603-8001, or call him at (800) 662-7952.

There will be public hearing about the proposed asphalt plant on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Highlands Civic Center.

Save Our Rivers can be contacted at (828) 369-7877.

— Peg Jones, Save Our Rivers, Inc.

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