The Partisan Town Council – An Unnecessary Instant Chasm

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One man’s transparency is another man’s chasm.

North Carolina Senate Bill 94 (of session 2017) proposes to add transparency to municipal elections by requiring them to be conducted on a partisan basis (§ 163-279). While this bill sounds great, because “transparency” sounds like a good thing, there are three good reasons why forming this instant chasm is a bad idea.

Potholes are party agnostic. What are the most important issues facing many growing towns? Keeping the crime rate low. Managing increased traffic flow. Ensuring an adequate supply of clean water and sewer capacity. Providing recreation spaces and programs. Fixing potholes.

Funding these things is a core service of any municipality and none of them are partisan issues. If you are skeptical, check the party planks for your state. Lots of bullets related to family, fairness, faith, equality, limited government, education, healthcare, environment, economy, constitutions, etc.

These are all great issues for discussion, but are macro-environmental principles. They don’t address the question of “how does my 10-year-old walk safely to school”, “can I play an indoor sport with people my own age?” or “who’s going to fix that pothole at the entrance to my neighborhood?”

The answers to these questions are not pulled out of partisan platforms, but culled from common crises. We realize we all have the same basic problems, we all come together and we solve them together. Because potholes are party agnostic.

Non-partisanship begins with commonality. When municipal elected officials wear party labels, an initial separation is formed, unnecessarily. Instead of acknowledging that we have 90% or more in common, we would begin with an instant gap to overcome… or not, since it’s rare for people to move that far in order to find common ground.

But when we start with no labels… when we know that the person sitting next to us is a husband or wife, mom or dad like us… when we realize they take their garbage and recycle bins out to the street once a week just like us… when we look at the council member beside us as another beautiful creation of a loving God… that’s when we start the conversation with the foundation of the assumption of an imminent resolution.

That is, we expect to find a solution together. Because non-partisanship begins with commonality.

Solving local problems involves choosing the best person, not the best partisan. Anybody can play to the party base to get them angry about some non-local issue. It’s not that difficult — you throw out some “raw meat” topics, and you convince them to run vote for the candidate in your own party.

But negative campaigning doesn’t translate well to good future governing. And partisan macro issues don’t translate to addressing the problems in front of us daily.

The best local government is the one comprised of smart, thoughtful problem-solvers who can work well with others, in a team environment. Solving local problems involves choosing the best person, not the best partisan.

When we need a land developer or a new school construction project to add a sidewalk, a pedestrian crossing, a stop light or a new turn lane, it matters “zero” whether we agree on gun legislations, bathroom usage, universal healthcare or standing for the national anthem and the flag.

Instead, we have a simpler problem because, in municipal matters, we generally want the same thing: safety, quality of life, jobs and freedom. We achieve this when we can shed party labels long enough to row the boat together, pulling the oars in the same direction, to reach our intended destination.

Senate Bill 94 calls “partisan” municipal elections “transparent”, but I call them divisive. An unnecessary instant chasm.

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The Apex Mayor’s Speech From October 1, 2017

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October 1 was the first day in a week of local efforts to raise awareness to the human trafficking that goes on below the radar. I came to realize that God had a part that he wanted me to play to extend the efforts of others over the past couple of years.

Upon meeting with Whitney Ludlow and Nicole Bernard on May 25, I suggested we have a week dedicated for this purpose, and I could proclaim the week Human Trafficking Awareness Week.

These two planned over the summer and we did it. We claimed Apex back for good, not evil. We declared that traffickers are not welcome here, and that if they don’t flee our good town, we’ll find them and toss them in jail.

But beyond that, if we encounter any victims, we’ll bring together good people from the community to help them and apply a balm to their scarred past.

Here is the brief speech I wrote, and delivered, at our kick-off event in front of the Apex Police Department, October 1, 2017.

It would seem unlikely that we, in modern day America, would find ourselves talking about slavery.

But that’s exactly what Human Trafficking is, and we need to talk about it.

These slave owners are pimps who prey upon those who are weak and emotionally scarred.

There often are no chains; these usurpers psychologically manipulate their victims into sacrificing themselves for the benefit of their master, whether it is by forced sexual acts or straight labor.

And it is happening today, moving up and down the east coast, stopping off in wonderful towns along the way to do a bit of business, and then eventually moving on.

Or sometimes they don’t go anywhere and they’ve normalized it into a local lifestyle.

The criminals sometimes are out in the open and expect us to ignore things that look just a little bit off; to focus on our own busy lives.

And we say, no. You don’t get to do that here in our community.

That’s why I’m proud to be standing before you today, shining a flashlight on the criminals, and extending the hand of rescue to the victims.

People like Ellen Blair, Nicole Bernard, Whitney Ludlow, Joy Currey have been making a difference for the past few years.

And our police department has been working this issue here all along. Chief Letteney, Captain Gilbert, Officer Pawluk and Danica Coleman.

We can help them. We SHOULD help them.

Apex citizens: won’t you do the smallest of things to start making a difference?

Take advantage of the events this week to educate yourself so you can also shine your flashlight into the darkness and extend your hand of rescue.

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Hurricane Irma Preparedness

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Hurricane Harvey hit Houston hard. It made me remember Matthew from 2016.

Matthew dumped 6″ of rain on Apex, flooding parts of Highway 55, Richardson Road, and other lower areas.

Winds snapped tree limbs and caused temporary power outages.

The Town of Apex electricity, or as I like to call it, Peak Power, was brought back into service within 24 hours, while the Duke-served neighborhood of Beckett Crossing was down for almost a week.

Hurricane Irma is battering Florida now, heading up into the Carolinas, much like Matthew did last year.

I know Apex is ready for whatever hits us. We have the Emergency Operations Center ready in case we need to scramble service men and women to provide aid and repairs.

If your power blinks and comes back on, that is achieved by the upgraded re-closers that we added to the transformers. They automatically try to repair a circuit break without human intervention.

If the re-closers can’t do the job, the outage is seen by our smart power system and we will roll a truck and crew out to make repairs.

If you have a non-emergency problem you wish to report, you can download the Apex Outage app from the iTunes or Google stores. Obviously, for emergencies you can dial 911.

Make plans now to be out of power for a few days and you won’t regret it later if it happens.

Go ahead and fill up some plastic bottles with delicious Apex tap water and tuck them away in the back of your pantry and in your refrigerator for cold mass to help keep food cold while the fridge isn’t running.

For the same reason, dump your ice trays into ziplock freezer bags and put them back into the freezer.

Go ahead and wash and dry clothes while you have power. Especially your whites.

And for goodness sake, take a shower shortly before the storm arrives in case something compromises the water supply and you don’t have the opportunity to get a good shower for a while.

Test your flashlight batteries, charge up your cell phones and laptops.

For those of you, like me, who are in the habit of coffee in the morning, cold brew a batch of coffee in case you need a caffeine fix. Cold brewed coffee can last a week in the fridge because the process extracts less acid from the beans.

In case you want to learn how to cold brew your coffee, I’ll leave a helpful link here in the show notes at https://apexroundup.com/007/.

For heavy rains and strong winds, move yard items up close to the safety of your house. Your foundation is usually higher ground on your lot and the house can act as a wind block to keep your items from leaving your yard.

Obviously, you want to have food in the pantry that you can eat without cooking, but you may also wish to put gas in your gas tank (hint: go very early in the morning) and cash in your wallet.

If you live near any elderly folks, check to see if they need anything.

When you’re all done, you can binge on Netflix and DVR shows, knowing that you got your fix if the power does go out.

Stay safe, everyone!

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Whirlwind Weekend to Nashville

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Three months ago I discovered that the British soccer team that I follow, Tottenham Hotspur, was planning a tour in the US, hitting the cities of Orlando, New York and Nashville. I asked my lovely wife, Cheryl, who plays soccer and follows the rival team called Arsenal, if she would like to go on a road trip in July to see the Spurs play Manchester City in Nashville.

So we got tickets with a block of other Spurs fans in North Carolina and planned our trip.

We drove to Music City via Boone, gazing at the great Blue Ridge Mountains as we made the ride through the US 321 pass. The 500-mile each way trip gave us the opportunity to spend some time together, even though I was listening to podcasts and music while she read, we got to spend quality time together.

On Friday, we drove into Tennessee, through Johnson City and Knoxville, to have lunch a cute little diner in the town of Monterey, where I saw a caboose parked next to their train depot building. Very similar to Apex’s caboose. I’ll post a photo on the show notes page: apexroundup.com/004

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Friday night, we sat together, listening to guitar-playing musicians rotate through the stage at the Belcourt Taps in the heart of Nashville. Their musical talent was amazing, but then, this is Nashville, so it’s to be expected that there is no shortage of musical talent in the city.

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Saturday we walked the downtown, along Broadway, and even bought ourselves some boots from one of the many specialty stores in the city center.

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Saturday afternoon, we made our way across the long pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River towards the Nissan Stadium, where the NFL Tennessee Titans play.

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There were 56,000 people there to see these two British teams battle it out in the late afternoon heat of Tennessee.

Now, let me tell you just how much of a trooper my wife is. As I mentioned, she plays soccer, and one of her teams is called Arsenal. As it turns out, and most of you, I’m sure, don’t know this, but Arsenal and Tottenham, my team, are hated rivals as, not only are they both based in the London metropolitan area, but they are both in North London. In fact, when they play each other, it’s affectionately called “The North London Derby” (don’t ask me why it’s pronounced darby when it’s spelled derby). But she went with me on this weekend to see my Spurs play, and she even wore one of my jerseys. What a team player!

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Sitting in the late afternoon sun, it’s great to hear the fan chants going in a way that is so classically European football. And even though we had a couple of overly inebriated guys near us, one of whom spent the entire second half trying not to pass out, while repeating the same rude ugly phrase at one of the players, we were surrounded by Spurs fans who chanted, sang and cheered their team to the end of a disappointing loss to Manchester City.

On the return trip, we drove over the mountain pass, down into the river town of Chattanooga, then west into the Cherokee National Forest of North Carolina. We stopped briefly in the western-most town of Murphy, NC, which, in some ways, is similar to Apex; most notably that it sits on top of a ridge between two small river basins. Apex does this, straddling the high spots between the Cape Fear Basin and the Neuse Basin.

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We had lunch in the historic village-town of Cherokee, North Carolina, which boasts a couple of small casinos and a heritage of the Cherokee Indians. The rest of the drive home was a time to recap the whirlwind weekend and cherish our time together. As we pulled into the driveway, a bit road-weary, but happy, I looked at my wife and thought about how blessed I have been this past weekend, to spend time with the one I love.

On the Paris Agreement

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I’ve been told there is a petition started by someone (not from Apex, NC) asking me to sign on to the Climate Mayors initiative to show President Trump that people oppose his decision to withdraw the United States of America from the UN’s Paris Agreement to have its members voluntarily make efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

To date I have not seen this petition, but it makes no difference. I will not participate in the Climate Mayors initiative. If you’re open-minded, please continue reading.

[Update 6/18/17: I’ve just read the petition. The Apex petition on change.org was, in fact, started by an Apex resident. I don’t know the author, but we do share a couple of Facebook friends. The wording was copied from a model petition and adapted to reference Apex and me. Wilmington’s petition, for example, is nearly identical and three days older. This is a minor detail, but I wanted to establish the facts, since I started with what I was told, the specifics of which were simply lost in translation. Be that as it may…]

Personal Policy
It is my personal policy to let a governing body govern themselves when it does not hinder our ability to govern ourselves. Let me elaborate with an example.

Suppose the North Carolina General Assembly decides that all new drivers (less than 3 years of experience) must wear their driver’s license on a lanyard while operating a motor vehicle. Any bill they may propose or law they may pass does not hinder our ability to do what’s right for Apex, and therefore, I would choose to ignore it.

Yes, it will affect people in my town, and many may find it intrusive and obtuse, but a law governing driving in the state is the purview of the state. If I want to call my representative as a citizen and oppose it personally, I may choose to do so.

But in my role as mayor, this law does not hinder my ability to guide town council to solving local issues. I will not make a proclamation or draft a resolution because the state has not hindered my ability to manage municipal issues.

Taking Care of the Home Front
We have a duty of care for the people and the problems right in front of us. We have increased traffic motoring along our old narrow roads and speeding through our residential streets.

We have gaps in our sidewalks that make walking to school or downtown difficult or dangerous. We have parents trying to sign children up to recreation activities, ending up on waiting lists.

We have citizens who want to frequent our downtown businesses that wonder where they are going to park as the town continues to grow. Today, like every day this year, we issued two C.O.’s and seven people became Apexians, paying taxes and demanding services.

These are tangible problems, calling for immediate solutions, staring us down like velociraptors. We are strong enough to handle it because we know our primary responsibility is to take care of our home front.

Stewardship Doesn’t Require Signatures
Anyone who has followed my public service for Apex since I first joined the Planning Board in 2003 can testify that I believe smart planning and solid execution result in a sustainable town that can stand the test of time.

I want to live in a neighborhood with a healthy diversity of trees. I want our commercial services to be located in pockets around the town, nearest the intersections of our existing (and future) thoroughfares in order to provide convenience and reduce the distance required for travel, which also reduces the total number of car-miles driven per day.

Within the past year your town council defined our first Tree Board to advise on common-sense tree-related development regulations. And we planted a tree for Arbor Day and become a Tree City USA certified town. We even just passed a tiered water usage rate to encourage conservation.

My first involvement in local government was to stand in front of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Advisory Commission and tell them why disc golf was a such great activity into which the town should invest because they wouldn’t have to cut down any mature trees.

Heck, I’ve been known to pull plastic bottles out of trash cans and carry them until I find a recycle bin. I turn out lights when I’m not using them, I keep my shower under seven minutes and I turn off the faucet when I brush my teeth. I often walk, rather than drive, to downtown.

It would be incorrect to presume that my non-participation in any national initiative implies that I’m not committed to promoting environmental responsibility in Apex. I don’t have to sign an agreement in order to be committed to being a good steward of the resources that we’ve been given.

So, petition or no, I care about a sustainable Apex. No one can rightly say otherwise. If every mayor would spend as much time doing the right things for their town as they do posturing and politicking, we’d all be a lot better off.

Excuse me for a moment, I see a plastic bottle in the street. I’ll be right back.

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2017 Apex Town Council Retreat

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For the past several months the Town of Apex staff have been feeding the town manager data so he could present his first draft of the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for the fiscal year 2017-2018, which begins in July 2017. Last month, our town manager, Drew Havens, handed each of the council members his first draft of this big-spending planning document so we could review the contents and plan for the annual retreat.

Earlier today (March 3, 2017), the council met in the training room of the Apex Police Station on Saunders Street for our all-day retreat to learn, discuss, decide and guide the staff. The summarized agenda included the following items:

  • Development Statistics, presented by Dianne Khin, Planning Director.
  • Construction Statistics, presented by David Hughes.Asst. Town Manager.
  • Financial Update, presented by Vance Holleman, Finance Director.
  • Capital Improvement Plan, presented by Amanda Grogan, Budget & Management Analyst.
  • CIP Ranking Results and Analysis, discussion led by Lance Olive, Mayor.
  • Non-CIP Initiatives and Priorities, exercise led by Lance Olive.
  • General Obligation (GO) Bond Basics, presented by Vance Holleman.
  • GO Bond Practical Discussion, discussion led by Lance Olive,
  • Master Subdivision Plan Legal Review, presented by Laurie Hohe, Town Attorney
  • Master Subdivision Plan Planning Review, presented by Dianne Khin.

During the first presentation, Dianne Khin told us how our population is currently 48,500, and we expect to reach 89,392 by the year 2030. This expects a growth rate between 4 and 5% percent, and this is consistent with predictions that we’ve been making for the last few years. The year 2013 was the beginning of a noticeable increase in rezoning requests, development and plat submissions, with non-residential and construction plan submissions trailing a year behind. The ratio of single family homes to town homes is about 5.4 to 1 and new business startups have been fairly consistent over the past five years, ranging from 70 to 100 per year.

David Hughes then followed with construction data, showing us how residential construction permits have surged since last July, which didn’t surprise anyone in the room. With commercial permits, we’ve seen a smaller number of permits, but a higher total valuation, implying a strong base is being built for non-residential tax revenue and jobs. Permit fee revenue is up strong this year, compared to last year, and we’re arguably the hottest market in the county.

In the third presentation, Vance Holleman showed us that our actual revenues and expenditures and solid when compared to the working budget. We looked at the General Fund, the Electric Fund, and the Water/Sewer Fund. We then reviewed our current debt service, which is around 7.5% of budget, and debt capacity, which is about 20% of our policy maximum. We have a sound budget with room to take on additional debt to cover expensive projects, if we deem it necessary.

After a brief break, our new budget analyst, Amanda Grogan, reminded us that the CIP is the 1 to 5 year plan for spending on “big ticket” capital projects. While we’re currently working through the 2016-2017 year CIP items, we spent the last few weeks reviewing the draft 2017-2018 CIP, which contains projects that fall into the following seven categories:

  • Transportation
  • Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources
  • Public Safety
  • Public Works & Environmental Services
  • Public Facilities
  • Electric
  • Water & Sewer

The council members individually ranked the entire list of 35 CIP projects and turned in a set of cards, showing their preferences. Amanda ordered them by average ranking and grouped them by standard deviation so we can see the groupings. The result was four sets of priorities, broken down into quartiles. Council negotiated a few minor adjustments and accepted this as their group set of priorities.

After a foreshortened lunch break, we reviewed the list of non-CIP issues, staff put them up on large flip charts and voted using dots so the staff could get a sense of the most important pursuits.


Vance Holleman then walked us through what would be required in order to pursue a possible tax increase to support a general obligation bond to fund Parks & Recreation projects. Each $10 million that we need would “cost” about 1 cent per $100 of property valuation. In the end, we gave staff general direction to assign the scope to be the list of parks and recreation projects that total about $30 million, and hold onto the other $20 million of needs for another referendum.

Lastly, Laurie Hohe and Dianne Khin spoke with council about making master subdivision plans a properly administrative effort, rather than a judicial one decided by council. We mostly accepted the modifications of the UDO in order to establish objective criteria against which an administrative body, such as the planning board, can make approvals of MSPs, allowing council to focus on larger issues.

We departed having accomplished all the planned goals for the day: learn, discuss, decide and guide.

Selling PCB Design Services in a First World Country

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By Lance Olive, Director of Business Operations, Better Boards, Inc.

Quality PCB Design is an evolving breed of services in first world countries. As North American and European companies squeeze the skilled designers out of their own workforce, pushing more of the work into Eastern Europe and Asia, those who remain with the skills either opt for retirement, career change or consolidation.

As the Business Operations Director for Better Boards, Inc., I see our company at the focal point for consolidation – a gathering together of skilled board designers to create a center of excellence. It is at this point that we have the critical problem facing a PCB Design services company: How do we effectively sell these services back to the companies that cast off their own skilled employees? How do we sell PCB Design services into small companies that can barely afford the one overworked electrical engineer that they hired last year?

In addressing these key questions, we evaluate the three key challenges and embrace the three tantalizing opportunities. Doing this well gets our foot in the door and positions us to sell these services in the hardware design teams that would prefer to be designing circuits rather than layouts.

The first challenge is the price competitions of both overseas labor and the designer working from home. PCB Design Layout service rates in Europe and North America remain relatively high for companies who know the value of the skill that they bring. Meanwhile, small companies in the Czech Republic, Poland, India, Russia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and China can offer layout services for about half of those domestically. Likewise, the designer in his bonus room has very low overhead (sometimes quite literally, thanks to knee walls) and can often undercut the hourly rates of a proper services company.

The second challenge is that of being multi-lingual in CAD tools. Between the customers demanding the use of Allegro (PCB Designer), Altium, MG Xpedition, Eagle, KiCAD and other cheap and free tools, it’s enough to drive a designer mad. No person can reasonably support all of those. To support multiple customers means to support multiple tools. This is difficult to achieve with just a one or two designers since most professionals are great at one tool, fair with another, and merely aware of the rest. Doing this successfully means establishing a team of designers with varying skillsets – a matrix of designers with a mix of tool knowledge that can support any type of RFQ that comes in.

The third challenge is the commoditization of board layout. Tool vendors tout auto-routing as their newest, most improved, wonderful feature. Electrical engineers prefer to hand off their schematics to someone else to “route the wires”… after all, how hard can it be to connect the dots, quite literally. The expectation is that the layout phase shouldn’t be all that difficult, but we all know that as technology pushes us into hyper-fast clock signals and escaping 0.2mm BGA pins in the smallest number of layers possible, it often does feel like a game of Jenga, Tetris and Candy Crush Saga all rolled into one. The expectation oversimplification of the layout phase of board design leaves many of us pulling what’s left of our hairs out.

But where there are challenges, there also lie opportunities – especially those that give us competitive advantage to nullify the challenges.

The first opportunity is that of a fast turn time. Even though no one plans to be in a hurry, many product development teams, especially their managers and PMs, take longer than expected to get the schematics underway. And when it’s time for layout, they have very little time, want us to start tomorrow and be done in about half the estimated schedule. This is an opportunity for those who have developed an internal process that allows them to actually deliver. And when sitting in the office of a prospective customer and you can tell stories of delivering under duress, it makes the sales job so much easier.

The second opportunity is that of service. In many senses, this is the same axiom that you’ll find in most businesses. In our line of work, if we can make the life of an engineer, a manager or a project manager easier by picking up their pieces, arranging an accurate, timely, best-practice-following board layout so they only need one spin before they are ready to make the push to production, we have provided a service to them that engenders happiness in their own job, creates a level of trust, and becomes their path of least resistance to product success. The loyalty that grows from this is very difficult to sever. Selling services where “service” is truly a core competency being delivered becomes easier.

The third opportunity is one of design accuracy. Getting the board right the first time means investing in reviews on the front end, and saves time and money downstream. I come from the software industry and we would employ a technique known as Development Phase Containment. The concept involved selectively reviewing and approving the design along the way to contain the software bugs to the development phase closest to when they were created. Said another way, when a mistake is made, do what it takes to discover and fix it as quickly as you can because the cost of fixing later it can double every day that it goes undiscovered. In the world of PCB Design, this can take the form of a pin assignment problem, missing pull-up resistors, incorrect assumptions about amplifier behaviors, incorrect x/y/z dimensions for component placement, and reversed polarity, to name a few examples. One the best comments I can make to a prospective customer is to let them know how many of our designs involve just a single iteration before heading to production (although, product marketing can change the best laid plans).

A company that can embrace the opportunities while meeting these challenges head on by changing the way they do business creates fantastic sales stories that enable the sales representative to walk into any prospective customer situation – outsourced, tool-centric, fast-paced, floundering, tight-budgeted, endless iteration – and lay down a scenario that meets them where they are, engenders trust and opens the door to just a small enough crack that, once opened, will open again and again.

Selling PCB Design services is only made easy when the company supplying those services has done all it can do to provide these stories and win prospective customers’ hearts.

Copyright 2016 Lance Olive and Better Boards, Inc.

Reprint permission is granted retaining writing credits