Our Opinion: A win for Elm City and development in our small towns

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THUMBS UP to Advance Auto Parts’ decision to open a regional parts distribution center in Elm City, which could help pave the way for more commercial growth in northern Wilson County.

The center employs fewer than 10 people, but it adds the formerly vacant warehouse at 6030 U.S. 301 to the tax rolls and serves as a feather in Elm City’s cap. Growth tends to attract growth, and town officials wisely used the announcement as an opportunity to market Elm City to potential new businesses and residents.

“I would say geography is one of Elm City’s biggest assets,” Town Administrator Jonathan Russell said, noting it’s convenient to both Wilson and Rocky Mount. “...If people like the small-town environment, Elm City is perfect, but it also has the benefits of big towns without much of a drive.”

Commissioner Melvin Cooke bragged on the quality of Frederick Douglass Elementary and Elm City Middle School, Times reporter Brie Handgraaf wrote, “noting schools are often factored into an employee’s decision to take a job.”

Wilson County’s small towns are too often left out of the discussion when it comes to regional economic development. Businesses would do well to consider Elm City as well as Stantonsburg, Lucama, Sims, Saratoga, Black Creek, Sharpsburg and Kenly in addition to the city of Wilson when looking for a new place to call home.

We’re proud of Elm City for adding to its business base, and we root for all of our communities to grow and prosper.

THUMBS DOWN to a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that marks a rare setback for student protections against administrative censorship at public universities. The decision sticks out like a sore thumb amid a robust body of free speech jurisprudence.

The Richmond, Virginia-based federal circuit court whose rulings are binding precedent in North Carolina denied relief to the University of South Carolina’s College Libertarians and Young Americans for Liberty chapters. The student groups held a free speech festival and after some perpetually offended “snowflakes” complained to administrators, faced a monthlong USC student conduct investigation.

College officials ultimately made the right call, opting not to file trumped-up discrimination or harassment charges against student sponsors. Plaintiffs pointed out, however, that it shouldn’t have taken a month for people ostensibly smart enough to run a university to figure out that talking about the First Amendment is, well, protected by the First Amendment. No investigation was necessary.

The protracted and unnecessary probe had a chilling effect on the students and student groups, but a three-judge panel “opined that this series of events would not have deterred students of ‘ordinary firmness’ from holding similar events going forward, since the university did not ultimately punish them at the end of the monthlong process,” explains the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Judges failed to understand that making a big show of “investigating” constitutionally protected speech serves to deter such speech. The probe itself is punishment. If educrats need a month to get a handle on elemental First Amendment truths taught in high school civics, they’re either incompetent or dragging things out on purpose.

Whether the ruling is appealed to the free speech-friendly Supreme Court or left to stand for now, we’re confident federal courts will eventually put a stop to the McCarthyist farce of subjecting free speech to protracted and pointless investigation.

THUMBS UP to the Bailey Board of Commissioners for sticking up for its residents and demanding better service from the private contractor hired to landscape town rights of way.

Bailey commissioners decided Monday to put Envirolink on notice that its cutting of the grass isn’t cutting the mustard. The town will send a certified letter and give the public works contractor 30 days to improve its service or see its contract canceled.

Landscaping has been so poor that Bailey Chamber of Commerce President Cecil Hawley asked commissioners to call off Envirolink so the chamber could pay another company to trim the grass. Commissioners Shelley Bullard and Allen Daniels said they’ve been inundated with complaints.

Perhaps a public shaming will prompt improvements from Envirolink, which receives taxpayer funds to perform the work most larger cities and towns assign to their own staff. Whether or not the company keeps its contract, we commend Bailey commissioners for acting on residents’ concerns.