Friday, September 15, 2023

The Rotten Dictator of Rockingham County


I love a good toppling of dominos, and this story has them lined up. (Details here from Colin Campbell, writing for WUNC.)

See, a gambling casino developer named The Cordish Companies had an eye on a new location in rural Rockingham County, and they needed (1) a law legalizing commercial, non-Indian gambling casinos in North Carolina and (2) they needed a large tract of land that could be rezoned especially for them.

Guess who thought he could get both? Why, Senate Prez Pro Tem Phil Berger, who represents Rockingham County in the state senate and who set out very determined to slip casino enabling language into the NC budget. (He already got the property rezoned -- his own son sits on the all-Republican county commish that approved the rezoning.) But the second part of Berger's scheme looks dead for the moment, or at least seriously wounded -- because the House Freedom Caucus says "no" to putting casinos in the budget. 

Look what else Berger's got up to because of that casino:

So Wednesday (this week), Phil Berger gets the Senate to vote to de-annex almost 1,000 acres of the little town of Summerfield in Guildford County, pop. 11,000, a bedroom community suburb of Greensboro that has stringent zoning laws about development. Berger takes the land away from Summerfield and gives it to Guildford County. "The de-annexation bill was requested by developer David Couch, who wants to build apartments and other housing" on at least some of those 1,000 acres. The track happens to lie 10 miles from the casino site. Who wouldn't notice it was going to be high-density housing for the hundreds of low-wage workers a gambling casino will need -- the dealers, floor-walkers, servers, security, and maintenance workers. Exactly the kind of development that an upscale suburban bedroom community like Summerfield would reject -- and, yes, it's a class thing. (NOTE: Berger has constantly pumped up the idea of the casino as a great job-creator for local people. But it's sobering to know that the "Average Casino Dealer Salary" in North Carolina -- Eastern Band Cherokee casino and the Catawba Two Kings casino -- currently: $27,429 per annum, or $13.79 an hour.)

Whether the de-annexation of Summerfield benefits David Couch is yet to be known, as he will now have to negotiate with Guildford County. Maybe their development laws are more lenient. The House still has to pass this piece of corruption, and maybe the same Freedom Caucus that's already stood up to Berger might be morally offended enough to do it again. Whether or not de-annexaction ultimately helps Couch, it sure enough punishes Summerfield, as only Berger is capable of engineering.

Last domino: The lobbyists pushing the de-annexation bill for David Couch also work for The Cordish Companies. They're all in it together.

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