by Jordan Green

Bluegrass musicians of America thank you, Congressman

US Rep. Howard Coble, the Republican who represents North Carolina’s 6 th Congressional District, struck a blow for those whose livelihoods depend on an ability to transport fiddles, mandolins and banjos around the country without worrying about damage during debate on reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The manager’s amendment considered later today includes language that will provide clarity for musicians who travel with small instruments,” Coble said from the House floor. “Current policy varies from airline to airline as to what instruments are permitted on board. The amendment strikes a delicate balance to ensure musicians can attain certainty, and safety is assured.”

No less an eminence than bluegrass pioneer and North Carolina native Earl Scruggs raised the concern with Coble in a February letter. Scruggs said he increasingly travels to gigs by air rather than by van, and is urging adoption of a uniform policy that will allow musicians to carry on any instrument small enough to fit either in an overhead bin or under a seat.

“I rely on being able to take my musical instrument with me on the plane,” Scruggs said. “The fragility of these instruments necessitates that they be brought aboard as carry-on luggage rather than as checked baggage. Unfortunately, not all airlines recognize this, and I have been forced to choose between missing a gig or risking the instrument being damaged in the cargo hold.”

Chris Harris, general manager for the Del McCoury Band, illustrated musicians’ concerns in a letter sent to Coble, also in February, noting that members carry instruments worth up to $250,000 and that the band’s banjo player has had two banjos broken during flights.

“Until earlier last year, Mr. McCoury checked his guitar in a certified flight case made of fiberglass,” Harris wrote. “We’re still not sure how they were able to manage it, but [Southwest Airlines] gouged a hole through the nearly indestructible case and broke the neck of his prized 1957 Martin guitar. This instrument was still in good condition after many years no the road, and SW almost ruined it with one careless accident. Luckily, a skilled craftsman in Nashville was able to glue the neck back together after many hours of lining up the ‘puzzle,’ but they were very close to needing to replace the neck, which would have reduced the value of the instrument several thousand dollars.”

Brunstetter chides reporters, staffers, Lawmakers for ‘rumor mill’

Contrary to rumor, NC Sen. Pete Brunstetter says, the Republican appropriation co-chairs in the NC General Assembly have not already finalized the budget. In his weekly newsletter, the Forsyth County lawmaker, who is a co-chair, appears to equate the legislative process with war. “The Legislative Building is one of the greatest rumor mills I have ever seen, and that includes four years on a Navy destroyer,” he said on April 1. “I remember a couple years ago when the rumor was running rampant through the building that Marc Basnight was about to be hauled away by the FBI for some transgression or another. Didn’t happen. The rumor mill is stoked by reporters looking to create news, staffers trying to decipher what is going on in the minds of legislators, and legislators themselves who routinely ignore the ‘loose lips sink ships’ admonition popular in World War II.”

Elections director addresses logistics of early voting sites

The city of Greensboro is considering eliminating satellite early voting locations to save $26,500 in the operation of municipal elections this fall. The Guilford County Board of Elections will offer early voting at the Old County Courthouse on weekdays for the three weeks preceding the Nov. 8 general election. Elections Director George Gilbert said extending early voting hours at the Old County Courthouse from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and opening the site on the two Saturdays preceding the general election, when the satellite sites are typically open, would add an estimated $2,000.

Gilbert indicated the Old County Courthouse should have no trouble accommodating the projected volume of voters.

“It can easily serve 600-700 voters per day without significant voting lines,” Gilbert wrote in a March 30 letter to Greensboro City Manager Rashad Young. “This would be more than double the number of voters that have ever voted early in a municipal election.”

Some have expressed concerns that voters, particularly the elderly, would have difficulty finding parking at the Old County Courthouse.

“If the city of Greensboro wishes to offer free parking for early voters at its Greene Street parking deck, we would be happy to include that information in our advertisements of early voting for the November 2011 election,” Gilbert said.

The trek from the parking deck to the Old County Courthouses involves crossing a street and walking across Governmental Plaza.

No joke: Energy costs rising

Greensboro Engineering and Inspections Director Butch Simmons says in an April 1 memo that if the NC Public Utility Commission approves rate increases requested by Duke Energy, the city will take a $267,000 hit to its budget in the next fiscal year and a $171,000 hit the following year. Simmons added that had the city not performed an energy audit on its buildings it would be facing an additional $150,000 in energy costs from the proposed rate hike.

Developmental disabilities focus of town hall

Advocates for North Carolinians living with developmental disabilities, addiction and mental illness will meet for a town hall on mental health, developmental disabilities and substance-abuse services to discuss the current state budget outlook and support for those who need assistance at Ardmore Hall Auditorium at Forsyth Tech in Winston-Salem on Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Human trafficking summit to take place at Bennett College

A public summit on human trafficking will be held at Bennett College on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Panelists are expected to include people from the fields of law enforcement, healthcare, social services, academia and advocacy. Lunch will be available for $6. Registration opens at 8:30 a.m. To pre-register, call 336.517.2262.