NORMAN — When it comes to issues like crime and speeding, the residents of the tiny town of Norman often feel ignored by those in authority.
But that could change after state and county turned up Monday at the Norman Town Building to hear residents air their concerns.
“I know you feel like you’ve been ignored, but let me tell you we care about you,” Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons said. “This community is not too far gone. It’s a place that can be saved.”
Nearly 40 people edged into the small meeting room in an impressive turn-out for a community which, according to the 2010 census, has a population of 87 people.
The meeting was born from an effort by Barbara Quick to address some challenging issues plaguing the place she and others call home — particularly traffic safety, which she asserts has deteriorated since she moved to the area some years ago.
“The problem here is that we are not represented,” Quick said. “No one seems to care about what happens in Norman. My husband and I have had the wooden posts at the end of our driveway knocked down four times by cars skidding off the road. I went to the sheriff’s office, the Highway Patrol and (Department of Transportation) and no one seemed interested.”
Quick described U.S. 220 North Alternate,as dangerous even when truckers obey the township’s posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour — and much less when they come tearing around the “big curve” and on through the town’s only caution light at speeds in excess of 70 mph.
“My husband Willie Quick was mayor here,” she said. “My daughter and I are from Florida, but when I moved to settle into Willie’s home town I just found myself looking around and wondering ‘what in the world happened to this town?’”
Many people nodded in agreement with Quick’s comments. Norman Mayor Kenneth Broadway, facilitator of the meeting, also agreed.
Some residents said they tried to reach the sheriff’s office for help, but got no response.
Clemmons tried to assure residents that it was his responsibility to protect them.
“I am the sheriff of this county,” Clemmons said. “and it is my job to make sure laws are enforced. I am standing here saying I have been here at meetings and I have not heard all this.
“I am saying I’m the man. I have a phone number, 910-995-5176, and that’s the line straight to me, but use it. That’s your number. You are the taxpayers. Use it.”
Clemmons asked for someone at the meeting to call the sheriff’s office right now and ask for him. Within 60 seconds, the phone he held in his hand rang and he smiled.
Residents also said they were concerned about an uptick in thefts and possible drug-related activities.
“When my wife and I moved down here from Virginia,” resident Simon Henry said. “we came with a U-haul full of guns and other belongings. We unpacked them and went back to Virginia for another load, and by the time we got back everything in our place was gone. Someone broke in and stole it all while we were moving.”
Among items taken were expensive hunting firearms.
Several people at the meeting said people often know the thieves and pass names along, but by the time law enforcement arrives there is nothing to find.
Clemmons acknowledged that people talk to each other, when they should be talking to him.
“Mrs. Quick, I apologize for any of these problems you’ve had, but I have not heard from you until today,” Clemmons said. “Now I know. And you know that we are a service organization. When you are not happy with your service, do you go another person who works there, or do you want to talk to the manager? Because that’s me. If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, call me.”
Clemmons reminded the people of Norman that he has sent deputies to the community’s stores for when they close late at night to deter crime.
“When we come here talking to witnesses, a lot of them just don’t talk,” he said. “We check our pawn shops here and in surrounding counties when things are reported stolen. But when people don’t talk, it’s not very helpful.”
Andreas Dietrich of the North Carolina Highway Patrol also addressed some of resident’s concerns.
“I have five troopers under me in Richmond County,” he said. “Of 795 wrecks in the county in 2013, only six were from here. I have not heard any of these complaints before today and I’m in my office from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. As the highway patrol, we’re available 24/7. We don’t have enough manpower to assign someone just to this or that area.”
He acknowledged that this didn’t mean the dangers residents are concerned about aren’t important, and provided the phone number for reaching his office — 910-582-7018
Henry asked whether a patrolman could be assigned to the area just once a month at least.
“I can send a trooper to patrol for up to four weeks if we get a call,” Dietrich said. “If there’s a trouble area where the same types of things are happening over and over again at certain times of the day, then we can have someone here waiting to catch it. But when we get a call on something in progress and we’re 25 minutes down the road or farther, there’s no way for us to get there faster than that.”
After this, people began to brainstorm and the tone of the meeting changed from one of accusation to cooperation.
Among those in attendance were county commissioners Thad Ussery, Kenneth Robinette and Don Bryant. County Manager Rick Sago was also present.
“Anything that benefits Norman, or any rural part of the area, is good for Richmond County,” County Commissioner Kenneth Robinette said. “Hoffman and Norman both have land that lends itself to the horse country, but we are competing with ‘new road’ communities.”
County Manager Rick Sago suggested working with Jamie Armstrong, county planning director, to establish ordinances that would make the town more attractive to newcomers.
But enforcement of ordinances is the responsibility of the township. Norman has no code enforcement officers. Commissioner Thad Ussery asked whether Norman collects any taxes. Broadway responded that besides sales of beer and wine, no taxes are levied.
“I’m not necessarily saying tax,” Ussery said. “Nobody wants to hear about taxes. But they can be good for enforcing ordinances. They could let you contract deputies to service Norman from the sheriff’s office, sort of like what Ellerbe did a while back.”
As people filtered out into the parking lot, the sense of hope was palpable. Norman’s Mayor Pro Tem Stephen Cranford noticed the improvement.
“A lot of the main issues here seem to be with communication,” he said.
“I think that good things can happen here, and this meeting was a very good thing,” she said.