In one corner, weighing in with their solicited opinions is the Indy staff and assorted contributors. A rag-tag crew of blowhards and know-it-alls, these writers think they invented the word “best.” In the other corner, under the Indy‘s scrutinizing gaze, are this year’s picks for what’s really best about the Triangle in 2002. Read on if you’re ready to grapple with these appallingly random choices and petty, yet discerning, tastes.

Best salmon biscuit

Heck, these days the lowly breakfast biscuit sandwich–any combination you can think of egg, ham, bacon, cheese or chicken–are available in every fast food “drive-thru” and convenience mart crowding the nation’s highways and shopping strips. But if you’re jonesin’ for a homestyle salmon cake on a biscuit (or bun)–a patty that’s crisp on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside–you’re usually SOL. But not at Kings Sandwich Shop, a take-out only restaurant that’s been slingin’ biscuits, burgers and hot dogs since 1943, where you can take the edge off that day-after feeling with a breakfast platter or sandwich, BLT or the aforementioned fish patty. The jaunty white cement block building, with red trim and awnings, is located just down from the old Durham ballpark, right around the corner from Manbites Dog Theater. Open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (they close Saturdays at 3:30 p.m.), you can hear the bacon sizzling when you step up to the screened order window and see the pressed tin, ’40s-diner style, on the back wall. This morning, Willa’s taking the orders. All the sandwiches are under $3. Willa figures they serve anywhere from 100 to 150 people a day. A regular, York Phelps (he’s been eating at Kings on and off for 25 years), says he’s never tried the salmon biscuit but recommends the combo dog, which features Kings’ “original recipe” chili (says Willa). But if 10 a.m. hot dogs with the works ain’t your bag, go for the fish biscuit.

Best business location move

Some people thought the Moonlight Pizza Co. in Raleigh was giving up–or ceding the high ground, anyway–when it abandoned its original home on Glenwood Avenue and Peace Street, which as everyone knows is at the very top of the very happening Glenwood South. For months, we had no Moonlight. They planned to reopen where? Over on Raleigh’s new (if temporary) main street, that’s where. Now that a key stretch of Hillsborough Street is closed for a bridge repair, folks headed downtown are finding themselves at the heretofore sleepy corner of Morgan Street and Boylan Avenue … stopped at the traffic light … and staring at the new, much-expanded and very popular Moonlight Pizza. Try the Big Dipper, featuring spinach and Roma tomatoes … or the Little Dipper, a calzone with spinach and mushrooms. Seats, and a bar. Somebody was planning ahead.

Best place to get authentic Mexican food

You know you’re in an authentic Mexican restaurant when your pidgin Spanish draws a blank look from the waitress and requires a translator, and the other patrons–all apparently from south of the border (including the on-duty Spanish-speaking policeman) can’t stop staring at you if you’re a pale-skinned newcomer. Welcome to El Mandado, where you better speak the language if you want to find out what “El Gran Especial de Hoy” or “El Platillo de Dia” is. With Spanish-language television programs running and Spanish-language music in the jukebox, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped out of North Raleigh and right into another country. The restaurant gets fresh, authentic ingredients from the adjoining Mexican grocery, for its signature Central American and Mexican dishes like Pupusas Salvadorenas, Pescado Dorado and Coctel de Camarones. And of course, you can wash this all down with an authentic fruit-flavored Mexican soft drink.

Best taqueria on wheels

If you’ve attended any concerts or gallery openings in Raleigh in the past year, there’s a chance that you encountered a breathtakingly cool, customized step van, boasting airbrushed yellow flames (and a horn that plays “La Cucaracha”) parked outside the venue. On top of the truck, cut-out metal letters filled with carnival-style bulb lights spell out “Hot Tamale,” the name of Raleigh restaurateur Benji Shelton’s mobile taqueria. Shelton is a man of visions. Besides being a founder of Lilly’s Pizza, the artist/musician and self-described eccentric pretty much designed and constructed the van, which is really a restaurant on wheels: two grills, a steam table, refrigerator and sink. Two big Igloo coolers provide additional cooler space, while cases of Jarritos Mexican sodas, Orange Crush and mineral water are the beverages of choice. Shelton, a strict vegetarian, has two grills and two sets of utensils–“one’s vegetarian, one’s for meat,” he says, gesturing. While he serves steak and chicken–as well as carnitas when dishing up for “non-gringos” each Sunday at the Latin Market in Zebulon–his soy tacos, burritos and quesadillas, featuring chunks of chewy textured protein seared on the grill, could fool most carnivores. And the presentation: fresh cilantro, crisp slivers of cabbage and Shelton’s homemade tomatillo and fresh chili sauces, with a chunk of fresh lime, are colorful and plated with an eye to detail.

At a recent lunch gig serving a company in Research Triangle, Shelton bantered with diners, asking them if they were sure they wanted the habanero salsa: “You sure you want to be Johnny Cash? You’ll be singing ‘Ring of Fire,’” he cracks. The customer says that he’s ready to be Johnny Cash.

The van, with its patterned red velour driver’s seat (featuring diamond stitching–very low-rider chic) and a quality sound system (local music vet Rob Abernathy’s surf guitar ditties provided the soundtrack for the RTP lunch), has got character. It’s fun, and the food’s top-notch.

Last December, Shelton provided the food and music–he’s got speakers mounted on the top of the van–at a two-gallery opening party in Raleigh. Driving between the galleries, with a CD of Tex Ritter’s kitschy-nostalgic Christmas tunes playing to add a little holiday atmosphere, Shelton’s food (and his truck and his music) was an unqualified success: “People were chasing the van,” Shelton recalls. “And not just kids–business men in suits.”

But Shelton’s been having a time with the Raleigh city attorney, Tom McCormick, whose attitude toward fully equipped vending trucks is “these aren’t gonna happen in my town.” When Shelton tried to explain that people like the van, and related his recent experience catering to the art crowd, McCormick responded, “What if the next guy comes along and wants to play rap?”

Shelton says now that the BTI Center is open, Raleigh is trying to promote a more upscale image, an attitude that’s ultimately hurting the city’s cultural diversity–its color.

“They think I’m trailer trash and I’m bringing Raleigh down,” he says, with a hint of resignation. “They don’t see this as culture too–as something fun.”

Best place to buy a sideboard

Or an autoharp, a Shirley Temple doll, lusterware biscuit jar, oak washstand, Hummel figurine, or even an antique wooden duck decoy: the Mebane Antique Auction Gallery. It’s absolutely the best auction house in the Triangle. For the novice, a sideboard goes in the dining room. Regardless, sitting at the auction house for five or six hours, sipping sweet tea and throwing your hand into the air now and then is a sublime experience for the acquisitive in nature, even if you leave empty-handed. Perhaps the best thing about this auction house, besides their consistent, seemingly endless supply of really cool antiques, is their weekly schedule. Like clockwork, the bidding begins every Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. in the windowless, no-frills warehouse off of N.C. 70, and doesn’t end until the last what-not shelf is sold. No reserves; no buyers’ premiums. But watch out, the competition can be stiff.

Best tire guy

You know how at most car and tire repair stores, you go in there knowing they’re going to rip you off? Not at Durham Tire and Auto on Hillsborough Road. Jeff Powell greets everyone like they’re an old buddy from high school. He knows the histories of their cars, their tires, when they have to get to work, how to make folks feel OK about all the necessary work that needs to get done to keep their car in the fast lane.

Best watch repair guy

It’s all digital, LED and over-priced. Except at the Dakota Watch Company kiosk at Northgate Mall. A steady stream of out-of-time customers shows up at Stephen Turner’s booth asking for him by name. He can fix anything, quickly. Wielding tiny pliers and screwdrivers like an Iron Chef in Watchland, Turner doesn’t ever seem to need a manual to fix the faces, adjust the times. He knows all the buttons to push. And in what order.

Best candle shop

Need a little magic in your day? You’ve passed the Pinehurst Candle Shop on N.C. 15-501 a dozen times. Like a scene out of a Hollywood fantasy set, you gotta step inside. Discover rooms full of every kind of candle imaginable inside this cute gingerbread house log cabin.

Best public art project

The variety of art projects visible throughout Carrboro is a monument to the town’s long record of publicly embracing diversity. And though it’s not quite the gilded gold chairs you would find in the French capital, the “Paris of the Piedmont” art collection recently acquired a throne.

At 305 W. Weaver St., the home of Sparrow and Sons Plumbing and Heating, Terry Sparrow set out to spoof his neighbors’ scrap-metal sculptures and oversized concrete women and to get a laugh out of his cousin, company owner Jerry Sparrow. Using skills handed down over the family plumbing business’ 65 years, Terry Sparrow set a toilet down into a rock-walled pool in the front yard and piped water through it, creating the effect of an overflowing commode.

Jerry Sparrow laughed all right. Carrboro’s mayor also thought it was hilarious. One woman tried to buy it, and Terry Sparrow’s in-laws drove all the way from North Raleigh to have a look. Amid all the compliments, one anonymous caller complained the toilet fountain offended her. But the Sparrows didn’t take the criticism too seriously because “she was a Yankee.”

How’d they know that?

“How’d I know the sun rose?” says Terry Sparrow.

What started as a joke has launched a new trend; Sparrow says he’ll leave the first masterpiece in place until he thinks up a new creation.

“I’ve ordered me a purple beret and I’m getting out of this plumbing business,” he jokes, warning fans not to ask for a signed replica to add to their home collections. “My art is not for sale.”

Best place to be challenged by contemporary art

The purpose of art has changed throughout history. Before science and religion, its purpose was to try to explain the great mysteries of nature. Before the printing press, it served to educate. Before the camera, its role was to record. Today, one of art’s purposes is to challenge the status quo–or to “offend”: “to trangress, to violate,” according to our dictionaries. And the best place in the Triangle to view transgressive work continues to be Raleigh’s LUMP gallery.

LUMP gets people on several levels. Exhibit A: Unacceptable, an exhibition two years ago of artwork that took as its theme, “What we find unacceptable in our society.” The show included, for instance, a series of photographs on “weight gain,” showing women pinching their fat. But what really set people off was a conceptual work in which a man sat in a chair with the label “sex offender” across his chest. Problem was, he really was a sex offender. As former North Carolina State University professor Dennis Wood posed in a chair with a printout of his offenses from the North Carolina Sex Offender and Public Protection Registry on the floor beside him, he talked to gallerygoers about his time in prison and about how it felt to be labeled a pedophile.

Then there’s Exhibit B: One of LUMP’s favorite artists, Texas-based Ludwig Schwartz, put up a show that included a two-liter bottle of orange soda with a thrift store shirt wrapped around it. A few patrons understood the artistic nature of the work so poorly that someone stole the shirt. The show also included a work showing a lump of chewed gum stuck on a drink can.

Despite earning the unqualified respect of national arts magazines, LUMP has had more difficulty being taken seriously at home. But gallery owners Med Byrd and Bill Thelen soldier on. Look for an exhibition in October called Stirring the Turd, in which six different artists will be using everyday objects to “stir things up.” The show will include the work of a UNC-Chapel Hill student who makes cookies with Ritalin baked in them, and “Zoloft bread.” Yummy, and good for your disposition, too.

Best uses (re-uses?) for South Square Mall

It’s not official yet, but with Durham’s South Square Mall emptying faster than a state bureaucrat’s office on a sunny Friday, people are talking about what else might be done with those vast commercial spaces. Our favorite suggestion so far is to reopen the mall as a home for all manner of churches and revival groups. The cost of buying or renting space in the Triangle has put the squeeze on many new and growing congregations. With its high ceilings and multi tiers, the mall is the perfect venue for tent revivals, prayer meetings, choir rehearsals, mission societies, Bible study camps–there’s even a fountain for baptisms. Think of all the storefront congregations the place could accommodate–not to mention tour buses. Religion could be just the way to revive flagging commerce at the mall. Hey, this is the Bible Belt isn’t it?

Best reason to pray for the future of Franklin Street

The headline in The N&O on March 13 read “Evaluating Franklin Street,” and readers probably expected some intelligent discussion about Chapel Hill’s most vibrant and celebrated street. Instead, the story recounted a visit from one Kenneth Kauffman, a retail consultant from Baltimore, who told Town Council members that Franklin Street “could benefit from commercial zones similar to those used by privately owned malls and retail centers. Home improvement stores would be clustered near each other. Restaurants and bars would be close together, and children’s stores would be within stroller distance.”

You’ve got to be kidding us.

What kind of moe-ron can argue with a straight face that Franklin Street needs to look more like a mall? How many of residents of the Triangle sit in traffic at the Streets at Southpoint, Northgate or Crabtree Valley wondering when the day will come that Franklin Street is more like these places, more like the big-box, bland retail culture Mr. Kauffman is pimping?

Hey Kauffman, isn’t a Gap, a Sunglass Hut and a Starbucks enough? What do you want from us, man!?!

Best place to chill with your fellow granola-crunchers on a Friday night

Where have all the flowers gone? We can’t account for all of them, but there are quite a few on Little Lake Hill this time of year, and quite a few flower children too when it’s time for another concert at Little Lake Hill, also known as Bett and Bill Padgett’s house in Raleigh. Bett, who sings and plays the guitar herself (with six CDs to her credit), invites the best of her folk-singin’ friends to perform, and they get the gate: 100 seats at $10 per. People bring wine and cheese to share, or beer and chips, and settle in for a mellow time with perfomers like Mike Craver (of Red Clay Ramblers fame) or bluesy Chuck Brodsky. Last month, it was jaunty David Roth, in from Chicago with his keyboards and two guitars to sing songs like “I Have Learned” and “I Don’t Need a Bag.” The latter is what Roth sings when asked, paper or plastic? Like any good cruncher, he’s got his own cloth bags–in fact, he sells them. The former is what some folks answered when asked to complete the phrase, I have learned ____. (“not to cast the first stone,” “if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room” and, of course, “the power of a song.”) Next up, Sloan Wainwright (Loudon’s sister), on May 17. Check out for details, or just to see one heckuva neat Web site.

Best on-the-job performance

One of the hardest-working members of Lebanon Fire Rescue in Durham is a 9-year-old female. Every day when the shift changes, Angel practices her routine with her buddies in the company. On command, she stops, drops, rolls and sometimes even crawls a bit. (And she’ll happily Sit still while her back is scratched). The faithful Dalmatian was a gift to the volunteer company after Boomer, their previous mascot, was killed a few years ago. Since then, she’s performed her safety routines for scores of schoolchildren and other curious visitors to the fire station on Milton Road. Angel’s not as spry as she once was (in dog years, she very nearly qualifies as a senior citizen), but she still goes out on calls. “She loves riding on a fire truck,” says Mike Webb, one of the company’s few full-time firefighters. “She sits in the middle between me, my driver and my captain.” The best time to catch Angel’s rundown is during the day. At some point in the near future, the company will be moving to an expanded station on Russell Road while the Milton Road firehouse is turned into an EMS training center. No worries, though. Angel will go with her company.

Best urban jungle

Early in the morning, the urban nature reserve off of Albany Street in Durham is way spooky. The land dips and rolls in strange heaps, remnants of old vines hang down like gnarled fingers and hunks of old concrete rise up out of the dirt, like bones from the elephant graveyard in The Lion King. There’s a bit of mist, a flash of early sunlight and then the startling sight of a blue heron flying through the woods toward nearby Ellerbe Creek. Hard to believe that rush-hour-filled I-85 and Guess Road are a mere base-hit’s distance away. Over the past year, members of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association have wrestled what was once an impassable snarl of vegetation into a 6-acre trail that features two small wetlands, a miniature “prairie” and a natural grape arbor. A wooden bench and signs that explain the natural alchemy underway (“Good Bugs, Bad Bugs,” “Native Plant Restoration”) dot the landscape. The reserve sits next to a portion of the city’s new West Ellerbe Creek Trail that’s fast becoming a favorite with local bikers, joggers and pet-owners. As chances to commune with nature in the inner city go, this one’s tops.

Best tent at the Festival of the Eno

It’s always the hottest day of the year when you go to the Festival for the Eno. Like a mirage, 50 yards past the lawn stage, the Rain Room Tent beckons. Delirious fun ensues inside. Get an all day pass, get soaked and satisfied any time you like. Like a mini-Woodstock, the ever-changing inhabitants of the Rain Room smile, sing, take deep breaths, and throw up their hands in joy.

Best trend in reading

Mother-daughter, parent-child, teacher-student reading groups are flourishing in the Triangle. Most local schools have reading groups going full steam. Groups usually read one book a month, meet during lunch, or before homeroom, and just have a great time. Discussions can become wild and wide-ranging, honest and hilarious, times for sharing and catharsis. One mother-daughter group of a dozen moms and their seventh grade girls at Carolina Friends School has been meeting regularly for two years. The host daughter and her mom pick out the next month’s book and plan the after-dinner discussion. One enthusiastic mother exclaims, “We all look forward to it. The girls get to know the other moms and we get to know our daughter’s friends.”

Best dose of teen hormones

Want to see the future now? It might be a jolt, you’re not getting any younger. The out of control growth magnet, The Streets at Southpoint have spawned the Triangle’s largest breeding ground for teenagers at their 16 theater complex. A mind-boggling display of teen and tween energy descends there each Friday night, from Raleigh, Cary, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Durham. The kids are all right. Don’t know where your kids are at 10 p.m.? There’s a good chance they’re hanging out, hooking up at Southpoint Cinemas.

Best way to blow up a car with a cell phone

File this under highly improbable. The theory–one that has concerned the fuel industry in recent years–is this: A cell phone battery, under very precise conditions, could conceivably spark and ignite the fumes at a gas station pump. Yes, those tiny electronic impulses and electromagnetic waves emitted by the phone could be enough to trigger an explosion. As far as we can tell, this has never actually happened. Some cell phone manufacturers have included in their instruction manuals a warning against the use of phones in areas with potentially explosive atmospheres. And gas stations from Charlotte to Calgary, Canada, have posted signs warning of the dangers of cell phones. The concern is apparently a response to an outdated United Kingdom regulation from a time when phones operated at powers up to 20 watts, as opposed to today’s average .6 watts. So, if you see any of those “No Cell Phones” signs popping up at your neighborhood gas station, at least now you know why.

Best performance by a candidate who didn’t win

Trying to dislodge state Rep. Russell Capps (R-Wake) from his safely Republican North Raleigh district was mission impossible when Democrat Geri Bowles ran against him in the 2000 election. Even getting Capps to debate her was impossible. But out of that acidic experience, Bowles has proceeded to make lemonade: She created Wake County Citizens for Effective Government, which meets monthly at Borders Books, corner of Six Forks and Strickland Roads. Bowles visited Borders during the campaign to ask if it would host her hoped-for debate with Capps. The bookstore was squeamish about such a political event, but now if it were nonpartisan … And that’s what WCCEG is. Bowles arranges the programs, and in a year’s time she’s had speakers on capital punishment, smart growth, taxes–Republican speakers as well as Democrats, but when was the last time the Dems got equal time in North Raleigh? Turnouts are excellent: More than 100 twice, and at least 35 to 40 every month, Geri tells us. WCCEG celebrated its first birthday in March, when Raleigh Police Chief Jane Perlov was the guest. On April 18, it will be state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, on bioterrorism threats (“How’s the Beef?”); May 16, the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina is slated.

The WCCEG meets the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. Meetings are free; voluntary dues are $10 a year.

Best business location move by a Fortune 500 company

It’s a vicious canard that Raleigh has no corporate headquarters, only “gummint.” We have Progress Energy, which is our old CP&L with a Florida utility added on. It gives us a grand total of one (1) Fortune 500 company in town. Yes, in town. PE might have ditched its Fayetteville Mall HQ for a gleaming new campus in, say, Chatham County? Instead, it’s going to put up two more buildings just to the east of the mall, and they’re going to have shops and condos as well as office space. One will go up on land sold by the loser in this category, First Citizens Bank, which demolished its own downtown headquarters and debarked for that strange-looking round building out on Six Forks Road. There’s no accounting for taste, is there? Oh, we’ve all had our differences with CP&L over the years–the dirty smokestacks, the threat of nuclear catastrophe–but at least in terms of downtown Raleigh’s vitality, it’s nice to see the company making Progress.

Best rock crib

The Triangle ain’t Malibu, and folks like Linkin Park and Fred Durst don’t have fabulous mansions–all ocean views, terra cotta tiles and built-in home theaters (how ’bout Timmy Lee’s home Starbucks counter?)–to dazzle the local press with, a la MTV Cribs. But the Indy isn’t celebrating these vulgar displays of undeserved wealth. Rather, we picked the rock crib that best reflects the musical/artistic soul: the lair of Laird Dixon, longtime guitarist for Zen Frisbee and Sharkquest, and guest guitarist with Trailer Bride and other esteemed local outfits.

The apartment, located over a local food market, is an amazing reflection of its inhabitant’s personality and talents. After four years, it remains a work in progress. Consisting of two large rooms and an almost hidden bathroom (lit with twinkling colored lights), the apartment doubles as an art studio, with Laird’s tools hanging on a black-painted pegboard. Laird has completed several original chess set designs. The pieces are cast in resin, and their molds, as well as other works cast from his molds–sconces, hanging anthropomorphic figurines and more–adorn the walls.

The floors are completely covered with oriental rugs in varying degrees of wear, the colors mingle with the patterns, stripes, Indian fabrics and cast metal figures (a fairly large statue of “The Dying Gaul,” bronze mustache and all, lives atop his fridge). His latest project, a cast figure of a flying, winged pig, lies on the work counter.

Appliance-wise, everything is painted black, like the stove and refrigerator (decorated with a huge red and gold hand-lettered Chinese character). If you’re wondering, the fridge contains the following: hot dogs, cheese, condiments, a dried-out artichoke, a six-pack of Labbatt’s Blue and a metal-cast goldfish of Asian design (“that’s where he live,” Laird says of the fish, grinning). There’s an electric wok as well, which he uses, but “not for food.” (He heats up wax in it sometimes.) The kitchen also houses “the sushi bar,” a counter he built that goes well with the purple Chinese characters he’s carefully brushed onto the black walls.

Then there’s the boudoir: almost a harem room of sorts, with a canopied bed (homemade, of course), strange puppet-like figures (with skulls for heads) and a real skull–“I think it’s a guy,” he says. The room is painted a sunny-day blue–the ceiling boasts a few, subtly added white clouds. Matching urns filled with plastic tulips add to the riot of patterns and colors–throw pillows and whimsically painted end tables decorated with Laird’s careful, arcane designs. Above his bed, a bamboo birdcage houses a ragged, one-eyed sock monkey (“that’s ‘Baker’s Boy,’” he explains). Near the door, a three-foot cast of the Statue of David has a piece of black duct tape over his naughty bits. Stretched out on his canopied bed with a smoke in one hand and Survivor on the tube, Laird is truly “laird” of his manor.

And just how, if pressed, would he describe his crib?

“My brother (artist/musician Kevin Dixon) said it best,” he says. “It looks like the inside of a birthday cake.”

Best idea we’ve heard lately about local government

Did you read the story about the asphalt plant that almost got put in East Durham before a few folks got wind of it and blew the whistle? Perhaps the name “Bickett Place” is familiar to you? In both cases–the first in Durham, the second in Raleigh–citizens threw a hissy fit over the way the bidness interests involved seem to control the planning process … and neighbors are lucky if they even hear about what’s coming before it’s approved. Well, here’s an idea for leveling the playing field a little: Create an ombudsman in the city planning office whose only job is to help the neighbors. The idea comes out of the recent summit meeting by the Neighborhood Coalition for Responsible Development in Raleigh, but it would work just as well in Durham. The point is developers and their minions are on a first-name basis with local planners–naturally. Neighbors, if they’ve never been in a zoning fight before, probably don’t know where the planning office is. When they find it, they discover they’re already months behind, and a certain distrust of the process sets in. You hate to see that.

Runner-up: Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen’s new neighborhood college, a free do-it-yourself course in how local government works.

Best idea we’ve heard lately about state government

This space available. No, really, we heard one last year: The state would take over the local government share of Medicaid and keep an equivalent amount of tax revenue that, as things work now, the N.C. Department of Revenue is supposed to collect and pass along to the counties. What’s good about that? It’s simple. Medicaid costs are skyrocketing, especially in poor counties–after all, Medicaid is mostly for poor people. So in the long run, the tax burden on poor folks would go down, and wealthier folks around the state would be asked to pay more. Unfortunately, when the state budget crisis hit, the Easley administration kept local revenues … period. Now we hear that they’re going to offer the counties, not a Medicaid takeover, but the right to pass a new local tax! And not a local income tax, based on ability to pay. No, a sales tax, so that even those of modest incomes can help pull the state out of the ditch it’s in.

Best free ads for The Independent

We’ve got to hand it to Bunkey Morgan. The Chatham County Commissioners candidate has found a use for The Independent‘s investigation that exposed his little residency problem. (See “Is There a Price on Gary Phillips’ Head?” Feb. 20.)

In Siler City, Morgan is airing radio campaign ads citing the Indy story that detailed his District 4 primary campaign against incumbent commissioner Chairman Gary Phillips, a progressive Democrat.

The Independent newspaper and an Orange County group called Democracy South have accused me of doing wrong,” Morgan says to potential voters tuned in to WNCA-AM. “They even say I want to cut taxes. Well, duh!”

Here’s the skew: While it was part of the background in the article, Morgan’s conservative platform had nothing to do with the story’s main focus–allegations that Morgan doesn’t live in the district he’s running to represent, and that he may have received a campaign contribution through a land deal.

Morgan lives in District 1, near Apex, in a big house with a swimming pool. When he launched his campaign to unseat Phillips, he changed his affiliation from Republican to Democrat and bought a bungalow in Silk Hope in District 4. When pressed by the Indy–and other local media who have followed the story–on where he actually lives, Morgan insists he has “lots of places” he sleeps. In addition to the residency question, the circumstances surrounding the house sale have raised questions from Democracy South–which is based in Orange County but works in several southern states. Morgan bought the house in September and sold it three months later for $33,000 more than he paid, to his lifelong friend Bobby Stott, an aide to U.S. Rep. David Price. In the Indy story, Democracy South leaders raised concerns that the five-digit profit constitutes an illegal campaign donation.

The Chatham County Board of Elections has scheduled a hearing on Morgan’s candidacy for April 16. In the meantime, Siler City residents shouldn’t believe everything they hear on the radio.