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Metrobeat 

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If the county's public service and information department were to add the touches James plans to request, including an interview with his minister, Glenn Wagner of fundamentalist Calvary Church praising his faith in God and the role it has played in his political career, if would likely only add fuel to the fire.

But that's exactly what James plans to do unless County Commission Chairman Parks Helms pulls off the air a county-produced, seven-minute piece featuring praise from Helms' minister, his wife and his mother, among others.

James is demanding that Helms reimburse the county several thousand dollars, the approximate fair market value of the commercial's production and airtime, and commit to a policy that bans commissioners from using the government channel and county television production staff for their own personal promotion. If he doesn't, said James, he'll request an infomercial of his own.

We'll use photos of my kids running across green grass into my loving arms, said James.

County spokesman Danny Diehl said the county would be willing to produce and air a video for James similar to the one he produced about Helms.

We'd be more than happy to do one for Bill James if (County Manager) Harry Jones asked us to, said Diehl.

County employees produced the Helms piece for a March banquet held by the Urban League of Central Carolinas honoring Helms for winning the Whitney M. Young public service award the group gives out each year.

County Manager Jones, a member of the Urban League's board of directors, directed county staff to produce and air the video after Madine Fails, president of the Urban League of Central Carolinas, asked him if the county could produce the Helms piece in time for the banquet.

People call the county every day and ask them to be supportive of an event, said Fails. We always try to figure out how we can cut costs. I could have gone to Parks Helms and asked him (to get the county to pay for and produce the video) but why would we do that when the county manager is on the Urban League board?

The situation is made even more politically and ethically complex by the fact that the county, under Helms' leadership, has given $40,000 per year over the last several years to the Urban League to pay for staffing for a computer-training program.

In a memo, Jones said he asked county staff to produce the video on three conditions: that it be done at no cost to taxpayers other than staff time, that it wouldn't distract staff from their regular duties, and that the segment would be a useful way to inform the public of the value of public service and the history of public service provided by an elected official.

Diehl said that staff was able to meet all three conditions. The video took two county staff members a total of 20 hours to produce, which Diehl estimates cost the county about $400 in staff time. Diehl said there were no extra costs, because the two staff members would have had to fill the seven-minute slot in the half-hour news magazine with something, whether they'd produced the Helms piece or not.

The seven-minute piece on Helms was shown 24 times in the month of April on Government Cable Channel 16 as a part of Mecklenburg Forum, the county's half-hour TV news forum.

In it, friends, family members and Helms' former preacher praised Helms' faith and the role it played in his life as an elected official.

Those close to Parks Helms say it's his faith and love of people that guide him in his personal and public lives, county employee John Gordon said in a voice-over.

The video captured even higher praise for Helms from Charlie Milford, Helms' longtime minister at Park Road Baptist Church.

His absolute belief that all people are children of God and have infinite worth inherently in one sense controls everything he thinks, Milford told the viewing audience. It goes deep. He really cares about people, especially the ones who are the underdogs, the ones who are downtrodden.

I think his ideas are wonderful and they show his Christianity and his love for humanity, Minnie McKee, a friend of Helms' said in an interview.

The county even interviewed Helms' wife and mother.

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