INDY Week columnist Bob Geary's Raleigh news & politics blog

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kentucky Attorney General is 7th who won't defend his state's same-sex marriage ban

Posted by on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 10:56 AM

Democrat Jack Conway, Kentucky's elected attorney general and a prospective candidate for governor next year, tells Talking Points Memo why he cannot defend his state's law banning recognition of same-sex marriages:

He said he came around "over the last few years" after conversations with friends in the gay community, and after thinking about how his two daughters would come to view his decision.

"I thought long and hard. I thought about the arc of history," he said. "I thought about the fact that at one time in this country we discriminated against women. At one time we discriminated against African-Americans and people of color. At one time we discriminated against those with disabilities. This is the last minority group in this country that a significant portion of our population thinks it's OK to still discriminate against in any way. And I didn't think that was right."

Conway split with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who intends to defend the ban without the AG.

Six other state attorneys general have taken the same position that, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in the Windsor case, their states' anti-gay marriage laws are unconstitutional and should not be defended.

Conway makes seven.

His announcement was seen as a political risk given the conservative politics of his state.

Barring a sudden and swift change in statewide public opinion, the decision poses potential dangers for the attorney general, who has served in the role since 2008, and told TPM he intends to run for governor in 2015 once Beshear maxes out his two terms.

"My wife Elizabeth knew what I wanted to do in my heart," he said. "And at one point she pulled me aside and said 'Jack, you stink when you're not authentic.' And at that point I knew it might cost me politically but I needed to ... make a decision I could be proud of."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, also a Democrat and also a prospective candidate for governor in 2016, is holding to a different view. Cooper says it's his duty to defend North Carolina's ban, though he doesn't agree with it, and he continues to defend its constitutionality against a challenge in federal court.

The N.C. ban, already a law, was added to the state constitution in 2012 with the passage of Amendment One. The amendment, a Republican measure from the General Assembly, was approved by voters during a May primary election.

  • Pin It
    Jack Conway, a Democrat, plans to run for governor next year. "I thought about the arc of history," he said.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Oregon's AG is 6th, so far, who refuses to defend state's same-sex marriage ban

Posted by on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 2:12 PM

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum: "Because we cannot identify a valid reason for the state to prevent the couples who have filed these lawsuits from marrying in Oregon, we find ourselves unable to stand before [U.S. District Court] Judge [Michael] McShane to defend the state's prohibition against marriages between two men or two women."

Oregon's ban was passed by voters in 2004. More on Rosenblum's decision here.

The Washington Post has a roundup of statements made by the six — so far — attorneys general who've taken similar positions that such bans are unconstitutional in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Windsor case.

They include Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring a month ago.

They do not include North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper.


Cooper, who continues to defend our state's same-sex marriage ban — Amendment One — in court even though he says he personally favors marriage equality, has been quoted as saying he can't get into whether the laws he's defending are constitutional or not:

“You’re not going to hear me talk about the legality or constitutionality of any of these statutes that are under litigation. I think it’s important for me not to do that,” Cooper said before addressing a Democratic Party function in Greensboro. “However, I will engage in public policy discussions and I want to do that.”

Cooper is campaigning as an all-but-declared candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016.

Cooper has also said: " [W]hen legal arguments exist to defend a law, it is the duty of the Office of the Attorney General under North Carolina law to make those arguments in court."

Notice that Cooper's position is that he'll defend a law if a "legal" argument can be made for it. Has there ever been a law for which a "legal" argument could not be made?

Oregon AG Rosenblum's standard is that she won't defend a law without a "valid" argument.

The Campaign for Southern Equality, a pro-LGBT rights group, has called on Cooper to cease his defense of Amendment One.

That doesn't mean Amendment One would go undefended if Cooper dropped it — its Republican backers in the General Assembly made it clear that they have lawyers ready to defend Amendment One if Cooper doesn't.

Disclosure: Ellen Rosenblum is married to Richard Meeker, a co-owner of the INDY.

  • Pin It
    North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper continues his "legal" defense of Amendment One, however.

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Friday, January 24, 2014

Pro-LGBT group calls on Roy Cooper to drop Amendment One defense

Posted by on Fri, Jan 24, 2014 at 3:03 PM

In a post yesterday, I noted that as Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring was stepping up on the issue of same-sex marriage rights, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper was shrinking from an important immigrant rights issue — thus adding to Cooper's list of disappointing legal positions, including his defense of racial gerrymandering, of voter-suppression legislation, of anti-choice legislation and of Amendment One.

Cooper's defense of Amendment One, the North Carolina ban on same-sex marriages, is the opposite of what Herring's doing. Herring announced that he will not defend Virginia's statutory ban in court; he will argue instead that it is unconstitutional In light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Windsor case, which struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Today, the Campaign for Southern Equality, a pro-LGBT rights group, called on Cooper to follow Herring's lead and drop his opposition to a lawsuit which challenges the constitutionality of Amendment One.

The group's statement:

Attorney General Cooper should choose same course of action as Virginia Attorney General Herring

Asheville, N.C. (January 24, 2014) — Yesterday Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that his office will cease to defend Virginia’s ban against same-sex marriage in a federal lawsuit that is progressing through the courts.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that NC Attorney General Roy Cooper will continue to defend Amendment One:

“Cooper said today North Carolina should change its law to allow marriage equality and he believes ‘basic fairness eventually will prevail. However, when legal arguments exist to defend a law, it is the duty of the Office of the Attorney General under North Carolina law to make those arguments in court,’ he said in a written statement.”

“I am hopeful that NC Attorney General Cooper will take the same course of action as Virginia Attorney General Herring and choose not to defend Amendment One, an unjust law that will ultimately be ruled unconstitutional,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “Every day that Amendment One remains on the books, same-sex families in North Carolina are harmed because they are denied fundamental rights and protections. We’re calling for full rights and protections under the law immediately for LGBT people. Patience ceases to be a virtue when people are suffering.”

Recent actions by the North Carolina Department of Revenue and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC clearly demonstrate Amendment One’s negative impacts on North Carolina families.

Directive PD-13-1 issued by the North Carolina Department of Revenue states that legally married same-sex couples in North Carolina must file their state taxes separately, despite the fact that they will file federal taxes jointly. Additionally Blue Cross and Blue Shield of NC does not offer family coverage plans to legally married same-sex couples due to Amendment One. As a result, legally-married gay couples who have enrolled in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace as married have had their insurance plans cancelled by Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

NC Department of Revenue directive can be found at:

Blue Cross and Blue Shield statement can be found at:

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Today: Virginia's AG goes bold, unlike our AG Roy Cooper

Posted by on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 3:54 PM

It can't be a good day for N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, who's all but declared his candidacy for governor in 2016.

On the same day that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, also a Democrat, announced that he will not defend Virginia's ban on same-sex marriages because he's convinced it's unconstitutional — a courageous stand — Cooper's office released a disappointing and weakly reasoned advisory opinion on immigrants' rights.

Attorney General Roy Cooper
  • Attorney General Roy Cooper
The opinion: Young immigrants who are legal residents of North Carolina because of their protected status under federal law are nonetheless not entitled to in-state tuition rates on the same basis as other legal residents.

Chalk up a plus for the recently elected Herring, who is already showing some backbone and a willingness to stand up for constitutional rights.

Mark down a minus for Cooper — another one.

I've written previously about Cooper's defense of the Republicans' voter-suppression law (House Bill 589), which the NAACP and others have challenged as unconstitutional. It's not clear whether Cooper thinks it's unconstitutional, too, but is defending it anyway; or if he thinks it doesn't violate the Constitution.

Similarly, Cooper is also defending the Republicans' racial gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts — raising the same question about Cooper's legal reasoning.

Also today, Cooper was reported to be on the fence as to whether to continue to defend the Republicans' ultrasound-with-lectures law after it was struck down by a federal judge as violating a woman's right to choose whether to terminate her pregnancy. At the trial court level, Cooper's office argued that the ultrasound law did not violate constitutional rights.


Here's what Herring said, in part, about the Virginia law and his refusal to defend it:

"After thorough legal review, I have now concluded that Virginia's ban on marriage between same sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on two grounds: marriage is a fundamental right being denied to some Virginians, and the ban unlawfully discriminates on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender," Herring said.

Pretty straightforward. There's more on Herring's position here.

It's worth noting that the same issues have been raised in court against North Carolina's ban on same-sex unions. Cooper, unlike Herring, is defending our state's ban, arguing in court that it does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.


Outside of court, Cooper has given speeches declaring his support for same-sex marriage rights. In court, he argues against them.


The advisory letter from Cooper's office today, written to a legislator, was on the question of whether undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children by their parents, and who are now here legally as a result of the Obama Administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, should qualify for in-state tuition at North Carolina's public universities and community colleges.

These are the so-called DREAM Team immigrants who've grown up in the U.S. and graduated from North Carolina high schools. According to the Cooper-issued opinion, "an individual is eligible for in-state tuition in North Carolina … if he or she is a legal resident who is domiciled in the State of North Carolina and who has maintained legal residence in the State for at least 12 months…." This statement is attributed to "North Carolina General Statutes."

Further, the opinion says, the DREAM Team children, now young adults, are legal residents because of their protected status under DACA. Only instead of calling them legal residents, the opinion chooses to say instead that they are "legally or lawfully present" in North Carolina — as if that might mean something different.

Such DACA-protected immigrants were entitled to North Carolina drivers' licenses, pursuant to a Cooper opinion issued a year ago to the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

But they're not entitled to in-state tuition, according to this Cooper-issued opinion.


That's not clear, at least not from this advisory opinion. All it says is that federal law (8 U.S.C Section 1621) doesn't require that DACA-status individuals be eligible for in-state tuition "unless a specific state statute provides otherwise." But weren't we just told that "North Carolina General Statutes" call for in-state tuition for all "legal residents?"

I'm not a lawyer, but i'm thinking that there's an equal protection argument here, you know, under the Fourteenth Amendment:

"No State shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Anyway, this legal brief — and it's very brief — ends with a disclaimer from its authors, two special deputy attorneys general named Alexander Peters and Kimberly Potter. It's "an advisory letter only," they write. "It has not been reviewed or approved in accordance with the procedures for issuing an Attorney General's opinion."

In other words, Attorney General Cooper was asked to issue an opinion about this DREAM Team issue and, well, he sort-of did, but officially he didn't.

What he definitely didn't do, I'd say, is issue an opinion spelling out in understandable terms why a discriminatory state statute isn't discriminatory.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sen. Rucho, who compares Obamacare to Nazi atrocities, is in the GOP mainstream

Posted by on Tue, Dec 17, 2013 at 11:56 AM

By now, you've read about Sen. Bob Rucho, the Charlotte Republican who claimed in a tweet that Obamacare poses a worse threat to the country than the Nazis, Stalin or terrorists ever did. If not, here's an overview.

Sen. Bob Rucho
  • Sen. Bob Rucho
So you're probably thinking, who is this nut and why is he embarrassing the Republican Party? Sorry, but Rucho is no nut — at least, not to his fellow Republican senators. Rather, he is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee and the senator most responsible for the GOP tax-deforming legislation which slashed rates for the wealthy and corporations while handing 80 percent of North Carolinians a tax increase.

Rucho was also called upon by Republican senators to defend their voter-suppression legislation, which trampled on people's rights to cast a ballot in the fraudulent name of "voter integrity." Rucho memorably explained why the bill, among its many other monstrosity provisions, eliminated the program for high schools to get 16- and 17-year olds registered in advance so they'd be good to go at the first election after they turn 18.

Rucho's reason: Getting registered early apparently caused his son some confusion about whether he was eligible to vote prior to age 18. Which had listeners joking that the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree — a comment I repeat here only for purposes of stating how mean it was to the son.

Do click on that final link and listen to Sen. Josh Stein, the Raleigh Democrat, quiz Rucho on this matter if you find my re-telling of it hard to believe.

Kudos to our old friend Claude Pope, the state GOP chairman, for denouncing Rucho's statement and calling on him to apologize. Since he won't apologize, Claude, your next move should be to call for his resignation.

  • Pin It
    Far from viewing him as a nut, Senate Republicans look to Rucho for leadership on issues ranging from voting rights to taxes. No, seriously —

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Friday, November 22, 2013

The assassination of John F. Kennedy: What I remember

Posted by on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 11:25 AM

I believe I'm the only Indy writer who is old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination. I was in the 8th grade in 1963, in Fair Haven, NJ, and I was vice president of my class. I mention that because I recall feeling that, as an elected leader, I ought to rise to the occasion in some way, though I don't believe I did. A black-and-white television was wheeled into the cafeteria and we watched in silence, taking in the news.

  • From WikiMedia Commons
Thinking back, I don't believe I was surprised. By the eighth grade, I'd become quite the student of American history. The first significant book I read was Teddy White's The Making of the President 1960, which came out in 1961 and was a first of its kind — or so I thought — in reporting how politics really worked. The takeaway from White, as I read it at 11 or 12, was that a very smart team of Harvard-educated fellows had set out to elect one of their own as president; they'd succeeded by producing brilliant speeches and applying sharper analysis and tactics than their somewhat slow-witted opponents (Johnson, Symington, Humphrey and Stevenson on the Democratic side) to the possibilities of the early primary elections, a fairly new phenomenon in American politics.

In other words, Kennedy's victory was a triumph of brain-power which resulted in the smartest candidate with the smartest team becoming president. And indeed that seemed to be the objective: Rather than any specific policy goals, the point of electing Kennedy — his campaign said — was that the U.S. was in a Cold War with the Russians, and we needed the smartest guy possible in the Oval Office to be making the critical calls day-to-day.

This struck me as proper since, again, I was in grade school, and I was studying to be smart.

After I read White, I plunged into the history of president elections, which taught me that prior to Kennedy, the best (smartest) candidate usually didn't win. For every Washington and Roosevelt, there'd been a Taylor, a Buchanan, a Hayes, two Harrisons and a McKinley. And a Hoover. We'd been lucky with Eisenhower. Everybody liked Ike, and he was smart enough, but by the end he didn't seem to be functioning all that well.

Another thing I learned was that assassinations and attempted assassinations were a regular event in the American presidency. Most of American history, it seemed, was about warfare and guns. So as I say, I wasn't surprised to hear that Kennedy'd been shot. No, what I thought was, "they've taken him out."


I don't know that I've ever tried to put in words the impact the assassination had on me. But it occurs to me as I write this that the elevation to the presidency of Lyndon Johnson has caused me to see in every political situation since then the question of whether the candidate/officeholder had earned the position, as Kennedy did, or was unworthy, as Johnson was.

And, yes, you can argue that Kennedy was the unworthy beneficiary of daddy's money, while Johnson was the skillful Senate majority leader who, as president, pushed through all the Great Society legislation that Kennedy couldn't. But what I experienced is that the nation chose Kennedy to be president and not Johnson (or Nixon) for good reasons, and those good reasons were validated by Johnson's insane prosecution of —and lying about — the Vietnam War.

But someone with a gun, in Texas, reversed the electorate's decision and put Johnson in charge. I never subscribed to any of the conspiracy theories about Lee Harvey Oswald. I do subscribe to the idea that in America, political hatreds are in the water and it's a short step from there to a rifle.

Since Kennedy, we've elected a series of presidents who were not the brightest lights on the tree. Nixon, Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush weren't dummies, but they didn't win on their brains, put it that way. Worse, intelligence as a desired quality in our political leaders has been steeply devalued, and if you doubt that statement, look no further than our very own governor, Pat McCrory.

I will stipulate that the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, our three book-smart presidents since Kennedy, have done little to elevate the public's desire to put the brightest people in office.

I will also stipulate that, as smart as Kennedy and Ted Sorenson and the rest of the Kennedy team were, they bungled the Bay of Pigs before getting the Cuban Missile Crisis right; and it's not clear what they would've done about Vietnam, though I think they'd have figured it out enough to avoid the quagmire Johnson put us in.

All that said, I believe that what was lost when Kennedy died was not so much a political direction as it was the basic possibility of a nation governed by people of intelligence who are trusted by the voters because of their intelligence to do the best job possible, understanding that nothing turns out perfectly and you can't get everything right.

The promise of the Kennedy Administration — Camelot, in the re-telling — was that the United States would figure out how to fulfill its mission as the land of the free and leader of the free world, and that the best way we could help that happen was to elect smart people who were committed to make the best decisions possible and then trust them through thick and thin.

After Johnson and Nixon — Vietnam and Watergate — we decided that we can't trust anybody in high office, and the thing to look for is candidates who pledge to do nothing except reduce the size, scope and ambition of government. We make exceptions in a crisis or when the economy's in recession (Carter, Clinton, Obama), but we don't cut them much slack. In general, we're looking for people unworthy of leadership because we don't want leaders any more — we haven't seen a good one for 50 years.

  • Pin It
    I was in the eighth grade. I wasn't surprised. At some level, I may even have known what was lost that day in Dallas.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Saturday: "The hottest local fashion show" and for a good cause

Posted by on Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 1:32 PM

  • courtesy, Activate Good

'Tis the season* and one of my favorite causes in Raleigh at the holidays is Activate Good. They promote volunteerism and match volunteers with nonprofits that need them and will be compatible — kind of like online dating except less pressure. From scratch when she was an N.C. State student, our 2010 Citizen Award winner Amber Smith has built this idea into a first-rate organization.

Tomorrow night — Saturday — is Activate Good's big fundraising event of the year, Couture for a Cause. It's at Marbles Museum in Raleigh. Doors at 7, show at 8. Best to be there early.

I can vouch for Couture being, as someone at WRAL wrote, "The hottest local fashion show." At least that was true last year when Pam and I attended. This year they've added some circus talent and a judge named Justin LeBlanc, who is someone I'm apparently supposed to know of but don't. But you may know him as a finalist from Project Runway, which I take it was on TV?

Anyway, this is fun, the tickets are just $25 if you buy online ($30 cash at the door), and if tomorrow is a date night for you and yours, check it out. (VIP tickets are $75.)

* I know it's the season because, while shopping for last-minute Halloween stuff at Target, I heard Alvin and the Chipmunks on the Muzak.

  • Pin It
    It's Couture for a Cause and benefits Activate Good, which is a good thing too. With Justin LeBlanc, of N.C. State and Project Runway fame.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

McFarlane tops in Raleigh; moderates rule again on the Wake school board

Posted by on Wed, Oct 9, 2013 at 3:24 AM

For all the turmoil in North Carolina politics, Raleigh and Wake County were an oasis of calm tonight. The full results are on Wake County's website.

Mayor Nancy McFarlane thanking supporters
Two headlines:

* Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane stamped herself the undisputed leader of city government, winning re-election with 73 percent of the vote against a pair of lightweight Republican opponents. McFarlane is a political independent with strong support among progressive and moderate voters. She wasn't especially well-known when she succeeded Charles Meeker as mayor two years ago. But that was then. Today, she's popular and respected as a hard worker who gets results without being contentious or flashy.

* Order's been restored on the Wake school board, whose nine members now include zero — as in none at all — right-wing Republicans. Remember 2009, when a quartet of tea-party devotees won school board seats, giving the Wake GOP a 5-4 majority and a chance to wreck havoc — which they did? Tonight, the last Republican survivor from among the four, Deborah Prickett, was routed in her bid for a second term by Zora Felton, a retired teacher. And the $810 million school bond issue, which the Wake Republican Party opposed? Voters approved it easily by a 58-42 percent margin, rejecting the Republican brand once more.


The Wake schools are still under assault, but from without now, not from within.

From the outside, the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory are doing everything they can to diminish public education in the state and Wake County — the biggest district in the state — is right in their crosshairs. But at least within Wake County, tonight's election results are a vote of confidence in the school system and a board now controlled 9-0 by a moderate coalition of seven Democrats, one independent (Kevin Hill) and one moderate Republican (Bill Fletcher).

The calm tonight was in sharp contrast to 2009 and 2011, when Democrats turned the tables on the Republicans in a showdown school board election, sweeping all five seats on the ballot to take their own 5-4 majority. I chanced on my blog post from 2011 earlier tonight — here's what I wrote.

It's an oddity of the election system that four essentially suburban districts are contested at one time and then, two years later, the five remaining districts are elected, four of which represent the urban parts of Raleigh and the county.

The four on the ballot this year were the suburban districts, the ones swept by the Republicans four years ago. This time, all of the candidates backed by the Republican Party lost, including Prickett. In District 9 (Cary), two Republicans ran against each other. Bill Fletcher, the winner, comes from the moderate wing of the party and is a former school board member selected by the Democrats as a replacement for the departed Debra Goldman, who resigned nine months ago. Fletcher defeated Nancy Caggia, who ran with the Wake GOP endorsement.

If drama's your thing, you'll miss Goldman, John Tedesco, Chris Malone and "Papa Ron" Margiotta, the four swashbuckling Republicans who, with Prickett, comprised the "Margiotta Majority" in 2009-11. If you think the school board is a place for serious people interested in good schools, not their own fame or getting ahead as party apparatchiks, the new 9-0 majority will strike you as a little dull — as they should be.

Look for Christine Kushner, a smart and not very flashy member elected in 2011, to be the next school board chair. She's the current vice chair.


McFarlane is riding high in Raleigh, not just because of her election win but also because she has a new city manager to her liking in the person of Ruffin Hall, who starts Nov. 18. "He's awesome," McFarlane told cheering supporters tonight at Tir na Nog. Russell Allen, ousted as manager by a 6-2 vote of City Council this spring, was considered competent, even skilled, by many. But I don't recall anyone calling him awesome. And his prickly independence eventually lost him his job.

As Raleigh's leader, McFarlane has two big hills to climb in her second term. One is Dix Hill, the 325-acre former state hospital tract that the city wants to turn into a destination park. McFarlane said tonight that she talked with Gov. McCrory last week and remains hopeful that a deal can be reached on Dix over the next six months.

The second is passage, hopefully next year, of a half-cent sales tax for transit by Wake County voters. I'll have a column in the Indy tomorrow about the McFarlane-Ruffin Hall team as they tackle that challenge. Suffice it to say here that it won't be easy.

In City Council elections, six incumbents were returned for another term. Bonner Gaylord ran unopposed in District E. At-large members Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stephenson won easily, as did John Odom in District B, Eugene Weeks in District C and Thomas Crowder in District D.

In District A, however, first-term incumbent Randy Stagner lost by a 51-49 percent margin to challenger Wayne Maiorano. Stagner, an independent, was a friend and ally of McFarlane's, the District A representative before she ran for mayor. Maiorano is a Republican and a land-use lawyer whose business is representing developers. How that won't be a conflict of interest, as he sits in judgment of developers' applications, is an excellent question even if Maiorano never has a client with a case in Raleigh — because Maiorano's law partner, Lacy Reaves, certainly will.

Maiorano can thank The News & Observer for his narrow victory. Somehow, the newspaper decided that firing Russell Allen was a terrible thing to do and that Stagner was responsible. The firing was debatable, perhaps. What wasn't debatable was that Stagner, a council rookie, had little to do with it. Five other members, including McFarlane, made the call to get rid of Allen. Stagner's vote made six.

Nonetheless, the N&O pinned the blame on Stagner in story after story, after which the paper endorsed Maiorano.

  • Pin It
    Nancy McFarlane wins easy re-election as mayor but loses a City Council ally as Randy Stagner loses to Wayne Maiorano — and the N&O.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Raleigh: A new city manager and a new start on transit

Posted by on Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 3:09 PM

When I listen to the recording, I'll tell you exactly how many times Mayor Nancy McFarlane used the words transit or transportation this morning as she introduced Ruffin Hall, the new city manager. For now, I'll just say it was a theme — THE theme, really — that Raleigh intends to get transit off the ground as its next big thing, and Hall is being counted on to help make that happen.

Ruffin Hall with City Councilor Eugene Weeks (right) this morning.
Hall comes to us from Charlotte, where he was an assistant manager and budget director with a big hand in all things transit, from adding bike lanes and the first streetcar line to building the Blue Line light-rail extension. (Hall's history is summarized in this press release from the city.)

Charlotte got the jump on Raleigh transit-wise in the '90s and has extended its lead every year since. Today, the Queen City has 15 years of progress under its belt. Raleigh? Zero years — or maybe we should be generous and say that the R Line counts for a month or two of progress.

Hall made an excellent first impression on his audience today. He's a polished, user-friendly public speaker and — here's another word McFarlane used repeatedly — "communicator." Russell Allen had many strengths as a manager. Communications, at least when it came to the public and the six City Council members who fired him, wasn't one of them.

Also, Allen seemed bored by development issues, or perhaps a better way to say it is that Allen gave every appearance of thinking that Raleigh isn't ready for transit. Hall, when I got a brief word with him, said he wanted to study the lay of the land before commenting specifically on Raleigh's transit potential. But he added that he's all about connecting land-use and transportation policies so they work in tandem.

"My background in Charlotte was very focused on transportation, transit and the relationship to land-use," Hall said. "That relationship is critical, to me, in high-growth communities."

The other knock on Allen, from the council members who lost patience with him, is that his concept of teamwork in city government didn't extend beyond the staff members who reported to him. Allen was popular with his staff. But the six council members who fired him — McFarlane included — got the message from Allen that he viewed them as not on his team, and maybe even an opposing team.

Thus, an excited McFarlane talked up Hall's commitment to the kind of teamwork that includes the Council and the public. And when Hall got up to speak, the big words out of his mouth were collaborations and partnerships, and he added nonprofit organizations, neighborhood leaders, institutions (e.g., NCSU) and the business community to the list of partners he intends to cultivate.

McFarlane called Hall a visionary, creative and a lot of other glowing words; today, at least, he exuded positive energy.

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Career employee to DENR Sec. Skvarla: Take this job and shove it.

Posted by on Mon, Sep 2, 2013 at 6:42 PM

A friend forwarded this to me. It's the resignation of an unhappy — to put it mildly — career official in the Asheville regional office of Division of Water Quality in the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

It arrived with the official's name on the From: line. I removed the name in an abundance of caution, and because it's not "who" resigned, it's "how."

An email I sent came back with an auto-reply. "I've retired," it said.

This, my friends, is how you remove yourself from a right-wing administration.

(If you can. If you can't, start leaking — is my advice. Do it now, before they re-classify your job as political and fire you.)

Complete with a link to something on YouTube that the resigning party wanted Sec. Skvarla to hear. Don't miss it!

From: xxxx
Sent: Friday, August 30, 2013 4:27 PM
To: Skvarla, John

Subject: RE: Labor Day

Dear John,

Thanks so much for the note regarding Labor Day - you have always been timely with these, unlike some of your predecessors.

You and I are going to part ways today. I had a great "gig" here in the regional office - I had a great boss, great co-workers, I was still learning a good bit, and the good days were always outweighing the bad days. I was pretty certain (after my first 5 years) that I could outlast any administration the governor could appoint. I had no problem with the Martin administration - he was a man of science and no extremist.

Between your inappropriate mission statement, the dismantling of the Division of Water Quality, and HB74 (along with a few other gems from this session's NCGA), I see no reason to continue here - because my own mission - to assist all citizens and protect those that don't have a voice, would be compromised.

I was a good regulator - I had a bit of distrust for both sides of the aisle - which made me regulate evenly and with common sense and fair judgement. Over the past 24 years I've had the privilege to have worked with some of the most intelligent, articulate, and respected environmental scientists and engineers - I'd put them up against my friends in the private sector any day of the week. But the disdain for them (and me) by this administration is too much to bear.

When you pushed our reasonable, right-leaning WQ Director out, I knew we were in trouble. When you guys (and they are mostly guys...) pushed out a very thoughtful and judicial Environmental Management Commission chair, I knew we were moving into a sand pit that we weren't going to dig out of easily. When you, along with your "great Tom Reeder", decided to cleave off the stormwater programs and move it to Land Resources, who have never been trained for such..nor do they much care about WQ, I knew it was time to leave. I'm sure the 401 Water Quality program is next (especially since you said we should be more like TX and SC).

I'm all about customer service (as the majority of employees in DWQ are, and have always been), but that just seems to be a smokescreen for a very extremist republican agenda.

Likely there will be some uptick in the business environment in the next few years (mainly because the economy has started to recover from the disaster your friends on Wall Street created). But when the hot summers and the drought years come back, and we get fish kills again, and maybe there's fracking going on in the sandhills - it will be the fine folks at DENR who will get blamed for the chaos. The politicians and their appointees, that did the dismantling and created the chaos, will be long gone. We know the drill.

For my brothers and sisters in the Division of WATER QUALITY (the so called "seat warmers") who don't have the option to be able to move on, due to various obligations and a destroyed economy, let me leave you with a video I pilfered from the internet 'cause I didn't have the tools to make my own.

You can view this while I gather up my toothbrush and grab my loincloth to start heading out the door.


From: Skvarla, John []
Sent: Friday, August 30, 2013 12:51 PM
To: NCDENR.DENR.Everyone
Subject: Labor Day

Just a note of thanks to everyone for the tremendous accomplishments we have made at DENR over the last eight months. I just received a customer quote saying, “this is the way government is supposed to work” and another that said, “ this very large ship is turning on a dime”. We are just beginning to make positive things happen at DENR and it is all because of you!
Thank you for your hard work and focus on our goals. We are making a positive difference for everyone in our great State.
Have a safe and wonderful week-end with your families,


John E. Skvarla, III
North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources
1601 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, North Carolina 27699-1601

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    The McCrory-Skvarla approach as seen by one official at DENR who's had it — and says why.

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