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Fungus Schmumgus
I am writing in response to your column about mold ("Fungus Among Us," Burtman, Aug. 27). It seems that you have misunderstood my department's recent actions regarding exclusions and caps on mold coverage for homeowners' policies.

All homeowners' policies are standardized in North Carolina, and they are structured in two sections--the first covers property damage and the second provides for liability coverage. Policies before May 2002 did not consider mold to be a "covered peril" for property damage; that is to say, no homeowners' policy in North Carolina would pay out anything in the event that mold caused damage to your property. In addition, the language in the liability sections was vague and did not say whether mold was covered. This left homeowners who had mold problems with no coverage whatsoever.

Last February, after a request from the N.C. Rate Bureau (the organization representing all property and casualty insurers), we notified insurers in the state of a change in this standard policy language. First, we clarified that with respect to liability coverage, starting May 1, 2002, any liability claim resulting from mold will not be covered. It was felt this was the most prudent step to take in order to encourage companies to remain in the state and continue writing homeowners' policies.

The second change that took effect in May, however, is decidedly different--and this is what you so grossly misrepresented in your column. The Department of Insurance now requires insurers to provide $5,000 of coverage for property damage caused by mold, fungi, wet or dry rot. Your piece suggested that this was a limit in benefits for consumers, while in fact it is a significant enhancement. Without this mandatory alteration, companies would pay nothing for mold claims.

I will not waste your time disputing your accusation that I "quietly approved" these changes and only "announced" this decision through a trade publication. You probably are not aware of the huge numbers of filings that come through this department every year, most of which are never "announced." I have been working for the people of North Carolina for 18 years now, and while I certainly like the public to know what we do, we do so much that it's impossible to publicize everything. I understand that you must be new to this subject, and merely did not know what questions to ask of us before writing your column.

Because of that, I invite you to visit with us and learn more about the Department of Insurance and what we do every day. I'd be happy to meet you in person and give you a tour of our divisions that toil so hard to make sure the insurance business in North Carolina is properly regulated. I personally think we do an excellent job, and I hope you grow to believe that too.
Jim Long
N.C. Commissioner of Insurance
Raleigh

Burtman responds: Long's statement that homeowners had "no coverage whatsoever" prior to his implementation of a cap on mold-related damages is simply false. Mold was not specifically listed as a "covered peril," but homeowners were covered for mold if it resulted from an event which was covered under their policies, such as flooding from storm damage or burst pipes. As he well knows, vague language in policies is interpreted in favor of the policyholder under N.C. law. If the commissioner would like examples of court cases in which homeowners collected for mold damage, I would be happy to provide them. In fact, Long contradicts his own premise--if insurers weren't liable for mold claims, then why did they allegedly need his little gift to remain in the state?

The commissioner's spin that the $5,000 limit represents a "significant enhancement" is bogus for another reason. Capping mold claims at $5,000 is like limiting collision coverage on your auto to a hundred bucks--it won't come close to paying for most incidents. Any remediation specialist will tell you the same thing.

I am glad Long educated me on how impossible it is to notify the public of every little change he approves. Looking at the official news releases posted on the Department of Insurance website ("Use care when firing up that barbecue grill," "Raleigh auto body manager arrested for insurance fraud"), it's easy to see why a move that adversely affected every homeowner in the state slipped through the cracks.

Get up offa that thing
"Annual Manual" (Aug. 27) totally ignored the participatory dance community. There was no mention whatsoever, and, typically, there is little coverage in the regular Indy, with perhaps the exception of Sylvia Pfeiffenberger's Latin column. We are people who care enough about our health that we ignore the smoky bars that the Indy seems to champion.

On the one hand, the Indy would be the first to protest workers exposed to asbestos, but what about the workers and patrons in bars like The Cave where one probably breathes the equivalent of many cigarettes a night just to be there? Also, what about the majority of the public that doesn't smoke and likes good music, but cannot find a place to hear it that doesn't reek of tobacco? Let's champion laws mandating smoke-free public entertainment.

The Indy's message seems to be that if the bad capitalists hurt our health it is bad (and I agree with that) but that if we ourselves indulge in harmful behavior, it is somehow hip, decadent, chic.

Aside from the smoking issue, I am kind of an evangelical about dancing because it remains an active and healthy interaction between performers and audience in a world where we are used to sitting with our popcorn and being entertained. My sixth-grade class in 1962 all learned to dance. This was part of the cultural tool kit that we older farts were raised with. And as opposed to much of the idiocies of our education like football and algebra, it is something we will still be doing and loving in our 80's. I see the ectomorphs at Cats Cradle with their cigarette and beer in hand, nodding to the music, as missing the fun. We are part of the act. To quote the immortal James Brown, "Get up offa that thing, and dance to the music."
Jack Wolf
Hillsborough

More "cheap stuff"
Your list of local thrift stores ("Annual Manual," Aug. 27) was sadly missing one of the Triangle's largest and most unique places to find used items at discounted prices. The Habitat ReUse Center, located at 2400 Alwin Court in Raleigh, sells new and vintage building materials to the public at drastically reduced prices to support Habitat for Humanity of Wake County. Last year alone, the ReUse Center diverted more than 1,000 tons of good and usable material from local landfills and funded the building of four Habitat homes. This 42,000-square-foot warehouse is stocked with lumber, cabinets, doors, windows, wallpaper, paint, sinks, tubs, tile, and much more, all priced 25 to 70 percent below retail. It's open to the public Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Please consider including the Habitat ReUse Center in future listings as it certainly supports your theory that the best things in life really are used and cheap. Visit www.habitatwake.org or call 833-6768 for more details.
Liz Cairns
Habitat for Humanity of Wake County
Raleigh

Cops are people, too
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft is a scary man and the Patriot Act is very disturbing piece of legislation. Ashcroft's tour ("Patriot Flack," Sept. 10) offers a prime opportunity to expose both the man and his work as threats to the Bill of Rights. So why did David Fellerath have to start his article on Ashcroft's visit by slamming cops?

The article shows an elitist preference for preaching to the choir instead of reaching out to the working people who could make progressives a political force. Cops are working stiffs who suffer when budgets get cut. They have to fight for benefits and worker protection just like other blue-collar workers. And finally, most working-class families consider law enforcement an honorable career and, often, a ticket out of poverty.

Let's take Fellerath's opening line "I'm deathly afraid of cops..." and substitute "blacks" or "Hispanics" for "cops." Pretty disturbing, huh? But Fellerath obviously believes his audience thinks it's all right to disparage this entire group of public servants.

But why is Fellerath so scared of cops in the first place? In North Carolina, we don't have a long history of corruption in law enforcement. Nor are our cops the private armies of political entities. Over the years, I've met several cops I didn't like, but I also have close friends who work for law enforcement agencies. Cops are just people. If Fellerath would get out of his comfort bubble and meet a few, maybe he wouldn't make such stupid blanket statements.
Thomas M. Mills
Chapel Hill

Corrections
A Sept. 10 article, "We are Watching You" incorrectly identified Patricia Camp as the former director of the ACLU-NC. She is the current director.

Last week's "Movie Spotlight" on a documentary about Mexican farm laborers inadvertantly omitted the name of Charles Thompson, the film's co-producer and co-director. The article also gave the incorrect Web address for Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, which can be found at cds.aas.duke.edu

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