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Past is prologue: The news of 2013 sets the stage for a pivotal 2014

The Year in News, 2013 

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Is that a .38 in your Speedo or are you just happy to see me?

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY JP TROSTLE
  • Illustration by JP Trostle

After the state Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, passed a law allowing conceal-carry permit holders to pack heat in parks, swimming pools, restaurants, bars (no drinking, though!), bullet-averse North Carolinians took offense.

The state chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense educated bar and restaurant owners about their right to prohibit weapons on their premises, and many of them did.

A constitutional outrage! The Second Amendment is in tatters! Alexander Hamilton is rolling in his grave! Guess what killed Hamilton, one of the signatories of the Constitution? A gun. Aaron Burr shot and killed him with a .56 caliber dueling pistol.

Find out where you can eat in peace at http://ncgunfreedining.blogspot.com. —LS


Durham: Find your inner peace

We asked our Magic 8 Ball: "Will Durham Police Chief Lopez have a job this time next year?"

The answer: "Reply hazy try again."

As the head of the city's embattled department—it juggled charges of nepotism, which were later determined to be unfounded, allegations of racial profiling in traffic stops, 32 homicides and four officer-related shootings—Lopez faces several major public relations problems: a lack of transparency, mistrust of the community and a reputation for defensiveness.

When protesters gathered at CCB Plaza on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 19, Durham police in riot gear had already assembled. The demonstration unraveled and some protesters allegedly became combative; police responded by using teargas on those who had rallied over the lack of information about the death of Jesus Huerta, who committed suicide while handcuffed in the back of a police car. It wasn't until Friday morning, though, that Lopez released the results of the SBI investigation concluding that Huerta shot himself with a handgun that apparently had not been seized by the arresting officer during the early morning hours of Nov. 19.

While Lopez lacks public relations skills, he gets no help from his media/ PR go-to, Kammie Michael, who obfuscates rather than accommodates and dawdles over open-records requests.

If you want information out of DPD in 2014, you should have asked in 2010. —LS


Chatham County: Suburbia expands its frontier

If the McMansions in the Briar Chapels and the Chapel Ridges and the Hills of Rosemonts can't fulfill your suburban dream, then Chatham Park, a proposed 7,000-acre development on the eastern side of the county might.

Fully built, the controversial development could boost the population of Pittsboro from 3,888 to 60,000-plus over the next 25 years. It's reminiscent of the Bunkey Morgan development-über-alles era, when Chatham County transformed into a quilt of zombie developments.

A group of scrappy citizens, Pittsboro Matters, is fighting back, demanding more transparency and input into the process.

In 2014, keep an eye on Pittsboro town government and campaign contributions from the developers to Chatham's elected officials. Money has been known to sway people. —LS


751: State lawmakers usurp Durham power

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY JP TROSTLE
  • Illustration by JP Trostle

Speaking of money and influence, Southern Durham Development finally got the job done: Its controversial 751 project in the Jordan Lake watershed appears it will proceed. But without a willing city partner—council voted against annexing 751 or supplying it with public water—SDD had to perform a reach-around to the state Legislature. There, SDD found Tim Moore, a lawmaker from Cleveland County, 200 miles from Durham, to sponsor a bill, which passed, strong-arming the city to do what it had just voted against. This, after SDD formed a Super PAC to pack the Durham County Commission with its allies. Only one of its candidates won, though, proving that Durhamites can suss out a snow job. We'll see if 751 breaks ground next year.—LS


Ain't too proud to beg

click to enlarge Main and Market streets, Durham: The homeless made news in both Durham and Raleigh in 2013. - PHOTO BY LISA SORG
  • Photo by Lisa Sorg
  • Main and Market streets, Durham: The homeless made news in both Durham and Raleigh in 2013.

While at last count—there's still a week to go—32 people were murdered in Durham in 2013, a city ordinance directed the cops to go after ... panhandlers.

City council passed an ordinance—which is being revisited—further restricting where people can panhandle, making it nearly impossible to do so. Advocates for the homeless say it interferes with panhandlers' livelihood. Council says the practice poses public safety concerns. Whether it's a good use of police officers' time, Chief Jose Lopez would not say. Offenders are being sent to community life court, where Judge Marcia Morey recently dismissed charges against 14 panhandlers who said they were trying to get their lives in order. —LS


Aqua NC: Water is gold (and brown)

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY JP TROSTLE
  • Illustration by JP Trostle

Think of the water provided by Aqua North Carolina as a way to get your recommended daily dose of fiber. Sediment, discoloration, low water pressure—and customers pay among the highest rates in North Carolina for the privilege.

Now the private utility company wants to hike its rates 19 percent. Yes, that's a 1 and a 9 you read there. At a recent public hearing before the N.C. Utilities Commission, Aqua NC CEO Tom Roberts and a company attorney, Jo Anne Sanford (who used to serve on the commission), stated that the increase is essential for the company to improve its service and infrastructure. Plus, people are using less water, dammit.

Then, under oath, dozens of Aqua NC customers testified before the commission about their horror stories with the company. They brought encrusted water filters, photos of brown water, stained tubs and other evidence.

More hearings are scheduled for January 2014. The commission could decide on whether to grant the rate hike, reduce it or ax the request altogether in the spring. —LS


Fracking: The drilling devil is in the details

State lawmakers legalized fracking and drilling could begin as soon as a year from now. The most recent update is from the state's Mining and Energy Commission. The MEC, which is stacked with fossil fuel enthusiasts, is weighing chemical disclosure requirements for companies wanting to drill in North Carolina. The companies want to keep that information private, citing their chemical stews are proprietary.

We could know more about how fracking affects the environment, except that North Carolina rejected more than $500,000 in federal funds to study those impacts.

Meanwhile, energy companies have been poking around Lee County for gas deposits, and state environmental officials have announced they are interested in looking into shale formations in the North Carolina mountains.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy meets Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building. Burn a vacation day and attend, or you can listen to the meeting online at ncleg.net.—LS


DENR: Blinded by pseudoscience

Reasonable North Carolinians knew trouble was brewing when N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla undermined his scientific cred by positing that oil was a renewable energy resource and questioning the veracity of global warming.

Add the fracking, the house cleaning (the water quality director and environmental management commission chairman were ousted) and reclassification of 167 DENR employees as "at-will"—meaning they can be fired for nearly any reason—and you have a demoralized agency operating at the behest of big business and political interests.

Under the DENR umbrella is the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, whose director, Emlyn Koster, nixed a proposal to screen Shored Up, a documentary about policy decisions, climate change and sea-level rise at the institution's Science Cafe. The INDY originally reported the story, which made the rounds of the science blogs as yet another example of the state's pre-Copernican views of science.

N.C. State is showing the film Jan. 21 at a to-be-announced location on campus. —LS

This article appeared in print with the headline "The Daily Outrage."

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