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Mr. Meeker's Neighborhood
That haze in the sky over Raleigh? It isn't (just) the automobile exhaust any more. No, it's Mayor Charles Meeker and a bunch of business and civic groups blowing the dust off all the good ideas that moldered in their drawers for eight years under ex-Mayor FetzerCoble. Maybe the best idea of all is one the City Council quickly embraced with no notice at all: Henceforth, the city's citizen advisory boards (e.g., parks and rec, human relations) will be allowed to offer advice. An early FetzerCoble initiative told them to butt out unless the council asked for their opinion.

Civic activist Parker Call is a friend of Meeker's, so it's not surprising that she gives him an A+ for "reaching out to both sides," in contrast to predecessors who seemed interested only in what developers wanted, not the neighborhood groups. Some neighborhood folks are "a little frustrated" that Meeker isn't turning the tables and listening only to them, Call says. But in general, "He's done a great job of advancing the agenda as much as he has."

That includes renewing city support for the Contemporary Art Museum; shelving the controversial Moore Square plan while citizens think it through; figuring out what to do about the dreary Fayetteville Street Mall (ditto the dreadful Civic Center that anchors it down, literally); investing in Hillsborough Street revitalization, and getting serious about making rail transit stations work in downtown Raleigh. Want more? Meeker's got "34 Points" and he's pushing every one of them while the pushing's good.

Meanwhile, Call is chairing the steering committee for a "Neighborhood Summit" to be held Saturday, Feb. 23, at the N.C. Museum of History. The purpose, she says, is to get behind Meeker's good points and make sure that he doesn't overlook any that should be on his list. The Neighborhood Coalition for Responsible Development in Raleigh (NCRDR) is eager to "get beyond Coker," Calls says. Translation: Stop the endless fights over every development scheme that comes along and do some serious land-use planning instead.

Gulley's Guesses
Rumors have been swirling around for weeks about Gov. Mike Easley's supposed plans to call the legislature back into session early to deal with the ongoing state budget crisis (this, after lawmakers have just completed the longest session in state history). It's not hard to give those tales credence, given the gaping $200 million hole in the state budget. Now, one source of the early-start story has fessed up: State Sen. Wib Gulley (D-Durham) says he is "at least partly responsible for spreading those rumors."

But in the last few days, the former Durham mayor and longtime state lawmaker says, "I've had a revised understanding about that." Gulley says he now believes it's unlikely the governor will call the legislature back early unless the revenue situation worsens significantly. Instead, Easley will be more likely to deal with the budget crisis on his own for the time being. The governor has reason to fear another marathon session if he does call folks back in early, Gulley says. "As you know, the House had some trouble coming to decisions last time." That's a polite way of describing the partisan stalemate House members reached on most all issues.

The reason? A divisive 62-58 Democratic/Republican split there. Things run a lot more smoothly in Gulley's chamber, where the Democrats rule by a substantial 35-15 majority. But that could change in the future, the Durham lawmaker notes. "The other wild card out there is redistricting," Gulley says. "Nobody knows if the Justice Department will send [the state's plan] back" for revisions. Meanwhile, lawmakers are enjoying not having to report for duty in Raleigh. "We'll know better what's going on [with the budget] by the first week in February," Gulley says.

Not so Easley Understood
For a career politician, Gov. Mike Easley's a reticent warrior who likes his privacy and dislikes showing his hand--or even that he's in the game at all. Which may explain another recent Easley rumor: Mike doesn't like the job and may not run for a second term in 2004. Untrue, says Fred Hartman, his press secretary. Easley's "havin' some fun and makin' some progress" despite the tough budget snarl he was handed. "The governor hasn't said anything about not running again."

OK, but just in case he doesn't, or maybe even if he does, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue has her smiling eyes fixed on the prize, according to Hoover Adams, retired publisher-turned-columnist for The Daily Record of Dunn. Adams is best known as a confidante of U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, but Perdue is also "an old friend," he wrote recently.

At a gala Christmas party they both attended, the consensus was that Easley will bow out after one term, Adams said, and Perdue, "a sweet and pretty little lady, told me flatly that she's a candidate for the Democratic nomination next time no matter who runs."

Adams asked if he could quote her, according to his column. "You certainly can," Perdue is said to have replied.

Just a miscommunication, Perdue spokeman Derek Chernow told us when we called. Perdue is concentrating on being No. 2. "Right now, there are no plans to run for governor in 2004."

So we called Adams. A miscommunication? "No," he said, "that isn't true. I had lunch with Beverly yesterday, and she said she isn't going to retract anything ... that there was nothing to retract."

Had she come by because of his column? Not at all. She was politicking in Dunn. When she's there, they get together.

Thank goodness that's clear. Now we can get back to the party. It was the "fabulous" 12th annual Christmas bash thrown by businessman George McCotter, described by Adams as one of the state's top Democratic fundraisers, and the guest list included just most of the top elected Democrats in state politics--all but Easley, who sent his regrets--and a few Republicans as well, all there to mingle with "the rich and powerful" from business and industry.

"A lot of big names would give the shirt off their back for an invitation," Adams tells us. Is that how it works in state politics?

Worse than Bacon Bits?
The company's called Stericycle and it runs an incinerator in Alamance County where it burns medical waste. On Jan. 15, the N.C. Division of Air Quality scheduled a public hearing to discuss how the public feels about breathing in what Stericycle's burning.

Kevin Meehan, who raises vegetables organically for sale at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Farmer's Market, started making calls in the days leading up to the hearing at the courthouse in Graham. He urged other downwinders to join him in a collective gag reflex over Stericycle's plans to burn all the waste its current license allows.

"It's one of the largest in the world. It handles 17 states," says Meehan, describing how it's "quick, dirty and cheap" to burn syringes, blood bags, latex gloves and other disposable medical supplies. There are more environmentally friendly ways to dispose of these wastes, but Meehan says Stericycle prefers the most profitable route.

In the past, residents living near the incinerator have reported skin rashes and difficulty breathing. Stericycle, meanwhile, argues that burning the waste isn't harmful to the environment or people's health.

Following the Jan. 15 meeting, the state will likely issue Stericycle the permit it needs to remain in business. And by doing what they do best, the company really puts the "cycle" in Stericycle. They burn waste, people breathe in the emissions, they go to their doctor to complain of rashes and difficulty breathing, the doctor's office generates waste during their visit, the waste gets turned over to Stericycle, which burns the stuff, sending more dioxin drifting out over homes and schools and gardens full of the stuff we all need to make a delicious salad.

Coming soon to the Indy
Dan Blue and the N.C. Dems eye Dole.

A former Indy writer breaks the story of American Taliban fighter John Walker.

Scooterists descend on the Triangle for a two-stroke, Italian bike rally. EndBlock

What is a Trotline?
It's a long string of hooks used to catch several fish at once. How do readers submit ideas to Trotline? By e-mailing tips to madison@indyweek.com.

Who writes Trotline?
David Madison, Barbara Solow, Bob Geary, Jennifer Strom, Damien Jackson, Jon Elliston and other Indy staffers.

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