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Trotline 

Laid Off, Cast Off, Pissed Off
Rep. Eva Clayton was the keynote speaker, but it was journalist-turned-activist Chris Fitzsimon who fired up the crowd at the recent Rally for Justice! dinner in Raleigh. Sponsored by N.C. Alliance for Economic Justice, a statewide coalition of seven social justice groups, the dinner served as the setup event for a march on the General Assembly to protest the proposed cuts to balance the state budget. Clayton, the outgoing Democrat from the First District, told several hundred people assembled for the dinner not to make their political activism a "one-day event," but her words, which included a quote from the Old Testament prophet Isaac, were not inspiring enough to produce many "amens."

As Clayton exited the ballroom clutching a "Special Award" plaque for her 10 years of service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Fitzsimon--who is rarely heard making any references to God--stepped up to the podium and delivered a fiery, sermon-like address that had the racially mixed crowd hootin' and hollerin' and clanging their spoons on their iced tea glasses.

The executive director of the Common Sense Foundation, and a frequent guest on local radio and television talk shows, Fitzsimon cried out: "We're here to march for justice, to march for a budget that is balanced not on the backs of folks who are already struggling, not on the backs of folks whose backs have solved every budget crisis, not on their backs anymore.

"Not on the backs of the folks who have been laid off, cast off, put off, driven off, escorted off and folks who have been written off--and worse.

"We are marching tomorrow not for business as usual where business lobbyists and business money and business lies dominate, but we are marching for a different kind of budget, a budget that puts people first. You know what I am talking about."

Those assembled for the dinner and the several hundred who were out on the streets marching the next morning knew exactly what Fitzsimon was talking about.

At the post-march rally at the General Assembly, several speakers from throughout the state told stories of how the budget cuts would wreak havoc on their lives.

Fitzsimon, a savvy observer of state politics who spent 10 years working as a television reporter in the Triangle and down east, says the state can meet its mandate of balancing the budget, but it must do so without imposing the "Three-Ts" solution of Gov. Mike Easley:

TAKE away services from the needy

TAX them with a sales tax.

TARGET them with a lottery.

Closing tax loopholes for big business and transferring money from sacred cows such as the Highway Trust Fund would be good first steps, Fitzsimon said (see "What--Me Worry?" page 17).

In closing the dinner, Fitzsimon led the crowd in the Woody Guthrie favorite, "This Land is Your Land," with a few added verses written by Fitzsimon:

"This land is our land/This state is our state/Even if we can't afford to lobby and donate/If we lift our voices/they'll have to listen/and hear that/This state is made for you and me. ... "
--Patrick O'Neill

Well, It's About Time
When the owners of South Square Mall bought and installed new drinking wells for seven or eight of her neighbors a few years ago, Shirley Walker didn't get one. The South Square folks hoped new wells would persuade Walker's neighbors to oppose the mall proposed on land adjacent to Walker's Kentington Heights neighborhood in southwest Durham, which they rightly suspected would be bad news for their merchants.

Instead, the developers of the new Streets of Southpoint won the neighborhood's support with a check for $84,500, saying they would cover the cost of hooking up each house to city sewer and water lines that were coming with the mall construction (see "Big Dreams in a Small Neighborhood," May 29). But the neighborhood's plans for public water and sewer have dissolved in turmoil, with a small group of landowners spending the money on "consultants" instead, saying they wanted to sell their land to the highest bidder and move out.

All the while, Walker has battled contamination in her well and hauled drinking water in 5-gallon jugs. In March, she received a notice from the Durham County health department condemning her 32-year-old well because it's polluted by toxic bacteria.

On June 10, a professional association of well-drillers, backed by private donations from its members, some neighbors and some corporate partners, tapped a new well at Walker's house on Chanticleer Drive--at no charge to her.

The N.C. Ground Water Association, a private nonprofit with about 900 well-industry related members, collected donations of cash, labor, equipment and materials for Walker's new well after hearing about her plight from Charlotte-area real estate broker Jim Jervis, who represents some of the Kentington Heights homeowners. It's about a $7,000 project, which Walker and her husband could ill afford, says David Hudson, the association president who donated work by his Durham company to the effort.

"We had a lot of help getting this together," says Hudson.

Another company is capping the old well, while the United Way ponied up money for some of the fees, and neighbors chipped in for some of the materials.

"I'm so happy," Walker says, after four months of carting water in jugs. "I don't know what to do, I'm so happy."--JSAn article and photo caption in the May 29 issue of The Independent misidentified Shirley Walker. The Indy regrets the error.

Partner Policies
Durham's city government has a policy that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Human relations staffers, seeing a discrepancy between that policy and health care coverage options that only extend to spouses, have proposed the city offer its gay, lesbian and unmarried heterosexual employees the chance to cover their domestic partners through their insurance.The neighboring municipalities of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have similar options in their employee health plans. Twenty-six states, 74 U.S. cities, at least 2,000 private employers and 80 colleges and universities--including Duke--do, too, according to city staff.

Seems pretty simple, doesn't it?

Until City Councilman John Best Jr. jumps into the conversation.

Two city employees have requested the domestic partner coverage, leading Best to question whether their partners are currently insured under another plan.

"If they are, I don't know why we're even having this discussion," Best told his colleagues at a council work session June 6. "In a tight fiscal year, why should taxpayers pick up this cost?"

City Manager Marcia Conner tried to clarify.

"It's a matter of policy, the policy of fairness," Conner said. "Since we do not discriminate based on sexual preference, it's to be consistent."

Not to mention that taxpayers are paying nearly 100 percent of Best's individual health insurance through the city plan, as well as about 70 percent of the premium for his wife and each of his three children, despite the fact that he owns his own business and presumably could get health insurance elsewhere.

The city's health insurance carrier says it would not raise rates if domestic partners were offered coverage. Mayor Bill Bell joked that if the two employees requesting the change were partners with each other, it could even save the city money, since one would be covered at 70 percent, as a dependent, rather than at nearly 100 percent, as an employee.

But still, a blushing Best asked: "Why should we spend taxpayer money on something that's really not necessary?"

"There is a disconnect between city policy and benefits practices," city attorney Henry Blinder said. "It's not entirely a frivolous matter."

The plan comes before the council for an official vote June 18.
--Jennifer Strom

Father of Local Hockey?
Brilliant public relations? Revisionist history on a scale the Russians would have appreciated? We refer to the letter to the editor printed in The News & Observer as the Stanley Cup finals were starting: The one man, it said, whose "dream, vision and foresight" brought NHL hockey to the Triangle when others scoffed. Tom Fetzer!

Oh, good grief! Tom Fetzer? If the former mayor of Raleigh had had his way, the Entertainment and Sports Arena would be a smaller, cheaper place indeed--big enough, maybe, for N.C. State basketball, but far short of what a major-league hockey franchise requires. The ESA has 21,000 seats. Fetzer thought 17,000 to 18,000 was enough. The ESA has wide concourses, luxury suites, lots of concession space and plenty of bathrooms. Fetzer thought all that was extravagant. The ESA cost more than $150 million to build, most of it public money. Fetzer thought the $66 million price tag put on a basketball-only facility in the early '90s was all the public should be asked to spend. When the city and Wake County were asked to kick in $48 million more from the local hotel tax, Fetzer demanded--unsuccessfully--that the issue be put to a public referendum.

Promoters of the ESA got what they wanted: A big, multipurpose arena that attracts rock concerts, tractor pulls, religious revivals, and events like the CIAA basketball tournament and--this spring--the NCAA women's basketball regional. Oh, and the Wolfpack men and the Carolina Hurricanes. But they got it over Fetzer's loud objections. Yes, sports-fan Fetzer wanted hockey, he just didn't want to pay for it.

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1997, the day the Raleigh City Council voted 5-3 to approve the funding package that allowed the ESA to go forward, Fetzer voted no, saying: "The $66 million building I once supported bears little resemblance to (this one). ... This building has grown to mammoth proportions. ... If you are not outraged by this, it is because you have not been paying attention."

Are you outraged by the ESA today? Well, maybe you are. Or are you thinking, gee, having the 'Canes in town is a helluva lot of fun even if I can't afford the playoff tickets? (A nice touch, by the way, letting the masses in free to watch the away games on the Jumbotron.) Maybe you're thinking that if the rumors are true, the ESA will soon be named for a bank, and we'll get about half our money back at last.

The N&O's Fetzer-ite revisionist identified himself as a '96 transplant from New York. That may explain his inability to grasp how a Southern mayor can be 100 percent for progress while simultaneously fighting every single thing that would produce it.

Incidentally, if you think the arena should be downtown, well, a lot of people thought so at the time, but Tom Fetzer wasn't one of them.
--Bob Geary

Send all digs, ribs, jabs, barbs and tips to: madison@indyweek.com or call David Madison at 286-1972 ext. 154.

Trotline is illustrated by V.C. Rogers.

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