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Friday, May 29, 2009

University Apartments in Durham sold to Alabama company

Posted by on Fri, May 29, 2009 at 4:48 PM

University Apartments on Duke University Road has been sold to Capstone Development, a Birmingham, Ala.-based company that focuses exclusively on developing and renovating student housing.

University Associates, which is part of the real estate firm, Reilly Mortgage Group of McLean, Va., sold the property. Wells Fargo purchased Reilly Mortgage Group in 2006. RPM has been the management company.

The Durham County Register of Deeds has no record of the sale, but a Capstone spokesman confirmed the company has closed on the four-acre site. According to Durham County tax records, the property was most recently assessed in January at a value of $3.9 million. The last tax bill was $48,847; it has been paid in full.

Aging yet handsome, the brick apartments were built in 1938 and feature high ceilings, huge windows and radiator heat. At least 80 people, mostly non-students, live in the apartment complex. Rents range from $565 to $650, and the property owner paid heat and water.

Hannah Peele, who has lived at University Apartments for two years, said no one has formally contacted residents about the property sale. "Half of the community doesn't even know there are new owners," she said.

According to an e-mail obtained by the Indy from someone knowledgeable about the sale, the apartments will be renovated and residents will be moved into vacant apartments during construction.

Peele said residents who have learned of the sale are concerned they will be forced to move, either as a result of the renovations or because of higher rents.

A Capstone spokesman could not comment on the company’s plans for the site, but referred the Indy to its project manager, who is out of the office until Monday.

"It’s a very tolerant community," said  Peele. "It's a great group of people."

Check back for updates.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Illness at Evoo explained

Posted by on Thu, May 28, 2009 at 3:30 PM

Food safety inspectors have pinpointed the problem that sickened patrons at Raleigh's Evoo restaurant last month: Anchovies used in a Caesar salad dressing. At least 17 diners fell ill at the restaurant and in a nearby home, summoning multiple emergency medical teams to the scene.

Test results by federal Food and Drug Administration (PDF, 228 KB) revealed poisonous levels of histamine, an agent resulting from the decomposition of fish muscles, which causes nausea, vomiting and allergic-like reactions very quickly after exposure. The resulting illness is called scombroid food poisoning, and is most commonly associated with anchovies and sardines, as well as tuna, bluefish and mahi mahi.

The canned anchovies came from the manufacturer, Monarch, with histamine levels of 48 to 79 parts per million (ppm). The FDA considers levels of more than 50 ppm unsafe for consumption, and individual diners can experience sensitivity to the substance even at levels below that, says Andre Pierce, Wake County's environmental health and safety director.

Monarch, a division of U.S. Foods, has issued a Class 1 (highest priority) recall of the anchovies, Pierce said.

"Today is a big sigh of relief for the restaurant," said Evoo partner Robert Duffy. "We feel like we did everything right; there's nothing we could have done to prevent this."

Regulators tested both the anchovies and some tuna that were served on April 17, and while the tuna returned some results that could have caused some sensitive diners a problem, anchovies seem the more likely culprit because all of the ill patrons had eaten salad, Pierce said.

While not every diner had the Caesar salad, the same cutting board was used to prepare the anchovies and the salad greens, so other salads may have been cross-contaminated, Pierce said.

Duffy says Evoo has discontinued using anchovies in its salad dressing, and is inviting patrons affected by the illness to dinner on the house. The restaurant was cleared by inspectors to reopen the day after the incident, and continues to maintain its A rating.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Groups protest Racial Justice Act amendment

Posted by on Thu, May 21, 2009 at 12:08 PM

This morning, Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ), N.C. Coalition for a Moratorium, the N.C. NAACP and others gathered to call for the removal of an amendment to the state’s Racial Justice Act that would effectively restart executions in the state. The groups highlighted the popular support across the state for a racial justice bill, and advocated a “clean” bill without the death penalty amendment.

Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) introduced the offending amendment, which would resolve several legal hurdles to the resumption of executions. The demonstrators' press release hkonj-press-release ,which was delivered in front of the General Assembly building, called the addition “unconscionable,” as the Racial Justice Act was meant to correct flaws in the execution process.

The Racial Justice Act would allow the challenge of death penalty cases in which race was thought to have been a factor. A UNC study found that defendants were 3.5 times as likely to get the death penalty if the victim was white. Since the beginning of the death penalty moratorium in North Carolina, three African-American men have been exonerated. In all those cases, at least one of the victims was white.

Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the N.C. NAACP, spoke about the contrasting experiences of the Duke lacrosse players falsely accused of rape, who were later exonerated before trial, and the death row inmates,  who were eventually found not guilty. While the Duke players spent a short time in jail, the African-American men served combined 41 years on death row. 

“It’s not a crying shame,” said Rev. Dr. Barber. “It’s a damn shame.”

Sarah Preston, lobbyist for the N.C. ACLU, noted that her group and the NAACP oppose the death penalty on principle. But if there were going to be executions, she said she wanted the system to be color-blind and as fair as possible

“We don’t want to restart executions until the effects of the bill are in place,” Preston said.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

HK on J to protest Racial Justice Act amendments

Posted by on Wed, May 20, 2009 at 12:40 PM

For the first time ever, the N.C. Senate has passed the Racial Justice Act--a measure that previously failed after the Senate refused to vote on the bill. The historic legislation would prevent the execution of defendants who can prove race was was an underlying factor in the decision to seek, or impose, the death penalty at the time of their trial. However, death-penalty reform advocates are dismayed at a Senate amendment that seeks to re-start executions, on hold since August 2006, by resolving several legal issues before the courts.

"What they're trying to do is make this an execution bill, and this is not that," Rep. Larry Womble (D-Forsyth), a a House bill sponsor, told the Indy for a story that runs in print today (and online here). "This bill is about fairness, and opportunity, for both sides--the prosecutors and also the defendants. It's a fairness bill."

This Thursday, at 9:30 a.m., the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Coalition (HKonJ) and N.C. Coalition for a Moratorium will hold a press conference to protest the Senate amendment, which was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), one of 10 state senators to vote against the bill. In 2007, the House passed the Racial Justice Act without the amendement, though the Senate refused to vote on it.

Meanwhile, this year's Senate bill has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means and Broadband Connectivity. If favorable, it will then be referred to the House Judiciary I committee, which has already approved a House version of the bill. In an interview, Judiciary I Committee member Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) said she will seek to restore the bill to its original version.

Full release, after the jump.

Continue reading…

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Missouri set to execute inmate tonight

Posted by on Tue, May 19, 2009 at 4:22 PM

Update (5/20/09): Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon denied clemency shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday, and the state executed Dennis Killicorn shortly after midnight today. Updated, with reference to HB 1203 (Felony Murder), below.

For those following the mercurial advancements of the death penalty in North Carolina (updates here and here), Missouri's story is a reminder of what's at stake.

Stories in The New York Times and St. Louis Post-Dispatch describe Missouri lawmakers' reluctance to end that state's court-imposed moratorium, in place one year longer than North Carolina's de facto moratorium--even as the state prepares to execute an inmate shortly after midnight tonight. From the NYT story:

“I still favor the death penalty, but I just want to make sure we put the right people to death,” said State Representative Bill Deeken, a Republican, explaining why he last week proposed delaying the death penalty for two years more until a study can determine whether it is meted out fairly in this state. “At this point, we just do not know.”

Last week, Missouri's Republican-controlled House passed the two-year moratorium measure, though the state Senate did not take up the bill. That parallels North Carolina's failed attempt to establish a moratorium in the Legislature to study inaccuracies in the death sentencing process in 2003. That year, the state Senate voted for a two-year moratorium, but the measure did not pass the House.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Bonfield proposes FY09-10 budget for Durham

Posted by on Mon, May 18, 2009 at 10:41 PM

At tonight's regular City Council meeting, Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield proposed a $344 million budget for Fiscal Year 2009-10--a decrease of roughly $11 million, or 3.1 percent, from last year's budget. You can view his Power Point presentation, and accompanying letter, at the City's new budget Web site.

The most controversial aspect of Bonfield's plan is the elimination of 113 jobs, including 35 current employees (the rest are unfilled positions). That represents a 4.7 percent cut to the City's workforce of 2,400, at a total savings of roughly $6.6 million.

In addition to job cuts, Bonfield proposed freezing most pay raises, and reducing benefits such as 401(k) matches and healthcare coverage for all employees.

“Clearly the biggest impact of the proposed budget will be on our employees," Bonfield said. "Unfortunately, because we are such a personnel-intensive organization, it is impossible to reach a balanced budget proposal without affecting employees."

As Bonfield read off the proposed layoff numbers, several dozen protesters representing Durham City employees--at least 35--filed silently out of their seats, holding up neon-colored signs that read, "Use the rainy day fund."

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Wake Co. judge dismisses case against execution protocol; death penalty nears in N.C.

Posted by on Fri, May 15, 2009 at 4:35 PM

Wake County Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens has issued an order (PDF, 896 KB) upholding the method North Carolina used to approve its death-penalty protocol, removing one of the final hurdles to resuming executions in the state. (See “De facto death penalty moratorium may end,” Independent Weekly, May 13, 2009.) The order rejects an appeal, filed by five death-row inmates, charging that the N.C. Council of State--a council of statewide elected officials--violated the Administrative Procedures Act when it approved the protocol in a single meeting closed to public comment. Stephens' ruling overturns an earlier decision, by Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) Judge Fred Morrison, ordering the Council of State to reconsider its decision--which the Council of State, in turn, rejected.

Essentially, Stephens found that the Administrative Procedures Act did not apply to the Council of State, because it was merely signing off on a protocol developed by the N.C. Department of Correction--itself not subject to the Rule Making and Contested Case Provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act. In other words, the development of an execution protocol--the means by which North Carolina kills its death-row inmates--can have no administrative oversight, outside the Council of State, and is not subject to normal administrative procedures, Stephens found.

The judge also ruled that the death-row inmates who filed the appeal are "not aggrieved persons with standing to challenge the approval of the protocol."

"There’s a division of two judges here," Mark Kleinschmidt, executive director of Fair Trial Initiative, and an attorney representing one of the inmates, said in an interview. "It’s certainly an issue that’s worthy of appeal—though we haven’t decided our next steps yet."

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Burr's '10 opponent? It won't be Cooper

Posted by on Fri, May 15, 2009 at 12:55 PM

Attorney General Roy Cooper will not run in 2010 for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Richard Burr, WRAL is reporting.

Democrats will have to find another candidate.

(Update: Doesn't change a thing, says PPP's Tom Jensen. Maybe Cooper was the Democrats' strongest choice as of now, but Kay Hagan's campaign shows what can happen when the right newcomer takes on a vulnerable incumbent.

Also: The new state Democratic chair, David Young, would like it to be known that he's on the case -- and yes, recruiting candidates is how he'll be judged. His statement is  below the fold. )

I had a conversation last night with a Cooper political adviser, and now I realize what he was telling me. Be careful about assuming that Cooper will run against Burr, he said, based on the fact that Cooper was at the White House the other day with the national champion UNC Tar Heels. Cooper's never been on a "Washington track" politically, the adviser said. He's always seen himself as a family guy who lives and works in North Carolina. It's nothing more, or less, complicated than that.

Other Democrats who could challenge Burr? The adviser basically couldn't think of anyone. Grier Martin? I asked. Sure, but doubtful he'll do it, the guy said. And none of the congressional Democrats (Brad Miller, e.g.) are interested. Cal Cunningham maybe, he said.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

N.C. Senate passes Racial Justice Act

Posted by on Thu, May 14, 2009 at 11:48 AM

By a 36-10 vote, the N.C. Senate has passed the Racial Justice Act (SB 461). The landmark bill would prevent the execution of defendants who can prove race was an underlying factor in the decision to seek, or impose, the death penalty at the time of their trial. (For background on the bill, see "De facto death penalty moratorium may end," Independent Weekly, May 13, 2009.) The bill will now move to the House, which is considering a similar version today.

"Let’s not be naïve. [Race] has been a factor, at times, in the past, and we need to recognize that," Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. (D-Durham), the Senate bill sponsor, said on the Senate floor. "I’d much rather see a person end up in life in prison, without parole, because it may be fair and appropriate for the offense he committed."

The vote came shortly after the Senate rejected an amendment, by Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger (R-Guilford), that would have prevented death-row inmates, who had previously argued for racial discrimination in their trials, from "relying on the statistical advantages that this bill would allow you to have.”

“Review after review, appellate courts determined that race was not a factor in particular cases," Berger said.

However, that was the point of the bill—as de jure racism in the courtroom has been difficult to prove. Under the Racial Justice Act, defendants would be allowed to present evidence that race was an underlying factor in decisions to seek, or impose, the death penalty in the county, prosecutorial district or judicial division where they were tried. (This language differs from the House version, which would also consider statewide statistics; an earlier version of the Senate bill would have included contiguous prosecutorial districts.) If defendants can prove race was a factor, their sentences would be reduced to life in prison without parole.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

N.C. House will vote today on deregulating phone service

Posted by on Wed, May 13, 2009 at 11:28 AM

Consumer protection language that was recently added to House Bill 1180, the "Consumer Voice and Investment Act," was completely stripped from that bill in the House Public Utilities Committee on Tuesday.

The cable and telephone industry are lobbying for this bill as they roll out new triple-play services that bundle telephone, TV and high-speed Internet services. This bill would allow them to raise rates with effectively no regulation.

Language proposed by Rep. Bill Faison would have exempted from this deregulation any area in which fewer than 90 percent of households have reliable wireless service and/or broadband Internet service. (see section 1h of the second version.)

The backers of this bill include anti-tax groups bankrolled by conservatives and the telecom industry:

The Institute for Policy Innovation, The American Consumer Institute (more about them here), and Americans for Prosperity, which organized the "tea parties" on tax day.

The bill is scheduled for vote by the full House today, May 13.

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