There are 24 hours left until the deadline for candidates to file for the 2009 election, so expect a last-minute trickle of additional names on the ballots.
Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton has a challenger, Amanda Ashley, who, according to her MySpace page, is a Wiccan feminist graphic artist. She works at Phydeaux.
Three incumbents have filed for Chapel Hill Town Council: Ed Harrison, who has served on Council since 2001 and has the distinction of living in the part of Chapel Hill that is in Durham County (don’t make us explain the strange annexations). In addition, Laurin Easthom, who was first elected to Council in 2005, filed, as did Jim Merritt, who was appointed to fill Bill Thorpe’s seat after Thorpe died last year.
On Wednesday the N.C. House passed the Racial Justice Act, despite a last-ditch effort by House Republicans to characterize the bill as a potential drain on the justice system, and a ploy to abolish the death penalty altogether. The bill, which N.C. Indigent Defense Services estimated would save the state money in capital trial costs, would not overturn capital punishment in North Carolina. Instead, it 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. These defendants would instead be tried, or sentenced, to life in prison without parole. The bill now moves to the Senate for concurrence, in order to resolve differences between the two chambers' votes: the Senate version contains unrelated clauses that would ensure the resumption of the death penalty--currently on hold in North Carolina due to legal challenges--while the House version does not deal with the matter.
"Clearly, the House understands that race is still a factor in [capital] sentencing decisions," Jeremy Collins, campaign coordinator for the N.C. Coalition for a Moratorium, said after the 61-53 vote, which was later adjusted to 61-54. He added: "We're hopeful the Senate will concur."
A day after combative debate on the House floor, including a claim by Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) that the bill would force prosecutors to sentence more white people, and women, to death, in order to fill racial and gender quotas, the House Minority Leader was silent. Instead, Republicans tried to convince pro-death penalty Democrats to join their side. (Three Democrats voted against the bill; no Republicans supported it.)
“For those of you who support the death penalty, and support this bill, I’d like to address my remarks to you," Rep. Leo Daughtry (R-Johnston) said, before arguing that Racial Justice Act claims would "clog our system up to the point where we will no longer have a death penalty.”
Yet, Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake) insisted the distinction among the bill's supporters was moot.
“It’s entirely possible that someone supports the death penalty out of a strong sense of justice," he said. "It is not a paradox, and in fact I think it’s entirely consistent with that same sense of justice … that they also be driven to not see the death penalty implemented in a way that executes someone who is innocent, or in this case, reflects the racism that we all know still lingers in our society.”
The N.C. House has announced that the Racial Justice Act will come up for a third and final reading during today's regular session, scheduled for 3 p.m. Senate Bill 461 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. If convicted of first-degree murder, these defendants instead would be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Last night, members of the House defeated an amendment that would have reduced the scope of the bill and re-referred it to the Appropriations committee, by a vote of 58-58.
Instead, House Democrats voted to pass a "clean" version of the bill that does not contain controversial clauses that would ensure the resumption of the death penalty in North Carolina; that bill now comes up for a final House vote tonight. Previously, the N.C. Senate passed a version of the bill that does contain these clauses, meaning that an ultimate resolution must be struck either through amendments in the Senate, or in conference committee.
Last night's debate included re-hashed, and factually inaccurate, claims by Minority House Leader Paul Stam that the bill would require local districts to execute more white people, and women, the N&O and AP report. In fact, the bill would allow defendants to present statistical data to support a claim of racial bias; judges would then rule whether such a claim was valid. It would not require prosecutors to seek out death sentences based on race, but instead ensure the practice does not exist.
For background on the bill, see the Indy's previous coverage.
All Durham incumbents up for re-election--including Mayor Bill Bell and Ward 2 Councilman Howard Clement--now face challengers in the 2009 election.
Cary resident Lois Nixon announced her campaign today for Wake County Board of Education in District 9. As of 11 a.m., Nixon had not yet filed.
In a press release (DOC, 40KB), Nixon listed her experience as former director of Wake County Keep America Beautiful, and a certified environmental educator.
Meanwhile, Durham Ward 2 Councilman Howard Clement has a third challenger--relative unknown Sandra Howell, who filed this morning.
Also, Bull City Rising is reporting that Donald Hughes will challenge City Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden for Ward 1 in Durham.
Hughes, a frequent speaker at city and county meetings, is the son of former Councilwoman Jackie Wagstaff. As BCR notes:
Wagstaff herself lost a re-election bid for Council in 2001 to Cole-McFadden -- the very candidate her son finds himself challenging eight years later.
Hughes has spoken passionately on a wide range of topics, including education and jobs creation. He sided with developers during the contentious April 13, 2009 vote on whether to conduct a public hearing to change Jordan Lake's boundaries in order to accommodate a 164-acre mixed-use project, citing the potential for an increased tax base. Oddly, Hughes said that since Durham does not currently use Jordan Lake as a drinking-water source, the lake's water quality should not be factored into the county's decision. Durham purchased water from Jordan Lake during the 2007-08 drought.
"It's been presented time and time again that this project is going to affect water quality in Durham. Durham's water does not come from Jordan Lake; to present this as harming Durham's water quality is false," Hughes said at the meeting.
Hughes will kickoff his campaign on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., in the parking lot of the old Winn-Dixie at Hopkins Street & Alston Avenue, his campaign's Facebook page has announced.
Last fall, it appeared Durham would lose its public access TV channel, potentially closing an avenue for community voices. With the help of dozens of volunteers, benefactors and The Peoples Channel in Chapel Hill, not only has the channel been resurrected, but the Durham Media Center is expanding. (Read Fiona Morgan's coverage for the Indy.)
In the wake of a Government Accountability Office report that found widespread inconsistencies among law enforcement agencies participating in the voluntary immigration enforcement program, 287(g), the Department of Homeland Security today announced a major overhaul of the program.
DHS is requiring all local law enforcement agencies to sign a new, universal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), within 90 days, specifying the program's purpose as "identifying and processing for removal, criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety or danger to the community.” Previously, GAO found, the program's mandate to deport illegal immigrants convicted of “violent crimes, human smuggling, gang/organized crime activity, sexual-related offenses, narcotics smuggling and money laundering" was not clearly stated in program materials and MOAs, and as a result some agencies had "used 287(g) authority to process individuals for minor crimes, such as speeding, contrary to the objective of the program."
An outline of the new MOA (DOC, 44 KB) released to the Indy shows the Department has codified priority levels for the arrest and detention of criminal aliens, meaning that deporting illegal immigrants for non-violent offenses, such as traffic violations, will be a lower priority than deporting illegal immigrants who have committed violent crimes and serious drug offenses. Furthermore, the new MOA has added a clause specifically barring racial profiling, which was not addressed in previous MOAs:
Original MOA: Federal civil rights not addressed
New MOA: Agency personnel are bound by all Federal civil rights laws regulations and guidance relating to non-discrimination
The new MOA also addresses communication failures, and critical oversight problems, by requiring all 287(g) programs to clearly state where complaints should be forwarded, providing a mechanism for DHS to evaluate and approve local programs, and adding new requirements to officers participating in the program.
Perhaps the most sweeping change involves the method of arrest, which previously could trigger a defendant's deportation process, even if the charges were later dropped.
One of Lewis Cheek's final actions as a Durham County commissioner was to reject an independent survey of Jordan Lake, saying the county should instead "take ownership of the issue" by relying on a private survey commissioned by developer Neal Hunter.
"I don't think we should get into budget ordinances and amendments in order to spend $100,000 that we really don't have right now," Cheek said at the Nov. 24, 2008 meeting, in moving to defer action on the independent survey. "Frankly, and I'll be very candid, I feel very uncomfortable getting involved with that, given that this is my last night as a member of the Board of County Commissioners."
Less than one year later, Cheek has joined law firm K&L Gates as an "of counsel" attorney, K&L Gates attorney Patrick Byker confirmed in an interview. The firm represents Southern Durham Development, whose proposed mixed-use project, known as the 751 Assemblage, would directly benefit from Hunter's survey. Southern Durham Development is suing the County to change its watershed maps, based on Hunter's survey, without a public hearing.
In 2008, Hunter sold 164 acres intended for the 751 Assemblage to Southern Durham Development for $18 million and a stake in the company. (Hunter is a minority shareholder, and has argued on the company's behalf at public meetings.) In February 2009, the N.C. Division of Water Quality accepted Hunter's survey, which would move the property outside a one-mile area that prohibits such development. However, in April commissioners voted 3-2 to follow state law and conduct a public hearing process before changing its watershed maps accordingly. Last month, Southern Durham Development sued Durham County for allegedly acting maliciously to "attack" and "undermine" this map change by conducting a public hearing. Several of Cheek's former colleagues, including County Attorney Chuck Kitchen and then-Commission Chair Ellen Reckhow, are named in the suit.
Cheek's bio on K&L Gates indicates he will represent clients on "land use and zoning matters." However, Byker declined to comment on whether Cheek would work on the lawsuit against his former employer.
In his 2004 run for the County Commission, Cheek received his largest contribution, $2,000, from Hunter.
Cheek did not respond to calls or e-mails requesting comment.
With one week down for the 2009 election candidate filings, Durham Mayor Bill Bell has a challenger, Steve Williams, a Durham native who grew up in Walltown, and graduated from St. Augustine’s College, where he received a track-and-field scholarship. His platform, which is listed on his Web site, includes crime, economic development, the environment, housing and education.
Meanwhile, a third candidate has entered the Chapel Hill Town Council race, Jon Dehart, a mortgage account representative. There are four candidates running for three seats on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board, the most recent being J.M. (Joe Green), a UNC education professor.
And in Raleigh, District E, which until today was the lone council district without a candidate, now has one: North Hills General Manager Bonner Gaylord, who serves on the Raleigh planning commission.
This post was updated at 10 a.m., Saturday, July 11.
Like an itinerant preacher, Patrick Byker has scoured nearly every corner of Durham proselytizing the gospel according to Fairway Outdoor Advertising: That billboards are selfless benefactors for communities and add to the common good.
So it’s not surprising that on his tour to convince Durham leaders of billboards’ healing qualities, he stopped by his old stomping grounds: The City-County Crime Cabinet, for which he served as secretary from 1997 to 1999.
Byker, now an attorney with K&L Gates, was one of several hired guns for Fairway Outdoor Advertising, which is lobbying to amend the city-county Unified Development Ordinance to allow digital billboards, among other changes.
Of the 89 billboards in Durham County, 47 are owned by Fairway. Under Fairway/ K&L Gates’ proposal, one quarter of Durham’s billboards—22—would be converted to digital, meaning a static, not flashing, message would change every eight seconds. While Byker showed the public service aspect of the signs—examples included “We Salute Our Heroes” from a billboard in South Carolina—he also played the fear card.
Byker criticized the Amber Alert/ Silver Alert system, which displays information on signs over North Carolina’s interstates, for only telling the public to call 5-1-1. (That number gives callers the same information distributed to the media. The N.C. Department of Transportation regulates the signs.)
“I don’t think it’s effective,” Byker said. “We can put a face on a billboard.”
However, an N.C. Department of Crime Control and Public Safety official told the Indy that “If you put too much information on signs, that’s a distraction.”
According to the Crime Control department, since January, it has issued 11 Amber Alerts and 113 Silver Alerts statewide. (The Web site lists data through May; no Amber Alerts were issued during that time in the Triangle.)
Byker further pushed his case that digital billboards could help Durham with locating lost elderly people through a Silver Alert system broadcast on digital billboards. He cited one estimate (not by the U.S. Census) that 22 percent of Durham’s population will be older than 55 by 2011. The message: Soon we will be old and doddering. Who will help us? Digital billboards.
“This is an opportunity for Durham to be a regional leader for the Silver Alert system,” Byker said.
Of the 100 Silver Alerts issued through May, four of them were in Durham County. Wake County had 9; Orange County also had four.
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez chimed in: “This is my professional opinion, not a personal one. There is no indication billboards cause accidents. It could only help in getting law enforcement message across.”
As for the aesthetics, he said, “It’s in the eye of the beholder,” adding “Either we agree with this company or the one in the future if we sell the billboards.” (Actually, the city and county could disagree with any company seeking to amend the UDO.)
County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow, who co-chairs the Crime Cabinet with City Councilman Howard Clement, asked Byker how much information people can absorb in eight seconds.
“I think it’s as much time as a person needs,” he replied. He offered no studies to back up his assertion.
Reckhow also quizzed Byker on how drivers would remember the information on the billboards, which can include the name of the missing person, the description and license plate number of a car and a phone number.
"Their passengers could take it down," Byker replied.
Nearly three-quarters of Durham County commuters drive alone, according to the N.C. Commerce Department. This number does not account for people who are not driving to work.
Nearly 15 citizens’ and neighborhood groups oppose amending the ordinance to allow digital billboards.
City Councilman Howard Clement, a member of the Crime Cabinet, was apparently swayed by Byker’s presentation: “There is new information today. I think we need a massive re-education. So far, the issue has been one-sided. We’re not getting a balanced presentation.”
However, no community members or billboard opponents were allowed to offer their presentations.
For other blog posts on the billboard issue, go to our archives.