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Friday, November 27, 2009

Kay Hagan among wealthiest U.S. senators

Posted by on Fri, Nov 27, 2009 at 9:33 AM


With an average net worth of $17 million, Sen. Kay Hagan ranked 14th of the 25 richest U.S. senators in 2008, according to an analysis by the Center      for Responsive Politics. The figures came from the senators' required annual financial disclosures. (On Friday morning, the CRP site was down due to      extremely high traffic. Go to The New York Times article to see the full list.)

Of the 25, 14 were Democrats and 11 were Republicans Herb Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat topped the list with an average net worth of $214 million.

No North Carolina House member the representatives' top 25 list.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

USDA inspection reports on "The Farm": dead hamsters, thirsty rabbits and lonely monkeys

Posted by on Wed, Nov 25, 2009 at 2:22 PM

In two of the past four years, UNC's Resource Research Facility, also known as "The Farm," has been cited by the federal government for failing to provide adequate socialization for three squirrel monkeys, failing to provide enough drinking water for rabbits and for failing to remove dead hamsters from cages. The violations occurred in 2005 and 2007; they were corrected.

The Farm is  a holding facility in rural Orange County for animals undergoing experiments on UNC's Main Campus or at its Francis Owen Blood Research Lab in Carrboro. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service conducts annual inspections of animal research facilities to ensure they comply with federal standards of humane care and treatment of animals. The reports are here (.pdf, 700k): usdainspectionreports

In a Jan. 29, 2007 inspection, a federal veterinary medical officer noted that "three dead hamsters were found in three separate cages in one cubicle. Conditions of the bodies indicated they had been dead for some time."

A Dec. 14, 2005 inspection noted that "current enrichment plan for three squirrel monkeys is not being completely followed." At least one squirrel monkey was alone in a cage and its toys were not being properly changed. "The toys don't seem to interest the primates much at this time," the report reads.

A July 19, 2005 report showed that rabbits undergoing tests were not give enough water, sometimes going for as long as a week with only a quarter of an apple for moisture. "Records indicated that new rabbits and occasionally trained rabbits received very little or no water during test sessions due to their poor task performance," the report reads.

While reporting the story about the potential environmental impacts of the Farm, the Indy filed a Freedom of Information Act for its USDA inspection reports.

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Rogers Road advocate reflects on his trip to D.C.

Posted by on Wed, Nov 25, 2009 at 12:59 PM



Minister Robert Campbell, a long-standing advocate for environmental justice and the Rogers Road community, took his message to the White House last week.

 He was invited to a roundtable on clean energy and public health led by Lisa Jackson of the EPA and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

You can read more about his trip and access the briefing he provided at

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Orange County set to move main library to new site

Posted by on Wed, Nov 25, 2009 at 12:40 PM

Orange County's main library will close its doors Dec. 13 to make way for a new $8.1 million facility that will open Jan. 8.

The new 23,500-square-foot building at 137 W. Margaret Lane in Hillsborough will be 10,000 square feet larger than the current space and will feature two floors with added amenities including a teen room and a meeting space for 100 people with a kitchen area.

"The library has actually outgrown its facility here. We're in an old school building, as a matter of fact," said Lucinda Munger, Orange County library director. "This is the first building that has actually been built as a library for the Orange County Public Library system."

The current library has been housed at the Whitted Building on West Tryon Street for 29 years.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

N.C. lawmakers ask AG, Insurance Commissioner to investigate Blue Cross Blue Shield

Posted by on Tue, Nov 24, 2009 at 2:05 PM

Twenty state legislators, including five from the Triangle, sent a letter to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and state Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin alleging Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina "has inappropriately engaged in political advocacy." The health insurance company recently sent a pre-printed postcard opposing health care reform to policyholders asking them to in turn send it to Sen. Kay Hagan in hopes of swaying her vote on the measure. In addition, the letter charges, BCBS "has engaged in robo-calls urging policyholders to act on the mailings."

The letter went on: "We are concerned that BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina has violated the intent of the Do Not Call Registry by using the exemption requiring a prior business relationship to engage in political advocacy. These robo-calls had nothing to do with providing care to patients, but were instead used to advocate a specific political stance."

Read the entire letter below (Word document, 32k)

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Monday, November 23, 2009

IFC calls on public for holiday meal help

Posted by on Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 2:22 PM

Chapel Hill-Carrboro's Interfaith Council is asking for your help as more families than ever are in need of a holiday meal this season.

Executive Director Chris Moran says he's seen a 52 percent increase from last year in families using the food pantry, with 2,560 households participating.

"That number keeps going up every month, and when it goes up we need more food to meet the demand," he said.

Those wishing to help out can donate a meal by paying $25 for a Holiday Meal Coupon, which provides a turkey or ham, vegetables, stuffing, bread and dessert for one family.

Last holiday season the IFC, which depends largely on public support, was able to use $19,000 in donations to provide 761 meals to 2,245 people. Moran says he hopes to have enough money to distribute 800 meals this year at cost of $20,000, but so far the funds haven't come in like they did last season.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

UDO: Does it offer another possible option for commissioners?

Posted by on Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 1:16 PM

UPDATE, 2:43 p.m. Planning Director Steve Medlin explained the meaning of the UDO section Lowell Siler referred to yesterday. There have been no significant changes in the facts or circumstances of the area to be rezoned, Medlin said. Changes to the validity of the Jordan Lake protest petition have nothing to do with the area to be rezoned, he said, therefore, commissioners may not apply to rezone the Jordan Lake watershed until 12 months have passed.

ORIGINAL POST: A comment posted to Triangulator this morning raises the issue - do Durham County Commissioners have any option other than to brace themselves for a lawsuit regarding the Jordan Lake protest petition? We summarized yesterday that County Attorney Lowell Siler appeared to tell County Commissioners repeatedly that only a superior court action could amend the 3-2 vote they took in October to redraw the watershed around Jordan Lake.

But today, re-reading the Unified Development Ordinance that Siler cited, it appears there could be another option—at least in a very general, non-legal lay interpretation (i.e. - we are raising the question and looking for answers). We at the Indy are waiting for an official interpretation.

But yesterday, when Commissioner Ellen Reckhow asked Siler to reiterate what had been discussed at the commissioners' closed session Thursday morning, he stated he informed commissioners of section 3.5.15 of the UDO.

"When the body has taken action, no action can be taken again until 12 months have passed," Siler said.

He left out the second part, which is quoted here:

3.5.15 Subsequent Amendments

When the governing body has taken action on a zoning map change, no new application may be filed for a similar zoning map change until at least 12 months have elapsed since the date of the previous action. The Planning Director, or designee, may waive this requirement if the application has been significantly modified or there has been a significant change in the facts or circumstances since the previous request.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

What's next? Court, Durham county attorney says

Posted by on Thu, Nov 19, 2009 at 12:34 PM

Durham County Commissioners met in closed session this morning to discuss next steps in the controversy around a debated petition that could have affected commercial and residential development around Jordan Lake.

County Attorney Lowell Siler told commissioners, essentially, that their hands are tied. If anyone wants to question a vote commissioners took last month to move the Jordan Lake watershed, it's going to have to be an outside party in a lawsuit, he said. Commissioners cannot go back and revisit the vote they now believe they took, even though they have since learned they took the vote under now questionable circumstances.

"The central issue is, a vote has been taken and the only way to amend that is to go to superior court," Siler told commissioners Thursday morning. "And we'll defend that action."

When Siler says the issue is to be resolved in court, he fails to fully explain, said Elaine Chiosso, director of the Haw River Assembly, which filed the petition. It means a small nonprofit group has to sue the county government and city-county planning department, which have broader resources and deeper pockets.

"We're hoping to meet that challenge, but it's a big challenge," Chiosso said.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Memo: Medlin finds Jordan Lake protest petition valid

Posted by on Wed, Nov 18, 2009 at 8:44 PM

A memo sent from Durham planning Director Steve Medlin to County Manager Mike Ruffin last Friday shows that Medlin changed his initial ruling and has found a debated protest petition regarding Jordan Lake is valid.

The memo (PDF) was requested by the Indy and other media outlets and released Wednesday evening with personnel and other information redacted. It shows that petitioners actually did include the required percentage of signatures, although Medlin initially said the petition did not include enough.

It's unclear what the next step for either the petitioners or the county is, but the findings will be the hot topic at a special county commissioners meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m. All or most of the discussion will likely occur behind closed doors. A meeting notice by the clerk to the Commissioners cited personnel privacy  and a pending lawsuit against the county filed by Southern Durham Development as reasons the session is closed.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Durham county attorney cites statutes protecting memo

Posted by on Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 4:58 PM

Durham County Attorney Lowell Siler cited four laws today protecting a memo sent Friday from planning Director Steve Medlin to County Manager Mike Ruffin that details the status of a debated protest petition.

Siler responded to a request from the Indy for the document this afternoon, stating that four statutes related to confidential communications by legal counsel to a public board or agency, pending litigation and personnel privacy (specific citations listed on the jump) preclude the memo from being released to the public.

"We want to be open," Siler said by phone. "We have no desire to withhold any information that can be released, but we have a mandatory responsibility to exercise some privileges by law as it relates to the disclosure of information."

Siler said his department has been going through the "analysis" presented to Ruffin Friday and that he doesn't know if any portion of it can be released. He did say that commissioners could vote to release some of the information (see citation on jump).

"It looks like the whole thing is privileged," Siler said.

County commissioners are scheduled to meet in closed session at 10 a.m. Thursday, and it's unclear whether they could take any action in open session regarding the memo, or the debated protest petition.

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