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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Paper trail lacking in state's litterbug reports

Posted by on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 5:43 PM

The N.C. Department of Transportation is touting the success of its Swat-a-Litterbug program, announcing it received more than 11,700 littering reports in 2009—a 20 percent increase over 2008, according to a press release:  2010-1-05-swat-a-litterbug.

There's a problem, though: There are no records to support that contention. The original littering reports include the vehicle's license plate number, date and time of the incident, street name, city, county and a description of the offense. However, after the alleged litterbug receives a letter from the NCDOT informing him or her of the offense, the record—the letter to the offender and the report itself—is destroyed or purged from the system, according to NCDOT spokesman George Kapetanakis.

Kapetanakis was responding to an Independent Weekly open records request seeking the contents of the 11,700 reports.

Without the records, it is impossible to analyze the programs results: verifying the number of reports, analyzing the types of offenses and detecting geographical or other patterns.

Under the program, the public can call a litterbug hotline (1-877-DOT-4YOU) and anonymously report motorists whom they have seen littering. The litterbugs are sent a letter notifiying them that they were seen littering and informs them it is an illegal and fineable offense. Fines for littering range from $250 to $2,000 and can include a point on the offender’s driver license, as well as community service work.

Kapetanakis said no one has been fined under Swat-a-Litterbug because it is an educational program intended to raise awareness about littering. NCDOT receives 30 to 70 reports a day, he said, primarily about people tossing cigarette butts out their car windows.

Ironically, Gov. Beverly Perdue emphasized transparency and accountability in state government during her first year in office. The governor's Web site reads: “Only when the doors of government are open wide, and the sun truly shines in, can we be sure that our government by the people is working for the people."

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Owner: Health department yet to warn Hookah Bliss

Posted by on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 3:52 PM

The phone calls from patrons, both long-time and new, come about every 20 minutes at Hookah Bliss these days, everyone wanting to know one thing — are you still open?

Yes, for now, owner Adam Bliss tells them. 

The Franklin Street hookah haven is open as usual despite a new statewide smoking ban in restaurants and bars that went into effect Sunday making it illegal to sell both food or alcohol and allow tobacco smoke in the same location.

Bliss, with his workers rallying by his side, is staging a nonviolent protest of the new law by staying open in spite of the rule. He knows he gets two warnings before the $200 per violation fines start coming. So far the health department hasn't been by to visit. No warnings and no tickets.

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First Chapel Hill, now Chatham County businesses burglarized

Posted by on Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 2:48 PM

A dog wash, a beauty shop and a florist are among several northern Chatham County businesses that have been burglarized in the last month, and the method—busting through a window or glass door—is similar to recent break-ins at Chapel Hill stores.

Since early December, several burglaries have occurred at businesses in Cole Park Plaza, Chatham Crossing and Chatham Downs. Max's Dog Wash and Snack Shack, was burglarized  Dec. 16, and again Jan. 3. On his or her first trip, the burglar made off with the cash; the second time, the thief took nothing of monetary value—just the owner's sense of security and the out-of-pocket expense of replacing the $320 glass front door.

Over a two-week span, Panda Garden, Farrington Hair Salon, Fancy Nail Spa, Magnolia House Flowers, and The Hop Shop at Carolina Brewery were also burglarized. Three of those businesses ushered in the New Year with a call to police that their business had been busted into.

In Chapel Hill, 21 businesses have been burglarized. Likewise, the intruder breaks through the glass door or window with a crow-bar or rock and heads for the register.

The Chatham County Sheriff's Department has established a task force investigating the burglaries. Chatham County officers have spent most of today visiting northern Chatham County business owners and encouraging them to use the Sheriff Department's "Business Watch Program."

Taking a break from his lunch at Panda Garden, Capt. Charles Gardener said police are investigating a suspect.

“At this time I can not name that suspect, but we are very hard at work on this case,” said Gardener, who recommends small business owners buy a video camera and/or install an alarm system.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” he said. “Those things are expensive, I know, but it pays off in the long run.”

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Allison pushes commissioners for delay on vote; Page grants her wish

Posted by on Mon, Jan 4, 2010 at 8:13 PM

Durham County Commissioners spent a good part of their five-hour work session Monday morning debating the details of an agreement with Durham Public Schools that would allow school system to recoup sales taxes it pays on construction projects.

The interlocal agreement had many facets and took some time for county staff and commissioners to dissect. But Lavonia Allison, the controversial and newly re-elected chairwoman of the Durham Committee of the Affairs of Black People, wanted some more time to study the fine points. She asked board Chairman Michael Page to delay the board's vote a month.

The contract was a serious consideration, Allison said, in part because of the points it raises about requirements of the school system to hire minority- and women-owned businesses for its projects.

"We're talking about African-American employment opportunities," Allison said, leaning on the commissioners' dais.

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A tattle tale: Durham Animal Control flooded with chained-dog complaints

Posted by on Mon, Jan 4, 2010 at 6:29 PM

Durham's newest ordinance, which bans owners in the city and county from tethering their dogs for prolonged periods, is just three days old. But already, it has spurred roughly 50 reports from citizens to Durham County Animal Control, Director Cindy Bailey said Monday.

Today was the first day of 2010 that Animal Control has been open, Bailey said, so officers were out in force investigating the complaints. Officers will visit any offender in 90 days to see if they have made any progress in finding alternatives to tethers and chains to contain their pets. Right now, officers are issuing warnings with a drop-dead date of June 30. Anyone in violation of the ordinance on July 1 or later could receive a citation and face fines of up to $150.

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Danny Glover coming to UNC for MLK week

Posted by on Mon, Jan 4, 2010 at 2:45 PM

Danny Glover of Lethal Weapon and Angels in the Outfield fame is the keynote speaker for UNC's 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration, UNC officials announced today.

Glover's speech highlights the weeklong event, which runs from Jan. 17 to Jan. 22. The talk is free and open to the public and is set for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21 at Memorial Hall. You will need a ticket, however. Students with UNC IDs get the first crack at them beginning Jan. 12. Everyone else can get two tickets starting Jan. 14 at the Memorial Hall box office.

Glover will address how King inspired him to use his celebrity platform fight for causes like health care and education.

More information on the speech and the entire slate of events can be found here

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