At the start of the budget season this year, travel allowances came up—again—as a sticking point, both for the Durham school board and county commissioners. We published a short "Because We're Curious" story May 27 detailing some of the commissioners' expenditures.
Commissioners each get $4,000 for training-related travel (this is separate from a monthly sum of $250 they receive for local travel). In April, Commissioner Brenda Howerton had spent her allowance, but Commissioner Joe Bowser stepped in and let Howerton have $1,000 of the allowance that he wasn't using.
According to May's report, Bowser stepped up to help again, giving Howerton another $375 so she could fly to Reno, Nev., for a conference of the National Association of Counties. (The actual conference takes place in July, in the start of a new fiscal year, but the fees and plane ticket were paid for during this fiscal year, so they count against Howerton's total travel allowance. She has now spent $5,375.04 on training-related travel.)
Commissioners won't have as much flexibility next year, as County Manager Mike Ruffin has proposed cutting their travel allowances to $3,500 each.
Living in a community surrounded by gas stations labeled with the BP name (I pass three such stations just on the short drive home from the gym), I've heard plenty of conversations about whether BP would really feel the sting of a boycott of its products.
Gavan Fitzsimons, a professor of marketing and psychology at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, understands the feeling. He, too, has cruised by BP stations in the weeks since the spill. I caught up with him to talk about the effect of boycotting BP and what concerned citizens should think about this whole question.
"Even if everybody decided to boycott, it's probably not going to have a big impact on BP," says Fitzsimons. The real impact, he said, is down the line. What matters is whether, in 20 years, people still get the heebie-jeebies when they think about BP. "In the long run, it will be this sort of permanent taint that will be associated with the corporation."
Read the whole story for more insights.
Durham County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to use $4.1 million from current and future lottery money to restore teaching positions cut last month due to state budget woes.
County attorneys drafted a memorandum of understanding for county commissioners today that summarized their agreement with the schools to fund the 2010-11 school year. The county would use a current $3.8 million balance of lottery money and about $2.2 million projected lottery revenue for next year (that's a purposely low estimate, County Manager Mike Ruffin said), totaling about $6.1 million. Money would be shifted around (see the memo for details) with the net result being an additional $4.1 million for schools next year that hadn't been included in Ruffin's earlier budget proposal. The memo is scheduled to be presented to the school board and signed Thursday at its 6:30 p.m. meeting.
Bottom line: if the memo is signed and the intentions documented there are carried through, many of the 185 teachers who had been cut at the end of the school year could be hired back for the 2010-11 year. (Ruffin's initial budget proposal restored 111 of these teachers. The lottery funds would restore the remaining 74 teachers. View the list of teacher cuts [PDF]).
But although students, parents and community activists who have been pressuring the Durham school board and commissioners for the past two months may feel their wishes have been granted, more trouble looms just over the horizon.
Funding dearths for the 2011-12 school year will be even more dramatic than for the coming year. With next year's estimated state budget cuts and the loss of federal stimulus money, Durham could lose 345 teaching positions for 2011-12, Ruffin said Tuesday. Ruffin said he had just gotten off the phone with interim Superintendent Hank Hurd, who cited the sobering number.
Anticipating the difficulty planning for the 2011-12 school year, commissioners added a paragraph to the end of their memo stating that commissioners and the school board need to agree to begin meeting immediately to reconcile how they'll fund schools through 2012.
North Carolina Congressman Mel Watt is one of eight House members under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, The New York Times reports today, over whether they improperly shifted their positions on a bill to overhaul financial regulations in return for campaign contributions.
Investigators are analyzing correspondence between financial industry lobbyists and lawmakers, as well as financial records. No charges have been filed. In fact, more than half of the investigations conducted by the ethics office go nowhere.
Watt has not released a statement in response to the investigation. His office had no comment Tuesday morning.
Watt represents the 12th District, which extends from Winston-Salem to Charlotte.
The news was first reported on Monday by The Hill, a Washington newspaper that covers Congress.
At the request of developers in a controversial land rezoning case, Durham County commissioners voted Monday night to defer a public hearing and decision on whether to rezone 167 acres in South Durham to July 26.
The process won't be that straightforward, however. Commissioners will be maneuvering around their own Unified Development Ordinance to hold the public hearing and rezoning vote on that date.
The UDO states that when either an opponent or proponent of a rezoning case requests a deferral, they can be granted a 30-day delay at most. But county commissioners, having most of July off from their board duties, had planned individual travel and couldn't find a date to meet. They proposed meeting on the rezoning case the night of their only July meeting on the 26th, but that would be 33 days from the original hearing date, and therefore too long.
Thus, to meet their own requirements, the commissioners said that they would schedule an official public hearing for 10 a.m. July 14, when a quorum (Ellen Reckhow, Becky Heron and Brenda Howerton) could meet. They plan to open the public hearing, then immediately continue it to the July 26 meeting during which all five commissioners could meet.
Bottom line: if everything goes as commissioners have planned, the public need not worry about attending the July 14 meeting, which is being held as a formality to meet ordinance requirements. The real public hearing, commissioners assured, would be the night of their regular July meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. July 26.
A public hearing on the controversial rezoning request put forth by Southern Durham Development to create a new community in South Durham could again be deferred, this time at the developers' request. Durham's Board of County Commissioners could decide tonight whether to honor the request from attorneys for Southern Durham Development.
Patrick Byker, the attorney who requested the deferral for the developers, said he sent an e-mail to the planning department Friday afternoon asking for more time.
"This project has had a long history and it’s fairly complex," Byker said Monday. "We wanted to meet with more of our supporters in the community and make sure they understand the facts of the case so we could have a strong presentation at the public hearing."
A deferral could push the public hearing back to late July (as late as July 23). Currently, the public hearing for this rezoning case is scheduled for Wednesday, June 23.
The public hearing in this rezoning case, which pertains to 167 acres off N.C. 751 in the southwest corner of Durham County, was originally scheduled for May 24. South Durham resident Melissa Rooney, who opposes the proposed high-density developed for this land, asked the Board of County Commissioners to push back the date. After a small tug-of-war over the appropriate date, commissioners settled for June 23.
It looks like opponents of this project also are aiming for a strong showing at the public hearing, which they have achieved easily in the past. In addition to a resolution expected to be passed soon by the InterNeighborhood Council of Durham against the rezoning, opponents have filed a protest petition on the rezoning, and are holding a relay race on Thursday (see the jump for details).
The results are in. That is, there are totals on the June 22 runoff election's early voting thus far.
Early voting is already an embodiment of "easier said than done," so perhaps expecting any sort of respectable turnout for a runoff election is far too wishful. I will certainly no longer hold my breath in anticipation.
As of yesterday, 177 Chatham county citizens had exercised their right to vote, which equates to a grand 'ol .4% of the county's total registered voters. Likewise, 370 Orange county voters have already visited the polls, another .4% of total registered in the county. A mere 541 voters have visited early polls in Durham county, which is but .3% of its total registered residents.
To cap it all off, Wake county's sum reaches 587, a whopping .1% of all voters in the significantly larger county. All totaled, .2% of voters in the four counties have taken advantage of the early option. And I rounded up.
I avoid numbers with the best of my fellow liberal arts-majors, and even I didn't need a calculator to add up these totals. Hopefully this does not predict turnout for actual election day in a week and a half; after all, it is beginning to be vacation season, and we're all busy logging as many work hours as possible to warrant our week off worth it, right? Of course election day is on our calendar, bolded and underlined. Remember, you can't complain if you didn't cast your vote in the first place!
A registered nurse was indicated today and charged with second-degree murder of a Chapel Hill nursing home resident, according to a N.C. Department of Justice press release.
Angela Almore of Cary also faces six counts of felony patient abuse related to the provision of morphine for other patients at the Britthaven nursing home at 1716 Legion Road. All were hospitalized. Resident Rachel Holliday, an 84-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, died in February.
Almore is being held in Orange County jail under a $500,000 secured bond. She was charged following an investigation by the Attorney General’s Medicaid Investigations Unit along with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
According to a press release issued today, state Reps. Pricey Harrison and Earl Jones, both Guilford Democrats, Paul Luebke, D-Durham and Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe sponsored the measure, House Bill 2010.
North Carolina owns 385,000 shares of Massey Energy stock, currently valued at approximately $12 million, the press release said. Massey stock lost $975 million in value following the April 5 explosion at its Upper Big branch Mine in Montcoal, W. Va. Twenty-nine miners died in the disaster, the worst in the U.S. in 40 years.
Earlier this month, State Treasurer Janet Cowell and a coalition of institutional investors urged Massey shareholders to withhold votes from the three board of director members responsible for mining safety in the company. All three were re-elected.
"Massey Energy has an extensive history of persistent and serious safety violations," said Cowell, who oversees the state retirement system. “Ultimately, that has consequences for long-term shareholder value.”
Massey Energy has a history of safety and environmental violations. In 2008, the company paid out the largest financial settlement in the 38-year history of the Clean Water Act, totaling $20 million for 1,500 violations. The company also racked up 500 safety citations and $897,325 in proposed penalties.
"Massey Energy Company is a rogue corporation that puts company profits before the safety of miners," Rep. Harrison said. N.C. "North Carolina has no business investing state funds in a corporation that routinely places its workers at risk and has absolutely no regard for environmental protection."
Massey Energy is also the largest mountaintop removal coal mining company in the country. This form of strip mining has destroyed 500 mountains and buried or impaired more than 2,000 miles of headwater streams in the Appalachian mountain range.
"Maintaining our current investment locks North Carolina into Massey's negligent behavior, which has cost the lives of American miners," said Austin Hall, Field Organizer for the regional nonprofit organization Appalachian Voices, which supports the bill. "This company's deplorable safety and environmental standards fly in the face of our state's hard-earned reputation for safe workplaces and environmental stewardship."
A Raleigh protest is also planned, we're told by peace activist Bill Towe, beginning at the Islamic Center of Raleigh at 2:20 p.m. on Friday, following prayers. A group will march from the center along Gorman Street to the intersection with Western Boulevard, where they'll remain until 5 p.m.
(Update: Here's a statement on the Raleigh protest:
Muslim organizations and human right activists will gather tomorrow, Friday June 4 at 2:20PM for a demonstration sponsored by the Muslim American Society Freedom and MAPAC. The demonstration will start from the Islamic Center of Raleigh. From there, we will walk down Ligon St. and Gorman St. ending up at the corner of Western Blvd. and Gorman St. where we will remain up to 5PM holding protest signs calling for an end to the embargo of Gaza and respect for international law.
The Durham organizers' statement:
Durham Protests Israel's Assault on Humanitarian Aid Flotilla
Israel‘s recent violent attack on an unarmed flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, resulting in injury or death for dozens of international civilians, is the latest in a long series of violations of human rights and international law that Israel carries out with impunity because of the unwavering political and economic support of the United States.
As Jews and as US citizens, we protest these immoral and illegal acts perpetrated by Israel in our name and with our tax dollars — aid projected to reach $30 billion through 2018. We ask our government to stop being an accomplice of Israeli aggression, to lift the blockade on Gaza, and to end U.S. military aid to Israel until it adopts a constructive peace policy towards the Palestinians.
Our protest will take place Thursday, June 3, from 5-7 p.m., in Durham at the intersection of Main and Gregson streets (near Brightleaf Square).
Jews for a Just Peace, NC
Co-sponsors (at time of mailing):
Coalition for Peace with Justice / www.peace-with-justice.org
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA / firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. David J McBriar, O.F.M, Franciscan Friars, Raleigh, NC
Rev. J. Mark Davidson, Pastor, Church of Reconciliation, Presbyterian Church (USA)
North Carolina Peace Action / www.ncpeaceaction.org
Peace and Social Concerns Committee, Durham Friends Meeting
Progressive Democrats - Orange/Chatham County Branch / http://pdamerica.org/
Southern Anti-Racism Network / www.projectsarn.org
The Franciscan Coalition for Peace and Justice / http://www.stfrancisraleigh.org/franciscancoalition/
Triangle Area Green Party / http://www.trianglegreens.org/
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom -Triangle Branch / http://trianglewilpf.org/