Members of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People say they're hoping to elect a temporary chairperson to replace current Chairwoman Lavonia Allison at a special meeting Thursday night at White Rock Baptist Church. Whether they'll gather more momentum than previous efforts to oust Allison is unclear.
Allison has been in charge of the organization for 13 years and has been long criticized for her stranglehold on the Committee's activities, to the exclusion of other members, and for a lack of transparency in the organization's finances and other matters.
The special meeting, the work of former city council candidate Darius Little and community activist Victoria Peterson, is scheduled for 7 p.m. Meetings are typically called by the chairwoman, but Peterson says a meeting may be called by any member. The group's constitution and bylaws were not available.
Reached by phone Monday, Allison said, "The Durham Committee isn't having any meeting on Thursday."
The Committee has historically been the most influential activist group in Durham, earning national renown for its Civil Rights efforts, support of public education and its outreach work during elections. But of late, political observers say the group has suffered from Allison's tyranny. From all reports (which are not public), membership has dropped dramatically, although contributions to the organization's political action committee continue to roll in, particularly during election season.
East Durham minister and Durham Planning Commissioner Melvin Whitley tried to unseat Allison in a December 2009 bid for the chair position in the Committee. Although more than 200 people showed up to White Rock Baptist Church that winter night to vote, only 25 people were deemed eligible to cast ballots, due to an attendance rule many have said is incorrect or contrived. The election results somehow amounted to only 15 votes for Allison and three for Whitley (media were not permitted to enter the meeting). Several public officials, including city council members Cora Cole-McFadden and Howard Clement said they supported Whitley. The issues Allison's opponents raised then appear to persist.
"I’m always concerned when people aren’t transparent about the finances of a public institution, be it a church, a nonprofit. If you don’t have anything to hide, you should be transparent," said Keith Corbett, a former member of the Committee who in 2009 said he was considering running against Allison for chair.
Now, halfway into Allison's seventh term, Peterson and Little have circulated a Feb. 18 letter from Peterson (PDF) to the Committee's parliamentarian. The letter says Peterson and other members have asked for the organization's financial reports repeatedly with no response, despite being told they could schedule an appointment to view financial information.
Peterson said Monday she had called Allison for an appointment for several weeks with no response. Around the third week of February, Peterson said, she went to the Committee office in downtown Durham and Allison would not open the office doors for her, and threatened to call the police.
"I talked to her through the glass," Peterson said. "She said I was bothering her, harassing her." When Allison picked up the phone, saying she was calling police, Peterson said she left.
"What's going on in the Middle East needs to happen here," Peterson said. "Dr. Allison has been in office too long and she has abused her power."
When reached by phone Monday, Allison said she wouldn't answer any questions beyond the initial query about the meeting because she was busy.
Monday update: Senate Bill 34, the Castle Doctrine makeover covered below, passed the state Senate tonight 35-13. It heads to the House for further debate.
Spurred by the Republican takeover of the N.C. General Assembly, gun lovers are pushing to to loosen a range of state gun laws.
Bills have been filed to expand the number of places people can carry a concealed weapon — including restaurants that serve alcohol — and to ensure business owners can't prohibit employees from keeping guns locked in their cars at work.
But first up is a potential expansion of the state's "Castle Doctrine," which lays out where you're allowed to shoot a potential robber or assailant without fear of arrest.
Currently that's limited to your home. But a bill scheduled for debate Thursday in the state Senate would expand that to your car and work place. The measure, Senate Bill 34, would also shift the legal balance significantly toward homeowners and drivers fending off potential assailants.
Instead of having to show police that someone was actually trying to hurt you when you shot them, the new law would generally presume you had "a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm." It also rolls back a "duty to retreat" when your life isn't necessarily in danger, and that has gun control advocates particularly concerned.
Gov. Bev Perdue would keep most of a temporary sales tax increase in place and use other cuts and shifts to protect teacher jobs in a budget she released Thursday.
Now the Republican-run legislature will pick away at the governor's $19.9 billion plan, starting, quite likely, with the sales tax. An extra penny-on-the-dollar was put in place two years ago to help balance the budget, and it's supposed to expire later this year. Perdue proposed leaving three quarters of that penny in place, giving the state $826 million in the coming year.
Perdue said she'd use that money to avoid cutting any state-funded teaching jobs in K-12 schools. But legislative Republicans campaigned on a promise to let this tax increase sunset, and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger quickly accused the governor of "breaking her promise to end the taxes she raised."
The governor's budget does cut 10,000 state jobs across a variety of departments. But only about 3,000 of those positions are currently filled, according to Charlie Perusse, the governor's budget director. The state will also offer $10,000 and $20,000 early retirement incentives to nudge higher-paid employees into retirement and there's $30 million included in the budget to pay severance costs.
Though teaching jobs appear to be protected, K-12 schools are not held harmless. There are continued cuts for textbooks, teacher training and school technology purchases. Funding for school clerical and custodial positions would be cut by 15 percent, potentially eliminating some 1,700 positions. Dropout prevention grants would be eliminated. The state wouldn't buy any new school buses, saving $56 million, and it would shift other costs to local systems as well, including worker's compensation responsibilities.
Combined, these cuts could push local systems to shift millions around in their own budgets, potentially affecting teachers. They could also raise local taxes or simply go without new computers, buses and some jobs.
Ten undocumented immigrants who had been arrested during several workplace raids in the Triangle appeared in federal court in New Bern yesterday.
Employees of Durham-based J&A Framers—Rafael Garcia-Tiscareno, Jose Guadalupe Rodriguez, Victorino Gutierrez-Licona, Lucio Huerta-Ponce, Luis Humberto Huerta-Ponce, Luis Raul Huerta-Ponce, Juan Manuel Martinze Rodriguez, Jorge Alberto Ruiz-Ponce, Flavio Martinez-Andres and Olegario Ortega-Solis were arrested in November by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in Cary, Apex and Chapel Hill.
The defendants pleaded guilty of entering the United States illegally; two of the defendants pleaded guilty to reentering the United States after previous deportations.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David W. Daniel presided over the hearing because Chief District Judge Louise W. Flanagan was absent. However, Daniel doesn't have the authority to make the final sentence ruling, so the 10 employees remain jailed. They could serve an additional 90 days before a sentence is handed down.
Mason asked the court to expedite the sentencing of her clients. “If that request is denied, the sentencing will likely be set for the May term of court,” said Mason. “At that time, these men will be at or near the end of the advisory guideline range for their convictions.”
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, the workers are facing a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment.
“This case is an illustration of the widespread desire to punish individuals who come to the United States illegally to work and provide for their families,” said Amanda Mason, the attorney representing the 10 immigrants. “Each of these men, most of whom have little criminal history beyond minor traffic violations, have demonstrated much strength during this difficult process,” she said adding, “the consequences for immigration violations are severe.”
A total of 18 workers were picked up on Nov. 15, as part of an ongoing investigation into Jose Alfredo Lopez Ponce and Juan Antonio Lopez Ponce, who operated J&A Framers & Carpentry. They were indicted Dec. 15 on charges including smuggling, harboring and recruiting immigrants to work at their Durham-based business. That case has not gone to trial.
Last month, eight employees pleased guilty to misdemeanor immigration-related charges of illegally entering the U.S.: Jorge Juerta Pone, Yair Cruz Garcia, Aldo Temix, German Rodriguez Martinez, Gabriel Miramontes Rosales, Jorge Escamilla Hernandez, Humberto Farfan Ramon, and Edgar Martinez Rodriguez
These eight men served 30 days in jail and were released on immigration bonds. They are awaiting hearings in immigration court.
Orange County Republicans didn’t win any seats in the 2010 election, but they did get an office—a physical headquarters.
Greg Andrews, who ran for Orange County commissioner, says the OC GOP hasn’t had a permanent location for as long as anyone can remember, but it desperately needed a place to organize.
“I said if we do not change the box we are operating in here, than in does not appear a Republican can get elected,” Andrews said. “We have to set up shop and be willing to move our cause.”
Gov. Bev Perdue promised Monday not to cut a single teaching job in the budget she'll roll out later this week. She also called for a corporate tax cut and new statewide scholarships for two-year college degrees.
Perdue, in her state-of-the-state address, didn't say how she plans to pay for all that, though she did promise her new budget will recommend shedding "thousands and thousands" of state jobs. She also lowered the state's expected budget deficit for the coming year, which will provide some budgetary relief if the new estimate proves accurate.
Last week that projected deficit went from $3.7 billion to $2.7 billion on the strength of higher revenue projections and spending cuts. Now it's $2.4 billion, Perdue said Monday, without explaining the change.
Details on the governor's various proposals will come Thursday, when Perdue's fiscal 2011-12 budget is released, the governor's office said. But Republican leaders in the House and Senate — who will likely overhaul that budget before sending it back to the governor — questioned Monday how Perdue can pay for her promises without raising taxes.
"Great ideas," said Speaker of the House Thom Tillis. "It's all a matter of where's the money now."
That aside, Republicans heard a lot they wanted to hear from the Democratic governor Monday. They've complained for years about the state's corporate tax rate, which Perdue said is the highest in the southeast, even though North Carolina routinely ranks near the top in annual lists of business-friendly-states.
Cutting the rate from 6.9 percent to 4.9 percent in the coming budget would make it the southeast's lowest, Perdue said.
It's not yet known, though, how much revenue that would cost the state, a Perdue spokeswoman said after the governor's speech. There's also no word yet whether Perdue wants to extend temporary tax increases put in place two years ago to help balance her new budget.
Perdue has hinted that she might back such an extension, though Republicans controlling both the House and Senate have said they won't go along with that. Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger reaffirmed that after the governor's speech Monday evening.
In her speech, the governor also:
• Promised not to cut a single state-funded teacher or teacher's assistant position in her coming budget. She also said the state will demand quality from teachers and administrators "or we will replace them." The details of that process are not set, but there were some new teacher evaluation proposals included in the North Carolina's "Race to the Top" application, which won the state some $400 million in new federal education funds.
• Proposed free two-year job training or college degrees for any North Carolina high school student that signs up for a new "career and college promise" program and meets academic requirements. This would build on an unimplemented proposal the governor put forward during her 2008 gubernatorial campaign.
• Said her budget would shed "thousands and thousands" of state jobs. Early retirement packages will be offered to "as many as a thousand" state employees, she said. The budget would consolidate 14 state agencies into eight, as Perdue has previously announced, and privatize some services. Perdue did not name those services Monday, but has previously said the state's technology functions could be privatized. Perdue said her budget would also continue the state's current hiring and salary freezes, with exceptions for "critical" jobs.
Devon Mitchell, who held several people hostage at the Wachovia Bank in Cary last Thursday, did not have a gun, a Cary Police Department investigation has revealed.
Mitchell told hostage negotiators and the hostages that he had a gun. Mitchell was shot and killed by law enforcement Thursday evening after he exited the bank with a hostage.
Last Friday, the Indy called the Wake County Sheriff's Department, which reported it had not issued Mitchell a gun permit; nor was there one registered in his name. However, at the time, Cary police had not released the results of its investigation as to whether Mitchell had a gun at the bank.
Here's the press release from the Town of Cary:
At a news conference today, the Town of Cary Police Department announced this afternoon that the ongoing investigations into the hostage situation at Wachovia Bank on February 10 have revealed that Devon Mitchell, 19, of Pony Club Circle in Cary was not armed when he entered the branch located at 10050 Green Level Church Road just before 3 p.m. and held several people against their will for three hours.
“Despite what the 911 call reported, despite what he said to the hostages, despite what he told our hostage negotiator, despite what we all thought we saw when he came out of the bank with something pointed at one of the hostages’ head, we know now that there was no gun,” said Town of Cary Police Chief Pat Bazemore.
Mitchell died at the scene from shots fired by four Town of Cary police officers and one Wake County Sheriff’s Office deputy when he exited the bank three hours after the start of the incident, pointing what appeared to be a handgun at one of the hostages. After days of intense searching and investigation, police concluded Saturday evening that Mitchell did not have a weapon.
“This information does not change that our officers did exactly what they were trained to do and what they were expected to do. And I am confident that the investigations into the incident will bear this out,” said Bazemore. “Why Devon set all this in motion, why he wanted us all to believe that he had a weapon and was prepared to kill with it are questions we will never have the answers to. But it’s clear that that’s what Devon wanted.”
A Forsyth County judge ruled Thursday that the N.C. General Assembly acted within the bounds of the state constitution when it crafted and passed the 2009 Racial Justice Act. The controversial law allows defendants who may receive or have received a death-penalty sentence to avoid execution if they can prove racial bias was a factor in their sentence. North Carolina is only the second state in the U.S. to pass such a law.
The matter was brought to Forsyth Superior Court Judge William Wood through the complaints of two men, Errol Moses and Carl Stephen Moseley, who both are on death row. Both are hoping to avoid execution by proving they were affected by historical and widespread racial bias in the application of the death penalty statewide, said attorney Ken Rose of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation based in Durham. Rose represents Moses, while CDPL attorneys together represent more than 40 death-row inmates seeking relief under the RJA.
Before the courts would handle the merits of the men’s cases, the judge reviewed Forsyth prosecutors’ contention that law was too broad and vague, and that it was unconstitutional to hold prosecutors responsible for patterns of racial bias statewide, Rose said. Wood concluded otherwise.
"The court ruled that [the Racial Justice Act] was a fair exercise of the legislature to craft a remedy to racial discrimination,” Rose said. Wood will file a written order reflecting his decision later this month.
With the GOP controlling the state legislature, House Majority Leader Paul "Skip" Stam's bill laying out $2,500 tax credits for families who sent their kid to private school might seem like easy legislation to pass. Especially since it only applies to families making less than $100,000 a year.
Legislative support for this bill has been assumed to the point that attention has turned to whether or not the House and Senate will be able to override an eventual gubernatorial veto on the bill.
But not so fast. The bill is in committee, and will make it to the House floor for a vote, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis said today. But Tillis also noted that the scope of Stam's bill is different than a similar tuition tax credit bill last year, and that the scope will be discussed.
Tillis, addressing my question on the bill today during a press conference, then moved to other questions without elaborating.
If the bill clears the House, it heads to the Senate, where state Sen. Tom Apodaca chairs the rules committee. He is, as The News & Observer puts it, "the person who helps decide where bills go — whether they live or die."
And here's what Apodaca said about Stam's bill earlier this week:
"I don't know how far that's going to go. ... It hasn't crossed my radar. Not like the Charter Schools (bill)."That doesn't sound very promising, though today Apodaca said it's "too early to say" whether the Senate will support Stam's bill since "we haven't even talked about it."
Stam confirmed that, saying he hasn't pitched the bill to senators.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he'd wait to see "if it comes out of the House," and noted that he has "in the past been supportive of scholarships in limited circumstances." But that means scholarships for at-risk students, not a broader tax credit that many public school supporters see as a nose-under-the-tent measure meant to pave the way for full-blown private school vouchers.
So it is indeed to early to tell on this measure, but the lack of full-throated leadership support on an issue that is generally a hallmark of Republican education policy is worth noting.
(This story was updated Feb. 9 at 5:30 p.m.)
MONCURE—More than two dozen people spoke before the Chatham Board of County Commissioners Monday night at a public hearing a plan to run an 8.1-mile underground pipeline from Western Wake County through Southeastern Chatham County.
Western Wake Partners—the towns of Apex, Cary, Morrisville and Research Triangle Park-South—are constructing a $327 million wastewater treatment plant in unincorporated New Hill, but they need to build the pipeline to funnel treated wastewater to the Cape Fear River. About a dozen landowners would need to give up 40-foot-wide easements to bury the pipes, which are 5 feet in diameter.
Chatham County Commission Chairman Brian Bock says the board will vote on the pipeline at its next meeting, Feb. 21.
Chatham Commissioner Sally Kost says she plan to vote against the pipeline unless the only way "we were able to develop a list of concession from the partners that benefited Chatham, but as it's currently proposed I just don’t see what's in it for Chatham County." She is concerned that business expansion that occurs as a result of the wastewater treatment plant could be limited to Wake County, while Chatham County could experience largely residential growth that would worsen the area's problems with sprawl.
Many Chatham County residents were vigorously opposed over concerns about pipeline leaks, uncontrolled growth, the possibility of future annexation by Cary and decreasing property values.
However, representatives of RTP businesses supported the pipeline because they say the additional infrastructure is necessary to sustain and grow the local economy.