A controversial proposal to bring a center for the N.C. Constitution to the N.C. Central University law school is now off the table.
The proposal was withdrawn in a letter Tuesday from Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice and director for the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law. In the letter to NCCU School of Law Dean Raymond Pierce, Orr said he had a change of heart.
"...for the past several months it has become increasingly clear that my time and efforts can be best spent elsewhere," Orr wrote in the letter (PDF). "Starting a Center at the Law School is now clearly inconsistent with the direction I prefer to go in my career. Therefore, I am respectfully withdrawing the proposal I submitted."
The letter alluded only vaguely to the controversy brewing in recent weeks surrounding the proposal to locate a center for study of the state constitution at the law school in Durham, with Orr as the inaugural director. Orr was an adjunct law professor at the school for more than 10 years.
"While I have been appreciative of the positive comments I have received about the proposal, there have also been unfortunate misapprehensions about the governance and mission of such a Center," Orr wrote. In an interview Friday, Orr added that he's answered questions about how the center would have operated, but they apparently lingered.
Orr said he originally started talking to Pierce about forming a center at NCCU last spring, but that the process has dragged on much longer than he expected, and because of other priorities, he decided he no longer wanted to be involved. Both in his letter and by phone, Orr said that the law school needed to be "enthusiastically supportive" of the idea. Overwhelmingly, that was not the case.
Alumni of the law school and other members of the NCCU community sent letters and emails to law school faculty against the proposal because its initial three years of funding would come from the Pope Foundation—an organization led by former Republican legislator and conservative activist Art Pope. (See one flier passed out at NCCU, PDF)
Update: Former Director of Housekeeping Services Bill Burston "is no longer employed" by UNC as of Wednesday, a campus spokeswoman confirmed Friday. Burston was removed from his director role in June amid employee complaints and reassigned to a new role. University Mail Services Director Lea Holt was named interim. The school will begin a search for a new full-time director immediately.
PRM Consulting, the Washington, D.C., firm UNC hired in March to investigate claims of discrimination, harassment and other poor working conditions in its housing department, released 45 recommendations for change Thursday, including a new performance evaluation for managers and an audit or all new hires and promotions.
Surveys with 400 housekeeping employees revealed “a culture with employee morale issues, lack of trust and overall frustration.”
At least 30 percent or those queried disagreed or strongly disagreed that work assignments are made fairly, that management promotes an environment of respect and dignity, free of harassment, discrimination and intimidation and that management cares about the welfare of its employees.
Results were detailed to housekeepers at three closed-to-the-media meetings Thursday to cover all shifts, before the report was publicly released.
Last year, the Indy reported that housekeepers were being suspended without pay for taking their entitled breaks. Housekeepers and their supporters rallied and delivered a collective grievance to Thorp.
In June, we reported that housekeeper Amanda Hulon filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against supervisor Wade Farrington stating that he offered her a promotion in exchange for sex and touched her inappropriately.
In his memo to faculty and staff, Thorp announced 10 steps to respond to the report, among them: establishing an advisory committee of housekeeping employees, conducting a study of salaries in the department to determine possible pay discrepancies and reviewing and revising recruitment and hiring practices,
“As expected, the report makes it clear that Housekeeping Services has substantial issues that the University must address. More importantly, the report also offers a host of recommendations and potential action items that we can consider, on both a short- and long-term basis,” Thorp wrote.
“I am absolutely committed to making things right in Housekeeping Services. We have been working to fix these problems, but those sincere attempts have fallen short.”
Look for analysis and more on the consultant’s report in Wednesday’s print edition.
A superior court judge today said he won't stop Durham County from entering into contracts or issuing permits to the developer for sewer services.
Citizens currently suing Durham County had asked for an injunction and temporary restraining order that would stop the county from granting sewer service to Southern Durham Development, stating, among other concerns, that if the county agreed to give services to the developer, that could give the developer vested rights in the project—a powerful legal standing that could defeat the property owners' lawsuit. Superior Court Judge G. Wayne Abernathy, visiting from Alamance County, denied the motion.
The Chancellor's Ridge Homeowners Association and individuals who own property near the proposed site for 751 South filed the civil lawsuit against Durham County last fall. The property owners argue that county commissioners didn't appropriately rezone the 167 acres of land slated for 751 South, and therefore the project can't be built. That case is scheduled for trial on Nov. 28. If the developers get approval from Durham County commissioners for sewer service, the company may be able to successfully convince a judge that they have vested rights, and the citizens' lawsuit could be trampled.
The county commissioners are scheduled to vote tonight on whether to offer the sewer services. Deciding to do so would violate a 40-year-old agreement between the city and county about which areas each government serves with utilities. The idea is already ruffling feathers at City Hall.
City officials aren't so sure they want the county encroaching into their territory to help move the 751 South project along, according to a county report (PDF) sent to Durham County Commissioners Friday.
Commissioners requested the research on Sept. 6, when a representative from Southern Durham Development asked them to consider providing sewer services to the 167-acre project site near Jordan Lake. The developers had tried asking the City Council for water and sewer service, but council members said they wouldn't consider doing so until after a pending civil lawsuit related to the 751 South development was resolved.
In lieu of any hope of city services in the near future, Southern Durham Development reps indicated they would try to make the large, mixed-use community work with community wells and sewer service from the county. But just as Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin told the Indy earlier this week, the question commissioners have to consider is not whether offering the sewer services would be feasible. According to the report, the county's sewage treatment plant essentially has the capacity to serve the development.
The question is whether the county officials should agree to provide sewage treatment when the 751 South project is actually located outside the area the county agreed to serve with its sewer treatment plant.
Moving out of bounds means the county would obtrude on territory that the city is supposed to serve, as outlined in a 1972 agreement between the two governments. And going against that agreement is not something city officials would take lightly, as noted by Deputy City Manager Ted Voorhees, whose memo to the county was included in the Friday report:
The City has made plans and invested tens of millions of dollars based on the build-out potential of the South Durham Water Reclamation Facility. In practice, both the City and the County have respected this established service boundary as binding on both governments. Violating the 'natural service area of the City of Durham' is not a mere technicality. On the contrary, it is a significant interlocal policy and operational decision that would upset four decades of mutual understanding.
Voorhees goes on further to ask whether the county would make an exception for just this project, or whether it is hoping to permanently discard the agreed-upon service boundaries. And how would the county feel if the city came and poached customers from the county's service area, he asks, in different and more technical words:
Would the County permit the City of Durham to begin encroaching into the Northeast Creek Basin service area to provide service to City customers through the North Durham or South Durham Water Reclamation Facilities either permanently or on a project by project basis?
Having only two weeks since commissioners asked for the city's feedback, the city needs more information and subsequently, more time, Voorhees said. Several additional questions need answering, he wrote, including how the developers will meet the demand for water with a relatively small, dense development with groundwater—including enough water for firefighters to use in emergencies.
Durham County Commissioners are scheduled to vote Monday on whom to appoint to replace former board member Becky Heron. Chances are, it could be full-time volunteer and former banker Pam Karriker who gets the job.
Commissioners voted once already on Sept. 12, but were tied 2 to 2, with commissioners Michael Page and Brenda Howerton supporting Karriker, and commissioners Joe Bowser and Ellen Reckhow supporting former planning commissioner Wendy Jacobs. At the meeting, Reckhow and Bowser said they would be comfortable declaring a deadlock and sending the decision to the county clerk of court, who by law is required to appoint someone if the commissioners wouldn't.
But Howerton urged her fellow commissioners to take more time to think and come back to vote again Sept. 26, as they had initially planned. Reckhow and Bowser were adamant that they would not change their minds. But on Wednesday, Bowser did send a letter to Durham's county manager and attorney saying he would now support Karriker:
After many days of careful consideration concerning the selection of a replacement for Former County Commissioner Becky Heron, I have decided that we must act in the best interest of the people of this county. With that being said, I will join Commissioners Page and Howerton in their support of Pam Karriker. ... It is my hope and belief that the addition of Mrs. Karriker will help to continue this board’s work in creating jobs and serving the interest of the citizen’s of this county.
Bowser hasn't yet returned a phone call seeking further explanation.
Karriker grew up in East Durham and is now married to a pastor and has raised foster children, she told commissioners during her interview earlier this month. She spent 17 years as a mortgage supervisor and underwriter for CCB bank, she said, and has worked for several nonprofits. She has also been on a city capital planning board since 2006. She has also committed to not running for a county commissioners' seat in 2012, when all five positions will be elected.
During her interview, Karriker mentioned that she wanted to see more communication between the commissioners and the school board, not just during budget time, when the schools are eager to make up a funding gap. She also wanted to see the school system emphasize vocational education and tracks for students other than college.
"We have to start earlier emphasizing with children that these vocational opportunities are good," she said. "That there is dignity and worth in a lot of jobs where maybe a college education is not needed."
The repeal of the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy went into effect one minute past midnight on Tuesday, Sept. 20. It was the minute Haley Warden had long waited for. “It’s a little personal,” she said later that evening as she hung flyers that read “Goodbye, DADT” at a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Celebration at Alivia’s in Durham. She had a partner in the Air Force, she explains, who “dealt with some issues.”
That partner is Lauren Rodgers, who arrived at Alivia’s and gave Warden a quick kiss.
Since 1993, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell prohibited discrimination against gay, lesbian or bisexual persons so long as they kept their sexual orientation secret, while banning openly gay, lesbian or bisexual persons from serving.
A male classmate who knew she was gay had sexually assaulted her, she said. Pressing charges would have required her to admit her orientation, which, under DADT, meant she could no longer serve.
Rodgers was in training to be an Air Force intelligence officer when she was discharged in June 2005. “I was ushered out under DADT,” she said.
“It was very bittersweet, especially since they let the guy off without charges,” she says. “I sacrificed my career for nothing because I was gay.” Rodgers is now a writer for the political blog ballotpedia.org. But, she says, “I could have been in the Air Force. I was good at it.”
More than 25 people, including members of the Duke Bar Association; the cofounders of Sacred Worth, the Duke Divinity School LGBT alliance; and the president of DukeOUT, the graduate program-wide LGBT alliance.
The event was one of many held nationwide by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a national organization that provides free legal counsel to veterans and service members affected by DADT. SLDN also worked to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell through lobbying, litigation, and public rallies.
Michael Budahn, a first year law student at Duke, said his best friend is “high up in the Navy, and a lesbian,” who is serving in Afghanistan. “She’s my go-to person when I think about this.”
Sara Isaacson, the former UNC ROTC cadet who was told to repay $79,285.14 in federal scholarship money after she informed her commanding officer that she is a lesbian, said she is relieved that the wait is complete and she is ready to re-enroll after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed Tuesday.
Isaacson plans to return as a student in the spring semester to finish her last ROTC course, ARMY 402 “Officership,” before commissioning in May.
“I hope I'll be able to get right back in swing of things,” she said. “I will have been out almost two years by the time I actually get back in, so I'm sure I’m a little bit rusty on some of the things that used to be very natural to me.”
Last Monday, Durham County Commissioners agreed to ask state authorities to look into the events surrounding the recent firing of former social services director Gerri Robinson.
Today, county officials shared the letter they wrote to N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, asking his office to probe the incident. The letter (PDF) is dated Tuesday, Sept. 20.
Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin says county commissioners will hear from engineers Monday on how and whether the county could provide sewer services for the pending 751 South development.
But the question isn't whether the county can provide the services, Ruffin said. It's whether the county should allow developers to pay to connect to the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant. The sewage treatment plant was not intended to serve the nearly 170-acre development site. The development site is actually in an area designated to receive sewer services from the city. As Ruffin told commissioners in a Sept. 6 meeting, allowing the sewer connections to the county plant would be stepping on the city's toes.
"I'm making a recommendation that it be denied from a policy perspective," Ruffin reiterated Wednesday. "Serving a development located in another jurisdiction's service area—it's just not the best way to serve it."
The best way, he says, is for the city to serve the proposed development with utilities. The closest place the developer could access the county's sewage lines is at least 1.3 miles from the development site. The city's utility lines are much closer than the wastewater treatment plant, Ruffin said.
But the Durham City Council has postponed any decision on whether to grant utilities to the development until a pending civil lawsuit involving Durham County Commissioners, the developer and residents opposed to the 751 South project is settled. The case is scheduled for a court date in November, although attorneys have asked about a sooner hearing date. With potential appeals, the case could take years to be resolved.
After the city declined to take any immediate action, representatives for Southern Durham Development asked county commissioners to consider at least providing sewer services, and said the developer was considering using community wells for water.
At that meeting, Commissioner Joe Bowser said he wanted to see the development come to fruition for the potential jobs it would create and the tax revenue it could generate for the county. He said he would support offering sewer services to Southern Durham Development. Other commissioners didn't openly say they would support the services, but in the past, commissioners Michael Page and Brenda Howerton have supported other regulatory matters that have helped the project move forward, including the rezoning of the parcels involved. The fourth commissioner, Ellen Reckhow, did not support the project. (Becky Heron was the fifth commissioner on the board when the land was rezoned. She resigned due to poor health last month, and the commissioners are still pondering whom they'll appoint in her place. They're scheduled to vote on that matter at Monday's meeting, too.)
The commissioners are expected to receive a written report on the potential sewer services on Friday, Ruffin said. That report will likely also note that a portion of the pipes running from the Triangle Wastewater Treatment Plant toward the 751 South project site are actually owned by the city. If the county were to grant sewer services, the developer would have to get permission from the city to use those pipes, Ruffin said. But in their most recent plans, engineers for the developer are actually using a different route, said County Engineer Glen Whisler. In their newest sketches, the developer won't likely need to use the city-owned infrastructure, and therefore won't require separate permissions from Durham City Council, Whisler said.
After getting a preview of the report Friday, commissioners will receive a presentation at their regularly scheduled meeting on Monday, Sept. 26. That's when Ruffin will recommend the denial, he says. The public may comment on the decision, but there won't be a formal public hearing on the matter.
If the commissioners approve the sewer agreement, the developer will have to submit plans that ultimately will need approval by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Once the approvals come back, county commissioners would have to agree to a contract with the developer and the developer would owe around $2 million in fees for the sewer use, and would also foot the bill for all improvements and infrastructure required to bring sewer service to the property.
Word circulated the Durham courthouse today that longtime Sheriff Worth Hill, 74, will be stepping down from his post in January, but no specific reason was cited by sources inside the department.
Hill hasn't made an official announcement yet, and his administrative assistant said just before 5 p.m. that Hill wouldn't be back until Wednesday morning to confirm or deny the reports.
Durham County Manager Mike Ruffin says he hasn't heard from Hill on the matter.
If Hill is to resign, Durham County Commissioners would have to appoint someone to serve the remainder of Hill's term, which ends in 2014. Hill was first elected to the top law enforcement job in the county in 1994, after 30 years with the Durham Police Department. Hill has kept his job without any lapses, despite competition along the way. He was most recently challenged in 2010 by Republican Roy Taylor, and before that by current County Commissioner Joe Bowser.
The last time county commissioners had to appoint a new sheriff was when Roland Leary stepped down in 1992. County Commissioner Al Hight served as sheriff from 1993 to 1994 before being defeated by Hill. See a history here.