In an emotional press conference this morning, Alamance County protestors rolled out a lineup of area Latinos they say were racially profiled by controversial Sheriff Terry Johnson's office in recent years.
The conference, put on by a group called Fairness Alamance, comes one week after a U.S. Department of Justice report concluded Johnson and his deputies are racially profiling Latinos.
Organizers Friday slammed Johnson and called on him to comply with the DOJ investigation, which has already led to federal customs officials' decision to revoke Alamance County's use of the 287(g) program allowing deputies to act as immigration officers.
"We are holding accountable the Sheriff Terry Johnson," said Jose Rico Benavides, a member of the N.C. Dream Team, a group of undocumented young people opposing deportation for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.
Triangle attorney Marty Rosenbluth, who specializes in defending Latinos in deportation cases, said the sheriff's office has had an "agenda" to book Latinos in order to bring about their deportation.
He pointed to numerous Latinos he says were entered into deportation on minor traffic offenses, despite Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policies directing law enforcement to target dangerous criminals.
"ICE does now not know what to do with all these Alamance County cases," Rosenbluth said.
Undocumented woman Consuelo Lucia said she was pulled over by Alamance law enforcement for faulty brake lights and arrested for not having a driver's license.
Meanwhile, Raleigh's Suyapa Mejia-Guevara, an American citizen who said she has resided in this country for more than 20 years, said she was harassed by an Alamance deputy at a traffic checkpoint because the deputy believed she was undocumented.
Fairness Alamance leaders speculated Friday that a DOJ lawsuit could be pending for the county if Johnson's office does not comply with justice officials.
Look for expanded coverage in next week's Indy.
A plus-sized UNC advisory board—beset with controversy before the first gavel—convened for the first time Wednesday, mulling over the state universities' curriculum and changing demographics.
The UNC Advisory Committee on Strategic Directions, which includes 31 leaders in education, business and politics, is expected to consider the future of the state's 17 public universities, but its makeup garnered more headlines than its actual charge before Wednesday's session.
Critics are fired up over a handful of appointments, including the selection of publicly right-tilting businessmen like Art Pope and Fred Eshelman. UNC Board of Governors Chairman Peter Hans and UNC President Tom Ross made the appointments.
Pope, CEO of Variety Wholesalers Inc., has spent millions on conservative think tanks, advocacy groups and political campaigns backing right-wing causes. Ditto for Eshelman, a pharmaceutical bigwig who spent $3 million launching the conservative Rightchange.com. UNC-Chapel Hill's pharmacy school is named for Eshelman.
In Pope's case, he's also been a vocal advocate for charter schools and his groups have lobbied for budget cuts for public schools.
Neither played much part in the early proceedings Wednesday, with Pope arriving just before noon for a meeting that began at 9:30 a.m.
The commitee also includes the appointment of legislative leaders like powerful Republicans Thom Tillis and Phil Berger. Berger is president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate. Tillis is speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives. Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., a Durham Democrat, is also a member of the committee.
Committee leaders are facing pressure to include more student and faculty representation on the panel. Wednesday's roll call included one UNC student and one faculty member, although officials have indicated more members may be appointed.
UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp, who announced last week that he would end his scandal-plagued tenure next spring, said little Wednesday, although at one point prior to the committee session, a faculty member could be heard pleading with Thorp to change his mind about his resignation.
Committee members heard a presentation Wednesday morning from UNC-Chapel Hill business professor James Johnson Jr., whose overview of prevailing demographic trends in North Carolina showed the state's universities can expect radical change in student population in the coming years.
According to Johnson, North Carolina's Hispanic population grew by 829 percent from 1990 to 2007. In that time frame, the Asian population grew by 332 percent. Compare that to growth among white and black residents—127 percent and 133 percent, respectively.
"They're going to be far more diverse," Johnson said.
Johnson also urged leaders to focus efforts on narrowing the gender gap in academic achievement, pointing out boys and men are struggling mightily in the job market and academics compared to their female counterparts.
"This is imminently fixable," Johnson said. "And if we don't fix it, we're going to be in trouble."
The advisory committee is expected to present its recommendations to the UNC Board of Governors in January.
If you can get over to Duke this morning, and you can find a parking place, several heavy-hitter conservatives will be outlining their ideas for the environment. Expect to hear the words "free market" and "deregulation."
The event starts at 10 a.m. at Reynolds Theater in the Bryan Center. Or you can drink coffee from the comfort of your desk and watch the live stream
Conservative Visions of Our Environmental Future lasts all day and features Jeffrey Holmstead, former EPA administrator for air under George Bush. He is now an energy lobbyist for several companies, including Duke Energy, which, according to polluterwatch.com, has paid his law firm of Bracewell and Giuliani $668,000 for services from 2008-2011.
During Bush's tenure, Holmstead oversaw the development of Clear Skies Legislation, which loosened pollution controls.
Also on the docket is Eli Lehrer, former president of the Heartland Institute, one of the nation's major climate-change deniers.
North Carolina's energy future, which under Republican leadership, could include fracking and offshore drilling, is the topic of discussion at 1:30. Among the speakers is John Hood of John Locke Foundation, which is funded by the Pope Foundation.
Viewers can tweet questions to @DELPF2012
Update: Bob Klaus, general manager of the Durham Performing Arts Center, emailed over the weekend to remind that DPAC has had significant overall impact on the city's economy. His input has been added below.
For all of the Durham Performing Arts Center's success—it ranks No. 1 in the country in ticket sales—there's one area in which the theater seems to be falling short: the generation of hotel/motel occupancy tax money to the city.
One of the selling points for constructing DPAC was that it would boost the number of overnight stays at Durham hotels. To help pay for DPAC's $32 million in construction debt, the City of Durham diverts a portion of the total occupancy tax collections into a fund.
But even as Durham City Council agrees, as it did on Monday night, to provide tax incentives for the construction of additional downtown hotel space, city officials admit that occupancy tax collections aren't as good as they could be.
More than $1.3 million: That's the total hotel and motel occupancy tax monies contributed to the DPAC fund. And while that sum is actually $52,866 more than projections by city officials and the Durham Convention Center & Visitors Bureau, it's still short of the $1.5 million collected in 2008, the year DPAC open. In fact, collections for the DPAC fund have fallen short of the $1.4 million goal every year since.
At least one explanation for the funding gap is the recession, says Shelly Green, CEO of the Durham Convention Center & Visitor's Bureau. Another is the domino effect that occurs when hotels lower their room rates, which according to Green started shortly after the market collapsed back in 2008. "When occupancy slips even a little bit, hotel owners start managing that rate and discounting their rooms more often," Greens says.
So, when hotel patrons pay lower prices, the city collects less in occupancy tax revenue. And yet in the last two months, the city council has approved tax incentive deals that will add an additional 175 hotel rooms to the citywide tally.
Nonetheless, Green was among a handful of downtown Durham boosters who spoke in favor of the deal at Monday night's city council meeting. Adding more rooms, especially higher-end rooms, will make the city more attractive to convention planners, Green says.
It's a well-tread argument. With more hotel space, Durham could accommodate more convention business. But which should come first: demand for hotel space or the hotel space itself? Chicken or egg?
The City of Durham seems to be banking on the former. Meanwhile, convention traffic at the Durham Convention Center, like city occupancy tax collections, has not returned to pre-recession levels.
According to tracking numbers obtained from the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, 78,640 "delegates" attended meetings at the center in 2012. That's down from 82,091 that attended at least one meeting at the center in 2008.
But Green, who describes herself as "bullish" on motel construction, says she remains confident that the demand will be there when the new downtown hotels open. Says Green: "As the market starts to improve, as the business comes back, the rates come back."
Update: DPAC patrons spent $49 million at local restaurants, gas stations and retailers, according to figures released by the Durham News Service. That's up from $43.3 million in 2010.
In emails received over the weekend, Klaus also provides figures indicating that the 2011 total actually translates into $2.4 million in tax revenue to local governments. Those numbers surpass projections made prior to DPAC's opening, Klaus writes.
The original version of the story cited figures from 2011 showing that DPAC ranked No. 2 in ticket sales; more recent figures from 2012 put it at No. 1.
Chancellor Holden Thorp—beset by academic and athletic scandal in his short tenure at UNC-Chapel Hill—seems to at least have a chunk of the university's employees in his corner.
The school's Employee Forum, a group representing university staff, is holding a "peaceful" rally supporting the troubled chancellor this morning in front of South Building, the school's administrative HQ.
Thorp announced Monday that he would step down from his post at the close of the 2012-13 academic year after two years of an athletic scandal that began with the school's football program and expanded into the academic sphere.
In a statement Tuesday, the forum expressed "heartfelt dismay" at Thorp's decision, urging UNC President Tom Ross, the UNC board of trustees and the UNC System Board of Governors to back Thorp.
"We have found a true friend in Chancellor Thorp since he began working with us in 2008," the statement said. "Chancellor Thorp is a leader and visionary who has greatly improved working conditions for staff."
The forum credited Thorp with raising employee wages, addressing longstanding troubles in the university's housekeeping department, increasing efficiency in the university and allowing "unprecedented access to him and his office."
The forum is also circulating petitions urging the chancellor to reconsider his resignation. The petitions will be available to sign from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today in the UNC-Chapel Hill Pit, Wilson Library and South Building.
Today's rally is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at South Building.
Dueling petitions regarding the chancellor are already circulating on social media websites like Facebook. One, simply titled "Fire Holden Thorp," had 1,458 likes as of Friday morning, as well as a smattering of anti-Thorp messages.
Another Change.org petition directed at Ross urges the system president to reject Thorp's resignation. As of Friday morning, 54 people had signed the petition.
Change doesn't happen overnight.
That was the message from First Lady Michelle Obama, who brought the enthusiasm—and a good chunk of her passionate Democratic National Convention speech—to the campus of Durham's N.C. Central University Wednesday afternoon.
"It is going to take a lot longer than four years to rebuild the economy," she said.
Wednesday's stump speech, the first of two North Carolina stops Wednesday with a second planned later in Greenville, seemed geared to contrast her husband, President Barack Obama, and GOP rival Mitt Romney, particularly on the subject of financial assistance for college students.
The first lady's introduction Wednesday was delivered by NCCU senior Korey Mercer, a political science student who said he used federal Pell Grant funding to lessen his college costs.
President Obama has doubled Pell Grant funding in his first four years, the first lady said, inciting loud cheers from the thousands of rally-goers, many of them NCCU students.
Obama supporters are seeking to ignite the base of young voters who helped the president to a slim 14,000-vote victory in North Carolina in 2008.
Under fire for a still-middling economy and a host of 2008 campaign promises that have yet to materialize, Obama's campaign has sought to turn the attention to what the president has accomplished in the last four years.
That includes legislation aimed at leveling the gender gap in workplace pay; ending the war in Iraq; killing Osama bin Laden; righting a foundering American auto industry; and, of course, healthcare reform. Each was mentioned in Wednesday's speech by the first lady.
"Barack didn't care that health reform was the easy thing to do, he cared that it was the right thing to do," she said.
Wednesday's rally is one of the first since Romney's controversial remarks at a Florida fundraiser surfaced this week, in which the GOP nominee took a swipe at the president's backers as government-dependent, tax-dodgers.
The first lady did not comment on Romney's words Wednesday, but characterized her husband as a man in touch with the needs of average Americans.
"When you've worked hard and done well, you do not slam that door of opportunity shut behind you, you hold it open for others," she said. "... No one gets where we are on our own."
She also hailed her husband as a man of great character.
"I've seen how important it is to have a president who doesn't just tell us what we want to hear," she said. "He tells us the truth."
Obama backers used much of the afternoon to urge attendees to get active in the campaign. The Obama campaign's get-out-the-vote effort in 2008 has been credited for his success.
Alamance County deputies racially profile Latinos.
That’s one of many key findings in a long-awaited statement Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Justice. It follows a two-year probe into numerous allegations of profiling and biased policing involving the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) and Sheriff Terry Johnson.
DOJ concluded the ACSO violated the U.S. Constitution and federal law by targeting Latino drivers for traffic stops, erecting checkpoints outside Latino neighborhoods and varying enforcement tactics based on ethnicity.
“The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office’s egregious pattern of racial profiling violates the Constitution and federal laws, creates distrust between the police and the community and inhibits the reporting of crime and cooperation in criminal investigation,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in Tuesday’s release. “Constitutional policing and effective law enforcement go hand-in-hand. We hope to resolve the concerns outlined in our findings by working collaboratively with ACSO, but we will not hesitate to take appropriate legal action if ACSO chooses a different course.”
The findings arrive one month after an Indy analysis of traffic stop data in the primarily rural county west of the Triangle. The Indy report determined Latino motorists are twice as likely as non-Latinos to be arrested by Alamance deputies during traffic stops, and that Latino arrest rates in Alamance are far higher than in other North Carolina counties.
That includes counties that, like Alamance, partner with immigration officials in the 287(g) program, a controversial initiative extending customs enforcement powers to local police. Critics say the program offers incentives for police to racially profile drivers. Advocates say it’s a necessary tool for identifying and deporting immigration offenders.
According to Tuesday’s statement, a DOJ traffic study finds Alamance deputies are four to 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latino drivers. Meanwhile, deputies “routinely” locate checkpoints outside Latino neighborhoods and arrest Latinos for minor traffic violations while issuing citations or warnings to non-Latinos for the same violations.
DOJ officials contend ACSO leaders “explicitly” order deputies to target Latinos and “foster a culture of bias by using anti-Latino epithets.” Furthermore, ACSO’s reporting and monitoring practices “mask its discriminatory conduct,” the DOJ said.
ACSO spokesman Randy Jones declined to offer a comment at press time Tuesday, although the agency was slated to hold a news conference later in the afternoon.
Marty Rosenbluth, a Durham attorney who has specialized in defending Latino drivers charged in Alamance County, celebrated the DOJ release.
“This is confirmation for what we’ve been saying since 2008,” Rosenbluth said. “It’s just a huge relief to see that the Alamance County sheriff is finally going to be held accountable for racial profiling.”
After years of much-bemoaned inactivity on the touchy subject of Rogers Road, leaders in Orange County seem to be on the move these days.
Two weeks ago, Orange County commissioners passed a sweeping resolution to pledge $500,000 for a long-sought community center in the low-income neighborhood vexed by an aging landfill. That comes after Chapel Hill leaders closed neighbors' makeshift community center on Rogers Road last month over numerous fire safety concerns.
Tonight, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will take up a proposal to provide public sewer to the community.
Extending sewer service to Rogers Road residents would cost approximately $5.8 million, according to the Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA). It's unclear how leaders in Orange County, Chapel Hill and Carrboro will divvy up the cost.
The sewer proposal comes from a task force of local government leaders and members of the Rogers-Eubank Neighborhood Association (RENA). Cost-sharing plans include dividing up expenses based on population, landfill usage and tax revenues.
There has been no consensus yet on how to pay the sewer bill, but officials acknowledge the need. Rogers Road residents blame health ailments and polluted water on the landfill, which was built prior to more modern regulations requiring dump lining to prevent harmful contents from seeping into the groundwater.
Rogers Road has been the landfill site for local governments for 40 years, after initially agreeing to house the dump for a decade. Leaders have postponed closing the landfill for years. County commissioners now say they will shut down the site next year.
Tonight's Carrboro Board of Aldermen meeting is set for 7:30 p.m. at Carrboro Town Hall.
For the second time in as many months, the Durham City Council has approved an incentive laden deal to convert a languishing downtown building into a hotel.
The Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve $605,000 in tax incentives for the redevelopment of the former Mutual Community Savings Bank at 315 East Chapel Hill Street.
Local developer Gentian Group LLC plans to renovate the building into a 54-room “select service” hotel. (According to city economic development director, the “select service” designation indicates that it will offer a similar, if not as opulent, list of amenities as a “luxury” hotel).
The vote comes just weeks after the council approved a similarly structured $5.7 million incentive offer to 21c Museum Hotels for the redevelopment of the former Sun Trust Tower. The Kentucky-based company plans to purchase the Greenfire Development-owned building and convert it into a 125-room luxury hotel. Construction on the property is scheduled to begin in June of next year.
As was the case with the council’s vote on the 21c offer, representatives from the regular cast of downtown boosters were on-hand to advocate for adding additional hotel space in the city center. Even with the added hotel space that the Gentian project will bring, some 800 rooms are needed to make Durham an attractive destination for convention business, they told council members.
The city has nearly 3,000 available hotel rooms, but only a fraction of those allow for convenient access to downtown Durham, said Shelly Green, President and CEO of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Much like the city’s offer to 21c, the Gentian deal requires that renovations to the building are completed, and the hotel open to occupants by April 2014, before any of the incentive money is paid.
Daniel Robinson, a partner in the Gentian Group, said the developers have also approached Durham County about contributing an matching incentive offer.
Embattled UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp is on the way out.
WRAL reported Monday morning that Thorp will step down at the close of the 2012-13 academic year, ending a watch that has been plagued by allegations of academic improprieties, primarily associated with the school's football program.
The school confirmed the news in a press release later Monday morning. This comes after Thorp met privately Friday with the UNC Board of Governors, the panel in charge of the state's public universities. The release said Thorp on Sunday told UNC President Tom Ross of his plans to resign.
"I will always do what is best for this university," Thorp said in the release. "This wasn't an easy decision personally. But when I thought about the university and how important it's been to me, to North Carolinians and to hundreds of thousands of alumni, my answer became clear."
Thorp has held the position since 2008. A UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and former chemistry professor, Thorp was among the youngest university leaders in the nation when he accepted the chancellor's post at the age of 43.
But the school's reputation has been sullied in the last two years by allegations of improper benefits for football players, as well as an ongoing investigation into academic misconduct—including altered grades and infrequently-taught courses—in the university's Department of African or Afro-American Studies. The classes in question were popular among UNC athletes.
Most recently, the school has been in the headlines over accusations of improper travel spending among UNC fundraisers.
Thorp acknowledged the UNC scandals in Monday's release.
"Over the last two years, we have identified a number of areas that need improvement," he said. "We have a good start on reforms that are important for the future of this university. I have pledged that we will be a better university, and I am 100 percent confident in that."
Ross said he would work with UNC-Chapel Hill board of trustees Chairman Wade Hargrove to find a successor to Thorp.