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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Xscape Lounge escapes the rent

Posted by on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 5:39 PM

The nightclub’s official Twitter account hints at the story: The Xscape Lounge, one of just a handful of nightclubs in downtown Durham, has changed hands. “So to all the new followers of the @TheXscapeLounge, we appreciate y’all and value your business. #UnderNewManagement,” reads a recent entry.

Frank White, owner of the building at 119 W. Main St. in Durham, also home to the MarVell Event Center, has, via court order, seized the business from his former tenant because of tardy rent payments.

That tenant, Parker Holdings of Carolina LLC, was ordered evicted from the building in August by a Durham district court judge. Court documents allege Xscape Lounge owner Anthony Parker failed to submit the monthly $3,500 rent payment.

A sign on the door reads that the building has been padlocked by order of the Durham County Sheriff. According to court documents, it wasn’t the first time Parker had issues with the rent. In May, White, who owns the club property and the attached space that houses the MarVell Event Center, complained that Parker had missed a previous monthly rent payment, the court documents state. But at that time, White rescinded the order to lock Parker’s group out of the premises after Parker later paid the rent in full, plus court fees.

As for the latest eviction, neither Parker nor White could not be reached for comment.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Will new Pit push out food trucks?

Posted by on Tue, Aug 14, 2012 at 4:02 PM

About food trucks, and what the future might be for them in Durham’s Rigsbee street corridor, Greg Hatem isn’t sure. Earlier this month, Hatem’s Raleigh-based development company, Empire Properties, announced its purchase of the old 7UP bottling plant on the corner of Rigsbee and Geer streets, property that includes Fullsteam brewery.

Hatem, through Empire, owns multiple restaurants in downtown Raleigh. The plan is to convert part of the building into restaurant space, he says. The company will open a second location of popular Raleigh barbecue joint the Pit at the site.

What that means for the food trucks that often park on the property remains an open question. On any given evening, patrons of Fullsteam, Motorco Music Hall and other neighborhood bars can balance their alcohol intake with pizza. Or Asian-style dumplings. Or any other dish served from one of the various food trucks parked on the sidewalk just in front of the brewery’s entrance.

The food trucks, and the arrangement Empire’s future tenants have with them, aren’t something the company is currently preoccupied with, says Hatem. “I know its what everyone is worried about, but right now we’re focusing on how to improve on the original Pit,” he says. “We don’t view them [food trucks] as competition.”

That may or may not bode well for the food truck vendors. Hatem says he's currently unaware of the details of food truck regulations in Durham. The decision could ultimately come down to what, if any, changes the Durham City Council approves this fall.

Food truck regulations in Durham are, in comparison with other cities in the Triangle, lenient. But city officials have recently indicated it could tighten certain regulations on where mobile vendors can operate. Controversy erupted last month when the city announced proposed changes to the Mobile Vending Provision. Among the more controversial amendments was a proposal that would bar food truck operators from parking on public property in Durham Central Park during special events. Another proposed change would exempt vendors who park on private property located outside of the downtown design district for less than four hours from obtaining a temporary-use permit from the city. Grace Smith, Durham City-County planning supervisor, says the proposals are still under review and should be finalized for the city council’s consideration by fall.

As for Fullsteam and its own relationship with mobile food vendors, owner Sean Lilly Wilson says that the brewery’s agreement with those hosted on the property is informal. That means Empire could change it if so inclined. But it's too early for speculation, says Wilson.

“As far as them wanting to make changes, I just don’t know right now,” Wilson says. But Hatem and his group are coming to the downtown Durham for a reason, he adds. "They are coming here because they like this neighborhood, so I can’t see why they would want to change; in the end, I’m sure we’ll all find a way to balance the needs of restaurants and food trucks," he says. The new Pit is scheduled to open next summer.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reporter's Notebook: Durham denies beer and wine privilege licenses never

Posted by on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 at 6:13 PM

How easy is it to get a license to sell beer and wine from the City of Durham? There are multiple ways of getting at the answer, one of which is to examine how many applications for it the city ultimately denied.

We did. Since 2002, the city's department of finance has received 576 applications for the beer and wine privilege license from restaurants, mini-marts and other alcohol outlets. In 10 years, not one of those applications was rejected.

It's one of the more interesting factoids that didn't make it into this week's cover story, which examines the city's role in regulating alcoholic beverage retailers. As pointed out by the article, obtaining the license is one of the last bureaucratic hoops an applicant must jump through before they can legally sell beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages in the city.

According to city code, applicants must first obtain the appropriate permits from the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission before they can be issued the license. That wrinkle in the process would seem to ensure that they've been vetted before their application comes before the Durham City Council for approval. But it also gives the city, specifically the city council, one last shot at exercising some influence over where alcohol retailers like the mini-marts highlighted in the story are allowed to open, as well as who gets to open them.

Asked last week about the overwhelming rate of approval, and about the seeming concentration of alcohol retail outlets in low-income neighborhoods in East Durham, Mayor Bill Bell said, "What I think you need to look at is whether anyone came to the council to say, 'No, this person should not get a license.'"

It's unclear what, if any, details are provided to members of the council about applicants before the body votes. The Indy could not confirm with city officials whether or not the local government opinion—the application review worked up by the Durham Police Department as part of the state's permitting process—is presented to council members

Once the licenses are issued, state law makes taking them away fairly difficult. According to ABC officials, revoking the privilege license has the effect of invalidating the operator's state ABC permits. In that event, the city council would be compelled to offer the operator an opportunity to appeal the decision at a quasi judicial hearing. And if the reasons for that revocation were related to criminal activity, city officials would need to provide evidence that the criminal activity resulted in convictions, not just arrests and calls for service. What's more, ABC law dictates that in such cases, only convictions from the 12 months prior to the revocation can be used as evidence.

The pitfalls of revoking a privilege license may explain why cities don't often do it. A spokesperson for the city's department of finance confirms that in the last decade, not one beer and wine privilege license has been revoked. Durham isn't alone. Renee Cowick, assistant counsel for the ABC Commission, says that granting bodies are required to inform the commission when and if they revoke a privilege license. "I'm not aware of any municipalities that have," she says. "Not in my nine years here."

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Woodard: Election paperwork was sent, but not received

Posted by on Tue, May 1, 2012 at 1:55 PM

Mike Woodard
  • Mike Woodard
Durham City Councilman Mike Woodard, a candidate for N.C. Senate District 22, responded today to claims from competitor Kerry Sutton that he has not filed appropriate forms with the N.C. Ethics Commission and State Board of Elections.

Woodard says he learned Friday that the stack of forms he says he sent Feb. 22, within the required 10-day period, had not been received by those offices.

"I mailed them. They didn't receive them. It's my responsibility to get them in, and I'm going to take care of that today," Woodard said.

The commission needs a Statement of Economic Interest and the SBOE needs a Statement of Organization, which includes a treasurer's name and bank information.

Woodard, when contacted by the Indy, said he was on his way to Raleigh to meet with officials and make sure they have all of his paperwork.

Sutton's full press release is below:

Continue reading…

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Durham's first Super PAC has ties to Southern Durham Development

Posted by on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 3:02 PM

If you’re a Durham County resident, you may have received campaign mailers supporting the slate of Michael Page, Brenda Howerton, Joe Bowser and Rickey Padgett for county commissioner. Here's the mailer:


That mailer was paid for by the innocuously named Durham Partnership for Progress. But innocuous it is not: DPP is actually an independent expenditure political committee—commonly known as a Super PAC—organized by developer Tyler Morris, a majority shareholder in Southern Durham Development.

And not coincidentally, DPP is bankrolled, so far, by Southern Durham Development, which plans to build the controversial 751 South project in the sensitive Jordan Lake watershed.

Also not coincidentally, Page, Howerton and Bowser—all incumbents—voted to approve a controversial rezoning that allowed 751 South to move forward. Padgett supports the project; he also applied for an appointment to the commission last year to fill the seat held by Becky Heron, who resigned because of illness. (The commissioners instead appointed Pam Karriker, who is not running for election.)

Morris is listed as DPP's assistant treasurer. Rhonda Sisk, the DPP treasurer, lists an address that is Southern Durham Development's company office.

Here is the statement of organization: statement_of_organization.pdf

The first donations to the DPP are from Southern Durham Development: $2,500 in-kind and $100 in direct funds. expenditures.pdf

The $2,500 went to pay for a survey by Public Policy Polling that asked several questions of potential voters, including if they would vote for commissioner candidates who support 751. The survey also asked if the developers should sue the City of Durham.

In February, six Durham City Council members voted unanimously to reject the developer's request that the city provide water and sewer service to the 751 South. Councilman Howard Clement was absent due to illness.

Super PACs such as the Durham Partnership for Progress can receive unlimited funds from unlimited sources and spend unlimited amounts of money, according to Michael Perry, director of the Durham County Board of Elections. The only stipulation is that the Super PAC must not directly or indirectly make contributions to candidate committees or other committees that make contributions to candidates. Super PACs cannot coordinate with candidates, although that distinction is often not apparent.

Durham Partnership for Progress complies with that requirement by stating on the mailer that it is not endorsed by any candidate.

The DPP Super PAC sets a troubling precedent in Durham. It can accept enormous amounts of money from the wealthy development community—including out-of-towners like Morris, who lives in Raleigh—and use it to influence local elections.

First-quarter campaign finance reports are due April 30, the contents of which could further demonstrate the reach and influence of the DPP Super PAC.

Continue reading…

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Jay Bakker to lead anti-Amendment 1 rally in Durham

Posted by on Fri, Apr 20, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Jay Bakker, son of evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, will come to Durham Sunday, April 22, at 1 p.m. to lead a rally against Amendment 1. The event is slated for the Trotter Building, 410 W. Geer St.

Bakker is the co-founder of Revolution Church and preaches in New York City. He is the subject of the 2006 documentary One Punk Under God.

Here is the press release:

The "Faith in Action: Get Out the Vote" ... will focus on the harms of a constitutional amendment on the May 8, 2012, North Carolina primary ballot that would threaten protections for the state's unmarried couples.

Rally speakers include Quaker peace activist David LaMotte, Pilgrim United Church of Christ pastor Rev. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham, evangelical author Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, charismatic Christian leader Jimmy Chalmers and Baptist minister Brian Ammons.

Directly following the rally, attendees will march to the polls to take advantage of Sunday voting during the early voting period. The afternoon concludes with a party at Durham's Fullsteam Brewery, 422 Rigsbee Ave., beginning around 3 p.m.

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    Jay Bakker, son of evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, is coming to Durham this Sunday to lead a rally against Amendment 1.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Tracy Cline removed from Durham DA's office

Posted by on Fri, Mar 2, 2012 at 10:28 AM

Tracey Cline left court without commenting on her removal from office.

Editor's note: This blog has been updated from its original content as news in the Tracey Cline case has developed this morning.

Seconds after Tracey Cline, Durham’s district attorney, learned she was being ousted from office, she and her attorneys ducked into a jury room on the fifth floor of Durham’s courthouse without a word to the mass of media and citizens who had assembled there.

Cline, 48, emerged from the room about 10 minutes later, appearing composed. She clasped the hand of a man described as her long-term boyfriend, and strode past a swarm of television cameras and bright spotlights to descend the courthouse’s back stairs.

Cline, who had been Durham’s top prosecutor for three years, wouldn’t comment on the decision of Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood to permanently remove Cline from office. But the Pinehurst legal team that Cline assembled just three weeks ago filed a notice Friday morning that they’ll appeal the decision. (Read the ruling, PDF)

As the judge ruled against her, Cline thanked him for taking the time to consider the matter.

“And I thank you for, in the past, being an extremely effective litigator for the state of North Carolina and the citizens of Durham County,” replied Hobgood, a visiting judge from Franklin County.

“I appreciate it judge, that means a lot to me,” Cline replied.

Hobgood concluded that public statements Cline made about Durham’s Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson last fall have interfered with the regular operation of the courthouse and brought Durham’s judicial system into “disrepute.”

Cline’s attorneys tried to prove that, among other reasons, Cline should not be removed from office because her speech was protected by the First Amendment. Hudson did find that some of her comments may fall under the “umbrella” of free speech.

But other statements, including accusations in public documents that Hudson was guilty of misconduct, “moral turpitude, dishonesty and corruption,” that he had “kidnapped” the rights of victims and their families, and that he and others had the “blood of justice” on their hands, were not protected.

“This false, malicious, direct attack on Judge Orlando F. Hudson Jr., to which Judge Hudson, under the Code of Judicial Conduct, cannot respond publicly, goes far beyond any protected speech under the First Amendment and cannot be and is not supported by any facts in the record,” Hobgood wrote in his final ruling. “These specific statements were made with actual malice and with reckless disregard for the truth.”

Continue reading…

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    Judge thanked Cline for her past service as "effective litigator," but says she crossed the line.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Judge to announce decision on Cline Friday morning

Posted by on Thu, Mar 1, 2012 at 4:21 PM

Suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline
  • file pool photo/Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer
  • Suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline

For live coverage of Cline's hearing, follow @indyweek and #TraceyCline on Twitter.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood will announce a decision Friday morning on whether suspended Durham District Attorney should keep her job.

The hearing has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. in Courtroom 3 on the fifth floor of the Durham County Courthouse.

Hobgood will consider whether the state should remove Cline, 48, from the elected office she has held for three years, or whether her rights to free speech apply in claims she made against Durham Judge Orlando Hudson. Read more about the case here.

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    If a judge orders her removal, Cline may appeal the decision.

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Judge to consider Cline's removal, or dismissal of case based on free speech

Posted by on Wed, Feb 29, 2012 at 3:25 PM

Attorney James Van Camp represents Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline.

For live coverage of Cline's hearing, follow @indyweek and #TraceyCline on Twitter.

Attorneys for suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline renewed a request Wednesday that a judge dismiss a petition calling for Cline’s removal from elected office. When Cline filed court documents last fall criticizing the rulings of a Durham judge, her speech was protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, one of Cline’s attorneys argued.

Cline was defending criticism of the District Attorney's office, argued Patrick Mincey, an attorney with Van Camp Meacham & Newman in Pinehurst. "She could have stayed silent. She could have done nothing," he said. "But Tracey Cline, as a last resort, spoke out on what she perceived ... was an abuse of justice." By shedding light on the perceived misconduct of Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, Cline's actions have actually strengthened the system, Mincey argued.

Durham attorney Kerry Sutton disagreed that Cline's speech was protected. In January, Sutton filed a petition to have Cline removed. She says Cline's lengthy written accusations, using language she described as "unjust and abusive," damaged public confidence in the court system in Durham.

Cline's writings were not a debate, quarrel or discussion, Sutton said. "This was merely [Cline] blasting out there her version of what she believed happened," and Hudson did not have an opportunity to respond. Cline knows there are strict rules on what lawyers may say about judges, and she knowingly violated them, Sutton argued.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood denied the other efforts Cline’s attorneys made to have the case dismissed, including arguments that the state law allowing a district attorney to be removed is “vague." But Hobgood said he would consider the free speech arguments, and will decide whether the case should be dismissed on those grounds as part of his final decision.

Hobgood could announce a ruling as early as Friday, he said. He’ll decide whether Cline, 48, has brought Durham’s justice system into disrepute because of written requests to have Hudson removed from her cases due to judicial misconduct. Cline used bold, sweeping language in the motions, saying Hudson has presided with the "reprobate mind of a monarch," and that a decision he made to dismiss sexual assault charges in one case was tantamount to raping victims all over again.

Cline has said in her testimony that although she regrets the harsh tone of the hundreds of pages she filed, every statement in the documents is true.

Continue reading…

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    Judge could announce decision as early as Friday. If Cline is removed, she may appeal.

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Judge could rule by Friday on whether Durham DA keeps job

Posted by on Mon, Feb 27, 2012 at 6:28 PM

Lawyer Stephen Lindsay, left, questions suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline on the witness stand.

For live updates during Cline's removal hearing, follow @indyweek on Twitter and join the conversation using #TraceyCline. Updates will resume beginning at 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 29.

Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood expects to rule by Friday on whether suspended Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline should keep her job, he said.

Cline and others, including a Durham lawyer, a judge and the chief of police, testified in her defense in court Monday. Cline could lose her job because of actions she took last fall to prevent Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson from presiding over her criminal court cases. Hudson is biased, Cline asserted in lengthy court documents, and had been retaliating against her by ruling against her in court.

It was the second day that Cline sat on the witness stand and recounted the events leading up to her decision to file court motions to remove Hudson from her cases due to a conflict of interest. Last week, she faced questions from her own defense attorneys. Monday, Cline faced tougher queries from attorney Stephen Lindsay on a cross examination.

Lindsay is assisting Durham defense attorney Kerry Sutton, who filed a complaint in January saying Cline's actions had violated rules of conduct for attorneys, and that her actions brought Durham's justice system into disrepute. He, exclusively, questioned Cline, and the embattled prosecutor often gave long-winded and circuitous answers to Lindsay's yes-or-no questions.

Cline and Lindsay quibbled for several minutes even when Lindsay asked her whether she could agree that, generally, she had handled the responsibilities of her job well during her first few years in office. Cline disputed the assessment, saying it was a team effort, not just her own.

Lindsay often appeared frustrated, his eyes rolling up in his head as he walked back and forth between the witness stand and his seat. He frequently addressed Cline without looking at her. At one point, Cline questioned whether he was paying attention as he chatted with Sutton.

"Are you listening to me?" she asked.

Cline used her hours on the witness stand to repeatedly bring her comments back to her own defense, repeatedly stating that she did what she felt she had to do in the interest of justice. She said that although her words were harsh, she doesn't regret filing the motions—it had to be done, she said.

"Even though this has been difficult has been difficult, I promised to do what was right," Cline said from the witness stand. "And after doing all that I could do, I had to protect the people of Durham county.

Continue reading…

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    Lawyers will reconvene Wednesday morning for last testimony, closing arguments.

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