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Monday, January 13, 2014

Starkweather bows out of state House bid

Posted by on Mon, Jan 13, 2014 at 2:54 PM

As it turns out, Jeff Starkweather, a civil rights attorney and former newspaper publisher from Pittsboro, will not be seeking the Democratic party nomination for the vacant District 54 seat in the N.C. House of Representatives.

As reported in INDY Week last week, party leaders had indicated Starkweather would be seeking to replace Deb McManus, a first-term lawmaker who stepped down in December after state revenue officials accused her of embezzling more than $47,000 in state tax revenues. But in a statement delivered to party leaders Thursday, Starkweather—who ran against McManus for the party nomination in 2012—said he would instead be supporting former Chatham County Commisssioner George Lucier for the post.

"I will certainly be getting back to you for help with the 2014 critical county commissioner and school board races," Starkweather said in the statement. "But it is critical now that we put someone in this seat that can provide experienced and knowledgeable progressive leadership."

Lucier would appear to be one of a handful of Democrats jousting for selection by the party's Executive Committee. The district, which includes Chatham County and a small portion of neighboring Lee County, will need a replacement for the remainder of McManus' term, which expires at the end of 2014.

Other Democrats in the running include James Heymen, a mental health counselor from Pittsboro; Cedric Blade of Siler City; Robert Reives II, an attorney from Sanford; Kathie Russell, a former Chatham school board member from Moncure; and Tim Weiner, a physician from Siler City.

The Executive Committee is set to pick McManus' fill-in on Jan. 24 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Historic Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro. Gov. Pat McCrory is expected to accept the party's nomination.

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    Civil rights lawyer from Chatham County says he will not seek to replace resigned N.C. House Democrat Deb McManus.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

More tumult at natural sciences museum

Posted by on Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 4:15 PM

There have been more seismic shifts at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. Brian Rosborough, founder of Earthwatch, one of the earliest environmental groups, has resigned as the head of the museum’s 24-member Citizen Science Council, the INDY confirmed Tuesday.

Five other council members also reportedly resigned, although the INDY is not listing their names until they can be confirmed.

The Citizen Science Council is charged with providing science advisers for the museum. It meets twice a year and invites outside speakers to discuss scientific trends.

Rosborough, who lives in Concord, Mass., told the INDY by phone that after two years, it became difficult for him to lead the council from afar. In addition, Rosborough said, when Emlyn Koster became museum director, “he had his own ideas, as is his right.”
However, in an email to council members and museum leadership obtained by the INDY, Rosborough’s tone was more direct, noting his decision was made “with some regret”: “With the interest of the Museum of Natural Sciences in mind, I am relinquishing my responsibilities as council chair … I think it best as the director and I have divergent views on the independence and support of the council, making this the easiest path forward.”

Mark Johnson, external affairs director for the museum, did not return calls seeking comment on Rosborough’s or the other council members’ resignations.

In the email, Rosborough alluded to Koster’s desire to control the council, which thus far had worked independently. “As is his right, the director prefers that the Citizen Science Council should follow state rules with all appointments and agendas filtered by him and managed by his office.

“I believe that the independence of the Council is its strongest contribution to the museum it’s staff and stakeholders, and especially the director who deserves and will need diverse and independent oversight to properly discharge his responsibilities.”

N.C. State University Dean of Sciences Dan Solomon, who is on the nominating committee, could not be reached for comment. A new chairman is expected to be named at the next council meeting, March 27.

Rosborough was recruited by former museum director Betsy Bennett and recommended by Meg Lowman, a leading scientist and former director of the Nature Research Center. “I had a splendid first year,” Rosborough told the INDY.

However, after Koster became museum director in January 2013, he reassigned Lowman from the Nature Research Center to a lesser position, senior scientist and director of academic partnerships and global initiatives. She left the museum in November to become the Chief of Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences. Many of the other council members who reportedly resigned were colleagues and friends of Lowman. 

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    Brian Rosborough resigns as head of Citizen Science Council; five others reportedly also left

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Friday, December 20, 2013

One dead, one hurt in Carrboro shooting

Posted by on Fri, Dec 20, 2013 at 12:26 PM

One person is dead and another hospitalized following a shooting early Friday morning in Carrboro.

The Carrboro Police Department reported a break-in and possible armed robbery at 105 Wesley St.—just southeast of downtown Carrboro—at 1:52 a.m. Friday morning. Authorities say they found two people on the scene with gunshot wounds.

Police said one was dead on the scene and the other was taken to UNC Hospitals with non-life threatening injuries. The State Bureau of Investigation is assisting in the investigation.

More information as it becomes available.

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    Police investigating possible break-in and armed robbery just south of downtown.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Chapel Hill High principal addresses plagiarism allegations

Posted by on Mon, Nov 25, 2013 at 5:12 PM

Embattled Chapel Hill High School Principal Sulura Jackson addressed the allegations of plagiarism in a recorded phone message this weekend, apologizing for the distraction caused by the controversy and pledging proper citation in the future.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools spokesman Jeff Nash confirmed Monday that parents and staff at the Chapel Hill school received the message Friday night. Jackson is accused of plagiarism in school memos and letters both before and after her arrival in Chapel Hill this summer.

“Although I was saddened to hear it through the newspaper, I have heard the requests of this staff and community and, beginning now, I am committed to citing these sources, whether broad or specific, and modeling proper protocols for all to see,” Jackson said in the message.

Nash did not say whether any additional disciplinary action is pending for the principal. Multiple documents obtained by INDY Week show Jackson seemed to lift entire passages for letters and messages written in her capacity as principal at Chapel Hill High and her former school, Skyline High in Ann Arbor, Mich. Jackson would sign those passages herself and offer no citations.

Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education have not returned multiple phone calls for comment on the controversy, which has angered parents and some staff at the school.

Jackson defended herself last week in the INDY, saying her actions do not qualify as plagiarism because she is not receiving compensation for that work or turning in her writing for a grade. That would seem to clash with her school's definition of plagiarism. According to the student handbook, plagiarism would denote "copying the language, structure, idea and/or thought of another person and representing it as one's own original work or using information obtained from printed or electronic media that is not appropriately referenced."

Here is Jackson’s recorded message in its entirety:

“Good evening Chapel Hill High students, parents and staff. This is Principal Sulura Jackson.

I'm calling this evening to tell you about an important lesson I learned this week regarding the value of always citing sources in newsletters and other internal correspondence that goes out to staff. Throughout my career, I have made a practice of implementing a variety of resources, including books, online tools and even public access templates specifically designed for educators to use in communicating.

Although I was saddened to hear it through the newspaper, I have heard the requests of this staff and community and, beginning now, I am committed to citing these sources, whether broad or specific, and modeling proper protocols for all to see.

As always, I am happy to entertain any questions about my intentions or sources and I apologize for any distraction this may have caused.

Thank you for listening and have a great weekend.”

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    Principal apologizes for the distraction caused by the controversy.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

More evidence of Chapel Hill High plagiarism?

Posted by on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 3:06 PM

The future for Chapel Hill High School Principal Sulura Jackson is unclear at the moment, following this week's plagiarism allegations. The allegations, as well as the evidence, are covered in detail in this week's Indy. Read it online here.

Members of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education were already scheduled to meet tonight at the Lincoln Center in Chapel Hill. The board's agenda says members will discuss a personnel matter in closed session starting at 6 p.m. The public portion of the meeting begins at 7 p.m.

School administrators have defended Jackson, lauding her for attempts to increase communication at the school. However, many parents and teachers are angry.

For her part, Jackson has not denied using other materials to fill her writing, but she says it would not be considered plagiarism because she is not turning in her memos and letters for a grade or compensation.

Here is the Chapel Hill High student handbook. This is what it says on plagiarism: "Plagiarizing is copying the language, structure, idea and/or thought of another person and representing it as one's own original work or using information obtained from printed or electronic media that is not appropriately referenced."

Due to space limitations with this week's story, not all of the corresponding documents could be shown. We will post some of these documents here, including memos that show the principal—before and after her arrival at Chapel Hill High—lifted quotes and ideas from books without providing citation.

This first memo on finishing strong, dated November 2012 when Jackson was principal at Skyline High in Ann Arbor, Mich., pulls directly from a book by motivational writer Dan Green. Jackson signs the memo as if they are her words and does not offer any citation.

In this August 2013 memo (PDF below) to Chapel Hill High staff, Jackson talks about something she calls the "100/0 principle," a method of relationship building she explains as taking "full responsibility (the 100) for the relationship, expecting nothing (the 0) in return."


The problem is that the idea belongs to workplace consultant Al Ritter. Watch a video explaining the idea here. The word choice will sound familiar.

More to come on this as it happens.

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    Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education to discuss personnel matter in closed session tonight.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Orange County races over

Posted by on Wed, Nov 6, 2013 at 8:07 AM

Incumbents coasted and a few plucky newcomers were winners in last night's elections in Orange County.

In the race for four seats on the Chapel Hill Town Council, the clear winners were current Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison, Councilwoman Sally Greene and two challengers in local pastor Maria Palmer and Duke University pathologist George Cianciolo.  

In Carrboro, the three incumbents—Jacquelyn Gist, Randee Haven-O'Donnell and Sammy Slade—were the victors.

In Hillsborough, Jenn Weaver and Kathleen Ferguson won seats on the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners.

And in the race for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Board of Education, information technology specialist Andrew Davidson joined incumbents Michelle Brownstein and James Barrett in victory. 

Meanwhile, Lydia Lavelle, Tom Stevens and Mark Kleinschmidt ran unopposed for mayor in Carrboro, Hillsborough and Chapel Hill, respectively.

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    Incumbents coast and a few newcomers claim open seats

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Plan calls for faster mental health service in Durham, Wake

Posted by on Tue, Nov 5, 2013 at 1:47 PM

Access to care and crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers top the business plan for Alliance Behavioral Healthcare, the state-funded agency charged with disbursing public mental health dollars in Wake and Durham counties.

Durham County Commissioners Michael Page
  • Durham County Commissioners Michael Page

Both were among the top local initiatives for the agency’s 2014-2016 plan as presented to Durham and Wake county commissioners Monday. Read a copy of the plan on the Durham commissioners' website here. The plan, which identifies service gaps and lays out strategies for addressing those gaps, requires review by county officials before Alliance can submit it to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Durham Commissioner Michael Page, a local pastor who sits on Alliance Behavioral Healthcare’s board of directors, says the group is pushing an array of services to meet longtime service gaps in the community. Page said substance abuse treatment is his top priority for Durham.

“I just think right now we’re in a stage of the game where people need to be able to access services and be able to access it fairly readily,” he said.

Alliance serves a combined population of about 1.7 million—187,000 of which are Medicaid eligible—in Durham, Wake, Cumberland and Johnston counties.

According to Alliance’s business plan, the group will focus on speeding access to mental health providers, citing seven- to 10-day waits after residents called for services. Alliance execs also say they will roll out crisis intervention courses for law enforcement officers in the region, noting residents with mental illness are sometimes taken to jails when they would be best served in a mental health care facility. The report did not offer specifics about the frequency of such events.

Those were just a few of the goals contained in Alliance’s business plan, which also reflected a statewide push for community-based treatment methods, meaning supported housing options, employment and in-home treatment teams intended to head off institutionalization.

State health officials negotiated a settlement with the federal government in 2012, pledging to spend an estimated $287 million on job training, treatment and housing for people with mental illnesses over eight years.

If state lawmakers renege on the settlement, they risk a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice. The state settlement stemmed from a Disability Rights North Carolina complaint that the state institutionalized too many of its residents for years, rather than promoting community programs that encourage independence.

Nevertheless, the Republican-controlled N.C. General Assembly has cut roughly $100 million from mental health funding in the last five years, state Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, told INDY Week in June.

Meanwhile, groups like Alliance, referred to as local management entities or LMEs, are under intense scrutiny from mental health advocates statewide, who worry the budget-strapped state’s reliance on private companies such as Alliance to manage public mental health cash will lead to increasing costcutting.
Orange County’s LME, Cardinal Innovations, is already the subject of a federal Office for Civil Rights investigation into whether its denial of Medicaid reimbursements for undocumented immigrants breaks the law.

The Alliance business plan presented Monday did not include financial information about the group. Alliance CEO Ellen Holliman could not be reached for comment on the business plan this week, but Page says he believes the agency is doing the best it can despite legislative rollbacks.

“Until they can fine-tune this process, it might very well be the best we can do right now,” Page said. “We have to have the services.”

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    Regional group also calls for more crisis intervention training for local law enforcement.

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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gasland Part 2 premieres in Durham

Posted by on Tue, Oct 8, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox with his trusty banjo and gas mask.
  • Gasland filmmaker Josh Fox with his trusty banjo and gas mask.

"Don't watch Gasland 2 alone," says Josh Fox. "It's too scary, kind of like Psycho. You'll never take a shower the same way again."

Fox isn't kidding. His much-anticipated, anti-fracking sequel screened at Durham's Carolina Theatre Monday night, with many of its otherwise sterile interviews darkened with a chilling horror movie score. There's even a scene in which Fox's beloved Delaware River Basin near his Pennsylvania home is besieged by CGI gas wells as if they're asteroids from on high. Where's Morgan Freeman when you need him?

Subtlety may not be Fox's trademark, but if he's going for shock and awe, he nails it. His sequel, which originally premiered on HBO this summer, continues to document the ongoing political turmoil over natural gas drilling. Both Republicans and Democrats, particularly President Obama's administration, take their lumps from Fox in the film.

Supporters tout fracking as a relatively clean drilling method that can reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. Opponents see only disaster, noting the widespread reports of water and air contamination, as well as increased seismic activity. North Carolina Republicans side with the former, with hopes of permitting drilling as soon as 2015.

Fox's 2010 film was nominated for an Academy Award for "best documentary feature," even though industry types besmirched it as little more than environmentalist propaganda. He received a hero's welcome at last night's screening, which was organized by anti-fracking protestors from Clean Water for N.C. and Wilmington's Working Films Reel Power.

Clean Water Director Hope Taylor estimated 500 people attended the film, which included a Q&A session with the Pennsylvania-bred filmmaker immediately following the screening.

Of the interesting moments, Fox said he could not sleep for weeks after he was originally approached to consider natural gas drilling on his Pennsylvania land. "It was one of the most lonely and terrifying and isolating things," he said.

Meanwhile, Fox urged the protesters in attendance to continue their opposition, noting grassroots groups to stop the drilling have launched all over the country and the world. "You're a part of a movement," he said.

For more recent news on fracking, read nonprofit Environment North Carolina's recent drilling report. Hint: It's not so kind to fracking either.

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    Filmmaker calls anti-fracking documentary "too scary to watch alone."

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Thursday, October 3, 2013

Environmental nonprofit: Fracking a "nightmare"

Posted by on Thu, Oct 3, 2013 at 2:44 PM

In case there isn't enough negative publicity surrounding fracking, left-leaning nonprofit Environment North Carolina released its own report on the controversial drilling practice Thursday, dubbing the drilling an "environmental nightmare."

"In state after state, fracking polluted our air, water and landscapes," said Liz Kazal, a field associate for the Raleigh-based nonprofit. "If fracking is allowed in North Carolina, this is the kind of damage in store for waters like the Deep River."

The drilling, viewed as an economic boon by proponents despite its speculative job-creating numbers, has been dogged by claims that it's responsible for water and air pollution, as well as increased seismic activity. See a recent report that fracking wastewater is to blame for earthquakes in one Ohio town.

Environment North Carolina, which has long opposed the drilling, describes the report from its Research and Policy Center as the "first of its kind to measure the footprint of fracking damage nationally to date—including toxic wastewater, water use, chemical use, air pollution, land damage and global warming emissions."

Among the report's claims, the nonprofit says fracking is to blame for:

1. 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012
2. 450,000 tons of air pollution produced in one year
3. 250 billion gallons of fresh water used since 2005
4. 360,000 acres of land "degraded" since 2005
5. 100 million metric tons of global warming pollution.

Download Environment North Carolina's full report, which reads like a Stephen King novel for environmentalists, here.

State officials are currently crafting regulations for drilling in North Carolina, which could begin as soon as 2015.

N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham
  • N.C. Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham
State Sen. Mike Woodard, a Durham Democrat, gets in on the frack-bashing in Environment North Carolina's release. "The dangers detailed in this report reiterate that a few short months of energy are simply not worth jeopardizing our water, our air and our rural landscapes," Woodard said. "In short, fracking is a bad deal for Durham and for North Carolina."

Official estimates say North Carolina has enough gas to power the state for about five years. Drilling is most likely to take place in central portions of the state such as Chatham, Lee and Moore counties.

Check back with Indy Week for pending reactions from drilling supporters and opponents.

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    Nonprofit's report blames drilling for toxic wastewater, air pollution and global warming emissions.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Chapel Hill leaders call for break with Russian sister city

Posted by on Thu, Aug 22, 2013 at 3:28 PM

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt
  • Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt

Amid the continuing backlash to Russia's anti-gay "propaganda" law, two openly LGBT leaders in Chapel Hill are calling for the town to sever its "sister city" relationship with a Russian city.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Councilman Lee Storrow condemned the law in a joint statement Thursday afternoon, describing the news from Russia as "heartbreaking."

"Innocent individuals and families face persecution, violence and detainment for expressing themselves openly and non-violently in the public square," the statement reads. "These laws are deplorable and do nothing but create hardship, suffering, and in some cases death, for innocent people."

Chapel Hill currently has the "sister city" bond with Saratov, a port city in western Russia. Generally speaking, sister cities indicate mostly symbolic agreements to foster cultural understanding or, in some cases, business agreements.

Kleinschmidt and Storrow say the town's relationship with Saratov is "inactive" and should be eliminated.

Chapel Hill Town Councilman Lee Storrow
  • Chapel Hill Town Councilman Lee Storrow
"LGBT citizens in all societies represent a great source of talent and value, able to contribute immeasurably to the betterment of a nation and a people," the statement continues.  "Until Russian society is able to come to this basic truth, we see no ability to move forward in a productive sister city relationship with a Russian city or town."

Durham leaders are also under pressure to sever their relationship with the Russian city of Kostroma.

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    Kleinschmidt, Storrow condemn anti-gay Russian law

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