What a slog. Bitter political, social and economic divides factionalized our state. The wealthy wielded their power over the nonwealthy, whose motives and actions were either criminalizedprotesting at the Legislature, feeding the homelessor marginalizedcutting long-term unemployment benefits and social services, curbing voting rights. For concerned citizens, political observers and newshounds, tracking the Daily Outrage was a full-time job. Doubtless, 2014 will be the same. Lisa Sorg
Start your chain saws: Hofmann Forest
In January, N.C. State’s Natural Resources Foundation voted to sell Hofmann Forest a 79,000-acre property straddling Jones and Onslow counties, home to black bears, diamondback rattlesnakes and otters, among other animals. Illinois agribusinessman Jerry Walker swooped in to buy it, setting up Hofmann Forest, LLC just 12 days after the announcement. The university’s Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund blessed the sale a month later, and in April, the Foundation made the transaction official.
Undercutting these efforts were protests by students, faculty and alumni, and a lawsuit brought against N.C. State by a coalition of professors, foresters, landowners and wildlife conservationists, claiming the sale would significantly damage the environment. The university swore that the buyer, Walker whose name was revealed in a press release in October, even after university lawyers told a judge no sale was imminent would keep the forest accessible to researchers and would not develop it. However, nothing in the sales agreement requires this.
As the INDY first reported in mid-November, a leaked prospectus assembled for Hofmann Forest, LLC investors showed myriad ways that the property could be developed or converted for agriculture ventures. N.C. State leaders claimed no knowledge of the document; a mouthpiece for Walker claimed the prospectus was assembled using studies made earlier by the N.C. State Natural Resources Foundation, Inc.
After a Wake County judge dismissed the lawsuit against N.C. State, the sale’s opponents have filed an appeal which will likely stall the sale until resolved. A December protest on campus brought more than 70 people out against the Hofmann sale; look for more protests next year, especially early in the spring semester. Jane Porter
UNC’s Bad Boys: It pays to play
Five people have been indicted in a UNC athletics scandal in which several football players received impermissible benefits. In addition, under the now-axed Butch Davis, some football players attended 200 fake classes, many of them in the African-American studies department.Hoops players fared no better: P.J. Hairston, who’s off the team, needs to find better friends. He was pulled over twice by police, charged once with reckless driving while behind the wheel of a car owned by convicted felon Fats Thomas.
Leslie McDonald recently returned to the court after missing nine games related to his use of luxury cars, payment of parking tickets, a cellphone and lodging.
And in early December, former UNC player Will Graves was busted for pot possession at a home owned by Roy Williams.
Maybe UNC players can start a prison league? Lisa Sorg
Conservatives hit below the belt on higher ed
Now that state budget director and millionaire Art Pope has consolidated his powermwahahahahis henchmen at Civitas, a conservative think tank founded by the Pope Foundation, have even greater license to assail its nemesis: higher education.
In addition to budget cuts, higher ed also was the target of a Civitas fishing expedition. It made an open records request of emails, notes and other documents related to Gene Nichol, director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity. Coincidence: This happened just nine days after Nichol wrote a newspaper column criticizing the McCrory administration.
For Pope-sponsored groups, this is par for the course. Before Pope joined state government, they merely tried to bribe their way into higher ed, buying facilities’ naming rights, offering to “sponsor” academic courses at UNC and a constitutional law center at N.C. Central. Now Civitas doesn’t have to cloak its intentions. LS
Another strike against fast food
A Big Mac costs $3.99, nearly half the minimum wage earned by many fast-food workers. Employees at several Triangle fast-food restaurants went on strike this summer and expect their momentum to continue in 2014. Coordinated by workers’ rights activists with support from the N.C. NAACP, employees walked out of their jobs at McDonald’s and Taco Bell on several occasions to demand higher wages they want $15 an hour and the right to unionize without fear of retaliation. In right-to-work states such as North Carolina, employees can be fired without cause.
Low-wage service jobs account for 83 percent of the state’s total employment, according to the N.C. Justice Center; the service industry in North Carolina is expected to grow by 13.5 percent over the next decade. Already, 66,000 fast-food workers in North Carolina receive some kind of public assistance, at a cost of $264 million a year to state taxpayers who subsidize low wages in the fast-food industry.
Recently, the movement has grown to include low-wage workers in other sectors of the service industry; fast-food workers stood in solidarity with employees of low-wage chain stores at an Art Pope picket in Raleigh last week.
Low-wage workers know they probably won’t get the $15 an hour that they seek, but they will be happy with the $10.10 proposed in a federal minimum wage bill currently under consideration in Congress. Anything, they say, is better than the current minimum hourly wage of $7.25; it’s just not enough to survive on. JP
Please sir, can I have a bit Moore?
By early spring, downtown Raleigh will have a temporary food distribution facility near Moore Square Park, where the city’s homeless can eat on weekends when soup kitchens are closed.
The conversation about how Raleigh cares for its most vulnerable residents reignited in earnest in August with city police threatened to arrest Rev. Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries for handing out biscuits and coffee in Moore Square, as he had done weekend mornings for the past six years.
Raleigh police inexplicably decided to revive a dormant city ordinance that prohibits food distribution in public parks without a permit and liability insurance. RPD and city staff still have not given an adequate reason for suddenly enforcing the rule, but the ordinance will not be in effect until the new facility is operating.
After an emergency city council meeting, city leaders quickly assembled a task force composed of volunteers from faith-based groups and downtown businesspeople “charged to identify, evaluate and recommend alternatives for food distribution to the less fortunate.”
At the task force’s final meeting, city staff announced it had identified a site that met the task force’s priorities. A vacant, city-owned warehouse near Moore Square could be transformed into a place where groups could coordinate plans together to provide meals to homeless people on weekends. The task force accepted the proposal unanimously, and the city council approved the site this month.
But the site’s temporary status cannot be overstated. As Moore Square Park is developed, the city will want to recoup its investment in the property, and the food distribution facility can only be in place for two to five years. The city and county have formed a partnership to develop an ambitious 10-year plan to end homelessness.
And there’s also the matter of paying for the facility; it will cost the city $118,000 to open and $58,000 a year in operating costs. Groups are being encouraged to donate time and money to the project. JP
Is that a .38 in your Speedo or are you just happy to see me?
After the state Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, passed a law allowing conceal-carry permit holders to pack heat in parks, swimming pools, restaurants, bars (no drinking, though!), bullet-averse North Carolinians took offense.
The state chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense educated bar and restaurant owners about their right to prohibit weapons on their premises, and many of them did.
A constitutional outrage! The Second Amendment is in tatters! Alexander Hamilton is rolling in his grave! Guess what killed Hamilton, one of the signatories of the Constitution? A gun. Aaron Burr shot and killed him with a .56 caliber dueling pistol.
Find out where you can eat in peace at http://ncgunfreedining.blogspot.com. LS
Durham: Find your inner peace
We asked our Magic 8 Ball: “Will Durham Police Chief Lopez have a job this time next year?”
The answer: “Reply hazy try again.”
As the head of the city’s embattled departmentit juggled charges of nepotism, which were later determined to be unfounded, allegations of racial profiling in traffic stops, 32 homicides and four officer-related shootingsLopez faces several major public relations problems: a lack of transparency, mistrust of the community and a reputation for defensiveness.
When protesters gathered at CCB Plaza on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 19, Durham police in riot gear had already assembled. The demonstration unraveled and some protesters allegedly became combative; police responded by using teargas on those who had rallied over the lack of information about the death of Jesus Huerta, who committed suicide while handcuffed in the back of a police car. It wasn’t until Friday morning, though, that Lopez released the results of the SBI investigation concluding that Huerta shot himself with a handgun that apparently had not been seized by the arresting officer during the early morning hours of Nov. 19.
While Lopez lacks public relations skills, he gets no help from his media/ PR go-to, Kammie Michael, who obfuscates rather than accommodates and dawdles over open-records requests.
If you want information out of DPD in 2014, you should have asked in 2010. LS
Chatham County: Suburbia expands its frontier
If the McMansions in the Briar Chapels and the Chapel Ridges and the Hills of Rosemonts can’t fulfill your suburban dream, then Chatham Park, a proposed 7,000-acre development on the eastern side of the county might.
Fully built, the controversial development could boost the population of Pittsboro from 3,888 to 60,000-plus over the next 25 years. It’s reminiscent of the Bunkey Morgan development-über-alles era, when Chatham County transformed into a quilt of zombie developments.
A group of scrappy citizens, Pittsboro Matters, is fighting back, demanding more transparency and input into the process.
In 2014, keep an eye on Pittsboro town government and campaign contributions from the developers to Chatham’s elected officials. Money has been known to sway people. LS
751: State lawmakers usurp Durham power
Speaking of money and influence, Southern Durham Development finally got the job done: Its controversial 751 project in the Jordan Lake watershed appears it will proceed. But without a willing city partnercouncil voted against annexing 751 or supplying it with public waterSDD had to perform a reach-around to the state Legislature. There, SDD found Tim Moore, a lawmaker from Cleveland County, 200 miles from Durham, to sponsor a bill, which passed, strong-arming the city to do what it had just voted against. This, after SDD formed a Super PAC to pack the Durham County Commission with its allies. Only one of its candidates won, though, proving that Durhamites can suss out a snow job. We’ll see if 751 breaks ground next year.LS
Ain’t too proud to beg
While at last countthere’s still a week to go32 people were murdered in Durham in 2013, a city ordinance directed the cops to go after … panhandlers.
City council passed an ordinancewhich is being revisitedfurther restricting where people can panhandle, making it nearly impossible to do so. Advocates for the homeless say it interferes with panhandlers’ livelihood. Council says the practice poses public safety concerns. Whether it’s a good use of police officers’ time, Chief Jose Lopez would not say. Offenders are being sent to community life court, where Judge Marcia Morey recently dismissed charges against 14 panhandlers who said they were trying to get their lives in order. LS
Aqua NC: Water is gold (and brown)
Think of the water provided by Aqua North Carolina as a way to get your recommended daily dose of fiber. Sediment, discoloration, low water pressureand customers pay among the highest rates in North Carolina for the privilege.
Now the private utility company wants to hike its rates 19 percent. Yes, that’s a 1 and a 9 you read there. At a recent public hearing before the N.C. Utilities Commission, Aqua NC CEO Tom Roberts and a company attorney, Jo Anne Sanford (who used to serve on the commission), stated that the increase is essential for the company to improve its service and infrastructure. Plus, people are using less water, dammit.
Then, under oath, dozens of Aqua NC customers testified before the commission about their horror stories with the company. They brought encrusted water filters, photos of brown water, stained tubs and other evidence.
More hearings are scheduled for January 2014. The commission could decide on whether to grant the rate hike, reduce it or ax the request altogether in the spring. LS
Fracking: The drilling devil is in the details
State lawmakers legalized fracking and drilling could begin as soon as a year from now. The most recent update is from the state’s Mining and Energy Commission. The MEC, which is stacked with fossil fuel enthusiasts, is weighing chemical disclosure requirements for companies wanting to drill in North Carolina. The companies want to keep that information private, citing their chemical stews are proprietary.
We could know more about how fracking affects the environment, except that North Carolina rejected more than $500,000 in federal funds to study those impacts.
Meanwhile, energy companies have been poking around Lee County for gas deposits, and state environmental officials have announced they are interested in looking into shale formations in the North Carolina mountains.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy meets Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 1:30 p.m. in Room 544 of the Legislative Office Building. Burn a vacation day and attend, or you can listen to the meeting online at ncleg.net.LS
DENR: Blinded by pseudoscience
Reasonable North Carolinians knew trouble was brewing when N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla undermined his scientific cred by positing that oil was a renewable energy resource and questioning the veracity of global warming.
Add the fracking, the house cleaning (the water quality director and environmental management commission chairman were ousted) and reclassification of 167 DENR employees as “at-will”meaning they can be fired for nearly any reasonand you have a demoralized agency operating at the behest of big business and political interests.
Under the DENR umbrella is the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, whose director, Emlyn Koster, nixed a proposal to screen Shored Up, a documentary about policy decisions, climate change and sea-level rise at the institution’s Science Cafe. The INDY originally reported the story, which made the rounds of the science blogs as yet another example of the state’s pre-Copernican views of science.
N.C. State is showing the film Jan. 21 at a to-be-announced location on campus. LS
This article appeared in print with the headline “The Daily Outrage.”