December 29, 2007

NC Highway Patrol to be independently reviewed

The North Carolina State Patrol will be reviewed by in international consulting firm of law enforcement experts according to a new report just published. Another of the state organizations under Governor Mike Easley's watch is having serious operational problems adding to the possibility that state organizations are being poorly managed by those appointed by the Governor and his team of advisors. Recent news headlines have revealed that the NC DOT and DMV have had significant operating problems and morale issues indicating a general trend of poor top-down management while being led by the Governor's appointees and now the Highway Patrol is being added to the list.

A number of significant reports have surfaced in recent months about conduct issues among highway patrol officers while on duty ranging from singling out and harassing young women drivers to having sex in police cars while on duty to not properly completing reports of arrests made. This has brought one of the country's best highway patrol organizations under scrutiny and continues to bring out problems within the Easley management team. Read the latest report about the review of NC's state police team...
News and Observer
December 29, 2007
Dan Kane, Staff Writer

Highway Patrol to get outside advice

A team of law enforcement experts will visit the N.C. Highway Patrol in January to review what has gone wrong in an agency that only last year was found to be one of the nation's top police forces.

Experts with an international consulting firm will consider a baffling string of incidents in the past several months. They range from a trooper accused of abducting Hispanic women and making sexual advances to an internal affairs captain who rear-ended a vehicle and wrongly let a subordinate investigate the wreck. The only apparent pattern in each case is a lack of good judgment.

N.C. Troopers Association leaders as well as Bryan Beatty, the crime control and public safety secretary, say the incidents are isolated cases in a force of more than 1,800 sworn officers. But despite efforts to re-emphasize professionalism and keep a closer eye on troopers, officers continue to get into trouble.

"Frankly, I don't know what's going on in their minds -- some of these troopers and what they are doing," said Sgt. Steve Lockhart, vice president of the association. "It just dumbfounds me." Read more...

October 31, 2007

Botched paving costly to DOT and NC taxpayers - $21 million

The botched paving job on Interstate in North Carolina cost taxpayers at least $21,000,000 dollars and many months of commuting hardships and misery for drivers.

At the tail end of a multi-year project to implement a major expansion of I-40 between Durham and Chapel Hill, NC, inspectors discovered that miles of new concrete pavement was breaking apart. More studies showed that the top layer of concrete had not been installed correctly and was breaking down even before the project was complete.

The project was already late and had cost taxpayers much more than originally planned and a major part of the work had to be torn up and reworked by contractors. The $21,000,000 repair is yet another demonstration of major mis-management and poor planning within North Carolina's Department of Transportation. The extension added another year of misery for weary commuters traveling the road each day.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, Governor Easley's hand picked director for the DOT, Lindo Tippett, has never admitted any responsibility for the blunder and has remained unscathed while lower level state employees were reprimanded and, in some cases, fired for the mistake. The Governor has not seen fit to replace Mr. Tippett and new reports emerge weekly of additional long postponement or cancellation of many needed major projects and continued severe budget shortfalls as taxpayers foot the bill for gross mismanagement and incompetence in the state's operations.

A new article has appeared in the October issue Asphalt Magazine by the manufacturer of heavy equipment that was used to tear up the broken new concrete and gives an interesting view of the magnitude of work required, done only at night, to undo the botched paving work. The contractor has now completed repairs made under a $21 million project. Interestingly enough the state threatened the contractor with significant fines of $10,000 per hour if workers had not moved out of the way of commuters by morning as the project was carried out.

Read more of this fascinating use of technology to repair one of North Carolina DOT's largest blunders to date....

Asphalt Contractor magazine
October 30th, 2007

Failed concrete overlay milled, replaced with HMA

A failing concrete overlay on I-40 near Raleigh-Durham, NC, was determined by the North Carolina DOT to be in need of replacement. The specifications for the project provided that the concrete overlay be removed by cold-milling and replaced with hot mix asphalt (HMA) each night.

The Lane Construction Corporation was awarded the $21-million project for the North Carolina DOT, and has undertaken the milling, while its Rea Contracting LLC affiliate performed the HMA placement on strict nightly schedules.

"We're grinding anywhere from 3 to 3.5 inches of concrete overlay off the Interstate using a Wirtgen W 2200 cold mill with full lane, 12-foot 6-inch drum," says J. Todd Moore, superintendent of the I-40 project for Lane. "We have approximately 21 lineal miles to do, two lanes eastbound, and two lanes westbound, as well as all off ramps and acceleration lanes."

The existing pavement is three lanes wide each way, with the third (inside) lane made of full-depth concrete, recently reconstructed. The concrete overlay being removed had been placed over existing Portland cement concrete and was experiencing spalling at the joints, and patched "blow-out" potholes where heavy traffic was pulling material from the pavement.

"We have about 290,000 square yards of concrete removal required for this project," says Richard Snow, P.E., construction manager for Lane. "Our average pace of 2,200 lineal feet per night of lane works out to about 2,700 square yards. On weekends we do a lot more with our marathon closures. While we still keep one lane open, we are able to keep the two lanes closed 56 hours straight."

"We're finding both conventional and high early-strength concrete in the overlay, but the W 2200 is chewing right through it all," Moore says. "We've used the W 2200 for scarifying concrete as well, but this 3.5-inch-deep cut is more of a test for the machine during the four hours we work each night."

New open-space tooth pattern

A new open-spaced tooth pattern drum design which applies more horsepower per tooth, but with fewer teeth, was being used on this cold mill.

"We're using Wirtgen teeth with 1.25-inch spacing of teeth on the drum, with some 130 teeth on the drum," Moore says. "We're not using up as many teeth on the drum as before, but it's grinding up the concrete more efficiently, and pulling the material off the existing concrete. It's coming up in a little bit larger chunks, and the milling is more efficient. It's leaving a nice pattern on the pavement, and both the state and the paving contractor are well-pleased."

Nonetheless, Moore and his crews have experimented with the right configuration for the drum and machine.

"At one time we slowed the cutter drum down, but had no success with increasing footage, because teeth were breaking off as the drum was going slower, and not keeping up," he says. "We brought it back to its original speed - about 21 feet per minute, and now things are rolling. Because we're limited at night to what can be repaved before rush hour, I'll open up anywhere from 2,000 to 2,600 feet, depending on how tight the concrete is in our four-hour period."

Thus a given night would see Lane begin milling after 8 p.m. and conclude about midnight, with Rea Contracting paving the next four to five hours, with the last hour striping and removal of the traffic control pattern. "We have to be off the Interstate by 6 a.m., with penalties of $10,000 per hour," Moore says.

Superpave replaces concrete

The concrete overlay was being replaced by two lifts of a Superpave mix, PG 76-24 polymer modified binder, with 9.5 D mm aggregate. The first was a 2-inch lift, followed by a 1.5-inch lift on top to bring to grade. The HMA was provided by Rea Contracting out of its Northern Raleigh plant. North Carolina DOT specified a material transfer vehicle be used between truck and paver.

At midnight, the milling and paving supervisors meet to run numbers as to how far the milling can go that night, so both crews can finish their jobs that morning.

"We see how far we will mill, so we can finish milling and Rea can finish paving, all at a happy medium," Moore says. "We also have to figure in cutter tooth changes, and that will slow us down a little. Right now we do a complete cutter tooth change every 1,000 to 1,100 feet; the more efficiently we can change the 130 milling teeth, and install new ones, the faster we can get back to work."

Lane's complete tooth change using Wirtgen quick-change toolholders will take about 15 minutes.

Hydro-sweeping and infrared drying

Following the W 2200, a standard street sweeper was cleaning the milled surface, followed by a contract hydrovacuum truck which was water-blasting any remaining material off the surface, and vacuuming it into a tank for disposal.

"We're picking up the heavy stuff with the sweeper, and then we have a 36,000 psi-capable hydrovac truck clean the pavement with sprayed water, and vacuum up the water and any fines," Moore says. "This surface has to be totally spotless before we apply our tack coat."

And because the surface has to be bone-dry before the tack coat - and not much time in which to dry - Lane was using an infrared heater truck with generator to dry the milled surface prior to tack and overlay. "The truck has two 195-mph blower fans which blow off any standing water, and heating coils which evaporate any remaining moisture."

Lane's W 2200 with full-lane width drum was giving Lane the power and reliability it needed to keep this project on schedule and in budget.

Moore was finding that the new Eco-Cutter drum from Wirtgen was keeping the job moving along with accrued savings from use of fewer teeth. "This is the first application for which we've used this full-lane drum," Moore says. "This application is nice for the full-lane drum because it's one lane, one way, without having to back up and go. And the drum has a coarser pattern to it. My feeling is, 'the coarser, the better', because the asphalt can hold tighter in the voids than it can in a smoother surface."

Fewer cutting tools on the new Eco-Drum means less resistance to cutting and a higher rate of advance, with lower tool costs per milled cubic yard. These drums, with smaller number of point attack tools, make sure work proceeds more quickly and cost-efficiently.

Despite the fact that the standard-width Eco-Cutter may equipped with only 114 cutting tools, its performance with 1-inch tool spacing is roughly 20 percent higher than that of a standard milling drum with 0.6-inch tool spacing when working in hard asphalt and at a milling depth of 8 inches.

About the Wirtgen W 2200

The W 2200 is designed for big, continuous cold milling projects in which a pavement must be removed mile after mile. The high-horsepower, deep-cutting, high-production

W 2200 lets users mill large projects in a short period of time.

The W 2200 has a standard cutting width of 87 inches, four large D-6 crawler tracks, a milling drum with a high-efficiency mechanical belt drive, and an efficient front-loading system. It has a mechanically driven milling drum and two-part slewing front-end discharge conveyor of variable height. The machine travels on crawler tracks. Robust welded construction with mounts for the individual function modules and superstructures. The tanks for diesel fuel and water are integrated into the chassis. The hydraulic fluid tank forms a separate unit.

Its maximum cutting depth is 14 inches and with the optional Flexible Cutter System, can cut up to 14 feet 1 inch wide. The W 2200 has an operating weight of 96,342 pounds with a 900-hp power plant.

The walk-through operator's platform with access ladder on each side is located in the middle part of the machine. It is equipped with two identical control consoles which can be pivoted and vertically adjusted. Both control consoles and the right-hand driver's seat can be displaced outwards beyond the edge of the machine. The steering and feed control operate with electrical proportional action and are controlled via joysticks.

The Wirtgen information and diagnosis system - called the WIDIS 32 - provides the driver with comprehensive up-to-the-minute information on the current status of the engine and hydraulic system and generates visual and acoustic alarms when necessary. The crawler tracks are suspended from the chassis via round cylinders, the height of which can be adjusted hydraulically. The height of each crawler track can be adjusted individually. The height required for the milling depth is adjusted via the two cylinders at the front, while the rear crawler tracks form a full floating axle. The large lift ensures considerable ground clearance simplifying such difficult maneuvers as reversing or loading and unloading the machine from a low-bed truck.

October 10, 2007

Sign of the times - re-elect nobody

Running for elected offices these days requires candidates to deal with a lot of public hostility toward government and elected officials. This sign was placed along area roads along with those of candidates running for Cary and Wake County offices in October 2oo7 and encouraged voters to not re-elect anyone already on the Cary council.

This sentiment is becoming a factor anyone running for public office must consider and may bring significant change in local, state and national government, even for some that have worked hard to serve the public faithfully. Now, more than ever, candidates need to listen to constituents and tune campaigns to provide a choice voters will believe and make at the polls.

Much of the public is so unhappy with all levels of government and how things have been handled by the Bush administration that the handwriting is on the wall for anyone in office that has supported the current administration. The possibility for a tidal wave of change in government is looming and the elections in 2007 and 2008 will bring a complete change in who leads and makes decisions for the foreseeable future in local and national government organizations.

September 29, 2007

Report of NC DOT incompetence hidden from public

An alarming new report provides more evidence that NC's DOT organization is poorly suited to meet transportation needs of the state and reveals the organization is withholding a major consultant review of the DOT paid for by taxpayer dollars. The DOT continues to reflect the incompetence of director Lindo Tippett, appointed by Governor Easley, and the inability of DOT staff in managing thousands of state employees responsible for maintaining NC's road infrastructure and planning what is needed to handle the unprecedented growth in state traffic.

It is clear that the time has come to demand that the DOT director step down and a replacement be appointed that has the knowledge and ability to manage the organization and facilitate planning and funding of what is needed to build and maintain an adequate transportation infrastructure that will allow the state to be competitive.

Results from a comprehensive survey of some 13,000 thousand DOT workers and interviews with at least two dozen key legislators, state officials, business executives and local transportation officials, along with information from follow up discussions, strongly suggests a lack of understanding within the organization about the mission of the DOT and tells of poor use of funds and inadequate project plans and schedules. Mark L. Foster, the department's chief financial officer, confirmed that "DOT employees complained that they lack a shared understanding of their mission." He briefly described other criticisms: "Road projects cost too much time and money. It's hard to figure out who is responsible for any DOT project."

Read the report and learn more about the lack of a "unified vision", deception and confusion in the state's DOT organization...
News and Observer
September 29, 2007
Bruce Siceloff, Staff Writer

Consultants review of DOT under wraps
McKinsey & Co. was asked to prepare a sweeping evaluation of the transportation agency, but DOT and the company are keeping a tight rein on the information

State Department of Transportation officials are paying a consultant $2.5 million to help make the agency more responsive, accountable and transparent.

They are keeping much of the work secret.

Attorneys for DOT and McKinsey & Co., an international management consultant hired in April to evaluate DOT, blacked out several pages of contract details and stamped other pages "CONFIDENTIAL" before DOT released them to The News & Observer.

Other contract documents indicate that McKinsey initially was asked for a candid, sweeping assessment of DOT's "strategic direction and organizational structure." It was expected to file reports in May and June.

DOT has declined to release a word of its consultant's findings. The April 11 contract includes an unusual pledge that DOT will seek McKinsey's permission before making public references to McKinsey or releasing any "reports, analyses or other such materials" it receives from McKinsey.

DOT officials now say they did not request or receive any written reports from McKinsey, whose contract ends in mid-October. Read more...

September 11, 2007

Easley and legislators reach compromise on latest job incentives

Governor Easley and Legislators reach a compromise on an incentive plan to save jobs in NC. The plan replaces one the Governor vetoed recently that legislators had crafted to keep a factory in Cumberland county from closing down.

The goal of the new legislation is to encourage Goodyear Tire & Rubber to upgrade a plant in Fayetteville and Bridgestone Firestone to modernize one in Wilson and save jobs in those communities. Lawmakers worried that without state assistance for factory upgrades, the companies could shut down and move operations overseas as many have done in recent years.

House Speaker Joe Hackney said "What triggered this is the absolute devastation that would occur in Cumberland County if Goodyear was to leave," he said, adding that the same would happen in Wilson if Bridgestone Firestone were to pull out. "We're focused on the community."

News & Observer
September 11, 2007
Ryan Teague Beckwith, Jonathan B. Cox and Lynn Bonner, Staff Writers

Easley signs compromise incentives bill

RALEIGH — Gov. Mike Easley this afternoon signed into law a compromise bill that gives two tire companies incentives to improve their North Carolina plants.

The bill was drafted Monday as an alternative to one vetoed by Gov. Mike Easley. It would give Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Bridgestone Firestone cash incentives to stay in North Carolina.

The bill passed the House 61-44 about 2:30 p.m. and the Senate 25-16 an hour later. Easley signed it soon after.

"This tool is a fantastic statement by the General Assembly that North Carolina is focused on the future and determined that our citizens will compete and win in the new world economy," Easley said in a statement. "This legislation will create cutting edge economic competitiveness in North Carolina, unlike any state in America." Read more...

September 10, 2007

Incentive for jobs in western NC

Another taxpayer funded incentive deal has been made to draw jobs to North Carolina. BAE Systems Tensylon will receive $127,000 to expand it's manufacturing operation near Monroe. North Carolina will contribute $40,000 taxpayer dollars and the county will chip in nearly $87,000 to try to boost the local economy.

Charlotte Observer
September 9, 2007
Mike Torralba

Manufacturer gets incentive package
BAE Systems Tensylon to receive $127,000

A manufacturer of antiballistic vehicle and body armor will expand its plant outside Monroe in exchange for $127,000 in state and local economic-development incentives.

The company, BAE Systems Tensylon High Performance Materials, is expected to create 42 new jobs and invest $8.7 million over three years, including an 18,000-square-foot expansion of its Piedmont Drive building, according to the Partnership for Progress, Union County's economic development arm.

The average weekly pay for the new jobs will be $714, not including benefits -- higher than the county average of $643, according to Gov. Mike Easley's office.

The state will contribute $40,000 from the One North Carolina Fund to the incentive package. The fund is intended to encourage out-of-state businesses to come to North Carolina and existing companies to expand, creating new jobs.

The county will contribute a grant of nearly $87,000. Original article...

September 9, 2007

One-stop voting help's NC turnout

Voting in North Carolina has gotten a little easier, thanks to implementation of One-Stop Voting. One of the traditional reasons for low voter turnout is that many voters don't or can't take time out from work or other commitments to vote in most elections. Now it will be a little easier to vote and make a difference!

Another reason often cited for non-participation is waiting too late, then not having time to stand in long lines. According to Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina “Young people and busy blue-collar workers don’t pay attention to the election until the final week or so, and by then it’s too late.’’

Another change that will boost turnout is a provision to let new voters register and vote on the same day. Voters will be able to go to a One-Stop Site, present proper identification, register and vote at the same time shortly before an election (but not on Election Day itself).

Read more about how this change should boost NC's voter participation...

Asheville Citizen-Times
August 24, 2007
Citizens-Times editorial

NC's One-Stop voting is a blessing for busy people

In our democracy, there is no greater privilege, right and responsibility than casting a ballot.

We’re pleased to note that process just got easier. Hopefully, the passage of HB-91, “Registration and Voting at One-Stop Sites,” by the General Assembly, and the formal approval of the plan by the U.S. Department of Justice, will give a boost to voter participation locally and across North Carolina.

It should be a particular godsend for new voters and prognosticators.

Government affects virtually everything we do in our lives, from the condition of the road we drive on during our morning commute, to the safety of the workplace we arrive at, to the state of the schools our children attend, the air we breathe and the water we drink.

The vote is where the average citizen gets his or her say on those matters by electing the officials with our best interests in mind.

However, that powerful tool is cast aside by many. In North Carolina, the “Civic Participation Index’’ released earlier this year showed only two of five adults in the state vote in a typical election.

One million citizens aren’t even registered to vote, and even of those who did register for the 2006 election, only 37 percent cast a ballot.

Harried for time

That doesn’t mean North Carolinians are bad people or poor citizens. A comment from Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina framed the issue succinctly: “Young people and busy blue-collar workers don’t pay attention to the election until the final week or so, and by then it’s too late.’’

Under the old law, when you had to register to vote 25 days before an election, that may well have been true.

Now, voters will be able to go to a One-Stop Site, and after presenting proper identification, can register and vote at the same time shortly before an election (but not on Election Day itself).

The main objection to One-Stop voting was the risk of voter fraud. The new law seems to make that possibility rather remote. Identification will be carefully checked, and the penalty for attempting to perpetrate fraud is steep — a felony.

The voters same-day registration should help the most are young voters attempting to navigate the system for the first time and new residents who need to familiarize themselves with their new state’s voting laws.

North Carolina is breaking ground with this move, becoming just the eighth state in the nation — and the first in the South — to allow citizens to register and vote shortly before an election.

There may be bumps as election officials and voters adjust to the new system, but the potential payoff is huge. Democracy North Carolina reported that a study last month by two political scientists estimated voter participation could rise nearly 11 percent for young voters, 9 percent for new residents and 6 percent for African-Americans.

Democracy North Carolina’s Hall said, “The vote is each person’s voice in shaping policies that will hurt or help their future. North Carolina is among the bottom 15 states for voter participation, and our low rankings for health care, education, pay equity and other indicators mirror that low level of involvement by ordinary citizens.’’

Same-day registration holds the promise of making civic participation less of a chore. Mainly, it holds the promise of making our government — and thus our lives — better.


The Same-Day Registration law (H-91/Session Law 2007-253) allows a citizen to go to a One-Stop Early Voting site in the county, show proper identification to an election official, fill out the registration form, swear under penalty of a felony that the information is accurate, and then cast a ballot — all on the same day.

Forms of acceptable identification include these documents with the person’s current address:

• a N.C. drivers license

• a telephone, electric, gas or other utility bill

• a bank statement

• a payroll check

• a document from a local, state, or federal government agency

The registration form is processed immediately, through computerized and staff data matching and an address correction card sent via mail; if a problem arises, the ballot (which is coded to the person) can be pulled before the canvass date for the election.

Election officials must now provide a provisional ballot to anyone who wants to vote and then research the person’s eligibility. Many election officials favor SDR because it will drastically reduce the need for provisional ballots.


August 28, 2007

NC to verify benefit of programs

North Carolina has established a new organization to review its many programs, determine if benefits are worth the cost and recommend changes where needed.

The Program Evaluation Division will "delve into how the state tackles wide-scale issues such as education and health care, and target smaller operations to find out whether the money spent has a real effect on the people served" according to the article just released.

The new organization should fill a much needed role to help insure state funded programs are producing value for N.C. taxpayers and to help improve or eliminate programs when needed. North Carolina is the 46th state to implement this type of "watchdog" organization.
News & Observer
August 27, 2007
Dan Kane, Staff Writer

N.C. to verify benefit of programs

North Carolina has auditors who make sure taxpayer money is spent as intended. But what if the spending has little public benefit?

Lawmakers have typically left that question up to the agencies and nonprofit groups that receive the money. But this year, lawmakers decided to create their own watchdog to get those answers: the Program Evaluation Division.

The division will delve into how the state tackles wide-scale issues such as education and health care, and target smaller operations to find out whether the money spent has a real effect on the people served.

"It will not be as focused on management processes and financial controls," said state Sen. Dan Clodfelter, a Charlotte Democrat who sponsored the legislation creating the division. "It will focus on more fundamental questions, such as 'Does this program still serve a fundamental purpose?' " Read more...

August 9, 2007

Perdue's online snafu

Website mix up brings humorous hiccup to Beverly Perdue's quest for Governor in 2008. The following commentary and discussion was posted in the News & Observer...

News & Observer
August 9, 2007
Ryan Teague Beckwith
Blog discussion

Perdue's online snafu

Beverly Perdue will announce this fall

Perdue's online snafu
Beverly Perdue
will announce this fall.

But maybe the lieutenant governor won't announce that she's running for governor. Maybe she'll announce she's running for Senate — and her real name is Tom Allen.

That's one theory anyway. How else to explain the fact that a Google search of her Web site reveals this meta description: "Welcome to the Online Home of Tom Allen for Senate."

The real Tom Allen is a U.S. representative from Maine who's running for his party's nomination to face off against Republican Sen. Susan Collins in 2008.

His Web site was designed by Liberty Concepts, a Democratic-affiliated Web firm. It's likely that Perdue hired the firm, and it used a template from its work for Allen.

Or else, Perdue really is Allen... Original article...

Hat Tip: Blue South

August 4, 2007

Goodyear to get millions for not leaving

UPDATE --- Subsequent to passing of the bill to provide incentives to Goodyear in Fayetteville, Governor Easley decided to veto the bill. Click here to read about the veto and why he did it...

The original blog entry follows...

North Carolina gives away big money to entice companies to set up shop in the state and create jobs. Much has been reported in recent news about the relatively new trend and debates continue to rage about whether the huge incentives are worth the cost. The state offered Dell $242 million in cash and tax breaks to bring 2,000 jobs to the Triad and the jobs pay an average of $28,000 per year.

A big ruckus is still being made over the giveaway to entice Google to the western part of the state. In exchange for incentives, the company would build a $600 million data center near Lenoir and create as many as 210 jobs with average salaries of $48,000. Breaks given by the state would save Google up to $90 million over three decades. Local business recruiters also earmarked up to $4.8 million to the company if it meets job-creation goals. Including incentives offered by local leaders, Google could receive more than $260 million over 30 years.

Just before adjourning the 2007 session, the NC General Assembly approved a new incentive to give Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company up to $40 million over 10 years just to stay in Cumberland County. In return the company has to invest at least $200 million in its factory but it would not have to create any jobs and or have to keep all of the 2,750 existing workers.

Wouldn't it be nice if the Legislators would grant tidy sums to all the state residents that have lost their jobs in recent years due to a declining economic climate and businesses leaving the state and region?

What do you think? Leave your comments below after reading the report on the latest incentive...
News and Observer
August 4, 2007
Jonathan B. Cox, Staff Writer

Goodyear could get $40 million
State offers incentives package if the tiremaker stays in Cumberland County

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. could get as much as $40 million from the state over 10 years if it keeps producing in Fayetteville -- even if it lays off workers.

Before adjourning, the General Assembly approved a new incentive program written to sway one of Cumberland County's largest private employers as it considers factory closings and expansions.

Goodyear would have to invest at least $200 million in its factory to get the assistance. But it would not have to create any jobs or keep all 2,750 existing positions.

"Goodyear has been a wonderful corporate citizen in our part of the state," said Sen. Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat and one of the legislature's most powerful members. "It makes a great deal of sense to keep one of our most important industrial citizens."

The incentive comes as Goodyear trims domestic production of low-end tires in favor of more profitable models.

Last year, the company said that it would stop making about 10 brands of tires -- some made in Fayetteville -- sold under the names of wholesale customers. Since that time, the company has also announced plans to end tire production at a factory in Canada and close a Texas plant.

Goodyear's decisions angered unionized workers, who went on strike last year. Its actions have also sparked fears in several U.S. communities, where leaders worry that they could lose a major employer.

Officials in Alabama and Tennessee have cobbled together incentives packages to entice Goodyear to upgrade plants instead of shutting them down.

"Everybody spends a lot of money to bring these kinds of plants in," said Jim Cooper, executive director of the Obion County Joint Economic Development Council in Tennessee. Goodyear employs about 2,500 at a plant there in Union City.

"Not a whole lot of emphasis is put on keeping them," he said. Read more...

July 19, 2007

North Carolina graded a 'D' for governor openness

The state of North Carolina continues to rack up low grades in many areas. The latest is a "D" from the Center for Public Integrity for financial disclosure laws for governors.

News and Observer
June 19, 2007
N&O Staff Reports

State earns "D" for governor openness

North Carolina received a 'D' from the Center for Public Integrity for financial disclosure laws for governors.

North Carolina ranked 22nd among the states.

The survey awarded points for disclosure form components and electronic access to records.

The state scored 66 points out of 100.

Washington was the only state to earn an 'A' in the ranking. Original source...

NC Politics and the Almond Coverup

The North Carolina legislators say they want to do more to improve ethics in politics yet continue to cover up some scandals and don't want to abide by the state's open information laws making public records available to everyone.

According to a July 19, 2007, News and Observer news commentary on the Almond incident "with (Almond's) resignation, whatever Almond did (or didn't do) is also swept under the rug. And for now, at least, that's where it will stay. Republican leaders described Almond's alleged misconduct, if true, as "serious improper behavior." What happened has been confined to the legislative rumor mill and nasty chatter on the Web."

Requests for copies of Almond's recent e-mail traffic have been denied by Joe Hackney, legislative staff and members of the Legislative Services Committee (a panel of lawmakers that oversees the administration of legislators and legislative staff).

An unofficial description of Mr. Almond's transgressions currently making rounds among legislative staff is that Mr. Almond invited his a 63 year old recently widowed Legislative Aid into his office, unzipped his pants and asked her for oral sex. When she refused he then proceeded to masturbate in front of her.

For some reason the rest of the Legislators refuse to offer this information or are too embarrassed to repeat it.

News and Observer
July 19, 2007
Ruth Sheehan, Staff Writer

Almond's sin swept under the rug

First of all, let's declare a moratorium on all the puns related to Almond: Almond Joy, Almond Crunch, Toasted Almond ... you get the picture.

The subject, of course, is former Rep. David Almond, a Stanly County Republican and former vice chairman of the House committee on children youth and families, who resigned under mysterious circumstances last week.

It's a case that gives new meaning to the term Southern exposure -- in part because it's being so carefully covered up.

House Republican leaders described Almond's alleged misconduct, if true, as "serious improper behavior."

But what exactly happened has been confined to the legislative rumor mill and nasty chatter on the Web. Read more...

July 18, 2007

NC DMV Commissioner Abruptly Resigns

Following allegations that the NC DMV commissioner helped a friend get legal title to a replica of a 1937 truck as an original vehicle, and a scandal following suspension of an employee for revealing the situation to the state and the public, the commissioner has suddenly resigned without a clear explanation.

Could this be an indication of a larger scandal in the making? This is the latest of a string of scandals in the NC DMV office...

News and Observer
July 19, 2007
Dan Kane, Staff Writer

Tatum steps down as DMV chief
The terse announcement of his departure follows a controversy over whether he helped a friend with a title matter

N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner George Tatum resigned Wednesday, after documents and interviews with an agency staffer suggested that Tatum helped a friend get a replica of a 1937 Ford truck titled as the real thing.

Tatum could not be reached for comment, and a state Department of Transportation spokesman would say only that the resignation involved a personnel matter.

Gov. Mike Easley, who appointed Tatum commissioner in April 2003, said in a short statement that Tatum needed to resign.

"I believe it was appropriate," Easley said.

Mark Foster, the DOT's chief financial officer, will be interim DMV commissioner.

The DMV, which issues driver's licenses and vehicle registrations and conducts safety and emissions inspections, has been long known as an agency with numerous controversies and scandals. Tatum is not the first commissioner to resign following allegations that he misused his office. Alexander Killens quit in 1996 after an audit showed he used staff as drivers and personal security. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice for impeding an investigation into whether a DMV employee misused a state car. Read more...

July 17, 2007

Edwards bashing in NC

You would think that when a candidate for president is a North Carolina resident that people from the state would rally behind him. If a candidate from NC were elected as either president or vice president the state would benefit greatly from direct ties to the president's office.

It's interesting that numerous articles such as Edwards' hair cuts both ways keep appearing in the News and Observer and other state newspapers effectively bashing John Edwards as a presidential candidate. The article highlighted below continues the effort to discredit Mr. Edwards and make him appear less than favorable as a presidential candidate. It's a shame citizens of the state can't recognize the potential of having a state citizen in the Oval Office, how it would bring much positive attention to the state and even allow a number of citizens to be tapped for government jobs should he win the election.

This hate based journalism continues to show how biased News and Observer articles are when discussing certain candidates, rather than expressing neutral story lines. This same attitude repeatedly shows up in News and Observer articles about Mr. Edwards. A July 13th article "Edwards campaign wears out welcome" suggests the campaign office for Mr. Edwards is not welcome and is a "burden" to Chapel Hill. Another one paints "Edwards is Esquire's latest cover boy" in a similar derogative tone.

It's a sad day for the state when news and media coverage departs from informative news to tread in negativism and plant seeds of bias in readers minds.
News and Observer
July 14, 2007
Peder Zane, Staff Writer

Edwards' hair cuts both ways

Americans may be ready to elect a woman or African-American as president.

Dandies, primpers and swells still face mighty obstacles.

As Hillary and Obama rise in the polls, John Edwards is being dragged down by reports that he paid a Beverly Hills stylist $175 and more to cut his lush brown locks. Could the price of vanity be the presidency?

This haircut affair has largely been seen as a political issue, with critics saying Edwards' pricey trims belie his populist message. But it is also cultural, involving Americans' deep-seated ideas about masculinity, beauty and whether those qualities are reconcilable. Read more...

July 8, 2007

Favoritism in NC Politics

Another example of favoritism in NC political circles was reported in the July 8, 2007, News and Observer about the leader of NC's DMV organization helping a friend get a recently built "kit car" titled as an authentic antique car.

According to a DMV staff member, a friend of DMV Commissioner George Tatum was allowed to get a vehicle title issued that says the owner's kit built car is an old 1937 Ford truck when it is not after the commissioner became aware the car owner's first attempt at getting a title failed. Titling the vehicle in this way "reduced what the vehicle's owner must pay in taxes and could inflate the value of the vehicle on the open market".

This blatant abuse of registration requirements allows the owner to pay far less in taxes than with a properly registered vehicle. According to the report the vehicle owner "paid $15 in highway use taxes on the truck because the DMV values a 1937 Ford truck at $500". In reality this tax amounts to 3 percent of the book value for the vehicle and the state and taxpayers lose out on lost taxes. "Tax on a newly built custom car is based on the cost of labor and materials, which is typically in the $10,000 to $30,000 range" ($300 to $900 in taxes).

It seems recently like many of Governor Easley's team members are being tied back to political favoritism, helping friends and friends family members get jobs, denial of responsibility for failures and blunders in state organizations and other involvements unbecoming to the Governor and his circle of friends.

Read the report and you decide...
News and Observer
July 8, 2007
Dan Kane, Staff Writer

Staffer says DMV chief favored friend
Commissioner calls charge a lie; staffer briefly suspended

DMV Commissioner George Tatum oversees the documentation of millions of North Carolina motor vehicles, but he has come under fire for a document attached to just one -- a kit car that looks like a vintage 1937 Ford truck.

Although the car isn't a real '37 Ford, it has a title from the Division of Motor Vehicles that says it is. The title might have reduced what the vehicle's owner must pay in taxes and could inflate the value of the vehicle on the open market.

How the fake '37 Ford came to be titled as a real '37 Ford has provoked a charge that Tatum wanted DMV inspectors to approve the title as a favor for a family friend. Read more...

May 21, 2007

Death of the NC Progress Board

The latest NC budget does not include funding for the NC Progress Board. This, for now, sounds the death toll for the North Carolina Progress Board, an organization created by the state to monitor key policy areas and publish reports and charts indicating how the state has done in those areas compared to the region and the nation.

The Progress Board was founded in 1995 by a statute approved by the NC Legislature to track and report on indicators about the state's progress (or lack thereof). It has struggled in recent years to continue operations as the state reduced funding for the small organization and Governor Easley, the official chair of the Board, has avoided participating in Board activities and actually distanced himself from the group. The Governor, and one of his political advisors, Mac McCorkle, have criticized reports issued by the Board over the last couple of years because reports that accurately reflect how the state has been faring in many areas has not always cast a positive light on the Governor's time in office. In fact many of the reports show neutral or declining trends indicating the state has not kept up with the region or the nation and is not competitive in many key areas. A number of Scorecards are available on the internet comparing North Carolina to the southeast region and the nation.

When Mac McCorkle was appointed by the Governor a year ago to be the new Chair of the Progress Board he took it upon himself to aggressively dismantle the Board by refusing to hold additional board meeting, refusing to approve release of any new reports or continuing research efforts, and in late 2006 terminated all ongoing work to continue efforts to monitor trends and issue reports to state citizens and the Legislature. The last full report that was in process was a 2006 update on the state of Education in North Carolina and is available in it's final draft form.

A May 20, 2007, report in the Charlotte Observer reveals that the meager budget has not been included in new funds and the Progress Board has in effect been killed by the Governor and Mr. McCorkle...
Charlotte Observer
May 20, 2007
Jack Betts, Staff Writer

A good idea whose time is up -- for now

RALEIGH --One of the best government ideas of the 1990s has withered on the vine of neglect, politics and indecision.

The N.C. Progress Board -- created in 1995 during Jim Hunt's third term to take regular soundings of where the state stands in key policy areas -- has lost its staff and funding and closed its doors. Its Web site has a hopeful note: "The office is closed in conjunction with a study to move the Board into a proposed new organization in the UNC University system."

Maybe. But chances are it won't look anything like the Progress Board that Hunt set up as North Carolina's answer to the benchmarking movement sweeping the country.

The idea was compelling. The organization would be an independent agency that would focus on the latest research in education, health care, environment, the economy and other policy areas. It would make assessments about how North Carolina is faring in those areas and recommendations for improvement. Read more...

April 29, 2007

Meg Scott Phipps out, doesn't regret choices

You would think after being convicted for extortion, mail fraud and conspiracy that Meg Scott Phipps would leave prison with a more humble attitude than she appears to have. In a News and Observer commentary on her release, her remarks hint that she doesn't feel that her conviction was right and she stated "The only other regret I have is that I haven't been able to make the same speech that the Duke lacrosse young men got to make."

She "stopped short of saying she was unfairly targeted. But her words Monday differed greatly from a remark she made in 2003 after a jury found her guilty on state charges of perjury and obstruction of justice."

If this demonstrates the effect of prison on government employees and politicians convicted of criminal activities in state government then it probably won't make much difference as a deterrent in getting corruption out of government.

Serve on, Meg, while under house arrest... here's hoping your attitude won't get you sent back for the rest of the term.

News and Observer
April 24, 2007
Sarah Ovaska, Staff Writer

Phipps has few regrets after prison
Ex-ag commissioner to serve out sentence under house arrest

HAW RIVER - Meg Scott Phipps, the former North Carolina agriculture commissioner and fallen heir of a political dynasty, left prison Monday with no apologies for the scandal that put her away for more than three years.

Phipps, 51, walked out of a federal prison camp in Alderson, W.Va., Monday morning and drove to Greensboro, where she visited her parole officer to pick up an ankle bracelet for the four months she'll spend under electronic house arrest. From Greensboro, she headed to her home in the Alamance County town of Haw River, where a barbecue dinner was planned with her husband, Robert, their two teenage children, her mother and her father, former North Carolina Gov. Bob Scott.

Phipps said she has no regrets other than missing out on her children's teenage years. She referred to the three Duke University lacrosse players who were exonerated earlier this month when N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper declared they were falsely accused of raping a woman at an off-campus party.

"The only other regret I have is that I haven't been able to make the same speech that the Duke lacrosse young men got to make," she said. Read more...

April 9, 2007

Easley wants to increase lottery sales

Governor Easley wants to crank up lottery sales so more funds will be available for education. The lottery has not produced the level of income projected when it was started and some programs may have to be cut or taxes raised to continue them.

News and Observer
April 8, 2007
J. Andrew Curliss, Staff Writer

Easley vows to perk up lottery
Gov. Mike Easley has a lottery itch he hopes players will scratch.

Faced with lagging sales, Easley wants to pump up prizes and spark a spending spree on North Carolina's instant ticket scratch-off lottery games starting this summer.

But numbers from other states suggest the governor's plan isn't a sure thing. And if it doesn't pan out, some of his key education programs would again face cuts or need taxpayer help to make ends meet. That is the situation this year after the lottery missed its goals. Read more...

April 7, 2007

Free tuition for the favored - more unethical practices in NC politics

In 2003 a tuition grant clause was slipped into the state budget favoring certain students by granting free tuition at UNC campuses for graduates of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, the prestigious state boarding school in Durham. The provision was slipped in during budget planning by a Senator chairing the appropriations committee.

Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, is the driving force behind the tuition grant. She used her influence as chairwoman of an appropriations committee to insert the grant into the budget.

The provision is unfair to the state's other high-achieving high school graduates. This is yet another example of unethical practices in the legislative process that representatives use to slip in bills favoring selected groups and is both unethical and a conflict of interest. Read the entire news release...
News and Observer
April 6, 2007
Jane Stancill and Lynn Bonner, Staff Writers

Free tuition facing scrutiny
Law's origins, premise under fire

DURHAM - For the third time, opponents are lining up against a law that grants free tuition at UNC campuses for graduates of the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, the prestigious state boarding school in Durham.

This time, the deal may get the scrutiny that opponents say it deserves. A bipartisan bill in the state House seeks to repeal a law that has granted free tuition to 577 students since 2004 at a cost of nearly $1.9 million. Once fully phased in, it will cost taxpayers more than $2.7 million. Read more...

March 30, 2007

Golden Leaf out, N.C. Rural Economic Development Center in

The Golden LEAF Foundation was created in 1999 as a non-profit foundation to receive one-half of the funds coming to North Carolina from the master settlement agreement with cigarette manufacturers and distribute the funds to help areas that were heavily tobacco income dependent. The Foundation is supposed to help North Carolinians make the transition from a tobacco-dependent economy through grants and investments that would positively affect the long-term economic advancement of the state.

Recent complaints that Golden LEAF was not doing enough to help counties hurt by the loss of tobacco production has prompted introduction of legislation to abolish the Foundation and direct money now disbursed by Golden LEAF into a trust fund to benefit "tobacco-dependent communities." That money would be distributed by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, said many projects were approved in areas, including western counties, that did not rely on tobacco.
News and Observer
March 30, 2007
Jerry Allegood, Staff Writer

Control of tobacco millions may shift
Bill would kill LEAF Foundation

More than half the state Senate has endorsed legislation that would abolish the Golden LEAF Foundation, which distributes millions of dollars from the state's settlement with tobacco companies.

The legislation, introduced Monday by Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, would direct money now disbursed by Golden LEAF into a trust fund to benefit "tobacco-dependent communities." That money -- now about $600 million -- would be distributed by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, a private not-for-profit organization that works with rural areas.

Jenkins said the legislation was prompted by complaints that Golden LEAF was not doing enough to help counties hurt by the loss of tobacco production. He said many projects were approved in areas, including western counties, that did not rely on tobacco. Read more...

March 26, 2007

Les Merritt needs to resign

North Carolina's Auditor needs to decide which job he prefers and resign from one of them. Merritt is the elected state Auditor and draws a full time salary of over $100,000 a year along with state benefits. He also remains involved in a personal venture as a retirement investment consultant.

Continuing with both jobs places him in a conflict of interest situation and he could be getting clients as a result of his state Auditor position.

Read the N&O editorial comment...

News and Observer
March 22, 2007

Merritt in the moonlight

Les Merritt needs to resign. Oh, not from his elected post as state auditor, where he's been doing a good job watchdogging government. No, Merritt needs to bag his moonlighting as a retirement investment consultant, something he's been doing with his son, Dale.

First, the state auditor's position is full-time, paying over $100,000 a year, and Merritt should give it his undivided professional attention. Second, he should recognize the unseemliness of appearing to use his position as a high state official to attract private clients, whether he advertises in that fashion or not. Third, there is a potential for a conflict of interest if he ended up with a client who was a state employee. Read more...

March 21, 2007

NC using flawed formulas to calculate benefits from give-aways?

According to a study by the N.C. Budget & Tax Center in a March 21, 2007, article by Jonathan Cox at the N&O, the method NC uses to estimate benefits to be gained from large give-aways to lure business to NC is flawed. This means lawmakers making key decisions to give away future income and tax benefits to companies in exchange for building in NC are based on misleading information that does not accurately predict the benefits of the deals.

"Instead of pumping millions of dollars into state coffers, some economic development deals might actually be costing revenue and hurting taxpayers, according to the study by the N.C. Budget & Tax Center, a non-profit group that advocates for the poor."

Read the complete article...

News and Observer
March 2q1, 2007
Jonathan B. Cox, Staff Writer

Report challenges N.C.'s incentives formula

State officials overestimate the benefits gained from companies that get rich incentives to expand in North Carolina, a report says.

Instead of pumping millions of dollars into state coffers, some economic development deals might actually be costing revenue and hurting taxpayers, according to the study by the N.C. Budget & Tax Center, a non-profit group that advocates for the poor.

At issue is a computer spreadsheet that Department of Commerce officials use to assess economic development deals. They plug in variables -- from the number of jobs expected to the amount of sales an operation will generate -- to determine whether future benefits will outweigh the costs.

The report says that the model is flawed and that officials too often use inflated assumptions that make projects look better than they are... Read more...

March 20, 2007

NC Issued 27,000 licenses on invalid social security numbers

More alarming news from the office of Les Merritt, our state auditor working on the state payroll and in his own personal business.

North Carolina has issued some 27,000 drivers licenses on invalid social security numbers. Why is this a big problem? This means that thousands of drivers licenses accepted for identification in all sorts of situations can't be traced back to known US citizens and could be used for virtually any purpose and could allow holders to gain access to places they should not be allowed into, cash checks or withdraw funds illegally, etc.

In a state audit report released March 20th it has been stated that "auditors don’t know if the invalid Social Security numbers were intentionally used to obtain licenses" according to Chris Mears, a spokesman for the auditor’s office. “We’re assuming that some of those simply will be keypunch errors [by DMV clerks], but we thought that 27,000 was a big number,” Mears said.

Yeah, right. This is a pretty large blunder to simply write off to possible data entry errors. This means we could have hundreds or thousands of unscrupulous people loose in the state that have accepted means of identification that could now gain access to many places where they can do harm or proceed to arrange further means to obtain funds or illegal accounts or whatever might serve their purposes without anyone knowing it.

Read the report out today..
News and Observer
March 20, 2007
Dane Kane

27,000 licenses on invalid Social Security numbers

A state audit released today has found that North Carolina has issued roughly 27,000 drivers licenses to motorists based on invalid Social Security numbers.

State Auditor Les Merritt said the problem lies with licenses issued under an older system that the state Division of Motor Vehicles now uses. The new system, which the division began using in August, checks Social Security numbers automatically before issuing licenses. The old system did not.

“The hole we discovered was that DMV did not review previously issued licenses," Merritt said in a news release. “That hole presents a potential threat to homeland security and exacerbates the problem of identity theft.” Read more...

March 19, 2007

More pay to attract Math and Science teachers

North Carolina is again discussing the idea of using higher pay to attract good teachers. Since Math and Science teachers are such a hot item the legislature is considering increasing pay for these teachers in three school districts by $15,000 per year.

Three years ago in 2001 the state's experiment of offering an extra $1,800 a year to math, science and special education teachers at high-poverty schools or those where student performance lagged ended in disappointment. The N.C. Association of Educators says "differential pay kills teacher morale". Representative Ray Rapp, a Mars Hill Democrat who will help assemble the state education budget, doesn't think it is right to build a pay scale based on teacher specialty, when a school's English teacher may be working just as hard as the math teacher. "It has the potential to create a situation that is terribly demoralizing and destabilizing."

Read the article...
News and Observers
March 19, 2007
Lynn Bonner, Ataff Writer

More pay weighed for some teachers
Lawmakers are talking about raises for math and science instructors, or those at high-poverty schools

Math and science teachers are such hot commodities these days, legislators are considering offering them extra pay to fill North Carolina's classrooms.

The state has a spotty history with offering extra money to teachers-in-demand, but influential supporters want to try again.

Senate leader Marc Basnight has been talking about extra pay for science and math teachers for months. He made a big pitch for the idea in a speech to his colleagues launching the legislative session. Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger likes the idea, too, though he would make special education teachers eligible for higher salaries along with science and math teachers.

"To attract people into these fields, we need to offer more pay," said Berger, a Republican from Eden. Read more...

Another questionable appointment made by Easley

The State has confirmed a questionable appointment to the NC Utilities Commission. After numerous letters were sent to Governor Easley, Edward Finley's nomination to the post by the Governor, as well as the reappointment of commission member Samuel "Jimmy" Ervin IV to another eight-year term has been confirmed.

The article cites that a letter sent to Easley by 17 environmental groups said Finley's employment and legal practice exhibited an "extreme one-sidedness" through his work on behalf of utility companies. Does the Governor or his "trusted" advisors ever listen to the public?

Read the article on WRAL's website below...
March 15, 2007

Legislature Confirms Finley, Ervin to North Carolina Utilities Commission

A lawyer whose past representation of utility companies stirred the ire of environmental groups won a seat Thursday on the North Carolina Utilities Commission.A letter sent to Easley by 17 environmental groups said Finley's employment and legal practice exhibited an "extreme one-sidedness" through his work on behalf of utility companies. Read more...

March 18, 2007

So... get rid of NC's Surplus Property Commission

Commission wasting taxpayer dollars? The solution here is pretty straight forward. Just get rid of the Surplus Property Commission. Seems like a no-brainer...

In the photo at left by John Rottet... James Lamm, an Alamance County farmer, has offered $400,000 for 112 acres that the state owns next to his farm, but his proposal was rejected. The N.C. National Guard says it plans to use that land, although it has not done so in 15 years.

If this commission was created in the Jim Black era and hasn't produced any results then it should not exist. This is yet another example of waste in North Carolina's government and needs to be eliminated as soon as possible. According to Jim Troxler, a Republican who has worked with the commission on several properties "Members of the public shouldn't have any confidence in a commission that deals the way this one does."
News and Observer
March 18, 2007
J. Andrew Curliss, Staff Writer

Surplus property panel raises doubts

Three years ago, in tight budget times, legislators came up with an idea few argued over: A new commission would seek help from real estate interests to sell land and buildings the state doesn't need.

The sales would add millions to the state's treasury. Properties would return to local tax rolls. Brokers and agents who spotted the surplus properties would get a cut of the action.

But so far, the N.C. Commission on State Property has not produced a single sale.

The commission's work has been stymied by ethics questions, poor choices, political maneuvering and resistance from state agencies that owned land the commission targeted, according to interviews and a review of documents by The News & Observer. Read more...

March 17, 2007

Black's replacement, Tricia Cotham, will be the youngest legislator when Governor Easley appoints her to the office later in March. She was selected by 23 of 32 votes in a special election in NC House District 100...
News and Observer
March 16, 2007
Associated Press

Black replacement will be youngest legislator

CHARLOTTE - A Mecklenburg County school administrator on Thursday won a special Democratic Party election to replace former House Speaker Jim Black, who resigned from the Legislature last month before accepting plea deals on corruption charges.

Tricia Cotham, 28, is poised to become the state's youngest legislator after receiving 23 of 32 votes in a special election held by party officials in House District 100. Gov. Mike Easley will likely formally appoint Cotham to the seat later this month. Read more...

March 15, 2007

Political challenge - UNC system will have to accomodate 300,000 by 2017

North Carolina's university system must undergo massive planning to accommodate up to 300,000 students by the year 2017. In the next ten years the annual high school graduation rate is expected to increase by 30,000 students, and almost 22,000 of those will be Latino students.

New programs and methods must be implemented to allow the university system to be flexible and accommodate the growth. Read more from the news release from today with remarks from UNC President Erskine Bowles...
News and Observer
March 15, 2007
Jane Stancill, Staff Writer

UNC system plans for growth

GREENVILLE - By 2017, the number of students enrolled in North Carolina’s public universities could reach nearly 300,000, with no majority race among high school graduates by then.

The future UNC system will be substantially bigger and more diverse, according to projections presented today to the UNC Board of Governors.

The trends are startling. During the next decade, the number of annual high school graduates in North Carolina is expected to grow by 30,000 — and almost 22,000 of those are Latino students.

“That will change this university,” said UNC President Erskine Bowles. Read more...

Ban corporal punishment in schools

North Carolina schools are for providing a quality education for all and there simply is no justification for corporal punishment in an educational setting. Two out of three school districts in North Carolina let school officials spank students.

In a News and Observer feature article about a proposed statewide ban on corporal punishment in schools, Gary Shaffer, an associate professor in the School of Social Work, said "use of corporal punishment has declined nationwide since the 1980s and most industrialized nations forbid it. There is little data about corporal punishment in North Carolina's schools," he said, "but studies from other states show boys and minorities tend to get spanked the most. Although corporal punishment might temporarily curb bad behavior," Shaffer said, "it can make some children more aggressive over time."
News and Observer
March 15, 2007
Leah Friedman, Lynn Bonner and Lisa Hoppenjans, Staff Writers

Bill would end corporal punishment in schools
Most N.C. districts allow it; ban has support of Democratic lawmakers, state superintendent

Two out of three school districts in North Carolina let school officials spank students.

Chatham, Johnston, Franklin and Harnett counties are among those that allow corporal punishment in their public schools.

"It's very rarely, if ever, used," said Harnett County Superintendent Dan Honeycutt.

But Honeycutt didn't know exactly how many times corporal punishment had been administered in his district and said he does not require principals to report it to him. Read more...

Thomas Wright's problems uncovered so far...

News on what's been uncovered on Representative Wright's problems through March 14, 2007, lists speeding, late property tax payments for 10 years, receiving earnings from a foundation whose budget he helped approve, failing to file elections reports...
News and Observer
March 14, 2007
Mark Johnson, Charlotte Observer

Wright's problems pile up
State legislator pays taxes late

RALEIGH - Last July, a state trooper in Bladen County clocked state Rep. Thomas Wright doing 72 mph in a 55-mph zone and issued the legislator a ticket.

Two months later, the charge was dismissed.

"It was a courtesy dismissal because the legislature was in session," said Rex Gore, the district attorney for Bladen and surrounding counties. Gore, a Democrat, said his office also made a clerical error in initially handling the case, which factored into the decision to erase the charge. Read more...

More problems in Rep. Thomas Wright Probe

Caught up in North Carolina's new ethics rules, an investigation continues into personal finances and possible conflicts that could jeopordize Wright's political situation. According toNoah Pickus, interim director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University, "the important issue is whether the state's new ethics system is tough and independent enough to address any actual conflicts that could arise out of Wright's case. The guy's financial situation creates a potential conflict," Pickus explained, "but potential conflicts are for the voters to judge."
News and Observer
March 15, 2007
Mark Johnson, The Charlotte Observer

Fiscal woes cloud Wright probe
House member's finances wobbly

RALEIGH - Rep. Thomas Wright, under criminal investigation by the State Board of Elections, has run into enough financial difficulties that lenders have threatened or begun foreclosure proceedings multiple times in the past six years.

Wright also persuaded another legislator, Sen. R.C. Soles of Tabor City, to buy a Wright family home before creditors sold it, Soles said.

Wright, a Wilmington Democrat and an ally of former House Speaker Jim Black, refused to answer questions Wednesday about his finances.

"I don't think I need to talk with you about my personal business," he said. Read more...

Governor Easley changes commitments yet again

When Governor Easley presented his proposed new budget in February he indicated he wants to shift more lottery proceeds into early education programs. This poses a problem for counties that have made plans to use the funds for other school needs. In Wilson County for example "A loss of funds for school construction would severely hinder paying for three planned county schools", said county manager Ellis Williford.
Wilson Times
March 14, 2007
Alex Keown, Daily Times Staff Writer

Lottery change has officials worried

Wilson County and school officials are concerned about Gov. Mike Easley's proposal to fund his More at Four program with lottery funds slated for school construction needs.

A loss of funds for school construction would severely hinder paying for three planned county schools, said county manager Ellis Williford.

The County and School District have a contract to buy 74 acres on N.C. 42 and Airport Boulevard. They plan to build an elementary school for about $17 million that should be ready for the 2008-09 school year. Plans call for a middle school to also be built on that site.

To pay for the land and the school, the Wilson County Board of Commissioners in January gave the school system $1 million and approved spending up to $17 million for construction.

When Easley proposed his budget last month, he proclaimed he wanted to put more lottery proceeds into early education programs.

The governor's new proposal would spend about $43 million less from lottery proceeds on school construction costs, a 24 percent reduction from lottery projections. It would also reduce the total amount of lottery funds being spent on education. Currently 35 percent of the lottery total is slated to be spent on education, however the governor proposes dropping that to 29 percent and using the remaining 6 percent for lottery prizes. Read more...

North Carolina's state auditor needs his own auditor

Our North Carolina state auditor needs to have his own auditor. State ethics laws say public officials should not use their positions to promote their private business. This also indicates Les is working on the state payroll at taxpayer expense and has other interests that could distract him from his state work. Way to go Les!

Our North Carolina state auditor needs to have his own auditor. In the March 14, 2007 News and Observer...
News and Observer
March 14, 2007
Dan Kane, Jane Ruffin and Ryan Teague Beckwith, Staff Writers

State auditor's news release needed an auditor

State Auditor Les Merritt spends his days setting state agencies straight on how to operate within the law. But Merritt acknowledged a blind spot, ethically speaking, when a news release published Tuesday about his private business also touted his state position.
The news release announced that Merritt and his son are working for a Raleigh-based financial consultant, providing retirement investment services.

"State Auditor and Son Collaborate to Provide Financial Services to Eastern Wake County," the release announced. Merritt is identified as the state auditor in the first sentence, and his success as the first Republican challenger to defeat a Democratic incumbent state auditor is featured in a section entitled "About Les Merritt." Read more...