Friday, December 12, 2008

The wrong Guy for probation

For 11 years state probation director Robert Guy has kept deadly problems in his department at a bureaucratic arm’s length, accepting the status quo when he should have been pushing solutions and relief for his department.
That put many North Carolina lives in harm's way.
Now he needs to go. He's the wrong Guy for that job.
An investigation by the (Raleigh) News & Observer uncovered this deadly statistic: Since the start of 2000, at least 580 people have been killed in North Carolina while under the watch of state probation officers. That’s 17 percent of all convictions for intentional killing.
Why? The investigation found the system loses thousands of criminals because it does not have enough officers to handle caseloads. In some cases examined by the newspaper, probation officers botched paperwork, failing at basic tasks such as filing arrest warrants or hooking offenders to electronic house arrest. In many others, officers were simply overwhelmed by workloads, players in a system plagued by poor pay, high turnover, high vacancies and an antiquated court computer database.
Guy, and his boss, Corrections Secretary Theodis Beck, haven't pushed reforms. They just stood by. There’s no excuse for that.
Guy should resign. If he doesn't governor-elect Beverly Perdue should give both him and Beck the boot when she takes office in January.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

McCrory's legacy

“I’ll always be known, and proud to be known, as ‘Mayor Pat.’ ”

With that, Pat McCrory announced Thursday that next year will be his last as Charlotte’s mayor. “In my heart, I’d love to be mayor for life,” he told a news conference, “but in my soul I know it’s time to move on.”

Indeed, McCrory’s zest for the job has been on full display since his first term in 1995. He’s been an active and energetic mayor, and will surely be one of the best-remembered in city history.
Does he have an admirable legacy? In many ways, yes. Most notable is the creation of a countywide mass transit system that debuted a little more than a year ago, with the opening of a light rail line between uptown and Pineville. McCrory has staunchly backed mass transit even when many of his fellow Republicans were just as outspoken in their dislike of the concept, and of the half-cent sales tax that helps fund the system. He has just as staunchly supported the philosophy that "transportation" means autos but much more, including transit, bicycles and sidewalks.

But is it time for him to bow out as mayor? Yes.
That shouldn't be taken as a slam on McCrory, and we hope he'll remain in public life.
But Charlotte needs an infusion of new thinking at the top. Any government does from time to time.
We've criticized him in the past for being too thin-skinned as well as for the occasional nutball remark – such as calling a proposal to pay city workers enough to allow them to pay the rent "socialism." He never took the time to really learn how to lobby successfully in Raleigh. We think he has too often catered to the far right wing of his own party (see previous "socialism" remark) – although many of them would demand to know when he ever catered.
But in sum, the city has thrived under his tenure, and he deserves a full measure of credit for that. We hope he stays in public life. He has contributions yet to make.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Extra! Read all about Illinois' blockhead governor …

Mike Easley has dodged reporters by running out the back door. He's been obstinate and obstructive about saving and sharing public e-mails that citizens have every right to put their eyeballs on.
And yes, he's been something of a do-nothing governor for eight years, except for plugging budget holes early in two economic downturns.
But so far he's not enough of a blockhead to try illegal funny business directly aimed at the newspaper … that we know about.
What was Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich thinking?
This is the same guy who said his state won't do business with Bank of America on moral grounds?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Transit -- less money or more?

So now we learn the half-cent sales tax for transit may not be enough to pay to build the planned system. Should anyone be surprised? Outraged? No way.

Guess what. Things change. And the Charlotte Area Transit System bumped up against skyrocketing concrete, steel and land costs this decade. And now we're into the worst recession in a generation. Sales tax revenue is down and so is government spending at all levels.

By now, of course, no one knows whether or how much construction or land costs might fall, or what that might mean for CATS' financing plans.

Nor does anyone know what the feds will do, though you'd be smart to bet on higher transit funding and changed rules for divvying up the money in the Obama administration. Both those things might bode well for CATS plans. So would an Obama stimulus package that -- as is widely expected -- includes transit.

In other words, not much is clear just now. But this is: Other counties in this region should be getting ready to join the transit system. That doesn't mean levy a tax this month or even next year. It does mean the region's leaders should do just that -- lead. Start educating voters about transit's benefits, and exploring ways to find dedicated revenue for CATS extensions.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Why they didn't vote for McCrory

The John W. Pope Civitas Institute has posted a list of voter comments on why they didn't vote for Bev Perdue or didn't vote for Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory for N.C. governor. Plenty of comments were predictable: People wanted to vote Republican, or Democratic, or they "liked" one candidate or the other, or said they didn't know much about one candidate or the other.

Among reasons people didn't vote for Perdue (spelling and punctuation unchanged):
• No woman
• Because she whines
• Because I like Pat McCrory and he's the mayor of the city I live in
• Well i’m in charlotte and I am extremely impressed with him
• I never vote Democrat.
• Pro-abortion
• We have someone good in why take him away

Among reasons people didn't vote for McCrory:
• Needed a woman in office
• Didn't like demeanor
• He wasn't believable
• His opinions are so bad
• Because he is for off shore drilling and she is not
• Felt his values were big city and she lives in a small town
• Because he was the mayor of charlotte and I felt like charlotte would play too big role in his agenda
• Anti-environmentalist
• Because I live in charlotte and I think he's done a sh- - - - job

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Revaluation: Clear thinking needed

Since the Mecklenburg County commissioners decided to delay the planned property revaluation -- a proposal we urged them to reject -- they should show some clearer thinking on what to do next.

First, understand that revaluation, if accompanied by a revenue-neutral tax rate, doesn't mean everyone's taxes go up. If your property values have risen about as much as the countywide valuation has risen, your taxes would stay the same. Plenty of people would be in that situation. If your values went up more than average, or went down or rose less than average, you'd pay lower taxes. So the stuff about everyone's taxes going up is malarkey. Read between the lines: People with money and houses in sought-after neighborhoods (and thus, political influence) are more likely to see higher taxes. You figure it out.

Second, the argument to delay because the market is volatile is flawed as well. Yes, the market is changing, and yes, the real estate bubble has popped and some properties are selling for under the asking price or less than what people paid for them a few years back. But remember, the county plan was to revalue every two years. Under the old timetable there'd be a 2011 revaluation to capture any dramatic changes in market value. And a 2013 revaluation, a 2015 revaluation, etc.

Finally, there is one revaluation issue that is serious and deserves some study: How best to protect long-time homeowners on fixed incomes who live where home values are rising sharply. Neighborhoods such as Wilmore, Wesley Heights and NoDa are examples. People who bought into lower-income or working class neighborhoods may have legitimate problems paying rising property taxes. The county (AND the city) should find a way to address this problem. This won't be easy, mind you. Property tax laws are state laws, and require legislative changes, not just county-level action.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hohoho! Merry "Impeachment"?

An etiquette miscue?A Seattle artist sent in an ornament for the White House Christmas tree with the text of a resolution calling for President Bush's impeachment. Said a spokeswoman for First Lady Laura Bush, who solicited ornaments from congressional districts, "I think it really is a shame and, quite frankly, not very much in the holiday spirit."
No, not very merry at all.
Artist Deborah Lawrence said she just wanted to salute Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Seattle, a longtime Bush foe who backs impeachment. The nine-inch ball Lawrence created is covered with swirly red and white stripes and features a picture of McDermott. The impeachment resolution is glued on in tiny text.
A local arts group selected her to do an ornament for McDermott's district. McDermott had nothing to do with it.
Sorry, impeachment enthusiasts, her ornament was rejected, the only one of 370 submitted that won't go on the tree.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ahem, new commissioners ...

As the new county commissioners are sworn in tonight (6 p.m. at the Government Center), two arrive with significant baggage. And by “baggage,” don’t think briefcase. Think container shipping.

Vilma Leake and George Dunlap, both Democrats who served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, aren't the only ones responsible for that board’s unfortunate reputation for squabbling. Plenty of others share blame. But now they'll serve with a guy who may well be the most squabble-inducing elected official in the Metrolina region: Bill James.

District 6 Republican James delights in rhetorical hand grenades, often with a racial tinge. In 2004 he wrote in an e-mail that urban blacks “live in a moral sewer.”

Dunlap gives it right back -- fun for journalists seeking quotes, but bad for governing a large and diverse urban county. And the loquacious Vilma Leake, while on the school board, proved oblivious to gavels, rules, time limits or the rudeness of speaking over others. Let us hope she learns some courtesy.

Over the past decade we’ve spilled plenty of ink advising school board members to grow up and play nice. We don’t want to have to start writing that about the county commissioners. So, one more time: Keep the broader community in mind. Treat your colleagues respectfully, even in disagreement.

-- Mary Newsom