Thursday, January 28, 2010

Big step for N.C. judges

Good news for North Carolina this morning: The Senate Judiciary Committee today backed the appointment of two N.C. judges, including one from Charlotte, to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The committee voted unanimously to recommend the confirmation of Superior Court Judge Albert Diaz of Charlotte, and voted 18-1 in favor of N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Jim Wynn of Cary.
That suggests that Wynn and Diaz have a strong chance of joining the 4th Circuit appeals court in Richmond, Va., because the Senate often follows the committee's recommendation. President Barack Obama nominated the pair in November.
Politics has kept North Carolina from having its fair share of representation on the appeals court, which handles appeals from five states and is the last stop before the U.S. Supreme Court. The confirmation of Diaz and Wynn would end that. Both are good judges with sharp minds and deserve a seat on the court.
- Posted by The Observer editorial board

Buzz and Forum still crashed, use this new address

Parts of our email service are still down. That means we do not have access to the regular account where the Buzzes and Forum letters usually reside. To send in a buzz or a letter to the editor please use this new, temporary account address:

Friday, January 22, 2010

No kumbaya but CMS board aims for respect, tolerance

I'm back from the morning part of the annual retreat for Charlotte-Mecklenburg board of education at the school system's Leadership Academy on Neal Road - an apt place to hold the morning session since the focus was all about the board's leadership. School members and Superintendent Peter Gorman are taking on the more controversial issues of equity and student assignment this afternoon. But the morning session had its moments of high interest.

New member and board chair Eric Davis distributed copies of a vision for what the board could be like in two years - a vision gleaned from the stated desires of the other members. Given the troubled dysfunction of boards of the past, this vision sets the bar high. What would they like the board to be like? Here's part of the list they came up with.

"The BOE, works as a team, inspires confidence, and has won the trust of a majority of the community."

"BOE has become an effective group that makes logical, understandable decisions. The decision making is clearly defined, staff and the public understand the phases of BOE decision making, and BOE members have multiple good choices when making decisions.

"BOE members vigorously debate issues based on data/facts, but do so in a spirit of respect."

"BOE does not inflame the public's passions but carefully informs the public about the complexities of the issues and engages the public in developing effective solutions."

"BOE members listen to each other and display small courtesies of respect. They genuinely respect each other."

The board seemed to get off to a good start on these at the retreat. The camaderie was apparent, with joking and laughter going on. Still, a few bumps in the road were apparent as ideological stands differed over how to support the board's decisions and whether public disagreements were fruitful. Gorman noted of some board behavior in the past that if his "staff had behaved that way they would have been dismissed." That's dismissed, as in fired.

Board members agreed to be respectful but one noted there'd be no "sugarcoating" disagreements and singing "kumbaya".

Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

2 of 100 best companies to work for have big Charlotte presence

Fortune magazine today released its annual list of the 100 best companies to work for in America. Seven of them are in North Carolina, including two with big offices in Charlotte.
Alston & Bird law firm is ranked 30th and Balfour Beatty Construction is ranked 76th.
Software company SAS, based in Cary, is ranked #1 in the nation. Fortune cited its long list of great perks.
No S.C. companies made the list.
For the complete rankings, go here.

Here's what Fortune says about its methodology:
"To pick the 100 Best Companies, Fortune partners with the Great Place to Work Institute to conduct the most extensive employee survey in corporate America. Three hundred forty-three companies participated in this year's survey. Two-thirds of a company's score is based on the results of the Institute's Trust Index survey, which is sent to a random sample of employees from each company. The survey asks questions related to their attitudes about the management's credibility, job satisfaction, and camaraderie. The other third of the scoring is based on the company's responses to the Institute's Culture Audit, which includes detailed questions about pay and benefit programs and a series of open-ended questions about hiring, communication, and diversity. Any company that is at least seven years old with more than 1,000 U.S. employees is eligible. The deadline for applying for next year's list is April 2, 2010. For an online nomination form, go to"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Senate's new #2 gives a peek of what's to come

Sen. Martin Nesbitt is making the rounds in Mecklenburg County today, meeting some of Charlotte's leaders in business, education and other areas. His visit was organized by Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, who wants to send a message that a change in Senate leadership isn't bad news for Mecklenburg or business interests.
The new Senate majority leader, a Democrat from Asheville, chatted with the Observer's editorial board this afternoon. Some highlights:

  • Some folks are bracing for a second straight miserable budget debate, but Nesbitt said balancing the ledger won't be so tough this summer. He hopes to restore some funding to mental health services, and to keep education spending flat, despite the ongoing recession. "It won't be easy to fix the budget, but it's manageable. ... People will tell you the sky is falling. It's not good times, but the sky isn't falling."
  • The legislature's biggest focus this summer after the budget? Creating jobs. Nesbitt said he thinks the economy won't improve until banks step up their lending to businesses and individuals. He thinks the state legislature can help make that happen. "I think we have a lending problem in this state. We need to work with (the banks) somehow on how to break that logjam."
  • Nesbitt said his political philosophy isn't all that different from the majority leader he replaces, Tony Rand. But he said his approach is. "I'm much more inclusive of the members" than Rand was, Nesbitt said. "We'll listen to everyone who wants a say."
  • The state needs to reform its tax system "as soon as possible." But that means 2011, Nesbitt said, because it's too big a project to tackle in the 2010 short session.
  • Republicans have no chance of winning control in the Senate this fall, Nesbitt said. Republicans beg to differ.

-- Posted by The Observer editorial board

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What should Mayor Foxx tell Obama?

Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx is in Washington today and expects to meet with President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

Foxx will attend a national mayors summit today. Foxx said he plans to talk with folks about light rail and homelessness, among other things.

On Wednesday, he expects to meet with Obama, who gave him a congratulatory phone call after his victory over Republican John Lassiter.

Maybe he'll get Obama on board with having the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
So what do you want Foxx to talk about with Obama? What Charlotte issues do you think he most needs Obama to be familiar with and understand? Post a comment below.

-- Posted by The Charlotte Observer's editorial board

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cunningham, Burr going at it

Democrat Cal Cunningham hasn’t made it past the primary yet, but today he’s going after incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.
Cunningham got a hold of a campaign fundraising letter that Burr sent to a couple of thousand people in November. In it, Burr trashes President Obama (and President Clinton, and President Carter) on national security and urges people to contribute to his campaign.
Burr said he wants to recruit folks to the “Burr Brigade” and he sells military titles: $25 for private, $50 for corporal, $100 for sergeant, $250 for captain, $500 for major, $1,000 for lieutenant colonel and $2,000 for a full colonel.
Cunningham’s camp sent out a press release saying Burr’s fundraising gimmick was disrespectful to service members. They also orchestrated a letter-writing campaign to generate letters to the editor in newspapers across the state. (The Observer generally doesn’t run letters from such organized campaigns.) He also says Burr’s voting record has not been supportive of men and women in uniform.
Burr’s campaign said it had a “Burr Brigade” in his first Senate run in 2004, and that other congressional candidates, including Democrats, have used military titles in fundraising appeals. They dismissed Cunningham’s criticism of his voting record.
“Cunningham’s attack is a feeble attempt to distort Sen. Burr’s long and proven record for our men and women in uniform,” said campaign press secretary Samantha Smith.
Two things stand out to us: Cunningham, for now, should worry about getting past Democratic rivals Elaine Marshall and Ken Lewis more than criticizing Burr.
And even setting aside whether selling military titles is appropriate, Burr’s fundraising letter is surprisingly vitriolic. It might remind some folks of Jesse Helms’ campaign style. He jumps on Clinton’s “ultra-liberal agenda” including “moving women into combat positions.” He directly blames Clinton for the deaths of more than 3,000 Americans on 9-11. He talks about Obama’s “radical social agenda,” “the liberal media,” Obama’s “ultra-liberal rubber stamps in Congress” and Obama’s desire to “decimate our military forces.”
Ah, red meat. You’d think an incumbent wouldn’t need to resort to such breathless pleas.
Looks like it could be a fiery 2010 campaign.
- Posted by The Observer’s editorial board

Tuesday's Hot Topics

Each morning, the Observer Editorial Board meets to discuss which issues we should address, and what we might say about them. Here are some topics generating local buzz that might come up for consideration. Which ones get you riled up? What would YOU say about them? (For the complete stories, follow the links.)

From The Charlotte Observer:

Helms Rejects calls to resign from ABC

Mecklenburg County ABC Board chairman Parks Helms on Monday rejected a request from fellow ABC directors to resign "in the best interests of the Mecklenburg County ABC system."

"I have carefully considered your request that I resign as Chairman of the ABC Board so that you could '...begin to restore trust in the system and its management by the public,'" Helms wrote in an e-mail. 'I respectfully disagree... and will not resign."

But pressure for his resignation continued to rise Monday as Mecklenburg County commissioners chair Jennifer Roberts suggested he give it "serious consideration."

From The Charlotte Observer and New York magazine:

Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster

A new book paints stinging portraits of Democrat John Edwards as an "ego monster," his mistress as an eccentric flirt and his wife, Elizabeth, as a fiery presence whose private behavior was often at odds with her public image.

The depictions come from "Game Change," an insiders' look at the 2008 presidential campaign by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.

From The Wall Street Journal:

No Seat for Wall Street at Tea Party

Could all those populist pitchforks currently pointed at Washington be turned toward Wall Street instead?

That's the question that ought to worry Wall Street executives as they prepare to pay themselves nice bonuses this month, hard on the heels of a government bailout of the financial system, and amid continuing job losses around the rest of the country. Financial firms know they're in for heat on bonuses; they've already been chastised on national TV by President Barack Obama's chief economist.

The more searing heat, though, might come not from Washington's corridors of power but from the streets, where disjointed populist armies are starting to organize in the so-called tea-party movement.

It's a movement dominated for the moment by mistrust of big government and big government health-care plans. But it's also animated by mistrust of big institutions in general, and a tendency to see those institutions secretly working in tandem to the detriment of the little guy.

From Charlotte Observer:

Grant could help streetcar service

A new federal grant program could help Charlotte get the first 1.5-mile segment of its streetcar up and running, but would require the city to find up to $20 million to help pay for the project, city leaders said Monday.

A second grant program could help the city expand the express Sprinter bus service to routes on the city's east and west sides.


The federal grant program could pay for up to $25 million of the construction costs. City Manager Curt Walton said the remaining money probably would come from reallocating money from other parts of the city budget, but staff hasn't yet identified where.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Monday's Hot Topics

Here are some news topics generating local buzz this morning. Which gets you riled up? What would YOU say about them?

(For the complete stories, follow the links.)

From the Associated Press:
Road projects don't help unemployment

Ten months into President Barack Obama's first economic stimulus plan, a surge in spending on roads and bridges has had no effect on local unemployment and only barely helped the beleaguered construction industry, an Associated Press analysis has found.

Spend a lot or spend nothing at all, it didn't matter, the AP analysis showed: Local unemployment rates rose and fell regardless of how much stimulus money Washington poured out for transportation, raising questions about Obama's argument that more road money would address an "urgent need to accelerate job growth."

From The Meck Deck Blog:

The Marcus Jackson Cover Up

Let’s keep this simple. Either you support CMPD and the city of Charlotte releasing Marcus Jackson’s personnel file from his brief stint as a CMPD officer or you support a cover-up of the facts surrounding CMPD’s handling of Jackson’s tenure with the force.

. . . As it stands, the citizens of Charlotte do not know what to think. There have been multiple different accounts of how and when Jackson was suspended by CMPD prior to his December arrest on sexual assault charges. The truth is in the file.

There have been claims that Jackson’s suspension(s) was/were reduced by CMPD brass, possibly by Chief Rodney Monroe himself. The truth is in the file.

From The Charlotte Observer:

Tightening the reins on ABC boards

North Carolina's patchwork system for selling liquor grew out of the days after prohibition, when the powers that be worried about controlling who could buy liquor.

Today's state leaders, from Gov. Bev Perdue to top legislators, say that what's needed now is tighter control over who is selling booze.

Local Alcoholic Beverage Control boards, which run the liquor stores across North Carolina, find themselves under state officials' magnifying glass because of embarrassing episodes involving boards on opposite sides of the state: a lavish dinner for local ABC board members in Charlotte paid for by a liquor company and eye-popping salaries for top ABC administrators in Wilmington.

In the most immediate response, Perdue plans to ask the 163 local boards to agree to the ban on gifts and tighter ethics rules that she has imposed on state agencies under her control. She has also commissioned a special budget reform task force that is looking at more fundamental changes in the system and installed a new alcohol chief at the state level with directions to rein in the local boards.

Friday, January 8, 2010

N.C. parks boomed with business in 2009

If you visited a North Carolina state park last year, you're in good company. You helped set a record of 14.16 million visits, a jump of 13 percent over the previous year, according to the N.C. Divison of Parks and Recreation. That was up 5 percent from the previous record set in 2007.

A press release from the state says that over the past 25 years, the state parks system has seen a dramatic 238 percent increase in visitation. In 1984, 5.9 million people visited state parks and state recreation areas.

“It’s obvious North Carolinians and visitors to our state recognize the tremendous value our state parks offer in terms of affordable family experiences and respite from a difficult economy,” said Gov. Bev Perdue. “Every visitor to the state parks can also take pride in this state’s long history of conservation of its remarkable natural resources.”

The state parks system manages more than 208,000 acres, including 34 state parks and four state recreation areas and a system of state natural areas dedicated to natural resource protection.

Among the parks and recreation areas, 22 reported increases in attendance in 2009. Jockey’s Ridge State Park in Dare County reported the highest attendance at 1.4 million visits, an increase of 2 percent over last year.

Locally, Crowders Mountain State Park in Gaston County was among those with significant attendance increases. It had a 58 percent boost. Others included Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in Wayne County (42 percent), Dismal Swamp State Park in Camden County (59 percent), Jordan Lake State Recreation Area in Chatham County (52 percent) and Mount Mitchell State Park in Yancey County (77 percent).

What led to such a boon in attendance wasn't noted but Lewis Ledford, state parks director, said: “Beyond the quality recreation experiences, health benefits and exposure to the natural world, state parks also offer economic benefits to the local communities where they’re located. A 2008 economic study revealed the state parks system has an annual economic impact of more than $400 million, much of it in direct contributions to local tourism economies.”

If you visited a state park, tell us what attracted you.

The study by North Carolina State University’s Department of Parks Recreation and Tourism Management determined that tourist visitors spend an average $23.56 a day to enjoy the state parks. The complete study by the North Carolina State University's Department of Parks and Recreation and Tourism Management can be found at

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Gov. Perdue to deliver "State of the State like" speech in Charlotte

Gov. Bev Perdue will deliver a "State of the State like" speech in Charlotte next Wednesday.
Perdue will use the remarks to spell out where she thinks the state is now, where it needs to be and how she intends to get it there. That's basically a State of the State speech. But the governor gives the official SoS speech every two years, including last year.
Perdue will address a crowd at the Charlotte Chamber at 1 p.m., the first of three such speeches at chambers of commerce in the state. Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said Perdue will be "laying out her vision for 2010. We consider it a very significant speech, and it's State of the State like."
Perdue is expected to talk, among other things, about workforce development efforts that have been tested in Charlotte that she wants to expand statewide.

Her appearance here will continue a pattern of keeping Charlotte squarely in her focus. Campaigning against then Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory in 2008, Perdue vowed to be attentive to the Queen City. She has done so, committing to completing I-485 early, opening an office in Charlotte and visiting frequently.

-- Posted by Taylor Batten

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Yes, North Carolina, it's still warming.

"So much for global warming", is a popular line being sent to our Buzz column this week. But, as data, and the chart above, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research shows, just because record cold snaps keep occurring, doesn't mean that records aren't being made in the other direction as well.

As their senior scientist Gerald Meehl explains, "One of the messages of this study is that you still get cold days. Winter still comes. Even in a much warmer climate, we're setting record low minimum temperatures on a few days each year. But the odds are shifting so there's a much better chance of daily record highs instead of lows."

The report says, "If temperatures were not warming, the number of record daily highs and lows being set each year would be approximately even. Instead, for the period from January 1, 2000, to September 30, 2009, the continental United States set 291,237 record highs and 142,420 record lows, as the country experienced unusually mild winter weather and intense summer heat waves. "

Their report, complete with caveats, can be found here.

-- posted by Kevin Siers