Friday, July 29, 2011

CMS board illegally gathered? Well...

A citizen called foul at this week's meeting of the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum, a weekly gathering to discuss as it notes "issues of importance to the African American community in particular and the rest of Charlotte in general." The forum brings together an eclectic group of people, across economic lines and race. Political leaders are often in attendance.

So it wasn't surprising to find some Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members there this week, especially since the speaker was interim CMS Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh. Hattabaugh and school board chair Eric Davis fielded questions from the audience.

One of those questions was preceded by a statement that the gathering was an illegal school board meeting because five of the nine school board members were present. Sure enough, scattered in the audience were school board members Kaye McGarry, Tom Tate, Richard McElrath and Joyce Waddell. Along with Davis, that made a majority. But was it an illegal gathering?

We asked a lawyer, who said, well, technically, maybe. Why the squirrellyness? Well, the N.C. open meetings law doesn't pin it down as much as some observers would like.

The law, under Article 33C, does note that meetings of public officials where the "people's business" is being conducted must be open to the public (except under certain conditions where closed sessions are permitted) and that notice should be given of those meetings. And it does say that an "official" meeting is where a majority of the members are gathered.

But they must be gathered for "the purpose of conducting hearings, participating in deliberations, or voting upon or otherwise transacting the public business... of the public body."

It's clear the members weren't doing most of that but some could make a case maybe that there was some transaction of public business, given that school issues were being discussed. And it doesn't matter that not all of the members there participated in the discussion, the lawyer said.

Still, the law also says that "a social meeting or other informal assembly (if they all showed up at the symphony or party for instance) or gathering together of the members does not constitute an official meeting unless called or held to evade the spirit and purposes of this Article."

It didn't appear as if the school board members were trying to evade the law, the lawyer said. But if they were, at least one citizen wasn't about to let it go unnoticed.

Want to see a clip of Hattabaugh's talk at the Breakfast Forum? Go to

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Even Perdue asks for ID; why against voter ID?

In a press release Thursday, the Mecklenburg Republican Party said "House Democrats blocked an effort to override Governor Perdue’s recent veto of a bill that would have required North Carolina voters to present a government-issued photo I.D. in order to vote" eventhough "up to 75 percent of North Carolinians [favor] voter I.D. requirements... and yesterday’s blocked override attempt have left many North Carolinians questioning the Governor’s -- as well as her party’s -- stance on preventing voter fraud in the state."
"The aptly named 'Restore Confidence in Government' Act is intended to do just that by addressing a variety of issues that could lead to voter fraud in North Carolina, including outdated voter registration rolls," the press release said.

Then it quotes MeckGOP Vice-Chair Patricia Murray, who said, “You need to provide photo I.D. in almost every part of American life from purchasing alcohol, to boarding planes, to even purchasing certain cold medicines. According to a recent invitation from the Governor’s office, you even need a photo I.D. to meet Governor Perdue! It raises many questions as to why Democratic leaders are so adamant about undermining common sense ballot security measures.”

A copy of Perdue's invitation stating that all invited guests must show an ID is included with the press release. The invite notes that the invitation is non-transferrable.

MSNBC dubs Bev Perdue the "thin blue line"

Gov. Bev Perdue might have to get out her autograph book. She got lavish praise on a segment of MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" Wednesday night for stand against several pieces of legislation passed by the Republican-controlled N.C. legislature.

The clip began with Perdue's victory speech where she declared, "There's a new sheriff in town - and she knows how to do business."

Guest host Melissa Harris-Perry called the N.C. Democrat and her "giant" veto stamp, the "thin blue line" in the state against "uberconservatism." She said Perdue's numerous vetoes of legislation she feels is wrong for the state is a lesson to other politicians, even if some of the vetoes are overridden - N.C. Republicans have overridden several in a special session that just ended: "If you do stand up, it's on the record what these policies really mean, what they're designed to do."

Chris Fitzsimon of N.C. Policy Watch, a progressive think tank, was interviewed during the 11-minute segment. To view the segment, go to the link below:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

County Commission Throwdown: Cheerleader

There's no harder-working public official in Mecklenburg County than Jennifer Roberts. If there's a ribbon to be cut or an accomplish to laud, she'll be there with a smile and some good words. That enthusiasm is contagious, because Roberts seems to have a genuine love for the city and county in which she lives.

Cogdell hasn't had as many opportunities to do the same, but he'd be hard-pressed to be as thoughtful and sunny about Charlotte when the world pulls up to our driveway next summer.

Next up: Leader.

County Commission Throwdown: Leader

Roberts has shown an aversion to conflict that serves the role of board chair poorly. A few board members are peeved that she won't rein in the occasional long-windedness of commissioner Vilma Leake - "She is afraid of Vilma," fellow commissioner Bill James says of Roberts - but her worst errors have come in not demanding accountability from staff, specifically county manager Harry Jones.

An example: When the Observer revealed earlier this year that county staff was misleading commissioners and the public on a $99,000 payout to former mental health director Grayce Crockett, Roberts repeated the deception instead of standing up for transparency and truth.

Again, there's not much to go on yet with Cogdell. He's been shaky in meetings with the basic rules of order, but that can be learned. His most public leadership opportunity came when the board was forced to confront member Bill James in January for bigoted and inaccurate remarks about gays. Cogdell played a large role in a subsequent resolution pledging the commission's support for tolerance and diversity. We wish the resolution had more bite to it, but Cogdell has at least shown less squirminess in taking on the uncomfortable moments that confront the commission.

Next up: Bridge-builder.

County Commission Throwdown: Bridge-builder

Here's what the board chair battle boils down to: Which commissioner is more amenable to keeping taxes at or below their current rates? The county is facing potential cuts in federal assistance to the poor, thanks to the congressional supercommittee's failures, and that will put an additional squeeze on an already strained county budget. Democrats won't likely be tempted to raise revenue with taxes in an election year, but they'll probably not want to cut them much, either. Republicans want someone with whom they feel they can work on fiscal policy.

In his letter to commissioners, Cogdell said he believed the county tax rate needed a "further downward adjustment." Roberts says her position and Cogdell's are pretty much the same.

Who are Republicans more inclined to believe? Cogdell.

Roberts helped maintain Mecklenburg's fiscal health in the face of a recession by shunning debt and leading the way toward $150 million in spending cuts. But we wish she'd had a firmer grip on the county's wallet long before the economy grew harsh, and some Republican commissioners are skeptical about her willingness to drop taxes enough, if at all.

Also, they don't believe that Roberts is as willing to compromise on fiscal policy. "She puts in her mind a number that she wants," said commissioner Jim Pendergraph, "and there's no changing it."

Cogdell has wisely realized this, promising to give Republicans a greater voice in policy despite their 5-4 minority on the commission. That will be enough for them to cast their support for a new county commission chair next week.

Peter St. Onge

Friday, July 22, 2011

N.C. GOP blames Perdue, Obama for joblessness

The North Carolina Republican Party has its own take on the uptick in joblessness in North Carolina: It's the Democrats' fault - in particular, the fault of President Barack Obama and Gov. Bev Perdue.

In a press release, North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes released the following statement after today’s announcement from the Employment Security Commission that North Carolina’s unemployment rate increased to 9.9 percent.

“Today’s jobs report indicates Governor Perdue and President Obama’s anti-job policies have failed to put North Carolinians back to work. These job figures are a somber reminder that Governor Perdue and President Obama are nothing more than roadblocks to job-creation and we cannot afford another four more years of their failed economic policies.”

What do you think?

ESC News Release:


Lawmakers to blame for jump in jobless

The nonpartisan N.C. Budget and Tax Center, a project of the N.C. Justice Center, points a finger at the N.C. General Assembly for the rise in North Carolina's unemployment rate in June. The rate rose to 9.9 percent, largely driven by job losses in the public sector, the Center said. And this is expected to be just the first wave of the job loss impacts of state budget cuts, observers say.

“We can draw a direct line between this rise in unemployment and the loss of public sector jobs,” said Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the NC Budget & Tax Center. “As state job losses continue to mount, we will likely see more pronounced economic effects throughout North Carolina.”

The jobless rate rose two-tenths of a percentage point from May to June. During that time, 7,600 jobs were lost in state government.

The increase in unemployment claims was driven by the loss of jobs in local and state education.
North Carolina has lost 7.2 percent of its jobs since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. “We’re now seeing the short-term impacts of defunding vital public investments,” Sirota said. “Over the long term, the economic ripple effect from lost investments in education and job creation will become clear as well.”

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Foxx: Had we known, city might not have invested in NASCAR Hall

It sounds like Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and CRVA chief Tim Newman won't be sitting down for a beer anytime soon.

Foxx made it clear Tuesday that he's still pressing for Newman's ouster as CEO of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. The CRVA has been plagued with mismanagement, and its response in cleaning that up has made things worse.

Asked by the Observer whether the CRVA has done enough for Foxx to support releasing the $7.5 million the city has withheld, Foxx said the CRVA board has "gotten the memo" about putting in better fiscal controls. But, he said, "I still think there's a leadership question there."

"I've told them what I think and ... we'll see what they do," Foxx said.

He later said that he could not envision a scenario in which he would support full finding for the CRVA without a change in leadership.

Foxx cited the wildly optimistic attendance projections the CRVA put forth when trying to land the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

If those projections had been more accurate, "We might have made a different calculus on how much to invest in that facility or whether to invest at all," Foxx said.

The CRVA board should hear the mayor, and institute real change, from the top on down.

-- Posted by Taylor Batten for the Observer editorial board

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lawmakers, vetoes and an inflatable oil rig

Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, with his eye toward the N.C. governor's mansion, teamed up with the conservative Americans for Prosperity to urge lawmakers in special session to override Gov. Bev Perdue's, in his words, "jobs-killing" vetoes. “Governor Perdue cast a series of highly political vetoes of bi-partisan legislation designed to create jobs in North Carolina. With hundreds of thousands of North Carolina citizens out of work, Perdue vetoed job creating bills like the energy jobs act, the regulatory reform act, and medical malpractice reform,” he said.

But on Wednesday, at a rally in Raleigh, "Drill, baby, drill" could have been the mantra as a big red inflatable oil derrick took center stage at the AFP rally.

A blogger on The Progressive Pulse, a blog of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch, said "This is even better than when the group sought to cast stones at those who urge policy changes to address global climate change with a self-labeled 'Hot Air Tour.' The only thing that could have made the picture more apt is if the ralliers had taken a moment to kneel before the 'derrick' (or if, maybe, likenesses of Art Pope and the Koch brothers [conservative donors] had gushed out the top of the 'rig'). Doesn’t it feel as if the North Carolina political world grows more and more reminiscent of an episode from The Simpsons on a daily basis?"

N.C. voter changes: More unaffiliated, Repubs

The Civitas Institute, a conservative think-tank headquartered in Raleigh, has an intriguing graphic on its Carolina Transparency website about changes in voter registration in North Carolina. It notes that in the month of June, "North Carolina added 7,110 voters; Democrats lost 109 voters, Republicans picked up 1,690 and the Unaffiliated ranks grew by 5,310. Wake County saw the biggest gain adding 319 Democrats, 310 Republicans and 807 Unaffiliated voters to their county voter roster."

Mecklenburg saw the next highest increase with 891 new voters, 510 unaffiliated, 229 Democrats, 140 Republicans and 12 Libertarians. Among Mecklenburg voters, 45.6 percent are Democrats (274,481), 28.3 percent are Republicans (170,261) and 26 percent are unaffiliated (156,347).

Among Wake voters, 41.6 percent are Dems, 30.2 percent are Repubs and 27.9 percent are unaffiliated. Statewide, 44.3 percent are Dems, 31.5 percent Repubs and 24 percent unaffiliated.

Most new voters statewide (more than 5,000 of them) claimed the unaffiliated tag. Most growth in new voters came in urban areas, which ties in with new redistricting lines that were unveiled this week.

Check out other N.C. counties for their totals at

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hagan a heartbeat from presidency?

Anything is possible in politics, but Sen. Kay Hagan as vice president? A New Jersey political analyst suggests exactly that.
Alan Steinberg, who writes, predicted that Obama would name Joe Biden as his new secretary of state. Then, weeks before the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, he'd name Hagan as his running mate. Steinberg was a regional administrator at the EPA under President George W. Bush and is now on the faculty at Monmouth University.
His prediction is based primarily on the idea that Obama really, really, really needs to win North Carolina in 2012. That's true, but it's more than a stretch to say that means Obama will tap the state's junior senator to be on his ticket.
Hagan's hometown paper, the News & Record of Greensboro, kind of likes the idea. "Hagan would be a good veep ... " the paper says. "No doubt Hagan would look like a smart pick for him if he really does intend to shift Biden off the ticket. A very competent woman senator from the South could appeal to a lot of constituencies."
As for us? We know Sen. Hagan. We like Sen. Hagan. But we don't think she's ready to be president of the United States, as a vice president must be. She should stick to the Senate, and Steinberg should stick to something besides political predictions.

-- Posted by Taylor Batten, for the Observer editorial board

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Debt 'to the moon,' graphically speaking

The Progressive Pulse blog from N.C. Policy Watch, a project of the N.C. Justice Center, cued us in on a neat info-graphic on the debt ceiling on The Fiscal Times website (go to website and click on the "National Debt Ceiling" graphic below the Latest Opinions to the right on the page).

The graphic, as the Progressive Pulse notes, "puts the national debt ceiling in perspective for those of us who are non-mathematically inclined. By their calculations, if you were to convert the debt limit into dollar bills, and then stack them end to end, it would be four times as high as the distance between the earth’s surface and the moon."

It is a money trail that would wrap around the earth more than 39 times, The Fiscal Times said. Congress and President Obama must agree on a plan to raise the debt limit by August 2nd to avoid a government default.

The graphic provides a step-by-step climb to the present debt limit of $14.3 trillion reached in mid-May. Turns out the debt limit grew substantially during the years George W. Bush was in the Oval office. Republicans weren't so reluctant then to give the OK to raise the ceiling.

In 2001, the limit was $5.95 trillion. By 2004, after the Bush tax cuts took effect, it was $7.38 trillion. It was $8.18 trillion in November of 2004 as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan got under way. It was $11.31 trillion in October of 2008 as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, famously known as TARP, began.

The month after Barack Obama was sworn in as president, Feb. 17, 2009, the debt limit was set at $12.10 trillion dollars. It was $14.29 trillion in Feb. of 2010 where it stands today.

Friday, July 1, 2011

N.C. eighth graders unlikely college grads?

You probably missed it but a whole slew of education leaders, both state and national, were meeting in Pinehurst on Monday. They were in town for the annual meeting of the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and were discussing ways to boost the readiness of students for college and careers. Educators and lawmakers from 16 states were represented.

Gov. Bev Perdue, elected last year as SREB chair, presided over the gathering where troubling news was revealed about North Carolina and some other SREB states. Data collected in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that 8th graders in North Carolina and 10 other states in the 16 state region were less likely to be proficient in reading than in the nation as a whole. Also, data showed that only a quarter of eighth graders are projected to graduate from a two- or four-year college.

Perdue stressed that middle school is the critical link to getting more students to graduate from high school, and to be successful after they graduate. "We need conversations.. about the importance of middle school and the difference a really good experience can make in a student's life. These conversations have to occur at the school board level, with parents and across the business community. "

The report focused on the need to improve reading and writing skills. It also urged that middle schoolers have more opportunities to discover an interest in and aptitude for math and science. The group also talked about adding transitional courses in the senior year of high school to better prepare students for postsecondary work. To view the complete presentation, click here.