Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The inaugural Mayoral Power Rankings

(Updated, May 2) Anthony Foxx has decided not to seek a third term as Charlotte mayor so he can spend more time with family. Looks like he'll have to do so in Washington, as Secretary of Transportation. Good for him.

That means Charlotte will elect a new mayor in November, and the jostling has begun. One candidate, Republican Edwin Peacock, already has declared. One possible candidate already has said he won't support another possible candidate for interim mayor. Game on.

Who will be celebrating on Election Night? Your Charlotte Observer editorial board is here for you with our Mayoral Power Rankings - the candidates we think have the best shot to be Charlotte's 56th mayor. (The 55th, an interim, will be appointed by the City Council if/when Foxx is confirmed for transportation secretary.)

The caveats: These are not endorsements. They're not necessarily who we think should have the best chance in November. Expect the list to change as folks decide they want in or out of the race, and as the campaign heats up.

Also, tell us your thoughts. Who'd we leave out? Who should be ranked higher or lower?

The inaugural rankings (updated, May 2):

1. Dan Clodfelter - D: Longtime state senator has crossover appeal, but "expanding the sales tax" isn't a great platform these days. If a white male can still win the job in Charlotte, he's the one.
2. Edwin Peacock - R: The highest ranking Republican and a former City Council member. Also has crossover appeal, but would it have killed him to wait a week to declare? 
3. Becky Carney - D: State rep and former county commission vice chairman has grassroots standing and support. Would be a force with the female vote, and many males, too.
4. Patrick Cannon - D: Mayor pro-tem has been waiting for this opportunity. Has Graham's strengths, but more controversial.
5. Malcolm Graham - D: State senator and former City Council member would prefer Mel Watt's congressional seat, but that's if Watt is approved for the Federal Housing Finance Agency. If he decides on mayor instead, Graham has strong name recognition - at least among older voters - and an extensive network of support. 
6. John Lassiter - R: Smart and earnest former councilman. If he decides to run, he shoots up this list. But he probably won't.
7. Michael Barnes - D: If City Council member runs, he'll regret saying this about the homeless in 2012: "I have no interest in trying to fix problems that are unfixable." 
8. David Howard - D: City Council member is still relatively new to Charlotte political scene. But so was the guy who’s mayor now.
9. Eric Davis – I: Former school board chairman could be formidable, but no one suggests he’s running.
10. Jennifer Roberts - D: Strong name recognition but tells the O she’d only consider the interim job. Rocky finish as county commission chair.
Others receiving votes: Former City Council member Pat Mumford, City Council member Andy Dulin, former county commissioner Harold Cogdell, school board member Tim Morgan.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Does Foxx have the chops to be transportation secretary?

With all the buzz swirling about Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx potentially being named U.S. secretary of transportation, I wondered: How do Foxx's transportation credentials measure up?

He has been mayor for a little over three years and was a City Council member for four years before that. Those roles have exposed him to local transportation issues, but I wouldn't think they'd make him a national expert on the topic.

Turns out, you don't really have to be a transportation expert to be transportation secretary. By my count, fewer than half of the country's 16 secretaries (the post was created in 1966) had significant transportation expertise when they were appointed.

Their experience runs from a lot to almost none. Mary Peters, who served in the role under President George W. Bush, had worked in the Arizona DOT for years before becoming its director. She then served as the Federal Highway Administration chief before Bush named her to his cabinet.

On the other end of the spectrum, William Thaddeus Coleman Jr. was a well-connected lawyer and an NAACP leader who had various roles in government when President Gerald Ford named him secretary.

Foxx's transportation resume would be thin for the job. But maybe a smart guy surrounded by strong managers could fill the role well. After all, had you heard of Mary Peters before now?

-- Taylor Batten


Barbara Bush: We've had enough Bushes

The 2016 presidential election could be a showdown between the two most prominent U.S. political families of the past quarter-century: Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush.

But not if former First Lady Barbara Bush has anything to say about it.

The Today show's Matt Lauer this morning asked Mrs. Bush if she would like to see her younger son run.

"He's by far the best qualified man, but no. I really don't," she said. "It's a great country, there are a lot of great families. It's not just four families or whatever. There are other people out there that are very qualified and we've had enough Bushes."

That sound you're hearing may be Marco Rubio exhaling.

Former First Lady Laura Bush, former President George W. Bush's wife, answered a little differently: "Sure, he'd be terrific. He'd be a wonderful president. But who knows? We don't know and we're just letting him decide."

Jeb's brother, the former president, is hoping he does run.

“He’d be a marvelous candidate if he chooses to do so. He doesn’t need my counsel ’cause he knows what it is, which is ‘run,’ ” the former president told ABC’s Diane Sawyer this week.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Public to N.C. politicians: You pee first

It's a little indelicate but the folks at Action NC want to make a point. They want you to send a pee cup to your legislator. The, ah, urine receptacle aims to "send a strong message to lawmakers" about a bill the N.C. Senate passed to require all welfare recipients to take a drug test before they can get benefits.

The proposal, which passed the Senate Monday on a party line vote - only one Democrat voted for it and no Republicans voted against it,would require that those applying for Work First benefits pay first for a drug test. If they pass the drug test, the $100 costs would be reimbursed. If they fail, they wouldn't get the money back nor get benefits for at least a year when they can reapply.

Action NC, a grassroots community organization focused on helping low and moderate income residents, called the idea a "political stunt." They noted that by the state's own estimates, the plan is not likely to save a dime on catching welfare recipients doing drugs - studies show they are no more likely than people not on welfare to engage in that activity - and it will cost at least $2 million to implement.

"One good political stunt deserves another," the group noted - thus, the pee cup.
"You can send a pee cup to your State Senator with a small $8 donation to Action NC. We will tell the N.C. General Assembly that if they are going to require drug tests for North Carolina residents, then they should pee first."

On Monday, Democratic state Sen. Gladys Robinson tried to do that when she introduced an amendment that would require drug tests for lawmakers, the governor and cabinet secretaries. Makes sense. They're on the public dole too. But GOP state Sen. Tom Apodaca nixed that using a substitute amendment as a parliamentary maneuver to kill the proposal.

Democratic Sen. Martin Nesbitt made sure lawmakers and the public listening in knew what was happening: "The substitute amendment is offered to have the effect of killing the other amendment. You need to know that before you vote because you'll be killing the one that requires a drug test of the leaders of this state since we want to require it for the followers of this state. And we seem to be getting into a situation where we're kind of above the people."

Do tell.

This unwise idea came up a couple of years ago when House Speaker Thom Tillis was overheard suggesting it. We said then that the plan was costly, wasteful and probably illegal. The only people likely to benefit from such an idea are drug-testing companies.

The real losers could be children of people who need public assistance, many of them children of middle-income parents, who in this depressed economy, have had to ask for state aid. Many of these families might not be able to come up with the $100 cost to do the test, or might struggle mightilty to get it while their families go without other necessities. And even if their parents do test positive for drug use, is it really humane for their children to be penalized for it? Isn't it better to get the parents into treatment than to cut off benefits to needy kids?

Lawmakers should rethink this idea.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Wrong! Don't leave Buzz behind - Bring it back!

A lot of people have been buzzing - even fuming - about Robert Kutrow's post on O-Pinion last week that the Charlotte Bobcats should "Leave the Buzz Behind" rather than pursue a potentially costly change to its NBA name from Bobcats back to the Hornets, the name of its first NBA franchise. Said Kutrow, 19, a student at UNC Chapel Hil, and Myers Park High grad: "An NBA franchise based on a nostalgic cultural appeal is not a functional business model.... Our loyalty to Charlotte basketball, whatever it may be called, should be rooted to a sense of pride in place rather than a set of brash, 90s colors and a logo. We don’t need to be called the Hornets to play like a hornet’s nest of rebellion."

I beg to disagree, said reader Andrew Collins, a 31-year-old citizen from Wilmington, who graduated from UNCC in 2004, is now a landscape architect. Here's his rebuttal.

The Hive is Real

I am glad the Charlotte Bobcats are doing their due diligence on a potential name change back to the
Charlotte Hornets. As a corporate entity they should be. But the argument that marketing figures and
profit margins should determine a city’s identity only grazes the target.

In the era where “corporations are people” and so-called social media is hijacked by a cadre advertisers
and companies seeking to influence every decision an individual makes, sports serves as a release from
the burden of modern day life. An emotional high of joy and sorrow that ebbs and flows with the teams
of the city.

Sporting events are all about the fans, of actual people supporting a team that represents them. This is
why teams take the name of a place, of a city, of a culture. Fans show up for the swing of emotions, not
for the $10 hot dogs, or the 2-minute dance routines. The corporate suites are there only because the
diehards bring life to the event. We show up to be moved, to rise to our feet in pure joy, elation and
unbridled emotion. The human element still counts for something.

The Hornets name connects to this city; it represents a well documented identity for the people of
Charlotte. This is evidenced by the grass-roots movement, by the sheer fact that we feel compelled to
write op-ed pieces and compelled to respond in kind. Our very act of conversation of the topic is proof
that the feeling and emotion about the Hornets name is genuine.

The point is that as humans we actually care about our identity, and about our city. About where we
came from, who we are, and where we are going. What would the Browns be without Cleveland? The
Red Sox without Boston? Why should the city of Charlotte sell out to un-feeling marketers and cold
numbers? We don’t have to be Baltimore’s Colts, or Brooklyn’s Dodgers. We have a choice in the
matter. Is $12 million worth your soul? Is it worth the soul of a city?

Sports and life exist to be enjoyed and to be meaningful. This is why we play sports and why we
watch games. This is why we shuttle our kids to t-ball games, why we flip on the television on Sunday
afternoons, and why we gather every two years as a nation to watch our fellow citizens, ourselves,
compete in the Olympics. The name Hornets symbolizes the people of Charlotte; it is the image in the
city’s mirror. And that is priceless.

N.C. lawmaker: 'Cities have too much power'

So, did GOP N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca, chair of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, let the cat out of the bag last week? In answer to questions about a slew of bills taking away assets or control from cities in the state, including one bill transferring Asheville's water system to a regional authority, he told the Asheville Citizen Times that the legislature was to a degree correcting decades of a city-centric power structure.

"There definitely is a feeling that the cities have too much power, and many times they have too much power over the county. I think what you're seeing more of, especially in Buncombe County and a few other places, is we're trying to give the county more of a say in what happens. I think cities have been given carte blanche over the past 25, 30 years, and now they're seeing some push back." Apodaca, of Henderson County, also said: "History shows you can't trust Asheville City Council."

This is a more aggressive anti-city sentiment than expressed by some other leaders in the Republican-dominated legislature. Observer political reporter quoted Mecklenburg legislators Ruth Samuelson and House Speaker Tom Tillis recently as chalking up legislative moves to a difference in philosophy. From Samuelson: "On the one hand we believe in local government. On the other hand we might be more sensitive to over-reach(ing) at the local level." From Tillis: "A part of the conflict is a different world view of the role of government, We're putting more power in the hands of the individual property owner."

That's also the take from Matthews Republican Rep. Bill Brawley, sponsor of a bill to seize the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from the city of Charlotte and turn it over to a regional authority: "We are changing the management of publicly owned assets from people who use them for the benefit of a few to protect the rights of many."

But in N.C. cities, some leaders see lawmakers targeting cities, intentionally taking away their powers and ability to govern. Asheville leaders are especially feeling the sting. In the last legislative session, lawmakers took their airport and transferred it to a regional authority. The move, local officials say, could cost them millions. The city is projecting a potential $4.9 million deficit from legislative actions in the next fiscal year, including $1.9 million lost from putting the water system into the hands of a regional authority. Bills introduced and with a good chance of passing this year would not only shift the water system, they would prevent annexations by municipalities, shift control of the one-mile boundary of city limits to the county, and limit cities from enacting stricter development laws than the state has.

Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy laments: "This is not the time to dismantle our city. It seems like a lot of these issues are things based on what happened 15 or 20 years ago. At some point, they need to wake up and realize what they're doing is not just impacting city officials, these are citizens they're impacting."

This is the same kind of lament we've heard from Charlotte leaders over the airport authority shift. Last week, tensions over that legislative move and the involvement of nearby counties in pushing or supporting it led some Charlotte council members to question city support for regional or other counties' efforts.
Asheville officials say they might have no recourse but to sue the state over wresting control away of their water system without compensation - an asset they've invested in.

A report last week from the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, a nonpartisan think tank, said "suprisingly, the 2013 legislature is involving itself in many issues traditionally left to local governments... Traditionally, local issues would be decided in consultation between local government officials and the local delegation of all legislators representing the county. This year, state legislators are involving themselves in local issues outside of the counties they represent."

This is surprising and also dismaying. Not only are these kind of legislative actions dipping into local affairs unnecessarily and inappropriately but some of these proposals would mute the power of local residents' votes for local leaders.  They impose state will of state leaders over that of leaders local residents elect to make such local decisions. That's dangerous and not democratic.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Leave the Buzz behind

Robert Kutrow of Charlotte wrote for the Hoofprint at Myers Park High School until graduating and enrolling at UNC Chapel Hill. He still follows events in Charlotte closely. Kutrow, 19, offered this perspective on the NBA Bobcats considering whether to reclaim the old Charlotte Hornets name.

            On Jan. 24, the New Orleans Hornets announced a campaign to rebrand the franchise as the New Orleans Pelicans, slated to begin this upcoming offseason. The announcement kindled a frenzy of speculation among Hornets-loyal Charlotteans regarding a potential homecoming for their beloved mascot, Hugo Hornet, and his colors.

An online campaign advocating for the return of the Hornets entitled “We Beelieve: Bring Back the Buzz,” proliferated quickly through social media. It has garnered more than 18,000 likes on Facebook, especially among those 25 to 34 -- the generation raised on Hornets basketball.

            During the Bobcats’ meeting with season ticket holders this past Tuesday, many Beelievers expected the rebrand announcement they have anxiously awaited, only to hear NBA commissioner-to-be Adam Silver say that the rebrand process would take 18 months at minimum. However, Silver was photographed holding a We Beelieve sticker following the conference, and seemed supportive of the movement, according to the group’s Facebook page.

            Retro Charlotte Hornets merchandise is certainly en vogue at the moment; Cam Newton was spotted donning a Hornets hat while seated next to Michael Jordan at a Bobcats game, and even tween sensation Justin Bieber has been photographed in Hornets apparel. The “throwback” gear is synonymous with 90’s fashion: a vivid purple and teal color scheme, snapback hats, and Starter jackets.

            But an NBA franchise based on a nostalgic cultural appeal is not a functional business model. The expected cost of a rebrand for Charlotte’s basketball team could be up to $12 million, with no real guarantee of a revenue boost for the team. The Bobcats have conducted market research on the subject, but so far this has not been released to the public.

An initial spike in ticket sales and merchandise could be expected, but continued interest and sales is a gamble. What many advocating for this change seem to forget is that changing the colors and the uniforms will not change the skill level or entertainment value of the team that set the record for the all-time worst season just last year. Fan interest would wane as the “Buzz” wore off and the team continued to perform poorly.

Perhaps we should allow the Charlotte Hornets logo and colors to stand as a memento to a golden period in our city’s history. The acquisition of our first major professional sports franchise marked the crossing of a threshold from one of America’s up-and-comers and into the big time. Through the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia, we should remember the success and diehard fan base of the Hornets as the result of a city in a growth spurt. Let’s not tarnish this memory by applying those revered jerseys to a team playing so far beneath par.

Further, our loyalty to Charlotte basketball, whatever it may be called, should be rooted to a sense of pride in place rather than a set of brash, 90s colors and a logo. We don’t need to be called the Hornets to play like a hornet’s nest of rebellion.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

McCrory ranked as nation's 9th most conservative governor

Gov. Pat McCrory, widely regarded as a centrist during his 14 years as Charlotte's mayor, is the ninth most conservative governor in the country, an analysis by the New York Times' Nate Silver finds.

Silver -- a statistician of some renown -- uses a formula to give each of the nation's 30 Republican governors a score. The score is based on the governor's public statements, the identity of his donors and, for those who have served in Congress, his congressional voting record.

McCrory scores among the least conservative on donors' identity. But Silver gives him the most conservative score of the 30 for public statements. The result: McCrory rates as more conservative than Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona and many others.

Silver finds that of the 10 most conservative governors, McCrory is the second most popular (with a net approval rating of +14), behind only Virginia's Bob McDonnell. That makes McCrory a bit of an anomaly: Generally, the Republican governors whom Silver lists as more moderate have higher approval ratings than those he ranks more conservative.

Silver uses advanced statistics to show what is common sense: A governor can't be too far out of step with his state's residents and remain popular. There are exceptions -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ranks third among conservative governors yet is generally popular in his liberal-leaning state. But in a state as evenly divided as North Carolina, it will be interesting to see if McCrory attempts to moderate his conservatism, and what happens to his popularity if he does or doesn't.

Silver doesn't specify which of McCrory's comments earned him such a conservative rating. But that part of his analysis is based on the public statements gathered by a website called www.ontheissues.org. That site lists McCrory's stances on various issues, and they don't strike us as unusually conservative. It also ranks McCrory's social and economic views, and labels him a "moderate libertarian conservative."

There's also nothing in Silver's rankings based on what a governor actually does (if they haven't served in Congress), as opposed to what he says or where he gets his money. So we take the whole thing with a shaker of salt. But McCrory's approach in a divided state will be interesting to watch. After all, his reelection campaign starts in less than three years!

Taylor Batten

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A park along the rails? Call it Charlotte's Rail Trail

Ever been to the High Line, the New York City public park built on a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad spur? Envision something similar here.

NYC High Line rail park garden
It's what Charlotte Center City Partners has already envisioned and will unveil at the Center City Vision Awards Thursday night. Charlotte's Rail Trail will be a linear park along the Blue Line of the city's light rail system.

It's an intriguing idea with lots of promise, though there are still several unknowns including the costs. It will take advantage of the existing walkway alongside the Blue Line, and aims - with the help of supporters - to transform the trail into a network of gardens, public art, and places to play and congregate. The 3.3-mile trail would connect communities and neighborhoods from Sedgefield, Southside Park, Brookhill, Dilworth, Wilmore and South End to uptown.

Charlotte's Rail Trail wouldn't be exactly like NYC's High Line, located on Manhattan's lower west side. It's longer than that 1-mile park and promoters say inspiration is coming from a number of other rail parks. But there's a lot about the High Line to like and emulate. It was developed in stages, just like promoters suggest here and its public landscape was created with guidance from a diverse community of supporters - also the idea here.

And High Line is visually engaging, as you can see from the accompanying photo. We like the idea, and the value Charlotte Center City Partners says it could bring - unique recreational space for seven neighborhoods along the trail and others across Charlotte who will flock to it; a destination for tourists and other visitors to experience the authentic character of Charlotte and its people; support for small businesses and easier access for shoppers to galleries, shops and restaurants; and strengthening cultural experiences in the city.

Sounds good. We're eager for Center City Partners to learn more about cost and who will pay for it.

Editor's note: Observer Publisher Ann Caulkins serves on the Center City Partners board. She was not involved with the reporting or writing of this piece.

Mark Sanford: Man with no boundaries?

The caricature of former S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford keeps getting broader. The man with no boundaries allegedly crossed another he shouldn't have, according to ex-wife Jenny. She says he trespassed at her home in violation of their divorce settlement. A judge has set a hearing two days after he stands for election to a vacant congressional seat against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch and Green Party candidate Eugene Platt.

Sanford, of course, is publicly documented for having a trouble with boundaries. He stretched the boundaries of truth in explaining a tryst with his Argentine mistress, now fiancee, while governor of South Carolina and still married to Jenny Sanford. He said he was hiking the Appalachian Trail while actually in Argentina wooing his illicit amour. All that would have been his business alone if not for the fact he was chief executive of a state, still on the clock and nobody knew how to reach him if needed.

He also walked all over the truth while underwriting his affair. The famously fiscally conservative governor had no trouble dipping into state coffers for travel expenses to South America to rendezvous with his lover. Before leaving office he avoided impeachment but was censured by the Legislature over those expenses and paid the largest ethics fine ever in S.C. history - $70,000.

Marital fidelity? He of course zipped right across that boundary.

And he's had mind boggling trouble with the boundary of propriety as a divorcee. Sanford asked ex-wife Jenny to run his campaign for Congress, seeing as how she was so helpful to his former political campaigns when they were married. She declined.

All of this might mean little to S.C. voters come election day next month. Sanford obliterated his Republican rival to get the GOP nod earlier this month. The district has elected Republicans in the last several outings.

But voters might want to remember his trouble with boundaries. Jenny Sanford's complaint was filed in February. In it, her lawyer said the ex-governor has "entered into a pattern of entering onto plaintiff's property. Plaintiff has informed defendant on a number of occasions that this behavior is in violation of the court's order and has demanded that it not occur again." Jenny Sanford said: "I am doing my best not to get in the way of his race (for Congress)... I want him to sink or swim on his own. For the sake of my children I'm trying my best not to get in the way, but he makes things difficult for me when he does things like trespassing."

Voters have to wonder what other boundaries he might have difficulty observing if elected to the House.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What the Boston explosions can't take away

I ran Boston once, about 20 years ago. I'd covered the marathon as a sports columnist the year before for my newspaper in Connecticut, and I'd watched people young and old, skinny and large, taking those joyful steps over the finish line on Boylston. I vowed to readers, in print, that I'd be one of them the next year.

I ran as a back of the packer, one of the thousands of runners who don't qualify but show up anyway each year. One of the great things about Boston is that it doesn't matter, even if the race officially frowns upon it. We got the same nods and smiles from race officials at the start in Hopkinton, the same cheers from the families on the front lawns in the towns on the route, the same sweet oranges and sweeter smiles from the little boys and girls.

When I suffered a muscle tear in my foot at about mile 16, the driver of the bus collecting injured runners treated me as if I were wearing an official runner's bib. Same for the professionals in the medical tent, just past the finish line, where I got my foot treated, a crinkly silver blanket for my shoulders, and a piece of fruit for the limp home.

I thought about that spirit yesterday as I watched the video loop of booms and blood. I thought about how the people of Boston came together each year to celebrate this event, how they did so by participating, by sharing, by welcoming everyone who wanted to experience it with them. 

Three people are dead now, with maybe more to come. Today we transition into sadness. We hear about the lives of the lost. We see family members, their faces showing the colder and emptier years ahead. And the spirit of this marathon - will it be lost, too? It will be different, for sure, next year. Defiant, maybe wary, but united. It's what they do. It's what we do.


What are others saying about Boston? 

Boston Globe columnist Scott Lehigh says the city will not cower.

Globe columnist Elizabeth Comeau says she will run Boston next year. 

The New York Times said Boston's celebration was shattered, but not broken.  

The Chicago Tribune says each attack makes us more resilient.

Sports Illustrated's S.L. Price says Boston joins a growing list of suffering cities

From Sports on Earth writer and former Observer columnist Tommy Tomlinson: runners will keep running.

Peter St. Onge

Monday, April 15, 2013

Burr scorched for doing the right thing

Last week, we urged U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina to back off his pledge to use a filibuster to stop Senate debate of tighter background checks on guns. Burr was one of 13 senators to sign a letter opposing legislation "that would infringe on the American people's constitutional right to bear arms." The letter promised a filibuster of any bill that did so. 

But when a vote came to the floor last week to allow consideration of a background checks bill sponsored by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Burr was one of 16 Republicans to vote for allowing debate on the measure. (No, we're not taking credit for his change of heart.)

To be clear, Burr wasn't voting for the bill, which would expand background checks to include firearms sold at gun shows, as well as online sales. He was merely voting to allow senators to discuss this issue so important to our country. Last we checked, that's what we send members of Congress to Washington to do.

So it's sad, but unsurprising, that Burr is now getting hammered for doing the right thing.

The pro-gun group Grass Roots North Carolina plans a protest tomorrow at 10 a.m. at Burr's office in Winston-Salem. The group's news release, sent to us this morning by president Paul Valone, calls Burr a "sellout." The GRNC web site says, incorrectly, that Burr and the other 15 "voted for universal gun legislation." They should vote for the Manchin-Toomey bill, but they haven't, and Burr is more than likely to vote against it when debate is finished.

That hasn't stopped the conservative blogosphere from also trashing Burr and the other 15.
The vitriol is enough to make you understand why North Carolina's Sen. Kay Hagan, who faces a tough reelection battle next year, hasn't given a clear signal about her feelings on the bill. (Update: Hagan's office sent over a statement emphasizing her support for the Manchin-Toomey bill, but not a ban of assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.)

We'd bet, however, that North Carolina voters are like the 90 percent of Americans who have told pollsters again and again that they support expanded background checks for gun purchases. We'd guess that number would be even higher if Americans were asked whether the topic is worthy of congressional debate. Burr should be applauded for voting to allow it.

Peter St. Onge


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ron Carlee sleeping well, thank you

New Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee says there's no single thing about his job that keeps him up at night.

"Part of it may be that I don't know what I don't know," he says.

More likely is that he thinks Charlotte is "in a good place."

Carlee met with the editorial board, along with Observer reporters and editors, Tuesday afternoon. The get-to-know-you meeting covered a variety of current city issues, but it also marked a deliberate change in approach from the city. Carlee, a thoughtful and engaging guy, was hired in part to be thoughtful and engaging with the public and media - a contrast to the smart but reticent Curt Walton.

Carlee, a former manager of Arlington County, Va., was appropriately optimistic Tuesday about his new job and home. He loves Charlotte. He loves uptown, where he lives. He thinks that city government here is not nearly as dysfunctional as some might think. "Most cities in America would take Charlotte in a heartbeat, on its worst day," he said of the political climate. In other places, he said, "you've got people who can never work together, fighting and screaming, who can never balance a budget."

As for Charlotte's issues? Carlee said he needs to come up with recommendations for the city's capital improvement plan within the next couple of weeks, which may present a problem with one of the most controversial elements of previous budgets: an extension of Charlotte's streetcar.

Carlee is clearly a fan of streetcars and their economic development potential, but he's waiting on an upcoming report on the impact of Charlotte's extension. If he doesn't have enough time to study the report, he might request that the streetcar be taken out of the new CIP. That won't be, he said, "a backdoor way of killing it." 

Carlee also said Charlotte hasn't given up on keeping control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, but he acknowledged the likelihood that the state would pass legislation creating a regional airport authority. Carlee clearly isn't a fan of such authorities, which he says can be prone to micromanaging and other inefficiencies.

He said US Airways should have a say in the successor to 72-year-old airport director Jerry Orr. The airport's "bread and butter" is as a hub of the airline, he said. "We need this to be an airport they hold most dear in their system."

On the Carolina Panthers, Carlee said he was disappointed that the state "did not come forward." He's hopeful a new stadium renovation agreement can be worked out between the team and Charlotte, which is not likely to be able to come up with the $144 million it initially pledged, the Observer reported today.

"There are a lot of cities that really want an NFL franchise and will do anything to get them, and one of the most available teams is ours," he said.

The question for Charlotte: "Do we want to keep them or not?"

Peter St. Onge

A teacher quits: 'My profession is being demeaned'

The voices against school reform are not quieting. In Charlotte tonight, a citizens group will attend the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board meeting dressed as zombies to protest the use of standardized testing to evaluate teachers and schools. And in New York, a high school teacher laments in a resignation letter gone viral: "I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me."

First, Charlotte: Mecklenburg Acts, led by the thoughtful Pam Grundy and Carol Sawyer, doesn't like the dozens of new exams North Carolina is rolling out this year. The group doesn't really like much at all about high-stakes testing, which it believes does great damage to schools and students. Last year, Mecklenburg Acts backed a national resolution that called on school boards to build evaluation systems that didn't require a role for standardized tests.

Our view on this: Like Grundy and Sawyer, we think that CMS has sometimes splashed around too much in the testing pool, and like CMS superintendent Heath Morrison, we're wary about the introduction of too many new N.C. tests.

But although our schools are filled with fine teachers, there also are too many instructors and schools that don't provide the education our children deserve. Testing, when combined with other types of evaluation, helps shine a light on those struggling classrooms, and it gives school systems and educators something measurable to note and improve. Deemphasizing those tests too much does a disservice to families who wouldn't otherwise know that their schools and teachers are not doing the job they should.

Do teachers teach to the test? Yes. But those tests provide a strong representation of what we want our children to learn, and the best teachers understand that they have time for other types of engaging instruction, too. You don't have to look hard to find examples of that throughout CMS.

Still, great teachers understandably resist the limitations that standardizing testing puts on their creativity. One such teacher in New York quit recently, and his resignation later below has prompted much education and media buzz. It's a cry from the classroom about the dangers of the reform culture - and a reminder of the elusive balance between nurturing the best of our educators and holding the worst accountable. Peter St. Onge      

Mr. Casey Barduhn, Superintendent
Westhill Central School District
400 Walberta Park Road
Syracuse, New York 13219

Dear Mr. Barduhn and Board of Education Members:

It is with the deepest regret that I must retire at the close of this school year, ending my more than twenty-seven years of service at Westhill on June 30, under the provisions of the 2012-15 contract. I assume that I will be eligible for any local or state incentives that may be offered prior to my date of actual retirement and I trust that I may return to the high school at some point as a substitute teacher.

As with Lincoln and Springfield, I have grown from a young to an old man here; my brother died while we were both employed here; my daughter was educated here, and I have been touched by and hope that I have touched hundreds of lives in my time here. I know that I have been fortunate to work with a small core of some of the finest students and educators on the planet.

I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation. With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that  “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.

A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian. This situation has been exacerbated by other actions of the administration, in either refusing to call open forum meetings to discuss these pressing issues, or by so constraining the time limits of such meetings that little more than a conveying of information could take place. This lack of leadership at every level has only served to produce confusion, a loss of confidence and a dramatic and rapid decaying of morale. The repercussions of these ill-conceived policies will be telling and shall resound to the detriment of education for years to come. The analogy that this process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair. Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children?

My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.
For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, “Words Matter” and “Ideas Matter”. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.

Sincerely and with regret,
Gerald J. Conti
Social Studies Department Leader
Cc: Doreen Bronchetti, Lee Roscoe
My little Zu.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

An official North Carolina state religion?

At first we thought this was an April Fool's joke. But WRAL filed its report on April 2, not April 1, so, sad to say, we are not making this up. Check out this lead of WRAL's story on a bill filed in North Carolina's legislature this week:

"A bill filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide."

The legislation from Reps. Harry Warren and Carl Ford, both Rowan County Republicans, declares that the states can decide how to apply the U.S. Constitution.

"Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion," the bill says. It adds: "... the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion."

The bill also says North Carolina will not recognize federal court rulings regarding the establishment of an official state religion.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution begins: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." That speaks to what a fundamental value freedom of religion was to the Founding Fathers.

Warren and Ford rely on the Tenth Amendment, which says powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states. WRAL points out that this tactic, known as nullification, was tried unsuccessfully to defy the Emancipation Proclamation.

We've seen some crazy things from this legislature, but House Joint Resolution 494 might take the cake. Wait a minute; now that we look more closely, we see the bill was filed on April 1. Surely it's an April Fool's prank after all.

-- Taylor Batten