Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Civil rights protesters taking the offensive in Charlotte

Back in September, N.C. Rep. Rodney Moore, D-Mecklenburg, spoke to Charlotte City Council members and asked them to consider enacting a local civil rights ordinance. Moore, who plans to introduce an anti-racial-profiling bill to the General Assembly this fall, has asked the council to consider supporting that effort by making the bill part of the city's 2015 legislative agenda.

During Monday's city council dinner meeting, Chief Rodney Monroe gave the police department's perspective on the issue. He and City Manager Ron Carlee said the city is already following many of the recommendations, which include not engaging in "arbitrary profiling" of citizens.

With outrage over the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases still simmering, Monday's meeting drew so many demonstrators that many of them couldn't find seats. The city's Twitter account posted a picture of some of the sign-carrying protesters. Also on Monday, students at Johnson C. Smith University blocked a busy intersection outside of their school. That followed the  "die-in" protesters staged in Davidson on Saturday.

It has been encouraging to see how peaceful the local protests have been, and how many young people they appear to have galvanized into action. Willie Ratchford, head of the Community Relations Committee, applauded the diversity and peacefulness of the local demonstrations. While many have been discouraged by the rancor and violence that have shaken Ferguson, Mo., and other cities, Ratchford said he sees the potential for civic good to emerge from it all.

"It is a moment that can absolutely lead to something better," he told the editorial board. "Nothing is more fundamental to us as Americans than to be able to protest if you feel you see an injustice. I think the protesters around the country are hoping we come up with something where people can understand one another better and we can get along better."

--Eric Frazier

Thursday, December 4, 2014

So NOW Hagan wants to go positive?

So U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan now says Democrats would have done better in last month's elections if only President Obama had been more outspoken about all the positive things Democrats have done. The economy has been improving for years, Hagan said, but "The president hasn't used the bully pulpit to get that message out in a way that resonates with people."

Embracing Obama? Getting out a positive message? If only Hagan and her supporters had thought of that before running millions of dollars of negative TV ads against Republican Thom Tillis. And wasn't that Hagan pointedly hitting Obama and not appearing on stage with him when he traveled to Charlotte for a veterans event in August?

Hagan now wishes Obama had been touting Democrats' achievements. But most North Carolinians know she kept Obama at arm's length until now and will forever remember the 2014 N.C. Senate campaign as being the most expensive, and one of the ugliest and most vapid, of their lifetimes.

If Hagan wanted Obama to tout his leadership, why did she have such a hard time doing so herself in the first video below? And if she wanted to accentuate the positive, why did she run ads about Tillis cutting education spending (video 2 below) and warning elderly voters that he's sure to cut Medicare (video 3)? Then there was the ad from the Senate Majority PAC on Hagan's behalf (video 4) saying that Tillis gave tax breaks to yacht and jet owners -- a claim that PolitiFact rated "False."

We didn't support Tillis' campaign, which was also primarily negative, but it rings hollow for Hagan to now long for a positive message from Obama when she distanced herself from him throughout the campaign and offered so little of that herself.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What UAB's football death means to UNC Charlotte

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte and University of Alabama-Birmingham have often been seen as sister schools, at least athletically. The former Conference USA mates have metro campuses in their state's largest city, and each has fought the commuter school image. Both have also experienced athletic success - mostly in basketball - but they defer in popularity and influence to their state's flagship universities.

Tuesday was a hard day at UAB. College president Ray Watts announced that the school's football program would be shuttered at the end of this season. It was a sad, emotional day, as grieving and angry football players confronted Watts and collapsed in the arms of a school chaplain.

Why did it happen? Students and alumni point to the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, which has long been less than supportive of UAB football. Many are convinced that one of those trustees, Paul Bryant, Jr., was getting payback for a 1991 letter that then-UAB athletic director Gene Bartow wrote to the NCAA about investigating the Alabama basketball program.

All of which could very well be true. But there also were financial causes for the football program's death. Like many universities and colleges - including some of the largest - the UAB football program needed the school's help to make the bottom line work. In an era of tighter academic funding, the school was forced to weigh football against other places the money could go, Watts said.

At UNC Charlotte, football is a new, very different thing right now. It's a valuable recruiting tool, an important part of student and alumni life. The football Niners are on an upward trajectory, with the Football Bowl Subdivision in the near-term plans and big victories in the long-term dreams.

UAB had some of those big victories once, but the death of the program is a reminder of the other possibilities out there for schools that don't reside in big-time athletic conferences. We could be seeing more UABs in the coming years, more college administrators looking at a tough budget landscape and calculating what value their football program brings.

That calculation is about to get less friendly for football. In August, the NCAA Board of Directors passed a measure that would allow the five biggest conferences - including the ACC and SEC - to change rules in recruiting, expenses, financial aid and other areas. The changes will likely allow these Power 5 schools to pay some student-athletes a stipend on top of their scholarships.

Non-Power 5 conferences can adopt the same changes, and many probably will at the start, because saying no would also mean saying goodbye to all the TV revenue that the big conferences bring for everyone. But going along with the changes will place an even greater burden on smaller schools with smaller athletic budgets.

It's inevitable that more schools will bow out of the football arms race. Some will compete on a lesser level, which is considerably less sexy than having a big-time college football program. That will bring about a whole new round of is-it-worth-it calculations.

Used to be that the answer was "Yes, of course it's worth it" - at least if you wanted to be seen as offering students the complete college experience. That's a lot of what drove UNC Charlotte's entry into football. But that entry also came with the prospect of big stadiums filled with big crowds for big Saturday games. As that reality becomes less accessible for many schools, leaders will have more justification to weigh the expense and hassle of football against its payoff. That's hard to imagine at UNC Charlotte, where football is all about possibilities right now. But that also was true - not so long ago - at UAB. 

Peter St. Onge

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Pat Cotham's superhero alter ego takes flight after chair vote

The Mecklenburg County commissioners, to no one's surprise, gave Trevor Fuller another year in the chairman's seat, dismissing a bid from controversial former chair Pat Cotham, the top vote-getter in the last election. Commissioner Bill James, not exactly a universally beloved figure in local politics, said on his Facebook page that the heavy doses of ridicule coming from the large pro-Pat and anti-Pat protesters in the audience was "not nice to watch."

Cotham introduced a dose of humor to the situation last night when she noticed the following photo on Twitter, created by the satirical group Charlotte Squawks, and posted it on her Facebook page:

Not sure what to call her superhero alter ego here -- BatCotham? PatWoman? the Dark Slight? (Get it? 'Cause she was slighted by the other...oh nevermind). Anyway, here's hoping it helps the board members share a laugh and move on to start finding common ground on the many pressing issues before them.

--Eric Frazier

Monday, December 1, 2014

Cotham's plea to be chair

Fellow Democrats have been rapping Mecklenburg County commissioner Pat Cotham for not asking for their vote for chairman. They dislike her and have no intention of voting for her tonight in any case, but they have complained that Cotham was campaigning to lead the board without actually asking them for their support.

Well, now she has. Sunday morning, Cotham sent a letter to the other commissioners asking for their vote for board chair. Cotham argued that voters "sent a clear and unequivocal message" on Election Day by giving her the most votes. They want her "no-nonsense leadership" style, she says. If commissioners give her the gavel, she promises to be "an inclusive leader who respects your voice."

Commissioners vote tonight. Every indication is that they will make Democrat Trevor Fuller, who finished third and did not win a single precinct, the chairman.

Here is Cotham's letter to commissioners:

Dear Fellow Commissioners and Commissioners-Elect:

I write today to ask you for your vote for Chair of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners.

On November 4th, the voters of this county sent a clear and unequivocal message.  Their overwhelming support for my candidacy reflects a mandate for my style of no-nonsense leadership – a leadership style that puts people ahead of party and policy ahead of power.

You are, of course, not formally bound by their vote of confidence.  But when it comes to choosing your Chair, the people’s voice should matter.  If the Board of County Commissioners were an appointed board it would make sense to vote among ourselves for a leader without considering the voice of anyone else.  However, our Board is elected not appointed so the clear message from the voters should be respected and not ignored.

It is no coincidence that my candidacy received such support at a time when voters are deeply frustrated with politics as usual.   Voters are hungry for elected officials who can put aside partisan politics and make the tough decisions that good government requires.  Families and business leaders want us to remember that they are paying the bills. They expect us – rightfully – to work together and show each other respect, even when we disagree on the issues or have personality clashes. 

They’ve seen me do just that.  They’ve seen me do my homework, make tough decisions, build relationships, watch out for their tax dollars, be visible in the community, work “across the aisle” and produce results.

If you honor me with the opportunity to serve as your Chair, I will be an inclusive leader who respects your voice, just as I respect the people’s voice.  You and I may disagree, but I will respect your opinion. The people are tired of bickering and unprofessional comments. I believe we are better than that.

 I will be an inclusive Chair, working with you, our community stakeholders, other governmental bodies (including our legislature), and our staff to solve the many challenges ahead and to move our county forward.  I will always listen to the people.

As your Chair, I will continue to be visible throughout our community, building the relationships that are critical to effective governance and progress.  I will ask the tough questions, without fear of the answers.  I will advocate for all, not just the few.  And I will continue to answer when called by upset citizens, our elected officials, reporters, and county employees.  Like you, they all deserve respect and a receptive ear.

Although I’ve spent many years working in the background for political candidates, it was fewer than three years ago that I went from campaigning for others to campaigning for myself.  Governing is tough.  It doesn’t always go as smoothly as we would like.  But the people have placed their trust in us and they expect us to respect their votes and represent them professionally.

For the more than 146,000 voters who cast their votes for me, many of whom waited hours to vote, I respectfully ask for your vote as Chair.


Pat Cotham


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ann Clark goes 'full Hillary' on question about CMS' top job

Will she or won't she? That's the question of the moment when it comes to acting Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Ann Clark, the veteran administrator who assumed the duties of the school system's top job early this month after the school board voted to accept Heath Morrison's resignation.

Clark has been around the school system some 32 years, and was a finalist for the superintendent's job in 2012 when the board instead picked Morrison. She was the steady, reliable insider who rose through the ranks. He was charismatic outsider, a national Superintendent of the Year winner. But he flamed out here under the weight of a report from the school district's general counsel that said his fiery temperament had stoked a "culture of fear" among employees.

The board asked Clark to lead the district on an interim basis, but hasn't decided whether to pursue a national search for a permanent replacement. The board didn't even officially name her the interim superintendent. At a press briefing Thursday, reporters asked her the inevitable question: Do you want the job permanently?

She went into full Hillary Clinton mode.

"Everyone's clear that I applied for the superintendent's position two and a half years ago, but I'll be honest, I've really not had the opportunity to hit pause on the day to day operations of the district in the last three weeks to really be thoughtful about what the next step is in my leadership journey. Nor have I had the chance to talk with the board. I'm hoping I'll have that time over Thanksgiving break to really be thoughtful. But I'm just clear my task right now is to move us forward. And that's what I'm doing."

Ann Clark is "being thoughtful" about applying for the top CMS job in the same way Hillary Clinton is "being thoughtful" about deciding whether to run for president in 2016. Which is to say Clark clearly wants it and has likely already decided to pursue it -- she's just not ready to spell it out publicly yet.

Ann Clark addresses the media Thursday
A couple of points are already clear, however. One is that the school board can't afford to take a breather right now. They must surely be tempted, after these tumultuous few weeks, to step back and collect their thoughts while Clark steers the ship. But they need to decide, sooner rather than later, whether they will launch another national superintendent's search, or if they're inclined to give the job permanently to the always-reliable, if not flashy, Clark.

Comforting though her presence must be, Clark cannot fill the gaping leadership void left by Morrison's departure without the full weight of the office behind her. Every directive she gives the staff comes with an asterisk, subject to change by the next permanent superintendent.

And speaking of asterisks, there's a second point that must be made. Morrison's departure has left a cloud of questions around Clark. General counsel George Battle's report quoted Clark as saying Morrison created the "culture of fear" among the staff.  Asked about that by the Observer's Andrew Dunn, Clark declined to say whether that quote was accurate or whether she brought any concerns about Morrison to the board or to Morrison himself.

She cited Morrison's separation agreement, approved by the board, which includes confidentiality and nondisparagement clauses.  We understand there are legal issues involved here. But public confidence in CMS and the board has been badly dented. If Clark decides to announce for the job, and if the board wants to give it to her, those questions must be addressed somehow.

But for now, board members seem desirous of a break from the problem. At their meeting Wednesday, they didn't take up the issue of next steps in the search for a new superintendent. Chairwoman Mary McCray said the board already knows its next steps -- teaching and learning, as outlined in CMS' overall strategic plan.

That's fine. But you need a CEO to implement that plan -- one who isn't distracted by questions about whether the job is his or hers to keep. The board would be wise not to let another meeting pass without addressing the issue.

-- Eric Frazier

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Snitch? Charlotte Disturber? George, that hurts...

A good rule of thumb: When politicians start lashing out at colleagues and others, they're usually feeling defensive about something. When it's Mecklenburg commissioner George Dunlap, it's also a reminder that good manners aren't a requirement for public office.

Dunlap had another one of his outbursts Monday. In a post on his Facebook page, he called fellow Democratic commissioner Pat Cotham a "snitch on the board."  He also questioned her ethics and leadership and said that she "can't be trusted."

Cotham, of course, is an at-large commissioner who was the leading vote-getter in November's election. In every election in the last quarter century, the leading vote-getter is named commission chair for at least a year. But current chair Trevor Fuller is lobbying to keep the job, despite finishing in third place, 22,000 votes behind Cotham. Dunlap and four other board Democrats don't want Cotham to have the gavel, and they're feeling some heat.

Dunlap also is apparently still upset that former Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones was dismissed by the Cotham-led board last year. In his Facebook post, he said that Cotham was doing the bidding of the "Charlotte Disturber," which wanted Jones fired.

He got part of it right. The Observer's editorial board had long believed that Jones should be replaced, as did many others, including six of Dunlap's fellow commissioners. Dunlap might be disappointed to learn, however, that Cotham didn't call the Observer for approval or permission. (He also might be disappointed to learn that we kind of like "Disturber." It's part of what we do.)

If Dunlap were an editorial page reader, he'd know that although we endorsed Cotham - and Fuller - we've also been sharply critical of her for shutting fellow Democrats out of Jones' dismissal and other board discussions. Dunlap complained mightily about that, too, but he didn't seem so bothered this summer when he and four Democrats forgot to tell board Republicans and Cotham about the quarter-cent sales tax referendum they had crafted for a vote.

Normally, Dunlap being Dunlap is not news, but this time it's part of a larger tension on the board regarding who should be chair. Dunlap and the other Democrats know well the precedent of the leading vote-getter receiving the chair's gavel - in 2010, Dunlap actually asked the rhetorical question "Under what circumstances does the third highest vote-getter become the chair?"

Now, Dunlap and the Democrats have a laughable answer - that they adopted a policy last year stating that board members can elect the chair. Translated: We're ignoring the will of the people because we adopted a policy that said we can ignore the will of the people.

That policy was unnecessary. Commissioners were never bound by the people's vote when determining the board chair. They were just smart enough to acknowledge it and abide by it.

They should again. We don't expect that of Dunlap and some others, but we do of Fuller. He could put an end to the silliness by declining the chair and throwing his support behind Cotham.

Fuller didn't do that last year and looked opportunistic because of it. That probably contributed to his finishing ahead of only Republicans this month in a predominantly Democratic county. The people have a way of reminding you that they count. The commissioners - all of them - should listen.

Peter St. Onge

(This post has been updated to reflect that in every election for the past quarter century, the leading at-large vote getter is named commission chair for at least a year.)  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gov. Jim Hunt pumps up the faithful

Former Gov. Jim Hunt, North Carolina's most noted champion of public education, threw some red meat to a crowd of advocates in Charlotte this morning.

Hunt raised N.C. teacher pay from the dumps to the national average during the last of his four terms in office. So he has the credentials to talk about the state's current embarrassment on teacher pay. He gave a nod to the teacher pay raise the legislature approved this summer but pointed out that "Veteran teachers who have spent their whole life teaching our children, they received a mere pittance and lost their longevity pay."

N.C. teacher pay is below that of South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia, Hunt told the MeckEd breakfast crowd. He told the story of a friend whose daughter could take a job as a first-year teacher in South Carolina paying $41,000 -- the same amount she would make after teaching in North Carolina for 15 years.

North Carolina's low pay is driving teachers out of the profession, Hunt said. The number leaving the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has nearly doubled over the past four years, he said, and enrollment in UNC schools of education has plummeted.

"Where will our future teachers come from?" Hunt asked. "Will we have enough good teachers?"

Hunt laid out Charlotte-Mecklenburg's proud history on education -- from leading the way on desegregation to helping create public school kindergarten in North Carolina -- and said education leaders need to build on that now.

He urged the community to support the quarter-cent sales tax referendum on this fall's ballot.

"You can be the best school district in America if you work at it," Hunt said.

-- Taylor Batten

Monday, September 22, 2014

Long Leaf Pine gets license plate

N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley joined a packed room full of recipients of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine at The Levine Museum of the New South on Sunday. And he had some news for them. A special license plate is now available to state troopers and other law enforcement, designating their honor.
Brawley said in jest that it could prove helpful if a recipient got stopped by law enforcers.

Probably not.

But Brawley was right in acknowledging that the Order of the Long Leaf Pine designation does recognize a lot of public and community service that is significant and worthy of taking note of. That's what happened Sunday at the reception at the Levine. It was the brainchild of well-known community activist Theresea Elder and was coordinated by former district court Judge Nancy Norelli, UNC Charlotte's Jennifer Harkey and Levine historian Tom Hanchett.

Among the recipients who showed up were former Commerce Secretary Howard Haworth (in Republican Jim Martin's administration) who is also chairman emeritus of the North Carolina State Board of Education.

The Levine event was the first ever gathering of recipients of The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the state's highest civilian honor.

The award was created in the 1960s during Gov. Terry Sanford's administration and is given by governors to those who have done great service to their N.C. communities or the state, or those who have significant achievements in their lives. The certificate dubs the recipient an “ambassador extraordinary.” Some well-known North Carolinians lay claim to being part of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Among them are evangelist Billy Graham, poet and entertainer Maya Angelou, artist Bob Timberlake and Hornets owner Michael Jordan.

The award is truly egalitarian though, honoring teachers, community leaders as well as politicians and famous N.C. residents. On Sunday, the broad swath of civicly engaged and community-minded honorees were represented.

Phillip Fisher, who founded The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Society, said a statewide reception is being planned for next year. Fisher has compiled  a list of the more than 15,000 recipients after discovering the state had not kept a comprehensive list of recipients.

-- Fannie Flono

Monday, September 15, 2014

Harold Cogdell: I know why Greg Hardy deserved better

More than a decade ago, then-Charlotte City Council member Harold Cogdell was charged with misdemeanor assault on a female. His subsequent journey through the court system offers him a somewhat unique perspective on the Panthers' decision Sunday to deactivate defensive lineman Greg Hardy in light of a pending domestic violence charges.

Hardy, as you know, was found guilty by a District Court judge in July of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. He awaits a full jury trial, which could take place in November but might be delayed until early next year. Cogdell was found guilty by a District Court just in 2002 of pushing a former employee down a staircase. Like Hardy, he chose to pursue to full jury trial and was found not guilty.

On Monday, Cogdell sent his thoughts to the Observer's Editorial Board.


I never thought there would be a set of circumstances that would motivate me to want to remind the general public about my own legal troubles that I found myself in several years ago.  In January 2002, a former female employee accused me of assault.  Let me be clear, at no time did I ever assault her.  I had just gotten elected to the Charlotte City Council and local media followed my case closely as it progressed through the court system.  

After a bench trial in front of a District Court Judge I was found guilty.   I appealed.  Immediately upon appealing a misdemeanor, a defendant’s conviction is set aside (no longer guilty of the offense) and the defendant is entitled to a new trial.  Several months later I was found Not Guilty by a jury.  During the almost 18 months the case was pending, I continued to serve on the Charlotte City Council and practice law.  In the minds of some, I was guilty period - without any need to know the facts or hear any evidence.      
As we all make up the court of public opinion, it is important for us to be mindful that there many unknown facts about virtually any pending legal case and there are instances where purported victims or witnesses have unscrupulous motives.   In theory, a defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until 12 jurors unanimously find him/her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  It is disheartening that the instantaneous nature of our society has gravitated so far away from this cornerstone of our judicial system.  Keeping an open mind and admitting that there too many unknowns to form an opinion about a specific alleged domestic violence incident is not the same as being apathetic about or turning a blind eye to an unacceptable culture to violence against women.  

I am very disappointed in the Carolina Panthers decision to deactivate Greg Hardy prior to allowing the judicial process to run its course.  However, I am even more disappointed in the general public’s increasing willingness to rapidly form deeply entrenched opinions about situations and issues armed with such a limited understanding of relevant facts and circumstances.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Roy Cooper, aspiring governor

If there was any doubt that Attorney General Roy Cooper plans to run for governor in 2016, Cooper erased it today with a fiery speech to Charlotte Democrats.

Cooper has been dropping plenty of hints in recent months that he hopes to take on Republican Gov. Pat McCrory two years from now. But the four-term AG (that's attorney general, not aspiring governor) gave what was probably his most emphatic, political speech yet to the Uptown Democratic Forum.

Cooper told the crowd that North Carolina is now controlled "not just by Republicans but extremists." He ticked off all the biggest Democratic talking points -- from voting restrictions to teacher pay to Medicaid expansion to environmental safeguards -- and then said: "We have to beat them at the ballot box."

"2016 will be the battle for the heart and soul of North Carolina," Cooper said. "That's when we will take our state back from these extremists" and elect a new governor.

Asked by reporters afterward whether it was safe to say he's officially in the race, Cooper all but said yes. "It's too early to make a formal announcement, but I'm concerned about our state and I'm clearly making plans." Asked why it's too early, Cooper said "we need to get through the 2014 elections" and "show that I'm doing my job as attorney general every day."

Cooper repeatedly referred to the "extremists" running Raleigh. Is Gov. McCrory an extremist, Cooper was asked? "The policies he has supported have been extreme," Cooper said.

A Democratic challenger could still emerge to create a Democratic primary. But it's increasingly looking like Cooper vs. McCrory might be the second-biggest fight on the 2016 card, right under the presidential race.

-- Taylor Batten

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Roger Goodell wasn't just wrong

Now it's Roger Goodell's turn.

The NFL commissioner did the right thing Monday after it was the only thing left to do.

He suspended Baltimore's Ray Rice indefinitely after video released Monday showed what most everyone already suspected, that Rice knocked out his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator in Februrary. But the new video might be almost as damning to Goodell as it is to Rice, because it's prompted everyone to take another look at Goodell's initial two-game suspension for the player in July.

It might not get easier for the commish today. TMZ, which released the elevator video Monday, was back today with casino officials who said they would've given the NFL a copy of the video, if the NFL had asked for one.

The NFL says that it asked Atlantic City police and other law enforcement for the elevator video, along with any other pertinent evidence. Police didn't supply the video, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, so no one in the NFL offices watched it.

It's a lame defense, and it's ultimately just as contemptible.

First, the lame. The NFL - with its powerful private security force and relationships with all levels of law enforcement - couldn't get its hands on the same casino video that the police, Ray Rice's attorney, and TMZ managed to get? The NFL could also have asked casino officials for a copy. It could have asked Rice's attorney, who might have balked but had no real leverage to say no. 

But the NFL didn't ask. Because Goodell must not have wanted to know. Because the commissioner knew what we all knew. That Janay Palmer walked into that elevator conscious. That she was dragged out of that elevator unconscious. That it was hard to imagine any kind of reason that would justify her ending up that way.

But without visual evidence of those moments between, Rice and the Ravens and Goodell had just enough space to craft a way out. So the Ravens and Rice constructed the fiction that Janay Palmer was complicit in getting knocked out, that Ray was merely defending himself. They put her up in front of the cameras with Rice. They released this tweet:

Goodell, when he ruled that Rice deserved to miss only two games, made sure to note how counseling had been beneficial to both Ray and Janay Rice. Because this awful moment wasn't just Ray's fault.

It was a well-crafted, reprehensible falsehood.

No one really bought it then, which is what prompted Goodell to admit he was wrong and introduce a new, stern domestic violence policy.

But now we have another Ray Rice video, and now we know that Roger Goodell didn't perform the most basic NFL duty. He didn't watch the film before making the call.

Instead, he let a lie happen. A troubling and telling lie. It's his turn to go.

Peter St. Onge

Monday, September 8, 2014

'Contract to Cheat' and the newspaper industry

Updated 10:57 p.m. Monday

The Observer and other McClatchy newspapers this week are reporting the results of a year-long investigation of how the construction industry avoids billions in taxes by misclassifying workers. By calling them independent contractors rather than employees, the companies avoid payroll taxes, unemployment taxes, workers' compensation and other costs.

Most of these workers are clearly employees, not independent contractors. State and federal law and rules spell out the criteria for each. Many of the employers in the series essentially acknowledge as much.

Newspapers have long treated their carriers as independent contractors, and a few readers have sent letters to the editor saying the newspaper industry is guilty of the same thing our "Contract to Cheat" series reveals.

Phillip DeWitt of Huntersville, for example, writes: "I agree with your article that taxes and wages are short-changed in the illegal use of contract workers. But The Observer needs to get its own house in order. Your use of contract workers in the distribution of your newspaper is one and the same." Writes Coy Powell of Charlotte: "Should not The Observer, and McClatchy, clean your own house first? Will you publicize pay records for your carriers? I don't think I'll hold my breath on this one."

Some newspaper contractors have raised these issues in court -- and lost. As a story in Sunday's Observer said, McClatchy, which owns the Observer, and other newspaper companies have successfully defended the practice on various occasions. Other newspapers -- such as the Orange County Register -- have paid settlements, and the San Diego Union Tribune lost a case involving its carriers. The Sacramento Bee and the Fresno Bee currently face lawsuits on the question that could be resolved this fall.

The question with newspaper carriers is complex and hinges on each state's laws and on precisely how the job is structured and documented. McClatchy and the Observer argue that their carriers are correctly classified as independent contractors under the law.

UPDATE: I contacted Heather Fagundes, McClatchy's vice president of human resources, who said that McClatchy has several procedures and protections in place to ensure that all workers are classified correctly. The company, she said, regularly uses audits, training, legally approved contracts and gatekeepers who review contractor relationships in order to stay in compliance.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, September 4, 2014

5 questions I'm pondering today

Thinking about these: 

1. Does Henry McCollum, freed off North Carolina's Death Row Wednesday after 31 years, have the photo ID he needs to vote?

2. If President Obama is a Muslim and is undercutting America to further his radical Muslim plans, why do ISIS Muslims hate him so?

     2a. Does anyone believe Obama when he says he is going to “destroy” ISIS?

3. Did the promise that Medicaid expansion would be funded with federal money and essentially be free to the states hinge on many states turning it down? If every state had expanded Medicaid, as North Carolina should have, would every state essentially be paying its own way?

4. With the world on fire and domestic issues pressing, was the most lasting takeaway of Wednesday’s U.S. Senate debate that Thom Tillis alienated women and undecided voters by calling Sen. Kay Hagan “Kay” throughout most of it?

5. It’s fantastic that CMS graduation rates have climbed for five straight years and are now at 85 percent. But do we know what percentage of those graduates are truly prepared for college and work in the 21st century?

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

CMPD confronts Moral Monday activist over leaflets

A video of a confrontation between Charlotte-Mecklenburg police and an activist at the Moral Monday march in the Queen City this week is raising eyebrows about police actions. The activist was reportedly leaving leaflets on cars about voting rights when police placed him in handcuffs after they asked for his identification and tried to take his cell phone.

Ty Turner, a gay activist who also ran for the N.C. Senate this year, gave this account to  ThinkProgress when he was released a few hours later:

“They said they would charge me for distributing literature... I asked [the policeman] for the ordinance number [being violated], because they can’t put handcuffs on you if they cannot tell you why they’re detaining you. I said, ‘Show me where it’s illegal to do this.’ But he would not do it. The officer got mad and grabbed me. Then he told me that I was resisting arrest!”

CMPD spokesperson Jessica Wallin reportedly told qnotes that Turner was only detained. But in a video taken by another activist, one officer clearily says he's under arrest.

The city does have an ordinance against the distribution of handbills or other paper materials on vehicles. Some say it is rarely enforced..It's not a well-known ordinance in any case.

More disturbing is what allegedly happened after Turner was handcuffed and taken away in a police cruiser. Turner told ThinkProgress that he was never taken to the Mecklenburg County Jail. According to the report, “Instead of transporting Turner directly to the Mecklenburg County jail, which sits just a few blocks from Marshall Park, he said they took him first to an empty parking lot behind the highway. ‘They took me to three different spots other than the jail,’ he said. ‘They knew they were in the wrong.’”

A video of the incident doesn't show what happened prior to the confrontation but it does raise questions about whether the incident could have been handled better and tensions defused in a more productive manner. Initially, Turner calmly asks an onlooker to be a witness as he asks for the ordinance he is violating. But tensions soon escalate.  Several other officers eventually appear on the scene, and one is heard saying the matter will be investigated.

They should investigate.

After hearing about the arrest on Monday, about 30 participants from the Moral Monday rally — including state NAACP President Rev. William Barber, Charlotte NAACP President Rev. Kojo Nantambu and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Pat Cotham — marched silently to the Mecklenburg County Jail to ask for Turner’s release.

Turner was released shortly after and issued a citation.

On Tuesday, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners appointed Turner to a board committee, prompting this email from Commissioner Bill James:
"I am not sure if this is just an isolated incident but it is troubling to vote for a candidate to serve on a board committee last night to represent the Board of Commissioners only to see that the day we appoint him he was arrested for violating the law.
"At one level it shows a lack of sophistication about how to get things done. At another level, if he is so supportive of civil disobedience why does he want to serve on a board which is clearly working ‘within the system’?

"Obviously he has the political bug, running for State Senate as a Democrat (but losing to Mr. Jackson I think).

"In any event, it is troubling that the candidate we select to represent us is a loose cannon."

Judge for yourself whether the video below shows "a loose cannon." It does show something troubling though - a heated confrontation between police and a citizen over a minor incident that looks as if it could have been avoided. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Was Charlotte right to invest in the Knights?

The Charlotte Knights finished their 2014 season in appropriate fashion Monday, with a loss before a a packed BB&T Ballpark. But while you probably couldn't find two in 100 fans who know the Knights' final record this season (it was 63-81), most anyone who follows baseball in Charlotte can tell you this was the franchise's best season of attendance ever.

It wasn't bad for the city, either. The Knights brought a summer jolt to a part of town that's usually pretty sleepy at night this time of year, and the coupling of the stadium with Romare Bearden Park has brought a welcome fullness to this previously drab corner of uptown.

That's what the Charlotte City Council had in mind in 2012 when it proposed giving the Knights as much as $11 million toward building the $50 million ballpark. You might remember that the Observer editorial board balked at that initial proposal. But as we wrote after subsequent revisions, the city's deal with the team got progressively better for taxpayers, with the city's contribution level shrinking and protections more stout than originally planned.

The final deal called for the city to contribute a little more than $7 million, with Mecklenburg County contributing land and infrastructure. Now we have a very successful first season behind us. So the deal seems like a good one for the city and county, yes?


It was a good one for the Knights, for sure. The franchise realized all of the things it dreamed of long ago when it cast its eyes toward Charlotte  - not only full stadiums, but a buzz about the team that it couldn't generate from south of the border.

In a way, the Knights were such a smash that they affirmed one argument of those who opposed public investment - that the team was coming to uptown even if the city ponied up little or nothing, because the Knights couldn't afford not to. They were flailing in Fort Mill, and they knew what a moneymaker the move to Charlotte would be. 

Charlotte has benefited, too, of course, and supporters of the city's investment can point to restaurants, retail and condos already beginning to circle the stadium. But is that development a product of the Knights or of an economy revving up again? Remember, the uptown condo market was poised to take off before the recession slammed the gate on development.

Still, the ballpark has been what city leaders intended - another piece of a vibrant uptown, another reason to be pleased you live here. Yes, it's possible that there will be no season quite as good as this one for the Knights. The novelty of a baseball team uptown will lessen, and people might become less inclined to pay uncommonly high concession prices for a minor-league team. (That was the one consistent grumble we heard all season.)  

But we're glad the Knights made the move north. We're glad the city made a smarter investment than some council members initially proposed. Perhaps the Knights would have come no matter what Charlotte and Mecklenburg offered, but public investment ensured that move. After one year, at least, it's looking like a solid hit.

Peter St. Onge

Thursday, August 28, 2014

North Carolinians are a grumpy group

New polling data from Gallup depict North Carolina voters as trending Republican and bearish on the economy, President Obama and state government. The data, released Wednesday, confirm what most N.C. political observers have known for some time: The crucial U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis could boil down to who's more unpopular: Obama or the state legislature.

Gallup's surveys show that Democrats have lost about all of the 10-point advantage they had in North Carolina in 2008, when Obama and Hagan were swept into office. That year, 49 percent of respondents described themselves as Democrat or leaning Democrat, while 39 percent described themselves as Republican. Today, that Democratic advantage has vanished, Gallup finds: The state now is basically evenly divided, 42-41 in favor of Democrats.

Gallup says Obama has a 41 percent approval rating in the state, just below the national average of 43 percent. Just 51 percent of respondents have confidence in state government, which is significantly lower than the national average of 58 percent. And state residents' confidence in the economy is dramatically lower than that of residents in other states (+8 versus +23). Only three of 10 North Carolinians think it is a good time to find a job in their local area.

Only 34 percent said North Carolina is one of the best states to live in, compared with 46 percent who say that nationally.

So does this grumpy group blame Obama and Congress or the all-Republican legislature and governor in Raleigh? That could be the determining factor in the Senate race, Gallup says, echoing what N.C. pundits have said all along.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ex-lawmaker tops lobbyist list at N.C. legislature

It's no surprise the best lobbyists at the N.C. legislature are former lawmakers themselves. But the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research's latest findings provide a stark view of how quickly elected office can become ka-ching for legislators once they give up those public servant jobs. Whether and how much that lucrative work to come influences lawmakers while they're in office is something to ponder.

According to the rankings released Tuesday, 11 former legislators now rank among the most influential lobbyists. At the top sits former House Speaker Harold Brubaker, who served 18 terms in the House. Brubaker barely took a breather after leaving after the 2011-2012 session before he was mingling again at the legislature during this 2013-2014 session representing 21 clients as a contract lobbyist for such companies as GlaxoSmithKline, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Pepsico and GTECH Corporation, as well as organizations like the N.C. Association of Realtors, the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers and the NFL Players Association.

Coming in second is Dana E. Simpson, not a former legislator, of the Raleigh law firm Smith, Anderson, Blount, Dorsett, Mitchell & Jernigan. Third is former N.C. Republican Party chairman Tom Fetzer, also not a former legislator.

Duke Energy Carolinas LLC has a lobbyist Kathy G. Hawkins focused solely only its interests. She comes in seventh. She had her work cut out for her as Duke tried to fend off legislation to better regulate coal ash production and disposal after a massive ash spill earlier this year. Environmentalists say the legislation that passed at the very end of the short session this year was "woefully inadequate," specicifying that Duke excavate ash at only four of its 14 coal-fired power plants. The long-term fate of other ponds isn’t clear but, for some, will likely include caps placed over ash that stays in place.

Paige Worsham, policy analyst with the Center that did this ranking, said the "high number of former legislators who are now influential lobbyists shows that these individuals continue to have impact on policy even after leaving elected office."

Brubaker attributes his effectiveness to knowing how to talk to legislators: "As a former legislator," he told the Center, " I appreciate brevity and know how important it is for a lobbyist to explain the issue in five to ten minutes."

Simpson, second best on the list, might have learned that from Brubaker (or taught it to him).

He served as Special Assistant for Communications and Policy when Brubaker was House Speaker in the late 1990s.

Rob Schofield of the Progressive Pulse takes the Center to task for the rankings, noting the Center is "a fine and venerable organization that has done many great services to the state" and that it has a commitment to sober and thorough research."

"That said, here’s a vote for doing away with one of the organization’s signature products — its annual 'rankings' of lobbyists and lawmakers," Schofield writes. "It’s hard to pinpoint what’s most offensive about the rankings. Maybe it’s the use of the word 'effectiveness,' which as a practical matter, has come to mean 'power and influence.' Surprise! This year, the 'most effective' lobbyist is former House Speaker and ALEC chairman emeritus-turned corporate mouthpiece Harold Brubaker."

The Center's Worsham said the "rankings ... help citizens understand which key interests and organizations have clout with legislators in North Carolina.... shed light on what is often an invisible process... show trends in the lobbying profession and illustrate which issues are hottest."

What do you think?

Under N.C. law, a legislator may register as a lobbyist six months after leaving office. Is that too short of an interval?

- Fannie Flono


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

'I shouldn't know your name'

The unrest in Ferguson, Mo., continued last night, with two men shot and 31 people arrested in the ninth day of demonstrations following the death of Michael Brown. Kate Murphy, pastor at Hickory Grove Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, offers a different, compelling perspective on the victim. It's worth a read. 

An Elegy for Michael Brown

I shouldn’t know your name.
And now there are so many people telling me who you were
Voices sorrynotsorry to show me
you’d robbed a convenience store
Stolen a box of cigars (they were very expensive cigars)
And other voices, shaking with rage
Telling me that you were a good kid
A gentle giant
Headed off for college
but all I need to know
is that I shouldn’t know your name
whether you were a great saint
or deeply troubled
or like every teenager
a maddening glorious mixture of the two
I still
shouldn’t know your name

here’s the first thing I do know
if your mother had tried to walk into an abortion clinic
18 years and some months ago
She would have been surrounded by Christians
White, middle class Christians
Some weeping with compassion for your life cut short
Some shaking with rage, calling her a murderer
All begging her to give you a chance at life
And the first thing I want to know is
Where is the weeping now?
Where is the rage now?
Where are the prophets crying out against the injustice
Of the one who played God & chose to end your life?

15 years ago I sat in a courtroom
Bearing witness to the sacred worth
of another teenage boy
Who was a brilliant beloved battlefield
And as we waited for his case to be called
We watched white boy after white boy
Walk up from the gallery
In suit and tie
And listen to the charges read against them
Assault and battery, possession with intent to distribute, driving while intoxicated
And nod respectfully as their lawyers got them probation
And sent them back to class
At their expensive private university just up the street

And black man after brown man entered the same courtroom
From the rear
In shackles and orange suit
And stood before the same judge
And heard the charges read against them
Possession, assault, possession
And one man—I kid you not, was there because he stole pampers, formula & baby food
And they were all were sent back to jail
To wait their trial
That day, every white boy (raping, dealing drugs, driving drunk)
That day, every black and brown boy (fighting, taking drugs, stealing diapers)
Returned from whence he came
And every time I tell that story it makes everyone mad
for different reasons
And I can’t get it out of my head this week
And you know why

Because I tell my daughters
If they get in trouble
To look for a police officer to help them
And your mother must have told you something so very different
And still, there you were, unarmed
Hands outstretched
Head bowed
Blown apart in the street
By the one who swore to protect you
Whether you were a good kid
Whether you were a thief
It doesn’t make your death more or less tragic
Your life was sacred
We all betrayed you
Like another young man
Whose body was broken for our sins

I wish I’d known you.
I wish I didn’t know your name.

Monday, August 18, 2014

McCrory's lawyer responds about Duke stock

The Observer editorial board on Sunday spelled out the troubling ways Gov. Pat McCrory has handled his ownership of Duke Energy stock. The governor owned a significant number of shares for 15 months after he was elected governor -- a role in which he leads an administration that is supposed to regulate the giant utility. He continued to own the stock for more than two months after Duke's coal ash spill into the Dan River, as he helped formulate the state's response. And he signed an inaccurate disclosure form, declaring that he held no Duke stock on Dec. 31, 2013, when in fact he did.

McCrory blamed the error on Bob Stephens, saying his general counsel misinterpreted the form and thought that it should reflect McCrory's holdings on April 15, 2014, a day after McCrory sold the last of his stock. That explanation does nothing to detail why McCrory thought it was OK to own stock in a company that was at the center of a debate about state regulation of its activities.

On Sunday, after the editorial ran, Stephens sent the Observer a letter in response. Stephens reiterates that he misinterpreted the disclosure form and vouches for McCrory's integrity. Read our editorial here, and read Stephens' response below.

To the editor:

I’m a proud native of the City of Charlotte. One of my first jobs was delivering the Observer when I was in junior high school. I attended the public schools and went on to Wake Forest University for undergraduate and law school. After two years in the U.S. Army, I practiced law in Charlotte for 40 years. I even had the honor of serving as president of the Mecklenburg County Bar Association.

I also love our entire state. That’s why I accepted the opportunity to serve as general counsel for our former mayor and current governor, Pat McCrory.

I understand a very liberal editorial board constantly challenging our administration on issues such as tax reform and unemployment reform. However, giving your readers the false impression that we intentionally hid the selling of his utility stock is totally misleading and disingenuous. In fact, it was Gov. McCrory that ensured that the media was notified shortly after divesting all of his retirement stock in April and the media reported it.

Let me be perfectly clear, my interpretation of the governor’s annual disclosure form was incorrect. At a minimum, the language is poorly worded. In fact, the ethics commission staff even acknowledged to us that many other public servants have interpreted the question the way I did. But the governor takes all ethics and integrity issues very seriously. Not surprisingly, Gov. McCrory immediately directed us to correct the error following my conversation with the ethics commission staff.

I’m proud of Gov. McCrory’s record of high ethics and integrity during his entire career in public service along with his 29 years as an employee of Duke Energy. In fact, one of the most often repeated directions I hear Gov. McCrory give to members of his administration is: “Do the right thing.”

As a mayor and now as governor, Pat McCrory continues to show strong leadership on issues such as education, economy and the environment. Our administration is holding Duke Energy accountable for the Dan River spill while developing a statewide plan that responsibly addresses a nearly 100-year-old problem. Our state has seen one of the largest drops in unemployment in the nation and we’ve cut our debt to the federal government by more than $2 billion. Teachers are receiving an average raise of more than 5.5 percent, plus longevity pay. And working North Carolinians are keeping a larger percentage of their paychecks.

I’m proud to be a part of this “Carolina Comeback.” I’m equally as proud to work for our own former mayor that now leads our state in the right direction while maintaining the highest of ethical standards.


Bob Stephens

General Counsel for Gov. Pat McCrory

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Red-light cameras get green light

Red-light cameras are coming back to Fayetteville. Could Charlotte and other cities be close behind?

The Senate today voted 36-13 for a bill that lets Fayetteville resume using the cameras on people who run red lights. The fine will be $75, rising to $100 next July 1.

The bill applies only to Fayetteville but it wouldn't be surprising if other cities start eyeing the cameras as a way to make intersections safer -- and raise some much-needed money for schools.

Charlotte and other N.C. cities had such a system but shut it down after the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that 90 percent of the revenue from the tickets had to go to schools. That didn't leave enough to pay the camera contractor.

The bill passed today lets Fayetteville and Cumberland County schools enter into an agreement in which Fayetteville sends the schools 90 percent of the money and the schools send a portion back to the city to cover the contractor's cost. Wake County got a local bill passed in a previous session that allowed it to operate the program.

Charlotte's system worked well at 22 intersections over eight years. The number of red-light violations dropped 70 percent in the first year. Fatalities fell by 49 percent at Florida intersections that have the cameras, according to a recent study done for the Florida legislature.

All that plus money for schools at no cost to the taxpayer. Say cheese!

-- Taylor Batten  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Art Pope is very powerful. His boss? Welllll....

If you're a close follower of North Carolina politics, a weekend Washington Post profile of state budget director Art Pope didn't break much new ground. The Saturday piece, written by the Post's Matea Gold, explores Pope's unique place in N.C. and American politics, how his power derives from his status as both an insider (budget director) and outsider (think tank founder and influential donor to the University of North Carolina).

Add it up, and you have a man who might be more powerful than anyone in N.C. politics. Including his boss.

It's a fine piece of what those in the industry call "parachute journalism" - a national outlet parachuting into a city or state to write something for the audience back home. As such, Gold spends some time going over what those in North Carolina already know - how the Republican revolution Pope set in motion has led to tax overhaul but tight finances, conservative legislation but Moral Monday protests and, of course, education cuts and discontent about those cuts.

The underlying question for Gold (and many North Carolinians): How much power does Pope actually wield? Does he merely inform Gov. Pat McCrory about issues, or is he telling the governor what to do?

Gold doesn't give a firm answer, but her report and the anecdotes within leave a definite impression: Pope is extraordinarily influential, and although he and McCrory insist that the governor has the final say on issues, McCrory is clearly deferential to his subordinate.

In fact, the Gov. doesn't particularly come off well in the report. Says an unnamed Republican lobbyist: "The governor yields to Art." Then there's this anecdote, in which McCrory is a little too admiring:

Pope’s familiarity with the minute details of state finances was on full display on a muggy afternoon in May, when he spent 25 minutes standing at a lecturn, methodically explaining the details of the governor’s new budget to the news media.

McCrory sat on a chair behind his budget director, nodding along. When Pope was done, the governor stood up with a grin.

“I wish I could’ve had a camera, from this angle, watching the reporters’ faces while Art explained the budget, because now y’all know how I felt during hour after hour after hour,” McCrory said with a chuckle.

The governor took some questions. On most, he deferred to Pope.

“I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to have Art kind of explain the details of that number that you just presented, so you can hear all sides of that argument,” McCrory told a reporter who asked about whether cuts to the university system would lead to tuition hikes. “Art, if you don’t mind? Because he can present it much better than I can.”
 Peter St. Onge


Friday, July 18, 2014

N.C. one of nation's scariest states

When we saw that North Carolina has been named one of the scariest states in the nation, we thought we knew what the researchers were talking about. Turns out it has nothing to do with our legislature.

The real estate search site Estately declares North Carolina is the sixth scariest state in the country.

The site says it wants to help house-hunters "make a more informed decision" when choosing where to buy a home, by mapping "where Americans' darkest fears are most readily found." They picked 15 common fears, from shark attacks to dentists, then ranked each state.

North Carolina ranks 4th for hurricanes, 5th for shark attacks, 10th for lightning -- and 45th for dentists per capita. "Humanity's worst fears are everywhere in North Carolina, except for dentists, which is odd," Estately says.

Florida was the scariest state; South Carolina ranked 8th. North and South Dakota are the least-scary states. Which makes you wonder how helpful this "study" really is to house-hunters.

-- Taylor Batten


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Our readers vie to be N.C. poet laureate

When we invited readers to a mid-year one-shot limerick contest, we thought the tight deadline (less than 48 hours) might limit the number of entries.

The (phony) prospect of auditioning to be North Carolina's next poet laureate, though, was strong, and we received 75 limericks in response. Gov. Pat McCrory was criticized by poets this week for bypassing the traditional procedure and naming his own poet laureate, Valerie Macon, with no input. Our army of high-brow poets had their own thoughts on the kerfuffle.

Wrote John Long of Stanley:

Ms. Macon is now feeling great.

She's the top Tar Heel poet. But wait,

This gal got the gold,

After Pat was just told,

Mother Goose doesn't hail from our state.

Ken Burrows of Charlotte, familiar with John Long from the Observer's annual limericks contest, has an idea:

Do we need one more crisis to worry at?

A poetry war to be sorry at?

It can't be so hard

To pick a state bard.

Let that Long fellow be the next laureate.

Wes Long of Cramerton wonders whether politics played a role in McCrory's selection:

Pat's choice is a curious thing.

Our Art Council's feeling the sting,

And they're questioning whether

Macon's of the right feather,

And not simply of the right wing.

Former Mecklenburg commissioners chair Carla DuPuy backs McCrory's approach.

The governor, just doing his job,

Has rankled the poetic mob.

Without a committee,

To meet in some city,

He's saved the taxpayers a gob!

James H. Culbreth Jr. of Charlotte, points out that Macon's work has been self-published.

"You're the Poet!" said our Guv McCrory

As he ruled The North State like a Tory.

But the books on the shelf

Macon published herself,

Makin' Raleigh the butt of this story.

Alan J. Hoyle of Denver thinks McCrory has lost a few votes:

A man named Pat is our Guv,

He runs our fair state without love.

All the poets did scream,

"It's our job you demean.

You can take your job and go shove."

Other strong entries:

Bill Bennett of Terrell:

When doing the things that you oughter

Your logic should always hold water.

"A poet, you said?"

Our Guv scratched his head,

"I thought I was choosing a potter."

Again from John Long:

The bards of our state, now frenetic,

Say Pat's laureate pick was pathetic.

They call it a crime,

Without reason or rhyme,

And the justice they seek is poetic.


As a Governor, Pat is a rookie,

So his judgment is known to play hookie.

When the bards, with one voice,

Panned his laureate choice,

McCrory just baked them a cookie.

From Cindy Clemens of Charlotte:

O's book promised change and hope

Next came books from Hill and the Pope

Pat's poet bit fizzed

but he wants in the biz

self pubbed, "Audacity of Dope?"
Written and submitted by: Kathie Grigg '87 and Adelaide Davis '61, Queens University Charlotte:

There is a young governor named Pat

Who must have forgot where he's at.

We need a REAL poet,

Whose name we'll all know it-

Be Republican OR Democrat!

Bill McGloughlin of Charlotte gave his best efforts on other state capital matters:

It first seemed like a sideshow distraction,

But his Airport Commission has traction.

While his seat looks secure

There are some who would sure

Like to see a Bob Rucho extraction.


Raleigh's taking great pains now to note

Teacher pay should be more than a mote.

What brought this turnabout?

Did they just figure out?

Teachers all have IDs. They can vote.

Phil Clutts of Harrisburg:

The precedent gave rise to some scares,

And of course quite a few angry glares,

But did Pat really blow it,

In choosing that poet,

Or just know that in fact no one cares?


Is it true for all jobs that he fills?

That his picks might come with no frills?

If there's no other basis,

Than being in his good graces,

It could account for all manner of ills.

Another from Ken Burrows:

All government's corrupted and marred.

The guv should be feathered and tarred.

Institutions must tumble

At this almighty fumble:

Pat picked, on his own, the state bard.

From J. David Abernethy of Hickory:

For the Swedish Nobels to disburse

a Peace Prize for bowing seemed cursed;

Was the Governor's pick

of a self-published chick

a better choice? Or was it verse?

From Mark Adcock:

Seems the best the Observer can do,

Is stir up so much ado.

It seems a bit much

Over poets and such.

Maybe someday there'll be some real news.

From Sarah J. Price, Charlotte:

Rucho, Berger and Tillis

Has us asking "What you talkin' bout Willis?"

But when poetry is key

Just between you and me

McCrory is downright clueless.

From Michael Childs:

Mad Poets and Press wax apoplectic

To save their protocol contraceptic!

The answer--of course!

Is a plea to Fed courts

To impose pleaders' justice poetic.

From Donald Megahan of Huntersville:

To the complaints that Ms. Macon's a student
and say that Pat's choice isn't prudent
I can only reply
That the choice, were it I
Would then be in need of improvement.

From Charlotte's Loyd Dillon:

"Conservatives" N.C. accurse

And to fat-cats the booty disburse.

McCrory who's with 'em

Has (with no ear for rhythm),

Gone from, sad to say, bad to verse.

From Lou Breaux of Charlotte:

"Tarnation" says Yosemite Sam.

Popeye says "I yam what I yam".

Poet laureates? Nyet !

But you see what you get

When your choices come from Disneyland.

And, finally, from Charlotte Haberyan:

Dear Gov, I would like to apply

For the job writing poems on the fly.

I'll compose every day

In the Dr. Seuss way -

Here's my limerick - do I qualify?

Sales tax referendum could still happen

In an odd twist, the N.C. Senate bill to kill Mecklenburg County's proposal on raising the local sales tax could technically allow the voter referendum to proceed as scheduled.

The Observer's David Perlmutt and Jim Morrill accurately reported that the bill caps local sales taxes at 2.5 percent. Mecklenburg's is already 2.5 percent, so it could not be raised another quarter-percent as five Democratic commissioners envisioned.

So the bill kills any sales tax hike in Mecklenburg -- but it doesn't necessarily kill voters having their say in a November referendum on whether they'd like the sales tax raised. The result just couldn't be acted upon. But it could capture the sentiment of the voters. The plan called for (though didn't legally require) the resulting money to go to teacher raises, community college salaries, the arts and libraries.

The bill, which the Senate is expected to approve today, says in part: "A board of county commissioners may not direct the county board of elections to conduct an advisory referendum on the question of whether to levy a local sales and use tax in the county as provided in this Article on or after August 1, 2014."

But Mecklenburg commissioners already did so, back in June. So they beat the Aug. 1 deadline.

It's possible senators intended to say that no referendum could be held after Aug. 1. But one could argue that what they actually say in the bill is a bit different.

With the bill written this way, Mecklenburg commissioners would have to decide whether they want to still hold the referendum, even if they are prohibited from actually raising the tax if voters say they want to. All kinds of political considerations would go into that calculus. One might ask whether it's worth the expense of holding a referendum just to make a point.

It's possible, we suppose, that Sen. Bob Rucho, who is pushing the bill, will recognize this loophole or unclear language and offer an amendment on the floor today to close it. The Senate convenes at 10:30 a.m. UPDATE: The Senate has delayed debate on the bill until Monday.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Tillis, Berger wastefully pursue 'Choose Life' tags

Republican leaders of the N.C. General Assembly are determined to keep wasting state money in an attempt to get pro-life specialty license plates approved even though two courts have already declared them unconstitutional. According to news reports this week, lawyers for House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger Sr. petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to hear the case and decide whether a 2011 law creating a state “Choose Life” license plate is constitutional.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, ruled unanimously in February that the license plate violated the First Amendment because the state refused to offer similar plates for those supporting a woman’s right to have an abortion. They affirmed a lower court ruling.

For people who claim to be conservative, especially on money matters, Tillis and Berger - and other Republicans who have pushed this wrongheaded move - have thrown away tax dollars in pursuit of this blatant violation of the First Amendment.

The interesting thing about the petition to the high court is that the state attorney general's office suggested a less expensive way for the lawmakers to achieve their goal - one that's always been available. Draft new legislation with both anti-abortion and pro-choice license plate options.

In an April 30 email to staffers for Tillis and Berger, Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson Kelley said the appeals court ruling was consistent with case law and recent decisions handed down by other judges. The 4th Circuit struck down a similar South Carolina law in 2004 and the Supreme Court subsequently declined to hear the case.

Kelley said state taxpayers would likely be required to pay any further legal fees incurred by those challenging the law - meaning the state would be on the hook not only for state legal fees but for the ACLU's fees. The ACLU is challenging the law. Rather than continue the fight in court, he urged the legislative leaders to draft new legislation in the current session.

“I encourage you to consider that option, if possible, as an efficient way to resolve the issues raised in this litigation,” Kelley wrote.

But Tillis and Berger are moving ahead with the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal foundation based in Scottsdale, Arizona, which filed the appeal on behalf of Tillis and Berger. The ADF said the ACLU is trying to censor government expression. The attorney general's office, run by Democrat Roy Cooper who has already said he will run for governor, did not file an appeal.

In defense of Tillis and Berger's petition, ADF Senior Counsel Casey Mattox said: “State governments have a right to advance messages consistent with their public policies.”

But state governments should not have the right to stifle opposing messages. That's what lawmakers did when they rejected "Trust Women, Respect Choices" and approved "Choose Life."

Appeals court judge James Wynn got it right: "Chief amongst the evils the First Amendment prohibits are government 'restrictions distinguishing among different speakers, allowing speech by some but not others,'" he wrote. "In this case, North Carolina seeks to do just that: privilege speech on one side of the hotly debated issue — reproductive choice — while silencing opposing voices."

Tillis and Berger are wrong to keep pursuing this. Taxpayer dollars can be better utilized.

- Associate Editor Fannie Flono

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Want to be the next N.C. poet laureate?

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory has rankled poets across North Carolina with his selection of Valerie Macon of Fuquay-Varina as the state's new poet laureate. But where others see contro-verse-y, we see opportunity!

The beef among the literary community is two-fold. First, it's that Governor Pat bypassed the usual protocol of getting a recommendation from people who know best - a committee of the state's leading poets. Also, according to at least some of those people: Macon is, well, not good enough yet. "She is someone who is still learning," said Durham-based publisher Richard Krawiec, diplomatically, to the Observer this week. 

Clearly, the Gov has made a mistake here. If he was going to turn the poet laureate selection process into a joke, he should have selected someone from a group that writes poetry AS A JOKE. We're talking, of course, about the competitors in the Observer's Annual Politics and Public Policy Limericks contest! 

Our distinguished winners include the estimable John Long of Stanley, who wrote this year about the man arrested after sucking on a woman's toes at a Lincolnton Wal-Mart. 

Now I'm just an average Joe,
Don't care nothin' 'bout suckin' a toe.
But heaven forbid, 
If I ever did,
I think Wal-Mart's the LAST place I'd go. 

Alas, McCrory has made his poet laureate selection for the next two years. That doesn't mean you can't audition for 2016. In fact, we think a mid-year, unofficial politics and public policy limericks contest is in order. Give us your best limerick about the governor, the poet laureate contest or heck, anything happening in Raleigh right now. We need a laugh. 

Let's show Governor Pat what you can do - on deadline. Send your entries by Thursday at noon to pstonge@charlotteobserver.com, and we'll publish the best.