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