Thursday, March 27, 2014

One view: Cannon a symptom of something much worse

Former long-time City Council member and curmudgeon Don Reid has been railing for years against the culture of local government. He has questioned just about every major project Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have engaged in, from the uptown arena to the NASCAR Hall.

In an email this morning to WBT's Keith Larson cc'd to the Observer editorial board, Reid gives his take on the arrest of then-Mayor Patrick Cannon. He suggests that any corruption Cannon is guilty of is not so different from more official actions.

Do you agree or disagree?

Here's Reid's edited note:

Here’s my take:  All this self-righteous indignation from the former mayors and others is nauseating.  Although this Cannon situation may be worst case, Charlotte is not this paragon of virtue that has suddenly been prostituted by one person.
Tell me how this is different from the spending of public money on projects like NASCAR Museum and Whitewater, based on lies and exaggerations of economic impact and attendance figures!
How is this different from a mayor and council holding an arena referendum costing the taxpayers over $100,000---then ignoring the result? ...
... How is this any different from having the uptown crowd form a political arm to destroy their opponents while using its financial influence to co-opt other elected officials?
How is this any different than the way many elected officials/bureaucrats and former elected officials/bureaucrats “find” jobs with institutions that need their political influence?
How is this any different from elected officials ‘stealing’ taxpayer money and awarding it to selective companies and supporters in the form of incentives….ie millions to the Panthers and the millions that are certain to be given to the Bobcats-Hornets?
How is this different from ... extravagances like the cross-town trolley and light rail when half our roads are in disrepair and traffic clogs our freeways?
The list could be much longer…….but this is the Charlotte Way…..crony capitalism is the hallmark of the uptown crowd and the billions spent on city and county contracts.  This is what the airport dispute was all about!  All this may qualify as being ‘legal’,  but corruption never-the-less and undermines any attempt by self-righteous, Charlotte’s so called leaders and politicians to paint Charlotte a ‘city of sanctity!’
Charlotte, indeed, needs a cleansing, but the resignation of Pat Cannon will not accomplish this----it is only a symptom.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Young voters beware! You're a target!

Are students being targeted by N.C. elections boards trying to make it harder for them to vote?

Actions by the Republican-controlled Watauga County and Orange County elections board - approved on Monday by the GOP-controlled state elections board - are drawing that accusation from critics.

Election officials closed early voting sites at Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in favor of off-campus locations, saying voting sites should be more geographically situated across the county.

But here's the thing. Those voting sites have been very popular, drawing thousands to cast ballots in past years. Allison Riggs, a voting rights attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told WRAL's NC Capitol News that the early voting site at the Appalachian State student union attracted thousands of voters every election since 2008. (Significant pushback at Chapel Hill allowed the shut down of one-stop voting at the Rams Head Dining Hall on campus but allows early voting at Hillel on campus for the May primary; the plan had been to move it off-campus to downtown library.)

"You're talking about a town in which 60 percent of the voters are located in a pretty narrow area," she said. "Counties need to know there needs to be a rational basis for this decision. They can’t just try to stick it to young voters, stick it to college students."

They can try and too often succeed - and the "they" includes N.C. lawmakers.

Last year, lawmakers passed a voter ID law that doesn't accept a college ID as allowable to vote - something several other voter ID states do allow. The law doesn't even allow students to use their out-of-state driver’s licenses to vote, which nearly every other state that requires voter photo ID does allow.

Lawmakers even introduced - but did not pass - a bill that would have imposed a tax penalty on parents if their children register to vote at their college address. The bill would not have allowed parents to claim their child as a dependent for state income tax purposes if they registered to vote at an address other than their parents.

The bill would have also required voters to have their vehicles registered at the same address as their voter registration. That also could cut down on college student registration, since many students maintain their vehicle registration in their home counties.

Of the polling site changes, Bob Phillips, state director of voting rights group Common Cause. noted

“When we see polling places that have traditionally been on college campuses moved away and seemingly for not any good reason, it’s very concerning. It makes one think there are other reasons for this that have to do more with politics than, again, the goal of making voting easy and accessible for everybody.”

Phillips told WRAL that he has heard Republican-led elections boards in Cumberland, Guilford and Forsyth counties also are targeting polling sites on the campuses of Fayetteville State University, North Carolina A&T State University and Winston-Salem State University, respectively. Votes cast on all three campuses have historically favored Democratic candidates.

Some of the changes affect other voting populations as well. Under the Republican plan in Watauga, one-stop voting sites would have been open only 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, making it difficult for people who work full-time to use them. But after outcry, The state board did negotiate some changes. For the first two weekdays of early voting, one-stop sites will be open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the county and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Boone. The following week, all sites will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the final Saturday.

The legislature's voting changes last year also reduced the number of early voting days allowed even though early voting has surged in popularity over the past few elections in North Carolina to the point that in 2012, roughly 57 percent of North Carolina voters cast their ballots early. Lawmakers did mandate that counties had to maintain the same number of voting hours despite fewer days.

But more than a third of North Carolina's counties are asking for an exemption from maintaining the same number hours. Most of the counties asking for exemptions are rural, and their elections boards unanimously requested the exemption which is a requirement to make such a request, says the state elections board.

Some of the reduced hours may be necessary but so many exemptions does mean the claim of election law change proponents that voters still have the same access to early voting that they did before is inaccurate. And even where the hours do remain what they were previously, some elections board significantly cut after work and weekend hours. In Forsyth County in 2010 the county offered a total of 66 early voting hours which included more than 20 hours on Saturdays, Sundays and weekday evenings. This year’s plan has additional sites and the hours still total 66, but only nine of those hours are outside of working hours –including just three hours at one site for one Saturday.

Is democracy really served by changes like these that make it harder for citizens to participate in the elections process, not easier? I don't think so. Lawmakers and other policy makers should reconsider. The public deserves better.

- Fannie Flono

Monday, March 24, 2014

What parents can learn from Roberto Clemente

Warren Sepkowitz, the head of Charlotte Country Day's middle school, sends a weekly email to parents about what's going on at the school. He often starts it with a brief but wise note aimed at giving parents some perspective on raising teens and tweens. As the father of two daughters at the school, I always appreciate his thoughts.

Here's Sepkowitz's note for this week, on what parents can learn from baseball great Roberto Clemente. If you're a parent, or even just a baseball fan, you might enjoy it.

As I have mentioned before, as a kid, I was a voracious non-reader. Had no interest, except the sports page, which totally hooked me. Would devour all of it. Then little by little, sports biographies, which ultimately led to my master's thesis on Jackie Robinson's influence on the Civil Rights movement.
The sports page led me to the study of history, economics, civil rights, public policy, geography, leadership and a deepened cultural awareness of those from around the world.
A few years ago, I read a great biography on Roberto Clemente, the exquisite Hall of Fame right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who grew up in Puerto Rico. Previous to the book, I knew about his rocket right arm, his incredible batting, both for average and for power, and how he was the best player on the 1960 and 1971 world championship teams. I also knew that he, in 1955, and my all-time favorite player, Luis Aparicio of Venezuela, in 1956, became the linchpins for the integration of baseball for the Latin American ball players in the majors. I also knew that Clemente had died in humanitarian relief in trying to help those from the Nicaraguan earthquake in 1972.
What I learned from the book was how Puerto Rico was always within Clemente, how frustrating it was for him not to have access to the fullness of English, and the uniqueness of Puerto Rico. To be sure, there is the language and history from Spain, and the baseball from the USA and the commonwealth connection to the USA. And colonization from both.
What struck me was how the influences of both Spain and the USA percolate the country and its people, but ultimately, how Puerto Rico beats to its own Caribbean rhythms, foods and history.
Sound familiar? A specialness, a spirit, a beauty all its own with primary influences from two sources: Spain and the USA. And yet, there are other influences which are present as well: the West African slave influence and the native people, the Taino, who predate Columbus.
Your child has two main influences, which are his or her parents, but the generations before, the echoes of their history wash into their consciousness and spirit as well, which has helped to create your child's spirit and uniqueness. Perhaps one day, your child will strike out on her/his own, knowing their past, paying homage to their family, giving back again and again to others and lead a brilliant life such as Clemente's.

-- Taylor Batten

Are you busy July 15th?

Are you busy July 15th? Control of the United States Senate could hinge on your answer.

Thom Tillis hopes there's nothing going on July 15th, and that North Carolinians are doing what many of them do in mid-July: going to the mountains or the beach, and generally not paying much attention to politics. Because if July 15th matters, Tillis might be in trouble.

But July 15th's importance depends on what happens May 6. That's when Republican primary voters will pick a nominee from among eight candidates running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Or they'll try to pick a nominee.

If no candidate gets 40 percent of the vote -- and with eight candidates in the field, that's entirely possible -- the top two finishers face off in a July 15th runoff. This is where things get dicey for Tillis.

Tillis is the speaker of the N.C. House, and though he says he's no moderate, he is seen as the establishment candidate, backed by Karl Rove, and his runoff challenger would be coming at him from the right. Turnout on July 15 would likely be minuscule. That gives the Tea Party candidate a big boost, because the most ideologically pure voters are likely to dominate the electorate that day.

What might turnout look like? In 2010, North Carolina faced a nearly identical situation. Democrats held a runoff between Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham, with the winner taking on incumbent Richard Burr. The vote was June 22. Turnout? About 4 percent. Every runoff election sees single-digit turnout.

This one likely would too. And if 4 percent of Republicans are deciding between Thom Tillis and, say, the Rand Paul-backed Greg Brannon or the Mike Huckabee-backed Mark Harris, things could get very interesting.

The winner takes on incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. National experts are watching North Carolina closely, because the race is considered a toss-up and could decide which party controls the Senate for the next two years. We bet we know who Hagan would rather face.

-- Taylor Batten

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Whatever happened to this Chiquita promise?

Local and state officials deciding whether Chiquita should keep $22 million in incentives if it moves its headquarters from Charlotte to Ireland are examining whether the company will keep the promises it made to earn that cash.

One of those promises – donating salad bars to Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools – was never fulfilled, though apparently that’s not Chiquita’s fault.

When Charlotte was mulling extraordinary incentives to entice Chiquita from Cincinnati, Charlotte Chamber chief Bob Morgan touted the company as a good corporate citizen. In a closed session with the City Council in September 2011, Morgan referred three separate times to Chiquita’s “Salads in Schools” program. The company would donate salad bars in CMS schools, he said, to help fight childhood obesity.

Council members asked Morgan what made Chiquita deserve special treatment. Among other things, Morgan said:

“The company has committed to Gov. (Bev) Perdue that it will bring to Charlotte a program that is launched in Cincinnati called Salads in Schools where they will donate their product to help lead the fight against childhood obesity with their products.”

Later, council member David Howard asked again about Chiquita being a good corporate citizen. Again, according to the session minutes, Morgan referred to the salads program.

“They are the leading (corporation) trying to help fight childhood obesity, not just at their presence in Cincinnati, but in other markets,” Morgan said. “They have partnered with the First Lady, Michelle Obama, on that subject, and they have committed to bring that program here should they move their headquarters to Charlotte.”

Later, then-council member Patrick Cannon asked again about Chiquita’s record contributing to community. Again, Morgan cited the Salads in Schools program, among other things.

Nearly three years later, Chiquita has started no Salads in Schools program in Charlotte. What happened?

A CMS spokeswoman tells me: “Due to health department regulations of food safety, sanitation and monitoring, we declined the offer from Chiquita to have 15 salad bars in our schools.”

So the health department is nixing healthy food for kids? That’s odd. Maybe the health department in Cincinnati has different regulations.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Teacher tenure plan getting public boos

After Tuesday's meeting where school board members approved a resolution decrying N.C. lawmakers' vote to end teacher tenure and give 25 percent of the state's teachers paltry raises, the board chair said: "We can do better. I would rather see a more equitable base pay." 

That wasn't the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system's chair. It was Cumberland County's in Fayetteville. Both the Cumberland County board and the CMS board on Tuesday joined a growing list of education boards across the state in publicly lambasted the change which they say inadequately compensates teachers and creates pay inequities.

State Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat and former Cumberland County school board member who was at the Fayetteville meeting noted to the Fayetteville Observer aptly: "My suspicion is this will cascade. The public is speaking pretty clearly on this."

That's been pretty clear. Teachers came out in droves to voice opposition in Charlotte and in Fayetteville on Tuesday. Surveys by two UNC Wilmington professors detailed the public's thumbs-down. Gov. Pat McCrory seems to be listening. He said last week that his staff is considering offering changes to the tenure legislation in the coming short legislative session. “I think it’s an example of passing a policy without clearly understanding the execution,” he said.

It's also an example of passing policy that has little impact on the problem legislators said that were trying to solve - ensuring that North Carolina has the most effective teachers and got rid of the poorly performing ones. Declining to give teachers a pay raise, keeping N.C. teachers' salaries in the cellar of teacher compensation nationwide and arbitrarily deciding that only 25 percent of the state's teachers will be top performers and be eligible for $500 a year pay bumps  as a reward won't address either issue. 

Interestingly, a comparison of states nationwide and the performance of their students show little relationship between teacher tenure policies and teaching effectiveness as shown in test scores. Of the top states on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), several also have the most lenient teacher tenure (teachers able to get tenure in a short period of time). Massachusetts tops the list on NAEP performance (2010) yet it was one of 32 states (in 2010) where teachers got tenure in three years. In North Carolina, which was 29th in NAEP performance among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and overseas military schools, it was four years. In Maine, which was 14th on NAEP, tenure took just two years to kick in. Vermont is second in NAEP performance, and teacher tenure kicks in after two years.

Mississippi, dead last on NAEP, gave teacher tenure after one year on the job - the only state to do so. But the perennial bottom-sitter on education performance was in the minority with that correlation.

Gov. McCrory might be taking a cue from some political history in taking a second look at the teacher tenure change which he signed into law with the state budget last year. In 2000, Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat, successfully pushed a law through the legislature eliminating tenure for new teachers. When Barnes was up for reelection in 2002, teachers refused to support him, helping Sonny Perdue to become the first Republican Governor of Georgia since 1872.

No one believes mediocre teachers should be kept in the classroom. But the change N.C. lawmakers made doesn't really address that problem. It simply hurts good teachers, fails to compensate them for the good work they do and doesn't help them help students improve their academic performance. 

Lawmakers should repeal this bad law.

- Associate Editor Fannie Flono

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Obama's funny video: Is it presidential?

In case you haven't already succumbed to the avalanche of tweets about it - President Barack Obama appeared today on "Between Two Ferns" - a parody of celebrity interview shows hosted by comedian Zach Galifianakis. The "interview" - which appears below - was done two weeks ago. It was posted online today.

Galifianakis, probably most known for his roles in the Hangover movies, has interviewed celebrities such as Charlize Theron and Justin Bieber on the show. (Galifianakis also is the nephew of Nick Galifianakis, a longtime N.C. congressman who gave Sen. Jesse Helms a decent race for the U.S. Senate in 1972.)  Some of the "Between the Ferns" segments are a little off-color, but not this one. It is, however, funny. It's suitable for work. And it gives the president another platform, albeit an odd one, to plug his Affordable Care Act to the young folks he needs to sign up.

But is the video, well, presidential?

New York Times writer Michael Shear isn't sure, noting today that "there appears to be no place that Mr. Obama is unwilling to go" in his search for young people. That includes the Jimmy Fallon show, an interview with Charles Barkley, and even, where the president appeared for an interview about housing. Says Mike McCurry, former press secretary for President Bill Clinton. "We have to worry about the dignity of the presidency."

Clinton, of course, famously answered the "boxers or briefs" question on MTV in 1994.

To be sure, everyone will have his or her own threshold on the dignity question - and that line will likely be influenced by how you feel otherwise about Obama. Those who support the president will appreciate the reminder of how he can be a smart, cool guy. Those who don't might at least laugh when Galifianakis asks if Obama plans to have his presidential library built in Hawaii or "his home country of Kenya."

We think the interview is harmless. Plus, it's doing what Obama hoped - the No. 1 source of referrals right now to is the host of Between Two Ferns,

Enjoy, if you can.

Peter St. Onge

Jerry Orr: I'm not to blame for parking increases

Former Aviation Director Jerry Orr says someone got it wrong by blaming him for recent parking rate increases at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

In a letter to the editor to be published in Wednesday's Observer, Orr disputed a City Manager's report last week that said the 40 to 50 percent increase in parking rates is a result of inadequate planning by Orr for new parking deck construction costs. City manager Ron Carlee prepared the report, which said that Orr misrepresented the costs of tearing down the old hourly decks at the airport, according to the Observer's Ely Portillo.
Said Carlee's report: "When the replacement and expansion of parking was approved, the Aviation Department represented to the Council, the airlines serving Charlotte, the Rating Agencies, and bond investors that the capital program would be revenue neutral. That has not been the case, however..."

Last week, Orr told Portillo: "It does not seem accurate to me."

Now, he has a fuller response. Here's his letter:

Editors, The Observer:
Your article in The Observer dated March 6 captioned "Orr Blamed for Airport Parking Increases"  may or may not have accurately quoted City Manager Ron Carlee in reporting that I failed to consider or disclose to City Council the financial consequences of the Airport’s new parking deck project. But someone got their facts wrong. The plan of finance for the new deck included the commitment that the Aviation Director would increase parking rates when and as necessary to insure that Airport Revenues would be sufficient to pay the debt service on the new deck.
The parking deck was financed with the proceeds of the Series 2011 General Airport Revenue Bonds issued by the North Carolina Local Government Commission in November 2011. In connection with the issuance of the Bonds the City caused the financial feasibility of the project to be studied and reported on by an independent consultant in a report titled "REPORT OF THE AIRPORT CONSULTANT." This report was included as a part of the Official Statement published by the City as a prerequisite to the issuance of the Bonds.
Table V-6 on page B-119 is the Consultant’s forecast of Airport  Revenue. It has a separate line item captioned "Incremental Auto Parking – 2001 Dbt Svc Recovery" which identifies additional parking revenues ranging from $3,545,166 in FY 2012 to $5,504,053 in FY 2017.
Page B-120 of the Official Statement contains the following language:

“According to Airport  Management, the City will increase certain parking rates at the Airport which will result in additional parking revenues in amounts which, at a minimum, would recover the debt service on the 2011 Bonds allocable to the construction of the Public parking portion of the new short term public parking garage. …These additional parking revenues are projected to generate $3,545,166 in FY 2012 and $5,504,053 in FY 2017."

This information was shared with the City’s Manager and Chief Financial Officer as well as the City’s Investment Banker, Financial Advisor, Bond counsel and the North Carolina Local Government Commission. Apparently Mr. Carlee or The Observer have received misinformation. Any idea that I would propose a capital program that would jeopardize the Airport’s financial well-being is a complete mischaracterization of my management record as Aviation Director of Charlotte Douglas since 1989.
Respectfully submitted,
 T. J. Orr

Monday, March 10, 2014

Once again: To storm or not storm the court?

I've been a part of two basketball court stormings. They were crazy. They were joyful. They were a rush of victory and community and, for sure, a little alcohol. Or at least that's what I guess it was like, out there on the court. I was working both times. The only joy and victory I felt was that my laptop didn't get crushed by 20-year-olds climbing over the press table.

We've reached that time of the college basketball season when court stormings are an almost nightly happening - as is debate over their appropriateness. This happens most every February and March, when victories carry more meaning or provide suddenly happy moments in unhappy seasons. Either way, fans are heading out to halfcourt more often now to bob up and down for a bit before getting home to see if the scene made it on ESPN.

Have a problem with that? You're probably old. You probably think that court stormings are cheapened unless they happen after historic victories or huge upsets. You probably agreed with Twitter when it mocked UNC fans for storming the Dean Dome court last month after the Tar Heels, then unranked, beat No. 4 Duke ... in a regular-season game.

Dick Vitale didn't think that UNC court storming was called for, either. He's old.

The Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay weighed in yesterday with his support for the stormings, however frequent they might be. Others also think the traditionalists should get over themselves, and their pro-storming stance basically boils down to two points:

1) This is college;

2) This is a time in which you do things that you will later feel silly doing when you are old and responsible and type "y-o-u" instead of just "u" because God knows what's happening to the English language...

If you think No. 2 is a really poor reason to do something, see No. 1.

Look, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has a point when he says, annually, that court stormings put players in danger, but his point is more that he wants to see the players off the court before the fans pile on. And it may be true that someday, a beered up fan is going to shove an opposing player, and that player is going to respond, and everyone will be talking about how we need to control these flammable moments in the future.

But that hasn't happened yet. (A recent post-game incident between Utah Valley and New Mexico State players started before the first fan reached the floor.) For now, court stormings are a celebration. It's youths being youthful. It's one more thing that's wrong only because it's not how we used to do it. Just be safe about it, kids. And watch out for the laptops.

Peter St. Onge

Photo: North Carolina fans storm the court to celebrate a 74-66 victory against Duke on Feb. 20, 2014, at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Free game tickets for politicians?

Is it ethical for elected officials to accept free tickets to the Charlotte Knights' opening game in their new uptown stadium?

The Knights invited City Council members, Mecklenburg County commissioners and one guest each to the grand opening of BB&T Ballpark on April 11. The stadium was built with considerable taxpayer help as the Knights sought to leave their longtime home in York County.

That puts politicians in the position of deciding whether taking the tickets is ethical. The county's ethics policy is more restrictive than the city's, and so City Council members in particular will have to determine what to do.

Republican Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour wisely sought County Attorney Marvin Bethune's opinion this week on whether accepting free tickets would violate the county's ethics policy. Bethune wisely concluded that it would. The county policy has a provision that explicitly governs tickets to cultural and sporting events. The county will pay $830,000 to the Knights next March as part of the agreement that got the stadium built. So commissioners have a conflict in taking free tickets, Bethune said.

The city's ethics policy is less forbidding, and lacks the provision about tickets. It simply encourages City Council members to act in a way that does not create the appearance of impropriety. But who decides where that line is? Each individual council member.

The Knights' grand opening is a big community event. Elected officials, one could argue, should be there as part of their job and so shouldn't have to pay for their tickets. Besides, how much political influence could the Knights secure from a measly $18 ticket?

Better to avoid any appearance of a quid pro quo, we've always said. Politicians' credibility is already at an all-time low with voters. Accepting free tickets of any value feeds a cynicism that sees many politicians as in it for themselves more than for the public good. It's true that the deal with the Knights is already locked in, but it's possible the team could come back to the public for further help down the road.

The county has a strict ethics policy, which is smart. It says, in part: "A gift of one or more tickets to attend a cultural or sporting event that is supported directly or indirectly in any way by an appropriation of money from the County (an "Event") creates the appearance of influence, regardless of the value thereof. No County Official may, therefore, solicit or receive any tickets to an Event if the County" has given money toward the event or if the event promoters will be seeking money from the county.

Ridenhour was right to be wary, and Bethune was right to steer commissioners away from accepting free tickets.

The city policy merely asks council members to consider what a "reasonable" person would think. We think we're reasonable, and we think City Council members should pay their own way.

Now, let's play ball.

-- Taylor Batten

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lessons from the UNC athletic scandal

The athletic scandal that enveloped UNC Chapel Hill involving bogus classes, fraud charges and whether some football players could even read above a third-grade level  got the attention of other UNC system schools even if Chapel Hill school officials have been slow to react. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer's editorial board covering a wide range of topics, UNC Charlotte Chancellor Phil Dubois outlined what happened at the Charlotte school. Here's part of what he had to say:

"We made some governance changes to make sure we monitored the situation closely. You'd have to be an idiot not to look at the situation - the national situation, not just Chapel Hill. 
So we restructured our board of trustees to have an athletic committee and that athletic committee has a very defined agenda to not just look at athletic spending but student athlete's performance. Our trustees look at whether they're (the athletes are) concentrated  in particular  majors, concentrated in particular studies...the number of independent studies... all the kind of things that have not bubbled to the top at Chapel Hill..
We already had a structure where academic advisers don't report to athletics. They report to academic affairs. And we changed the reporting line for compliance people so they not only work with athletics - because on a day-to-day basis, they have to - but they also have to report to the general counsel. So if a compliance officer in athletics saw any issue they would know to go to the general counsel if they felt they were not getting a good response from athletics.
Now, in light of the recent issue of reading ability, I took a personal interest in this. (I told the staff) to look at entering SAT scores of our students and see whether or not there's a relationship where we could have predicted a problem and the answer is no.
I don't have a lot of confidence in standardized test scores but they are part of the weighted admission ration we use in making admissions decisions. High school performance counts two-thirds and standardized tests count one-third. Our students basically outperform their standardized test scores...
I don't think we're completely immune from problems... You have to be very vigilant about this matter. You can see what happens (when you're not)."

Vigilance is indeed key. The folks at UNC Chapel Hill are no doubt wishing they had been much more vigilant, as the athletic scandal keeps them in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Felony charges have been filed against a former department head in relation to the bogus classes, and yet another probe is under way to discern what happened and who was involved. 

Read more here:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The toll on Governor Pat's approval numbers?

It's getting harder to keep track of all the reasons North Carolinians are displeased with Pat McCrory. Right now, it's Duke Energy, his former employer, and the governor's waffling on leaking coal ash ponds. There's also teacher pay and the Medicaid expansion rejection and cutting unemployment benefits and a broken abortion promise and delivering cookies and "thanks for nothing" and, of course, the comedy that is the Department of Health and Human Services.

So how bad are the polling numbers looking right now for Gov. McCrisis? Not that bad, really. An American Insights survey of 611 registered N.C. voters showed McCrory enjoying a slightly positive approval rating - 43 percent who approve of the job he's doing to 40 percent who don't. (An Elon poll released this week had McCrory's approval at 36 percent, with 43 percent disapproving, but even that is an almost three percent improvement for the governor since November.)

There's some softness in the American Insights numbers for McCrory. More people strongly disapprove of the governor (27 percent) than strongly approve (17 percent), and his net approval with independents is at negative 2, according to American Insights. He's also under water with the important middle age demographics - the 35-49 age group disapproves of the governor by four points; the 50-64 age group feels the same by six points. Those are two of your reliable voting groups.

But McCrory is doing surprisingly well with women, who are evenly divided at 41 percent, and of course he is strong among Republicans, men, and older folks (65+). And his overall numbers are even more impressive considering that anti-incumbent sentiment (albeit for members of Congress) is at an all-time high in the U.S., according to a Washington Post poll today.

How does that all add up? Here's one measure: McCrory leads N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper by six percentage points, 44-38, in the race for governor in 2016.

It's a very early poll, of course. It's also a reminder of party entrenchment - there's just not a lot of movement with voters who identify with either party. (McCrory gets 79 percent of the Republican vote against Cooper.)

But your bigger takeaway of this poll and others: McCrory is surviving a rocky first year of being tugged between the extreme conservatives in the General Assembly and the angry progressives who feel betrayed that the governor isn't the moderate he said he was.

The governor will surely spend 2014 moving back toward the center on issues such as teacher pay, although it's difficult to imagine N.C. voters being fooled again into thinking he's a moderate. But as even this early poll shows - given his ever-solid Republican numbers, he only needs some independents to give him a second chance.

Peter St. Onge

Monday, March 3, 2014

Working since 16, and 'I'm lazy blood sucker?!'

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column declaring that "Huge inequalities in income are not inevitable." It was based on recent reports that showed lopsided income growth has not been the norm throughout U.S. history. In fact, the report notes, inequality declined in this country in the four decades between the 1940s and the 1970s. During that time, the lowest wage earner as well as the highest paid CEO saw similar growth in incomes.

But between 1979 and 2007 that changed, with the top 1 percent seeing the bulk of the increase in income. Between 2009 and 2011, the 1 percent got all the income growth in 26 states including North Carolina and South Carolina. The recession hit some particularly hard. But not the 1 percent who laid off workers while raking in big profits. Policy choices and cultural forces combined to put downward pressure on the wages and incomes of most Americans even as their  productivity rose. The report's authors noted that the lopsided income growth had a big negative impact on the middle class.

Not everyone agreed with me or the reports I cited. But one writer who did, a self-identified conservative, provides an insightful look at how this issue is affecting real people. Here's his letter, which he agreed to let me post:


Great editorial and you know what: I'm coming around.

I wasn't in the income range you are talking about but I made in the low six figures and coupled with my wife's income we did OK (170's) and I was sympathetic to the cries of cutting taxes because I would get a crumb off that table. That is until the US subsidiary of an Asian company that I ran closed in June 2012.

No problem for a hard working conservative like me, good technical education (NCSU engineer), MBA, recent 6-Sigma certification, and a very successful business record that spanned 30 years in industrial sales and management. Well after 6 months of seeking employment (3 of which I was on severance) I got a little part time employment at a sporting goods store. Boy did I get an education! I was working with others who had previously had better jobs and now were working <32 hours a week retail <$10/hr. many had used their 401/IRA funds up, lost houses, marriages, etc. One had lived in a tent for 6 months and had lost her kids! You know there are actually tent communities in this area?!

Well then [came] the changes in Raleigh and I am the problem!!!...despite working nonstop from the time I was 16 until I was 54.

I was drawing the maximum unemployment ($535/wk, 25% of my previous base salary) working at the only p-t job I could get, and I'm the lazy blood sucker that is sapping off the system so that top 1% couldn't keep more of what they earned! So they vote in their Tea Party and vote out extended unemployment. So with the help of a friend I get another p-t job being a math TA for $12/hr. Between the two p-t jobs I was working 6 and 7 days a week, all hours, and making less than my unemployment had been...all the time applying for 4-12 jobs a week, even getting some interviews.

Good news legislature, you effectively kicked me out of those unemployment figures.

Finally after 16 months of not having a full time job I did get a decent job in my field in November (saw it on LinkedIn and it was one of my former customers). It pays 1/3 less than what I used to make but I'll take it.

Meanwhile the new regressive tax code has kicked in and thank goodness that top 1% gets to keep more money while the 99% gets to keep less through increased sales and other taxes.

You know Fannie that top 1%, they're the job creators. That’s why total employment is at a 35 year low despite the continual decrease in taxes on them over that same period. Who woulda thought!

Yet the answer is to cut their taxes some more?!

I have a question: Why is it that throughout human history the top 1% has convinced the rest of us that fighting for their wealth is our patriotic duty?

Happened in medieval Europe, happened in the 19th century South and its happening today.

Amazing, simply amazing.

I came out OK but many are suffering and much of it is no fault of their own. But we have to cut, cut, cut, so they can keep more, more, more.

Brad Pack

Concord, NC

- Associate Editor Fannie Flono