Archive

Insider for July 13, 2020

YOU DON’T SAY

“I was actually the one who tested positive and though I wear a mask on occasion I do not always.”

Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, on testing positive for coronavirus last week. (THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/10/20)



Prison Vendor

Colin Campbell, THE INSIDER, 7/13/20

The Department of Public Safety actively opposed a $1.8 million allocation for a new prison management software program that it says was designed to “select one specific vendor.” The provision was tacked onto an unrelated purchasing and contracting bill, House Bill 902, and passed through the legislature at 2 a.m. in the final hours of June’s session. Gov. Roy Cooper has since signed the bill into law, despite the objections from his cabinet agency and “no” votes from a handful of House Democrats.

Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, developed the legislation to create the Prison Software Management Pilot Program, which would overhaul antiquated software used for inmate information at two prisons — effectively a test run to roll out software to all prisons. Steinburg said he learned about problems with the current technology system, known as OPUS, in visits with prison leaders across the state. “The OPUS system is a safety problem for them, and they’re unable to have vital information on inmates that they desperately need,” Steinburg said. “I think it will help with the tracking of COVID. It’s a system that is absolutely in need of repair and a 21st century do-over, that’s the reason for the pilot program.” The new software will be used at Bertie and Pasquotank correctional in Eastern North Carolina, which have seen deadly inmate attacks on corrections officers in recent years. “We thought that was symbolic to try this pilot program in those two prisons first,” he said.

House Bill 902 lays out a nine-point list of requirements for a vendor to receive the contract. The vendor will have to already have software in “at least three active and fully functional installations within the state.” And it will need to provide “proof of current contracts with North Carolina sheriffs’ offices for local jail management and record management software services.” A company that appears to fit the bill, Texas-based Tyler Technologies, recently gave a presentation about its services to the Senate prison safety committee that Steinburg chairs. The presentation included several recommendations for lawmakers, including “fund a technology initiative that provides the capability to aggregate data” and “require and fund the modernization of offender management systems.” About 200 criminal justice agencies have contracts with Tyler, according to the PowerPoint presentation. A lobbyist for the firm, David Collins of Walk West, did not respond to an email inquiry.

John Bull, a spokesman for the Division of Prisons, said DPS “didn’t ask for it” and the legislation “essentially selects one specific vendor.” Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake and a sponsor of the original version of the purchase and contracting bill, called on House members to oppose the final version because the prison software program was a last-minute addition to her bill and “favors one vendor in particular.” Thirteen other Democrats and one Republican in the House joined Holley in voting no, while the Senate vote on HB 902 was unanimous. But Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, who worked with Steinburg on the bill, said the language “doesn’t pick a vendor, this says ‘you guys get a consultant and you make the decision.’” The goal of the vendor requirements is to ensure it’s “somebody who’s got a track record,” he added.

The prison system is also voicing other concerns about the project, including deadlines that require the new software to be up and running by Oct. 15. Bull called the deadlines “unrealistic and impossible to meet.” “Working on this pilot will require significant IT resources,” he said in an email. “During the pandemic, it will require us to designate a team to try to implement it, which will take staff away from their main duties at a time when we are already struggling to retain staff and combat fatigue.” Because the pilot program would only be in two prisons, DPS would have to keep the OPUS system running simultaneously. Perry downplayed the agency’s concerns about a tight deadline. “I don’t think anybody is going to get in trouble by missing a date,” he said.

The prison software program is one of several unrelated provisions tacked onto the purchasing legislation during conference committee negotiations on HB 902. One of the others will allow operators of community pools to have liability protection if they reopen and someone sues over COVID-19 exposure. And another would exempt businesses locating at the Global TransPark in Kinston from certain insurance and state government construction requirements. “When the legislation was written years ago for the Department of Administration, I don’t think it really thought of a world where you’d have a combination of public buildings and private buildings in a public area like that,” Perry said, adding that the changes could “speed things up” for new companies locating at the TransPark. Holley complained that the conference committee process in the final hours of session turned her bill into a “Christmas tree.”



Voting Lawsuit

WILL DORAN, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/10/20

Elderly voters and those with increased coronavirus risks shouldn’t have to potentially endanger their health to vote this November, a new lawsuit says. The national American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU’s North Carolina chapter and several individual voters sued state lawmakers and elections officials Friday morning. Their goal is to eliminate North Carolina’s requirement that anyone who votes by mail must have someone else witness them voting and then sign their ballot, in order for it to count. “No one should be forced to choose between their health and their vote,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Removing the witness requirements in the middle of a deadly pandemic just makes sense. It is an obvious and common-sense solution that protects people’s health and their right to vote.”

In North Carolina, unlike in many other states, anyone can vote by mail if they want. No specific reasons or excuses are required. North Carolina typically requires people voting by mail to have two witnesses, although the legislature voted last month to reduce that to one witness, only for 2020, due to health concerns over coronavirus. The new law also makes it easier to request mail-in ballots, and it has measures aimed at making in-person voting safer like increased funding for public health supplies at polling places. Officials expect that absentee voting by mail might grow tenfold this year because of coronavirus concerns, from the normal 4% or 5% of voters to as high as 40%. The law passed nearly unanimously last month. A spokesperson for N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said the ACLU and other challengers should respect that bipartisan stamp of approval for the law they’re trying to overturn.

The ACLU lawsuit, however, says the legislature acknowledged the risks posed to mail-in voters by the witness requirement when lawmakers reduced it from two witnesses to just one. The lawsuit says the witness requirement will “necessitate face-to-face and hand-to-hand interaction between voters and others who pose a potentially fatal risk to the voter’s health.” The lawsuit claims the government has no valid interest in requiring the ballots to be witnessed. The ACLU says if someone wants to commit fraud with absentee ballots, the current witness signature rules won’t stop that from happening. The main effect of the witness rule, the lawsuit argues, is to potentially disenfranchise voters worried about their health. “While North Carolina election officials check for the presence of a signature and address, they do nothing to verify this information,” the lawsuit says. “Thus, as a practical matter, the witness requirements pose no obstacle to deter an individual who is willing to commit perjury and cast an absentee ballot fraudulently.”

The lawsuit says only 12 states require a witness requirement for mail-in ballots. And at least one of those states, Virginia, recently agreed to eliminate its witness requirement for the state’s June primary elections as part of a lawsuit that the ACLU was also involved in there. [Source]



Britt Test

WILL DORAN, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/10/20

A Republican state senator might have had coronavirus while lawmakers were back in Raleigh earlier this week, Senate leader Phil Berger announced Friday. Berger did not say who it was, but Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, tweeted Friday afternoon that he was the one who tested positive. After Democratic Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, tweeted his frustration that many Republican lawmakers have not been wearing masks at the legislature, Britt responded that he was the one who had tested positive.

“My apologies my friend I was actually the one who tested positive and though I wear a mask on occasion I do not always,” Britt wrote in a tweet that was later deleted. “I developed a medical condition from serving in Iraq in 06-07 and Kuwait in 11-12. That condition causes extreme difficulty in breathing in wearing masks.” Berger said the lawmaker tested negative shortly before the votes earlier this week began, only to test positive later. The last day of voting was Wednesday. The test was Thursday and the results came back Friday, Berger said. “He was not symptomatic when he took the second test,” Berger said. “He is staying home and feels well.“

The votes Wednesday included several unsuccessful attempts to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of various coronavirus-related reopening bills. The veto override votes failed along party lines, with Republicans in the majority failing to get Democratic support to pass the bills that would have canceled large parts of Cooper’s executive orders. Cooper has said his orders are aimed at keeping certain businesses like bars and gyms closed in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Face masks have been proven to be an effective way to stop the spread of coronavirus, although many Republicans at the legislature have declined to wear them. Even after Cooper passed an order making mask-wearing mandatory in public, GOP leaders at the legislature said they don’t think Cooper’s order applied to the legislature. However, some Republicans including Berger have worn masks at least some of the time. [Source]



Inmate Death

DANIELLE BATTAGLIA, THE INSIDER, 7/10/20

A judge agreed to delay a hearing for two weeks over whether he will release videos of an incident at the Forsyth County Jail last December that led to a Greensboro man’s death. Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill motioned for the July 15 hearing to be delayed due to his vacation plans and the need for attorneys for the people charged in the death to have time to review the footage, as well as because of concerns about whether the public should see the videos before any civil or criminal proceedings. “These video recordings contain what the undersigned believes to be both illustrative and substantive evidence in the pending criminal matters related to death,” O’Neill wrote.

The Dec. 4 death of 56-year-old John Neville was not reported to the public. On June 26, after months of being denied information about what happened to Neville at the jail, The News & Observer petitioned the courts to release the videos that captured the incident. The N&O’s attorney agreed to delay the hearing to July 29. Under North Carolina law, body-camera footage is not a public record and can be released only with a signed order from a judge.

In O’Neill’s motion, he told the judge that video recordings exist from various angles and with audio that captures the activities and movements of defendants before and after they responded to Neville’s “initial medical crisis.” The State Bureau of Investigation has prepared a 722-page report detailing what happened to Neville at the Forsyth County Jail that led to his death, according to O’Neill’s motion. The SBI report is not a public record, but an autopsy report released Thursday describes Neville crying out for help and telling officers he can’t breathe. [Source]



Prisons Compliance

Jordan Wilkie, Carolina Public Press, 7/10/20

North Carolina prisons are out of compliance with a court order, a judge said Friday afternoon. A month ago, Wake County Superior Court Judge Vinston Rozier Jr. ruled that conditions in state prisons were likely unconstitutional in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic. In that June hearing, Rozier ordered the state to take several actions. The N.C. Department of Public Safety, which oversees prisons, needed to create a plan to test all people in state prison custody for COVID-19, limit transfers between prisons, account for disparities between prison responses to COVID-19 and to expand the criteria that would allow people to be released from prison sooner.

In Friday’s order, Rozier wrote that the “state has failed to comply with the Court’s directions in several meaningful ways,” and that the court “is extremely concerned by the apparent indifference with which Defendants have treated the Court’s Orders.” The state “willfully failed” to provide certain information to the court. What the state did provide was inconsistent, incomplete and potentially incorrect, Rozier wrote.

The only way to get certain information about prison conditions and operations is for the state to provide it. More information is “helpful and necessary for the court to determine whether Defendants continue in the cruel or unusual treatment of those in its custody,” Rozier wrote. Rozier ordered the state to provide more information and stated he will appoint a court liaison to monitor the accuracy of information submitted to the court, to be paid for by the state. Friday’s order also required the state to provide evidence to show it is following the court’s order, due by July 27, including a detailed plan on preventing the spread of COVID-19, the state’s plan for early release from prison and protecting new intakes to the prison system. [Source]

POLICY COVERAGE IN NORTH CAROLINA SUPPORTED BY

Our ability to help businesses reopen and stay open hinges on our willingness to do habits like wearing a face covering and practicing social distancing. North Carolina health systems and hospitals encourage everyone to wear a mask in public and stay six feet apart. Together, we can protect both public health and the economy. #MaskUpNC Learn more at https://www.ncha.org/.



Calendar Problems

Travis Fain, WRAL NEWS, 7/12/20

The extra $600 in people’s unemployment checks will run out a week earlier than people expect because July ends on a Friday, not a Saturday. Congress approved the extra money earlier this year, saying it would be added to checks through the end of July. But the way lawmakers wrote the law spoke to “benefit weeks.” Because the benefit week in North Carolina and in most other states ends on a Saturday, and because July 31 is a Friday, they’ll run out a week early. That’s the week ending Saturday, July 25, according to the state Division of Employment Security.

Those on unemployment will continue to get checks from the state – but without the extra $600 from the federal government. Without that extra money, which Congress may eventually extend, people in North Carolina get about half their weekly salary, with a cap of $350 a week. “Every state is affected,” DES spokeswoman Kerry McComber said in an email. “All states except New York use a Sunday through Saturday week for unemployment benefits.”

U.S. Department of Labor guidance on the issue leaves no doubt how the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation works. “FPUC is not payable for any week of unemployment ending after July 31, 2020,” it states. “Accordingly, in states where the week of unemployment ends on a Saturday, the last week that FPUC may be paid is the week ending July 25, 2020.” The federal CARES Act also extended unemployment benefit duration, meaning the lower state payments will continue past the normal 12-week cap in North Carolina. This 13-week extension is called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

The state also adjusts the number of weeks that it pays unemployment benefits based on the unemployment rate. North Carolina is at the minimum of 12 weeks now because the economy was strong before the pandemic. The maximum in a bad economy is 20 weeks. The state’s recalculation happened July 1, but it was based on the unemployment rate from January, February and March – right before the economy cratered and more than 1 million people filed for unemployment in North Carolina. The next recalculation, based on unemployment rates in July, August and September, comes Jan. 1. [Source]



COVID-19 Cases

VIRGINIA BRIDGES, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/12/20

The number of people in North Carolina who have tested positive for COVID-19 continued to rise Sunday while the number of reported hospitalizations dipped, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS reported 1,908 new COVID-19 cases across the state Sunday, bringing the total to 85,701. The agency reported 1,503 people have died, up four from a day earlier.

Hospitalizations fell by 23 Sunday to 1,070 after reaching a record high of 1,093 Saturday, DHHS reported. It’s common for hospitalization numbers to fall on Sundays, when fewer hospitals report information. The number of reporting hospitals fell four percentage points Sunday to 84%. About 75% of the inpatient hospital beds are in use, along with 79% of intensive care unit beds, according to the state. The number of completed COVID-19 tests increased by 23,517 Sunday to 1,199,575. The percentage of positive cases was 10% Saturday, the latest figure available. [Source]



Mask Law

Lucille Sherman, The News & Observer, 7/10/20

Starting in August, it won’t be illegal for people in North Carolina to wear face masks, with Gov. Roy Cooper signing legislation into law that will allow the face coverings for public health reasons indefinitely. The change is intended to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. Cooper has made mask-wearing mandatory in public until at least July 17, although he could extend that.

Until earlier this year, it had been illegal to wear masks in public in North Carolina because of a 1950s law targeted at the KKK. Senate Bill 232, which Cooper signed Friday afternoon, also includes language to repeal a controversial public records provision in Senate Bill 168 if signed into law. However, Cooper vetoed SB 168 Monday. When lawmakers reconvened this spring, they voted to suspend the 1950s law until Aug. 1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, tried several times during the session to extend the measure beyond Aug. 1 by adding amendments into varying bills. Those measures failed until this week, when the House introduced SB 232.

The bill passed the House floor Tuesday and the Senate floor Wednesday. The House previously passed a measure that would extend the legality of wearing a mask for public health reasons until February, but the Senate removed the measure from the bill in the early hours of June 26. [Source]



School Money

T. KEUNG HUI, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/10/20

The federal government gave North Carolina $39 million in coronavirus relief money. But the Democratic majority on the State Board of Education has other uses for the money than just COVID-19. The state board voted 7-3 Thursday to approve a spending plan using the coronavirus relief money for things such as services for special-education students and hiring staff to work with low-performing schools. This drew objections from Republican State Superintendent Mark Johnson, who said the money should be focused on disaster relief, such as helping pay for childcare for families of teachers. “This is federal disaster relief funding, and it is meant to be sent out in a way that supports children and families and we need to use equity when we do this,” Johnson said Thursday before the vote.

But Democratic board members argued that schools have pressing needs beyond the coronavirus pandemic. Board members repeatedly pointed to the long-running Leandro school funding case, where multiple judges have declared that the state is falling short in educating at-risk students. “There are huge needs here, and there’s got to be a selection of priorities. And the selection of priorities from the lens of the board has to be geared to some degree through the immediate crisis, the equity lens, the Leandro needs and how we can best serve our children,” said state board vice chairman Alan Duncan.

The state’s K-12 public schools got $390 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help them deal with the impact of COVID-19. Ninety percent will go directly to schools, with the other 10%, or $39 million, set aside as a reserve. School reopening plans could have students spend part of or all the time learning from home next school year. The state Department of Public Instruction developed a plan for the $39 million that included using $15 million to help schools pay childcare for families when students are using remote learning. [Source]



Mask Mandate

Hannah Critchfield, NC HEALTH NEWS, 7/12/20

Mask use has become highly politicized, despite mounting evidence that face coverings are effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings are now required in North Carolina businesses, following an executive order from the governor that went into effect on June 26. Some hoped the stressors of navigating public life during the pandemic would be alleviated by a clear mandate. But businesses across the state — and often down the street from one another — widely vary in their enforcement of the order, leaving patrons, employees and owners wondering how much of an impact the governor’s order has actually had on increasing mask use, particularly among customers.

On June 24, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper announced that mask use would be required for both customers and employees inside businesses statewide. The mandate went into effect two days later. Responsibility for enforcing the policy largely falls on businesses, which could be fined if they fail to comply with the order. Sheriffs in 15 counties came forward saying they wouldn’t enforce the governor’s order — that they would instead “encourage” people without masks to don them, but wouldn’t issue any citations. Even outside those counties, citations appear to be sparse. So far, the seven most populous counties in the state — Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford, Forsyth, Cumberland, Durham and Buncombe — have issued zero citations.

Holiday Inns in Asheville and Halifax said they won’t deny someone entry if they refuse to wear a face covering (though Holiday Inns in Raleigh said they would), nor will North Carolina-based companies Food Lion, Ingles, and Harris Teeter in their grocery stores across the state, according to company spokespeople. Many businesses cited the order’s “exception” clause, which allows certain workers and customers to not wear a mask for reasons like a medical or behavioral condition, or a disability. North Carolinians are currently on an “honor system” concerning whether or not they qualify for one of these exemptions, leading company representatives to express concern over potential liability. [Source]



Gov’s Race

DAWN BAUMGARTNER VAUGHAN, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/10/20

The coronavirus has reshaped the election for North Carolina governor between Roy Cooper and Dan Forest. When COVID-19 hit North Carolina in March, it was suddenly up to Cooper to decide where North Carolinians could work, play, eat and shop. Millions of parents, students and teachers now await his announcement of a plan for schools. “Everything is defined by the coronavirus pandemic and how the nation has responded to that, and the state has responded to that,” said Jarvis Hall, a political science professor at N.C. Central University in Durham.

“It has allowed Gov. Cooper to look very gubernatorial and as a leader — not that he didn’t before, but to exercise his power to ... keep the people of North Carolina safe,” Hall said in a phone interview Thursday with The News & Observer. “Of course from a campaign perspective, this has changed everything,” he said. “North Carolina is a swing state of course, and this may turn out to be the premiere race for governor actually, which would be unusual for North Carolina.”

Forest entered the summer trailing in most polls. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes elections, deems the North Carolina governor’s race as “lean Democrat.” After the pandemic began, campaign events were canceled and replaced with virtual meetings and more donation emails, though Forest has returned to in-person campaign events this month. North Carolina’s 7 million registered voters are, as of July, 2.5 million Democrat, nearly 2.1 million Republican and 2.3 million unaffiliated. [Source]



McClatchy Auction

KEVIN G. HALL, MCCLATCHY, 7/12/20

Chatham Asset Management, the New Jersey hedge fund that is McClatchy Co.’s largest creditor, has won an auction to buy the bankrupt local news company. Under the proposed deal that will be submitted to the bankruptcy court for approval, Chatham would buy the entire company, McClatchy said Sunday. “As long-standing supportive investors in McClatchy, we are pleased with the outcome of the auction,” Chatham said in a statement. “Chatham is committed to preserving newsroom jobs and independent journalism that serve and inform local communities during this important time.”

The auction was Friday, after a federal judge rejected a last-minute challenge by a second hedge fund, Alden Capital Group, to Chatham’s starting bid. Chatham was the only bidder publicly identified until Alden filed its challenge in court late Wednesday. McClatchy has said that more than 20 parties expressed initial interest in the company and that “multiple bidders” submitted binding bids by the July 1 deadline. The company has declined to identify bidders or to provide details about the bids, citing non-disclosure agreements. In an earlier court filing that effectively served as a floor to open the bidding, Chatham had offered to acquire McClatchy for about $300 million, a combination of debt credits and at least $30 million in cash. Alden alleged that some of McClatchy’s unsecured, or less protected, debt might be included in Chatham’s deal and that it was improper because bankruptcy Judge Michael E. Wiles has signaled that the issuance of the unsecured debt in 2018 could be open to litigation. But Wiles rejected the challenge, clearing the way for the auction to proceed.

Chatham and McClatchy are finalizing terms of the deal, known as an asset purchase agreement, which must be approved by McClatchy’s board of directors before the company notifies the bankruptcy court of a successful bid. McClatchy said it plans to make that notification by Wednesday.

McClatchy was controlled by the McClatchy family for 163 years. The company owns 30 media titles in 14 states and Washington, D.C., including the Miami Herald, the Kansas City Star, the Sacramento Bee, the Charlotte Observer, the News & Observer and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. [Source]



Capitol Statues

BRIAN MURPHY, MCCLATCHY, 7/10/20

North Carolina is still more than a year away from having its statue of the Rev. Billy Graham ready for the U.S. Capitol. But U.S. House Democrats want to remove the statue that Graham’s would replace much sooner. Charles Aycock, a former governor and white supremacist, is one of the state’s two statues on display in the Capitol. Democrats want to remove North Carolina’s other statue of Zebulon B. Vance, a former governor and Confederate military officer. The Democratic-led House Appropriations Committee voted Friday to include language to remove the statues within 45 days of its legislative branch budget becoming law. The GOP-led Senate is unlikely to include language in its version of the budget. President Donald Trump, who has spoken out against removing statues, would have to sign the bill.

The bill calls for Aycock’s statue to be removed specifically. It also calls for the removal of “any individual who served voluntarily at any time as a member of the armed forces of the Confederate States of America,” which would include Vance. “It’s time to put an end to glorifying our nation’s darkest hours with displays of prominent Confederate and white supremacist statues in the Capitol, including North Carolina’s statues of Zebulon Vance and Charles Aycock, which was already slated for removal by the General Assembly,” said Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat, in a statement. He’s a member of the appropriations committee.

There are no Black Americans among the 100 statues. It wasn’t until 2000 that U.S. lawmakers put in place a procedure to replace statues. State lawmakers voted in 2015 to replace the Aycock statue with one of Graham after his death. Graham’s statue will go in the U.S. Capitol Crypt, where one statue from each of the 13 original colonies is on display. [Source]



Council Finalists

ANNA JOHNSON AND VIRGINIA BRIDGES, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/12/20

Five people who want to join the Raleigh City Council — filling the seat vacated by Saige Martin — were scheduled to take part in a virtual forum Sunday. Saturday, council members and Mayor Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin narrowed down a list of 54 potential candidates through a three-round voting process. While there were about 70 applications, many applicants were disqualified because they did not live in District D or were not registered to vote. Some were disqualified after their eligibility could not be determined.

Here are the five finalists with biographical information provided from their applications:

  • Carmen Wimberley Cauthen, 60, is a retired administrative clerk from the N.C. General Assembly.
  • Stormie Denise Forte, 49, is an attorney who currently hosts a weekly community radio show.
  • Jane Lindsay Harrison, 34, is a coastal economics specialist for N.C. Sea Grant.
  • Joseph Todd Kennedy, 45, is a senior scientist and project manager for Moffatt and Nichol, a global infrastructure advisory firm.
  • Jennifer Katherine Peeler Truman, 30, is an apprentice with Matthew Konar Architect.

The list of applicants included former council member Kay Crowder, who served on the board from 2014 to 2019 but lost to Martin in the election. According to vote tally sheets posted on council member David Cox’s Facebook page, Crowder did not receive enough votes to advance to the Sunday’s forum. [Source]



Wake Withdrawal

ANNA JOHNSON, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/12/20

Wake County Commissioner Chair Greg Ford is withdrawing from the 2020 election to move across the country. He emailed his supporters just before 6 p.m. Friday. His husband leads a nonprofit professional association and education foundation in California and, while the work has been remote, they’ve learned the “family’s eventual relocation to California in the coming years would need to be accelerated.”

The Wake County Democratic Party will select a new nominee for the District 6 seat, which covers the northern part of the county, according to his email. The replacement will ideally be named within two weeks to give the Wake County Board of Elections office enough time to print the ballots, said Wake County Elections Director Gary Sims. Ford plans to continue in his role as commissioner and chair of the board through his current term, which expires in December. [Source]



Emerging Leaders

The Robesonian, 7/09/20

A Republican training and educational organization has chosen Lumberton’s resident state senator to be a member of its 2020 class of Emerging Leaders. Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, is one of 21 Republican lawmakers from across the United States, and one of two from North Carolina, selected to take part in GOPAC’s yearlong training program. The other North Carolina lawmaker was Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell.

The cornerstone of the yearlong education program is the 10th Annual Emerging Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., according to GOPAC. To be selected for the Emerging Leaders Program, a legislator must be nominated by a member of the GOPAC Legislative Leaders Advisory Board or by the legislative leadership of their state. According to GOPAC’s website, the organization’s mission is to build “a roster of prepared and tested Republicans ready to lead.” The organization coaches and develops state lawmakers and prepares them for “the rigors of running for higher office.” [Source]



Graham Protests

TAMMY GRUBB AND VIRGINIA BRIDGES, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/11/20

A Saturday protest in Alamance County remained mostly peaceful, despite agitation on both sides, as Black Lives Matter demonstrators faced off with defenders of Confederate statues in the shadow of Graham’s monument. Hundreds of Black Lives Matter marchers descended on downtown Graham around 12:30 p.m. Many had walked 1 1/2 miles from Burlington to downtown Graham in a “March for Justice & Community.” A smaller group of about 60 people holding Confederate flags and other symbols of the old South awaited them.

The event marked one of the larger recent protests in the city, as local officials have taken steps to quell such demonstrations. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU and the ACLU of North Carolina, and the Lockamy Law Firm got a temporary restraining order against the city last week in a lawsuit over its protest rules. On Friday, Graham Mayor Jerry Peterman issued a message declaring a state of emergency covering a portion of the downtown area “due to an imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, loss of life.” On Saturday, there was a significant showing of law enforcement, including officers from Graham, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, the Burlington Police Department and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, for the march and protests.

The downtown Graham site has been the focus of multiple demonstrations since 2015, but calls to remove the statue dedicated in 1914 have grown in the last month following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office arrested two people, Graham Police Department Lt. Daniel Sisk said. Details about the arrests were not immediately available, he said. [Source]



UNC Names

LIZ SCHLEMMER, WUNC RADIO, 7/10/20

A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill commission called to remove the names of four white supremacists from campus buildings. A UNC-Chapel Hill commission voted Friday to recommend removing the names of four prominent white supremacists from campus buildings. The resolution will go to university Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees for consideration.

The History Race, and a Way Forward Commission unanimously passed the resolution to recommend the removal of building names honoring Governor Charles Aycock, Julian Carr, Josephus Daniels and Thomas Ruffin. UNC education professor and commission member Sherick Hughes said these men were not merely “men of their times” but leaders in white supremacy. The commission prepared briefs detailing the white supremacist actions taken by each of the men whose names are recommended for removal. UNC history professor and Commission Co-Chair Jim Leloudis called the resolution “a first step,” and said the commission will research the names of more than three dozen campus buildings to possibly recommend the removal of other names memorialized on campus. [Source]



Clinton Statue

LYNN BONNER, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/12/20

A bronze Confederate statue outside the Sampson County courthouse in Clinton, found bent and teetering on its pedestal Sunday morning, has been removed, according to the county sheriff’s office. The statue was vandalized Saturday night, according to the Sampson Independent. The Sampson sheriff’s department is investigating, Lt. Marcus Smith said Sunday in an email to The News & Observer. “For now, the statue had to be removed due to damage received during the vandalism,” he wrote.

The debate over what to do with the Confederate monument in Clinton, about 60 miles south of Raleigh, has intensified as other towns and cities have decided to relocate statues honoring the Confederacy and those who fought for it. The Clinton City Council adopted a resolution unanimously last week that asks the Sampson County board of commissioners to explore options for the monument’s relocation. [Source]



Parks Use

MARTHA QUILLIN, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/10/20

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in North Carolina in March eventually revealed a string of shortages: hospital workers, protective gear, pantry staples and, in some places, state parkland. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, some units of the N.C. State Parks system have been turning away people to prevent overcrowding, especially during peak weekend hours, when two to three times the normal number of visitors have approached the gates at some parks. That’s despite the fact that as of July 8, all inland swim beaches at state parks remain closed, including those at Falls Lake, Jordan Lake and Kerr Lake state recreation areas, and Lake Norman State Park.

On July 3, eight state parks had hit capacity by 10:30 a.m., and the N.C. State Parks’ Facebook page was asking people still planning to come to visit on a different day. In his 17-plus years working at Stone Mountain State Park in Wilkes and Alleghany counties, park Superintendent Jeff Jones said that until the pandemic hit, “We’ve never had to do that before.” Now it happens every weekend. John Fullwood took over as interim director of state parks in May, when Cooper appointed the former parks director, Dwayne Patterson, deputy director and chief operating officer of the N.C. Pandemic Recovery Office. Fullwood is a 28-year veteran of the state parks system who started out as an attendant at Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. Fullwood isn’t surprised by record attendance at some state parks. “We hope there are some people discovering state parks, and some people rediscovering state parks.” [Source]



Student Rules

April Laissle, WFDD RADIO, 7/12/20

Triad university officials have spent much of the last week fielding questions from worried international students after new immigration regulations were revealed Monday. The rules bar those students from remaining in the country if their classes are entirely online. Maria Anastasiou, the Associate Provost for International Programs at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, says this has added another layer of confusion for students already struggling to make plans for the school year. UNCG and Wake Forest University have issued statements in support of their international students. And, Wake Forest has joined an amicus brief backing a lawsuit challenging the new regulations. [Source]



Equity Panel

Laura Leslie, WRAL NEWS, 7/12/20

Some of North Carolina’s top law enforcement and court officials met Friday to talk about racial equity in the state’s criminal justice system. Gov. Roy Cooper appointed the 23-member North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice after days of protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis. “We are at a unique time. There is an opportunity here where I believe people have been the most receptive to change that they have ever been, and it’s up to us come forward with strong changes,” Cooper said at the group’s first meeting on Friday.

Led by Attorney General Josh Stein and state Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, the task force is supposed to look for ways to make law enforcement and the criminal justice system more equitable for everyone. Cooper wants recommendations for ways to improve such problems by Dec. 1. In addition to Stein, Earls, Davis and Woodall, the other members of the task force are as follows:

  • Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis
  • Jim Woodall, district attorney for Orange and Chatham counties
  • Tarrah Callahan, executive director of Conservatives for Criminal Justice Reform
  • Robeson County District Court Judge Brooke Locklear Clark
  • Richmond County Sheriff James Clemmons Jr.
  • Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin
  • Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash
  • Raleigh police Sgt. Billy Gartin
  • Transylvania County Commissioner Michael Hawkins
  • Henderson Hill, senior counsel of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project and co-director of Redress NC
  • Secretary of Public Safety Erik Hooks
  • Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram
  • Apex Police Chief John Letteney
  • Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, D-Mecklenburg, who also is a public defender
  • Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, a former judge
  • Mary Pollard, executive director of the North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services Inc. and incoming executive director of the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services
  • Kerwin Pittman, a community activist in Raleigh
  • Martin County Commissioner Ronnie Smith
  • Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Alan Thornburg
  • Talley Wells, executive director of the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities.
  • Angelica Wind, executive director of Our Voice Inc. [Source]


Racist Attacks

Joel Burgess, Asheville Citizen-Times, 7/10/20

A woman who weeks before became known internationally for racist video rants recently attacked a 14-year-old girl and ripped off a woman’s hijab in a dramatic and violent incident described by two women involved. Rachel Dawn Ruit, 41, of Terry’s Gap Road in Henderson County had drawn condemnation from people worldwide who saw June 13 and July 1 videos of her in downtown Asheville shouting racial epithets and threatening people, at times saying she would sexually assault them.

On July 4, those threats turned real as she attacked a woman wearing a hijab head covering and a 14-year-old girl who was Black, according to the woman who was attacked, Asheville Police Department reports and a passerby who intervened. “Less than two hours ago, white supremacist Rachel Ruit ripped my hijab off, bit my face and beat a black teen girl after yelling racial slurs,” Nahlah Karimah posted July 4 on Twitter. “Thank Allah for the decent ally who stepped in and saved me and the girl,” she tweeted. Carter said she heard Ruit tell the girl she needed to be “put down” and if she fought back “she would be raped.” Ruit then grabbed the girl by the groin, she said.

Other people did intervene, but Carter and Karimah said they grabbed Karimah, putting her in a chokehold. Carter said she yelled at them to let her go and they did. In her tweets, Karimah assigned the people’s actions to racism. “When I tried to pull her off the black child, other racists jumped in,” she said. When paramedics arrived, they first treated Ruit, who had taken off most her clothes and was yelling, Carter said. She said she waited 15 minutes for police with her arms burning from pepper spray and that officers at first didn’t want to take her statement. “I filed a police report and will follow up,” she said. An Asheville Police Department spokeswoman said Ruit was arrested at Mission Hospital, where she and Karimah and the girl were being treated. Ruit was charged with simple assault, disorderly conduct and second-degree trespass, all misdemeanors. A magistrate set a bond of $1,000. By July 9, Ruit was out of jail. In a Facebook post, police said Ruit “is known to APD for recent acts of verbal harassment and hate speech in the downtown area.” [Source]



Beach Reimbursement

COASTAL REVIEW ONLINE, 7/10/20

Topsail Beach will be reimbursed more than $2.5 million to cover the replacement of more than 312,000 cubic yards of beach sand following a damaging storm surge caused by the 2019 Hurricane Dorian. Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA’s, total share for this project is more than $1.9 million and the state’s share is more than $640,000, according to the announcement Friday from the state and FEMA. FEMA’s Public Assistance program provides grants for state and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations to reimburse the cost of debris removal, emergency protective measures and permanent repair work. [Source]



COVID Courthouse

Mike Conley, McDowell News, 7/10/20

Both the McDowell and Rutherford courthouses are closed this week because of a confirmed case of COVID-19. Friday morning, people went over to the McDowell County Courthouse in downtown Marion where they found the doors were locked and a flier taped on the glass. “This facility is currently closed for cleaning following a confirmed case of COVID-19,” reads the flier. The flier also states the magistrates can be seen at the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office.

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Tommy Davis told The McDowell News Friday morning both the McDowell and Rutherford courthouses are closed at the request of the Health Department, which serves both counties. There will be no court Friday in either county or all of next week. We anticipate court resuming Monday, July 20,” said Davis. He added the closing is because of a “confirmed positive related to both courthouses.” Not only are the courthouses being thoroughly cleaned but all of the employees for both will be tested for COVID-19. Some departments at the courthouses might reopen next week as the employees for them test negative, according to Davis. [Source]



Chemours Permit

COASTAL REVIEW ONLINE, 7/10/20

The public can provide comment by Aug. 10 on a draft discharge permit for a water treatment system at the Chemours Fayetteville Works site to remove per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, contamination. Under the consent order signed February 2019 by Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan, Chemours is required to reduce PFAS by 99% in the groundwater flowing from the site through Old Outfall 002 into the Cape Fear River and downstream intakes.

Chemours requested the new permit for the discharge of treated groundwater, stormwater and surface water from a stream on the southern portion of its property in order to reduce PFAS loading to the Cape Fear River and comply with the consent order, according to the permit fact sheet. Since 2017, Chemours has been prohibited from discharging process wastewater into the Cape Fear River. [Source]



CARES Doubled

Jule Hubbard, Wilkes Journal-Patriot, 7/08/20

Wilkes County government’s initial allocation of $1.36 million through the federal CARES Act for coronavirus-related costs has been nearly doubled. With the additional $1.32 million, Wilkes is now getting $2.69 million through the CARES Act. The $1.32 million was allocated through N.C. House Bill 1023, signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on July 1. HB 1023 requires that municipalities receive 25% of CARES Act funds appropriated to county governments, which means the three towns in Wilkes will get a combined $672,705. [Source]



Death

Hendersonville Times-News 7/10/20

Longtime Henderson County Commissioner Charlie Messer died last week at home, surrounded by family, of a sudden illness. Messer, 66, had fallen ill about 10 days ago and was being treated out of the county. County officials said the illness was not COVID-19. Yesterday, a group of people including EMS and Sheriff’s Office personnel worked to honor the family’s wishes and bring Messer back to Henderson County so that he could be at home with family in his final hours. Messer was serving his fifth term, which was to end this December.

As a county commissioner, Charlie showed a deep interest in matters of land planning, education and recreation, and was a leader in the adoption of the Land Development Code, which brought county-wide zoning, according to a news release from the county. He was first elected county commissioner in November of 2000, and was reelected in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. He served as the both chairman and vice chairman of the Board of Commissioners during his service on the board.



New Mayor

Mike Shutak, Carteret County News-Times, 7/09/20

Former Town Commissioner John Brodman is now the 12th mayor of Pine Knoll Shores. The town board of commissioners held its regular meeting Wednesday at town hall, during which the board unanimously appointed Mr. Brodman mayor. He succeeds Ken Jones, who died May 14 while still in office.State statute allows a municipal board or council to appoint a mayor to complete an unfinished term between municipal elections. The next municipal election is scheduled for 2021. [Source]



Other Legislative Studies and Meetings

LB: Legislative Building. LOB: Legislative Office Building

Monday, July 20, 2020

  • 10 a.m. | North Carolina Child Well-Being Transformation Council, 1228/1327 LB.

Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020

  • 12 p.m. | The House Convenes, House Chamber.
  • 12 p.m. | The Senate Convenes, Senate Chamber.


N.C. Government Meetings and Hearings

Items in RED are new listings.

Thursday, July 16

  • 9:30 a.m. | The State Board of Community Colleges committees meet virtually.

Friday, July 17

  • 9 a.m. | The State Board of Community Colleges meet virtually.

Monday, July 20

  • 11 a.m. | The Executive Committee of The North Carolina Partnership for Children meets virtually via Zoom.
  • 1 p.m. | The Board Development Committee of The North Carolina Partnership for Children meets virtually via Zoom.

Tuesday, July 21

  • 1:30 p.m. | The Accountability Committee of The North Carolina Partnership for Children meets virtually via Zoom.

Tuesday, Aug. 4

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Tuesday, Sept. 1

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Tuesday, Oct. 6

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Tuesday, Nov. 3

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Tuesday, Dec. 1

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.
  • 1:30 p.m. | The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund will hold an advisory committee meeting, Hall of Fame Room, Agriculture Building, 2 W. Edenton St., Raleigh.
  • 6 p.m. | The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission meets, New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, 203 South Front St., New Bern.


UNC Board of Governors

UNC Center for School Leadership Development, 140 Friday Center Drive, Chapel Hill.

Tuesday, July 14

  • 2 p.m. | The UNC Board of Governors’ Capital Construction Task Force meets via video conference call to discuss ideas related to capital construction topics.

Wednesday, July 22

  • TBA | The UNC Board of Governors, C.S.L.D. Building, Chapel Hill.

Wednesday, Sept. 16

  • TBA | The UNC Board of Governors, C.S.L.D. Building, Chapel Hill.

Wednesday, Oct. 21

  • TBA | The UNC Board of Governors, C.S.L.D. Building, Chapel Hill.


N.C. Utilities Commission Hearing Schedule

Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury Street, Raleigh.

Monday, July 13

  • Staff Conference

Monday, July 27

  • Staff Conference

Monday, Aug. 3

  • Staff Conference


Other Meetings and Events of Interest

Items in RED are new listings.

Saturday, July 25

  • 9:30 a.m. | The Annual NC Senior Democrats State Convention will meet virtually.


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