Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Belk: dismiss recommendation for removal

Former Mecklenburg District Judge Bill Belk is challenging the N.C. Judicial Standards Commission's recommendation that he be officially removed from the bench.

Belk's attorney, Kevin Byrnes of Charlotte, submitted a brief earlier this month asking the state Supreme Court to dismiss the case against him.

"Because the Judicial Standards Commission failed to find any facts by clear, cogent and convincing evidence," Byrnes wrote, "none of its conclusions is properly supported by valid findings."

Read the 41-page document by clicking here.

The Judicial Standards Commission recommended Belk be removed from the bench for "willful misconduct." Belk had been accused of misconduct for continuing to serve on the board of directors of Sonic Automotive, one of the nation's largest auto retailers, and for his behavior during the confrontation with Mecklenburg Chief District Judge Lisa Bell.

Byrnes writes in the new brief that Belk "has never misused his office to interfere with the judicial system or any particular case. He has acted at all times in good faith …"

If the state Supreme Court imposes that commission's recommended discipline, Belk would be banned from ever again holding a judgeship in North Carolina. -- Gary L Wright and April Bethea

Thursday, December 24, 2009

ABC records: $11 million paid to vendor

Agency officials last week released a statement saying the board "has no business relation with Diageo other than selling its products in ABC stores in Mecklenburg County."

But copies of checks show the relationship includes buying as well.


The board paid more than $11 million to Diageo Americas from January to November, according to documents obtained by WCNC, the Observer's news partner.

The state Alcohol Law Enforcement Division is investigating a $9,000 Nov. 18 dinner for 28 people, including ABC officials, paid for by London-based Diageo, which makes brands such as Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker Scotch.

Last week, Helms announced that he and other top staff paid back the cost of the meal at Del Frisco's steakhouse in south Charlotte. The board at that time also released its statement describing the relationship between the agency and Diageo.

- Doug Miller

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas edition: Track Santa online

Paper Trail has learned radar, satellites, Santa Cams and fighter jets are tracking Mr. Claus.

It all starts with the NORAD radar system called the North Warning System, according to the web site www.noradsanta.org. The site says a powerful radar system consists of 47 installations strung across the northern border of North America. On Christmas Eve, NORAD monitors the radar systems continuously for indications that Santa Claus has left the North Pole.

Click here to track Santa.

According to the site,for more than 50 years, NORAD and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) have tracked Santa’s Christmas Eve flight.

In 1958, the governments of Canada and the United States created a bi-national air defense command for North America called the North American Aerospace Defense Command, also known as NORAD, which then took on the tradition of tracking Santa. Internet tracking began in 1998.

- Doug Miller

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wachovia: Harrises got no insider info

Even if they did, the bank argues, members of the prominent Charlotte family have no right to damages.

"If they are insiders, the court cannot award lost profits for a failed insider trading scheme. If they are outsiders, they are in the same position as their fellow shareholders," Wachovia's response concludes. "Either way, they do not have a claim."

Cameron and Dee-Dee Harris sued Wachovia and former chief executive Ken Thompson in the fall after Harris' family lost millions of dollars as the bank's stock price plunged.

Cameron Harris said that Thompson and other bank executives misled him about the bank's financial condition, giving him reassuring but inaccurate information both in private conversations and public statements.

The bank says in its filing that "alleged private comments are esssentially indistinguishable from the alleged public comments during the same period."

Click here to read the filing.

The Harrises considered selling Wachovia shares in the summer of 2007, when the stock started trading around $50 per share, and later in mid-February 2008, when it was still trading above $30, according to their suit.

They refrained based on "misrepresentations" by Thompson and other executives, their lawsuit states. That includes public statements and reassurances from Thompson and others in private conversations, including on a hunting trip in February 2008.

The Harrises, Wachovia says, "wish now that they had sold instead of holding, as undoubtedly do millions of other shareholders ... Although their regret is understandable, North Carolina law does not permit Plaintiffs to turn back the clock."

Click here for the full Observer story.

- Doug Miller

FBI releases Michael Jackson files

The FBI today released its investigative files on the late entertainer Michael Jackson.

The records total 333 pages, divided into seven files, according to a news release. They detail the FBI’s investigation of a man who threatened to kill Jackson, as well as various forms of assistance to California authorities in two cases involving allegations that Jackson had abused children.

None of these allegations were ever proven in court.

Click here to read the files.

The FBI's highlights include:

- The Los Angeles FBI office investigated a California man already under arrest for sending numerous threatening letters. The man—who falsely claimed to be the son of mobster John Gotti—had staked out Jackson's house and threatened to kill him, the U.S. president, and others. He was ruled incompetent to stand trial and sent to prison for two years.

- In 1993, the Los Angeles and the Santa Barbara Police departments formed a task force to investigate an allegation that Jackson had molested a young boy. FBI field divisions in Los Angeles and New York—as well as Bureau overseas offices in Manila and London—provided assistance in that case. Investigators gathered public records on Jackson, interviewed a potential witness, and followed various other leads. The FBI assisted Los Angeles Police Department detectives who traveled to the Philippines to interview possible witnesses and shared news reports from London about a potential victim.

- A 1995 request by a U.S. Customs agent in Florida that the Bureau examine a VHS videotape connected with Jackson to see if it contained child pornography. Forensic specialists discovered that the tape was a “poor quality third or fourth generation recording” and informed the Customs Service of their findings.

- Doug Miller

Friday, December 18, 2009

Letter: Jim Beam support helps 'my dream'

"My name is Kevin Helms and I have been employed by Mecklenburg County ABC Board for 19 years..."

So begins a letter addressed to a Jim Beam representative from a warehouse manager for the Mecklenburg County Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Helms went on to ask that the Kentucky bourbon maker offer him financial support to "allow me to follow my dream of becoming a professional bass angler."

Click here to read the full letter.

Jim Beam agreed to the sponsorship offer.

In exchange for $3,200 in tournament entry fees and expenses over the past three years, Helms has worn a jersey and hat emblazoned with the Jim Beam logo and put logos on his boat.

Calvin McDougal, chief executive officer of the Mecklenburg ABC board, had approved the sponsorship, but he revoked it Thursday after inquiries from the Observer.

The sponsorship is one of several instances that raise questions about the board's relationship with vendors and other organizations with which it does business.

Board Chair Parks Helms announced this week that he, McDougal and other board employees have repaid $9,000 to international distiller Diageo for the dinner the company provided for Helms, his wife and 26 board employees and spouses last month.

Click here for the full Observer story.

- Doug Miller

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Did 'Caucasian' clause discourage Myers Park buyers?

Prospective homeowners in the Myers Park neighborhood may have been discouraged from buying after reading a sample deed saying only "people of the Caucasian race" could live there, according to a city report.

The report obtained by Paper Trail outlines the findings of fact behind news this week that the state and local NAACP are trying to reach a settlement with the Myers Park HOA in the dispute.

Click here to read the report.

Its conclusion is based on three points:

1. In October 2007, the MPHA website displayed the sample deed showing the restrictive covenant.

2. The site also showed as a statement saying the MPHA is dedicated to seeing that the deed restrictions are observed and enforced.

3. Prospective buyers may have been discouraged from looking for a home in Myers Park.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee on Dec. 8 found that the Myers Park Homeowners Association engaged in discriminatory conduct by posting on its web site a sample deed that included the decades-old clause.

The dispute could end up in court if the two sides don't reach some sort of agreement. The president of the HOA issued a public apology Monday, saying the group was trying to draw attention to construction-related restrictions and did not intend to discriminate.

Here's the full story.

- Doug Miller

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bill James said what?


Tuesday's night vote by the Mecklenburg County Commission on same-sex partner benefits was controversial enough, but a side issue is creating an extra layer of drama this morning.

According to a WBTV analysis of the session's audio, Commissioner Bill James asked Commissioner Vilma Leake, "Your son was a homo, really?" This came after an emotional statement by Leake about her son's death from AIDS.

According to WBTV, the conversation went this way. James's comment was barely audible:

Leake: "I did not know that in 2010 that I would be sitting here to defend … his lifestyle."

James leaned over, "Your son was a homo, really?"

Leake: "Don't make me hurt you. Don't do that to me. Don't talk to me about my son."

You can watch the entire county commission meeting online, in streaming video.

To view the Leake statement, advance the stream to 3 hours, 59 minutes.

Here is WBTV's report on the controversy.

James went on WBT radio's Keith Larson show this morning to defend his statement.

At first, James told Larson that he was in the process of saying "homosexual," but was cut off by Leak. He changed his story after Larson played a clip of the exchange that made clear that wasn't the case.

"Look, I don't care if I said 'homo.' I don't think it changes the reality of it. Whether I said, 'is he a homo really or is he homosexual, really?' - I'm OK with either one of those…

"When she used the reason for her vote, the fact that her son had engaged in lifestyle and had died of HIV/AIDS as the reason for her vote, I was curious about what lifestyle she was talking about because usually you don't use the term 'lifestyle' to refer to a blood transfusion."

-- David Enna

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Story: 'The town Bank of America took down'

The Globe and Mail, considered Canada's national newspaper, is the latest publication to weigh in on Charlotte's change of fortune after the banking meltdown.

Click here to read the story.

Like an October story in the Washington Post, it contrasts the city's rapid growth and heady optimism with current struggles after the boom.

One anecdote describes Realtor Suzanne Moorfield, shown in this Associated Press photo in a Ballantyne Country Club home she is trying to sell.

Reporter Barrie McKenna writes:

“There was a little bit of arrogance,” agreed Suzanne Moorfield, a real estate agent with Allen Tate Realtors who for nine years has helped dozens of bankers buy in, and buy up. “It seemed like we would do nothing but boom and boom.”


And then last fall, it all came to abrupt halt, like a golf ball landing in a sand trap.

Now, Ms. Moorfield is helping some of those same bankers downsize. She's also helping banks rid themselves of repossessed mansions.

Where buyers once lined up to buy $1-million (U.S.) and $2-million homes, many are now in over their heads, living in homes that are now worth less than what they owe. This year, nearly a quarter of the 35 homes Ms. Moorfield sold were bank-owned.

She points to lavish custom-built homes located on a rise on the edge of the lush and manicured Ballantyne golf course. Built for more than $1-million, Ms. Moorefield has listed the home at a fire-sale price of $709,000.

- Doug Miller

FAA report: Damage 'substantial'

The agency is probing the actions of an American Airlines crew, the possible impact of fog-induced low visibility, and the reason a report on the incident was not filed for several hours after a rough 10:45 p.m. landing Sunday.

Click here to read the FAA report.

None of the crew or the 110 passengers aboard American Flight 1402, headed from Dallas, was injured in the landing at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport.

- Doug Miller

Monday, December 14, 2009

Foxx appoints committee members

Mayor Anthony Foxx this morning announced committee assignments for the 2009-2011 city council.

The city released the following list:

Housing and Neighborhood Development: This committee provides comprehensive initiatives designed to foster economic development and improve quality of life issues in Charlotte's neighborhoods and business areas.

Committee members: James Mitchell (Chair), Warren Turner (Vice Chair), Michael Barnes, Warren Cooksey, and Patrick Cannon.

Community Safety: This committee focuses on initiatives to proactively identify and address issues related to crime, disorder, and personal safety to ensure citizens feel safe in the areas where they live, work, and spend their leisure time.

Committee members: Patrick Cannon (Chair), Patsy Kinsey (Vice Chair), Susan Burgess, Andy Dulin, and Edwin Peacock.

Transportation and Planning: This committee focuses on the City and region’s transportation network including roads, mass transit, pedestrian and bicycle connections as well as planning to address our region’s transportation infrastructure.

Committee members: David Howard (Chair), Michael Barnes (Vice Chair), Warren Cooksey, Susan Burgess, and Patsy Kinsey.

Economic Development: This Committee works to provide direction that supports development of an educated and trained work force, fosters partnerships to aid local economic growth, retains and attracts quality businesses, supports business development and contributes to the economy.

Committee members: Susan Burgess (Chair), James Mitchell (Vice Chair), Nancy Carter, Patsy Kinsey, and Andy Dulin.

Environment: This Committee focuses on City policies for air and water quality, land preservation, and energy and resource conservation by adopting best practices and delivering public services in a manner based on sound environmental practices.

Committee members: Edwin Peacock (Chair), Nancy Carter (Vice Chair), Susan Burgess, David Howard, and Andy Dulin.

Budget: This Committee works with City staff to review and prioritize issues affecting the City’s budget.

Committee members: Michael Barnes (Chair), Andy Dulin (Vice Chair), David Howard, Edwin Peacock, and Nancy Carter.

Restructuring Government: This Committee examines policies and programs in order to provide citizens the best service at the lowest cost and highest efficiency.

Committee members: Warren Cooksey (Chair), Patrick Cannon (Vice Chair), James Mitchell, Patsy Kinsey, and Warren Turner.

Government Affairs: This Committee discusses opportunities and initiatives to pursue with State and Federal government in support of City priorities.

Committee members: Nancy Carter (Chair), Warren Turner (Vice Chair), Susan Burgess, Andy Dulin, and Patrick Cannon.

- Doug Miller

Friday, December 11, 2009

'No one saw Beason strike Frye'

Assistant District Attorney Bruce Lillie today released this statement announcing the state is dropping a misdemeanor assault charge against Panthers linebacker Jon Beason:

_____________________________________________________________

In the matter of State of North Carolina v. Jon Beason 09cr257575

After a review of the thorough investigation conducted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office has determined that there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute this matter. The District Attorney’s Office will not proceed on cases where there is not a likelihood of proving a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. The evidence in this case does not rise to that standard.

Evidence in this case would show that Greg Frye was struck in the face at the Uptown Cabaret Club early in the morning of November 16th, 2009. Mr. Frye made a statement to police that Jon Beason became irate at the club after comments made by the Mr. Frye. Mr. Frye maintains that Mr. Beason struck him in the face. Mr. Frye made a call to 911 within minutes of the event and told officers called to the scene that a Carolina Panther player named “Beasley” had hit him. Officers did observe some injuries to Mr. Frye’s face at this time.

Other than Mr. Frye’s statement, police were not able to obtain evidence that Mr. Beason was the assailant. Police made contact with numerous people who were in the club when the incident occurred. No one indicated they saw Beason strike Frye. No witnesses have come forward to say they saw Beason strike Frye.

Mr. Beason was interviewed by CMPD and denied striking Mr. Frye. Beason said that he asked to have Frye removed from the VIP section in the club after Frye made accusations about Beason. According to Beason, as he was leaving the club, he saw Frye. Beason said that he and Frye exchanged words and bumped chests. Beason said he was pushed away from Frye and left the club.

A second witness, John Simmons, who was with Beason, told CMPD that he put himself between Beason and Frye and that Beason could not have struck Frye. Simmons told CMPD that Frye attempted to strike Beason and missed. Simmons said that Beason drew back to strike Frye but that he (Simmons) hooked Beason’s arm and pushed Beason back and out of the club. Mr. Simmons said Beason never struck Frye but that he did see a man in a white long sleave shirt (not Beason) strike Frye. Simmons indicated he did not know this man.

Several witnesses indicated that throughout the evening Mr. Frye informed people that he was a player for the Carolina Panthers and that he displayed an NFL ID card to bolster this claim. While inside the Uptown Cabaret Mr. Frye told workers he played for the Panthers. While being interviewed by CMPD officers after the incident, Mr. Frye claimed to play for the Panthers. When specifically asked by CMPD if he was a member of the Carolina Panthers team Frye sad he used to play for the Panthers and later said he was on the practice squad several years ago. Subsequent investigation reveals that Frye has never been employed or associated in any fashion with the Carolina Panthers. CMPD Officers indicate that Mr. Frye was intoxicated when interviewed at the scene.

Due to the insufficiency of the evidence outlined above, the undersigned Assistant District Attorney does not feel it is appropriate to proceed to trial in this matter.

Bruce Lillie
Assistant District Attorney

____________________________________________________________



Gregory C. Frye has also filed a civil suit related to the same Nov. 15 incident.

Here is a statement from Frye's lawyer, regarding that lawsuit in light of today's news:

Click here to read statement from Frye's lawyer.

- Doug Miller

UNCC football stadium renderings

UNC Charlotte officials released these images today of how the proposed football stadium might look:

- Doug Miller



'Defendant engaged in sexual relationship'

Jenny Sanford today filed for divorce, five months after her husband, S.C. governor Mark Sanford, publicly confessed to an affair with an Argentine woman.

Click here to read the divorce papers.

The filing was in Charleston County. It says the couple was married in Martin County, Fla, on Nov. 4, 1989. Jenny Sanford is seeking the divorce on grounds of adultery.

(Thanks to www.statehousereport.com for the link.)

- Doug Miller

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Poor communication blamed in I-485 flap

Secretary of Transportation Gene Conti today said his agency has not communicated well on the new financing plan for the I-485 loop around Charlotte.

The plan calls for the contractor to front $50 million of the $340 million cost. Conti emphasized that, if the contractor borrows its $50 million from a bank, the state will not back that loan.

Conti also said that the state will pay the contractor its $50 million over ten years with no interest - "an extended payment plan," Conti said in a meeting today with reporters and editors from the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer.

Conti emphasized those points in the aftermath of questions raised by State Treasurer Janet Cowell over whether the Transportation Department has the authority to add to the state's debt load.

"We just haven't communicated very well," Conti said.

- Mark Johnson

Report: End of N.C. recession near

“The question now is, how strong and sustained will the recovery be?” asks UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton.

Today, he released his quarterly economic forecast for the state.

Click here to read the full report.

Connaughton gives a quick snapshot in a press release:

- “On the positive side, consumer confidence is rising, although still at very low levels, and the index of leading indicators has increased in each of the last three months. In addition, interest rates remain low and the Federal stimulus package is beginning to come online."

- “However, the banking sector – which is critical to recovery – remains troubled,” he continued. “Today, the banking system is still holding more than $700 billion in excess reserves, and this is money that is not being lent to facilitate the recovery.”

Connaughton is a professor of economics in the Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte. He has served as director of the Economic Forecast since 1981.

- Doug Miller

Monday, December 7, 2009

Agenda for secret DSS meeting?

Some county commissioners want the board to hold a closed-door meeting as soon as next week to shed more light on an ongoing investigation into the Department of Social Services, including a charity that bought gifts for needy children.

Commissioner Bill James sent the request in an email overnight to county commissioners and top county staff, including County Manager Harry Jones and DSS Director Mary Wilson. He said it was sent on behalf of the board's three Republicans, which also include Karen Bentley and Neil Cooksey.

Here is his proposed agenda:

___________________________________________________________

Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners
Action Item – (DRAFT at 12-6-2009)
December 15, 2009
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Subject: Schedule a closed session meeting of the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners operating as the ‘Board of Social Services’ to discuss various matters related to DSS for Noon on December 17, 2009.


ACTION: A motion to schedule a meeting of the County Commission operating as the ‘Board of Social Services’ within the meaning of NCGS 90B-6, NCGS 153A-77 and other statutes for Noon on December 17, 2009 and to also:
A. Instruct the Board of Social Services’ employee, Director Mary Wilson, who is a direct hire of the Board of County Commissioners, to appear at this meeting and to provide answers to certain questions and to provide documents as requested by the members of the Board of Social Services in advance of that meeting.
B. Instruct the Director of Social Services to make her supervisors and employees (especially those in DSS Finance) available to the Board of Social Services for questioning in private without management present.
C. Offer an invitation to former acting DSS head Janice Allen Jackson to appear at this closed session and to offer private commentary about the DSS.
D. Offer an invitation to former DSS ‘Giving Tree’ employees to appear at this closed session and to offer private commentary about DSS’ Giving Tree program.
E. Instruct the County Manager to make available to the Commissioners copies of any and all internal memo’s produced by internal Audit and senior management involving DSS matters from the last 12 months for the Board to review (including all of those classified as ‘personnel matters’.
F. Instruct the County Manager to provide to the Commission a detailed list of gifts purchased for others with Giving Tree funds and his opinion as to whether these purchases actually benefited (were received by) the individuals to whom they were intended.
G. Receive a presentation from Dena Dioro about our current expense ‘advance’ policy and whether it complies with the time requirements of IRS circular/publication 15.
H. Provide a list to the Commission of all remaining items left in inventory in the County’s possession related to the Giving Tree program before these items were allowed to be disbursed (and their purchase price).

Commission Contact: Commissioners Karen Bentley, Neil Cooksey and Bill James

Presentation: Yes __X__ No _____

BACKGROUND/JUSTIFICATION: Recent turmoil and dissention within DSS

POLICY IMPACT: Unknown until presentation

FISCAL IMPACT: None

____________________________________________________

5:17 p.m. UPDATE:


Here is the latest version for the proposed meeting. It now includes portions that would be open to the public, as well as closed-door dicussions.


Mecklenburg Board of Commissioners
Action Item
December 15, 2009
_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Subject: Meet to exercise its powers as a Consolidated Human Services Board to investigate matters involving the Department of Social Services

ACTION: At the conclusion of the rest of the agenda for this meeting, recess the meeting until noon on December 17, 2009 to investigate matters involving personnel of the Department of Social Services and, in connection therewith:
A. Instruct County Manager (as the human services director of the County’s Consolidated Human Services Agency, which agency includes the Department of Social Services) to instruct the Social Services Director, Mary Wilson, to appear at this meeting in closed session to provide answers to certain questions and to provide documents as requested by the members of the Board of County Commissioners in advance of that meeting.
B. Instruct the County Manager to instruct the Director of Social Services to make her supervisors and employees (especially those in DSS Finance) available to the Board of County Commissioners for questioning in closed session without management present.
C. Instruct the Chairman of the Board to invite former acting DSS head Janice Allen Jackson to appear in closed session and to offer private commentary about DSS personnel matters.
D. Offer an invitation to current and former DSS ‘Giving Tree’ and DSS finance employees to appear in closed session and to offer private commentary about DSS’ Giving Tree program personnel matters. Interested individuals should contact the Clerk to sign up to speak.
E. Instruct the County Manager to make available to the Commissioners copies of any and all internal memo’s produced by internal Audit and senior management involving DSS Giving Tree matters from the last 12 months, with appropriate actions to insure statutory confidentiality as to personnel matters, for the Board to review.
F. Instruct the County Manager to provide to the Board in open session a detailed list of gifts purchased for others with Giving Tree funds for the period February 5, 2008 through December 23, 2008 and his opinion as to whether these purchases actually benefited (were received by) the individuals to whom they were intended.
G. Receive a presentation from Dena Diorio in open session about our current expense ‘advance’ policy and whether it complies with the time requirements of IRS circular/publication 15.
H. Provide a list to the Board in open session of all remaining items left in inventory in the County’s possession related to the Giving Tree program (and their purchase prices).

Commission Contact: Commissioners Karen Bentley, Neil Cooksey and Bill James

Presentation: Yes __X__ No _____

BACKGROUND/JUSTIFICATION: Recent turmoil and dissention within DSS

POLICY IMPACT: Unknown until presentation
FISCAL IMPACT: None

- Doug Miller


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Read the e-mails behind the climate change scandal

The University of East Anglia, in Norwich, England, said hackers last week stole about a decade's worth of data from a computer server at the university's Climatic Research Unit, a leading research center on climate change.

About 1,000 e-mails and 3,000 documents have been posted on Web sites and seized on by climate change skeptics who say the correspondence shows collusion between scientists to overstate the case for global warming, and evidence that some have manipulated evidence.

  • You can read the massive archive of e-mails at this site. (Note: The authenticity of all the e-mails posted on the site has not been confirmed.)

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a global warming skeptic, said Tuesday that he’d begun an investigation into what he alleges to be the manipulation of global warming research.

Meanwhile, the White House said Wednesday that at the international climate summit in Copenhagen next month, President Barack Obama will offer to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “in the range of” 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Report revises Va. Tech shooting timeline

Some Virginia Tech administrators warned their families and ordered the president's office locked well before the rest of the campus was notified a gunman was on the loose, according to a revised state report on the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

Virginia's governor called some of the administrators' actions “inexcusable,” and some victims' relatives who have been demanding the resignation of President Charles Steger ever since the 2007 massacre that left 33 people dead reacted bitterly to the findings.

The report, released today, adds to the long list of apparent missteps by university officials before, during and after the 2007 rampage by Seung-Hui Cho. The mentally ill student shot two students to death in a dorm, then three hours later chained the doors of a classroom building and killed 30 more people before committing suicide. Associated Press

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Poole: 'IB program will dissolve in 5 years'

On Tuesday, when five new CMS school board members are sworn in, Jimmy Poole plans to appeal for the new group to reconsider boundaries in the north suburbs.

Poole, the former principal many see as the face of North Mecklenburg High, sent the following e-mail to explain his position. (He starts by weighing in on the naming of Hough High):

_______________________________________________________________

Subject: Hough High and North Mecklenburg High Boundaries

There has been a lot of unnecessary fuss over the naming of the new high school on Bailey Road after Mr. Hough. I had the privilege of knowing this fine man and esteemed educator as a student at North and a staff member under his direction. He was a man of integrity who served the school system and community with utmost distinction. He served as a role model for those pursuing leadership positions. To name a school for him is an honor to his life, well-lived and to the ideals he espoused: honesty, hard work, faith and love. Any school should be proud to be named for such a remarkable person.

The uproar over the school name reminds me of my experience as a middle school principal. Sometimes a crisis would develop over a minor issue or incident. Hysteria would develop with a few students and parents. Fortunately, the upset lasted only a day or so because the incident was trivial with no substance. I believe that Mr. Hough would be sad if the name was changed but I think he would be more upset over the changes his beloved North Mecklenburg High will suffer from the inequity in the new student assignment that evolved from the building of the new school. A careful examination of the student data from Hough High and North will reveal these inequities, The question is: what are the school system guidelines in determining school attendance zones? Is consideration given to community, poverty levels or diversity or mainly numbers?

Because of this decision, North will instantly lose its sense of community and connection to its history and most surely will become a low performing school. Furthermore, I predict that the highly successful I.B. program will dissolve within five years for lack of participation and that students will leave North for the nearby charter and private schools. I also predict that the light rail development across the street from North will suffer because parents will not want to send their children to a low performing school,

I foresee these changes because I have had years of experience within the school system. I was a student at North in the early 60's when it was a school surrounded by farmland and populated with an all-white student body of seven hundred. I was a counselor and coach there in the early 70's when Mr. Hough led the school to be a successful federally-mandated, racially- integrated school. I was also honored to become North's principal in the early 90's when the school became the largest school in the state.

Built in 1951, the school successfully served the northern end of the county for fifty eight years. The school however, has lost many students from the five communities that first walked its halls. North lost students from Derita when Vance opened, then lost student from Long Creek and the lake when Hopewell was built and lost others when Mallard Creek opened its doors. With each opening, the school continued to grow. I knew that we would eventually lose the Davidson and Cornelius areas but I never dreamed we would also lose many hometown Huntersville students. Some of them have been placed in the new school since that school was actually built too soon without sufficient student population from Cornelius and Davidson. The school system had three options before them when the school assignment boundaries were being established for the new school and North Mecklenburg. Of the three , the school board chose the one that most negatively impacts North. The school will lose students as before but this time is assigned students from another school. Those coming from another school will have to travel much farther to go to North than to remain where they are. I am sure that these students would prefer to remain at their present school.

The right thing to do would be to return some of the Huntersville area to North but I know that won't happen now. However, Larry Gauvreau made a wise suggestion during the school board's deliberations over the new attendance lines. He suggested that the students who live from Sunset Road to I-85 remain at their present school. This makes good sense but the school board rejected his proposal. North could have remained a relatively small school as East Mecklenburg was allowed to be. North has provided positive educational experiences for students in the northern end of the county in spite of overcrowded conditions. It was the largest school in the state several times with a student population of nearly 3000 students in a facility built for 1500. History has shown that the northern area is popular with newcomers to the area and North Mecklenburg High will inevitably grow. There should be no concern about the school becoming too small.

I tried to get the school board to consider changes to the pupil assignment plan for North. Three board members said that they shared my concerns and would consider other assignment options. I firmly believe that the new board members will see the merits of my concerns, as well. The board changed its mind about East Mecklenburg so why can't it change its mind for the sake of North Mecklenburg.? Historically, we know the negative impacts that the openings of new schools had on both South Mecklenburg and Independence High. Now the impact is on East and North The pupil assignment plan for North Mecklenburg will have a far worse impact on North than the assignment plans for those other schools.

It is far easier to prevent problems than to create and then deal with them later. The school board needs to amend the assignment plan for North and not create another low-performing school. North should be allowed to remain small for a time and keep what remains of its sense of community and excellence.

Sincerely,

Jimmy K. Poole, North Graduate of 1963
North's Principal 1994-2005, and
President of the North Mecklenburg Alumni Association

Click here to read the full story.

- Doug Miller

DA: 'We make difficult decisions every day'

Peter Gilchrist, Mecklenburg's District Attorney for more than three decades, told his staff today that he will not seek re-election next year.

He released the following statement:

December 3, 2009


I have been privileged to serve as Mecklenburg County District Attorney for 35 years. Today I met with my staff to announce that my current term, ending December 31, 2010, would be my last term, and that I will not file for reelection in February 2010.

I am proud of the many outstanding attorneys and staff members who have worked in this office through those years to carry out our responsibility: representing the State of North Carolina in criminal prosecutions in Mecklenburg County. Seventeen of my former assistant district attorneys later became judges in Federal or State courts. Many other former assistants have been selected to work for the U.S. and N.C. Departments of Justice, the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, other public agencies and private practice. All carried with them the mantra of the District Attorney’s Office: “do the right thing.”

In an office with such broad responsibility, our goal has always been to do what is right based on the evidence and the law in each individual situation. We have looked at the evidence objectively in each case and have avoided making rash or rushed judgments or promises. The District Attorney’s responsibility in felony cases is to review the results of investigations by law enforcement officers and agencies to decide what charges, if any, will be presented to the grand jury. There is an important distinction between what is required to make a lawful arrest and to support a verdict of guilty. Arrests are based on “probable cause” – that is, a crime “probably” has been committed and a particular defendant “probably” committed it. Convictions in our courts require a finding of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Currently we have 79 assistant district attorneys daily making decisions on the 12,000 felonies and over 200,000 other filings in the criminal district courts of this county each year. With such an enormous number of cases and a finite amount of resources, we have to make difficult decisions every day. Which cases will meet the higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard for conviction? Which cases should we try even if the evidence is not as strong because the defendant represents a clear danger to the community? Of course, we need to – and have – constantly pushed for more resources. But there will never be enough prosecutors, judges or jail cells, to have jury trials in anywhere near all of the cases brought to the District Attorney’s Office.

For the past 35 years I have worked to ensure this office carries out its responsibility to our community. I am proud of our accomplishments. While we still have our challenges, I believe the District Attorney’s Office now has the best staffing and is in the best shape ever. It is time for someone else to assume its leadership.

I believe the upcoming election will present an opportunity for the citizens of Mecklenburg County to reflect on the role of the District Attorney and to learn more about the statutory regulations that create and govern the position, so that each citizen can make an informed choice. I hope voters look for candidates who understand the statutory, ethical and practical boundaries of the job – and are wary of headline-grabbing and unrealistic campaign promises. In my last year in office, particularly over the next few months before the election filing deadline, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss the office, its duties and its challenges.

Most of all, I would like to thank the citizens of Mecklenburg County for reelecting me for the last nine terms as your District Attorney. It has been my honor to serve you.

- Doug Miller

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

E-mails from the White House 'party crashers'

The Associated Press released these excerpts from e-mails between Tareq and Michaele Salahi and Michele Jones, special assistant to the defense secretary, as part of the couple's effort to obtain an invitation to the Obama administration's first state dinner last week.


Friday, Nov. 20, 4:15 p.m.

To the Salahis' attorney Paul Gardner from his office manager Rosalind Tyner.

Michele S. Jones just called regarding the state dinner at the White House for Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2009. I need the following information from Tareq and Michaele Salahi immediately so she can submit their information before 5 p.m. today. Full name, Social Security number, date of birth, citizenship.


Friday, Nov. 20, 4:33 p.m.

From Tareq Salahi to Rosalind Tyner, Paul Gardner

Hi Team THANK YOU!!! We are very much looking forward to it!

(Salahi sends Social Security number, date of birth and citizenship for himself and his wife)


Friday, Nov. 20, 4:49 p.m.

From Michele Jones to Tareq Salahi

Hopefully I can get tickets for the arrival ceremony … the state dinner is completely closed and has been for awhile. As soon as I know, I will contact you.


Monday, Nov. 23, 11 a.m.

From Tareq Salahi to Michele Jones

In preparations for tomorrow, do you know what time we would need to be there, and which entrance we should go through?


Monday, Nov. 23, 4:12 p.m.

From Michele Jones to Tareq Salahi

I am still hoping that I can get tickets for the arrival ceremony tomorrow. They do have your information in the event that extra tickets become available and will notify me immediately. I still haven't given up, but it doesn't seem likely.


Monday, Nov. 23, 4:51 p.m.

From Tareq Salahi to Michele Jones

By the way – I know for a fact that these persons are unable to attend the state dinner and the reception portion:

1.) Sen. Harry Reid and his wife (they have gone home early for Thanksgiving).

2.) Kuma Gupta and husband (unable to travel to D.C. tomorrow)

3.) Bob Stevens and his wife (top brass from Lockheed Martin)


Tuesday, Nov. 24, 8:46 a.m.

From Michele Jones to Tareq Salahi

The arrival ceremony (was scheduled to be outdoors) was canceled due to inclement weather. They are having a very small one inside the WH, very limited space. I am still working on tickets for tonight's dinner. I will call or e-mail as soon as I get word one way or another.


Wednesday, Nov. 25, 1:03 a.m.

From Michaele and Tareq Salahi to Michele Jones

Hi Michele,

You are an angel!

My cell phone battery died early this evening while we were in D.C. from our country home, so I just got your message now after driving back out. But obviously it worked out at the end. … We ended up going to the gate to check in at 6:30 p.m. to just check, in case it got approved, since we didn't know, and our name was indeed on the list! We are very grateful, and God bless you.

We just got home, and we had a very wonderful evening as you can imagine!

Look forward to seeing you very soon. Say when for dinner – we can't wait to see you and catch up and share memories of true lifetime.


Wednesday, Nov. 25, 1:38 p.m.

From Michele Jones to Tareq Salahi

Tareq,

You are most welcome! I here the smile in your e-mail and am delighted that you and Michaele had a wonderful time. :-)

Have an extraordinary Thanksgiving and many blessings to you both!

Much love,

Michele

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Diehl: Mayfield owes $372,000

Charlotte attorney Bill Diehl and his law firm filed suit today against former client and NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield to recover almost $372,000 in unpaid legal bills.

Diehl and his firm filed suit in Mecklenburg County Superior Court seeking to receive $371,973.66 for legal services already performed for Mayfield and his team, Mayfield Motorsports Inc., as they battled NASCAR over his indefinite suspension for violating the sport’s substance abuse policy.

In the suit, Diehl and his firm claim between May and August 2009 Mayfield was continually late in the payment of a promised monthly payment.

Click here to read the suit.

In addition, the firm claims it attempted several times to get Mayfield to agree to a written contract to pay monthly $20,000 payments and a lump sum final payment on Dec. 15 and Mayfield repeatedly refused.

The firm is seeking the court to award it the amount of unpaid legal fees plus attorney fees and late charges and interest dating from Oct. 22, 2009, until the amount is finally paid.

Last month, Mayfield replaced Diehl and his firm with celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos. At the time of the change, Diehl said in repeated interviews that Mayfield owed him “a lot” for defending him in his lawsuit against NASCAR.

Mayfield recently held an auction to sell an executive home, log cabin, ranch home, shop and various other personal property in Catawba County. The was no immediate response from Mayfield on Wednesday to the filing.

- Jim Utter

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jones replaces auditor over DSS report

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones today said in a memo the county human resources department "has been instructed to initiate recruitment for a new Internal Audit Department director."

The memo does not indicate what happened to Director Cornita Spears, who announced Tuesday that an audit released this summer failed to account for roughly $33,000 that had been returned to the county.

Spears said the money helped the county account for more than $160,000 that had been spent by the Giving Tree charity program run by the county Department of Social Services. Here is the full story.

Former county finance director Harry Weatherly will serve as interim consulting director for the next 90 days.

The reorganization was included in a memo Jones sends weekly to county commissioners.

Here is the memo:

Changes in Internal Audit Management

As I mentioned at the Board meeting earlier this week, the error associated with the Giving Tree audit is unacceptable for this organization. It has damaged the credibility of the Internal Audit Department and Mecklenburg County as an organization. I have determined that the credibility of the Internal Audit Department cannot be restored with the current management of this department.
Therefore, I have taken the following steps regarding the leadership and management of the Internal Audit Department. Former County Finance Director Harry Weatherly has agreed to serve as Interim Consulting Director of the Internal Audit Department. We will expand our existing services agreement with Mr. Weatherly to serve in this capacity over the next 90 days. In this role, Mr. Weatherly will provide executive oversight of the Internal Audit Department in a consulting capacity. He will report directly to the county manager regarding all matters pertaining to the County’s Internal Audit Department.
Mr. Weatherly will be supported in this interim role by current Internal Audit Department staff member Chris Waddell. Mr. Waddell will serve as Interim Operations Manager for Internal Audit and will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Department.
In addition, the Human Resources Department has been instructed to initiate recruitment for a new Internal Audit Department director.
These changes are effective immediately.

--Harry L. Jones, Sr., County Manager

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jones: No thoughts of resigning

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones has faced intense criticism from some residents on a variety of issues this year, including reported accounting problems in the Department of Social Services and a $38,400 performance bonus given to him earlier this month. Some have even called for his job.

Jones addressed the issues in an interview Thursday on "Charlotte's Morning News with Al Gardner & Stacey Simms" on WBT-AM.

Click here to hear the full exchange. Note: The link to Jones' interview is about midway down the page

Here are some snippets:

Q. Have you thought about resigning?

Jones: "No, I have not given any thought to that Al. This has been a good year. You know along the way you are going to make some mistakes. I did make a mistake in forwarding an email. Harry Lomax and I have subsequently talked and I'm taking his position that it was blown way out of proportion. He and I have had lunch together with each other. No, I have not given any thought to it. But I will say, Al, it's been a tough year. It's been a really tough year. But I think it's also been my best year and I told the board of county commissioners that and I'm going to continue to stay where I am unless they decide they don't want me any longer."

Q. As Al was mentioning, though, other county employees didn't get bonuses at all. And it seems to me that with the email as you said you’ve apologized, you've had lunch with the gentleman, but (it was) big blow to public trust there, and with the DSS situation being what it is, why not say, well, I'll accept the bonus if such and so bears out, an ethics investigation, something like that? Because I think a lot of people would question whether this was the best year for county government.

Jones: "I’m going to say this: I earned that bonus. I think the other issues my board of county commissioners factored all of those things in when they considered my compensation. And the position that I will take is that, yes, the email does raise some questions about people's confidence in government. But Al and Stacey, I will say to you that there was no malicious intent, as I have indicated publicly, on my forwarding that particular email. And in that there was no malicious intent, for those people who want to call for my scalp on that one particular action, (they) don’t know Harry Jones and don't know what Harry Jones has done through his career to try to open up government, to encourage more participation. If you want to judge me on this one action, then I would say you're judging me contrary to the real Harry Jones."

Read the health care bills and share your thoughts

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday evening unveiled the Senate version of a massive health care package that would overhaul insurance practices while adding an array of tax increases, including a rise in payroll taxes for high earners.
  • Price tag: $849 billion over 10 years ($206 billion less than the House bill passed this month).
  • Expansion of coverage: 31 million Americans who are currently uninsured (6 million fewer than the House bill).
  • Deficit reduction: $127 billion over 10 years ($23 billion more than the House bill).
The measure now heads to the Senate floor for debate and a vote.

Read the 2,074-page Senate bill here (PDF).
You can read the bill passed this month by the House here.
What do you think of the bills? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

County: Employee repaid $33,776.23

Here's the surprising twist in Mecklenburg County's investigation into alleged misspending at a Christmas charity for children: Officials said a county employee returned more than $33,000 months ago, but auditors didn't account for it.

The county's audit department released this memo Tuesday.

Here's what officials say happened:

In June, county auditors released an audit of the Christmas program. It said they'd collected about $138,978 in receipts of about $162,000 at issue. Here is the first audit memo.

On Tuesday, the auditors released a "follow-up and clarification" to that audit.

It said an employee had returned $33,776.23 in February and March.

On Tuesday, Internal Audit Director Cornita Spears said an employee had been advanced the money and was returning what was unspent or that had been used for personal items.

- Doug Miller

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Petition: Sheriff Daugherty should be suspended

Lincoln County Attorney Jeff Taylor has asked a judge to remove embattled Sheriff Tim Daugherty from office, the Observer's Joe Depriest reports.

Taylor filed a petition in Lincoln County Superior Court on Monday, asking the court to order a hearing on the matter as soon as possible.

Click here to read the court papers.

Lincoln County commissioners voted unanimously in October to authorize Taylor to begin legal proceedings against Daugherty, who has been indicted on two counts of felony obstruction of justice. He is accused of covering up a fixed drunken-driving investigation.

Daugherty has pleaded not guilty to the charges and said through his attorney that he would not step down. Commissioners have asked him twice to resign. He could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

- Doug Miller

Bigger than boundaries?

A bitter boundary battle dominated Tuesday's CMS board meeting, but some members say their most important long-term decision sailed through with far less drama.

The board approved a new, streamlined version of the "theory of action" that sets the stage for all CMS decisions. Read it here.

To see how it compared with the old version, here's a marked-up version.

The board also tinkered with its student assignment policy, adding a requirement that the board hold a public hearing before voting on boundary changes. That usually happens, but some minor changes have been made without a hearing.

Jenny Sanford makes endorsement for S.C. gov


Jenny Sanford, the wife of embattled S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford, has endorsed Republican state Rep. Nikki Haley in the race to replace her term-limited husband in 2010, The State newspaper of Columbia reports today.

The state's first lady made the announcement in a fundraising letter to Haley’s supporters that was released by his campaign. (Read the letter here.)

Sanford, who helped manage her husband’s campaigns for Congress and governor, said Haley stands out in the five-candidate Republican field mainly for her history of fiscal conservatism and her advocacy of government restructuring, The State reports.

“When I’m asked my wish for South Carolina’s future, my wish is for a leader of state government like Nikki Haley. She’s principled, conservative, tough and smart,” Sanford writes. “I am strongly supporting Nikki Haley for governor, and I hope you will, too.”

The first lady, who moved out of the governor’s mansion in August after it was revealed in June that her husband had been having an affair with a woman in Argentina, alludes to the affair in her letter.

“We all know this past year has been very difficult for our state on many levels," she writes. "It’s been hard for me and my family, too. But our family is resilient, and we will be fine. And the people of our state are resilient, too. I have no doubt South Carolina will get back on its feet.”

Haley, a 37-year-old hospital executive, is battling four other Republicans for the GOP nomination. U.S. Sen. Gresham Barrett of Oconee, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer of Greenville, Berkeley state Sen. Larry Grooms and S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster are also seeking the nomination.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The e-mail behind Jones' apology

Here is the e-mail exchange from County Manager Harry Jones to Bank of America's Betty Turner that came under scrutiny this week:

(We've put in bold the text section of each e-mail, obtained through an Observer open records request.)

_______________________________________________________________

From: Turner, Betty M [mailto:betty.m.turner@bankofamerica.com] Sent: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 10:20 AMTo: Jones, Harry L.

Subject: Re: Tonight's Meeting - DSS Comments

I am embarrassed by his comments, his tone and doing this. I am tracking it down. I don't know him - I have alerted charles. Will be back to you

From: Jones, Harry L. To: Turner, Betty M Sent: Tue Jul 14 09:11:19 2009

Subject: FW: Tonight's Meeting - DSS Comments

See the email below: Do you know Harry Lomax

Harry L. Jones, Sr.
County Manager
Mecklenburg County
704-336-2087 (o)
704-336-5887(f)

A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.
Greek proverb


From: Jones, Harry L. Sent: Tuesday, July 07, 2009 8:56 PMTo: Diorio, Dena R.

Subject: Fw: Tonight's Meeting - DSS Comments

Fyi

From: Harry Lomax To: Roberts, Jennifer; Cogdell, Harold; Murrey, Daniel B; Bentley, Karen; Leake, Vilma; Cooksey, Neil; Dunlap, George; James, Bill; Wilson, Mary; Diorio, Dena R.; Jones, Harry L. Sent: Tue Jul 07 20:04:37 2009

Subject: Tonight's Meeting - DSS Comments

All-

I was looking forward to addressing the Commission in person tonight as part of the public forum section of the agenda. It was pretty frustrating to sit there for over an hour watching PSA after PSA on how great the DSS is from your


Mecklenburg Matters video. I finally had to leave to go to the store, feed dogs, get prepped for work, etc...you know...real world stuff. That said, I'd like to give send you my prepared comments and hope that I am not you take these to heart as if I were there tonight.

I'd like to express my displeasure with the recent activities involving the DSS. My comments may be premature pending the upcoming audit results, but I still think they are appropriate. Up until recently, I have been generally pleased with how the county government has performed - but for lack of a better term - I feel duped.

Duped that my company and I have donated time and money to this Giving Tree sham which the DSS has chosens to use as their personal petty cash fund.
Duped by the County Management, Finance Department and past/current DSS leadership's lack of controls (not to mention the cronyism involved with the recent hires within the DSS).

And duped by the flippant, hands-off response by some of the commissioners with regard to the audit and the County Manager's subsequent response.
Commissioner Cooksey encouraged me to speak tonight, and between him and Commissioner James, I feel llike they are the only one who are living in the real world here.

Any honest, non-government entity would have audit controls in place for a $176MM, 1200+ employee department. Regardless of the fact that the DSS Leadership and County Manager failed in their duty to implement these controls, the employees who broke the law should still be prosecuted. I hope the County Commission will support a thourough investigation by the DA and make the decision to prosecute if necessary.

What other organizations are being scrutinized a s a result of the DSS issues coming to light? There seems to be a need for a wholesale cleanup of many county agencies, and I think that starts from the top down.
Thanks for your time and I look forward to some answers not only going forward, but also some accountability/repercussions for those who are implicated in this scandal.

Regards-

Harry Lomax


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Jones apologized today for forwarding the e-mail from Lomax, speaking as a citizen, to his employer.

- Doug Miller

Read latest on CMS boundary plans

Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members have submitted seven new possible motions for tonight's meeting on boundaries and magnet programs.

Read a proposal to shrink Myers Park High's IB magnet, sending most students to East Meck and Harding.

Read board chair Molly Griffin's new proposal for relieving crowding at Eastover Elementary by sending some students to Dilworth Arts and Myers Park and Elizabeth Traditional magnet schools.

Read the superintendent's plan to ease Eastover crowding by creating a new Dilworth neighborhood school and turning First Ward Elementary into an arts magnet.

Read Kaye McGarry's amendment that would shift the proposed Eastover/Dilworth boundaries.

Read McGarry's amendment that would leave Selwyn Elementary's zone untouched, rather than reassigning the Freedom Park area to the new Dilworth.
Read McGarry's amendment to provide more options next year for rising fifth-graders from First Ward.
Read McGarry's amendment to let next year's Eastover students choose to attend Dilworth.
Read McGarry's proposal to shift some Eastover students to Elizabeth and Myers Park Traditional magnet schools.

These drafts were sent to board members Monday night; they could be revised or dropped before tonight's 6 p.m. meeting. Here's the updated agenda for the meeting at the Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Captain Kangaroo for City Council?

Or Ric Flair? Here's the list of write-in votes from Tuesday's election.

Click here for a spreadsheet, by races across Mecklenburg County.

A quick snapshot, by categories:
  • Fictional characters - Bugs Bunny (school board); Mickey Mouse (city council, Charlotte mayor, Matthews commissioner, school board); Alf (school board, Davidson mayor); Zorro (city council); Sponge Bob (city council).
  • Athletes and coaches - Brad Hoover (school board); Steve Smith (city council); Larry Brown (city council, school board); John Fox (city council); Bobby Lutz (city council).
  • Political statements - None of the above; U.S. Constitution; Someone who won't raise taxes.
  • Only in Charlotte - Ric Flair (city council); No Streetcar; Crisspy Shabazz (aspiring local actor - various offices); Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Mint Hill mayor).
Trust us, there are many more.
- Doug Miller

CMS teachers blog about performance pay

Superintendent Peter Gorman's announcement that he'll make teacher performance pay the centerpiece of his next four years in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has teachers abuzz. His vision, which he says teachers will help him flesh out, calls for shifting from a system where raises are based on graduate degrees and experience to one that rewards student gains on tests and other yet-to-be-determined measures of effectiveness.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Assocaition of Educators has set up a blog to let members weigh in and raise questions. Early comments range from skeptical to angry.

 Read Gorman's plan and see video of last week's speech here.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Crowdsourcing: Help us review e-mails

We examined some 1,100 emails from public officials to report our story on misspending at the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services.

Now you can, too.

Use the links below to view emails sent by top administrators related to DSS.

Let us know if you spot something that you think deserves further scrutiny. You can leave a comment below or send an e-mail.

The buzzword for this is "crowdsourcing."

But the concept is as old as the notion that two heads are better than one.

(Collective wisdom is illustrated this way by author James Surowiecki: On the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," the lifeline to an expert friend yielded the correct answer about 65 percent of the time, while the studio audience was right 91 percent of the time.)

Here are the links:

Click here for County Manager Harry Jones.

Click here for DSS Director Mary Wilson.

Click here for Finance Director Dena Diorio.

Click here for auditor Cornita Spears.

Click here for administrator Beverly Hinson.

Click here for supervisor Cindy Brady.

Here's a link to an e-mail highlighted in our story, in which Wilson says a senior fiscal administrator has left directors "frustrated with her inability to explain the simplest concepts of revenue and expenses."

- Doug Miller

Obama's remarks ahead of health care vote


Text of President Barack Obama's remarks Saturday at the White House on health care legislation:

Good afternoon, everybody. I just want to say a few words about the landmark vote that the House of Representatives is poised to take today – a vote that can bring us one step closer to making real the promise of quality, affordable health care for the American people.

For the better part of a year now, members of the House and the Senate have been working diligently and constructively to craft legislation that will benefit millions of American families and millions of American businesses who urgently need it. For the first time ever, they've passed bills through every single committee responsible for reform. They've brought us closer than we have ever been to passing health insurance reform on behalf of the American people.

Now is the time to finish the job. The bill that the House has produced will provide stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality, affordable options for those who don't; and lower costs for American families and American businesses. And as I've insisted from the beginning, it is a bill that is fully paid for and will actually reduce our long-term federal deficit.

This bill is change that the American people urgently need. Don't just take my word for it. Consider the national groups who've come out in support of this bill on behalf of their members: The Consumers Union supports it because it will create – and I quote – “a more secure, affordable health care system for the American people.”

The American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association support it on behalf of doctors and nurses and medical professionals who know firsthand what's broken in our current system, and who see what happens when their patients can't get the care they need because of insurance industry bureaucracies.

The National Farmers Union supports this bill because it will control costs for farmers and ranchers, and address the unique challenges rural Americans face when it comes to receiving quality care.

And the AARP supports it because it will achieve the goal for which the AARP has been fighting for decades – reducing the cost of health care, expanding coverage for America's seniors, and strengthening Medicare for the long haul.

Now, no bill can ever contain everything that everybody wants, or please every constituency and every district. That's an impossible task. But what is possible, what's in our grasp right now is the chance to prevent a future where every day 14,000 Americans continue to lose their health insurance, and every year 18,000 Americans die because they don't have it; a future where crushing costs keep small businesses from succeeding and big businesses from competing in the global economy; a future where countless dreams are deferred or scaled back because of a broken system we could have fixed when we had the chance.

What we can do right now is choose a better future and pass a bill that brings us to the very cusp of building what so many generations of Americans have sought to build – a better health care system for this country.

Millions of Americans are watching right now. Their families and their businesses are counting on us. After all, this is why they sent us here, to finally confront the challenges that Washington had been putting off for decades – to make their lives better, to leave this country stronger than we found it.

I just came from the Hill where I talked to the members of Congress there, and I reminded them that opportunities like this come around maybe once in a generation. Most public servants pass through their entire careers without a chance to make as important a difference in the lives of their constituents and the life of this country. This is their moment, this is our moment, to live up to the trust that the American people have placed in us – even when it's hard; especially when it's hard. This is our moment to deliver.

I urge members of Congress to rise to this moment. Answer the call of history, and vote yes for health insurance reform for America.

Thanks.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Where was Pat today?

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory spent today talking trains - in Florida.

During the first mayoral election he's sitting out in 14 years, McCrory stumped for transit in the Tampa Bay area, according to a story in the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Click here to read the story.

McCrory's appearance at the Regional Transportation Forum in Brandon was fitting. His signature civic project is arguably the Lynx Blue Line, the city's first light-rail line.

In a likely reference to the sometimes bruising political fights surrounding transit, McCrory says in order for a system to work, politicians from both sides will "have to give up a little bit of power."

McCrory also encouraged Florida leaders to move quickly on transit because he said it would create jobs to offset the state's high unemployment rate, the story said.

- Doug Miller

Obama's and Merkel's remarks on climate change


German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by exhorting the world in a speech to Congress on Tuesday to "tear down the walls of today" and reach a deal to combat global warming.
Following are the remarks by President Obama and Merkel, as released by the White House:


PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, everybody. Well, I'm just going to make a brief statement. I am thrilled to have Chancellor Merkel here today. I want to congratulate her again for her victory in her recent election, the formation of a government, and we are honored to have her visit the Oval Office.

But the main reason she's here is that a great honor has been bestowed upon her. She is going to be the first German chancellor in 50 years to address Congress -- the first chancellor ever to address a joint session of Congress. And it is, I think, a very appropriate honor that's been bestowed on Chancellor Merkel. Obviously the alliance between the United States and Germany has been an extraordinary pillar of the transatlantic relationship.

We are now moving towards the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down and Germany being reunified after so many painful years. And this is a special moment for Chancellor Merkel, as somebody who grew up in East Germany, who understands what it's like to be under the shadow of a dictatorial regime, and to see how freedom has bloomed in Germany, how it has become the centerpiece for a extraordinarily strong European Union.

I think all of these things converge, and we are very pleased that she's going to be here to spread her view of what's taking place in the world, the many challenges we face, to members of Congress and the American people.

I should just note that Germany has been an extraordinarily strong ally on a whole host of international issues. We appreciate the sacrifices of German soldiers in Afghanistan, and our common work there to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and to create the environment in which the Afghan people themselves can provide for their own security.

Chancellor Merkel has been an extraordinary leader on the issue of climate change. And the United States, Germany, and countries around the world I think are all beginning to recognize why it is so important that we work in common in order to stem the potential catastrophe that could result if we continue to see global warming continuing unabated.

And on economic issues, on issues like nuclear proliferation, consistently I found Chancellor Merkel to be thoughtful, to be energetic, and to have a strong vision of how we can move forward in the future.

So I am very pleased to be working with her as a partner. We are thankful, Chancellor, for your leadership not just in Europe but around the world. And I'm looking forward to many more years in which the American people and the German people are working together to expand the boundaries of freedom and to create prosperity for ordinary men and women on both sides of the Atlantic.

So thank you so much for coming.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:
(Speaking in German.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think what she said was good. (Laughter.) I'm teasing.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL: (As translated.) First of all, I would like to thank you very much for the opportunity to be able to be here again today. I would also like to say that it is obviously a very great honor for me to address today the joint session of Congress, both houses of Congress, as it were.

But I'm also very much looking forward to having an exchange of view with the President again. We have always had very intensive discussions and we're going to have those today again on issues that are of mutual interest to us and that we have been working on almost daily. We are working and discussing issues, for example, related to climate change, Afghanistan, Iran, and obviously also the world economic situation.

But I wanted to use this opportunity today also to express our gratitude, my gratitude, to the American people for the support that the American people have given us throughout the process leading up to German reunification, and I think it something that I would like to later on say it very clearly also in my speech to both houses of Congress. And let me tell you that this is something that we, the Germans, shall never forget.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, thank you guys.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Morgan: Charlotte faces a 'reset'



Chamber president and self-described city cheerleader Bob Morgan this week gave a candid appraisal of Charlotte's post-boom economy.

Local stockholders suffered from declines in share prices at Bank of America and Wachovia (now Wells Fargo), but the accompanying loss of dividends, Morgan said, has been "absolutely devastating."

"There is a tremendous amount of wealth - here yesterday, gone today - and we, the community, are still dealing with that reset," he says in a SNL Financial report released Tuesday.

"You have a lot of shareholders that are employees, retirees, investors, foundations and trust funds, and nonprofits and for-profits who have invested in these two organizations and the dividends are basically gone as part of the TARP."

The report, entitled "Rattling the Hornet's Nest," lays out in stark terms what Charlotte has working in its favor, and against it.

The pros:

  • Lack of speculative run-up in home prices.
  • Favorable demographics.
  • A history of well-performing banks.

The cons:
  • Increasing bad loans at Charlotte-based banks and thrifts.
  • Decline in local wealth from hits to bank stocks.
  • High unemployment.

  • High office vacancy rate.

In a separate story published the following day, Morgan offered another sober assessment.
Under the headline "This is the bust in the boomtown that banks built," the Washington Post quotes Morgan this way:
"I think there's a new humility to Charlotte," said Bob Morgan, president of the city's Chamber of Commerce. "We didn't worry too much about the things being done in Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco," he said, when banks in those cities were swallowed by Charlotte's giants. "We are now living it ourselves."
- Doug Miller

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pay czar's letter to BofA

Top executives at Charlotte-based Bank of America will take deep cuts in compensation under determinations announced Thursday by Kenneth Feinberg (right), the independent master given the task of setting pay and stock levels for officials with companies getting the most funding from the federal government.

In a letter released Thursday, Feinberg cited the bank's initial pay proposals, which included a cash salary range of $700,000 to $950,000 for everyone but the CEO and stock-based salaries ranging from $2 million to $19 million for top employees who were at Bank of America in 2008 and 2009.

According to the letter, Feinberg capped cash salaries at "generally less than $500,000," with stock salaries reduced to $1.7 million to $9.3 million.

Read Feinberg's letter to Bank of America here (PDF).
You can read the letters to the other six "exceptional" companies here.

What do you think of the new pay rules introduced Thursday?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Suit: Palisades owes $347,288 for tournament

The company that runs the men’s senior tennis tour is suing the Palisades development over more than $350,000 in unpaid sponsorship fees, the Observer's Rick Bonnell reports.

The suit, filed Monday locally in federal court, says Rhein Palisades failed to pay any of the $347,288 owed InsideOut Champions Series for running last month’s tournament at the South Charlotte planned community.

The suit also says Rhein Palisades owes $10,250 in unpaid fees from the 2008 tournament.
Mike Boston, director of operations for the Tim Wilkison Complex at the Palisades, said via email Tuesday night he was unaware a lawsuit had been filed.

InsideOut has run a tournament at the Palisades each September since 2006 and is contracted through 2011. The eight-man fields have included Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and tour co-founder Jim Courier.

Click here to read the suit.

- Doug Miller

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Story: Lewis secretly met with Lehman exec

In the race to save Lehman Brothers, Richard S. Fuld Jr., the firm’s chairman, reached out to Bank of America as early as July 2008, according to the book "Too Big to Fail," scheduled for release today.

Author Andrew Ross Sorkin, a New York Times reporter, gives this account of a secret meeting between Fuld and Bank of America's Ken Lewis, as excerpted in today's NYT story:

"To keep the talks alive after the session at Sullivan & Cromwell, Paulson and Geithner over the course of the next week arranged a secret meeting between Fuld and Lewis.

It would take place at a previously scheduled event on the evening of Monday, July 21, in New York. Paulson was being honored at a dinner at the New York Fed in Lower Manhattan, organized by Geithner as an opportunity for the secretary to get together with top leaders from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, as well as Fuld and Lewis.

As the dinner was ending, Geithner, approached Lewis and, leaning close, whispered, "I believe you have a meeting with Dick."

"Yeah, I do," Lewis replied.

Geithner gave him directions to a side room where the two could speak in private. He had apparently already given Fuld the same instructions, because Lewis noticed him across the room looking back at them like a nervous date. Seeing Fuld start to walk in one direction, Lewis headed in the other; with half of Wall Street looking on, the last thing either of them needed was to have word of their meeting get out.

The two men eventually doubled back and found the room. Fuld explained that he would want at least $25 a share from Bank of America to buy Lehman; Lehman’s shares had closed that day at $18.32. Lewis thought the number was far too high and couldn’t see the strategic rationale. Unless he could buy the firm for next to nothing, the deal wasn’t worth it. But he held his tongue.
Two days later, he called Fuld back.

"I don’t think this is going to work for us," Lewis said as diplomatically as he could, while leaving open the possibility that they could discuss the matter again."

- Doug Miller