Thursday, April 30, 2009

DOT memo casts doubt on Perdue's promise

Gov. Bev Perdue pledged in late February to fast-track construction on the last piece of Charlotte's outerbelt and start work sometime this year.

But a DOT memo from late March spells out the funding challenges to starting construction on the last segment of Interstate 485 in 2009.

Today's story says the state is expected next month to propose a plan to fund the outerbelt. It's possible the plan will use money dedicated for another Charlotte project, such as widening I-85 and improving Independence Boulevard.

Matthews Mayor Lee Myers said he expects any proposal will involve cuts to other road projects, and said it would likely be "ugly."

Click here to read the internal N.C. Department of Transportation memo.

- Steve Harrison

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

First look: CMS releases spending plan

Superintendent Peter Gorman's budget proposal, which the school board will vote on May 12, calls for the county to provide $351 million again this year, sparing CMS from the cuts that would then fall harder on other county services and agencies.

Cuts from county commissioners would trigger further layers of job cuts.

A 210-page budget work book made public today provides more details about how that plan would play out in each department and how proposed spending compares with previous years.

Click here to see the newly released plan.

On its web site, CMS officials are asking the public for their thoughts on proposed cuts and cost-cutting measures:

Click here to let CMS know what you think.

- Ann Doss Helms

Papers: King spent $5,343 on 23-page personal bio

Today's Observer story details accusations about former United Way CEO Gloria Pace King's expenses. A statement from the agency's chief financial officer says King "double dipped" on meal expenses and charged the agency for personal travel.

According to court papers, King spent $5,343.51 for creation of a 23-page leather-bound book profiling her life in business.

Click here to read the sworn statement from chief financial officer Shelley White.

King's attorney Bill Diehl says his client denies all the allegations. King is accusing the United Way of discrimination, wrongful termination and illegally breaking her employment contract.

Click here to read grand jury subpoena and copies of receipts.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

State probes former Black benefactor

Don Beason, once one of the state's most powerful lobbyists, is the subject of an investigation into whether he directed clients to underreport their payments to him, according to an investigator's affidavit, the News & Observer reports.

According to the story: "In the four-page sworn statement filed in Wake County Superior Court, John M. Lynch, a special agent with the N.C. secretary of state's lobbying compliance division, wrote that he thought Beason directed some of 24 groups and companies for which he and his son lobbied in 2007 to include inaccurate information on state disclosure forms."

Click here to read the affadavit.

Beason's time as a lobbying powerhouse ended in summer 2007 when reports surfaced that he gave a $500,000, no-interest loan to now-imprisoned former House Speaker Jim Black.

Click here to read the full story.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New Queens Table monuments?

A small group of anonymous donors is proposing a set of new public monuments for Charlotte. The monuments would sit beside the South Tryon Street bridge at I-277.

Click here to see the proposal. (Rendering is on page 7).

The donors established the Queen’s Table Fund in 1991. Prior gifts include Sculptures on the Square; Hezekiah Alexander House, Charlotte Museum of History; Queen Charlotte at Douglas International Airport; Aspire, bronze sculpture on the CPCC central campus; and Wind Sculpture on West Trade Street.

The group hopes to install two monuments at at the north bridge approach of S. Tryon Street Bridge by late summer or early fall.

Annual maintenance costs for the city are estimated at $ 8,450.

Friday, April 24, 2009

FAA: 233 bird strikes at Charlotte/Douglas

The Federal Aviation Administration today released for the first time the time and place of airplane-bird strikes since 1990. The disclosures come after the ditching of a US Airways jet in the Hudson River after bird strikes knocked out both its engines in January.

The data for Charlotte/Douglas International Airport shows that from Jan 2004 to Dec. 2008, there were 233 bird strikes reported at CLT. One strike caused "substantial damage," the report shows.

Click here to see bird strikes at Charlotte/Douglas since 1990.

The Associated Press reports that since 2000, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York reported at least 30 accidents where damage was either substantial or the plane was actually destroyed. Sacramento International Airport in California reported at least 28 such accidents.

Click here for the complete FAA database.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pastor Jinwright indictment

Bishop Anthony L. Jinwright, senior pastor of two Charlotte churches, was accused Tuesday of tax evasion.

The 52-year-old heads Greater Salem City of God in west Charlotte and Greater Salem at the Lake in Cornelius.

Click here to read the 16-page federal indictment.

Click here to read Bishop Jinwright's response.

- Christopher D. Kirkpatrick

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cliffside's war of words

A war of words rang out Monday at uptown's Stonewall and Church streets, where demonstrators gathered at Duke Energy's headquarters. The crowd of more than 250 protested the environmental impacts of Duke's coal use and expansion of its Cliffside power plant west of Charlotte.

Read below for Duke's defense of Cliffside, and here for a letter sent to Duke CEO Jim Rogers last week by some of the groups taking part in Monday's protest.

· Cliffside is a bridge plant to a lower carbon future. We will make the new unit at Cliffside carbon neutral by retiring 1,000 megawatts of higher-emitting plants in North Carolina. Once we bring the new Cliffside Unit 6 on line in 2012, it will be the cleanest coal-fired power plant in the nation.

· On March 13, 2009, Duke Energy received a revised air permit for the new unit from the N.C. Division of Air Quality (DAQ), which designates that the unit is a minor source of hazardous air pollutants, rather than a major emitter. This designation by the DAQ confirms the new Cliffside Unit 6 will have among the strictest, most effective air emission controls available to protect public health and the environment. Here is a link to the DAQ’s press release.

· Duke Energy has a comprehensive plan to meet energy needs by using a diverse fuel mix. Currently, we use coal, nuclear, hydro, natural gas and energy efficiency to provide affordable, reliable power to customers as cleanly as possible. We are building two cleaner coal plants, one in North Carolina and one in Indiana, that will allow us to retire older, higher-emitting units once the new units come on line. We plan to build two new natural gas plants in North Carolina and are keeping the option open to build a new nuclear plant in South Carolina.

· Additionally, we are pursuing an enhanced energy efficiency program – save-a-watt- that incents us to aggressively save energy; working in North Carolina on a plan to create mini-power plants by installing solar panels on rooftops, and signed a 20-year agreement to buy the full output of a new solar farm in Davidson County, N.C.

· At the same time, we are developing wind energy in areas of the United States where abundant supplies of wind are available. In fact, we are co-owner of one of the largest wind farms in Texas. This spring, we will have more than 500 megawatts of wind power in operation and another 5,000 megawatts in development in 14 U.S. states.

· Coal and nuclear power provide baseload energy needs for customers. To suggest that Duke Energy is not pursuing renewables or that renewables can provide baseload needs is simply inaccurate. Bruce Henderson

Monday, April 20, 2009

County buys $13.50 bowl of popcorn

Editor's Note: Welcome to the Paper Trail, a new blog where Observer reporters will share the memos and other documents that help explain stories making headlines in local government.

$13.50 for a bowl of buttered popcorn. $69.95 a head for a BBQ dinner buffet. $2.75 for bottles of water.

Those are some of the highlights of invoices detailing the $9,598 that Mecklenburg County spent for food and food service at the two-day retreat for county commissioners held in January at the Lodge at Ballantyne Resort. Click here to see the documents. The Bissell Company, which owns the Lodge, donated accommodations for the retreat.

County Manager Harry Jones discussed the tab for the annual retreat Friday in his weekly memo to commissioners. Jones said he had been questioned by a reporter about the cost of the retreat.

As the Observer reported Sunday, Jones wrote the county decided to pay for the food to avoid the appearance of any wrong doing in accepting the free accommodations from the Bissell company.

Jones defended the food costs, noting the board developed rapport with colleagues and decided to defer a bond sale that officials said would save $18 million in debt payments next year.

The $9,598 covered five meals, plus various drinks and snacks for 28 people: commissioners, county staff and retreat facilities, according to invoices obtained Monday by the Paper Trail. It also included taxes and a 22 percent service charge for the meals, which were catered from the resort.

A comparison of the county’s invoices and the catering menu on the Ballantyne Resort’s Web site shows the county was charged the regular price for its food. The company also requires a minimum number of guests for its buffet-style meals.

For example, the Carolina BBQ buffet, which the county purchased for the Thursday dinner at the retreat, requires at least 40 guests. The total tab for the dinner, including taxes and a service charge was $3,689.03.

What did they get for that? Well, the menu includes lemon and herb baked salmon cakes and BBQ beef short ribs, salads, and red velvet cake, among other things. APRIL BETHEA