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 [] 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)

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


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


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, 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.


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.


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.

(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.