Saturday, August 29, 2009

Read Kennedy's letter to the pope

At the graveside service at Arlington National Cemetery for Sen. Edward Kennedy, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, read from a letter from Kennedy to Pope Benedict XVI, hand-delivered earlier this year by President Obama, and from portions of the pope's reply.

Sen. Edward Kennedy laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kennedy's letter:

"Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am deeply grateful to him.

"I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our Church and inspire our world during these challenging times.

"I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and, although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.

"I have been blessed to be a part of a wonderful family, and both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained, nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.

"I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States Senator.

"I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.

"I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me."

Pope Benedict XVI's reply:

"The Holy Father has read the letter which you entrusted to President Barack Obama, who kindly presented it to him during their recent meeting. He was saddened to know of your illness, and has asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness. He is particularly grateful for your promise of prayers for him and for the needs of the universal Church.

"His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God our merciful Father. He invokes upon you the consolation and peace promised by the Risen Savior to all who share in His sufferings and trust in His promise of eternal life.

"Commending you and the members of your family to the loving intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of wisdom, comfort and strength in the Lord."

Read the program from Kennedy's funeral Mass

The funeral Mass for Sen. Edward Kennedy was held Saturday at the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston.

Read the program from the service here. (PDF)

President Obama's eulogy for Kennedy

Read President Obama's eulogy at Sen. Edward Kennedy's funeral Mass on Saturday in Boston, as prepared for delivery and provided by the White House:

President Obama

Mrs. Kennedy, Kara, Edward, Patrick, Curran, Caroline, members of the Kennedy family, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Today we say goodbye to the youngest child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy. The world will long remember their son Edward as the heir to a weighty legacy; a champion for those who had none; the soul of the Democratic Party; and the lion of the U.S. Senate – a man whose name graces nearly one thousand laws, and who penned more than three hundred himself.

But those of us who loved him, and ache with his passing, know Ted Kennedy by the other titles he held: Father. Brother. Husband. Uncle Teddy, or as he was often known to his younger nieces and nephews, “The Grand Fromage,” or “The Big Cheese.” I, like so many others in the city where he worked for nearly half a century, knew him as a colleague, a mentor, and above all, a friend.

Ted Kennedy was the baby of the family who became its patriarch; the restless dreamer who became its rock. He was the sunny, joyful child, who bore the brunt of his brothers' teasing, but learned quickly how to brush it off. When they tossed him off a boat because he didn't know what a jib was, six-year-old Teddy got back in and learned to sail. When a photographer asked the newly elected Bobby to step back at a press conference because he was casting a shadow on his younger brother, Teddy quipped, “It'll be the same in Washington.”

This spirit of resilience and good humor would see Ted Kennedy through more pain and tragedy than most of us will ever know. He lost two siblings by the age of sixteen. He saw two more taken violently from the country that loved them. He said goodbye to his beloved sister, Eunice, in the final days of his own life. He narrowly survived a plane crash, watched two children struggle with cancer, buried three nephews, and experienced personal failings and setbacks in the most public way possible.

It is a string of events that would have broken a lesser man. And it would have been easy for Teddy to let himself become bitter and hardened; to surrender to self-pity and regret; to retreat from public life and live out his years in peaceful quiet. No one would have blamed him for that.

But that was not Ted Kennedy. As he told us, “(I)ndividual faults and frailties are no excuse to give in – and no exemption from the common obligation to give of ourselves.” Indeed, Ted was the “Happy Warrior” that the poet William Wordsworth spoke of when he wrote:

As tempted more; more able to endure,

As more exposed to suffering and distress;

Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.

Through his own suffering, Ted Kennedy became more alive to the plight and suffering of others – the sick child who could not see a doctor; the young soldier sent to battle without armor; the citizen denied her rights because of what she looks like or who she loves or where she comes from. The landmark laws that he championed – the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, immigration reform, children's health care, the Family and Medical Leave Act – all have a running thread. Ted Kennedy's life's work was not to champion those with wealth or power or special connections. It was to give a voice to those who were not heard; to add a rung to the ladder of opportunity; to make real the dream of our founding. He was given the gift of time that his brothers were not, and he used that gift to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow.

We can still hear his voice bellowing through the Senate chamber, face reddened, fist pounding the podium, a veritable force of nature, in support of health care or workers' rights or civil rights. And yet, while his causes became deeply personal, his disagreements never did. While he was seen by his fiercest critics as a partisan lightning rod, that is not the prism through which Ted Kennedy saw the world, nor was it the prism through which his colleagues saw him. He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect – a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots.

KennedyAnd that's how Ted Kennedy became the greatest legislator of our time. He did it by hewing to principle, but also by seeking compromise and common cause – not through dealmaking and horse-trading alone, but through friendship, and kindness, and humor. There was the time he courted Orrin Hatch's support for the Children's Health Insurance Program by having his chief of staff serenade the senator with a song Orrin had written himself; the time he delivered shamrock cookies on a china plate to sweeten up a crusty Republican colleague; and the famous story of how he won the support of a Texas committee chairman on an immigration bill. Teddy walked into a meeting with a plain manila envelope, and showed only the chairman that it was filled with the Texan's favorite cigars. When the negotiations were going well, he would inch the envelope closer to the chairman. When they weren't, he would pull it back. Before long, the deal was done.

It was only a few years ago, on St. Patrick's Day, when Teddy buttonholed me on the floor of the Senate for my support on a certain piece of legislation that was coming up for vote. I gave him my pledge, but expressed my skepticism that it would pass. But when the roll call was over, the bill garnered the votes it needed, and then some. I looked at Teddy with astonishment and asked how he had pulled it off. He just patted me on the back, and said “Luck of the Irish!”

Of course, luck had little to do with Ted Kennedy's legislative success, and he knew that. A few years ago, his father-in-law told him that he and Daniel Webster just might be the two greatest senators of all time. Without missing a beat, Teddy replied, “What did Webster do?”

But though it is Ted Kennedy's historic body of achievements we will remember, it is his giving heart that we will miss. It was the friend and colleague who was always the first to pick up the phone and say, “I'm sorry for your loss,” or “I hope you feel better,” or “What can I do to help?” It was the boss who was so adored by his staff that over five hundred spanning five decades showed up for his 75th birthday party. It was the man who sent birthday wishes and thank you notes and even his own paintings to so many who never imagined that a U.S. senator would take the time to think about someone like them. I have one of those paintings in my private study – a Cape Cod seascape that was a gift to a freshman legislator who happened to admire it when Ted Kennedy welcomed him into his office the first week he arrived in Washington; by the way, that's my second favorite gift from Teddy and Vicki after our dog Bo. And it seems like everyone has one of those stories – the ones that often start with “You wouldn't believe who called me today.”

Ted Kennedy was the father who looked after not only his own three children, but John's and Bobby's as well. He took them camping and taught them to sail. He laughed and danced with them at birthdays and weddings; cried and mourned with them through hardship and tragedy; and passed on that same sense of service and selflessness that his parents had instilled in him. Shortly after Ted walked Caroline down the aisle and gave her away at the altar, he received a note from Jackie that read, “On you the carefree youngest brother fell a burden a hero would have begged to be spared. We are all going to make it because you were always there with your love.”

Not only did the Kennedy family make it because of Ted's love – he made it because of theirs; and especially because of the love and the life he found in Vicki. After so much loss and so much sorrow, it could not have been easy for Ted Kennedy to risk his heart again. That he did is a testament to how deeply he loved this remarkable woman from Louisiana. And she didn't just love him back. As Ted would often acknowledge, Vicki saved him. She gave him strength and purpose; joy and friendship; and stood by him always, especially in those last, hardest days.

We cannot know for certain how long we have here. We cannot foresee the trials or misfortunes that will test us along the way. We cannot know God's plan for us.

What we can do is to live out our lives as best we can with purpose, and love, and joy. We can use each day to show those who are closest to us how much we care about them, and treat others with the kindness and respect that we wish for ourselves. We can learn from our mistakes and grow from our failures. And we can strive at all costs to make a better world, so that someday, if we are blessed with the chance to look back on our time here, we can know that we spent it well; that we made a difference; that our fleeting presence had a lasting impact on the lives of other human beings.

This is how Ted Kennedy lived. This is his legacy. He once said of his brother Bobby that he need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, and I imagine he would say the same about himself. The greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy's shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became. We do not weep for him today because of the prestige attached to his name or his office. We weep because we loved this kind and tender hero who persevered through pain and tragedy – not for the sake of ambition or vanity; not for wealth or power; but only for the people and the country he loved.

In the days after September 11th, Teddy made it a point to personally call each one of the 177 families of this state who lost a loved one in the attack. But he didn't stop there. He kept calling and checking up on them. He fought through red tape to get them assistance and grief counseling. He invited them sailing, played with their children, and would write each family a letter whenever the anniversary of that terrible day came along. To one widow, he wrote the following:

“As you know so well, the passage of time never really heals the tragic memory of such a great loss, but we carry on, because we have to, because our loved one would want us to, and because there is still light to guide us in the world from the love they gave us.”

We carry on.

Ted Kennedy has gone home now, guided by his faith and by the light of those he has loved and lost. At last he is with them once more, leaving those of us who grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good he did, the dream he kept alive, and a single, enduring image – the image of a man on a boat; white mane tousled; smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for what storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon. May God Bless Ted Kennedy, and may he rest in eternal peace.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Candidates give Monroe high marks

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe enjoys bipartisan, often enthusiastic, support among candidates in the city council and mayoral primary, a survey shows.

Every respondent to an Observer questionnaire approved of Monroe's performance. Candidates were asked to respond to a range of questions.
For instance, in the Democratic race for District 1 - which includes such central Charlotte neighborhoods as Elizabeth, Dilworth, Sedgefield and parts of Central Avenue - both incumbent Patsy Kinsey and challenger Owen Sutkowski support Monroe.

Asked to rate the chief's performance:

Kinsey: "Chief Monroe has done a good job making our neighborhoods safer. He inherited a lot of professional, highly competent police officers when he took the job and they have continued to do an outstanding job under his leadership."

Sutkowski: "I believe Chief Monroe brought a fresh perspective on public safety planning to Charlotte and his community police initiative has served to connect communities to the polices as well as making people aware of the public safety issues in their community."

Checking in with Republicans, five of seven candidates in the party's at-large race used the same word in their answers - "excellent."

- Doug Miller

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kissell: Investigate CVS/Caremark

In response to complaints from Charlotte-area pharmacists and patients, U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, D-N.C., has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate reports of anti-competitive and deceptive practices by CVS/Caremark.

Click here to read Kissell's letter.

As reported by Karen Garloch today, Kissell's request comes more than three months after Charlotte pharmacist Jesse Pike and two of his customers testified before FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz about the chain pharmacy's unfair prescription drug pricing and referral patterns.

Kissell asked the FTC to review its decision to allow the 2006 merger of CVS, the largest retail pharmacy chain, and Caremark, the largest pharmacy benefits manager.

Earlier this year, a spokeswoman for CVS/Caremark disagreed with the independent pharmacists' characterization of the chain's business practices. She said its integrated operations “provide greater choice and more convenience for patients.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Reaction: Kennedys, Obama

President Obama and the Kennedy family have released the following statements:

Statement from the Kennedy family:

“Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever.

We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him.”

This from the White House:

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release August 26, 2009
Blue Heron Farm
Chilmark, Massachusetts

9:57 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: I wanted to say a few words this morning about the passing of an extraordinary leader, Senator Edward Kennedy.

Over the past several years, I've had the honor to call Teddy a colleague, a counselor, and a friend. And even though we have known this day was coming for some time now, we awaited it with no small amount of dread.

Since Teddy's diagnosis last year, we've seen the courage with which he battled his illness. And while these months have no doubt been difficult for him, they've also let him hear from people in every corner of our nation and from around the world just how much he meant to all of us. His fight has given us the opportunity we were denied when his brothers John and Robert were taken from us: the blessing of time to say thank you -- and goodbye.

The outpouring of love, gratitude, and fond memories to which we've all borne witness is a testament to the way this singular figure in American history touched so many lives. His ideas and ideals are stamped on scores of laws and reflected in millions of lives -- in seniors who know new dignity, in families that know new opportunity, in children who know education's promise, and in all who can pursue their dream in an America that is more equal and more just -- including myself.

The Kennedy name is synonymous with the Democratic Party. And at times, Ted was the target of partisan campaign attacks. But in the United States Senate, I can think of no one who engendered greater respect or affection from members of both sides of the aisle. His seriousness of purpose was perpetually matched by humility, warmth, and good cheer. He could passionately battle others and do so peerlessly on the Senate floor for the causes that he held dear, and yet still maintain warm friendships across party lines.

And that's one reason he became not only one of the greatest senators of our time, but one of the most accomplished Americans ever to serve our democracy.

His extraordinary life on this earth has come to an end. And the extraordinary good that he did lives on. For his family, he was a guardian. For America, he was the defender of a dream.

I spoke earlier this morning to Senator Kennedy's beloved wife, Vicki, who was to the end such a wonderful source of encouragement and strength. Our thoughts and prayers are with her, his children Kara, Edward, and Patrick; his stepchildren Curran and Caroline; the entire Kennedy family; decades' worth of his staff; the people of Massachusetts; and all Americans who, like us, loved Ted Kennedy.
END 10:00 A.M. EDT

- Doug Miller

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Roberts: No 'Pimps & Hos'

Mecklenburg County Commission Chairman Jennifer Roberts sees no humor in her invitation to an upcoming 'Pimp & Ho' -themed ball at Suite, an Epicentre club.

Roberts sent organizers this reply, which she copied to the Observer and Mike Sexton, co-chair of the Domestic Violence Advisory Council:

"I received your recent invitation to a themed party below, the “Pimp and Ho Ball.” I find your choice of themes extremely harmful for this community.

I hope that you will cancel this event, or at the very least, I hope that you will make this the first and last annual ball with such a name.
As a female leader in this community, I work hard to give young women a positive role model and to support a positive image for women in this society.
In the area of public safety, we spend millions of dollars each year in this community to protect women from domestic violence and rape, and to assist victims of those horrible crimes.
An increasing number of women are victims in our community, and we in the County work continually to educate both men and women as to what is appropriate and lawful behavior in this society as relates to the treatment of women.
We initiated a Women’s Summit two years ago and the community came up with a lengthy agenda for furthering equal opportunity for women, equal pay, increased safety, economic security, and family support.

Mecklenburg County has twice as many deaths from domestic violence as any other county in this state. Prostitution remains illegal in the state of North Carolina and is very often linked with violent abuse of women. I am shocked that you are celebrating it in this way.

On behalf of women everywhere, I am asking you to please cancel or change the theme of this party.

Jennifer Watson Roberts
Chairman, Mecklenburg County
Board of Commissioners"
- Doug Miller

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Read the health care bills

Health care debate
A woman in the audience yells at Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., at a health care forum in Rocky Mount on Aug. 11. (Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer)

Lots of e-mails are going around purporting to offer highlights of the health care legislation working its way through Congress. But not all the claims in those e-mails are backed up in the bills.

Read the Tri-Committee House health care bill here.
Senate version is here.

(Note that the legislation is still in Congress, so it's expected to change as lawmakers negotiate for votes.)

Some points of note from the draft measure:
  • On illegal immigrants: "No federal payment for undocumented aliens. Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States." (Page 143)
  • On automatic enrollment in Medicaid: A Medicaid-eligible individual who "has not elected to enroll in an Exchange-participating health benefits plan" will be automatically enrolled in Medicaid. (Page 102)
  • On advance care planning: "A consultation under this subsection may include the formulation of an order regarding life sustaining treatment or a similar order." (Section 1233, Pages 424-434)
What's your take on the proposed health care overhaul?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Panel: Remove Jones, McGillicuddy from committee

County administrators should not sit on a panel that oversees management's performance, officials say.

That was one recommendation today from the Audit Review Committee, which is is overseeing an internal county probe into reports of misspending at the Department of Social Services.

The final decision on whether to remove County Manager Harry Jones and General Manager John McGillicuddy from the committee rests with the full board of county commissioners.

The committee studied 9 other large governing bodies in North Carolina and found that none of them included staff members on their Audit Review Committees.

Click here to see their survey.

The committee's makeup came under scrutiny after some commissioners questioned whether having staff members conduct audits on the county's performance presents a conflict.

- Doug Miller

Today: What's next for DSS probe?

Mecklenburg officials prepared this update for the 2:30 p.m. Audit Review Committe meeting:

Click here to see the county's position on 8 key points.

The suggestions were released in response to reports of misspending at the Department of Social Services. Officials cannot fully account for tens of thousands of dollars meant to help children and poor families.

Details emerged in June of missing and altered receipts from donations meant to buy Christmas gifts for needy kids. In one case, a $10,000 check was made out to a DSS employee. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating.

The Audit Review committee is overseeing an internal county probe into the matter.

Among the recommendations:

* Additional audits of Target vouchers, to identify any fraud or theft, and to learn why there was an increase in vouchers for the store.

* Studying whether to make county-wide changes to its financial structure.

* Considering the need for adding three members to the county's internal audit staff.

Also on today's agenda: The makeup of the Audit Review Committee itself.

Two of the five committee members are county administrators – County Manager Harry Jones and General Manager John McGillicuddy.

County commissioners Bill James and Harold Cogdell have said the arrangement undermines public confidence in the panel's work.

- Doug Miller

Monday, August 17, 2009

Study: Top county employees paid above market

Mecklenburg County paid its managers 18.8 percent above market rate, according to a 2005 salary study released last week.

Additionally, the study found: "There were 23 jobs that were found to be significantly above the market. Most of these jobs were found in the upper management and executive categories."

Click here for the first page of the summary, and here for the second page.

County officials released the study Friday after it came under scrutiny earlier in the week. County Commission Chairman Jennifer Roberts has asked the county attorney to look into allegations that county staff improperly influenced the study authors as they prepared their findings.

Fox Lawson & Associates, the firm that conducted the study, said it found no evidence that any government officials pressured it to change information in the report.

- Doug Miller

Monday, August 10, 2009

County memo: Auditors need more help

Mecklenburg's Department of Social Services was last fully audited in 1996 and a committee looking into allegations of misspending asked for more details on the county's auditing schedule.

In response, county staff has released a list of recommendations to address the department's accounting failures.

Among them, a description of an optimal audit schedule. It suggests more auditors should be hired.

"To complete the optimal schedule effectively, a minimum of 3 additional FTEs or equivalent contracted resources would be required," the memo says.

Click here to read the memo, item 4.

It goes on to say that "at current staffing levels, it takes approximately six years to review all core areas at all departments."

The Audit Review Committee was scheduled to discuss the recommendations today, but the meeting was postponed to an unspecified later date.

- Doug Miller

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dueling memos: Gorman vs. Jones

In Charlotte, discussions about pending land deals involving local governments typically occur out of the public eye, whether in staff meetings or closed-door sessions.

But a dispute about a proposed agreement between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Mecklenburg County became public earlier this week when schools Superintendent Peter Gorman sent a letter to County Manager Harry Jones.

In a nutshell, Gorman said the district is hesitant to give the county land it owns on Brevard Street for a planned First Ward development because of concerns about money owed by the county for another piece of school property.

He also discusses other concerns about cuts in this year's school budget and future spending on construction.

Click here to read Gorman's letter.

The county owes CMS $13.75 million for the Education Center, property the district gave up as part of a county deal to help bring minor-league baseball to uptown. And with a Dec. 31, 2010 deadline to move out of the building creeping closer, school leaders want to know when they'll get the money.

County officials said they intend to pay CMS, but have limited money right now due to the economy and a slowdown in spending for construction. The county had borrowed $9.5 million toward the debt for the Ed Center in 2008.

But earlier this year, the county scaled back its borrowing for construction and the $9.5 million it had on hand for the new offices was used to help finish school projects already underway.

County Manager Harry Jones said he'll recommend giving the $13.75 million as part of next year's budget talks.

Click here to read the Jones memo.

It is unclear whether the pledge from Jones will be enough to convince school leaders to agree to the new First Ward land deal. Gorman said Thursday he didn't know if the item would come up in closed session at next week's school board meeting.

- April Bethea

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bank of America under scrutiny

Links behind two developing stories:

The House Oversight and Government Reform committee has asked Bank of America for more documents in its Merrill Lynch investigation.

Click here to read the letter.

U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff will hold a hearing Monday on Bank of America's $33 million SEC settlement.

Click here to read the order.

- Rick Rothacker

CMS race: Davis is top fundraiser

Eric Davis, a banker who's seeking the District 5 Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board seat, has raised and spent more in the early stretch of the campaign than the 19 other board candidates combined, the first round of financial reports show.

Davis started collecting donations in February, and had $27,767 in hand as of the July 31 midyear report. That included a handful of donations of $1,000 or more and a long list of smaller donors.

He reported spending just over $11,400 on promotional items, mailings and other campaign items.

The second-biggest fundraiser was his rival, Susan Walker, who reported raising $6,314 and spending $3,651. The two are vying for the south/central district seat held by board Chair Molly Griffin, who isn't running.

The nonpartisan school board race doesn't have a primary, and many candidates wait until summer to launch campaigns and seek money.

Ten candidates reported having less than $1,000 in hand at the end of July. Five others -- including all three contenders for the south suburban District 6 seat being vacated by Ken Gjertsen -- filed statements saying they expect to raise and spend less than $3,000 during the entire campaign.

Click here to find out who's giving how much to whom. (The list also includes candidates for municipal offices in Mecklenburg County).

- Ann Doss Helms

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Did suspended deputy use county car?

A furor engulfing the Lincoln County sheriff's office shows no signs of waning.

Reports have surfaced questioning whether Chief Deputy Barry Taylor still had use of county vehicles even after he was suspended from the department.

Taylor was disciplined in mid-July after being charged with helping an acquaintance avoid a 2007 drunken driving arrest.

Lake Norman newspaper news@norman last week published a photo (above) of "a Dodge Charger that Taylor drove while on duty - and a pickup truck with “Bloodhound” on the side ... photographed parked at the house of his girlfriend." Editor and Publisher Ken Fortenberry said the photos were taken last Wednesday afternoon, and the vehicles were still there Thursday afternoon at 5 p.m.

Another news outlet, the Lincoln Times-News, then reported that "after the pictures surfaced Thursday on the Internet, the vehicles apparently were moved."

This week, the county commission weighed in, apparently taking aim at the controversy.

The Lincoln Tribune reports: "County Commissioners enacted a new policy on Monday night to require all county employees to surrender county vehicles as soon as they are suspended or put on administrative leave."

Adding to the photographic flap: this WSOC-TV story, which quotes Sheriff Tim Daugherty saying "the cars were taken from Taylor right after he placed his No. 2 in command on suspension on July 17."

So what's next?

Fortenberry reports that commission chairman Alex Patton has scheduled a news conference for Friday at 10 a.m., possibly to address the matter.

But there's more behind the story.

A media storm has cropped up.

First, Lincoln Times-News Managing Editor Frank Taylor has accused news web site The Carolina Scoop of plagiarism.

The stories themselves are not directly related to the sheriff's matter.

But Carolina Scoop site publisher Jon Mayhew worked as a spokesman for Sheriff Daugherty when he published a story that Taylor said closely resembles something written by one of his staff writers.

Taylor tells Paper Trail that this image, published in the Lake Norman Bath blog, accurately depicts words from a July 22 Times-News story about a murder trial that appeared in a July 24 Carolina Scoop story. Taylor filed a complaint last Monday with Lincolnton police.

Mayhew did not respond to an email and phone call seeking comment.

The other media development involves Mayhew and Fortenberry, the news@norman publisher.

Mayhew filed a Lincolnton police complaint last week accusing Fortenberry of harassment. Mayhew said Fortenberry contacted him after he asked him not to. Mayhew said Fortbenerry had threatened legal action against him.

Fortenberry (right) is accustomed to such battles.

He achieved publicity in the 1980s as the crusading editor of a weekly newspaper in McCormick, S.C. that took on the local sheriff.

This 1987 New York Times story recalls the Fortenberry family's arrival to the small town:

"They arrived in July 1985, and the good feeling lasted for about two weeks, until Mr. Fortenberry went to the sheriff's office to ask to see the jail log, a list he thought would be well read.

The retired sheriff, J. Preston Gable, who was there, told him it was none of his business, Mr. Fortenberry said. The next day, when the editor went back after checking the public records law with the State Attorney General's office, the sheriff, Jimmy Gable, the former sheriff's son, ''told me he didn't give a damn what the law was. He said, 'There's the door. Go out it. Or I'll put you out the door.' ''

Fortenberry wrote a book, "Kill the Messenger: One Man's Fight Against Bigotry and Greed," about his time there.

Asked by Paper Trail about his experiences then and now, Fortenberry said:

"Different venue, same sad story. Sheriffs who don’t play by the rules."

- Doug Miller

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

N.C. budget: Read it for yourself

For those of us who don't speak "budget," the money report summarizes spending and cuts by category.

The budget bill includes a breakdown of what the individual tax increases are projected to raise this year.

* Individual income surcharge: $172.8 million.
* Corporate Income tax $23.1 million.
* 1-cent sales tax increase: $803.5 million.
* Apply sales tax to digital downloads and Internet purchases: $11.8 million.
* Increase excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol: $68.8 million.

Gov. Beverly Perdue this morning expressed satisfaction and relief that North Carolina was on the verge of getting a budget.

"I don't know about you, but I'm glad it's about over," the governor told the Council of State, a body of statewide elected officials, at their monthly meeting.

Perdue said the budget compromise met her two main conditions: no across-the-board income tax hike and no across-the-board increase in class sizes in the public schools.

But she added that there will be "tremendous cuts" as the state moves to close a huge deficit. The budget would raise income taxes on individuals earning $60,000 or couples earning at least $100,000.

The budget would maintain class sizes from kindergarten through the third grade, and would leave it up to local officials whether to cut the higher grades.

- (Raleigh) News & Observer