Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Former Wal-Mart manager says chain broke laws

Former Wal-Mart manager Sylvester Johnson alleges civil rights and securities law violations by mega retailer. Read the suit, filed today in federal district court in Charlotte.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Feds seek CMS assignment info

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has until Jan. 7 to provide federal civil-rights investigators with student-assignment policies and demographic data related to 2011 school closings and other changes, according to a notice sent by the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights this week.

Click here to read the notice.

Seven people - the department does not identify them - have filed complaints alleging that CMS's recent decision to close schools and otherwise reassign students discriminates on the basis of race or national origin. CMS officials acknowledge that most students whose schools will close are black, Hispanic and/or low-income, but they say closings were based on low enrollment and/or academic problems, not race.

- Ann Doss Helms

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Read the SEC accusations

Bank of America Corp. agreed to pay $137 million in restitution for its involvement in a conspiracy to rig bids on 88 municipal bond contracts, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Justice Department said.
The Charlotte bank agreed to pay $36 million to settle an SEC case. The bank will pay an additional $101 million to resolve investigations by other federal and state agencies, the SEC said.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Read emails behind Jim Turner's resignation

These emails from earlier this year reveal the cozy relationship between then-chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission David Lott Hardy and top Duke Energy executive Jim Turner, who resigned over the emails today. They are among hundreds between the two that were obtained under public records law by the Indianapolis Star.

email one
email two

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New Zahra Baker documents

In stark detail, court documents released Tuesday disclose new allegations in the death of 10-year-old Zahra Baker, the Hickory girl whose plight appears to be more disturbing than previously revealed.

Read the court documents.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Feds: Congressman's staffer cheated constituents

A staffer for former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes was sentenced to two years’ probation today on a charge of extorting money from constituents who had turned to her for help.

Click here to read court papers.

Elizabeth Lozada, 43, of Concord, N.C., appeared in U.S. District Court in Greensboro. She pled guilty in May to extortion of less than $1,000, which is a federal misdemeanor.

Her public defender, Thomas Cochran of Greensboro, declined to comment on the case at her request.

Lozada served in Hayes’ Cabarrus County office from 2005 through 2008, the end of Hayes’ term. She earned $41,000 in her last year there, according to the website LegiStorm, which tracks congressional office spending.

According to documents filed in federal court, Lozada’s responsibilities as a constituent liaison included assisting Spanish-speaking residents of the 8th Congressional District on a variety of issues involving the federal bureaucracy. Those included offering help with passports, Social Security and immigration matters.

- Barbara Barrett, Maria David

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Big classes, big problems

CMS officials have compiled a list of all high school classes with more than 35 students, suggesting the problem is especially glaring at suburban campuses.

Click here to see a list of all big classes at CMS high schools.

School board member Kaye McGarry said she requested a campus-by-campus tally because she was concerned about how recent budget cuts are driving up class sizes.
The statistics suggest suburban campuses don't benefit as much as low-income ones from a CMS policy that assigns more teachers to low-income students in hopes of helping them overcome their social disadvantages.

McGarry and others say the policy might need to be revisited in light of a budget gap of up to $100 million CMS faces next year.

- Eric Frazier

Monday, November 22, 2010

Letter: 'Conduct unbecoming an officer'

The city of Charlotte today released former police officer Marcus Jackson's termination letter after a judge ruled the document is public record under the state's new personnel law.

Click here to read the termination letter.

Jackson's attorneys argued the letter should not be released until criminal charges are resolved, citing state law allowing material in ongoing investigations to be withheld.

But Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin disagreed.

Observer attorney Jon Buchan successfully argued that the dismissal letter is public record and not investigative material.

In the dismissal, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe cited two December 2009 incidents in which Jackson is accused of conducting traffic stops on women. Six women have accused Jackson of sexually assaulting them while he was on duty.

- Doug Miller

Monday, November 15, 2010

Motion: Baker not a flight risk

In court papers seeking to reduce bond for Elisa Baker, her lawyers argued that even if Baker tried to flee Caldwell County, she could not hide for long.

Because of "overwhelming and international publicity" surrounding the death of her 10-year-old stepdaughter, court papers filed Monday say, Baker would have difficulty avoiding detection if she was released from jail.

Click here to read the motion.

The body of Baker's stepdaughter, Zahra Baker, was dismembered and the remains were hidden across several rural locations. The motion said Elisa Baker cooperated with law enforcement and told them where to find the remains and other evidence - the only "credible evidence" publicly known.

Baker is jailed on a charge of obstructing justice related to the case.

The motion seeking lower bond also cited Baker's ties to the area. She only left when she moved to Australia briefly and married her current husband Adam Baker, Zahra's father.

She has surrendered her passport to authorities.

- Doug Miller

Monday, November 8, 2010

Trent Merchant's e-mail on CMS closure vote

Trent Merchant

On Sunday evening, CMS board member Trent Merchant sent an e-mail to his fellow board members urging them to "take no action on the Waddell-Harding-Smith-Berry-South Meck piece of the staff recommendation and the board alternative that has been assembled."

He says he would rather delay the decision until next spring for the 2012-13 school year. Board Chair Eric Davis, however, reiterated Sunday night that he intends to go through with the vote on Tuesday.

Read Merchant's e-mail below:

From: Trent Merchant
Sent: Sunday, November 07, 2010 9:49 PM
To: Eric C. Davis; Tom Tate; Joyce Waddell; Rhonda Lennon; 'Richard McElrath'; Joe White; Kaye Mcgarry; Tim Morgan
Subject: Waddell-Harding-Smith-Berry-South Meck


I apologize for communicating via email, but our time is running short, and having met with, spoken with, or traded messages with all of you individually over the last week, I thought that for the sake of consistency and simplicity it might be best to communicate with the entire board at once.

On Tuesday night, I would like for us to pull and then take no action on the Waddell-Harding-Smith-Berry-South Meck piece of the staff recommendation and the board alternative that has been assembled. I would like for us to do this in a way that is pro-active, rather than as a consequence of simply voting down the staff rec or the board alternative.

I had tried for several days to push for delay of a month to consider a solution that would pull in 2 elementary zones that had not previously been in the mix, with the reasoning that more pieces = more flexibility and better options. But on our Nov 9 agenda, we will approve Policy JCA, which captures the Guiding Principles, which include a notification date of Nov 15 for student assignment changes, thanks in part to my own shortsighted advocacy in the face of the Superintendent's warning that a hard date was a bad idea. I would personally be willing to be beaten up for breaking the rules, because my own moral compass says that if we reach an outcome that is better for the most students, then the correct play for us as leaders is to pick results over process. But the public is twisting in the wind and I do not believe that a compressed and tense month of debate over 11th-hour options (over Thanksgiving) would inspire public trust.

And so, I hope that we will instead withdraw the Waddell-Harding-Smith-Berry-South Meck piece, expand the geography under consideration, and aim to make a decision in the Spring/Summer 2011 for the 2012-2013 school year. My rationale follows:

FINANCIAL - Both the staff recommendation and the board alternative project approximately $550,000 net savings in Year 1. However, the board alternative will cause the district to lose more than $1.2 million (1/3 of the 3 year $3.7 million School Improvement Grant for Waddell) in that same year, for a minimum net COST of over $650,000. In fairness, if we close Waddell, the net savings could be spent throughout the district, while the SIG money must be spent at Waddell, but with a graduation rate of 52%, aren't those the students who need the additional resources the most?

And if the over-arching problem that must be solved is how to generate as much cost-savings as possible, why would we make a decision that costs more, while angering the community, causing disruption, and taking away resources from students with the greatest needs?

OPERATIONAL - transportation and not having to do this again next year all over again: - The decision in question will touch 3 magnets. We have all acknowledged that transportation will be an area of operations that is discussed early in the budget process. It does not seem like the correct decision-making hierarchy to determine the placement of magnets, hold the magnet lottery, THEN make decisions on transportation. Last year our hand was forced. This year we know that we may have to make adjustments. We should behave accordingly.

In a time that we have framed as financial crisis, how do we save face if we bus students from South Blvd and Sharon Lakes up to Harding? It's 12 miles. For a home school. See for yourself at

We are going to eliminate a transportation zone. We need to take a hard look at West Charlotte IB, which has fewer than 100 students and has produced no recent graduates. The math/science program at Harding has 100 fewer freshmen than seniors this year. But the middle school level math/science program at Morehead is just getting going. etc, etc... there are too many things in flux to make an informed decision with predictable outcomes.

ACADEMIC: The board alternative would dismantle the culture of success at Harding, carve out half of its students, drop in 80% of a school with a 52% graduation rate and 79% EDS, and add the most challenged pieces of West Meck - Reid Park (95% EDS), Westerly Hills (94% EDS), and Barringer (69% EDS at a partial magnet - the home zone EDS will be higher).

Do any of you honestly believe that is a recipe for success?

And when we have failing schools, inevitably they cost us more - but now we have no resources. In fact, the board alternative would eliminate some of the resources currently available by killing the SIG grant at Waddell.

A COMBINATION OF EQUITY AND HOME PROXIMITY - they are not always at odds: Find a compass. Stick the point in Waddell HS. Stick the pencil at Harding. Draw a circle. Interesting how the area is much larger than the geographic area that we have discussed. Notice that there are neighborhoods much closer to Myers Park or Olympic than they are to Harding. But there's no room at those schools, right? Well, what if you could MAKE room by moving certain pieces out of Myers Park and Olympic to other schools. What we added West Charlotte to the mix, especially if IB goes away there? What if the pieces you considered moving out could also go to high schools closer to home, creating more compact boundaries and fewer bus miles? Would you consider making those decisions? Or would you fall prey to the notion that "we have to do something," even if it condemns already challenged students to even more challenged learning situations?

I believe that this is not a time for condemnation, but for mercy and grace, and I think we can make those decisions in a way that are more stable and predictable for families over time, and more economically viable for the school district.

I understand that I have ignored recurring savings in this piece. But our current financial situation and 2014 graduation goals trump long range planning needs at this point. We need to survive financially, succeed academically, and live to fight another day. On this particular item, neither the staff rec nor the board alternative help us to accomplish any of those objectives.

Thanks for your consideration, and thanks for your hard work over the past months,

Trent Merchant
CMS Board of Education, At Large

Friday, October 29, 2010

County's response to Open Door project

More than two years ago, Mecklenburg Open Door unveiled plans to build a center that would help people facing mental health crises. More than $500,000 has been spent on the project. But now its future is uncertain.

Mecklenburg County did not make any of its mental health department officials available for an interview about the project. Instead, the department submitted written answers to the Observer's questions.

Here they are:

Charlotte Observer Questions: Crisis Stabilization Unit

When was the project first proposed?

· During FY06-07 the State Division of MH/DD/SA required each Local Management Entity to develop a Crisis Services Plan. The Plan was to describe all crisis services available within the community and to identify any service needs or gaps.
· A Crisis Planning Committee comprised of representatives from CMC, Presbyterian, service providers and LME staff established September 2006.
· April 2007 the Crisis Plan finalized the recommendation that a centralized, facility-based crisis service unit be developed.

What specifically do the plans call for? (number of beds, total square footage, other amenities, etc.)

· Mecklenburg Open Door proposed in May 2008 for the renovation of approximately 8,253 square feet at Charlottetown Manor to include development, construction and related start up costs for a 16 bed unit.

Who will be served by the unit? How will those clients be identified? And how will the unit help them? How will the project help the community? What needs will it help meet?

· The crisis unit would be an unlocked, residential facility where individuals experiencing a mental health crisis can get services to help them get stabilized in a safe environment.
· This would offer an option other than being incarcerated or institutionalized.
· This would help the community by stabilizing individuals that might otherwise be incarcerated or homeless.

What is happening to those people now?

· Individuals present with different issues. It is difficult to speculate what might or might not be occurring with specific individuals. Some may be in jail or some may be homeless. Some may present at the CMC-R emergency room or inpatient.

When originally was the project scheduled for completion?

· The original completion date was scheduled for January 2009

When were the first plans drawn up?

· The initial concept and plans were developed in February 2008

What work has been completed on the project so far?

· Initial demolition of interior first floor space.

What companies are involved in the planning and construction? How were those companies chosen?

· Arcons Design Studio: architectural and planning aspects of the project
· Jasam Group: contractor/builder
Both were selected by MOD

What has delayed the project so far?

· March 2009: zoning and facility integrity issues
· November 2009: licensure DHSR, final approval from the state licensure pending
· Issues related to fire and sprinkler system
· Structural issues, lead paint, and asbestos recognition and abatement
· April 2010: upgrading main building’s electrical service and HVAC system

How much money has been spent on the project so far?

· Fy’08-’09: $325,248
· FY’09-’10: $194,846
All funds are State funds; Mental Health Trust Fund or Crisis Services Funds

What is the current status of the Crisis Stabilization Unit? Do you still expect it will be built? Which agency will be responsible for ensuring the project is built?

· On hold pending negotiation of a contract with a new provider
· The development of the crisis stabilization unit was included as part of the Request for Information.

If so, when do you anticipate that it will be completed? Where will the project be built?

· It is too soon to speculate on any details at this point.

What hurdles must be cleared before the project is completed? What additional plans or funding must be approved?

· Charlottetown Manor site must be assessed by new provider before further funding is established.

What is the expected total cost of the project? What percentage of that will be state money? What percentage will be county money?

· Total cost of the project will be reassessed with new provider
· All funds for a Crisis Stabilization unit are State funds

What else should the public know about this project?

- Ames Alexander

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Emails between Bob Steel and the Fed

Click here to read the emails

Final report of Open Door internal probe

Mecklenburg County on Wednesday released a final report of an internal investigation launched into allegations of misspent money at Mecklenburg Open Door, a contractor that has received millions in government dollars in recent years.

The report said Open Door's former executive director Ed Payton took out more than $147,000 in unauthorized loans from the organization and racked up nearly $53,000 more in unsubstantiated bills on his company credit card.

The report -- which you can read by clicking here -- was prepared by accountant William Barbee by request of the Open Door board of directors.

Payton has repaid about $79,000 of the money he borrowed, but still owes the organization nearly $122,000. -- April Bethea and Ames Alexander

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Berry: 'Shocked and outraged'

In a statement issued Tuesday, N.C. Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry weighed in on the national recordkeeping program.

Here's the statement she emailed to the Observer:

Thank you so much for drawing public attention to this National Emphasis Program’s outrageous waste of taxpayer money. We volunteered to participate in this National Emphasis Program before it was mandated so that we could monitor its implementation and outcome and currently have two open inspections. As the program was put into place, we were shocked and outraged given our current state budget deficit and federal budget deficit at the waste of $2 million in taxpayer money. The ill-conceived program was then mandated by federal OSHA for all state plan states. The Feds then suspended the program July 27, 2010, because it did not produce the desired results. On Sept. 28, federal OSHA sent a new set of instructions.

North Carolina and other state plan states received no funding. I’m glad we didn’t because it has proven to be a total waste of taxpayer money given our current economy. This is why we don’t need Washington trying to micromanage North Carolina’s successful OSH program. They even wanted us to do an NEP on oil refineries. Guess what? We don’t have oil refineries in North Carolina.

The PEER group press release appears to be an effort to gin up support for the over-reaching, job-killing PAWA legislation in Congress.

- Ames Alexander

Monday, October 4, 2010

Letter lays out memories of Open Door

Daniel Harrison, Mecklenburg Open Door’s former chief financial officer, said he urged former Executive Director Ed Payton to tell the organization’s governing board about the large sums of money he'd been borrowing from the group – and that his failure to do so was the “single biggest threat” to the mental health group.

In a letter to the Observer, he laid out his memories of what happened at the organization under Payton's tenure.

Read the letter (.pdf)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Read the 'forensic review'

Concerns about misspending at Mecklenburg Open Door arose when an employee gave a written complaint alleging the executive director inappropriately obtained pay advances and used an Open Door credit card and vehicle for personal use.

Former Executive Director Ed Payton admitted to the Observer last week that he violated policy and that it led to his dismissal.

But a financial review released today detailed for the first time what had been described previously as “financial irregularities.”

Click here to read the report.

The report says "all of the above actions were generally admitted by the Executive Director."

- Doug Miller

Friday, September 24, 2010

Jones: mental health director on paid leave

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones announced Friday he has placed Area Mental Health Director Grayce Crockett on temporary paid leave.

The news came on the heels of a report in today’s Observer about an investigation by Mecklenburg Open Door, which contracts with the mental health department, into claims that its former director misused agency money. The investigation has found “financial and administrative problems” and violations of agency policies, according to the president of its board of directors. The Observer also reported that a federal lien had been placed on Open Door for failure to pay more than $53,000 in payroll taxes. -- APRIL BETHEA

Below is a news release sent by the county Friday afternoon:

AMH Director Placed On Leave During Assessment

Mecklenburg County Manager Harry L. Jones Sr. announced today that he has placed Area Mental Health (AMH) Director Grayce Crockett on temporary paid leave effective immediately. AMH Deputy Director Carlos Hernandez has been designated as Acting AMH Director during Ms. Crockett’s leave.

This action allows the Mecklenburg County Manager’s Office to assess all actions taken in connection with Mecklenburg Open Door, as the County terminates its relationship with this organization. This process also will include an assessment of management oversight in AMH regarding its handling of this situation. While on temporary leave, Ms. Crockett is expected to fully cooperate with this assessment, including providing all information she has or knows regarding this matter.

“In addition to my concerns about Area Mental Health’s monitoring oversight of the grant, I have additional concerns that we did not have complete information needed to fully brief the Board,” Jones said Friday. “Therefore, we will dig as deep as we can into Mecklenburg Open Door to determine all the facts and to ensure there is appropriate accountability within Area Mental Health.”

Key facts regarding the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) review of the Shelter Care Plus Program that Mecklenburg Open Door administered for the County are available at

Statements on Mecklenburg Open Door probe

As a story in today's Observer details, Mecklenburg Open Door launched an investigation four months ago into financial allegations, including whether its former director misused the organization's money.

The non-profit, which has received more than $19 million in government aid during the past five years, came under scrutiny recently after a federal housing agency faulted the organization for failing to keep adequate records of one of its housing programs. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also said the county failed to provide adequate oversight of its contract with Mecklenburg Open Door.

The county's Area Mental Health department plans to sever all ties with the nonprofit by Nov. 30.

Below, read statements from Mecklenburg County's Area Mental Health department director; Ed Payton, former Mecklenburg Open Door executive director, and Jim Cook, president of the board of Mecklenburg Open Door, in response to questions from the Observer.

Have information to share? Contact reporters Ames Alexander at or 704-358-5060, and April Bethea at or 704-358-6013.

Ed Payton, former executive director of Mecklenburg Open Door:
"The DWI experiences and tax liens were from a difficult period in my life while I dealt with episodic mental health issues. Those experiences, although traumatic, gave me great empathy for people, like me, who are consumers of mental health services in Mecklenburg County.

"I acknowledge that I did violate agency policy and, in the opinion of MOD, this action warranted my termination. Since the details of this are personnel issues, I decline to discuss them.

"During my seven years at MOD the agency defined the words innovation, partner, and peer. We made a point to sit around the table with the County and other agencies to solve problems, discuss differences and, most important, to improve our collective efforts to provide better services to adults with mental health issues. During that time, plain and simple, MOD was willing to partner with Mecklenburg County to advance mental health services when few were willing to do so -- during a time when the State of North Carolina was paralyzed in its own inability to transform the mental health system. It wasn’t about money; it was about service.

"I left Mecklenburg Open Door due to my own shortcomings and mental health issues. Leaving such a fine agency and the product of my hard work was painful, but I was proud to leave an agency of merit; I was proud of its value to Mecklenburg County."


Grayce Crockett, director of county's Area Mental Health department

In late June 2010, the Board Chair of Mecklenburg Open Door notified Area Mental Health regarding some financial irregularities that had occurred in their organization and indicated that they were undergoing a thorough financial audit. AMH took immediate remedial action. A Request for Proposals was issued on September 17th in an open process to select another provider in order to ensure continuity of services for consumers.

Editor's Note: Crockett's statement was in response to the following questions e-mailed by Observer reporters on Wednesday:

Dear Ms. Crockett:

We’re planning to publish a story Friday about Mecklenburg Open Door’s recent internal investigation into financial and administrative problems at their agency. The investigation, which began in May, has concluded that MOD policy was violated. Board President Jim Cook has shared with us information about that investigation and its conclusions, but we think it’s important to get your input as well since your department has contracted with MOD – and since so much public money was involved.

We’ve also heard from a number of sources, including current and former MOD employees, that the investigation examined allegations that Ed Payton misused agency money. We also understand that MOD’s internal investigation into these matters contributed to the county’s decision to sever its relationship with MOD.

Here are a few questions:

-What violations at MOD have you been made aware of?

-When were those violations brought to your agency’s attention?

-In a Sept. 10 email, you told area mental health employees that “problems with MOD have surfaced not related to the Shelter Plus Care program. As a result, we will be terminating our contract with them at the end of November.” Please discuss what those problems were.

-What steps are AMH and the county taking in response to the MOD’s internal investigation, aside from severing its relationship with the agency? Does the county plan to investigate whether county was misspent? And does it plan to refer this matter to law enforcement agencies?

-What else can you tell us about this?

As always, we’d prefer to talk to you in person about this because Mecklenburg Open Door was a major provider for Area Mental Health. But if you need to respond in writing, please send an email to me -- -- and to April Bethea -- We would need to hear from you no later than 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23.


Jim Cook, president of board of directors, Mecklenburg Open Door

Early this summer, the Board of Directors (BOD) was informed of an allegation of violations of MOD policies. Staff investigation indicated that these allegations had merit. The BOD immediately began an investigation, and also concluded that MOD policies had been violated. In June, an external accountant conducted additional analyses to which were just completed this week. On June 17, the Executive Director began a leave of absence, and on August 3, the Executive Director left the employment of MOD, with an Interim Executive Director appointed August 4. On August 23, the Chief Financial Officer left MOD; on August 25, a new CFO started work.

In sum, over the past four months, the BOD of MOD became aware of a number of financial and administrative problems. We have investigated and taken appropriate action to address these problems. As a direct result of these investigations, three staff persons are no longer part of MOD. We have taken a number of steps to improve our administrative and fiscal controls. We are cooperating with the county regarding investigation into Shelter Plus Care, and will be working to facilitate the transition of our programs to a new provider, when that provider is chosen. In the meantime, we're working hard to ensure that our consumers continue to be served, with as little disruption as possible.

Despite these serious problems, it is important to note that, throughout this series of events, our staff have continued to serve our clients in the professional manner that has been a standard at Mecklenburg Open Door for over 25 years. We continue to be focused, primarily, on our mission of providing the best services possible. We remain confident that our consumers, citizens of Mecklenburg County with mental health issues, will continue to receive quality care and support.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Read Obama's remarks to the U.N.

President Barack Obama speaks Thursday at the U.N. General Assembly.
Read the full text of President Barack Obama's remarks to the United Nations General Assembly today, as provided by the White House.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The GOP "Pledge to America"

On Thursday, Republicans in the House of Representatives plan to offer a blueprint for how they’d dramatically change what they term an "arrogant and out of touch government of self-appointed elites" by pledging to repeal the Obama health care law, continue all Bush-era tax cuts and significantly cut spending.

The agenda, scheduled to be unveiled by GOP leaders at a Virginia lumber and hardware store on Thursday, tries to give voters a clear, pointed choice in November. McClatchy Newspapers obtained a copy Wednesday evening.

Read the "Pledge to America" here PDF.

Further reading:

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Transcripts of evidence in Demeatrius Montgomery trial

    On Wednesday the judge presiding over Demeatrius Montgomery's murder trial ruled that copies of some documents submitted to the jury should be made available to the public.

    Judge Forrest Bridges ruled a week after attorneys for The Charlotte Observer and WSOC-TV made motions seeking copies of exhibits presented as evidence, including audiotapes and transcripts of 911 calls and police radio traffic.

    Prosecutors began playing video and audiotapes in open court last week as evidence. Jurors were given transcripts of the recordings, which are at times hard to understand because they contain static, police jargon and unclear speech.

    Transcript of police radio traffic

    Transcript of 911 call

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    E-mails show tension between county and library

    UPDATED 4:55 p.m.: See Observer Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten's response to commenters at the bottom of this post.

    This series of e-mails obtained by the Observer shows tension between Mecklenburg County government leaders and the libraries, which had millions slashed from its budget by county commissioners this year. The cuts forced the closings of three library branches, the reduction of hours at other branches and the layoffs of 187 staff.

    Harry Jones is Mecklenburg's County Manager. John McGillicuddy is Jones' aide and Mecklenburg's General Manager. And Robert "Bob" Sink is a Charlotte lawyer and vice chair of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

    Read GOP commissioner hopefuls' pledge

    As a story in today's Observer describes, Republican candidates for the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners have developed a 14-point "pledge to our citizens" outlining their collective campaign platform. You can read the text of the pledge below.

    The pledge was read during a Monday press conference by the GOP candidates for the three at-large commissioner seats: Jim Pendergraph, Dan Ramirez and Corey Thompson. Ramirez said the pledge had been developed over the past few months and was approved by all the Republican commissioner candidates.

    Click here to get a full list of candidates on this year's ballot. The election is Nov. 2.

    (Republican) Mecklenburg County Commission Candidates
    Pledge to Our Citizens

    Fiscal Accountability and Governance:
    1. We pledge to govern within our means and not abuse the authority to raise and impose taxes.
    2. We pledge to reinstate respect and trust in county government by being open with all commission business not restricted by law.
    3. We pledge to identify and eliminate wasteful spending in every county department, to outsource any county service that can be done more efficiently and cost effectively by an outside provider, and to cease unnecessary services and duplication of services.
    4. We pledge to establish better working relationships with the six municipalities within Mecklenburg County and reduce duplication of services which waste tax dollars.
    5. We pledge to ensure that persons receiving non-emergency services and funding from the county are eligible for those services.
    6. We pledge not to forget our Mecklenburg County veterans who have given so much to ensure all of us the liberties and freedom we enjoy daily.

    Public Safety:
    1. We pledge to work diligently to ensure that our citizens not only feel safe in their respective communities, but are safe.
    2. We pledge to work closely with the Sheriff, police and our court system to ensure adequate resources to arrest, detain and prosecute offenders.
    3. We pledge to work closely with all law enforcement agencies to identify and remove criminal illegal aliens from our county, who are primarily responsible for importing drugs and gang violence into our county.
    4. We pledge, as a board, to pressure the N.C. legislature to provide adequate funding for our district attorney and court system.

    1. We pledge to support our Charlotte Mecklenburg School (CMS) system by providing reasonable funding to accomplish what our citizens expect for the education of our children.
    2. We pledge to support Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in their education efforts to train and re-train our future work force.
    3. We pledge, as a board, to hold the CMS Board of Education accountable for resources, provided by taxpayers, and expect positive results for the financial support provided.
    4. We pledge, as a board, to continue to encourage the Board of Education to privatize segments of the CMS system, including food services, maintenance, transportation, and health services potentially resulting in huge tax dollar savings.

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Is your neighborhood on the decline?

    Charlotte's 2010 quality-of-life study shows the largest-ever jump in below-average neighborhood rankings, from 20 neighborhoods to 27.

    The new study, last completed in 2008, reflects the "significant negative impacts on Charlotte" of the national and local economy, the report says.

    "The economic engine of growth and wealth creation has been slowed by a restructuring of the local financial sector and high levels of unemployment," the report says. "Fortunately, by the middle of 2010 economic trends are beginning to shift toward recovery and rebounding."

    The study also shows if neighborhoods are trending up, showing no change or trending down.

    It shows a majority of inner city neighborhoods trending up and large concentrations of southeast Charlotte neighborhoods trending up as well. The two areas with greatest concentrations of no change were east and west Charlotte. Trending down areas were scattered in west and east Charlotte.

    Click here to see if your neighborhood is improving or declining.

    Click here to read the full city report.

    - Doug Miller

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Obama commemorates 9-11

    President Barack Obama stands at the Pentagon Memorial, marking the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. (AP photo)
    Text of President Barack Obama's remarks at the Pentagon, as released by the White House:

    THE PRESIDENT: Secretary Gates. Admiral Mullen and members of the Armed Forces. My fellow Americans. Most of all, to you -- survivors who still carry the scars of tragedy and destruction; to the families who carry in your hearts the memory of the loved ones you lost here.

    For our nation, this is a day of remembrance, a day of reflection, and -- with God's grace -- a day of unity and renewal.

    We gather to remember, at this sacred hour, on hallowed ground -- at places where we feel such grief and where our healing goes on. We gather here, at the Pentagon, where the names of the lost are forever etched in stone. We gather in a gentle Pennsylvania field, where a plane went down and a "tower of voices" will rise and echo through the ages. And we gather where the Twin Towers fell, a site where the work goes on so that next year, on the 10th anniversary, the waters will flow in steady tribute to the nearly 3,000 innocent lives.

    On this day, it's perhaps natural to focus on the images of that awful morning -- images that are seared into our souls. It's tempting to dwell on the final moments of the loved ones whose lives were taken so cruelly. Yet these memorials, and your presence today, remind us to remember the fullness of their time on Earth.

    They were fathers and mothers, raising their families; brothers and sisters, pursuing their dreams; sons and daughters, their whole lives before them. They were civilians and service members. Some never saw the danger coming; others saw the peril and rushed to save others -- up those stairwells, into the flames, into the cockpit.

    They were white and black and brown -- men and women and some children made up of all races, many faiths. They were Americans and people from far corners of the world. And they were snatched from us senselessly and much too soon -- but they lived well, and they live on in you.

    Nine years have now passed. In that time, you have shed more tears than we will ever know. And though it must seem some days as though the world has moved on to other things, I say to you today that your loved ones endure in the heart of our nation, now and forever.

    Our remembrance today also requires a certain reflection. As a nation, and as individuals, we must ask ourselves how best to honor them -- those who died, those who sacrificed. How do we preserve their legacy -- not just on this day, but every day?

    We need not look far for our answer. The perpetrators of this evil act didn't simply attack America; they attacked the very idea of America itself -- all that we stand for and represent in the world. And so the highest honor we can pay those we lost, indeed our greatest weapon in this ongoing war, is to do what our adversaries fear the most -- to stay true to who we are, as Americans; to renew our sense of common purpose; to say that we define the character of our country, and we will not let the acts of some small band of murderers who slaughter the innocent and cower in caves distort who we are.

    They doubted our will, but as Americans we persevere. Today, in Afghanistan and beyond, we have gone on the offensive and struck major blows against al Qaeda and its allies. We will do what is necessary to protect our country, and we honor all those who serve to keep us safe.

    They may seek to strike fear in us, but they are no match for our resilience. We do not succumb to fear, nor will we squander the optimism that has always defined us as a people. On a day when others sought to destroy, we have chosen to build, with a National Day of Service and Remembrance that summons the inherent goodness of the American people.

    They may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice. For Scripture teaches us to "get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."

    They may seek to spark conflict between different faiths, but as Americans we are not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day -- it was al Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion. And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation. We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses -- as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building.

    Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America America -- those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world. Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory. As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.

    For our cause is just. Our spirit is strong. Our resolve is unwavering. Like generations before us, let us come together today and all days to affirm certain inalienable rights, to affirm life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. On this day and the days to come, we choose to stay true to our best selves -- as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

    This is how we choose to honor the fallen -- your families, your friends, your fellow service members. This is how we will keep alive the legacy of these proud and patriotic Americans. This is how we will prevail in this great test of our time. This is how we will preserve and protect the country that we love and pass it -- safer and stronger -- to future generations.

    May God bless you and your families, and may God continue to bless the United States of America.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Donald Trump offers to buy NYC mosque site

    Donald Trump (AP file photo)
    Donald Trump has sent an offer to purchase the site of the proposed mosque near ground zero in New York for the price paid plus 25 percent, according to several news outlets.

    According to The Associated Press, the offer is falling flat. Wolodymyr Starosolsky, a lawyer for the investor in the real estate partnership that controls the site, said Trump's offer is "just a cheap attempt to get publicity and get in the limelight," according to the AP.

    Below is a transcription of the letter from Trump to Hisham Elzanaty, the self-described major principal among the eight investors who bought the site, a copy of which was posted today on (PDF).

    Sept. 9, 2010

    Mr. Hisham Elzanaty
    New York Neuro and Rehabilitation Center
    930 East Tremont Ave.
    Bronx, New York 10460

    Dear Mr. Elzanaty,

    Please let this letter serve to represent my offer to purchase your site located at 45 Park Place, New York, NY 10007, for what you paid plus 25%. I am making this offer as a resident of New York and citizen of the United States, not because I think the location is a spectacular one (because it is not), but because it will end a very serious, inflammatory, and highly divisive situation that is destined, in my opinion, to only get worse.

    As part of the offer, it would be agreed that, if you or your representative were to build a mosque, it would be located at least five blocks further from the World Trade Center site. This offer is for all cash with an immediate closing and is subject only to the finalization and signing of mutually acceptable documents.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter. Hopefully, something good can happen!

    Donald J. Trump

    Report: County 'failed to require compliance'

    Federal officials cited Mecklenburg County's "lack of oversight" and failure "to require compliance" for how it handled a rental assistance program for the homeless.

    Documents released today by the county list numerous criticisms of how the county and the nonprofit Mecklenburg Open Door ran the program. HUD officials conducted an an on-site "management review" in August.

    The program was responsible for handling more than $1 million in 2008-9 and more than $700,00 last year, officials said.

    Click here to read the document.

    Click here to read a letter from a HUD inspector regarding an upcoming survey.

    Among the findings:

    Mecklenburg Open Door:

    "Lack of documentation in housing/client files

    Incomplete Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspections

    Annual Re-certifications not processed timely: Income verification, HQS Inspections and Rent

    Calculations not processed by the anniversary date

    Entry Dates Not Clear

    Leases not in file

    Rent Calculations not in file

    Rent Comparables are missing or not “adequate” comps

    Requests for Reimbursement reflect inaccurate Project #’s and Check Registers show incorrect

    Reporting Periods – County has to correct

    County Issues:

    Internal controls

    Processing SPC draws timely/Corporate Finance process received to assure timeliness in future

    Large amount of funds to be recaptured has decreased due to draws that were not made

    Processing draws without adequate supporting documentation

    Not complying with Contract for Services

    Lack of oversight of contractor

    Giving in to demands of contractor and not holding them accountable

    - Doug Miller

    Tuesday, August 31, 2010

    Read Obama's speech on Iraq

    Updated 8:44 with full text.

    President Barack Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office at 8 p.m. today. He said that ending the U.S. combat mission in Iraq will allow his administration to devote more attention and resources to bolstering the economy.

    The text of Obama's remarks, as provided by the White House, follows.

    Did you watch the speech? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

    Good evening. Tonight, I'd like to talk to you about the end of our combat mission in Iraq, the ongoing security challenges we face, and the need to rebuild our nation here at home.

    I know this historic moment comes at a time of great uncertainty for many Americans. We have now been through nearly a decade of war. We have endured a long and painful recession. And sometimes in the midst of these storms, the future that we are trying to build for our nation, a future of lasting peace and long-term prosperity, may seem beyond our reach.

    But this milestone should serve as a reminder to all Americans that the future is ours to shape if we move forward with confidence and commitment. It should also serve as a message to the world that the United States of America intends to sustain and strengthen our leadership in this young century.

    From this desk, seven and a half years ago, President Bush announced the beginning of military operations in Iraq. Much has changed since that night. A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives; tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested.

    These are the rough waters encountered during the course of one of America's longest wars. Yet there has been one constant amidst those shifting tides. At every turn, America's men and women in uniform have served with courage and resolve. As commander in chief, I am proud of their service. Like all Americans, I am awed by their sacrifice, and by the sacrifices of their families.

    The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given. They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future. They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people; trained Iraqi Security Forces; and took out terrorist leaders. Because of our troops and civilians – and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people – Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.

    So tonight, I am announcing that the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country.

    This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office. Last February, I announced a plan that would bring our combat brigades out of Iraq, while redoubling our efforts to strengthen Iraq's Security Forces and support its government and people. That is what we have done. We have removed nearly 100,000 U.S. troops from Iraq. We have closed or transferred hundreds of bases to the Iraqis. And we have moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.

    This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security. U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq's cities last summer, and Iraqi forces have moved into the lead with considerable skill and commitment to their fellow citizens. Even as Iraq continues to suffer terrorist attacks, security incidents have been near the lowest on record since the war began. And Iraqi forces have taken the fight to al-Qaida, removing much of its leadership in Iraqi-led operations.

    This year also saw Iraq hold credible elections that drew a strong turnout. A caretaker administration is in place as Iraqis form a government based on the results of that election. Tonight, I encourage Iraq's leaders to move forward with a sense of urgency to form an inclusive government that is just, representative, and accountable to the Iraqi people. And when that government is in place, there should be no doubt: the Iraqi people will have a strong partner in the United States. Our combat mission is ending, but our commitment to Iraq's future is not.

    Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq's Security Forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year. As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians – diplomats, aid workers and advisers – are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world. And that is a message that Vice President Biden is delivering to the Iraqi people through his visit there today.

    This new approach reflects our long-term partnership with Iraq, one based upon mutual interests, and mutual respect. Of course, violence will not end with our combat mission. Extremists will continue to set off bombs, attack Iraqi civilians and try to spark sectarian strife. But ultimately, these terrorists will fail to achieve their goals. Iraqis are a proud people. They have rejected sectarian war, and they have no interest in endless destruction. They understand that, in the end, only Iraqis can resolve their differences and police their streets. Only Iraqis can build a democracy within their borders. What America can do, and will do, is provide support for the Iraqi people as both a friend and a partner.

    Ending this war is not only in Iraq's interest – it is in our own. The United States has paid a huge price to put the future of Iraq in the hands of its people. We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home. We have persevered because of a belief we share with the Iraqi people – a belief that out of the ashes of war, a new beginning could be born in this cradle of civilization. Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it is time to turn the page.

    As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It's well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq's future.

    The greatness of our democracy is grounded in our ability to move beyond our differences, and to learn from our experience as we confront the many challenges ahead. And no challenge is more essential to our security than our fight against al-Qaida.

    Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11. Now, as we approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are those who are understandably asking tough questions about our mission there. But we must never lose sight of what's at stake. As we speak, al-Qaida continues to plot against us, and its leadership remains anchored in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists. And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense. In fact, over the last 19 months, nearly a dozen al-Qaida leaders – and hundreds of al-Qaida's extremist allies – have been killed or captured around the world.

    Within Afghanistan, I have ordered the deployment of additional troops who, under the command of General David Petraeus, are fighting to break the Taliban's momentum. As with the surge in Iraq, these forces will be in place for a limited time to provide space for the Afghans to build their capacity and secure their own future. But, as was the case in Iraq, we cannot do for Afghans what they must ultimately do for themselves. That's why we are training Afghan Security Forces and supporting a political resolution to Afghanistan's problems. And, next August, we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility. The pace of our troop reductions will be determined by conditions on the ground, and our support for Afghanistan will endure. But make no mistake: This transition will begin because open-ended war serves neither our interests nor the Afghan people's.

    Indeed, one of the lessons of our effort in Iraq is that American influence around the world is not a function of military force alone. We must use all elements of our power – including our diplomacy, our economic strength, and the power of America's example to secure our interests and stand by our allies. And we must project a vision of the future that is based not just on our fears, but also on our hopes – a vision that recognizes the real dangers that exist around the world, but also the limitless possibility of our time.

    Today, old adversaries are at peace, and emerging democracies are potential partners. New markets for our goods stretch from Asia to the Americas. A new push for peace in the Middle East will begin here tomorrow. Billions of young people want to move beyond the shackles of poverty and conflict. As the leader of the free world, America will do more than just defeat on the battlefield those who offer hatred and destruction – we will also lead among those who are willing to work together to expand freedom and opportunity for all people.

    That effort must begin within our own borders. Throughout our history, America has been willing to bear the burden of promoting liberty and human dignity overseas, understanding its link to our own liberty and security. But we have also understood that our nation's strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home. And the bedrock of that prosperity must be a growing middle class.

    Unfortunately, over the last decade, we have not done what is necessary to shore up the foundation of our own prosperity. We have spent over a trillion dollars at war, often financed by borrowing from overseas. This, in turn, has shortchanged investments in our own people, and contributed to record deficits. For too long, we have put off tough decisions on everything from our manufacturing base to our energy policy to education reform. As a result, too many middle-class families find themselves working harder for less, while our nation's long-term competitiveness is put at risk.

    And so at this moment, as we wind down the war in Iraq, we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy and grit and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad. They have met every test that they faced. Now, it is our turn. Now, it is our responsibility to honor them by coming together, all of us, and working to secure the dream that so many generations have fought for – the dream that a better life awaits anyone who is willing to work for it and reach for it.

    Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work. To strengthen our middle class, we must give all our children the education they deserve, and all our workers the skills that they need to compete in a global economy. We must jumpstart industries that create jobs, and end our dependence on foreign oil. We must unleash the innovation that allows new products to roll off our assembly lines, and nurture the ideas that spring from our entrepreneurs. This will be difficult. But in the days to come, it must be our central mission as a people, and my central responsibility as president.

    Part of that responsibility is making sure that we honor our commitments to those who have served our country with such valor. As long as I am president, we will maintain the finest fighting force that the world has ever known, and do whatever it takes to serve our veterans as well as they have served us. This is a sacred trust. That is why we have already made one of the largest increases in funding for veterans in decades. We are treating the signature wounds of today's wars post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, while providing the health care and benefits that all of our veterans have earned. And we are funding a post-9/11 GI Bill that helps our veterans and their families pursue the dream of a college education. Just as the GI Bill helped those who fought World War II – including my grandfather – become the backbone of our middle class, so today's servicemen and women must have the chance to apply their gifts to expand the American economy. Because part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it.

    Two weeks ago, America's final combat brigade in Iraq – the Army's Fourth Stryker Brigade – journeyed home in the pre-dawn darkness. Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of vehicles made the trip from Baghdad, the last of them passing into Kuwait in the early morning hours. Over seven years before, American troops and coalition partners had fought their way across similar highways, but this time no shots were fired. It was just a convoy of brave Americans, making their way home.

    Of course, the soldiers left much behind. Some were teenagers when the war began. Many have served multiple tours of duty, far from their families who bore a heroic burden of their own, enduring the absence of a husband's embrace or a mother's kiss. Most painfully, since the war began 55 members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade made the ultimate sacrifice – part of over 4,400 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq. As one staff sergeant said, “I know that to my brothers in arms who fought and died, this day would probably mean a lot.”
    Those Americans gave their lives for the values that have lived in the hearts of our people for over two centuries. Along with nearly 1.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq, they fought in a faraway place for people they never knew. They stared into the darkest of human creations – war – and helped the Iraqi people seek the light of peace.

    In an age without surrender ceremonies, we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation. Every American who serves joins an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar – Americans who have fought to see that the lives of our children are better than our own. Our troops are the steel in our ship of state. And though our nation may be traveling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.

    Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America, and all who serve her.

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    Bank's 'shocking proposal' over NASCAR tower

    A dramatically low buyout offer tied to the tower looming over NASCAR's shrine reflects the toll office vacancies are taking on the Charlotte market.

    According to court papers, Wells Fargo shocked Regions Bank with its offer to buy out Regions' share of the office building's loan.

    The proposal?

    Wells Fargo would pay for 42 cents on the dollar for the $37 million loan, with an offer in the mid-teens.

    The offer is detailed in court papers Regions filed over financing for the 19-story office tower that is part of the NASCAR Hall of Fame complex in uptown Charlotte.

    Regions Bank says in papers filed in a federal court last month that it provided half of the loan amount to developers of the NASCAR Plaza in May 2007. The 376,000-square-foot building, which towers over the NASCAR Hall of Fame is reported to be less than 50 percent occupied.

    - Doug Miller

    Judge slams Belk over child's $5,000 political contribution

    How did a 7-year-old contribute thousands of dollars to elect George W. Bush?

    When Bill Belk, the millionaire grandson of the Belk stores founder, wrote a $5,000 check from her account for the RNC Presidential Trust in August 2000 .

    Judge Erwin Spainhour criticized the move as a an "inappropriate, egregious use of the minor's funds" on Thursday. Spainhour ordered Belk to repay nearly $131,000 to his daughter's custodial account after citing repeated examples of what he called Belk's misuse of the money.

    Click here for details on the RNC contribution.

    Belk told the Observer last year that the contribution for his daughter - and similar ones for his sons - was designed to help them by electing George W. Bush, who went on to cut taxes on investment income.

    - Doug Miller

    Friday, August 20, 2010

    Is your nonprofit in danger?

    More than 2,200 Charlotte-area nonprofits are in danger of losing tax-exempt status, under a new tax law that is being enforced this year for the first time.

    That means donors won't be able to deduct donations to those charities when itemizing tax returns.

    Click here to read the list of nonprofits.

    Click here to search the database by zip code.

    As the Observer's Mark Price reported this week, the IRS says all failed for three consecutive years to comply with a 2006 law that requires small nonprofits (those with gross receipts of $25,000 or less) to file annual tax returns for the first time.

    It stipulates that any such organization failing to file for three consecutive years will automatically lose its federal tax-exempt status and be forced to pay taxes on any income. Some 300,000 groups nationwide appear on the IRS noncompliance list.

    - Doug Miller

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Mecklenburg gets C in workforce study

    The size of Mecklenburg County government's workforce grew slightly faster than that of the private sector but less than the overall population from 2000-01 to 2009-10, according to a new study from the John W. Pope Civitas Institute.

    According to the study from the conservative Raleigh-based institute, Mecklenburg's county government workforce grew from 4,900 in the 2000-01 budget year to 4,968 for the year that ended June 30. That's a rate of 1.4 percent. The number of jobs fluctuated repeatedly over the past decade.

    By comparison, the number of jobs in the private sector grew by 1.1 percent during the same time period, according to the study. The overall county population grew by an estimated 28.6 percent.

    Read the full report by clicking here.

    The study used data from an annual tax and budget survey by the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, and doesn't take into account layoffs for the budget year that started July 1.

    “Mecklenburg County was given an average C grade because they fell into the group of counties that at least showed some restraint in terms of county government employee growth," Civitas Institute analyst Brian Balfour said in a news release. "While they did add county workers, they did so at a pace reflective of the county’s population growth.”

    The study further defined a C grade as one for "counties that grew their government workforce at a rate less than the rate of their population growth, or at a rate less than twice the rate of population growth."

    The highest grades were given to county governments that shrunk their workforce while the population increased. Two Charlotte-area counties, Burke and Caldwell, were given an A grade.
    Alexander, Cabarrus, Iredell, Rowan and Union Counties also were given C grades, while Gaston and Lincoln were awarded Ds.

    Caldwell and Cleveland received Fs, a grade reserved for "counties that grew their government workforce despite a drop in the county’s population; or grew their government workforce more then four times the rate of the county’s population growth."

    Wake County also received a C. --APRIL BETHEA

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Obama's remarks about the ground zero mosque

    President Barack Obama hosts an iftar dinner, the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast for Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan,  at the White House on Friday. (AP)
    On Friday night, President Barack Obama stepped into the thorny debate over the Muslim community center and mosque planned for near ground zero. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

    Obama's remarks for Friday night's iftar dinner at the White House, marking the breaking of the daily Ramadan feast, transcribed and distributed by the White House:
    Good evening, everybody. Welcome. Please, have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House. To you, to Muslim Americans across our country, and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month. Ramadan Kareem.

    I want to welcome members of the diplomatic corps; members of my administration; and members of Congress, including Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Andre Carson, who is one of two Muslim American members of Congress, along with Keith Ellison. So welcome, all of you.

    Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties and seders and Diwali celebrations. And these events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.

    These events are also an affirmation of who we are as Americans. Our Founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion. In the Virginia Act of Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion." The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land. And that right has been upheld ever since.

    Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose -- including the right to believe in no religion at all. And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious -- a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in stark contrast to the religious conflict that persists elsewhere around the globe.

    Now, that's not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -- particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

    But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

    We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -- from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we're fighting against, and what we're fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda's cause is not Islam -- it's a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders -- they're terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion -- and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.

    So that's who we're fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms -- it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race, or religion, or wealth, or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us -- and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.

    In my inaugural address I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus --- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and every culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And that diversity can bring difficult debates. This is not unique to our time. Past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, and stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be -- and will be -- today.

    And tonight, we are reminded that Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity. And Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan --- making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago.

    Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came to forge their future here. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories. They helped lay the railroads. They helped to build America. They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s. They built America's first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America --- still in use today --- is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

    Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans. They excel in every walk of life. Muslim American communities --- including mosques in all 50 states --- also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders. Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it. And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week's iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery.

    These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend on, and the freedoms that we cherish. They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected -- our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability slowly but surely to perfect our union.

    For in the end, we remain "one nation, under God, indivisible." And we can only achieve "liberty and justice for all" if we live by that one rule at the heart of every great religion, including Islam --- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

    So thank you all for being here. I wish you a blessed Ramadan. And with that, let us eat.

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Turner letter: 'Blatant disregard' of orders

    The N.C. Department of Corrections approved of Warren Turner's "secondary employment" as a city councilman, with this caveat:

    He could not be called off his duties as a probation officer during work hours for city duties.

    In his termination letter released today, the state cited numerous examples of Turner's "blatant disregard" of that order.

    The state based part of its investigation on phone records in which Turner apparently conducted hours of city business while on the clock.

    "During your scheduled work hours for April 2010, you made or received 308 phone calls on your secondary employment cell phone from the City of Charlotte. These calls totaled 2040 minutes, or 34 hours, and included calls to known City of Charlotte officials or employees."

    The nine-page letter also details a "falsification" by Turner in the case of a probationer, and "serious deficiencies" in his work performance.

    Click here to read the letter.

    - Doug Miller

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    N.C. ABC boards meet – in S.C.

    The association for North Carolina ABC boards just wrapped up its summer conference, which it chose to hold in South Carolina, our colleague Ben Niolet writes today in the N&O's Under the Dome blog.

    He writes:
    The N.C. Association of ABC Boards conference was held at the Marriott Grande Dunes Hotel in Myrtle Beach. There were sessions on ethics and the legislative outlook for the state's alcohol laws.

    There was also a session on handling the news media, although its hard to say whether that session included any advice about sending state dollars out of state for a long weekend conference. The conference wrapped upon the same day Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law a bill meant to curb abuses and conflicts of interest by local boards.

    Now there's nothing illegal about having a conference out of state, but it doesn't sound great either. The association has received the message on its out of state events. The contract for the most recent conference was signed two years ago and would have been expensive to break.

    "We've taken a lot of criticism on that," said Joe Wall, executive director of the N.C. Association of ABC Boards. "We're not going to be beat up on that anymore because we're not going to do that anymore."

    This isn't the first time the conference has gotten less than positive attention. In 2007, news reports noted a conference, then held in Asheville, featured lots of drinks and subsidized golf outings provided by liquor companies.

    Wall said the conference was held at Myrtle Beach because there just aren't any hotels in the state that could accommodate the whole group at a time. A previous conference at Wrightsville had the group split between a couple hotels.

    "I think the question somebody should be asking the governor and our travel — the people that are promoting travel in North Carolina — is why we don't have a first-rate modern hotel on the coast somewhere in North Carolina that can handle groups of 300 or 400," Wall said.

    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Watch the full Shirley Sherrod speech

    The Obama administration is scrambling to explain why it fired a woman whom conservatives accused of racism without waiting to find out whether the accusation was true.

    The administration says it will reconsider the firing now that the facts show the accusation against Shirley Sherrod was a smear, such as comments from a white farmer who says the black official helped him and comments from her that were left out of a selectively edited video.

    Here is the full video of Sherrod's speech, shot by the local NAACP unit that hosted her in March. What do you think?

    The al-Qaida magazine said to be edited by Charlotte blogger

    A former Central Piedmont Community College student who started a blog that promoted his jihadist views is thought to be the top editor of Inspire, an online magazine designed as a recruiting tool for al-Qaida, the Observer's Jim Morrill reports today.

    Intelligence sources told national news organizations that they believe Samir Khan, thought to be about 24, edits Inspire. Attempts to reach Khan on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

    The website for Public Intelligence -- which describes itself as "an international consortium of independent researchers who wish to aggregate and defend public information while maintaining its accessibility around the globe" -- posted what it says is an issue of Inspire. The authenticity of the document, the site warns, "should be deeply scrutinized."

    Click on one of the images below to see larger versions of some of the pages from that document.