Friday, May 28, 2010

Cooksey: "I am now cancer free"

County commissioner Neil Cooksey on Thursday said he is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment after being diagnosed earlier this year with a malignant tumor in his pancreas. Cooksey, 48, made the comments before a public hearing on next year's county budget.

Cooksey, an attorney, was elected in 2008 to represent district 5 on the board. He faces no competition in his re-election bid this year.

Here are his prepared remarks from Thursday:

"As my colleague Commissioner (Vilma) Leake is fond of saying, I would like to address an issue tonight that I think the public should know about.

After suffering from undiagnosed back pain and stomach issues for about a year, in February of this year I was diagnosed with a malignant tumor in my pancreas. I underwent extensive surgery to remove my gallbladder and portions of my pancreas and lower intestine. My surgeon has assured me that he is confident that the cancerous tissue has been removed.

As far as I am concerned, I am now cancer free and I am undergoing chemo and radiation treatment to keep it that way. I would like to publicly thank the physicians and staff at Carolinas Medical Center, Mecklenburg Medical Group and Southeast Radiation for the tremendous care and encouragement that I have received from them. I intent to make the most of this second chance at life.

Some time ago I participated in an extensive Bible survey at my church taught by an Associate Pastor whose catch phrase was "grace abounds." At the time I took it as a cheap and easy way to get out of doing my assigned reading. But as a cancer survivor, Reverend Cobb knew that this phrase has a deeper meaning that I am only now just beginning to understand.

Scripture tells us that His mercies are new each day. This has been demonstrated manifold in the tremendous outpouring of affection and support for me and my family. We have seen it in the countless food offerings delivered by our church family and other friends. We've been overwhelmed by well wishes from friends and acquaintances, both old and new. I have been heartened by the stories of survival and stamina that many of you have shared with me. This challenge has brought me closer to my wife and kids and has been eased by the hands on support given by friends and family that have travelled great distances to help. Yes, grace abounds.

As I continue along this new stage of life's journey, I will do my best to juggle commitments to my family, my day job and this community. I ask for a measure of grace if I do not return your call or email, or if I am unable to attend every event that I would like to. I will continue to represent the interests of the people of Mecklenburg County as best I can -- by being a voice for common sense on this body.

Finally, I want to thank the County Manager, my fellow Commissioners and County staff for their kindness and concern during this time. Your friendship is appreciated.
Let me close by saying that I hope that grace will abound in your life and mine."

Neil Cooksey

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Disappearing teachers: View from Myers Park High

As parents and educators lobby to save Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools from budget cuts, a co-president of the Myers Park High PTSA decided to show local legislators exactly how cuts play out at one school. Margaret Marshall's e-mail (below) provides the kind of close-up glimpse that's often missing from talks about state and county budget cuts.

If you have examples of other interesting public-school lobbying efforts, send them to so readers can see what's going on across the area.
-- Ann Doss Helms

From: Margaret Marshall

Sent: Monday, May 24, 2010 11:35 AM
Cc: Eric C. Davis

Subject: view from state's largest high school

Thanks for opening this fellow Mecklenburgers. I am Margaret Marshall, currently one of the co-presidents of Myers Park High School PTSA – the state’s largest high school. I am sure you all are getting thousands of e-mails, letters, and phone calls about all the cuts to every part of our state budget. I want to bring things down to a very local level and share what I see happening at our high school next year.

Myers Park High school is known for many things:
· Academic excellence
· Racial and socio-economic diversity
o We have over 25 countries represented – people from all over the world, not just the Americas
o We have 1/3 of our students receiving free and reduced lunch – this translates to almost 1000 students – the size of most NC high schools
o We have wealthy Myers Park neighborhood children going to school with homeless children – in other words it looks a lot like the real world
· Opportunities for all types of extra-curricular activities – sports (31 team opportunities), clubs, band (multi-programs), chorus (5 different choirs), Jr. ROTC, numerous career clubs and leadership opportunities, student led clubs and councils

Education happens in about every way possible on a campus that was built in the 1950’s. While renovated occasionally, our campus is certainly not a “prime physical specimen.”

Your money is well spent and goes a long way at Myers Park High School. You would be really proud of the work being done by the teaching staff and administrators, students, and parents.

We have given pink slips to 24 teachers this year (a few of those were associated with a recent reassignment). We gave around 25 pink slips to teachers last year too. Not to mention all the security and maintenance people that have also been let go. Our school population will hover around 2700 for the next school year. This means that we will have 49 less teachers than we had two years ago for a school population that is almost the same. I would like to tell you some things that were mentioned at a recent meeting with administrators:

· Classes – We will have 40 or more students in most of our core classes for honors, AP, and IB core classes – English, Math, Science, Social Studies, PE, and many foreign language classes
o We will have many empty classrooms
o Occupied classrooms will be filled to the maximum capacity. In fact the administrators don’t know how many of these classrooms will handle the extra furniture needed to house students. Classes may need to be moved to much larger spaces to accommodate the number of students who will be assigned to those teachers. We may have to purchase smaller furniture so that we can get more students in each class!
o Far less flexibility will be offered to our student population in their schedules because of the lack of teachers for each section. This means that kids who have a passion for art or band may not be able to fit those programs into their schedules because of the unavailability of core classes. While this is not the most major problem we face it creates less well-rounded students and I would venture unhappier students. We have enough of those already. We don’t need any more reason for kids to drop out.

· Teachers – With more students seen by each teacher during the day the quality of instruction will definitely go down. Differentiation in the classroom will be very challenging in a space that is crowded to begin with and with more students than before.
o I already see less writing than I would like because of the hours it takes to grade essays and test questions. Our teachers do amazing things but there are only so many hours in a day.
o It is nearly impossible to practice lab skills in classrooms with 40 students. Learning by doing or using multiple intelligences has already given way to more and more lecture type classes. This is frustrating to teachers and to students.
o Our staff now is much older than it was a few years ago. While there is much to be said for maturity, the energy the younger teachers bring is sorely missed. Although much has been said of using the current funding crisis to “clean house of low performers” that hasn’t happened so much because of strict employment guidelines and the difficulty of removing tenured teachers.

· Physical plant
o We are adjusting to less security personnel by locking entrances. Security camera purchases are more than likely going to have to occur, but monitoring them takes people we don’t have.
o Fewer school psychologists and health care professionals are putting our students at risk. School is often the only place to indentify and address student’s problems before they have to be handled by the criminal justice system or the health care system.
o The look of the school is deteriorating. Volunteers will be called on to help, but we can’t expect volunteers to handle all of these maintenance chores.

What are we doing about it?
· As parents, we are organizing to fund the purchase of technology that will enable our teachers be more efficient and effective than ever. We are trying to beef up our meager and outdated technology to give our teachers more tools to reach their students. More and more work is being done and handed in online. Our staff needs to have the tools to facilitate that.
· We will be bringing in more volunteers than ever before to take on tasks no longer funded by CMS and the state – running the computer labs, assisting front office work, helping in departments to free up teachers.
· We are trying to keep teacher morale as high as possible by treating them like THE PROFESSIONALS THAT THEY ARE. Our PTSA volunteers are organizing events for them to facilitate communication across departments, and learn best practices, etc.
· We are organizing our parent body to advocate for education more effectively in the government arena and the business community.

Even though a portion of our population has the capacity to provide financial resources and to contribute time during the school day, Myers park High School is struggling to provide a quality educational experience for our students. We are well aware that other schools don’t have the people and the financial resources we have. That is why I am asking you to really think hard about the education budget. I would also ask you to give Peter Gorman and Eric Davis flexibility to change things they need to change in order to make our tax dollars go further.

Please know that we are in a crisis state here in Mecklenburg County. We are watching you to see how you vote to fund education and how you support the children in our community in general. I have been involved in public education in Mecklenburg County for a long time. I don’t see fat anywhere. I believe that people who do voice the opinion that CMS has more fat to cut have spent little to no time evaluating what is really happening. I would welcome the time to dialogue with you more and would love for you to meet some of the students produced by CMS. Our final product is a good one and one that can’t be compromised.

Thanks for your time.

Margaret Marshall
Myers Park High School
PTSA Co-President

Monday, May 24, 2010

County budget: what would you cut, spare?

With three weeks to go until Mecklenburg County commissioners are expected to vote on a 2010-11 budget, board members have a series of questions to sort out.

Among the biggest ones: 1) Should the county cut less from the libraries, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools or other services? 2) Are there any areas that should be cut deeper than the manager's recommendation?

Tell us what you think. The county has posted the recommended budget on its web site, including breaking down the document in easy-to-digest chunks.

Perhaps the best one is the "Budget Overview," which you can read by clicking here.

It has a line item list of county program and service areas, a breakdown of whether the county has any flexibility in providing that service and/or its funding level, the recommended funding for education and non-profit agencies, and details of what jobs could be cut in the budget.

Are there any expenses that deserve better scrutiny? We're hoping to take a look at your ideas and those proposed in March in the coming weeks.

Commissioners are scheduled to approve the budget June 15. In the coming weeks, they'll host a series of budget workshops and, on Thursday, a public hearing.

The hearing is set for 6 p.m. Thursday in the chamber of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 E. Fourth St. To speak at the hearing, call 704-336-2086 or click here. -- APRIL BETHEA

Thursday, May 20, 2010

See live video of the Gulf oil spill

This image from BP's video shows oil gushing from the blown well in the Gulf of Mexico.

A live video feed of the leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well, posted online Thursday after members of Congress exerted pressure on BP, is sure to fuel anger against the oil company.

"We will triumph over this tragedy through technology and transparency, so our best minds can bring all resources to bear to end this spill," Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said in a statement.

"This video will allow the world to see the damage that is occurring in our oceans and reinforce the urgency to end this disaster," he added.

Heavy demand has been slowing access to the live video feed, but here is the main site:

Sen. Bill Nelson also featured video, and the widget above, on his site.

"The broader scientific community and our university experts need to see all this so they can add to our knowledge of what happened and why," the Florida Democrat said in a statement. "Plus, we need to make sure everybody sees what's going on down there."

Carolinas contingency plans to deal with oil spill

Officials from North Carolina and South Carolina said today that chances are remote that oil from a leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico could make it to the beaches of the Carolinas and it would likely be weeks from now if it did.

"We think there will be a minimal impact, if any," Ricky Platt, director of the S.C. Emergency Management Division, told The Associated Press. "But having said that, we're still in the unknown."

The worry is that the loop current in Gulf of Mexico will pull the leaking oil around the Florida peninsula and then north toward the Carolinas.

Both N.C. and S.C. have contingency plans in place to deal with the oil should it reach our shores.

Charlotte's disappearing tree canopy

A new report says Mecklenburg's tree canopy continues to wither, with the county losing a third of its cover between 1985 and 2008, and Charlotte nearly half.

The latest in a series of analyses based on satellite images shows trees disappearing along the developing Interstate 77 corridor north of Charlotte, in the county’s southern tip and across its suburban fringe.

Click here to view the images and read the full report.

The findings come amid proposed changes to Charlotte's tree ordinance that would make developers preserve more trees on commercial building sites.
Builders, already hammered by the economic slump, have protested the costs of the new rules.

American Forests, the Washington, D.C.-based group the city commissioned for the canopy study, argues that trees carry ecological benefits that more than offset their costs. Trees control stormwater, soak up pollutants, cool the air and store carbon.
- Bruce Henderson

Monday, May 17, 2010

How does Mecklenburg County set worker pay?

County Manager Harry Jones recently said his recommended budget would include no pay raises for county workers for the second year in a row. But last June, county commissioners agreed to spend $1 million on raises in 2009-10 for workers whose pay was below the market rate.

As a story in Sunday's Observer noted, those market raises were the primary reason about 1,200 county workers saw their pay go up in the past year. Other reasons for raises include promotions or previously approved merit increases.

State law makes public the pay of workers at tax-funded institutions, and each spring the Observer publishes the salaries of city, county and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools employees. You can view those at

To coincide with the Observer publication of county salaries this year, staff recently posted an explanation for how salaries are set on The MecklenBlog, a web site maintained by the county.

One entry -- which you can read by clicking here -- says "experience, expertise, performance and comparisons against salaries provided for similar jobs in the market" are among the factors the county considers when setting employee pay. It also spells out four ways workers’ pay can be raised: promotion, merit-based increase, position reclassification or for market parity.

"Employee compensation is a vital tool we use to recruit and retain a qualified and diverse work force to serve our diverse community," the blog says. "We also recognize the importance of being good public stewards in setting pay and providing pay increases. Therefore, we use the best data available to make fair and competitive compensation decisions." -- April Bethea

Friday, May 14, 2010

Why no guns at the NRA show?

Part of the Taurus handgun display at the NRA annual meeting in Charlotte.There are plenty of guns on display on the floor of the Charlotte Convention Center for the NRA's annual meeting this weekend, but none of the visitors will be carrying. There also won't be any weapons at the Time Warner Cable Arena, where Sarah Palin spoke today and Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich will be speaking Saturday.

On its website, the NRA explains:

Note: North Carolina State law prohibits the carrying of firearms in the Charlotte Convention Center, and the Time Warner Cable Arena. In addition, the Rules and Regulations of the Charlotte Convention Center prohibit the carrying of firearms in the Center. Pursuant to Time Warner Cable Arena policy, all individuals entering the Arena will be subject to a magnetometer security check.

An NRA staffer elaborates on the no-guns policy, in a letter posted by the Huffington Post today:

Thank you for contacting us.

The Charlotte Convention Center does not allow the carrying of firearms, both open and concealed.

The large size of our event and the fact that many of the largest convention centers are in some of the most restrictive cities leaves us with relatively few convention centers large enough to accommodate the Annual Meetings. In an effort to provide all NRA members a better opportunity to attend the Annual Meetings, it is important that we move the event around the country as much as possible. While we will not consider bringing the Annual Meetings to a city with gun laws we feel are restrictive, we must however deal with convention centers that have restrictions simply because there are so few convention centers that both allow conceal carry and are large enough to host all of the events that comprise the Annual Meetings.

Thank you for your support!

Best Regards,

NRA Member Communications

Does the NRA have politicians on the run?

There are some who say the gun-rights lobby has never been stronger, according to a CNN report getting a lot of buzz ahead of today's opening of the annual NRA convention in Charlotte.

Reporter Carol Costello talks with rocker and NRA board member Ted Nugent, who says the NRA has gun-control advocates on the run – with President Barack Obama leading the pack.

“He’s scared,” Nugent says. “We know that President Obama is against the NRA, but he's not going to speak about that, because it would be political suicide, like for those who have stood up in the past.”

Some gun-control advocates feel betrayed that Obama isn’t fighting harder for gun control, Costello says. He’s signed bills that allow guns in national parks and on Amtrak trains – bills the NRA loves. Some agree with Nugent that politicians — who are just as likely to be photographed posing with guns as posing with babies — may be ducking the issue.

What do you think?

What if the oil spill covered Charlotte?

What if the oil spill covered CharlotteWCNC producer Jeremy Markovich created this amazing graphic that shows just how big the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is.

He writes:
We traced the Gulf Coast oil spill on Google Earth and then dropped it over Charlotte.

The main part of the spill covers almost all of Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties.

Another part of the slick would be somewhere near Shelby, and another large part of that spill stretches as far west as Asheville.
(h/t CLT Blog)

Check out these spectacular, chilling photos of the oil spill at's Big Picture blog. (h/t Tommy Tomlinson):

The Observer's Mark Washburn, who's been covering the spill in New Orleans for McClatchy Newspapers, is working on a fascinating story about what happened on the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon on the day it exploded. His story, which will be in Sunday's paper, is one you won't want to miss!

What questions do you have about the oil spill? Are there specific angles you'd like to see the Observer concentrate on? Let us know in the comments section ...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ted Nugent: More guns equal less crime

Ted Nugent says gun-control laws amount to "cruel indecency and forced victimization."

In a decidedly politically incorrect column in The Washington Times ahead of Friday's opening of the NRA convention in Charlotte, the rock star and well-known gun-rights supporter says that "the inescapable truth — as FBI crime reports and numerous law enforcement and academic studies conclude — is that more guns clearly equal less crime."

He continues:

Where there are more guns per capita, violent crime goes down, particularly crimes of assault, such as rape, burglary and robbery. This is good. This is what the NRA stands for. Anti-gunners, not so much.

Nugent criticizes "gun-free zones," calling them "guaranteed slaughter zones, where the most innocent lives are lost every time."

The choice is clear, he says:

Gun control as forced by the Chuck Schumers and Michael Bloombergs of the world is complicit in every violent crime committed. Conversely, gun control a la Ted Nugent is putting the second shot through the same hole as the first shot, where innocent lives are saved and recidivistic maggots come to a screeching halt, felled by the lovely ballet of good over evil we call the "Double Tap Center Mass Boogie." Learn it, know it, love it, shoot it. Good guys should live, bad guys, not so much.

Nugent is scheduled to speak to CNN at 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday about the opening of the NRA convention in Charlotte.

Update: From Ted's blog:

Correspondent Carol Costello interviews Ted on what to expect from his highly anticipated appearance at this year’s convention in Charlotte. Ted also discusses recent legislation and more.Tune in at 6 am EDT, and again at 8 am EDT and watch Ted stick to his guns!

"The Nuge" will lead a seminar at the convention at 12:30 p.m. Sunday titled "We the People." He'll sign autographs and books afterward in the Charlotte Convention Center.

Underwater video shows oil gushing like a geyser

Video released by BP shows oil spewing from a broken pipe 5,000 feet below the surface of the water. The oil looks like steam rushing from a geyser.

The video released Wednesday gives a glimpse of the leaking well. The stream occasionally can be seen becoming lighter as natural gas mixes into the gusher.

Natural gas has been flowing from the well since the beginning. BP's Doug Suttles says the rate natural gas has been flowing out hasn't changed in the 21 days since the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

Watch the video

More underwater video from the spill:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

CMS budget: Get ready to pay for AP, IB exams

Superintendent Peter Gorman has released the revised 2010-11 budget plan he'll present to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board tonight. It's much like the versions that have been discussed in previous meetings, but backs off from some unpopular school-hours changes and requires students to start paying for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams.

See the new plan. 

(Note: It's a large document, so download may be slow.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Can the county control CMS spending?

Money for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools makes up the biggest single chunk of the county's operating budget -- more than $300 million this year -- and commissioners have said they want to make sure the money is leading to gains in the district.

But just how much can county leaders control how the school district uses its money?

Assistant Professor Kara Millonzi of the School of Government at UNC Chapel Hill offers an answer to that question and others in a new blog post about local school budgets. You can read the full post by clicking here.

State law, she writes, allows counties to divvy up operating money given to school systems by purpose or function. But county commissioners, acting on their own discretion, cannot appropriate money by line-item for school operating expenses.

That being said, Millonzi said commissioners aren't barred from requesting that a school board not use county money for certain items. "However, any agreement reached by the two boards that is not reflected in the county’s appropriations is not legally binding," she writes.

The Coates' Canons: NC Local Government Law Blog, offers lots of insight from School of Government professors on a variety of topics. Other recent entries discuss whether government employment contracts are open record (which cites a case involving the Observer) and analysis of a suit filed against the city of Kannapolis challenging an Internet Sweepstakes Tax. -- April Bethea

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dramatic photos of burning oil rig

McClatchy obtained images of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon as it burned in the Gulf of Mexico April 21, 2010, including this one taken shortly before it sank.

Check out this link for more updates from McClatchy.

The latest:

Emergency workers along the Gulf Coast today raced to defend sensitive shorelines from the massive oil spill, authorities said they'd stopped one of the leaks at the deep-water well.

It won't reduce the amount of oil flowing from BP's sunken rig, but it will allow the oil company to focus efforts on attacking the two remaining leaks, said Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosley.

- Doug Miller

Read the complaint against the Times Square bombing suspect

On Tuesday, Faisal Shahzad (above) was charged with conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction and several related crimes connected to the failed Times Square car bombing.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tiger Woods' alleged mistress says Charlotte hotel canceled her reservation

Joslyn James (above right), the porn star who says she was Tiger Woods' mistress, says she had made a reservation to stay at the Ritz-Carlton in uptown Charlotte last week. But, in a letter from her attorney, she says that when she landed at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, she learned that her hotel reservation had been canceled.

James, 32, whose real name is Veronica Siwik-Daniels, was in town performing at the Uptown Cabaret men's club while Woods was playing in the Quail Hollow Championship.

James' attorney, Gloria Allred (above left), claims in a letter e-mailed Monday to the Ritz-Carlton that "after a long and tiring journey from Los Angeles, Ms. James was shocked to learn when she arrived at the airport in Charlotte that her reservations had been cancelled. ... While this was disturbing, even more troublesome appeared to be the reason for the cancellation."

Allred says the hotel canceled the reservation because James "was a high profile guest and they were concerned about media attention." The real reason for the cancellation, Allred suggests, is that Woods may have been staying at the hotel at the same time.

"Was Joslyn James cancelled at the Ritz-Carlton, because Tiger Woods was staying there or was expected to arrive?" she writes.

The letter to the hotel was posted by the Web site You can download a PDF copy of the letter here. reported that an unnamed representative from the Ritz-Carlton said the hotel was "reviewing the matters raised in the letter."