Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blog pranks Wisconsin governor (audio)

On a prank call that quickly spread across the Internet, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was duped into discussing his strategy to cripple public employee unions, promising never to give in and joking that he would use a baseball bat in his office to go after political opponents.

Walker believed the caller was a conservative billionaire named David Koch, but it was actually a blogger from the online news site Buffalo Beast. The two talked for at least 20 minutes -– a conversation in which the governor described several ways to pressure Democrats to return to the Statehouse and revealed that his supporters had considered secretly planting people in pro-union protest crowds to stir up trouble.

The call also revealed Walker's cozy relationship with two billionaire brothers who have poured millions of dollars into conservative political causes, including Walker's campaign last year.

Listen to a copy of the call uploaded to YouTube:

Part 2:

Friday, February 18, 2011

CMS' new list of high-poverty FOCUS schools

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has for years targeted some of its poorest schools to receive extra resources to help their students overcome their disadvantages. Periodically, CMS reshuffles the list of so-called FOCUS schools. (It stands for Finding Opportunities: Creating Unparalleled Success). With eight of those schools slated for closure this year due to budget cuts, CMS is moving new schools onto the list. Here's the full revised list of CMS new FOCUS schools.

Jones: "I have not and will not consider resigning"

In a new video to employees, Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones says that he looks forward to his continued service with the county and has not considered stepping down.

The message -- which you can also view by clicking here -- was sent to county workers Thursday afternoon, and requested by the Observer today.

Jones states that he remains "as committed as ever" to helping the county meet its 2015 goals, and his immediate focus is working on putting together the 2011-12 budget.

"I look forward to my continued service as county manager," Jones said, "and have not and will not consider resigning, and have no plans to retire in the immediate future."

The new video comes in the heels of a closed-door meeting earlier this week between Jones and county commissioners on his performance and other issues stemming from a payout to the county's former mental health director. Read the statement issued by commissioners after the talk by clicking here. -- APRIL BETHEA

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Commissioners' statement on Jones, payouts

Mecklenburg County Commissioners spent more than three hours behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss the handling of a $60,000 settlement to former county mental health director Grayce Crockett.

Commissioners had questioned whether County Manager Harry Jones exceeded his authority in reaching the deal and said they were troubled that they did not learn of the settlement right away. Some also criticized staff for initially describing the money as just payout for Crockett's vacation and accrued sick time.

After emerging from closed session, Jones apologized for not communicating the deal well enough with the board. He also said he made a "lapse in judgement" in sending a weekend email with information on money Commissioner Jim Pendergraph received when he retired as the sheriff.

Commissioners issued the following statement late Tuesday:

"The Board has reviewed the actions of County Manager Harry Jones regarding the terms and conditions of former Area Mental Health Grayce Crockett’s resignation, including the payment of a negotiated amount to Ms. Crockett totaling $99,329.18. This involved a thorough review of County policy and the authority provided by the Board of County Commissioners to the County Manager. The Board also received and reviewed information on other negotiated resignations of County employees in recent years.

Based on this review, the Board believes the following:

1. The County Manager made a reasoned and sound decision in the best interests of Mecklenburg County taxpayers and had the authority to do so without prior Board approval.

2. The County Manager should have informed the Board in advance or immediately thereafter about the terms and conditions of Ms. Crockett’s negotiated resignation, including the amount paid to her in excess of what she was entitled to receive in accrued vacation and sick benefits, and the reasons he decided the payment was in the best interests of the County and taxpayers.

3. The County is limited by privacy laws regarding the amount and type of information that can be released to the public.

4. Although the information publicly released involving Grayce Crockett’s negotiated resignation was technically correct and was released in a good faith attempt to comply with North Carolina law, it provided a misleading impression to the Board and the public.

5. The County Manager erred by not timely correcting this misimpression.

6. The County Manager made a mistake by not informing the Board in advance or immediately afterwards about the terms and conditions of Grayce Crockett’s resignation. The County Manager understands and acknowledges this mistake.

7. The County Manager seriously erred when he released information from Commissioner Pendergraph’s personnel file that included some information protected by North Carolina privacy laws, although he did so without malice.

8. The County Manager understands and acknowledges he made a mistake when he released the protected information from Commissioner Pendergraph’s personnel file. The County Manager has apologized to Commissioner Pendergraph and Commissioner Pendergraph has accepted his apology.

9. The additional amounts of accrued vacation paid to Commissioner Pendergraph at the time of his retirement were for benefits he earned during his service as Mecklenburg County Sheriff.

10. The County Manager must improve communication with the Board on personnel and matters of public interest.

11. The Board will work with the County Manager to establish clear expectations for how similar matters will be handled in the future.

The Board will put this statement in the County Manager’s personnel file and intends to take all of the above into consideration when conducting the County Manager’s annual performance evaluation later this calendar year."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Statement on Crockett's final payment

Mecklenburg County Commission chair Jennifer Roberts today released a statement detailing the county's final payment to former Area Mental Health Director Grayce Crockett.

It included $31,095 of accrued vacation and sick leave. The county also paid her salary through Jan. 11, the effective date of her resignation. The remainder of the $99,330 was a negotiated amount of additional vacation and sick leave.

"I believe the decision to pay the negotiated amount of additional vacation and sick leave was appropriately made to protect Mecklenburg County's legal interest and allow the County Manager to effect an immediate change in the leadership of Area Mental Health," Roberts said.

Click here to read the statement.

- Ames Alexander

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fed analyst's case study on Wachovia's implosion

This PowerPoint presentation was cited in the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report issued last week, providing a window into the normally non-public thinking of bank examiners.