Insider for February 28, 2020


“Howdy Colin! Hope you are well.”

The title of the campaign committee of Sean Haugh, a Libertarian running for the state House this year in Durham. Colin is Insider editor Colin Campbell who routinely searches campaign finance records. (WRAL NEWS, 2/27/20)


Campaign Loans

Colin Campbell, THE INSIDER, 2/28/20

In low-profile Council of State primaries with a crowded field, some candidates are plowing hundreds of thousands of dollars from their personal bank accounts to run TV ads and raise their name recognition. Some of the latest self-funding has come in the final month or so of the campaign. The biggest self-funder so far is Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, who dropped $500,000 of his own money into his bid for lieutenant governor. Wells’ latest campaign finance reports shows he spent a similar amount on TV advertising, including a 30-second spot in which he criticizes urban sheriffs who have refused to cooperate with immigration detainers. And with 15 candidates seeking to be the next lieutenant governor, Wells isn’t alone. Bill Toole, an attorney and Democratic Party leader from Gaston County, loaned his campaign $280,600 to help his efforts to buy TV ad spots. Rep. Chaz Beasley, D-Mecklenburg, has loaned his campaign a total of $57,000. Former Rep. Scott Stone, R-Mecklenburg, has spent $165,000 of his own funds, and former legislative aide and lobbyist Greg Gebhardt has put $76,000 in his campaign for the post.

In the Democratic primary for state treasurer, Charlotte City Councilwoman Dimple Ajmera has loaned her campaign $100,000, and Duke University professor Ronnie Chatterji has loaned his campaign $150,000. Raleigh businessman E.C. Sykes has put $127,000 of his personal fortune into the Republican primary for secretary of state, putting his fundraising total well ahead of his opponents. And in the Republican primary for attorney general, Christine Mumma, executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, has loaned her campaign $352,500, which has helped her spend nearly $500,000 on broadcasts ads. The self-funding has helped put her fundraising totals higher than her GOP primary rivals.

Decisive Primaries

Colin Campbell, THE INSIDER, 2/28/20

Thanks to legislative districts that heavily lean Republican or Democratic, several of next week’s primary contests could likely determine who will replace a retiring legislator next year. A total of 24 incumbents in the House and Senate decided to step down or seek another office. And while some are in competitive districts that won’t get decided until the November election, others are in districts with such a strong partisan tilt that Tuesday’s winner will most likely join the legislature, as any general election candidate from the other party will face a long-shot bid. Here’s a few of the races to watch Tuesday night to get a sense for who will likely be in the General Assembly next year:

House District 38: With incumbent Rep. Yvonne Holley, D-Wake, running for lieutenant governor, Democratic voters in and around Southeast Raleigh will choose between former Wake County commissioner and former Superior Court Judge Abe Jones and Quanta Monique Edwards, a real-estate broker and affordable housing advocate. Holley, along with the influential Raleigh-Wake Citizens Association, have endorsed Jones. He ran unsuccessfully for Court of Appeals in 2014 and 2016. Edwards is backed by Raleigh City Councilman David Cox, Emily’s List and N.C. Rep. Raymond Smith, D-Wayne.

Senate District 6: As Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, prepares to retire, Onslow County school board member Bob Williams will face off with Jacksonville City Councilman Michael Lazzara in the Republican primary for the conservative district covering Onslow and Jones counties. Williams is an Air Force veteran who runs a photography business. Lazzara is a Marine Corps veteran who owns a sign business and restaurant; he’s currently serving as Jacksonville’s mayor pro tem and is a past president of the N.C. League of Municipalities who chairs the Jacksonville Tourism Development Authority.

House District 3: The upcoming retirement of conservative firebrand Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, has led to a four-candidate Republican primary in the New Bern area. Two of the candidates are local elected officials: Longtime Craven County Commissioner Steve Tyson and Havelock City Commissioner Jim Kohr. Kohr is a Navy veteran and pastor, while Tyson is an Army veteran, general contractor and real-estate broker. Guy Smith is a Marine Corps judge advocate who describes himself as a “conservative outsider,” and Eric Queen is another Marine who ran unsuccessfully against Speciale in a previous election. Tyson leads the others in fundraising, followed by Smith.

Senate District 49: With Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, running for lieutenant governor, Asheville will get a new senator. The frontrunner appears to be Asheville City Councilwoman Julie Mayfield, who leads the environmental nonprofit MountainTrue. She has a substantial lead over other candidates in fundraising and boasts endorsements from Van Duyn, the Sierra Club and Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer. The other candidates are Travis Smith, a software consultant and environmental activist, and Ben Scales, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for district attorney.

Senate District 42: As Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, aims for the lieutenant governor’s office, former Rep. Mark Hollo and Hickory businessman and N.C. Wildlife Commission member Dean Proctor are facing off in the Republican primary for his seat. The race has featured attacks from both candidates, with Hollo pointing out campaign donations that Proctor made to Democrats, including Roy Cooper and Josh Stein, and Proctor blasting what he calls Hollo’s “failed record in the NC House ... including voting with the Democrats on their reckless budget that increased spending by $1 billion.”

House District 72: With Rep. Derwin Montgomery, D-Forsyth, seeking a seat in Congress, United Health Centers CEO Lashun Huntley and former elementary school principal Amber Baker are vying for his spot in the N.C. House. Both are political newcomers.

House District 80: With Rep. Steve Jarvis, R-Davidson, vacating his House seat to primary Sen. Eddie Gallimore, R-Davidson, former Davidson County Reps. Roger Younts and Sam Watford both want their old seat back. Watford lost an attempt to move up to the Senate in 2018, and Younts was appointed to a partial House term in 2013 and 2014. The race hasn’t generated much fundraising as of mid-February, with Younts reporting about $2,000 and Watford reporting about $9,000.

Senate District 20: Durham has a Senate opening thanks to Sen. Floyd McKissick’s move to the Utilities Commission, and three Democrats want the spot. Soil and Water Commissioner Natalie Murdock faces musician and activist Pierce Freelon and attorney Gray Ellis. The winner of the primary is expected to be appointed to finish McKissick’s term in the upcoming short session.

DA Complaint

Danielle Battaglia, THE INSIDER, 2/28/20

The N.C. State Bar filed a complaint last week against an embattled former district attorney who was forced to resign from office during a State Bureau of Investigation probe that revealed his wife had been collecting a state paycheck for time she wasn’t working. Former Rockingham County District Attorney Craig Blitzer has had his law license suspended since August 2017 when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to discharge the duties of his office. The bar complaint addresses two claims against Blitzer: the first for his involvement in the scheme involving his wife, and the second for failing to disclose evidence that revealed that incorrect charges were brought against four Rockingham County defendants.

The complaint said that Blitzer committed a criminal act or acts that reflect adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer and engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation. The SBI investigation uncovered a criminal scheme where then-Person/Caswell County District Attorney Wallace Bradsher allowed Blitzer’s wife to be paid for working in his office despite taking nursing classes instead. The bar faulted Blitzer for allowing his wife to collect a paycheck from the state for hours she did not work, and for, in exchange, paying a Rockingham County employee to work in Person/Caswell counties -- without reporting that to the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.

The Bar also faulted Blitzer for using a state computer to take nursing classes for his wife and instructing two of his employees to do the same, during working hours while still collecting paychecks. The second claim filed involves Rockingham County defendants Donnie Ray Carter, Teresa Vanover, Tommy Woodall and Everette Ferris, who were convicted in a prostitution ring of two teenage girls.

The Bar said that Blitzer received evidence that the victims were not severely or profoundly mentally disabled, as was alleged in the defendants’ charges, but he did not provide that information to three of the defendants. That allowed one defendant to plead guilty to a charge that evidence showed she did not commit, and it caused the other two to remain in prison when their convictions needed to be readdressed. The complaint said disciplinary action will be taken against Blitzer, but a hearing date has not been set.

Attack Ad

Will Doran, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/27/20

Attack ads are flying between two of the candidates in the three-way Republican primary for attorney general. Voters will decide Tuesday who they want to take on Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein in the November general election. Early voting is underway. Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill’s campaign took the rare step of replacing one ad with a new version. His opponent, Chris Mumma -- the target of the ad -- had threatened legal action against a TV station if it kept running. “The advertisement contains egregious misrepresentations of fact that will mislead North Carolina voters,” wrote Mumma’s lawyer, Dan Boyce.

Mumma is the executive director of the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, a group that investigates possible wrongful convictions. O’Neil is the top prosecutor in Forsyth County, which includes Winston-Salem. Forsyth County prosecutors have sent at least two innocent men to prison for life, both of whom were freed after years behind bars.

O’Neill’s ad against Mumma criticizes her work freeing one of those prisoners, a man named Joseph Abbitt. The other man was Darryl Hunt. Both have since died. Abbitt died in a 2015 car crash. “Activist lawyer Christine Mumma worked to set free a convicted child rapist, calling it justice,” the ad says. “Police disagreed and DNA tests proved them right.”

In fact, Abbitt was exonerated because of DNA tests. Abbitt was sentenced to life in prison in 1995 after he was convicted of raping two children in Winston-Salem. But years later, after the advent of better DNA technology, newly retested evidence didn’t match Abbitt. The district attorney’s office and Mumma’s group both agreed the conviction should be thrown out, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. Abbitt was freed from prison in 2009, his name cleared after 14 years behind bars.

O’Neill wasn’t working for the Forsyth County District Attorney’s office in 1995, when Abbitt was originally convicted. He later became an assistant DA there, and took over the top job just a few months after Abbitt was released. The police argued against the decision to free Abbitt, which the Journal described in 2010 as causing “a rift” between them and the prosecutors. O’Neill did not charge Abbitt again, despite the police objections, and told the newspaper that if the police had evidence they could always re-arrest Abbitt. They never did, local NPR affiliate WFDD reported after Abbitt died, noting the constitutional prohibition on trying someone twice for the same crime.

O’Neill’s new version of the ad still has the controversial claims about Mumma and Abbitt. However, it no longer contains a claim about O’Neill’s own record on prosecuting sex crimes. The state court system specifically warns prosecutors not to make claims about conviction rates, and Mumma’s lawyer wrote that O’Neill’s claim was “not supported by any reliable data.” O’Neill’s new version of the ad instead transitions to a defense of O’Neill’s record on ICE and sanctuary policies -- an area where he says he’s the victim of a dishonest attack, from Mumma. [Source]

Defense Contracts

Zachery Eanes, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/27/20

Even though North Carolina has the fourth-largest military population in the country, the state lags behind in winning valuable contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense. Yet the state is seeing tremendous job growth in many of the technology areas that the Department of Defense is targeting, meaning there’s potential for military technology contracts to become an important source of economic growth here, a new study has found. The study, conducted by the nonprofit research group RTI International and the state’s Department of Commerce, points out that more than 145,000 military personnel reside in North Carolina, at places like Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, yet the state ranks 23rd in the country in the amount of DoD dollars going to businesses and research organizations in the state.

In 2017, North Carolina had defense contracts worth around $3.3 billion, a number that pales in comparison to the top three states for defense contracts: California ($35.2 billion), Virginia ($30.5 billion) and Texas ($26.6 billion). On top of that, most of the state’s contracts are for supplies and construction at the large installations in the state, rather than high-tech research and advanced manufacturing that support high-wage jobs. In fact, just 3% of the defense contracts in North Carolina are for research and development, the study found.

In Virginia -- which benefits from its proximity to Washington, D.C. -- R&D makes up 9% of the state’s defense contracts. And in Texas -- a state that narrowly beat out North Carolina in 2018 for an expansion of the Army Futures Command -- R&D made up 6% of contracts.

“We have a dichotomy in this state despite some very fine efforts from a lot of partners,” said Paul Friday, executive director of the Defense Alliance of North Carolina, which also helped put the study together. “We have a gap between our military presence and where we rank nationally in doing business with the military.” Friday said this new study, which was an update of one made nearly a decade ago, was needed to highlight where the state should concentrate its resources. As the study points out, optimistically, those numbers could be improved through better organization and awareness.

That’s because North Carolina is among the fastest-growing states in the nation in six key technology areas that the DoD is placing an emphasis on, according to the study, which was funded by the N.C. Military Affairs Commission. Those six technology areas are advanced manufacturing, autonomous systems, data and knowledge management, human performance (biotechnology), materials, and power.

While North Carolina’s employment in these areas is smaller in comparison to competing states, it is growing quickly. The Triangle region, especially, is seeing tremendous growth from biotech and data management, with the report highlighting the cluster of biotech companies in Research Triangle Park and the universities located here. According to the study, between 2013 and 2018, North Carolina ranked first in job growth in data and knowledge management (37% job growth) and human performance (36%), and second in power and advanced manufacturing (30%). [Source]


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Campaign Filings

Travis Fain, WRAL NEWS, 2/27/20

Who says you can’t make an obscure joke in a routine campaign finance filing and wait two months for the wrong person to find it? Not Sean Haugh, that’s for sure. Haugh, the Libertarian who’s run three times for the U.S. Senate, is running for the state House this year in Durham. His campaign committee is named “Howdy Colin! Hope you are well.” That’s more exclamation marks than you’ll usually see in a campaign finance vehicle, and more well wishing. The “Howdy” is classic Haugh, who says it all the time. The Colin is Colin Campbell, the editor of the Insider.

Haugh said the name goes back to October, when Campbell tweeted about another Libertarian’s campaign committee, Ray Ubinger’s “Just Buying Permission to Vote For Myself.” When the time came in December for Haugh to pay his filing fee and create a committee for his race in House District 31, he hid a little joke for Campbell to stumble across in a routine campaign finance search. Campbell got scooped Thursday by WRAL News.

The campaign’s only donation is from Haugh himself: The $140 filing fee he paid to get on the ballot. He listed himself as Sean Haugh, Emperor of the USA & Protector of Mexico. His address? “The Universe” on Danbury Drive in Durham. “I’ve always tried to have fun with this and be lighthearted while getting the message out,” Haugh said.

That message is a staunchly Libertarian one. He wants to legalize drugs, starting with marijuana, given the growing popularity of that movement around the country. He wants to release every non-violent drug offender from prison, expunging their records and paying reparations for their time behind bars. He’d also end the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control system in favor of privatized liquor sales and cut taxes significantly. There’s no primary in the race, so Haugh won’t be on the ballot until the November general election. He faces incumbent Rep. Zack Hawkins, D-Durham, and Republican Steven W. Sosebee. [Source]

Distribution Center

Carl Wilson, GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD, 2/27/20

It took four years, but grocery chain Publix took a big step toward opening its first North Carolina distribution center with a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday on a large swath of land east of Greensboro. “We know that North Carolina is the right kind of state for this type of company,” Gov. Roy Cooper said during Thursday’s event. The Florida company, which is owned by employees, is investing between $300 and $400 million in the 350-acre project. Publix first approached elected officials four years ago about the possibility of opening the company’s tenth distribution hub among a chain of 1,239 stores that stretch along the East Coast. In a show of solidarity, the City Council and Guilford County Board of Commissioners guaranteed up to $37 million in incentives for the project in spring 2018. “This is an absolutely amazing project,” said N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, who was among the many state and local officials to attend the groundbreaking. [Source]

Judicial Race

Michael Gordon, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/27/20

A down-ballot primary race to fill a local judge’s seat generally is the last place to find election-year drama. But Aretha Blake’s bid to return to the Mecklenburg County District Court has been roiled by attacks on her competence, claims of racism, and an increasingly bitter legal fight over media coverage that threatens to overshadow her showdown Tuesday with Charlotte attorney and fellow Democrat Lynna Moen. This week, the clamor escalated when Blake filed a libel and slander suit against local TV reporter Nick Ochsner while also asking a judge to block his future stories about her. The station has said it stands by the story. On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Daniel Kuehner refused Blake’s request for a temporary restraining order against future stories about her by Ochsner and WBTV.

In arguing for the order, one of Blake’s attorneys intimated that Blake had been singled out for what he described as defamatory coverage because she is an African American incumbent facing a white opponent. Blake faces allegations that she mismanaged dozens of cases during her time in Family Court. For two years, she was one of seven judges who heard hundreds of wrenching and drawn-out disputes over divorce, alimony and child custody, among other matters. In each case, a judge’s decision can impact a family for generations.

According to her critics, Blake often added to the emotional toll in the eighth-floor courtrooms by chronically failing to make rulings in a timely way. Blake says the allegations are untrue, though she acknowledges that at first she was overwhelmed by her workload, which she says hit 1,000 cases in 2018 and forced her to work nights and weekends. Even so, she maintains that she successfully handled hundreds of cases on her docket while pointing out that she has the public support of at least nine of her District Court colleagues. “There were cases I would have loved to have done faster because I knew how much the families needed it,” she told the Observer. “But I also know how hard we were working.”

An Observer review of dozens of Blake’s cases partially corroborated her assertion. Public records indicate that nearly one-third of all pending Family Court cases in 2019 were more than a year old -- cases handled by all Family Court judges, not just Blake. Yet critics have come forward, and two years ago a higher court specifically ordered Blake to make an overdue ruling in one of her cases.

Lawyers rarely publicly rebuke the judges who hear their cases. “You don’t throw rocks at the alligators before you go swimming in the lake,” is how attorney Tom Bush put it. The Observer contacted almost 20 judges and attorneys for this story. Most either did not respond or declined to comment. But Bush says Blake too often dragged out decisions that froze families’ lives while driving up tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees. The former Mecklenburg County commissioner says he had one divorce case in which Blake took more than 18 months to make a child-custody ruling. Legal veterans say a ruling in one to three months is closer to the norm.

Regardless of the judge, Family Court cases, which regularly involve lengthy and separate court fights over property, money and child custody, tend to run long and can span multiple judges. Statistics supplied by the Trial Court Administrator’s Office show that 33 to 41% of all pending Family Court cases in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 had been there for more than a year.

Yet Moen claims that only Blake had a significant backlog of cases. “The key to this race is to make sure we have someone in district court who has demonstrated the ability to manage the workload,” she said. Just how many families were kept waiting under Blake’s watch now drives an increasingly rancorous debate. Read the full report in The Charlotte Observer.

Sanders Visit

Paul Garber, WFDD RADIO, 2/27/20

Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders made a stop at Winston-Salem State University Thursday as he campaigns ahead of the Super Tuesday primary. Sanders made the pitch that he’s not a billionaire and isn’t trying to raise money from them as he seeks the Democratic nomination. Instead, he argued he’s the candidate for the 99 percent. “As someone who grew up in a working-class family, somebody who lived in a rent-controlled apartment for all of my childhood, I’m proud to tell you this is a campaign of the working class, by the working class and for the working class,” he said. Sanders spoke at another Triad HBCU back in September at Bennett College in Greensboro. He touted many of the same themes Thursday as he did then, including erasing college debt and expunging the records of those with marijuana convictions. After the rally, Sanders and scores of his supporters marched to the Anderson Center, an early-voting precinct on WSSU’s campus. [Source]

Double Vote

Thomas Sherrill, THE WATAUGA DEMOCRAT, 2/27/20

A Watauga early voter in the 2020 N.C. primaries voted twice after unintentionally being handed two ballots by poll workers on Feb. 13, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections and Watauga County Elections Board officials. “At the end of the first day of early voting, Feb. 13, poll workers at the Appalachian State early voting site discovered that there were 283 ballots in the ballot bin, with only 282 voters having checked in to vote that day,” said Patrick Gannon, spokesperson for the N.C. State Board of Elections, on Feb. 26. “It appears that one voter was inadvertently handed two ballots (likely stuck together due to moisture) and the voter then voted both ballots.”

Watauga County Elections Board Chair Jane Ann Hodges, who was the office’s director for 30 years, said she has never encountered a double vote in Watauga County previously. Current Director Matthew Snyder said he’s never encountered the issue in his four-plus years in the post. “I hate that this has happened,” Hodges said. “I just am very embarrassed that this happened and that somebody in Watauga County would do this.”

“Officials went through the 283 ballots and found that one ballot did not have the voter number, precinct or machine number written on it, as all ballots should,” Gannon stated. “This was the ballot accidentally given to the voter, and it will not be counted.” Hodges said that the ballot will be removed from the totals when the early-voting results are tallied on Election Day. Gannon added that although the voter should not have voted on the additional ballot, it did not have any identifying information on it and thus there was no way to tie it back to a particular voter. Intentionally casting more than one ballot in an election is a Class I felony in North Carolina, Gannon added. “If additional information comes forward, we would look into it.” Gannon said. “This is an example of Watauga County’s process working perfectly to detect a discrepancy and remedy it to ensure that ballot was not counted.” [Source]

Economic Outlook

Danielle Chemtob and Tim Funk, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/27/20

As North Carolinians prepare to head to vote on Super Tuesday, a new poll from Elon University found that nearly half of North Carolina voters believe that the economy has improved since 2017, the year President Donald Trump took office. But at the same time, a majority also said it was at least somewhat difficult for families to afford housing in their communities. And the vast majority supported raising the federal minimum wage. The Elon University poll was conducted in partnership with The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer, and The Durham Herald-Sun as part of the North Carolina Priorities project.

According to Elon’s poll, 48% of North Carolina voters say the economy has improved since 2017. Another 74% believe it will improve or stay the same in the next year. But Democrats running for president say some of the credit for good economic news should go to former President Barack Obama, who presided over the post-2008 recovery. The candidates mostly point to disappointing wage growth under Trump and argue that many American families are still struggling.

The Elon poll found that 94% of respondents supported boosting the minimum wage, which has been $7.25 per hour since 2009, though they differed on how much it should be increased. Just 14% believed it should be more than $15 an hour. Close to 40% of respondents said recently approved international trade deals will have a positive effect on the economy. But the majority said it would have a negative impact or make little difference.

According to the Elon poll, 68% of North Carolina voters say it’s somewhat or very challenging to find affordable housing in their community with a $50,000 a year salary for a family. Nearly 70% said the federal government should take action to increase the amount of affordable housing. For Democrats this year, the lack of affordable housing is a central issue. Most of their campaign websites spell out in detail their proposals to spend billions of dollars in the next decade to solve this problem plaguing many cities, including Charlotte and Raleigh. President Trump, meanwhile, has established a White House Council for Eliminating Barriers to Affordable Housing Development, to be chaired by HUD Secretary Ben Carson. It will work with state and local leaders to “identify and remove obstacles that impede development of affordable housing.” [Source]

Klobuchar Event

Taft Wireback, GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD, 2/27/20

Presidential hopeful Sen. Amy Klobuchar made a campaign swing Thursday morning through Greensboro to take part in a panel discussion on voting rights and election security. Her campaign rented space in the International Civil Rights Center & Museum for the event that drew about 100 area residents. Klobuchar said at the outset, she hoped to focus the discussion on the need to make it easier to vote, improve election security and tighten the rules governing money in politics. Klobuchar, who has represented Minnesota in the U.S. Senate since 2007, said it was meaningful to focus on voting topics at the former Woolworth’s turned museum, commemorating the 1960 sit-ins that integrated the store’s lunch counter and helped ignite the civil rights movement nationwide. Others on the panel with Klobuchar included N.C. Supreme Court Justice Anita Earls, Rep. Sydney Batch, D-Wake, and Derick Smith, an activist who teaches at N.C. A&T. After the hour-long event, Klobuchar left for Raleigh where she was to hold an afternoon campaign rally followed by a Fox News Town Hall Thursday evening. [Source]

Development Plan

Lauren Lindstrom, Danielle Chemtob and Fred Clasen-Kelly, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/27/20

When Charlotte government and business leaders set out to redevelop two largely dormant blocks uptown, they vowed to create a hub of shops, restaurants, high-rise buildings and some low-income apartments. Mecklenburg County, the city of Charlotte and other partners offered to sell property to private developers. They sought to revitalize a portion of what the city has called the largest remaining development opportunity uptown, now home to McGlohon Theater in Spirit Square, several aging buildings and surface parking lots. But the deal officials worked on for more than two years has collapsed. And the county manager now says affordable housing, once heralded as a key element of the project, is no longer economically viable on site.

A dispute between Inlivian, formerly the Charlotte Housing Authority, and other Charlotte leaders over 2 acres occupied by a dilapidated former hotel torpedoed the plan. Under the deal, Mecklenburg County, the city of Charlotte, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, Bank of America and Inlivian all agreed to offer property they own along North Tryon Street to a master developer for a plan that would include affordable housing among new market-rate apartments. Officials eliminated affordable housing — one of the city’s most pressing needs — from the uptown site plans after Inlivian decided it would only lease its property rather than sell outright, according to four people with direct knowledge about the deal or who have been briefed on negotiations. They requested anonymity because they feared reprisals from others involved in the project for discussing negotiations, which have remained shielded from public view.

In response to questions from The Observer, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said in a written statement that the original plans to sell and develop the two blocks have been shelved. Diorio acknowledged the rift between Inlivian and the other landowners involved in the deal. Diorio said the landowners are now negotiating to sell 1.5 blocks without Inlivian’s land, and officials would use proceeds from land sales to build affordable housing outside of uptown. [Source]

Study Abroad

WBTV NEWS, 2/27/20

UNC Charlotte has canceled spring break study abroad programs to China, South Korea, Japan and Northern Italy due to coronavirus concerns. School officials say affected students and faculty have been contacted by the Office of Education Abroad. There have been no decisions on any other programs beyond those occurring during spring break. School officials say the Office of International Programs will work with students and faculty to minimize the impact of these cancellations on students’ programs of study. University officials continue to monitor the evolving situation surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19). There have been additional cases confirmed in the United States and other countries in Asia and Europe, but there are still no confirmed cases in North Carolina or any cases affecting the UNC Charlotte campus. [Source]

Flu Deaths

Bailey Aldridge, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/27/20

Another 15 flu-related deaths were reported in North Carolina last week, health officials said Thursday. The deaths were reported between Feb. 16 and Feb. 22 and bring the total number of flu-related deaths in the state to 115 for the season, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Fifteen deaths in one week is one of the highest numbers North Carolina has had this season. The only week that has seen more flu-related deaths was the week before last, in which 17 were reported, the health department says.

No children died from flu-related illnesses last week, the health department says, but there have been three pediatric flu-related deaths reported in the state since the season began on Sept. 29. Most of the deaths reported this season have been among those ages 65 and older, according to the department. There were 971 positive tests for the virus reported in the state last week, the health department says. There have been more than 9,300 confirmed cases over the season.

This “widespread” flu activity comes amid rising concerns over coronavirus in the state and nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned earlier this week that it’s only a matter of time before the virus spreads in the United States and causes disruptions in the country. There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in North Carolina, health officials emphasized, according to The News & Observer, but people should take “common-sense precautions” and businesses should be ready if employees need to stay home. This flu season seems on track to pass last year’s in terms of the number of cases reported, which was more than 9,400 last year. [Source]

Innocence Commission

Michael Hewlett, WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL, 2/27/20

The murder of NBA star Chris Paul’s grandfather will be re-examined by the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission next month during a public hearing. The hearing is scheduled to begin on March 9 in Raleigh. Two things could happen -- the commission could find sufficient evidence of innocence to forward the case to a panel of three superior court judges who would ultimately determine if a defendant should be exonerated or the commission could simply close the case after determining that there isn’t enough evidence. The commission has reviewed more than 2,700 claims and has only granted exonerations in 12 since it began operating in 2007. This is the second case from Forsyth County that has resulted in a hearing before the commission.

A lot is not known publicly about the hearing. That includes what new evidence the commission may be considering. Beth Tanner, the commission’s associate director, said in an email that she could not confirm the name of the case because it is not public. On the first day of the hearing, the commission will likely post the name of the case on its Facebook page, she said. What is known is that the commission is looking at the cases of all five teenagers who were convicted of killing Nathaniel Jones on Nov. 15, 2002. Four of the teenagers were 15 and one was 14 at the time of their arrest. Four of the teenagers are alive and are in their 30s. One was killed last year.

Paul, now an NBA basketball player with the Oklahoma City Thunder, attended West Forsyth High School at the time of his grandfather’s death. A day after Jones was killed, Paul signed a letter of intent to play at Wake Forest University. [Source]

Coronavirus Prep

Hannah Smoot, Catherine Muccigrosso and Austin Weinstein, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/27/20

As national attention turns to the possible threat of the latest coronavirus strain spreading in parts of the world, North Carolina officials want to remind residents the risk remains low. There are still no confirmed cases of the virus in North Carolina, State Health Director Elizabeth Tilson said in a news conference Wednesday. But Charlotte businesses, hospitals and even churches are already preparing for the impact of the disease.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport is working with Mecklenburg County Public Health to monitor the virus, the airport said in a statement. If passengers tell staff they feel sick, the airport’s protocol is to call Medic. Many other Charlotte-area businesses are monitoring their offices and imports from China during the continued spread. For instance, Lowe’s Home Improvement CEO Marvin Ellison told the Observer the company is keeping an eye on any possible impacts from the virus. He said the majority of spring products imported from countries like China have already arrived in distribution centers and stores, or are in transit. “We don’t anticipate any supply chain disruption in the first quarter, which is really critical for us in the beginning of spring season,” Ellison said. “So we have no short-term concerns because of the coronavirus on our business.”

Wells Fargo and Charlotte-based bank Truist have been monitoring the situation, both banks said in statements. Bank of America, which is headquartered in Charlotte and has several branches in China, said that all of its offices are open and otherwise declined to comment. On Wednesday, the Financial Times reported that Wall Street banks, including Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, are planning to split their Tokyo staff into groups and “physically segregate” them for weeks at a time.

Hospitals are continuing to watch the virus’ spread as well. Novant Health infectious disease specialist David Priest said the hospital system has protocols in place to deal with emerging infectious diseases, including patient travel history screenings and a mask-wearing policy for certain symptoms. [Source]

Airport Exits

Richard Stradling, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/27/20

Drivers will soon notice the start of a multiyear effort to rebuild the Interstate 40 interchange at Airport Boulevard, just south of Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The beginning of the Airport Boulevard project means both RDU exits from I-40 will be under construction at the same time for more than a year, as workers finish overhauling the Aviation Parkway interchange a mile away. Earlier this month, contractors closed the exit ramp from eastbound I-40 onto Aviation Parkway so they could build a new section of the parkway to line up with the new bridge. The ramp is not expected to reopen until mid-April, according to NCDOT.

Homeland Security


Days before the primary, North Carolina is getting visited by the nation’s homeland security chief to talk about election security this year. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf planned a visit to Charlotte to meet on Thursday with local and state election officials. The State Board of Elections said Wolf was to tour a Mecklenburg County elections warehouse before a news conference with state elections Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell and Mecklenburg director Michael Dickerson. Election security is getting renewed attention as this year’s election approaches and with Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race. The nation’s intelligence chiefs warn that Russia, Iran, China and North Korea remain threats to interfere. [Source]

Confederate Symposium

Martha Quillin, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/27/20

A group of protesters will try to disrupt a Sons of Confederate Veterans symposium this weekend in Raleigh that is billed by organizers as an educational event and condemned by opponents as racist. The national Sons of Confederate Veterans has staged the Stephen D. Lee Institute annually in different cities around the South since 2003, inviting members to come listen as teachers, writers and researchers lecture about the Civil War, the Confederacy and Southern history. This year’s event, to be held Friday and Saturday at the Embassy Suites Brier Creek, is expected to draw 50 to 60 SCV members, spouses and friends, organizer Chris Sullivan said.

Sullivan said this is the first one of the events he’s aware of that has met opposition. That’s coming from Smash Racism Raleigh, described by co-founder Skye McCollum as a way to push for the removal or contextualization of Confederate monuments on the North Carolina Capitol grounds after protesters took down Silent Sam on the UNC campus in 2018. McCollum said in a phone interview that when she learned of the SCV’s institute coming to Raleigh, she tried to contact the management of the host hotel and its parent company, Winwood Hospitality, to ask them to bar the gathering. She said she enlisted the help of other members of the group to bombard the hotel with phone calls, but they got no response from management. McCollum said she and others also put fliers on cars parked at the hotel, telling customers about the SCV event in the hopes they would press hotel management to cancel it. By renting space for the institute, McCollum said, Embassy Suites is supporting white supremacy. Winwood did not respond to requests for comment from The News & Observer. [Source]

Frost Trial

Mackenzie Wicker, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES, 2/27/20

Former Buncombe County Commissioner Ellen Frost is set to appear in court March 30 after a federal judge shot down a request from her attorney to further postpone her trial. Frost, who served as commissioner from 2013-18, is accused of using taxpayer money to support various equestrian enterprises. The Black Mountain Democrat was indicted in July 2019 on charges of federal program fraud, conspiracy to commit federal program fraud and mail fraud. She pleaded not guilty later that month. In December, her attorney, Tony Scheer of Charlotte, requested what he called “a final continuance,” pushing Frost’s next court date from early February. He cited “negotiations” with prosecutors as one reason for the delay. It was the third postponement in the case.

But in a filing asking for yet another continuance, Scheer suggested a trial is pending and that he believes he needs more time to prepare for it. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. said the scale of the case was known when Frost was indicted and that he thinks the defense “can be prepared for trial as scheduled with the exercise of due diligence.” [Source]

Chapel Hill Marker

Tammy Grubb, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 2/27/20

Sixty years ago, nine young, black Chapel Hill men took a stand by sitting down that would inspire others to fight for racial justice and civil rights over the next decade. The story of the sit-in at the Colonial Drug Store has been overshadowed by the university’s presence and the role that college students played in the civil rights movement, says Danita Mason-Hogans, whose father David Mason Jr. was one of the Chapel Hill Nine. “Whose history is important and whose history is elevated says a lot about who the community thinks is important, too,” she said.

On Friday, the town will remember the Chapel Hill Nine with a historic marker at 405 W. Franklin St., where the whites-only Colonial Drug Store once stood. Today, it is home to the West End Wine Bar. The new marker is inscribed with the names and ages of the Chapel Hill Nine -- Mason, Jim Merritt, Clarence Merritt Jr., William Cureton, Albert Williams, John Farrington, Earl Geer, Douglas “Clyde” Perry and Harold Foster -- along with photos from the era. Four surviving members will attend the event, as will Foster’s sister Esphur Foster and Reginald Hildebrand, a retired UNC professor of African American studies and history and a member of the town’s Historic Civil Rights Commemoration Task Force. The town’s first poet laureate, C.J. Suitt, also will speak. [Source]

Police Vandalism


The Hickory Police received a proclamation from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper declaring the State is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information regarding vandalism at the police department. On Feb.14, Hickory Police discovered over 50 black half-inch metal tacks located in private and public parking entrances of the police department, according to a press release from the department. The tacks caused damage to 20 police and at least 10 civilian vehicles. The proclamation declared that the State is offering the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the vandalism. [Source]

Wilson 2nd Amendment

Lindell J. Kay, THE WILSON TIMES, 2/27/20

Coming off a successful meeting with local Republicans, Second Amendment sanctuary supporters plan to pack the house at Monday’s Wilson County Board of Commissioners meeting. Michael McCroskey has spearheaded the movement to see Wilson County join the more than 60 North Carolina counties that have passed resolutions showing support for the right to bear arms. Sanctuary supporters met with members of the Wilson County GOP on Tuesday. McCroskey said local Republicans were very supportive of his cause.

In response to McCroskey and news media questions, commissioners issued a statement late last week that says declaring Wilson County a gun rights sanctuary would be redundant because they’ve already sworn to uphold the Constitution, which includes the Second Amendment. “This oath is comprehensive and legally binding,” according to the statement. “Our oath applies to the entire U.S. Constitution and North Carolina Constitution and all amendments thereto. It is our job to ensure that county government operates in accordance with this oath.” Chairman Rob Boyette signed the statement and each commissioner’s name is listed beneath a heading that states “On behalf of the Wilson County Board of Commissioners.” [Source]

Facility Closed


An assisted living facility in Brunswick County has been ordered closed, and the director and several employees are facing criminal charges, officials said. Shallotte Assisted Living Community, owned by a Shelby-based company, received the suspension notice from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Service, which was dated Wednesday, news sources said. The center was to be shut down by 5 p.m. that day, according to the letter. The suspension said conditions at the facility presented “an imminent danger to the health, safety and welfare of the residents.” Rule citations include health care, residents’ rights, medication administration, and more. This stems from a complaint investigation initiated one week ago, news sources said. Center officials have 20 days to request a hearing, according to the state. [Source]

Salem College President

Neal Charnoff, WFDD RADIO, 2/27/20

The president of Salem Academy and College is stepping down. Sandra J. Doran announced Thursday that she’ll be leaving the Winston-Salem school at the end of this academic year. According to a news release, Doran has accepted the presidency of Bay Path University, a women’s college in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Doran was named interim president of Salem Academy and College in April of 2018. [Source]

Baby Advocate Award

Micki Bare, THE (Asheboro) COURIER-TRIBUNE, 2/27/20

Randolph Partnership for Children has received a 2020 Outstanding Baby Advocate Award. On Feb. 24, RPC Executive Director Lisa Hayworth accepted the award on behalf of the organization. The award was presented by the Think Babies NC Alliance and the NC Early Education Coalition during a luncheon at the Think Babies NC Think Tank and Celebration, held at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh. The awards are presented to individuals, organizations, businesses, and local or state policymakers who have increased public awareness or promoted programs and policies for babies and their families in North Carolina. [Source]

Legislative Studies and Meetings

LB: Legislative Building. LOB: Legislative Office Building

Wednesday, March 4

  • 9:30 a.m. | The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance, 1228/1327 LB.

Thursday, March 5

  • 9 a.m. | The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Information Technology, 1124/1224 LB.

  • 9 a.m. | The Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee, 1027/1128 LB.

  • 1 p.m. | The Joint Legislative Economic Development and Global Engagement Oversight Committee, 1027/1128 LB.

Friday, March 6

  • 9 a.m. | The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on General Government, 1124/1224 LB.
  • 10 a.m. | The Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee, 1027/1128 LB.

Monday, March 9

  • 11 a.m. | The Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee, 1027/1128 LB.

Tuesday, March 10

  • 9:30 a.m. | The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services, 1027/1128 LB.
  • 1 p.m. | The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice, 1027/1128 LB.

Wednesday, March 11

  • 9:30 a.m. | The Revenue Laws Study Committee, 1228/1327 LB.
  • 10 a.m. | The Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee, 1027/1128 LB.

Friday, March 13

  • 10 a.m. | The North Carolina Courts Commission, Subcommittee on Domestic Violence, NC State Bar, 217 E. Edenton St., Raleigh.

Monday, March 16

  • 10 a.m. | NC Child Fatality Task Force, 1027/1128 LB.

N.C. Government Meetings and Hearings

Items in RED are new listings.

Friday, Feb. 28

  • 10 a.m. | The State Judicial Council meets, North Carolina Judicial Center, 901 Corporate Center Dr., Raleigh.

Tuesday, March 3

  • 1:30 p.m. | The North Carolina Sentinel Landscape Committee meets, Hall of Fame Room, Agriculture Building, 2 W. Edenton St., Raleigh.
  • Cancelled | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Wednesday, March 18

  • 9 a.m. | The Real Estate Commission holds public hearing on proposed rule changes, NC Real Estate Commission, 1313 Navaho Dr., Raleigh.

Friday, March 19

  • 6 p.m. | The N.C. Division of Water Resources (DWR) holds public meeting on water quality, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A.B. Tech) Conference Center, 16 Fernihurst Dr., Asheville.

Thursday, March 26

  • 6 p.m. | The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries hold a public hearing on proposed shellfish leases in Onslow County, Sneads Ferry Branch Public Library, 1330 N.C. Highway 210, Sneads Ferry.

Tuesday, April 7

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Friday, April 17

  • 9:30 a.m. | The N.C. State Treasurer Teachers ‘and State Employees’ and Local Government Employees’ Retirement System Boards of Trustees host an association roundtable, Department of State Treasurer, Dogwood Conference Room, 1st Floor, 3200 Atlantic Ave., Raleigh.

Thursday, April 23

  • 9:30 a.m. | The N.C. State Treasurer Teachers ‘and State Employees’ and Local Government Employees’ Retirement System Boards of Trustees meet, Department of State Treasurer, Dogwood Conference Room, 1st Floor, 3200 Atlantic Ave., Raleigh.

Tuesday, May 5

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Wednesday, May 13

  • 10 a.m. | The Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission holds public hearing on proposed rule changes, Wake Technical Community College Public Safety, Training Center 321 Chapanoke Rd., Raleigh.

Tuesday, June 2

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Tuesday, July 7

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Friday, July 24

  • 9:30 a.m. | The N.C. State Treasurer Teachers ‘and State Employees’ and Local Government Employees’ Retirement System Boards of Trustees host an association roundtable, Department of State Treasurer, Dogwood Conference Room, 1st Floor, 3200 Atlantic Ave., Raleigh.

Thursday, July 30

  • 9:30 a.m. | The N.C. State Treasurer Teachers ‘and State Employees’ and Local Government Employees’ Retirement System Boards of Trustees meet, Department of State Treasurer, Dogwood Conference Room, 1st Floor, 3200 Atlantic Ave., Raleigh.

Tuesday, Aug. 4

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Tuesday, Sept. 1

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Tuesday, Oct. 6

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Friday, Oct. 23

  • 9:30 a.m. | The N.C. State Treasurer Teachers ‘and State Employees’ and Local Government Employees’ Retirement System Boards of Trustees host an association roundtable, Department of State Treasurer, Dogwood Conference Room, 1st Floor, 3200 Atlantic Ave., Raleigh.

Thursday, Oct. 29

  • 9:30 a.m. | The N.C. State Treasurer Teachers ‘and State Employees’ and Local Government Employees’ Retirement System Boards of Trustees meet, Department of State Treasurer, Dogwood Conference Room, 1st Floor, 3200 Atlantic Ave., Raleigh.

Tuesday, Nov. 3

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.

Tuesday, Dec. 1

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Council of State meets, Commission Room (#2009), Second floor of the Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury St., Raleigh.
  • 1:30 p.m. | The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund will hold an advisory committee meeting, Hall of Fame Room, Agriculture Building, 2 W. Edenton St., Raleigh.
  • 6 p.m. | The N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission meets, New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, 203 South Front St., New Bern.

UNC Board of Governors

UNC Center for School Leadership Development, 140 Friday Center Drive, Chapel Hill.

Friday, March 20

  • TBA | The UNC Board of Governors, C.S.L.D. Building, Chapel Hill.

Friday, April 17

  • TBA | The UNC Board of Governors, UNC Pembroke.

Wednesday, May 20

  • TBA | The UNC Board of Governors, C.S.L.D. Building, Chapel Hill.

N.C. Utilities Commission Hearing Schedule

Dobbs Building, 430 North Salisbury Street, Raleigh.

Monday, March 2

  • Staff Conference

Monday, March 9

  • Staff Conference

Monday, March 16

  • Staff Conference

Monday, March 23

  • Staff Conference

Monday, March 30

  • Staff Conference

N.C. Dept. of Environmental Quality

More Information:

Tuesday, March 17

  • 6 p.m. | The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) hold public hearing on proposed rule changes, Green Square Training Room 1210, 217 West Jones St., Raleigh.

Wednesday, March 18

  • 6 p.m. | The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) hold public hearing on proposed rule changes, Cape Fear Cape Fear Community College, Union Station, 502 N Front St., Wilmington.

Tuesday, March 31

  • 6:30 p.m. | The Division of Air Quality (DAQ) will hold a public hearing on draft air quality permits for Carolina Sunrock, Caswell County Historic Courthouse, 144 Court Square, Yanceyville.

Other Meetings and Events of Interest

Items in RED are new listings.

Monday, March 9

  • 1 p.m. | The North Carolina Bankers Association hosts Bank Directors Assembly, Raleigh Crabtree Marriott, 4500 Marriott Dr., Raleigh.

Tuesday, March 31

  • 11 a.m. | The N.C. Chamber holds annual meeting, Marriott Raleigh City Center, 500 Fayetteville St., Raleigh.

Tuesday, April 21

  • 9 a.m. | The N.C. Chamber hosts Women, A Force in Business, Charlotte Convention Center, 501 S. College St., Charlotte.

Friday, May 8

  • TBD | The N.C. Chamber hosts Transportation & Infrastructure Summit, Sheraton Imperial Hotel & Convention Center, 4700 Emperor Blvd., Durham.

Saturday, June 6

  • 6 p.m. | North Carolina Democratic Party holds 2020 Unity Dinner, 2411 Dunn Ave., Raleigh. Contact:

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