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On an overcast Saturday morning last August, Kevin Davis and I hunkered down at Ninth Street Bakery and hatched a plan. After a several years’ hiatus, he had recently restarted Bull City Rising, and, as a loyal reader of the blog, I was eager to chat with him about it. And, personally, I was still stinging from a one-two punch: The Wednesday prior, I had been abruptly “let go” from the INDY after nine years, eight of them as editor. My husband had been diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer and was undergoing radiation, which would not save his life, but hopefully prolong it. I had long considered BCR the INDY’s main competitor for Durham readers. BCR was smart, informed, analytical. Influential people read BCR. Kevin had great sources. He broke stories. Sometimes BCR beat the INDY. And I did not like getting beat. What would Kevin think about my joining BCR? Perhaps he would be game. In 2010, we had successfully co-moderated a congressional candidate forum between incumbent Democrat David Price and B.J. Lawson a Republican with Libertarian leanings. (Successful meaning the questions were thoughtful, the room was packed, and the police did not have to intervene. Democracy was served.) Fortunately, Kevin said yes. And over the next 11 months, he and I have worked together to again make BCR a go-to source for deeply reported, well-written news. In addition to the civic responsibility of election coverage, BCR often achieved what every respectable journalist wants: positive change. Our reporting... Continue reading
Posted Jul 17, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Former Duke University basketball star Christian Laettner was a great player — if despised by his rivals — but his money management skills are the equivalent of an air ball. The Wall Street Journal reported today (sorry, the story is behind a paywall) that five creditors are trying to force Laettner into involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The creditors claim that Laettner owes them a total of $14 million. The lawsuit was filed in the Middle District of North Carolina, which has courtrooms in Durham, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem. Documents field online show that all of the creditors are involved in real estate: Download Laettner lawsuit Randy Nietzsche of NSA-SP#3, LLC, in Minneapolis, claims he is owed $7.32 million; Ernest Sims III, of Raleigh, $1.48 million; Jonathan Stewart, of Raleigh, $3.62 million; Park Lane, IBS, LLC, of Los Angeles, $236,192; D&F DCU, of Newport News, Virginia, $1.382 million Chapter 7 bankruptcy is more serious than Chapter 13, which allows a debtor to reorganize and file a repayment plan. Under Chapter 7, the bankruptcy trustee liquidates the debtor's non-exempt assets (the definition of which can vary from state to state) and pays off the creditors. A lien also can be placed on a debtor's property. Even though Laettner earned a total of $61 million as an NBA player, his subsequent real estate deals, including the West Village development in downtown Durham, mired him in financial problems. In 2012, he was sued for $30 million by several of his pro colleagues, including Scottie Pippen.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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The average amount totals only about $30 per week, but for some people, this food stamp benefit is the difference between being fed and going hungry. Over the past five months, 1,172 fewer people in Durham received food stamps — also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — falling from 44,072 in January to 42,900 in May. According to N.C. Division of Social Services data, the number of active cases and applications also fell from the first of the year. (Click chart to enlarge it) Part of the reason for the decrease is new federal rules governing SNAP recipients, known as able-bodied adults without dependents. These are people ages 18-49 who meet certain criteria: they aren’t disabled, they aren’t chronically homeless and they aren’t substance abusers whose condition prevents them from working. However, for whatever reason — a criminal background, for example — they cannot find a job. These people would receive food stamps for only three months within three years, unless they volunteer or attend some type of training program an average of 20 hours a week. This year, 2,700 food stamp recipients in Durham were at risk of losing their benefits, according to Durham County Department of Social Services data. Durham is one of 23 North Carolina counties that have had to comply with the rules since January. The rules go into effect in the remaining 77 counties on July 1. As BCR reported in January when the rules went into effect, the unintended consequences of this... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2016 at Bull City Rising
This story has been updated on Wednesday at 3:49 p.m. While the state’s criminal investigation into the alleged mishandling of primary election ballots continues, the 892 Durham residents whose provisional ballots were in question in March will be allowed to re-vote by mail from July 11-22. Official results, with the new totals, are expected by August 12. However, the number of ballots in question will not affect the outcome of any contest, including the county commission. Even though state officials announced on May 31 that they would mail and count the ballots, the local board — surprisingly — will now be in charge of that process, said Durham Board of Elections Deputy Director Sam Gedman at a public meeting tonight. He referred to an email that local elections officials received from the state board today at 2:18 p.m. “It’s the first we had heard of it,” added local BOE member Margaret Cox Griffin. Update: On Wednesday, State Board of Elections spokesperson Jackie Hyland told BCR that the agency is preparing "formal guidance" for the local board. Hyland added that there is no update on the criminal investigation. The local meeting concluded after the State Board of Elections had closed for the day, so those officials could not be reached immediately for comment. In March, the Durham elections board had approved or partially approved 1,039 provisional ballots that had then been entered into the state’s election management system, also known as the provisional module. However, during the March 22 count, also... Continue reading
Posted Jun 28, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Courtesy of City of Durham/MdM Consultants Despite strong opposition from the Durham Rescue Mission, the city planning commission voted 7-4 Tuesday night to approve proposed boundaries for the Golden Belt local historic district. The local historic designation would help protect the character of what city consultant Cynthia de Miranda called, “Durham’s most intact historic millage village.” It is located on the east side of downtown, in an area that while still primarily affordable, has become vulnerable to gentrification. The area is bounded by Elizabeth Street to the west, and extends east across Alston Avenue to Holman Street. The northern boundary runs along the former Golden Belt factories and Taylor Street. The southern line includes parts of East Main Street and Morning Glory Avenue. In April, the Historic Preservation Commission also voted 4-0 for the district and the proposed boundaries. The State Historic Preservation Office also reviewed and approved them. The issue will now go to City Council for a vote. MdM Historical Consultants, who were hired by the city for the project, studied the history of the neighborhood and proposed the boundaries based on the historic period when the Golden Belt Manufacturing Company built houses for its workers in the mill village. Download Golden Belt Historic District Although over the past 100 years, some buildings have been demolished, “there is still a strong sense of place,” de Miranda said. Parts of the residential and commercial neighborhood have been on the National Historic Register since 1985. A local historic designation, which... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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While our attention is on Black Wall Street Plaza — and its uses, public or private — we wondered what was the point of the large gray, screened boxes in that green space. You know, the ones with the decorative cardinals peeping over the edge. If you guessed a Duke Energy electrical switchgear cabinet then you get free power for a year! (Offer not valid in the U.S.) The utility applied to the city to place these transformers in the plaza in 2010 as part of the Downtown Reliability Enhancement Project. Additional transformers are at a second site in a parking lot at 315 Holland Street, near the Durham Hotel. The cabinets in the plaza are 45 1/2 inches high. Each one takes up 37.78 square feet, according to documents filed with city. The entire project area is 108 square feet, about 1 percent of the total area of the plaza. Download Duke Energy_reliabilityproject Duke Energy paid a $1,010 fee to place the switchgear cabinets in the city-owned plaza. However, an official with the General Services department, which maintains the park, said the city doesn't receive an additional money, such as rent, for the space the cabinets consume. Download Duke Energy - Mangum Street Open Space Area Time Warner also has a utility box in the plaza, on the east side of Luna and near the sidewalk along Main Street. You are beautiful, but these cabinets aren't: A message written on the side of a Duke Energy switchgear cabinet in... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2016 at Bull City Rising
The air in East Durham might not get cleaner, but at least residents will know what they're breathing if a Senate bill introduced today becomes law. Senate Bill 895, "Disapprove Environment Management Commission Rules," would reverse a controversial rule that would exempt facilities that emit low levels of certain pollutants — up to 10 tons — from having to obtain an air permit. Fourteen of these facilities are in Durham; half of them in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Senator Terry Van Duyn, a Democrat from Buncombe County, sponsored the bill. It is scheduled to be introduced today in the Senate, which convenes at 2 p.m. As BCR reported in January, the Environmental Management Commission approved the rule, despite receiving 1,601 public comments opposing it and just five in favor. Ozone, carbon monoxide, lead and particulate matter are examples of criteria pollutants. The EPA has compiled a list of 187 hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, proven to cause cancer in humans, and naphthalene, a possible carcinogen. The problem is that while individually these facilities emit comparatively small amounts of pollutants, their cumulative impacts, especially when the businesses are clustered in low-income, minority neighborhoods, jeopardize residents’ health. And if there is a major polluter in the area, like Brenntag, even though it must have a permit, it still diminishes the air quality for nearby residents. The three low-level polluters on South Driver and South Plum streets still emit 4.5 tons of pollutants into the air each year, according to state data. These... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Earlier this week, two men — one, white with matching hair and silver-rimmed glasses, and the other, younger, black, tall, thin, with a close-cropped cut — were touring Goley Pointe, a problematic affordable housing community in Northeast-Central Durham whose final construction ran more than two years overdue. A passerby spotted them. “Bernie Sanders!” the passerby yelled at the white man. “And I’m Barack Obama!” replied the black man. Everyone laughed. Anthony Scott, new CEO of the Durham Housing Authority Dan Hudgins, board chairman of the Durham Housing Authority, who is white, told this story as a way of introducing Anthony Scott, the newly hired CEO of DHA, to the press and staff on Wednesday. Download News release dha In addition to extensive experience in affordable housing, both in the private and public sectors, Hudgins said, “Anthony also has a sense of humor.” Humor in its leadership be a departure for the housing authority, whose previous CEO, Dallas Parks, retired this month. Parks was not known for having a buoyant personality, and at times seemed gruff, even grim, as if leading a sprawling, underfunded agency was a situation to be endured, not a challenge to be embraced. Scott comes from Baltimore, where he was the deputy executive director of that city’s housing authority, the largest such agency in Maryland. He also worked as the CEO of the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, and has 12 years’ of experience in private development where he worked on creating affordable housing in southern California.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2016 at Bull City Rising
The meeting is starting about 30 minutes late because of an event Council attended this morning at the Lofts at Southside. We'll blog the highlights. Some interesting items on the agenda: 7. Resolution in support of Faith ID in Durham Download 11197_RESOLUTION_RESOLUTION_IN_SUPPORT_OF__390764_698889 45. Neighborhood Stabilization in NE Central Durham [This is a supplemental item, so we don't have documents on this yet.] 49. Amendment to building and services agreement between the City and Carolina Theatre [This is a supplemental item, so we don't have documents on this yet.] 2:12 p.m. Jillian Johnson: Proposals that meet our affordable housing goals should be fast tracked through planning, with additional staff in development services, we'll have the capacity. It will allow nonprofit developers to deliver housing more quickly. Steve Medlin, director of planning: Take it under advisement, asks council for guidance. We can do that. But it's not just the time but quality of submittals that come in. Re-reviews would take more time. We can establish an expedited program but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll get out the back end quicker. Don: If we expedite review, it should be the initial review. Tom Bonfield: If Council wants this, we can go back and see how this could happen. We'd want to take a look at this regardless of whether development services has extra staff. It potentially could impact many other departments. OK, it's 2:54 p.m. and Mel Norton is giving the presentation about stabilizing NE Central Durham. I'm hear on behalf of Durham For... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Looking at the corner of Main and Mangum streets, where the southern end of Black Wall Street Plaza is today. Date of the photograph is 1963. Note that Mangum Street is already one-way south. Courtesy of Durham County Public Library Photo owned by Rachel Middleton Brown, Robert Lee Middleton, Sara Middleton Mocrich “What defines a character of a city is its public space, not its private space. What defines the value of the private assets of the space are not the assets by themselves but the common assets. The value of the public good affects the value of the private good. We need to show every day that public spaces are an asset to a city.” -- Joan Clos, executive director, United Nations Human Settlements Program The Luna proposal died before it was born. Less than a week after a public meeting about the future of Black Wall Street Plaza — a quarter-acre of city-owned green space bordered by Parrish, Main, and Mangum streets — Shawn Stokes, the chef/owner of Luna Rotisserie, withdrew his inquiry into placing outdoor seating in a corner of it. “Based on feedback from the public discussion last Thursday, and subsequent coverage and commentary, we've decided to end our inquiry into a public private partnership to revitalize the space,” Stokes wrote to me in an email on Tuesday. Stokes opened his popular restaurant at 112 West Main Street last fall. Previously, he had served in the Peace Corps and USAID in South America. In rural Ecuador,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 9, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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The owners of Nosh and Piper’s in the Park received a $100,000 grant from the city to transform a blighted former gas station and church on West Chapel Hill Street into a restaurant. It was one of two neighborhood revitalization grants the city council awarded last night; the other was another restaurant project with different property owners on Angier Avenue. Wendy Woods and Stacey Poston originally had requested $170,000 in grant funding to supplement the $722,000 in private investment for the project. The city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development lowered that amount to $100,000. Council approved the grant unanimously. The West End is a “targeted area” for these types of economic incentives, said Chris Dickey of OEWD. “And this is a homegrown business.” Woods and Poston live nearby in the Burch Avenue neighborhood. “We’ve been trying to invest in a business in that area for a long time,” Woods told Council, including the old co-op building, which is now The Cookery. The new restaurant will create 36 jobs over three years, all of them paying a living wage. The menu prices, Woods added, would also be moderate and affordable to those living in the area. Councilwoman Jillian Johnson asked Woods if she was committed to hiring from the neighborhood. “Absolutely,” Woods replied. “I was brought up in Durham and will support my community.” The city invested in this neighborhood in 2014, awarding a $220,000 streetscape grant to Kent Corner; the money came from neighborhood revitalization funding and revenue from... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Update, Tuesday, June 7, at 12:50 p.m. We received arrived on what constitutes Black Wall Street Plaza: It is both the parcel with the gazebo along Orange Street (north side of Parrish) and extends to Main Street and encompasses what is colloquially known as Chickenbone Park. We contacted Aaron Cain, who is on the city planning staff, about this. The plaza on the north side of Parrish Street was dedicated as Black Wall Street Plaza a couple of years ago. Since then, improvements have been made to the parcels on the south side of Parrish Street, including the pergola, that mirror those on the north side. So, as part of a rebranding effort, the City administration has asked city staff to start referring to the open space on both the north and south sides of Parrish Street as Black Wall Street Plaza. Here is the lowdown: The city used the term "Chickenbone Park" in its press release so that only to make sure that those reading the press release would know which area we were addressing, again because it's the name that many people use. However, it's a term that City staffers avoid. ************** At Chickenbone Park, a fleck of green space in downtown Durham, about 20 people have gathered in the shade, seeking refuge from the noontime sun under the crape myrtle trees. Grocery bags bulging with belongings rest on the grass. “It may get better. It may get worse,” the preacher, an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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The legislature is as predictable as the Summer Solstice: Come June, budget season, it's time to swing the guillotine over the head of the Wright School. The school, which is on North Roxboro Street in Durham, serves kids with mental, cognitive, and emotional disabilities. For many kids, this school separates them from a future in the prison system. The proposed state senate budget directs the Department of Health and Human Services to halt any admissions or readmissions to the school, effective June 30. That's just a month for the parents of these kids to try to find, as the budget states, "other appropriate educational and treatment settings." The school would officially close on Sept. 30. Well, these very special facilities don't exist, at least not any significant amount. In fact, the Wright School is unique in its approach to helping these kids. I spent time at the Wright School for a story I published in the INDY in 2009, when the senate first made overtures toward closing it. I'm reprinting that story here (without the photos, which are wonderful but not mine; shot by Jeremy M. Lange). You can also see it archived on the INDY website. It was a heart-breaking, yet inspiring experience. Wright School 3132 N. Roxboro St., Durham, N.C. 27704; 919-560-5790 •Year started: 1963 •Average yearly enrollment: 55 •Number of slots available at one time: 24 •Ages served: 6-12 •Maximum length of stay: 6-9 months Trouble In Mind By Lisa Sorg Editor's Note: To protect their privacy,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Who and why, we don’t know, but what went amiss during the Durham primary in March has resulted in a state investigation, political gamemanship calling for a new primary, and a do-over for some people who cast provisional ballots. And arguably, the elections snafu is due in part to other factors: new voting regulations, including ID laws passed by the state legislature; a new crew of election judges and poll workers who were poorly trained to deal with the changes; and a baffling number of ballot styles, the result of gerrymandering by the state legislature. First, the math: The total number of ballots in question is 1,039. The State Board of Election voted unanimously yesterday to allow 892 people to re-vote in the Durham primary because their provisional ballots were mishandled. This summer, those voters, who were flagged in the polling books as casting provisional ballots, will be mailed new ones. The state counted 147 provisional ballots yesterday; those ballots were still in their envelopes with the voter information attached. Download Durham County_Presentation by the State Board of Elections. Since the total number of provisional ballots in question —1,039 — would not affect the outcome, the state board rejected calls for a new election from Commissioners Michael Page and Fred Foster, challenger Elaine Hyman, and their supporters. Those included Lavonia Allison of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and Anita Keith-Foust; both are pro-development, particularly pro-751 South. Foster and Page have long supported that controversial development. Even... Continue reading
Posted Jun 1, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Update, Sunday 11:35 a.m.: Commissioner Fred Foster Jr., the eighth-place finisher, filed a protest on Friday. While BCR was covering the spectacle otherwise known as the UNC Board of Governors meeting, Virginia Bridges over at The Durham News attended the Durham Board of Elections powwow. She reports that the local elections board isn’t ruling out the possibility of a do-over primary — if the state board asks for one — on account of the miscounting of provisional ballots in March. The state board meets Tuesday, May 31, at 1 p.m. At that meeting the state board will consider the protests filed by County Commissioner Michael Page, who came in sixth in a contest for five Democratic seats, and Elaine Hyman, the seventh-place finisher. Virginia’s story lays out the math, which, despite the protests, would not change the outcome of the five winners: Wendy Jacobs, Ellen Reckhow, Heidi Carter, Brenda Howerton, and James Hill. (Since there was no Republican primary, the winning Democrats are the de facto commissioners unless an independent candidate files for the fall; it’s happened before.) But as a thought experiment, let’s say Durham did hold a sequel to the March election — aside from costing taxpayers $500,000 and disenfranchising 80,000 voters. It’s doubtful that Page would improve his position, especially considering his recent vote to allow 751 South developers to delay required payments — for “cash flow” reasons — to the state for an environmental mitigation fund. A new primary could give Page more time to raise... Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2016 at Bull City Rising
Durham Housing Authority board voted unanimously to clarify the arrest policy for people applying for Section 8 vouchers. New language on the DHA website will specify that prior arrests without a conviction do not constitute proof of past unlawful conduct. An arrest alone will not preclude someone from applying or receiving a voucher. Applicants with felony convictions will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. A conviction alone might not disqualify someone from the Section 8 program. “We must look at the nature of it,” said board member Bo Glenn, accounting for mitigating circumstances such as the applicant receiving drug treatment. As BCR reported last week, Gudrun Parmer, director of the Criminal Justice Resource Center in Durham, which works with ex-offenders, had approached Glenn and board chairman Dan Hudgins about the housing crisis facing people leaving jail or prison. Glenn broached the issue based on a directive from federal housing and justice officials that gives local housing authorities leeway in accepting ex-offenders and people with an arrest record but not convictions into Section 8 programs and public housing. (Certain offenses are still off-limits: registered sex offenders and people convicted of felony meth distribution charges.) The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “states than an arrest alone can’t be grounds for denial,” Glenn said, noting that in the DHA administrative plan regarding Section 8, “the word arrest appears in nine places.” Nor can a voucher be withdrawn solely on the basis of arrest. Glenn was concerned that DHA would violate the... Continue reading
Posted May 26, 2016 at Bull City Rising
First, a key presentation is coming up early next month about the bike/ped plan. Whether you walk, bike, or drive, anyone who leaves his/her house should attend the city’s open house about the bicycle/pedestrian plan update. The event happens on Monday, June 6, at the Durham County Main Library, 300 N. Roxboro St., from 4 to 7 p.m. There will be maps, surveys, and interactive presentations, the latter of which occur at the top of each hour. (And then, civically minded readers, head over to City Hall for the City Council meeting.) Secondly I need to correct and/or clarify several points I made in writing about the state of Durham’s sidewalks in the May 8 post. I apologize for these errors and the lack of clarity. 1) I walked all of Dearborn Drive from Old Oxford Road — near Oxford Manor — to Maplewood Drive. Parts of this stretch southeast of Ruth Street don’t have sidewalks; however, according to the city’s transportation department, it is a separate project that did not score highly in the DurhamWalks! plan. This was not clear from the post. 2) The sidewalk petitions plan is no longer in effect; so if you want a sidewalk, you can petition City Council. If Council approves the petition, then your request goes into the project queue to be constructed when funding became available. In other words, no jumping to the front of the line anymore. In the comments section, there was a discussion about the sidewalk petition process.... Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Photo courtesy of Durham County As recently as two years ago, tumbleweed could have rolled down West Chapel Hill Street. Among the several empty storefronts and bleak parking lots, there was an odd, but endearing jumble of businesses, where you could drop your kid off at day care, get your windows tinted, have your leaky tire inflated or your transmission fixed, then grab a bag of chips at the convenience store. West Chapel Hill Street also represented Durham’s religious diversity. The Tabernacle of Joy, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, and the Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center shared a three-block stretch of the neighborhood known as the West End. Then, the city center began its renaissance and several homegrown businesses settled on the downtown’s western frontier in search of cheaper space or land: the Cookery, a Middle Eastern grocery, Taiba Market — and a year ago, Kent Corner, which includes the Durham Co-op and the Center for Child & Family Health. Now Wendy Woods, co-owner of Nosh and Pipers in the Park — and a resident of the adjacent Burch Avenue neighborhood — plans to renovate and expand a former gas station at 1200 W. Chapel Hill St. for a new restaurant. The building sits diagonally from Kent Corner. A church held services there from 2004-2013, but the 1,288-square-foot building has been vacant since. Woods’ company, Habitable Space, which has owned the building since 2015, is requesting a $170,000 city Neighborhood Improvement Grant to help fund the project. (Update: A City memo from April... Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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It's 1:17 p.m., and Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden is reading the agenda. Download Durham City Council Work Session Agenda - May 19 2016 While you're waiting, here are some items of interest: Morgan Street parking garage Download 11139_MEMO_PROPOSED_NEW_DOWNTOWN_PAR_389330_696396 Environmental cleanup of new site of Durham Police Department headquarters Download 11137_MEMO_POLICE_HQ_PGMP_1_DEMO_ABA_389031_696315 And a request for a neighborhood improvement grant by Wendy Woods, co-owner of Nosh, to open a restaurant at 1200 W. Chapel Hill St.. It was an old gas station, then a church, and is now vacant. It sits diagonal from Kent Corner. Download 11088_OTHER_HABITABLE_SPACE_LLC_PROJE_387975_690963 1:30 p.m. City Councilors receive health benefits while serving the city, but not after, unlike some city employees, depending on hire date. Question is whether City Council members who serve at least 10 years could pay into a health savings account, like employees hired after July 1, 2008. City makes a small contribution. Financial impact: $6K and change. Other option: The same situation, but councilors with 10 years of service would get city health insurance up to age 65. Over 65, the councilors would be available for a Medicare supplement, about $100 a month or so per member. Plus health insurance, it's another $6K to the city. Employees don't get this option. Councilman Steve Schewel: If City adds an entire group of qualified people, the insurance is mandatory, right? Yes. Councilman Charlie Reece: I don't think either of these options serve the taxpayers. Mayor Bill Bell: At some point in time, additional benefits should... Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Drew Doll had been living in transitional housing in Durham for four years when he finally found a nice apartment he could afford. And he had everything he needed to get it: money to pay the application fee and deposit. After applying for 137 jobs, on the 138th try, he was hired at a fast-food place and earning enough to make the monthly rent. But the property manager turned him down. “I asked myself, ‘Why in the world did I get rejected?’” Doll says. The apartment complex would not accept ex-offenders, even those convicted of non-violent crimes. Doll, a former accountant, was released from prison in 2010 after serving four years for embezzling $250,000 from an Apex business. So he turned to the Durham Housing Authority. “I thought they would be more accepting,” he says. “And lo and behold …” DHA also rejected him, even though by that time had had been out of prison for four years. Situations like Doll’s — hundreds of them — prompted Gudrun Parmer, director of the Criminal Justice Resource Center in Durham, to ask the DHA board of directors to consider relaxing its policy for public housing and Section 8 applicants who’ve been arrested or for ex-offenders. The Criminal Justice Resource Center offers caseworkers and social services — job training, transitional housing, counseling —for people who are re-entering society from prison. “The national trend to ease the rules, but that hasn’t translated to Durham,” Parmer says. Nationwide, as sentences expire, the number of inmates... Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2016 at Bull City Rising
Durham County Commission challenger Elaine Hyman joined incumbent and commission chairman Michael Page today in protesting the primary election results because of irregularities in counting provisional ballots. The State Board of Elections unanimously voted this afternoon to accept both protests; the SBOE is in charge of investigating the case. A discrepancy discovered by the Durham County Board of Elections showed that 200 provisional ballots were counted twice in order to get the numbers to match. According to the SBOE, 1,059 provisional ballots were cast in Durham, 759 of them Democratic. Even if all of those 759 ballots were cast for either Page or Hyman, neither would garner enough votes for the candidates to move on to the general election in November. Page placed sixth in a five-person race; he lagged behind James Hill, the fifth-place finisher, by 1,093 votes. However, Page told The Durham News that the entire election was tainted because of the provisional ballot problems. Hyman placed seventh, trailed Hill by 1,880 votes. There was not a Republican primary, so unless an independent candidate files for the fall election, it is assumed that the top five vote-getters will be the new commission: Wendy Jacobs, Ellen Reckhow, Heidi Carter, Brenda Howerton, and James Hill. Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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From the 751 South website Like a recurring rash, the controversial and gigantic 751 South project came before the Durham County Commissioners last night when the developers’ representatives requested yet another concession on their plan. Because of “cash flow issues,” Southern Durham Development asked the commission to delay the payment of its mitigation fees — $1 million — that the state requires for projects in the Jordan Lake watershed. The money would be funneled back into the watershed to pay for projects that help protect the lake, a source of drinking water for 300,000 people, including Research Triangle Park. But instead of paying when SDD files the site plan, which is common practice, although not formal policy, the company wants to wait until the certificate of occupancy is granted. While SDD had cited cash flow as a reason for the delay in the staff report, Dan Jewell contradicted the document. “This is the timing of the expenses and revenues, not that there is no money to do this.” said Jewell, who, with attorney Cal Cunningham, represented SDD. “To shift that payment would be of huge benefit.” Translate: It’s a money problem. The question: Benefit to whom? Last night’s meeting was reminiscent of the very public battles over the development from 2008–2010: The tension in the chambers, the tension on the commissioners’ faces, the unwillingness of SDD to compromise. And the outcome was the same. The developers got their way, in part by repeating their strategy the original fight: courting the... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2016 at Bull City Rising
Gov. Pat McCrory called the U.S. Justice Department's bluff, and the feds were not amused. McCrory missed today's deadline to respond to the department's mandate that North Carolina announce whether it intended to keep House Bill 2, and thus risk losing millions of dollars in federal funding for violating Title IX and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Instead, he sued the feds. And now the feds have sued North Carolina: McCrory, the Department of Public Safety, and UNC, including its board of governors. Download NC-DOJComplaint The complaint asks the court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent further violations of the law. "Defendants' compliance with and implementation of HB 2 stigmatizes and singles out transgender employees, results in their isolation and exclusion, and perpetuates a sense that they are not worthy of equal treatment and respect," the court filing reads. UNC is also a defendant because Margaret Spellings, the system president, issued a memorandum to all chancellors directing them to comply with HB2. Under the law, in public facilities (not private businesses) people must use the bathroom that aligns with the gender on their birth certificate. However, the law established no criminal penalties for violating it. The full court document quotes State Rep. Dan Bishop, who introduced HB2, as saying that "a small group of far-out progressives should not presume to decide for us all that a cross-dresser's liberty to express his gender nonconformity trumps the right of women and girls to peace of mind." Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2016 at Bull City Rising
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Rhega Taylor, director of the Housing Choice Voucher program (Section 8), and Jeffrey Causey, chief financial officer, are no longer with the Durham Housing Authority, effective last Friday. The DHA board of directors confirmed Taylor's and Causey's departures, although the circumstances of their terminations — whether they were fired or resigned — are unclear. DHA CEO Dallas Parks has not yet responded to requests for comment. Causey had been with DHA since 2007. Under Taylor's direction, the Section 8 program had recently encountered several problems. As BCR reported last fall, Taylor's department had erroneously told people who held vouchers for one-bedroom units that they could not use them for two-bedroom units. There has been a chronic shortage of one-bedroom units available for Section 8 voucher holders; HUD allows those people to upscale, as long as the subsidy covers the cost. And in December, a 21-page federal audit found DHA's Section 8 department paid more than $43,000 in ineligible fees and housing assistance, plus wrongfully received another $7,000 in administrative fees. Taylor's sudden departure also comes at a time when DHA is beginning a three-year process to convert its public housing properties to Section 8, also known as the RAD program. Steve Schewel, the City Council liaison to the DHA board, has repeated said he is concerned that there are not enough resources — staff or financial — to convert the hundreds of properties to private hands by the 2019 deadline established by HUD. Board minutes from November 2015 showed that... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2016 at Bull City Rising
A new House bill would allow North Carolina residents to vote on raising the state's minimum wage, plus give local governments more leeway in setting their own. House Bill 1046 would allow voters to decide in November whether to amend the North Carolina Constitution to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour, plus yearly cost of living adjustments. That's equivalent to about $18,000 a year in full-time wages. The federal poverty threshold for a single-person household is $12,331. Download Poverty thresholds In an apparent rebuke to House Bill 2, the legislation would also allow any public body to raise its minimum wage above the state's. One of the overlooked portions of HB2 is the prohibition against local governments to set a minimum wage that is greater than the one set by the state. That wage is the same as the federal amount, $7.25 an hour. Nationwide, including in Durham, social justice advocates have been demanding the hourly wage be increased to $15, equivalent to $31,000 annually in full-time wages. Last month, California and New York became the first states to do just that, although not immediately; their respective governors signed bills into law that stagger the increases. California will raise its minimum from $10 to $15 by 2022; New York will reach that benchmark around the same time, although workers in New York City could earn the new minimum by 2018. According to Raise the Minimum Wage, 29 states, plus the District of Columbia, have set their minimum wage... Continue reading
Posted May 9, 2016 at Bull City Rising