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Did Thom Tillis cut $500m from public education?

Out of all the accusations tossed back and forth during last night’s debate between Sen. Kay Hagan and Rep. Thom Tillis, I’d say Hagan’s charge that Tillis cut $500 million in education spending in North Carolina is the biggest because Hagan used a finite number to making a supposed statement of fact.

So is Hagan’s accusation true? Well, PolitiFact did some checking. Note who makes an appearance:

Reductions in federal and local education spending — as well as funding shifts due to rising charter school popularity — could also be a major reason why schools feel as if their funds have shrunk, despite a steadily increasing state budget, said Terry Stoops, director of research and education policy at the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina think tank that promotes limited government. He added that between 2010 and 2013, federal funding to North Carolina schools dropped by $337.6 million.

Here’s the bottom line “(i)t’s important to note that the Legislature’s choosing to fund at levels lower than the continuation budget is not a literal budget cut. In raw dollars, the state is spending more money than in previous years.” In other words, when you give any government entity more money than they received the previous year but not as much as they asked for, then in their minds it’s a “cut.”

With that in mind, PolitiFact concludes Hagan’s statement is “literally wrong,” but considering N.C.’s budget “spent almost $500 million less than what was requested to maintain the status quo, accounting for inflation and increased costs of various services,” it was upgraded to “half true.”

And we remember what our mothers taught us about “half truths.”

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Supreme Court denies Kalvin Smith appeal

Obviously the focus of yesterday’s Supreme Court action was the decision to let stand appeals court rulings allowing same-sex marriage in five states, which many believe paves the way for the overturn of Amendment One in North Carolina.

But another case before ran under the radar— the court denied an appeal by attorneys for Kalvin Michael Smith, who is serving a 29-year prison sentence for the 1995 beating of Jill Marker:

James Coleman, one of Smith’s attorneys, said the decision wasn’t a surprise. Coleman filed the petition in May, arguing that Forsyth County prosecutors suppressed or destroyed evidence that would have been favorable to Smith’s case. Smith has now lost all federal appeals. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles denied Smith’s appeal in June 2013, and the 4 th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that decision earlier this year.

Smith’s legal fight is not over, however —his attorneys will return to Forsyth County Superior Court and seek an overturn to a judge’s 2009 decision to deny Smith’s appeal.

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Hagan: Just playing by the rules, again….

CJ’s Don Carrington reports a company owned by the husband of Sen. Kay Hagan used $250k in federal stimulus to funds to —this is ripe —–hire his own company:

Public records show that Green State Power was formed seven weeks before JDC Manufacturing — a company owned in part by Greensboro attorney Charles “Chip” Hagan III, Sen. Hagan’s husband — received the stimulus grant for the solar project at a 300,000-square-foot facility in Reidsville, N.C.

A story in late September on the Washington, D.C.-based website Politico revealed that JDC Manufacturing received “nearly $390,000 in federal grants for energy projects and tax credits created by the 2009 stimulus law, according to public records and information provided by the company.”

The story reported that JDC “was one of 27 in North Carolina to be awarded funds for energy-efficient projects, to the tune of about $250,000. The company received the money in 2011, after the first phase of the project was completed in late 2010.”

Hagan has denied helping her husband secure the stimulus funds directly —do I even need to remind anyone that she voted that she voted in favor of President Obama’s stimulus package?—-adding that “a respected ethics attorney was consulted to ensure that it was appropriate, and the attorney found that it was,” according to her spokeswoman.

Of course the rules are for everyone to play by — Politico adds that Hagan opponent Thom Tillis “voted in 2010 to allow the state to participate in the federal renewable energy tax credit program, which benefited a bank in which he owns at least $50,000 in stock.”

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UNCG chancellor — It ain’t me

N&R stays on the UNCG time sheet scandal, reporting Chancellor Linda Brady sends out two emails claiming UNCG police and the Guilford County District Attorney’s Office initiated the felony charges, not campus officials:

When alerted to the fact that an audit of University Relations equipment found evidence of misconduct, Campus Police contacted University Relations to secure the evidence. Campus Police conducted an independent investigation and reviewed the evidence. Campus Police then presented the evidence to the District Attorney’s office. The District Attorney’s office reviewed the evidence, determined that there was sufficient evidence to warrant felony charges, and agreed to go forward with prosecution of those charges. No University administrators provided input or direction to Campus Police or the District Attorney’s office regarding the pursuit of criminal charges.

Still, the question remains—who requested the audit and why? And why wasn’t the administration notified when administrative employees were about to be charged with a crime that allegedly took place on university time?

The university’s Board of Trustees is meeting this morning, but —you guessed it —state law does not require the board to reveal the name of the employee whom they will discuss. While there are many more questions here, count on the fact that Brady and her administration will do everything they can to keep this situation under wraps.


Cop camera questions

I attended the forum sponsored by the City of Greensboro on body-worn police cameras. So did N&R ed page editor Allen Johnson, who writes:

If I were to sum up the most important takeaway from this week’s superb panel on police videos, it is the sheer backwardness of the city’s approach to the technology. At least so far.

We rolled out the technology without a clear policy on who gets to see the video.

We held the first public discussion about that question more than a year after the cameras were deployed.

And, most important, we built access to the footage based on a totally backward hierarchy: the police came first and the general public came last, if at all.

Note who responds to Johnson’s post —-none other than former Greensboro Police Chief Ken Miller, who is now chief down in Greenville S.C.

Miller writes:

The GPD policy on release of information actually follows the law of North Carolina, despite N&R attempts to characterize it to the contrary. The N&R would have GPD violate the law to serve its own prurient interests.

3. Until the law of North Carolina is changed, it restricts the release of personnel or criminal investigative records except under certain conditions….

While the panel did a good job of probing the many unknowns —including the lack of case law regarding videos as public records —-their bottom line was Gboro will linger in a legal no man’s land until state law is clarified. And good luck with that, at least any time soon.

NYT also probed the issue, in the process raising many more questions:

But the spread of police body cameras is also raising concerns about what is recorded, when and how video might be released to the public, and how the millions of hours of video will be archived and protected from leaks and hackers. Some police unions worry that videos could become tools of management, used by higher-ups to punish an officer they do not like, or that private conversations among officers could go public.

The rising use of cameras has put the police in a complex and uncertain landscape of public records law.

To say the least.

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More UNCG time sheet scandal

N&R follows up on UNCG’s time sheet scandal.

The story mentions that former University Relations employee Lyda Carpen —charged with five counts aiding and abetting obtaining property by false pretenses—-is a mother of two. And the sidebar includes this quote from a former colleague:

Ben Ramsey, the director of UNCG’s new University Teaching and Learning Commons, said he is profoundly saddened by the treatment of Carpen, a friend, former colleague and former student of his. Ramsey, also an associate professor of religion, told the Faculty Senate meeting that he was especially bothered by the thought of Carpen being handcuffed at the UNCG police station in front of her children.

“That may have been necessary. That might have been right,” Ramsey said. “But I hope that the leaders of this university can bend down on their knees and face those children and be able to say what we did was just.”

Evidently the N&R is concerned about the children’s welfare in the wake of their mother’s arrest, which in turn makes me wonder about the decision to publish her mug shot front on the front page— above the fold— in today’s print edition.

Still unclear is whether or not UNCG is following state law by pressing charges against Carpen and her former co-workers or if this is some type of vindictive retribution in defense of Associate Vice Chancellor Paul Mason, who has been accused of creating a hostile work environment in the university relations department?


Testy Guilford County sales tax hike debate

N&R report on last night’s forum debating Guilford County’s proposed quarter-cent sales tax hike. Read how some tax proponents reacted when Rep. Jon Hardister dare suggested that Guilford residents are taxed enough:

At several points during the forum, members of the audience laughed at Hardister, talked over him or shouted out rebuttals to his arguments. Most were in reaction to his claim that the General Assembly has dramatically increased funding for public schools in the last few years.

Given the fact that the sales tax hike has failed three previous times here in Guilford, seems to me the burden of proof that it’s necessary falls on proponents. The way I see it they’re not going to win many votes with this type of behavior, even if the money (ostensibly) will go toward —you know it —-the children.

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UNCG time sheet scandal

N&R reports on the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s time sheet scandal.

Summing it up — three former employees of UNCG’s university relations department —have not only been fired but are also being criminally charged —two with obtaining property by false pretenses and the other with aiding and abetting obtaining property by false pretenses. The charges stem from freelance work the employees —both staff photographers—- allegedly performed on the university dime. If convicted the three former employees could face months in prison.

As you can probably imagine I’m not down with public employees fleecing taxpayers, but by the same token I find it odd that my alma mater —- through which who-knows-how many millions of taxpayer dollars flows all the while continuing to make college unaffordable for middle-class families (which in my opinion is criminal) throw the book hard at three employees over roughly $2,000.

Add to this UNCG’s tight-lipped official response and a letter from three other former employees describing the “hostile work environment” and “deplorable treatment” of employees by Associate Chancellor Paul Mason, and makes one wonder if this situation is what it appears to be.


Crossover endorsements in 6th District race?

High Point Enterprise reports 6th District Congressional candidates Mark Walker and Laura Fjeld are touting their so-called “crossover endorsements.”

Yesterday —lookee here— registered Democrat Rev. Odell Cleveland–pastor of Greensboro’s Mount Zion Baptist Church —announced he was supporting Walker. No doubt Rev. Cleveland –who is African-American (not that race matters in a political campaign {ha}) is aware of Walker’s recent comments regarding our neighbor to the south Mexico and is not bothered by them.

Meanwhile the HPE is using Professional Firefighters of Greensboro Local 497’s endorsement of Fjeld as an example of a crossover endorsement because the union had supported incumbent Rep. Howard Coble in past elections.

But —all due respect to our local first responders —is a union endorsement of a Democrat really an example of a “crossover endorsement?” Seems to me PFG’s endorsement of Coble in past elections represents a true crossover, and its endorsement of Fjeld in the upcoming elections represents to true political alignment.

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Tobacco, schools and the quarter-cent sales tax hike

A friend passes along this interesting Pro Publica article on the fallout from the historic 1998 tobacco settlement to help states pay for the health care costs of smoking.

Long article, lots going on —- Wall Street greed, high-risk debt, overly optimistic predictions of how much people would continue to smoke to support the settlement, etc.

But here’s what jumped out at me:

Critics have repeatedly lambasted the states and other jurisdictions for violating the intent of the tobacco settlement by spending the money on uses other than anti-smoking programs and health care.

States wouldn’t do that, would they—any more than a county—like, I don’t know, Guilford— would say that proceeds from a quarter-cent sales hike would go toward schools and then spend the money toward other purposes?

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