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Welcome to journalism, professor

Pretty funny letter to the editor in the N&R:

On March 23, the News & Record published article titled “The Law and Voter Turnout” under my name. The article was derived from a piece posted on the UNC School of Government website two-and-a-half weeks earlier. In the version published by the newspaper, the News & Record chose to omit significant portions of the original, rewrite other parts, and substitute its own graphics. Those changes were made without my knowledge or permission.

Michael Crowell

Chapel Hill

The writer is a professor of public law and government at the UNC School of Government. His article was shortened because of the late addition of a quarter-page ad in the Ideas section.

I searched ‘Michael Crowell op-eds’ and all I got was the aforementioned article, which leads me to believe he’s not used to working with newspapers. In which case, welcome to journalism, professor.


Civil rights museum fundraising tanking for years

Says who? Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, when asked about the International Civil Rights Museum’s e-mail to black journalists which claims that City Council member Zack Matheny has hampered fundraising:

Said Mayor Nancy Vaughan: “It was not a smart thing to do.”

“The civil rights museum is making it harder to support them every time we turn around.”

She also disputed the charge that Matheny had hurt the museum’s fundraising by criticizing it to benefit his congressional campaign. “Their fundraising has been tanking for years,” she said.

Ouch. Will be interesting to if any national media parachute in and how they would spin this issue. The museum’s transparent alright when they can control the message. Interesting how they talk about how transparent they’ve been with the city, yet they don’t want the city to publish it on their Web site. If it’s good enough for the city to see, it should be good enough for the public to see. At least you’d think.

Bonus observation: I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the museum that last Tuesday’s City Council meeting ran too long, postponing council’s “planned discussion” until Monday at 1:30, when the majority of the world is out earning a living.

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Closer look at Guilford County’s DSS mess

The Rhino’s Scott Yost writes-up Guilford County’s Department of Social Services debacle is a must read. It’s lengthy but a must-read—Yost lays it out the whole sordid affair pretty well.

Bottom line is former director Robert Williams either a) had absolutely no idea how food applications were backlogged; b) knew exactly how many applications were backlogged and was trying cover his arse in front of county commissioners and DSS board; or —last but not least —a combination of both:

When asked why, in February, he had reported that there were just a handful of remaining backlogged applications after a concerted effort to address delinquency, he pointed out that those numbers he gave the commissioners were from the state. Of course, as the state makes clear, the numbers in that state report were provided by the Guilford County DSS.

..When Williams was asked what day he found out the number was actually 8,100, he said, “I don’t remember exactly, but by Monday [March 24].”

Before that moment, sometime last week, Williams said, he believed it was 3,100 in Guilford County, and, he added, the county was still attempting to address that backlog on its own.

“Being real honest, we didn’t think is was 8,100,” he said. “We thought it was more like 3,000. At 3,000, we could have handled it. I was telling the board 3,000, we can handle this.”

Commissioner Ray Trapp –who also serves on the DSS board –said “that now he feels embarrassed that he praised DSS.” Politicians don’t like being sold out by staff; just ask former Greensboro city attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan. Trapp has taken on this issue; he should diligently pursue answers to the many questions surrounding this mess.

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Where was the N&R?

OK, I was going to let this go, but turns out I’m not the only one to notice this interesting tidbit in the N&R’s write-up of the heated discussion between the Greensboro City Council and International Civil Rights Museum leaders:

It got off to a bad start when a reporter from the Rhino Times showed up — the News & Record wasn’t in attendance — launching museum officials and council members into a debate about whether the meeting was public.

I was going to assume that the N&R was late to the meeting –just as they were apparently late to Department of Social Services board meeting that resulted in director Robert Williams’ resignation:

About 10 minutes after the board went into closed session, a woman arrived at the door and taped a piece of paper over the door window of the small conference room to keep anyone from seeing inside the room. The closed session was held on the third floor of the building.

Shortly before 9 a.m., Guilford County Security Director Jeff Fowler told the Rhino Times reporter – the only reporter there – to move farther away from the door since the Rhino was “within earshot.”

Admittedly the Rhino wasn’t on top of the county’s food stamp backlog—- usually when you read a big county government story in the N&R on Friday or Saturday you read it first in Thursday’s Rhino. And it is possible the reporters were simply late to the meetings — no reason to rush, since they do go on forever. But once again it looks like our local paper of record has ceded reporting of two hot-button issues to the local weekly. Yes, it may seem like I go out of my way to criticize the N&R, but most of the time opportunites just drop into my lap.


Guilford food stamp backlog resolved; DSS director resigns

Guilford County Department of Social Services Director Robert Williams resigned Monday morning during a three-hour closed session by the DSS board. The meeting was called in the wake of Guilford’s food stamp backlog, which employees worked over the weekend to resolve, costing the county thousands of dollars in overtime pay.

The Rhino reports:

About 10 minutes after the board went into closed session, a woman arrived at the door and taped a piece of paper over the door window of the small conference room to keep anyone from seeing inside the room. The closed session was held on the third floor of the building.

Shortly before 9 a.m., Guilford County Security Director Jeff Fowler told the Rhino Times reporter – the only reporter there – to move farther away from the door since the Rhino was “within earshot.”

At some point between 9 a.m. and 9:50 a.m., Williams must have gone into the room, because at 9:50 a.m., Williams left the room carrying a briefcase. He got on an elevator.

At 10:06 a.m., a board member came out of the closed session and told a social services employee to call security.

She made an announcement over the DSS public address system: “Security, please report to the third floor; security, please report to the third floor.”

Question is what happens next —the Rhino earlier reported that the Board of Commissioners is considering combining DSS and the Department of Public Health “into one giant Guilford County department of human services that would have a budget of over $100 million and about 990 employees.”

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W-S $175m bond

Winston-Salem Journal reports City Council members are reaching a consensus on a $175m bond package:

City administrators recently showed council members scenarios for bond packages that totaled $125 million and $200 million, including $17.5 million in improvements to Benton Convention Center that would not be taken to the public for a vote.

…The bonds will be grouped by category for the voters to approve or disapprove. Under the consensus proposal, voters would be asked to decide on bonds totaling $157.5 million, with the $17.5 million in convention center improvements added to that to bring the total to $175 million.

The bond proposal would include $35 million for community and economic development, $31 million for public safety, $30.85 million for recreation and $60.65 million for transportation.

The city hopes to have a final package for the ballot by May.

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Stories in this weekend’s local paper of record don’t inspire a lot of confidence in our local elected officials. Guilford County Commissioner Ray Trapp on the county Department of Social Services food stamp backlog:

“The entire state is watching us and we don’t know what is going on,” Trapp, who is on the DSS board, said Saturday. “That’s not a good situation to be in.”

Trapp said Saturday night that he had not received any updates. He said the county department’s silence is frustrating for the entire DSS board. Most of what he has heard has come from media reports, Trapp said.

“I would expect that when we have a situation of this magnitude, we would have a call at least every morning and possibly every six hours or so,” Trapp said. “And we have not received that.”

Board of Education member Ed Price on the Fairfield Elementary School housecleaning:

“I’m excited that something is being done,” said Ed Price, a school board member who represents High Point. “I don’t have the answers for Fairview, I’m not that smart.”

But sometimes new people can make a difference.

“The key to me is not the two or three years of a turnaround,” Price said. “It’s where are you in five or six years when those resources are gone?”

I realize that’s just Price’s aw-shucks self-deprecating humor. But when he talks about resources, it seems to me Fairview has had plenty of access to resources over the course of principal Rhona Copeland’s nine-year tenure.

As for DSS, Trapp’s right –this is a statewide (and probably national) embarrassment for Guilford County, worthy of a Moral Monday protest, if only they protested incompetence. Director Robert Williams should lose his job over this mess, which is also costing the county thousands in overtime pay.

Rhonda Copeland, however, “is likely to be offered a position at another district school.”

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New Dash stadium lease

Winston-Salem Journal reports negotiations on a new lease for city-owned BB&T Ballpark and a new majority ownership group for the Dash:

City leaders said the advantage of the new deal for the city is that the ballpark will no longer be collateral for a short-term $15 million construction loan that the Dash secured in 2009. The city will also net $4 million from lease payments over the 25-year period of the lease.

City leaders are also stressing that the deal is being structured so that the lease payments from the Dash — not public tax revenue — are covering the debt payments on the ballpark.

Word has it that the new ownership group includes Jerry Reinsdorf, who both the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox, which is the Dash’s parent club.

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Tree hugger’s wrath

N&R reports on an incident right up the street from me:

Attention, tree lovers of Greensboro:

The red ribbons recently placed on trees in Green Hill Cemetery are part of a plant inventory.

They do not, repeat, DO NOT indicate plans for tree removal.

Apparently, someone made that assumption this past weekend and removed some 300 ribbons from trees and shrubs placed there by a professional botanist who is donating his time to inventory the plants in this 52-acre cemetery.

“You would think that if somebody had a question, they would call and ask,” city cemetery supervisor Mike Moye said. “I’m not sure what they hoped to accomplish.”

Trust me, way too many persons of interest here in tony Fisher Park to speculate on who done it.

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N&R politicizes murder-suicide

The N&R’s Doug Clark takes a cheap political shot in the wake of yesterday’s tragic double murder suicide:

Our legislature is so tightly controlled by the gun lobby that it granted a demand to make gun permits — formerly public records — confidential.

So a woman, possibly threatened with death by her husband or boyfriend, is not entitled to know if he has a permit to purchase a handgun.

It’s apparently none of her business.

So, did Menice Montell Smith have a permit to purchase the handgun he carried with him on his rampage yesterday?

Thanks to our gun-lobby-owned legislature, you don’t have a right to know.

In the words of Hillary Clinton following Benghazi —-what does ti matter now? I’m not going to embark on the typical permits for crowbars argument, despite the fact that police were first alerted that Smith was on his insane rampage by the victim who had the hell beat out by a crowbar. One of Smith’s murder victims “was beaten so badly police police could determine a cause of death” –so is it unreasonable to assume she was beaten to death with the same crowbar?

Yes Smith shot his second murder victim and eventually shot himself following a police chase. But this guy was a loaded weapon, period. Yesterday’s N&R cover story reported Smith “had a history of complicated relationships with women. In fact, the former girlfriend held by police for her own protection had taken out a restraining order against Smith:

But at a later hearing, Judge Susan Bray refused to extend it because “the plaintiff had failed to prove grounds,” court records show.

According to court records, Brown said Smith had threatened her in the presence of law enforcement officers. But Smith wasn’t arrested.

Bray said Tuesday she can’t recall the details of the case.

“Typically officers would arrest someone if a threat was made in their presence,” Bray said.

“And so I must not have believed that he threatened her in the presence of officers, or otherwise he would have been arrested. I’m assuming that’s why I did not issue the order.”

So I hope Clark is as outraged at Judge Bray for not extending the restraining order, as if Smith were prone to obey restraining order— probably about as prone as he would be to dutifully get a permit for his gun.

Smith was set on a tragic and violent course, and heaven help the women in his path. It defies explanation and, certainly, politics. I would say we should expect more from out local paper of record than to politicize such a tragic event. But we’ve just come to expect less for so long now.

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