Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The "What Me Worry?" Governor, And Why He Should Worry

Bob Geary is boldly predicting that Governor Pat McCrory is toast in the 2016 election. Geary also suggests that all those Republican retirements from the General Assembly have been prompted by the lead-pipe cinch that our Republican General Assembly will be dealing with a Democratic governor, come 2017.

I totally agree with Geary on the first point, but I'm not so sure about the second. Republicans love being in the opposition. They're actually much better at opposition than they are at positive governing (witness our current state of affairs).

I tend to think that all those retirements signal nervousness about a rising tide that might sink all yachts. They don't want to lose. Losing is very much in the air for the Republican agenda in North Carolina. How much horse dung do you expect people to ingest before they discover a bad taste in their mouths?

Anyhoo, borrowing wholesale from Bob Geary, here are the little Gov. Squishy scandals that he thinks will be the cumulative wooden stake driven into the chest of a hollow man:

The side conversation.

McCrory convened a private meeting in Charlotte that led, according to official memos unearthed by The News & Observer, to McCrory contributor Graeme Keith's company retaining a lucrative contract to clean prisons, over the objections of prison officials. Keith is quoted as asking for "something in return" for his campaign cash. McCrory claims he didn't hear him because he was talking to someone else at the time.

Services galore.

McCrory's Department of Health and Human Services has thrown so much money at no-bid contracts and inflated salaries for Republican cronies—with such dubious results—that U.S. Attorney Thomas Walker has opened an investigation.

Vouch for what?

Under the voucher plan signed by McCrory, the state is sending checks worth millions of dollars to private "schools" that barely merit the name. Veteran state Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Smithfield, visited one in his district. "It's in the back of a church, and it has like 10 or 12 students. And one teacher. Or one and a half," Daughtry told a legislative committee. "[It] didn't seem to be a school that we would want to send taxpayer dollars to."

Who, me?

Under a $650 million contract with the state, a private company has begun adding toll lanes to I-77 north of Charlotte. Toll lanes it will own. Whatever you think of this idea, vast numbers of suburban Republicans in North Mecklenburg and Iredell counties think it's corrupt. They're demanding that McCrory put a stop to it. McCrory's position? He let it start, and now says it's too late to turn back.

Troubled waters.

Pollution threatens Jordan Lake in Chatham County, the source of a lot of the Triangle's drinking water. The state spent years developing a plan to attack the problem. But under McCrory, to the delight of lake-adjacent developers, the plan was pushed aside. Instead, the McCrory administration paid $2 million to a company to rent 36 floating "water mixers" for a tiny portion of the lake. After a year, the whirligigs don't seem to be helping—hardly a surprise!

Monday, December 28, 2015

NCGOP: There's No Fighting Like In-Fighting

Rep. David Lewis
Civil war breaks out among Republican members of the General Assembly, and it ain't patty-cake. The most conservative members are accusing establishment leaders of being no better than jail-bird Democrat Jim Black.

Current target of backbiting and bitterness: NC House Rules Chair David Lewis of Dunn, strongly suspected of "pay-to-play" favoritism and of putting his thumb on legislative scales. (Lewis had previously been implicated in another cronyism scandal, so the charges are mounting up against The Man Who Would Be Speaker.)

Chief accuser of Lewis: Rep. Justin Burr of Albemarle, whose bill to save money on mandated printing ofcourt decisions, got modified by Lewis at the last minute (according to Burr) to protect the financial interests of one of Lewis's donors.

The printing contract held by New Bern businessman Owen Andrews is worth, on average, about $350,000 annually, and Rep. Burr's bill would have shut down that money spigot. But businessman Andrews is and has been a dependable donor to Lewis.

March 4, 2015: A House judiciary committee signed off on Burr's bill and sent it to a budget committee for further review.

June 9: Burr's bill gets removed from the budget committee and referred to the Rules Committee, which Lewis chairs.

July 22: With Burr out of state, Rules met to consider changes to the bill, with Lewis leading the meeting. Lewis changes the bill to keep the money flowing to his donor businessman Andrews.

Burr's bill next went to the Finance Committee. There, Rep. Mike Hager, a Rutherfordton Republican, House majority leader, and conservative rival to Lewis, returned the bill to its original form, eliminating the mandate for the printing of the court reports. That version passed through that committee and was approved unanimously by the full House, including Lewis, in mid-August. But Burr's bill never passed the Senate.

Ethics Complaint Filed Against Lewis
Jump to December 2015: Rep. George Cleveland, a Jacksonville Republican, filed a complaint against Lewis with the General Assembly's Legislative Ethics Committee, dealing with the previous pay-to-play accusations investigation bythe News&Observer -- that Lewis protected the state contract of a company run by Lewis' friend and campaign donor, Rickie Day.

Both donors now implicated as favored cronies of Lewis -- Owen Andrews and Rickie Day -- inexplicably got their names, occupations, and/or businesses mis-reported or misspelled in Lewis's campaign finance reports filed with the state Board of Elections, making investigation of pay-to-play activities more difficult. If done deliberately, the misspellings were a juvenile and transparent cover-up.

Reps. Burr and Hager joined Rep. Cleveland to form a potent whistle-blowing trio against Lewis. Burr and Hager suggested that discrepancies in Lewis's finance reports "were done intentionally to try to mislead the public about who was giving to his campaign." Rep. Burr said, "Once is an error. Twice is a pattern."


"Lewis and Hager, as Rules chairman and majority leader, respectively, are two of the most powerful House members. The fact that they are feuding so openly points to serious divisions among House Republicans. In speaking out against Lewis, Hager cited a need to 'defend the integrity of the caucus'."

The feud has broken out into the public and not only in the pages of the state's daily newspapers. Tea Party blogger Brant Clifton has his longknives out for Lewis (and for also-tainted-with-financial-irregularity-allegations Tim Moore, who is the current Republican Speaker of the House).

All of this is not a good look for the North Carolina Republican Party, currently going into a crucial election year.

Catching Up With the News: HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa!

Donald Trump groupie and paint remover expert Ann Coulter pushed Pat McCrory for Trump's vice president.

Why? To prove there are exponentially worse picks than Sarah Palin?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Franklin Graham Quits the Republican Party

Someone should send the Party a sympathy card.

Franklin Graham's snit-fit is all over the funding of Planned Parenthood, about which Graham reportedly got linguistically vivid on his Facebook page.

But what about Graham's local puppet, Republican Deanna Ballard, for whose benefit Sen. Dan Soucek engineered a fast one and withdrew from the race last week? Is Deanna Ballard now a political orphan? Is Franklin suggesting that he'll step back from that local race because the Republican Party disgusts him?

No. He's not saying that. The man's not a fool. He's a power broker, and he needs his person in the Senate in Raleigh.

Not a fool but consistently bent in strange directions. He praised the narcissistic tyrant Vladimir Putin (granted, he praised him for persecuting gays), and he says he really really likes the narcissistic Donald Trump. Does Franklin Graham know that Donald Trump was pro-choice all his life? Oh, he says now that he's pro-life, but Donald also says he reads the Bible and that all of it is his favorite. Trump is also pretty squishy about gay rights.

Maybe Donald Trump is a fool after all. He's certainly his own species of narcissist.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Franklin Graham's Hand-Picket Candidate Will Have a Primary

Ken Bohum
Surprise! Not every Republican is willing to bow down to what Franklin Graham wants in the way of a senator representing Dist. 45 in the NC General Assembly.

Deanna Ballard, a Samaritan's Purse employee beholden to Franklin Graham, filed for the Dan Soucek Senate seat minutes after Dan Soucek, a Samaritan's Purse employee beholden to Franklin Graham, withdrew from the race.

Nearly at the last minute yesterday, Ken Bohum, the long-time and now retiring president of Caldwell Community College, filed for the same seat and will trigger a Republican primary with Ballard on March 15.

We consider the Bohum candidacy a sign of two things: (1) Caldwell County, which contains around 40% of the primary voters in Dist. 45, intends to vie with Watauga County for the privilege of having a representative in the NC Senate.

(2) Soucek's sorry and downright disgraceful voting record on education gets a new comeuppance with Bohun's filing.

Town of Boone Intercepted Emails: Or, The Willful Ignorance of the Spotless Mind

BACKGROUND: The new rules for "Planned Developments" (PDs) in the Town of Boone passed the Boone Town Council by a 3-2 vote on November 19. Last Thursday, December 17, the first test of the PD process -- a "neighborhood meeting" with the developer -- took place concerning the proposed redevelopment of the old Southern States site at the end of Rivers Street into student housing -- a 50-ft.-tall building (current ordinance only allows 40 feet downtown) with 350 bedrooms renting @$700 each and with only 150 parking places, all of which have to be leased separately and at extra expense by the tenants.

The general public was not informed of the "neighborhood meeting." That non-notification non-requirement is a feature (not a bug) of the new rules. Only adjacent property owners are notified, if they're within 150 feet of the proposed development. Under the new PD rules, property owners may complain all they want to; the developer is not obliged by law to pay any attention to any of it. The developer gets to report the content of the "neighborhood meeting" to the Town Council, which must vote the project up or down.

No staff members from the town's Planning and Inspections Department attended the December 17 meeting. In fact, according to Town Manager John Ward's email (# 3 below), town officials would really rather not know anything about it, and it's fairly clear that they don't want the general public to know either. They wouldn't want anyone to think that the Town of Boone is standing up for neighborhoods.

So here's the way it now works: You may have the right to find out when and where a "neighborhood meeting" is, but the Town of Boone can't provide that information to you, because the TOB intentionally made sure it doesn't have that information. Because if the TOB did have that information, some of its Council members might go hear neighborhood concerns for themselves, and/or the developer might get mad. Ignorance is bliss.

1. From: Christine Pope, Boone Town Clerk
Date: Monday, December 21, 2015 9:36 AM
Subject: Boone Town Council Agenda Deadline

Good morning,

For your information, attached is notice of our next agenda item submission deadline for the Boone Town Council. As a reminder, if you have not already done so, please fill out the attached form and return it to me at your earliest convenience if you would like to continue to receive notices of Council and/or board and committee meetings after the New Year. If you have any questions, just let me know.

Thank you,

Christine Pope
Town Clerk
Town of Boone

2. From: Pam Williamson
To: Christine Pope
Date: 12/21/2015 10:12 AM
Subject: Re Boone Town Council Agenda Deadline

Hi, Christine. You already have my updated forms, right?

Also, would you please consider this email a formal request to be notified in advance of any P[lanned] D[evelopment] neighborhood meetings—time and place.

-- Pam

3. From: John Ward
Date: Monday, December 21, 2015 1:40 PM
To: Pam Williamson
Cc: Christine Pope
Subject: Re: Boone Town Council Agenda Deadline

Dear Mrs. Williamson,

As you can see from the UDO text below, the petitioner [developer] is responsible for the meeting from setting it up to providing a report to staff which is to be included in the application. The ordinance adopted by Council purposely did not include a requirement for staff to attend these meetings or to organize them.  Several reasons including overtime pay, a perceived bias against the developer as well as a misconception from neighbors that the Town would appear to endorse the project if we attended the meetings.  Staff, and the Town generally, must appear to be neutral throughout the application process. 

Since this is a meeting between the neighbors who are within 150 feet of a proposal and the petitioner [developer] then Christine will not be keeping the same type of schedule for these meetings that we do for Town hosted meetings.

Because the PD is not tied to a designated primary zoning district, specific procedural steps not generally applicable are mandated and more detailed information must be submitted by the petitioner [developer] before the petition may be acted upon.

A. Specific procedural requirements include:
         2. Before submitting the petition, the petitioner must schedule a meeting with owners of property located within 150’ of the development site.
         a. The petitioner must provide notice at least 21 days prior to the meeting in accordance with Subsection 1.13.02 herein.
         b. The meeting must be held at an accessible and convenient location in light of available options.
         c. The petitioner must record the names and addresses of all attendees at the meeting. Town of Boone Unified Development Ordinance Article 9 Amendments 9-11
         d. At the meeting, the petitioner, at a minimum, shall present all the following information:
         i. Contact information of the parties involved in the ownership, design, and development of the property;
         ii. The location of the property and general information on the current conditions of the site;
         iii. Proposed use(s) and site development;
         iv. Any preliminary plans or renderings, if available; and
         v. Any other information deemed pertinent by the Administrator.
         e. The petitioner shall provide the Administrator with a report which details the meeting including any concerns expressed by attendees and any commitments made by the petitioner. This report shall be included in the staff report.

Please let me know if you would like to discuss further.


John A. Ward III
Town Manager
Town of Boone

4. From: Pam Williamson
Date: Monday, December 21, 2015 4:17 PM
To: John Ward, Boone Town Manager
Cc: Christine Pope
Subject: Re: Boone Town Council Agenda Deadline

John, with all due respect, your explanation is specious.

(1) I'm sure the neighborhoods would welcome council members and P&I [Planning & Inspections staff] at the meeting to hear their concerns. I can assure you they would not take such as a sign that the council is "for" the developer. Instead, they will take what you are doing as evidence that the council is railroading the neighborhood. Which they are.

(2) I cannot imagine what kind of Town staff or council member would not want to attend the meeting.

(3) What makes you think a developer will adequately represent what the neighborhood concerns are? Isn't that exactly like asking the fox to document the chickens' concerns before he builds the henhouse in such as manner as to ensure himself the greatest profit?

I want to know when the neighborhood meetings are. I assume you are telling me I don't have that right.

-- Pam

5. From: John Ward
Date: Monday, December 21, 2015 4:33 PM
To: Pam Williamson
Subject: Re: Boone Town Council Agenda Deadline

Dear Mrs. Williamson,

I'll call to discuss. I'm not telling you that you don' t have a right but I think that a discussion of what was adopted may help.


John A. Ward III
Town Manager
Town of Boone

6. From: Pam Williamson
To: John Ward, Boone Town Manager
Date: December 21, 2015 5:02 PM
Subject: Re: Boone Town Council Agenda Deadline

Call anytime, John, but you don't need to read the ordinance to me. I know it and understand it well. In fact, I might point out to you that there is nothing at all in the regs that disallows the council or staff to ask for notice of the meeting, nor anything that would prevent a council member nor anyone else who wanted to from attending.

-- Pam

Monday, December 21, 2015

Where Boone Is Headed (Hint: It Ain't Nowhere Good)

You probably won't recall that back in November the Boone Town Council passed sweeping new rules that allow "planned developments" in any neighborhood (after a 2-2 tie was broken by acting Mayor Rennie Brantz).

The first "planned development" to come under the new rules: the development of the old Southern States property at the end of Faculty Street (now known as Rivers Street). The developers want a 50'-tall building containing 350 bedrooms which will rent at $700 a bedroom. Best part: the developers plan to provide only 150 parking spaces, all of which will be leased and will not be provided as a part of the rent. Dumpsters for the complex will be placed right on Water Street in full view of people driving down Howard St.

The new rules required a "neighborhood meeting" between adjacent property owners and the developer. Since no one else is invited, nor informed, only five adjacent property owners showed up last Thursday evening to hear about this development. No one from Boone's Planning and Inspections Department bothered to show up, because under the new rules, they don't have to. It's up to the developer to report any neighborhood concerns to the Zoning Administrator. And, O my children, the developer does not have to accept any of the suggestions/criticisms/cries of alarm. The Town Council has the final say.

The new rules allow developers to avoid Boone's existing minimal development standards by bypassing the town's Board of Adjustments altogether. Neighborhoods no longer have the right to appeal approvals through a court of law. Neighbors only get to express their frustrations to both the developer and Town Council members in hopes that sanity might prevail. Best of all (for the specter of corruption, collusion, and cronyism), both the developer and the Council are now allowed to meet with each other without public knowledge.

This is what Town Council members Lynne Mason and Quint David and Rennie Brantz chose for the future of Boone back in November. It stinks to high heaven.

The final approval of this now falls on the shoulders of new Town Council members Jen Teague, Charlotte Mizelle, and Jeannine Underdown Collins, who'll be called upon to vote for or against this development, along with Lynne Mason (who pushed the new rules to begin with) and Loretta Clawson (who opposed the new rules from the get-go).