Category: Reporting


State drunken driving program makes over 600 arrests Halloween…

The ghouls, ghosts and goblins were not the only scary thing out on Halloween weekend.

N.C. Police and Highway Patrol arrested 605 people during the Halloween weekend for driving while impaired, a slight increase from last year when 601 people were arrested.

557 of this year’s DWI arrests were alcohol related and 48 were drug related. Police made 53 arrests in Wake County, 42 in Guilford County and 27 in Forsyth County.

The arrests were made by police departments participating in the Governor’s Highway Safety Program’s Halloween BOO-ze It Lose It campaign to reduce drunken driving and educate the public about its risks.

Don Nail, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, said the program was a response to the number of fatalities and crashes occurring in the state over Halloween weekend.

“Nationally, (Halloween) is known to be a weekend when folks tend to go out and drink a little bit more and, unfortunately, sometimes get behind the wheel impaired,” he said. “So two, we let anyone who might (drive while impaired) know that there will be an extra emphasis from the enforcement perspective to back up our educational efforts.”

LaRonda Scott, national senior manager of field fundraising for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said they support McCrory’s efforts to crack down on drunken driving during the Halloween weekend.

“(McCrory) has been a big supporter of eliminating substance-impaired driving … ,” she said. “For the communities, they can feel confident that officers are out there making sure that we are safe, our families are safe.”

Nail said the program was more successful this year because of greater involvement from law enforcement.

He said 65 percent of state Sheriff’s Departments and 75 to 80 percent of other state law enforcement agencies participated in the program.

“We are very encouraged that we had more law enforcement agencies engaged and out there on the lookout for folks that might be impaired,” He said. “We were also encouraged by the fact the number of DWIs wasn’t a lot higher, even though we had a lot more enforcement going on.”

Nail said he encourages anyone who intends to drink to have a plan to get home.

“I would really encourage everyone not just during Halloween or Christmas, New Year’s, any of these holidays to plan ahead,” he said. “If they are going to be drinking, make sure they are not behind the wheel.”


Affordable Care Act rates increase in 2017

Customers on Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina’s Affordable Care Act plans might see a hike in their insurance premiums next year.

The insurer plans to increase the rates for Affordable Care Act plans by an average of 24.3 percent in 2017. This follows a May filing in which Blue Cross Blue Shield estimated the plans would increase by an average of 18.8 percent.

Brian Tajlili, director of actuarial and pricing services for Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C., said in a statement the rate increase is due to rising costs of medical care.

 “On average, ACA customers tend to require more medical services than most other customers, and have more chronic conditions that are costly to treat,” he said.

Tajlili said the lack of young, healthy people enrolled in Affordable Care Act plans fails to balance out the price of higher-cost customers.

The statement also said about 72 percent of Blue Cross Blue Shield of N.C. customers with ACA plans will pay either less or the same for their insurance due to the act’s federal subsidy program.

The rate increase follows insurer Aetna’s decision to suspend their 2017 ACA plans in North Carolina. Tajlili said Blue Cross Blue Shield, as the only insurer in North Carolina, estimates they will enroll 260,000 people who were dropped by other insurers.

Larry Levitt, senior vice president for special initiatives at the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Gary Claxton, vice president for the foundation, said in a statement released in May insurers had been warning of cost pressures increasing and therefore health plan rate increases might be higher in 2017 than the previous year.

Blue Cross Blue Shield has also faced problems related to its customer handling. The insurer is currently under investigation by the N.C. Department of Insurance due to a large volume of complaints about insurer issues.

“I’m going to hold Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina accountable for fixing its problems and doing right by consumers,” Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said in a statement released in February.

Presidential candidates have used rate increases to show the ACA needs to be fixed.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said in a rally in Fletcher, N.C. Friday “Obamacare” is failing and he would repeal and replace it. In a statement on his website, he said he would provide block grant Medicaid to the states for health care.

Hillary Clinton said in a statement on her website she would defend the ACA as president, and would attempt to bring down co-pays and deductible costs by reducing costs of health care.

Tajlili said the current plan is not viable in the long term on the current path.

“We must continue to seek improvements to the ACA to make it more sustainable.”


Law to limit public access to body camera footage

Starting Saturday, members of the public will have to obtain a court order to access North Carolina police body and dash camera footage.
House Bill 972 amends public records to not include body camera footage making them inaccessible by public request.

Under the new law, police departments can choose to reveal footage of incidents at their discretion upon request from the individual in the recording or their representative.

Any member of the public, a video subject or their representative whose request was denied will be required to obtain a court order from a judge in order to access the footage.

HB972’s implementation comes after recent protests in Charlotte concerning the shooting of Keith Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. Police did not release body camera footage until four days after the incident.

Jeff Welty, associate professor at the UNC School of Government, said under current law, police camera recordings are considered public records, and the new law will be unique.

“One aspect of our law that’s going to be unique is that I don’t think there is any other state in which there is no way to get access to a recording like this except through a court order,” he said.

Susanna Birdsong, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said in a statement Wednesday the law is problematic because it lacks transparency and sets back relations between the police and the community.

“Under this shameful new law, North Carolinians will have to spend time and money seeking a court order if they want to obtain police footage they themselves are in — and even then, they could still be denied,” she said. “The law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from releasing footage in the public interest … without a court order, which is why it has been criticized by police chiefs in Burlington, Fayetteville and Greenville and people across the state.”

Gov. Pat McCrory, who signed the bill into law on July 11, said in a statement HB972 is designed to protect law enforcement and increase transparency.
“This legislation fulfills our commitment to protect our law enforcement and gain public trust by promoting uniformity, clarity and transparency,” Gov. McCrory said in a statement.

Ford Porter, campaign spokesperson for Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper, said in a statement the new law does not do enough to foster transparency.

“Attorney General Cooper has consistently said he supports the use of body cameras in law enforcement, but that the law signed by Gov. McCrory doesn’t do enough to ensure transparency,” he said. “Transparency is vital to building trust and respect between law enforcement and the communities they protect.”


Cyberattack prompts questions about election security

Cybersecurity has become an increasingly important concern in the 2016 election due to a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee over the summer and the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump has even questioned whether the election could be rigged.

 “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest,” Trump said in a speech in Ohio on Aug. 1.

Jacob Smith, a UNC Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science, said if the election were to be rigged it would most likely be by an outside actor.

“Outside actors are a much greater concern,” Smith said. “Russia is the concern, especially after the DNC hack.”

Recently, Russian-backed hackers used various digital methods to infiltrate the DNC network system. Michael Reiter, a professor in the UNC Department of Computer Science, said there are many methods of hacking, including keylogging malware to record typed information, backdoors to allow access to a system and denial of service attacks which deny service to the original user.

“I think there’s no doubt that Russia and Putin prefer Donald Trump in the election,” Smith said. “I think they probably feel that Donald Trump would be less tough on them — also displeasure with Clinton as Secretary of State and to the extent to which in term of the ways she dealt with Russia — they feel that they will get a more fair hearing from Donald Trump.”

Reiter said there are a wide variety of cyber threats that could affect voting and the election including physical methods. Individuals could threaten voting machines not connected to the internet by gaining physical proximity to the voting facility, he said.

“It’s very difficult to scale that kind of attack,” Reiter said. “If I really wanted to influence the election I would have to change a lot of these machines presumably or I would have to manipulate the computers where the votes are collected — some central database or something like that.”

Hillary Clinton has a technology platform on her website which outlines her positions on cybersecurity. The platform said Clinton would support expanded investment in cybersecurity technologies.

“Cybersecurity is essential to our economic and national security, and it will only become increasingly important as more commercial, consumer and government devices are networked,” the platform said.

Donald Trump does not have an official platform which outlines his stance on information security or personal privacy.

Yadavan Varatharajah, a network engineer for Cisco, said it is generally dangerous for the public not to care about cybersecurity.

“I think cybersecurity is something that people shouldn’t just be carefree about,” he said. “With every network you have you should be making sure it’s secure.”

Cybersecurity is a big issue due to people not having properly secured networks, Varatharajah said.

“You are not going to be able to stop (hackers),” he said. “It’s like stopping a robber. You’re not going to stop them from stealing.”

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Carrboro Town Hall lies in wait for renovation funding

In the past 60 years, buildings have come and gone in Carrboro. New technology has been developed. The population has increased by a factor of 11.

But in that time, the town hall has stood waiting for the same change and development that occurred all around it.

Now, when the building is finally scheduled to be renovated, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen are having second thoughts.

At the February 21 Board of Alderman meeting, town leaders failed to approve a new capital improvements plan, which would fund the $6.2 million needed for renovations to the town hall.

Town leaders expressed concerns about the overall cost of the plan, which they say is significantly higher due to the addition of town infrastructure for the first time this fiscal year.

“It’s is not a surprise because we’ve asked for those things,” Alderman Bethany Chaney said. “But it does give you pause when you realize how much things cost and it’s hard to make choices when we have so many priorities and demands.”

The town hall, which sits at 301 W. Main Street, has been rendered partially unusable due to a failure to meet certain property codes. Chaney said the closure of part of the building means the town staff no longer have adequate space. Chaney also said the current boardroom is too small to accommodate all the people who attend some of the town’s larger public hearings.

The town hall renovations were proposed in this year’s capital improvement plan. The plan lays out what the town needs to spend from the current fiscal year until fiscal year 2021-2022.

The plan also recommends funding an additional $14.3 million in office space above the planned southern branch of Orange County library at 203 S. Greensboro Street. Town manager David Andrews said town leaders are still deliberating about how much additional space they will need.

“(The library) can be built up to as high as five stories per the zoning so we are looking at building some office spaces on top of the library, and going up another two, or three or four floors depending on what our needs are and what we can afford,” Andrews said.

This year’s plan calls for roughly $51 million total in capital spending, $9.7 million of which have already been appropriated. Last year’s plan only requested $49.3 million.

Alderman Jacquelyn Gist said she was alarmed by the cost increase.

“With some of these numbers—well I haven’t been that scared since Trump’s last speech,” Gist said in the meeting.

Gist also expressed concern with the possibility of the town having to raise taxes on residents to fund the capital improvement plan.

Chaney believes that it is likely town residents will see tax increases in the coming years, regardless of whether the town funds the improvement projects.

“The inflationary cost is increasing at a rate that the growth of our current tax base so whether or not we move forward on the projects I’m afraid that we are going to see tax increases in the next two to three years,” Chaney said.

The projects also faced funding challenges, Chaney said, because public buildings don’t generate property taxes, so they can’t be paid for sustainably without other revenue streams.

“When you are trying to build a building you want to have somebody paying for it, through the property taxes or otherwise,” Chaney said.

In previous meetings, Alderman Randee-Haven O’Donnell also expressed concerns about a drop in funding from the state and federal governments, which could affect the town’s ability to fund projects in the capital improvement plan.

“We do not know what tomorrow will bring and where our economy is going,” Alderman Randee-Haven O’Donnell said. “When you overlay that uncertainty on top of basic questions about county funding not to mention North Carolina and the legislature you really have to be careful.”

While the aldermen debate the costs, the town hall still stands on W. Main Street waiting to be fixed.

“All those projects are vital projects. Whether they could be delayed a year, or two or, three—every time we delay a project the costs increase and that’s just increasing the bottom line.” Chaney said.

“It’s just not adequate. Frankly, it’s a little shameful.”

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Carrboro leaders stand up for women’s rights

After teaching for 39 years, Randee Haven-O’Donnell knows there are some things that can make geology, ecology or water chemistry wait for a day.

So when Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools sat empty Wednesday because of the “Day Without Women” protest, she held off on the science, instead deciding to discuss sexism with her seventh and eighth grade Durham Academy students.

“For me, my goal is to be front and center with my students and to say to them, as I did (Wednesday), ‘I am here to be with you and talk about this,’” Haven O’Donnell said.

Haven-O’Donnell, who also serves on Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen, believes that even though students may have missed a day of school, the value of the message was more important than what students would have learned that day.

“I think having this out for the day in the very short run it’s a way to make a statement about women that’s important for children to realize,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “I would submit to you that the most important aspect of learning goes far beyond was it going to be measured by any given test or assessment on any given day.”

At the March 7 Board of Aldermen meeting, Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle was greeted with a spontaneous round of applause after she read a proclamation declaring Wednesday to be “Carrboro Women’s Day.” Lavelle said she declared the holiday in solidarity with International Women’s Day, which was held on the same day.

“I think this is (a holiday) I’m going to continue,” Lavelle said.  “There is a great emphasis on it, I think particularly this year with the spirit of the Women’s March. I just felt like it was really important to kind of state that Carrboro stands behind the principles that founded that day.”

A movement based off of the “Day Without Immigrants” protest encouraged women to take the day off from work, wear red and refrain from spending money to support the cause of women on the holiday. Because of a high number of predicted staff absences, Chapel Hill-Carrboro city schools declared an optional teacher workday.

Only three school districts in the country were forced to close because of the protests. The closure garnered national attention and was reported by various news outlets including The New York Times. A statement released by school superintendent Jim Causby said the closure was not because of any personal politics, but rather because of a perceived inability to operate the schools properly with the number of staff members absent.

“While Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools values and supports its female employees, the decision to close schools is not a political statement,”  Causby said. “It is entirely about the safety of students and the district’s inability to operate with a high number of staff absences.”

Haven-O’Donnell said even if the school says they didn’t claim to close for political reasons, it is possible that still support the cause.

“The school district does that because they don’t want to be like a weather-vane—depending on what the political mood is you know flip-flopping one way or the other,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “But I think that the school district does not want to be in crisis either.”

Haven O’Donnell believes that Carrboro is the ideal community to support women’s rights because of their recent history of supporting social justice issues. In January, Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools proposed raising their living wage rate from $12.75 to $13.16 per hour—well above the $7.25 state minimum wage.

“This is something that Carrboro does,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “You can see it in life with how we support social justice issues, but even more important than that, (you see it) undergirding the platform that supports women—whether it be wages, salaries, equalization, equity, healthcare.”

Lavelle also said she was open to allowing town employees to take the day of in solidarity with the movement.

“I believe our town employees that want to are able to participate and can take time off to do so,” Lavelle said. “I want people to be able to make a point or have their voices heard.”

Though she believes they understand the issues, Haven-O’Donnell said that she was pessimistic about young people’s support for feminism until the past year’s protests of President Donald Trump.

“When I was in Washington there were million people standing around with me energized to resist,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “This is that extension. It’s not going away. It’s overdue. And I think especially middle schoolers, high schoolers respect people who are trying to fight and people who are strengthening their voice—that’s the way kids are.”

Lavelle said that a new energy has been breathed into the community to stand up for women’s rights and other social issues.

“I’ve seen it everywhere I go. People want to get engaged,” Lavelle said.  “They look to local government for it first to start to try to hear what’s going on to try to shape policy statewide and nationally. There’s absolutely a lot of energy. Speaking especially for our area, our towns—we are always energized, but even more so this year.”

Haven O’Donnell said no matter the age or gender, protest is always appropriate when faced with injustice.

“I think peaceful dissent is always appropriate,” Haven-O’Donnell said.

“Passive resistance is not easy. But it’s effective. And sometimes that’s all we’ve got.”

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Town of Carrboro preempts legal challenge to N.C. body…

Carrboro’s town attorney thinks body camera video should be seen by community leaders.

And he thinks he just might have a way around a new state law that would prohibit such disclosures.

“The statutes say the council of a city runs, or are the corporate officers of the city and that includes the police department. The statutes say that the manager is essentially the chief executive officer and administrator of all personnel in the city,” Town Attorney Nick Herman said in an interview.  “So if you’ve got the police department doing something on tape arguably under the statutes that would empower the manager to be the administrator of the city and he outta be able to see that tape.”

After two years of deliberation and refinement, the Carrboro Board of Alderman passed a measure 4-1 at the Feb. 28 board meeting which would authorize body camera use by the town police department. Body camera video disclosure is governed by N.C. General Statute 132, which went into effect on Oct. 1, 2016.

Under the new law, police body and dash camera recordings are no longer part of the public record and only legal representatives of those in the recordings could request to see the footage from a police department. The police department, however, would not be legally required to allow them to view the footage.  If the footage wasn’t handed over to the representative, they could then request the footage from a superior court judge. For any other person who wants access to the footage, they must request access to it in court from a superior court judge.

The Carrboro resolution was developed in a collaboration between the aldermen, the town police department and attorneys for the town, police department and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Upon request from the ACLU, the town implemented measures in the new policy that places the presumption on disclosing all footage unless the police chief has a legitimate reason not to do so.

The aldermen also authorized four new motions to the policy before it passed on Tuesday night including resolutions striking language that reiterated the general statutes excluding the recordings from the public record and adding language allowing the town to read the new policy in ways that could potentially allow their access to any police tapes.

“My position on that is that we are bound by the statute… we cannot bring a facial challenge to it,” Herman said in the meeting. “There is nothing unlawful about the statute itself, its enactment or what it says. What the fight would be potentially is an interpretation of the reach of the statute—what it means. Some of us believe that the statute must be read in light of other statutes that the manager is empowered to do certain things and empower (the alderman) to do certain things. Viewed that way is disclosure or release may be more expansive than just what’s literally stated in this.”

UNC-Chapel Hill School of Government professor Jeff Welty said in a September interview that despite other states passing laws governing body camera footage, North Carolina’s law is unique.

“(Other) states are all over the map,” Welty said. “But one aspect of our law that that’s unique is that I don’t think there is any other state in which there is no way to get access to a recording like this except through a court order.”

Alderman Sammy Slade voted against the policy Tuesday night because he said the state law limits one of the original intentions of body cameras.

“I feel that one of the values that video footage has… is for the public to serve to hold accountable not just the police force but (also) the justice system itself,” Slade said in the meeting.

“A superior court judge is accountable to a larger group of people who vote for him than a Board of Aldermen or an elected body is. Other people participating that have other issues or concerns may not feel the accountability that may happen is as direct”

Alderman Bethany Chaney said that despite objections to the state law she supports the new policy.

“I’m very much in support of this policy,” Chaney said. “I think the two years it’s taken to get here has been appropriate.”

Gov. Pat McCrory said when he signed the law on July 11 that statute is designed to increase transparency.

“This legislation fulfills our commitment to protect our law enforcement and gain public trust by promoting uniformity, clarity and transparency,” McCrory said.

Gov. Roy Cooper opposed the law in his campaign against McCrory, criticizing it as misleading and not transparent.

“Cooper has consistently said he supports the use of body cameras in law enforcement but the law signed by Governor McCrory doesn’t do enough to ensure transparency,” Cooper campaign spokesman Ford Porter said in a statement. “Transparency is vital to building trust and respect between law enforcement and the communities they protect. It’s a shame that (the) Governor insists on attempting to mislead voters instead of taking responsibility for the law he signed.”

Herman said that releasing the tapes to the public could potentially expose the town to legal action.

“My view is the manager needs to know about (an incident) immediately and then the manager outta be able to to come in here and closed session and show you the tape and say ‘We gotta do something about this’ because what your lawyers gonna say is ‘We are gonna get the hell sued out of us,’” Herman said after the meeting.  “Now releasing to the public is sticky wicket. There would be at least legitimate arguments about some safeguard about putting this out in the public domain only because take an ambiguous tape—everybody sees what they want to see.”

Local ACLU attorney Susanna Birdsong, who collaborated on the Carrboro policy, also criticized the law in September after violent protests erupted in Charlotte, N.C. over the shooting death of Keith Lamond Scott.

“Under this shameful new law, North Carolinians will have to spend time and money seeking a court order if they want to obtain police footage they themselves are in – and even then, they could still be denied,” Birdsong said in a statement. “The law also prohibits law enforcement agencies from releasing footage in the public interest – as we have seen officials do recently in Greensboro, Charlotte and Tulsa, Oklahoma – without a court order, which is why it has been criticized by police chiefs in Burlington, Fayetteville, and Greenville, and people across the state.”

The Carrboro policy would allow officers to view recordings prior to writing their reports, except in cases of officer involved shootings. In the event of a shooting, the officer would be suspended for two to three days and then would be required to write a statement about the shooting before they could view the tape. The written statement could then be amended thereafter, but the original draft of the statement would be kept.

Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton said he supports the new policy, but it will not be the panacea to police-resident relations.

“My two cents—we’ve got a solid policy,” Horton said in the meeting. “I am looking forward to (body worn cameras) but they are not gonna be the end-all solution, the everything that’s gonna answer every question… but I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

Carrboro Board of Alderman

Burden of Dependency:

Carrboro leaders long for freedom from harmful state legislation

Carrboro’s leaders sometimes wish the town they lived was somewhere else.

A town not tucked in the center of a state that passed HB2. Not nestled in place that strips their authority to govern with just a few approved words on paper. Not controlled by a majority that seems to think differently in every possible way.

A town that wants to, as its bus-side advertisements say, “Feel Free”—free to raise the minimum wage, free to outfit the police with body cameras, free to fund a public transportation system that connects communities.

But town leaders are starting to feel that this freedom is being slowly chipped away. Their own state legislators, the people claiming to represent them, are attacking their very way of life.

Where has the money gone?

For Alderman Randee Haven O’Donnell the main appeal of living in Carrboro is the schools.

Less than ten miles from Carrboro are three of the top ten high schools in the state—East Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The town also lies only two miles away from one of the nation’s top public universities, UNC-Chapel Hill. 23.5 percent of workers in Orange County, the county where most of Carrboro resides, work in education and almost half of the county’s budget goes to fund its two school districts.

But funding for the schools has recently been jeopardized by several bills from the state’s General Assembly.

House Bill 406 would remove the ability for Orange County to collect impact fees, or fees charged to developers to fund social projects. A similar bill, House Bill 436, would remove the ability impose these in towns and counties state-wide including in Carrboro. Impact fees make up roughly $2.8 million of the revenue for Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro public schools. Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils believes the only ways for the town to make up for the lost revenue would be to raise property taxes or cut school spending.

“I think regardless of how people in Orange County feel about impact fees in general the reality is if Orange County is no longer able to collect those school construction impact fees that’s going to be a significant hit on the budget and the county will have to make up that revenue somehow,” Seils said in an interview. “Of course the community is not going to support cutting spending that would be a pretty major hit on the school system. Most likely outcome there would be a pretty significant rise in the property taxes.”

Other bills have attacked UNC-CH’s finances. House Bill 728 would forcibly remove UNC from the Atlantic Coast Conference if the conference continues its boycott of the state for its championships, potentially costing the university roughly $90 million in exit fees and the loss of all media rights until 2027.

Perhaps the greatest impact on the schools and on Carrboro has been the passage of House Bill 2, or the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, in a special legislative session in General Assembly in March. The bill limited the rights of transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice and also enacted limits on town non-discrimination and minimum wage ordinances.  Several companies pulled out of North Carolina including PayPal and Adidas and seven states issued travel bans to North Carolina in reaction to the law. In addition to the ACC, The National Basketball Association and National Collegiate Athletic Association also boycotted the state by removing their respective championship games. A HB2 repeal bill passed on March 30, but it was soon decried by civil rights groups because of provisions that continued to prevent municipalities from implementing non-discrimination ordinances until 2020.

“The economics of this should say to our Republican legislators that they do not have North Carolina’s economic interests at heart. That their ideology is in conflict with the health and welfare and stability, economic stability, of the state,” Haven O’Donnell said of HB2. “(Orange) county is going to suffer the most, because we’ve got UNC which is the flagship university of this state…. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.”

In July of 2016, the Orange County Visitors Bureau estimated that the county had lost over a million dollars in revenue from HB2, mainly from tourism. The majority of tourism revenue in Carrboro comes from the Hampton Inn on East Main Street. Haven O’Donnell said the hotel is vulnerable because of the discriminatory state laws’ effect on UNC-CH’s sports. The state also currently sets limits on how much money Carrboro can collect from the hotel, further constraining the town’s finances.

“78 percent of the tourism dollars are generated by the Hampton Inn in Carrboro,” Haven O’Donnell said. “(The economic loss) is not only going to make a difference county-wide—I think it’s going to erode those numbers for folks getting accommodation at Carrboro’s hotels.”

The state has also imposed limits on how much it will contribute to capital projects like spending on infrastructure. In February, the Board of Aldermen failed to approve of a new capital improvements plan that would provide much-needed repairs to Town Hall partially due to a lack in funding.

“I am very fearful about state resources in the future for transportation and subsidies, housing subsidies that kind of thing at the state level to our own ability to raise money at the local level,” Alderman Bethany Chaney “All of those things can really reset our ability to manage our finances as well as we’ve been able to do in the past.”

Several Alderman also expressed concern with a public transportation plan that was approved by the voters in 2012 because of a drop in state funding for the project. The $2.5-billion-dollar public transportation plan provides expanded bus service and also calls for the construction of a light rail system connecting Durham and Orange counties by 2062. The original draft of the plan requested 25 percent of the funding to come from the state, but after the law changed in 2016 only 10 percent of the project will be state-funded.

A report by the financial consulting firm Davenport and Company said unless the funding gap was addressed the plan could leave Orange County in a potentially risky financial situation. Davenport and Co. estimated the county will only have $210, 725 to cover any unforeseen expenses with the plan by 2040.

Despite historically sound financial management, several Aldermen believe that property taxes must rise to make up for the impact of General Assembly legislation.

“That being said I think the biggest threat to the towns ability to meet its expenses over time is actually the state of North Carolina and the state legislature. There are very few actions we can take as a board that are independent of the state,” Chaney said. “When the states legislature is as conservative and as bitter as it is we find that we are very constrained in the way that we can creatively raise resources and pour those resources.”

A progressive agenda in a conservative state

Seils said legislation is more partisan and targeted under the current Republican-controlled legislature, especially for liberal communities.

“It’s somewhat common I think especially under this current legislature for bills to come through that affect particular communities,” Seils said. “I think there are others that are more general ideological that they just reflect a different view what the state should be and certain kinds of regulations or what the role of local governments should be in local regulations.”

Orange County residents have supported a liberal candidate for president ever since 1928. In the 2016 election, roughly 72 percent of Orange County residents voted for Hillary Clinton—significantly higher than the 46.7 percent state-wide. None of the current members of the Board of Aldermen are registered Republicans.

Carrboro has also served as a model for other liberal municipalities state-wide. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools was one of only three school districts in the country to close on March 8 because the “Day Without Women” protest was projected to leave the district understaffed. The town elected the very first openly gay mayor in the state in 1995, and currently is led by the state’s first lesbian mayor. In 2016, all Carrboro town and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools employees were guaranteed a living wage of $12.75 an hour, $5.50 more than the state minimum wage.

General Assembly legislation has damaged more than just the town’s finances. Several laws or pieces of proposed legislation conflict the progressive vision the town has prided itself on.

Recent proposed legislation also targets the towns environmental measures. Senate Bill 434 places restrictions on stream buffers, or lands adjacent to streams where vegetation is strongly influenced by the presence of water. Alderman Damon Seils believes the bill were to become law it would negatively affect both the water quality and disaster preparedness of the town.

Another bill, House Bill 63, would target policies on the treatment of residents in the U.S. illegally. The bill would allow for any resident to report their town harboring persons in the country illegally. Currently Carrboro is not registered as a “sanctuary” city for these immigrants but Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said they need not fear deportation.

“The fact is in an environment where some of the basics are being dismantled, the ability, the local authority, to determine who is welcome and who has sanctuary in your town this is something that North Carolinians should push their legislator (support local control),” Haven-O’Donnell said.

A recent initiative to implement body cameras in the Carrboro Police Department sparked debate by Alderman Sammy Slade because of law passed by the General Assembly in November that would limit access of body camera footage.

Under the new law body camera footage could only be accessed at the discretion of the police department by a legal representative of a person appearing in the footage. In all other cases access to the footage could only be granted by a superior court judge.

Jeff Welty, a Professor at the UNC School of Government said in November that the law is the first of its kind.

“Other states are all over the map,” Welty said. “But one aspect of our that’s unique is that I don’t think there is any other state in which there is no way to get access to a recording like this except through a court order.”

Slade said he was unable to support the body camera resolution because it would not provide for proper public accountability of the police department.

“The value in general of video footage is for the public to serve to hold accountable not just the police force but (also) the justice system itself,” Slade said. “And so the reason I find the state law problematic is that it takes that opportunity to hold the justice system accountable from us.”

Town Attorney Nick Herman said he and a group of other attorneys are trying to fight back against the law to allow for disclosure of body camera footage to the town manager.

“There is nothing unlawful about the statute itself, its enactment or what it says. What the fight would be potentially is an interpretation of the reach of the statute—what it means,” Herman said. “Some of us believe that the statute must be read in light of other statutes—that the manager is empowered to do certain things. Viewed that way is disclosure or release may be more expansive than just what’s literally stated in this.”

Fighting back

Haven O’Donnell believes it is the town’s job to stand up against perceived injustice by the legislature.

“I think peaceful dissent is always appropriate,” Haven O’Donnell said. “I’ve always felt that when people have concerns that they need to express it, they need to be able to tell what they are thinking and feeling and need to be able to let people know where their voices are.”

Despite the legislative setbacks, Carrboro’s Aldermen continue to pass progressive policies and remain optimistic for the future and for the town they live in.

“Personality-wise we are much more like in kindred spirits with places like Portland, Oregon or on a tiny scale Seattle or Boulder, Colorado,” Haven O’Donnell said. “We extend that view in every direction—It just radiates out from who we are. And that’s the reason why I want folks to know “Come to Carrboro.” The rest of the state may have a different view, but the progressive mindset lives and breathes here.”


Making Magic Happen: Sophomore reflects on opportunity, election, upbringing

The first call came early on Saturday. She wasn’t there to pick it up.

Then later, another came. This one she answered.

“I’m giving you this number. You need to call them.”

It was her boss.

“OK, well I’m driving through the mountains, and I don’t know what my cell service is going to be like, but I’ll try my best.”

Nothing was definite until the morning of. She spent the weekend writing and stressing. But it was the day. She was lined up at the starting line of a race just waiting for the gun to go off.

It was finally time.

She stepped up on stage and stood in front of the podium. A crowd of over 16,000 people stared back at her.

“It is both my pleasure and my honor to introduce to you the 44th president of the United States,” she said.

Barack Obama stepped up on the stage and embraced her.

“Can everybody please give Isabel a big round of applause for the wonderful introduction.” Obama said.

She was star-struck.

Sometimes for Isabel Caron Trumbull, magic just happens.

Trumbull, a 19-year-old sophomore public policy and global studies double major, always works to make the make the magic happen. From serving as a chairperson for Students Organize for Syria, to volunteering for the North Carolina Coordinated Campaign and registering people to vote, to interning with Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Trumbull helps other people live the same life she had growing up.

Trumbull, a native from Chicago, grew up four blocks east of Wrigley Field in an apartment building that her father lived in for over 25 years. She attended Lane Tech College Prep High School, the largest high school in Chicago, where she served on the school council, ran cross country, played soccer, served as editor-in-chief for her school newspaper and took nine AP classes throughout her high school career.

“Think of the most obscure combination of ethnic cultural backgrounds, racial diversity, socioeconomic standing, area of the city that you’re from and Lane Tech has five people that fit that category,” she said.

Even as a child, Trumbull set high goals for herself. In the first grade, when asked, Trumbull said she wanted to be the first female president.

“I told a pediatrician until I was like 12 years old that I was going to be the first female president, so when Hillary was running the first time I was like ‘Yeah I guess she could be the first female president, but I’ll be like the first female president from Chicago because she grew up in the suburbs,’’ Trumbull said. “I was a little heartbroken that I didn’t get to see out first female president this time around, but I did get a text from my sister the next day that was like ‘Hey look Isabel, there’s still a chance for you!’”

Though they weren’t able to see the first female president, the Trumbull family are no strangers to witnessing history. Trumbull’s father and her older sister Mackenzie obtained two tickets to Obama’s 2008 election night address, and decided to attend without Trumbull.  Trumbull said she was jealous until her father later took her on a trip to Washington, where she got to visit Congress the day President Obama’s health care law passed.

“One of my dad’s really good friends from grad school is deaf and the deaf community is really close… one of (then-Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi’s top aides was also deaf, so we were able to get tickets into the capital building,” Trumbull said. “I was just hanging out on Nancy Pelosi’s private balcony when the vote for Obamacare passed.”

Trumbull is currently working toward her goal of graduating, and possibly attending law school. As part of her global studies major, she studies several languages, including French and Arabic, and also plays wing and ten (the equivalent of a quarterback) for the UNC-Chapel Hill women’s rugby team. Even though the election concluded, Trumbull also still campaigns for Democratic candidates both in-state and nationally. Trumbull said she campaigned for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because she fought the people and issues that have personally touched Trumbull.

“The weekend before I gave my speech, someone that I ran cross country with was needlessly shot and killed due to unnecessary gun violence—it was a robbery gone wrong. With a weapon he should not have had because it was purchased illegally,” Trumbull said. “Growing up in downtown Chicago, you can’t escape hearing about children being shot needlessly.  (Clinton) supported comprehensive background checks which makes sense to me.”

Despite all her best efforts sometimes the magic doesn’t happen for Trumbull, and no day was that more true than election night. Trumbull said she became emotional several times throughout the night.

“As the night went on it just had its ups and its downs, but it just got really painful. I definitely cried multiple times,” she said. “One of my best friends from high schools is trans(gender) and does not feel comfortable coming to visit me at college because of HB2 let alone like what the world would be like if LGBTQ rights were demolished. That would suck so I’ve definitely cried for them. One of my best friends in high school, is an undocumented student. And I cried for her.”

But despite the result of the election, Trumbull, as Obama put it on that magic November day, decided to “chose hope.”

“I think at the end of the day our future is what we make of it,” Trumbull said. “We still have a say in what happens. Just because someone is elected president or governor or senator or congressman or woman doesn’t change who are as people.”


Duke energy requests delay for Duke power plant

Duke Energy’s plan to put a plant at Duke University might be powering down—at least for a little while.

The energy company is seeking a delay until early summer for its proposal to put a 21-megawatt combined heating and power plant at Duke University after pushback from the public. Duke Energy said the plant will reduce its carbon footprint and provide additional backup power in case of a power emergency.

Randy Wheeless, a spokesperson for Duke Energy, said the energy company is still optimistic about the project.

“But I think when you look at the needs of the university this project makes a lot of sense and no one is really offering a better alternative,” he said.

Some of the controversy was over whether or not the plant will cut or increase greenhouse gas emissions. Jim Warren, executive director of NC WARN, a climate justice nonprofit organization, said Duke Energy’s claim that the plant will cut emissions is misleading.

“The actual use of gas on the campus would increase 61 percent from current amounts and thus the greenhouse emissions would also increase 61 percent,” he said. “To pretend that somehow it makes a difference Duke Energy would be owning the plant and burning the gas on campus for the campus that somehow that should alleviate the university’s responsibility just doesn’t pass the straight face test.”

Duke University President Richard Brodhead said in an open letter to The Duke Chronicle the university is pursuing the plant because of its effectiveness.

“By using the waste heat produced by electrical generation to create the necessary steam and hot water our campus buildings demand, the (combined heating and power) plant will reduce fuel consumption and emissions, both on campus and throughout the Duke Energy system …” Brodhead said.

Wheeless said he believes the protests are more about dislike of Duke Energy and natural gas than about the plant itself.

“But you have to think the university was already using natural gas. Natural gas is part of the growing energy mix of this nation. It’s one of the fastest growing energy fuels being used, especially because so much comes from America,” he said.

Wheeless said campuses across the country use these types of plants, including UNC-Chapel Hill. He said UNC’s plant is powered by natural gas and coal.

“Right now the price of natural gas is low,” he said. “All projections say it will remain low. It’s probably the most cost-effective fuel out there, more effective than coal and in fact, in some parts of the nation, it is better than nuclear power.”

Warren said Duke University should move to the use of battery or solar power instead of utilizing natural gas, which may be collected using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

“The overarching concern is that (the plant) would perpetuate the fracked gas boom at the expense of the climate crisis …” Warren said. “The most innovative and a good way they should (proceed) is adding battery storage by itself or combined with PV (photovoltaic) solar.”

Wheeless said solar or battery power would not adequately address the university’s needs.

“We are very familiar with solar and battery technology, which sometimes gets talked about, but when you look at the energy needs of the university and that 24/7 need for hot water and heat solar and a battery is just not going to do it.”