Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Web of local money, political connections behind legislature’s decision to bypass DEQ in GenX clean-up

The fire is elusive, but the smoke is thick.

An analysis of professional and political relationships among major players in the GenX crisis shows the connections that led to a controversial state appropriation made by state lawmakers during the most recent special legislative session in House Bill 56, and a contract between the Cape Fear utility and a public relations firm.

It’s not unusual for state lawmakers to have deep political connections to major donors and operatives in their districts. But these connections could wind up diverting badly needed money away from an underfunded state agency to a public utility beset by scandal.

House Bill 56 has several contentious provisions, among them, the puzzling last-minute gift of $185,000 from conservative lawmakers to the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (CFPUA). The utility knew about the GenX contamination at its Sweeney drinking water plant in May 2016, according to a timeline it provided, but did not alert state environmental authorities. [Read more….]

Bonus reads:

2. More with less: With $3 million in the balance, initial AG cuts take effect

Changes from a $7 million budget cut to the North Carolina Department of Justice went into effect September 1 and as expected, people are making do with less.

“The work is still getting done,” said Laura Brewer, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, adding that employees are committed to doing the work and serving the public.

The General Assembly cut $10 million from the DOJ budget, which is operated by Attorney General Josh Stein. The cut wasn’t in either the initial Senate or House budget but was added at the last minute before a final vote was taken on the FY2018-19 budget.

It was unexpected and has been viewed by many as a partisan move because Stein is a Democrat. Stein has repeatedly refused to speculate about the political nature of the massive budget cut and has instead expressed grave concern for the safety of North Carolinians if he is forced to keep cutting. [Read more….]

3. North Carolina conservatives must disavow allies’ bigoted hate speech
Website with ties to Civitas Institute promotes anti-Semitic attack on Attorney General Stein

There are a lot of deeply troubling and even shocking aspects to the ongoing rise in “white nationalism” and religious bigotry that plagues the American political landscape these days. First and foremost, of course, is the active participation of the president of the United States in the process. That the highest office in our land is being used in such a perverted way to aid and abet such a noxious cause remains a stunning and unacceptable reality that should sicken all people of good will on a daily basis.

Almost as disturbing as the behavior of Trump and the coterie of bigots with whom he associates at the national level, however, is the real world experience of confronting such behavior close to home. Increasingly, acts, viewpoints and arguments that most of us thought had been relegated to the dustbin of history are now rearing their ugly heads in public places – even places connected to and promoted by “responsible conservatives.”

On Monday of this week, just such a disturbing occurrence took place in North Carolina on a website supported and funded by one of the state’s most visible conservative groups.[Read more….]

4. Charter takeovers met with skepticism as director begins pitching model

Eric Hall, in the midst of a rainy drive to rural Robeson County to pitch North Carolina’s ambitious but controversial plan for a charter takeover of several low-performing schools, wants to set one thing straight.

“It’s not a takeover,” he says of the so-called Innovative School District (ISD) that he leads. “It’s about making conditions better locally.”

Hall seems well aware of the skepticism surrounding the model, once dubbed the “Achievement School District” but given a new name this year after rocky beginnings for similar efforts in states like Tennessee and Louisiana grabbed headlines.

Last week, Hall’s office released a list of 48 low-performing schools spread across 21 districts, the lion’s share situated in high-poverty locales. Each of them will be eligible for the first year of Hall’s district, which will launch with two schools in 2018-2019 and another three in 2019-2020.

Now he begins a slew of community meetings with local district leaders in places like Robeson County, home to five of the schools that made the state’s list. All reported performance grades in the bottom 5 percent statewide, and none met or exceeded academic growth goals in the last three years. [Read more…]

5. Author of new book on tragic 1991 Hamlet chicken plant fire: Little of substance has changed

Twenty six years ago, one of the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history rocked the tiny town of Hamlet, North Carolina.

Twenty five workers died and 55 were injured when a grease fire broke out at the Imperial Food Products plant, which made cheap chicken tenders for chain restaurants like Long John Silvers. The victims, mostly black and female, struggled to get out of the building but found the doors locked from the outside. The plant’s owner, Emmett J. Roe, kept the doors padlocked and the windows boarded because he thought his low-wage workers might steal chicken.

Some struggled desperately to kick the doors open, leaving indentations in the steel before being burned to death or succumbing to smoke inhalation. Others tried to huddle in a large walk-in freezer to avoid the blaze, where they nearly froze before suffocating.

In the aftermath of the fire, state and federal investigators found the building had no fire alarms, no sprinklers — nothing that could be considered a fire exit. It had never undergone a safety inspection. [Read more….]

***Upcoming event on Tuesday, September 26th: NC Policy Watch presents a special Crucial Conversation luncheon: Prof. Bryant Simon discusses his new book, “The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government and Cheap Lives”

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