Greensboro, Durham and Orange County all pass LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances

The city councils in two of North Carolina’s largest cities unanimously passed LGBTQ-inclusive non-discrimination policies Tuesday, the latest in a series of municipalities to do so since a statewide ban on such local protections expired last month.

Greensboro and Durham, the state’s third and fourth largest cities respectively, followed the moves made by the smaller towns of Hillsborough, Carrboro and Chapel Hill last week. The Orange County Board of Commissioners also passed a county-wide non-discrimination policy.

“Government officials in cities large and small – and, this week, counties – are listening to their constituents, learning from the lived experiences of LGBTQ people, and coming to the appropriate conclusion: It’s time to protect LGBTQ North Carolinians from discrimination,” said Allison Scott, director of Policy & Programs at the Campaign for Southern Equality. “This week, as we enter a new political landscape at the national level, we celebrate progress locally and take heart in the hopeful message that tonight’s ordinances send to LGBTQ people not just in Durham, Greensboro, and Orange County — but all across North Carolina, and beyond.”

Kendra Johnson, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality NC, said the moves by local governments is an important response and counter-weight to the wave of racist, xenophobic and ant-LGBTQ sentiment in recent years that has included murders and other hate-related crimes.

Kendra Johnson, executive director of Equality NC

“With the rise of white supremacy in this country and the ongoing tumultuous transition of political power, these local protections will prove to be lifesaving mechanisms for the most vulnerable members of our communities in the years ahead. Equality NC eagerly anticipates other cities, towns and counties to follow suit,” Johnson said.

In Greensboro and Durham, the ordinances passed provide protections in employment and housing and, beyond LGBTQ identity, also offer non-discrimination protections for those with natural hair styles associated with a race or culture.

In Greensboro, where an existing 2015 non-discrimination policy was voided by the North Carolina General Assembly’s controversial passage of HB2, the new ordinance includes penalties including a fine of up to $500 for violations. That provision and the question of enforcement led to some tense discussion among council members.

“There has to be some teeth to give it substance,” said City Council member Justin Outling, who argued he wanted to see “substance behind the symbolism.”

“I am certainly for the harshest penalties available,” said City Council member Michelle Kennedy. But despite her feelings as an LGBTQ person in the community, Kennedy said, she is concerned that the city won’t have the legal ability through the state to enforce penalties.

Greensboro City Council Member Michelle Kennedy

“We watched HB2 rip us of the protections we already had in place, and we know that that is possible to happen again,” Kennedy said. “So I want to make absolutely sure that whatever we enact is not going to get clear cut by the state legislature as soon as we enact it. The city of Greensboro has been a direct target on issues such as these. It’s really important that whatever we put in place is ironclad and is not going to get upended.”

Carrboro’s new ordinance also included the possibility of a $500 fine. But Kennedy said the legislature has a history of targeting larger cities for such moves more often than smaller communities.

It is not yet clear how the legislature’s Republican majority will react to these new ordinances. In an interview posted to Twitter last week, N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) suggested the legislature will at least discuss the issue but suggested residents and businesses with objections may be best served in the courts.

“I think it is something that there will be some conversations about,” Berger said. “But my thought is that the more likely next step for folks that have concerns about what may be taking place would be those people who might be directly impacted in a way, maybe on their religious liberties, their businesses, or something.”

“I think the courts probably will be the appropriate forum for us to look at it,” he said said.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said such uncomfortable discussions — even if they are only about how such an ordinance would be enforced — are “how you make sausage.”

Vaughan acknowledged that as a progressive community unafraid to “poke the bear,” Greensboro “has a target on its back” when it comes to the state’s conservative legislature. But Vaughan called the new ordinance an important step in reclaiming — and expanding — the protections to which the city was committed well before the HB2 fight.

“We want everybody in our community to be protected,” Vaughan said. “We want Greensboro to truly be a welcoming place.”

Jillian Johnson, mayor pro tem of Durham, said she hopes other communities will follow the lead of those who have passed new ordinances this week and last.

“LGBTQ North Carolinians have the right to dignity, equality, and fairness,” Johnson said. “Durham’s nondiscrimination ordinance is an important step on the road to the realization of full civil and human rights for LGBTQ people. As a queer resident of this community as well as an elected official, I’m proud to support this ordinance and urge communities across North Carolina to adopt similar legislation.”

Public hearing, comment period announced for consent order with Greensboro over 1,4-Dioxane

The compound 1,4-Dioxane, a likely carcinogen, has been found in surface water and drinking water throughout the Cape Fear River Basin. Sources include industrial dischargers and runoff from farm fields that have been applied with biosolids from wastewater treatment plants. (Map: DEQ)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality will hold a remote public hearing next month about a Special Order of Consent to correct the City of Greensboro’s illegal discharges of 1,4-Dioxane into the downstream drinking water supply.

Because of the level of public interest, the hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 9, on a proposed Special Order by Consent (SOC) for the City of Greensboro’s T.Z. Osborne Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge permit.

The proposed order addresses issues related to the discharge of elevated levels of 1,4-dioxane from the wastewater treatment plan to South Buffalo Creek in the Cape Fear River Basin. 1,4-dioxane is an emerging compound that EPA has identified as a likely human carcinogen.

A two-part investigation Policy Watch published in July revealed that Greensboro officials had shielded its industrial dischargers of 1,4-Dioxane from scrutiny. They buried 1,4-Dioxane data in public reports. Some upstream utilities officials even pooh-poohed the dangers of 1,4-Dioxane; another falsely accused an NC State scientist of scaring the public for personal gain.

After an industrial discharger Shamrock Environmental accidentally discharged 1,4-Dioxane level into the sewer system and the wastewater treatment plant, the compound contaminated the Haw River and Pittsboro’s drinking water, at levels far above the recommended health level. Even though Greensboro utilities officials knew concentrations were high, they failed to notify downstream communities and DEQ for more than a month.

The EPA does not regulate 1,4-Dioxane in drinking water, but the compound is regulated in surface water, such as the Haw River, and in groundwater.

DEQ cited Greensboro with a Notice of Violation but has proposed fining the city just $5,000.

DEQ’s Division of Water Resources has amended the Special Order by Consent based on comments received on the draft, and has published a FAQ document to answer questions received from the first comment period. The City of Greensboro has accepted all of the changes, and the revised, proposed SOC is being provided for public input.

State regulators have also opened the public comment period, which runs through Dec. 9.

In addition to the public hearing, comments on the SOC may be submitted now through December 9, 2020 by emailing [email protected] with “T.Z. Osborne WWTP SOC” in the subject line. Comments may also be provided by calling 336-776-9691 and leaving a recorded message. Please state your name and any affiliation before commenting. Written comments may be mailed to
N.C. Division of Water Resources
Water Quality Permitting Section
Attn: Brianna Young
1617 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1617

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the hearing will be held remotely and the public is invited to provide comments online or by phone.

Date:   Wednesday, December 9, 2020
Time: 6 p.m. (Attendees may begin joining at 5:45 PM)
Join online: WebEx

Join by phone:  1-415-655-0003; (access code): 178 487 5557
To speak during the hearing, registration is required by noon, Dec. 9.

 

 

Greensboro apology for Klan violence establishes a welcome precedent for CIA torture program

This week, in a historic and unprecedented move, the Greensboro City Council formally apologized for the city’s handling of the 1979 massacre by white supremacists in a low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood of Greensboro.

The apology to victims, their families, and the community comes after over four decades of persistent struggle for acknowledgement of the city’s wrongdoing, including its failure to be transparent about the role of its police. Greensboro’s action is a shining illustration of what can be achieved by sheer, stubborn refusal to let government misdeeds be swept under the rug.

In a less publicized but significant step in the quest for official accountability, Rep. David Price wrote to the CIA this week demanding answers on another dark chapter in North Carolina’s history — the Agency’s misuse of our state’s infrastructure and skilled aviators in a years-long program of systematic torture and rendition.

Without North Carolina’s airports, the CIA torture program literally would not have gotten off the ground. As Rep. Price noted, over 80% of the CIA rendition-to-torture missions in the first half of the CIA’s massive program emanated from our public airports in Smithfield and Kinston.

While advocates for justice and accountability can cheer these important moves, there is still much the state needs to do, and that starts with Governor Cooper. The Governor has taken an important step in creating task forces on racial equity in criminal justice and health. Citizens have given him another important opportunity when it comes to torture.

Greensboro’s apology would never have occurred without the ground-breaking work of the Greensboro Truth & Reconciliation Commission and the survivors and allies who initiated it. This two-year effort to break through government inaction and cover-up was the work of dozens of citizens from all walks of life. In addition to recommending institutional reforms and additional truth-seeking, the GTRC’s 2006 report urged that Greensboro make meaningful gestures to acknowledge the events of November 3, 1979, including public and private apologies to those harmed by the events.

The uphill battle fought by the GTRC, massacre survivors and others, driven by a loving insistence on justice in the face of government inaction, was a major inspiration for the citizen-led North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture. Where government fails to uphold the rule of law, citizens can step in.

While Klan violence and the CIA’s torture program may seem far apart, one thread that links them is official refusal to look the problems squarely in the eye. When it took on the 1979 massacre, the GTRC tackled the enabling landscape of racism in law enforcement and criminal justice. The racist “othering” of Muslim people has allowed the U.S. to avoid scrutiny for a years-long government torture system whose victims are all Muslim. We are overdue for a reckoning on how this form of official and societal racism has degraded our democracy.

Governor Cooper rightly recognized the urgency of tackling systemic racism when he created task forces on racial equity in criminal justice and health. The CIA continues to do its secret business through its contractor based at the Johnston County Airport. We need the Governor to act with urgency on the problem of torture.  In fact, the NCCIT’s 2018 report recommends a governor-led task force.

Greensboro’s apology has flesh through a set of scholarships in the names of those murdered, so that future generations are both aided and reminded of those who lost their lives. The U.S. owes acknowledgement to the men and women whose lives it has trampled through torture and secret detention. With its unique contribution as home of the “torture taxis,” North Carolina is a good place to start.

Jill Williams was Executive Director of the Greensboro Truth & Reconciliation Commission from 2004-2006, and now lives in Pulaski, VA.  Catherine Read was Executive Director of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture from 2017-2018, and lives in Raleigh, NC.

Record rainfall causes major sewage spill in Greensboro; equivalent to gallons of maple syrup that Maine produces in a year

Click on a yellow icon to see the address and amount of sewage spilled.

The City of Greensboro discharged 675,450 gallons of untreated sewage into parts of Buffalo Creek, a tributary of the Cape Fear River, after record rainfall last week overwhelmed wastewater treatment systems.

On Feb. 6, Greensboro received 3.69 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service. The previous record of 2 inches was set in 1955.

As required by state law, the city issued press releases listing the amounts and addresses of the spills.  “The area was cleaned and lime was spread on ground surface areas,” a city spokesperson wrote.

Because of the volume of water, the pollution was likely diluted in the creek before it reached towns and cities downstream.

A spokeswoman for the NC Department of Environmental Quality said the agency is investigating several wastewater overflows that occurred because of the storm. “Once the five-day reports come in for all of these spills, our staff will make a determination about whether enforcement actions are warranted,” she said.

How much is 675,000 gallons?

  • The State of Maine produced 675,000 gallons of maple syrup in 2016.
  • An Olympic-size swimming pool holds about 660,000 gallons of water.
  • The amount is equal to 21,774 barrels of beer.
  • It would take 1,054 hours for an Airbus ACJ319 to burn through 675,000 gallons of fuel.

This weekend: Greensboro Event explores impact of court fines and fees

This weekend the The North Carolina Fines and Fees Coalition and the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program  are holding an event in Greensboro examining the impact of court fines, fees and criminal justice debt in North Carolina.

The event begins Friday at 11 a.m. and will be held at the main banquet hall at Bennett College Global Learning Center, 521 Gorrell St., Greensboro. The program, which runs through Saturday, will feature a variety of criminal justice experts from across the political spectrum:

  • The Honorable Josephine Davis, Superior Court North Carolina 14th Judicial District
  • Satana Deberry, District Attorney for Durham County
  • Dennis Gaddy, Founder and Executive Director, Community Success Initiative
  • Brandon Garrett, Professor of Law, Duke University School of Law
  • Kristie Puckett-WIlliams, Statewide Campaign for Smart Justice Manager, ACLU of North Carolina
  • Vikrant Reddy, Senior Fellow, Charles Koch Institute
  • Priya Sarathy Jones, National Campaign Director at the Fines and Fees Justice Center
  • Joanna Smith-Ramani, Managing Director, Aspen Institute Financial Security Program
  • Daryl Atkinson, Co-Director, Forward Justice

“In North Carolina, criminal justice systems have imposed burdensome fines, fees, court costs, and other debts onto residents, creating a ‘two-tier justice system,'” the coalition said in a release Monday.  “In an attempt to close budget gaps, some states and local municipalities have increased court fines and fees, imposed late fees and installment plan fees, and intensified efforts to collect. These efforts hit low-income households and households of color disproportionately hard, and when penalties like suspending driver’s licenses are implemented, it exacerbates a person’s inability to pay.”

Policy Watch has written about this issue extensively, including coverage of policy changes under Deberry as district attorney in Durham.

Among the changes Deberry made shortly after taking office: waiving unpaid traffic fines and fees for 2,118 people who lost their licenses at least two years ago, removing a major impediment to restoring their ability to legally drive.