20150603_Rowan_County_NC_Seal2-277x275By a 3-2 vote, the State Board of Elections has removed Rowan County Board of Elections Chair Malcolm “Mac” Butner.

Butner came under fire after complaints about several racist and other inappropriate messages he had posted on Facebook and Twitter. Examples of those complaints  and the offensive media posts are set forth in the state board’s notice of hearing, here.

They include posts, such as the one below, which the state board identified with this proviso:  “The posts appearing in Appendix B were copied from various online outlets and are attributed to Butner. SBE Staff is not able to independently verify whether all posts are in fact original.”

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The vote came after a hearing this morning in which Butner did not appear or otherwise participate, citing health issues — although as some board members noted, he was given the opportunity to appear by telephone and elected not to do that.

State Board members Rhonda K. Amoroso and James Baker voted against the removal, saying the inappropriate conduct occurred before Butner became chair and noting that by all accounts he had conducted board business in a fair manner.

But state board chair Joshua B. Howard and members Joshua D. Malcolm and Maja Kricker said that Butner’s behavior, and his failure to refute any of the claims, justified his removal both for violations of the state board’s social media policy and for creating a perception of distrust in the county board’s mission.

Said Howard:

These are remarks I would not tolerate in my home, I wouldn’t abide them in my workplace, and I sure as heck am not going to leave a person who says these things on a county board of elections — not on my watch. I’m persuaded that the offensive posts, just the nature of them,  and the intemperate things he has said before going on the board are grounds for removal.  If the public doesn’t have confidence in the inclusiveness of a county chair then that very much impedes the mission of the agency. The job of the county chair is to preserve public confidence in the administration of elections. No one who reads these things could feel that he’s qualified to do that. He is the public face of the administration of elections in Rowan County, and we’re about to change that face.




Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in North CarolinaIn just a little over a year, from lawsuit to settlement in 2012, citizen and conservation groups in South Carolina pushed South Carolina Electric & Gas to begin cleaning up coal ash contamination at its sites there.

State environmental regulators stayed out and the utility stepped up, coming up with a plan to remove the ash from lagoons and either re-use it if possible or move it to lined storage elsewhere.

Other utilities there — including Duke Energy — likewise agreed later to do the same and have thus far removed more than a million tons of ash.

Compare that to what’s happened here since 2012. In October of that year, environmental groups asked the  state’s Environmental Management Commission for a ruling on how groundwater contaminations rules applied to coal ash sites here, and prepared for lawsuits against the company for contamination at its Asheville and Riverbend plants.

But unlike what happened in South Carolina, the state here stepped in at the last minute and the utility pushed back. Now, three years and a catastrophic coal ash spill later, those groups are still battling the state and Duke Energy over coal ash management. Instead of clean up, what they’ve gotten is delay, denial and diminution of the company’s obligations.

The September settlement between Duke Energy and the newly-rebranded Department of Environmental Quality, allowing Duke to pay a $7 million fine for groundwater pollution at all 14 of its coal ash sites here, is just the latest chapter in that saga.

That fine is a far cry from the $25 million DEQ had previously imposed on Duke for violations just at the Sutton Steam Plant near Wilmington. Duke subsequently appealed that fine, but then reached a global settlement with the state settling all claims and cases involving all its coal ash plants here.

The agreement also requires no cleanup commitments from Duke beyond what the company has already agreed to do, which involves removal of the ash at only a few plants.

Yesterday the groups filed a lawsuit asking the court to set aside that settlement.

“This latest sweetheart settlement shows what happens when Duke Energy and state bureaucrats get in a room together without public scrutiny,” said Frank Holleman, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center representing the groups.

“Citizen action has produced cleanup commitments at seven dangerous, polluting coal ash sites in North Carolina so far, in spite of the state and Duke trying for years to block citizens from protecting our rivers, lakes, and drinking water. That’s why we are asking the court to ensure those efforts can continue.”

Read the new complaint here.


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Princeton economist Angus Deaton, who was named a Nobel Prize winner today, is best known in his field for his work showing that consumption choices and other individual factors — as opposed to those of larger groups as a whole — may provide better insight into the workings of the economy.

But as Vox points out here, Deaton also  authored this book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, in which he makes a compelling case as to “why income inequality in society as a whole is a threat to democracy — and why worrying about it isn’t just class warfare or resentment.”

Quoting Deaton:

The political equality that is required by democracy is always under threat from economic inequality, and the more extreme the economic inequality, the greater the threat to democracy. If democracy is compromised, there is a direct loss of wellbeing because people have good reason to value their ability to participate in political life, and the loss of that ability is instrumental in threatening other harm.

The very wealthy have little need for state-provided education or health care… They have even less reason to support health insurance for everyone, or to worry about the low quality of public schools that plagues much of the country. They will oppose any regulation of banks that restricts profits, even if it helps those who cannot cover their mortgages or protects the public against predatory lending, deceptive advertising, or even a repetition of the financial crash. To worry about these consequences of extreme inequality has nothing to do with being envious of the rich and everything to do with the fear that rapidly growing top incomes are a threat to the well being of everyone else.

Read more on Professor Deaton here.



In a unanimous opinion issued today, the Court of Appeals ruled against the city of Asheville in its fight for control over its water system, reversing the trial court.

After the General Assembly created a new Metropolitan Water and Sewage District and then immediately transferred Asheville’s water system to that district in May 2013 — without the city’s consent and without compensation — Asheville challenged the transfer as unconstitutional.

In arguments before Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, the city argued that the transfer violated provisions of the state constitution prohibiting the General Assembly from enacting certain types of local laws; violated the “law of the land ” clause because the law singled out Asheville over other municipalities for no rational reason; and exceeded the State’s authority to take property outright or without paying just compensation.

Cities across the state and the League of Municipalities agreed with Asheville, contending that the state was treading on dangerous ground when it comes to concepts of local rule.

Manning agreed with the city in an opinion issued in June 2014, but the three-judge panel, which included Court of Appeals judges Chris Dillon, Rick Elmore and Ann Marie Calabria, disagreed and rejected each of the city’s arguments.

Read the full Court of Appeals opinion here.

For more on the case, read here.


The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond will take a second look at alleged discriminatory policing in Alamance County, after the Justice Department filed its notice of appeal of U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder’s August decision dismissing such claims against Sheriff Terry Johnson.

In a lawsuit filed in 2012, DOJ alleged that Johnson and his office had engaged in a number of discriminatory practices in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, including targeting Latino residents for investigation, traffic stops, arrests, seizures, and other enforcement actions.

At the trial earlier this year, experts testified that Johnson’s deputies stopped Latino drivers up to 10 times more than non-Latino drivers along major Alamance County highways.

According to the ACLU of North Carolina:

Witnesses also testified about numerous incidents in which Johnson and other ACSO employees expressed prejudice against Latino residents, such as Johnson allegedly ordering deputies to “bring me Mexicans,” “put heat on” predominantly Latinos neighborhoods, and “go out there and get me some of those taco eaters.” Deputies were also accused of sharing links to what the Associated Press described as “a bloody video game where players shoot people entering the country illegally, including children and pregnant women.”

In his decision, Schroeder found that the government had failed to introduce any evidence of individuals who were deprived of their constitutional rights and relied instead upon “vague, isolated statements attributed to Sheriff Johnson.” He added that nobody testified that any ACSO employee carried out any improper directive or otherwise violated any individual’s constitutional rights.

“Indeed, all witnesses, including those called by the Government, denied that they ever did or knew any ACSO officer who did,” Schroeder wrote.

The judge also found that statistical analysis offered by the government was unreliable and not persuasive, “failing to sufficiently compare ACSO’s treatment of Hispanics to others who were similarly situated.”

For more on the case, read the story earlier this summer by Policy Watch’s Sarah Ovaska and this post on the filing of the complaint.