COVID-19, News

Cooper rejects GOP’s calls for a full-scale convention in August

Gov. Roy Cooper and state DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen at a recent briefing

Gov. Roy Cooper responded today to calls for the Republican National Convention to proceed as normal, rejecting the idea of a “full convention.”

On Saturday, Ronna McDaniel and Marcia Kelly, chairwoman and the CEO of the Republican National Convention, respectively, sent Cooper a letter asking for a “full convention” with hotels, restaurants and bars reopened at full capacity to serve “19,000 delegates, alternate delegates, staff, volunteers, elected officials and guests.”

Cooper had previously stated that his administration was waiting to hear from RNC organizers about various “options” they were considering to pull off the event.

In their letter, McDaniel and Kelly listed their “proactive” plans, including “temperature checks, testing before and during the Convention, making masks available for those who request one, and providing enhanced sanitization of public areas.”

The letter came a day after Cooper and President Donald Trump spoke on the phone. On that phone call, Trump demanded a convention with no masks or social distancing.

Today, Cooper said it is “very unlikely” that the conditions surrounding COVID-19 would be favorable enough in August to ensure the kind of convention that McDaniel, Kelly and Trump want.

“We are happy to continue talking with you about what a scaled-down convention would look like and we still await your proposed plan for that,” wrote Cooper.

“Neither public health officials nor I will risk the health and safety of North Carolinians by providing the guarantee you seek.”’

Click here to read Cooper’s full response.

COVID-19, Higher Ed, News

UNC System Interim President: “We can and must do better as individuals, as leaders, as a country, and as a society”

This week UNC System leaders continue to issue statements on the killing of George Floyd, police violence and the protests across the state and nation.

On Tuesday UNC System Interim President Bill Roper sent a message to the chancellors of the system’s 17 campuses.

Roper’s message, in full:

Dear Chancellors:

From last week through this week I have been reading some of your statements on Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and now George Floyd. Witnessing another young black man die at the hands of those who were sworn to protect and serve has left me at a loss for words. I felt and continue to feel anger, sorrow, and grief, for our entire country, but especially for the families of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd’s stepmother, who works at Fayetteville State University.

 I want to draw your attention to some recent statements by Chancellors Martin, Gilliam, and Woodson that have given me some small degree of comfort, hope, and unvarnished truth.

UNC Greensboro Chancellor Frank Gilliam said, “to sustain our democracy, and enact our shared values of freedom, prosperity, equality, safety, and a brighter future for our children, we must solve our problems collaboratively. People are mistaken if they believe the outcry over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is the singular cause of protests across the country. Rather the protests are the expression of mounting frustration over the country’s inability to solve the systemic inequities central to quality of life.”

UNC System Interim President Bill Roper.

N.C. A&T University Chancellor Harold Martin wrote about the vantage point of the university, and the tools and knowledge our faculty and students can bring: “If the aftermath of George Floyd’s death is, indeed, not to be mere protest but a predicate for change in which minds, hearts, policies and practices are forever altered, it will only do so if it is nourished by knowledge and truth. Let us commit ourselves collectively to surfacing those invaluable ingredients of change.”

N.C. State University Chancellor Randy Woodson said, “we have the responsibility to educate ourselves and those who pass through our doors to overcome ignorance, unite against intolerance, model inclusivity, and advance the dignity and power of diversity.”

 I couldn’t agree more. We can and must do better as individuals, as leaders, as a country, and as a society. I am grateful for the work you are doing to support your campus and surrounding communities. We are committed to continue providing a safe environment that is rooted in belonging and where the personal rights, lives, and dignity of everyone matters.

This is a time of deep sadness and mourning. But with knowledge comes responsibility. Now that we know, what are we going to do, each of us? Let us continue to support our communities, fight for change, and build bridges that unite us all.”


Dominion backs off plan to build natural gas pipeline along part of American Tobacco Trail

This was the proposed route of a Dominion natural gas pipeline along the American Tobacco Trail. On left, the green dot represents Herndon Park near Scott King Road in Durham. The pipeline would have routed through part of Chatham and Wake counties to Morrisville Parkway in Cary.

Dominion Energy no longer plans to build a controversial natural gas pipeline along six miles of the American Tobacco Trail, Policy Watch has confirmed.

Half the 13-mile underground pipeline would have run in an easement owned by the NC Department of Transportation, and along the ATT from Scott King Road, near Herndon Park in Durham, and through Chatham and Wake counties to Morrisville Parkway in Cary.

NCDOT Assistant Director of Communications Jamie Kritzer confirmed that department “learned yesterday that Dominion Energy has rescinded the request to utilize NCDOT right of way along the American Tobacco Trail for a pipeline.”

A Dominion spokeswoman confirmed the deal was off and that a new proposal would be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

As Policy Watch reported last week, no one from the utility nor NCDOT had notified Durham officials of the plan, even though the pipeline would have been routed through a southern portion of the county.

Additional documents obtained from the Town of Cary under the Public Records Act show Durham had been excluded from meetings with the utility and other government officials even two years ago.

Dominion previously said it had considered 20 alternatives to the ATT route, which it favored because the land was “pre-disturbed.”

The utility would have cleared at least 30 feet of trees and land on one side of the trail for construction. There would have been a 10-foot buffer between the trail and the pipeline, which would have been buried at a depth of 4 to 6 feet.

On May 7, the Board of Transportation agreed during a public meeting to the deal in which Dominion would pay $3 million to NCDOT for access to the right-of-way. Though the item was included in the board agenda, it wasn’t obvious. The one-paragraph mention occurred on page 17 of “Item R, Right of Way Resolutions and Ordinances.”

Dominion previously said the new pipeline is needed to provide natural gas service to existing and future customers due to the rapid development in the Triangle. It would also allow the utility to “downgrade or reduce pressure” of the 73 miles of existing high pressure transmission pipelines in Orange, Chatham, Lee and Wake counties.

“Reducing the pressure in these pipelines will reduce the internal stress levels of the pipes and significantly improve the overall safety,” according to the presentation. The project has been in the works for more than two years. At that time, PSNC was the utility planning to build the pipeline; Dominion later purchased the company.

It’s still unclear why Durham was excluded from regional conversations that occurred in 2018.

According to documents from the Town of Cary obtained under the Public Records Act, that year NCDOT claimed it contacted the ATT’s “leaseholders” — Chatham, Wake and Durham counties — Durham officials said they were never notified and didn’t know about the project until late last month.

Read more

COVID-19, Education, Higher Ed, News

UNC-Chapel Hill faculty push back on reopening plans, may “vote with their feet”

After more than an hour of questions with UNC-Chapel Hill Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin Monday, members of the school’s Faculty Executive Committee said they still feel confused and uncomfortable about the school’s plan to return to on-campus instruction Aug. 10.

The chief complaint: Faculty and staff were not a significant part of the UNC System decision to re-open campuses to students in the fall semester and are still unclear on how many classes they will be expected to teach in person as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The committee is working on a campus-wide faculty survey about re-opening, which could be go out by the end of this week. But several faculty members pressed Blouin on the degree to which faculty will have the autonomy to decide whether and how they teach in-person.

Beth Mayer-Davis, chair of the Department of Nutrition, said department heads are conflicted about how to balance risk when talking with faculty members about teaching under pandemic conditions.

“What would be the response, what would be your thoughts, if it turns out that…say, 90 percent of the courses end up being remote or primarily remote, partly because faculty understand we have to be able to provide remote access or options for international students who aren’t able to come to campus anyway?” Mayer-Davis said.

Beth Mayer-Davis

“It could be that faculty and students just sort of vote with their feet, so to speak,” Mayer-Davis said.

Blouin responded by framing the question primarily as a financial one.

“The problem is that if you have a very high ‘melt’ either in terms of students don’t come or students stay away … you will have some school by school issues you’ll have to face as a school,” Blouin said. “Many of those school by school issues are financial, that there will be a loss of resources. That’s not a reason to do it or not to do it but it will be an outcome, and it’s a substantial outcome.”

“When you look at the undergraduate program, I think a melt of around 10 percent translates to somewhere around $50-$75 million,” Blouin said. “Given the fact that 85 percent of our budget is generally faculty or staff salaries…you can appreciate one of the potential outcomes with student melt.”

Blouin’s comments got a number of negative responses from faculty. They said they are tired of getting financial answers when asking essential safety questions in the midst of an ongoing pandemic that threatens the health of students, faculty and staff.

Read more


Death of George Floyd hits home for Durham County commissioner

The death of George Floyd after a former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck has revived painful memories for Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton.

“My heart is heavy,” Howerton said Monday. “I am one of those mothers whose sons have been murdered, so today is not an easy day for me.”

Howerton was one of several elected officials who joined leaders of the Durham Branch of the NAACP, Organizing Against Racism (OAR) Durham, Durham Clergy United and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People at a press conference to talk about the judicial systems, racism and protests over George’s death.

“When racism and bias cause our children to be murdered, this is not an easy conversation,” Howerton said. “I’m here to stand for our Black boys and our Black men that are being murdered. They don’t have a right to breathe.”

Howerton’s oldest son, Charles Lamont Howerton, a promising engineering student at Hampton University, was shot and killed in 1993  by a Navy airman he forced to leave a party.

A year later, Howerton’s 19-year-old son, Daryl Eugene Howerton, was shot and killed by two Greensboro police officers.

Daryl was believed to be distraught over his brother’s death. He was shot as he walked into the street nude while brandishing a knife. The officers said he threatened a bystander.

Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton

Howerton filed a lawsuit against the officers, accusing them of using excessive force and violating her son’s civil rights. but did not prevail. Daryl Howerton was Black and the officers who shot him are Latinx.

Cathy Rimer-Surles, an OAR Durham leader, trauma experienced over the past few days represent a “normal week in America” for Black and brown citizens.

She noted the national outrage over the high-profile deaths of George, Ahmaud Arbery and and Breonna Taylor.

Arbery was shot to death while jogging in Glynn County, Ga. Police arrested Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael in the death and charged them with murder and aggravated assault.

Meanwhile, Taylor was killed by Louisville police officers during an errant “no-knock” drug search warrant. Her family has sued the officers accusing them of  “wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence.”

“We know that their deaths are just the tip of the iceberg and that there are so many more who have died unseen, un-mourned and unheard,” Rimer-Surles said.

Durham City Councilman Mark Anthony-Middleton

Durham City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton said the nation must strive to live up to the founding principle that all men are created equal,

“We’re the only country in history that actually wrote that down and said that we’re going to found our country on it,” Middleton said. “Since, that time we have been at war with ourselves. When they took brother [George] Floyd’s life, a lynching in slow motion on camera, it started this next great battle of the American Revolution.”

Middleton contends the nation is still fighting the American Revolution, and that the Civil War, World War II and all others were only battles.

“What you’re seeing in American cities around the country, you’re missing the point if you’re just see looting,” Middleton said. “Another great battle in the American Revolution has started to determine will this country truly be who we say we are.”

NAACP President Rachel Green asked a question on the minds of millions of African Americans since the chilling video surfaced a week ago of Chauvin using a knee to strangle the life from George Floyd.

“How long do we have to deal with these atrocities?” Green asked.

Racial strife at home

In addition, addressing the civil unrest brought on by Floyd’s death,  leaders discussed the ongoing racial strife between Durham County Manager Wendell Davis, who is Black and County Commissioner Heidi Carter, who is white.

Davis has accused Carter of racism in her dealing with him and other county workers of color.

“For some, but not so obvious reasons, you have taken several opportunities to make disparaging remarks about me,” Davis wrote in a Feb. 11 letter addressed to Carter. “I am now concerned that it is due to an inherent bias that you harbor not merely towards me but people of color in general.”

Carter is a former school board member who clashed with Davis over school funding. She denied comments about Davis are racially motivated.

Last month, the Durham County Board of Commissioners launched an investigation to determine whether Davis attempted to interfere in the March 3 primary election by accusing Carter of “inherent bias” in the Feb. 11 letter.

Middleton has asked commissioners to halt the investigation during the pandemic. He said Davis and commissioners should focus on keeping county workers and Durham residents safe.

“The proposition that our commanding general, who is the county manager, would be engaged in anything else other than our protection is unconscionable,” Middleton said.