Here’s what Biden plans to do on his first day as president

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.”

BREAKING: Trump includes Robin Hayes in last-minute flurry of pardons at Tillis’s request

Former GOP Chairman Robin Hayes (L), Sen. Thom Tillis (R)

Former North Carolina Congressman, state Representative, gubernatorial candidate and state Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes is among the scores of individuals granted presidential pardons by President Trump as one of his last acts.

This is  from the White House announcement:

Robert Cannon “Robin” Hayes – President Trump granted a full pardon to Robert Cannon “Robin” Hayes. The former North Carolina Congressman is serving a 1-year term of probation for making a false statement in the course of a Federal investigation. In addition to his years in Congress, Mr. Hayes has served as Chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party and Chair of the National Council of Republican Party Chairs. Senator Thom Tillis and several members of the North Carolina Congressional delegation strongly support clemency for Mr. Hayes.

Hayes, as you’ll recall, is a wealthy heir to the Cannon textiles fortune who plead guilty to lying to the FBI in 2019 regarding the effort by businessman and big-money GOP contributor Greg Lindberg to bribe state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey. Hayes received a modest sentence of probation for his involvement in the scandal that some saw as a relative slap on the wrist.

In ad, Elmcroft Senior Living tries to profit from COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has provoked a great deal of unseemly behavior in many places, but as Adam Searing of the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center for Children and Families pointed out in a weekend tweet, a national senior living chain may have just taken the cake.

Oregon-based Eclipse Senior Living manages facilities in 25 states, including North Carolina, where it runs a dozen locations operating under the Elmcroft Senior Living brand.

Recently, in an apparent effort to recruit new residents when many people are understandably hesitant to enter congregate care (seven of the 12 Elmcroft locations in North Carolina are on the state’s most recent list of COVID outbreaks in congregate living settings), the firm bought online advertising in which it implied to prospective customers that they could gain priority for COVID vaccinations by moving into one of its facilities.

Searing saw the ad and copied it from a local news website.

As you can see at left, the ad read:

“This is your shot!…By making the decision to become a part of our community now, you’re also ensuring that you can receive the vaccine before millions of others.”

The company’s come-on is, in a word, revolting.

COVID vaccines (which are free of charge and for which seniors are already a priority) should be distributed exclusively pursuant to transparent public criteria and priorities – not the actions of companies who seek to profit by helping (or implying they can help) their customers to jump the line ahead of others.

Let’s hope the company takes down the ad immediately and that state official investigate if it doesn’t.

After unanimous vote, Vance County neighbors 1, debris landfill 0

This aerial photograph shows the proposed site of a Land Clearing and Inert Debris Landfill. Much of the land would be clearcut. Long Creek, a tributary of the Tar River, is in the lower left corner of the frame. (Photo: Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper)

Four months. Hundreds of pages of documents and maps and charts. A dozen hours of testimony, some of it heated.

All of it had boiled down to the Jan. 14 meeting of the Vance County Board of Adjustment, which would rule on whether the residents of Egypt Mountain Road would get stuck with a Land Clearing and Inert Debris landfill in their rural neighborhood.

LCIDs, as they’re known, accept tons upon tons of trees, stumps, brush, unpainted wood and concrete, often from construction sites. K&K Organics, based in Wake Forest, had proposed building such a facility in Kittrell, within a half-mile of 60 homes, on roughly 80 acres of steep, rugged and forested terrain that bottoms out at Long Creek, a tributary to Tabbs Creek and the Tar River. 

The LCID would operate Monday through Friday, nine-and-a-half hours and 120 truck trips per day, for 20 years.

Since September, other than posing direct questions — and making an occasional aside — the board had been pokerfaced about its intent. 

Tom Terrell, the combative attorney for K&K Organics, had cited state statutes that he argued sharply limited what the five-member board could consider in its decision.

The board could not account for residents’ “generalized fears” about what “might happen,” if say, a  semi-truck barreling down the very narrow Egypt Mountain Road, ran off the shoulder or collided with a car. Or if flooding, already common, worsened. Or if runoff from the landfill wound up in the Tar River, a drinking water supply. Or if illegal hazardous material were dumped in the landfill, then seeped into the groundwater and private drinking water wells, unbeknownst to anyone until it was too late.

Nor could the board use their “own knowledge to override the evidence.” The members, who presumably know many a fold and pleat in the landscape of Vance County, had to ignore those memories and experiences.

Terrell’s final Hail Mary pass was to claim that the board could not weigh the LCID’s potential harm to the waterways and aquatic life. Only the public health was at issue, Terrell said, not the environment.

“Public comes from the Latin, ‘publicus’ — people,” he said. “Public only refers to people.” (Technically, publicus is derived from populus, “the people.” Publicus can also refer to belonging to the people, state or community.”)

To separate public health from the environment is not only unwise, but also impossible. Federal and state regulations are based on protecting “human health and the environment.” The NC Department of Health and Human Services has an “Environmental Health” section that oversees private drinking water wells. And from 1989 to 1997, the NC Department of Environmental Quality was known as the Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources.

Jerry Eatman, attorney for the neighbors, offered a pointed rebuttal: “Water is central to public health. To say it doesn’t ignores facts.”

Terrell acknowledged that when “water is degraded it can harm the public health, but that’s not in the evidence.” 

What was in the evidence, though, included likely harm to threatened species of mussels, which are key to filtering pollution and supporting a healthy watershed. “All of us want to protect mussels,” said Terrell. “But there is nowhere in the law that says mussels are a person, and if that mussels are harmed, that would harm people.”

While no one argued that mussels are people, there is an artificial disconnect between the cleanliness of the environment and the health of a community. Recent scientific research has shown people who live near major air pollution sources and contract COVID-19 are more likely to suffer more severe symptoms. Other research has shown that residents who live within three miles of industrialized hog farms are more likely to die sooner and suffer from chronic disease than people who don’t, although the link isn’t entirely clear.

Toxic algae blooms are proliferating in the Chowan River Basin — a drinking water supply for more than  125,000 people— in part, because of manure runoff from poultry farms. Even climate change can be attributed to humans’ refusal to recognize that we’re part of — and rely on — a larger, interconnected ecosystem.

And so now the time came for the board to vote.

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