News, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Bail reform activists charged after protest at Durham detention center

Two bail reform activists were charged Friday after chaining themselves to a gate outside the Durham County Detention Center Thursday.

Kayla ONeill Hartsfield, 25, and Serena Elysa Sebring Wadlington, 41, both of Durham, were charged with public disturbance, second-degree trespass and failure to disperse. Both were released on $2,000 unsecured bonds with a court appearance set for June 12.

The group Southerners on New Ground, in which the two are leaders, participated in the national Black Mamas Bailout movement, bailing out incarcerated mothers out of jail for mother’s day. The two women chained themselves to the gates outside the detention center to protest the cash bail system and pretrial detention. This led the Durham County Sheriff’s office to close Pettigrew Street, where protesters gathered, and lock down the facility.

“We call for the city and county of Durham to stop caging Black mothers and caregivers before Mother’s Day and end money bail and pre-trial detention,” the group wrote in a press statement.

The two women unchained themselves around 8 p.m. Thursday. Warrants were issued and they surrendered in the early afternoon Friday.

In a prepared statement, Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead said his department respects free speech but the protest crossed legal lines.

“While we honor this fundamental constitutional right, in this specific incident, laws were broken, leading to charges being filed,” Birkhead said in the statement.

Neither Hartsfield nor Wadlington could be reached directly for comment Friday.

 

Commentary, Legislature, News, Trump Administration

The Week’s Top Stories on Policy Watch


1. The price NC is paying for Tillis’s loyalty to Trump

The spectacle of Senator Thom Tillis’s spiritless kowtowing to Donald Trump in recent months has truly been something to behold.

It wasn’t that long ago that Tillis was talking big about the need for humane immigration reform policies and the need to combat efforts to undermine investigations into Russian meddling in our democracy.

Boy, did a few shots across the bow from the far right about a possible 2020 GOP primary challenge change all of that. First, of course, came Tillis’s “flip-flop for the ages” on the question of Trump’s declaring a national emergency with respect to the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border. [Read more…]

2. Right and left find rare bit of common ground on “second chance” legislation

More than 1,000 people descended on the state Legislative Building Wednesday to lobby for the Second Chance Act – a bill they say will profoundly change the lives of those with criminal charges or convictions on their record.

Senate Bill 562 would automatically expunge criminal charges that have been dismissed or disposed of as “not guilty” after December 1, 2019. It would also allow people to petition to have all non-violent felony convictions expunged after 10 years of good behavior.

That will help people with records avoid employment and housing discrimination, the bill’s supporters say, getting them back to work and making it easier for them to move on with their lives and make a contribution to society.[Read more…]

 

3. ‘Reform is the answer:’ Voters gather at legislature to lobby for an end to gerrymandering

Redistricting reform is around the corner, and when it happens, it could move quickly. North Carolinians just have to think about what they want from that reform.

“We do have a voice; we do have an opportunity,” said Bob Phillips, Executive Director of Common Cause North Carolina, a voting rights organization that has pushed for redistricting reform for over a decade.

About 60 “tried and true advocates” and voters gathered Tuesday at the legislature for the “People’s Lobby Day to End Gerrymandering.” They spoke to lawmakers and their legislative assistants to encourage support or thank them for their support of one of the six redistricting reform bills currently pending. [Read more…]


4. Damn the politics, impeach Donald Trump. Now.

When Yoni Appelbaum, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote in March that President Trump should be impeached, perhaps, for the writer, some doubt remained even then as to the president’s ultimate guilt or innocence.

“Impeachment is a process, not an outcome,” he wrote. “A rule-bound procedure for investigating a president, considering evidence, formulating charges, and deciding whether to continue on to trial.”

That was two months ago, eons in the Trump universe, a parallel dimension in which the orange debaser in office can stack exponential transgressions upon transgressions, seemingly impervious to time or space. That includes his latest embarrassment, a shallow and, ultimately failed, effort to shape the coverage of the Mueller Report. [Read more…]


5. Education Secretary Betsy Devos pushes her school choice agenda at conference for education writers

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

One could never mistake U.S, Education Secretary Betsy Devos for a victim, but she sure played one Monday during the 72nd Education Writers Seminar being held in Baltimore.

Standing before a roomful of education writers from across the nation, Devos sternly accused Big Media of using her name to score page views.

“As much as many of you in the media use my name as click bait, or try to make it all about me, it’s not,” Devos said. Education is not about Betsy Devos, nor about any other individual. It’s about students.”

If the truth be told, Devos does have a way of generating unfavorable news reports.[Read more…]

 

6. Sampling shows PFAS, GenX in groundwater wells in New Hanover County; contaminants not detected in drinking water


State environmental regulators are sampling groundwater from monitoring wells in northern New Hanover County after perfluorinated compounds, including GenX, were detected in six of 25 wells that supply the Richardson water treatment plant.

However, the compounds were not detected in finished drinking water.

The plant, operated by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, provides drinking water to several communities, including Murrayville, Wrightsboro, and parts of Castle Hayne and Odgen. The source of this public water supply is groundwater tapped from the Castle Hayne and PeeDee aquifers.

While most of the utility’s water treatment plants withdraw from the river, the Richardson plant uses groundwater.[Read more…]

 

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Board of Elections set to discuss Executive Director appointment; Kim Strach’s future in question

Kim Strach

Next week could signal the end of State Board of Elections Executive Kim Strach’s time at the agency.

She has been at the helm of the State Board for nearly six years to the day but has worked there for two decades. She was appointed to the top job by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Her predecessor, Democrat Gary Bartlett, served in the role for 20 years.

The State Board released an agenda Friday for a Monday meeting in which members plan to discuss the executive director’s appointment. WRAL reported shortly after that Democrats planned to oust Strach. Board members Friday could not be reached by NC Policy Watch to confirm.

Strach’s served in an interim capacity for some time, since the State Board was restructured so many times during a power struggle between Republican legislative leaders and current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

The newest version of the law structuring the State Board dictates that new members shall appoint an executive director for a two-year term. That person is responsible for staffing, administration and other execution of the State Board’s decisions and orders, among other things.

New members — three Democrats and two Republicans appointed by Cooper with input from the two main political parties — took over in January.

In February, they were focused on an evidentiary hearing that unveiled “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced” absentee ballot fraud in the 9th congressional district, where a new Republican primary is currently being held. Strach — who is married to Phil Strach, who represents Republican lawmakers in gerrymandering cases — presented the State Board’s evidence about the fraud during the hearing.

The State Board is set to discuss the new appointment at 11:30 a.m. Monday in a telephonic meeting. Members of the public can listen in by calling 562-247-8321 and entering code: 241-966-323. Public meeting materials will post on a rolling basis to the online meeting portal.

Environment

Sampling shows PFAS, GenX in groundwater wells in New Hanover County; contaminants not detected in drinking water

The area shaded in brown indicates the Castle-Hayne aquifer, which includes parts of New Hanover County. (Map: USGS)

State environmental regulators are sampling groundwater from monitoring wells in northern New Hanover County after perfluorinated compounds, including GenX, were detected in six of 25 wells that supply the Richardson water treatment plant.

However, the compounds were not detected in finished drinking water.

The plant, operated by the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, provides drinking water to several communities, including Murrayville, Wrightsboro, and parts of Castle Hayne and Odgen. The source of this public water supply is groundwater tapped from the Castle Hayne and PeeDee aquifers.

While most of the utility’s water treatment plants withdraw from the river, the Richardson plant uses groundwater.

In all, 12 types of PFAS were detected, although not every type was found in every well.

Tests of well water showed levels ranging from 25 ppt to 65 ppt for all PFAS; another well, intended only as an emergency source for the Sweeney plant, contained concentrations of PFAS at 180 ppt. That well is not operating.

No PFAS have been detected in finished drinking water from the Richardson plant during March testing, the utility said. In April, only a trace amount, 0.6 parts per trillion, was detected in one sample, according to the utility.

“We share their concerns, but one data set does not sufficiently help us understand the cause or source of the contamination. DEQ plans to sample areas of concern and expedite testing results,” DEQ Communications Director Megan Thorpe said in a prepared statement.

DEQ said it will conduct its own sampling, but it could take several weeks to receive the results.

The EPA has yet to regulate PFAS or GenX. The state health department has set an unenforceable advisory goal of 140 ppt in drinking water. As part of a consent order, the state Department of Environmental Quality requires Chemours, which had been discharging PFAS into the Cape Fear River for decades, to pay for filter options for owners of private wells where the compounds have been detected above 10 ppt for one, or 70 ppt collectively.

The original source of the widespread PFAS contamination in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin is the Chemours plant, 100 miles upstream. Private drinking water wells around the plant, as well as public drinking water supplies downstream have been polluted from the facility’s discharge.

It’s possible that at least part of the aquifer beneath New Hanover County is now contaminated. In 2017, the utility had pumped water from the Sweeney water treatment plant into an aquifer storage well to keep finished drinking water that could be used during times of high demand. However, the utility suspended the project after it learned that it had unknowingly contaminated the aquifer well because water from the Sweeney plant was contaminated with GenX and other PFAS from Chemours.

The utility found the most recent contamination after sampling the wells to determine how PFAS might move through groundwater near the aquifer storage well. The utility said it is unclear if that well is the source of the other contaminated groundwater wells. Those wells are two to three miles away, and groundwater migrates only about 15 feet a year, at least in the coastal area of New Hanover County.

Speed of groundwater migration can depend on rock and soil types. The Castle Hayne Aquifer is composed of “carbonate rocks,” common in coastal environments, according to the US Geological Survey. The slightly acidic groundwater can carve tunnels in the rock that can be tens of feet wide and even thousands of feet long. Water then moves through these underground networks, although it can’t penetrate undissolved rock.

The Pee Dee Aquifer is made up of fine- to medium-grain sand and black clay.

The finished drinking water from these aquifers is not contaminated, likely because the Richardson plant uses an advanced membrane treatment system, which can remove PFAS, including GenX.

However, the contamination doesn’t end there. The material caught by the membrane filters, known as “concentrate,” is discharged into the Intracoastal Waterway.

Education, News

NC teacher explains, defends teacher walkouts at national education event

Durham teacher Dov Rosenberg acquitted himself well this week at a national conference for education writers in Baltimore.

Rosenberg was part of panel selected by the Education Writers Association to discuss teacher walkouts.

He explained why thousands of North Carolina teachers, parents and others took over the streets of Raleigh on May 1 to demand lawmakers adequately fund public schools.

“Where schools are underfunded, it hurts families of color especially,” Rosenberg said. “That’s why we’re out in the streets because we want to see an adequate amount of support given to all of our public schools.”

Durham teacher Dov Rosenberg, (Right), talks about the North Carolina teacher walkout during the Education Writers Association’s national conference in Baltimore this week.

Rosenberg’s comments came as he pushed back against panelists who questioned the wisdom of forcing school districts to close for a day.

Shavar Jeffries, national president of Democrats for Education Reform, an organization that supports more charter schools, argued that students of colors cannot afford to miss school.

Jeffries said walking out should be the “last option” for educators.

Rosenberg said the walkout was the last resort for North Carolina teachers.

“We have to use what power we have, and the most power we have is our labor,” Rosenberg said. “We are furious that our students are forced to learn in the miserable conditions we are required to work.”

During another conference session, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos was also critical of teacher walkouts.

“I think it’s important that adults have adult disagreements on adult time, and that they not ultimately hurt kids in the process,” DeVos said. “I think too often they’re doing so by walking out of classrooms and having arguments in the way that they are.”

Devos also used the discussion to take a shot a Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“I think great teachers, perhaps, should be making at least half as much as what Randi Weingarten does at $500,000 a year,” Devos said.