Committee set up by Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice: Don’t pack the court

Chief Justice Martin

Chief Justice Martin

The momentum in Raleigh appears to be building for transforming next week’s special legislative session on Hurricane Matthew into a genuine political hurricane. Rumors continue to persist inside the Raleigh beltline that lawmakers are increasingly likely to undertake one of the most blatant and misguided power grabs in state history by adding two new justices to the state Supreme Court in order to reverse the 4-3 partisan advantage Democrats won on Election Day last month.

As was noted in this space previously, if the rumors prove to be true (and the silence from those with the power to deny them is growing increasingly deafening) it would be one of the lowest of all low acts imaginable right now — a not-so-silent coup d’état and an outright assault on democratic government.

It would also run in direct opposition to the recommendations of a state committee appointed by Republican Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported last night, the Public Trust and Confidence Committee of the N.C. Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice issued a report on November 15 that rejects such a move:

In urging the General Assembly to make workloads and not political considerations the basis for expansion, the Public Trust and Confidence Committee stated “that any other consideration for numbers of judges and justices threatens public trust and confidence.”

The committee adopted a second resolution urging the full commission to “issue a statement opposing the expansion of our Supreme Court” unless the state Administrative Office of the Courts “requests the additional justices to meet workload demands.”

Let’s hope fervently that state lawmakers are paying attention to these kinds of nonpartisan, commonsense recommendations, but given past experience, it seems extremely doubtful.

Duke Energy proposes providing permanent water to nearly 900 households

A tweet by Amy Brown, who receives bottled water from Duke Energy because she lives near the Buck plant. She built a Christmas tree out of water bottles.

Amy Brown lives near the Allen plant in Belmont, and gets bottled water from Duke Energy. She used 38 12-ounce bottles to fix Thanksgiving dinner. (Photo from Amy Brown’s Twitter feed.)

Amy Brown used 38 12-ounce bottles of water to fix Thanksgiving dinner. Brown, who lives less than 1,000 feet from Duke Energy’s Allen plant, has received bottled water for more than a year and half after she received a “Do Not Drink” order from state health officials. Her private well tested high for vanadium and hexavalent chromium, the latter of which, while naturally occurring, can cause cancer.

Soon, though, she and 271 of her Belmont neighbors could get a permanent and less wasteful source of water.

Duke Energy announced yesterday afternoon the proposed details of its plan to provide permanent water supplies to nearly 900 households within a half-mile of the utility’s coal-fired power plants. House Bill 630, the Coal Ash Management Act, required Duke to provide permanent water to households where any portion of their land crossed that half-mile buffer — and if the households used well water or bottled water (under Duke Energy’s bottled water program) as the drinking water source.

The utility is offering eligible property owners a connection to a public water supply and/or installation of whole-home water filter systems. Neighbors also will be given the opportunity to opt out completely. Duke will pay for a connection to public water lines, where extending lines is cost-effective; for residents who select a filter system, the utility will provide long-term maintenance for it.

The utility must provide the permanent supply to these households by October 2018 unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as a connection delay by a city or town.

Here is a summary of Duke’s water supply plans for each community near the respective plant. The total costs could change based on the number of households that opt in to the public water supply. Plans for Asheville and Sutton have not yet been released.

  • Allen (Gaston County): Total of 272 households, including 77 on three community supply wells, and four businesses. These wells are served by Aqua NC. All but one household is eligible to be connected to a public water supply from the City of Belmont; the remaining home is located far from the line and will have an ion filtration water system installed.
    Estimated monthly water bill for households on public water: $73, $90 for Aqua customers.
    Total installation costs: $7.26 million.
  • Belew’s Creek (Stokes County): 58 households, two schools/churches and one business. These properties will be placed on a filtration system for their private wells. They will not have a monthly water bill.
    Total installation costs: $406,000-$580,000.
    Annual operation and maintenance costs of filtration system: $29,000 – $116,000.
  • Buck (Rowan County): 189 households, four schools and/or churches. One property will have a filtration system; the other 188 will be connected to the Rowan County public supply.
    Estimated monthly water bill for households on public water: $50.
    Total installation costs: $4.9 million.
    Annual operation and maintenance costs: $7,000 – $10,000.
  • Cape Fear (Chatham County): Four households can choose a filtration system or a connection to the county’s public supply.
    Estimated monthly water bill for households on public water: $50.
    Total installation costs for public water: $76,000.
  • Dan River (Rockingham County): One household will be connected to Eden’s public system.
    Estimated monthly water bill: $55.
    Total installation costs: $9,000.
  • H.F. Lee (Wayne County): 42 households can choose a filtration system or a connection to the Fork Township’s public supply.
    Estimated monthly water bill for households on public water: $32.
    Total installation costs: $920,000.
  • Marshall (Catawba County): 127 households, including six businesses, two industrial facilities, and two schools/churches. 125 households are recommended for public water; the other two, water filtration systems.
    Estimated monthly water bill for households on public water: $60.
    Total installation costs: $2.9 million.
    Annual operation and maintenance costs: $7,000 – $10,000.
  • Mayo (Person County): 22 households are recommended for filtration systems.
    Total installation costs: $154,000-$220,000.
    Annual operation and maintenance costs: $11,000 – $54,000.
  • Riverbend (Gaston County): No households were identified within the half-mile boundary.
  • Rogers (Rutherford/Cleveland counties): 64 households are recommended to be connected to a public water supply, and two to receive a filtration system
    Estimated monthly water bill for households on public water: $30.
    Total installation costs: $2.5 million.
    Annual operation and maintenance costs: $1,000-$4,000.
  • Roxboro (Person County): 91 households will receive a filtration system.
    Total installation costs: $637,000-$910,000.
    Annual operation and maintenance costs: $45,500 – $182,000.
  • Weatherspoon (Robeson County): 14 households, seven recommended for public water and seven for a filtration system.
    Estimated monthly water bill for households on public water: $48 Robeson County; $38 city of Lumberton.
    Total installation costs: $300,000-$350,000.
    Annual operating and maintenance costs for filtration systems: $3,500 – $14,000.





State advisory board pushes second chance for denied charters, speedier application timeline

charterschools-300x202It remains to be seen whether members of the State Board of Education will go along with it, but the Charter School Advisory Board (CSAB) took the first steps Thursday in amending the state’s application process for prospective new charters.

The policy recommendations unanimously approved by the charter board Thursday include the stipulation that, before the state board can deny an application for a potential new charter approved by the CSAB, the application would be shuttled back to the CSAB for further review.

The new policy would also speed up the timeline for charter applications. Currently, the state board is required to give its annual approval of new charters in August, but the timeline backed Thursday by CSAB would mandate a vote by the state board come no later than June, unless an application has been sent back to the CSAB for further review.

The policy revisions are a response to this summer’s vote by the state board to turn down five charter applicants backed by the CSAB, a vote that prompted a swift and angry response from charter backers.

As charter board members noted Thursday, the policy recommendations will, of course, require the support of the State Board of Education as well.

Charter board members said that the amended timeline comes following complaints that the state board’s controversial August vote this year came with too little time remaining under state statute for charter applicants and the CSAB to answer questions about potential new schools.

Charter supporters have also complained that a state board denial currently forces applicants to restart the process, which could delay a school’s opening by months.


We must not grow numb to Trump’s lies and misdeeds

Donald Trump speakingIt will get tempting in the weeks and months ahead to lose sight of the many specific lies and misdeeds emanating from the incoming Trump presidency — a collection of disturbed zealots and hapless ideologues that’s starting to look as if it might better be described as a junta than an administration. Even now, the untruths and disastrous cabinet picks are coming so fast that’s it’s hard to keep track and easy to throw up one’s hands in utter disgust and resignation.

Resist the temptation.

As a Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial reminded us yesterday in a discussion of Trump’s blatant prevarications about “millions” of undocumented people supposedly voting in the election, it’s essential that caring and thinking people keep meeting the Trumpist lies and distortions with a relentless fusillade of the truth:

“Are you kidding? Can any reasonable human being believe that it would be possible for MILLIONS of people to vote illegally and NOBODY notice?

The only people who might fit in that category are the same ones who can’t – or won’t – see the lies spouting from Trump’s Twitter account.

The disregard for facts and assault on truth that springs forth from Trump and his handlers is the expedient stuff that festers in totalitarian states. It is the verbal currency of dictators and despots. Lies eat away the soul of a nation. Trump and his backers need to stop the lies and deal straight with the nation and the world.

While sometimes inconvenient, the truth strengthens our nation’s foundation. It is the bedrock of our democracy.”

Well said. Our only hope to save the American democracy and the planet we ought to be trying to lead with courage and integrity in the next four years is to fight against the reactionary and delusional onslaught that’s already underway as if our lives and those of our children and grandchildren depended on it. Indeed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that, in many ways, they do depend on it.


After uproar, North Carolina charter board considers process revisions

Charter schoolsThis summer, charter backers were in an uproar after members of the State Board of Education (SBE) turned down 20 of a possible 28 prospective charter applications, including five that had been approved by the Charter School Advisory Board, an appointed panel that counsels the SBE on applications.

It seemed a major shift in the vetting process for a board that had approved dozens of new schools since the state’s cap on charters was lifted in 2011, although a number of those schools have shuttered in the years since.

At one point, a member of the Charter School Advisory Board even referred to members of the SBE as “soulless SOBs” over the vote, a comment for which he later apologized.

This week, members of the charter board will consider a more muted response to that controversy, although the implications are significant. Members are planning to consider a policy revision Thursday which would allow charter applicants denied by the SBE to return to the charter advisory board for further review.

Charter supporters have openly criticized a process that currently requires schools to begin the application process anew after denial by the SBE, something that could delay a charter’s opening by months or years.

Per the new policy recommendation from the charter board, which would also would set a timeline for the revised process:

1. Prior to denying any charter school application that received a majority vote to approve by the CSAB, the SBE will return the application to the CSAB for further review before denial on second reading.

2. The CSAB shall complete its recommendations to the SBE on charter school applications by its April meeting each year. The CSAB will present its recommendations to the SBE at the May SBE meeting for discussion. The SBE will approve or deny all charter school applications by its June meeting each year, except those applications returned to the CSAB for further consideration under part one of this recommendation, which the SBE will approve or deny by its August meeting each year.

However, the recommendation on the table Thursday bypasses an earlier call that any charters with majority approval by the charter board be shuttled to the SBE’s consent agenda, a designation usually fit for “non-controversial” items that do not require discussion. That recommendation was seemingly shot down by at least one state board member months ago.

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