News

Trump announces he’ll pull the GOP’s National Convention from Charlotte

President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee will need to find a new home for party’s convention in August.

Trump announcing via Twitter Tuesday evening that he would not hold the convention in North Carolina, unless the party could hold a “full convention” in the Queen City.

A full convention would mean more than 19,000 delegates, staff and volunteers packed into the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

Gov. Roy Cooper and state health officials had been working with the RNC for weeks to find a way to pull off a modified event safely.

But Trump pulled the plug Tuesday, rather than agree to an event where masks and social distancing were viewed as a necessity.

Cooper told reporters Tuesday afternoon it was “very unlikely” that the conditions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic would be favorable enough in August to guarantee the kind of convention the president envisioned. (Click here to read Gov. Cooper’s June 2 letter to the RNC.)

Ironically during a telephone town hall on Monday, Republican Sen. Thom Tillis repeatedly spoke about the importance of wearing a facial covering and practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

North Carolina has recorded nearly 30,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and 921 deaths since March.

News

Thomasville man makes online threat to kill protesters, loses job as a result

As Triad news station WFMY live-streamed a third day of anti-police violence protests in downtown Greensboro Monday, a number of comments jumped out at those watching the Facebook feed.

“I’m about to get in my car and drive over some of these people,” wrote a man identifying himself as Benjamin Benelli Roberts of Thomasville.

“My shotgun is ready to start shooting,” he also wrote.

Roberts was making the threats from his Facebook account, the privacy settings of which allow anyone to see his information. The page includes right-wing political rhetoric, images of Confederate flags, Roberts posing with various guns and Trump 2020 signs.

Benjamin Benelli Roberts

It didn’t take long for locals to begin circulating his photo in connection with the comments and note that he works for Miraje Reconstruction & Development.

The Greensboro company counts among its clients N.C. A&T, UNC-Greensboro, North Carolina State University, Duke University, Wake Forest University, Guilford County and the triad cities of Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point.

Once aware of Roberts’ online threats, the company immediately began investigating. On Tuesday, Miraje confirmed it has terminated Roberts’ employment.

“This has all happened very fast and we are dealing with it swiftly,” said Dale Kitchell, director of human resources for Miraje. “This does not reflect our company in any way, shape or form and is disturbing to the owner and general manager.”

The company was “horrified” by the incident, Kitchell said.

Roberts couldn’t be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment.

[Update: Roberts returned a Facebook message from N.C. Policy Watch Tuesday evening at just after 9 p.m. “I am sorry for what I said and you will never hear those threats again,” Roberts wrote.]

Although Roberts did not physically harm anyone, his violent rhetoric prompted Greensboro police to investigate his threats.

The incident has a particularly disturbing historical resonance in Greensboro, where in 1979 Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazi Party members shot and killed five Communist Workers Party members participating in an anti-racist protest. The incident, now known as The Greensboro Massacre, is still a shameful and divisive chapter in the city’s history.

The protesters Roberts threatened to shoot and run over with his car were demonstrating on the same block as the Woolworth’s building where, in 1960, N.C. A&T students staged a sit-in protest that ignited a national movement. The building is now home to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, which houses a replica of the whites-only lunch counter at which the protest began.

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.”

Environment

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.

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