News

D.C. watchdog group files new complaint against House Speaker Tim Moore

Speaker Tim Moore

In case you missed it yesterday, the Washington, DC-based Campaign for Accountability has filed a new complaint calling on state officials to investigate whether North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore acted improperly to seek preferential treatment from state regulators.

This is from the news release that accompanied the complaint:

Today, Campaign for Accountability (“CfA”), a nonprofit watchdog group focused on public accountability, again called on North Carolina officials to investigate whether Tim Moore, Speaker of the North Carolina General Assembly, improperly used his position to seek preferential treatment from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) regarding a property owned by his company, Southeast Land Holdings, LLC (“Southeast”). Additionally, CfA called for an investigation into whether DEQ officials acted appropriately when they issued a Conditional No Further Action (“NFA”) letter to Speaker Moore’s company in September 2016.

CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “New documents obtained by Campaign for Accountability reveal that one of Speaker Moore’s legislative aides inquired with DEQ officials about Speaker Moore’s company after it apparently violated several environmental regulations. The documents indicate that yet again Speaker Moore appears to have attempted to use his official position to enrich himself. North Carolina officials should immediately investigate whether Speaker Moore directed his aide, a former DEQ official, to contact the agency on his behalf.”

Speaker Moore was the vice president and part owner of Southeast Land Holdings, LLC. In 2013, Southeast purchased a former Townsend poultry plant in Siler City, North Carolina. The property contained two underground storage tanks (UST) that were used to hold gasoline and diesel fuel and are subject to DEQ regulations.

The release goes on to explain that while state ethics official dismissed a previous complaint regarding the matter, this was before new documents came to light revealing “that Mitch Gillespie, a Senior Policy Advisor for Speaker Moore and former Assistant Secretary at DEQ, intervened with DEQ officials regarding Speaker Moore’s property.”

Click here to read the full release.

Click here to read the new complaint.

Click here to read the previous complaint.

Click here to see the newly obtained documents

Commentary

Editorial: Did Richard Burr campaign violate federal law?

Sen. Richard Burr

In case you missed it, be sure to check out a new editorial posted in the Charlotte Observer entitled “Burr, NRA appear to be even tighter than we thought.” In it, the authors explore the evidence of illegal coordination between Richard Burr’s 2016 reelection campaign and the National Rifle Association.

This is from the editorial:

We already knew North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator, Richard Burr, was awash in NRA cash. We already knew the pro-gun group spent $5.6 million in 2016 against his Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross — twice as much as it spent on any other House or Senate candidate.

But only now do we know that Burr and the National Rifle Association may have broken the law by coordinating their advertising campaigns. Documents from the Federal Communications Commission show that the NRA’s ads in Burr’s race were authorized by the same media consultant working for Burr’s campaign, Mother Jones and The Trace reported on Friday.

That would appear to break federal law that requires candidates and outside groups to be independent of each other. Outside groups can make “independent expenditures” on so-called “issue ads,” which typically back or attack one candidate or the other. But the spending can’t be coordinated with an individual’s campaign. That law is designed in part to keep advocacy groups from exceeding contribution limits to individual candidates.

In a series of TV ads in 2016, the NRA attacked Ross for her record as a state legislator on gun control, saying she voted against gun rights and “personal liberty.” It was part of an avalanche of outside money dumped into the swing-state race with control of the U.S. Senate at stake.

Mother Jones and The Trace report that Jon Ferrell, CFO of a company called National Media Research, Planning and Placement, authorized ad purchases both for Burr’s campaign and for NRA ads in Burr’s race. He placed some TV ads in the closing weeks of the campaign as an “agent for Richard Burr Committee” and others at around the same time for the NRA against Ross. Mother Jones found similar activity in 2018 Senate races in Missouri and Montana.

Campaigns and outside groups can hire the same vendors but those vendors must have strict firewalls to prevent collaboration. A Burr campaign official suggested to the Observer editorial board that such a firewall was in place. But it’s hard to see how that’s so since Ferrell was involved with both sets of ads.

The editorial concludes by calling on the Federal Elections Commission, which has a record of being pretty slack in its enforcement of the coordination ban, to get moving and enforce it strictly in 2020 — especially given the flood of cash the NRA seems likely to dump on Thom Tillis’ campaign.
News, Trump Administration

Local TSA employee on working without pay during shutdown: “We can’t keep doing this”

As the federal government shutdown plods through its third week thanks to Republican demands that Democrats agree to fund President Trump’s border wall scheme, its impacts are starting to have real and serious impacts here in North Carolina.

Take, for instance, the issue of airport security. A veteran Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer who works at a North Carolina airport told Policy Watch today that the point in time at which some TSA employees will need to start looking for new jobs or, at the least, applying for unemployment insurance and/or emergency loans is fast approaching.

“We can’t keep doing this” said the officer, who asked not to be identified in order to avoid any possibility of retribution.

The employee said that while many TSA supervisors have been furloughed, he and other front line workers find themselves in a situation in which all leave has been cancelled and prospects for getting paid for the work they’ve done in recent weeks seem remote, at best.

A potentially devastating hit to the worker and his colleagues will take place this coming Saturday, January 12, he said. That’s when the employees would ordinarily see the first paycheck of the year hit their bank accounts via direct deposit.

And while some workers — especially those with other sources of household income — may be able to make do for a while longer, that won’t be the case if the shutdown continues (As Trump has indicated it might). The TSA employee said that if workers miss a second paycheck later in the month, many will have trouble making February 1 rent and mortgage payments. “This has gotta end pretty soon,” he said.

In addition to the immediate hardship the shutdown is inflicting on TSA employees, there may be another, longer-lasting negative impacts from the shutdown according to the employee — namely, overall TSA staffing and effectiveness. The employee related that the hiring process at TSA can, understandably, take an extended period.

“It took me a year to get hired,” the employee noted thanks, at least in part, to the intense background checks and physical examinations to which TSA security applicants are subjected. With hiring being coordinated by outside private contractors that, in some instances, already confronted sizable backlogs even prior to the shutdown, the employee observed, the prospect of hiring replacements for TSA employee who resign to seek employment elsewhere could be make for some significant staffing problems going forward.

Commentary

This is why turning our children’s education over to the “genius of the market” is a lousy idea

There’s more evidence today of the dangers that come with turning our children’s education over to lightly-regulated charter schools. This is from a story by Amelia Harper of the Rocky Mount Telegram entitled “Teachers at closed school left unpaid”:

Teachers at the now defunct Global Achiever School will not be able to look to the state for recourse as they wait to see if they will be paid the money owed to them.

“Just as with district schools, the state allots the funds but the entity — the local education agency or charter school — is the employer. What recourse is available to employees would be a matter of the particulars of their employment agreement with their employer and state law,” said Drew Elliot, communications director for the state Department of Public Instruction.

Global Achievers School, the second charter school to open in Nash County, opened its doors in August, lost its state charter in November and closed on Dec. 14, as required by the state. The State Board of Education voted to withdraw the school’s charter because it did not meet the minimum attendance threshold and board members were concerned about the school’s financial condition.

Teachers and staff member have been informed by the charter school board that as of now, they will not be paid for services rendered in the month of December or for the 10 percent cut that was taken from their paychecks in November in an effort to address cash flow issues.

The story goes on to explain that while the school believes it’s still entitled to some federal dollars, the basic deal is that school employees (and, of course, children and their families) are out of luck

The school also has little in the way of assets as it was renting its space and owned no buildings. Elliot said that under state law, “all net assets of the charter school purchased with public funds would go to the LEA — in this case, Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools.”

The school is not likely to have much in the way of assets as the state of North Carolina has already notified the school board that the school owes it nearly $6,000 of the $192,235 it received from the state this year. On the plus side, the school has relatively few financial obligations related to building costs.

The board members of Global Achievers School will be left to sort out the final details of the school and conduct its financial autopsy.

“The entity that previously held the charter would be responsible for winding up its financial affairs and satisfying any outstanding obligations to creditors, vendors and the like,” Elliot said.

The bottom line: It’s clear the school should have never been approved in the first place, but that’s what you get when many of the people running our public schools hold the delusional view that it’s okay to bring the market economy reality of winners and losers into the education system.

Commentary

Editorial rightfully derides NC’s on-the-cheap state government

As the 2019 General Assembly prepares to get underway, state lawmakers would do well to read and heed the latest Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com, “Quality is sacrificed with bargain basement government.” Here are some highlights:

When it comes to excellence, North Carolina seems satisfied with achieving unparalleled mediocrity.

Why work to be the best when the state can continue to give unnecessary tax breaks to corporations – on top of massive federal tax cuts? Then, after revenues dry up, explain away stagnation with “that’s the best we can do with the money we have” to deliver important government responsibilities that are just alright?  It’s government on the cheap.  In too many cases, North Carolina taxpayers aren’t even getting what they pay for.

The editorial then goes on to provide a list of areas in which the state’s mediocre (or worse) performance is all too obvious — per student public school spending, overall public school performance, health funding and infant mortality prevention, and even economic development.

Here’s the on-the-mark conclusion:

There is no hiding the diminished aspirations of leaders who aren’t willing to spend more than merely what is needed to get the job done.

There is no demand for excellence and no dedication to constant improvement.

Just get by, that’s fine. That’s the clear message.

But it’s not a message that meets our State Constitution’s mandate that every child receive a quality education.

It is not a message that says North Carolina is a state that cares about the wellbeing of all of its citizens. It is not a message that tells economic development prospects they’ll find an environment that fosters a quality workforce and growth.

As the General Assembly prepares to start a new session, it is time to lift the state out of the bargain basement.

Click here to read the entire editorial.