Rumors of white supremacist rally spurs concerns, preparations at UNC

UNC students will rally this afternoon to oppose a rumored white nationalist demonstration on campus.

The rally, at 2 p.m. outside the South Building administration offices, comes in reaction to an email received by a faculty member who who says he was confronted and threatened by alt-right activists outside his office last week.

According to an email sent by Dwayne Dixon, a teaching assistant professor in the Asian Studies department, a pair of men chased him down an academic building hallway last week, trying to provoke him into violence while videotaping him.

“They were video recording me with a phone the whole time and were clearly trying to provoke a reaction they could use to smear me as a ‘violent antifa,’” Dixon wrote.

Dixon wrote that one of the men was Noel Fritsch, a conservative campaign consultant.

Fritsch, a self-described “unsolicited accountability partner to elected officials” and “political lackey”  tweeted that he was assaulted by Dixon on Feb. 7.

Dixon reported the incident to the UNC Police, who have been investigating since. Read more

Environment, News

With House Bill 189 on the agenda, today’s River Quality Committee meeting will be long — and yes, interesting

Bring snacks and a thermos of coffee, because today’s House Select Committee on River Quality meeting could be epic.

Starting at 9:30 a.m. and scheduled for four and half hours, the meeting will cover the latest developments — including enforcement actions against Chemours– on the various GenX spills and related spikes in the water near the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority treatment plant.

The committee will also hear from UNC Wilmington and the CFPUA on their work since the passage of House Bill 56 last August. UNC-W received a $250,000 appropriation in that legislation, and the CFPUA got another $185,000 to study the behavior of perfluorinated compounds in water and treatment methods to remove it.

The appropriation was controversial because a month earlier Gov. Roy Cooper, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services had requested $2.3 million in funding to tackle the GenX crisis; GOP lawmakers rebuffed them.

The whereabouts of the state’s high-resolution mass spectrometers, difficult to say and even more difficult to use, should be more interesting than it sounds. The Senate version of House Bill 189 failed to appropriate any money to DEQ to purchase the very sensitive equipment, which is necessary to test for GenX and other emerging and unknown compounds. Instead Senators gave $2 million to the NC Collaboratory, a think tank at UNC Chapel Hill created by the legislature, to find these spectrometers and the personnel to operate them within the UNC System.

However, considering the human health issues at stake,  it’s unclear if the EPA would approve of say, a first-year grad student testing drinking water samples in a high-resolution spectrometer. There could be legal and liability issues if, for example, the tests were run incorrectly or failed to adhere to other quality controls.

And, it turns out, at least two state agencies have high-resolution spectrometers, although DEQ isn’t one of them. (The DEQ water sciences lab has been described as “looking like it’s from 1985.”) The Department of Agriculture has three, but they are being used to test for pesticides in human and animal food. If DEQ were to borrow or repurpose the equipment, then the Agriculture Department couldn’t do its work.

DHHS has seven such spectrometers: six are being used by toxicologists to test for the presence of pharmaceuticals in people who have died, presumably of causes related to the ingestion of legal drugs. The seventh high-resolution spectrometer is supposed to be used solely to test for chemical warfare agents in the water. DHHS received a grant from the EPA in 2011 for this spectrometer, with its uses very specific and defined.

DEQ would have to ask the EPA for permission to repurpose the spectrometer for GenX and emerging compounds. If the EPA decides the equipment is no longer necessary to test for bioterrorism threats — a Big If — then DEQ could access the machine. But the agency still needs roughly $480,000 in recurring funds to pay for the personnel to be certified on the equipment and to devote their time to testing for these compounds in the rivers and lakes, statewide.

The final agenda item is a discussion of House Bill 189. the first version unanimously passed the House, and then was upended by the Senate, which adjourned without voting on the measure. Then they rewrote much of the bill, passed it, only to — touché — be given the same treatment by the House, which didn’t vote on it.

By the time the short session convenes on May 16, it will be nearly a year since the Star-News broke the story of GenX in Wilmington’s drinking water. And in that 11 months, no substantive legislation has passed that could remove the chemical and other emerging contaminants from drinking water.

The meeting will be held in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building, and the audio will be streamed online.


Co-chairs discuss scope of legislative committee to study school safety

House Speaker Tim Moore announced the appointments Tuesday to a new House Select Committee on School Safety.  Moore says the legislative panel will seek expert input on securing the state’s classrooms and education facilities in the wake of a shooting in Parkland, Florida last week that left 17 dead and more than a dozen wounded.

Rep. John Torbett and Rep. David Lewis outlined the scope of the committee’s work at a press conference in Shelby.

Recommendations are expected by the short session in May.

The following House members will serve on the Select Committee on School Safety

Representative David Lewis, Co-Chair Representative Nelson Dollar Representative Brenden Jones
Representative John Torbett, Co-Chair Representative Jeffrey Elmore Representative  Donny Lambeth
Representative John Faircloth, Vice-Chair Representative Elmer Floyd Representative Marvin Lucas
Representative John Bell Representative Rosa Gill Representative Chris Malone
Representative Larry Bell Representative Holly Grange Representative Allen McNeill
Representative Mary Ann Black Representative Pricey Harrison Representative Rodney Moore
Representative Jamie Boles Representative Kelly Hastings Representative Garland Pierce
Representative William Brawley Representative Cody Henson Representative Stephen Ross
Representative Dana Bumgardner Representative Yvonne Holley Representative Jason Saine
Representative Justin Burr Representative Craig Horn Representative Sarah Stevens
Representative Carla Cunningham Representative Pat Hurley Representative Larry Strickland
Representative Ted Davis Representative Verla Insko Representative Harry Warren
Representative Jimmy Dixon Representative Darren Jackson Representative Donna White
Representative Josh Dobson Representative Linda Johnson

Charges dropped against Durham protesters in Confederate statue incident

Durham District Attorney Roger Echols dropped the remaining charges against protesters accused of helping to topple a Confederate statue last summer.

The move came a day after District Court Judge Frederick S. Battaglia Jr. threw out charges against two other suspects and a third was found not guilty.

Echols, who previously signaled he would take into account the political atmosphere and circumstances when bringing charges, said he believed misdemeanor charges were appropriate.

Durham District Attorney Roger Echols

“Acts of vandalism, regardless of noble intent, are still violations of law,” Echols said in a statement Tuesday.

But the evidence for the remaining five suspects was much the same as that against those whose charges were dismissed on Monday, Echols said.

“For my office to continue to take these cases to trial based on the same evidence would be a misuse of state resources,” Echols said.

Whitley Carpenter helped represent the defendants as part of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Criminal Justice litigation team. She applauded Echols’ decision Tuesday.

“The statue that was torn down was a symbol of white supremacy that has no place in front of the public buildings that represent our community,” Carpenter said in a statement.  “We applaud the District Attorney for finally dropping the charges in this case.  It’s time for us to recognize that these symbols of hate create division within our communities.  We need to make monuments to the ill-conceived project of white supremacy a thing of the past.”

Courts & the Law, News

3-judge panel will hear arguments over constitutionality of 2016 special session

A three-judge panel will hear arguments tomorrow challenging a surprise special legislative session from 2016 in which lawmakers made changes to existing power structures in the state.

Common Cause North Carolina and 10 state residents filed suit last year against Lieutenant Gov. Dan Forest, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger over the constitutionality of the special session, which was called with just two hours notice and no public disclosure on what bills would be considered.

The lawsuit seeks to void two bills that were passed during that special session: Senate Bill 4 — an omnibus measure that changed the structure of state and county boards of elections, created partisan appellate elections and took some appointment power from the governor; and House Bill 17 — a measure transferring power from the State Board of Education to newly elected Republican Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Both of those bills have been challenged separately in unrelated lawsuits.

The three judges assigned to hear the Common Cause v. Forest case are Judge Wayland Sermons, a registered Democrat who serves the second judicial district, which includes Beaufort County; Judge Martin McGee, a registered Republican who serves Cabarrus County; and Judge W. Todd Pomeroy, a registered Republican who serves Cleveland and Lincoln counties.

The hearing will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday in courtroom 303 at Campbell University School of Law, on Hillsborough Street.