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Raleigh

25
Something was missing from the usual snow day TV fare. Bill and Renee ran down the shutdowns. Elizabeth and Greg kept predicting the snow would end any minute. Gilbert was giddy. Various teams showed us various roads. But…something just wasn’t there.
 
Oh yes! The Governor’s snow briefing! Where was Governor McCrory warning us not to put on our stupid hats? Where were the beefy, serious guys in uniforms standing behind him? Where, oh where, was DOT Secretary Tony Tata on a day when more than a thousand accidents were reported on the state’s roads?
 
WRAL tracked him down: “Tata traveled to Chicago Monday night and Tuesday to promote his new novel, ‘Foreign and Domestic,’ one of a number of titles the retired brigadier general has authored about fictional elite soldiers fighting threats overseas.”
 
We’ve twitted Tata before about thriller-novel-tweeting during snow emergencies and the State of the State. He good-naturedly assured us those tweets were from his publicist and he was full-time on the job.
 
But that was the real Tata on TV Tuesday, live from Chicago. (Note: You can do live links with CNN and Fox from Raleigh.)
 
His DOT spokesman made a heroic effort to make a molehill out of an ice mountain, assuring us that Tata had been on the phone back to Raleigh all day.
 
We must ask: With Tata reputedly being a master of logistics, would DOT trucks have been deployed earlier in the battle against snow and ice if he had been in command on the scene?
 
Governor McCrory’s office “did not immediately respond to a request for comment.” Which raises another question: Where was the Governor? He was last spotted in this odd clip with other Republican governors in Washington. The Governor appears to be blowing smoke rings in the cold. Or maybe hyperventilating as Bobby Jindal holds forth.
 
Democratic bloggers already are pouncing. Will the mainstream media pursue the issue?
 
No doubt the administration will profess nonchalance. But here’s betting that McCrory and Tata will be all over TV if there’s a repeat tomorrow.

 

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18
When the State Ethics Commission ruled that a lobbyist having sex with a legislator didn’t violate the ban on gifts to legislators because sex acts do not constitute “things of value,” it got the attention of the redoubtable Ira David Wood, who’s surely NC’s most respected artist.
 
Woods posted the entire newspaper article on Facebook then wrote beside it: Happy Valentine’s Day, NC! (Just take me now, Lord.)
 
Beneath his comment one of his friends added: This ruling is perfectly consistent as there are obviously no ethics rules prohibiting a politician from screwing his constituents.
 
Who says art has no practical purpose?


 

 

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17
For years, Dana Cope and the State Employees Association of North Carolina have pursued a vendetta against State Treasurer Janet Cowell. They didn’t like the way she manages the state’s pension fund.
 
They're the ones to talk.
 
Cope and SEANC demanded more answers and more transparency from the Treasurer’s Office. But, to them, openness and transparency apparently go only one way.
 
SEANC barred the media and public from its meeting this weekend to discuss the sorry mess, which reportedly heard a motion of no confidence in management and the executive committee.
 
Most remarkable was John Drescher’s account of how SEANC tried to head off the N&O’s story. During the meeting, Drescher wrote, SEANC’s lawyer read this statement: “SEANC requests that The News & Observer respect the integrity of SEANC’s ethics process and refrain from printing a story that not only is unsubstantiated but which has been disproven by our own democratically elected governing body.”
 
SEANC’s 13-member executive committee told the N&O “there was nothing to see.” SEANC president Wayne Fish said the story was “quite simply, not true,” but Drescher added, “he didn’t say what was not true.”
 
And there was this classic dodge: the lawyer “said at The N&O that there was an explanation” for a phony invoice, “but he would not discuss it because it was a personnel matter.”
 
Ah, “personnel matter.” The last resort of the stonewaller.
 
SEANC’s visit worked about as well as any first-year Journalism School student could have predicted. The N&O ran the story. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said she’d ask the State Bureau of Investigation to conduct a criminal inquiry. Then Cope resigned. And Drescher promised, “We’ll keep reporting.”

 

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12
Reverend William Barber went down to the newspaper and sat down with Ned Barnett to have a chat about the state’s soul.
 
Now the main problem with the state spiritually, according to Reverend Barber, is Republicans. He’s thundered from podiums from Asheville to Wilmington that Republicans are heartless varmints who stomp on women, children, and the blind, halt and lame.
 
You could search for years and not find a more remorseless demagogue – or partisan Democrat – than William Barber.
 
But that’s not how Ned Barnett saw it at all: The Reverend, he explained in his editorial, built his ‘Moral Mondays’ movement on morality, not politics. That as Barber himself says, Moral Mondays isn’t about left and right, it’s about right and wrong.
 
Pure baloney.


 

 

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11
Once when Democratic County Commissioner Betty Lou Ward was in the hospital she asked the Republican Commissioners to allow her to participate in a board meeting by phone – but the Republicans said no.
 
Another time, in the middle of a fight, the Republicans waited until Ward left the board room to go to the restroom then promptly held a vote.
 
All that orneriness didn’t sit well with a lot of folks and, last fall, every one of the Republicans were voted out of office and we ended up with seven Democratic County Commissioners.
 
Now Wake County is blessed: We have a solid economy and a growing population and both are bringing more money into the county’s exchequer each year but, as soon as they got sworn in, the new Democratic Commissioners proved there are more vices than orneriness: They announced it was time to raise taxes.
 
Those old Republican Commissioners were no saints but the new Democrats are making them look better every day.


 

 

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31
EMS medics found Larry Green lying face down by the road with a head wound and no vital signs – he’d been hit by a car.
 
But, then, when a state Medical Examiner, Dr. J.B. Perdue, arrived and opened Green’s jacket his chest and abdomen moved. A medic asked if Green was breathing. The medical examiner explained “That’s only air escaping the body” and had the corpse zipped in a body bag and taken to the morgue.
 
At the morgue the dead man’s eyelid started to twitch, twitching over and over, until a worker asked if he was alive and the medical examiner explained it was a muscle spasm “like a frog leg jumping in a frying pan.”
 
Later that night a highway patrolman called, needing more information, and the medical examiner took the cold body out of the morgue’s refrigerated drawer. This time there was no denying the dead man was alive.
 
The next time government promises it’s going to work to solve one of your problems, remember, you may be better off going to work to solve the problem yourself – after all, government hired a medical examiner who sent a living breathing man to the morgue.


 

 

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27
Yes, 1,000 wins in college basketball is remarkable. But three front pages? That’s what greeted readers of the N&O print edition Monday morning.
 
First there was Page One of the main news section. In approximately the same size type that might say “WAR!” was “1,000” – in Duke Blue, of course. Beneath were a large photo and two stories about Mike Krzyzewski’s achievement. There was room left for one other story, about Wake County schools.
 
Then came the Sports section, with a three-quarters page photo of Coach K and two more stories on the front. Then there was a special 10-page Commemorative Section. The cover was a full-page photo of “Coach W.”
 
In all, I counted 10 long stories, five shorter stories, six sidebars and graphics and 27 photos.
 
Already, as you might expect, the N&O is getting letters complaining. Obviously, K-haters couldn’t think of a worse way to wake up Monday morning. Then there are serious readers who decry devoting so much ink to basketball when there is much more important news in the world and, especially, when newspapers editorialize about scandals “driven by an over-the-top emphasis on college sports.
 
Not so fast, my friends. This is the price you pay for being able to get a newspaper at all.
 
Journalism today is about clicks, clicks on websites. The more clicks the N&O site gets, the more ads they sell, the more money they make and the more they can spend on reporters to dog your Governor, your legislature, your community, your courts, your schools, your colleges and universities and – yes – scandals “driven by an over-the-top emphasis on college sports.”
 
The N&O, like all newspapers, has suffered through hard times since the Daniels family sold the paper – at the peak of the market – 20 years ago. Ads have dried up, readers have fled, the paper has shrunk and the news staff has been decimated, or maybe double-decimated.
 
A key part of the N&O’s survival strategy is to own ACC sports coverage. Good ACC coverage is good business. It pays the bills.
 
Those of us who regularly pull against Coach K should congratulate him. Give the commemorative section to a Duke fan. And be thankful that coverage like this, even if we don’t like it, keeps the clicks clicking, the reporters digging and the paper coming every morning.
 
Still, go to hell, Duke.

 

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22
The liberal folks over at ProgressNC let fly with a broadside at the Governor about his ethics, then let fly again with a press conference and, by then, they had the folks at the Charlotte Observer so stirred up they let fly with broadside of their own asking, Was Pat McCrory fibbing then, or is he fibbing now?
 
The way the liberals tell it Governor McCrory underhandedly omitted facts from his Financial Disclosure Reports to hide conflicts of interest – and that he was paid a lot of money by less than saintly corporations.
 
Now it’s hard to believe anyone – even the liberals – thinks the State Ethics Commission (which as long as anyone can remember has been a toothless tiger) is going to strip the Governor’s epilates off in public but, then again, it may be the Ethics Commission is just a way station on the way to court which is where the liberals really want to end up – which would open a whole new can of worms.
 
Either way, this is no one time liberal rant about the foibles of Republican politicians. ProgressNC has fired the opening salvo in the Governor’s race and they mean to go right on chasing Pat.   


 

 

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22
After being blasted by the liberals (for hiding conflicts of interest) Governor McCrory ran head-on into a second broadside from the opposite direction: Tired of Medicaid wrecking havoc on its budget the State Senate served notice on the Governor his time is up – he’s had his chance to fix Medicaid and failed so the legislature’s going to appoint an Independent Board to solve the problem.    
 
Now, for the Governor, there’s two ways to look at the Senate’s proposal. It’s certainly a slap in the face. But, on the other hand, it may be a blessing in disguise. After all, the Senate just proposed to take the biggest tarbaby in all of state government off the Governor’s hands –so, perhaps, the practical thing for him to say would be, Thank heavens. Take it. You’re welcome to do it – but, of course, instead the Governor’s fighting the Senate tooth and nail. He dislikes losing control of roughly half of state government even more than he disliked the Legislature setting up a Commission to handle the coal ash cleanup.
 
Now all this sounds like there’s a great deal of hostility between the Governor and the Senate but, in a way, the Senators like the Governor just fine and want him to get reelected –they just think he didn’t get the job done on Medicaid.
 
It’s also hard not to empathize with the Governor: He’s got liberals shooting at him from one side and Republicans shooting at him from the other and whoever claimed the middle ground was the safe place to be never got caught in a crossfire.


 

 

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16
The mystery isn’t how he died; it’s the Department of Prisons’ silence.
 
Michael Kerr was in and out of trouble with the law for a decade – he was a thief, assaulted a woman and tried to outrun a policeman in a patrol car – then two crimes committed against him left him on the edge of madness: First his son Anthony was murdered then, a year later, his second son Gabriel was murdered then, three months after that, Kerr fired nine shots into a house trailer (where the second murderer’s cousin lived) and, holding the empty pistol, called out “this isn’t over” before he drove away.  
 
His sister says he suffered three nervous breakdowns in the local jail waiting for trial and after he arrived in prison the doctors there diagnosed him with schizophrenia but no one bothered to ask if madness meant his thirty one year prison sentence was a mistake. Three years later he was found dead in the back of a prison van.
 
An autopsy the next morning revealed he’d died for an unexpected reason: Thirst. But an autopsy couldn’t explain how a man in a prison cell with a sink couldn’t get a drink of water so the Medical Examiner, Susan Venuti, asked for Kerr’s prison records but the Prisons Department told her, No.
 
Months later, reporters digging through court filings and letters (including a letter from the prisoner in the cell next to Kerr) pieced together part of the story.
 
The doctors at Kerr’s prison had put him on medications which worked fine until the morning three years later when he stopped taking the drugs; three months after that he landed in solitary confinement and four days after that a prison Captain reported he was just sitting on the floor in his cell in his own urine.
 
After Kerr clogged up his sink and flooded his cell four times they shut off his water; when a guard, afraid he was becoming dehydrated, handed him a cup of water he took a couple swallows, poured the rest on the cell floor and looked back at the guard and said, “Come on in the water’s fine.”
 
Kerr’d spent seventeen days in solitary when the prisoner in the next cell began keeping a notebook: On March 6 he wrote Kerr “used the bathroom on hisself” then added he’d heard the guard and a sergeant talking saying “his pants is halfway down, his butt is out, look at his crusty feet.”
 
The prisoner wrote Kerr “ate nothing” the next day and “they called a Code Blue because he was unresponsive” – a guard and a captain went into Kerr’s cell and put him in leg irons and handcuffs then a nurse entered the cell and examined him – after she left the guard removed the leg irons, walked out of the cell, turned, and told Kerr to come to the door so he could remove his handcuffs but Kerr didn’t move.
 
Two days later the inmate in the next cell wrote “third straight day in handcuff pants still half way off and urine and feces all over cell.”
 
On the twenty-first day Kerr was still lying on his cot and the guards, along with a nurse, went into his cell and “asked did he want his vitals taken he didn’t respond so they said are you refusing to have your vitals taken he didn’t say nothing so they say okay you refusing and left.”
 
The next morning a prison psychologist called Kerr’s sister and told her, Your prayers have been answered, they’re moving him to the hospital at Central Prison.
 
When the guards went to move Kerr he was lying on his cot, pants and underwear around his ankles, in excrement and urine, and when they tried to unlock the handcuffs they were clogged with dried feces.
 
When they rolled him out the cell door in a wheelchair the prisoner in the next cell saw “his eyes wide open but seeing nothing and he had something white coming out of his mouth.”
 
The guards drove Kerr not to the local hospital but to Central Prison Hospital three hours away and between one prison and another the evils he’d done and the evils done to him consummated in dry squalor inside the back of the prison van – a prison official called his sister that afternoon to tell her he was dead when he arrived in Raleigh. 
 
***
 
There was no confession. Or contrition. Instead a veil of silence descended over the Department of Prisons. They told the Medical Examiner, No, then had a committee write a report then did an ‘internal’ investigation then, a month later, an under Secretary – David Guice – called for the SBI to investigate but the minute an SBI agent asked for Kerr’s records the Prison Department told him, No, too.  
 
The silence stretched on for five months then the Prisons Department cracked the door a fraction, giving the Medical Examiner not Kerr’s medical records or prison records but the report written by its internal committee; after that the Medical Examiner gave up asking and released her autopsy report and said without Kerr’s records she couldn’t determine whether Kerr’s death was suicide, homicide or accident.
 
A week later the U.S. Attorney in Raleigh began a grand jury investigation and Kerr’s story landed in the newspapers and the scramble began in the Prisons Department: The Secretary of Public Safety, Frank Perry, announced his Department had conducted not just a “thorough” but a “transparent” investigation and that the Department had disciplined 40 employees – including nine who’d been fired – then added, “We have been righteous with our investigation and dismissals.”
 
The press then asked Perry why a “transparent” investigation hadn’t included giving Kerr’s records to the Medical Examiner and Perry announced that was for “a righteous reason like privacy or respect for HIPAA” then a reporter, getting down to brass tacks, asked if Perry knew of even one Medical Examiner who’d ever before been denied a dead man’s prison records because of HIPAA laws and Perry said he didn’t know.
 
Broken politics is more than just Congressmen pointing fingers and screaming.
 
There may have been a dozen reasons why silence descended on the Department of Prisons: Frank Perry may have been worried about a lawsuit – he may be working to avoid a lawsuit by negotiating a settlement, right now, and he may figure the less known about what went on in Michael Kerr’s prison cell the less his Department will have to pay. Or there could be other reasons.
 
But Frank Perry holds his office as a public trust and when he buries the truth that’s a breach of trust which, in a democracy, is like plague: Secretary Perry, speak no more of righteousness until you tell how Michael Kerr died of thirst in solitary confinement.  

 


 

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Carter & Gary
 
Carter Wrenn
 
 
Gary Pearce
 
 
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
 
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
 
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
 
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
 
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
 
 
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