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(Staff Reports – State Treasurers Report) Raleigh, N.C. – State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell, CPA, said federal criminal charges against the developer of Rocky Mount’s multimillion-dollar downtown development project cast a troubling shadow on the venture.

State Treasurer Dale R. Folwell

“In light of the serious nature of the indictment, a prompt and thorough investigation is warranted before any taxpayer money is approved to pay for this project. As keeper of the public purse and chair of the Local Government Commission (LGC), which approves the issuance of public debt, I have an obligation to inquire about potential waste, fraud or abuse,” Treasurer Folwell said, while noting there must be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

“I would be highly disappointed if the elected officials in that community or this state would not be in favor of looking more deeply into the finances of the city of Rocky Mount and this project specifically,” Treasurer Folwell said.

(Photo courtesy of The Daily Herald, who have also reported on potential criminal activity by the developer.)

David Hunt, the Tennessee developer chosen to lead the development project, was one of four people indicted by a federal grand jury in Mississippi in an alleged illegal bid-rigging scheme at the Mississippi Department of Education. The charges are not connected to the Rocky Mount project, which includes a downtown hotel, parking garage, retail spaces and housing.

In August 2019, the Rocky Mount City Council passed a resolution authorizing the submission of the financing application to the LGC. The Rocky Mount city manager has since placed a hold on the project and announced the rescission of the application. The mayor has urged the City Council to investigate the situation.

“The Rocky Mount City Council, not the city manager, needs to pass a resolution withdrawing the application,” said Treasurer Folwell. “That’s the best way to properly halt the LGC’s process.

Treasurer Folwell said the criminal allegations are distressing for the commission, which was reviewing application materials for nearly $18.4 million in financing for the parking garage portion of the project.

“In light of this troubling situation, it would be natural for the LGC to question whether the city followed appropriate procedures in previous financing decisions, such as bond financing of up to $44.5 million that the LGC approved at the city’s request in 2016 to build the downtown Rocky Mount Event Center,” Treasurer Folwell said. That work was done by a different developer, not by Hunt.

State Auditor Beth Wood

The Hunt indictment follows a scathing report released in May by State Auditor Beth Wood, a member of the LGC. A state audit revealed that city officials gave preferential treatment to a council member to prevent utility disconnection and avoid nearly $50,000 in payments; the city suffered $60,000 in uncollected loans and improperly awarded funds; and the city manager incurred unallowable travel expenses.

The LGC provides resources, guidance and oversight to more than 1,300 units of local government on annual budgets, internal controls, debt management and pension reporting. The State and Local Government Finance Division in the Department of State Treasurer provides staff for the commission.

Review the State Auditors full report HERE>

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Photo by The Black Detour

(Asheville Citizen-Times)  A nationally renowned scholar says the city’s newly enacted reparations program, despite drawing widespread attention, does not meet the definition of true reparations.

William Darity, director of Duke University’s Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity, spoke to the Citizen Times Aug. 11, a month after the Asheville City Council unanimously voted to enact reparations for Black residents. Rather than distributing direct payments, the program will focus on building generational wealth and addressing other racial inequities through public programs, such as home ownership assistance.

The federal government is also the only entity with deep enough pockets to pay what Darity said is owed to Black households: approximately $800,000 each, the average difference in net wealth between white and African American households. That would total $10 trillion to $12 trillion, he said. (All state and local government budgets combined come to $3.1 trillion, by his math.)

Read the full report and watch the interview HERE>

c161c546-7783-4ddb-a447-650937707ce7-missionrally_08052020_031(Asheville Citizen-Times)  Kate McGee had worked all night — from 6:45 p.m. to 7:15 a.m.  at Mission Hospital in a Copestone behavioral health unit on the St. Joseph’s campus. She got off the morning of Aug. 5 knowing she had to be back that night for the same shift, but instead of going home to bed, she headed to the corner of Biltmore Avenue and Hospital Drive to join dozens of other registered nurses from Mission Hospital in protest. “This is too important to not show up,” she said.

The RNs were doubling down on a call for more staff and other patient safety measures as COVID-19 hospitalizations surge. Mission Health — which operates Mission Hospital along with five other hospitals in Western North Carolina and numerous clinics — has hit record numbers repeatedly for inpatients with COVID-19 over the past month.

Administrators have made assurances that the system has adequate resources and staffing. But Mission Hospital RNs delivered a letter to hospital administration July 10 calling for an increase to staffing to manage a situation they said had become dangerous. The letter said the conditions at the hospital were “such that patient care is suffering” and demanded that Mission hire more full- and part-time RNs and support staff. The nurses said they did not feel as though their requests were adequately addressed. So, they gathered on a public sidewalk outside the Asheville hospital to make that known.

Read the complete report by Mackenzie Wicker HERE>

c23797fd-5c72-401d-8dfa-ba2b59c38db9-ingles_01(Asheville Citizen-Times) The Centers for Disease Control says face coverings “are a critical tool” against the spread of COVID-19. But to mask or not has become a politically charged question. Most visibly, this powder-keg debate is happening in one of the few places where the public still congregates, the grocery store.

A wave of stores are promising to enforce state and countywide mandates that require customers to wear face coverings, but with media largely shut out and little to no government checks in place, accountability for those policies is virtually impossible.

The Citizen Times asked to observe customer and employee mask compliance at local grocery stores. Almost all refused. Though all of the stores the Citizen Times contacted say they require masks to shop, only the French Broad Food Co-Op said it would allow a reporter to verify the claims.

Read the full story by Mackensy Lunsford, and how local grocery stores responded HERE.

dafce346-37f2-4437-b2d5-8c7ea2675208-protests_night2_005(Asheville Citizen-Times) A Confederate monument memorializing Zebulon Baird Vance towers 65 feet over Park Square in downtown Asheville.

The Buncombe County native it honors was North Carolina’s governor during the Civil War, a slave owner and a documented racist. For years, people have debated whether a tribute to him should hold such a prominent place in Asheville. Several ideas have been floated, ranging from providing historic contextualization at the monument to outright removal.

In response to widespread demonstrations and calls for racial justice, Confederate monuments are once again coming down in the South — both toppled by crowds and removed by officials’ design — in places like in Birmingham, Alabama; and Richmond, Virginia.

Read the full story by Mackenzie Wicker HERE>

30a6a0f4-fbdc-4ba1-9281-504a0504ecf5-medium16x9_snoenforcement.transfer_frame_0(WLOS News 13)  Two local sheriffs have joined several others across the state in saying they will not enforce Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay home order.

The Polk County Sheriff Timothy L. Wright said while deputies have the responsibility to respond to complaints, they will not be charging any individual, business or religious organization that violates the order.

Graham County Sheriff Joseph W. Jones also said he will not enforce the order, saying in part, “This is an effort to help some of our folks to recover and give our citizens an opportunity to go eat inside while sitting with family, friends and/or coworkers.”

Read the full report HERE>

 

2644006_web1_ap20126654056214(Charlotte Observer)  U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said Thursday he is temporarily stepping down from his post as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee amid an ongoing federal probe of stock sales he made shortly before the coronavirus pandemic hit the country.  “It’s a distraction to a committee that’s extremely important to the safety and security of the American people and a distraction to the members of that committee being asked questions about me, so I tried to eliminate that,” Burr told McClatchy on Thursday outside the Senate.

The announcement about the North Carolina Republican came the day after the FBI seized Burr’s cell phone in an investigation of the sales earlier this year. Asked about what happened with the FBI on Wednesday night, Burr did not give specifics. Burr, a member of the Senate’s health committee, sold up to $1.7 million in stocks in early and mid-February, according to a Senate disclosure that he filed. It came after he had received briefings about the status of the coronavirus, which had not yet made a large impact in the United States.

On Feb. 7, Burr co-wrote a column reassuring Americans that the the country was “better prepared than ever before to face emerging public health threats.” Later that month, he warned attendees at a private luncheon that the dangerous virus was “akin to the 1918 pandemic,” according to a recording first reported by NPR. Soon thereafter, ProPublica and the Center for Responsive Politics disclosed the stock sales.

Read the full report HERE>

Related archives:
(May 2020) Sen. Burr’s brother-in-law dumped stock the same day as Burr. Then the market crashed

(April 2020) Burr sold DC townhome to powerful lobbyist who had congressional business before him

(Sept 2016) NC senator who champions fossil fuels happened to get industry money for 20 years

(July 2016) US Sen. Richard Burr says 2016 will be his last run for elected office

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spp6wa6dtbbjll2lgdgwpqd2wa(Raleigh News & Observer)  Raleigh’s police chief says the department is considering criminal charges against people who carried weapons through downtown in recent organized events — including a Saturday incident that left a Raleigh family fearful.

State law prohibits possessing a weapon while participating in or watching a protest, but nothing bars people from walking on a city sidewalk displaying firearms, Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said in a statement released by the Police Department this week.

The gathering was organized and promoted on Facebook by a group called Blue Igloo, a likely nod to the word Boogaloo.  Boogaloo and other variations have become shorthand for a future civil war or violence against the government among some militia groups, white supremacists and fringe online organizations, according to the Anti-Defamation League and Network Contagion Research Institute, which released a report earlier this year about the term.

At least two demonstrators were wearing Hawaiian shirts — another Boogaloo symbol, according to multiple online sites — and one used the name “Duncan Lemp.” Lemp was a 21-year-old right-wing activist who was fatally shot by police in his home in Maryland in March. Anti-lockdown protesters in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, Tennessee and others have also given Lemp as their name, according to The Daily Beast.

Read the full report HERE>

636253019957898821-ashbrd-01-24-2017-act-1-a005-2017-01-23-img-embassy-suites.jpg-1-1-lih525cq-l960998779-img-embassy-suites.jpg-1-1-lih525cq(Asheville Citizen-Times)  The city and a Raleigh development company spent nearly half a million dollars in a legal fight over the construction of a downtown hotel, according city records and the company, Parks Hospitality Group. The city ultimately lost the battle to stop the construction of the Embassy Suites at 192 Haywood St., with the NC Supreme Court ruling April 3 that PHG had the right to a building permit.

A public records request by PHG confirmed by the Citizen Times showed the city spent $212,925 from August 2018 to April 6 of this year. Most of the money went to Poyner Spruill, a law firm with offices in Charlotte, Raleigh, Rocky Mount and Southern Pines. A small portion, $7,515, went to expenses such as filing fees and legal research, city staff said.

PHG President Shaunak Patel said his company spent $245,000.  In statements on April 3 and May 11 Patel called the fight a waste of private and public funds. He attacked Mayor Esther Manheimer, saying it was she who “misled” the City Council into appealing the case and to decline a $4.1 million settlement offer.

Manheimer on May 11 said the council understood there would be a cost. Money spent on the city’s legal fees would have been enough to cover pay and benefits of three new police officers.

Read the full article HERE>

screen-shot-2020-03-20-at-9.23.40-am-1024x528-1(Carolina Journal) A group of lawmakers who oversee program oversight is working on a draft bill designed to promote transparency and objectivity as they relate to penalties issued by the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The draft bill comes after a March report from the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division. The PED says its report is a response to changes to the administrative penalty structure and the severity of penalties handed down by N.C. ABC.

The PED found that administrative penalties aren’t “proportional, lacking policies, procedures, and guidelines that would limit variance and subjectivity.”

“The General Assembly should consider requiring the Commission to set guidelines that ensure penalties are proportional to offenses, increase transparency for permittees, and establish performance management criteria.”

Read the full report HERE>