What a slog. Bitter political, social and economic divides factionalized our state. The wealthy wielded their power over the nonwealthy, whose motives and actions were either criminalized—protesting at the Legislature, feeding the homeless—or marginalized—cutting long-term unemployment benefits and social services, curbing voting rights. For concerned citizens, political observers and newshounds, tracking the Daily Outrage was a full-time job. Doubtless, 2014 will be the same. —Lisa Sorg
Start your chain saws: Hofmann Forest
In January, N.C. State's Natural Resources Foundation voted to sell Hofmann Forest— a 79,000-acre property straddling Jones and Onslow counties, home to black bears, diamondback rattlesnakes and otters, among other animals. Illinois agribusinessman Jerry Walker swooped in to buy it, setting up Hofmann Forest, LLC just 12 days after the announcement. The university's Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund blessed the sale a month later, and in April, the Foundation made the transaction official.
Undercutting these efforts were protests by students, faculty and alumni, and a lawsuit brought against N.C. State by a coalition of professors, foresters, landowners and wildlife conservationists, claiming the sale would significantly damage the environment. The university swore that the buyer, Walker— whose name was revealed in a press release in October, even after university lawyers told a judge no sale was imminent— would keep the forest accessible to researchers and would not develop it. However, nothing in the sales agreement requires this.
As the INDY first reported in mid-November, a leaked prospectus assembled for Hofmann Forest, LLC investors showed myriad ways that the property could be developed or converted for agriculture ventures. N.C. State leaders claimed no knowledge of the document; a mouthpiece for Walker claimed the prospectus was assembled using studies made earlier by the N.C. State Natural Resources Foundation, Inc.
After a Wake County judge dismissed the lawsuit against N.C. State, the sale's opponents have filed an appeal which will likely stall the sale until resolved. A December protest on campus brought more than 70 people out against the Hofmann sale; look for more protests next year, especially early in the spring semester. —Jane Porter
UNC's Bad Boys: It pays to play
Five people have been indicted in a UNC athletics scandal in which several football players received impermissible benefits. In addition, under the now-axed Butch Davis, some football players attended 200 fake classes, many of them in the African-American studies department. Hoops players fared no better: P.J. Hairston, who's off the team, needs to find better friends. He was pulled over twice by police, charged once with reckless driving while behind the wheel of a car owned by convicted felon Fats Thomas.
Leslie McDonald recently returned to the court after missing nine games related to his use of luxury cars, payment of parking tickets, a cellphone and lodging.
And in early December, former UNC player Will Graves was busted for pot possession at a home owned by Roy Williams.
Maybe UNC players can start a prison league? —Lisa Sorg
Conservatives hit below the belt on higher ed
Now that state budget director and millionaire Art Pope has consolidated his power—mwahahaha—his henchmen at Civitas, a conservative think tank founded by the Pope Foundation, have even greater license to assail its nemesis: higher education.
In addition to budget cuts, higher ed also was the target of a Civitas fishing expedition. It made an open records request of emails, notes and other documents related to Gene Nichol, director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity. Coincidence: This happened just nine days after Nichol wrote a newspaper column criticizing the McCrory administration.
For Pope-sponsored groups, this is par for the course. Before Pope joined state government, they merely tried to bribe their way into higher ed, buying facilities' naming rights, offering to "sponsor" academic courses at UNC and a constitutional law center at N.C. Central. Now Civitas doesn't have to cloak its intentions. —LS
Another strike against fast food
- Illustration by JP Trostle
A Big Mac costs $3.99, nearly half the minimum wage earned by many fast-food workers. Employees at several Triangle fast-food restaurants went on strike this summer and expect their momentum to continue in 2014. Coordinated by workers' rights activists with support from the N.C. NAACP, employees walked out of their jobs at McDonald's and Taco Bell on several occasions to demand higher wages— they want $15 an hour— and the right to unionize without fear of retaliation. In right-to-work states such as North Carolina, employees can be fired without cause.
Low-wage service jobs account for 83 percent of the state's total employment, according to the N.C. Justice Center; the service industry in North Carolina is expected to grow by 13.5 percent over the next decade. Already, 66,000 fast-food workers in North Carolina receive some kind of public assistance, at a cost of $264 million a year to state taxpayers who subsidize low wages in the fast-food industry.
Recently, the movement has grown to include low-wage workers in other sectors of the service industry; fast-food workers stood in solidarity with employees of low-wage chain stores at an Art Pope picket in Raleigh last week.
Low-wage workers know they probably won't get the $15 an hour that they seek, but they will be happy with the $10.10 proposed in a federal minimum wage bill currently under consideration in Congress. Anything, they say, is better than the current minimum hourly wage of $7.25; it's just not enough to survive on. —JP
Please sir, can I have a bit Moore?
By early spring, downtown Raleigh will have a temporary food distribution facility near Moore Square Park, where the city's homeless can eat on weekends when soup kitchens are closed.
The conversation about how Raleigh cares for its most vulnerable residents reignited in earnest in August with city police threatened to arrest Rev. Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries for handing out biscuits and coffee in Moore Square, as he had done weekend mornings for the past six years.
Raleigh police inexplicably decided to revive a dormant city ordinance that prohibits food distribution in public parks without a permit and liability insurance. RPD and city staff still have not given an adequate reason for suddenly enforcing the rule, but the ordinance will not be in effect until the new facility is operating.
After an emergency city council meeting, city leaders quickly assembled a task force composed of volunteers from faith-based groups and downtown businesspeople "charged to identify, evaluate and recommend alternatives for food distribution to the less fortunate."
At the task force's final meeting, city staff announced it had identified a site that met the task force's priorities. A vacant, city-owned warehouse near Moore Square could be transformed into a place where groups could coordinate plans together to provide meals to homeless people on weekends. The task force accepted the proposal unanimously, and the city council approved the site this month.
But the site's temporary status cannot be overstated. As Moore Square Park is developed, the city will want to recoup its investment in the property, and the food distribution facility can only be in place for two to five years. The city and county have formed a partnership to develop an ambitious 10-year plan to end homelessness.
And there's also the matter of paying for the facility; it will cost the city $118,000 to open and $58,000 a year in operating costs. Groups are being encouraged to donate time and money to the project. —JP