We Won't Ask, Don't You Tell
County Commissioner candidate Bunkey Morgan openly volunteers that he owns "a dozen dwellings" around the Triangle, including his waterfront home near Apex, a "family compound" where his grandchildren can walk from their neighboring homes to swim in his pool. But the Chatham County Board of Elections said March 11 that if Morgan chooses to say he lives in a deserted little cottage in Silk Hope, they choose to believe him. And if he wants to run for commissioner representing that district, that's OK, too. "Let the voters decide," said board member Roger Gerber. "I believe it's up to the person [running for office] to decide where they live."
With plenty of coaching from County Attorney Bob Gunn--and without hearing any testimony--the three members voted unanimously to dismiss a complaint filed March 7 by county resident Nancy Brown. Brown challenged Morgan's residency in District 4 and alleged he accepted an illegal campaign contribution from a staff member of Congressman David Price, via a land deal. Morgan, a planning board member who ran as a Republican in District 1 two years ago, changed his party affiliation and his address to challenge Chatham County Commissioner Gary Phillips, a progressive Democrat who represents District 4 (see "Is There a Price on Gary Phillips' Head?" March 6).
Elections board members decided there was not enough evidence in Brown's complaint to proceed with a full hearing, since Morgan provided a driver's license showing 2134 Silk Hope-Lindley Mill Road as his address when he filed as a candidate last month. Morgan bought the 1,274-square-foot house in September. After three months, he sold it for $33,000 more than he paid for it, leading to Brown's allegations of laundering a campaign donation through the land deal. Price's local liaison, Bobby Stott, a lifelong friend of Morgan's, bought the house from Morgan, who now says he rents there. Both Morgan and Stott have denied the real estate transaction is related to Morgan's campaign.
Brown is undeterred.
"I think it was a sham," she said after the hearing. "If Bunkey Morgan wants to represent the people of the fourth district, he needs to live there, and not just get a driver's license that says he does."
If Brown appeals the local board's decision, the residency issue would go next to Chatham County superior court, while the campaign finance allegation would be heard by the state board of elections, says state elections Deputy Director Johnnie McLean.
Brown also could file an amended complaint presenting additional evidence, an option she says she's considering, along with appeals.
In the meantime, one local resident decided to pose the question to Morgan first-hand. Will Sexton followed the candidate out of the hearing to ask him if he does actually live in the little house in Silk Hope.
"He said, 'That's my residence,'" Sexton said.
Driven to Excellence
Sometime between the Grammys and the Oscars, we should invite all the beautiful people of Raleigh to a special awards ceremony at Dorton Arena honoring the capitol city's roads. Our thoroughfares deserve some recognition for all they provide us. So without further introduction, welcome to the First Annual Raleigh Motorist's Choice Awards. The envelopes please ... Congratulations Poole Road! It receives the You Can Count on Me Award for guaranteeing multiple car accidents each morning from the hours of 6 to 8. It also receives the Sky-Zoom Award for continuous on-the-scene helicopter coverage. Local morning radio shows owe you a debt of gratitude, Poole Road. Your commitment to automotive calamity keeps news coverage rolling and pilots hovering airborne every single day.
Now saluting Brent Road! Winner of the coveted Oscar the Grouch Award and the Pole Position Award for providing motorists a fantastic voyage around over-turned garbage bins and other obstacles scattered across the pavement. This game-simulation atmosphere entertains drivers' reflexes while drivers miraculously steer around stationary objects and stumbling college students. Thrill-seekers will find this course most challenging after midnight, any night.
Praise goes to Falls of the Neuse/Wake Forest Road! These two unanimously win the StarKist Tuna Award for keeping motorists packed side-by-side within a finger's length of one another. This stretch of road has driving lanes the width of bike paths. It's also a semi-finalist for the Claustrophobia Award and the I Can Adjust Your Passenger-Side Mirror For You Award.
Last but not least, our very own I-540! Also known as Beltline Junior, 540 is the standout winner of the Vivarin Award and the Where the Hell is Everybody Award. Raleigh's solution to Interstate 40 and 440 traffic stands alone as the likeliest place to not see another car for miles on end. 540's emptiness has been stressful, however, on airline pilots confusing its pristine desolation with the runways at RDU airport.
Opening the Process
In a refreshingly prompt response to community concerns, Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow proved last week she meant what she said about empowering citizens. Last month, a coalition of residents, environmentalists and civil rights activists successfully defeated a change in the zoning law that would have allowed asphalt plants closer to homes, disproportionately affecting low-income minority neighborhoods (see "Paving the Way," Feb. 20).
During the battle, the coalition pointed out that it's hard for citizens to find out about proposed changes to the zoning law--which can affect land-use regulations throughout the city and county--in a timely way that allows them to offer opinions in a public debate.
On March 6, the Joint City-County Planning Committee approved Reckhow's three-pronged proposal, which includes: posting all proposed changes on the planning department's Web site; e-mail and postcard alerts to all neighborhood associations, grassroots political groups and members of advisory boards; and a "Neighborhood Planning Institute," which will hold workshops each fall and spring to teach residents about the planning process and how to provide input.
"It's going to be a new day in Durham," says Reckhow, who is working with new Planning Director Frank Duke to put the proposals into action. Duke, who began his job this month, has a track record of "innovative outreach" to community groups in his previous Florida position, she says. "He views his job as being very accessible to citizens."
Also in the works is a new ethics policy that would require planning staff members--along with other local government staffers and citizen advisory board members--to disclose their personal financial interests.
Bob Dole Says Bob Dole Likes North Carolina
Scene from the modern campaign: Bob Dole, plane-jumping into the Triangle, is plumping wife Elizabeth's campaign for the U.S. Senate. It's a one-stop-for-TV hop to the Golden Corral in Durham, where in the group awaiting him are (and, nice work, advance team): a World War II veteran with a book for Dole; a conservative Baptist minister from Raleigh; several Spanish-speaking restaurant workers from various nations; and Asa Spaulding, the African-American chair of the Durham GOP. Oh, and precocious Luke Stankavage, not quite 1, dancing around in a red-white-and-blue jumper waiting for "Bah-Bah" Dole.Message: "Elizabeth is gonna reach out, bring a lot of people into the [Republican] party that haven't been around for awhile," Bob Dole says. Dole, by the way, looks absolutely marvelous. The celebrity life agrees with him, apparently, or something does. "I told Elizabeth, you're not far enough ahead for me to come down there," he cracks.
"There was a question about Elizabeth's residency," someone helpfully asks. "Yeah, there is," Bob agrees. "I haven't seen her for three months."
Elizabeth's always lived in Washington, never in Kansas, he adds. He's the Jayhawk. She's a Duke alum, bought her mom's house in Salisbury. For what it's worth, Dole doesn't think Kansas is all that good. "How tall is [Carlos] Boozer?" he inquires.
There is time for a serious thought or two. It's the six-month anniversary of Sept. 11, Dole notes, and his old Army unit is among those now in Afghanistan. "Some of them are gonna get hurt," he says. Clutching his trademark pen, he leaves it at that. "But I don't think we have any choice. If we don't do it, these young people are gonna have to do it in 10 or 15 years."
"We've always considered you kind of our third senator," says the Rev. Tom Vestal, Christian Coalition activist from Raleigh. That's Dole's cue to lighten up. He and Bill Clinton have agreed to confine themselves to the gallery when their wives are on the Senate floor, he says. So North Carolina won't get two senators for one with Liddy? "Well," Bob Dole shrugs, "I do know something about it."
Delay Bad for Dole?
Call it crazy, but our theory is that it's Liddy Dole who loses, if anyone in the Senate race does, by the fact that the primary elections are all postponed. Is there any doubt that Dole will be the Republican nominee? None. And if the Democrats picked their nominee on schedule in May, Dole would've dodged him/her all summer while voters and the press slept. Now, though, the spring and summer can be about the Democratic contest, and it might be a good one. There are lots of issues to raise against Dole and the GOP--Yes, stop the terrorists, but does that require tax cuts for the rich? Drilling up the environment? Smart bombs instead of health-care reform?--and a real question about whether Dan Blue, Erskine Bowles or Elaine Marshall is the strongest candidate to raise them. The Democratic candidates are scheduled to debate starting in a few weeks. Before, those debates were going to be too few and too early. Now, they can extend right through September, in all likelihood. If the Democrats have anything to say, they'll have ample chance.
The whole primary schedule is now in the dumper, but here's a likely scenario: (1) The N.C. Supreme Court tosses out the legislative district plan in April; (2) It gives the General Assembly a month to draw new districts; (3) Legislators meet the deadline, or if they don't, the court imposes districts of its own; (4) New candidate filings start in June; (5) The primaries are the first week in September.
It's possible the Supreme Court, comprised of five Republicans and two Democrats, will uphold the current districts and reject the Republican party's challenge. To believe that, you have to believe that Republican Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, in his first major action since being elected last fall, brought the entire state elections machinery to a halt in order to hear the GOP's case ... only to decide, on mature reflection, that it has no case. Then Lake could write, for a unanimous court, "Never mind."
I Want to Have Lunch with David Price
It's strange how we think of all politicians as corrupt powermongers, yet for some reason, continue to hold them in a place of awe whenever they take the time to stop and speak with us, their constituents.Something close to this struck me recently in the auditorium of Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill, when U.S. Rep. David Price stopped by for a town meeting. About 40 citizens arrived armed with important questions for the Democratic incumbent, who's running for re-election to his seat in the 4th District. Queries ranged from mental health reform to the death penalty to the possibility of a terrorist attack at CP&L's Shearon Harris plant. I was there passing out flyers about Shearon Harris for the N.C. Waste Reduction Awareness Network.
Audience members had important points to make and were well-informed on the topics being discussed. But time after time--particularly when it came to questions about Shearon Harris--Price failed to give solid answers, and citizens who had posed thoughtful questions just nodded politely and watched passively as he slid on over to the next one. When asked if he would attend an upcoming meeting planned by NC WARN about the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the Harris plant, Price fidgeted. "If the question is, how can we minimize the safety risk at these plants post-9-11, I do think there are some new measures we should call for," he said, but didn't outline what those measures would be.
At the end of the hour-long meeting, we applauded Price for spending time with his constituents and slowly filed out of the small auditorium.
It took me until the drive home to figure out why I didn't stand up and ask a question or demand follow-ups to vague answers. The power that comes with being a representative to Congress strips these "town" meetings of any possibility for real conversation. It would be nice to just sit down with my representatives and ask them my questions. After all, they don't have super-human powers and I'm not super-stupid, so why can't we just talk without their prepared answers or my hesitation to confront? Maybe it's the suits, or the formal introductions, or just knowing that these people walk the halls of Congress. Whatever it is, it needs to change.
The next time I go to a town meeting, I'm coming prepared with an invitation to lunch, and I suggest all of you do the same. Perhaps over some sweet tea and chicken salad, I can get to the bottom of this whole nuclear storage/safety issue. If I get the scoop on Enron, I'll even spring for dessert.
Rep. Price will be at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham on March 18; and at the Lynn Road Elementary School in Raleigh on March 26. The town meetings start at 7 p.m.
--Jenny Stepp Send all digs, ribs, jabs, barbs and tips to: email@example.com or call David Madison at 286-1972 ext. 154.
Trotline is illustrated by V.C. Rogers.