Plans for flight fete turbulent

Staff WritersOctober 15, 2002 

The two state groups putting together the official centennial celebration of the Wright brothers' famous first flight apparently aren't feuding any more, but the skies are still a bit bumpy.

With a bit more than a year before the five-day event at Kill Devil Hills, the staff of the state First Flight Centennial Commission has dwindled from seven people to just three, split between Raleigh and the coast.

Four commission staff members, including Executive Director Kathryn Holten, have resigned in the past few months after a decision by the state Department of Cultural Resources to relocate much of the staff to the Outer Banks to make it easier to implement event plans.

The staff has had as many as 12 workers over the years, though five of those were private contractors working on specific tasks that are now done, DCR spokeswoman Brenda Follmer said. With the commission's focus now solely on the celebration in December 2003, there's no longer a need for, say, a historian. Holten's job, which paid $94,000 a year, won't be filled because it's no longer needed.

Money has been in short supply for the centennial effort. The state has frozen its budget, and money from private donors has been scarce compared with say, Dayton, Ohio, which reportedly has raised more than $15 million for its Wright centennial.

But things have improved in recent months: A pilots' group donated $300,000, and Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. and American Airlines have kicked in $100,000 each, said Julie Ketner Rigby of the nonprofit foundation that is raising money for the celebration. Other sponsors recently signed deals totalling more than $100,000, but they haven't given permission yet to release their names.

The group has spent $380,000 restoring the stone monument at the site, has broken ground on a pilots' facility for the small airstrip at the site and now can begin work on the pavilion, which is the foundation's top priority, Rigby said.

Evaluating judges

The private group that successfully pushed to change the way North Carolina will elect its top judges in the future will unveil a Web site today to help voters pick appellate judges this year.

The N.C. Center for Voter Education's Guide to Judicial Elections, at www.ncjudges.org, lists the four candidates for the state Supreme Court and the 10 running for the Court of Appeals. It includes information about most of the candidates, provided by the candidates themselves. Some of them did not submit biographies, photos, statements or video clips, the group said.

The nonpartisan organization will air public service announcements statewide to promote the guide. It says it is responding to a recent survey showing that most voters don't have enough information to make good decisions about judicial candidates.

The organization backed the new state law that will make appellate judicial races nonpartisan and provide optional public campaign financing beginning in 2004.

When the group announces its effort this morning, Raleigh lawyer A.P. Carlton Jr., president of the American Bar Association, plans to attend and to urge all the candidates to campaign cleanly for the next three weeks until the Nov. 5 election.

"We're in the home stretch," he said. "I encourage the parties to adopt a code of campaign conduct. And I think it would be educational for the candidates to have a debate on judicial ethics."

By staff writers Jay Price and Matthew Eisley. Price can be reached at 829-4526 or jprice@newsobserver.com.

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