Norris center of grand jury's questions

Staff WritersDecember 23, 2005 

A federal grand jury meeting in Raleigh heard testimony Thursday from Rick Watson, the head of an economic development group in the northeastern part of the state.

Watson's attorney, Ernest C. Pearson of Raleigh, said he would not detail Watson's testimony before the grand jury, whose sessions are not open to the public.

But he said it centered on the employment of Raleigh lobbyist Meredith Norris by a statewide group of economic development organizations.

"Meredith Norris was hired by the partnerships, and his organization was one of the clients she represented," Pearson said.

Watson, who is president and CEO of the Northeast Partnership, is at least the third top regional economic development official to meet with the grand jury. Federal authorities are probing a number of issues close to House Speaker Jim Black, including the work of Norris -- Black's unpaid campaign political director at the same time she was a lobbyist.

Federal subpoenas of records from Black, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County, indicate authorities are also interested in the creation of the lottery and other issues. Pearson said Watson does not have knowledge of issues surrounding the lottery.

Norris was hired in 2003 by the state's seven nonprofit regional economic development groups, as well as an offshoot of those groups that handles lobbying. Black was a part of the discussions before her hiring, according to economic development officials, and he attended the group's meeting where the decision was made to hire her.

Earlier this week, the grand jury heard from Michael Almond, who is the former head of the Charlotte Regional Partnership. Almond was instrumental in Norris' hiring, officials have said. Last month, the grand jury heard from Gordon Myers, who was chairman of the Western North Carolina economic development partnership and signed the form that first registered Norris as a lobbyist in the state.

New top lobbyist on tap

Chris Valauri, president and lobbyist for the N.C. Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, is leaving the job after 22 years and will start his own lobbying business. Dean Plunkett, Valauri's deputy, takes over the association's top job Jan. 1.

Valauri said he considers the move "a natural progression." He will continue to work for the association under contract.

Finalists for law school dean

The law school at UNC-Chapel Hill has announced the three finalists to become its next dean:

* Teresa Wynn Roseborough, an Atlanta trial and appellate litigator and partner at the firm Southerland, Asbill & Brennan. Roseborough graduated from UNC's law school with high honors after serving as editor in chief of its law review.

* Dave Douglas, a law professor and director of the Election Law Program at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. Douglas is writing a book that deals in part with the UNC-Chapel Hill presidency of Frank Porter Graham and his efforts to bring racial and economic justice to North Carolina and the South.

* Duke law professor Erwin Chemerinsky,whose candidacy had already been announced.

All three are scheduled to visit the campus for public interviews in January.

Easley's ecological message

Gov. Mike Easley wants North Carolinians to enjoy safe and happy holidays.

He also wants them to be environmentally friendly.

Easley, in a recent news release, noted that the nation's trash increases by an extra 1 million tons a week during the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

"We can enjoy the merriment of the season without doing harm to the environment," Easley said.

Easley used the release to pass along some tips from the N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance:

* Use decorative, reusable boxes and bags for giving gifts instead of wrapping paper. "If you must wrap, consider newspaper comics or fabric."

* Recycle used ribbons, bows, gift bags and decorative wrappings.

* If you cannot replant your tree, compost it.

* Don't throw away electronic gadgets that are replaced by newer gifts. Recycle them instead.

If you want more information about how to compost your tree or recycle those old video games, go to www.p2pays .org/localgov/PAYT/ncwaste.asp.

Curliss can be reached at 829-4840 or

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