Triangle Politics A weekly look at the local political scene

Orange leaders: NC legislature is hurting local governments

March 22, 2013 

Orange County leaders say a vote in the N.C. House this week to limit residential appearance rules is part of a larger assault on local governments since Republicans took control of the legislature this session.

House lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday prohibiting local rules that specify architectural design, building materials and colors, and other home design elements.

Meanwhile, the state Senate recently approved transferring control of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from the city council to a regional authority. And in Asheville, House leaders are working to do the same thing with the city’s water system.

This could be just the beginning, Orange County leaders say. At a joint meeting of the Town Council and Orange County Commissioners on Thursday, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, a Democrat, was frank about his feelings about what legislators are doing to local governments.

“They’re all giddy about it, actually,” he said. “Literally giddy about taking power away from us.”

Plenty of questions on grievance review

The Raleigh City Council is looking to review the grievance policy for fired employees and had a number of questions about the process this week.

A union group has complained that the commission’s setup is unfair and that it rarely sides with employees. They’re particularly upset about the firing of sanitation worker Shirley Venable, who was accused of threatening her boss.

Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said a report on the subject would be appropriate for the entire council. She asked City Manager Russell Allen to provide details about the commission’s attendance policy and how long the process takes.

Other council members said they want public input on any changes to the commission.

“We also need to get the perspective of the folks who go through that process,” Councilman Thomas Crowder said. “Is that process expedient and transparent? Are they doing it in a way that it’s a speedy trial?”

The council hasn’t set a date for the discussion.

Musical production make-up questioned

Wake County school board member Jim Martin raised some eyebrows this week by the way he raised concern about minority under-representation at Pieces of Gold, an annual musical production involving more than 800 district students.

Martin said that Pieces of Gold is “getting whiter and whiter,” pointing to his unofficial count that less than 25 percent of participants this month were minority students. He said that figure’s “not the demographics of Wake County, and that’s not the demographics of people engaged in the arts.”

“When a jazz band has a black drummer and all the rest Caucasian, sorry jazz comes out of a different tradition,” Martin also said.

Martin said the school district needs to examine whether it’s doing enough to encourage minority participation in the arts. The district’s students are 49.1 percent white.

Wake schools’ Hill officially unaffiliated

Wake County school board member Kevin Hill is no longer a registered Democrat.

Elections officials say that Hill requested in November that his voter registration be changed to unaffiliated. Hill said this week that he made the change because he felt he needed to model the remarks he has often made about the school board being non-partisan.

Hill has been vocal over the past few years in his complaints about the media identifying board members by their political party registration.

The school board is officially non-partisan, but the Republican and Democratic parties have become heavily involved in recent elections. For instance, the Wake County Democratic Party endorsed Hill during his re-election bid in 2011.

It’s not unknown for a Wake school board member to change political affiliation after being elected. Deborah Prickett switched from unaffiliated to Republican after being elected in 2009.

Political Trails

• N.C. Secretary of Transportation Tony Tata will speak at the Wake County Republican Party Convention on Tuesday at the Kerr Scott Building at the State Fairgrounds. Event registration and payment is required. Visit to register.

Compiled by Tammy Grubb, Colin Campbell and T. Keung Hui.

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