An outgoing Department of Environment and Natural Resources employee is making waves with an op-ed in Sunday's News & Observer that sheds light on the inner workings of the agency in the McCrory administration.
Amy Adams, who now works for Appalachian Voices, an environmental advocacy organization, writes in a letter titled "Soul-crushing takeover of NC DENR brings resignation":
"For years, DENR has been stretched thin, its programs underfunded and its staff overworked, yet we managed to adhere to our core mission and to the personal dedication that drives many of us who work in state government.
"But this year’s historic and hostile takeover of DENR by politically and ideologically motivated lawmakers in the General Assembly was soul-crushing. I could no longer clock in in good conscience and believe I could uphold my commitment to protect the environment."
The public resignation is not the first at the state's environmental agency. Susan Wilson, a 24-year veteran, wrote to DENR Secretary John Skvarla earlier this year: "Between your inappropriate mission statement, the dismantling of the Division of Water Quality, and HB74 (along with a few other gems from this session's NCGA), I see no reason to continue here - because my own mission - to assist all citizens and protect those that don't have a voice, would be compromised."
Adams' letter hits similar points. "The General Assembly’s legislation reorganizing DENR results in deep cuts to staff and resources. The Division of Water Quality staff, for example, will likely be 24 percent smaller by March than it was in early 2011. “Do more with less” has become the mantra of upper management, but we in the ranks heard the message loud and clear: “Do less. Period.”
"There are simply too few employees with too much territory to cover, and the repercussions are real. Staff are increasingly tasked with duties for which they have no previous experience, such as reviewing complex technical pollution-control permit applications.
"Because state law requires DENR to issue permits within a tight deadline, staffers are under great pressure to essentially trust the industry’s word that everything is in order. (The phrase “a fox guarding the hen house” comes to mind.) I did not sign on to my DENR job to wield a rubber stamp."
The op-ed continues saying the cuts contradict Gov. Pat McCrory's pledge to make government "customer service friendly":
"If and when violations are found, I fear that DENR’s new management will downplay or even overlook them. Most important in my book, staff members will not be as available to the public as in years past. Although customer service is a rallying cry of the current leadership, it seems that businesses and industry are considered the only “customers.” Read the entire op-ed here.
*** Greg Brannon and Mark Harris add support in the N.C. Senate race. Read about it and more in the Dome Morning Memo.***
At 1 p.m. a delegation from seven colleges and universities in North Carolina will deliver a letter to the governor and Budget Director Art Pope calling on them to condemn the Civitas Institute’s demand for records from Gene Nichol, the director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the UNC School of Law.
“Conservatives are eager to snatch up Hagan's Senate seat, and they have pinned their hopes on Brannon, a tea party rabble-rouser and fiercely anti-abortion rights OB-GYN who has never run for elected office.” Read more here.
firestorm on the social networking website on Sunday. Around 8 a.m., Rucho’s account tweeted: "Justice Robert’s pen & Obamacare has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis,Soviets & terrorists combined." (U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act.) Rucho did not return a message left on his cell phone on Sunday.
By then, more than 90 people had re-tweeted his post. But others called the tweet offensive. "The systematic murder of 11 million human beings, among them 6 million Jews ... and acts of terrorists using explosives to indiscriminately decimate the lives of men, women and children can in no way be compared to legislation aimed at expanding health care accessibility and quality insurance for the poor," said Rabbi Judy Schindler of Charlotte’s Temple Beth El. "Comparing the two is deeply offensive.
The tweet also received a litany of angry responses on Twitter, including some who said Rucho should step down. Read more here.
State funding for textbooks has been cut by nearly 80 percent in the past four years, just as the state has been switching to a new curriculum with new textbooks. At the same time, school districts are expected to make the switch to digital textbooks by 2017 even though no money is set aside for computers or other digital devices for every student.
...In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the state provided $111.2 million for textbooks. But amid the budget crunch, it was cut to $2.5 million for the following fiscal year.
State textbook funding has hovered around $23 million for the past three years. Left-leaning groups have criticized the Republican-led General Assembly for not raising textbook funding back to $100 million a year. But the big cuts began back when Democrats were in charge of the legislature. Read more here.
Anticipated with dread by abortion-rights groups and with optimism by anti-abortion advocates, the rules could put some clinics out of business if they are written stringently enough. Most likely, the struggle to balance opposition to abortion with legitimate medical concerns will return to the General Assembly for a final decision.
The state Department of Health and Human Services is required by the new law to give legislators a progress report by the first of the year. But there won’t be a lot to report by then. Read more here.
While North Carolina previously had planned an expensive program to reduce nutrient pollution flowing into Jordan Lake, Hudnell offers a tempting possibility: He says the state can instead cancel out the effects of those pollutants, in part, by carefully circulating the water. And that’s best done, he claims, with devices made by his employer, Medora Corporation.
Hudnell had for years found little success in pitching the idea to state bureaucrats and politicians, but a shift in state politics gave him an opening. By April 1, three dozen massive pumps will float in Jordan Lake, weighing 850 pounds each, constantly pumping acres of water in an effort to kill harmful algae.
In the meantime, long-debated environmental regulations will sit idle, put on hold by the legislature as it awaits the results of the first such major project in the state. For $1.44 million, the state will lease the SolarBee circulators from Medora Corp. for two years. If it works, North Carolina could opt to use 155 units at a cost of $9 million, Hudnell said. By comparison, the environmental rules could cost from $1 billion to $2 billion across the watershed, according to Tom Reeder, head of the state Division of Water Quality in the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
But the project is no surefire answer, and it faces intense scrutiny from water scientists and federal administrators alike. Read more here.
"Outside, protesters were in a far less festive mood. They accused the owner of the discount chain, Art Pope, the state budget director, of bankrolling conservative candidates and supporting policies that hurt the store’s poor and minority shoppers.
“... Liberal groups that thronged North Carolina’s Capitol over the summer to protest the General Assembly’s abrupt rightward swing are trying to keep the momentum going with holiday pickets at Mr. Pope’s stores across the state. More than a dozen are planned in coming days, including five this weekend." Read more here.
“Court proceedings were aired in multiple locations at the old Rockingham County Courthouse but the system was not brought to the new courthouse. Most court employees, even those that oversaw construction plans, did not know Berger had an audio system in his office.
“After it was discovered, Resident Superior Court Judge Richard Stone and Chief District Court Judge Frederick Wilkins, Jr. signed an administrative order disabling Berger's audio system.” Read more here.
It is one of roughly 40 tax breaks being eliminated under a sweeping new tax law approved by Gov. Pat McCrory and the Republican-led legislature this year that will lower personal and corporate income taxes. Read more here.