Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bill Robinson's fallacies printed as fact in News & Record

GREENSBORO, NC --  The News & Record continues its wretched practice of publishing errors of fact in its letters to the editor. Today, it's this from Bill Robinson of Greensboro:
For those of you under 30 and concerned about jobs and the economy, in 1998 and 1999 the country was spiraling down into recession. Who do you think was [sic] president and first lady?
There was no recession in 1998 or 1999. In fact—you know, real fact, not ideological hallucination—the 1990s were the longest period of growth in U.S. history. The nearest recession was in 2001, George W. Bush's first year in office—a point of fact that would be quite inconvenient to what one assumes is Robinson's "logic."

It would be a simple thing for the News & Record to check the claims of empirical facts asserted in the letters it receives and, when they are wrong, to reject the letters on that basis. Like this:
Dear Mr. Robinson, there was no recession in 1998 or 1999. You are welcome to correct the error and resubmit your letter.
Otherwise, what is the letters page but a comfy home for every crackpot with a mistaken understanding of the world? Isn't that what the Internet is for?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The News & Record: safe haven for mediocre journalists

GREENSBORO, NC -- It's one thing if a reporter might not have had an opportunity to get up to speed on a community's history or has yet to develop his own professional standards. It is quite another thing when a news organization coddles those inadequacies. That's an environment for professional decay.

Robert Lopez writes a piece at the News & Record today that is so sub par, it should not have been published -- if the News & Record itself had any standards.

The story, about the City of Greensboro settling a police officer's discrimination suit for $25,000, suffers from two grave deficiencies, both, unfortunately, not uncommon at the News & Record.

The first is the despicable, deplorable, lazy and amateurish deployment of he said,she said reporting in place of the facts. Renowned journalism professor Jay Rosen has referred to this technique of pitting the claims of one person against another without aligning their claims to available facts as a wholly inadequate vestige of the pre-internet age of journalism. It's too easy for such reports to be revealed as deficient on the web—"lame," Rosen calls them—as is happening here.

When Lopez reports that police officers who sued the city said a lineup book containing their pictures was used to "frame" them and that the former chief of police said otherwise, leaving it at that, Lopez is positioning his reporting as nothing more than stenography, a regurgitation of competing claims and not a source for fact-finding despite widespread public knowledge that such facts exist. Lame.

In fact, the use of the line-up book was thoroughly investigated by the FBI, the SBI and the Department of Justice. None found any wrongful use of the lineup book. The City of Greensboro swore in an affidavit it had no evidence of misuse of the lineup book and, indeed, none has ever been produced. Lopez fails to report these salient facts. Lame.

Lopez also lacks a knowledge of local history and, here, his editors should have helped him out. When Lopez writes that the officer who sued the city claimed that a tracking device was put on his car and claims that his picture appeared in the line-up book, without reporting how those claims align with the facts, Lopez reveals himself to be ignorant of the facts found in the history of this matter. It was widely acknowledged and reported that a tracking device was placed on the officer's car. That's a fact, not just an individual's assertion, as Lopez would have it. Lame.

Additionally, city council members, some still on council (Zack Matheny and Yvonne Johnson), saw the line-up book in question. There are two credible sources with first-hand knowledge who are in a position to say whether or not the officer's picture was in the book. Lopez ignores those sources, leaving the officer's assertion unchecked. Lame.

Lopez reports as if there is no truth, no facts; only assertions. The worst part is that his efforts pass muster with his editors. That is not only lame, it's common practice at the News & Record. It's bad business too and it's bad for the professional development of the reporters who work there. A reporter who wants to be a mediocre journalist and stay a mediocre journalist will find accommodation at the News & Record.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Four great Greensboro law domain names for sale

For sale or lease, collectively or individually, four great search engine-boosting domain names for attorney or law practice.

Send inquiries to

Prognostication: Walker prevails in runoff

GREENSBORO, NC -- Based on an examination of the primary turnout and my sense of the race since then, I predict Mark Walker will prevail in tomorrow's Republican runoff for North Carolina's Sixth Congressional district by a margin of 400 to 500 votes.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Barnes & Nobles' stupendously moronic business model

GREENSBORO, NC -- After reading rave reviews of Jon Duckett's Javascript and Jquery: Interactive Front End Web Development, I thought I'd buy a copy. I checked Barnes and Noble's website to see if it was in stock at the Friendly Center store. It was. The price shown was $22.07.

I located the book in the store, but its cover price was $39.98, so I went to the customer service counter to ask about the discrepancy. Before I could even finish my question, the nice lady was nodding knowingly. As she explained, books at Barnes and Nobles are more expensive if purchased in the store.

I must have had quite an expression on my face because the lady responded with, "I know, I know."

"That's really dumb," I said, "now I'm going to leave the store, without making a purchase and go buy it online, probably from Amazon just to further express my displeasure with such gouging." (Alibris looks like a good option.)

"But you can have it today if you buy it in the store," the lady tried to convince me.

Nice try, but an 82% premium for instant gratification just wasn't a selling point.

"And, the money will stay in your community and you'll be supporting your local store," she said.

Yeah, but my local store is trying to stick it to me, that hardly engenders the kind of goodwill that makes me want to support that store.

I buy local plenty, I shop the farmers markets when I can and I prefer independently-owned restaurants and stores to chains; but they aren't gouging their customers. Barnes and Noble, on the other hand, is trying to make a business out of sticking it to local shoppers.

I feel sorry for the people working at the store, but geez o'man, somebody in the chain of command needs to get a clue.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The News & Record stinks so bad

From Joe Gamm in the News & Record today, reporting on the City of Greensboro settling a lawsuit brought by former police officers:
"[Former Police Chief David] Wray resigned in 2006. Plaintiffs alleged he maintained a “black book” that was used to unfairly investigate black officers. Wray contended the department used the book to investigate a sexual assault."
The News & Record continues their atrocious willingness to let competing assertions substitute for fact, but the truth is the realities of the "black book" are far different from what the News & Record portrays. It wasn't just Wray who said the book was a legitimate investigative tool, it was the City of Greensboro, in a sworn affidavit, signed by the very city manager who locked David Wray out of his office, who said the book was compiled for the purpose of solving a crime.

Furthermore, the city also admitted in that affidavit, that it had no evidence of the line-up book being misused. Finally, the use of the book was investigated by the SBI, the FBI and the Department of Justice, all of whom found no improper use of the book. Only one police officer was tried as a result of investigations into the "black book"—for improper use of a federal computer—and he was acquitted.

The News & Record ignores the context of these details and reports the purpose of the black book as unknown beyond the competing assertions of two parties. There is no truth here as far as the News & Record is concerned, they are content to commit what renowned journalism professor Jay Rosen calls the ethical lapse of he said/she said reporting. It makes them look incompetent, or worse, contemptuous.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Opaque "Union Square Campus" demands answers

GREENSBORO, NC -- I have a wish. I wish that someone in our local paid media would stop, take a breath and realize they've gotten ahead of themselves in reporting on what has come to be described as the "Union Square Campus." This project, to be located on publicly owned land at the south sides of the downtown intersection of Elm Streets and Lee Streets, was once considered too contaminated for development until I identified federal funds to pay for for environmental remediation.

Twelve years later (nobody ever accused Greensboro of being supersonic), the site is ready for development and, in the blink of an eye, it has become "Union Square Campus." While the impression created so far is that this will be some sort of satellite campus for area universities, the ownership and money interests have been hard to follow. Instead we've had misrepresentations of the role of project's first building and tortured descriptions like this that are obviously more about hype than clear explanation:
"[A] catalytic higher education development with a first-building focus on training and education for health care professions..."
A catalytic higher education development?

It doesn't help that there is no online resource that describes the project in any detail—no web page, no Wikipedia entry—nothing other than disparate press release-driven announcements regurgitated by local media.

Between few public records, sparse news stories and the rumor mill, there are more questions than answers. Here are some things the professional media ought to clear up for us:

Who will own it?
Currently, the land for the project is owned by the City of Greensboro. Unpublished sources say that a developer was chosen who was to purchase the land but was disqualified for some unknown reason and a new developer was chosen but they have not taken possession of the property. In other words, they haven't purchased it but remain identified as the developer. Who is the intended eventual owner of the land and is the City of Greensboro going to sell it to them at fair market value or will be it be "donated"? Was the developer chosen through an open and fair process in the best interests of the citizens of Greensboro? Who will own the buildings, and not just the first; what is the ownership plan for additional buildings? Who is deciding?

These are matters of fiduciary responsibility of public property. Answers to these questions are of the utmost public interest.

How much is education related? Really.
Supporters hype the project as devoted to education—"A catalytic higher education development"—but only a single building has been described as being education related. Previous discussions and people who claim to know say that the property is also to include apartments and condos as well as commercial and office space.

Is the project being promoted as education related to procure public funding and public support when some portion, if not most of it, will be for other purposes?

Who gets the money?
It has been announced that the first building is to house classroom space, to be rented, hopes are, to local universities. Presumably, there will be other future rents, no matter the purpose of other eventual buildings. To whom will those rents go? Is that arrangement, whatever it may be, in the best interest of the citizens of Greensboro?

The next time reporters type "Union Square Campus" in a story, I wish they'd stop and ask themselves, "How much do my readers know about what this is? How much do I know?"

Councilwoman Hoffman mum on business relationship with city loan recipients

GREENSBORO, NC -- In a recent post about a company receiving city development funds despite being out of compliance with the terms for receiving those funds, I cited local bloggers who claimed that Greensboro City Councilwoman Nancy Hoffman is partners in a separate business with the principals of the company that received the loan, Greensboro Parking Group, LLC. An anonymous commenter questioned the veracity of the claim that Hoffman and the loan recipients are business partners.

So I attempted to verify it directly with Hoffman. After more than a week of multiple emails, to her city account and personal account, and numerous attempts to reach her by phone, including two messages left on her voicemail, I have not heard back from her. If Hoffman is not in business with people to whom she voted to give city funds, it would be a simple thing to say as much—with a phone call or email reply.

Did Hoffman vote to give city funds to business partners (who also happen to have failed to have lived up to their end of the agreement)? People who claim to know say yes. Hoffman, for her part, isn't talking.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Did sitcom producer try to bamboozle city council with fake magazine cover?

GREENSBORO, NC -- In June of last year, the Greensboro City Council approved a loan to Black Network Television (BNT) to help finance a sitcom titled Whatcha Cookin'. When the borrower could not meet the conditions of the loan, city council took the matter up again a month later to consider modifying the terms. That modification was denied. Now BNT is claiming discrimination and suing the City of Greensboro for $50 million.

At the July meeting, when council considered modifying the terms of the loan, a representative of BNT addressed the council as a speaker from the floor. She included a Power Point presentation and recited all of the good things that were happening for the sitcom, including, she said, an article in Upscale Magazine. That claim was accompanied by a slide that showed what appeared to be a cover of the magazine. On it, was a portion dedicated to Whatcha Cookin'. The presentation zoomed in on it to reveal three pictures supposedly from the article and the headline: "BNT Cooks Up Comedy with Whatcha Cookin'."

Here it is the cover as it appeared in BNT's Power Point presentation to the council (click to enlarge):

Here is the real cover  (click to enlarge):

Here is video of the portion of the BNT presentation to council where the Upscale Magazine cover is shown (twice) and described:

News & Record gets crucial sitcom lawsuit fact wrong

GREENSBORO, NC -- The News & Record is reporting that the City of Greensboro is getting sued for a loan it approved then "pulled." The city council approved loan offer was made to Black Network Television (BNT) to help finance their production of a television sitcom titled Whatcha Cookin'. Reporter Joe Gamm writes:
"BNT owners Michael and Ramona Woods sued the city, seeking more than $50 million in connection with a loan the city had approved for the sitcom but then pulled." [Emphasis added.]
That is contrary to the facts, and the News & Record, with a reputation for repeating the assertions of sources without checking them against the available record, gets another crucial point wrong.

The Greensboro City Council, in June of 2013, approved a $300,000 low interest loan to BNT with the condition that the loan be collaterized by a lien on the BNT's owners' house. That condition stipulated that the city of Greensboro was to be in no worse position than second in the line of creditors for liens on the house. It was subsequently discovered that there were two liens, a mortgage and a home equity line of credit, on the owners' house already. That would have put the city third in line, a condition not in conformity with the agreement passed by council.

In July of 2013, council considered (p. 46) revising the terms of the loan so that the city would accept third position. Council rejected that change, with a majority voting to deny it. That left standing the original agreement. Indeed, in responding to a letter from BNT's attorney claiming the city reneged on its loan offer, the city attorney, on October 31, 2013, reiterated that the loan was still available. He wrote:
"If anything, the City and your clients could proceed under the original terms as was mentioned during the meeting. The original terms are still available."
The News & Record is wrong, the city did not "pull" the loan. It declined to modify the original terms of the loan offer, but left it standing.

UPDATE: Owen Covington at The Triad Business Journal makes the same mistake. These reporters need to review the video record of the July, 2013 Greensboro City Council meeting. The council voted to deny modifications to the original loan agreement, they did not rescind the original loan offer.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer reruns: Prepare for stories of mobs and riots

GREENSBORO, NC -- School is out, and around here we know what that means. It's time for local TV stations to rev up their scare machines and crank out wildly distorted fear mongering stories of marauding teenagers.

Cub "reporters," recently graduated with degrees in Personal Branding and minors in Hair and Makeup for the Camera, will find some downtown fight or incident of disorder and breathlessly exaggerate it beyond any resemblance to the facts. Dutiful anchors will read what's on the teleprompter, revealing the perfect amount of panic from behind their facades of sage concern while failing to recognize the mendacity of the words they are burping forth. If we're lucky, local politicians may even seize upon the fakery, deny the clear protestations of the police that the media have it wrong, and fan the flames to pursue some public policy for which they would otherwise have no support.

The bar is set pretty low, though, so it will be tough to beat previous years' winners.

WFMY, 2011: A Month of Violent Flash Mobs

In the summer of 2011, WFMY took a single assault and an overturned flowerpot and turned them into an entire month of "police [battling] large flash-mob beatings and vandalism." This whopper, refuted by police, lead the City of Greensboro to stop communicating with WFMY and to demand a meeting with station management to express their displeasure with WFMY "creating storylines." The story fanned all sorts of racist reaction to the detriment of our community.

WFMY never publicly corrected their story or apologized..

WGHP, 2013: 400-Teen Street Brawl

In the summer of 2013, WGHP reported a "massive brawl" downtown involving "400 teens." They even showed surveillance camera video of what they said was the fight. It never happened though, and the video, while showing crowds of people, some running and agitated, did not show a single punch, kick or any people fighting—much less 400 people—but WGHP played the video over and over, instructing viewers to see in the grainy and out of focus footage something that did not exist. This whopper, picked up by the Drudge Report and other media across the country, was also refuted by police, who described, and records document, a series of small and unrelated fights over a seven-hour period on a Saturday night, resulting in eleven arrests. Police accounts did not stop then-mayor and downtown resident Robbie Perkins from repeating the falsehood in an effort to rally support for a downtown youth curfew. The story also inspired  racist reactions to the detriment of our community.

Like WFMY before them, WGHP never publicly corrected their story or apologized (nor did Perkins who subsequently was voted out of office).

Monday, June 16, 2014

Hyping minor achievements

GREENSBORO, NC -- When did we start pretending that minor achievements deserve the same recognition as major accomplishments? Two examples from this past few days: The area's fifth grade "graduations," and the Greensboro Grasshoppers "winning" the "first half" pennant.

Graduation is for granting a diploma or degree and a baseball pennant is for the winner of a league's season. What's next? Kindergarten graduation and a fifth inning pennant?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Paved in gold: $13 million per mile sidewalk needs construction audit

GREENSBORO, NC -- Dang asks some good questions (in his usual brash way) about the City of Greensboro staff's recommendation that another $26 million be authorized for the downtown greenway.

The public should see an audit of the money spent so far. An official construction audit. We were initially told that the four mile loop would cost an already lofty $26 million. Now it needs another $26 million? That would bring the cost to $13 million per mile. That's more than half of the cost of the four mile portion of the urban loop being built from Bryan Boulevard to Battlegournd Avenue, and that is a six lane highway with four bridges and an interchange.

Something doesn't smell right at all.

Mayberry wanting to be Chicago

GREENSBORO, NC -- The Troublemaker recently wrote about a company that had a contract with the City of Greensboro to make certain improvements to a downtown property and open a restaurant to have employed a certain number of people as conditions for receiving $200,000 of public funds.

As The Troublemaker documented, the company, Greensboro Parking Group, LLC,  missed deadlines, became delinquent on their property taxes, had the original contract with the city extended four months after it expired and missed milestones that were to be met before the public funds were given to them. The city gave them the full $200,000 anyway, before the milestones were met—some of it even after the contract extension expired.

Could there have been any early warning signs that these guys needed a close watch? The corporate seal they affixed to the contract with the city might have been a clue. In case you can't tell, that's a pencil rubbing of a quarter (click to enlarge).

Meanwhile, another blogger notices that one of the principals in Greensboro Parking Group (who is also a partner in a separate downtown property with city council woman Nancy Hoffman) is living high on the hog.

The question remains why the company received public funds when the terms of the contract were not met.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Greensboro Police Department public records malarkey

UPDATE (June 13th): The GPD has released a version of the accident report.

UPDATE II (June 13th): In reviewing the history of this request with city staff, it appears as if some confusion was caused by the request for an accident report being translated into a request for an incident report along the way. City staff explain that the accident report was begun on June 8, completed on June 11, and made public after review and approval by a supervisor.

GREENSBORO, NC -- The Greensboro Police (GPD) reported by press release of a collision between a pedestrian and a vehicle on Bryan Boulevard on Sunday, June 8th. As I wrote yesterday, the accident report was missing from the GPD's online database of accident reports so I requested it directly from the city.

Yesterday, I received a document specifically manufactured to respond to my request. It is not an accident report and was created an hour after yesterday's blog post wondering where the accident report is. Now we not only continue to wonder where the actual accident report is but we also need to know why it is being withheld and whose idea it was to fabricate a record in response to my request for it.

Here is a real accident report, from another accident on the same day as the Bryan Boulevard collision. You will notice it is three pages of great detail on a standard form (click to enlarge):

Here is the "report" the police created in response to my request for the Bryan Boulevard accident report (click to enlarge) :

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Where is the Bryan Boulevard vehicle/pedestrian accident report?

UPDATE: As of 6:30 P.M., the report has still not been provided.

UPDATE II: An hour after this post, the city fabricated a record to provide instead of the accident report. See it and a real accident report here.

GREENSBORO, NC -- The Greensboro Police reported via press release a vehicle/pedestrian accident occurring on June 8th on Bryan Boulevard. According to the press release, the pedestrian was taken to the hospital where he died from his injuries. From the press release:
"On June 8, 2014, at 3:45 p.m., Officers responded to the Joseph M Bryan Boulevard and Brassfield Road in reference to a traffic accident. A collision occurred between an Acura sports utility vehicle and a pedestrian." 
Usually, accident reports are posted online within hours and, indeed, there are several reports from other accidents just before and after the Bryan Boulevard collision posted online. There is, however, no accident report online for this collision, as you can see:

I formally requested the accident report from the City of Greensboro Monday night (which they acknowledged Tuesday morning), but I still have not received it.

Authorities will often withhold the identities of the deceased pending notification of the next of kin but the city has not said that is what is happening here nor, if that is the case, is it a reason for withholding the entire accident report.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Just the worst. News & Record's ethical lapse

GREENSBORO, NC -- I know newspapers are stressed. I know that, for years now, they've been trying to do more with less — or even less with less, without folding. And sure, entrenched old fogies paralyzed by shock and lacking new ideas but unwilling to relinquish the reins carry plenty of the blame for being slow to innovate. Nonetheless, a certain level of quality requires nothing more than conscientious attention to some basic standards and it is something a news enterprise can do immediately with no cost.
As Jay Rosen argues, the days when it was enough to just give both sides of a story — without providing any additional viewpoints or fact-checking — are over. He said/she said journalism is both an ethical lapse and a failure to understand how the media business itself has changed. -- Matthew Ingram 
I first started paying attention to local media about the same time I started seriously paying attention to local public policy. It was around 2000, when Greensboro went all out, successfully, to recruit what was then supposed to be the mid-Atlantic overnight cargo sorting hub for FedEx. I won't re-litigate the arguments for and against here. Suffice it to say that there were people with concerns that this city, desperately watching the last vestiges of its once solid furniture and apparel manufacturing evaporate, was investing all hope in lofty promises of great benefit while avoiding any serious consideration of costs. Fourteen years later, the worst fears have not materialized—attributable to the fact that the hub's promised activity has not materialized, never getting close to the projected 126 flights per night.

Terribly frustrating during the period of public debate was that the local media, the News & Record in particular, clearly took the pro-hub side and subtly but effectively marginalized the opposition. That's when I first noticed the insidious he said/she said "reporting" tactic in action. It's simple. Lazy, misleading and simple. Instead of reporting empirical facts as facts, report them as the assertions of someone. Then report someone else "arguing" against them. There is no need for fact checking, when both "sides" have been reported. Where do the facts lie? Who knows?

This is, unfortunately, exactly what Taft Wireback brings us with his Sunday front-pager "How dangerous is coal ash? Well, that depends," inspired by the recent Duke Power coal ash spill into the Dan River.

Wireback begins by posing the question:
Is this power-plant byproduct the “toxic sludge” so threatening to the state’s ground water, streams and lakes?
Wireback never gives his readers a real answer. He could have reported the results of water quality studies conducted after the Dan River spill for some actual empirical measurements of toxicity but, instead, he is content to let two parties duke it out, each with his assertions and giving the largest megaphone to "coal ash expert" John Daniels, a UNC-Charlotte professor who has consulted with Duke Power and who is working on making useful materials from coal ash. It is the perfect bad example of the ethical lapse of he said/she said journalism. Thus, Wireback "reports" such demonstrably false and grossly misleading nuggets as this.
The 1 percent of coal ash with a potential to harm involves such metals as arsenic that humans ingest routinely in small doses every day, Daniels said.
“You could have drank a liter of Dan River water on the day after the spill and close to the spill, and you would have consumed less arsenic than you usually ingest from other natural sources” daily, he said.
Reporting unchecked assertions was never good journalism, even back in the days of the FedEx hub debate. Its deficiencies are even more obvious now in an age where people have empirical sources at their fingertips. The News & Record should ask itself just what benefit this kind of he said/she said reporting, free from fact checking, brings to its audience. The answer is none and continuing it puts an unnecessary obstacle in the path of an already challenging future for the News & Record. It should stop, once and for all.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Allen Johnson's opinion completely wrong on the facts

GREENSBORO, NC -- What value is an opinion formed on an incorrect understanding of the facts? Not much. So it is with the News & Record's Allen Johnson. In an opinion absolving city council woman Nancy Hoffman of zoning violations, he gets his facts completely wrong.

Johnson: "If she didn’t own the buildings at the time of the citation, as it turns out, she shouldn't be held liable for their condition at that point."

Fact: Hoffman, with her partners as South End Partners, LLC, bought the buildings on October 23, 2013. They have sat in disrepair for nearly eight month, as Hoffman even admits, explaining the delay in making repairs by saying, "these things don't happen overnight." The citation was issued on June 6, 2014. 

Johnson: "She is the owner now, and she has made prompt repairs. Case closed."

Fact: As noted, Hoffman has owned the buildings since October of last year. The code violations were documented in pictures on May 30, 2014 and June 3, 2014, and in the citation of June 6, 2014. If she has made repairs since, and that has not been reported or documented anywhere that I can find, eight months to make such repairs is anything but "prompt."

Johnson is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. In this case, his facts are unquestionably wrong.

For local elected officials (and the News & Record)

GREENSBORO, NC -- To our local elected officials who insist on planting their online presence exclusively on Facebook (usually with a mandatory log in, no less): I'm sure the ability to be able to "block" people who ask inconvenient questions has its appeal, but you should think about what the guy in this video has to say and the implications of requiring your constituents to use Facebook as the online conduit to you.

What are you asking us to acquiesce to to be able to connect with you? This applies too to the News & Record too, who not only requires a FB log in to post comments, but requires that users accept the FB tracking cookie just to be able to even see comments.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Special entitlement

GREENSBORO, NC -- Joe Killian of the News & Record writes of city council woman Nancy Hoffman's downtown properties being cited for code violations. Specifically for violations of the downtown "good repair" ordinance, an ordinance approved with the intention of keeping downtown properties from becoming eyesores.
"City Councilwoman Nancy Hoffmann’s company, South End Properties LLC, was cited by the city on Wednesday for violating the Good Repair ordinance — a regulation she helped craft and pass." [emphasis added]
"The citation said Hoffmann’s company received a warning about violations such as broken windows and boarded-up areas last July." [note: According to county records, Hoffman's company purchased both buildings in October of last year.]
"Hoffmann said she bought the buildings last year and has been working toward a renovation of them using historic tax credits."
Hoffman also was quoted as saying:  "These things don’t happen overnight."

Here's the problem, Hoffman not only voted for the ordinance she is violating, she helped craft a more-stringent version (that did not pass) and was unmoved by concerns expressed at the time by fellow council person T. Dianne Bellamy-Small about "expediting improvements versus compassionate treatment of property owners."

Now Hoffman is pleading that these kinds of repairs take time and for some compassionate understanding. She may have a good point. However, if Hoffman is finding the ordinance under which her properties were cited is too demanding, she should go back to council and, with her experience as a guide, suggest loosening the requirements of the ordinance. What she cannot do is remain in support of the ordinance while she makes excuses for why she is not complying with it. That kind of self-serving double standard is not desirable in elected officials.

Monday, June 02, 2014

This is ground control, do you read me?

GREENSBORO, NC -- Dr. Joe Guarino writes a post in response to mine last week about the false comparisons of the Veteran's Administration to Obamacare; or should I say, he pastes another writer's thoughts. His title: Why the VA Scandal is Extremely Relevant to Obamacare.

It's flawed right from the get-go. Rather than tackle the facts on their face, rather than make an argument from reality, Guarino's writer requires a heavy dose of paranoia first:
"Americans need to take a close look at the VA—and not only because of their concern about poor treatment of our wounded warriors. It is the prototype for Obamacare. The intent behind Obamacare is to completely centralize control over health care, and thus turn American health care into one huge Veterans’ Administration." [emphasis added]
Actually, the prototype for Obamacare was Republican Mitt Romney's health care plan from Massachusetts, itself a product, in part, of the conservative Heritage Foundation. But while the Heritage Foundation praised the individual mandate and subsidies of RomneyCare, when the same policies are implemented under Obama, well, then it's all just part of the real intent for the guvmint to own all health care facilities and have all health care providers on its payroll. Got that? Good, then you are all set to swallow Guarino's "extremely relevant" comparison of the VA to Obamacare.

On the other hand, here's what a comparison of the two looks like when tethered to the facts as they exist and not from orbit in the paranoiasphere. From Sam Baker at the National Journal:
"If you want to argue that the VA's problems are a sign of what happens under true government control of a health care system, well, there's an argument to be made there. Some of the problems at the VA—namely, long waits to see certain doctors—are similar to the biggest complaints about other socialized or quasi-socialized health care systems, including the UK's.
"And the VA is about as socialized as it gets: The federal government owns the hospitals, employs the doctors who work in those hospitals, and finances the coverage that veterans use to get care.
"Obamacare, though, is not socialized medicine. It's not a government takeover of the health care system. Sure, people call it that, and in comparison with charges like "death panels," those characterizations don't sound so off-the-reservation. But they're still wrong.
"Most people accessing the health care system through Obamacare will do so by purchasing private insurance through the law's exchanges. The federal government regulates those insurance policies and requires them to cover certain services. The vast majority of exchange customers also receive subsidies, funded by the government in the form of tax credits, to help pay for their premiums. So it's not like the government isn't involved at all.
"But, unlike with the VA, no one on the exchanges is buying insurance from the government; it's all private coverage. The government doesn't decide how much that coverage costs. It doesn't employ doctors, or decide how much they'll get paid, or require them to accept any of the insurance plans sold through the exchanges. "Obamacare" is not a health care system. The VA is."

It's opposite day for News & Record headline writer

Greensboro, NC -- The headline from a News & Record article:

N.C. plan would join states ending teacher tenure

From the article:
"Only Florida has succeeded in eliminating teacher tenure protections, according to the Education Commission of the States."
"Join states" sounds like we are part of a crowd, a trend — a movement. A more accurate headline would have reflected just what the article reported, that North Carolina's "plan" would make us exceptionally unappealing for teachers.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dr. Wolicki's deep thoughts

GREENSBORO, NC -- Greensboro physician Karol Wolicki (an ear, nose and throat man) writes a letter to the News & Record today. Here it is in its entirety:
"The parallels are obvious. Any discussion of the comparison is thus far conspicuously absent. If you like the way the government administers health care to our veterans, you'll love Obamacare!"
Maybe the exclamation point is meant to head off any further consideration of his opinion, but I don't find his parallels "obvious" at all.

The VA is a cabinet level veterans benefit system, Obamacare is a series of laws passed by congress that mandate private insurance coverage for use among private health care providers and which helps pay for that private insurance with sliding scale subsidies.

Obvious? I think what's obvious is that Dr. Wolicki, who himself received over $30,000 in public payments last year through government administered Medicare, has something against Obamacare he is unable to articulate cogently.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

— George Orwell 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Keep it stupid, simple: John Hammer misguided on city's public records policies

GREENSBORO, NC -- Rhino Times editor John Hammer drones on with a negative opinion of the city's efforts to improve transparency and its handling of public records requests. In his view, the city is over-complicating things and nefariously working to shield itself from the demands of state public records law. "It's a trick," he writes in his uninformed paranoia.

In his view, access to public information is all very simple: Whoever has public records should provide them when asked. Sure, in some ideal pre-computerized era where paper records resided in binders and file cabinets, that might have worked fine, but in a world where records reside mostly electronically across a multitude of physical and virtual repositories, that's not a comprehensive policy.

Hammer might have gained some insight into the challenges and opportunities of modern technology and pubic records had he gone to the City's meeting today about improving public records access as did Ben Holder, Amanda Lehmert of the News & Record, Jordan Green of Triad City Beat, City Council members Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Marikay Abuzuaiter, Jamal Fox and Mike Barber, the City Manager, the City Attorney, the City's pubic relations director, the City's public records administrator and I.

Had Hammer attended, he might have learned how thinking bigger than his quaint notions has already resulted in greater access to public information and how the city is planing to make an even more responsive and transparent city government. (Not to mention being disabused of his mistaken notion that the City intends to start charging for copies of public records.)

Here are some things the city has implemented or is planning:

Staff education: It's fine for Hammer to say that staff should just "follow the law;" that does no good if staff doesn't know what the law is or what their obligations are. The city intends to implement formal procedures for educating city staff about public records law and the city's policies.

Providing reasons when records are denied: State law allows people who have had records requests denied to ask for the reason for the denial and the city is obligated to give a response. Under the City's updated policies, a reason would be given as a matter of course if records are denied, without the requester having to ask. This is one of those rare examples of the city raising its standards above the minimum the law demands.

Online request tracking and repository: The city has already undertaken laudable efforts to put more information online. The recent document dump of records related to the finances of the city-sponsored International Civil Rights Center and Museum and the now-searchable online access to City Council and committee agenda documents, video and minutes are two good examples. The city also plans to roll out this summer online access to the system that tracks records requests so that people can see just how well (or not) the city is responding to requests for public records.

This kind of proactive and modern transparency is a world away from Hammer's simplistic view of how people are to access public records.

Appeals process: Under state law, the only recourse one has if he feels records have been improperly withheld is to go to court (or whine and make a big stink). Hammer brags of having gone to court over public records. I have too. Hammer is right that it's not the ideal remedy. The city is considering coming up with some sort of dispute resolution process so that people, like Hammer, when denied public records have another course of action more accessible than the courts. It's the kind of proactive policy Hammer should cheer.

Better access to records of elected officials: Today's meeting covered several other aspects of public records that could greatly improve transparency including the possibility of having council members forward emails about city business from their private accounts to a city account where they could be better archived and searched; and considering how texts and emails sent and received during public meetings by elected officials and city staff can be made part of the record of the meeting.

While it's true that many (but not all) of these things are plans and promises, there is a very different posture towards transparency at city hall nowadays. Gone is the hostility towards transparency that flourished under former Mayor Robbie Perkins and the former city attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan. John Hammer would help this city out if he recognized the opportunities this new council and new city administration offer and proded them forward. It may not be like this forever and putting some policies and procedures in place now, in a friendly environment, would make it just a little harder for some future enemy of transparency to clamp down on public access. Hammer could help things along, if he thought about it a little more than he has so far.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Judge: eye contact with police equals reasonable suspicion

From the News & Record, in an article describing an appeals court decision throwing out a weapons possession conviction for a man who was stopped by Greensboro police for walking away as officers approached:
"In his dissenting opinion, Judge Chris Dillon said that if someone walks away from police after making eye contact with that officer, there is justification for an officer to stop the person."


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