Scuttlebutt: Developments across the Triad and beyond

by the YES! staff

Donnan wins Democratic labor commissioner runoff

Winston-Salem resident Mary Fant Donnan, a program officer at Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, trounced John C. Brooks in a run-off election for the Democratic primary race for labor commissioner on June 24, securing 62.9 percent of the vote. Donnan took 90.9 percent of the vote in her native Forsyth County. She will face incumbent Republican Commission Cherie Berry in the November general election. Donnan served as a policy analyst under popular Democratic Commissioner Harry Payne in the 1990s, while rival Brooks headed the Labor Commission from 1977 to 1993.

– JG

26 members of MS-13 indicted

A federal grand jury in Charlotte returned an indictment against 26 members of the El Salvador-based gang La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, on June 23. One of those indicted, Alejandro Enrique Ramirez Umana, is alleged to have carried out a double murder at Las Marisqueria Jaroschitas restaurant on High Point Road in Greensboro last December. The 55-count indictment charges the gang members with murder, selling cocaine and marijuana, robbery, possessing illegal firearms and extortion, among other offenses. The gang reportedly operates in urban areas of North Carolina, including the Triangle and Charlotte. The charges stem from an investigation by the FBI “Safe Streets” Gang Task Force, according to an announcement by the US Justice Department, with assistance from federal and local law enforcement organizations, along with the El Salvador National Civilian Police. According to the announcement, one of the gang’s leaders allegedly directed gang members in the United States from prison in El Salvador and received money wired from US members.

– JG

Hail to the new chief

Scott Cunningham was sworn in Friday as Winston-Salem’s 13th police chief. The ceremony was held at City Hall at 10 a.m. and carried live on WSTV 13 – the municipal equivalent of C-SPAN. Cunningham takes over for retired Chief Patricia Norris, who accepted a job as police chief at Winston-Salem State University two months ago. Cunningham spent the first 20 odd years of his professional policing career climbing the ladder in Tampa, Fla. He ditched a job as Cary’s police chief in 2007 after only two and a half years. Cunningham said he left the Cary job because it wasn’t a good fit and promised Winston-Salem residents a longer stay in the Twin City.

– AK

Truth activists meets with city of Greensboro

Members of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Project have recently met with Greensboro Human Relations Director Anthony Wade and members of the city’s human relations commission to discuss recommendations to be presented to the city council, according to minutes from the project’s June 24 meeting. The Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Commission released a report in May 2006 on the 1979 Klan-Nazi killings, including the recommendation that the city and police department issue public apologies, and then disbanded. Weeks later, then-Mayor Keith Holliday informally requested that the human relations commission address the report. The vague and unofficial directive went nowhere. Since then, the separate truth project has hosted a number of community forums to discuss various aspects of the 1979 killings.

– JG

Triad named among top 50 regions most likely to lose air service

The Business Travel Coalition, an organization advocating for air travel consumers, released a study on June 25 identifying the Triad as one of 50 large markets most likely to lose air service as high fuel prices force airlines to go out of business, merge or shrink. While Raleigh-Durham International Airport and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport did not warrant mention in the report, airports in Asheville, Greenville, New Bern and Wilmington joined Piedmont Triad International Airport on the at-risk list. The study concluded “that if oil prices stay anywhere near $130/barrel, all major legacy airlines will be in default on various debt covenants by the end of 2008 or early 2009. The implication is that several large and small airlines will ultimately end up in bankruptcy, and of those, some will be forced to liquidate.”

– JG

Miller: Hold up funding for FBI data-mining program

Rep. Brad Miller, a Democrat who represents North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, requested that Congress temporarily withhold funding for the FBI’s National Security Analysis Center in a June 16 letter to Rep. David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee. Miller, who chairs the Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee said the FBI failed to answer a number of questions posed by the Government Accountability Office, including what the center’s purpose and scope would be, what types of records and databases it would use, and how it intended to ensure compliance with privacy laws. In an letter to the GAO earlier this month, Miller and James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) wrote that the proposed FBI center bears a “striking resemblance” to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s Total Information Awareness program, which Congress terminated in 2003. The two congressmen wrote that the center would create 6 billion records by 2012, or 20 for each person in the United States. They cited a report for the libertarian Cato Institute by Jeff Jonas, who warned that “predictive” counterterrorism data mining efforts run the risk of “flood[ing] the national security system with false positives – suspects who are truly innocent.”

– JG

Schools cry foul on state education funding

The NC Department of Public Instruction raised concerns this week that a conference budget distributed June 23 by the NC General Assembly’s Joint Education Appropriation Committee would shortchange public schools by $80.5 million in funding that would otherwise pay for transportation fuel, bonuses for teachers and assistants, and at-risk student services and alternative schools. A recent statement released by Guilford County Schools noted that Linda Garrou (D-Forsyth), the Senate’s chief budget writer, said the upper house would restore some $20 million for fuel and bonuses. The statement also noted that Guilford County Schools already faces a $2.6 million shortfall after the Guilford County Commission approved only $10 million of the $12.6 million increases requested for public schools when the county budget was approved on June 19.

– JG

The price of justice

A bill proposed by Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) would increase the amount of money wrongfully convicted North Carolina citizens are eligible for upon release. The state currently pays exonerated inmates $20,000 for every year spent behind bars and caps the total award at $500,000. Harrison’s bill would increase the award to $50,000 a year and would bump the cap to $750,000. Inmates cleared of their crimes would also receive free job training and tuition for community colleges and public universities.

­- AK