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Scuttlebutt

by YES! Weekly staff

Winston-Salem hiring freeze – On Oct. 9, a day after the city of Charlotte announced an across-the-board hiring freeze, Winston-Salem followed suit. “City government budgets are feeling the same strains that each of us are feeling in our personal lives,” City Manager Lee Garrity said in a prepared statement. “Our expenses are up and our revenues are down.” Garrity announced the implementation of several other cost-cutting measures as the fallout from the current national economic crisis hits home in Forsyth County. The city could be faced with a $2.4 million loss at the end of the 2008-09 fiscal year, so the city placed a freeze on capital purchases and leases. The city will institute a freeze on travel and training, limit discretionary spending, implement energy conservation measures and take a hard look at city contracts. The cost-saving measures will remain in effect until the end of the current fiscal year, Garrity said. Charlotte’s hiring freeze should remain in place through January. The hiring freeze is just one of several cost-saving measures implemented by the state’s largest city. Margot Christensen, spokeswoman for the NC League of Municipalities, said she expects for more cities and towns across the state to undertake similar measures as the ripple effect of the financial meltdown is felt on Main Street. — KB

Downtown wants your business – The Greensboro council also unanimously approved a new policy to offer businesses that bring new jobs to downtown free parking and public transit assistance. The policy aims to achieve two overlapping goals: bringing business downtown and creating good-paying jobs. The Downtown Job Creation Parking and Transit Assistance Policy states that qualifying businesses located in the Central Business District will be able to offer full-time, permanent employees the option of a year of free parking at any city-owned parking deck or a free one-year Greensboro Transit Authority bus pass. To qualify, businesses must create or add jobs to the downtown business district within the next 12 months, all jobs must pay an average actual starting wage equal to or exceeding the average wage rate for Guilford County, as computed by the NC Employment Security Commission. — JG

Religious leaders defend undocumented immigrants – Faith leaders from across the state gathered in Raleigh on Oct. 7 to announce the formal launch of the NC Religious Coalition for Justice for Immigrants, a group publicly voicing opposition to rising intolerance towards immigrants and especially those without documentation. The founding statement, which is signed by more than 200 leaders across the state, reads, in part: “We deplore any governmental action which unduly emphasizes enforcement as the primary response to immigrants entering this country or which criminalizes persons providing humanitarian assistance to migrants. We encourage the state and local governments of North Carolina to provide for fair treatment and protection of our state’s immigrant population, including access to education and mobility. In addition, we are troubled and grieved by the separation of families and other forms of suffering that continue to take place as a result of immigrant raids.” The North Carolina organization Americans for Legal Immigration PAC immediately responded by stating, “We want justice for immigrants and illegal aliens alike. Justice for illegal aliens means they should face the consequences of violating our current laws and be deported back to their home nations. Justice for immigrants means you are not all being falsely labeled as lawbreakers by politician priests. Greensboro signatories to the NC Religious Coalition for Justice for Immigrants’ founding statement include the Rt. Rev. Chip Marble of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, Rabbis Fred Guttman and Andy Koren of Temple Emanuel and the Rev. Julie Peeples of Congregational United Church of Christ.— JG

City officials hear from cabbies – About 15 taxi company owners and drivers met with city officials last Wednesday at City Hall to share their thoughts and concerns on the proposed draft rewrite of the city’s Vehicles for Hire ordinance. The changes to the ordinance could put some cab drivers out of work, as city permits will not be approved for drivers with some felonies, including murder, assault, robbery, rape and drug offenses. Taxi company owners will be required to perform an annual criminal background check on each of their drivers. Transportation Director Stan Polanis said background checks could extend back five years for some offenses, including excessive traffic violations. Eric Ellison, a Winston-Salem lawyer, complained that the grounds for suspension or revocation of a taxi operator’s license are simply too vague. Ellison took exception to the proposed rule that drivers convicted of five or more traffic offenses in a three-year period are subject to suspension or revocation of their license. Drivers would also be required to show proof of insurance every six months, and owners would be required to keep at least 50-percent of their permitted vehicles in operation; drivers operating without a city-issued permit will be fined. Kenneth Byrd of Salem Taxi encouraged city officials to raise taxicab rates to help offset the rising cost of fuel. Under the proposed rules, if the price of fuel in the area increases by 30 percent in a 30-day period, the city manager has the discretion to raise taxicab rates by up to 30 percent. — KB

Wells Fargo to buy Wachovia – Wells Fargo & Co. announced on Oct. 9 that it had terminated discussions with Citigroup regarding the sale of certain banking assets of Wachovia, paving the way for Wells Fargo to buy Wachovia’s banking and other operations by the end of 2008. The next day, Wachovia announced it would go ahead with the buyout deal without shareholder approval. Citing an exception provided in the New York Stock Exchange’s shareholder approval policy, Wachovia said it would mail all shareholders a letter notifying them of its intention to issue the shares. The resolution of Wells Fargo’s buyout deal caps a week of legal wrangling with Citigroup. On Sept. 29, Citigroup offered to buy Wachovia’s retail bank, corporate and investment bank and wealth management businesses for $1 a share. Four days later, Wells Fargo offered to buy Wachovia for $7 a share, sparking a legal challenge from Citigroup. The impact of the buyout deal on Wachovia’s more than 3,000 Winston-Salem employees remains unclear. Wachovia spokesperson Christine Shaw said it was too soon to speculate on potential layoffs or branch closings in the area. Wachovia has no branches that overlap with Wells Fargo, a San Francisco-based bank. In the transaction, Wells Fargo will acquire all of Wachovia Corporation and all its businesses and obligations, including its preferred equity and indebtedness, and all its banking deposits, which currently total $787 billion. — KB

Crowded houses no more – The city of Greensboro will step up fines against clubs that exceed capacity, beginning next month. The Greensboro City Council voted unanimously on Oct. 7 to revise its ordinance to increase fines from $150 per incident to $100 per person above capacity. Additionally, clubs will incur an initial fine of $500 for each blocked exit, with fines escalating by $500 for every new violation. The Greensboro Fire Department shut down the downtown bar Stumble Stilskins for being 100 percent over capacity on the previous weekend, according to Assistant Chief David Douglas, who said the current fines are accepted as a cost of doing business by many club owners. “Until we take the profit out of the overcrowding,” he said, “they’re going to continue to do it.” — JG

Republican chair attacks election comments by Easley – Partisan bitterness in North Carolina escalated last week as new national attention focused on Obama’s slight lead in state polls. NC Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Daves lashed out at Gov. Mike Easley on Oct. 9 in a statement responding to the Democratic governor’s comments on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” the previous day. “Governor Easley’s baseless, partisan attack on our party today is more of the same fear-mongering typical of Democrat politicians as we close in on Election Day,” she said. “We are committed to ensuring all citizens of North Carolina, who are eligible to vote, are able to exercise their rights.” For his part, Easley had told Maddow that Democrats had witnessed voter suppression efforts by Republicans “so many times.” “The Obama campaign itself, as well as our party coordinating campaign, as well as our state officials, who have an accountability, a constitutional duty to see that everybody gets a chance to vote, are all coming together — and hopefully we get some help from the Republican Party — to make sure that everybody who wants to vote gets to vote, to make sure that everybody that’s properly registered gets to vote,” he said. “This is something that does occur; it’s not a myth. And we’re gonna be on top of it, and make sure that we protect everybody’s right to vote, and hopefully we can carry the state for Obama.” — JG

A welcome rider: mental health parity – The $700-billion financial bailout bill signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 3 was a bitter pill that went down a little easier for some lawmakers with a little syrup. One of the sweeteners was an attachment outlawing health-insurance discrimination against employees with mental-health and substance-abuse problems who work for companies with 51 or more employees. “This is a great victory for thousands of citizens in this area who have been unable to access mental healthcare because of discriminatory practices,” Blair Benson, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Greensboro said in a prepared statement. “It is a major step forward that opens the door to treatment for mental health conditions that are just as treatable as other illnesses.” — JG

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