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by Jordan Green

Items from across the Triad and beyond’

STILLBORN POLICE DISCIPLINE BILL STIRS CONTROVERSY

A local bill entitled “Greensboro/Police Discipline Disclosure” submitted by Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) would require the Greensboro Police Department to release information about disciplinary actions taken against officers investigated for civilian complaints under certain circumstances, along with written materials, interviews, reports or videos that were relied upon by internal affairs in a complaint investigation to a the complaint review committee, a citizen oversight body.

Language for the bill was submitted by Wayne Abraham, then chairman of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission, last August following an 8-1 vote by the city council to request legislative changes from the NC General Assembly.

Before Harrison could file the bill, a minor controversy erupted because the council no longer wanted legislative action on police oversight. Harrison confirmed on May 14 that she would not be introducing the bill because it lacked the needed support from the council and the rest of the Guilford County delegation. The state lawmaker missed an April 29 meeting with city council to discuss its legislative agenda because of a previously scheduled committee meeting in Raleigh. She did appear later the same day at city hall for a “Take It to Raleigh” forum, in which citizens give input to lawmakers. It was there that Abraham reminded her of the police discipline legislation. Unbeknownst to both of them, the council had removed the item from its legislative agenda a month earlier.

“It never dawned on me that this city council would withdraw its support for the legislation that the previous council approved,” Harrison said. “In hindsight I should have checked with someone in the city council office before distributing the language to my colleagues for approval to ensure this was something the city was still interested in. Lesson learned.”

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan commented on a post by conservative blogger Joe Guarino that generated reproachful discussion about Harrison and Abraham’s role in the contretemps: “To my knowledge, no one on council was aware of this maneuver. If true, I do not think it is appropriate for any commission or commission member to ask for legislation without council approval. I am sure that you will see this issue addressed in the near future.”

In a little-publicized decision, the current city council overturned a vote by the previous council during a March 23 briefing. The council decid ed by consensus to remove an item requesting legislative changes to give the complaint review committee additional information.

“The reason is because we were told that the police department is 100 percent behind it, and it was not,” at-large Councilman Robbie Perkins said. “That was some misinformation that the council got. As soon as the city council found out that the chief was not behind it and the police department was not, we backed off.”

Minutes for the council’s Aug. 3, 2009 meeting reflect that police Chief Tim Bellamy addressed the previous council before the vote, telling members that he agreed with the proposal with the exception of a provision allowing the complaint review committee to review the pattern and history of complaints against an officer before rendering a decision, expressing concern that access to the officer’s disciplinary history might bias the committee’s judgment.

The council duly removed the objectionable provision in the resolution, but approved a provision stating, “CRC will be informed directly by the police department about what specific disciplinary measures are taken regarding officers who have been found to have violated the law or policy in cases it reviews.”

Bellamy endorsed the changes before the vote.

“It’s going to build more trust in the community,” he said, “and more trust within the department.”

Since that time, a group of pastors known as the Pulpit Forum has submitted a lengthy set of questions to the chief about handling of disciplinary issues, and almost a dozen people have been arrested in civil disobediences while alleging the existence of a subculture of corruption within the police department.

“The police chief and the city legal department didn’t want to be bothered with it,” Abraham said. “They told the current council, ‘It’s all bad.’ They killed it.” — JG

RIVERKEEPER: SECRETARY OF STATE INVESTIGATING ALCOA SUPPORTER

The Yadkin Riverkeeper issued a press release on May 12 stating that NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall has ordered an investigation of Larry Jones, president of the High Rock Lake Association and a Rowan County, regarding his alleged illegal lobbying of state legislators to block Senate Bill 967, which would establish a public trust with the authority to seize the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project from aluminummaker Alcoa and return it to the people.

Marshall ordered the investigation after a request by NC Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Davidson) and Yadkin Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks, according to the press release.

George Jeter, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, would neither confirm nor deny that his office was conducting an investigation of Jones.

“Under North Carolina law, we cannot comment on lobbying cases,” Jeter said in a voicemail message. State law requires that all information gathered in a lobbying investigation be kept confidential.

In February, Naujoks demanded that Jones step down from his post after federal documents revealed the company transferred 2.5 acres of property to Jones last October. Naujoks stated that Alcoa’s gift of the land along the shore of High Rock Lake coincides with Jones shifting his position on Alcoa’s re-licensing effort to maintain its control over a 38-mile stretch of the river that encompasses the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project.

Naujoks claims that Alcoa’s operations have been linked to multiple contaminants in the Yadkin River, including cancer-causing PCBs in Badin Lake, and that Jones lobbying against SB 967 represents a conflict of interest.

Last August, SB 967 was defeated in the NC Senate 66-39.

On Monday, the Yadkin Riverkeeper announced that famed environmental activist Erin Brockovich will speak about the sustainability of the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project at Wake Forest University on June 29. — KTB

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