ten best: stories I couldn’t Get to this week

by Jordan Green

Elderly, disabled and mentally ill affected by cuts

The notion of reporters keeping their stories close to the vest for the purpose of landing scoops is largely a relic of the 1990s. The fact is that any investigative reporter worth her salt is constantly deluged with story ideas from sources. Each of us is working on our own stories, and we rarely have time to worry about what reporters at the other newspaper are doing. When other newspapers publish an important expose we rarely have time and resources to follow up, and vice-versa. In that spirit of frank acknowledgement, here are 10 stories I didn’t have time to write this week. Perhaps the most urgent are the looming budget cuts to services to the elderly, mentally ill and disabled. There’s a heartbreaking story about a person behind every cut. One mental health advocate told NC Sen. Don Vaughan (D-Guilford) at a Greensboro town-hall meeting on June 12: “People are going to die.”

Downtown design plan opposed by developers

Rhinoceros Times Editor John Hammer has been working a story about the Greensboro Downtown Design and Compatibility Manual without any competition for the past couple weeks, but I’m still in the dark about the manual’s actual content. Hammer reported in the June 11 issue of his newspaper that developer Roy Carroll “says he is opposed to the design manual as it now stands because he read it.” Hmmm. That doesn’t tell me much. Fortunately, local blogger Ed Cone has waded into the discussion. And while no one has actually dissected the specific provisions of the manual, at least some of the contradictions of the controversy are being drawn out. Hammer wrote, “The committee that wrote the design manual is not a group that has a financial interest in the downtown.” Cone ripostes that “the steering committee included downtown stalwarts such as Betty Cone, Jody Efird, Jo Leimenstoll, Al Leonard (VP, the Carroll Companies), John Lomax, Milton Kern, Tommy Lineberry and Simonne McClinton.” Cone also points out that “Roy Carroll’s aversion to external forces acting on downtown development not only overlooks his own VP’s role in the process, it memory-holes that nice tax deal he got from the city while renovating the Wachovia

YES! Weekly called out on ‘dam scam’

Mike Baron, former water conservation manager, took me personally to task for not responding to his invitation to look into his allegations of fraud and conspiracy surrounding the city’s water use and the construction of the Randleman Reservoir. “I made it so easy for YES! Weekly to deal with this issue,” Baron wrote on his blog. “If it only attended [Baron’s presentation] it could have published that I am brilliant and persuasive — or just another conspiracy nut with an axe to grind. To date, and for one year now, not a single Triad news media outlet has elected to investigate the abundance of evidence and charges I have filed in my stories.”

Money needed for liver transplant

On June 4, our newspaper received an e-mail message from James Olerio of Atlanta with the heading, “LIVER TRANSPLANT/desperately needed/HELP.” That message was followed up exactly a week later with another one headed, “no one has had the courtesy to respond.” Olerio, who describes himself as a former control room director at CNN Headline News, writes that his cousin, Jon Foster of Greensboro, is waiting for a liver transplant that he cannot afford, and that he needs $25,000 to cover expenses. Presumably a human interest story distributed in the Triad market would compel the generous people of this area to establish a fund to help defray costs.

Where all the stimulus money goes

Gettingback to Sen. Vaughan’s town-hall meeting, there was some discussion ofthe billions of dollars in federal stimulus funding North Carolina isexpected to receive but few specifics about how much of the money hasalready been allocated, who’s received it and what projects qualify forit. Make no mistake: A road (or a dozen) is going to be built somewherein this state that inflates the value of some developer’s propertyovernight. To my knowledge, nobody in this market has started tallyingall the amounts of the various streams of funding mentioned in pressreleases from the Obama administration and municipal governments to seewho’s coming out ahead and who’s getting shafted. Bloggers,take note: While you were deconstructing all those column inches ofnewsprint and searching for liberal bias, newspapers have been layingoff legions of the investigative reporters who used to look into thisstuff.

Funding for river monitoring running dry

If,like me, you were interested in finding out whether the Haw River wassafe for canoeing with all the rain we’ve been getting recently, youmight have stumbled onto a nifty website maintained by the USGeological Survey that actually provides a real-time report on thewater’s height. And you would see a note prefaced with the word“attention” in red letters: “Monitoring at 9 real-time gages will endin June 2009, unless alternative funding becomes available.” That’s astory.

Oak Ridge Elementary making people sick

Thatmold in Oak Ridge Elementary is apparently making students and staffsick at Oak Ridge Elementary is undoubtedly a scandal. Fortunately, theNews & Record is on top of it. It’s possible that if YES! Weeklychimed in, Guilford County Schools would feel more pressure to takeeffective action to protects its students and employees. Or maybe not.In any case, we’ve got other pressing matters to attend to — storiesabout potential abuses that are getting no play in any other outlets,so we must allocate our reporting resources accordingly.

Raleigh partisanship escalates

I’mhalfway cheating with the last item also, considering that I heardabout it from North Carolina Public Radio on June 12, but it’snewsworthy that the state budget crisis appears to have created anunprecedented level of partisan acrimony in Raleigh. Here’s how Sen.Peter Brunstetter (R-Forsyth) described the situation for hiscolleagues in the House: “Deliberations dragged on well into the night,and it was apparent that tempers were short. House Finance andAppropriations meetings degenerated into name calling, parliamentarymaneurvering, charges and countercharges.”

Anonymous foes of Scientology

Okay,so I’m running out of serious legitimate stories for this list (and tobe honest, there are a couple of good ones I’m keeping to myself). Astrangely worded press release landed in my in-box on June 13 entitled,“The Sea Arrrgh shivers the timbers of Scientology.” It came to me froman entity known as “anonymous” that may or may not be the sameanonymous I met some months ago at a Greensboro City Council meeting.The press release accuses the leadership of the Church of Scientologyof “child labor, coerced abortions, harsh working conditions, humantrafficking, cruel punishment, disconnection of families and mindcontrol.” It’s not exactly clear what concrete actions the church’sadversaries plan to take, but the press release states that “the SeaArrrgh, a horde of mighty anonymous internet pirates, call attention tosuch abuses while partying hard as only a pirate can.” Alrighty then.

Corporate income tax proposal

Theleft-leaning NC Justice Center released a report on June 8 recommendingthat the state “close corporate tax loopholes by requiring combinedreporting” to “more accurately assess the share of corporations’profits that are attributable to doing business in North Carolina” — amove that would reportedly generate about $100 million in new revenueevery year. Business-friendly legislators on both sides of the aisletypically warn that such measures will drive out investment. A call forsuch tax reform came up at Sen. Vaughan’s town hall, and the lawmakersaid such a bill is in the works. This story is crying out for areporter to do the legwork — that is, parse the language in the variousbills, gauge support and find out what groups are pushing it and whichones are pushing back.