July 1, 2008

Taxpayers pay for Mary Easley trip to foreign locations

Concerned about skyrocketing gas, food and other prices taking your hard earned dollars? Then consider recent use of your tax dollars to let Governor Easley's wife, Mary, travel to Europe and Russia to visit museums, restaurants and other tourist locations without you having a choice.

According to a report in the News & Observer Mary and her entourage "attended some of the finest museums in France and St. Petersburg, Russia, during the past 14 months. She and entourages dined at first-class restaurants, slept in top-notch hotels and sat in the fifth row for a Russian ballet. The travels -- a 2007 trip to France and one to Russia and Estonia in May -- cost taxpayers $109,000."

During Easley's administration the state has wasted hundreds of millions of tax dollars through failures in the NC DOT, DMV and other organizations due to inability of Easley appointees to properly manage operations of those organizations. Now his wife adds to that waste by using tax dollars for personal travels out of the country in the name of "public relations". Read more...
July 1, 2008
News & Observer
Benjamin Niolet, Staff Writer

Mary Easley trips cost state $109,000

Groups visited France, Russia, Estonia on cultural exchanges; no results yet

North Carolina's first lady, Mary Easley, visited some of the finest museums in France and St. Petersburg, Russia, during the past 14 months. She and entourages dined at first-class restaurants, slept in top-notch hotels and sat in the fifth row for a Russian ballet. The travels -- a 2007 trip to France and one to Russia and Estonia in May -- cost taxpayers $109,000.

Gov. Mike Easley did not go on either trip, and neither was publicly disclosed at the time. Mary Easley did not respond to requests for an interview, but expense reports and other documents released in response to a public records request indicate the trips were considered cultural exchanges to build links between North Carolina and officials in the countries visited. The trips have so far produced no tangible benefits. Read the article...

June 16, 2008

Where have all the bees gone ?

With all the talk about the U.S. bee population declining one North Carolina couple has more bees than they can use...

When a sticky substance was found on a wall, one of the owners stuck his finger in it and tasted it - and discovered it was honey.

WYFF4.com News
Concord, NC
June 15, 2008

60,000 Bees Removed From Inside N.C. Home

Homeowner Says Walls Ooze Honey
One Concord, N.C., homeowner said his walls ooze honey and his house is a hive to thousands of bees.

Older homes are expected to have some problems, but Mark Jones’ 100-year-old house has more than 60,000 of them.

Jones and his wife, Amychelle, said they can sum it up in one word: insanity. On Sunday, they found a way to deal with the bees.

Beekeepers removed 60,000 bees from the Joneses' home Sunday morning, leaving about 1,000 still buzzing inside.

Jones said it wasn’t a bee sting or the buzzing sound that tipped him off; it was a stain on the wall downstairs.

“I came over here and dipped my finger in it and tasted it,” Jones said. “Sure enough, it was honey coming out of the wall.”

Jones took home video of the beekeepers as they tore down the walls to carefully collect the hives with a vacuum. They were put into three buckets and will be taken away and cared for.

“It didn’t seem right to my husband or myself to kill them,” Amychelle Jones said.

Some of the thousands of bees could be seen outside the home sticking around. The beekeepers said they’ll eventually find a new home.

“There’s no hive,” they said. “There’s no queen bee, so they’ll find their way out.” In the next few days, the remaining bees are expected to fly off.

The beekeepers were only stung by four of the 60,000 during the removal process. Original article...

June 15, 2008

Secrets to winning lottery

Worried that no one wins the lottery in your area? An article from the Charlotte Observer suggests that even though many ticket buyers think more prizes are won in certain areas that prizes are won pretty evenly around the state.

Lottery spokeswoman Pam Walker says "It doesn't matter where you buy the ticket or what terminal prints out your ticket. The odds are the same everywhere. She also states "Sometimes people may not hear about the winners and they think there aren't any winners in their area. We turn around and pull up the names of people who have won in their area and they say, ‘Oh, OK. I didn't know about that.'”

The lottery organization says also that more prize money was added some time ago to address an issue where buyers across the state's borders had complained that winnings for tickets from the state were lower than from tickets bought for other states lotteries.

I can only speak for myself, but we have been buying lottery tickets in both Virginia and North Carolina since those lotteries were started and the prizes have always been won by others and most of the time in distant areas. Oh I forgot... we did win once recently - we won $20 with one of the million dollar scratch off tickets...
Charlotte Observer
June 15, 2008
Mark Johnson, staff writer

Any secrets to winning N.C. lottery?

Perception isn't reality – data show that winning tickets are spread pretty evenly across the state.

For some N.C. lottery players, the tickets seem to be greener on the other side of the state.

Lori Swift handles billing for a group of radiologists in Boone. She grew convinced – and frustrated – that no one in the mountains seemed to win in the lottery and decided to test her theory. She bought $20 worth of scratch tickets one day last month.

“Nada, nothing, not even a free ticket,” she said. “Very few here in the high country since the lottery started have gotten anything. You check the winners page (on the lottery Web site) and it's: Clinton, Wake Forest, Winston(-Salem), Charlotte, Raleigh.”

She fired off an e-mail to the lottery, complaining.

Lottery data suggest it's all a matter of perspective, that players in the west and east, city and country win about the same amount.

Lottery officials last year boosted the amount of money devoted to prizes to help erase the accurate reputation that N.C. lottery scratch tickets didn't win as often as neighboring states.

When it comes to the incorrect perception, though, that location within the state affects a player's chances, the lottery is responding with information instead of money.

Three weeks after Swift's e-mail from the west, another player e-mailed from Belhaven, on the eastern end of the state.

“We do like to play down here on the coast … Seems like, though, (no) one wins anything,” the writer complained without giving a name.

The top 10 grievances that come tumbling into lottery headquarters include gripes that the winning tickets all show up somewhere else. Players in the west say the prizes are in the east and vice versa. City players say rural players win, while rural players complain of a perpetual prize drought.

“It doesn't matter where you buy the ticket or what terminal prints out your ticket,” said lottery spokeswoman Pam Walker. “The odds are the same everywhere.”

In the mountains of Watauga County, where Swift works, retailers sold $2.3 million worth of lottery tickets between last July and the end of last month, according to lottery data. The lottery awarded $1.1 million in prizes in the same county, meaning players won 46 cents for every dollar played.

Down East on the Pamlico River, in Beaufort County, the lottery also paid out 46 cents per dollar played. That's the home county for the Belhaven player who e-mailed the lottery. Retailers there sold $7.7 million in tickets. Prizes in the county totaled $3.5 million during the same 11-month period.

Those county figures do not include some of the largest prizes that the lottery's regional offices paid by check – another $79.3 million statewide. Those prizes typically are $600 or larger.

“Sometimes people may not hear about the winners and they think there aren't any winners in their area,” Walker said. “We turn around and pull up the names of people who have won in their area and they say, ‘Oh, OK. I didn't know about that.'”

Players' sense of geographic bias may be more a matter of isolated information than irrational urban – or rural – legend. A news release from the lottery this week, for example, listed 15 winners who picked up between $5,000 and $150,000.

Ten of them, or two-thirds, hailed from Greensboro or points east.

Erik Pasley, a Mazda auto parts supplier from Matthews, won $50,000 in April. Pasley grew up in Hampstead, near Topsail Island on the coast, and was visiting there Memorial Day weekend when he stopped at a convenience store to buy tickets. Another customer, who knew Pasley, remarked aloud about his good fortune near Charlotte.

“A couple people (in line) that live down there said, ‘We don't know anyone who's won,'” Pasley said. “‘Nobody here wins.'”

Since the lottery's debut two years ago, 27 players from Hampstead have won at least $600, according to lottery data. Of those, one won $200,000, another won $10,000 and 19 won $1,000. Original article...

March 4, 2008

Easley pins the tail on Debbie Crane about failure of NC mental health care

Governor Easley once again has passed the buck and has pointed the finger of blame toward someone else in state's latest costly blunder - over 400 million dollars wasted after state laws were changed in 2001 in an attempt to reform mental health care during his administration. Easley says that Carmen Odom Hooker, former director of DHHS, was opposed to the state's changes that allowed private firms to offer mental health care with little oversight or rules on how funds would be spent but there is no evidence that she opposed the changes and she recently left employment as director and moved on to a job in another state.

Easley is now blaming much of the current bad news on Debbie Crane, an state employee for eighteen years serving as the DHHS public affairs director and providing information about DHHS and how mental health care is now handled. In conflict with Easley's suggestion that Hooker was opposed to the state's mental health care changes, in a 2001 letter addressed "to all North Carolinians," Hooker Odom said she had developed the reform plan "in collaboration with the North Carolina Legislature." She said she was presenting the plan to the state's residents "with pride and enthusiasm."

Mrs. Crane's response on Easley not accepting responsibility of failure of the mental health care system is that "It does amaze me that y'all have done this [News & Observer report] series detailing all this waste of money, all the hurt people ... and that the one person who gets fired is me," she said. "It's truly shooting the messenger."

News & Observer
March 4, 2008
Staff Reports

DHHS public affairs director fired

RALEIGH - The Easley administration today fired Debbie Crane, the state official who handled News & Observer reporters' requests for information as they worked on a series about mental health.

Crane, 48, who was public affairs director at the state Department of Health and Human Services, said department secretary Dempsey Benton told her yesterday that Gov. Mike Easley "wanted me out. He had lost confidence in me."

Crane was officially fired this morning by another department official, she said, after Benton went to Easley's press conference about mental health issues.

Crane said her dismissal revolved around the Easley administration's attempts to get former DHHS secretary Carmen Hooker Odom to talk to The N&O about her supposed opposition to the 2001 mental health reforms. Read the full report...

February 24, 2008

NC wastes millions in mental health reform

Once again news about North Carolina highlights that millions are being wasted by the state - this time in mental health reform. Dempsey Benton, the new leader of the state's department of Health and Human Services, is making an effort to reduce costs and waste but the state has already wasted at least $400 million attempting to treat more mentally ill people in their communities and fewer in the state's four psychiatric hospitals.

Once again this has taken place during Governor Easley's watch as recently seen with other political appointees made by Easley committing major and costly blunders while managing DOT, DMV and other state divisions. Changes in mental health treatment during the time of another of Governor Easley's appointees, Hooker Odom, former leader of DHHS, allowed practices to be put in place that has allowed millions to be wasted by questionable providers providing questionable services for mentally ill patients with virtually no specific controls over services provided. Even with much finger pointing between Easley and various state representatives trying to shift blame to each other, poorly planned changes were made during Easley's administration with insufficient controls and procedures to insure funds are spent for needed treatments and valid services and paid to legitimate providers.

Department officials defined too loosely the community support services companies would offer, and they agreed to pay too much for it according to a news report. Responsibility for enacting the changes fell to Health and Human Services, led for six years by Carmen Hooker Odom, Gov. Mike Easley's appointee. They didn't think through all the details of providing adequate services for mentally ill patients and were overwhelmed by the task and still are. Hooker Odom announced her resignation from DHHS last May, two weeks after informing Easley about what she called a "deeply disturbing" audit of mental-health providers.

News and Observer
February 24, 2008
The Associated Press

State wastes millions in mental-health reform

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina has wasted at least $400 million in its efforts to treat more mentally ill people in their own communities and fewer in the state's four psychiatric hospitals, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Sunday.

An investigation by the newspaper showed that local governments, forced to stop offering treatment, were replaced by providers trying to make money, using mostly high school graduates instead of licensed professionals. In a few months, the cost of the community support program was $50 million a month, more than 10 times what the state had expected.

Providers took some clients to movies or shopping, charging taxpayers $61 an hour, according to the newspaper's investigation. Meanwhile, some seriously ill people went without treatment.

It was almost a year before the state reacted.

Hundreds of providers have abused the system, the state now says. Read more...

February 7, 2008

Fire LyndoTippett - It's time for him to go

North Carolina's DOT has found itself behind the bulls eye once again after a new state auditor's report reveals that the department has incurred additional costs on behalf of NC taxpayers to the tune of an extra $152 million over the last three years on 390 completed projects. The extra costs are related to mismanagement, poor planning and because of schedule changes, environmental reviews and design changes. The report states that 73 percent of those projects missed their projected construction starts. Forty percent of the projects missed that mark by more than a full year.

According to Les Merritt, NC's State Auditor, "DOT is a multi-billion dollar state agency that appears to operate on hunches and intuition rather than hard data analysis. As a result, taxpayers paid $152.4 million in unnecessary construction costs."

Merritt's report indicated that the auditors found that DOT does not track or analyze delays or successes in its road-building projects, despite repeated warnings and recommendations during the past 10 years from auditors and consultants. The auditors also said that if the department had an effective system for tracking performance, officials might have seen that delays cost taxpayers over $150 million.

"The lack of performance management practices has been pointed out to DOT before," the auditors wrote.

As expected, DOT officials are disputing the findings rather than admitting they happened and are not focusing on working toward solutions. Debbie Barbour, director of preconstruction for the department, claims engineers have only a rough guess of how long a project will take when funding is approved and says the detailed engineering has not been done up front (as it should be). She states that since the engineering work has been done at approval time, the estimated completion date can't take into account problems along the way. She also argues that environmental problems, obtaining permits and other issues are out of control of the department and says it is unfair to say projects are late because of those and other issues.

Signs continue to surface that the DOT is a poorly managed organization and unacceptable practices from the top down cause virtually everything DOT touches to be poorly done, to introduce avoidable significant problems and delays into projects and to cause taxpayers to pay more for substandard work that does not meet growing needs of the state.

It's time for Governor Easley, who takes much of his direction from his staff of buddies that help him make unwise choices and appointments of "good old boys" to state leadership positions, to realize the severity of problems in DOT and other state organizations and fire top leaders like Lyndo Tippett and mid-level management people like Debbie Barbour and at least make a feeble effort to re-establish a little control and get something for the billions of dollars spent on roads and projects while he is still in office.

Read the full article about findings in the study...

News and Observer
February 7, 2008
Dan Kane and Benjamine Niolet, Staff Writers
Delayed road projects cost millions

An audit of three years of completed state Transportation Department projects found many of them finished behind schedule, leading to what auditors say is an additional $150 million in inflation-related construction costs.

"DOT is a multi-billion dollar state agency that appears to operate on hunches and intuition rather than hard data analysis," State Auditor Les Merritt said. "As a result, taxpayers paid $152.4 million in unnecessary construction costs."

The 43-page audit released today looked at 390 highway projects completed between April 2004 and March 2007. Auditors said that 73 percent of those projects missed their projected construction starts. Forty percent of the projects missed that mark by more than a full year, Merritt said.

The audit said that the permitting process, environmental reviews and design changes caused many of the delays.

Department officials say the auditors held the department to an unfair standard. The $150 million figure is oversimplified and doesn't account for some $80 million the department saved by expediting projects within the same time frame.

The auditors based a project's start date and projected completion date on when the transportation board approved money for preliminary engineering. The problem with that method, said Debbie Barbour, director of preconstruction for the department, is that engineers have at that time only a rough guess over how long a project will take. Since no engineering work has been done, the estimated completion date can't take into account problems along the way.

"In developing a project, there are certain things that are outside the department's control, such as obtaining an environmental permit," Barbour said. "We don't really have control of the time frame on every activity in the approval process."

The auditors found that the department does not track or analyze delays or successes in its road-building projects, despite repeated warnings and recommendations during the past 10 years from auditors and consultants. The auditors said that if the department had an effective system for tracking performance, officials might have seen that delays cost taxpayers $150 million.

"The lack of performance management practices has been pointed out to DOT before," the auditors wrote.

But department officials say the department has implemented several new programs and processes since 2001 that wouldn't have been evident in the time period the auditors examined. The department has worked with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources to streamline environmental permitting. The department measures whether it met target dates for acquiring property for a project or opening bids.

And the department has spent $3.6 million to hire a consultant to help officials change the way the department does business.

Bill Rosser, the state highway administrator said that the department works hard to finish projects on time, but road building is a complex and expensive business. Rosser said if the auditors looked at a newer set of projects, the findings would be much different.

"We would like to be responsive and deliver our projects," Rosser said. "We're always looking at the way the process works." Original source ...

February 3, 2008

NC's poor roads tied to bad politics, poor management and Governor Easley's bad choices

News continues to flow regarding North Carolina DOT's inability to solve major funding issues and failure to avoid major problems providing safe and adequate roads for the state. Under the leadership of Governor Easley's appointee, Lyndo Tippett, the organization continues business as usual with more of the same after promising to get advice from a consulting firm to help solve internal problems.

News broke in late January about another costly failure on the new I-795 between Wilson and Goldsboro rivaling the botched I-40 scandal that cost taxpayers some $22 million to repair in 2007. The new I-795 road is crumbling under weight of traffic after only two years of service and will likely cost some $7 million more to the state's taxpayers.

The latest report indicates the department's problems are still strongly tied to politics and fund raising issues that continue even after attempts by the state to separate politics and fund raising from the DOT organization 10 years ago, force disclosure of members fund raising records and require the board have members
with special skills in such fields as the environment and mass transit. Even that effort has failed and board membership "remains a plum spot for big political fundraisers who continue to ignore conflicts of interest and the wider needs of the state beyond their own districts"...
News & Observer
Dan Kane and Benjamin Niolet, Staff Writers
February 03, 2008

N.C. road building still mired in politics

Reforms in a 1998 law have failed to separate the state Board of Transportation from political fundraising

Nearly 10 years ago, state legislators championed a series of reforms for the scandal-plagued N.C. Board of Transportation that were intended to take the politics out of building roads.

Future appointees would have to disclose their political fundraising. Five of the 19 seats would be reserved for people with special skills in such fields as the environment and mass transit. Members would have to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

"The board's policies, effectiveness and integrity are important to almost every citizen," Beverly Perdue, then a state senator, said on Sept. 23, 1998, the day the bill cleared the legislature. "The public has demanded reform, and this bill lays the groundwork."

That groundwork has proven a weak foundation. A decade after Perdue hailed the reform law, the 19-member DOT board remains a plum spot for big political fundraisers who continue to ignore conflicts of interest and the wider needs of the state beyond their own districts.

For example:

* The fundraising disclosure rule is toothless. The only fundraising that board members must disclose is contributions directly handed to them. Asking people to give to a campaign or holding fundraisers -- two common ways to raise campaign money -- aren't considered fundraising on disclosure forms.

* Two of the five seats intended to bring more professionalism to the board have been given to fundraisers best known for running restaurant chains.

* Conflicts of interest continue to surface. Last month, board member Thomas Betts Jr. of Rocky Mount resigned after he sought to raise $20,000 in campaign money from country singer Randy Parton and the others behind the struggling performing arts theater in Roanoke Rapids. Betts had directed $2.5 million in road work to the theater over the previous year. He sought campaign money for Perdue, now lieutenant governor, who is seeking to be the next governor.

* Some at-large members, who are supposed to look out for the entire state, are steering their discretionary money to their home districts.

The board oversees a department with a $3.8 billion budget and a serious public image problem. A chorus of lawmakers, public policy advocates and even transportation department employees say that the department is dysfunctional -- at a time when the state's transportation needs are growing dramatically. A special "blue ribbon" legislative panel is meeting to figure out how to get the department back on track.

The department even bungled trying to fix itself. It hired a consultant at a cost of $3.6 million to help assess its strengths and weaknesses and foster change. But the department refused to disclose the terms of the contract and any findings until Gov. Mike Easley ordered them made public.

The board's makeup and activities have emerged as a campaign issue in the gubernatorial election. Perdue's rival for the Democratic nomination, State Treasurer Richard Moore, has made it a key part of his campaign. Last month, among other proposals, he announced that he would not appoint fundraisers to the board. Perdue has not called for banning fundraisers from the board.

Ten years ago, Perdue's DOT reform bill won favor over a stricter bill initially filed in the House that would have banned fundraisers from the board, required five experts in various areas, and taken away the governor's power to appoint the transportation secretary.

Last month, Easley said trying to ban fundraisers from the process would just push the money underground.

"When you get into the fundraising business, if people want to participate, they'll find a way, just like the squirrel into the bird feeder," Easley said. "I want to know how much somebody's given who's been appointed and I think people want to know as well."

Finding wiggle room

But when Easley was elected governor in 2000, two years after the reform bill passed, he quickly found wiggle room in the transportation reform law. Easley's counsel, Hampton Dellinger, asked Grayson G. Kelley, a senior deputy attorney general, for an interpretation of what made someone a fundraiser under the new law. (Dellinger is now a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.)

Kelley focused on the phrase "personally acquired" in the law. He said that meant the only disclosure required was of "funds the appointee personally accepted from a donor and physically transferred to the campaign, executive committee or political committee."

To make sure he had understood the intent of Perdue and other sponsors, Kelley said, he talked to the legislative staff who drafted the law. He said they support his view "that a narrow construction of the disclosure provision was intended."

Perdue declined to be interviewed for this report. Her spokesman, David Kochman, released a statement saying the legislation was a "starting point" for reform and stronger than the version passed by the House. Easley also declined to be interviewed.

With the opinion in hand, Easley's staff advised his appointees to the board in a memo that they did not have to disclose fundraising if it did not involve collecting the checks.

Shortly afterward, appointees Louis W. Sewell Jr. of Jacksonville and D.M. "Mac" Campbell of Elizabethtown wrote "none" on their fundraising disclosure forms. Interviews with other Easley fundraisers, and an internal Easley campaign document obtained by The News & Observer, show that Sewell helped meet a $125,000 fundraising goal in Onslow County, while the campaign counted on Campbell to help raise $50,000 in Bladen County. (An Easley spokesman, Seth Effron, said neither Easley nor Dave Horne, the campaign treasurer in 2000, could confirm the document's authenticity. Effron said Easley declined to comment on the information within it.)

Another Onslow County fundraiser for Easley, Joe Henderson, said that he, Sewell and another man solicited contributors by phone and held a reception for Easley at an inn that has since been torn down.

Sewell, who also served on the board under former Gov. Jim Hunt, did not return messages left at his home or at work. He is a retired executive with the Golden Corral steakhouse chain. In 2005, Easley awarded him one of the state's highest honors, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Campbell confirmed that he raised money for Easley in 2000 and 2004 by holding fundraisers at his lakefront cottage, but he did not have to disclose his efforts because he did not collect the checks. He cited the Easley memo.

Another appointee, Lanny T. Wilson of Wilmington, said in his 2000 disclosure form that he would follow up with information about his fundraising, but no such documentation is on file with the legislature or the Governor's Office. Wilson said he doesn't remember whether he provided it and said he didn't have to anyway because he did not "personally acquire" contributions.

In the disclosure he filed for his reappointment in 2005, Wilson listed totals he raised for 17 candidates, including Easley. He also wrote that he held a fundraiser for Easley. But other than family members, Wilson does not list the names of any contributors. The form asks for the names of contributors; the law says that appointees are required to disclose contributions.

Some report fully

Three other DOT board members members provided more information.

Cameron W. McRae of Kinston, who owns a string of Bojangles' restaurants, provided a spreadsheet that listed not only contributors, but also everyone he solicited. They contributed $126,000 for Easley in 2000.

G.R. Kindley, the former mayor of Rockingham and a builder, and Paul Waff Jr., an Edenton contractor and developer, also provided lists of contributors. They raised $38,000 and $24,000, respectively.

"I wanted everybody to know who was contributing," Kindley said in an interview. "I think it's important to know."

Waff, who left the board in 2002, said he was appointed after he went to R.V. Owens -- a renowned fundraiser for Easley, state Senate leader Marc Basnight and other Democrats -- to express an interest in a seat.

Easley's appointee for transportation secretary, Lyndo Tippett, a CPA from Fayetteville, was also required to fill out the disclosure form. Like Sewell and Campbell, Tippett wrote "none" where the form asked for the names of those he had collected campaign contributions from. He attached an explanation that said he delivered bundles of contribution checks to the campaign in Raleigh, but he did not collect them from individual contributors. He said in an interview that he did not look to see who wrote the checks or the amounts.

Tippett said his disclosure was a "textbook" example of complying with the law.

Tippett was a member of the Cumberland County steering committee for the campaign, which held two fundraising events. In an interview, Tippett said that he helped organize at least one fundraiser, which Easley attended. He said he had a file on the fundraiser, but he couldn't remember what it contained. He said he didn't know if the file was still available.

"I don't know if it's still there," he said. "The shredder came through town a few months ago and shredded all the files whether it was personal or business. I have no idea at the moment."

The transportation secretary also said it was not his concern what board members reported regarding their fundraising.

"They don't report that to me, so I don't have a problem with that," Tippett said. "Not my issue."

Easley named Sewell and McRae to two of the five newly created at-large seats on the board. Though the three other at-large members were required to have "expertise" in environmental issues, mass transit or government-related finance and accounting, the two seats Sewell and McRae took did not have to meet that requirement. Sewell had to have only "broad knowledge of and experience in transportation issues affecting rural areas." McRae had to be "familiar with the State ports and aviation issues."

The reform law requires Sewell, McRae and the other at-large members to represent the interests of the entire state. But records of an economic development discretionary fund that lawmakers created in 2005 shows that Sewell, McRae and another at-large member, Larry Helms of Union County, have so far directed their allotments -- a total of $5.5 million -- to their home transportation districts. Original article ...

January 15, 2008

North Carolina's Governor Easley encourages permanent water fix

The latest water crisis plea from North Carolina's Governor Easley is for NC towns and cities to solve water problems now before it is too late. Numerous pleas have been made during the worst drought in the state's history for everyone to take the new trend seriously and reduce water consumption. Neglecting this problem will result in water shortages at least throughout 2008 and probably well beyond since rainfall has not replenished regional water supplies and unchecked growth continues to place more strain on available resources.

A variety of ideas on reducing water consumption have been suggested ranging from simply cutting back on water use to reducing or eliminating lawn watering to using rain barrels to capture rain water for outside watering. Changing shower heads to low-flow ones and eliminating small leaks in sinks and toilets will help reduce consumption and reduce water bills.

Another simple step everyone should take is to make a quick check for leaks in water pipe systems. A small leak will waste a substantial amount of water and can greatly increase water and sewer bills. We recently noticed that our water bill had not decreased in the four months following the end of summer garden watering and discovered our bill had doubled and was growing. After opening the cover to our water meter box we discovered that even with everything turned off inside the house the water meter dial was still turning! This is a definite indication of a leak in the pipe system. After crawling under the house and checking all the pipes and joints we knew there were no leaks and no water seeping from areas where pipes were out of view. This was an immediate indication that the underground pipe from the house to the water meter had begun leaking. The underground pipe is now being replaced and we expect it to cut our water bill by at least one half.

Read more about the urgency of finding solutions for the water crisis and reducing consumption...
News 14 Carolina
Updated: 01/14/2008 08:05 PM
By: News 14 Carolina Web Staff

Easley calls for 'permanent' water fix

GUILFORD COUNTY -- Gov. Mike Easley called on North Carolina towns and cities to attack the state's water problems now before it becomes too late.

"Let's make this a permanent fix," Easley said. "Think in terms of, 'How do we fix this this year that fixes the problem for any drought that we might see in the future, any drought weather that we might see in the future.'"

Easley outlined three things he said would get the state started in the right direction. He said towns need to make sure they tap into additional water resources now. He promised that if those towns need extra monies, he would do all he could to make sure they got them.

"The state has $8 million in low-interest loans available for cities to create backup supplies," added Easley.

Water audits were also a big part of the governor's plan. He said as much as 25 percent of the water North Carolina uses every day is lost because of leaks in pipes. He said that number is unacceptable and called for water audits across the state to find and fix the leaks.

Finally, Easley said it's important for towns and cities to move to water conservation rates. A lot of times, these are tiered rate structures that charge the customers that use the most water more per gallon.

"Mayor Meeker in Raleigh suggested this, and he came out with a plan. The City Council is studying that. He was met with some resistance, there's no doubt about that," Easley continued. "But if you think people are upset when you hit them with conservation rates, they're going to be really upset when they run out of water."

Easley also called on residents to do their part to conserve. He said everyone can easily do water audits on their own homes to make sure they aren't losing water.

"Check your homes. If you turn off your water spigots, go outside and check your water meters," said Easley. "If it's running, you've got a leak somewhere."

"It's a nice time to practice conservation, before you really have to do it, added Joe Hudson, with Statesville Water Resources. "I would advise people to look around and see how they use water, and see if they can cut back."

Officials also warn that water will probably not be available next summer for typical outdoor uses like lawn irrigation

"You should not even think about reseeding or sodding your lawn," said Raleigh Utilities Director Dale Crisp.

The workshop was held at the Pinecroft-Sedgefield Fire Department. When they answer a call, they have to use water, but at the station, they conserve like most residents.

"Just like everyone else, we try to be good stewards and not use any more water than we have to," said fire Chief Tim Fitts.

They're only washing fire trucks when it's really needed, and they've installed low-flow shower heads, one of the changes officials are proposing North Carolinians make by March 1.

Easley said if North Carolinians can conserve between 25 percent and 30 percent and all the water leaks are sured up, the state will easily conserve 50 percent of the water that is currently used.

"It keeps it in people's minds that we have to change the way that we think about water," said Easley. "It's not as plentiful as it always was. We have the same amount of water as we've always had but a lot more people in the state."

Currently, all of North Carolina's counties are facing a drought, and 69 counties are in the most severe drought level. Original source...

January 8, 2008

How much is your water worth

How much is your water supply worth to you?

Residents of North Carolina will no doubt be debating this new issue in for years to come as weather conditions and severe drought become a significant factor in the area. Water availability must be considered when planning new development and will be a major issue as the state's population continues to grow. Even the cost of water has become a raging debate as municipalities consider raising water rates in the wake of poor results to encourage conservation and stop wasteful watering practices.

Western states live with these problems in every day life since water resources are limited and citizens deal with problems locating new sources and sharing existing supplies. A couple of years ago while visiting in Colorado the scarcity of water was clearly demonstrated at an area horse farm north of Fort Collins. The residents of a small ranch for rescued horses made frequent trips to a neighbor's ranch pick up water from a deep well using a large tank mounted on a trailer to provide water for horses and people on the site. North Carolina residents have not reached this point so far but are beginning to plan for capture of alternative water in rain barrels to use for outside watering and other purposes beyond health and living needs. This will become a routine consideration going forwards to continue providing water for many neighborhood activities such as gardening, landscaping and washing cars. Our primary water supply may have reached a point where water will not be available for these activities unless new methods are added to our lifestyles.

Read the commentary about new problems with available water supplies and efforts to provide solutions for our future...
Winston-Salem Journal
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Opinion article

The worth of water

North Carolina has not typically worried about water shortages, except for the occasional drought. But water won’t be as plentiful in the future, and North Carolinians will soon be required to adopt the kind of conservation that other Americans consider a fact of life.

Unfortunately, North Carolinians might also become accustomed to the intra-community struggles that Westerners regularly encounter as they search for new sources of water and try to preserve their traditional supplies.

Changing weather patterns may, or may not, lead to reduced rainfall in North Carolina. The more certain strain on our water resources, however, will come from the explosion of the state’s population. We’ve just gone over the 9 million mark, and there are no signs that this growth will end any time soon. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population will hit 12 million in less than 25 years.

The more people who come here, the more water we’ll need to meet their needs.

But as North Carolina water systems search for new sources to quench their customers’ needs, they’ll encounter resistance, whether it comes from folks downstream or from those who don’t want their lakes and reservoirs tapped by outsiders.

Questions of interbasin transfers and riparian rights may soon become as much of the public-affairs lexicon as terms associated with taxes, pollution and traffic are today.

To its credit, the N.C. Environmental Review Commission has started a yearlong study of state water policies and supplies. The commission, which is a legislative advisory panel, wants to hear from the public in the process.

The need for such studies is new to the Southeast, but it is not unique to North Carolina right now. Both South Carolina and Georgia are suffering from the same drought that grips us, and their leaders are also searching for solutions.

While the states will, no doubt, cooperate in some ways, they will also compete for what is a finite resource. South Carolina has already sued to stop a plan to divert 10 million gallons of water from the Catawba and Yadkin rivers to the growing towns of Kannapolis and Concord.

In the short term, ordinary North Carolinians can do their best to conserve water, both by adapting more efficient practices and by installing water-saving devices. As time goes on, we might all have to become more aware of the many issues involved in water rights so that we can make the best decisions for our community.

When it comes to water, things are changing, and we must prepare for that new reality.

Raising water rates considered for NC

As the severe drought continues in North Carolina, a proposal is being considered to raise water rates for some areas to encourage more conservation. No doubt Raleigh's Mayor Meeker and those considering this idea can afford to pay higher rates and have the means that this would not be a significant burden added to their living expenses.

A problem comes about if yet another cost increase is added to the expenses of a large portion of the population with lower incomes or living on a fixed income after retirement and feel the impact of every increase that comes along. Yes, a rate hike during times when the water supply is decreasing should encourage greater conservation but there is no evidence this will actually produce the desired results of a substantial decrease in overall water consumption in the region. It is more likely this will become a way to squeeze more money out of the general population and add to the revenues of the municipalities that impose the increase.

A more realistic approach would be to penalize those that continue to water grass for the sake of having a green lawn and continue to use excessive amounts of water beyond what is needed for health and living purposes and reasonable watering needs. Some local homeowner associations are threatening homeowners and reported to be fining them when they don't water lawns and keep them green. To date fines for watering during dry conditions are for the most part not being given out. Sprinklers are routinely seen spreading water on grass and plants around shopping centers, institutional sites and large homes in wealthy neighborhoods.

It is a known fact that lawns simply go dormant when not watered and will return to a green state when enough natural water is available. Cars do not need to be washed during dry times and yet there are lots of pricey automobiles seen along roads every day that have obviously been washed. Let's devise a plan that will actually reduce water consumption in these and other situations that can make a dent in water consumption and let our citizens have water at a reasonable rate without gouging them on top of other cost increases already forced on them.
NBC17 Online
January 17, 2008
By - Ken Luallen

Raleigh City Council to discuss water rate increase

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Raleigh's mayor turned water conservation into a financial issue Monday, unveiling a proposed 50 percent increase in the price of water sold to the city's customers. The City Council plans to discuss the matter today.

"If the crisis gets much worse I think we are all bound to suck it up," Poole said. He is a homeowner willing to accept the higher fees if it ensures Raleigh's water supply will last beyond its current 120 day mark.
Mayor Charles Meeker proposed the rate increase as a way to prepare the city for a potentially dry summer with less than half its normal water supply in Falls Lake. For a typical home with moderate to heavy water use, the current bill for 6,000 gallons used per month is $356.14. Under Meeker's proposal that would increase to $535.76 per month, about $15 more per month.
"What this is designed to do... is to get practices in place that will get us through this summer and through next fall by reducing our amount of consumption so we're where we want to be come May first when the warm weather starts," Meeker said.
Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen believes citizens can easily absorb the higher cost.
"If you look at our water and sewer bills they're not significant components of people's budgets so this percentage with a reduction really should not have large impacts on a household budget," Allen said.
City Council must first approve the proposal, which would take effect March 1 and appear on customers' bills May 1. Meeker said the surcharge could be avoided if it rains significantly before March 1. The surcharge could be lessened or removed by City Council if the drought eases during the summer.
Meeker also called on all citizens to install low flow shower and faucet heads as well as outdoor rain barrels to ease the burden of the proposed higher water cost.
Cary-based Lowe's Home Improvement salesman Jemitrus Harris said the cost of new shower heads should be seen as an investment.
"You're looking at $35 per bathroom and that pays for itself over time," Harris said.
Raleigh City Council is expected to be presented with Meeker's plan at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday afternoon. Read viewer responses online...

December 29, 2007

NC Highway Patrol to be independently reviewed

The North Carolina State Patrol will be reviewed by in international consulting firm of law enforcement experts according to a new report just published. Another of the state organizations under Governor Mike Easley's watch is having serious operational problems adding to the possibility that state organizations are being poorly managed by those appointed by the Governor and his team of advisors. Recent news headlines have revealed that the NC DOT and DMV have had significant operating problems and morale issues indicating a general trend of poor top-down management while being led by the Governor's appointees and now the Highway Patrol is being added to the list.

A number of significant reports have surfaced in recent months about conduct issues among highway patrol officers while on duty ranging from singling out and harassing young women drivers to having sex in police cars while on duty to not properly completing reports of arrests made. This has brought one of the country's best highway patrol organizations under scrutiny and continues to bring out problems within the Easley management team. Read the latest report about the review of NC's state police team...
News and Observer
December 29, 2007
Dan Kane, Staff Writer

Highway Patrol to get outside advice

A team of law enforcement experts will visit the N.C. Highway Patrol in January to review what has gone wrong in an agency that only last year was found to be one of the nation's top police forces.

Experts with an international consulting firm will consider a baffling string of incidents in the past several months. They range from a trooper accused of abducting Hispanic women and making sexual advances to an internal affairs captain who rear-ended a vehicle and wrongly let a subordinate investigate the wreck. The only apparent pattern in each case is a lack of good judgment.

N.C. Troopers Association leaders as well as Bryan Beatty, the crime control and public safety secretary, say the incidents are isolated cases in a force of more than 1,800 sworn officers. But despite efforts to re-emphasize professionalism and keep a closer eye on troopers, officers continue to get into trouble.

"Frankly, I don't know what's going on in their minds -- some of these troopers and what they are doing," said Sgt. Steve Lockhart, vice president of the association. "It just dumbfounds me." Read more...

October 31, 2007

NC business goes for $925 million

One of North Carolina's home grown businesses sells for $925,000,000!

Burt's Bees has been on the market for one month and Clorox corporation plans to purchase it for $925 million. The deal will close by the end of 2007 and will remain in Durham, NC, and keep it's current chief executive, John Reploge. Burt's Bees has a strong reputation in health and wellness directions and compliments Clorox company's new Green Works line of natural cleaning products.
News & Observer
October 31, 2007
Vicki Lee Parker

Clorox to buy Burt's Bees for $925 million

Just over a month after being put up for sale, Burt's Bees, the Morrisville-based maker of natural personal-care products has a buyer.

Clorox Co., of Oakland, Calif., said this morning that it plans to purchase Burt's Bees for $925 million.

Clorox executives said the purchase will allow it to expand beyond its core business into the fast-growing consumer care market.

"The Burt's Bees brand is well anchored in sustainability and health and wellness," Donald R. Knauss, Clorox chairman and chief executive said in an statement. "Combined with our new Green Works line of natural cleaning products, and Brita water filtration products, we can leverage Burt's Bees extensive capabilities and credibility to build a robust, higher-growth platform for Clorox."

The company also reported said that Burt's Bees, which was founded in 1984, will remain based in North Carolina and continue to be headed by John Reploge, its current chief executive.

The deal is expected to close by the end of the year and is subject to regulatory approval. Original article...

Botched paving costly to DOT and NC taxpayers - $21 million

The botched paving job on Interstate in North Carolina cost taxpayers at least $21,000,000 dollars and many months of commuting hardships and misery for drivers.

At the tail end of a multi-year project to implement a major expansion of I-40 between Durham and Chapel Hill, NC, inspectors discovered that miles of new concrete pavement was breaking apart. More studies showed that the top layer of concrete had not been installed correctly and was breaking down even before the project was complete.

The project was already late and had cost taxpayers much more than originally planned and a major part of the work had to be torn up and reworked by contractors. The $21,000,000 repair is yet another demonstration of major mis-management and poor planning within North Carolina's Department of Transportation. The extension added another year of misery for weary commuters traveling the road each day.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, Governor Easley's hand picked director for the DOT, Lindo Tippett, has never admitted any responsibility for the blunder and has remained unscathed while lower level state employees were reprimanded and, in some cases, fired for the mistake. The Governor has not seen fit to replace Mr. Tippett and new reports emerge weekly of additional long postponement or cancellation of many needed major projects and continued severe budget shortfalls as taxpayers foot the bill for gross mismanagement and incompetence in the state's operations.

A new article has appeared in the October issue Asphalt Magazine by the manufacturer of heavy equipment that was used to tear up the broken new concrete and gives an interesting view of the magnitude of work required, done only at night, to undo the botched paving work. The contractor has now completed repairs made under a $21 million project. Interestingly enough the state threatened the contractor with significant fines of $10,000 per hour if workers had not moved out of the way of commuters by morning as the project was carried out.

Read more of this fascinating use of technology to repair one of North Carolina DOT's largest blunders to date....

Asphalt Contractor magazine
October 30th, 2007

Failed concrete overlay milled, replaced with HMA

A failing concrete overlay on I-40 near Raleigh-Durham, NC, was determined by the North Carolina DOT to be in need of replacement. The specifications for the project provided that the concrete overlay be removed by cold-milling and replaced with hot mix asphalt (HMA) each night.

The Lane Construction Corporation was awarded the $21-million project for the North Carolina DOT, and has undertaken the milling, while its Rea Contracting LLC affiliate performed the HMA placement on strict nightly schedules.

"We're grinding anywhere from 3 to 3.5 inches of concrete overlay off the Interstate using a Wirtgen W 2200 cold mill with full lane, 12-foot 6-inch drum," says J. Todd Moore, superintendent of the I-40 project for Lane. "We have approximately 21 lineal miles to do, two lanes eastbound, and two lanes westbound, as well as all off ramps and acceleration lanes."

The existing pavement is three lanes wide each way, with the third (inside) lane made of full-depth concrete, recently reconstructed. The concrete overlay being removed had been placed over existing Portland cement concrete and was experiencing spalling at the joints, and patched "blow-out" potholes where heavy traffic was pulling material from the pavement.

"We have about 290,000 square yards of concrete removal required for this project," says Richard Snow, P.E., construction manager for Lane. "Our average pace of 2,200 lineal feet per night of lane works out to about 2,700 square yards. On weekends we do a lot more with our marathon closures. While we still keep one lane open, we are able to keep the two lanes closed 56 hours straight."

"We're finding both conventional and high early-strength concrete in the overlay, but the W 2200 is chewing right through it all," Moore says. "We've used the W 2200 for scarifying concrete as well, but this 3.5-inch-deep cut is more of a test for the machine during the four hours we work each night."

New open-space tooth pattern

A new open-spaced tooth pattern drum design which applies more horsepower per tooth, but with fewer teeth, was being used on this cold mill.

"We're using Wirtgen teeth with 1.25-inch spacing of teeth on the drum, with some 130 teeth on the drum," Moore says. "We're not using up as many teeth on the drum as before, but it's grinding up the concrete more efficiently, and pulling the material off the existing concrete. It's coming up in a little bit larger chunks, and the milling is more efficient. It's leaving a nice pattern on the pavement, and both the state and the paving contractor are well-pleased."

Nonetheless, Moore and his crews have experimented with the right configuration for the drum and machine.

"At one time we slowed the cutter drum down, but had no success with increasing footage, because teeth were breaking off as the drum was going slower, and not keeping up," he says. "We brought it back to its original speed - about 21 feet per minute, and now things are rolling. Because we're limited at night to what can be repaved before rush hour, I'll open up anywhere from 2,000 to 2,600 feet, depending on how tight the concrete is in our four-hour period."

Thus a given night would see Lane begin milling after 8 p.m. and conclude about midnight, with Rea Contracting paving the next four to five hours, with the last hour striping and removal of the traffic control pattern. "We have to be off the Interstate by 6 a.m., with penalties of $10,000 per hour," Moore says.

Superpave replaces concrete

The concrete overlay was being replaced by two lifts of a Superpave mix, PG 76-24 polymer modified binder, with 9.5 D mm aggregate. The first was a 2-inch lift, followed by a 1.5-inch lift on top to bring to grade. The HMA was provided by Rea Contracting out of its Northern Raleigh plant. North Carolina DOT specified a material transfer vehicle be used between truck and paver.

At midnight, the milling and paving supervisors meet to run numbers as to how far the milling can go that night, so both crews can finish their jobs that morning.

"We see how far we will mill, so we can finish milling and Rea can finish paving, all at a happy medium," Moore says. "We also have to figure in cutter tooth changes, and that will slow us down a little. Right now we do a complete cutter tooth change every 1,000 to 1,100 feet; the more efficiently we can change the 130 milling teeth, and install new ones, the faster we can get back to work."

Lane's complete tooth change using Wirtgen quick-change toolholders will take about 15 minutes.

Hydro-sweeping and infrared drying

Following the W 2200, a standard street sweeper was cleaning the milled surface, followed by a contract hydrovacuum truck which was water-blasting any remaining material off the surface, and vacuuming it into a tank for disposal.

"We're picking up the heavy stuff with the sweeper, and then we have a 36,000 psi-capable hydrovac truck clean the pavement with sprayed water, and vacuum up the water and any fines," Moore says. "This surface has to be totally spotless before we apply our tack coat."

And because the surface has to be bone-dry before the tack coat - and not much time in which to dry - Lane was using an infrared heater truck with generator to dry the milled surface prior to tack and overlay. "The truck has two 195-mph blower fans which blow off any standing water, and heating coils which evaporate any remaining moisture."

Lane's W 2200 with full-lane width drum was giving Lane the power and reliability it needed to keep this project on schedule and in budget.

Moore was finding that the new Eco-Cutter drum from Wirtgen was keeping the job moving along with accrued savings from use of fewer teeth. "This is the first application for which we've used this full-lane drum," Moore says. "This application is nice for the full-lane drum because it's one lane, one way, without having to back up and go. And the drum has a coarser pattern to it. My feeling is, 'the coarser, the better', because the asphalt can hold tighter in the voids than it can in a smoother surface."

Fewer cutting tools on the new Eco-Drum means less resistance to cutting and a higher rate of advance, with lower tool costs per milled cubic yard. These drums, with smaller number of point attack tools, make sure work proceeds more quickly and cost-efficiently.

Despite the fact that the standard-width Eco-Cutter may equipped with only 114 cutting tools, its performance with 1-inch tool spacing is roughly 20 percent higher than that of a standard milling drum with 0.6-inch tool spacing when working in hard asphalt and at a milling depth of 8 inches.

About the Wirtgen W 2200

The W 2200 is designed for big, continuous cold milling projects in which a pavement must be removed mile after mile. The high-horsepower, deep-cutting, high-production

W 2200 lets users mill large projects in a short period of time.

The W 2200 has a standard cutting width of 87 inches, four large D-6 crawler tracks, a milling drum with a high-efficiency mechanical belt drive, and an efficient front-loading system. It has a mechanically driven milling drum and two-part slewing front-end discharge conveyor of variable height. The machine travels on crawler tracks. Robust welded construction with mounts for the individual function modules and superstructures. The tanks for diesel fuel and water are integrated into the chassis. The hydraulic fluid tank forms a separate unit.

Its maximum cutting depth is 14 inches and with the optional Flexible Cutter System, can cut up to 14 feet 1 inch wide. The W 2200 has an operating weight of 96,342 pounds with a 900-hp power plant.

The walk-through operator's platform with access ladder on each side is located in the middle part of the machine. It is equipped with two identical control consoles which can be pivoted and vertically adjusted. Both control consoles and the right-hand driver's seat can be displaced outwards beyond the edge of the machine. The steering and feed control operate with electrical proportional action and are controlled via joysticks.

The Wirtgen information and diagnosis system - called the WIDIS 32 - provides the driver with comprehensive up-to-the-minute information on the current status of the engine and hydraulic system and generates visual and acoustic alarms when necessary. The crawler tracks are suspended from the chassis via round cylinders, the height of which can be adjusted hydraulically. The height of each crawler track can be adjusted individually. The height required for the milling depth is adjusted via the two cylinders at the front, while the rear crawler tracks form a full floating axle. The large lift ensures considerable ground clearance simplifying such difficult maneuvers as reversing or loading and unloading the machine from a low-bed truck.

October 10, 2007

Sign of the times - re-elect nobody

Running for elected offices these days requires candidates to deal with a lot of public hostility toward government and elected officials. This sign was placed along area roads along with those of candidates running for Cary and Wake County offices in October 2oo7 and encouraged voters to not re-elect anyone already on the Cary council.

This sentiment is becoming a factor anyone running for public office must consider and may bring significant change in local, state and national government, even for some that have worked hard to serve the public faithfully. Now, more than ever, candidates need to listen to constituents and tune campaigns to provide a choice voters will believe and make at the polls.

Much of the public is so unhappy with all levels of government and how things have been handled by the Bush administration that the handwriting is on the wall for anyone in office that has supported the current administration. The possibility for a tidal wave of change in government is looming and the elections in 2007 and 2008 will bring a complete change in who leads and makes decisions for the foreseeable future in local and national government organizations.

October 8, 2007

Saint Joseph sells homes

Don't believe that burying a St. Joseph statue will help you sell your home? Some do, and it's becoming a service that one realtor offers with her listings.

During times when homes don't resell quickly some sellers will try the practice that others might call a superstition. "The practice of burying St. Joseph borders on superstition today", said Stephen Lewandowski, the deacon of St. Joseph's Catholic Church on Poole Road in Raleigh. "And superstitions, such as believing in good-luck charms or that black cats bring bad luck, are no-nos", he said. "It's not really sanctioned by the church," Lewandowski said.

In 2005, we were trying to sell a small home left to my wife and her brother in a market where there were lots of houses for sale and not many were moving. We heard of the practice of burying a St. Joseph statue upside down in the yard and thought that it couldn't hurt since the house was not moving anyway. After digging around for a suitable spot in an area in front of the porch (and looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was looking) I buried the little statue we had bought just to see if it would help a couple of feet from the house, upside down and facing backwards. Just like we were told it had to be done.

Interestingly enough, in the next few weeks we actually got more visits and got a couple of offers. All when houses in the area still were not selling. One of the potential buyers became interested in the house and we negotiated until arriving at an agreeable selling price and the house was sold in a few days!

Call it superstition, coincidence, blind luck or whatever you wish... the house was not drawing buyers until we decided to bury the St. Joseph statue. Then with a little added help the house sold!

Read more about this fascinating possibility...
News & Observer
September 29, 2007
Jack Hagel, Staff Writer

Sellers seek Saint's help
Can't sell your home? Some bury St. Joseph and pray

When Meredith and Will Vaughn put their home on the market a year ago, they were certain it would sell quickly.

The townhouse is in the popular Five Points neighborhood near downtown Raleigh, where buyers were getting into bidding wars over nearby houses.

Days went by. Then weeks. Then months. The Vaughns, carrying two mortgages, needed a miracle.

"We were already praying," said Meredith Vaughn, 29, who has since moved to Martinsville, Va., where she and her husband will be closer to family when their first baby is born in March. "But we thought: If we do something tangible, maybe that would help, too."

They turned to St. Joseph, who is considered by many desperate home sellers and real estate agents to be the patron saint of house hunters and sellers.

The Vaughns bought a 4-inch St. Joseph statue and followed the instructions: Dig a hole, bury the statue upside down, say a special prayer and wait for an offer.

Several months later, they're still waiting for an offer. "But we've had a lot of people look at it," Meredith Vaughn said.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And as home sales have slowed locally and across the country, more sellers are taking similar leaps of faith.

Rows of St. Joseph packages that proclaim "Faith can move mountains ... and homes!" hang on a wall at the Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors store in Cary, where real estate agents stock up on "for sale" signs, key boxes and the like. Read more...

October 5, 2007

Time for major NC DOT change

Yet another blunder by the NC DOT - this time hiding what tax dollars paid for...

A string of news articles in recent months has underscored poor management, incompetence and arrogance in the NC DOT organization. The $20,000,000 costly blunder on improper pavement on I-40 near Durham and Chapel Hill wasted enough tax dollars to more than cover the gap in funding to allow construction of the urgently needed western segment of I-540 to begin. Inadequate planning and funding of new construction vital to expansion of the state's road systems is often discussed in news articles and the DOT organization still has no plan on how to meet badly needed construction and maintenance projects around the state. And now the Governor has had to step in and order Lindo Tippett, Easley's own appointed DOT Director, to release documents related to a $3.6 million contract with a management consultant firm hired by the DOT to evaluate the DOT's own performance.

It is clear that those in charge of the DOT don't have a clue how to manage the organization, much less handle planning and budgeting to meet transportation infrastructure needs of the state. This is one more in a string of problems popping to the surface with a number of appointments made by Governor Easley to run key parts of the state government.

A News & Observer editorial just out states "All this is an embarrassing miscue. The longer DOT lets it continue, the more the department's reputation and credibility will crack like the concrete on the stretch of I-40 that crumbled under the weight of a previous foul-up."

Read what the editorial reveals about the latest of many blunders within the DOT structure and waste of tax dollars...
News & Observer
October 2, 2007

DOT's blackout
State transportation officials go against their responsibility to taxpayers in trying to keep a consultant's report secret

It's as sad as it is outrageous when state officials release documents with sections blacked out to keep secrets from the people those officials are supposed to serve. It shows arrogance -- the agency involved doesn't recognize its obligation to public disclosure -- and it evidences a distrust of the people themselves.

An egregious example of all this has just surfaced at the state Department of Transportation, which has behaved secretively at best in regard to a $3.6 million contract with a management consultant. The outside firm was hired earlier this year to assess the DOT, an agency long troubled by interference, inefficiency and internal discontent.

Contract details were blacked out wholesale in documents released to The News & Observer. Even worse is that DOT officials haven't required the consultants, McKinsey & Co., actually to supply a written report. The consultant's findings are being delivered orally, and behind closed doors.

Simply put, the state is spending $3.6 million for information and advice, but it has nothing to show the public.

Said Mark L. Foster, the DOT's chief financial officer, "No, there is no report .... Read more...

October 2, 2007

Women treated differently from men for heart problems

According to two new studies by Duke University, men are far more likely to receive needed heart treatment than men when having similar risk factors. The study highlights the finding that women and minorities are treated differently from the way men patients are treated and the difference requires more diligence in seeking our second opinions and equal treatment.

The new findings show that the use of implantable cardioverter defibrillators, small devices that shock an irregularly beating heart back to a normal rhythm, "are used two to three times more in men than in women with similar symptoms, even though heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. The device is also used more in white men than black men".

Researchers found that the devices were "vastly underused among patients who appeared to be eligible for them, and when they were used, men were most often the beneficiaries". For every 10 men who got the device, only three or four women did. Seven black men got the device for every 10 white men. It was also found that only 35 percent of those eligible for the defibrillators devices got one - women were 50 percent less likely than men to receive them, and black men were 25 percent less likely than white men.

Read the entire article...
News & Observer
Kristin Collins, Staff Writer
October 2, 2007

Study: Women less likely to get heart device

Men are far more likely than women to receive a simple life-saving heart treatment, even when they have similar risk factors, according to two Duke University studies released today.

The studies, to be published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are the latest in a growing body of research showing that doctors still treat women and minorities differently from the way they treat white men.

"Unfortunately, there's one recurring theme from all these kinds of studies," said Kevin Schulman, a Duke internist who worked on the new studies. "It's that you really have to take care of yourself, be aggressive, get a second opinion. The system's not consistent." Read more...

October 1, 2007

Toxic friends - avoid them all

It's good to have friends.

Some are close and are always available to talk over problems with. Some are just friends that may be fun to be around but can drag you down and keep you from being at your best.

Avoid friends that are negative or seem to be less than supportive in things you say and do. These so called "toxic friends" can cause you to be unsure of yourself, lower your self-esteem and cause you to not be at your best when you need to be.

Read more about clues that can help determine which friends are good and which should be avoided...
News & Observer
October 1, 2007
Julia Feldmeier, Special to the Washington Post

Five toxic types to avoid as friends

Ah, friends. We can't live without 'em, right? But what of our pals who, instead of empowering us, make us feel a little less confident or a little more aggravated? That's toxic. Here are five types to watch out for in your social circle:

The Naysayer. You have a great idea for a new business venture. It's a pipe dream, you know; you'll probably never get the start-up capital to go forward, but the idea excites you anyway. Your friend laughs and says you must be kidding. "They're not supportive. They tell you the ways it could possibly fail," Marni Kamins, co-author of "The Breakup Repair Kit," says of this kind of friend. "They're a negative person."

The Passive-Aggressive. This is the friend who notes aloud that you just got a new haircut but says nothing about whether it looks nice. "It's the friend that strikes when you're talking about your love life or when you've just achieved something," says Mike Albo, author of "The Underminer: Or, the Best Friend Who Casually Destroys Your Life" -- and instead of making you feel good about yourself, he shoots you down.

The Peer Pressurer. You've got to get up early Sunday morning to study for the LSAT. Your friend knows how important this test is to you, knows how much you need to study. Yet when you try to exit the bar at midnight on Saturday so you can get some rest, she calls you lame -- stay for just one more beer! "They don't respect your boundaries," Kamins says. "They only want to do what's best for them."

The Plan Breaker. The two of you are on for Saturday night dinner: pizza and beer while you test out your Nintendo Wii. Whoops, no, you're not: A co-worker has invited him to a Nats game. Box seats. Sorry -- those dinner plans weren't definite, were they? "They say they have plans with you, and then they're subject to change at the last minute," Kamins says. "They cancel on you because something better came along."

The "You're Making Me Into a Bad Friend" Friend. It's hard to place, but something doesn't feel right when you're with her. You feel anxious or competitive. "Do you silently cheer when bad things happen to her?" asks Patti Kelley Criswell, co-author of "A Smart Girl's Guide to Friendship Troubles." "Do you feel guilty afterward because you said things or thought things that you know are not what good people do? A toxic relationship is one that brings out the worst in you." Original article...

September 30, 2007

Too little too late for Duke in Lacrosse rape case

Long after the Duke Lacrosse rape case has been settled, Duke University President Richard Brodhead now offers a feeble apology for not supporting the three accused students before the investigation proved they were not guilty. He now wants to capitalize on the situation and try to save face by telling the world that accused defendants should not be prejudged before evidence has shown guilt or innocence no matter how a situation appears.

He now says "by not repeating the need for the presumption of innocence equally vigorously at all key moments, we may have helped create the impression that the university did not care about its students. This was not the case, and I regret it as well." He also stated "some faculty made statements that were 'ill-judged and divisive' and Duke should have done more to underscore that these were the beliefs of individuals, not the university as a whole.

Reporters, bloggers and media representatives have long said that the university faculty and officials were wrong to not back the accused students during their time of need. Now that the dust has settled, it would seem to be only a face saving measure on the part of the university to come forth with such a statement as Brodhead has made and the damage to the school's reputation will take years to recover, if it ever will.

The reality now is that university officials and faculty failed to follow principles that should have mattered most. The university has lost three outstanding students and the reputation of those accused has been damaged forever when the outcome could have been so much better...
News & Observer
September 30, 2007
Jane Stancill and Anne Blythe, Staff Writers

Duke leader apologizes in lacrosse case

DURHAM - Duke University President Richard Brodhead apologized Saturday for the school's lack of full support for the three lacrosse players falsely accused last year of raping an escort service dancer.

It was Brodhead's first public apology for the university's handling of the case, which drew worldwide media attention.

Brodhead said his own biggest regret was "our failure to reach out to the lacrosse players and their families in this time of extraordinary peril. Given the complexities of this case, getting the communication right would never have been easy. But the fact is that we did not get it right, causing the families to feel abandoned when they were most in need of support. This was a mistake. I take responsibility for it, and I apologize."

He added that some faculty made statements that were "ill-judged and divisive" and Duke should have done more to underscore that these were the beliefs of individuals, not the university as a whole.

And, he said, by deferring to the criminal justice system and "not repeating the need for the presumption of innocence equally vigorously at all key moments, we may have helped create the impression that the university did not care about its students. This was not the case, and I regret it as well."

Brodhead, who did not take questions, made his remarks during a speech at the Duke Law School. He was there as part of a two-day conference focused on the lacrosse case and how it was reported by the media.

"If there's one lesson the world should take from the Duke lacrosse case," Brodhead said, "it's the danger of prejudgment and our need to defend against it at every turn." Read more...