Caroline Blair

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Vice President Biden speaks to supporters in Durham

DURHAM — Vice President Joe Biden made a campaign stop in Durham Monday and spoke to a crowd of about 900 people at the Durham Armory.

The visit comes one day after Republican nominee Mitt Romney and his Vice Presidential pick Paul Ryan campaigned in the Tar Heel state. The crowd began to grow as early as 5 a.m.

While Vice President Biden said he did call and welcome Ryan to the political race and that both members of the opposition are ‘good family men’; both members of the opposition are not right for the country. Biden spoke about the stark differences between the two campaigns.

Biden said Romney’s economic policies were similar to those that led to job losses through outsourcing.

“They call when they talked about their plan, not just their budget plan but their plan across the board. They called it ‘gutsy’; I’m serious. Now what is gutsy about giving millionaires tax breaks? What is gutsy about gutting Medicare, Medicaid and education,” said Biden.

While campaigning on Sunday, Romney and Ryan said the Obama administration has increased the deficit and unemployment. Vice President Biden countered that claim by stating throughout their time in office the administration has:

• boosted veteran’s benefits
• brought home service members overseas
• assisted those in need of health care
• created jobs for middle class

North Carolina is expected to be a key battleground state for both presidential campaigns.

ALE leaders investigated for vehicle misuse

RALEIGH — Two high-ranking officials with the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement Agency are in hot water following an investigation into whether they misused state issued vehicles.

In a report released Tuesday, State Auditor Beth Wood said the Department of Public Safety repeatedly blocked their attempts to investigate the claim, but leaders there said that’s not the case.

"It’s law that a state vehicle is to be driven only for business purposes,” said State Auditor Beth Wood.

But that’s not what some say these two leading ALE officers have been practicing.

"The initial investigation was that they were violating policy or statue, that they were driving their state car in Asheville there home, and back to Raleigh,” Wood said.

The State Auditor’s office launched a formal investigation to see if ALE Director John Ledford and Deputy Director of Operations Allen Page, repeatedly used their government cars and gas cards to make the 400-mile round trip.

But she said the two men were very uncooperative.

"We couldn’t get the information that we needed, we had trouble getting the personnel files that we needed. We wanted to interview staff from the regional office. And when we showed up we were turned up and turned away from that,” Wood said.

"The alarming thing is not just that it looks like there was a misuse of state resources, but it looks like some of the folks in that agency were not being forthright with the auditor, and making her job more difficult and after all she’s representing our interests," said Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch.

Wood recommended the two men reimburse state tax payer dollars for any undocumented business trips.

"The average citizen would expect reimbursement,” she said.

However the head of the Department of Public Safety, Reuben Young, denies the investigation showed violations and wrote any disciplinary action would be "manifestly inappropriate."

We did reach out to Young’s office for a statement, but were told his response to the state auditor speaks for itself.

Wood said it’s now up to the secretary and Governor to decide if disciplinary action should be taken.

Protesters rally outside governor’s mansion against fracking

RALEIGH — Dozens of protestors rallied in Raleigh Monday, begging the governor to veto a bill that would allow hydraulic fracturing or fracking in North Carolina.

Armed with signs, bullhorns and even drums, anti-fracking protestors lined the gates of the Governor’s Mansion, calling on state leaders to take an environmental stance against the controversial drilling method.

"We’re not going to sit back and allow the Governor not to take care of the population by vetoing this fracking bill, there’s nothing positive about it for the environment. — I think it’s a short measure and it doesn’t really accomplish what needs to be done,” said Michael George of Occupy Raleigh.

Critics of fracking said the method hasn’t been thoroughly studied, and are worried it could cause major problems like groundwater contamination and earthquakes.

"Once the water is poisoned or polluted through this method, it can’t be reversed, so I think that’s extremely scary. And our water supply is limited to begin with," said protester Jeremy Gilchrist.

However, supporters said fracking would create much needed jobs and reduce the nation’s dependency on foreign oil.

They also said the state House bill includes numerous protections for homeowners, but some politicians and protestors disagree.

"There are examples today of unscrupulous oil companies going in and leasing people’s land, at $1 to $3 an acre, when even in today’s depressed market, it’s worth $3 to $5,000," said Rep. Bill Faison, a Democrat from Orange County.

The state House approved a bill last week that would allow the controversial method of natural gas drilling in the Tar Heel State.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the matter this week, and if approved, the bill will head to the governor’s desk for her to sign.

Gov. Bev Perdue’s office said she’s currently reviewing the bill and doesn’t have a comment at this time.

Court of appeals hears arguments hours after legislature passes pre-K bill

RALEIGH — Hours after lawmakers approved the pre-K bill, the NC Court of Appeals considered whether every at risk child should be given a pre-K education. A previous lower court ruling last year called legislative restrictions to the pre-K program unconstitutional.

Two former Supreme Court justices and attorney’s representing five low-income counties defended the ruling arguing that future government bodies shouldn’t be able to make changes that infringe on all children’s constitutional rights to a basic sound education.

"We have at-risk children from Murphy to Manteo, and the constitutional right is certainly not limited to Hoke County," said Bob Orr from the N.C. School Boards Association.

But attorney’s representing the state argued there is no constitutional rights to those services and that prior rulings were specific to Hoke County and not the rest of the state.

"The trial court had no prudential basis for the relief it ordered, and exceeded its authority when it mandated pre-K services to all pre-K services on a statewide basis," said John Maddrey, an attorney for the state.

The lawsuit is the latest in the 18-year-old case known as Leandro. The three-judge panel decision is expected to be released in about 90 days.

King votes to keep police department

KING—The King Police Department will continue to protect and serve the town.

Debate over shutting the police department down has fired up the Stokes County community for weeks.

Mayor Jack Warren called the meeting asking the council to decide whether they wanted to continue negotiations with the Stokes County Sheriff’s Office to take over law enforcement or keep the police department.

Both Councilman Brian Carico and Mayor Pro-Tem Dillard Burnette stated the city needed more time to sit down with Stokes County commissioners to discuss numbers, specifics and work out details on the county’s projected estimated cost, before they could make a proper decision.

However Councilman Charles Allen and Wesley Carter disagreed, saying the projected numbers would not save the city any money and voted against continuing negotiation. This left Mayor Warren to break the 2-2 tie, ending further discussion on the matter.

"It is a situation where obviously the mayor and a couple other council members were not willing to go forward with. Again I feel that it is a disadvantage to the city," said City Councilman Brian Carico.

"We have split our community. We have a great community. I don’t like to see that, neighbor fighting neighbor and I thought it was time to end that and lets work together and do what we need to do for the city of King," said Mayor Jack Warren.

People could hear a collective sigh of relief and applause when officials announced the decision, but not everyone in the audience was happy with the outcome.

All councilmen agreed the budget discussion will continue during their next budget meeting, and that city departments will face cuts this year.

The cuts could include both the police and fire departments.

Greensboro council take to the streets to track noise

GREENSBORO, N.C.– It’s the sound of dollar signs for some Gate City businesses, but for those living in the center city it’s the sound of a sleepless night.

When it comes to sound the higher the decibel level the louder the noise, a hands-on lesson these Greensboro City Council members are receiving firsthand.

"This is something that has been going on in all cities across the country and it’s called growing pains. And thankfully we’ve got a downtown with some energy, and we are having to deal with this issue," said Greensboro Mayor Robbie Perkins.

Looking to follow in the footsteps of other major North Carolina cities, local leaders are working with business owners in hopes of setting a noise level everyone can agree to.

"We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, we can look at what Raleigh and Charlotte and other cities are doing, and what’s practical. And I think we’ll be able to craft something, that will allow clubs and the resident to live in harmony," said Greensboro City Council member Nancy Vaughn.

But as they transitioned from sidewalks to parking decks, and from streets to the rooftops, the city council is getting a glimpse of how hard it can be to judge the noise.

"We get constricted here, we get close to the cars, and it reflects heavy off of these walls, so we get the most accurate reading when we stay here and try to aim it down that way,” said one Greensboro Police officer.

And while it may be difficult to judge exactly where it’s coming from.

"The noise definitely bounces all around. As you can hear, there’s all sorts of ambient noise behind us," said Vaughn.

These city council members agree a decision will have to be made sooner than later.

"We’ve got to move on. Noise is important, but economic development, jobs, public safety and infrastructure are our priorities, and we’re going to focus on those priorities and anything else we’re going to move off the table," said Mayor Perkins.

Mayor Perkins says city police and attorneys will present a draft ordinance in the next ten days, followed by a public comment period.

The city will then take the measure up at a council meeting the first week in April and will make a decision soon after.

Expanding company concerned with workforce

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — After asking for and receiving more than $3 million in economic incentives, Inmar Inc. is now deciding whether to expand in or outside the Piedmont.

"The partnership and working with our local community to be successful is a very important part of how we plan to win in the future," said Inmar Inc. CEO David Mounts.

Over a five-year period the company is looking to invest $62 million and create 200 jobs with an average pay of $70,000 a year.

"It’s the kind of high end technology that you really do want to grow here in Winston," said Winston-Salem City Councilwoman Molly Leight.

While many people in the city are looking for work, the company’s executives said they’re having a hard time finding qualified candidates.

"I have 20 technology positions that are open right now, that don’t have, we cannot find the skilled talent locally that we need," Mounts said.

Mounts said they are turning to local universities, ramping up their internship programs.

And schools like Winston-Salem State said they’ve undergone curriculum reform, in an effort to better prepare students for the job market.

"I think they have challenged us to address some of these issues. Successful cities of the future will be those that can handle innovative companies like this, so Winston-Salem will be working with this company as well as our universities to address that need," said Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines.

A need city council members hope can be addressed sooner rather than later, so that the jobs can stay and be filled in Winston-Salem.

Inmar is expected to visit Winston-Salem State University on March 7 to interview for open positions.

The company will likely look at candidates coming from the computer science, information technology, management information systems and general business departments.

HPU poll finds NC voters divided over presidential, congressional candidates

HIGH POINT, N.C. — If the presidential election was held today who would you vote for?
That’s the question at the center of a recent High Point University Poll.

"We’re still a ways out but all signs point to a very competitive election season,” said HPU Survey Research Center Director Martin Kifer.

Forty-two percent of North Carolinians polled say they would vote for Barack Obama, while 47 percent say they would vote for his unnamed Republican opponent. Nine percent either didn’t know or wouldn’t say, but the results are not going unnoticed by either party.

"President Obama won this state by the narrowest margin of any state that he won. The Democratic Party decided they’re going to have their convention here giving a signal that they’re really interested in investing in this particular state, but the Republican Party also has a lot of resources," Kifer said.

And when it comes to the Republican Primary, Mitt Romney currently has the lead with 30 percent of pollers’ support, while Ron Paul sits at the bottom with 11 percent support. And 26 percent of respondents didn’t know or wouldn’t say who’d get their vote.

The university also polled registered voters on what party they would vote for in their congressional district, Republican or Democratic candidates.

They found 42 percent would vote Democratic and 40 percent would vote Republican.

That leaves 18 percent undecided, voters experts say, will fuel conditions for North Carolina to play out as a key battleground in 2012.

"It is a very competitive race, the public the electorate seems closely divided on the congressional campaigns as well as the presidential race, and so I think we’re in for an exciting year,” Kifer said.

The poll found that more people are following this year’s election in 2010. However, very few of them are turning to candidates web or social networking sites.

The university will do two more polls this semester and then will begin polling again in the fall prior to the November election.

Wine-and-dine hours could extend with new ordinance in Winston-Salem

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.– Back in the early 1990s Winston-Salem didn’t have much of a nightlife.

But now, people can be seen eating at restaurants and sipping drinks on the sides of downtown city streets.

"Being able to walk to restaurants and walk to bars and walk to art galleries is really thrilling for the people that live down here," said Amy Foster, property manager for Winston Factory Lofts.

But after several complaints that it was too loud outside after dark, the city was forced to take a look at the sidewalk dining ordinance.

"The ordinance that is in effect right now has hours of operation, closing time Monday through Thursday at 10 p.m., and closing time on the weekend and holidays at 11 p.m.,” said City Business Development Administrator Ruben Gonzales.

These are times many area businesses think should be extended for downtown Winston-Salem to continue to thrive.

"Young professionals is just key, and to have them, you have to have something to do, and to damage the nightlife would probably hurt the city more than anyone could imagine,” said Hutch & Harris manager Ian Butera.

Although the ordinance has been in effect for years, businesses say it’s never been enforced, which is why so many restaurants have opened up sidewalk dining spots in downtown Winston-Salem.

So those businesses hope by extending the hours to 1 a.m. during the week and 2 a.m. on the weekends, as well as restricting the time recycling can be dumped, will help them comply with city ordinances and also reduce the noise for those living in the area.

"We find that working together is the best way because what we establish today will effect what we do in the future. And we want to have a great environment for people to continue to move downtown and for downtown residential development to continue to grow,” said Recreation Billiards owner George Bambalis.

However business owners are concerned that if they keep their trash indoors overnights, it will cause health concerns or problems with rodents.

City staff will present their recommended changes to during two meetings, first during the city Public Safety Meeting on Monday, Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 6:30 p.m. during the general government meeting.

Officials said anyone with a noise complaint should call the city’s non-emergency police number.

Guilford County residents concerned about future fire station report

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C.– Many people living in Guilford County are heated over talks about the region’s firefighting future. Earlier this year, the county hired Emergency Services Consulting International to research the fire agency’s strengths and weaknesses.

Now, the group is creating a Master Plan, with suggestions they say can help take the district into the future. But not everyone is excited about the research.

"Our individuality is being taken away from us so much now. We don’t need it," said one man from Browns Summit.

The firm in charge of researching the 22 fire agencies and then creating a master plan held a community input session seeking feedback on how taxpayers want fire response handled in the future.

"Organization design, structure, governance, training, fire prevention, distribution of service demand, distribution of physical resources," said Kent Greene of ESCI.

The company’s performed similar studies in Wilmington and New Hanover Counties and recently released a draft report to the county fire chiefs, asking them to search for errors.

"At this point, it’s a draft document, and it would be premature to speak to the contents of the document because there’s obviously more work to be done on it," added Guilford County Fire Chief’s Spokesperson Ray Smith.

But many in the audience questioned the draft’s content voicing concerns over a possible consolidation of services.

"You’re talking about people. You’re talking about communities. We have our faults. We’re inefficient at times, but I’ll guarantee you we’ll put out a better job than a staffed fire department," one volunteer firefighter said.

The final evaluation report is not complete and those with the firm say what happens with the fire stations is ultimately up to the County Commission to decide.

"We certainly hope they’ll sit down and meet with the fire service and look at what opportunities are there to enhance," said Guilford County Emergency Services Director Alan Perdue.

The firm has received feedback from the individual fire stations and are now making corrections and preparing the final report. They hope to present that report to Guilford County Commissioners on November 17.

To e-mail your comments or concerns to ESCI: guilfordcomments @esci.us.