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BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for October 9, 2009

Medlin presser to unveil protest petition result, but Heron tips it's a "no"

It's not typical for the director of the City/County Planning department to hold a press conference on a Friday afternoon to unveil the results of a single protest petition -- or, well, anything?

But then, not much has been typical about the case of the 751 Assemblage.

Steve Medlin has scheduled a 3:30pm Friday press conference to announce the results of his department's evaluation of a protest petition against a change in a critical watershed boundary near Jordan Lake in south Durham.

Medlin tells the N&O's Jim Wise that his department is still wrapping up its evaluation -- but map change opponent and BOCC member Becky Heron tells Wise that she and Ellen Reckhow were told the protest petition will fail due to having an insufficient percentage of affected owners as signatories.

An attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, a group assisting the Haw River Assembly in its fight against the change, tells Wise that her group will scrutinize any invalidation of the petition.





On two sides, the petition only reached 17 percent, 3 points shy of the mandatory 20 percent. On the other two sides, it wasn't close.

Opponents are regrouping and considering options, including an appeal to the Board of Adjustment.

Look for a 3-2 vote. Bowser's constant babysitting of Howerton, accompanying her to every meeting on this topic, has paid off. She's caved in.

Of course, as Bowser has consistently done, he'll drop Howerton like a hot potato after Monday night's vote. He won't need her for a while.

Hope the PA is kicking themselves for that endorsement.

Steve Bocckino

Merely because the PD says "17%" doesn't make it so. There are numerous non-contiguous, irregularly shaped parcels in concentric rings being rezoned. How you do the analysis makes a huge difference, and no one has seen their numbers and analysis. It's not as if the HRA didn't have its own experts run the numbers to establish validity. There is no precedent for a protest petition on a rezoning this complex in Durham, and the UDO clearly doesn't anticipate this situation. I suspect the PD developed its methodology for this case only after the petition was submitted.

Doesn't the Planning Department have a conflict of interest here? After all, the County is the applicant on the rezoning to move Jordan Lake. And why the highly unusual press conference?

Justin Clark

Agree totally with Thomas.
Howerton has to realize what's going on...right? The handholding will disappear for a while, and show up again just as soon as he needs her again. Only question is will she fall for it again?

B. Everett Jordan

Inappropriate Press Conferences.
Hmmmmm. The last public official in Durham to hold an ill advised press conference on a closely watched and divisive issue was, as memory holds...Mike Nifong. Just because the issue is political doesn't mean the Planning Director should become a politician. Look out Steve, someone is going to take the fall when this is all over.

Frank Hyman

"Hope the PA is kicking themselves for that endorsement."

How soon they forget.

Without PA' s endorsement, instead of Brenda Howerton on the county commission, you would be dealing with Fred Foster, who received the Durham Committee's endorsement along with Joe Bowser and MIchael Page. So where do you guess Foster would be on this issue and others? And behind Foster in the polls was Victoria Peterson. Which of these two would you prefer to be dealing with?

I've got two--make that 3-- problems with the kind of comment I quoted at the top.

1) People offering pointed opinions based on their ignorance rather than their knowledge of the situation, meaning Howerton vs. Foster.

2) Acting as if the issue of the day is the only one that counts during an elected official's 4 year term. Regardless of where Howerton comes out on this issue, snark like this won't help your next issue when you need her vote on something else.

3) That the poster has insufficient confidence in the quality of their own opinion to use their full name.

For those who read these posts, you may also have noticed that those who are willing to post with their full names have the more thoughtful and informed opinions. And that conversely, those who hide their identity are using that option as a way to safely throw out some uninformed and poorly constructed barbs about other citizens.

The newspapers require the full names of writers in order to post a letter to the editor and they have no lack of submissions. And if you compare the quality and civility of the signed letters with the anonymous email comments you will see a stark difference.

Anonymity is for cowards. With so much at stake and with so many challenges for our city, state, nation and planet, we need citizens with some cojones to step up to the plate using their names, rather than snarky cowards filling up the marketplace of ideas with uninformed, half-thought out, mean spirited notions.

Bad money drives good money out of the financial marketplace (as we've seen lately) the same way that uncivil and uniformed commentary can drive good commentary out of the marketplace of ideas.

Frank Hyman

Kevin Davis

I will just add one addendum to Frank's comment. In general I far prefer attributed comments to anonymous ones.

I allow the latter because there are some readers who post anonymously here who hold roles or positions that would inhibit their open participation otherwise.

I guess I'd put it this way. Most of the obnoxious comments come from anonymous commenters. But not all anonymous commenters post obnoxious comments. And that's why I still allow them -- even as I vigorously agree with Frank's sentiments.

Darius M. Little

I strongly agree with Frank's remarks (and it's about time that somebody expressed such sentiment). As a former city council candidate (which not many have the boldness to aspire towards, much less survive the public heat/scrutiny, in doing so), I often had to defend myself from anonymous posts on various messageboards and media outlets.

While I don't give these forms of media much 'social influence credit' to say that concern for protecting a government employee/staff member's identity, if they want to make a "public' statement on an issue, is the reason for allowing these types of just, unreasonable.

If individual security was truly the concern of this board, as it relates to government officials/employees, then the well-documented effort to expose Mike Ruffin as 'Guy' was completely inappropriate.

This is clearly fanfare, let's not kid ourselves. People are slandered on these types of boards continually - as long as it sparks discussion, the average moderator could care less.

Excellent point Frank.


Darius and Frank,

Stop whining. Please.

Frank, I'm currently listening to "Talk of the Nation" on NPR. I was struck with the fact that I never really know who the callers are. They don't have to prove who they are. They state their opinion. Take it or leave it. Even if they do give a name, there is no way I can know if that is their real name. Does it matter? This is not a newspaper, but a blog.

Darius, I don't think you were "bold" to run for city council, but egotistical and foolish. I'm glad you didn't win, and I think your posts on this blog showed you for what you are.

Both of you need to chill out, and take the anonymous comments for what they are... anonymous comments. Like my mama used to say,"Sticks and stone may break your bones, but words can never hurt you."

Kevin, I love your blog. I rely on it for Durham news. However, I'm also entertained by your blog. Your writing, the topics, and yes, the comments crack me up! I love the fact that city council members, city council member has beens, and city council member wanna bees like to mix it up here. I think the fact that anonymous comments are allowed keep this place interesting. In fact, I used to be a regular at Barry's place, but since he cut off anonymous comments, his place has become as dull as a butter knife.

Anonymous Impotent Coward

Darius M. Little


1. Kevin, the site moderator, expressed the following:

(a) "In general I far prefer attributed comments to anonymous ones."

-> Unlike you, he, as the site director, prefers attributed comments moreso than anonymous.

(b) "I allow the latter because there are some readers who post anonymously here who hold roles or positions that would inhibit their open participation otherwise."

-> My post was addressing the obvious inaccuracy of this assertion, by the fact that if this were true, there wouldn't have been such an effort to "out" Mike Ruffin as "Guy" on this sight; which created much fanfare and drubbed-up a lot of business (site hits), I'm sure. Mike Ruffin's "ability to participate otherwise" surely wasn't taken into consideration.

As far as your approval, or disapproval, of my running for office: you have a right to vote, or support, whomever you choose. I look forward to earning your vote in the future!

Yours in Service,

Darius M. Little

Kevin Davis

Darius: I understand the point you're arguing, but I think they're somewhat different situations.

There's a long tradition of having anonymous comments on web forums and blogs, including mine (and including most newspapers.) I personally don't like it (as you note) but I can understand there can be occasional value there. Therefore, I have not taken steps to require attributed comments at BCR.

The creation of a separate blog purporting to have "inside information" on what's happening in Durham is a different matter entirely and is within the category of newsworthiness, particularly when there was a chance the blog was set up in such a way as to appear to have been authored by the county manager. That story was one I wrestled over more than most (and for which I sought the advice of some trusted third parties before posting), but given that the "identity" (real or set-up) of the blogger was Internet-visible, perhaps (if it was a set-up) intentionally so, it fell into a newsworthy category.

Put another way, I wouldn't reveal the identity of a commenter at BCR who is blogging anonymously, save for the obvious circumstances of a subpoena/takedown notice, etc. But the Guy story still feels to me like it was/is fair game. I still feel they fall into very different categories.

It's a fine line, and I thank you, Darius, for leading me to think through where I've stood on this (and why.)

Darius M. Little

No problem, Kevin.

Your points of providing some with the ability to express themselves without fear of being exposed, is understandable. I fall under the frame-of-mind that if someone is going to speak negatively against people (especially those in office, or running for office), they should have the boldness to reveal their identities (or have their alleged identity verified, as with facebook, or whatnot).

The side effects of some of the verbiage expressed on this site can be influential, at times, in a few social arenas. In consideration of that, the level of poster-accountability needs to be commensurate with that of the potential effect of the post. That's fairness - not providing anyone with access to a keyboard the ability to come here and say any and everything about people, in a public capacity. It's easy to call it whining when you've never been front-and-center and I'd like to see the threshold for cowardice minimized on these sites.

Having said that, I enjoy this site and look forward to contributing even more in the future.

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