Previous month:
April 2010
Next month:
June 2010

May 2010

DOUGHMAN gears up for another foodie race through the Bull City

Driving to work this morning, the signs of DOUGHMAN were evident in the air -- er, make that the ground, with markings that were what we can only assume to be guideposts for competitors approaching the finish line.

In just its third short year of life, DOUGHMAN has become a local sensation of sorts, with the race selling out in just 15 minutes this year. Food Network's "Man vs. Food" came to town to enter a team in last year's race, featured in turn on the cable TV program.

The big idea? It's your traditional triathlon events like running, biking and swimming, only the four-person race teams have to conquer some gastronomic feats at the same time -- like eating a pizza from Broad Street Cafe, or a big locavore goat meat sausage sandwich from Dain's Place, or chilaquiles from Dos Perros.

Local Yogurt (this year's "start line"), Hog Heaven BBQ, Nosh, and Locopops are among the other establishments participating in this year's exercise. The historic Durham Athletic Park downtown will mark the race's finish line, and thus a perfect place for watching the race's conclusion a few hours after its 8am start time. Finish line festivities start at the DAP around 11am, with an awards presentation at 11:30am.

The DAP will do double duty this year as the home to a celebratory dinner, the DOUGHMAN hEArTS Durham community banquet, featuring live music and a DJ plus food from plenty of great local restaurants. (Tickets are $20 and available from the Doughman web site.)

The money raised by racing teams and the banquet goes to support two terrific Durham charities: the DIG (Durham Inner-City Gardeners) program run by SEEDS to promote interest in and support for organic gardening, and the SeeSaw Studios program teaching creative and art skills to teens who get micro-enterprise support to help sell their work.

FBI UCR data show drop in Bull City crime, continued strong showing among NC metros

As my perambulating friend Barry noted over at his blog earlier this week, the FBI has released their Uniform Crime Report preliminary annual data.

Barry's got some interesting conversation going on in the comments over there regarding property crimes and the comparison with college towns and non-college towns nationwide. I'll look here instead at the violent crime rates, which we're calculating here based on rates per 1,000 residents. (Note that in calculating these data, we're using fixed 2009 population estimates from the FBI for both years.)

On a state-wide basis, Durham continues to be in the middle-to-upper end of the pack for violent crime. At one point Durham ranked right behind Cary and Raleigh as the third-safest large city or town in the state -- defined as including those municipalities with populations over 100,000.

In the last couple of years, High Point has moved into that category. 


Continue reading "FBI UCR data show drop in Bull City crime, continued strong showing among NC metros" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 27, 2010

You know that Saturday Night Live skit these days, the one where the Weekend Update crew looks at frustrating stories with skeptical dismay and says, with a screwed up face, "Really?!"

Well folks, that's today's Fishwrap in a nutshell. Bloated travel budgets in DPS; overcapacity at middle and high schools while elementary schools are squeezed; the vaunted warrant control office can't provide the key datum City officials want to see to justify its existence; and we're trying to find users for the stadium post-renovation.

Oh, "Really?!" What, did the spirit of Marcia Conner float back up from South Carolina to hex our body politic? Here's the not-so-great-news (though nicely reported by our pro-jo's here in town):

Travel Budgets Scrutinized: The Indy takes an interesting look into much-criticized travel budgets for Durham Public Schools -- and at the travel spending by County Commissioners, who've been among those historically calling for cuts in administrative overhead. DPS senior administrators get a stipend of as much as $825 per month for travel regardless of actual driving, something that the Indy calculates would translate out to a ridiculous 70 miles driven per day on school business. DPS has proposed a 25% cut this year, something that's drawn catcalls from Joe Bowser and Becky Heron. Speaking of which: the Indy notes that BOCCers can be reimbursed up to $250/mo. in-county travel allowance or $4,000/yr. for out-of-area travel. And Bowser and Heron are putting their money where their mouth is; the former has refused to accept the monthly stipend, while Heron's racked up only $550 all year in travel. Brenda Howerton has nearly maxed out her budget spending nearly $5,000 in travel (after Bowser forked over some of his excess), while Michael Page and Ellen Reckhow hover in the $3,000 range. Must-read for followers of local politics. (Indy Weekly)

Warrants: DPD leadership had positive things to say about the warrant control office yesterday -- but when asked for actual numbers on how many old, "backlogged" warrants were served by the City-County force, DPD told City staff that the Sheriff's Office report had no data whatsoever on that. In fact, a new state computer system allows City police to pull newer warrants electronically, and DPD pulled over 7,000 warrants this year, versus 18,000 from the dedicated warrant control office. (Herald-Sun)

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 27, 2010" »

Scratch bakery downtown rumored to debut next week

Update: The Independent Weekly also has a nice feature on Scratch this week, including more background on Lawless' path from Magnolia Grill to "Pie Lady" to her own business.

According to the local foodie blog VarmintBites, Phoebe Lawless' new downtown outpost Scratch will be opening up on the Orange St. pedestrian mall come next week, assuming all the final inspections pull through okay.

The new digs were announced back in January, and construction got underway in March to upfit a pad that'd been pegged out as shell space, likely when 111 Orange was converted to mixed-use residential over retail a few years back.

Lawless -- better known as the "Pie Lady" for her sweet and savory pies available around the Triangle, including of late at the Durham Farmers' Market -- has had brown wrapping paper covering the windows of the establishment in recent weeks, thwarting the attempts of two-big blogger hacks to get a peek inside (cough, cough).

According to the VarmintBites report, the bakeshop will be open 7:30am to 4:00pm Mondays through Thursdays, 9am to 3pm Fridays and Saturdays. And yes, to answer Ross' question from back in January -- VarmintBites sez there'll be an espresso machine serving up some coffee drinks and the like. 

Read more over at VarmintBites.

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 26, 2010

Late spring is one of a few cloudbursts of activity in the local politics and news scene around these parts, with budgets spewing forth and debates at hand over where money's being spent -- that's enough to keep the adrenaline moving in local newsrooms. And this has not been, to say the least, a quiet week in news. And this morning's events are no different:

Auld Out at Library: Durham Co. librarian Skip Auld is leaving his post summarily, announcing his June 4 departure only yesterday and apparently with no plans to be back in the office before his last day. Auld tells the N&O and Herald-Sun that he was asked to resign by county manager Mike Ruffin, who himself stresses that it was a voluntary resignation rather than a termination -- but Ruffin didn't shy away from telling either paper that he had differences over the attention to internal operational details within the library. Auld tells the H-S he considered himself a "big picture visionary leader" who left those details to his team, which could be one tension. Most intriguingly: the decision happened a week ago on May 19, and was postponed until after the Southwest Library reopening, but BOCC chair Michael Page only learned about it yesterday morning, something that makes for a most interesting insight into the halls of 200 E. Main St. indeed. (Herald-Sun, N&O)

DPS, BOCC Harmony: Unlike last year's contentious budget battle (over far smaller cuts), the H-S' Matt Milliken notes, this year has seen agreement on the need for the County to help the school system, albeit at a more graduated level. In joint talks yesterday Joe Bowser held open his support for another penny on top of the 1.79 cent tax hike proposed, something that could bring the county two-thirds of the way towards meeting the gap, though it's not clear that support extended any deeper into the board. Meanwhile, both boards seem to be waiting for state moves on new taxes, cuts elsewhere, or permission to move capital dollars to operation to meet whatever gap remains. (Herald-Sun)

Street Bond this Fall a Possibility: Has City Hall cracked the code on fixing up the streets? The City's new finance director, David Boyd, has worked with the staff to restructure existing debt, freeing up 190 basis points from the old 15.1% debt ratio that meant the City was maxed out on borrowing. Given the condition of the streets, City staff are floating to elected officials the possibility of a $20-30m debt issue for voters this fall to finish the catch-up on street paving and repairs. From there, the City would need to commit to $5 million per year in ongoing operating expenses to keep the streets up to their needed conditions. Ray Gronberg's got the details in two must-read stories. (Herald-Sun #1, #2)

Continue reading "BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 26, 2010" »

BCR's Daily Fishwrap Report for May 25, 2010

Most of the news in today's papers relates to the big stories from last night's County Commission meeting -- the reaction to the budget, and the ongoing squabbles over the 751 land assemblage.

County Budget: The Herald-Sun reminds of the BOCC's lobbying of parents and students to attend a meeting with Durham's legislative delegation this Friday to push the state to help out with school funding, and emphasizes the concern Michael Page raised over the county's proposal to go without the warrant control program after the city decided to eliminate its contribution to the new backlog-clearing program. Meanwhile, Heidi Carter from the school board tells WRAL that the meet-halfway move on the County's part towards saving 111 jobs is "a good point from which we can work" -- signaling that the schools clearly expect to press for more dollars during the process. (Herald-Sun, Indy, WRAL)

751 Date: After we signed off last night, it's unclear whether a definitive date for the hearing on the 751 project site rezoning was selected; the H-S notes a June 23 consensus date, though the Indy's Samiha Khanna says a final vote will happen today during a work session. As the Herald-Sun notes, the citizens protesting the project who had pressed for deferral of the hearing are now -- protest petition in hand -- pushing for a sooner-than-later rezoning hearing, while the developer team have suggested June 24, a date that citizen-activist Melissa Rooney suggests could allow for lobbying of petition-signers to change their minds. (Herald-Sun, Indy)

Southwest Branch Debuts: The new Southwest Branch Library officially opened yesterday to massive crowds checking out the $6.6 million renovation that's made the library one of the largest in Durham's expanded branch system. (Herald-Sun)

GMCR Pitches In: Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, the popular Burlington, Vt. coffee roaster that's expanded into owning the Keurig single-cup systems, is hosting a national sales meeting in town this week -- and asking its 100 employees to pitch in on a clean-up of the Beaver Marsh along Ellerbe Creek behind the old K-Mart and the Compare Foods north of Duke Park. Now that's community citizenship, when you get your team to volunteer in a community you don't have employees in just because you're in town for a meeting. Kudos to GMCR from BCR and, on the fortnight eve of the Beaver Queen Pageant at Duke Park, beavers everywhere. (Herald-Sun)

BOCC meeting sees meet-ya-halfway proposal on teachers -- and opens door for lots of new BOCC scrutiny

It was a wacky night at the Board of County Commissioners meeting -- not least of which due to the very, er, active discussion at meeting's end over the date of a hearing on the 751 assemblage project, something we've talked about in another post here.

Sure, we expected lots of citizens to show up over the budget and statewide school cuts, and show up they did. And we wondered how county manager Mike Ruffin would work his way around those concerns, and he did so with a compromise plan whose reception awaits public review.

But we didn't expect to see Ruffin's professional but passionate call for scrutinizing every line item in the budget to carry over to the rest of the meeting's routine business.

And from the expression on County finance director George Quick's face, we're not sure he did, either.

Buckle up, Durham County residents. The BOCC -- led by the most unusual team of Joe Bowser and Ellen Reckhow -- are looking to leave no stone unturned in ways to close the rest of the school financing gap.

And if you're a local government employee planning to buy new servers, replace vehicles, or lay down some sweet school parking lot asphalt, you'd better bring a sharp No. 2 to the fight.

Continue reading "BOCC meeting sees meet-ya-halfway proposal on teachers -- and opens door for lots of new BOCC scrutiny" »

751 protestors withdraw BOA appeal -- and cite protest petition in doing so

Some news on everyone's favorite development debate topic.

The much-debated 751 assemblage project has seen its meeting date bounce around on the June calendar, with the BOCC first picking a June 14 date, then moving it up to June 1, then seeing that date imperiled when project opponent Melissa Rooney filed an appeal to the Board of Adjustment over the BOCC's decision to move that meeting date forward.

And that seemingly threw the meeting date into limbo -- until tonight, when County Commissioners revealed they'd received an email from Rooney noting she had withdrawn her appeal, and had no objection over the June 1 date for the rezoning hearing.

The most likely culprit in the change of heart? The completion of a protest petition, submitted to City/County Planning with what the N&O notes is a substantial number of Chancellor's Ridge residents raising concerns over the rezoning.

An earlier protest petition for a watershed boundary map change fell on its face after Planning ruled it invalid, but you'd have to figure it unlikely for the project's opponents not to have their i's dotted and t's crossed. (Not that they'd say they didn't the first time, given the concerns opponents raised over the ruling of the last petition as invalid.)

Assuming the protest petition faces no technical faults or challenges, the BOCC would need to muster four votes in favor of the project for the rezoning to move forward -- no small feat, given the longstanding opposition of both Ellen Reckhow and Becky Heron.

Meantime, the BOCC'ers seemed most focused tonight on just picking a date that would not interfere with, in order, Heron's rescheduled beach trip with friends, Joe Bowser's fishing trip to the Virginia tidewater area, or Reckhow's 35th wedding anniversary. (Reckhow and the group had nothing but chortles at the suggestion she bring husband and Duke professor Ken along to the meeting that night for a romantic evening amidst a rezoning battle.)

Indy: "Main Street" still being shopped, at Cannes

We at BCR have been doing occasional Google searches on "Main Street" the movie, trying to find out when Durham's biggest on-screen take in some years would make its way to the theaters here stateside.

The Indy's David Fellerath's been doing the same thing, too -- and he brought the latest that's out there to a nice post over at his place this weekend, noting that the Horton Foote-penned filmed is being shopped at the film market at Cannes.

Not in the Cannes competition, mind you; instead, the film's screenings are intended to help find a buyer for the production. It's stuck in an increasingly popular purgatory, consisting of completed films that are stuck seeking a release window in a world where 3-D films and mega-blockbusters clog the big screens, and where even independent theaters have faced more small-budget, low-cost art films, documentaries and dramas than they have room for, too.

Even once it finds a distributor for movie theaters in the US, the film will still have to answer a question that Durhamites will wonder about: just what will be shown of our fair city in the picture?

Continue reading "Indy: "Main Street" still being shopped, at Cannes" »