Duke/Gregson, Cornwallis, parts of 15-501 all up for repaving in spring/summer
Downtown BID meeting gives backers a chance to pitch tax district -- and reveals at least some sources of opposition

Campaign finance complaint to state turns up heat on Durham Committee’s Allison

A member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People has asked state elections officials to investigate potential mishandling of campaign funds in the committee’s political organization. 

The move comes as some people in the 76-year-old civic group, one of Durham’s oldest and most prominent, have been calling for an ouster of its chairwoman, Lavonia Allison. 

Committee member Victoria Peterson submitted a two-paragraph letter to the State Board of Elections on Monday asking it to look into a pair of transactions that took place over a two-day stretch last fall. 

On Oct. 24, according to Peterson — but not the public document on which her claim is based — the Durham Committee’s political action committee reported receiving an $8,000 contribution from the committee of incumbent Rep. David Price (D-Chapel Hill), who was re-elected in November. The next day, records show, the PAC paid $8,822.61 as reimbursement for bulk mail postage to Allison. 

“The organization fiscal report stated that Dr. Allison paid for bulk mail, but there is no evidence of such a transaction,” Peterson wrote to Kim Strach, the state board’s deputy director for campaign reporting. 

In a brief phone conversation Tuesday afternoon, Allison declined to be interviewed but dismissed the allegations against her as falsehoods. 

“I’m not going to get into something that is totally, totally prevarications,” said Allison, who became chairwoman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People roughly 13 years ago. “People can’t even read an electronic [campaign finance] report. It’s sad.” 

North Carolina law carries penalties for intentional wrongdoing on campaign finance laws; willfully filing a false campaign report is a Class I felony, though most campaign finance violations are misdemeanors, which carry lower penalties. 

An inspection of campaign finance records, which are publicly available, suggests that parties on both sides of Peterson’s complaint could be off point to some degree. 

The $8,000 given to the Durham Committee PAC by the Price for Congress Committee actually is reported as representing donations for the entire 2010 election cycle, which began January 2009; the Oct. 24 check Peterson cites was for $2,000, committee records show.

North Carolina law limits individuals and organizations to contributing a maximum of $4,000 to any candidate or political committee during any single two-year period. Although there are some discrepancies, the bulk of the records for both the Price and Durham Committee groups indicate that Price’s organization contributed less than $4,000 for the 2010 cycle, despite the report entry showing $8,000 in cumulative contributions. 

The larger amount seems to represent the total that Price’s group gave in 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2010 combined. 

As far as the other part of Peterson’s complaint: Even assuming that Allison was properly reimbursed for bulk mail postage, Allison and Durham Committee chair treasurer Keith Bishop may not have reported the transaction correctly. The PAC’s summary for the final quarter of 2010 indicates that that organization neither received nor made any kind of reimbursement or refund in the quarter or the entire cycle. Similarly, the sheet lists no in-kind contributions received by the PAC during both time periods. 

This wouldn’t be the first time the Durham Committee has had a campaign finance reporting issue in recent years. The group amended its 2008 third-quarter filing twice. In May 2009, Bishop signed an amended 2008 fourth-quarter report for the Durham Committee PAC, but a state elections worker marked the form as having been postmarked and received August 2010. 

That month, before the amended 2008 report was received, the state elections office assessed a $750 fine against the Durham Committee PAC for having missed July 2009 and July 2010 filing deadlines. 

The state sent Bishop three non-compliance letters in 2008 and 2009 warning him that the committee had not filed quarterly reports on time. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Whether innocent errors or not, problems with Durham Committee finances have been a key point of concern for some Committee members advocating for a change in organizational leadership.

In keeping with group tradition, members of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People contacted by Bull City Rising would not describe the discussions of the group’s March 3 meeting — which, Allison asserted, was not an official committee gathering. But the campaign finance irregularities were among those detailed in a packet of papers distributed at the meeting. 

Like that meeting, Peterson’s complaining to elections authorities represents another step in an effort by some Durham Committee members to oust Allison.

While various critics of the chairwoman said in separate interviews Tuesday that they are not working on a coordinated campaign, they all agreed on a common message: It’s time for the committee to find a new leader. 

Chuck Watts is a business law attorney who has wanted to see Allison supplanted since 2008, when the Durham Committee adamantly opposed a meals tax. With former Durham Mayor Sylvia Kerckhoff, Watts led A Taste for Durham’s Future, a group trying to pass a referendum that would have steered a 1 percent tax on prepared foods to culture and recreation construction, maintenance and marketing. The measure was defeated, 72 percent to 28 percent. 

Watts feels that the documents distributed last week aren’t conclusive in and of themselves. But he said they raised questions about the Durham Committee’s handling of money that he would like to see answered. 

“I don’t think the finances of the organization have been sufficiently transparent,” Watts said. 

He believes that there are a number of Durham Committee members who want the organization to operate in a more accountable fashion. 

“There’s a broader interest in the committee being open and transparent and not subject to the dictator kind of role that seems to be going on right now,” Watts said. “Whether it’s Dr. Allison, Dr. Lavonia Allison, or someone else at the leadership, at the chair, I think it’s a deeper concern than her. The deeper concern is about having finances be adequately disclosed, reported, prepared, so forth and so on. 

“I am concerned, frankly, that it’s too much of an issue about a personality and not enough of an issue about an organization.” 

Darius Little, a self-employed business consultant and former City Council candidate, has been involved with the Durham Committee for about two and a half years. Like Watts and Peterson, he is critical of how the Durham Committee has operated under Allison. 

“Membership is not allowed to actively participate in the decision-making process of the organization, and the founders created it to allow it to be representative of the people,” Little said. 

The organization’s financial reporting — which is separate from that of the political action committee, which by law must provide detailed disclosures — has been notably lacking, Little feels. “There has not been one individual who can recall receiving a financial statement, report, receipt or any type of expenditures as it relates to the organization under the current chair’s leadership,” Little said. 

He added: “Outside of meetings, it is not unusual to see the chair accost any individual who has asked questions about the running of the organization.” 

While Peterson said at one point that Allison had “done a great job,” she maintains that the chairwoman’s moment has passed. 

“I think that Dr. Allison has become very rude over the last several years,” Peterson said. “She doesn’t allow new thinking, new ideas. And she doesn’t seem to really want to take the organization into the 21st century.” 

She characterized the mentality of the group — which only allows black people to attend meetings — as belonging to the segregated decades of the 1940s and 1950s.

“I feel that the organization is stunting its growth because of her leadership now, because of her present leadership,” Peterson said of Allison. 

The bottom line for Peterson? She thinks that a change at the top will benefit the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. And she’d like to see that change come soon. 

It's still an open question how effective this latest push from some community members to change the Committee's leadership will be.

As the Independent Weekly and other media outlets have noted in their coverage, Little and Peterson — two of the most widely-quoted individuals relative to a desire for change — have mixed track records in local civic affairs. Little has faced past legal run-ins for bounced checks and questions over services rendered in a mediation/legal affair, while Peterson's controversial stances on everything from the Duke lacrosse case to gay rights to illegal immigration and her perennial status as an unsuccessful candidate for office cloud her own reputation.

While Peterson and Little helped to organize and publicize last week's meeting, however, they weren't the only ones present. And the real unknown at this point is how many others in Durham's African-American leadership are supporting the cause.

In any event, by asking state officials to scrutinize transactions at the committee’s political wing, Peterson turned up the pressure on one of the city’s most prominent civic leaders. 

According to Strach at the State Board of Elections, the board has no set time frame for investigating complaints. “We try to get them as quickly as possible, understanding that we do have a number of complaints that have been filed, and they have different degrees of complexity,” she said. 

Peterson’s letter was still being evaluated as of the close of business Tuesday, Strach said. 

Comments

Durham Bachelor

I have a few questions:

1. "As far as the other part of Peterson’s complaint: Even assuming that Allison was properly reimbursed for bulk mail postage, Allison and Durham Committee chair treasurer Keith Bishop may not have reported the transaction correctly. The PAC’s summary for the final quarter of 2010 indicates that that organization neither received nor made any kind of reimbursement or refund in the quarter or the entire cycle. Similarly, the sheet lists no in-kind contributions received by the PAC during both time periods."

Question: If you're even moderately adding numbers, how do you complete and submit a report and miss $8,882?

2. "This wouldn’t be the first time the Durham Committee has had a campaign finance reporting issue in recent years. The group amended its 2008 third-quarter filing twice. In May 2009, Bishop signed an amended 2008 fourth-quarter report for the Durham Committee PAC, but a state elections worker marked the form as having been postmarked and received August 2010."

Question: Didn't this guy run for District Attorney of the County?


3. "That month, before the amended 2008 report was received, the state elections office assessed a $750 fine against the Durham Committee PAC for having missed July 2009 and July 2010 filing deadlines.

The state sent Bishop three non-compliance letters in 2008 and 2009 warning him that the committee had not filed quarterly reports on time."

Question: How is Bishop allowed to continue to be treasurer after all of these serious blunders. It is clear that he isn't good at record-keeping, so I wondered why Lavonia keeps appointing him as the PAC Treasurer.

Lavonia can say people can't read the reports, but this isn't rocketscience.....how can she even be reimbursed that much money without some checks and balances from the members of the org? Amazing.

UpNorthLibrarian

'...the group — which only allows black people to attend meetings —'

To an non-native, but now property owner, this seems odd. Is there some background available?

MeMyselfAndI

UpNorthLibrarian,

History you ask . . . Well yeas bout 400 years of it . . . Just what sort of books do you read while in that library. Don't act like the world started yesterday. But welcome to Durham, NC, USA, planet Earth. Now where's your rocket ship and what's it like on your planet . . . . I'm guessing that they did't have Jim Crow Segergation etc there??

Just wondering . . . NOT! Get real, little lady

Will Wilson

IMHO, there's too much fixing that needs to be done, and there's an entire political party out there, financed by corporate interests, using wedge issues to divide other folks. We can play into their hands, or work together for a future where everyone has economic, social, and environmental opportunities and security. Which will it be?

UpNorthLibrarian

MM&I

Ouch!

1) You didn't know that I moved here from New Orleans
2) You don't know my gender
3) You don't know my ethnicity
4) I don't understand your 400 year time limit / vs the start of the world

Could you recommend a book on the DCABP?

PHd

Thanks Bull City reports don't lie. It would seem that looking at this latest information coupled with past articles about this organization one would believe the time has come,new leadership is warranted. Looking at the haphazard way that monies are being reported my question would be what is the relationship between the chair and the treasurer of the organization. Both seem to have the same responses when request for information have been asked for. "No Comments"

Page McCullough

Up north, thanks for wanting to better understand Durham! I am hoping someone does know of writings specifically about the DCABP, but a good place to start learning more about Durham would be Best of Enemies, by Osha Gray Davidson.. Reads like a novel.

Elizabeth Sudduth

PACs are private organizations and can have whatever rules they want about membership, as far as I know. One would imagine that there are plenty of conservative PACs that do not allow non-white members, and probably some that don't allow women, either. Since the Citizens United ruling there are a number of PACs that are actually just the CEOs of a single industry, or even just a single rich guy funneling money to political candidates.

Sgt Pepper

If the argument is that Dr. Allison has mismanaged DCABP funds, then I can't imagine things will be much better under Mr. Little.

http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story_news_durham/12263293/article-Ex-candidate-focus-of-Durhamcity--employee--controversy?instance=main_article

Will Wilson

Thanks for the tip, Page, and good point, Elizabeth.

I'm sorry that history makes race such a hard thing to discuss, but as I said above, there's too much fixing that needs to be done. I don't know DCABP's stand on all issues, but here's faulty logic: I'm a citizen, there's a PAC called "Citizens United", therefore I support Citizens United. Let's not be driven apart by wedge issues. People working for a better society ought not let race be a wedge.

West End resident

This is a good, solid piece of reporting. Thank you, Kevin.

UpNorthLibrarian, the Durham Committee's workings should seen odd to a newcomer, because they seem odd to many of us who have lived in Durham for 20+ years. It's not just the meetings restricted to African-Americans: It's the veil of secrecy, the embrace of marginal candidates because of their race, and the dissing of long-time politician allies because of their race. It might be, as Elizabeth Sudduth says, that "plenty of conservative PACs that do not allow non-white members." But that is not the case in Durham. (I am speaking as a white liberal.)

It was not always like this. Under the chairmanship of Willie Lovett, the Durham Committee had open conversations with the city's predominantly white liberal PACs, and those discussions led to a powerful black-white liberal alliance that dominated city elections in the mid-1980s through early-1990s. Each side learned something: The Durham Committee came to embrace environmental issues and the predominantly white PACs came to understand the importance of economic development, particularly in the central city.

That alliance fell apart when the Durham Committee was taken over by Ken Spaulding, a high-powered lobbyist for local real-estate developers. Suddenly the Committee was siding with the forces for unfettered growth.

It's unfortunate that Victoria Peterson is leading the current charge. She is a vicious homophobe whose rantings at City Council have seemed unhinged. If change happens at the Committee, it will not come at Peterson's initiative. There is a younger generation of African-American voters for whom the Durham Committee is just irrelevant.

Kevin Davis

"This is a good, solid piece of reporting. Thank you, Kevin."

Thanks, West End Resident, but I should note -- since the bylines on BCR stories (at the bottom of each post) are easy to miss and hard to read -- that thanks are due to another. This story was written by Matthew E. Milliken, a correspondent for BCR and a familiar name to many, I'm sure.

Heidi

I have been wondering where Matthew Milliken went! We really miss his education reporting. Thanks for this good article.

PHd

Sgt Pepper on the subject of Durham Committee leadership much has been posted on who organized the meeting to discuss there issues but from what has been reported by the Indy there were about 40 people in attendance at the meeting. There has been no mention in the many articles that have been written of Mr.Little or Ms.Peterson vying to be the next chair of the DCABP. Maybe we need to identify the other 38 persons in attendance of this meeting. There may be other possible candidates to lead the Committee to brighter days. Until then ask yourself the question are we a society that believe in second chances or will we continue to be the voice of condemnation.WWJD..........

Kelly

From today's Herald-Sun:
City administrators in November had to fend off a claim that a former political candidate was a city employee whose status entitled him to a water-bill discount.

It involved former City Council candidate Darius Little, and was confirmed this week by City Manager Tom Bonfield, Deputy City Managers Wanda Page and Ted Voorhees, and an e-mail chain from city records.

Bonfield said Page had told him about the matter after hearing from the landlord. "After a council meeting one night, Wanda came up and said, 'You wouldn't believe this e-mail I just got,'" Bonfield said.

The Nov. 15 message, from south Durham resident Donald "Trey" Thompson III, said Little after signing a lease with him had said he'd take "the proper steps" to establish his claim to a "government employee discount."

Thompson later forwarded to city officials copies of e-mail exchanges he'd had with Little. They included one message purportedly from the former candidate where Little had said the discount, "not a publicly advertised deal," entitled him to 100 percent off his gas bill and 50 percent off other utilities.

The trouble was, as Page informed Thompson, that Little was not a city employee and the city in any event doesn't offer those on its payroll "any type of employee discount for utilities."

Read more: The Herald-Sun - Ex candidate focus of Durhamcity employee controversy

http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story_news_durham/12263293/article-Ex-candidate-focus-of-Durhamcity--employee--controversy?instance=main_article

Steve Bocckino

It seems that for one Durham "activist", we're not talking about a second chance, but a fourth.

And what would Jesus do? Really, dude. No shame?

Natalie

Snap. I thought he meant what would John Best Do.

William

Jesus wouldn't commit fraud to get out of paying his water bill.

GreenLantern

I saw the word "monies" used in a comment....I'm having a strange feeling about pseudonyms, third person omniscient narrative, and a familiar prose from a well-known local conservative figure in the black community...Anyone else catch that?

PHd

WWJD? Since I'm not in any position to pass judgement on any human being just remember what Jesus did.When I think back at what took place during the Durham Committees'election in 2009. The person challenging Dr. Allison for the chair position (Rev.M.Whitley)had a very extensive criminal record and now he currently serves as a member of the city/county planning commission as well as serving on a number of other boards and community positions. It would appear that the citizens of Durham was in a very forgiving mood when embracing this gentleman even with his flaws. Is one persons crimes more acceptable than another persons? Although Mr. Little has become the object of a lot of the writers affection the issue still remains to be the leadership of the Durham committee. Lets stay focused.

L. James

How dare you talk that way about Melvin Whitley, who has done more for the people in his neighborhood than the Durham Committee or most other leaders ever have? He has done it by being decent to both black and white people alike. And while he may not be perfect, any troubles he had stemmed from his service in Vietnam to this country and the mental and physical wounds that it caused. You should be ashamed of yourself for repeating the lies you have been told.

For all you white people who never heard of the Durham Committee, you should know that the nastiness you see in these comments, one Black person calling another names, is the real legacy of Lavonia Allison. That's all she ever did for our community. She sowed the seeds of hate.

PHd

How dare you assume I'm black just because you don't agree with my views on this issue. While I respect your opinion about Mr. Whitley, that doesn't mean all should feel the same.I'm a very liberal thinking person and also a forgiving person.I'm also a product of the war and have had my on physical and mental issues but through it all drugs and crime never became my way out.And never would I use the war as a means to justify criminal activity no matter who it involves. While I harbor no ill feeling against this man I was just making a point that none of us are perfect. Let he or she without sin cast the first stone.

Will Wilson

Please, IMHO, we're not going to move this country, state, and city forward when we use white v. black language.

The issue is a progressive or regressive vision for the future.

T.Star

"IMHO, there's too much fixing that needs to be done, and there's an entire political party out there, financed by corporate interests, using wedge issues to divide other folks."

"Please, IMHO, we're not going to move this country, state, and city forward when we use white v. black language. The issue is a progressive or regressive vision for the future."

It seems to me that the Durham Committee IS a wedge issue. Thier name indicates that they are an activist group inserting race into every discussion; their traditions support that (exclusively black membership and I presume only blacks attend their closed-door meetings); and to my knowledge they only support black political candidates.

Because, we all know that the color of your skin dictates your policies and political positions, right?

Page McCullough

The Durham Committee has supported white candidates over the years.

Dudek

There is a great NCCU Master's Thesis in History on the Council. You can find it at the Durham Public Library, it's called: "The Struggle For Freedom Begins Every Morning;" The Durham Committee on Negro Affairs, 1935-1970. By Brandon Kyron Lenzie Winford. Submitted in 2007


Enjoy the reading.

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