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February 2016

Robert Califf, former head of Duke Clinical Research Institute, is new FDA Commissioner, but ties to pharma still an issue


Dr. Robert Califf 
Photo courtesy of


"Dr. Califf, it's no secret that during your time at Duke University, you received significant financial support from the pharmaceutical industry, both for you personally and for your research. And I know it's common practice for principal investigators on clinical trials, but it naturally raises questions about your relationship with the drug industry."
— Senator Elizabeth Warren at Robert Califf’s confirmation hearing for FDA commissioner
on Nov. 17, 2015



The Duke Clinical Research Institute is not shy about announcing itself. Its administrative offices sit on the eighth floor of a 15-story downtown office tower that is encased in reflective glass and in granite imported from Finland. Capped with a large sign that bears its name, the building is a defining feature of the city’s skyline. 

The DCRI itself is also the defining accomplishment of Dr. Robert Califf, the Duke University cardiologist whom the Senate confirmed yesterday as the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

Download Robert Califf CV 01_2013

Twenty years ago, Califf founded the institute as a place for Duke doctors and scientists to run clinical trials for hire. Under Califf’s watch, DCRI has grown to become the largest such academic research organization in the world. More than half of its research funding now comes from the drug and device companies.

These industry ties were the focus of much debate at last fall’s Senate hearings. Critics from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen challenged Califf over his long involvement with company-sponsored trials, questioning whether, if confirmed, he can do an honest job of overseeing the pharmaceutical industry.

Although, Califf has been under scrutiny for these financial ties, many experts, including fellow academic researchers and bioethicists, say these relationships are typical. Academic research institutes turn to pharmaceutical companies for money because of a lack of government and other public funding,

“Califf has more conflicts of interest than most, and on its face that’s unsuitable for the FDA,” said Dr. Howard Brody, a medical ethicist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. But “industry money is necessary,” he added. “It appears to be the norm.”

Califf's conflict of interest forms:

Download Califf-COI_2014    Download Califf-COI_2013 
Download Califf-COI_2012    Download Califf-COI_2011    Download Califf-COI_2010

Continue reading "Robert Califf, former head of Duke Clinical Research Institute, is new FDA Commissioner, but ties to pharma still an issue" »

An op-ed on deportations, unaccompanied minors and El Centro Hispano

Note: Viridiana Martínez has been among the many people advocating for the release of Wildin Acosta, a Riverside High School senior who was arrested in January by federal immigration authorities as he left for school.

Martínez has been an activist for immigrants' rights since at least 2010, when I wrote about her and the NC Dream Team for the INDY Citizen Awards. The NC Dream Team was a group of undocumented immigrants who were children when their parents brought them to the United States. They advocated for the passage of the DREAM Act, which would give Dreamers, as they're known, a path to citizenship. The legislation has yet to pass.

By Viridiana Martínez 

The Washington Post reported on December 23, 2015, that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was planning raids to deport everyone that entered the United States after January 1, 2014. 

Among this group are Central American refugee kids, commonly referred to as “unaccompanied minors,” who came to the United States seeking refuge from gangs, like the Mara Salvatrucha, and the governments failing to protect them. Immigration judges in North Carolina did not believe their plight merited asylum. Some of these minors did not show up to court because their attorneys said there was nothing they could do. Other attorneys even recommended that enrolling in school was a bad idea because it made it easier for ICE to locate them. Many were ordered to be deported.

No formal organization is organizing around legal cases for these minors in removal proceedings to publicly challenge the deterrence policy of the White House. As chaos spread throughout our community, few were willing to step up to the plate and do the work that needed to be done. Over the last few weeks we have witnessed the outpouring of support from teachers, school board members, elected officials and community members. 

Yet, the silence from some Latino and Latina leaders and their respective organizations is deafening. Even though they know what the needs of the community are, they have chosen the path of the white moderate who “... prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice …”

Aware of the situation and present at meetings to coordinate a response to the raids, El Centro Hispano has not officially supported ongoing efforts to secure the release of detained Central American refugee kids. In doing so, El Centro Hispano has failed the community, their funders and the very mission of why they started. We are asking El Centro Hispano and other Latino- and Latina-serving organizations to make substantial contributions to ensure the release of Central American refugee kids.

Their paid salaries and political legitimacy are due in large measure to the growth of the immigrant community in our state. It is not enough to show up for photo ops when our communities are under attack. As they say in Spanish, hechos, no palabras (“actions, not words”).

Furthermore, Alerta Migratoria NC was created as a response to the raids. This hotline and platform is filling a huge void in the community. Partly because it is needed but mainly because those of us running it, are willing to invest our energy, limited resources, and our love for the community in the community. We are seeking justice and are willing to work the long hours for it. We ask that Latino- and Latina-serving organizations including but not limited to El Centro Hispano of Durham acknowledge this and contribute to our work. 

Fewer drivers? Better bus service? Bike lanes? Rail? Tell the transit planners.

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 6.23.46 PM

Map courtesy of DCHC MPO

OK, I'll be 80 by the time the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan goes into effect. But provided I'm still on this planet, I'll want safe sidewalks — better for walking (maybe even running!) on my octogenarian feet. I'll want efficient bus service — so I can go to the movies and bars without having to drive. And I'll want passenger and commuter rail — because I plan to work and travel until I die with my boots on.

That's why I took a survey conducted by the Durham-Chapel-Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization about what transit should look like over the next 30 years. The poll is short, but does require some careful consideration in the ranking of your priorities. 

April 1 is the deadline to respond.

Here's the press release in full:

"The Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization (DCHC MPO) is seeking public feedback on the draft goals and objectives for its 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which will drive future policies and decision-making processes for highway, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects.

Residents and stakeholders can now review and provide input on the draft goals, objectives, and performance measures using a variety of methods:

         Complete a short online survey.

         Visit the DCHC MPO Website and provide comments directly by email.

        Attend a public hearing with local elected officials on Wednesday, March 9 at 9 a.m. in the Durham City Hall Committee Room, located at 101 City Hall Plaza.

         Attend a drop-in public workshop on Thursday, March 17, between 4 and 7 p.m. at the Durham Station Transportation Center, located at 515 W. Pettigrew Street.


Live blogging Feb. 18 City Council work session

1:03 p.m. Jillian Johnson is discussing the revised resolution about supporting the Duke unionization efforts. Mayor Bill Bell is asking that the discussion happen after a review of the agenda.

1:10: We're in the citizen comment period right now. First, how to resolve a dispute over a speed hump at 610 Carroll Street.

1:30: James Chavis speaking now. "This is a hot item, but it needs to be taken care of by the city. We're talking about racial profiling and lying. I'm the victim of that. On Jan. 17, I was followed by a police officer from East Durham to my home (on Ashe). I got out of my car. He asked if he could talk to me. He had his hand on his gun and asked me if I knew that I didn't have to talk to him.
He said I had been driving on that street two or three times. I told him he did not see me. I had just come from my sister's house, came from the bank, the gas station.
I gave him the right to talk to me. Then three more white police officers came up on my property without my consent. They looked inside my car without my permission.
I'm asking you Mayor Bell, one black man to another. ... I want a discussion about this with you and the city manager. Please look at your calendar so we can have a forum talking about this racial profiling and lying. He said he saw me, but he didn't. He was wrong. And I was right.

Bell: I'd like to know who the officers were so we know who we're talking about. Don't have to know now, but get the names and we'll set this up.

1:40 p.m. Now back to the Duke University unionization resolution. Johnson: As was requested at last work session, I revised it and am bringing it back to council. I'd like to announce that the workers have filed for union election with the NLRB.

Resolution is in support of non-tenure track faculty to bargain collectively and form a union and improve working conditions on campus. Many non-tenure track faculty have little job security and health-care benefits. These faculty want to have a collective voice. The right to unionize should be that of the workers and not be interfered with.

Continue reading "Live blogging Feb. 18 City Council work session " »

Today at City Council + commissioner endorsements + new congressional jigsaw puzzle

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 10.53.07 AM                                      Rendering of new skyscraper, courtesy Austin Lawrence Partners

We'll live blog the highlights of the City Council work session today, which includes 1) a progress report on the design of the new Durham Police headquarters and 2) a request by Austin Lawrence Partners to amend its economic and community development incentive agreement with the city.

Essentially, ALP needs an extra year — until July 2018 — to finish the skyscraper. Originally, it was scheduled to be completed in July 2017. And then, well, financing issues.

Speaking of the skyscraper, construction did actually begin this week. As a result Corcoran Street is one-way south from East Chapel Hill Street to Main Street. In other words, if you're coming into downtown on Corcoran from American Tobacco, you can't go straight at Main. Soon Parrish Street will become one way west, as well. 

The Friends of Durham political action committee endorsed all of the incumbents in the Durham County Commission race. The PAC notes in its press release that the membership also "carefully considered" current school board chairperson Heidi Carter, who is also running. However, the FOD apparently penalized Carter over the funding dispute between the school board and commission. (DPS foresees layoffs because of funding shortfalls, plus teacher salaries are dismally low.)

"The approach of the Board of Education, of which she has been Chair toward working with the County Commissioners has dismayed and disappointed the Friends," the press release reads.   Download 2016 FOD press release

Over the next 10 days, BCR is conducting audio interviews with the county commissioner candidates; those interviews will be posted before early voting starts on Thursday, March 3. Primary election day is March 15 ...

... except possibly for the congressional races. Anticipating a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, state lawmakers unveiled a new proposed congressional district map yesterday in response to a federal district court decision that Districts 1 and 12 were gerrymandered in such a way as to be unconstitutional.

DurhamMap courtesy of NC General Assembly

Under the current map, District 1, represented by G.K. Butterfield of Wilson, encompasses central Durham and extends east, including parts of 24 counties. (Butterfield does have roots in Durham, though, graduating from N.C. Central University. He also has a satellite office in Durham at the NC Mutual Life Building, 411 W. Chapel Hill St.)

CCP16_County_Adopted11x17Map courtesy NC General Assembly

Under the new map, District 1 includes most of Durham County except for the far southern portion, which stays in District 4, represented by long-time U.S. Rep. David Price.

Gone from Durham would be Districts 6 (represented by Mark Walker of Greensboro) and 13 (represented by George Holding of Raleigh).

WRAL has an excellent explainer of the significant statewide ramifications of the new jigsaw puzzle.

To illustrate how kattywampus the districts were drawn, consider that Durham, at just 298 square miles, is currently carved into four congressional districts: 1, 4 (southern and western suburbs), 6 (northern Durham), and 13 (near the Wake County line).

By contrast, Wake County, which encompasses 857 square miles, has just three: 2, 4, and 13.

The U.S. Supreme Court, which obviously has its own concerns right now, hasn't issued a ruling about whether to grant North Carolina a stay and allow the congressional elections to proceed under the current maps. But if the stay is denied, the congressional elections would be delayed and a new candidate filing period would open.

City Council: Today's secret word is "delayed." Scream real loud when you hear it.

Last night's City Council marathon meeting — no, ultramarathon meeting — was instructive for the discussion and public comment, even though two key votes were delayed (scream real loud) until March.

Council delayed (scream real loud) funding and approving a Durham Police Department body camera policy for very good reasons: The general order is only three-quarters baked. (See our previous coverage for comments, including those by Councilman Charlie Reece.) The ongoing costs of the program are unclear, and, as the public noted, there are still civil liberties issues — who gets to see the footage when and who decides — endemic in the document.

(Councilman Steve Schewel wrote a long treatise on the matter to DPD leadership, City Manager Tom Bonfield, and all of Council.)  Download Thoughts on Body Camera General Order

Council member Cora Cole-McFadden was also correct in noting that body cameras will not magically mend the divide between the police department and communities of color. Yes, the cameras add accountability, but a new gizmo won't fix a community policing problem any more than a new glucose monitor will cure diabetes. 

It's key that Council get this body camera policy right, not only for the benefit of our own community, but also because other cities may look to Durham for an example.

While Mayor Bill Bell wanted to vote on the matter — he seems frustrated of late by the extensive discourse and lack of action on several issues (what are we, Chapel Hill?) — the Council was right to postpone the vote.

Continue reading "City Council: Today's secret word is "delayed." Scream real loud when you hear it." »

Community editing session: Durham Police Department's final body camera policy

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 1.22.56 PMFrom the VieVu website

City Councilman Charlie Reece today released the Durham Police Department's final version of its body camera policy, which was discussed at Thursday's council work session. Council will vote on the final version at its regular meeting Monday night.

Several passages have been added, including a significant section about redaction of the video. There are still concerns about if the cameras will be used purely for accountability or if they will be deployed for community surveillance, which certainly brings up civil liberties issues.

The other main issue is when the video can be released and to whom. The updated version of the policy does allow the City Council or City Manager — with the approval of the police chief (even though the chief is hired by the manger) — to release the footage if they determine it's in the public interest.

We've uploaded both the draft and the final versions to Google Drive. I annotated the final version showing where the changes are. The links to both the draft and the final are public, so you can annotate and view the document as well. The goal is to have a community editing session of the policy. When you click on the link, it will come up in Google Drive. From there you can click on DocHub and annotate the document. (Please let me know if this experiment fails. It's my first try.)

Download DPD body camera draft      Download DPD_bodycamera_generalorder

It's also important that this document contain quarterly reporting requirements to City Council:  How many times did a camera fail? How many times was protocol not followed? Are there officers who repeatedly violate the policy? This data is important as well as what the camera captures.

VieVu is the company selling the cameras and software to DPD for $366,000.


Which district will you live in? Public hearing on Congressional redistricting happens Monday

Update Saturday at 5:39 p.m.: A new public hearing site has been added in the First Congressional District:
Halifax Community College, Taylor Complex Room 108, Weldon (near Roanoke Rapids).

Here’s the good news: Public hearings about the new Congressional district maps — specifically District 1 and District 12, although others will be affected — will be held Monday at 10 a.m.

District 1 includes almost everyone who lives inside the Durham City Limits (except for Precinct 4 in Watts-Hillandale and the suburban precincts; we’ll get to that in a moment).

Here’s the bad news: None of the satellite locations to watch the hearings are in District 1. Yes, the legislators will hold the hearings in Raleigh, which makes it relatively easy for Durhamites to get there. But for constituents out east — no viewing for you!

If you can’t make the hearing in Raleigh, you can listen online because it will be held in Room 643, and that has an audio feed. And you can comment online at

These details came over the Facebook transom from Democratic State Senator Mike Woodard, who represents District 22 in parts of Durham (mostly outside of the city limits), Caswell and Person counties. 

“Late Friday afternoon, the President Pro Tempore and the Speaker informed legislators about their plans for preparing new Congressional district maps. Here's what I know now:

Public hearings will be held Monday at 10 a.m.. Legislators will be in Raleigh. There will be satellite locations to watch the proceedings. Public comments not to exceed five minutes will be taken at all locations.

The redistricting committee will meet Tuesday to discuss the public feedback and consider next steps.

If the Supreme Court does not grant the defendants' stay, we will meet on Friday to vote on the new maps. It's not clear what impact this will have on the March 15 primary.

The following locations will host public hearings Monday at 10 a.m.:

Raleigh: General Assembly, Legislative Office Building, Room 643

Jamestown/Greensboro: Guilford Technical Community College, Jamestown Campus, Medlin Campus Center, Room 360

Charlotte: Central Piedmont Community College, Hall Building, Room 310

Fayetteville: Fayetteville Technical Community College, Health-Tech Ed Building, Room 142

Wilmington: Cape Fear Community College, McKeithan Center, Room 338

Asheville: UNCA, Robinson Hall, 129 Steelcase Teleconference Center

All interested members of the public will have an opportunity to speak for five minutes. Written comments will also be accepted by email and on the General Assembly website, which will be available soon at:


Now, before the recent and unconstitutional gerrymandering, most of Durham City was in District 4, represented by Democrat David Price. Now many of those constituents in the central city are in District 1, represented by Democrat G.K. Butterfield, who has the unfortunate task of now representing some or all of 24 counties from here to Elizabeth City.

To further illustrate the absurdity of the gerrymandering, here is a precinct map of Durham. Zoom in and pay attention to Precinct 4, which includes a core part of the Watts-Hillandale/Old West Durham neighborhoods.


(If you prefer a pdf, download this: Download Precincts_and_Districts_ma )

Precinct 4 is bordered roughly by Buchanan Boulevard/Guess Road to the east, Club Boulevard and West Pettigrew Street to the south, I-85 to the North and N.C. 751 to the west. It is in David Price’s Congressional District 4.

On the left side of this page is a map of the congressional districts in Durham County. Note that Precinct 4, in blue, abruptly juts into the rest of the city precincts represented by District 1.

Why Precinct 4 was not included in District 1 is a question that can be answered by the great minds who drew the map. It is a predominantly white district, so perhaps including this area in District 1 would have foiled the packing of the African-American vote.

I asked Michael Perry, director of the Durham Board of Elections, and local BOE members how much it would cost the county if the legislature is forced to immediately erase this bad Etch-a-Sketch drawing and start over. It would require printing new ballots, a second election, voter education mailings. It’s all well worth the price of democracy but put the financial onus on the counties is unfair. 

Based on figures from the 2015, it cost about $233,000 to run the municipal primary. Some of those are fixed costs; some are more fluid (length of ballot equals higher printing costs). But it's a good starting figure when you include new ballots, advertising, rent for the polling places, pay for the election workers, etc.

Speaking of the price of democracy, the Institute for Southern Studies posted required reading about the big money behind the redistricting. It includes eight North Carolina companies including, you guessed it, Duke Energy and Variety Wholesalers — the company owned by Art Pope.

Durham Public Schools Board of Education passes resolution asking ICE to stop detaining students

It was just 37 degrees on the morning of January 28 when Wildin Acosta, a 19-year-old senior in his final semester, was warming up his car to drive to Riverside High School. 

That's when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials suddenly arrested Wildin, his sister Catherine told the Durham Public Schools Board of Education through a translator, "and took him and threw him on the floor." 

Tonight the Durham Public Schools board became the third government body — in addition to the Durham Human Relations Commission and Durham City Council — to ask ICE for prosecutorial discretion and to refrain from deporting Acosta back to Honduras. However, the DPS board's resolution contained stronger language than either Council's or the HRC's, stating that "ICE actions in our local community" should be "suspended and currently detained Durham youth be released to their families."

The two-page resolution adds that "law enforcement honor the policy not to involve schools and other sensitive locations."

Wildin, who came to the U.S. in 2014, is in a federal immigration detention center in Georgia, the last stop before deportation. 

"The 18th street gang was threatening him that he either join or they would take his life," Catherine said. "That’s why he came to the United States. If he goes back to Honduras, he will be killed."

ICE's actions have frightened many members of the Latino community, said Ellen Holmes, a Spanish and ESL teacher at Riverside High School, who knows Wildin. Eight of her 23 home room students were absent after Wildin's arrest, she said. "We've had a very large drop in attendance. Students are no longer coming to school because they no longer feel it's safe."

Even Latino students who are in the U.S. legally are afraid for their friends and families. Holmes said she had spent 45 minutes trying to console a successful college-bound student who was "scared that she would come home and her parents would not be there."
"I was trying to express to her that ’s it’s going to be OK, but I don’t know that it will be OK."

Board member Heidi Carter emphasized that the deportation activities "are not initiated by schools. Schools are considered a safe haven for children and families. We oppose these raids and the deportation of students."

Wildin still hopes to graduate from Riverside in June. "Yesterday I talked to him," Catherine said, "and he asked his teachers to send him his homework to the detention center so he could continue his studies." 


L'Homme, DPS on budget scrutiny: past budgets should be assessed in context; "fresh look" at spending to come

Ed. note: Durham Public Schools superintendent Bert L'Homme has provided the following response to BCR's recent "Scrutinizing our Schools" series. It is printed below in full and unedited. An accompanying document and spreadsheet from DPS are linked at the story's end. --KSD.

Bull City Rising has performed a public service in delving into and asking questions about our spending priorities in Durham Public Schools. In the last few years DPS has been able to produce much more transparent and understandable budget information. That helps hold us accountable as a district not only for our finances but our impact on student achievement—and we welcome that accountability.

There are some areas in the reporting that miss important context, however. We want to highlight one particular example and also talk about one of the assumptions in the series: that DPS’s spending priorities have changed significantly in the last decade.



The basic facts in Scrutinizing our Schools: A Decade Later Spending and Enrollment Up, But Fewer Teachers are accurate but miss an important point: when other districts have had to reduce the teaching workforce in the face of state funding cuts, during the last ten years DPS has been able to mostly hold the line on maintaining teaching positions.

Comparing the state’s “Highlights of the North Carolina Public School Budget” documents from FY 2007-08 to FY 2014-15, we see that the state funded 85,575 teachers just prior to the Great Recession. Today, the state only funds 81,702 teachers—3,873 fewer, despite the fact that our public schools served 25,271 additional students. (None of these figures includes charter schools.)

Most school districts couldn’t make up the difference, but DPS came close. From FY 2007-08 to FY 2014-15, the number of federally and locally funded teachers in North Carolina increased, but not enough to offset the cuts in teaching positions. As a result, there were 3,110 fewer teachers in North Carolina school districts, a decline of 3.18 percent statewide. Durham Public Schools, on the other hand, was able to keep our number of teachers relatively level. In FY 2007-08 we had 2,368 teachers (coincidentally the same number we had in 2006, as BCR stated). In FY 2014-15, the 2,347 teachers serving our students represented only a 0.9 percent decline.

Continue reading "L'Homme, DPS on budget scrutiny: past budgets should be assessed in context; "fresh look" at spending to come" »