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July 2016

Lisa Sorg: Farewell, BCR. It's been a great ride.

On an overcast Saturday morning last August, Kevin Davis and I hunkered down at Ninth Street Bakery and hatched a plan. After a several years’ hiatus, he had recently restarted Bull City Rising, and, as a loyal reader of the blog, I was eager to chat with him about it.

And, personally, I was still stinging from a one-two punch: The Wednesday prior, I had been abruptly “let go” from the INDY after nine years, eight of them as editor. My husband had been diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer and was undergoing radiation, which would not save his life, but hopefully prolong it. 

I had long considered BCR the INDY’s main competitor for Durham readers. BCR was smart, informed, analytical. Influential people read BCR. Kevin had great sources. He broke stories. Sometimes BCR beat the INDY. And I did not like getting beat.

What would Kevin think about my joining BCR? Perhaps he would be game. In 2010, we had successfully co-moderated a congressional candidate forum between incumbent Democrat David Price and B.J. Lawson a Republican with Libertarian leanings. (Successful meaning the questions were thoughtful, the room was packed, and the police did not have to intervene. Democracy was served.)

Fortunately, Kevin said yes. And over the next 11 months, he and I have worked together to again make BCR a go-to source for deeply reported, well-written news. In addition to the civic responsibility of election coverage, BCR often achieved what every respectable journalist wants: positive change. 

Our reporting about the Durham Co-op allowed rank-and-file workers to have a seat on the board of directors, a right that had been in jeopardy under proposed by-laws. BCR called out the Durham Housing Authority when it misinformed Section 8 voucher holders about where they could live. Stories about Black Wall Street Plaza alerted people to the importance of preserving the city’s last piece of prime green space downtown. Consistent coverage of development and affordable housing kept the issue in front of the public.

Sometimes Kevin and I disagreed, and one of us would write a counterpoint. Exhibit A being the funding disparity between The Art of Cool and Moogfest. Each of us was glad to have the push-back; it made our respective reporting sharper. (Our approaches to news were different as well; we used to joke that Kevin is Google satellite view and I’m Google street view.)

And here we are, 11 months later, and I must leave BCR. On Monday, I start a new job as an environmental investigative reporter at NC Policy Watch, a state-wide journalism outlet that I’ve loved and respected for many years. My husband, thankfully, after several failed treatments, is responding to chemotherapy. He’s still alive and has a decent quality of life.

Writing for Kevin and BCR has been one of the most rewarding journalistic experiences of my career. I had creative license, the freedom to pursue any story, and the opportunity to continue reporting on the city that I love.

BCR will continue under Kevin’s leadership. I’ll be a loyal reader. I hope you will be, too.



Jason Baker: Correcting the record on the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project

This guest post, written by Jason Baker, originally appeared at We're reprinting it here with permission. It's a full-throated response to the Indy Week's cover story last week on the Durham-Orange light rail project. 

As always with guest posts, the opinions expressed here are those of the original author -- but heartily seconded by your editor here. -KSD

The June 29, 2016, “Off the Rails” INDY Week piece by David Hudnall, which discusses the Durham-Orange light rail transit project (DOLRT) is a poorly researched opinion piece that does a tremendous disservice to INDY Week readers, residents of Durham and Chapel Hill, and—most importantly—current public transit riders in Durham and Orange counties who stand to benefit greatly from a significantly enhanced bus and rail transit network with DOLRT at its core.

Hudnall’s piece mistakes anecdotes for data, ignores significant differences between Wake County and Durham-Chapel Hill, ignores the ways in which current low-income residents travel today—and what that tells us about the usefulness of DOLRT—and, finally, skips reasonable fact-checking of anti-rail project critics’ claims with publicly available documents, including past INDY Week stories on DOLRT.

In an effort to correct many of the misrepresentations of facts, and errors made by Hudnall, below are excerpts from his piece with added context, data, and information so that readers can get an accurate understanding of DOLRT, the benefits it will provide for our community, and why light rail will meet the needs of Durham and Orange Counties and move us forward.

Continue reading "Jason Baker: Correcting the record on the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project" »

Why I was disappointed by the Jillian Johnson Facebook tempest, and why it really matters

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 4.25.51 PMUnless you've been trapped in Faraday cage these past couple of weeks, unable to discern the blue-light glow of your latest smartphone Twitter alerts, you've certainly heard about Jillian Johnson's famous Facebook fracas.

The first-term City Councilwoman was apparently taken aback at the reaction that her post about police and the military being the "most dangerous people with guns," as the N&O's Virginia Bridges notes in today's very good summary of the matter:

However, Johnson’s outspoken, activist style drew backlash last week after she posted a statement on Facebook as members of the U.S. House of Representatives unsuccessfully called for measures to curb gun sales to people on terrorism watch lists following the Orlando shooting in the Pulse nightclub.

“I am all about keeping guns away from dangerous people,” she wrote, “but I feel like more of us should be pointing out that the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers, and that the no-fly list and FBI anti-terror efforts are seriously corrupted by entrapment, racial profiling and Islamophobia.”

Johnson posted a clarification Wednesday morning, saying “state-sanctioned violence causes more harm” than non-state sanctioned violence.

Every action has an opposite and likely unequal reaction, and the comments -- circulated from her personal Facebook page to an audience far wider than she expected -- led to a predictable reaction from those in and related to the law enforcement community, some of whom called for her resignation.

And, of course, the comments section of sites like the N&O's web site were as banal as one would expect, with predictably-racist diatribes involving returning to Africa, or criticism of black men and fathers.

And, just as predictably, came the full-throated defense of Johnson's comments from the most progressive in Durham's progressive community, many of whom seem to be members of the activist community that Johnson has long participated in, organized and championed.

All of which has made for, I am sorry to say, a terribly unenlightening and unenlightened debate. It is possible, indeed far more important, to disagree with her comments without the jingoism and call to proverbial arms we have seen in the initial pushback.

But the progressive defense of Johnson's comments is also, to these ears, tone-deaf and unable to be supported by the facts on the ground -- as we note beyond the jump, the CDC's statistics find that homicide is, by a factor of 50x, a more likely cause of death for young black males than police action.

In a sense, this very debate is emblematic of the poor coin of the current political discourse's realm. 


Because the concept that police officers are among the "most dangerous" people with guns, while touching emotionally raw wounds in the shadows of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and so many others, is logically inconsistent with the sources, uses and users of guns and violence, in a way that undermines the very important point underlying Johnson's comments.

Because the use of policing power in the public interest is a necessary function of any division of government, and while Johnson shows great promise as one who can reform the work, the seeming eschewment of its validity and purpose could undermine that end.

Because the intersection of the fundamental tensions here -- the acknowledged misuse of power at times by law enforcement, coupled with the inalienable necessity of policing functions to exist -- makes it crucial that elected officials engage and not pigeonhole the subject.

At the end of the day, Johnson's activist background is one of the things that drives the passion and engagement so many citizens have with Durham's newest elected official.

Yet it may be hard to hold the reins of power and a picket sign simultaneously.

Continue reading "Why I was disappointed by the Jillian Johnson Facebook tempest, and why it really matters" »

Christian Laettner has 14 million problems: Creditors try to force him into Chapter 7


Former Duke University basketball star Christian Laettner was a great player — if despised by his rivals — but his money management skills are the equivalent of an air ball.

The Wall Street Journal reported today (sorry, the story is behind a paywall) that five creditors are trying to force Laettner into involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The creditors claim that Laettner owes them a total of $14 million.

The lawsuit was filed in the Middle District of North Carolina, which has courtrooms in Durham, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem. Documents field online show that all of the creditors are involved in real estate:

Download Laettner lawsuit

Randy Nietzsche of NSA-SP#3, LLC, in Minneapolis, claims he is owed $7.32 million;
Ernest Sims III, of Raleigh, $1.48 million;
Jonathan Stewart, of Raleigh, $3.62 million;
Park Lane, IBS, LLC, of Los Angeles, $236,192;
D&F DCU, of Newport News, Virginia, $1.382 million

Chapter 7 bankruptcy is more serious than Chapter 13, which allows a debtor to reorganize and file a repayment plan. Under Chapter 7, the bankruptcy trustee liquidates the debtor's non-exempt assets (the definition of which can vary from state to state) and pays off the creditors. A lien also can be placed on a debtor's property.

Even though Laettner earned a total of $61 million as an NBA player, his subsequent real estate deals, including the West Village development in downtown Durham, mired him in financial problems. In 2012, he was sued for $30 million by several of his pro colleagues, including Scottie Pippen. And in another complicated deal, he sued his own real estate company, Blue Devil Ventures, for $10 million.