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. 

Snap! Number of Durhamites receiving food stamps falls; new rule plays a part

The average amount totals only about $30 per week, but for some people, this food stamp benefit is the difference between being fed and going hungry.

Over the past five months, 1,172 fewer people in Durham received food stamps — also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — falling from 44,072 in January to 42,900 in May.

According to N.C. Division of Social Services data, the number of active cases and applications also fell from the first of the year.


Food stamps

(Click chart to enlarge it)

Part of the reason for the decrease is new federal rules governing SNAP recipients, known as able-bodied adults without dependents. These are people ages 18-49 who meet certain criteria: they aren’t disabled, they aren’t chronically homeless and they aren’t substance abusers whose condition prevents them from working. However, for whatever reason — a criminal background, for example — they cannot find a job.

These people would receive food stamps for only three months within three years, unless they volunteer or attend some type of training program an average of 20 hours a week.

This year, 2,700 food stamp recipients in Durham were at risk of losing their benefits, according to Durham County Department of Social Services data.

Durham is one of 23 North Carolina counties that have had to comply with the rules since January. The rules go into effect in the  remaining 77 counties on July 1.

As BCR reported in January when the rules went into effect, the unintended consequences of this policy are far-reaching. For example, if a 40-year-old woman is not working, volunteering or going to school 20 hours a week, but has a 17-year-old child who is on food stamps, then she would still be eligible for them as well. But when the child turns 18, both of them could lose their benefits.

Nationwide, about 1 million people are expected to lose SNAP benefits this year because of the rule, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports.

Here is a grocery list of what $30 could buy at major grocery chains such as Food Lion and Kroger. The prices come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and weekly store flyers:

1 dozen eggs ($1.68)

1 gallon of milk ($3.15)

1 pound Red Delicious apples ($1.42)

2 pounds bananas ($1.14)

1 pound coffee ($4.44)

3 cans beans ($5.10)

3 eight-ounce packages of cheese ($5)

5 yogurt cups ($4)

4 12-ounce bags of frozen vegetables ($1 each/on sale)

Criminal investigation into primary continues; provisional do-over starts July 11

This story has been updated on Wednesday at 3:49 p.m.

While the state’s criminal investigation into the alleged mishandling of primary election ballots continues, the 892 Durham residents whose provisional ballots were in question in March will be allowed to re-vote by mail from July 11-22. 

Official results, with the new totals, are expected by August 12. However, the number of ballots in question will not affect the outcome of any contest, including the county commission.

Even though state officials announced on May 31 that they would mail and count the ballots, the local board — surprisingly — will now be in charge of that process, said Durham Board of Elections Deputy Director Sam Gedman at a public meeting tonight. He referred to an email that local elections officials received from the state board today at 2:18 p.m.

“It’s the first we had heard of it,” added local BOE member Margaret Cox Griffin.

Update: On Wednesday, State Board of Elections spokesperson Jackie Hyland told BCR that the agency is preparing "formal guidance" for the local board. Hyland added that there is no update on the criminal investigation.

The local meeting concluded after the State Board of Elections had closed for the day, so those officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

In March, the Durham elections board had approved or partially approved 1,039 provisional ballots that had then been entered into the state’s election management system, also known as the provisional module. However, during the March 22 count, also known as the official canvass, the board and staff noticed the numbers of paper ballots and those entered into the tabulator did not reconcile. 

In addition, a temporary elections employee had told Durham Director Michael Perry that an elections staff member had instructed her to run some ballots twice in order to reconcile the numbers.

Download Email regarding provisional ballot problems

The local and state board have not publicly identified that staff member, but according to documents obtained by Bull City Rising in an open records request, the employee in question resigned on March 29. The only elections department employee who resigned that day was Elections Administrator Richard Rawling, according to county personnel records.

Download Employee roster Durham BOE

A volunteer also reported that a satchel of ballots had disappeared, but neither a state nor a local investigation has not confirmed that allegation. “We don’t know if any are missing,” said Durham Board of Elections Chairman Bill Brian.

Several members of the public asked the Durham board who would oversee the counting of ballots. Brian said there would “probably be a state observer, but if you want one, you [the public] should ask the state board for one.”

County commissioner candidates Michael Page, Fred Foster, and Elaine Hyman, who lost the election, filed official protests over the results. However, if even any of those candidates won all of the disputed ballots, the number would still not be enough for them to win.

The winning school board candidates, Steven Unruhe, Minnie Forte-Brown and Xavier Cason, will be sworn in July 1. The outcome of those races would not be altered by the provisional counts. Forte-Brown and Cason ran unopposed; Unruhe won by more than 15,000 votes over Frederick Ravin III.

Live blogging the City Council meeting, April 21

We'll live blog the highlights of today's City Council meeting. Mayor Bill Bell has an excused absence today; he's out on other business.

Download City Council Work Session Agenda - April 21 2016

1:03: Cora Cole-McFadden announces that a group of minority health care providers are not "coming our way" because of HB2.

Tom Bonfield says there is a supplemental agenda item about a Requests for Proposals regarding the Morgan Street parking garage.

Now going through the consent items and then we'll hear public comments.

Durham Beyond Policing Campaign: I address you all today as a coalition of many organizations, who firmly oppose the building of the DPD headquarters. ... We're bringing up the way policing in Durham causes harm. Our campaign requires an active divestment from police and reinvestment [in low-income, minority people]. We are asking the City Council not to build the DPD HQ and to implement participatory budgeting like has been done in Greensboro.

The money for DPD HQ could go to youth centers, street maintenance, affordable housing. It's doubly offensive to build without buy-in from that neighborhood. It's violent to build a police station in an area where black people are over-policed. Don't build another monument to police that engages in racial bias.

By May 16, we demand that City Council stop construction plans on the building.

Cole-McFadden: What happens if we can't vote by May 16?

Coalition: We would like a response by then.

1:42: [We're waiting for a presentation about the Durham Workforce Development and the Compact Neighborhood Land Use plans. A DPD first crime report is on the agenda, but the details usually aren't publicized until the Monday night session.]

1:50: Kevin Dick, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development is presenting. [He leaves this position for Charlotte on April 30.]  Download 11062_EXHIBIT_DWDB_ANNUAL_REPORT_2016_P_387737_690332

Some facts from the report:

In 2014, 148,761 Durham residents are employed; 7,707 are unemployed; unemployment rate is 4.9 percent. there are an estimated 48,820 Durham residents — 17 percent — living below the poverty level.

Kevin Dick: A highlight for DPS is that our graduation rates are improving. This is integral how we deliver services. It impacts the number and profile of our youth programs: Durham Youth Work Internship Program and Yes program. With nonprofits and the library, we're connecting youth with our internship programs.

The job placement services for our NCWorks center: We formed an adult provider collaborative, government and nonprofit to discuss issues related to people who have multiple barriers to employment. Group meets monthly. Barriers include criminal backgrounds. One grant proposal would put an NCWorks Center in the county jail. Also we applied for a $1.4 million grant to serve people on work release programs and in halfway houses. These grants are competitive, but we're hopeful.

[More interesting data: NC Works referrals who were hired:]

EMC: 6 NC Works hires of 112
ACW Technology: 28 of 42
Save-a-Lot Food Stores: 20 of 20
CREE: 120 of 160
Durham Bulls: 58 of 95
Frontier Communications: 14 of 45

Cora Cole-McFadden to Kevin Dick: Your leaving will leave a void.

Steve Schewel: It's amazing you'd leave Durham for the Charlotte Hornets. We'll miss you. Thank you for all of your great work. I do have a few questions. The success of the former offender program. What limits the number of participants? 

KD: Former offender are considered a "hard to serve" group, multiple barriers to employment. Client to staffing ratios should not be more than 60:1, right now we're at 160 to 1.5. So it's a matter of money.

SS: How is traffic at the career centers? I've heard it's down.

KD: That's correct. Part of the reason is the unemployment rate has gone down. Another reason is that technology has improved. People can access services at home or the library. When you move to full employment, the people left are usually the hardest to serve. 

SS: With the staffing at the career centers, they are a great resource and we need as many people to use them as we can. How far along is the StepUp Ministries?

KD: They are operating and come to the board meetings. As they've ramped up, our referral process isn't as smooth as we like.

SS: How is the cooperation with Made in Durham? How is working for the people serving?

KD: Made in Durham is invaluable. Companies represented on the board are worksites last summer. Where they add value is in extending the message delivery to businesses, nonprofits that work with youth.

 CCM: How do we reach out to kids at my favorite school Lakeview alternative school for summer programs?

James Dixon: We don't target Lakeview specifically but all DPS schools. We went out to each community for application assistance programs to help students. We have received 780 applications. One young man was from Lakeview; I'm sure there are more.

It's 2:29 pm.


Continue reading "Live blogging the City Council meeting, April 21" »

Affordable housing: Live blogging the Durham City Council meeting, March 10

It's a long agenda today, with several affordable housing items and a non-controversial, albeit, welcome item regarding the city's lease with Liberty Arts Foundry. The City Council is also expected to pass a resolution supporting the collective bargaining/unionization rights of non-tenure track faculty at Duke University. Download Durham City Council Work Session Agenda - March 10 2016

Note: Affordable housing discussion starts below, time listed as 2:34 p.m.

We'll blog the highlights. Note: Sometimes many minutes elapse between them.

1:03: Mayor Bill Bell wants to dedicate a full, special meeting to the affordable housing issue and presentation. Stand by: This item may not be discussed today.

1:06: Presentation will happen today, but there will be subsequent meeting to devote to it.

1:11: Briar Green Apartments, 500 Danube Lane, financed with bonds up to $19.9 million. This is in North Durham, near Hebron Road.

1:15: The City Council resolution supporting the Duke non-tenure track faculty. Cora Cole-McFadden prefers the term "endorse," but it passes unanimously.

Steve Schewel: This is 200 units for 30 percent to 60 percent AMI built by a private developer using a 4 percent tax credit. This is a tremendous win. 

1:37: Regarding an audit of city employees'  dependents' eligibility of health care benefits:

Jillian Johnson: Only 10 of 1,460 or so city employees' dependents were found not to be eligible for benefits [but receiving them.] It seems like it would cost more to do the audit

Germaine Brewington of the city: Statistically across the country, about 5 percent are ineligible. We're going to do this audit again, but a sample of 50%. It's my opinion we should do this audit every year. The results this time were favorable because of the up front work that was done.

Schewel: We found so few because 170 fewer children and 140 fewer spouses were signed up by employees who were concerned they would be found not to be eligible.

1:42: Item 6: Regarding Grants for High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Enforcement

Johnson: First time I heard that we receive xxx It's becoming increasingly clear that the mass incarceration is being driven by drug policies that disproportionately affect people of color. Is use of this drug funding a priority? Should we consider continuing to accept this money?

City staff: This is money allowed to be used to coordinate law enforcement at local, state and federal level. We get $250,000 year from this office to do that.

Reece: To do what?

City staff: To do drug enforcement.

Bell: High-intensity drug trafficking can mean a lot of things to different people.

Continue reading "Affordable housing: Live blogging the Durham City Council meeting, March 10" »

The Scrap Exchange is buying 10 acres at the Lakewood Shopping Center to further its grand vision

Mural2A mural on the side of the strip mall was painted by Sandee Washington in 1998. Photos by Lisa Sorg

Note: This story has been corrected to say the strip mall is 82,000 square feet, not 130,000 square feet. 

Ann Woodward strolled down the alley behind the threadbare Lakewood Shopping Center, admiring the broken concrete and chipped brick; the rust, dilapidation, and decay.

“This is my favorite part, the back,” said Woodward, owner executive director of The Scrap Exchange, which is nearby. “It’s looks like New York City.”

Her eyes, hidden behind large, round sunglasses, suddenly spotted something lying in the dirt.

She snatched a crumpled dollar bill, straightened it and held it over her head.

“Money!” she exclaimed.

Now she and The Scrap Exchange need only $2,499,999 more.


On the second floor in the rear of the strip mall, a former dance studio. 

Woodward and the board of the 25-year-old reuse and creative arts store plan to purchase 10 acres of the Lakewood Shopping Center, including a largely vacant 82,000-square-foot strip mall and its parking lot, on Chapel Hill Road. The property, owned by Fund-15 LLC out of Cornelius, North Carolina, encompasses the buildings and land north of the Food Lion building, which has separate owners.

The vision, Woodward said, is to redevelop the area into a creative reuse district that would include a sculpture park, a mall made from shipping containers in the parking lot, and leased, affordable space for local businesses, nonprofits, arts organizations (yes, there’s a stage inside), and restaurants in the former strip mall.

It would complement the existing Scrap Exchange store in the old Center Theater building, which the nonprofit purchased in 2014. The Scrap Exchange also received a $5,000 grant from the Durham Soil and Water District to dig up 2,000 square feet of asphalt parking lot and replace it with trees and green space. 


“I’m a reluctant servant to this,” Woodward laughed. “I want to do my little job. But we’re confronted with the need. People need low-cost resources and jobs.”

The Scrap Exchange would charge $9 to $16 per square foot, far below the downtown rents that are approaching or exceeding $35 per square foot. Those prices are pushing small enterprises to urban neighborhoods within a mile or two of the city center. In fact, Woodward said, El Centro Hispano will be one of the district’s first new tenants. The nonprofit will be ousted from the Carpenter Building, which is slated for demolition as part of the new police station project on East Main Street. 

(Makin' Choices and Belle Amour are the only two current tenants in this portion of the shopping center.)


The Durham Co-op, the Cookery and the Southern Documentary Fund went to the West End; Ponysaurus got in on the eastern border of downtown before the gentrification started in earnest.  Lakewood, in southwest-central Durham, has long been thought to be next for the development frenzy. But with The Scrap Exchange’s substantive purchase, it’s possible that this racially and economically diverse neighborhood will thwart the displacement that often accompanies gentrification.

“It’s about getting community assets in public hands,” Woodward said. “A lot of displacement is happening.”


In fact, the Scrap Exchange wound up in Lakewood because of displacement. It was housed in Liberty Warehouse until the roof caved in — a result of neglect by Greenfire, then the building’s owner. The historic tobacco warehouse has since been demolished, with apartments under construction on that spot. In 2011, the shop then headed to the Cordoba Building near Golden Belt, a complex that’s also being sold. In 2014, The Scrap Exchange then purchased the old Center Theater (which by 1966, had left its downtown location) and 2.4 acres, which now includes a community garden.

The most recent acquisition has been convoluted. After two deals fell through, Woodward found a statewide funder — confidential until the papers are signed next month — willing to provide a bridge loan to The Scrap Exchange, with more financing from equity investors and a bank.

Two stairs

The project would complement local business owners who are already are encamping along Chapel Hill Road; Rhys Botica, who owns the Surf Club, The Federal and The Criterion, bought an old laundry; interior designer Heather Garrett purchased a nearby brick building. Phoebe Lawless is considering a new venture in the old Davis Baking building. 

And it’s clear that local businesses attract people from beyond the neighborhood: More than 125 visitors from throughout Durham and the Triangle, attended the grand opening of The Historic Tuba Museum last weekend.

However, monied real estate interests are also circling the neighborhood, Woodward said, with developers eyeing five acres owned by The Rescue Mission that lies behind the shopping center. (The Scrap Exchange owns one acre of land that is zoned residential; it hopes to partner with a nonprofit to build affordable housing there.)

“We want to have diversity in the fabric of this place,” she said. “How does it connect to this neighborhood?”

Behind the shopping center, a steep, tree- and vine-covered hill leads from the alley to Jersey Street. Desire lines — dirt paths created by people heading to the shopping center — streak the incline. Trash and tires dot the landscape, but Woodward sees only opportunity. Two loading docks would make it easy for businesses to receive and ship goods. The rear doors of the stores would be as welcoming as the front.

“We’ll develop it so the back is a destination,” Woodward said. 

Then she stuck the dollar bill in her pocket. 


Election 2016: Ellen Reckhow "We need to prepare our young people for jobs."

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Note: Bull City Rising interviewed eight of the 10 county commission candidates running in the March primary. (Fred Foster Jr. did tell us he was out of town at a conference, but then did not respond to a subsequent message requesting an interview; Glyndola Massenburg-Beasley did not respond to emails regarding an interview.)

We are posting summary stories and full audio for each candidate. 

Here's what you need to know before you vote:

  • Ten Democratic candidates are running in the March primary for five seats on the Durham County Commission. The top five candidates will move on to the general election in November.
  • Early voting for county, state and federal offices (except U.S. House) starts Thursday, March 3; Election Day is Tuesday, March 15. Because of a federal ruling regarding the unconstitutionality of congressional maps, the U.S. House election, under new districting, is scheduled for June.

In her 10 terms on the Durham County Commission, Ellen Reckhow has helped govern during hard times: When Durham was a punchline for bad jokes about violence; when a former commissioner, Joe Bowser, led an ouster of County Manager Mike Ruffin; when the recession hit in 2008; when the 751 South development deeply — and some political observers thought, irreparably — divided the commission.

But now, as Reckhow seeks her 11th term, she is looking forward to a new era in Durham. “The board is getting along well. Things have been calm; it’s easier to govern when there is solid revenue,” she says. “We are experiencing a renaissance in downtown,” she adds. “We have a very vibrant economy now.

"Our revenues have returned and even exceeded what they were. It’s an opportune time for the city, the county, the school system and the community at-large to come together and see how we can help more of our citizens benefit — especially young people.”

All of the commission candidates have been emphasizing job creation — specifically, work for people without a bachelor’s or advanced degree. That includes using economic incentives and Durham’s newly burnished reputation as muscle to lure those companies here.

Of the 10,155 jobs created in the last three years, more than half are jobs in science, technology, engineering or math, Reckhow said. “That’s wonderful, but our young people aren’t necessarily prepared for those jobs. We need to be more active in seeking out companies that can bring in good wage jobs for people who don’t have a college degree.”

As an example, she cited the Harris Beverage company, which is expanding in on Junction Road in Northeast Durham because the county helped provide utility extensions. In addition, Reckhow says, the county could buy land around that location to create an industrial park. 

“There are communities that are more actively recruiting [these types of companies],” Reckhow says. “The disadvantage is we are a geographically small county and a lot of our vacant land is in watershed areas. So we don’t have large parcels of industrial land as some counties do.” 

She is advocating for a “corridor plan” to target the U.S. 70 business route through East Durham, N.C. 147 from downtown to RTP, and portions of Highway 98. 

Not only does the workforce need a job, but they need safe, affordable housing. 

Counties are legally limited on funding sources for affordable housing (property tax revenue if off-limits, for example, but parking fees are OK). But the county can enter into public-private partnerships on its land, such as the parcels on East Main Street near the Human Services Building and the Durham Housing Authority.

It is unlikely that free or cheap land alone would be enough to lure a developer to an affordable housing project, Reckhow says. “But if the parking were also provided in downtown setting, then you may have a situation where a developer might do a fair amount of affordable housing.”

Last year, the county contributed $20 million toward the Park Center project in RTP, which includes retail, restaurant, green space and workforce housing off N.C. 54 near I-40.

“That’s very positive for Durham,” she says. “The Park Center area is some of the most strategic real estate in Durham County, and is so underutilized. What we have now is the opportunity to create a vibrant place for people to congregate and a destination, even in the evening.”

One of the most recent controversies facing the county is the management of the Durham County jail. Although the commissioners don’t oversee the facility — that’s the purview of the sheriff — they do approve the funding and can use their position as a bully pulpit. Over the past four months, two detention officers were fired and charged with assault after roughing up an inmate, plus another inmate died, allegedly as a result of poor medical care.

The commissioners, Reckhow says, are still waiting for the results of an investigation. 

A member of the Durham Crime Cabinet, Reckhow says the current jail population, roughly 480, is lower than it was in 2010, when 580 people were incarcerated. She credits a pre-trial services program, which she helped launch, that evaluates nonviolent offenders and diverts them from jail and into supervision of the pretrial staff. “They can release even more people without compromising safety at all,” she said. “Putting people in jail for nonpayment of child support; that doesn’t make sense. And the second thing is, I’m interested in diverting more mentally ill people out of the jail.”

She hopes there will be funding for a mental health court, similar to one in Orange County. A mental health court was proposed for Durham County two years ago, but at the time the state had cut funding for courts in general. There is more interest in it now, Reckhow says.

With better economic times, the county can focus on improving the criminal justice system and the public schools and mending the socio-economic fault lines that have formed since Durham’s “renaissance.” “I wanted to run again because I see a terrific opportunity at this point in time,” she says. “We’re in a good place for Durham to tackle the intractable issues we have faced.”


Election 2016: Brenda Howerton, "You have to learn to work at consensus."

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Note: Bull City Rising interviewed eight of the 10 county commission candidates running in the March primary. (Fred Foster Jr. did tell us he was out of town at a conference, but then did not respond to a subsequent message requesting an interview; Glyndola Massenburg-Beasley did not respond to emails regarding an interview.)

We are posting summary stories and full audio for each candidate. 

Here's what you need to know before you vote:

  • Ten Democratic candidates are running in the March primary for five seats on the Durham County Commission. The top five candidates will move on to the general election in November.
  • Early voting for county, state and federal offices (except U.S. House) starts Thursday, March 3; Election Day is Tuesday, March 15. Because of a federal ruling regarding the unconstitutionality of congressional maps, the U.S. House election, under new districting, is scheduled for June.

When Brenda Howerton was elected to the county commission eight years ago, her community connections were deep but her government experience had been limited to the Soil and Water Conservation Board

Now Howerton, who is running for her third term as commissioner, has accumulated experience on at least a dozen boards and commissions. 

“We are elected as individuals, but then you have to learn to govern,” says Howerton, who is vice-chair of the commission. “You have to be willing to work at getting consensus, and know that you’re there for the good of the community. It doesn’t mean we always agree on everything, but we’ve been able to respect our different views.”

In her first term, she says “I looked at way we were doing business. We didn’t have a strategic plan. I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t in place. After conversations with my colleagues and the county manager, we got one in place. It gives us a way to look at how we’re measuring results.”

As commissioner, Howerton also has influence over the local portion of public school funding. More than a third of the county budget goes to the public school system. She says the imbalance between central office and direct classroom spending — and the achievement gap between white and minority students “is very disturbing.”

“I had a conversation this weekend with a teacher and i asked her ‘What is needed to pull up our children?’” Howerton says. “She said one of the things is parental involvement. It means having some kind of instructional training for parents so they can advocate for their children.”

The school system and commissioners are drafting a memorandum of understanding, although it has not yet been released. Howerton says she recommended to county manager that a mediator may be necessary, “so we can create some real results. We have to be able to talk.”

“I wasn’t involved in the political process during the merger,” she says, “so this is the first time I’ve seen this kind of relationship get o this point. I don’t understand it at all. You can have a conversation with anybody. They may not agree, but you need to respect their views and come to middle of road.”

Howerton, who is on the Durham Crime Cabinet and other criminal justice boards, calls the recent death of an inmate at the Durham County jail, “a concern for me,” and that the commission is waiting for the results of the sheriff’s investigation. But, Howerton says, with the help of the North Carolina Association of Counties, she’ll lobby the legislature to  change state laws that allow 16- and 17-year-old to be placed in adult jails. being put in our jails. North Carolina and New York are the only two states that treat that age group as adults in the criminal justice system.

A lack of job prospects and education, coupled with generational poverty, particularly in African-American neighborhoods, have contributed to crime — and by extension, to problems at the jail.

“We don’t need children being in the streets without working,” Howerton says. “We need to create as many opportunities as possible for our young people to be working, particularly middle skill jobs.”

She would like to bring more manufacturing jobs to Durham, especially northeastern part of the county, and if necessary, use economic incentives to do so. Durham Tech, Howerton says, also should offer certifications and training specific to these jobs. 

“What are other community colleges doing that we aren’t?” says Howerton, who sits on the Durham Tech board of trustees. For example, Wake Tech has an aeronautics program. “Wake has a lot of things that I wish we had in Durham. But it’s a bigger county and has more resources. We have to continue to be innovative and see what we can do.”


Election 2016: Michael Page, "We have too many people in the jail."

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Note: Bull City Rising interviewed eight of the 10 county commission candidates running in the March primary. (Fred Foster Jr. did tell us he was out of town at a conference, but then did not respond to a subsequent message requesting an interview; Glyndola Massenburg-Beasley did not respond to emails regarding an interview.)

We are posting summary stories and full audio for each candidate. 

Here's what you need to know before you vote:

  • Ten candidates are running in the March primary for five seats on the Durham County Commission. The top five candidates will move on to the general election in November.
  • Early voting for county, state and federal offices (except U.S. House) starts Thursday, March 3; Election Day is Tuesday, March 15. Because of a federal ruling regarding the unconstitutionality of congressional maps, the U.S. House election, under new districting, is scheduled for June.


The Durham County Commission should exercise more oversight into jail operations, but stop short of micromanaging it, says Michael Page, who is running for his fourth term on the Durham County Commission.

“We can be more hands-on, expecting progress and inspection reports,” Page says of the jail, “but I’m not sure what more we can do. I’m searching for ways to manage without micromanaging it.”

The entire criminal justice system, and its connections to poverty, jobs and education top Page’s priority list if re-elected.

Page says the commission needs “reported incidents,” and not just from social justice advocates such as the Inside-Outside Alliance, who have long filed complaints about inmate treatment. “We’re not  hearing them from inside the administration of the jail.” 

However, it’s hard to imagine problem detention officers owning up to their behavior. Two detention officers were fired late last year and charged with assault after they roughed up an inmate. The incident was captured on video surveillance cameras. 

“I’m glad it was caught on tape,” Page says. “We won’t condone that happening.”

Part of the criminal justice problem, Page says, is also a social justice issue: the number of nonviolent offenders in the jail, some of whom are too poor to post bond. And state funding cuts have forced local courts to cut positions that helped expedite inmate processing. Misdemeanants could participate in work release programs, rather than stay in jail.  “We had a clerk to support getting these warrants moving so guys aren’t in the system,” Page says. “If the county can help support a new effort or one like that one — our jail should be half full.”

Page led the My Brother’s Keeper project, which directly serves low-income, disadvantaged young men of color, many of them at-risk of becoming involved in crime. Although it took nine months longer than planned for the assessment phase of the program, it is now ready to be implemented. “I was disappointed that it took longer, but it needed to be done carefully,” Page says.

One of the services will be mentoring programs for young men. “These are 18, 19, 20 year olds who can’t find a job or stay out of crime,” Page says. “They said we need adult leadership to help us, to show us. These are bright, articulate young men who deserve an opportunity for a quality life. With appropriate support they can make it.”

Poverty and lack of job opportunities in part, feed the criminal justice system. This is why, Page says, economic development is “critical for this community.” While Durham has attracted high-wage tech and life science jobs, there are fewer opportunities for workers with associate’s degrees, certificates or even just high school diplomas to earn a living wage.

“Education is a real issue in this community,” says Page, who served on the Durham Public Schools Board of Education from 2000 to 2004. 

The Durham County Commission appropriates the local portion of the funding, but the DPS board determines how and where it will be spent. Page says the budget issues — including disproportionate spending on central administration as compared to the classroom  — “accumulated over the years.”  For example, several financial irregularities emerged under the tenure of former superintendent Eric Becoats, who resigned in 2013, after the board investigated his personal use of a district credit card. Current Superintendent Bert L’Homme “has inherited this issue, and it’s unfortunate he has to address it,” Page says.

Any funds that don’t directly benefit the classroom should be especially scrutinized, Page says. Some central office positions could be eliminated or scaled back.

Even transportation budget could be trimmed. Because of DPS’ school choice policy, there are more bus routes that cross the county, and thus additional fuel and personnel expenses.

“At one point we talked about eliminating transportation for after school, he says. “I thought that was a travesty. But we have to look at the classroom from 7:30 to 3:30, and make that the priority. We have to go back and line by line, look at where we’re overspending.”

Page says his notable votes include approving a pay raise for teaching assistants from local monies — while the state was cutting public school funds. “If we had not pushed that effort, employees wound’t have gotten a raise. Their salaries are so low and yet they provide critical services.”

In the 2012, a controversial vote in favor of the 751 South development nearly derailed his local political career. However, Page says, he does not regret approving the project, a large mixed-use development in the Jordan Lake watershed. “The clean water issue concerned me the most, but that wasn’t proven to me that it would be a problem.”

“I don’t see the downside of 751,” he adds. “I’ve gone to other cities and seen people flocking to these projects. I don’t think we have made a mistake in that regard. The development is something different; families want sustainable, walkable communities.” 

The public outcry over 751 divided the commission and to some extent, Durham — although a substantial number of residents, concerned about the environmental impacts of the project, opposed it.

“I’m willing to listen,” Page says. “I’m not stubborn. I will work with people. But I won’t be dictated to by a certain segment of community. We’re five people, and we have to speak on the behalf of the entire community.”

Election 2016, Elaine Hyman: "We need to bring the two Durhams together."

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 Elaine Hyman

Note: Bull City Rising interviewed eight of the 10 county commission candidates running in the March primary. (Fred Foster Jr. did tell us he was out of town at a conference, but then did not respond to a subsequent message requesting an interview; Glyndola Massenburg-Beasley did not respond to emails regarding an interview.)

Starting today, we are posting summary stories and the audio of the full interviews for each candidate. 

Here's what you need to know before you vote:

Ten candidates are running in the March primary for five seats on the Durham County Commission. The top five candidates will move on to the general election in November.

Early voting for county, state and federal offices (except U.S. House) starts Thursday, March 3; Election Day is Tuesday, March 15. Because of a federal ruling regarding the unconstitutionality of congressional maps, the U.S. House election, under new districting, is scheduled for June.

Elaine Hyman had had the misfortune — or perhaps the fortune — of living in one of Durham’s 100 “failed developments” — subdivisions where the developers, beset by financial troubles, bailed on building sidewalks, streets and other infrastructure as required. Some declared bankruptcy, in some cases leaving the city and the subdivision residents to help pay for their neighborhoods’ necessities.

But Hyman used that experience living in Emorywood Orchards to catalyze her run for county commissioner and to inform her decisions on the Durham Planning Commission, where she serves as vice-chair. “I have a soft side for communities,” she says. ““That gave me a view into Durham’s communities and the impact of development on them.”

Continue reading "Election 2016, Elaine Hyman: "We need to bring the two Durhams together."" »