Civitas Review

Concerns about Raleigh's Rezoning Plan


My latest piece for the Civitas Institute discusses Raleigh's rezoning plan, citizens' concerns, and the legal outlook in terms of property rights. The city seemed unprepared for the massive public outcry over what the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) would mean for long-term residents' way of life. Some feel that the city is giving too much control over to federal and international entities by taking national grants and adopting United Nations standards:

Zoning is supposed to be performed at the municipal level, subject to state laws. But some Raleigh residents are concerned that the city’s planning initiative is largely driven by federal and international guidelines.

The City of Raleigh’s 2012-2013 annual grant report lists of a number of federal grants that push top-down ideas of how municipalities should plan for the future. Wonderful as the money may seem, federal largesse does not come without strings attached.

Moreover, the WCTA is concerned that the UDO is part of a larger push for international control. “The cornerstone of the vision for these plans is sustainability,” the WCTA said. “Sustainability entails a green infrastructure that is costly, is an international plan, and is not part of our American form of government.”

Such standards, combined with the American Planning Association’s commitment to “social justice,” have put conservatives on alert that control of their lives is more and more based on high-level, top-down initiatives rather than local needs.

Read the entire piece here.

Cut This, Go Home


This week, Civitas has been running a series called "Cut This, Go Home." With the state budget still unresolved two months into the fiscal year, we figured we could remind legislators of some items they could cut in order to help wrap things up so they could all go home.

After all, as Mark Twain said: “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."

Check out the articles here.

The series picks just a small number of 'low-hanging fruit' but still adds up to tens of millions of dollars in non-essential spending and subsidies. It would be amazing how easily budget negotiators could find funding for the core services if they had the courage to cut some of the obvious fat.

This budget impasse is a great opportunity to trim some of unnecessary spending from the budget once and for all.

Thoughts on NC Test Scores



Test results regarding the performance and growth of North Carolina public schools were released yesterday. For the most part, the news was a mixed bag. And, to the dismay of many, there were few significant changes.

While news outlets and blogs are providing plenty of commentary, I’d like to share a few general observations

Grades.  Let’s not forget North Carolina adopted a fifteen point grading system last year (A= 100-85, B=70-84 etc. etc. etc.). By definition the bar was lowered. Without the changes, things would have looked far worse.

Progress.  When compared to last year fewer schools met overall targets for academic performance.  A quick look at most charts reveals most categories had little change – some small gains and losses – from last year. There were no significant changes in overall trend lines.

College and Career Readiness:  Get used to this phrasing.  NCDPI is using this in place of the toxic phrase Common Core Standards which – to my knowledge – appears nowhere in any of the releases.

Charter Schools: A higher percentage of charter schools (48.6 percent) received top scores (either an A, both designations or B) than traditional public schools (29.3 percent).  Though some charter schools are still struggling, overall they held their own when compared to their public school counterparts.

Graduation Rates. North Carolina’s improving high school graduation rate received much publicity. Progress is good and should be applauded. However the quality of the education is also important. We must remember that 52 percent of recent High School Graduates enrolled in one or more remediation class at local community colleges. Also, only 18 percent of North Carolina juniors met all four benchmark scores for college readiness on the ACT exam.

The Raleigh News and Observer  quotes State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson as saying that it sometimes takes  five or six years after a switch to see "a notable difference."  Five or six years? That doesn't sound like accountability to me.

Greensboro to Public: 'Ashley' Emails Not Your Business


Imagine you own a business, and you find out one of your employees has been using his or her company email to link to Ashley Madison, the website that supposedly arranges affairs between married people. Wouldn't you want to know about it? Maybe call that person in for a little talk?

The City of Greensboro, however, seems to think that would be none of your business.

Over at NC Capitol Connection, Matt Caulder has been looking into government emails that have turned up in a hack of the site. He encountered a startling claim by a municipal government: Email apparently sent via a City of Greensboro account to Ashley Madison supposedly is none of the public's business.

And we thought that public employees are employees of the public.

Here's the crux of the issue: The people deserve to know what their employees are doing.

Let's look at it another way: Let's say an employee is using his Greensboro city email, during business hours, to play World of Warcraft for hours on end.

If you're that employee's boss, that's your business. And we the people are the bosses of our public servants, and we have a right to know if they're using public resources to play video games.

And if a government employee was using city resources, and perhaps time, to try to set up some hanky-panky, that's our business.

That's why Ashley Madison-connected emails are public records. It's not whether the email itself concerned official business. The whole point is that the email itself didn't concern public business — and that is a misuse of public resources (and, possibly, time). That makes it public business.

For more about NC Capitol Connection's look at the scandal, click here.

Lady Liberty fastballs Gene Nichol



For the past several years we’ve chronicled how UNC law professor Gene Nichol has used taxpayer-funded resources for political purposes and encouraged political activism (See here, here and here).

It’s always encouraging when others join in.  Yesterday Lady Liberty, wrote a blistering response to Nichol’s op-ed, NC Teachers being voluntarily exploited and points where she points the three individuals who claim to be underpaid and “just teachers” aren’t really poor at all.

Bull’s eye.  A little outrage coupled with some good research skills can go a long way.

Well done, Lady Liberty.

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