NC A&T football player killed in shooting

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A member of the NC A&T Football team died of a gunshot wound early Wednesday morning. The victim, 22-year-old Jermane Clark, was a Winston-Salem native and current sophomore majoring in psychology.

“This is a tragedy for our university and our football team,” said NC A&T Head Football Coach Rod Broadway.

Officers responded to an assault reference in front of Clark’s home on Stedman Street at 11:04 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Clark was taken to Moses Cone Hospital and pronounced dead shortly thereafter.

Police are in the process of identifying suspects and potential motives for the assault.

The 6’2 line backer attended R.J. Reynolds High School and Oak Ridge military academy and originally signed with the University of Colorado before transferring to NC A&T.

“I can’t express how deeply saddened we are by this loss,” said NC A&T Director of Athletics Earl Hilton. “Our hearts go out to his family, friends and teammates. As a department, we will do all we can to comfort and support them.”

Grieving students awaiting funeral arrangements for Clark are encouraged to seek support from the university’s Office of Counseling Services.

Anyone with information related to the homicide is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 336-373-1000.

 

Changes proposed for CRC process

In Greensboro, members of the CRC Enhancement Committee were in agreement on Tuesday afternoon that they would like to make changes to the Complaint Review Committee (CRC) process. Under the current process, citizens may file a complaint if they feel they have been treated unfairly by a member of the police department. The complaints are then sent to the Greensboro Police Department’s Professional Standards Division (PSD) who review the evidence and determine a ruling on the matter. If the citizen is not satisfied with the ruling they may ask the CRC to review the decision.

Members of the subcommittee include Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, Councilman Tony Wilkins and Councilman Jamal Fox. Chief Ken Miller was also there to listen to deliberations and interim city attorney, Tom Carruthers, provided legal guidance to members as they conceptualized process changes.

The proposed changes to the process were partially influenced by grievances of Lori Walton, who has had an ongoing case with the CRC for two years. Walton expressed frustration that information has been kept from her regarding her case, which involves two different accusations of child abuse inflicted on her son by Guilford County School employees.

Johnson expressed sympathy for Walton’s objections to the internal process. “To be shut out, and to not be a part of a process that involves your children, to me, is wrong,” Johnson stated. Wilkins asked members, “In my role as a councilmember, is there anything I can do to help Ms. Walton find a resolution?” Johnson said she felt it was outside the current realm of City Council, and so they needed to form a new process. For the present time, subcommittee members advised Walton to contact an attorney to help with obtaining the files related to her case. Chief Miller added that, “We [the police] would love to be able to provide the case. That is not the issue. The law is what prevents us from providing it.”

Mayor Vaughan suggested appointing a individuals separate from the CRC and the police department to help citizens through the process. The subcommittee discussed the possibility of letting each councilmember appoint an individual to serve through the duration of the councilmember’s term. Opinions were somewhat divided over whether or not there should be guidelines for appointing individuals to this role, and what sort of police training the appointee should undergo. Chief Miller said he would be willing to work with the CRC on expediting any sort of training course for such a role and suggested that objectivity would be a key trait for any appointee.

The CRC Enhancement Committee intends to move forward with plans to change the process by first researching the processes of other cities. Mayor Vaughan suggested that the committee members find out how other communities do things and joked that members could, “take a road trip, Thelma and Louise style!”

Instead of a cross-country tour, the subcommittee plans to send letters to communities with external boards in complaint review processes to find out more about the administrative logistics of how their process works and what type of feedback they have received from citizens. Communities to receive letters include the cities of Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Durham.

Officers try using Mobile Command Center for community outreach

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The Greensboro Police Department is reaching out to communities in a big way through a giant Thomas bus that serves as the Mobile Command Center. The Mobile Command Center is typically used as a smaller, portable headquarters at crime scenes or after a disaster. “We recently used this one for a homicide,” said Officer Smith, who also doubles as one of the Mobile Command Center bus drivers.

On Monday afternoon, the Mobile Command Center was out for a more amiable purpose. Parked adjacent to East Market Street and directly across from A&T University, the large bus was hard to miss. Officer Douglas Chambers, who is spearheading the program, hopes that the Mobile Command Center will serve as a tool to introduce officers to the community and encourage communication with citizens. “I think it’s important to build relationships,” said Chambers, “People will come up to us and say, ‘Hey, I saw some sketchy looking people in my neighborhood last week,’ and ask us to drive through.”

Two officers circled the Mobile Command Center on Segways while other officers stopped in and out. The mood was light as officers chatted and joked around with each other. Aboard the bus it was little cramped with a narrow aisle between two rows of phones and laptops. The idea is that curious citizens can take a peak inside, but, “it’s not super exciting in there,” Officer Chambers admitted.

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No citizens were around despite the best efforts of the officers to present a friendly and approachable demeanor. “We get only about two people per visit,” said Officer Chambers, “This hasn’t been working amazingly well. If we were grilling hotdogs, we’d be doing good.”

Each police district will do two outreach operations and Officer Chambers will bring The Mobile Command Center back to the East Market Street area on May 5th at the intersection of Booker and Cunningham.

Brandon forfeits direct family donations to campaign account

A candidate for US Congress who is currently a member of the North Carolina General Assembly paid a $5,000 fine for prohibited contributions to his state campaign.
Rep. Marcus Brandon represents NC 60 in the state house, but is not seeking reelection while he runs for the Congressional seat vacated by Mel Watt.
According to a recent federal campaign finance report, Brandon paid a $5,000 fine to the NC Civil Penalties and Forfeiture Fund on March 1.
Independent government watchdog Greg Flynn of Raleigh first reported the payment today on his blog. Flynn characterized the fine as penalty for “prohibited contributions.”
In a telephone interview, Flynn said he became aware of concerns with Brandon’s campaign finance reports last year. Brandon had attended a trip to Florida where about a dozen North Carolina legislators heard pitches in favor of school vouchers. The trip also included a speech by Jeb Bush.
Flynn said Brandon had committed to paying back part of the expenses of the trip and so Flynn was exploring campaign finance reports last February when he discovered instances of known PAC payments that had not been reported by Brandon’s campaign finance committee.
Flynn filed a complaint in Feb. 2013 that outlined more than two dozen contributions to the Brandon committee amounting to $10,000 that had not been recorded. Flynn also noted three contributions from registered lobbyists.
In an email dated Feb. 28, Brandon responded.
“I want to say that Mr. Flynn complaint against my campaign on its face appears to be correct,” Brandon wrote. “However I want to say that there was a series of errors on behalf of our campaign that led to the discrepancies. We are working to rectify the situation as soon as possible. I take the complaint very seriously and will do everything humanly possible to make sure we are compliant.”
Brandon’s campaign finance file is under review by the state board of elections. A spokesperson for the agency said that the case is ongoing.
“It may be that there are more fees assessed in the future,” said Joshua Lawson of the SBOE.
Brandon said late Monday that the fine was made up of about $3,000 in contributions he needed to forfeit, and the balance was for outstanding fines related to incomplete or late campaign finance reports.
The forfeited contributions were direct deposits by family members to his campaign account that took place during the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
Brandon said that the expense of attending the event as a delegate was more than he had anticipated and the easiest way to make up the difference was for his parents and other family members to make deposits into his account.
Since cash contributions are limited to $50, the Board of Elections determined those to be illegal contributions, Brandon said. He forfeited that amount by paying the fine last month.
Brandon said he is in the process of closing his state campaign account and had asked about the review of his finances in preparation of filing his most recent state report, which was due today.

City revokes business license of troubled oriental market

20140425_160944The city of Greensboro took action to shut down the much troubled Phongsavanh Oriental Market on Friday, one day after police executed a second search warrant that resulted in gambling and drug charges against employees there.
The city issued a statement just after 5 pm Friday announcing that the market’s privilege license had been revoked. The move means the business can no longer operate and must close immediately. The revocation can be appealed to the Board of Adjustment, which next meets at the end of May. City staff used the existence of zoning violations related to the gambling and drug activity as justification for the license revocation.
Police arrested a couple that manages the market on Thursday. Siphonexay Phongsavanh, 45, and his wife, Sengnalone Phongsavanh, 41, of 2505 Rowe St. were charged with illegal sports betting and a series of drug charges. Police seized property and narcotics during yesterday’s warrant service.
Greensboro police raided the market previously on March 6. At that time, the owner of the market was arrested as was Sengnalone Phongsavanh. Both were charged with trafficking methamphetamine.

View the letters from the city here and here.

Zack strikes back at Berger Jr.

Greensboro City Councilman Zack Matheny hit back at Sixth District GOP front-runner Phil Berger Jr. today by issuing a press release criticizing the “smear campaign” conducted by an out-of-district PAC funded in part by Berger Jr. donors.

In a press release, the Matheny campaign says that Berger Jr. has “failed to gain voter support in North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District.”

“In response, Berger Jr.’s special interest backers are dumping even more money into the race, buying ads attacking fellow Republican candidates,” the release states. “These are exactly the type of tactics that current Congressman Howard Coble asked all Republican candidates vying for his seat not to participate in.”

Keep Conservatives United, a political action committee based in Wake Forest, has spent more than $150,000 on advertisements attacking Berger Jr.’s opponents in the race. The PAC, via its founder Bob Harris, has repeatedly endorsed Berger Jr.

“It is unclear why this group and their contributors are so interested in this race,” the Matheny campaign said. “Whenever special interest groups are involved in campaigns there is always the fear that they are buying a candidate rather than supporting one.”

More here and here.

Police: Meth market busted yet again

Breaking news via police spokesperson:

Two people are in custody following a search warrant executed at Phongsavanh Oriental Market, an establishment that has been under scrutiny for more than a month following allegations of criminal activity.
Police arrived at the establishment located at 1810 Coliseum Boulevard shortly before 1 p.m. and began executing the search warrant after having established probable cause that illegal gambling may be occurring there. Officers from the Southern Division established the probable cause through covert and overt methods, including surveillance of the business.
As a result of the warrant, officers gathered sufficient evidence to arrest Siphonexay Phongsavanh, 45, and his wife, Sengnalone Phongsavanh, 41, of 2505 Rowe Street. The couple, who manages the market, each face charges of Illegal Sports Betting, Maintaining a Dwelling for Schedule I and Schedule VI Narcotics, Felony Conspiracy, Possession of Schedule I Narcotics, Possession Schedule VI Narcotics, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.
“The issues with this business are certainly ones that have our attention and we are working hard to resolve,” says Interim City Attorney Tom Carruthers. “We are pursuing legal options to seek immediate closure of the market.”

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Activist Ben Holder has been tracking this story in depth.

Political hit piece called “laughable” by Greensboro residents

An independent PAC operated by a former Jesse Helms foot soldier made
big news in Greensboro this week with a political attack piece
targeting Sixth District Congressional candidate Mark Walker.

The card, mailed on April 16, hit Walker for his service on the
Greensboro War Memorial Commission, which oversees the Coliseum
Complex. The debate over funding of the coliseum is an annual show in
Greensboro, with budget hawks pointing to the perpetual shortfall in
operating revenues specific to the venue opposed by boosters who point
to the throngs of people who come into the city and spend money around
town. This, they argue, increases overall tax revenue and offsets the
debt specific to the building itself.

The coliseum director, Matt Brown, is also one of the highest paid
city employees, and is often a target of conservative ire given his
robust salary.

Keep Conservatives United, an independent political action committee
based in Wake Forest, mailed the card. According to their campaign
finance report filed April 18, the group spent $18,373 on the piece.
The card shows a picture of Walker, obscured by parted venetian
blinds, with the bold headline “Hiding from his record of running up
deficits and wasting taxpayer dollars.”

In his campaign bio, Walker touts his service on the commission, which
is a volunteer oversight board without legislative control of its
budget.

Walker did not appear to respond publicly to the card, but several
prominent supporters in Greensboro called it “laughable.”

Former Rhino Times publisher, William Hammer, wrote an extended
Facebook statement along with a picture he posted of the card.

“It’s very unusual that I get a piece of mail that makes me burst out
laughing,” Hammer wrote. “But that is exactly what I did when I pulled
an oversized postcard from my mailbox that said Congressional
candidate Mark Walker was “Hiding from his Record.””

The post was heavily shared and commented upon, with agreements coming
from a prominent Republican couple and the wife of a state legislator,
among others.

Keep Conservatives United, the group that mailed the card, is the
brainchild of former Jesse Helms researcher Bob Harris. Harris started
the group in 2009 to support Michelle Bachman against Rick Perry in
early right-wing jockeying for position in advance of the 2012
presidential election. Harris has kept the group active, working for
several congressional candidates, including Renee Ellmers, George
Holding and Robert Pittenger.

Harris has repeatedly endorsed Walker’s opponent in the Sixth District
race, Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr., a fact not
lost on many who commented via social media about the direct mail
piece.

Records show that Harris paid Richmond, Va.-based Creative Direct LLC
to produce the card. The finance report also shows a second piece
aimed at Walker set to be mailed on April 21.

The group received one contribution recently, a $25,000 influx from
Pita Raleigh LLC, a nebulous company created by former Republican
candidate for governor, Bill Graham, an attorney from Salisbury. The
contribution was received on April 9.

Keep Conservatives United also made a $5,000 contribution to the NC
Values Coalition. The group made several joint appearances with Berger
Jr. during the run up to the anti-gay marriage vote on Amendment One
in 2012.

Forsyth County Commissioner’s Forum

On Tuesday evening, the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce held the 2014 Candidate Forum downtown. Four of the five candidates running for seats in the Forsyth County Commissioner’s race attended the forum.

District A Candidates
Current Commissioner Everette Witherspoon and opposing candidate Donald Scales attended the forum to speak to the public about the issues that were most important to them. Commissioner Walter Marshall, the third candidate running District A, did not attend.
Scales, a lifelong resident of Forsyth County, admits that he doesn’t have as much political experience as his opposition, but he is passionate about Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. Scales pointed out that he is an active volunteer in the community, and he thinks he is the best candidate because he is committed to the people.
“I am committed to listening, and I am committed to studying,” Scales said.
Scales believes that Forsyth County’s biggest issues that need to be addressed are property taxes and affordable homes.
“If we can bring more people in, we will see things like more revenue,” Scales said.
Scales also mentioned that he believes in collaboration and conversing with the people.
“More people should get involved,” Scales said. “More people means bringing more ideas.”
Commissioner Witherspoon believes that the future of Forsyth County relies on job creation, education and health care. Unlike Scales, Witherspoon doesn’t believe that taxes trump everything else.
“Having the lowest tax rate doesn’t necessarily mean having the lowest poverty or unemployment rate,” Witherspoon said.
Witherspoon openly named himself a liberal, and said that the Board of Commissioners is currently too conservative with money.
“We are very conservative right now,” Witherspoon said. “We have to invest.”
Some of the investments that Witherspoon mentioned have to do with the education system. He pointed out that when businesses look to branch out to different parts of the country, they will look at the area’s education system as one of the deciding factors. Witherspoon then mentioned that perhaps developing an early college or a middle college would be a wise investment for the county.
Witherspoon also said that he was an advocate of the Nurse-Family Partnership due to the high infant mortality rate in Forsyth County.
“I am a fighter,” Witherspoon said.
Both candidates believe that more funding should be given to the Sheriff’s Department, but when asked if the Sheriff’s Department and the Winston-Salem Police Department should join forces, they slightly disagreed.
Scales, an advocate of collaborative efforts, thinks that it could be a good idea. Witherspoon said he wasn’t sure of how efficient that would be.

District B Candidates
“This is a job interview,” Commissioner Mark Baker said.
Commissioner Baker believes that the top priority should be making Forsyth County a “business-friendly county.”
His approach to helping businesses is to make sure that the government isn’t in their way.
“We have to ask ourselves ‘what is the ultimate goal of the government in business?’”, Baker said. “And then we have to ask what the County is doing to get in their way.”
While Baker believes in a more “hands-off” approach, opposing candidate and former superintendent of the Forsyth County School System, Don Martin, thinks it is important for the government to invest in business.
Martin believes that more money should be invested into programs such as Winston-Salem Business Inc. so that new businesses will be more inclined to choose Forsyth County as a home.
“We should use incentives while we have to,” Martin said.
While Martin is more interested in bringing new business into Forsyth County, Baker is more interested in doing more with the businesses that already occupy the county.
Both men have been important figures in the Forsyth County Education system for many years, so it is no surprise that they are passionate about education. During their time in the school system, they both say that they have learned to “ask good questions.”
Martin was quick to point out that the schools need efficient technology. Currently only 22 schools in the county are equipped with the right technology, and 58 schools are lacking the right technology.
When the issue of timeliness in regards to the Commissioners moving forth with projects, Baker defended the commissioners.
“Commissioner Linville always lets everyone have their say.” Baker said.
He also said that it was important to be conservative and that the board takes their time with issues because they don’t want to make a mistake with people’s money.
Martin brought up the library project, and said that it was “inexcusable” that the project has taken so long.
“It was passed four years ago, and we just now selected an architect,” Martin said.

City reviewing pressure washing payments to city employee-owned company

The city is reviewing a relationship with a pressure washing service that is registered to a city employee. According to information released from the City of Greensboro this afternoon, Mel’s Pressure Washing has received $449,194 for pressure washing truck bays and lubricating truck-related parts since 2008.

Mel’s Pressure Washing is registered with the Guilford County Register of Deeds Office as owned by Melvin Dick. Dick is employed by the city of Greensboro as a service writer in Finance, Equipment Services. He was hired in 2007, just before his company began billing the city for pressure washing services. According to city records, the privilege license issued by the city lists Dick’s wife, Mattie, as the owner of the company.

The work was described by city staff as:

“The arrangement for cleaning the truck bays is $250/week.  The service includes daily cleaning of two manual wash bays and one automated wash bay.  Specifically, all trash and debris is removed from the floor, grates are removed to shovel debris (trash, mud, sand, etc.) from the catch basin prior the debris getting into the drainage system.  Refuse trucks (front, rear, and side loaders) and many other pieces of heavy equipment are cleaned daily.

With regard to the lubrication and greasing work, Mel’s services the solid waste truck packer bodies @ $16.50/per truck and the truck bodies are lubricated once/week.

At this point, the City has ceased operations with Mel’s pending the outcome of the review. However, as these services are still needed, the City expects to issue an RFP to receive bids. Goal would be to have contracts in place some time in May.”

You can view a list of payments to Mel’s Pressure Washing here.

Donnie Turlington, communications manager for the city of Greensboro, said that community activist Ben Holder brought forward allegations of a conflict of interest related to Mel’s Pressure Washing. Holder was concerned that a city employee had a contract to conduct this service.

“As we looked into it we raised concerns as to whether there was a contract in place,” Turlington said. The city suspended its working relationship with Mel’s Pressure Washing while a review is being conducted. Melvin Dick is still employed by the city and no personnel action has been taken against him while the city’s employee relations group reviews the situation.

Turlington said it was unclear if any city policies related to vendor services had been violated.

“We certainly understand that there could be an issue and that’s why we are looking into it,” he added.

The work was performed at the city’s Patterson Avenue facility. Turlington said the work would most likely be performed at the end of the day  after business hours when the trucks and truck bays were not in use. Dick currently works a first-shift job, but according to his employee records he was a “night service writer” from Jan. 2011 until Sept. 2012. He began working for the city in 2007 as an equipment mechanic and was promoted to preventive maintenance in July 2008.