Heritage House : Up close and personal

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The first thing you feel is the heat. The weight of the oppressive air hits you just before the odor. It’s the odor that is hardest to deal with, the smell of urine, heaviest in the stairwell, lingers still in the hallway on the first floor.

On the second floor I could take only about five minutes of the combined heat and odor. But the pitch-black darkness of the second floor added to the disturbing thought that people, including 50 children, live here.

It’s called Heritage House. I’m not sure whose heritage is embodied here, but the future needs to be different. People shouldn’t be living like this. Residents and community activists have been making noise for a couple of weeks, but I had no idea the conditions would be this bad. Not a just  a few miles from where the city and the private sector plan to spend $60 million or so on a high-class performing arts center.

An estimated 177 people live in the Heritage House. The few residents I spoke to described an open ended drug market in the courtyard and in the hallways. One man who spoke to me as I left said young men stand in the hallways, much like the black as night hallway I walked through on the second floor, and offer to sell drugs.

“What do you need, man? I hear that every day,” David said.

Police have been called to Heritage House 2,860 times in the last 12 months, according to city officials. David says that police come in the front looking for drug dealers who run out the back, through an alley and up to the storefronts on Randleman Road.

Another resident agreed with City Councilman Mike Barber, who called for Heritage House to be shut down. The resident said the only hope for the place, which her mother has lived in for four years, is for everything to be torn out and replaced. The carpet, the furniture, the windows. I came across a pair of home health nurses leaving in disgust. They had been there to make an initial visit with a client, but police advised them it was not a good time, as inspectors where on that person’s floor just then. The nurses said they would not be coming back. One of them described it as the worst place she’d ever visited.

An animated owner who I came across just before leaving said that he does his best to screen his clients. But with no one controlling owner, and a weak homeowners association that currently is $55,000 behind on its water bill, there seemed little he could do to force compliance from others.

The man said part of the problem was that the city had shut down low-cost motels like Greensboro Inn and that those residents, who need the least affordable housing possible, had simply migrated, along with drug dealing, prostitution and other crimes, to the Heritage House.

City officials swept through the seven-story complex on Meadowview Road, about 100 yards from the glimmering glass front of the city’s transportation operations center. Police provided security for inspectors, who had reached the fifth floor by later Wednesday. After a press conference at the transportation center, where District 1 Councilwoman Sharon Hightower spoke forcefully about the city’s intention to improve conditions there, media types were allowed an hour or two in the early afternoon to talk with residents and interact with city workers doing their best amidst the heat of a hot summer day.

Stunned residents, many in wheelchairs or with canes, seemed to grasp what bit of dignity they could as they went about their business amidst the frenzy of attention.

One is left wondering why the proper attention or enforcement was lacking in the first place, a question few city officials seemed prepared to answer.



Republicans trade immigration barbs in wake of Cantor’s defeat

Following Eric Cantor’s loss in a Republican Primary last night in which pundits say his position on immigration reform played a major role, Phil Berger Jr. today launched a radio ad aimed at his opponent in the runoff for the Sixth District Nomination.

Cantor, a Virginia Republican, had served as House Majority Leader under Speaker John Boehner. He was defeated by a grassroots candidate in a Republican primary held yesterday. Cantor had presented a mixed message to voters, claiming in campaign materials to oppose immigration reform, while advancing legislation in Congress toward that end.

Berger Jr.’s campaign wasted no time in the wake of Cantor’s defeat to seize on the obvious passion that conservative Republican voters have for a zero-tolerance approach to giving a pathway to citizenship to those in the country illegally.

The campaign released a radio ad today in which Berger Jr. highlights opponent Mark Walker’s supposed support for immigration reform.

“As a prosecutor, I’ve seen first hand the effect of illegal immigration: the overcrowding of our jails, illegals feeding off our tax dollars, and jeopardizing public safety,” Berger Jr. said in the ad. “My opponent Mark Walker promises to give amnesty to illegal aliens. Walker supports creating a pathway to citizenship for the millions who broke the law and came to this country illegally. His legislation would only encourage more illegal immigration and would make our problem worse, not better.”

A campaign spokesperson said the ad was “a major media buy” and would debut on conservative talk networks across the district.

At issue are comments on a Walker website from early in the campaign when he suggested incremental immigration reform that could provide a pathway to citizenship. Walker said at a recent candidate forum that he did not support amnesty for illegal immigrants or a pathway to citizenship, as reported by the Rhino Times.

Walker said in a telephone interview that the Berger Jr. campaign had quoted him inaccurately, accusing the campaign of pulling a partial quote from a blog post Walker made early in the campaign as he began to put his platform together. Walker said that his background as a pastor and working in immigrant and refugee communities had played a part in those comments.

“My heart is for people from all walks of life,” Walker said. “My oath to the Constitution is to protect the border and the ports.”

Walker said that he does not favor any form of amnesty.

“We need to make sure our border and ports are very secure before we can get into legislation, otherwise you have an open ended situation to deal with,” Walker said.

Walker also pointed to the fact that he had been endorsed by Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, whom Walker called “the strongest anti-amnesty sheriff in the district.” Walker said that no sheriff in the district had endorsed Berger Jr.

“I think it’s interesting that as a DA he doesn’t have his own sheriff’s support or the support of any sheriff in the district,” Walker said. “I think if you are going to talk about obeying the law, you need to ask why is that?”

The Walker campaign also seized on Cantor’s loss by highlighting the Berger Jr. campaign’s tenuous connection to political strategists used by the former House Majority Leader.

“It is clear that Phil Berger, Jr., is the D.C. establishment candidate in this race,” Walker said in a press release. “Political insiders on Capitol Hill have handpicked Berger to come to D.C. and serve as a rubber stamp for their agenda. Berger’s wealthy friends have paid Cantor’s team tens of thousands of dollars to come to North Carolina and attack me, while promoting him. It says a lot when his Super PAC is being run by Eric Cantor’s political henchmen. The political class is investing all this money to support Berger for a reason.”

The connection comes in the form of Ray Allen, a political consultant from the Richmond firm Creative Direct, which Cantor used. A Super PAC from Raleigh, Keep Conservatives United, also used Creative Direct in its advocacy for candidates leading up to the May primary. Keep Conservatives United expressed support for Berger Jr. and launched several negative ads and direct mail pieces at other candidates in the race. Candidate campaigns are prohibited by law from coordinating with Super PACs.



Duke Energy assigns new district manager for Guilford County

Duke Energy has shifted assignments for two of its 15 district managers as one of the company’s top community representatives picks up new responsibilities in Virginia.

As the clean up continues in the wake of the coal ash spill along the Dan River near Eden, District Manager Davis Montgomery has represented Duke across the state line in Virginia. Montgomery was the district manager for Alamance, Guilford and Rockingham counties when the coal ash spill occurred in February.

Duke Energy has no customers in Virginia, and at the time of the spill had no established government liaison with communities along the Dan River in that state, said Mike Hughes, Duke Energy’s vice-president of local government and community relations in North Carolina. Montgomery picked those duties up and has represented the company in communities like Danville, South Boston and Clarksville.

Hughes said that the company recognizes the river remediation and long-term plan to deal with coal ash will have implications for communities downstream from the shuttered Dan River Steam Station outside of Eden in Rockingham County. So the company split Guilford County from its previous grouping. Randy Welch, the current district manager for Cabarrus, Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties, will take over management of Guilford County.

In the new set up, Montgomery will focus on relations along the Dan River basin, from Rockingham County to the Kerr Reservoir. He will also continue to manage Alamance County for Duke Energy. Welch will manage Guilford, Rowan and Davie counties.

Montgomery announced the move in an email to local government officials on May 18. In the note he said his new assignment could last from one to two years. The new assignments are supposed to be in place by the end of this week.

Duke Energy is currently working to remove the largest deposit of coal ash identified, a 25,000-ton mixture of coal ash and river sediment that’s settled just east of the Schoolfield Dam outside of Danville. Hughes said the company is using a dredge to attempt removal. The work is progressing, but is hampered by recent rains that cause river volume to swell.

The company has taken over a municipal park in Danville in order to access the sediment deposit, according to Montgomery, and is paying the city $2,500 to make up for lost user fees. Montgomery said they hope to vacate the park in July.

Hughes said that a second, smaller deposit closer to the spill site has also been identified. Both deposits are stable, Hughes said, having settled beneath river sediment.

The long-range plan to deal with 100 million tons of coal ash in 33 basins across North Carolina will be an ongoing issue, Hughes said, that could be of concern to communities downriver.

He emphasized that Duke Energy wanted to have a liaison available during that process.

“We don’t know how long it will warrant, but as along as it is warranted, we will have somebody there,” Hughes said.


Defamation settlement “a fait accompli,” source says

A settlement in the defamation lawsuit filed by four people associated with Conservatives for Guilford County against a prolific Greensboro blogger is “a fait accompli,” according to a source close to the process.

Two couples sued local blogger Jeff Martin, who uses the pen name “Fecund Stench,” over a series of satirical blog posts that the plaintiffs say were untrue and cast them in a false light.

Martin was served with the lawsuit May 2 and indicated early in the process that he would settle the dispute for a variety of personal reasons. Since that time details of a potential settlement emerged, but even the most casual observers noted errors of fact and potential problems with the scope of the settlement.

According to information obtained by YES! Weekly, the settlement issue is moving forward after the incorrect URL cited in the lawsuit was amended to reflect Martin’s most recent WordPress-hosted blog. The initial lawsuit and first settlement referenced a web address Martin ceased using in 2010, which was outside the scope of the court document filed in February.

Additionally,  the settlement now contains a provision that would allow Martin to keep copies of his blog material, which he deleted on May 2, as long as he does not republish or distribute the content objected to by the plaintiffs.

Martin published widely read accounts of his work as a temporary laborer and was noted for his discussion of global financial and international affairs, in addition to his acerbic posts about local politics. Folks commenting on the lawsuit, mostly at Ed Cone’s well-read blog, urged Martin to preserve those writings. The settlement maintains strident provisions that Martin delete the material regarding the plaintiffs and not cause it to be republished.

The first settlement required Martin to delete all copies of the posts, even from cached and third-party storage, something some doubted was possible. The current settlement inserts the language “over which he has control.”

According to a source close to the negotiations, one set of parties has already signed the agreement, which is moving toward closure in the coming days.

Martin is now blogging at a different WordPress URL, but his blog in dispute appeared to have been restored earlier this week, though password protected.

Reached via email, Martin said he planned to keep a low profile until the settlement became official.

The settlement retains stipulations that Martin not post photos of the plaintiffs that might be considered private, and that he not speak publicly or publish material about three of the plaintiffs. Posts about the fourth plaintiff, Brett Riddleberger, are required to adhere to factually true statements, according to the document.

When asked if he knew prior to filing the defamation lawsuit about Brett Riddleberger’s conviction for indecent liberties with a minor, the plaintiff’s attorney declined to comment, citing attorney client privilege.

Martin often constructed salacious scenes that involved Riddleberger at strip clubs owned by Doug Adkins, another of the plaintiffs and an early financial backer of Conservatives for Guilford County. Much debate surfaced during discussions of the lawsuit regarding what clubs Adkins owns.

According to records on file with the city of Greensboro, the NC Secretary of State and the ABC licensing office Adkins currently owns Centerfolds on Veasley Street and Copa Rocka Cantina on Sands Drive. A third club, Mirage on Burnt Poplar Road, was converted to Jeff Melendy in 2013, according to city records. The controlling corporation, National Golf Distributors LLC, was owned by Doug Adkins until May 2012.

City privilege license records list a third plaintiff, Isabella Adkins, as the contact person for Copa Rocka Cantina and Centerfolds.

Settlement details emerge in blogger defamation suit

Word spread late Tuesday that four people associated with Conservatives for Guilford County that filed a defamation lawsuit against a local blogger had offered settlement terms to avoid a trial.

Most of the chatter stemmed from online posts by defendant Jeff Martin, who blogs under the name Fecund Stench. Martin posted on a new blog that he’s set up that the plaintiffs had agreed to a settlement and “paperwork is to follow.”

Martin followed that up Wednesday with a cryptic post stating “we’re close and working through it.”

Word of the suit spread Monday after Yes! Weekly broke the story. Martin deleted his blog on Friday after being served with the suit by a sheriff’s deputy. The plaintiffs objected to Martin’s acerbic satirical style, in which he lampooned their conservative politics by placing members of C4GC, and their spouses, in absurd fictional settings. The narratives often took place in strip clubs.

Douglas Adkins, the lead plaintiff, owns strip clubs in Greensboro, in addition to a vast network of ATM machines that net him profit per transaction. Adkins was an early financial supporter of C4GC. His wife, Isabella Adkins, was a prominent spokesperson for the group, appearing at numerous political rallies and local government meetings to speak on behalf of conservative policy.

According to information obtained by Yes! Weekly, Douglas Adkins objected vehemently to Martin’s writings and is demanding that Martin strictly adhere to any terms of a potential settlement.

As part of the settlement terms, Martin would have to agree not to speak publicly about Douglas or Isabella Adkins, or C4GC co-founder, Jodi Riddleberger. The terms state that Martin would limit his speech or writings about Brett Riddleberger to factual statements. Brett Riddleberger was convicted in 1995 of indecent liberties with a minor.

Martin often made salacious references to Brett Riddleberger on his blog.

The settlement also takes into account social media and internet storage concerns. Both Jodi Riddleberger and Isabella Adkins have public Facebook profiles and post frequent photos of themselves, often dressed up in costumes or in formal attire. Martin once posted a photo that appeared to be taken from Riddleberger’s Facebook wall and showed Riddleberger and Isabella Adkins, along with other women. Martin made reference to strip clubs when posting the picture on his blog.

The settlement terms require that Martin not publish photographs that might be considered private. It also would require Martin to delete posts that include the plaintiff’s names, or references to them that could lead to identification of the plaintiffs. A stipulation is included that Martin ensure the material is deleted from cache or cloud storage and that no hard copies exist.

Coble endorses Berger Jr. in Sixth District

In what is sure to be a major step in his quest to secure the GOP nomination in the Sixth Congressional district, Rockingham County District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. today received the endorsement of incumbent Rep. Howard Coble.

Coble kept his preferences under wraps prior to the May 6 primary, opting instead to appear with several candidates to promote general voter turnout. Berger Jr. took the top spot on election day, but failed to clear the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff with second place finisher, Mark Walker.

Coble made his endorsement known this morning at Berger Jr.’s campaign headquarters on Battleground Avenue in Greensboro.

“It’s clear to me that Phil Berger is the right conservative for the job. He has the experience, knowledge and determination to hit the ground running in Washington,” said Coble, in a release prior to the public endorsement. “He’s a solid, proven conservative with the kind of values and energy we need to keep North Carolina on the right track. I’m pleased and proud to offer my endorsement to Phil Berger.”

Coble’s endorsement should provide solid momentum to the well organized and monied Berger Jr. campaign. Coble’s brother and other family members have endorsed Walker, causing confusion among some and pushback from long-time observers who felt Walker was attempting to associate himself with the congressman.

Several of Berger Jr.’s vanquished primary opponents are considering a Walker endorsement, but Coble’s stamp of approval likely carries more weight.

“It’s an enormous honor to receive the endorsement of Congressman Coble,” said Berger. “His legacy of service to this district is outstanding. The state of North Carolina and the Republican party have benefitted greatly from his leadership, honor and integrity. Howard Coble is a true public servant who has dedicated his life to this state and his constituents. I will strive to continue Howard’s legacy of service as we work for a prosperous North Carolina.”

The runoff is set for July 15.

Walker released a statement via social media that addressed the Coble endorsement. He said the campaign was made aware of Coble’s preference two weeks ago but felt he “might refrain from being a factor in the race.”

Beyond that, Walker alluded to some opposition research Berger Jr.’s campaign is conducting.

“There is no doubt that we are in the crosshairs of a very powerful, well-funded and influential political machine,” Walker said. “Over the last few weeks, the opposition has been pressuring many elected officials and other Washington representatives for endorsements. Private investigators continue to call people and places we’ve served in looking through every aspect of our lives.”

Walker said that he remains committed to a different style of politics, one beyond the traditional Republican method of shredding your opponent with smear tactics.

“Though it has been tempting at times, we have maintained our goal of running a clean campaign that would make North Carolinians proud.”


C4GC members file defamation suit against local blogger

A defamation lawsuit filed recently pits four members of Conservatives for Guilford County against a no-holds barred blogger in Greensboro.

Douglas Adkins, whose wife, Isabella Adkins was once one of the most prominent members of the local political action committee, is listed as the lead plaintiff in a defamation suit against blogger Jeff Martin of Greensboro. (Updated: View a copy of the suit here.)

Martin, who blogs under the pseudonym, Fecund Stench, lampooned Isabella Adkins and the group Conservatives for Guilford County often using a fictional character to relay experiences from the seedy Greensboro strip-club scene.

The character, Tami Tightenloud, was described as a “dwarf, transvestite Hooters waitress” who would often find herself at strip clubs in Greensboro after hours. It was during these fictional encounters that Martin often wrote about members of C4GC.

The lawsuit names Douglas Adkins, Isabella Adkins, Brett Riddleberger, Jodi Riddleberger and C4GC as plaintiffs and seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $10,000, the threshold required to file a case in superior court. In the filing, the plaintiffs demand a jury trial.

The lawsuit was filed in February, but had an incorrect address for Martin to be served a summons. Court records show that Guilford County sheriff’s deputies attempted to serve the suit at the incorrect address twice in February.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Krispen Culbertson, filed an additional summons on May 1, listing two more addresses for Martin. Deputies served the suit on Martin on Friday morning.

The suit contains three lengthy paragraphs that quote from Martin’s blog. Of note is that the filing cites an incorrect internet address as the location where Martin published his content.

The first complaint references a post made in May of 2013 where Martin envisioned C4GC members’ celebrating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights March on  Washington and Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Martin wrote about C4GC members celebrating the occasion at a strip club. Douglas Adkins is the owner of gentlemen’s clubs in Greensboro where women perform seminude in return for cash.

“Bubba ended the performance with his rendition of Give it 2 U accompanied by the Puerto Rican girls and Isabella Adkins …” the law suit states in reference to Martin’s writing. Bubba is a reference to conservative activist Bob Grenier of Greensboro, one of the more vocal supporters of C4GC and conservative politics in the local online community.

The suit also objects to Martin writing about Brett Riddleberger’s conviction for indecent liberties with a minor. Riddleberger was convicted in 1995 on the charge following an incident in which he filmed himself having sex with a 15-year old girl. Brett Riddleberger was 25 years old at the time.

“In past blogs posted on Defendant’s blog site, with such blog posts remaining on Defendant’s blog site, it is falsely stated that Brett suffers from a medical condition known as Erectile Narcolepsy, by which loss of blood to the brain when aroused causes him to lose consciousness,” the suit alleges. “On February 8, 2013 a blog was posted on Defendant’s blog site falsely stating, ‘Barrett … just fainted’ and ‘It happens frequently,’ thus alluding to the earlier blogs regarding Brett’s alleged medical condition.”

Reached by phone Monday, Martin said he planned a vigorous defense and had been in contact with multiple attorneys. He planned to commence a legal defense fund soon.

C4GC cofounder, Jodi Riddleberger, referred questions for comment to her attorney. When asked over the weekend via social media messaging to confirm the suit, Riddleberger said that C4GC had not sued anyone. On Monday, when told that she and her husband, in addition to C4GC were listed as plaintiffs, Riddleberger said that she “was not aware that C4GC had been named in the court papers.”

Read more on this story in Wednesday’s edition of Yes! Weekly.








Matheny continues to play the “reasonable” card

Greensboro City Councilman Zack Matheny continues to position himself as a “reasonable” alternative to the right-wing front-runners in the race for the Republican nomination in the Sixth Congressional district.

While front-runner Phil Berger Jr. continues to lead the pack in the eyes of most observers, Matheny is locked in a three-way battle with viable candidates hoping to get enough votes to force Berger Jr. into a runoff.

Matheny has scheduled a press conference for 3 p.m. today at which he plans to speak out about the mudslinging Berger Jr. and  Bruce VonCannon have stooped to in recent days.

“Phil Berger Jr. is a negative campaigner and the tactics he is employing are exactly the type of tactics current Congressman Howard Coble asked all Republican candidates vying for his seat not to participate in,” Matheny said in a press release today. “Voters want to hear how we intend to create jobs, revitalize the economy, and rebuild North Carolina. They don’t want to hear ugly politics as usual. Negative campaigning will only lower voter turnout and hurt the Party.”

Matheny’s press conference will take place at his campaign headquarters in Greensboro.

A political action committee backing Berger Jr. launched the mud-fest with attack pieces financed by known Berger Jr. donors. The direct mail pieces and television ads targeted Mark Walker, felt to be a solid second place contender, and the upstart VonCannon campaign.

VonCannon punched back with ominous television spots that criticized Berger Jr. for a plea-deal he offered a child molester and for the office-wiring incident Berger Jr. was involved with at the Rockingham County Courthouse.



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.