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City gives $200,000 for Children's Home farm preservation

The Winston-Salem City Council approved a $200,000 donation on Monday to the Piedmont Land Conservancy for preserving Children’s Home farmland on Reynolda Road, just weeks after the effort stalled on a council member’s objection.

The council voted 6-2 to approve the donation, after Council Member Robert Clark clarified that his intent two weeks ago was to use surplus capital funds to increase the donation from $100,000 to $200,000.

The land conservation group is proposing to buy development rights on 92 acres of farmland on the north side of the Crossnore School & Children’s Home on Reynolda Road only a mile or so from downtown. Crossnore would still own the land, but it could not develop it or sell it for development.

Piedmont Land Conservancy Executive Director Kevin Redding said after the vote that counting the city money, his group has now raised $5.35 million toward the $6.5 million it needs to buy the conservation easement from Crossnore.

“We feel we are in eyesight of the goal,” Redding said.

Voting against the donation were council members Vivian Burke and D.D. Adams.

Adams scuttled a Dec. 18 vote on the donation when she made a motion of no consideration to stop the board from voting. Adams had supported giving $100,000 toward the effort, but objected to a last-minute effort by some of the council members to double the donation.

Voting in favor of the $200,000 contribution Monday night were council members Dan Besse, Clark, John Larson, Jeff MacIntosh and James Taylor.

MacIntosh, one of the chief architects of the deal, said he talked briefly to other council members individually to drum up support in advance of Monday’s vote.

It had been MacIntosh’s intent all along to take the extra $100,000 from leftover capital funds rather than the city’s cash reserves, which are supposed to be held at a certain level that the city has a hard time holding.

Confusion over the source of the money had been one of the factors leading some council members besides Adams to question the deal.

After Clark clarified where the money was coming from, the council moved to a vote with little discussion. But Burke said afterward she wanted City Manager Lee Garrity to look for ways to spend more money in her ward and in others.

The Crossnore property is actually in Adams’ ward, and advocates of the preservation had said that it would be a plus for the Boston-Thurmond neighborhood, a low-income area that would have access to the trails that are to be created on the farmland.

At any rate, Besse told other council members that he knows the Piedmont Land Conservancy will be asking the city for more money if it succeeds in acquiring the development rights from Crossnore. In addition to simply buying the development rights, the group wants the site to have some parking areas for visitors and trails.

There was no public hearing on the donation, so people who wanted to talk about it had to wait until the public comment period at the end of the meeting.

Speaking of Reynolda Road, Brad Rauschenberg called the route between Old Salem and Bethabara a “sacred space” for community history, and noted that the views of the Children’s Home farmland enhance the “cultural heritage of the Piedmont.”

“We must continue to have that view,” he said during public comments.

But Yusef Suggs, while not specifically mentioning the land-preservation contribution, noted that the council is “giving away money even though there are so many needs in the city.” Suggs is executive director of a citizen’s group called Action4Now.

Michael Banner praised the effort to conserve land, but suggested the land be used for the active growing of crops rather than as pasture.

Actually, as Redding explained, Crossnore will still be able to use the land for grazing and other activities that have taken place there to benefit the children served by Crossnore.

BB&T sues vendor over 2018 outage. Customers were unable to access accounts for more than a day

BB&T Corp. has sued a computer hardware vendor, claiming it was responsible for what the bank calls a “catastrophic” outage that kept millions of customers from using online and mobile banking services for more than 15 hours in February 2018.

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 26 against Hitachi Vantara Corp. in the federal court in Winston-Salem.

Hitachi is being sued for breach of contract, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and gross professional negligence in how it sold, installed and maintained the hardware. Hitachi could not be immediately reached for comment on the lawsuit.

BB&T hired Hitachi in August 2014 to provide storage disk array equipment, a kind of storage system that has multiple disk drives, and services for its mainframe computer systems. The bank claims its employees are not allowed to perform any maintenance on the storage disk array or components.

Although BB&T is requesting at least $75,000 in damages in the complaint, it is likely a potential award could be much larger given the bank is asking for compensatory damages with interest, and punitive damages, both of which could be increased by a jury.

“As a direct and proximate result of Hitachi’s conduct, BB&T incurred substantial damages from lost fee revenue, expenses incurred to compensate affected customers, and numerous other categories of harm,” the bank said.

Daryl Bible, the company’s chief financial officer, told analysts in April 2018 that “the cost was about $15 million in lower deposit service charges and about $5 million in higher operating expenses.” BB&T extended branch hours on Feb. 23-24 and Feb. 26, and added employees in its customer care centers, branches and social media response teams.

“Hitachi Vantara is trusted by 85% of Fortune Global 100 companies and we take the satisfaction of our customers very seriously,” Hitachi Vantara said in a statement.

“We are in the process of reviewing the allegations made by BB&T. Hitachi Vantara believes it provided high-quality service to BB&T at all times, including service delivery and advice regarding best practices for maintaining high system availability.”

The outage at its $300 million Zebulon data center began about 4 p.m. Feb. 22, 2018, with the main impact lasting between 24 and 30 hours, although some services were not restored until Feb. 26, 2018.

An outage map showed the biggest problems were in the Triad, Charlotte and the Triangle, as well as in Atlanta, Washington, Maryland and Philadelphia.

The interruption of services drew anger in social media, as BB&T customers were unable to get money out of an ATM, check whether direct-deposits had shown up or if bills had been paid.

Some customers posting on BB&T’s Facebook and Twitter pages said they planned to withdraw their money once they felt confident the accounts were reflecting accurate totals.

BB&T posted a 97-second video on its website in which Kelly King, the bank’s chairman and chief executive, apologized for the outage and explained what happened and what steps the bank planned to take.

King told analysts in April 2018 that the outage was “a simple but serious equipment malfunction ... that should cause no alarm with regard to our infrastructure in terms of information technology and its resiliency and its redundancy.”

In the lawsuit, BB&T claims the outage “resulted in the complete shutdown of virtually all of BB&T’s online banking platform ... for approximately 15 hours.”

“In addition, BB&T’s branch banking operations were adversely affected, as BB&T lost the ability to access centralized customer information.”

BB&T claimed the Hitachi system began experiencing problems “almost immediately after being brought online” in June 2017, including nine separate hardware failures.

“This failure rate was extraordinary based on BB&T’s experience with similar data management systems,” the bank said.

BB&T claimed Hitachi was “grossly negligent in installing the fiber optics cables ... and performed insufficient performance testing” that it said would have caught the problems “before a critical outage occurred.”

Filing begins for 2020 offices

Republicans and Democrats wasted no time Monday squaring off to contest General Assembly seats that are rated as competitive, during the first day of filing for the 2020 election cycle.

Democrat Dan Besse and Republican Jeff Zenger both filed to run in N.C. House District 74, which is being left open by the decision of incumbent GOP Rep. Debra Conrad not to seek re-election.

Political analyst Michael Bitzer calls the district a competitive one that leans GOP, on his Old North State Politics blog. Should no other candidates file in District 74, Besse and Zenger will be on November’s ballot to determine the winner.

Also filing on Monday were Republican Joyce Krawiec and Democrat Terri LeGrand for N.C. Senate District 31, which Krawiec now holds. That district is also rated as a competitive one that leans Republican by Bitzer.

Democrats in N.C. House District 71 will have a primary contest, with incumbent Evelyn Terry being challenged by Kanika Brown so far. Both candidates filed Monday.

Paul Lowe, a Democrat representing N.C. Senate District 32 in Forsyth County, filed on Monday to run again, as did Derwin Montgomery, who represents N.C. House District 72. Lowe and Montgomery have no opposition so far.

Meanwhile, a primary contest is shaping up for District B on the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, where four Republicans — so far — are in the running for three seats.

Incumbent GOP commissioners Richard Linville, David Plyler and Gloria Whisenhunt filed Monday, as did a newcomer to the contest, Terri Mrazek.

And in Winston-Salem, at least one ward, South Ward, is going to see competition. On Monday, incumbent Democrat John Larson filed for the ward, as did Democratic challenger Mackenzie Cates-Allen.

Incumbent West Ward Republican Robert Clark filed to run for a new term, as did incumbent Democrats Annette Scippio (East Ward), Jeff MacIntosh (Northwest Ward) and James Taylor (Southeast Ward).

Newcomers running unopposed in their wards so far include Morticia “Tee-Tee” Parmon (Northeast Ward) and Scott Andree Bowen (Southwest Ward.)

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, a Democrat, filed for a new term, with no opposition so far.

A big crowd filled the lobby of the Forsyth County elections office late Monday morning as the filing period approached for the 2020 election cycle.

Candidates and their supporters milled around taking pictures before Tim Tsujii, the county elections director, announced that noon had come and that candidates could begin filing.

The first candidate to file was Democratic Clerk of Superior Court Renita Linville, who wore a blue dress and said she made a point of being the first to file so that everyone could know she is in the running.

Linville was appointed to her post last summer on the retirement of former clerk Susan Frye.

Democratic Register of Deeds Lynne Johnson also filed for a new term on Monday.

Among local judges, Superior Court Judge David Hall filed to run again, as did district court judges Camille Banks-Prince, Larry Fine, Carrie Vickery, Gordon Miller, Tori Roemer and David Sipprell. A non-incumbent, Whitt Davis, also filed for a district court judgeship.

The filing period ends at noon Dec. 20, which is a Friday.

Primary election day is March 3. The general election is Nov. 3.

Atkins principal dies unexpectedly. Joe Childers had led the school since 2010.

Joseph Childers, principal at Atkins Academic and Technical High School, died unexpectedly Sunday night. He was 65.

“This is a sad and difficult time for our students, families and the staff at Atkins High School,” said Angela Hairston, superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. “This morning we shared the news of Joe’s passing with the staff and families of Atkins. Joe has created a unique, one-of-a-kind atmosphere that promotes learning at the highest levels. His creative thinking, passion for learning and leadership skills will be sorely missed.”

Childers joined the school system in 2005 as principal of Hanes Middle School. In 2010, he was promoted to principal at Atkins. He had more than 40 years of experience working in North Carolina Public Schools.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, the students who loved and respected Joe, and the staff at Atkins,” said Malishai Woodbury, the chairwoman of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Board of Education. “He was an exceptional leader.”

The school district said that its WS/FCS Crisis Counseling Team is at Atkins High working with students and staff who are experiencing grief and sadness.

Jan Atkinson will be interim principal at Atkins High. She retired as principal from the Downtown School at the end of the 2016-17 school year, the district said.

Other people within the local education community spoke of Childers’ death.

Val Young, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators, said that Childers’ death is a great loss to the education field.

“Our children in high schools really do need strong males who are positive” Young said.

She added that Childers’ more than 40 years of experience “is something you can’t learn. You can’t gain it without that experience.”

Shelia Burnette, the principal of Konnoak Elementary School and the president of the Forsyth Principals’ Association, knew Childers for 10 years.

“Today, we just felt like a bell rang throughout the district of heartbreak and loss because Mr. Childers is not only an excellent leader in schools, but he also has always looked out for colleagues — other principals and teachers.”

Burnette said that Childers also advocated for equity for all students and programs.

She said he was more than a good-natured person, saying that he acted on and did what he believed.

“He is leaving a legacy for the rest of us to continue to follow,” Burnette said. “I said this to someone today: What I do know is that he led with heart and that he was able to leave his school knowing that he had given them his best and his all. He left a footprint that will be there forever and here in Winston forever.”