A1 A1
photos by H. Scott Hoffmann/News & Record  

Luke Kuechly (left) says spending time with teammates off the field is as important as playing alongside them. “If you can know a guy off the field, I think it helps you on the field,” Kuechly said.

Davidson County Commissioners unanimously vote to become Second Amendment protection county

LEXINGTON — Davidson County gun owners can claim a victory as the Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to make the county a Second Amendment protection county.

The board, which is made up of seven Republicans, heard from 20 members of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 150 during a 30-minute public-comment period. Every person who spoke did so in favor of the proposed Second Amendment protection resolution.

“I want every one of you to think long and hard about the decision to declare Davidson County a sanctuary county for the Second Amendment,” Tina Snyder, a Lexington resident, said. “There’s a lot of patriots standing behind me who would support that decision, and they’re voting, too.”

The resolution, introduced by commissioner Zak Crotts, affirms the county’s support of the right to keep and bear arms, and prohibits the use of any county resources to enforce a law that would unconstitutionally infringe upon those rights. Davidson County joined Wilkes, Stokes, Surry, Rowan, Lincoln and Cherokee counties in passing such a resolution.

However, the resolution holds no legislative power based on the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution that establishes federal law as taking precedence over any state or local law. Commissioners Steve Shell, Chris Elliott and Crotts spoke in favor of the resolution before the vote.

Shell, who said he was quoting former President Ronald Reagan, said the only real gun control is disarming the “thugs.”

Every person who spoke received vigorous applause and cheers from the crowds assembled in the meeting room and in the hallway outside of the meeting room. The size of the crowd forced the fire marshal to restrict access to the Commissioner Chambers about 20 minutes before the meeting started.

James Shores, a Republican candidate for the Board of Commissioners, publicly displayed what appeared to be a firearm on his hip during his speech. Firearms are prohibited inside the Davidson County Governmental Center.

“Right now as we speak there’s a huge liberal movement to take our guns from us,” Shores said. “The people of this county want to send a message to the liberal legislators in Raleigh and our governor. I urge each and every one of you to think about the bigger picture going on.”

Many of those in attendance wore U.S. President Donald Trump hats and T-shirts, while some people made their own custom T-shirts specifically for the event.

In December of 2018, Trump’s administration did enact a form of gun-control, banning bump stocks. A “bump stock” is a plastic or metal device that can be attached to the rear of a semiautomatic rifle to make it shoot almost as fast as a fully automatic weapon.

One man, Barney Hill of Thomasville, questioned the board’s gumption. Hill said the county commissioners should treat “Uncle Sam” as tenderly as any other “deadbeat relative.”

“Once Washington or Raleigh threatens to retaliate by snatching away your precious grants, I think you will crumble like a vanilla wafer,” Hill said. “Pass the resolution and prove me wrong.”

Perhaps the biggest cheers of the night came for Davidson County Sheriff’s Deputy Tripp Kester, who spoke while wearing his sheriff’s office uniform. Kester called the Second Amendment “God given,” and called on the board to publicly demonstrate its willingness to protect those rights. Kester said as a law enforcement officer he would not enforce any law infringing on his right to keep and bear arms.

“I’m going to protect the people of the county regardless of what’s done here,” Kester said. “Let’s get on board and let’s do the right thing. We’re not going to allocate any personnel, finances, resources or anything to infringe on their liberties.”

Daniel Watson, an eighth-grade social studies teacher with Davidson County Schools, said he was almost reduced to tears that this debate is even an issue, claiming the founding fathers would be rolling in their graves if they knew the Second Amendment was ever at risk.

“The Second Amendment gives the First Amendment its teeth,” Watson said. “(Democrats) will come for your Bibles next.”

Senate fails to override governor veto on teacher pay raises; budget veto vote withdrawn

Senate Democrats held firm Tuesday in their opposition to Senate Republican efforts to override two vetoes by Democratic Gov. Cooper.

As a result, Senate GOP leadership withdrew a planned override vote on Cooper’s veto of the Republican-sponsored state budget — likely until the next round of the 2019 legislative session, which starts April 28.

The Senate voted 28-21 in favor of overriding the veto of Senate Bill 354, which offered a 3.9% raise to public school educators.

However, Senate GOP fell two votes short of the 30 votes necessary for the override since all 21 Senate Democrats voted to sustain the veto. Sen. Tom McInnis, R-Anson, had an excused absence.

The increase was well short of the 8.5% to 9.1% raise requested by Cooper in his budget proposal, and a 6.5% increase compromise offered by Senate Democrats in October.

The same 28-21 vote occurred for House Bill 553, the Regulatory Reform Act.

Senate majority leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, held a press conference Tuesday morning in which he projected that no Senate Democrats would support overriding the budget veto.

Berger said the state would continue to operate via the mini-budgets passed in late 2019, with the other elements of the 2018-19 budget remaining in place.

Cooper vetoed House Bill 966 on June 28, primarily because it did not include expanding Medicaid to between 450,000 and 650,000 North Carolinians.

SB354, which both chambers of the General Assembly approved Oct. 31 and Cooper vetoed Nov. 8, also contained a 4.4% raise in supplement pay that was only effective if the budget veto was overridden.

The pay raises in SB354 would have been 2% in 2019-20 and 1.9% in 2020-21. The 2019-20 raise would be made retroactive to July 1.

“The record is clear. Senate Democrats and Gov. Cooper have never supported a Republican-proposed teacher pay raise, and they probably never will,” Berger said in a statement following the failure to override the veto on SB354.

Meanwhile, N.C. Democratic Party chairman Wayne Goodwin said in response to the failed veto override of SB354 that “Democrats remain committed to serving their constituencies and working on pocketbook issues, like increasing access to affordable health care and raising the pay of our hard working teachers.”

“Republicans are instead back in Raleigh to play partisan games and clean up the messes that they made and failed to fix last year, positions that voters will remember in November.”

No second-year budget talks

Berger released a statement Oct. 31 saying that through the mini-budget process, the legislature has “passed funding that totals 98.5% of the original $24 billion (budget) it passed in June.”

On Tuesday, Berger said he is prepared to negotiate a second-year budget without Medicaid expansion.

“But as long as it is there, there’s no reason to go through the process of adopting a second-year budget that will just be vetoed,” Berger said. “It’s a significant missed opportunity for the state.”

On Monday, Cooper told an audience at East Carolina University that “saying yes to (Medicaid) expansion should be one of the easiest decisions a policymaker can make, and it’s time to stand up for our rural communities.”

The Senate received HB966 on Sept. 11 after that chamber override Cooper’s budget veto in controversial manner.

The Senate did not place the budget veto override vote onto its floor agenda until Oct. 28, where it remained until being withdrawn Oct. 31.

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said Tuesday that “public officials are elected to do the hard work of governing and find compromises, but Republican leaders are refusing to negotiate a teacher pay raise and saying that they are not going to pass any budget at all this year.”

“This shows the outrageous lengths legislative leaders will go to avoid negotiating with the governor, and it’s time for them to end their partisan obstruction.”

Wedge issue

Berger said before and after the veto votes that Senate Democrats are more loyal to Cooper than their constituents, especially teachers wanting pay raises and increased funding for school construction.

“Democrats will have to face their constituents in the coming months and explain their choices” Berger said.

“(They) chose loyalty to the governor over teacher raises, new schools, healthcare for people with developmental disabilities, and a new Brody School of Medicine (at East Carolina). That does not sound like supporting sound policy to me.”

Berger views Cooper’s proposal for expanding Medicaid as an ultimatum.”

However, Berger fended off comment when asked by reporters why is it different when President Donald Trump insists on loyalty from Republican members of Congress. Berger said he doesn’t agree with all of Trump’s comments and actions.

Berger said Cooper has convinced Senate Democrats that by declining to override the veto that they and Cooper ultimately will get concessions from Senate Republicans. Berger said “they will get neither.”

“Judge people on their actions, not on what they say or intend,” Berger said.

Sen, Joyce Krawiec R-Forsyth said, said she "disappointed" that Senate Democrats opposed the teacher pay raise given that "several of them voted for these raises originally."

"They preferred to appease the governor rather than give teachers and support staff a raise."

Krawiec said "regulatory reform has been a priority for the Senate for several years."

"The reforms that have been made have catapulted North Carolina's economy. We will continue to offer these measures."

Meanwhile, Krawiec acknowledged the reason the budget veto override was pulled was the lack of Senate Democrats' support.

"Perhaps, there will be a change of heart during short session and we will finally get a budget," she said.

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, and Senate minority leader, said Tuesday that Senate Democrats offered Senate Republicans in October a teacher pay raise compromise of 6.5% that has not been acted upon.

“No one’s livelihood should be used as leverage for politics,” Blue said.

The N.C. Association of Educators responded to the Senate Republicans’ pay-supplemental offer on Oct. 30 by calling it “wildly insulting to educators of every level.”

Mark Jewell, the association’s president, said Tuesday that teachers are “tired of being political pawns."

He tied Republicans’ interest in overriding the budget veto more to allow for a corporate franchise tax rate cut rather than increasing teacher pay.

Jewell said that “even with these proposed (GOP pay) increases, education support professionals would still be getting less than other state employees have already received, and our retirees are ignored entirely.”

Berger stressed his opinion that a mini-budget addressing teacher pay can’t be done because it represents a $5 billion expenditures that has ripple effects throughout the budget.

He called Cooper’s proposal to negotiate teacher pay separately as “cynical political posturing.”

Porter said that Cooper has offered “repeated budget compromise proposals that would do more to raise teacher pay and fund new school construction.”

“While the Republicans passed mini budgets, the governor offered to negotiate teacher pay separately from other issues. Each time Republican leaders refused.”

Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, said that "I hope that we will be able to negotiate something better than the Republican (pay raise) offer later this year.”

“I would like to have more conversations on these pay raises, but Republicans don’t seem to want to talk.

“They were so used to having the supermajority for so long that they didn’t have to negotiate, and they feel they can negotiate the one vote they need in the Senate even though Senate Democrats continue to hold firm in their support of the governor,” Lowe said.

Lowe said he agreed with Blue that “compromise is not, nor should it be, considered a dirty word.”

“Reality tells you the way the state is shifting demographically that more compromise will be the order in the future, not my way or the highway.”

HAWS executive named its new director after nationwide search

After searching around the nation, the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem decided to stay local with the hiring of Kevin Cheshire to be its new executive director.

Cheshire has been the vice president of real-estate development and general counsel at HAWS since joining the organization in 2013.

HAWS announced Tuesday that Cheshire had been selected from among 35 applicants nationwide for the position.

Arthur King, who chairs the HAWS board of commissioners, said Cheshire is “wise beyond his years and exceptionally energetic in moving the housing authority forward.”

Cheshire, 38, said he was “humbled and honored” that the board had chosen him to run the agency.

“I will go to work every day and do the best I can to justify the faith they put in me,” he said.

Cheshire received his law degree from UNC School of Law and his bachelor’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill. He operated a private law practice, the Cheshire Law Firm, and was senior associate with the Banks Law Firm in the Research Triangle Park.

The housing authority said Cheshire has spent most of his career advising public-housing authorities throughout North Carolina on such matters as contract negotiation, regulatory compliance, real-estate development, housing management, Housing Choice voucher administration, personnel matters and the development of board policies and staff operations.

HAWS used Gans, Gans & Associates, a human-resources consulting company based in Florida, to conduct the search for Woods’ replacement.

Woods retired after leading HAWS for 13 years. When he left, Woods said he hoped that under his successor, HAWS would win a Choice Neighborhoods grant to improve the area around Cleveland Avenue Homes. HAWS created a master plan to transform the Cleveland Avenue neighborhood, and hopes to get a $30 million grant to move the plan along.

Woods established programs to build public housing that didn’t look like public housing, but he also was criticized for a plan to sell Crystal Towers, an older public-housing high-rise building near downtown Winston-Salem that serves the elderly and disabled. Work toward a sale is progressing.

Cheshire, asked if policies put in place under Woods would continue, said that the mission of HAWS stays the same: To help individuals move “in, up and out of assisted housing,” he but added that “there are a lot of different ways to arrive at the same place.”

“We need to do everything we can to make sure the housing we operate is sustainable and safe,” Cheshire said, adding that the choice on Crystal Towers was made “to stave off a potential catastrophe.”

“What we looked at was, if we took no action, we were fearful the property would become inoperable, and we would have to do emergency relocation with no viable alternative,” He said, adding that HAWS is still going through the process of getting federal approval for the sale.

HAWS plans to use money from the sale to create other public-housing sites. Cheshire said Winston-Salem has a huge gap between the amount of affordable housing available and the demand for that housing.

“We need to do everything in our power to try to address the gap between the demand and supply of affordable housing,” he said.

“All options are on the table for us as an agency,” Cheshire said. “We need to be as creative as we can be.”

School board committee says yes to equity policy

The local school district is a step closer to having an equity policy.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education’s Policy Committee voted Tuesday to send the final draft of the proposed policy to the full school board.

Equity involves raising achievement for all students, and narrowing gaps and eliminating racial and cultural disparities between the lowest and highest performing student groups.

The final draft includes information about the policy’s purpose, a definition of equity, five pillars of equity and their definitions, and information about the new Office of Equity as well as establishing an Equity Advisory Council in the future.

According to the policy, the board of education “believes that a solid education for every child is the key to future economic growth, family development, civic engagement and global participation. The board is also committed to eliminating student achievement predictability based on social and cultural factors, including race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, language proficiency, and disability, and to support staff throughout the district.”

The policy defines equity in part as “a commitment to educational equity involves the removal of institutional barriers so that all students, regardless of their race, socio-economic class, language proficiency, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or ethnic background, can benefit from all aspects of the learning environment.”

The five pillars are school policy and organization/administration; school learning environments; academic placement, tracking and assessment; professional learning; and standards and curriculum development.

The committee’s vote follows a meeting of the school board’s Climate Culture and Equity Committee on Monday when it reviewed public comments on a draft of the equity policy.

A 30-day public comments period for the policy ended Jan. 11.

Public suggestions included revising the policy’s statement of purpose, naming the social and cultural factors in the purpose, adding “staff development and work environment” and “parents and community relations and engagement” as pillars, and changing “narrowing the gaps” in the definition of equity to “eliminating the gaps.”

Additional public comments included:

  • “Thank you for the efforts which your committee has put into generating the new equity policy code. However, I recognize that this is only an initial first step.”
  • The Pillars of Equity cries out for a more penetrating vision and revision. Avoiding the basic issues of current social injustices ensures the continuance of the problem. I urge you to name the issues, confront them and begin the long and difficult path forward….”
  • I love what you have put together. It is comprehensive, explicit and accessible to the public….”
  • “I think this policy is completely discriminating towards the creative learner. I do not think it accommodates arts based instruction….”

During Monday’s equity committee meeting, Carolyn Highsmith, a member of the committee as well as a representative for the Coalition for Equity in Public Education, suggested that more information be included in the policy about the Equity Advisory Council.

“We just think that a policy should at minimal tell what the role of the Equity Council is,” Highsmith said in an interview.

She said that several other school districts include this type of information in their equity policies.

“By not having it in there, that tells me it’s not an accountability measure for this equity policy,” she said.

Angela P. Hairston, the superintendent for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said that there are advisory councils throughout the school district that overlap.

“We want to be able to align the work of the advisory with the (school system’s) strategic plan, which we are still working on,” Hairston said.

Hairston said that because there are nine different advisories, “We want to be sure they are good leadership, that the message is consistent and that each meeting is an objective use of time.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, Lida Calvert-Hayes, a member of the school board, and Effie McMillian, the school system’s new director of equity, spoke about the policy’s final draft.

“I think a lot of people have worked on it long and hard,” Calvert-Hayes said. “I feel like right now that we are doing very well. It may not be perfect, but it can be changed if it doesn’t work in the future. It’s not something that’s set in stone, but we want everybody to feel like they are welcome in our schools.”

McMillian said she is excited about the final draft.

“We are working on our strategic plan as well as the district and this will help to guide some of that work as we think about action steps, and metrics to measure those action steps,” McMillian said.

The school board is expected to vote on the equity policy Jan. 28.