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Elections
Paula McCoy, a community activist, plans to run as an unaffiliated candidate for city council’s Northeast Ward seat

Paula McCoy, the retired director of Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, announced Monday that she plans to run as an unaffiliated candidate for the Northeast Ward seat on the Winston-Salem City Council in the Nov. 3 general election.

As an unaffiliated candidate, McCoy hopes to get votes from Democrats and Republicans in the Northeast Ward, she said.

“I do believe with the people I know across the party lines, running as an unaffiliated candidate is probably a better position,” McCoy said. “I want to represent all people. It’s time for we as the people to make decisions.”

McCoy, a registered Democrat, filed the paperwork for her candidacy Monday with the Forsyth County Board of Elections. Under its guidelines for unaffiliated candidates, McCoy must submit a petition with the signatures of 281 registered voters in the Northeast Ward by noon Aug. 5 to the local board of elections.

McCoy said she is working with volunteers to get the necessary signatures.

Last year, McCoy spoke with Vivian Burke, the incumbent council member in the Northeast Ward, who asked McCoy if she was going run for that council seat. McCoy told Vivian Burke that she wouldn’t run if Burke decided to run for re-election. McCoy believed it would difficult to beat an incumbent.

When Vivian Burke announced on Dec. 20, the last day of the filing period for March 3 primary, that she wouldn’t run for re-election, McCoy didn’t have enough time to file as a Democrat to run for the seat, McCoy said.

McCoy said she has talked with many city residents, and she has bipartisan support for her candidacy.

“Many people are saying that it is time for change,” McCoy said. “They are saying they want some fresh air and unity and are tired of the old political showdowns and deep-rooted partisanship that have not solved the problems we’re facing in Winston-Salem today.”

McCoy said she wasn’t referring to Barbara Hanes Burke, the winner of last week’s Democratic primary for the Northeast Ward seat on the city council. Burke, a member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, defeated two other Democratic challengers in the March 3 primary.

“I’m just referring to the old way that we have done business in Winston-Salem,” McCoy said. “It’s a reference to the way our political system has been run over the years.”

Barbara Burke, Vivian Burke’s daughter-in-law, didn’t return an email and a text message seeking her comment about McCoy’s candidacy.

In 2019, McCoy retired as the executive director of Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, a job she held for five years. NBN is a community organization that provides support and guidance to neighborhood leaders and grassroots organizations in Winston-Salem.

During her career, McCoy also worked as the president and chief executive officer for the N.C. Minority Support Center within the Generations Community Credit Union in Durham, the program director for the Local Initiatives Support Corp. in Winston-Salem and the executive director of the Northwest Child Development Corp. in Winston-Salem.

McCoy received a bachelor’s degree in English at N.C. A&T State University, a master’s degree in education administration and supervision at N.C. A&T, and a master’s degree in social work at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

McCoy pointed to the city’s poverty rate, an affordable housing crisis in Winston-Salem and some local schools among the lowest-performing schools in North Carolina.

“My campaign is about offering Winston-Salem something we’ve wanted for a long time: a new way forward,” McCoy said. “It is about another choice that just makes sense at this time.

“It is about confidence that your elected leaders will make decisions based on what’s best for Winston-Salem,” McCoy said.


Local
At Hanging Rock, the forest service fights fire with fire

The North Carolina Forest Service and North Carolina State Parks conducted a prescribed burn Monday with plans to burn 330 acres within the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail at Hanging Rock State Park. Visitors were not permitted through the main gate of the park during the burn, though trails outside the central part of the park remained open.

“The first purpose of the burn is to reduce the fuel on the forest floor,” said Jonathan Young, Stokes County Ranger with North Carolina Forest Service and the burn boss.

“The last naturally occurring fire in this area happened in the early 1900s. We know this from looking at articles in local newspapers. For the next 100 years or so, we tried to prevent fires.”

Prescribed burns in this area in 2017 and 2018 helped clear out the buildup of organic material since that time.

“By reducing the fuel, we prevent a fire from getting out of control on a bad day when we can’t control the conditions and possibly burning some homes,” Young said.

“The second purpose is to open up the canopy and get more sunlight into the forest floor and encourage the growth of native species. There are trees like Bear Oak, Table Mountain Pine and Pitch Pine that depend on fire to get their seeds sprouting.”

Young said his team worked for weeks to prepare for the fire, cutting down dead trees and raking and blowing leaves about 10 feet away from either side of the trail as well as park buildings, picnic tables and fragile plants like hemlock. The team also studied the terrain and at different scenarios of wind and weather in preparation for the burn.

About 60 people participated in the burn, with half coming from the forest service and half from the state parks, Young said.

Crews set fires by hand on the perimeter of the prescribed burn area which included the entire 330 acres within the Moore’s Wall Loop Trail. Once the perimeter was burned, a helicopter was scheduled to drop ping pong-sized balls of accelerant to light the interior.

Photos: Prescribed burn at Hanging Rock State Park

Business
Wells Fargo chairwoman resigns Sunday, days before another congressional hearing on scandal

The chairwoman of Wells Fargo & Co., Betsy Duke, is the latest top bank official to step down in connection with the fraudulent customer-account scandal that surfaced publicly in September 2016.

The bank issued a statement Monday announcing the resignations of Duke and board member James Quigley.

Duke, who resigned Sunday, had served as chairwoman since January 2018 and was vice chairwoman from October 2016 to December 2017.

Duke replaced Stephan Sanger as chair, who replaced John Stumpf, who was allowed to retire as chairman and chief executive by the bank in October 2016.

Charles Noski takes over as Wells Fargo’s chairman, the fourth since the scandal went public. He joined the board in June. He is a retired vice chairman and former chief financial officer of Bank of America Corp.

The resignations of Duke and Quigley came three days before they were scheduled to testify at 10 a.m. Wednesday at a U.S. House Financial Services committee following a committee report released last week that lambasted the bank’s response to regulatory orders since the scandal erupted.

The summation of the 113-page report is that the bank has failed to fully comply with five regulatory orders issued in response to the scandal. It was based partly on internal Wells Fargo memos and e-mail exchanges.

One example cited was Duke, then acting as vice chairwoman in November 2017, questioning why she was being included in letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requesting bank actions on regulatory orders.

A summation of the report determined “the potential for widespread consumer harm still remains at Wells Fargo.”

Emails paint pictures

Both Duke and Quigley were on the board prior to September 2016. Their resignations leave just John Baker II, Donald James and Suzanne Vautrinot as the only pre-scandal members still serving on the 14-member board.

The report — titled “The real Wells Fargo: board & management failures, consumer abuses and ineffective regulatory oversight” — represents a yearlong investigation into Wells Fargo’s compliance with regulatory orders made in 2016 and 2018.

The report was based partly on internal Wells Fargo memos and e-mail exchanges.

Wells Fargo confirmed Monday chief executive Charlie Scharf will appear before the committee at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and committee chairwoman, said the report confirms her belief that Wells Fargo is “a reckless megabank with an ineffective board and management that has exhibited an egregious pattern of consumer abuses.”

Last week, she called for the resignation of Duke and Quigley. “They failed in their responsibilities as board members, and they should be shown the door,” Bloomberg News quoted Waters as saying. Waters also has called for Wells Fargo to be broken up, claiming it is too big to appropriate manage in terms of performance and culture.

Duke and Quigley said in a statement that they “believe our decision will facilitate the bank’s and the new CEO’s ability to turn the page and avoid distraction that could impede the bank’s future progress.”

“Out of continued loyalty to Wells Fargo and on-going commitment to serve our customers and employees, we recommended to our colleagues on the board that we step down from our leadership roles and they have accepted our resignation from the board.”

The resignations of Duke and Quigley were similar in tone to the departure of chief executive Timothy Sloan, who also cited a desire to help the bank move forward when he retired amid congressional and advocate pressures in March 2019.

Duke and Quigley said they believe they had made progress in “strengthening the bank’s culture and controls,” including by hiring Scharf as chief executive in October and adding other external executive management members.

“As the markets face increasing volatility, a strong Wells Fargo is needed now more than ever,” they said.

Scharf said in the statement that Duke and Quigley “have helped the board navigate significant challenges relating to the sales practices issues, and they began the hard work of instituting necessary changes in leadership, governance, compensation programs and our business model that form the foundation on which we are continuing to rebuild the trust we’ve lost.”

Sloan criticized

Wells Fargo has 3,600 employees in its 32-county Triad West region, including 2,900 locally. It has 25,100 employees in Charlotte.

The bank acknowledged in 2017 the opening and issuing of at least 3.53 million unauthorized checking and savings accounts, debit cards and credit cards between 2009 and October 2016.

Although the bulk of the fraudulent accounts were established in California and Arizona, the bank has said it cannot rule out that 38,722 unauthorized customer accounts were established in North Carolina and 23,327 in South Carolina.

Sloan, who resigned after 2½ years in the role, drew much of the scrutiny in the report.

The report cited that Sloan “gave inaccurate and misleading testimony to Congress” during a March 2019 Finance committee hearing in which he discussed the bank’s efforts to fix its customer-account problems. Waters said she is considering asking the U.S. Justice Department to review Sloan’s comments.

“Key leaders at Wells Fargo were focused on lifting the Federal Reserve’s asset cap, rather than addressing the company’s systemic risk management weaknesses,” according to the report.

The biggest shadow still hanging over Wells Fargo is the Fed’s order, issued Feb. 3, 2018, that prohibits the bank from increasing its total assets beyond the $1.93 trillion it had on Dec. 31, 2017.

Federal regulators criticized

The report cited a concerning lack of action and oversight from the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Federal Reserve as Wells Fargo conducted the fraudulent business practices at the heart of the scandal.

The report found Wells Fargo executives, led by Sloan, responded to the regulatory orders with actions “that reflect an unwillingness to take seriously the bank’s obligations under the 2016 Sales Practices Consent Orders to fully compensate harmed consumers and fix its internal controls.”

Republican members of the House Finance committee issued their own analysis of the report Thursday. Republicans agreed with the assessment that “Wells Fargo’s uniquely flawed structure and gross mismanagement have stunted the company’s response to the scandal.”

They also blamed lax regulators under the Obama administration for “being slow to recognize the risk,” allowing the scandal to become as widespread as it did.

“Wells Fargo was no closer to complying with the regulators’ consent orders when (former chief executive) Tim Sloan resigned in March 2019 than when his team took over in 2016,” according to the GOP statement. “The management team of company insiders failed to understand the scope of the company’s problems when Sloan took charge in 2016.

On Monday, Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., said in commenting on Duke and Quigley’s resignations that “fresh perspectives on the board will help move Wells Fargo forward.

“The Republican report shows, time and time again, the bank’s reliance on the status quo has consistently failed. I expect that these changes to board and management leadership — and the Trump administration’s renewed focus on oversight — signal a new day for Wells Fargo.”


Crime
Witness: I lied to stay out of jail. Innocence hearing probes convictions of 4 teens accused of killing Chris Paul’s grandfather.

Jessicah Black’s testimony more than a decade ago helped seal the fate of five teenage boys accused of robbing and beating to death the grandfather of NBA star Chris Paul. But Black now says that testimony in two separate trials was a lie.

Black recanted in a deposition that was played Monday during the first day of a hearing in front of the N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission in Raleigh. The hearing is focused on the claims of innocence made by four of the five charged — Nathaniel Arnold Cauthen; his brother, Rayshawn Denard Banner; Christopher Levon Bryant; and Jermal Tolliver. Dorrell Brayboy died in August 2019 before he could file a claim of innocence.

At the time of their arrest, four of the boys were 15. Banner was 14. The commission will determine if there is sufficient evidence of innocence in the case. The hearing is scheduled to last until Friday.

Nathaniel Jones, 61, a friendly church-going gas-station owner, was found lying in the carport of his home on Moravia Street on Nov. 15, 2002. At the time, Paul was a senior standout basketball player at West Forsyth High School. He memorably scored 61 points in a game soon after his grandfather’s death. Paul now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

During two different trials, Black testified that she drove the boys to and from a park near Jones’ house and had heard the boys talk about robbing Jones. She said she heard three of the boys yelling profanities and telling Jones to get down. She said she heard a voice she didn’t recognize shouting “Stop! Leave me alone.”

Afterward, she drove the boys away, took them to her house to change clothes and then they all went to a bowling alley and a mall.

But in an interview with a former reporter with the Houston Chronicle (Paul previously played for the Houston Rockets) and later in a deposition with Innocence Commission investigators, Black recanted her testimony.

“It’s pretty much I said what I said to save my ass, to keep me from going to jail,” Black said in a video recording of the deposition that was played to commission members Monday morning.

At the time of Jones’ death, Black was 16 and had become friends with the boys in the previous month or two. She was never criminally charged. Attorneys for the boys argued at trial that her testimony was in an exchange for some type of leniency from prosecutors.

Winston-Salem police interviewed Black for more than three hours, according to testimony at the commission hearing. Black said at least one of the police officers yelled at her and she had no idea that she could leave at any time or that she was supposed to have an adult in the interview room with her.

“There was this one (officer.)... I can’t remember his name. ... He was so aggressive and he hollered at me. He was almost spitting,” she said.

What actually happened, Black said, was typical — she drove around to where the boys lived and when she saw them, she picked them up in her car and they drove around, possibly making stops in Midway, the mall and a bowling alley, where they got kicked out. She said she told police she couldn’t remember much because they were all smoking marijuana.

Winston-Salem police also took her car and she was told that skin DNA was found that possibly matched Jones, Black said. In reality, no DNA was found in her car.

Julie Bridenstine, a staff attorney for the commission, testified that commission investigators submitted items to the State Crime Lab for testing and there were no DNA matches for any of the defendants. There was also a DNA profile for a female found on a piece of evidence, but that DNA did not match Black, she said.

Black also told commission investigators that the late Eric Saunders, one of the prosecutors in the case, arranged for Black to take a minivan to the crime scene. She said Saunders, an unidentified white man and a black woman who she believed was one of Jones’ daughters were in the minivan.

Commission investigators had not been able to corroborate that this happened. Chris Paul’s family members said they did not participate in anything resembling what Black said happened.

Hunter Atkins, a former reporter for the Houston Chronicle, also played a prominent role in Monday’s hearing. Beth Tanner, associate director of the commission, testified that Black first recanted her testimony during a phone conversation with Atkins. Atkins had tried to contact her for months and he also had talked to many of the defendants and their attorneys, including Christine Mumma, who represents Banner and is the executive director of the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence.

In an audio recording of the phone conversation, Black is strongly resistant to talking to Atkins but eventually relents. In her deposition, Black revealed that Atkins paid Black’s car payment.

Tanner confirmed that this happened but after Black had recanted her testimony.

Stephen Riley, executive editor of the Houston Chronicle, said Atkins no longer works for the paper. Atkins has never published a piece about the case.

“His editors knew nothing about any arrangement to make any payment to or for a potential witness,” Riley said in an email. “(I)f such an arrangement did exist, it would have violated our policies and practices.”

Atkins also has a pending misdemeanor charge of harboring a runaway child in Texas.

The Innocence Commission rarely holds hearings on claims of innocence. Out of 2,700 claims the commission has reviewed since it started operating in 2007, it has held 15 hearings. Twelve people have been exonerated through the commission process.

This is the second case from Forsyth County to have a hearing in front of the commission. Last year, the commission found sufficient evidence that Merritt Drayton Williams of Winston-Salem was innocent in the 1965 murder of Blanche Bryson. Bryson, 65, was found strangled to death in her home. A three-judge panel is scheduled to hold a hearing in May in Williams’ case.

Cauthen, Banner, Bryant and Tolliver are all expected to testify in a hearing that will also feature expert testimony. Commission members also will have a chance to hear a recorded deposition with Brayboy that was done prior to his death.

Five out of eight commissioners must find that there is sufficient evidence of innocence for the cases to move toward a panel of three superior court judges. That panel will then determine whether any of the defendants should be exonerated.