WHAT TO WATCH IN 2014

A look at key local stories to follow in the new year
Dec. 31, 2013 @ 03:03 PM

PUBLIC SAFETY

Durham police will face continued scrutiny

DURHAM -- Expect the Durham Police Department to try to rebuild crumbling bridges of public trust this year.

In 2013, segments of the community grew increasingly unhappy with a department that was accused of racial profiling during traffic stops while two Hispanic and one black man – Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, Derek Deandre Walker and Riverside High student Jesus Huerta – died in officer-related shootings.

And the year closed with a demonstration over Huerta’s slaying that ended with officers dispersing a crowd downtown with tear gas.

City Councilman Steve Schewel told The Herald-Sun that more transparency about the officer-involved shootings is vital to restoring faith in the department.

“I think we need to be talking,” he said. “We need the truth out about what happened. All the truth we know at this point needs to come out about the investigation, we need to let the chips fall where they may and we need to begin a process of peacemaking and reconciliation.”

In recent months, the city’s Human Relations Commission has started reviewing complaints about racial-profiling by police, from traffic stops to arrests. The complaints come primarily from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the Durham NAACP and a group that calls itself Fostering Alternatives for Drug Enforcement, or FADE.

FADE asserted that “Durham’s Police Department consistently generates greater racial disparities in arrests than nearly any other” in the state.

The Police Department got two chances to make its case before the commission, which further ruffled critics’ feathers. This month, those critics get to present their own concerns during three consecutive Tuesday sessions.

Eventually, the commission will make final recommendations for action to the City Council.

-- Wes Platt

 

GOVERNMENT

City manager to keep eye on police issues

DURHAM – Police Chief Jose Lopez has been Durham’s top cop longer than any chief the city’s had since 1988, but the fallout from the Jesus Huerta case means his job security is one of the big questions for 2014.

Lopez told the City Council recently he’d like to stay another four years. That would give him an even decade’s service since his hiring in 2007.

But the Huerta case, and even more the department’s use of tear gas to break up a pro-Huerta demonstration on Dec. 19, has some prominent neighborhood activists calling for his ouster.

The chief answers to the city manager, and so far, City Manager Tom Bonfield is keeping his own counsel.

“The only thing I’d say is, I take everybody’s opinion seriously,” Bonfield said. “People are entitled to what they think, and ultimately any decision about that will be between me and Lopez.”

The decision by state law is strictly the manager’s.

-- Ray Gronberg

 

COURTS

Trials of sports agents, ex-UNC professor set for 2014

HILLSBOROUGH – Two high-profile cases involving sports agents and a former UNC professor are expected to make headlines in 2014.

The fraud case involving Julius Nyang’oro, former chairman of African and Afro-American studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, could begin as early as spring in Orange County Superior Court.

Nyang’oro was indicted by an Orange County grand jury in early December for allegedly accepting $12,000 for classes at UNC that weren’t held.

One of his attorneys, Bill Thomas, said his client will plead not guilty and vigorously fight the accusations against him.

Nyang’oro, 59, resigned in August as chairman of the department, which was the center of an investigation into academic fraud involving UNC football players.

He is charged with obtaining property by false pretenses.

UNC recouped the money paid to Nyang’oro for the courses by later docking his pay.

Also in 2014, three people are expected to plead or stand trial in Orange County Superior Court in connection with the state’s investigation into the UNC-Chapel Hill football program.

Georgia-based sports agent Terry Watson, Georgia real estate agent Patrick Jones and former UNC academic tutor Jennifer Thompson are charged with violating the North Carolina Uniform Athlete Agents Act, which prohibits giving money to college athletes.

Watson was indicted on 13 counts of athlete agent inducement for allegedly offering almost $24,000 to three Tar Heel football players. Thompson faces four counts of allegedly funneling $3,309 from Watson to then-UNC wide receiver Greg Little, and Jones is charged with one count of providing $725 to then-UNC defensive lineman Robert Quinn.

Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall said this is the first case nationally in which people have been charged criminally for allegedly breaking state laws related to sports agents.

-- Keith Upchurch

SCHOOLS

Search will be on for new superintendent

DURHAM – After the Dec. 19 resignation of Superintendent Eric Becoats, the community will turn its attention to finding a new leader for the Durham Public Schools.

Becoats was unable to recapture the confidence of the majority of the school board after a series of mistakes in 2013 that left some board members wondering whether he was the right person to lead the school district.

Citizens will also watch to see whether Durham can turn around poor state test scores.

Under new, tougher state standards, only 34 percent of students proved proficient.

Other school districts saw similar, disappointing results under the more rigorous testing standards.

The statewide passing rate was 44 percent for standardized end-of-grade tests in reading and math in third through eighth grade, science tests for fifth and eighth graders and end-of-course tests in three high school subjects.

-- Gregory Childress

HIGHER EDUCATION

Duke Kunshan to open; UNC, NCCU fight to stay affordable

DURHAM – Student orientation at Duke University’s new China campus is scheduled to begin Aug. 20, with a tight classroom construction deadline pegged for July.

Duke Kunshan University, a joint academic venture by Duke, Wuhan University and the city of Kunshan, will not be fully completed by the time classes are underway, but five of the six initial buildings are expected to be open by late summer.

DKU has been in development since 2010 and has faced rising construction costs, delays and faculty concerns about academic freedom in China.

But now, about 15 people are on the ground in Kunshan helping in areas such as academic administration, recruitment and marketing, and staff for student life and facilities management are being hired, according to Michael Schoenfeld, Duke vice president for public affairs and government relations.

More than 50 Duke faculty members are expected to teach at the China campus during its first two years, and early-decision applicants will be notified if they’ve been accepted into DKU by Feb. 1.

A price tag also has been placed on the DKU experience: $31,048 for tuition, housing and other expenses such as books, meals and travel.

In other news for 2014, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University are examining increased tuition costs to be implemented at the start of their fall semesters. The rate increase mandated by the General Assembly will affect nonresident undergraduate students: UNC will see a 12.3 percent increase, from a $28,205 tuition rate to $31,674, and NCCU has been mandated a 6 percent tuition rate increase for nonresident undergraduates, jumping from $14,028 to $14,870.

This generated funding won’t go back to the universities, but rather to the state.

Both universities have appointed new female chancellors – Carol Folt took over as head of Chapel Hill in July, and Debra Saunders-White took the reins of NCCU in June.

With more than six months of experience now under their belts, Folt and Saunders-White have both said there is a battle ahead to maintain affordability at their universities.

-- April Dudash

BUSINESS

Downtown to continue to grow, change

DURHAM – Progress on several key downtown development projects is expected to continue in 2014.

On what’s now an empty lot at the corner of Main, Corcoran and Parrish streets, Colorado-based Austin Lawrence Partners wants to break ground this year on a proposed 26-story development that will have space for apartments, shops and offices. The project is also planned to incorporate the renovated facades of buildings that front on Main and Parrish streets. Construction is expected to take two years.

Through a connected limited liability company, the firm bought the property in November 2012 from Durham-based Greenfire Development. In April, the firm got an OK for the project plans from Durham’s Historic Preservation Commission, but they have additional hurdles to jump, including wrapping up the project’s financing.

Also downtown, construction is expected to continue on what’s known as the SunTrust tower on Corcoran Street. A Kentucky-based company wants to transform the tower into a boutique hotel and contemporary art museum.

According to a spokeswoman for 21c Museum Hotels, work began in June on the project. The hotel is targeted to open in 2015.

Both projects are on properties sold by Durham-based Greenfire, which has been selling off some of its downtown holdings.

Greenfire also has a contract for the sale of the Liberty Warehouse on Rigsbee Avenue.

During heavy rains in 2011, there was a partial roof collapse in one of the Liberty Warehouse buildings that scattered property tenants.

Chapel Hill-based East West Partners Management Co. is looking to buy and redevelop the property. According to property records, the deadline for the closing on the property is now set for April 2014.

-- Laura Oleniacz