Bob Ashley: Looking ahead to 2013 and events to watch

Dec. 29, 2012 @ 03:53 PM

This year drawing to a close Monday has been an eventful one for me, starting out as a historic preservationist and then transitioning back to the editor’s chair here at The Herald-Sun.

It has been an eventful year for the community, too, as the Top 10 stories that we’ve featured over the past nine days and will conclude tomorrow make clear. 

The year ahead promises to be eventful, too. As I took a few days off over the holidays and thought about what to watch during the next 12 months, several highlights came to mind, in no particular order.

Here in Durham, it should be a year of renewed and accelerating momentum downtown. New hotel and office developments announced late this year should be underway or near that point – although as always, some that have been announced may yet run into roadblocks and may not pan out.

But the consensus clearly is that downtown’s rebirth is well along, and while there may be bumps and setbacks, the future continues to look exciting.

The dynamics of the Durham County Board of Commissioners will be well worth watching. The surprise election of first-termer Fred Foster Jr. to the chairmanship suggests some tension and rivalry on the board and issues such as the continuing debate over the 751 South development will strain that board’s relationships, too.

Some of the most fascinating developments – encouraging to some, unsettling to others – will come 25 miles away at the state capital. With Republicans in control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the legislature for the first time in more than 140 years, expect some pretty sizable upheaval over finance and governance issues.

Don’t be surprised if there is a major move to overhaul the state’s tax system. The corporate income tax is almost sure to go; we may see a push for a sharp reduction in or even elimination of the personal income tax and an increase in the sales tax. Expect that tax to be broadened, too, to include many services that now incur no sales tax.

Expect, too, more bruising debates over funding for education, social services and a host of other programs.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will continue trying to move past the athletic and academic scandals that have shaken that flagship university for two years. A scathing report issued by a commission chaired by former Gov. Jim Martin this month answered some questions but raised others. And the Republican leadership in the legislature is sending signals that lawmakers may delve more deeply into what’s been happening at UNC.

Beyond that, the university will be forging a strategic plan that should in the next few months give us a roadmap of its focus for the coming years.

And, of course, both UNC and N.C. Central University will be picking new leaders this year. Search processes are well underway to replace Holden Thorp at UNC and Charlie Nelms at NCCU. By the time a new crop of freshmen show up at those schools next fall, each should have a new chancellor in place. In a time of continued debate over university funding and the role of higher education, those two selections should help signal the direction of those two important institutions.

Beyond purely local issues, of course, we’ll be affected by the resolution of the “fiscal cliff” crisis in Washington. The new shape of medical care will come into view as more provisions of the Affordable Care Act take hold.

As always, the most fascinating developments in the year ahead may well be those we don’t even begin to foresee today.

I look forward to watching all those developments, and sharing news of them with you.

Happy New Year!

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can contact him at 919-419-6670 or