Jan 282013
 

reflector

WorkWeek

Monday, January 28, 2013

The ECU Foundation has elected four East Carolina University alumni to serve a four-year term on its board of directors: Dr. William M. Bogey Jr., a professor in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences; Kirk A. Dominick, president of i2consulting, a strategic planning consulting firm; James H. Mullen III, a retired associate vice chancellor of human resources at ECU; and Jon E. Strickland, senior vice president and financial adviser with CAPTRUST Financial Advisors.

Bogey earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1980 and graduated from the Brody School of Medicine at ECU in 1984. He is a lifetime member of ECU’s alumni association and a former president of the Brody School of Medicine Alumni Association. Bogey belongs to the Order of the Cupola, an ECU organization that recognizes gifts to the university reaching or exceeding $100,000. He is married to ECU graduate Jenni Kolczynski, founder of Jenni K Jewelry, and lives in Greenville.

Dominick, a 1991 criminal justice graduate, is a former executive vice president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the former chief operating officer of Flanders Filters. He and his wife, Barbara, also an ECU graduate, live in Greenville.

Mullen earned a degree in psychology in 1974, followed by a rehabilitation counseling degree in 1980. An Order of the Cupola member, Mullen also supports the university through participation in the alumni association.

He served several years on the Harriot College of Arts & Sciences Advancement Council and remains active in campus activities. Mullen lives in Greenville with his wife, Pam.

Strickland earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1999 and an MBA in 2001. He is an alumni association member.

Strickland and his wife, Billie, a nurse anesthetist and ECU graduate, live in Raleigh.

The East Carolina University Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to fund the margin of excellence at ECU. The independent board of directors that governs the group contributes its time, talents and resources in support of the university.

via The Daily Reflector.

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Jan 282013
 

reflector

WorkWeek

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Grainger Foundation has donated $10,000 to the East Carolina University Foundation Inc. for scholarship awards.

“This grant will be used to support students in the Department of Technology Systems with priority to those students majoring in Industrial Distribution and Logistics,” David White, dean of the College of Technology and Computer Science, said. “We support collaborative efforts with our local partners to promote student success and provide the talent that industry needs to compete in the global economy.”

White said these programs serve approximately 1,000 students in several different majors, all of which are critical to promoting economic development in the region and beyond.

The donation was recommended by Neil Zingler, branch manager of W.W. Grainger Inc.’s Greenville location. Grainger has been a part of the Greenville business community for more than 30 years as a broad line supplier of maintenance, repair and operating products.

“We are proud to recommend the programs offered by ECU’s Industrial Distribution and Logistics Program,” Zingler said. “We understand that one of the best ways to invest in our community is to contribute to the education of our workforce. We are excited to partner with ECU to help support and encourage the students for future success.”

The Grainger Foundation, an independent, private foundation based in Lake Forest, Ill., was established in 1949 by William W. Grainger.

The East Carolina University Foundation was established in 1963 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to fund the margin of excellence at ECU. Gifts to the foundation benefit the students, faculty, academic programs and research activities at ECU.

via The Daily Reflector.

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Jan 282013
 

reflector

By Wesley Brown

Monday, January 28, 2013

To beef up enforcement of its student code of conduct, East Carolina University plans to fill an open assistant director position to handle a caseload that last year included more than 2,900 charges, officials said this week.

The hire would round out the staff at the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and possibly bring new balance to the University Neighborhood Revitalization Workgroup, the department director said.

For the past two months, an ad-hoc committee has been studying ways to improve relations between the city and ECU by resolving issues related to student renters in the Tar River and College View historic districts.

Off-campus enforcement largely has been left to city code officers. However, residents of the two neighborhoods proposed at a town hall meeting hosted this week by District 3 City Councilwoman Marion Blackburn that homeowners, code officers, and ECU staff work together to curtail recurring violations such as widespread trash, loud parties and property destruction.

“We will certainly look into any report filed at our office, investigate it, and if we have enough information, find the student responsible and assign sanctions,” Maggie Olszweska, director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, said of her four-person staff, chartered to govern on- and off-campus student conduct. “But typically, basic housing violations are not covered under the student code of conduct.”

Last year, the office handled 2,662 cases — most of which took place on campus — but also dealt with noise, alcohol, drug and sexual assault complaints off campus, records showed.

In 2,144 of the cases, staff filed 2,922 charges — a case can involve multiple students and violations. Of those charges, 1,804 of were alcohol and drug violations.

Olszweska said residents can file a complaint with her office online at ECU.edu/osrr. The form requires contact information from the reporter, the name of the student involved and a brief narrative of the incident, Attaching documentation can help the investigation, Olszweska said.

The report then is sent to staff to review to see if the reported violation is covered under student code of conduct.

The code of conduct, available online at ECU.edu/prr, covers a wide range of violations, including possessing, distributing, using, manufacturing, assembling, storing, transporting, selling, purchasing or acquiring any weapons alcohol or drugs. Also prohibited is non-consensual sexual contact, fighting, harassment, bullying or intimidation, hazing, stealing, vandalism, trespassing, forgery, fraud and gambling.

Not included are parking violations, which often top residential complaints.

“For example, if a student is parking their car on the front lawn, that is not covered,” Olszweska said. “But if they are destroying property, having loud parties or are consistently throwing trash into the street, that would apply.”

Investigations of a report can vary in time, stretching from two weeks to several months, depending on whether it involves one or multiple students and one or multiple violations.

Olszweska said her office will notify students of the allegations, and they have the right to appeal.

As required by the university, the office must wait at least five business days to meet with students. She said usually only one of four staffers or a residential hall coordinator is assigned to a case.

Penalties can range from a warning, probation, community service, educational projects, counseling, a no-contact ban with the victim, restricted privileges from university functions, restitution, suspension, expulsion or revocation of degree.

“Obviously, we use expulsion and suspension very sparingly,” Olszweska said. “Most cases will result in some kind of educational sanction because our mission is to educate the students why the behavior was inappropriate and help them learn and redirect their behavior so hopefully they will not repeat in the future.”

Olszweska said restitution is for damages, and that the university does not fine students, “because it does not necessarily have an educational benefit in our eyes.”

Eviction is up to the homeowner, she said.

The outcome and specific details of each case is protected under the U.S. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.

Contact Wesley Brown at 252-329-9579 or wbrown@reflector.com. Follow him on Twitter @CityWatchdog.

via The Daily Reflector.

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Jan 282013
 

reflector

WorkWeek

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dr. Eleanor Elizabeth Harris has joined the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University and its group medical practice, ECU Physicians, as professor and chairwoman of the Department of Radiation Oncology.

Harris comes to ECU from Tampa, Fla., where she was an associate professor at the University of South Florida College of Medicine and a member of the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute. She has a medical degree from the University of Louisville School of Medicine and completed residency training in radiation oncology and a fellowship in cell and molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Harris said the opportunity to lead a growing department, oversee an increasing research enterprise and provide care in the region attracted her to ECU.

“There’s so much opportunity here,” she said. “The department is really on a growth trajectory.” She cited figures that put cancer as the No. 1 cause of death in eastern North Carolina and said she looks forward building a regional network of state-of-the-art cancer services as well as increasing cancer screening and prevention efforts.

Harris is board-certified in radiation oncology and is included in Best Doctors’ listing of the nation’s top physicians. Her clinical and research interests are breast and gynecological cancers.

“Dr. Libby Harris’ background and experience speak for themselves,” Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean of the Brody School of Medicine, said. “But even in the short time that she has been here, we are impressed by how much she has improved the morale within the Department of Radiation Oncology. To a person, the faculty and staff have had nothing but positive things to say about Dr. Harris.”

Harris sees patients at the Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center. Appointments are available by calling 744-2900.

The Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center provides outpatient cancer services through a collaboration between Vidant Health and the Brody School of Medicine.

via The Daily Reflector.

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Jan 282013
 

newsobserver

Modified Sat, Jan 26, 2013 12:47 PM

Former Governor Jim Martin listens to a question on his report on UNC athletics at a UNC system Board of Governors Academic Review Panel meeting held in Chapel Hill, NC on Dec. 20, 2012

By Dan Kane and J. Andrew Curliss – dkane@newsobserver.com

CHAPEL HILL — New data released Friday about a long-running academic fraud scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill show athletes made up nearly half of the enrollments in 172 bogus classes within the African studies department, and also accounted for a just under half of 512 suspect grade changes during that period.

Their average grade: 3.56, between a B-plus and an A-minus.

But Baker Tilly, the national management consulting firm that produced the data, said those numbers are not evidence of an athletics scandal at the university.

Raina Rose Tagle, a Baker Tilly partner, said the remaining 55 percent of nonathletes in the classes, who also accounted for half of the suspected grade changes and received similar grades, show it was purely an academic scandal.

“There was not a relationship between the presence of student-athletes in a class and the existence of known anomalies in that class,” Tagle told members of a UNC Board of Governors panel that is looking into the academic fraud.

Baker Tilly was hired in mid-August to help former Gov. Jim Martin try to determine when the academic fraud began, who was involved in creating it, and how many courses it affected. The report released last month found 216 suspect courses and 560 grade changes that lacked proper authorization dating back to 1997.

Friday’s follow-up report did not show the breakdown of athletes and nonathletes in suspect courses and grade changes prior to fall 2001 because that information does not exist in an electronic format.

Tagle said the fraud wasn’t about athletics because nonathletes had the same access to the classes and received similar grades. She and Martin also reported that they could find no evidence that athletics officials hatched the fraud. The report said longtime department chairman Julius Nyang’oro and department manager Deborah Crowder were solely responsible.

Nyang’oro was forced into retirement in July; Crowder had retired in September 2009.

Roughly 800 athletes are attending the university in any given year, and they account for less than 5 percent of the total undergraduate student population. But Tagle said their over-representation in the African studies courses is likely because African-Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of athletes at the university.

She said the data showed that athletes had a similar representation in other African studies courses not found to be fraudulent.

In response to a question, Tagle said she, Martin and her colleagues left no stone unturned in probing what the university had asked.

“Our review and our analysis has been exhaustive,” Tagle said.

What’s missing

Unlike a previous UNC-CH report, the Baker Tilly report did not disclose how many football and men’s basketball players were in the suspect classes, or how many bogus classes were taken by each athlete, compared to each nonathlete. It didn’t explain how numerous freshmen football players got into those classes, some of which were identified as being for upperclassmen.

It also did not disclose what classes had suspicious grade changes.

Panel Chairman Louis Bissette said after the meeting that the report contained important information. But he also acknowledged areas that the report did not go into that could shed more light on athletic involvement, and he said he would try to get more answers before the panel delivers its findings to the full UNC Board of Governors, possibly as soon as their next regular meeting in February.

The NCAA has said little about the academic scandal, but last week President Mark Emmert, in response to a McClatchy Newspaper reporter’s question, said a potential inquiry hinges on the question of whether there was an intent to help athletes stay eligible to play sports. He said he was concerned that freshmen athletes were enrolled.

‘A smokescreen’

Experts in NCAA enforcement said the new report’s grade change data provide further evidence that the association should investigate.

The new report shows that from 2002 to 2009, UNC athletes had their grades changed 38 times in ways that were not approved by the course’s instructor. All were in African studies classes.

Those grade changes, according to the new report and one on the same topic issued last month, were “specifically identified by the course section’s instructor of record as unauthorized.”

“(T)he instructor of record confirmed that, while listed as the authorizer/approver on a grade change form, the signature represented a grade change s/he did not approve,” the report says. “Unauthorized grade changes were either specifically identified by the instructor of record, or associated with a course section found to be … a course determined to represent academic misconduct (and) could not have appropriate grade changes associated.”

The report says that an additional 215 grade changes for athletes are suspected to be unauthorized.

The updated report highlights that the grade changes were made for athletes and nonathletes in similar proportions. But it is silent on other details, including whether athletes were kept eligible by the unauthorized changes.

‘Irrelevant’ proportions

Gerald Gurney, past present of the National Association of Academic Advisers for Athletics and a professor at the University of Oklahoma, said the way the new report is written “is obviously a smokescreen.”

From an NCAA perspective, he said, “it doesn’t answer the right questions.”

John Infante, whose respected blog on NCAA compliance matters was once hosted by the NCAA, and Michael Buckner, a Florida lawyer who has represented universities in infractions cases, both said further investigation is warranted.

“The burden would be on UNC to explain them away, which they did not do in the report,” Infante said, adding that “the proportion of unauthorized grade changes between athletes and nonathlete students is irrelevant.”

Kane: 919-829-4861
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/01/25/2632455/martin-baker-tilly-release-new.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/01/25/2632455/martin-baker-tilly-release-new.html#storylink=cpy

via Updated data on UNC scandal details bogus classes, suspect grade changes – Local/State – NewsObserver.com.

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Jan 282013
 

newsobserver

Published Sat, Jan 26, 2013 08:02 AM

By Renee Elder – relder@newsobserver.com

RALEIGH — Sale of an 80,000-acre forest could provide a big financial boost for N.C. State University’s Forestry and Environmental Resources Department, but the proposal is drawing sharp criticism from faculty and alumni, who say this “crown jewel” of the forestry program is too important to lose.

NCSU’s Natural Resources Foundation board agreed earlier this month to sell Hofmann Forest, established in 1934 just north of Jacksonville by the forestry department’s founding dean, J.V. Hofmann. The foundation oversees management of Hofmann Forest, as well as other land and investments held by the College of Natural Resources, and its recommendation now goes to the NCSU Board of Trustees for a vote.

“In deciding about the future of the Hofmann, the Foundation considered which options would provide the greatest good for the largest number of CNR faculty, staff and students, and our professions, over the long term,” foundation President Brenda Brickhouse and Natural Resources Dean Mary Watzin said in an email following the decision earlier this month.

A financial analysis determined that income from investing the projected $117 million sale price would ultimately outweigh the educational benefits of Hofmann Forest, Brickhouse said.

“It is a critically unique resource, for sure, to have 80,000 acres in one place,” said Brickhouse, an alumnus of the College of Natural Resources. “The key thing to me is that we have other forests where folks can go and do most of the work now done at Hofmann Forest.”

Dozens of faculty, alumni and students have voiced opposition to sale of the land, which lies in Jones and Onslow counties. The property was acquired for field studies in land and forestry management, in an area described as a wetland or “pocosin,” an Algonquin Indian word meaning “swamp on a hill.”

Sales of trees grown on about half the property, along with other income generated through hunting leases and other means, have provided $1.5 million to $2 million annually in recent years for the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources. The money has been used mostly for scholarships and teaching assistantships for graduate students.

An income analysis commissioned by the foundation determined that selling the land for $117 million and investing the proceeds in a diversified stock fund could bring in at least double that for the department, Watzin said.

“Our responsibility is to think about the greatest good,” she said. “We feel we would get a higher and more regular rate of return through diversified investments. The land was purchased to exclusively benefit the college, and that money would still go to the college.”

Even with higher financial returns, the sale could not offset the benefits of having Hofmann Forest available as an outdoor laboratory for students, said forestry professor Fred Cubbage, who was among several faculty members who wrote to Watzin opposing the sale.

Hofmann Forest is known as the largest educational forest in the U.S. and is a “a crown jewel of sustainable development and management,” Cubbage said.

“We have practiced what we have preached for 79 years, since Julius Hofmann had the vision to create the ultimate teaching and research lab,” he said. “All that is just history if we sell this thing.”

Cubbage said research in tree genetics and biometrics, wetlands management, forest productivity and many other areas has been carried out at Hofmann. He said that work would be difficult to replicate at the department’s other land holdings, which include the 2,400-acre Hill Forest north of Durham, the 250-acre Schenck Forest off Wade Avenue west of Raleigh, and the 1,100-acre Goodwin Forest in Moore County.

About 40 faculty members and more than 50 alumni have signed petitions opposing the forest sale. Comments posted on the College of Natural Resources alumni website have been overwhelmingly opposed.

“Without the Hofmann, NCSU’s forestry program stops being the leading field forestry school on the East Coast,” said Christopher Minguez, who graduated in 2009 and works in the Department of Natural Resources for the state of Alaska.

Bob Abt, a professor who specializes in forest economies, said he thinks Hofmann Forest is “symbolically important” to the department and a benefit to forestry instruction and research.

“But if I have to answer the question, ‘Is it a unique resource that I have to have in order to teach my courses?’ the answer is ‘no,’” Abt said. “If we don’t have the forest anymore, I can still use the database that has been established over the years.”

Abt said as companies such as International Paper and Weyerhaeuser have divested timberland holdings over past 15 years, the most likely buyers for the property are real estate investment trusts or timber investment management organizations, both of which acquire timberland as a hedge against stock market volatility in investment portfolios.

“Turns out that timberland prices aren’t correlated with the stock market,” Abt said. “Trees grow, even in recessions.”

Watzin said the sale of the forest likely would be subject to conditions, including that the land continue as a working forest and that access remain open to faculty and students for teaching and research.

“It is important that any sale of the forest be consistent with the values of the college, and that it would retain the name and legacy of the Hofmann,” she said.

Joe Roise, director of graduate programs for the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, said the fact that faculty and researchers have management control over the property is a major advantage of ownership.

“I do forest management planning and develop large-scale mathematical programs for forests around the world,” Roise said. “The Hofmann may be small by real-world standards, but it’s big enough to do realistic management experiments. No other land base we have has that ability.”

He also pointed out that the property contains the headwaters of three Eastern North Carolina rivers – White Oak, Trent and New.

“Students can do hydrological studies on dynamics of headwaters here, where the land is flat with high organic soil,” Roise said. “It’s a very special place. And it’s the only forest we control on the coastal plain.”

Even if new owners were to allow research to continue on the property, Cubbage says the value for educators, researchers and students would be greatly reduced.

The forested portion of the property was operated under contract to a private company, with similar agreements, in the 1970s and 1980s, Cubbage said. That severely limited how and where NCSU researchers could use the forest, he said.

“We ended up being estranged from our own property for more than a decade,” he said.

“It’s a productive reserve of natural ecosystems managed sustainably. We are proud of it. We’d hate to lose it.”

Elder: 919-829-4528
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/01/25/2633461/proposed-sale-of-nc-state-research.html#storylink=cpy

via Proposed sale of N.C. State research forest draws criticism – Education – NewsObserver.com.

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Jan 282013
 

reflector

By ECU News Services

Sunday, January 27, 2013

East Carolina University is one of a handful of schools nationwide that is participating in a program to recruit and retain minority dental students.

The ECU School of Dental Medicine, working with N.C. A&T State University, will focus on minority students through the Dental Pipeline National Learning Institute.

Introduced by the American Dental Education Association in partnership with the University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, the institute is a new training program dedicated to increasing recruitment and retention among underserved student communities at dental schools.

Nine other U.S. universities are participating in the program with the goal of creating a diverse workforce of dentists who understand the oral health care needs of patients from underserved populations. ECU began work on the project in October.

Participating schools will receive $12,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, along with other support and resources such as access to online courses and fundraising tutorials.

ECU, N.C. A&T, the Old North State Dental Society and North Carolina’s historically black colleges and universities will collaborate to implement the project. This project builds on ECU’s commitment to meeting health needs of diverse and underserved communities and on N.C. A&T’s record of educating students who are prepared to assume leadership roles in their professions and communities.

Other dental schools participating in the NLI include the Georgia Health Sciences University College of Dental Medicine, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and the Indiana University School of Dentistry.

The Dental Pipeline effort is based on the concept that dental institutions can address the access-to-dental-care crisis by recruiting and admitting more students who come from underserved student communities, increasing cultural competency of all students and educating dental students through community rotations in health centers and other safety net dental settings, such as ECU’s community service learning centers. These principles served as the basis of a decade-long nationwide effort among dental schools and community partners that has positively impacted dental education and access to care.

Students interested in learning more about the ECU program can receive updates via the dental school’s Facebook page. They also may contact the ECU dental school admissions office at sodmadmissions@ecu.edu.

More information on the Dental Pipeline National Learning Institute is online at http://www.adea.org/PipelineNLI.

 

Renaissance expert to lecture on Feb. 7 

ECU visiting professor  Gary A. Stringer, scholar of English Renaissance literature, will share details about the first collected edition of John Donne’s poems during a free public lecture at 7 p.m. on Feb. 7 in Room 1031 of the Bate Building on campus. A reception will follow.

Stringer will examine the volume of John Donne poetry published two years after Donne’s death. The lecture is titled, “The Making of the 1633, ‘Poems, by J.D. with Elegies on the Author’s Death,’ An Illustrated Detective Story.”

He will highlight the condition in which Donne left the poems at his death, the print environment out of which this volume of poems emerged, the credentials of the publisher, the obscurity surrounding the origins of the publication venture and identification of the various manuscripts used in assembling the collection. He will illustrate points in the presentation with visuals of 17th century books and manuscripts.

Stringer joined the ECU faculty in 2011 as a visiting professor in the Department of English and as the David Julian and Virginia Suther Whichard Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, housed in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences. The Whichard Professorship, which Stringer now holds for a second academic year, is endowed through a donation by the Whichard family.

Since Stringer’s research is supported primarily by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, he has redirected some research funds provided through the Whichard endowment to other projects.

“By the time my two years are up, Whichard funds will have supported in whole, or in part, visits to ECU by six outside scholars, three creative writers, three filmmakers and the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities,” Stringer said. “I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to help support endeavors like these, which contribute to the intellectual and cultural life of the community.”

Stringer received his doctorate, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in English from the University of Oklahoma. In a nearly 50-year academic career, he has held faculty appointments at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, the University of Southern Mississippi and Texas A&M University.

For more information about the lecture, call Denise Miller a 328-6053.

Research could lead to advances against Alzheimer’s, cancer

Research by a team at ECU could help lead to a better understanding of how individual cells perform certain tasks and could have implications for Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other conditions.

Dr. Qun Lu, a professor of anatomy and cell biology at the Brody School of Medicine at ECU, said his team’s discovery of a chemical compound involved in cell signaling and a potential small molecule drug lead that could affect the action of a type of protein “provides a potentially powerful tool for research … in human pathogenesis.”

Lu’s research is published in the current issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. An abstract of the study, titled “Small Molecule Targeting Cdc42-Intersectin Interaction Disrupts Golgi Organization and Suppresses Cell Motility,” is available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23284167.

ECU doctoral student Amy Friesland is a co-first author of this article. Lu collaborated with the laboratories of Dr. Yan-Hua Chen in the ECU Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology of Brody School of Medicine as well as with scientists in China. The study is funded in part by grants of nearly $1.2 million from the National Cancer Institute and by the Harriet and John Wooten Laboratory for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases Research at ECU.

Upcoming events

Tuesday: Art as Avocation: Opening reception for an exhibition by ECU Dr. Anthony Breuer, a local neurologist and artist; 4:30-6 p.m., Evelyn Fike Laupus Gallery, 4th floor Laupus Library. Exhibit on display Jan. 29-March 12. Free and open to the public.

Thursday: Dance 2013, featuring choreography by ECU faculty, guest artist John Magnus and the North River Dance Company; 8 p.m. nightly, Jan. 31-Feb. 5 in McGinnis Theatre. Tickets are $12.50 for adults, $10 for students, available online at www.ecuarts.com.

via The Daily Reflector.

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Jan 282013
 

reflector

By Wesley Brown

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Searching for consensus, a 30-year veteran with the state Department of Commerce was unable to find common ground Saturday among the City Council on more than $50 million of capital investment projects in Greenville.

After five staff presentations, 10 rounds of facilitated discussion and 45 proposed ideas to move the city forward, the council ended its annual planning session with little to no direction for staff.

The board spent close to seven hours at odds — sometimes arguing bitterly — about the projects they wanted staff to pursue the upcoming fiscal year in a debate some members described as a forum for the city’s polarized politics.

Facilitator David Long — a private consultant from Greensboro hired to help the city identify its most pressing issues, needs and opportunities — wrapped up the retreat at 4 p.m., saying he will summarize and return the results of the board’s discussions at a later date.

“As suspected some council members came prepared to fight against a plan before they knew what was going to be presented,” said at-large councilman Dennis Mitchell, who has made economic development his top priority. “In the end, our city manager gave us a bold vision and several options to pay for it and we did nothing.”

Mitchell was the only council member to specifically endorse a capital improvement project, recommending staff to move forward with planning the construction of the $2.5 million Medical Research Park and the $4 million Go Science Center.

The plans presented included ways to pay for road resurfacing, upgrading deteriorating parks and facilities, and possible funding of the 15 economic development projects that together totaled about $50 million.

The remainder of the council only loosely identified West Greenville and the downtown district as areas in need of revitalization, redirecting staff to go back to the drawing board and hammer out alternate forms of funding for projects.

Among the requests made by the board included asking staff to diversify the city’s revenue sources, explore bond referendums, further develop economic incentives and pursue more partnerships with East Carolina University, Pitt County and Vidant Medical Center.

City manager Barbara Lipscomb pushed the council to decide on a time frame and a specific list of projects it wanted to pursue either individually or together, adding that staff had provided enough research to proceed.

Council members indicated they will continue to review the information provided by staff and discuss those topics at future City Council meetings.

“Let’s disseminate this information to the community and take an informal temperature of our needs and wants before moving forward with a set course,” District 3 Councilwoman Marion Blackburn said. “I know we drill down and quantify certain ideas, but we need to first agree on a proposal.”

Greenville’s Financial Services Director Bernita Demery said the city could afford $420 million in debt if it explored a mixture of potential revenue sources.

She said the council could secure limited obligation and special revenue bonds, installment purchase agreements or cash out a one-time contribution of $4.2 million from the general fund to fiance economic development projects.

Demery added the city also could find an extra $24 million in revenue, if it increased property taxes by two percent, food and beverage taxes by one percent and sales taxes by a quarter percent.

“I recommend you move very fast in identifying the list of capital projects you want to pursue,” Lipscomb said. “The money and the construction costs are not going to get any cheaper.”

Although the council indicated it wanted to upgrade the South Greenville Recreation Center and possibly bring a multi-media art center downtown, it said it first wanted to address the city’s system of roads.

Public Works Director Kevin Mulligan told the board that approximately 100 miles of city roadway is in poor condition. At $100,000 per mile, he estimated it would cost $10 million to resurface, which in a 20-year replacement plan, he put at $2.5 million annually.

“These are significant issues that need to be floated out to the business community and area residents,” Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas said. “We are just the tip of the spear for 85,000-plus people in the city. We need to gain input and come back and flesh out the details of each idea.”

Mitchell said in the coming days he plans to lobby his fellow council members to present a bond referendum to voters in November to fund economic development items.

“What we know is that the rates are the lowest they have ever been and with our strong financial standing as a city we have more than enough capacity to handle the bonds,” Mitchell said. “If we are serious about economic development and becoming a first class city, we have to be bold enough to act on a bold vision.”

Contact Wesley Brown at 252-329-9579 or wbrown@reflector.com.

Follow him on Twitter @CityWatchdog.

via The Daily Reflector.

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