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Donnabeth Leffler

Happy to take my $$

I am the least sustainable person in any kitchen in the Chapelboro area.  How can I assert that claim?  Because I am always running out of something and have to stop somewhere to get it.  For instance, despite loading up on groceries for company this past weekend, I still had to stop this morning to get turkey for my son’s school lunches this week.  Of course, it would help if he were a little more flexible in the “what’s for lunch?” department, but this edition of the Savvy Spender is not so inwardly focused.  It dawned on me as I realized I had to add a stop to grab the turkey that, as I’ve written previously, I had many choices.  It also dawned on me fairly quickly that I had a first choice.  About to pass quick turns into Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Harris Teeter, I headed straight for Trader Joe’s.  I shop at all of those places (and others: Southern Season, Cliff’s, Li Ming, etc.) depending on my list but this time, I needed one specific thing and I needed also to not go out of my way and so the three in the first list were my best options.   How did I make my choice?  Part of it has to do with the speed and ease of navigating a smaller store.  The real answer lies...

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Thompson's Exit

The saga of teacher Anne Thompson is coming to an end.  She will be leaving Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in a few weeks, several months shy of her planned retirement.   If you’ve followed her saga, you know Thompson is not ending her career where she spent much of it, having been involuntarily transferred from Chapel Hill High School to Carrboro High School in time for the beginning of this school year.  She fought the transfer, along with colleague Bert Wartski, all the way to the courthouse and lost.   I heard from Ms. Thompson’s attorney, Trey Tanner, since I posted this who offered the following clarification:  “Ms. Thompson actually did not fight the transfer all the way to the courthouse and lose … she fought the transfer into the courhouse, had an unfavorable ruling at a preliminary stage and then dismissed her appeal, essentially withdrawing it from court before it was ever heard … in other words, it was more of a forfeit than a loss. 1. Superintendent Forcella decided to invluntarily transfer [sic] –the decision was appealed to the School Board 2. The School Board upheld the decision of the Superintendent –this decision was appealed by Petition to the Superior Court 3. A Motion to Stay the transfer was filed to keep Ms. Thompson and Mr. Wartski at CHHS while the appeal was pending … there was...

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Savvy Splendid Eating

A diversion today for frequent readers of my rantings:  some savvy and splendid eating is on the table for this column.   The grande dame of Chapel Hill, The Carolina Inn, sits in all her glory, basking in her history, commanding our respect, garnering our affection, and being the perfect place for that special occasion.    But with the arrival of new Executive Chef James Clark, The Carolina Inn is asking to add something else to her replete resume: Dining Destination.   I sampled some much of Chef Clark’s new fall menu for Carolina Crossroads Restaurant this past week...

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The Luxury of Disagreement

I have written derisively of using town dollars to defend a hands-free cell phone ban (when the town was even on notice it wouldn’t hold up in court).  The notion that it can be handled by attorneys already paid by the town made no difference to me because their salaries are still town dollars (tax $ = my $) and I have to believe there are other important issues awaiting legal attention on my dime.   Well, it seems we may just be approaching one of those.  And it’s just a small thing… I can’t remember what it’s called.  What a minute…. something free…. no… “Free something…….  I’ve got it:  Free Speech.   It’s quite likely you’re reading this thinking that’s a great use of tax dollars:  defending free speech.  Well, you may be disappointed to find out Chapel Hill is on the receiving end of a reminder about First Amendment rights.  The reminder comes from the American Civil Liberties Union and is about some controversial bus advertisements. The ads were about U.S. military aid to Israel. As a recovering journalist, I can tell you there are two topics in the U.S. that if you cover them in any way, every single person reading/listening/watching will assume you’re biased.  One of them is Israel.*  And that assumption of bias occurs when you’ve tried to be as absolutely evenhanded as possible.  In...

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For the People of North Carolina

The first few times I heard Chancellor Holden Thorp speak to assembled groups I noted he rarely missed an opportunity to talk about his work, the University’s work, as work “for the people of North Carolina”.  With his consistency, Thorp managed to convey that what was good for UNC was good for the far corners of our state and he was almost always glad to make the case about why.   I’ve done a fair amount of media training and I’m always impressed (and surprised) when a public figure can stay on message with such discipline.  I’ve come to learn that degree of discipline exists only when the messenger believes in it.  Public education is taking body blows in the form of budget cuts and higher education is taking upper cuts in the form of insults as elitist.  The Chancellor got in the ring with these opponents intent on keeping quality public higher education available at UNC-CH.  He seemed to be winning, too, though the knockout round was in the distance.  As a fighter, Thorp used his school and his faculty’s estimable reputation to forge ahead.    But all that strategy takes enormous concentration, even for someone that clever.  When he had to turn from the main ring and fight other battles, something was lost.  It must have been hideous to turn away from working “for the people of...

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Downtown Parking Dilemma

Recently I was able to get together with a dear friend to catch up on each other’s busy summers.  We were able to work out a day when we were both free for lunch and after some back and forth about our options we agreed we’d like to go to one of two downtown restaurants but neither of us, we agreed, wanted to “deal with parking”. After elaborate logistical planning allowing me to do a necessary errand and then meeting to travel in only one car (to ease the parking search), my clever companion arrived to collect me.  She came with a plan, basically it was an escape route.  We agreed on one circuit through downtown looking for parking and if it wasn’t meant to be, well then, we had a Plan B, and a yummy one at that.  And one with a parking lot.  Let me say that many times Plan B has been my first choice and is very yummy separate from its convenient lot.   I’ll jump to the end of the story because where we parked is not the point of this column.  We did one circuit and found a nearly empty lot.  We looked at each other and it was if finding an oasis in the desert.  We soon found out why it was empty between noon and 1pm on a weekday:  the broken...

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Fall Awakening & Food Trucks

The beautifully produced ads for The Rite of Spring commemoration by Carolina Performing Arts get my attention every time I hear them.  As taken as I am with the story   behind the upcoming season, I am much more a “rites of autumn” person. Though it will be a while before I enjoy that first touch of crispness in the air, I still get a thrill from the seasonal school supplies in stores and the first apples coming on the heels of peaches.  I appreciate the crackle of the fireplace more than the splash from the pool. Living in Chapel Hill means there’s one seasonal marker more than any other that I relish: the awakening of campus.  Yes, there’s more traffic and it’s more difficult to park.  Yes, lines are longer at grocery stores and I have to wait a few more days when I decide in a panic that it’s time for a haircut (if you know me, I’ll pause here for your laughter).   But those inconveniences are far outweighed for me by the sizzle of energy brought back by thousands of busy people, each one here for a reason important to him or her.  It is that sense of purpose, seemingly united by the calendar but as individual as each dream and ambition, that lights up fall for me.   My personal delights aside, this is...

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Follow-up Questions: Towing, Teachers, & Opportunity Cost

Word that Chapel Hill is going to continue the legal fight and appeal a judge’s ruling against a planned cell phone ban (including hands-free use) and a towing ordinance prompts a few questions: First of all, I keep hearing and reading that downtown businesses must use towing companies and aggressive towing tactics in order to maintain spaces for their patrons.  If this is the reason, why does towing persist after the business has closed?  Why not resume it 30 minutes prior to opening?  Again, I ask, what’s in it for the businesses?  They not only allow it; they encourage it.   Now to the appeal of the cell phone ban.  A recent Chapelboro news story quotes Chapel Hill Town Council member Penny Rich as saying town attorney Ralph Karpinos told the council the legal battle won’t incur any additional cost (emphasis mine) as it will all be taken care of by in-house attorneys.  I had written about the costs of pursuing this ban under my “Savvy Spender” banner, saying I believe the town has better things on which to spend my money. That was based on a pre-vote opinion from the N.C. Attorney General that the town would not prevail in court.   I was no academic star in my required economics courses but I do remember the concept of opportunity cost.  Forgive my inability to convey this elegantly...

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Cell Phones, Towing, & Teachers

Back in April I wrote about the Chapel Hill Town Council (CHTC) banning both handheld and hands-free cell phone use by drivers (with limited exceptions).   The point of my column then was not to root for distracted driving; it was to point out the pointless use of public (staff) time and money in defending this law, when the CHTC had an opinion from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office that it may be unenforceable.  Yes, the opinion said “may”.  It didn’t say “not”.  But with the scales of justice tipped against you and lots of other priorities facing the town, I questioned the decision.   Turns out both the Attorney General’s office and I were right.  Don’t you just love how I managed to puff myself up there?  Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson’s reason was in line with the AG’s office opinion: the town can’t enact laws where state law is comprehensive.  So, given that ruling, is this the finale of this folly?  Or should I prepare to stop listening to WCHL in the morning because that Ron Stutts fellow can be awfully distracting.   In that same ruling Judge Hudson struck down the town’s law regulating towing.  His reasoning there was that it violates the state constitution by regulating trade.   In Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s response (at bottom of this link) to the double loss in court,...

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Teacher Transfers: Not Going Away

I have been writing this column for well over a year.  I’ve written on topics as mundane as grocery shopping and as critical as the state education budget.  I’ve written about highly emotional topics such as Amendment One.  Following the posting of some of these, I’ve heard from a few of you.  But after my last post, on the transfer of Chapel Hill High School teacher Anne Thompson, I heard from an enormous number of people very upset by her situation. The notes I received were not cut-and-pasted bits of a coordinated campaign either.  They were heartfelt pleas for a closer look at what could have led to the decision and to ask for accountability from school leadership.  Some notes were from parents and some were from within the school system and all were determined to battle an injustice. When I wrote of Mrs. Thompson last week, only her appeal to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board had been denied.  I wrote of what I saw as a perfect opportunity for compassion to be shown to a- by all accounts- fabulous teacher who wanted to teach one more year before retiring in the school that had been her home for 26 years, including during the year she recently lost her husband.  Since then, you may have heard, another teacher’s appeal was denied.  Bert Wartski is also being transferred involuntarily...

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