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Donnabeth Leffler

The 1%

     The Occupy movement may not have a leader or a unified goal or even a single message but it sure does have staying power.  It’s been about three months since it first entered our lexicon and, for me, it has come to symbolize a sense of unfairness.          State Senator Ellie Kinnaird captured that sense in one of her recent newsletters. She shared that she wrote to the CEO of Wells Fargo after he was heckled during a North Carolina speech that “the protesters have a valid message and that he could take an important step by reducing his $18.9 million compensation to no more than 100 times his lowest paid worker.”        We needn’t single out Wells Fargo here; executive compensation rarely seems reasonable these days. But I am a good capitalist and it is the opposite of a free market to cap someone’s salary.  If that’s what the market will bear, then why not?  But when two commas show up in the salary of someone leading a financial institution, it seems triply unfair because the tax dollars of everyone bailed out several of these enterprises  and it seems that many of those played a role in causing the severe economic distress surrounding us now.        I was what is now called a tween when I first heard the...

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Why Chapel Hill is Lucky

       I’ve had so much to say over the past few weeks that I’ve found myself virtually (!) tongue-tied.           I couldn’t seem to focus my thoughts about so many less-than-savvy spenders:  the staffer of Kansas Gov. Brownback who decided public time and money should be spent threatening a high school student over a tweet.  Not a gun… a tweet.        Then there’s the possibility that longterm unemployment benefits will run out on almost 2 million people just after the first of the year if Congress doesn’t authorize an extension.  If those in Washington aren’t going to worry about someone’s rent and food bill, they might think about the added drag on the economy and social services if these are not extended.  Not one member of congress will ever lack for healthcare and I doubt any will lack for food nor shelter.          Speaking of Washington, the failure of the so-called congressional supercommittee to reach some kind of compromise toward it’s goal of cutting more than $1 trillion from the federal budget deficit left me more than tongue-tied.  I was and am angry about the intransigence of people we elect.  Beyond the Beltway the country is littered with states where solutions to budgetary problems are being found in the pensions of public workers.  Did you hear any member of...

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Just Ask us Local Folks

I have been mulling my next topic for days… between my previous columns about college football distress locally as compared with the devastating allegations at Penn State, a Congressional Super Committee seemingly as entrenched in its opposition as the NBA and its players, and, of course, this week’s elections.   Well, it seems I can group 2 of the 3 and leave Penn State for others to dissect, discuss and probably be disgusted by.  I can’t really leave it totally alone but I promise to be brief.  If these charges are true, someone tell me how the safety of a child is less important than football?     ————————————————   Thanks for joining me for that detour of rage and now I’ll return to my usually composed self.     So, it seems that the anti-tax forces so well-represented in Washington these days didn’t make it to our local party on election day.  Orange County passed a tax increase and so did neighboring Durham.  And most of those who voted are not millionaires.     So, when a plan for job creation gets shot down because of a less-than-1% tax increase on those at the tippy-top of our economic ladder I search for the disconnect. On one hand we have local communities pitching in to grow jobs and better our schools and on the other we have national politicians...

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Signs, Signs, Not Everywhere a Sign

      Some of our Carolina blue buses are red.  Wells Fargo is paying to wrap some of our buses in red to showcase its renaming of Wachovia.  The town of Chapel Hill has sold the advertising space and is hoping to sell a lot more.         Whether or not it dismays you to see these giant moving billboards roll through town, we can’t ignore that the town needs revenue and this is potentially a big (pun intended) source.  I’m all for the town of Chapel Hill finding new sources of revenue.          Here’s where I get stuck:  don’t businesses have a right to increase revenue through advertising?  When defending the bus ads, several council members have alluded to the revenue boost.  Well, then, if businesses were allowed giant signs, they may pull in more customers which would translate to additional tax revenue for the town.  Much needed, right?         There are many regulations concerning commercial advertising in Chapel Hill.  I did my best to read all of them and I’m fairly sure no business is allowed a sign the size of a bus.  I’m also fairly certain they are not allowed to drive around town on a regular schedule.          So, how is it fair and equitable that the town gets to respond to these tough economic times...

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A Cost of Buying Local

     I saw firsthand this week why it’s sometimes difficult to buy local.         While in a shoe store, waiting to be helped, I witnessed the following interaction:   Customer:  “I want these shoes but I want them in _______ (color not available in store).”   Salesperson: “We can order them for you, no problem.  It’s a $25 non-refundable deposit.”   Customer: “But these don’t always fit the same and I’d want to try them.”   Salesperson: “Yes, they’re hand-sewn so they aren’t all exactly alike.”   Customer: “But if the deposit is non-refundable and they don’t fit right….?   Salesperson:  “Yes, if it’s something we don’t have keep in stock, that deposit is non-refundable.”   (I admit to not providing an exact transcript here but I pledge the essence is there.)        Part of me wanted to sidle over and tell the customer the names of websites that offer free shipping and free return shipping.  I did not.  I don’t know how the transaction ended because by then I was happily trying on my own shoes (with excellent service, by the way).          So there’s the rub:  The small business doesn’t want to shoulder the entire risk of ordering stock it might not be able to sell and that’s reasonable and understandable.  For the consumer to share the risk, however,...

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America's Loss

     I have taken advantage of the ubiquitous nature of money to allow this column on spending to lead me (and you) down many paths.  This time, my link is the many dollars spent on Apple products over the past several years.        The death of Steve Jobs was personal for me because it was the death of my son’s hero.  9-year old boys have long had heroes: superheroes, sports stars, rock musicians, but mine locked on to Steve Jobs and all that he created.         I know he has plenty of company; in...

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Pink Dollars

 I hope it is an underestimation to assume most of you are aware of the pink tint of much of our towns this month.  In case you’re among the few unaware of the flattering blush tone, it’s all part of “Turn the Town Pink” which is a fund (and awareness) raising effort by UNC Lineberger and its Comprehensive Cancer Support Program (CCSP).     This column has seen a few rants about seemingly uncaring businesses but today, I write the opposite.  The business and community partners joining with UNC are proving that customer service comes in more than obvious ways.  And sometimes it wears pink.   The quantity and variety of businesses finding creative ways to donate and to help us donate is laudable but, to me, not surprising.  I’ve written before that I’ve lived in many places and never before have I lived in a community where good works and philanthropy is as celebrated as it is here.     Here’s just a sample of participating local businesses: Aveda Institute Carolina Inn Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership Chapel Hill Sportswear Elaine’s on Franklin Finn Facial Plastics Galloway Ridge O2 Fitness Performance AutoMall  Pure Barre Shula’s 347 Grill The Siena Hotel A Southern Season  Southern Village Pediatric Dentistry Sugarland Vietri   One business much beloved by me is donating 5% of the proceeds of all of next week’s (Oct. 17-21)...

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Good Use of our Money?

     I am a bit confused about something and I’m going to share my perplexity with you.          Let’s just say there’s already a law against something.  Let’s also say money is tight.  Schools need money, social programs need money (because more people need social programs)… I think we can all agree there’s just not enough money to go around these days.          Can we also agree that special legislative sessions cost money?  I’ve read it’s about $50,000/day.  I don’t know how much it costs to put a constitutional amendment before voters but it probably isn’t $0.          So, therein lies my confusion: North Carolina already bans same-sex marriage so why spend money we clearly don’t have to put that ban in the constitution?  I don’t understand how it could be made more illegal than it currently is.  Is doubling-down on this “illegality” worth more than aid to Hurricane Irene’s coastal victims?  Is it worth more than limiting which 4-year olds get more education?  Is it worth more than treatment for victims of domestic abuse or the mentally ill?  Some people clearly think so.          Well, like it or not the money has been/is being spent and we will all get to decide in May.           I have my personal, moral, humanistic code...

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Town Square

     Chapelboro.com offers us a virtual town square where we can learn what’s happening and exchange ideas.  But any strong community offers places where we can physically be together as well, exchanging a quick hug or sharing news over a cup of coffee, for instance.          This coming week Chapel Hill kicks off the development of its new comprehensive plan. The discussions and debate will no doubt include the topics of density, urbanity and space. And, while there will be many points of view, I’m going to bet most people will be looking for more opportunities to create town squares.  I said create, not build, because sometimes these opportunities develop without any intent.  And, as far as the points of view: there will be many ideas of what constitutes a town square.        One enterprise in town is trying to build one and its location might surprise you:  University Mall.  Between the summer concert series and art shows and children’s activities, the mall has been working hard to become a destination beyond shopping.  While I wasn’t able to reach the mall’s marketing manager this week, I have spoken with General Manager Peter de Leon in the past, and I am absolutely sure he’s not forgotten he’s in the retail business!  So, what’s at work here?          De Leon has clearly...

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Filling the Borders II

 Filling in the Borders   The cavernous space that once housed Borders on Fordham is about to be filled… by a recent retail visitor to Chapel Hill.  And, like the last time, this visit will be temporary. A month-long J.Crew pop-up warehouse sale is opening there for the month of October.    Property Manager Joe Mendola says he’s been working hard to fill the 25,000+ square foot space since Borders closed last spring.     J.Crew has had success here before, when it occupied an empty space in University Mall.  The photo below shows the crowds it attracted last...

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