Scammers Targeting Carrboro Businesses

Several Carrboro businesses have been the target of a scam over the last couple of weeks.

Carrboro Police Captain Chris Atack says all of the scams had a common theme.

“We have had six reports between March 17 and March 19, we haven’t had any since, all of them were businesses located in and around the East Main Street – West Main Street area,” he says. “A caller would purport to be from Duke Power and claim that this particular business was in arrears significantly to where they were about to shut their power off.”

A bit of good news with this scam, no one has reportedly fallen for it.

“No known losses at this point. They were all recognized as being definitely suspicious,” Atack says. “But certainly someone [is] out there trying to see if they can catch someone unaware.”

Atack says the fact this is not the first we have heard of a scam like this may be contributing to business owners and residents being a bit more wary of these calls.

“I think these types of scams have been around now long enough where people are probably immediately suspicious,” he says. “People are starting to ask questions and not just trust what they hear on the phone. And I think that is key to stopping these things before there’s any loss.”

One negative associated with these calls is they are nearly impossible to track, and, therefore, the police department has no suspects at this time.

Going forward, Atack reminds residents being cautious when receiving a call like this can save a lot of time, hassle, and money in the long run.

“When someone calls to your house, be it your residence or your business, always be suspicious when they’re trying to create a high-pressure environment where you have to make a decision immediately and send money somewhere,” he says. “If you have any doubts in your mind, tell that person that you’ll call the company back directly and find a different way to get a phone number, other than that person on the phone.

“Be very suspicious because there are people out there that will definitely take advantage of a trusting soul on the phone.”

This is one of several scams going around our area recently, but Atack says all of the scams follow the same pattern.

“They’re all designed to create this sense of urgency in your mind, and there’s high pressure, and you have to make a decision now, and you have to give me money,” he says. “If you find yourself in that situation, there’s a good chance that’s a scam.

“Most legitimate businesses do not operate with that model.”

If you are on the receiving end of any of these calls you are asked to hang up and notify authorities, as well as the company the scammers are claiming to be from.

New Leadership Renews Cooperation Among Fire Departments

Change in leadership for the Carrboro Fire Department is leading to its renewed cooperation with the Chapel Hill fire officials.

Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones says in the past Chapel Hill and Carrboro firefighters have worked in close conjunction to best serve citizens of both towns.

“At one time, we had a very close working relationship,” he says.

But Jones says differences arose after a change in management at the Carrboro Fire Department.

“And some differences in philosophy – about how responses are handled and, basically, command and control at emergency scene differences – put some stress on the relationship,” he says. “The personnel in the field continued to work together through that period of time.

“We never stopped working together. It just wasn’t the level of cooperation it had once been.”

Jones says most of the differences in philosophy were highly technical.

After the resignation of Carrboro Fire Chief Travis Crabtree and Deputy Chief Richard Cox earlier this year, an Interim Chief was brought in to lead the Carrboro Department. Jones says that change has brought a renewed sense of teamwork.

“The Interim Chief, Chief Styons who is there now, is of the philosophy that used to be the case in Carrboro and matches well with Chapel Hill,” he says. “We immediately reached out to each other and reestablished that relationship.”

Jones says that decision will lead to a system of close cooperation between the town’s fire departments.

“We’re going back to where we were a few years ago,” he says. “For example in the mutual aid, instead of waiting to see if someone needs help and then calling for that help, it goes back to an automatic mode.

“Which means that the assistance is automatically dispatched by the 911 center in Orange County just on the nature of the call, not waiting to see if it’s serious enough to need help.”

He adds with Chapel Hill and Carrboro in such close proximity it is most beneficial to residents that the crews work together.

“The Interim Chief, Chief Styons, has moved Carrboro back into, probably what I would consider to be, more the mainstream thinking of how things are done,” he says. “So that relationship is very positive again and moving forward.”

Carrboro Interim Fire Chief Rusty Styons retired from the City of Raleigh Fire Department in 2012 as the Assistant Fire Chief, after serving for 30 years.

Carrboro Assistant Boy Scout Master Pleads Not Guilty

Brian Burnham entered a plea of not guilty to all charges, on Tuesday morning, during his arraignment hearing on child pornography charges.

Burnham, the 36-year-old former Assistant Scout Master with Boy Scout Troop 845 based out of Carrboro, appeared in federal court in Greensboro facing charges of knowingly receiving child pornography and knowingly distributing and attempting to distribute child pornography.

The investigation began in November 2014 with a cybertip from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

In the search warrant, an investigator swore that Burnham has not spoken face to face with juveniles about sexual topics: adding that Burnham only talks to the juveniles about these topics via the internet and cell phone.

Burnham’s defense attorneys argue that, however inappropriate some of those messages may be, the ones quoted do not support any inference that Burnham may have committed any sexual crimes against the minor males or attempted to entice any of the minor males to do so.

Burnham was released from jail in mid-February after his bond was posted under several guidelines laid out by the court, including that he would reside with his mother in Matthews, and he would have no access to the internet or cell phones. He also submitted to electronic monitoring.

Burnham has a hearing scheduled for April 6 to discuss any motions or change of plea. His jury trial is slated for April 13.

New Charge for Carrboro Assistant Boy Scout Master

A new charge has been filed against former Carrboro Boy Scout Troop Assistance Scout Master Brian Burnham.

The 36-year-old Former Boy Scout Troop 845 Assistant Scout Master Brian Burnham appeared in federal court in Durham, earlier this month.

A new charge was released from the grand jury just this week. Burnham now faces a count of knowingly distributing and attempting to distribute child pornography by mail, shipping, and transporting child pornography “using any means and facility of interstate and foreign commerce.”

Burnham had previously been charged with knowingly receiving child pornography from at least early 2009 through November 2014, according to court documents.

The investigation began in November 2014 with a cybertip from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

In the search warrant, an investigator swore that Burnham has not spoken face to face with juveniles about sexual topics: adding that Burnham only talks to the juveniles about these topics via the internet and cell phone.

Burnham’s defense attorneys argue that, however inappropriate some of those messages may be, the ones quoted do not support any inference that Burnham may have committed any sexual crimes against the minor males or attempted to entice any of the minor males to do so.

Burnham was released from prison under a $50,000 secured bond, under the conditions put forward in the court, including that Burnham would reside with his mother in Matthews. He also submitted to electronic monitoring, he shall have no contact with the victim or any minor child under the age of 18, unless in the presence of his guardian. Burnham is also ordered to not possess or use a computer, or any other means, to access any “on-line computer service,” or possess or cell phones or other electronic devices.

Defense attorneys filed 33 character testimonies from citizens who wrote in attesting to the character of Mr. Burnham.

He is due back in court next week for arraignment.

Donation Means No Adoption Fees at Orange County Animal Services

You can add a new pet to your home this Valentine’s Day from Orange County Animal Services, for FREE.

In the true spirit of the season, The Animal Hospital of Carrboro made a donation of over $5,300 to Orange County Animal Services to sponsor adoption fees. As a result, when the center opens on Valentine’s Day, this Saturday, visitors will be able to take home their choice of 48 adoptable animals, at no charge.

In addition to the adoption fees, the remaining funds will go into the department’s Community Spay/Neuter Fund, according to a press release.

Those animals sponsored by the holiday fundraiser event will remain sponsored until adoption and will be marked as such at the Animal Services Center.

Former Carrboro Assistant Boy Scout Master to Appear Before Judge on Child Porn Charges

Former Boy Scout Troop 845 Assistant Scout Master Brian Burnham will appear in federal court in Durham, on Thursday.

The 36-year-old Burnham has been indicted on charges of knowingly receiving child pornography from early 2009 through November 2014, according to court documents.

Burnham’s arrest warrant shows he was arrested on February 3, at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Burnham was heavily involved in troop 845, which is based in Carrboro; he was one of two adults who led ten local teens on a cross-country bicycle trip in 2013.

The investigation began in November 2014 with a cybertip from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

John Akerman, Scout Executive with the Occoneechee Council of the Boy Scouts of America, released the following statement to WCHL:

“The behavior included in these allegations runs counter to everything for which the Boy Scouts of America stands. Upon learning of the allegations we took immediate action to insure that this individual was removed from the Scouting program and preclude him from any further participation in the program. The safety of our youth members is of paramount importance and we seek to prevent child abuse through a comprehensive program of education on the subject, the chartered organization leader selection process, criminal background and other checks, policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.”

Akerman adds the organization is fully cooperating with the authorities during their investigation.

CHCCS Teams with Verizon to Provide At-Risk Students with Internet Access

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools and Verizon are teaming up in an effort to bridge the achievement gap.

120 students throughout the four high schools in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro School District will receive a Google Chromebook laptop. To open up access to the internet with that device, the students will also receive a MiFi Jetpack from Verizon that will work as a mobile hotspot for internet service over Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

School Superintendent Dr. Tom Forcella says, to be able to find a solution, the school system first had to recognize there was a problem.

“One gap that became apparent was the fast-growing technology gap,” he says. “We had become a school district with two distinct groups of children; those who are digitally connected, and those who are not.”

So to bridge that gap, the school system has partnered with Verizon through the school’s Community Connection Program.

Darren Bell, the Coordinator of that program, says this will allow the students to have access to their learning materials at any time.

“We are actually tearing down the physical walls that are the schools,” he says. “Through the usage of our technology, students can now access their digital learning environment 24/7, access communication with teachers, and also other resources all the time.”

Chapel Hill High School Assistant Principal Al Donaldson says it is important that the student assistance does not end simply by providing the technology.

“[We need to have] check-ins with the student, and check-ins with the family,” he says. “In terms of: how often are they using their materials? What kinds of roadblocks students are running into?”

Sarahi Gamboa Ramirez is a senior at Chapel Hill High School and is also taking classes at Durham Tech. She is doing all of this work with help from the Community Connection Program.

She says her success in high school, and her collegiate classes at Durham Tech, is due to the help she has received from the program. Gamboa Ramirez is working toward becoming a nurse.

Program Coordinator Darren Bell says the rollout of the second phase of the pilot program is underway to 120 students. He adds, at the end of next year, they hope to expand the program to middle schools and eventually to elementary schools in the system.

The cost incurred for the current rollout is an estimated $80,000. Bell says that number is expected double as the expansions continue. That funding is coming from the local and state levels.

Superintendent Forcella says these measures will help level the playing field for all of the students in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro School System.

Letter Grades Given to NC Public Schools

Schools across North Carolina received letter grades from the Department of Public Instruction on Thursday.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools, as a whole, outperformed their counterparts across the state under the new guidelines gauging school performance.

The new standards, pushed for by the General Assembly, weighted 80 percent of a school’s grade based on their achievement score, in the form of end-of-year testing, and 20 percent on student growth.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Forcella says he would like to see the weight of the score adjusted.

“The one detriment of the grading system is that it’s 80 percent focused on strictly test score,” he says. “The Superintendent’s Association – and I believe our school board – and what we’re looking for in Chapel Hill is to have a higher percentage of the grade to consider student growth.”

The term “growth” here is referring to student development over the course of an academic year.

Forcella says he believes momentum is building for adjustments to be made to the grading scale.

“In the first year of anything it’s always a little bit more difficult,” he says. “The more they can include a variety of variables, besides just the test score, it’ll give you, I think, a truer picture of how schools are doing.”

Wake County Democratic Senator Josh Stein filed a bill, on Wednesday, to alter the evaluation of a school’s performance. Under the newly proposed legislation, growth would account for 60 percent of a school’s grade and achievement would make up the remaining 40 percent.

Forcella adds it is important to help disadvantaged students be on level ground with their peers in a learning environment.

“It’s only equitable to have the same opportunities for all kids, especially with technology,” he says. “They can check online at home for their assignments. And many teachers have blogs and share information and provide information online.”

To help bridge that technology gap, Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools have teamed with Verizon to offer laptops and internet service to some of those students that do not have access to the technology at home.

You can see the full breakdown of Chapel Hill – Carrboro and Orange County Schools’ performances below:

School                                               Grade                  Score                 Growth Expectations

Carrboro Elem B 74 Met
Carrboro High A 85 Exceeded
Chapel Hill High A 87 Exceeded
Culbreth Middle B 79 Exceeded
E Chapel Hill High A 87 Exceeded
Ephesus Elem B 77 Met
Estes Hills Elem B 74 Met
FPG Elem C 55 Did Not Meet
Glenwood Elem B 81 Met
McDougle Elem B 75 Met
McDougle Middle B 81 Exceeded
Morris Grove Elem B 84 Exceeded
Northside Elem C 69 Met
Phillips Middle B 82 Exceeded
Rashkis Elem B 78 Met
Scroggs Elem B 79 Met
Seawell Elem A 85 Exceeded
Smith Middle B 82 Exceeded
A L Stanback Elem C 55 Did Not Meet
Cameron Park Elem B 76 Exceeded
Cedar Ridge High B 70 Did Not Meet
Central Elem D 48 Did Not Meet
CW Stanford Middle C 65 Did Not Meet
Efland Cheeks Elem C 56 Met
Grady Brown Elem C 69 Met
Gravelly Hill Middle C 58 Met
Hillsborough Elem B 73 Met
New Hope Elem C 64 Exceeded
Orange High C 67 Did Not Meet
Pathways Elem C 68 Did Not Meet

You can view the full report here.

CHCCS Nominated for Green Ribbon

The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City School System has been nominated for a national award for the “green” programs they have implemented.

Two school districts in the state have been nominated for the Green Ribbon; the other being Cherokee County Schools.

Dan Schnitzer is the Sustainability Coordinator for Chapel Hill – Carrboro Schools, and he says this is a relatively new program, being introduced in 2011.

Hear the full interview here:

“The U.S. Department of Education, a few years back, started Green Ribbon Schools program,” he says. “The Green Ribbon Schools program is specifically for schools working in the fields of sustainability and environmental education.”

Schnitzer says he believes the school system can serve as a model as more schools begin embracing ways to save energy and money. He adds one way the system has shown its commitment to environmentally-friendly programs is that his job exists in the first place.

Schnitzer says he is excited about the new projects being implemented, including composting leftover food.

“One of our big successes this year was we rolled out cafeteria composting in all of our elementary and middle schools,” he says. “It’s 14 schools. Every day we’ve got about 8,000 students who are composting their lunch. And the kitchen staff is composting their food scraps from back of the house.”

He adds, through December, those schools have composted about 113,000 pounds of food, keeping it out of landfills.

Schnitzer says this not only an environmentally-friendly solution, but it also affords an opportunity to teach the students in a real-world situation. He says one of the best parts of his job is working directly with the students so that the message gets passed along and doesn’t stop with measures taken to save the district money. Although, Schnitzer adds saving money on these areas allows more of those funds to be allocated back to the classrooms.

Schnitzer says momentum is building for more positions like his to be incorporated in school systems around the state.

“Granville County has a Recycling Coordinator. Durham [Public Schools] has recently hired a Sustainability Coordinator,” he says. “So, it’s growing. And, I think, part of that is because of the leadership of districts, like Chapel Hill – Carrboro, that take the risk on it.”

He adds that it is now just a waiting game to find out if the school system will be awarded the Green Ribbon.

“With Green Ribbon, the application has been sent on to the Department of Education,” he says. “We will hear back in April. They make a live announcement as to what schools and districts nationwide are awarded.”

If CHCCS receives the Green Ribbon, they will be invited to Washington D.C. for a July ceremony.

How Far Will Google Fiber Reach? Still To Be Determined

Google made the announcement last week that it would be bringing their ultra-fast internet service to our community. But with the excitement came questions: When will we receive Google Fiber? Will my neighborhood be included? How much will it cost?

The short answer to all of those questions is – we don’t know yet.

John Bjurman, Chief Information Officer with the Town of Chapel Hill, says the town is still in discussions with Google on these topics.

“Google has not been open to some questions that we have for them,” he says. “And I think it’s probably because they don’t know themselves.”

Bjurman emphasizes the announcement was just the first step in a long process.

“If they nailed down a date for somebody and don’t meet that date, it would be very embarrassing. They don’t want to do that,” he says. “And I understand that.”

We do know Hillsborough will not be included in the Google Fiber expansion. Town officials say they are working on expanding faster internet service to areas of the town through Time Warner Cable or other competitors to Google Fiber.

Chapel Hill Town Council Member George Cianciolo says the town and Google are continuing discussions about how to move forward with implementing Google Fiber.

Ciancillo adds faster internet service is not the only benefit of the Google Fiber service in our community.

“I think the competition is great,” he says. “I think, [for] both AT&T and Time Warner, now there will be downward pressure on some of their fees given that there’s competition. That’s what for years, I think, has been lacking.”

He also says one part of the continued negotiations is providing internet access to areas throughout the community that have not been afforded the service in the past.

“I know with AT&T part of the negotiation was to provide service to our public housing areas,” he says. “It would not be gigabit service. It would be lower-level service, but service nonetheless.”

One thing Bjurman says will be very impactful in determining which areas receive Google Fiber, and in which order the service is deployed, will be registering online.

“It’s very important that people do that,” he says, “because then they’ll know engaged interest in where [Google] would want to start and where they want to go.”