Congressman David Price: Syrian Refugees ‘Desperate People Fleeing a Desperate Situation’

Legislation has passed the United States House aiming to slow or halt the flow of Syrian refugees into the country following the terrorist attacks in Paris.

President Obama, earlier in the year, announced the U.S. would accept up to 10,000 refugees. Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt was one of 18 Mayors who said their cities were prepared to accept even more refugees.

North Carolina Fourth District U.S. Congressman David Price spoke with WCHL’s Blake Hodge about the legislation that passed the House, the current vetting process the refugees go through and what role he feels the United States should play in the refugee crisis. Listen below:


After the Parisian attacks, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory joined nearly half the governors from across the country to ask that refugees not be reestablished in their states.

McCrory Asks Obama to ‘Cease Sending Refugees from Syria to North Carolina’

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory joined a growing list of state heads asking the President to slow or even halt the flow of Syrian refugees across the country.

“Because of the most recent attacks in Paris and the very real possibility that one of the terrorists entered France as a recent refugee,” McCrory says, “I am now requesting that the President and the federal government cease sending refugees from Syria to North Carolina.”

The list of governors opposing the relocation of Syrian refugees in their states now contains nearly two dozen names, mostly Republican with some Democrat.

President Barack Obama increased the number of refugees the United States would accept from 2,000 up to 10,000 earlier this year.

Concerns over the influx of refugees gained momentum over the weekend after the terrorist attacks in Paris, when a Syrian passport was found by the side of one of the attackers. That raised criticism that ISIS may have implanted attackers in the thousands of Syrians fleeing their war-torn country.

McCrory said North Carolina has a proud tradition and humanitarian obligation to provide a hand up for those in need, including international refugees. But he says that falls behind is paramount responsibility.

“My primary duty as governor is to protect the citizens of North Carolina,” McCrory says, “which is why I’m taking these steps and making this request of the President today.”

McCrory said he wants the federal government to stop relocating Syrian refugees to the Tar Heel state until officials receive more information about and are satisfied with the federal government’s background checks of the immigrants.

“I think what my public safety people are requesting and what I request as governor,” McCrory says, “is that we learn exactly who these people are, what there backgrounds are and we know exactly where they’re being relocated.

“In case there are potential threats, we know where to follow through.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt signed a letter, along with 17 other mayors, saying their cities are ready and willing to take in even more Syrian refugees than the Obama administration has proposed.

North Carolina is currently home to 59 Syrian refugees, according to McCrory.

“We have received almost little or no security information about those refugees on their backgrounds, even possibly their names in certain circumstances,” McCrory says. “We are asking for more additional collaboration and basic information, such as where these refugees are now residing.”

McCrory says top state officials are currently examining legal options if the President does not heed the request of the governors.

Congressman David Price issued a statement Monday evening saying that “closing our borders to refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war not only flies in the face of our national values of protecting the persecuted and providing refuge for the oppressed; it also undermines our nation’s standing in the world and our ability to confront the scourge of violent extremism.”

Price went on to say that “refugees from Syria are already subject to an extensive vetting process designed to ensure the safety of the families and communities in which they are placed.”

Price adds that keeping Americans safe at home and abroad is paramount but to “conflate refugees with terrorists doesn’t make us safer; it merely perpetuates and environment of suspicion and anxiety and risks lending more credibility to terrorist propaganda and recruitment efforts.”

Experts maintain there is little to no legal footing for states to reject refugees.

Good for Nicholas Sparks, good for North Carolina

“My books are all different,” Nicholas Sparks, the No. 1 New York Times best selling author who lives in New Bern, told a group of 500 fans at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Alumni Center last week.

Except, he says, for two things. One is that there will always be a couple in love.

The other is that the story will be set in North Carolina.

With Sparks’s books selling more than 100 million copies worldwide, a lot of people have learned a lot about our state. Then there are the movies and television programs based on the books. These have put millions more in touch with North Carolina.

The state government agencies responsible for boosting tourism and bringing economic development should put Sparks on the payroll. He may be doing more to bring attention to us than anybody else.

The event in Chapel Hill was hosted by Flyleaf Books as a part of the launching of Sparks’s twentieth novel, “See Me.” The new book is set in Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, with a few side trips to Brunswick County and Jacksonville.

Maria Sanchez, the female lead character, is a UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke Law graduate, who practices law in Wilmington after spending a few years as an assistant district attorney in Charlotte. Her family runs a popular Mexican restaurant in Wilmington. She is Sparks’s first Latino lead character.

Colin Hancock, the male lead, is a heavily tattooed, muscular “hunk” with serious anger management issues and a criminal record for violence. He is trying to take a different turn. He tends bar at the beach to earn money to fund his courses at UNC-Wilmington and his plan to become a third grade teacher.

Getting these two people together is Sparks’s first task, and it is the key to all of his stories, as he explained to me a few years ago.

It is not complicated, he said. First, he gets his main characters in mind, usually a man and a woman. Then he figures out how he is going to get them together, or get them back together if they had a past relationship.

Finally, he figures out how the story will end.  “For me it’s either happy, sad, or bittersweet.”

There are only these three possible endings, he says.

If they are going to be happy in the end, Sparks says, something sad has to happen along the way.

“Then,” he told me, “I have a story.”

But “See Me” is more complicated. In addition to the developing romance between Maria and Colin, there is a looming threat to Maria and her family. It could be someone in Wilmington or someone with a grudge based on something that happened in Charlotte while she was prosecuting criminals.

Nicholas Sparks has added a mystery to the story and made it a thriller.

He confesses that weaving in the mystery made writing “See Me” more challenging than his earlier books. He found himself backtracking and rewriting to be sure the mystery worked. In addition to being sure the clues to the mystery were properly disclosed along the way, Sparks wanted to build a sense of danger that grew as the story progressed.

He wants his readers to be able to solve the mystery, but not until a page or two before it is revealed in the book.

Will Sparks’s fan base support this combination of romance and mystery? Will the extra work he put into the new book pay off?

We will know in a few days when the “best seller” reports are published. Preliminary sales reports are positive. And the enthusiasm of the crowd at Chapel Hill is a good indication that Sparks has hit another home run.

Good for him.

And good for North Carolina.

ABC Commission Rejects Offer in Compromise with La Res

The board of the North Carolina Alcohol Beverage Control Commission has rejected a proposal with a Chapel Hill bar over punishment stemming from the triple-fatal wrong-way crash on I-85 in July.

Ownership of La Res had agreed to an offer in compromise proposed by staff at the ABC Commission which included a $5,000 fine or a suspension of the restaurant’s alcohol permits for 50 days.

But, in a rare move, the Commission Chairman Jim Gardner rejected the offer in compromise saying that he wants to see a stiffer penalty. Gardner ordered the ABC staff to return to negotiation with La Residence.

Legally, the most the Commission can fine an establishment is $5,000. Therefore, any additional penalties would include a suspension of permits for some period of time.

Two Chapel Hill establishments, La Residence and He’s Not Here, were both investigated following the fatal wreck.

20-year-old Chandler Kania has been indicted on three counts of second-degree murder after he allegedly drove the wrong-way on I-85 for at least six miles before striking another vehicle and killing three of the four passengers; 49-year-old Felicia Harris, 46-year-old Darlene McGee and six-year-old Jahnice Baird. A nine-year-old girl survived but suffered several broken bones, according to officials.

The part played by La Res and He’s Not Here includes failing to identify that Kania was under 21 years old when he came to the two bars the night before the crash. Both bars were cited for serving underage patrons, including Kania, according to court documents.

Documents show that Kania’s blood-alcohol content the night of the crash was a .17, double the legal limit to drive in North Carolina. Because Kania was underage, driving with any alcohol in his system would have been illegal.

The ABC Commission received a signed agreement to the proposed offer in compromise from La Residence in late September, according to a copy of the document obtained by WCHL.

Commission Spokesperson Agnes Stevens says the Commission did not receive a signed offer in compromise from He’s Not Here. The Commission’s proposal for the longtime Chapel Hill bar included a harsher penalty than was initially levied against La Res. The Commission was calling for the voluntary suspension of all licenses.

If an agreement cannot be renegotiated between La Res and the ABC Commission, then the case will go before an administrative law judge.

Stevens says the matter with He’s Not Here is also likely to go before an administrative law judge, but there is no date set yet.

If a judge rules against He’s Not Here, the bar would have their licenses removed and the owners would not be able to apply for a new license for at least three years.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools Score Highly

A new set of grades are out for public schools in the Tar Heel state.

The State Board of Education released preliminary information regarding student performance based on a variety of measures on Wednesday.

Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools registered three Cs, 11 Bs and four As across the district. Meanwhile the state board graded Orange County Schools at one D, nine Cs and two Bs.

Diane Villwock is the Executive Director of Testing and Program Evaluation for Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools, and she says there were several highlights for the CHCCS system.

“100 percent of our schools received a grade of C or better,” she says. “And that compares to 72.2 percent of the public schools in North Carolina as a whole.

“The Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools met 87.2 percent of their goals, while the state met 55.2 percent.”

Villwock says the school system is proud of these accolades but adds there are areas the district can improve upon, mainly closing the achievement gap.

“Some of those targets are based on all sorts of groups,” she says. Those groups include race, economically disadvantaged students, limited English proficient students and students with disabilities. Villwock says, “It’s really important for us to raise the achievement of those groups in order to meet these state targets.”

Villwock says the work to close the achievement gap is a process that includes every member of the school district.

“We’re working, as a central office, getting things organized for teachers and setting up training,” she says. “And then small cadres of people are coming out for training.

“And those people are going back and training at their schools.”

The overall ratios of As, Bs and Cs for Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools was unchanged from last year, which was the first time the state board handed out letter grades to school systems. But three schools in the system were awarded a designation just introduced this year.

Carrboro High, East Chapel Hill High and Glenwood Elementary were awarded an A+ designation.

“The A+ is for schools who are both high performing and have very small achievement gaps compared to the state,” Villowck says.

While the numbers are useful in terms of setting and reaching goals, Villwock says the district would like to see the formula for the grades changed to place a larger emphasis on the growth of students from year to year, rather than the majority of focus being placed on test scores.

Villwock adds the high schools across the system had a very strong academic year.

“The five-year cohort graduation rate…was at 94.6 [percent], which is the highest in the state,” she says. “100 percent of our high schools met or exceeded growth.

“And we had 86 percent of our students meet the UNC System requirements on the ACT, and that was the highest in the state.”

Villwock says, while we are digesting this new data, it is important to remember the numbers can’t tell the whole story of school districts.

“The performance of teachers and relationships with students and how they impact kids’ lives all matter a great deal,” she says. “And those really aren’t measurable.”

You can view all of the school grades from across the state here.

PACE Students, Teachers Await Mid-August Decision

Lawyers wrapped up their arguments Tuesday in a hearing to determine whether a Carrboro charter school will remain open. But students and teachers at PACE Academy won’t know for several weeks whether they will be able to return to PACE in the fall.

After a meeting at PACE Academy, PACE student Addison Edwards takes a stack of papers from Jamie Bittner, his school’s occupational therapist.

“This is his paperwork for career and college promise,” Bittner says waving the stack of forms. “His GPA is outstanding, his SAT scores are outstanding, so he’s going to be taking community college courses while attending—hopefully PACE next year.”

Bittner says “hopefully PACE,” because it’s up in the air whether PACE will be open for Edwards to come back to in the fall.

In May, the State Board of Education voted not to renew the school’s charter over concerns about poor attendance records and non-compliance with some regulations for teaching students with disabilities. The school appealed that decision to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

After 4 days in court, it rests for Judge Phil Berger Jr. to decide if PACE will get to keep its charter. That has PACE student Jerry Garfunkel worried about where he’ll be in the fall.

“It’s scary to think about,” Garfunkel says. “I don’t really know where I’m going to go, or what I’m going to do.”

PACE says its mission is to serve students in grades 9 through 12 who aren’t thriving in traditional public schools. Half of PACE’s students have autism or other mental health diagnoses. Many are teen mothers, and some are homeless or former dropouts.  Garfunkel says he came to PACE because the traditional public school environment was much too stressful for him.

“I thought I was going to end up in the UNC psych ward if I stayed there any longer,” he says. “I almost had a mental breakdown in my study hall class.”

Garfunkel says the smaller class sizes and nurturing environment at PACE suit him much better.

“The people here are understanding, the students here are very kind, the teachers here are extremely qualified for their jobs,” he said. “I’ve just been going from like D’s and F’s to A’s. It’s incredible.”

Berger will deliver a judgment by August 13—less than two weeks before the start of the school year. PACE Assistant Principal Jane Miller says that means she and the other administrators aren’t just hoping for the best, they’re planning for it too.

“Rhonda, Jamie and I are still operating as if we are going to open on August 25,” Miller told a room of concerned parents, students, alumni and teachers. “Because if we don’t plan enough, we simply wouldn’t have enough time once we get the decision that affirms we stay open.”

At the same time, PACE administrators say they have a contingency plan. Miller says she and other staff members will spend the next weeks helping families identify traditional public schools, private schools and home-school groups in case PACE closes.

Four NC Cities Make WalletHub’s Most ‘Driver-Friendly’ List

Daily rush-hour commuters may be surprised to learn they’re living in one of the top 10 driver-friendly cities – but four North Carolina cities have earned that honor.

The personal finance website WalletHub just released a list called “2015’s Best and Worst Cities to Be a Driver,” and Greensboro is the top-rated North Carolina city, at number four.

Durham is rated at number four among U.S. cities, while Winston-Salem is ranked at number nine, and Raleigh is number 10.

WalletHub’s rankings are based on average gas prices, average annual traffic delays, rates of car theft and car clubs per capita.

The number one city for driving, according to WalletHub, is Lubbock, TX.

Ranking lowest among the list of one hundred most populated cities is good old New York, NY.

Carrboro Charter School Battles to Stay Open

PACE Academy will fight in court Tuesday to keep its doors open.

Teachers, students, parents and alumni of PACE Academy gathered at the State Board of Education building Monday morning. They were there to protest the Board’s decision to revoke PACE’s charter.

The state’s Charter School Advisory Board recommended PACE be closed due to concerns about low attendance, financial problems and compliance issues. But protest organizer Stephanie Perry says she believes those concerns are unfounded.

“Over the past two years, PACE Academy has been aggressively targeted by the Charter School Advisory Board in a very unfair way,” she said.

Perry says the advisory board did not take into account the school’s unique population when making its assessment. PACE serves students in grades nine through twelve. The school says half of its students have mental health problems or learning disabilities and that many of its students are teenage parents and former drop-outs. Perry says that means many PACE students take classes on a nontraditional schedule and weren’t there when advisory board members came out to check the school’s attendance

“Because of the vocational curriculum, a lot of the students have on-the-job training and internships,” Perry said.

PACE has appealed a May decision by a State Board of Education review panel that revoked the school’s charter. Senate President Phil Berger’s son, Judge Phil Berger Jr., will hear arguments beginning Tuesday.

This is the second time PACE has had its charter on the line. The school’s charter was nearly revoked in 2013 over similar concerns.

Thousands of NC Teacher Assistants in Limbo

The General Assembly passed a stop-gap spending measure Tuesday. The bill keeps the government funded until mid-August while the chambers grapple over the final budget. But the measure does nothing to ease the concerns of  8,500 teacher assistants whose jobs are now in limbo.

North Carolina teacher assistant Melinda Zarate has spent the last several summers on edge.

“It’s just very nerve-wracking,” Zarate told reporters. “Imagine not knowing whether you were going to have a job in a couple months. And yeah, that happens in business too. But for teacher assistants, this happens every single year.”

The Legislature has made frequent cuts to teacher assistant positions since the 2008 recession. This year, despite a budget surplus, the Senate’s budget proposes axing another 8,500 teacher assistants. That would leave schools with less than a third of the teacher assistants they had before the recession. Those cuts don’t sit well with Lisa Caley, a parent of a child with special learning needs.

“Our public schools today are focused on educating every student, and TAs are working to provide the individualized instruction to make that happen,” Caley said. “That means they’re assisting with kids who need remediation, with students who are on grade level and students who are above grade level, to make sure that lessons are differentiated to meet all students’ needs.”

Teacher assistants and their advocates argue their instruction is needed in today’s classrooms.

“Things have become so individualized in our schools, that we don’t do a lot of whole-class instruction—teachers standing in front of a group of kids just delivering trying to fill their heads,” Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella said. “It’s more about breaking kids up into small collaborative groups.”

Senators who support the cuts say reducing the number of teacher assistants will allow the state to hire more teachers and raise teachers’ starting salaries. The House’s budget also proposes raising teacher salaries, but it does not cut assistants. Todd LoFrese, Assistant Superintendent for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, says his district is eagerly awaiting a final budget.

“We’re going to have to take a good look as we develop our budgets if teacher assistants are reduced at the state level again: What are our options? Do we have any options, because those are really big numbers that they’re talking about making in the Senate budget,” LoFrese said.

The two chambers have until August 14 before stop-gap funding expires. In the meantime, thousands of teacher assistants can only guess whether they’ll return to the classroom in the fall.

Gerrymandering North Carolina

The Supreme Court has issued a ruling in favor of independent redistricting commissions in Arizona.

In a 5-4, ruling the United States Supreme Court ruled citizens in Arizona did not remove power from state lawmakers by voting to establish an independent redistricting commission, according to Jane Pinsky – Director of the North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.

“The people of Arizona have the right to set up an independent redistricting commission,” she says. “The commission in Arizona was created by citizen initiative, and it was a clear sign that the people of Arizona wanted a fair and impartial process.

“And they didn’t think they were getting that through their legislature.”

Pinsky adds citizens organized a grassroots effort to gain signatures in favor of the referendum’s placement on the ballot. For any North Carolinians with that idea, Pinsky has some bad news.

“We don’t have the right to do a ballot initiative,” Pinksy says of the organizational structure in North Carolina.

Pinsky says since residents of the Tar Heel state do not have the option of placing a citizen-driven referendum on the ballot, the next step for North Carolinians is to lobby elected representatives.

READ MORE: Lawmakers Set to Introduce Bipartisan Redistricting Reform

Pinsky adds gerrymandering is an overt way of disenfranchising voters.

“One of the things that we see that has happened as all of this redistricting and all the gerrymandering is that citizens feel like their votes don’t count,” she says. “And, unfortunately, in [about] 40-some percent of the legislative races in this state, that’s absolutely true.

“There was only one person on the ballot.”

For decades Democrats controlled North Carolina politics and could draw the state and congressional districts as they pleased. Now Republicans are in charge and don’t seem apt to giving up the power that comes with their partisan pen.

Local Democratic House Representative Verla Insko says changing demographics may play a large role in the upcoming elections.

“The Republicans that gerrymandered your districts are not all as safe as they used to be,” she says. “House districts are more vulnerable to moving back and forth between Republicans and Democrats.

“The challengers in the House may have an easier path, but that’s also true for the Senate that the population shifts are going to put some pressure on the current Republicans to look seriously at a commission.”

READ MORE: Redistricting Continues to Stir Legal Battle in NC

A bill passed the state House in 2011 to create an independent redistricting commission before dying in the Senate. Earlier this year, a large number of bipartisan lawmakers again called for an independent commission. Democratic House Representative Graig Meyer says support in the House is overwhelming from both sides of the aisle.

“There’s broad bipartisan support for this in House,” he says. “There are more than 61 cosponsors of the House bill, so that indicates that it would pass the House easily. The Senate has blocked this type of effort for several years. And it’s pretty clear to me that the Senate is blocking it because the Republicans who lead the Senate are doing everything that they can to hold on to the power that they have.

“That would include blocking [an independent commission] as well as all of the voting restrictions that they have put into place.”

Pinsky says a particular note in the Supreme Court ruling drew her attention.

“There’s a line that says that ‘the Constitution has an animating principle that people themselves are the originating source of all powers of government,’” she says. “In other words, the power doesn’t come from the legislators. The power comes from us.

“Anything that, I think, impedes our ability to freely exercise that power is wrong and undermines our democracy.”

While the Supreme Court ruling does not have a direct impact on North Carolina, it does support the momentum behind independent redistricting commissions that have been established in states including Arizona, Iowa, and Ohio.

It seems the biggest impediment to an independent commission in North Carolina is Republican Senate President Phil Berger.

Senator Berger’s office has not responded to repeated request for comment.