Sunshine Week: When Will We See Orange County’s Emails?

Sunshine Week is a national effort to encourage transparency in all levels of government. With that in mind, Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich says it’s time to shine some light on local government emails.

“We’re living in a world where we need information quickly and we can have that information quickly,” says Rich. “Why not make it available?”

Under the North Carolina Public Records Law, emails sent to or received by government officials are considered public records. Anyone can make an information request to get a copy of those documents.

The towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have gone one step further, putting government emails online in archives immediately accessible to anyone with a computer.

Now, Rich and other commissioners are pushing for Orange County to do the same.

“There’s an overall feeling, ‘let’s share this information, let’s have these emails available,’” says Rich. “And let’s face it, there’s not a large percentage of people who are going to spend their days scouring through county commissioner emails, but if there is one specific topic that you’re interested in and you want to see if that discussion has already taken place, or if there are any replies to that discussion, it’s a good first place to go.”

Rich says the main obstacle right now is money.

“I think it’s just a matter of how to make it happen financially. I don’t think there’s any push back about not sharing information; I think it’s just changing up the systems to allow that to happen. That has to come in front of the board.”

Whatever system is put in place to catalog the emails will need to filter out confidential discussions involving personnel matters, legal issues and property purchases.

There’s no set standard for how local governments should share emails online. Chapel Hill and Carrboro each take a slightly different approach.

Chapel Hill’s archive includes letters from staff, citizens and a flood of spam. The Mayor’s emails are released in batches each quarter. Carrboro’s emails trickle in at the rate of one or two a day, mostly in the form of comments between board members and staff.

It’s not clear what form an Orange County email archive could take, but Rich says it should be as inclusive as possible.

“In general, I would say 90 percent of our emails should be out there and people should be able to see what our conversations are.”

Rich says it’s not yet clear if funding for a public email archive will be up for discussion in next year’s budget negotiations.

OC Health Department Receives Funding Help

The Orange County Health Department Dental Clinic received a $4,000 check from the Delta Dental Foundation, last Friday. This money is meant to assist in providing dental care to uninsured children.

Delta Dental of North Carolina CEO Curt Ladig says this money can go a long way.

“This will help serve an additional 100 children per month, in Orange County, receive oral examinations, fluoride varnish, and sealant,” he says. “This would be directed to children who are poor and underserved in our community, that are not receiving dental services.”

Ladig adds the Orange County Health Department’s Dental Clinic was in extreme need of these funds to serve underprivileged children.

“The Orange County Health Department made it known to us that 28 percent of children receiving Medicaid up to age ten, in Orange County, did not receive an annual dental visit in 2013,” he says.

He adds missing these annual visits can increase the risk of tooth decay, which is preventable.

“About a third of the children entering kindergarten today have tooth decay, and left untreated it can cause significant pain and discomfort,” he says. “You can imagine if you have pain and discomfort, you’re not focusing too much on your studies at school.”

That can lead to students missing additional days of class time and falling behind their peers.

Delta Dental has the largest network of dentists in North Carolina to provide these services for children in need.

The non-profit organization will donate $40,000 to oral health organizations and programs statewide.

Measles Outbreak Sparks Vaccination Debate

A Measles outbreak across portions of the United States has sparked concern from parents here in Orange County and enflamed the debate over vaccinations.

Stacy Shelp, Public Information Officer with Orange County Health Department, says there is no presence of measles in our community. But you don’t have to think back very far to remember an outbreak.

“Measles is extremely contagious; to the point of about a 90 percent contagion rate,” she says. “We did have an outbreak here in Orange County back in 2013. We had eight confirmed cases in Orange County and 23 in the state.

“As of that time, what we would continue to do is really encourage people to get their vaccination.”

Shelp says she does not have current numbers, but Orange County has traditionally had a high vaccination rate.

“In 2013 here at the Orange County Health Department, we actually had a very high vaccination rate at about 97 percent of our patients were vaccinated.”

Most public school students in North Carolina receive a shot to help fight off the measles, but there are waivers that can be filed by parents who do not want their children vaccinated.

“There are medical and religious exemptions that parents can use for school reasons,” she says. “It’s not going to be for us to track down and say ‘prove it, prove it, prove it.’ It really is for that parent to say.”

Shelp adds the vaccination is the best preventative measure parents can take to avoid the viral infection.

“They can get their first dose of the MMR between twelve and fifteen months old, and a second dose at four to six years of age,” she says. “That’s obviously, and with a lot of evidence behind it, the best way to protect yourself from measles.”

There have been no confirmed cases of measles in North Carolina in 2015. There was a scare with two potential cases in Cleveland County, but test results for measles were negative.

Winter Weather Advisory Expires; Threat Persists

The Winter Weather Advisory that was issued by the National Weather Service in Raleigh due to the threat of black ice expired at 10 o’clock Wednesday morning.

Road conditions are still very icy and causing major cancellations. And weather forecasts are calling for the possibility of light precipitation Wednesday evening, coupled with overnight temperatures in single digits.

Governor Pat McCrory gave a briefing on conditions across the state, Tuesday evening.


Lt. Josh Mecimore with the Chapel Hill Police Department told WCHL’s Blake Hodge that it appears most residents heeded the warning to stay off the roads.


More than 100 flights were canceled at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, according to RDU Spokesperson Mindy Hamlin. She gave an update to WCHL.


The winter weather means long hours for Orange County Emergency Services. Director Jim Groves spoke with WCHL.


The cold weather can be difficult for animals as well. Bob Marotto, Director of Orange County Animal Services, says that the best solution is to bring pets indoors.


For those without a warm place to go, the Inter-Faith Council has open doors.


AAA Carolina’s Tiffany Wright offers some tips for making it through the cold weather unharmed.

Winter Weather Approaching

Winter weather is approaching the Tar Heel state and could cause travel issues late Monday evening though mid-day Tuesday. The impending weather prompted Governor Pat McCrory to declare a state of emergency.

Listen to the full press conference with Governor McCrory and other state officials below:

Shawna Coakley, Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Raleigh, says the projected forecast calls for snow Monday afternoon.

“We’re looking probably to see some of that starting around 3 [or] 4 o’clock,” she says. “The real active stuff probably won’t ramp up until this evening; we’re looking around 7 [or] 8 o’clock.

“We’ll see a switch over to more of a sleet and freezing rain situation. That could make for some potentially hazardous travel. And that’ll continue through the overnight hours and then start to move out in the morning hours on Tuesday.”

Brad Wall, Division Maintenance Engineer with the NC Department of Transportation, says that they have been preparing for this after getting a reliable forecast.

“On Sunday, we applied salt brine as conditions allowed and as time allowed,” he says. “Today, we are preparing our trucks: getting the spreaders on, getting the plows on and we’ll have them loaded out with salt.”

With the cold temperatures in recent days, Wall says that he is expecting the winter weather to begin accumulating quickly once it starts falling. That could lead to dangerous road conditions late Monday and into Tuesday morning.

The State Highway Patrol also released tips to stay safe during the winter weather, including avoid travel unless necessary, decrease speed, and wear your seatbelt. State troopers also encourage you to allow additional travel time. Law enforcement also cautions that, if you are in an accident, they may require additional response time due to the conditions.

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.

Orange County Sheriff’s Office Looking for Suspect

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is looking for Linwood “Fred” Clay, after he fled from court personnel as they attempted to take him into custody, just before noon on Thursday.

Clay is wanted on outstanding warrants out of Durham and additional warrants of resisting a public officer.

The 26-year-old Clay is described as a black male, 6’ 1”, approximately 180 pounds.

He has numerous tattoos and is a registered sex offender.

Clay fled from court personnel toward his vehicle, described as a gold four-door car with large chrome rims. Officials believe he may be in Durham or Carrboro.

Clay has an extensive criminal history for violent felonies, including kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill.

Law enforcement says he should be considered armed and dangerous.

If anyone has any information regarding the whereabouts of Linwood “Fred” Clay, please contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at (919) 245-2900.

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.

New Recycling Carts Roll Out for OC Residents

The delivery of 7,000 blue recycling carts to residents of Orange County is underway.

Delivery began last Friday and officials are hoping to have the drop offs completed by the end of next week, barring any weather complications.

Blair Pollock is a Planner with Orange County Solid Waste, and he says there were too many variables for the county to determine who received a cart. To simplify the process, they distributed new 95-gallon capacity carts at the request of residents.

Pollock says he did not have the exact distribution locations, but many clusters of homes likely all signed up for carts – specifically homes just outside the town limits.

“They look just like an in-town [neighborhood], but they happen to be just out of town. The odds are good that the vast majority of those are going to switch,” he says. “And the odds are further good that, if 80 percent switched and the other 20 percent didn’t, there may be some that come back. We’re already starting to see a little bit of that.”

Pollock says they had 7,000 requests for new carts among the 14,200 residents who were eligible to receive them. He adds they have a small surplus for those late to decide they would like to have a recycling cart.

“We ordered about 500 more carts than we had orders for,” he says. “We’re hopeful we’ll be able to fill most of the request for people now.

“Otherwise, between the possible expansion of the routes [depending upon the budget] and if there’s a bigger second request for carts, we’ll try to order some more next fiscal year.”

Pollock says the new carts, which have a capacity of more than five of the recycling bins county residents are currently using, will increase efficiency of recycling in the area. He adds the infrastructure is in place to handle the additional waste.

“The markets are reasonably good for all of these materials,” he says. “North Carolina, in particular, has a very robust plastic recycling industry.”

Residents can begin using their recycling carts immediately upon receiving them, and the pickup service will operate on a bi-weekly schedule. Pollock says if the lid of your cart does not fit properly upon arrival, it should conform back to the correct shape in less than 48 hours.

Residents can choose to keep their bins to use as intermediate, or overflow, storage. They may also return their bins to the convenience centers where they currently deposit their recycling.

And there will be no change for residents who chose to continue recycling with their bins and manually dropping off at the convenience centers.

Orange County Confirms Second Rabies Case of 2015

Orange County is reporting its second rabies confirmation of 2015. This incident involved a raccoon, the primary carrier of rabies in our region.

This follows 23 confirmed cases in 2014, nearly double the twelve confirmed cases in both 2012 and 2013.

Orange County Animal Services Director, Bob Marotto, says there is no exact science to predicting how many cases a given area may see each year, but there are data points that reveal certain trends.

“The historical data that we have indicates that there is a cycling in these numbers,” he says. “We saw, in 2014, the beginning of an upswing.”

He says these trends typically run in one-to-three-year cycles.

Marotto adds that means residents need to be prepared in the future.

“There is rabies here,” he says. “It probably will never go away in our lifetime. Therefore, we need to be prepared individually, as households, as pet owners, and as a community.”

Staying current with the law is the best way to help protect you and your animals from rabies. North Carolina law states that all cats and dogs over four months must be current with their rabies vaccine at all times. And the Orange County ordinance calls for pets to wear a rabies vaccination tag.

If your vaccinated pet has an encounter with a rabid animal, they are required to receive a rabies booster shot within five days or they will be treated as an unvaccinated animal. In the case of an unvaccinated pet, the choice is between euthanasia and having the animal quarantined for up to 6 months.

Marotto says the best thing is to make sure your pet is vaccinated, and you can do that through Orange County Animal Service’s low-cost vaccination clinics.