December 2003 Highlights

Darryl Hunt case: Continuing developments in the Darryl Hunt case have been a dominant item in local news coverage for much of December. As you probably are already aware, this is the controversial rape/murder case from 1984. Mr. Hunt was released from prison on bond this month after new evidence resulted in the indictment of another defendant for the crime. Mr. Hunt and his community supporters have consistently maintained his assertion of innocence in the case, and the status of his previous conviction will be the subject of a February court hearing. This case continues to be under the jurisdiction of the state court system and the District Attorney’s office. Neither of those is under city government management.

The only part of this matter which is under continuing City administration is the handling of Police Department involvement in the new investigation. On that front, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) has agreed to take over the new investigation. They did so at the request of Winston-Salem Police Chief Linda Davis. Chief Davis and Mayor Allen Joines had concluded that such a move would be helpful in strengthening community confidence in the investigation. I and other members of the City Council supported their decision. Even though we have confidence in the abilities and professionalism of today’s Police Department and its management, many in our community are still deeply troubled over the way this case had been handled in the past. All of us in City leadership positions now want to do all that we reasonably can to heal remaining community divisions today. In the longer run, we will also be alert for lessons on how to improve local police work in the future.

You will not have seen my name in the news stories, because I declined reporters’ invitations to comment on the case. As an attorney, I have a professional duty to avoid public comments which could prejudice the handling of an ongoing criminal matter. Of course, as citizens we all should be concerned that justice is done in our judicial system. We should remain committed to protection of our community, fair treatment of defendants, and aid and sympathy to crime victims and their families. I am hopeful that this particular case is now on its way to as just a conclusion as is possible given its long and troubled history.

Clean air update: The proposed Piedmont Triad regional plan to help clean up ozone air pollution in our area advanced again this month. All 31 local governments who originally signed onto the Early Action Compact (EAC) have now approved the draft cleanup plan, which is being forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for review.

Ozone is the principal component of urban smog, and hits unhealthily high levels in several regions of North Carolina on many hot summer days. High ozone levels irritate lungs, trigger asthma attacks, and complicate other heart and lung problems, especially in children, the sick, and the elderly. North Carolina has been working to reduce ozone air pollution for several years.

"Early Action Compacts" (EACs) are one strategy for involving local governments with the state and EPA in active cleanup efforts. I currently represent Winston-Salem on the regional "stakeholders" committee charged with development of the regional cleanup plan. Once EPA has reviewed and commented on the draft plan, we will meet again (in February) to discuss any needed changes.

The Piedmont Triad EAC’s draft cleanup plan calls for steps to control traffic growth, use cleaner engines and fuels, and reduce specific industrial emissions, among other items. Responsive actions already underway include a state grant application by Guilford County Schools for retrofitting school buses to use low-sulfur diesel fuel. Plan details may be reviewed at www.ptcog.org/eac.html or www.nwpcog.org/EAC/.

Zoning cases: On a more routine matter, the City Council dealt with one zoning case of possible interest in the Southwest Ward during December. The City Council approved rezoning a business lot at the corner of Country Club Road and Gordon Drive, for use as the base of an "internet-based" auto sales business. This case was unusual in that the proposed use is not precisely found anywhere in our current zoning code. The location at issue would not be appropriate for a normal "highway display retail" business, because of a need to avoid attracting that level of additional traffic to the area. However, we were able to craft a set of special conditions addressing signage, lines of traffic sight, and total vehicles on site, which should avoid the problems. If this is successful, we may wish to take it into consideration in zoning code definitions more generally. If not, there is an additional condition under which the lot will revert to its previous limited business zoning.

Constituent notes: Young Austin Hurst, six, of Ashwood Drive deserves special recognition this holiday season for quick action to help his neighbors. On Saturday after Christmas, Austin spotted smoke coming from his neighbors’ porch and immediately told his father Steve, who called 911. Steve then alerted the neighbors to get out, and turned a garden hose onto their porch until the Fire Department arrived to put out the fire. The house suffered moderate damage, but thanks to the Hurst family’s quick response (and the Fire Department), no one was injured.

Winston-Salem Police Officer Sharon Smith also deserves recognition for her successful CPR on a baby last week on Stratford Road. She was writing up a minor traffic accident when the child’s nanny sought her help with the more urgent crisis of an infant who had stopped breathing. Thanks, Officer Smith.