NC Congressional Maps Ruled Unconstitutional Again
The NC Supreme Court threw out the state’s congressional and legislative maps late Friday, calling the maps “unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt” and requiring lawmakers to redraw maps in a way that avoids extreme partisanship and the dilution of Black representation.
In a 20-page order, the court ruled that lawmakers drawing new NC congressional maps must first assess whether “racially polarized voting is legally sufficient in any area of the state such that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of a district to avoid diluting the voting strength of African American voters.”
The order also stated: “When, on the basis of partisanship, the General Assembly enacts a districting plan that diminishes or dilutes a voter’s opportunity to aggregate with likeminded citizens to elect a governing majority — that is, when a districting plan systematically makes it harder for one group of voters to elect a governing majority than another group of voters of equal size — the General Assembly unconstitutionally infringes upon that voter’s fundamental right to vote.”
The General Assembly must now draw and submit new plans for NC congressional maps to the Wake County Superior Court by 5 p.m. on Feb. 18, and comments on the submitted maps must be filed with the court by 5 p.m. on Feb. 21. The trial court will then decide on approval of the submitted plans by 5 p.m. on Feb. 23.
The order states that the Board of Elections shall keep with the currently scheduled resumption of candidacy filing on Feb. 24 and the primaries scheduled for May 17.
Mecklenburg Mask Mandate Stays as COVID Numbers Turn
Mecklenburg County Public Health’s monthly COVID-19 data dump on Friday showed that we may have passed the peak of the Omicron variant outbreak locally, as daily case counts, hospitalizations and test-positivity rates have all been on the decline over the past two weeks. However, we’re not out of the woods yet, as 162 Mecklenburg County residents died of COVID-19 over the past four weeks.
Another sign that things aren’t over: Friday’s data showed an average of 617 people still hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County on any given day over the past week, which is a slight decrease compared to the past two weeks but is still well over the daily average of 374 hospital patients the county reported on Jan. 4.
A 16-member National Disaster Medical System team with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) arrived at Atrium Health Pineville this week in response to a FEMA request made by Atrium Health, Gov. Roy Cooper and the NC Department of Health and Human Services in January to help with the medical surge that has resulted from the Omicron variant. The team began covering shifts in the hospital’s emergency department on Thursday.
Speaking to the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, new MCPH director Raynard Washington said he believes we are “coming out of the worst of the Omicron surge,” but stopped short of saying he is ready to recommend lifting the county mask mandate.
Commissioners voted to reinstate the mask mandate in August as the Delta variant spiked, and during that vote agreed that it would be lifted when the county reached a 5% test-positivity rate. As of Wednesday, the county had a 26.2% test-positivity rate.
Washington did explain, however, that his department is looking at potentially changing the metrics that would allow for a lifting of the mask mandate, though he added it will likely be a couple weeks before the team feels comfortable making that decision.
Commissioner Scarborough to Take Medical Leave
Following months of questions about her inconsistent participation in Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioner (BOCC) meetings — leaving some to question whether she was even participating in virtual meetings at all — WSOC reported this week that commissioner Ella Scarborough will take an unpaid leave of medical absence from the board.
Family members told WSOC’s Joe Bruno that she will not running for reelection, though she will not retire either in case she feels well enough to return.
In 1987, Scarborough became the first Black woman ever elected to Charlotte City Council, where she served for 10 years. She has served on the BOCC since 2014 and was the top vote-getter in the 2020 election.
Questions arose about Scarborough’s meeting participation following a vote on a pay raise for county manager Dena Diorio in September 2021, after which some of her colleagues raised concerns that someone may have voted virtually in her place. Her family told Joe Bruno that she voted herself during that meeting but has recently been absent due to medical and mobility issues, which they declined to elaborate on.
N.C. statute allows a county board to temporarily replace a member who has filed for leave. BOCC Chair George Dunlap said he is going over options with the county attorney and expects an update before the next BOCC meeting on Feb. 16.
Questions Surround New Racial Equity Initiative Hire
The Charlotte Regional Business Alliance (CRBA) announced Thursday that it had hired Kim Henderson to serve as executive director of the Employer Office of Inclusion and Advancement, which will operate and directly support the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative. However, less than 24 hours later, WCNC’s Nate Morabito had already uncovered a recent criminal investigation into the department Henderson stepped down from in March 2021 using a simple Google search.
Morabito uncovered a state audit of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, for which Henderson served as director, that found a “lack of controls” within that department had resulted in $3.8 billion worth of unemployment fraud and overpayments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the CRBA has not yet commented on the controversy, the city told Morabito that it was not involved in the hiring process. The Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative is a new $250-million public-private partnership aimed at advancing racial equity in Charlotte.
Three Men Murdered Are First Homicide Victims of 2022
After a relatively quiet beginning to the year, three men were killed in separate acts of gun violence over the past week, marking the first homicides of the year in Charlotte.
The first two killings took place in separate incidents that occurred within minutes of each other on Saturday, Jan. 29. Just after 11:23 p.m. that night, police responded to a shooting call on North Tryon Street near Craighead Road in north Charlotte, where they found 50-year-old Malik Whitney suffering from a gunshot wound. Medic transported Whitney to the hospital, where he later died. A 53-year-old security guard reported to have been working at the scene was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, but new evidence later led police to upgrade the charge to murder.
At around 11:40 p.m. the same night, police responded to reports of suspects shooting into a home in north Charlotte’s Villa Heights neighborhood. Responding officers found only shell casings, but soon received a call that three gunshot victims had arrived at area hospitals. None were residents of the home that was shot into. Two of the victims sustained non-life-threatening injuries, but a third, 23-year-old Elante’ Thompson, was pronounced dead by hospital staff.
On Tuesday, CMPD announced that a 27-year-old man who was shot in University City on Monday afternoon had succumbed to his injuries. According to CMPD, officers responded to a shooting at The Piedmont at Ivy Meadows Apartments at around 3:20 p.m. on Monday and found Lemuel Gipson suffering from a gunshot wound. MEDIC transported Gipson to the hospital, where he later died.