Behind Enron's (or NC's) Fall

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Leaders Want Session Limit
Is That Why They Stalled?

According to the Charlotte Observer, "legislators are in Raleigh because they chose to go. They and their leaders determine how long they stay." The first statement is correct. The second is quite inaccurate. The leaders decide the stay as they determine if and when bills are scheduled.

For weeks I've wondered why the powers that be wanted to keep us here when we were given so little to do. I considered the possibility that our presence might be due to mismanagement, but nobody could be that bad.

It is possible that part of the reason for postponing redistricting was to push it so far back that the courts would permit an election under the gerrymandered districts because of lack of time, but even after redistricting they stalled.

And at last I think I have the answer to why we stayed in Raleigh so long: Session limits!

The insiders don't like having the place cluttered up with people who aren't on their team, so they'll get rid of us. Only people on the insider team will be appointed to study committees or authorized full time clerical assistance between sessions. And when the rest of us get here for the 30 or 60 day session, we'll find that all the decisions were made in our absence. We'll be told time doesn't permit making any changes. The insiders will have even tighter control.

The Charlotte Observer ran a piece designed to build support for session limits. It quotes Speaker Black as saying "If there's enough interest I'll put it in the fast track. . .Strike while the iron's hot. Might be hotter now than it's been."

Strangely enough the NC Economic Developers Newsletter of the very same date had a very similar article. I don't believe it was a coincidence. There is an organized effort to limit the session, not by insisting on good management, but by convincing the public they shouldn't expect good management. I disagree. We can do better.

One thing that would help, and that would be essential if there are session limits, would be partisan staff. Also, both parties should get proportionate representation on study committees, appointed by the leadership of the parties, not by the Speaker. Otherwise the study is hardly impartial.

"Behind Enron's (or NC's) Fall,
A Culture of Operating Outside Public's View"

If you haven't read the Wall Street Journal article that ran December 5, 2001, describing the fall of Enron, I urge you to do so. But whenever it says Enron, substitute NC. Even the subtitle, "Hidden Deals with Officers and Minimal Disclosure Finally Cost It Its Trust" rings true.

We know there have been hidden insider deals in NC, as typified by the recent audit findings re the NC Technological Development Authority (TDA), the earlier instance in which officers of MCNC made millions through their association with the state agency, and the periodic DOT scandals. When will the public know enough to care?

My attempts to get information have convinced me NC's Executive Branch is less than forthcoming with information. When the Journal says "It was vintage Enron: minimal disclosure of financial information that, in retrospect, was central to understanding the complex company," I feel like I'm reading a future expose on North Carolina's finances. "But virtually unseen to the end was an Enron culture that contained the seeds of its collapse, a culture of highly questionable financial engineering, misstated earnings and persistent efforts to keep investors in the dark." Sounds like recent NC to me.

"The company had transactions with certain partner-ships that were run by its own officers-but were treated . . .as separate." According to TDA, First Flight Venture Fund is a separate entity, yet they say "it is the TDA's flagship seed-stage venture arm" and the board of First Flight has 5 TDA board members and only two non TDA members. "And the company's debt level was much higher than revealed, thanks to the partnerships, which allowed Enron to keep some debt off its books." Is that not like what NC just did to finance three new prisons while sidestepping the Constitutional requirement that voters decide on debt?

NC is facing a serious financial shortfall, and the information made available to the public (or even to legislators) is grossly inadequate. Be forewarned.

Student Questionnaires
Parents Kept in the Dark

Last April I filed a bill, H 1202, designed to protect the privacy of students and their families. It prohibited the release of student data to marketing organizations without the permission of the parents. It also prohibited researchers from questioning students about things that should be considered private (like sex behavior and attitudes, or illegal, antisocial, self-incriminating, and demeaning behavior, or mental and psychological problems potentially embarrassing to the student or his family) without the prior consent of the parents or guardian, or the student if the student is no longer a minor.

My bill was not taken up, but Representative Sam Ellis filed a similar bill, H568, and it passed the House by a vote of 105-0.(To see the bills, go to www.ncleg.net.)

The Senate refused to take H568 up for discussion. Let me restate that: The Senate Refused to Take Up the Bill for Discussion even though it passed the House 105-0.

Recently the Senate passed a bill, S990, that contained a small part that resembled the first part of the bill that I filed, but the all-important privacy protection was missing. Representative Ellis offered an amendment to S990 adding the privacy protection piece. Even though House Democrat leaders urged the House to vote against the amendment "because the Senate didn't want it," the amendment passed by a vote of 61-39. To see if your representative voted for the amendment or against you, go to www.ncleg.net, then to bill info, then to history of votes, then to voting transcript, then to 11/27/2001, then to A3 Ellis on S990. It is worth the effort. You'll be surprised by the representatives who either think it is acceptable to keep secrets from the parents or don't want to upset the Senate by supporting parents' right to know when their child is used as a research subject.

The Senate voted not to accept the bill with that amendment so the bill went to a conference committee where the Democrat conferees simply stripped the amendment from the bill and sent the bill back to the House for concurrence. Representative Ellis, the only Republican on the conference committee, was not even informed that the committee met, and it appears that it did not. The Democrat leaders in the House and Senate just ignored the House vote and adopted the Senate position in the conference report.

When the conference report came to the House floor, the Democrat leaders again urged their members to adopt the House position, and this time the vote was much closer, 49 for adopting the report to 54 holding out for the privacy provision, but at least the conference report was rejected, putting pressure on the Senate to consider the amendment. However, apparently violating the House rule that keeps votes confidential until the House adjourns for the day, the Democrat leaders twisted arms until they had enough votes to adopt the conference report.

Even though several Democrats bucked their party's leaders to oppose reconsideration of the conference report since there still had been no meaningful discussion of the privacy amendment, Republicans Buchanan, McComas, Miner, Morgan and Sherrill voted as requested by the House Democrat leaders to permit reconsideration of the report by a vote of 53-52.

The final vote on adoption of the conference report was meaningless because everyone, including those who voted no, supported what was in the report. The problem, from the beginning, was the Senate's refusal to even discuss the fact that surveys are given without parental knowledge or consent and there is no penalty for violating student (or parent) privacy with the surveys.

Wall Street Journal Reports

If you have any doubts about the importance of the survey issue, check the December 3, 2001 article on surveys in the Wall Street Journal. It talks about one company that distributes more than 100 million surveys a year using the "clever tactic" of shipping surveys "directly to teachers and guidance counselors."


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