Showing posts with label local government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label local government. Show all posts

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Great Lakes Commission wants to reduce Lake Erie phosphorous by 40 percent

The Great Lakes Commission is seeking a 40 percent reduction of the annual amount of phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie, "the source of toxic algae outbreaks and the reason the city of Toledo lost its drinking water for two days this past summer," Dan Egan reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "That is the amount already targeted by the International Joint Commission, which oversees U.S. and Canadian boundary waters issues."

"Phosphorus is flowing into Lake Erie from city sewage plants, industries and suburban lawns and streets, but the largest single source is by far runoff from farm fields," Egan writes. (Journal Sentinel photo by Peter Essick: Boats going through an algae bloom on Lake Erie near Toledo, Ohio)

Ohio officials responded to the Toledo crisis with a measure that requires farmers to get fertilizer licenses, in an attempt to control farm run-off in water supplies. But some fear the law has a loophole that benefits large manure users. Toxic algae advisories are fairly common in the summer, with many states issuing them.

The Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday that by March 2015 it will issue drinking water health advisories for cyanobacteria, the harmful forms of blue-green algae that contaminated water supplies in Toledo," Amena Saiyid reports for Bloomberg. "The agency is working on health advisories for microcystin L-R and cylindrospermopsin, with plans to have them out before the season of the harmful algal blooms begins next year." (Read more)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Local official suggests potholes as a way to slow down speeders on rural Vermont roads

In an attempt to find ways to curb speeding on dangerous roads in rural Vermont, one town official suggested a solution that is not going over well with residents—potholes. Westford (Wikipedia map) Selectboard Member Alex Weinhagen sent out a survey asking if potholes should be used as a speed deterrent, with 70 percent of respondents shooting down the idea, Lynn Monty reports for the Burlington Free Press.

Weinhagen told Monty, “More law enforcement, signage, speed carts, speed bumps and putting off pothole repair are all ideas that small Vermont towns toss around. The idea is not that far out there. Some people are willing to deal with rougher roads if it would deter drivers.

Westford does not have a police department, which is one of the reasons many fear that drivers ignored posted speed limits, Monty writes. Construction has also forced many drivers off main roads, increasing traffic on back roads. (Read more)

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Study: Female school-board members less likely to speak in meetings, especially if men in majority

School boards are mostly gender-balanced, with more than 40 percent of school board members nationally being female. But a study cited in the new book The Silent Sex: Gender, Deliberation, and Institutions, found that "Unless they make up a supermajority of a board, women don't comment and endorse motions as often as men do," Sarah Sparks reports for Education Week.

The study, conducted by Brigham Young University and Princeton University, examined the minutes from 87 schools boards in 20 states, "analyzing how often men and women commented and made motions or initiated other actions during meetings," Sparks writes. Researchers looked at the number of men and women on the board, and the number of times each spoke. They found that women spoke disproportionately less than men, especially when they were outnumbered, Sparks writes. Women "only made motions as often as the men on their boards when they made up at least 60 percent of the board, and only commented as often as men when they made up 70 percent or more of the board. When in the minority, women used fewer than three-quarters of their fair share of speaking opportunities. In an 80-20 split, women in the minority contributed less than 15 percent of the conversation."

The study was similar to a 2012 University of Arizona study "that collected and analyzed recorded samples of conversations of female and male scientists," Sparks writes. "It found that when women spoke about science to other female scientists, they sounded and felt competent and engaged; when talking to male scientists about science, they felt and sounded less competent and reported less engagement—a reaction the researchers in that study attributed to women feeling subconsciously threatened by the stereotype of women being 'bad at science.'" (Read more)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Advisories about toxic algae are common summer occurrence in lakes that supply public water systems

Recent instances of toxic algae blooms that have led to water advisories in Toledo, Wisconsin, and brought fear to Des Moines, are a common late-summer occurrence that can affect any drinking water supply that relies on lakes. Stories shouldn't wait for local warnings and advisories; check with your local water-system operators to see how they are dealing with the threat. Besides drinking water, stories can also include suggestions about ways to avoid algae-fouled water, or what to do after coming into contact it.

In Kentucky, 10 lakes that provide drinking water for thousands of people are under advisories, James Bruggers reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. "None is closed to swimming, fishing or boating. Instead, authorities advise not swallowing lake water, and washing well after swimming." State officials said there are currently no immediate threats to drinking the water.

Kansas also has 10 public waters under a warning and one under an advisory. In addition to the basic advisories, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment also suggests to avoid areas with visible algae accumulation.properly clean fish, not let pets consume dried algae, and immediately wash any parts of skin or fur that come into contact with water. (Read more)

Oregon has two advisories, one in Devil's Lake that has been in effect since Aug. 1 and another in Waterville Pond that has been in effect since Aug. 5, says the state Public Health Division. Two other advisories were issued this summer, one in Lost Creek Lake that ran for 22 days, ending on June 26, the other in Odell Lake, that lasted for 18 days, ending on Aug. 8. (Read more) (Public Health Division map: Current and earlier advisories)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Toxic algae growth common in Wisconsin; about 175 waterbodies have high levels of phosphorus

Excessive algae growth like what was found in Lake Erie — which turned Toledo's water toxic — is a common occurrence in Wisconsin, Lee Bergquist reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. About one-quarter of the state's more than 700 bodies of water "that fail to meet water quality standards do so because of high levels of phosphorus, which is found in sewage, agriculture and runoff from lawns, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources." (DNR photo: A channel leading to Lake Winnebago. It is pale blue because it is decomposing, while “fresh” blooms that are not breaking down are usually green)

The DNR states on its website that "dozens of waters statewide experience harmful algal blooms fueled by the nutrient, posing a health threat to people, pets and livestock. Over the past 3 years, 98 people have reported health complaints related to such blooms. Recent statewide stream assessment data suggests that thousands of streams may have excess phosphorus levels. In addition to decreasing the dissolved oxygen that fish and other aquatic creatures need to survive, such excess phosphorus causes major changes in lake and stream food webs, which ultimately result in fewer fish and fish predators." 

In mid-June the Department of Natural Resources issued its first advisory of the summer, Bergquist writes. The DNR said blue-green algae containing the toxin microcystin began turning up in Lake Winnebago, which is a source of drinking water for Appleton, Neenah, Menasha and Oshkosh. "The agency's advice to adults: If you're standing knee-deep in water and can't see your feet, stay out; and keep children and pets out of the water, too. The most common reported symptoms are rashes, stomach ailments and respiratory irritation."

"Between 2009 and 2011, Dunn County in northwestern Wisconsin reported 26 cases of algae-related illnesses from a single, problem-plagued lake, Tainter Lake, according to the DNR and Department of Health Services," Bergquist writes. "In Adams County, there were 20 illnesses reported from exposure on the Petenwell Flowage; 12 illnesses in Dane County at Lakes Mendota and Kegonsa, and seven illnesses in Winnebago County on Lake Winnebago." (Read more)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Despite threat from toxic algae blooms to public water supplies, no national testing standards exist

Last week excessive algae growth from phosphorus runoff turned Lake Erie water toxic and led officials to advise 500,000 Toledo residents to steer clear of drinking water. Ohio officials responded with a measure that requires farmers to get fertilizer licenses, in an attempt to control farm run-off in water supplies. Officials in Des Moines also expressed concern that their water supplies could easily develop cyanotoxin. (Associated Press photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari: Lake Erie water with algae)

Despite the growing concern, "There are no national standards for algal cyanotoxin in drinking water," Todd Frankel reports for The Washington Post. "U.S. utilities don’t need to test for it. How widespread the toxin is in drinking water is a mystery. Monitoring is voluntary. And even when water companies do look for the toxins, how and when the testing is done varies, opening the door to inconsistent results. The Environmental Protection Agency for years has discussed drafting rules to cover cyanotoxins but hasn’t acted."

"The lack of national standards didn’t cause Toledo’s water crisis," Frankel writes. "But it made the problem  more complicated. It made it harder for people to know whether the water was truly safe for cooking, bathing and drinking. And with these algal blooms predicted to worsen in Lake Erie and other lakes and reservoirs — thanks to a mix of global warming, invasive species and pollution — the issue is expected to pop up more often. Some believe Toledo could be a tipping point."

Algal toxins target the liver, where it can accumulate and clog, causing diarrhea and nausea, Frankel writes. "Dogs have died after ingesting blooms in tainted lakes. So have cows and horses. Human deaths are rare. In 1996, 130 dialysis patients in Brazil were sickened by microcystin-tainted water, and at least 50 died." (Read more)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Iowa officials fear Des Moines faces algae threat to water supplies, similar to that in Toledo

Algae-based toxins in Lake Erie tainted drinking water supplies in Toledo, Ohio, and have led state officials to adopt a law requiring farmers to obtain fertilizer licenses in an attempt to control farm run-off in water supplies. Environmentalists and water officials fear Des Moines is headed in a similar direction, Donnelle Eller reports for the Des Moines Register. Bill Stowe, chief executive of the Des Moines Water Works, told Eller, "It’s not a matter of if—it’s a matter of when. With the right conditions, it could have been Des Moines.”

Eller writes, "The state has adopted a voluntary plan that has Iowa farmers working to reduce nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which can feed the toxic blooms and contribute to high levels of nitrates that must be removed from drinking water. But Stowe said Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a 'prescription for failure,' and conditions contributing to the toxic blooms will only worsen without regulations forcing broader action by Iowa farmers and landowners."

Des Moines has come close to losing its water supply in the past, with algae-based toxins so high that Water Works was unable to use Raccoon River in 2009 and the Des Moines River in 2012, Eller writes. And currently, two beaches in the state at Black Hawk State Park "are currently not recommended for swimming because of blue-green algae that can produce toxins." So far this year the state has issued 11 advisories, with four weeks left in the recreational beach season. Last year the number of advisories was 24, three times more than in 2011. (Read more)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

In response to toxic drinking water in Lake Erie, Ohio law would require fertilizer licenses

Concern about tainted drinking water in Lake Erie caused by algae blooms, which are made toxic from farm runoff, has led regulators to require Ohio farmers to acquire a fertilizer license, Mark Peters and Matthew Dolan report for The Wall Street Journal. The licenses, which will become mandatory in 2017 and will require farmers to take a one-day class, "are aimed at cutting fertilizer use by showing farmers how they can apply less nutrients without hurting crop yields. The law also allows regulators to revoke such certifications if problems are found on a farm." (Getty Images: Algae in Lake Erie)

"A big part of Toledo's problem comes from the Maumee River, which drains a broad swath of agricultural land, feeding the bloom on Toledo's end of the lake," Peters and Dolan write. "Other major cities near the Great Lakes such as Chicago and Detroit haven't experienced similar restrictions, but some are voicing new concerns about the potential threats to their drinking-water supplies."

Adam Sharp, vice president of public policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, told the Journal, "This is a big deal. We recognize it, and we're going to resolve it." But environmentalists say the rule doesn't go far enough. Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest advocacy group, told the Journal, "This isn't a matter of farmers fine-tuning what they're doing. This requires a substantial rethinking of how nitrogen and phosphorus is used in the agriculture sector."

Across the U.S. "progress has been made when it comes to better fertilizer management, according to the Environmental Defense Fund," Peters and Dolan write. "Farmers and retailers have increased demand for nutrient-efficient products and helped to reduce fertilizer loss by an average of 25 percent on half a million acres in six states, including Ohio, while also keeping up or increasing crop yields, the group said."

"Still, the response by farmers and regulators, not just in Ohio, but in farm states across the Midwest, has drawn criticism from other environmental groups that don't see progress," the Journal writes. "They are fighting in court to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on nutrient levels for lakes, streams and rivers." (Read more)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rural town opens city-run gas station, selling cheaper gas from local refinery to lower prices

A rural Southern Kentucky town has found a way to beat high gas prices. The city of Somerset ventured into the retail gas business, "opening a municipal-run filling station that supporters call a benefit for motorists and critics denounce as a taxpayer-supported swipe at the free market," Bruce Schreiner reports for The Associated Press. The station opened Saturday with prices set at $3.36 a gallon, three cents lower than competing stations. (Schreiner photo: Filling up at the city-run station)

Somerset is able to supply residents with the gasoline because the city purchases gas from a hometown supplier, Continental Refining Co., Schreiner writes. "The city purchased a fuel storage facility for $200,000 a few years ago. Now, up to 60,000 gallons of regular unleaded gas can be stored there for the retail business."

The local refinery has struggled to stay open because of competition with Marathon Oil Corp., which makes most of the gas consumed in Kentucky. Marathon has paid haulers of Southern Kentucky oil extra incentives to take oil 172 miles away to a Marathon refinery near the West Virginia border, instead of to the shorter distance to Somerset. 

While townspeople have responded positively to the station, there are plenty of critics, Schreiner writes. Convenience store owner Duane Adams called the move a slap in the face that could hurt his business. He told Schreiner, "They've used the taxpayer money that I have paid them over these years to do this, to be against us. I do not see how they can't see that as socialism."

But Girdler, a Republican in his second term, "said the city isn't looking to put anyone out of business," Schreiner writes. He told Schreiner, "We don't care if we don't sell a drop of gasoline. Our objective is to lower the price." A local economic-development coordinator told Schreiner that Somerset gas prices are often 20 to 30 cents a gallon higher than in nearby towns, and Girdler said many visitors to nearby Lake Cumberland "fuel up elsewhere, costing Somerset millions of dollars in retail sales," Schreiner reports.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Paddling remains legal in all or part of 19 states; critics say minorities, disabled bear the brunt

While some may view paddling in schools as a long-abandoned practice, corporal punishment remains legal in 19 states, mostly in rural areas. Paddling continues to have its fair share of critics, who say corporal punishment harms students mentally and physically, while studies say the majority of corporal punishment "is used disproportionately on minority students and those with mental, physical and emotional disabilities," Rachel Chason reports for USA Today. But some in rural areas say the practice not only works, but is supported by parents. (Map: Paddling is legal in red states)

The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights says the number of students paddled has decreased in recent years, from 342,038 in 2000 to 217,814 in 2009-10, Chason writes. And five counties, three in Florida and two in North Carolina, have banned paddling for this school year.

"A 2008 Human Rights Watch report showed that although African-American students made up 17.1 percent of the student population nationwide, they made up 35.6 percent of those paddled," Chason writes. "The report also notes that children with disabilities in Texas made up 10.7 percent of the student population in the 2006-07 school year, but accounted for 18.4 percent of those paddled."

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) who has reintroduced a public-school paddling ban each year since 2010, told Chason, "Most people don't even know that corporal punishment is still going on in this country. It's not just harmful physically but also psychologically. There are so many other ways of handling discipline."

The states with the highest number of students being paddled are Mississippi, Texas and Alabama; a report by the Office of Civil Rights said more than 100,000 students were paddled in those states during the 2009-10 school year, Chason writes. George Holden, a psychology professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, "said those numbers are mostly coming from smaller, rural districts. He said the practice is banned in Texas's largest cities: Houston, San Antonio and Dallas." He calls paddling "counterproductive," saying it has negative long-term effects, making "students angry, less likely to communicate with teachers and less motivated to succeed."

But some rural school districts say paddling has had positive results, Chason writes. "In Coffee County, located in southeast Georgia, Superintendent Morris Leis said his school district allows paddling because it's an effective form of punishment." Leis told her, "We won't paddle a student if a parent doesn't want us to, but we don't get a lot of complaints." (Read more)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

City council in Denton, Tex., rejects fracking ban, but voters will decide issue in November election

Residents of a North Texas town that has thrived during the oil and gas boom will decide in November whether or not to become the state's first city to ban hydraulic fracturing, Jim Malewitz reports for The Texas Tribune. Last month Denton residents pushed for a fracking ban, citing environmental concerns, and town leaders temporarily halted the practice while considering an ordinance to permanently ban the practice. On Tuesday the city council rejected the fracking ban by a 5-2 vote, sending the measure to the November ballot, where voters will decide the issue. (KDFW FOX 4 photo: Tuesday's Denton city council meeting)

Denton, with a population of 121,000, has more than 270 natural gas wells in the Barnett Shale gas field, Malewitz writes. But "fracking opponents forced the council’s vote after gathering nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban. The proposal would not prohibit drilling outright; it would apply only to fracking, which involves blasting apart rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water." (Read more)

Tuesday's hearing drew 500 people, with 59 registering to speak in favor of the ban and 41 against it, Mike Lee reports for EnergyWire. "Mayor Chris Watts said he expected a fight no matter what the council did, given the opposition from state officials and the oil industry." He told Lee, "This issue is going to be settled in one of two places -- the statehouse or the courthouse."

Denton Taxpayers for a Strong Economy, a group opposed to the ban, turned in 8,000 signatures on Monday, while Frack Free Denton, the group proposing the ban, collected 1,800 signatures, Lee writes. "Several state officials told the City Council a ban would amount to taking private property, opening the city up to lawsuits. In Texas, the rights of mineral owners trump those of surface owners." (Read more)

Rural residents want to secede from Caribou, Maine; committee says city taxes are too high

Rural residents in a Maine town want to secede and return to the way things were in the 19th century before several small communities were annexed into one larger one, Julia Bayly reports for the Bangor Daily News. The group says the move would lower taxes for rural residents, who they say are being overcharged for city costs. (City-Data map)

The group of Caribou residents presented their idea at Monday's city council meeting, saying they want to take about 80 percent of the . . . outlying rural areas and form the new community of Lyndon, reviving an old name. "In 1869, several communities were annexed to Lyndon, which was officially renamed Caribou in 1877," Bayly writes.

Paul Camping, spokesman for the 20-member Caribou Secession Committee, told Bayly, “What we are trying to do is take our land in rural Caribou back away from the city of Caribou. The size and cost of [Caribou] city government is too big and too expensive.”

Lyndon would include all of Caribou except the downtown area, according to a map proposed by the committee, Bayly writes: "Camping said people who live on large lots of land away from the downtown pay a disproportionate amount of property taxes to help fund services that benefit only those who live near or in town." The city's population is about 8,000.

Mayor Gary Aiken said he thinks secession would actually raise rural taxes while lowering city ones, Bayly writes. He told her, “They would take 80 percent of the land and 30 percent of the population to cover all those roads and public works. There is no question the Caribou side would reduce expenses. It would cut our public works budget in half right away.”

"Maine law . . . spells out the process for residents of a territory to secede from a municipality," Bayly notes. In 2007 and 2011 the Maine Legislature refused to let residents in Peaks Island, who also said secession would lead to lower taxes, secede from Portland, she writes.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Decline in statehouse reporters continues, but at slower rate, Pew Research Center finds

About 70 percent of daily newspapers and 86 percent of television stations don't assign a reporter of any kind to cover their statehouse, according to a study of 801 dailies by the Pew Research Center. Since 2003 the number of full-time reporters assigned to statehouses has dropped by 164, a decrease of 35 percent. Of the 918 local television stations studied, only 130 assign a reporter to the statehouse.

Among statehouse reporters, 139, or 9 percent, work for wire services, the report found. Of those 139 reporters, 91 are full-time and 69 of those work for The Associated Press. "Although the wire service reduced statehouse staffing during the recession, the AP is now increasing the size of some of its Capitol bureaus," the Pew report says.

Newspapers still have the highest percentage of statehouse reporters, but 16 percent now work for non-traditional outlets, such as digital-only sites, the study found.

Fewer than half of the 1,592 journalists who cover statehouses do so full-time, the report found. Texas has the most full-time reporters, at 53; South Dakota has the fewest, two. The study defines full-time reporters as "those physically assigned to the Capitol building to cover the news there, from legislative activity to the governor’s office to individual state agencies." To read the full study click here.

UPDATE, July 24: Pew has developed an interactive map to show the number of statehouse reporters for every 500,000 people in each state. Here's a screen grab with an example:

Friday, June 27, 2014

In response to a Supreme Court ruling, journalist creates a transparency prayer for public meetings

The Supreme Court ruled in May that it's constitutional to have a Christian prayer before meetings held by a public agency as long as they do not denigrate non-Christians or proselytize. The ruling has stirred deep emotions in many editorials, but one that seems most fitting—suggested by of our friend Max Heath—is from Allan Burke, publisher emeritus of the Emmons County Record in Linton, N.D. Here is the editorial:

Allan Burke
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, has said it's OK to open a government meeting with prayer. The case involved town council meetings. Here is a suggested prayer for opening meetings of county commissions, school boards, city boards and other governmental entities.

Lord, may this meeting include full and open discussion of the issues,  and let the public be assured that no deals have been cut or discussion held outside this meeting.

We ask that no board business be conducted by phone, email, Facebook, text or twitter, and that this board follow federal and state laws.

Please guide this board to rarely go into executive session and always to be transparent.

It is our humble request that the official minutes include a reasonable and fair summary of the proceedings and not be censored by the politicians.

We ask that members of this board abstain from voting when they have a conflict of interest.

May this board remember the ordinances, rules and regulations it has adopted and precedents it has set and follow them with consistency.

Lord, we ask that those voting to spend money remember that taxes come out of the pockets of hard-working citizens and should be spent sparingly and wisely.

We ask that no favoritism be shown because of a person’s family connections, standing in the community, power or wealth and that all citizens be treated fairly and with respect.

Lord, we ask that competitive bids be sought for major expenditures and that the truth be told about those bids.

Finally, Lord, we ask that this board listen to the citizens and accept input, suggestions and criticism graciously.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing us with the opportunity to live in a democratic republic under the United States Constitution.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Texas city that has cashed in on oil and gas boom considers ordinance to ban fracking

Residents of a Texas town that has reaped millions through hydraulic fracturing, though only 2 percent of them receive royalties, are worried about the environmental impact fracking is having on their future. Some have pushed for a ban on fracking, and town leaders have "temporarily halted all fracking as they consider an ordinance that could make theirs the first city in the state to permanently ban the practice," Emily Schmall reports for The Associated Press. Gas fields in Denton, about 42 miles north of Dallas, "have produced a billion dollars in mineral wealth and pumped more than $30 million into city bank accounts." (Wikipedia map: Denton County)

"The willingness to reject fracking in the heart of oil and gas country reflects a broader shift in thinking," Schmall writes. "In place of gas drills, some of Denton’s 120,000 residents envision a future in which their city is known for environmentally friendly commerce and the nation’s largest community garden. They’ve even embarked on a campaign to persuade the maker of Sriracha hot sauce to expand its massive pepper-grinding business here — a prospect that appeals to the local farm-to-table culture."

When fracking began in Denton in 2000, the city was much smaller, but thanks to a number of graduates from the University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University choosing to stay local and open small businesses, the population grew, Schmall writes. "Then simmering concerns over the proximity of new wells to residential areas came to a head in 2009, when nurse Cathy McMullen organized a 300-person protest against five wells planned in a meadow across from a city park."

"The Denton Drilling Awareness Group proposed tighter fracking rules and even won a series of temporary bans on new drilling permits," Schmall writes. "At the same time, drillers defied city rules that required them to line wastewater pits and prohibited them from burning off, or 'flaring,' waste gas in residential areas." McMullen told Schmall, “All that did was make people so fired up. We had no choice (but to call for an outright ban)."

The ban now goes before the City Council. If they reject it, it goes to voters in November, Schmall writes. But standing in the way are fracking companies like Rayzor Co., which has one of the largest mineral holdings in Denton, and "stands to lose about $1.75 million a year if it’s barred from fracking on its former cattle ranch." (Read more)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Writer objects to N.C. town's change from moment of silence to Christian prayer at official meetings

Mark Jamison
When the Supreme Court ruled last month that public agencies don't violate the Constitution by opening meetings with a Christian prayer that respects other faiths, the justices in the 5-4 majority may not have considered the realities of small towns, where "leaders should think twice before assuming everyone is the same when it comes to religion—or lack thereof," retired United Parcel Service employee Mark Jamison writes for the Daily Yonder.

Jamison reports that the small town of Dillsboro, N.C., has used the ruling to change the opening of its meetings from a moment of silence to a Christian prayer, with mayor Mike Fitzgerald defending the decision by declaring that everyone in Dillsboro is Baptist, Jamison writes. But the town has two churches, one that's Baptist, the other that's non-denominational, and some of the 232 residents might not be Christians at all, Jamison notes.

Fitzgerald told The Sylva Herald that the prayer was about seeking wisdom, not conversions. He said, “We’re not trying to make anybody a Christian. We are just going to ask for a blessing on the town’s decisions.”

But if "he is not trying to make anybody a Christian, then there’s no reason that he and like-minded board members couldn’t gather quietly before their meeting and ask for specific religious guidance," Jamison writes. "Fitzgerald’s actions seem designed to demonstrate a particular prejudice, not simply toward a Christian preference but even a denominational one with his presumption that, 'We ain’t got nothing but Baptists in town.' Mayor Fitzgerald’s decision to open town council meeting with prayer seems quick and lacking thought or insight." (Read more)

Friday, June 06, 2014

Study finds that 21 percent of journalists have been denied media credentials

More than 21 percent of journalists who have applied for media credentials to federal, state, local and private organizations from 2008 to 2013 were denied passes, according to a study by Harvard University released by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The study, which is thought to be the first of its kind, found that "freelance journalists were significantly less likely to receive media credentials than employed journalists; photographers were more likely to be denied than non-photographers; and respondents who identified themselves as activists were more likely to be denied than those who did not," the Digital Media Law Project writes.

Participants were asked if they have been denied credentials to cover the White House, Congress, federal agencies, federal courts, federal law enforcement, U.S. military branches, governor's offices or state executive branches, state legislatures, state agencies or departments, state courts, state law enforcement, public universities, municipal government, county or municipal law enforcement, fire department or other emergency services, private venues such as conventions and political parties.

Of the 676 respondents who said they applied to one of 17 organizations, 145 said they were denied at least one request, the report found. Private venues were most likely to deny applicants' requests for credentials, with 62 of 325 respondents, or 17 percent, saying their requests were denied. The next most likely was municipal government, 13 percent, followed by state agencies, 12 percent, fire departments or emergency services, 10 percent and county or municipal law enforcement, 10 percent.

Federal agencies were less likely to deny requests, the report found. Only four percent of journalists were denied requests to cover federal courts (three of 68 requests denied) and military branches (four of 92 denied). Only two of 39, or 5 percent, of requests for federal law enforcement were denied. And only 7 percent of credential requests were denied for the White House (18 of 251 denied) and Congress (11 of 156 denied). To read the full report, click here.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Two more N. Cal. counties to vote on secession map
UPDATE, JUNE 4: "Fifty-nine percent of Del Norte County voters rejected the secessionist measure in unofficial returns Tuesday. In Tehama County, a secessionist proposal was leading by 53 percent, with votes continuing to be tallied Wednesday," reports The Associated Press. "A similar but unrelated question on the ballot in Siskiyou County, to rename it the Republic of Jefferson, failed with only 44 percent of voters in favor."

Residents in two conservative, rural counties in Northern California will vote Tuesday "whether they should support a proposed move to secede from California and form a breakaway state of Jefferson" with part of Oregon, Lee Romney and Veronica Rocha report for the Los Angeles Times. Some residents of Del Norte and Tehama counties, which have about 91,000 people, have complained "about overregulation, lack of representation and a culture clash with urban areas."

California's Siskiyou County voted in September to form Jefferson. Since then "elected officials in Glenn, Modoc, Siskiyou and Yuba counties already voted to join the movement," while supervisors in Butte County will vote June 10, The Associated Press reports.

The region has 11 counties that share one state senator, compared to 20 senators for the greater Los Angeles area and 10 for the San Francisco Bay Area, Del Norte County resident Aaron Funk told AP. Funk said, "Essentially, we have no representation whatsoever.”

"The counties that could opt in—as many as 16, according to supporters—make up more than a quarter of the state’s land mass but only a small portion of its population," AP writes. "The seven counties that have voted or will this month have a combined geographic area twice the size of New Hampshire, with about 467,000 residents." (Read more) The least populated state, Wyoming, has an estimated 583,000 residents.

Judge allows Tenn. town to change its name a second time, to Rocky Top, at developer's behest

A federal judge has declined to issue an injunction preventing the Tennessee town of Lake City from changing its name to Rocky Top to take advantage of the strong identity of the Bluegrass tune that is the fight song of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Google map: Lake City is pinned, Rocky Top is starred
The city council voted yesterday to start the process of changing the name, after U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan ruled against House of Bryant, the music publishing company founded by the late Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, who wrote the song in the Great Smoky Mountains town of Gatlinburg in 1967. Lake City, population 1,800, lies between the Cumberland Mountains and the westernmost arm of Norris Lake, the first Tennessee Valley Authority project. The town was called Coal Creek before the lake was impounded in the mid-1930s.

The state legislature and Gov. Bill Haslam have already enacted a law allowing the change, which is being sought by a developer. "Rocky Top Tennessee Marketing and Manufacturing Co. . . . has proposed a development that could be worth up to $450 million over six years and include an indoor and outdoor water park, coal miners’ theater, children’s museum, train rides, restaurant, and a candy company on some 300 acres near two exits off Interstate 75," reports John Huotari of Oak Ridge Today. "Officials have said it could bring 200 new jobs to Lake City and generate another $6 million in sales tax per year. But the project hinges on the name change."

The music publishing firm filed suit in March, saying the name change “is an attempt to unfairly exploit the fame and goodwill of House of Bryant’s intellectual property.” The suit also alleges trademark infringement, false advertising, unlawful taking, deceptive trade practices and unfair competition. "Varlan ruled that Lake City likely would not infringe on House of Bryant's copyright because the town does not intend to use the name for commercial purposes," reports Travis Loller of The Associated Press. "Varlan also denied a request to put the brakes on the developers' plans, saying it was too early to issue an injunction on proposals that may never come to fruition."

House of Bryant contends that the name change would open the door to commercial exploitation of the name because it would make Rocky Top "merely a geographic reference," Loller reports. The suit says the song refers to "a fictional or idyllic place," though a peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park bears the name.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

'Fracking' makes it into dictionary; coastal California county with no known oil leases bans it

The word "fracking" is no longer a clever, but unofficial, way to shorthand hydraulic fracturing. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary made it an official word, announcing that it has added the noun fracking, and verb frack, to its 2014 edition, Don Mason reports for Fuel Fix. Fracking, which is already used in the Associated Press Stylebook, is one of 150 words recently added to the dictionary. (Read more)

Despite receiving no interest from oil companies, Santa Cruz County became the first California county to ban fracking when a Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to do so, Jason Hoppin reports for the Santa Cruz Sentinel. The "vote bans above-ground production support facilities. In doing so, the new law echoes a similar local effort from the 1980s to ban facilities for offshore oil drilling, an effective regulatory tool that became a model for coastal communities across California."

While there is little chance oil companies will want to drill in Santa Cruz County, residents hope the fracking ban inspires other communities to act, Hoppin writes. County resident Joy Hinz told him, "This is a historic decision and it'll be looked back on as visionary. And it will hopefully spur other counties to do similar things, and to prevent harm before it happens." (Read more)