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Record-tying year in homicides leaves city officials searching for solutions to a community problem

GREENSBORO — A city official wants answers to what is driving violent crimes after Greensboro tied its record for killings in a single year by mid-December.

“What’s missing from the community that allows it to be so open to violent crimes?” asked Assistant City Manager Trey Davis.

Just hours after Davis posed the question, 18-year-old Tymier Starks was shot and killed on South Holden Road bringing the city’s homicide total to 44. The number of killings in a single year has only reached that threshold once before, in 2017, when Davis was commander of the police department’s criminal investigation division.

“We’ve got to figure out how to change our culture, give people life skills — the decision-making skills to be able to cope with not only situations, whether it be disagreements, disputes, other acts of violence, whatever it might be, the situations that lead people to homicidal thoughts.

“How do we de-escalate that?”

It’s the same question Greensboro police ask while trying to solve the city’s homicides.

“We have to come up with something to address the underlying factors that lead someone to believe that picking up a gun is the right way to handle violence,” Deputy Police Chief Mike Richey said.

The 44 killings include a woman shot outside her job by her estranged husband, who then killed himself.

A 14-year-old boy was shot in a park.

A high school student was killed at a party.

A hotel worker was beaten to death during a robbery at Rodeway Inn and Suites.

A woman died after an SUV plowed into a crowd of people outside a gas station following an argument.

In the latest killing, Richey stood on South Holden Road watching officers investigate.

He said that in Greensboro, gangs, drugs and domestic violence all played factors in this year’s homicides, but described robberies as the No. 1 factor.

“In the last three years, violence in the middle region of North Carolina has grown tremendously,” Richey said.

Locally, High Point investigated 16 killings this year and the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office investigated four, bringing the county’s total to 64.

Richey said the Greensboro Police Department is working with neighboring law enforcement agencies to find commonalities in violent crimes.

Greensboro police knew the crime statistics weren’t looking good for 2019 as far back as May when Chief Wayne Scott, who retires on Jan. 31, announced ways he planned to address the violence.

Richey said since then police have collected more than 1,000 handguns and rifles used in violent crimes.

“That’s not good news,” he said. “It’s good news that we have taken that many guns off (the streets), but it’s bad news that there’s that many guns out on our streets right now.”

He said officers have an increased focus on deterring those known to be involved in crimes.

The city, Richey said, is also partnering with community organizations, through a city initiative, to help find jobs and housing for people in need.

Davis is also looking for ways to do that as assistant city manager.

He said a killing earlier in December left him shaken after he visited an affected family for the first time as “a public servant” instead of as an officer. Instead of trying to investigate the crime, Davis said, he got to focus in on the human side of the crime. He watched the family come together and saw how they grieved.

And that made his passion to fix the problem even more real, he said.

Davis has been looking for ways to fix the problems facing high-crime areas. This summer, the city plans to launch a program that would help youth work summer jobs.

“Somewhere in the equation that contributes to a person turning to a life of crime is money and access to resources,” Davis said. “One thing that we can change is gainful employment.”

Davis said studies show that getting youth employed early helps them build life skills and learn to cope with conflict.

“I’m hoping this will bring a more holistic approach to our communities that are experiencing violence,” Davis said.

He’s also looking at how the city can support Camp Hope, a program run by the Family Justice Center that brings together families who have experienced trauma and domestic violence.

And then there’s Cure Violence.

“It is a new, out-of-the-box idea for our city to allow the community to be directly involved in the crime issues taking place in our neighborhoods,” Davis said.

But Davis said city officials can’t stop there and he needs to find more answers.

“People who are outside of these communities oftentimes will talk about what they see from an outward perspective, but what is happening inside?” Davis asked.

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Four priests who worked at Triad Catholic schools among those 'credibly accused' of child sexual abuse, diocese says

Four priests who served in Triad Catholic schools were among those “credibly accused” of child sexual abuse, the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte said in a report released Monday.

Three of the priests previously served at Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School — Harold V. McGovern, Joseph Kelleher, and Andre Anthony Corbin Jr. — and another, John Joseph Hyland, worked at St. Pius Catholic School in Greensboro.

Seven other priests with Greensboro connections — Francis C. Bourbon, Hugh J. Dolan, P. Patrick Gavigan, William J. Kuder, James W. O’Neill, Kenneth R. Parker and John D. Rutledge — were also on the list.

The report was the result of the Charlotte diocese’s review of records to determine how many priests who served in Western North Carolina before and after the diocese was established in 1972 had been credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

Most of those with local ties have since died, with the others removed from ministry.

Many of the allegations took place elsewhere, but in four cases, the alleged abuse took place in the Triad — at Bishop McGuinness, Our Lady of Grace church, St. Pius X church and St. Pius Catholic School.

Corbin was alleged to have sexually abused children when he was chaplain at Bishop McGuinness, which was in Winston-Salem in the 1960s and 1970s, and is now in Kernersville.

In 1983, the Charlotte Diocese received an allegation about Corbin dating back to 1966, when Corbin served at the Gibbons Hall for Boys in Asheville. In 1970, the Raleigh diocese deemed Corbin unfit for ministry after he was accused of abuse at Bishop McGuinness.

In 1988, Asheville police charged Corbin in connection with the alleged abuse at the Gibbons Hall for Boys. He pleaded guilty in 1989 to one count of indecent liberties with a child. Monday’s report said there were additional allegations of sexual abuse coming out of Winston-Salem and Brevard in Transylvania County in the 1960s but offers no further details about the allegations. Corbin died in 2008.

Gavigan was accused in April of 2002 by a woman who said he abused her as a child in 1973 at Our Lady of Grace church in Greensboro. The diocese lay review board reviewed the allegation and recommended that Gavigan, then living in a nursing home, be restricted from ministry to minors. Gavigan, ordained in 1953, also served at Immaculate Heart of Mary in High Point and St. Benedict in Greensboro. He died in 2007.

Hyland, ordained in 1942, was reported in May 2002 as sexually abusing a woman from 1964 to 1966, when she was a minor, at St. Pius X school in Greensboro. Hyland, who had also served at St. Benedict in Greensboro, died in 1975.

Dolan, ordained in 1934, had assignments that included St. Benedict and St. Pius X church in Greensboro. In 2004 the Raleigh diocese received a single allegation of Dolan abusing a minor at St. Pius X church in 1964, before the establishment of the Charlotte diocese. Dolan had retired in 1979 and died in 1981.

McGovern’s assignments included serving as chaplain at Bishop McGuinness, when it was in Winston-Salem, Holy Cross church in Kernersville and Immaculate Heart of Mary in the 1980s. In 2008, his religious order, the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, removed McGovern from ministry after a claim of sexual abuse from Delaware from the 1980s was substantiated.

Kelleher, a chaplain at Bishop McGuinness in Kernersville, also served at Immaculate Heart of Mary, Holy Cross, St. Joseph church in Asheboro and Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Lexington. In 2010, he was arrested after a man claimed Kelleher sexually abused him in 1977, when the man was 14 and Kelleher was pastor of Our Lady of the Annunciation church in Albermarle. According to the report, Kelleher admitted the abuse in a police interview. A superior court judge in Stanly County dismissed a charge of indecent liberties after determining that Kelleher lacked the mental capacity to stand trial. He died in 2014 at the age of 86.

“It is painful to even try to comprehend such gravely immoral behavior,” Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis wrote in a letter Monday. “However, in speaking with survivors and hearing their stories, it is clear to me that making known the names of their abusers can promote healing for them and their families.”

Others with a Greensboro connection, whose allegations occurred elsewhere, are:

  • Francis C. Bourbon, ordained in 1957, had assignments that included Immaculate Heart of Mary in High Point in the 1980s. His religious order, the Jesuits, said in 2018 that he was credibly accused of abuse around 1985 in Buckingham, Va. Bourbon died in 2007.
  • William J. Kuder, ordained in 1933, had assignments that included St. Benedict in Greensboro and St. Joseph of the Hills in Eden (formerly Leaksville) before his death in 1960. In 1995, the Charlotte diocese notified parishioners of St. Joan of Arc church in west Asheville that it had received allegations against Kuder of abuse of minor boys dating from the 1950s at that place.
  • James W. O’Neill, ordained in 1967, was removed from his assignment at St. Paul the Apostle church in Greensboro in 2002 after the Delaware attorney general received an allegation that he had abused a minor in Delaware from 1976 to 1985. In 2019, he was living in a supervised facility owned by his religious order in Maryland.
  • Kenneth R. Parker, ordained in 1965, served in the 1960s at Our Lady of Grace in Greensboro, St. Francis of Rome Catholic Mission in Sparta and St. John Baptist de la Salle in North Wilkesboro. He retired in 1993. In 2010 he was removed from ministry after allegations of abuse in the early 1980s in Newton Grove.
  • John D. Rutledge, ordained in 1951, served at St. Mary church (formerly Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal church) in Greensboro in the early 1970s. In 2018, the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama, named him on its list of credibly accused clergy for an allegation of abuse in Alabama in 1968. He died in 1998.

“While nothing can change the past, in our sorrow we also find hope,” Jugis said in his letter. “The information we present here reflects a clear shift in the way the Church — and this diocese — has addressed the problem of child sexual abuse since 2002, when the U.S. Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

N.C. minimum wage stays the same as another year begins

For the 11th consecutive year, North Carolina’s 38,000 minimum-wage workers will not receive even a penny raise when the new year arrives Wednesday.

They remain stuck at the federally mandated $7.25 an hour set in 2009 since the majority of Republican state legislators express little, if any, interest during the 2019 session in a wage hike for private-sector workers.

Meanwhile, the minimum wage in nine blue, six purple and six red states rises Wednesday by virtue of a state- or voter-mandated increase.

Altogether, 29 states — mostly outside the Southeast — have a minimum wage above the federal level.

A full-time N.C. minimum-wage worker earns $15,080 per year — $1,000 less than the federal poverty level for 2018 for a family of one adult and one child.

An additional 52,000 North Carolinians make less than $7.25 because they work in the restaurant sector, where their compensation is often based more on customer tips.

The lack of a minimum-wage raise for private-sector employees likely continues to sting considering the hourly pay for all full-time state government employees jumped to $15 an hour in July 2018, as approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

About 8,000 state employees, or 12% of the state government workforce, received a raise, according to the office of Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

During the 2019 season, there were at least seven Democratic-sponsored minimum-wage bills introduced.

None of them — House Bill 46, House Bill 146, House Bill 366, House Bill 830, House Bill 832, Senate Bill 137 and Senate Bill 291 — were heard in committee even though they were introduced between February and April.

HB 832 would have created a constitutional amendment allowing voters to determine whether to raise the state minimum wage to $12.

Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, said that as other states increase their minimum wage, the issue could become a pivotal political factor in North Carolina’s 2020 legislative races.

Hope for change

Proponents of raising the North Carolina minimum wage said they have been encouraged by an unrelated socioeconomic development in Congress during 2019 — the inclusion in a federal spending bill of increasing the minimum age for buying tobacco products from age 18 to 21, likely going into effect by fall 2020.

Passing federal age-21 tobacco legislation seemed implausible, if not impossible, until about 15 months ago.

That’s when the Trump administration’s Food and Drug Administration appeared to be getting serious about pushing for age-21 restrictions, along with eliminating non-tobacco and menthol electronic-cigarette flavorings, in response to a national vaping illness crisis tied mostly to the use of liquids containing the marijuana compound THC.

“Policy decisions play a crucial role in shaping the future of wages in North Carolina, and North Carolina’s failed tax cutting experiment will only keep the state on its dark road of wage stagnation and inequality,” said Allen Freyer, director of the workers’ rights project for the left-leaning N.C. Justice Center.

“Since 2013, the General Assembly has enacted significant tax reductions for the highest income earners in the state, yet as we’ve seen, the annual paycheck for the median worker has shrunk by $200.”

Freyer said the federal corporate tax-rate cut has failed to boost paychecks for working people.

“Instead, these recipients spent almost all of their tax cut windfall on stock buybacks, executive compensation and investor income, none of which translated into better wages,” Freyer said.

“A few highly publicized examples of bonuses (in January 2018) turned out to be both very rare and very temporary, reinforcing the obvious reality that tax cuts are not an effective long-term tool to raise wage.”

GOP points to markets

Key Republican legislative leaders have said the free-market system should continue to dictate wages for private-sector employers.

They cite studies claiming the possibility of losing private-sector jobs, or disincentifying their creation, as a consequence of increasing hourly pay.

“Many companies are raising wages to attract the best talent,” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth.

Companies with a Triad presence that raised their minimum wage in the past two years include Amazon, Cone Health, First Horizon National Corp., F.N.B. Corp., Hugh Chatham Hospital, Novant Health Inc., Truist Financial Corp., Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Wells Fargo & Co.

“This all adds credence to the fact that a minimum-wage increase is unnecessary,” Krawiec said.

Meanwhile, local governments are taking steps to increase the minimum wage for their workers.

In its 2018-19 budget, Greensboro set a salary floor of $31,200 — or $15 per hour — for all full-time municipal employees eligible for benefits.

Guilford County Schools plans to use an extra $800,000 from county commissioners to help raise to $15 the minimum hourly wage for bus drivers in an effort to both keep and attract drivers.

The Winston-Salem City Council has announced plans to raise the minimum wage of city employees to $15 by 2021. It was increased to $12.50 an hour in October 2018.

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, said in January that the minimum wage remains a subject “of great debate in Raleigh,” in part out of concern for the ever-widening economic gap between urban and rural North Carolina.

Raising the minimum wage for state employees to $15 an hour “could very well signal to other employers it is time for them to reassess their salary for the low-wage earners and adjust accordingly,” Lambeth said. “But the market should determine that, not government.”

Measuring impact

Some economic studies have demonstrated little, if any, negative impact from minimum-wage hikes in 31 states.

John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a N.C. legislature expert, said in January 2019 that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Democratic legislators “will be in a much stronger bargaining position than in the last several years” with the Republican supermajorities gone in both chambers.

“Certainly, Democrats will press for progress on their policy priorities, such as Medicaid expansion and a minimum-wage increase, along with various changes in tax and education policy,” Dinan said.

However, a minimum wage increase stayed on the back burner with Cooper and Democratic leaders as they focused on attempting to expand Medicaid coverage to between 450,000 to 650,000 North Carolinians, an 8.5% to 9.1% pay raise for public school teachers and additional education, environmental and infrastructure spending.

Cooper chose to veto the Republican budget compromise on June 28 because it did not include funding for expanding Medicaid and included just a 3.9% teacher pay raise.

Senate Republicans chose to postpone until at least Jan. 14 their attempt to override Cooper’s budget veto, which needs the support of at least one Senate Democrat at full attendance.

Mitch Kokai, policy analyst for Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said that “it’s almost guaranteed that some Democrats will sponsor legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage” in 2020.

“It’s almost as certain that Republicans will have no interest in advancing that legislation.

“While Republicans who lead the General Assembly will have to make some compromises with their Democratic colleagues in order to advance high-priority legislation, it’s unlikely that the compromise will include the government-mandated minimum wage,” Kokai said.

Getting a raise

The minimum wage raises won’t be large in some states since the increase is tied to inflation or another economic measuring stick.

For example, the minimum wage is going up 30 cents in Alaska to $10.19. The largest is $1.50 an hour to $9 in New Mexico, which passed minimum-wage legislation in 2019.

States with a minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25 range from $8.56 in Florida to $13.50 in Washington state.

“Although a number of states in recent years have increased their minimum wage above the federal minimum, these states have — with the notable exception of Michigan — fallen into one of two categories,” Dinan said.

“State minimum-wage increases have been passed either by Democratic-controlled legislatures or through citizen-initiated ballot measures in states that allow the public to bypass legislative opposition and place measures directly on the ballot.”

Inflation has eroded the buying power of $7.25 an hour over the past 10 years, said John Quinterno, a principal with South by North Strategies, a Chapel Hill research firm specializing in economic and social policy.

“An increase is more than overdue, both for inflation and to take the threshold to a more meaningful level closer to a living wage,” Quinterno said. “Most states, including most of the most populous ones, have higher minimums.”

“Democrats have called for increases, but I am unsure how hard they are willing to push if the votes are not there. So, I do not expect an increase to advance.”

Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities, said the issue is “more complicated in North Carolina” because of a widening urban-rural economic gap.

“Workers have been remaining in these low-paying positions for longer periods of time because there has been so little growth in mid-skilled positions, particularly outside the major metro areas,” Vitner said.

“One possible solution would be to have a multi-tier minimum wage, with a higher wage in major metropolitan areas and a lower minimum wage ... for smaller metropolitan areas and rural areas.”