Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Emails show Tata's troubles as former Wake education chief

TATA'S TUMULTOUS TENURE AS SCHOOLS CHIEF REVEALED: Newly released email shows that former Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata -- and now state Transportation Secretary -- spent his final month in office surrounded by growing distress and concern from school board members and parents over his handling of the school bus problems and student assignment. More than 3,400 pages of email released this week as part of a public records request by news media organizations, including The News & Observer, show how much the bus fiasco affecting thousands of families was a daily concern during the first month of school. (More on this story below.)

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: A bill to limit local governments from requiring inspections of homes in some instances -- a measure that is opposed by environmental groups -- is on the House calendar. The House will also consider legislation to make it a felony for a parent to fail to report a missing child, dubbed Caylee's Law after the Caylee Anthony case, in which the 2-year-old was found dead and her mother didn't report her missing for a month. At 10 a.m., Senate committee will consider (for discussion only) a midwife bill and a measure to put teeth in the state's public records law. On the Senate floor later in the day, the "red route" bill gets a final vote with toll road language attached. Gov. Pat McCrory is making an economic development announcement in Raleigh at 1 p.m.

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MORE FROM TATA EMAILS: Members of the school board’s Democratic majority blamed Tata for the problems in responses to parents’ messages. Democratic board members also accused Tata of trying to undermine them by prematurely releasing a draft student-assignment plan that members said was flawed.

The documents highlight the tense closing weeks of the 20-month tenure of Tata, who was appointed secretary of transportation by Gov. Pat McCrory in January after being fired by the school board in September. The board agreed to pay $253,625 to buy out Tata’s contract. “I do have concern about the ‘trust us’ attitude that seems to come from staff,” board member Jim Martin, a Democrat, wrote in a Sept. 19 email to a parent. “This is what left families like yours unassigned, and what led to the transportation fiasco.”

Tata’s supporters insist that Democrats engaged in a purely political move in firing the retired U.S. Army brigadier general. “They were waiting like a coiled rattlesnake waiting for a moment of vulnerability for purposes of political cover to strike,” then-school board member Chris Malone, a Republican, wrote to a constituent Sept. 25 after the firing. Malone is now a state lawmaker.

ELLMERS VOTES FOR SPENDING CUTS: Republican U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers’ congressional district includes Fort Bragg and many civilian defense workers and defense businesses that will be hard hit by across-the-board spending cuts. But Ellmers says that she’s getting support for her position that the cuts are necessary. “The calls that we’re really getting are more people saying ‘Thank you for not giving in on this issue. We know it’s going to be painful, and we know we have communities that are going to be affected by this, but we feel very strongly that spending needs to be cut,’ ” Ellmers said in an interview Wednesday.

TILLIS CHUCKLES AT MOFFITT'S BOOB CARTOONS: Thank Rep. Tim Moffitt and Twitter for this tidbit. The Asheville Republican tweeted a picture of all the Molton editorial cartoons depicting himself from the Mountain Xpress newspaper he put on the wall of his legislative office. Later @TimMoffitt sent this update and photo -- ...and [House Speaker] @thomtillis just stopped by to see them. He nearly fell over laughing at the boob cartoons :)" The "boob cartoons" are a reference to the drawings skewering Moffitt for proposing legislation to stop a topless gender equality rally each year in Asheville. Here's an example.

FOREST TAKES FAMILIAR TACT -- ATTACK THE MEDIA: Rob Schofield at N.C. Policy Watch, a group that is critical of the Republican agenda, pointed out a video on the John Locke Foundation's website feature Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. One part of the speech caught our ear, too. Forest said he recently read three N&O headlines on the newspaper's mobile site and came to this conclusion: "Every single headline had an agenda," he said. "It had some level of truth and some level of not truth to it as well. We need to know what that agenda is." It's unclear what headlines Forest read -- maybe they were editorials, which have opinion, unlike news articles.

FOREST's 4 Es: One interesting item from Forest's slideshow in the video is his four Es: education, employment, energy and efficiency. McCrory listed only three Es for his agenda in his State of the State speech: economy, education and efficiency.

McCRORY SIGNS MEDICAID BILL, STATE DIRECTOR DISPUTES EXPANSION WOULD AFFECT HEALTH OF UNINSURED: Gov. Pat McCrory signed legislation blocking an expansion of Medicaid and a state-based exchange. But the more revealing comments from from his Medicaid chief Carol Steckel. In a interview with Stateline News Service, she disputes the research-proven idea that Medicaid coverage would improve the health of the uninsured. She told the publication: "If I gave 700,000 people who don’t have health care coverage a Medicaid card in North Carolina, do you really think they would get healthier? There simply are not enough providers. Again, that goes back to shoring up the program we have. I would be surprised if any Medicaid director in this country told you that if they gave a Medicaid card to the people that are in that expansion that, in fact, they would get good quality health care and access to the primary care doctors they need." Read the full Stateline interview here.

STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION HEARS TEACHER PAY REPORT: From AP -- North Carolina public school teachers saw their pay drop to among the lowest in the country as state budget-balancing during the Great Recession included a multiyear pay freeze, according to a report Wednesday to the State Board of Education.

RED ROUTE NOW MIXED WITH TOLL ROADS: From AP -- A majority of lawmakers in the N.C. Senate say the General Assembly should get out of the business of choosing which toll road projects should be built. Senators tentatively agreed Wednesday to a House bill that initially directed the Department of Transportation to review an alternate route for a section of Raleigh’s yet-to-be-completed Outer Beltline. That’s one of several toll projects, in addition to the proposed Garden Parkway in Gaston County, that have been on the DOT’s drawing board for years. But Senate Republicans added language that removed the mandate in state law requiring toll projects for the Garden Parkway. The language did the same for proposed toll roads in Wilmington and along the northern Outer Banks.

BONUS HEADLINE: Arkansas passes nation's toughest abortion law: From AP -- Arkansas now has the nation's most restrictive abortion law - a near-ban on the procedure from the 12th week of pregnancy - unless a lawsuit or court action intervenes before it takes effect this summer. Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Legislature defied Gov. Mike Beebe, overriding the Democrat's veto. The House voted 56-33 on Wednesday to override Beebe's veto, a day after the Senate voted to do the same. The votes come less than a week after the Legislature overrode a veto of a separate bill banning most abortions starting in the 20th week of pregnancy. That bill took effect immediately after the final override vote, whereas the 12-week ban won't take effect until this summer.

Abortion rights proponents have said they'll sue to block the 12-week ban from taking effect. Beebe warned lawmakers that both measures would end up wasting taxpayers' money with the state defending them in court, where, he said, they are likely to fail. The measures' supporters, who expected court challenges, were undaunted.

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