Local News

Is predatory lending legal?

08lending The new director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has asked Congress for explicit authority to strengthen its enforcement of financial protections for service members. Kathleen Kraninger wants specific authorization to conduct examinations of payday lenders and others under the CFPB’s jurisdiction to ensure the lenders are complying with the Military Lending Act.

Kraninger’s appointment to the CFPB came under scrutiny in the Senate in December. She was a littleknown government employee. Her nomination was narrowly approved along party lines.

A 2006 Department of Defense report detailed the harmful effects of high-interest loans on service members and on military readiness. In 2015, the Department of Defense tightened its implementing regulation to help prevent lenders from evading the rules. But last year, under then-acting CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney, the agency pulled back from its regular examinations of payday lenders, saying it didn’t have the authority to do those exams.

In announcing her legislative proposal, which was submitted in January, Kraninger said the bureau’s commitment to the well-being of service members “includes ensuring that lenders subject to our jurisdiction comply with the Military Lending Act.”

The law limits interest rates that can be charged to active-duty service members and their dependents to an annual percentage rate of 36 percent. Young service members, who are particularly vulnerable to these lenders, aren’t necessarily aware of complex laws that protect them and might not file complaints. Kraninger noted she was pleased to see the legislation proposed recently in the House of Representatives.

The North Carolinas General Assembly has resisted efforts of payday lenders and other creditors to foist their high interest rates, often in the triple digits, on the people of this state. During years of back and forth on predatory lending, federal legislation has been inconsistent. Two years ago, a bill written by Congressman Patrick McHenry of western North Carolina would allow lenders with the most harmful lending practices to do business in the Tar Heel state.

The North Carolina Consumer Finance Act governs check-cashing businesses and prohibits cash advances under some circumstances. A company known as Online Cash 4 Payday declares on its website that “borrowers looking for loans without a credit check or who have bad credit will need to look for alternative forms of financing.”

North Carolina installment loans and personal loans are available and legal. There are dozens of small-loan and check-cashing store-front companies in Fayetteville. Online Cash 4 Pay said, “we are here to give you access to the money you need when your (sic) in a pinch … whether your (sic) needing a cash advance, installment loan, personal funds for debt consolidation, title loan, or any type of financial advance.”

In anticipation of a proposal to revise debt collection rules expected in March, advocates from 74 national and state consumer groups sent a letter to Kraninger urging the bureau to focus on protecting consumers from abusive debt collection practices.

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Prioritizing what’s good for the people of Fayetteville

07priority issues  Fayetteville City Council members will meet next month for their annual planning retreat. Last week, they held a preliminary session designed to zero in on issues they believe most important to the people in the year ahead. For the first time in many years, crime control is not on the list.

The priorities include initiating a development plan for the Murchison Road corridor. Members have been talking about economic improvement along the roadway for years. Mayor Mitch Colvin owns Colvin Funeral Home & Crematory at 2010 Murchison Rd. Murchison Road stretches for 10 miles from downtown Fayetteville to Spring Lake.

City Council plans to take on the revitalization in segments, the first being from the new Rowan Street railroad overpass to Langdon Street, just beyond Fayetteville State University. Local business development, improved street lighting, additional bus stops and mobility are potential areas of improvement. It “could be 15, 20 years before this whole corridor is done,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ted Mohn.

Another area of interest to council would be the city’s investment in a modern, high-speed broadband system. Councilman Jim Arp spoke of making Fayetteville a Top 50 smart technology city, saying “information is the commerce of the next century.”

The city administration calls these special interest projects targets for action. Other projects include completion of the comprehensive land use plan, development and maintenance of city street and stormwater systems, and development of options for a young adult engagement program and an internship program.

The objective of the session was to get the council thinking in greater detail about the goals it will concentrate on during the annual planning retreat. In addition to public safety concerns, they scratched development of parks and recreation programs from their list. P&R Committee Chair Kathy Jensen noted that passage of the $35 million bond referendum three years ago had stabilized funding needs.

The list of targets for action did not include crime control in Fayetteville. Statistics continue to reflect an overall upward trend in crime over 17 years with both violent and property crimes increasing. Based on this trend, the crime rate in Fayetteville for 2019 is expected to be higher than in 2016 according to CityRating.com. The city had a record number of homicides in 2016 — 33.

In 2016, the violent crime rate in Fayetteville was higher than the violent crime rate in North Carolina by 103.42 percent, and the city’s property crime rate was higher than the property crime rate in North Carolina by 66.23 percent.

The source of data on Fayetteville crime rates is the FBI Report of Offenses Known to Law Enforcement. The projected crime rate data was generated from the trends and crime information available from previous years of reported data. The FBI cautions that statistics comparing yearly data solely on the basis of population is meaningful only upon further examination of all variables that affect crime.

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Fort Bragg soldier killed in combat

06Joshua Beale 2  A Fort Bragg Green Beret died from enemy gunfire in Afghanistan Jan. 22. The Department of Defense announced the death of Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Z. Beale, 32, of Carrollton, Virginia. He was mortally wounded by enemy small-arms fire during combat operations in Uruzgan Province, the DOD said in a news release. SFC Beale was a member of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg and was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class, a spokesman with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command said.

“He will be greatly missed by everyone who had the fortunate opportunity to know him. We extend our deepest condolences to his family for this tragic loss,” said Col. Nathan Prussian, commander of 3rd Special Forces Group. This was Beale’s fourth combat deployment, and his third tour to Afghanistan.

Will the city join the county at its 911 center?

A nondescript, gated building that formerly housed U.S. Defense Department offices is the future home of Cumberland County’s joint 911 communications and emergency operations centers.

Surveillance cameras are mounted on every corner of the structure. Perimeter wrought iron fencing is K-rated, which means the barrier provides anti-terrorism crash protection. County government bought the 17,000 square-foot building at the intersection of Ravenhill Drive and Executive Place for $5.1 million.

Consultants will develop designs and preliminary cost estimates for renovations, which Assistant County Manager Tracey Jackson said will cost as much as $17 million, including upgraded communications equipment.

“Building a new center would cost more than $30 million,” Jackson said. “Our communications center and emergency operations center are outdated and obsolete.”

Officials noted that the county will request state grant funding from the North Carolina 911 Board of Directors. The city of Fayetteville and county commissioners have been debating whether to undertake a joint effort to consolidate 911 operations for several years.

County Commission Chair Jeannette Council said she has been in touch with Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin regarding the city’s interest in a joint venture and is awaiting a response. “We have been talking about building a new emergency services center for years,” she said. A “path is before us now, and we are excited about what lies ahead.”

Congressional election still undecided

With the seating of a new North Carolina Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement pending, the state’s 9th Congressional District still has no representation in Congress. Much of Cumberland County is in the district.

A state board evidentiary hearing on alleged election improprieties was canceled when courts ruled the board’s makeup was unconstitutional and dissolved it. In a separate court action, Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway denied Republican Mark Harris’ effort to be declared winner of the November election. He said the incoming elections board doesn’t have to certify the results of the election until the investigation into alleged absentee ballot fraud is completed.

“Why are we looking at a dramatic intervention by one branch of government into the functioning of another branch of government?” the judge asked. “That’s an extraordinary step to ask a court to take.”

Democratic leaders in the U.S. House have already said they won’t seat Harris until the fraud allegations have been resolved. Harris led Democrat Dan McCready by about 900 votes following the election, but the state board has refused to certify that because of suspicious absentee voting results in Bladen and Robeson counties.

Gene Booth named new Emergency Services director

Cumberland County Manager Amy Cannon has announced the promotion of Woodson E. “Gene” Booth to director of Cumberland County Emergency Services. He succeeds Randy Beeman, who resigned in July to accept a position in Durham County. Booth has worked for Cumberland County Emergency Services for almost 15 years, most recently as the Emergency Management Program Coordinator and fire marshal.

“Mr. Booth has demonstrated that he has the experience, skills and character to lead our Emergency Services Department, and that was especially evident as he managed the Emergency Operations Center during Hurricane Florence,” Cannon said.

Booth is a Hoke County native. He graduated from Cape Fear High School and has more than 21 years of public safety experience. During his tenure, he led the county’s emergency management efforts for Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

FSU/Lafayette Society collaboration

Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m., The Lafayette Society will partner with the Fayetteville State University Black History Scholars Association to co-host a presentation by Dr. Robert Taber about the Haitian Revolution. Taber is assistant professor of History at FSU, where he has taught courses about U.S., African-American, Latin American and French history since 2016.

“His audience will be introduced to the major events, themes and personalities of the Haitian Revolution, and (he) will highlight the ways the revolution influenced the coming of the U.S. Civil War,” said Lafayette Society President Hank Parfitt.

In 1775, slavery was legal everywhere in the Americas. By 1890, it was legal nowhere. The rebellion in Haiti, 1789-1804, is regarded as the most successful uprising of enslaved people in the history of the world.

The event will take place in the Rudolph Jones Student Center on the campus of FSU, and it is free and open to the public. For more information, email hankparfitt@embarqmail.com or visit www.lafayettesociety.org.

Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Beale

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City and county agree on sales tax distribution plan

07 taxes City of Fayetteville officials have come to an agreement with Cumberland County Commissioners on the short-term distribution of local sales tax revenues. A lot of money is at stake —$192,897,697 during fiscal year 2018 alone. City Council and county commissioners and their senior management staffs worked cooperatively to agree on a formula that will be in place for at least the next four years.

The city preferred a longer-term agreement, but the county pointed to the upcoming 2020 U.S. census, which could change everything by altering population figures that guide the sales tax apportionment. State law gives county governments the responsibility of divvying up sales tax receipts either by population or tax districts. Since 2003, the population formula has been in force locally.

The so-called “Big Bang” annexation by Fayetteville of 40,000 residents 10 years ago came into play. The county won an agreement in which the city would sacrifice 50 percent of the tax revenues in annexed areas for which the county agreed to continue the population dispersion method.

A modified payback fund by which the city reimburses the county for annexed areas remains in effect. The revised plan continues the current 50-50 split of sales tax money from the annexations during year one. In the following three years, the municipalities would receive 60 percent of any new revenue. The county would get 40 percent.

The county had cautioned the city that, if the two entities couldn’t come to terms on the population distribution plan, commissioners would consider switching to the tax district formula. That would have cost the city of Fayetteville an estimated $5 million a year. And, the smaller towns would have suffered as well.

While county government had the advantage, commissioners had to consider that most voters live inside the municipalities. “I think this is the best deal for the citizens of Fayetteville,” said Mayor Mitch Colvin.

Councilwoman Kathy Jensen noted that local governments will have to go back to the drawing board in a couple of years to negotiate a new agreement.

Others pointed out that a significant deployment of Fort Bragg troops, unlikely as that might be, would reduce Fayetteville’s population. Residential areas of the Army post are in the city. The current agreement expires at the end of this fiscal year. But County Manager Amy Cannon gave the city until the end of this month to agree on the revised distribution formula. City Council did so Jan. 14 — by unanimous vote.

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Gen. Mark Milley a soldier’s soldier

06 Milley Those who know Army Gen. Mark Milley say the administration’s choice to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is a soldier’s soldier. He’s likely better known at Fort Bragg than in Washington, D.C. He is not part of the Pentagon establishment and has spent more time in Afghanistan than inside the Beltway.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. is scheduled to retire next fall. Trump said the transition date was to be determined. “I am thankful to both of these incredible men for their service to our Country!” Trump tweeted. Milley’s nomination will need to be confirmed by the Senate. No date has been set for the confirmation.

Milley became the 39th Chief of Staff of the Army in August 2015 after serving as commanding general of Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg. He has had numerous command and staff positions in eight divisions and Special Forces units throughout his 35 years of military service. A native of Winchester, Massachusetts, Milley received his commission from Princeton University in 1980.

He has served in the 82nd Airborne Division and the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg. “I’ve watched him lead soldiers overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as at home ... and most recently as the commander of U.S. Forces Command,” said former Army Secretary John McHugh in a statement. “At all times, he has led with distinction in both war and peace.”

McHugh has known Milley since Milley’s days commanding the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, an Army post in the district McHugh represented as a congressman. McHugh praised Milley as a “remarkable leader.”

A Hill staffer who met Milley in Afghanistan agreed. “He came across as very well-informed and as someone who’d thought about the situation he was dealing with fairly deeply,” the source said.

The question now for many is whether a mind that could grasp Afghanistan can effectively manage the unpredictable world of Washington. History records that military leaders with field backgrounds don’t always do well in D.C. Straight shooters haven’t usually served the Army well as chief of staff or as chairman.

Military regimentation doesn’t translate into politics naturally. Gen. Eric Shinseki’s assessment that 100,000 troops were needed to occupy Iraq brought him grief in the administration of former President George W. Bush.

Milley’s operational deployments include the Multi-National Force and Observers, or MFO, Sinai, Egypt; Operation Just Cause, Panama; Operation Uphold Democracy, Haiti; Operation Joint Endeavor, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq; and three tours during Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan. He also deployed to Somalia and Colombia.

Milley and his wife have been married for more than 30 years and have two children.

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