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Archive for November, 2012

Duke Energy silliness, part I

This involves silly things done to Duke Energy in response to its firing of former Progress Energy chief Bill Johnson as its CEO minutes after the two companies official merged. Some sort of sanction was certainly appropriate, but the options state regulators opted for are questionable. As the Charlotte Observer reports:

CEO Jim Rogers will retire when his contract expires at the end of 2013, with conditions on who may succeed him. Two top lieutenants will be replaced, while a former Progress executive will be brought back as a consultant. Two new directors will be named, neither of whom may have ties to Duke or Progress.

“Just as a general principle, this is absurd in a lot of respects,” said Wake Forest University business professor Dan Fogel, who teaches strategy in Charlotte. “The absurdity is to dip so far into the business as to tell them how to operate and even the number of employees (1,000) to keep in Raleigh.”

Those terms, he said, could make it harder to find a successor for Rogers and dampen North Carolina’s business climate.

Well said.

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The world really is a strange place sometimes

“Japan Airlines is to begin serving Kentucky Fried Chicken to passengers on some US and European flights for three months next week.” So reports the Daily Mail. KFC as a seasonal Japanese favorite? Who knew.

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A big collision in front of the Wal-Mart on Independence Boulevard

Not sure what’s worse here, the N.C. Department of Transportation’s design for the Independence Blvd/Albemarle Road/Sharon Amity area or the Charlotte Observer’s article out yesterday “Wrecks point out access issues at Independence Walmart store.”

The basic issue is that there’s a new big Wal-Mart near the Albemarle Road exit on outbound Independence. Some people would like to get on Albemarle Road after shopping at Wal-Mart. The Albemarle Road exit is on the left though, so you have to go through four lanes of traffic going (sometimes) 50 miles per hour in a couple hundred feet to make the Albemarle Road turnoff. Sometimes those efforts to get to the Albemarle Road ramp don’t turnout so well.

“That is dangerous,” said Jen Thompson, of the N.C. Department of Transportation. “That area was designed as a right-in, right-out access.”

True enough. But the state also didn’t buy out the shopping centers along the highway and placed a major exit on the left side of the highway. Things might have been OK except had the stores along Independence continued to die out, leaving a big depressed and depressing wasteland but then Wal-Mart had to come in to rejuvenate at least a small part of the area… Things might also be OK if the Walmart were further away from the Albemarle Road exit but state and city transportation officials apparently didn’t recognize the issue or thought it was not as serious as it has turned out to be.

Adding to the problem is that you can’t make a left turnout anymore at Sharon Amity, the next (first) light, so if you want to get to Albemarle Road you have to go all the way to Idlewild and work your way back around via WT Harris. Not sure how the impending Independence rebuild from Sharon Amity to Idlewild will change all that.

Which brings us to the UPoR’s coverage:

Access to Albemarle Road is supposed to be from Pierson Drive, reached from the store’s parking lot. Pierson Drive goes under Independence Boulevard and crosses Albemarle Road a short distance from the Independence-Albemarle interchange.

“It might take a little longer, but it’s safer,” Thompson said.

No, not really. You can take Pierson to get to Independence inbound, but that involves a rather dangerous turn onto Independence. You can even take Pierson to inbound Albemarle Road before it gets to Independence. There’s no quick and easy way to get from Pierson to outbound Albemarle Road though — you can’t make that left anymore. From Pierson, you can continue on and cut through the neighborhood to get to Sharon Amity (or Central Avenue, or Eastway Drive) but I’m pretty sure that isn’t what the city has in mind. And if you don’t have a GPS or don’t know the area, you could get really lost really fast if you try it.

Bonus observation: Observer staff would have caught the error had they made use of the Google Map link that they thoughtfully included with the online version of the story.

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Meanwhile in Atlanta

Airport ramp workers reportedly egg the New Orleans Saints’ charter bus. Stay classy Atlanta.

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Matthews losses medical waste incinerator case

The state’s second highest court last week ruled against Matthews in its attempts to shut down MNC Holding’s medical waste incineration facility in the town. In 2009, the state adopted new air quality standards that would go into effect in 2014. Matthews got the Mecklenburg County Air Quality Division to move up the date for MNC to October 2012. The company sought a variance from the town to make the necessary changes to the facility — a variance being necessary as the incinerator’s is a “nonconforming use” for its current zoning — but its request was denied by the town. MNC then sued.

Matthews’ zoning ordinance states that:

No structural alterations are allowed to any structure containing a nonconforming use except for those required by law or an order from the office or agent authorized by the Board of Commissioners to issue building permits to ensure the safety of the structure.

The town took this to mean that the only changes allowed would those that needed to to ensure the safety of the structure — and as air quality regulations have nothing to do with the safety of the structure, MNC should not be allowed to make the necessary changes to comply with the new regulations.

The Court of Appeals was not impressed by this argument. As Judge Robert N. Hunter, Jr. wrote for the appeals court:

The intent of the statute is to allow property owners to make alterations when such alterations are “required by law.” In our legal system, town ordinances must defer to state and federal laws. The fact that the Town enacted the Ordinance recognizes this fact. Further, “[z]oning ordinances are in derogation of the right of private property, and, where exemptions appear in favor of the property owner, they should be liberally construed in favor of such owner.” Our Supreme Court has observed that this is especially true when property owners are required by law to make alterations to their property.

Accordingly, because MNC is compelled by law to make the alteration, the Ordinance should be interpreted liberally. The provision of the Ordinance allowing for alterations “required by law” was placed there by the legislators specifically for the purpose of “provid[ing] flexibility and ‘prevent[ing] practical difficulties and unnecessary hardships.’” Accordingly, we affirm the trial court’s reversal of the zoning board.

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The ACC on the brink?

Says here that the Atlantic Coast Conference has sued the University of Maryland for just north of $52 million for the Terps decision to leave the ACC and join the Big Ten. The ACC claims that that amount — three times its yearly operating budget — is that current agreed to amount for leaving the conference. The key item from the Associated Press story:

The lawsuit also states that Maryland President Wallace D. Loh has “refused to provide assurance” that the school will pay the exit fee and “has made it clear that defendant Maryland does not intend to pay the amount.”

It’s hard to imagine Maryland making the move to the Big Ten if it thought it had to pay the ACC that sort of money. It’s entirely possible that Maryland is simply wrong on the law. It may also have thought — incorrectly it would seem — that the remaining ACC schools wouldn’t seek the full amount in damages.

There’s another possibility though: Let’s presume that Maryland’s decision is move both rational and well researched — that is to say that the ACC’s current exit fee is unenforceable. What then? It greatly increases the chances that the traditional football schools, beginning with Florida State, will bolt to higher revenues conferences, leaving a collection of schools better known for their basketball programs than gridiron success. In other words, the ACC circa 2017 could be a lot like the Big East of years past.

Bonus observation: College football is among the most corrupting forces in modern American society.

Update: The ACC is apparently set to add Louisville. That will fit in nicely with the basketball meme.

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The Great Unbundling

The traditional news media is in decline. Many conservatives think this is both a good thing and the result of a populace that is increasingly rejecting its traditional biases. JLF head John Hood, a former print reporter himself, disagrees in his column today:

“The Internet” is not a news generator. It is a news transmitter or aggregator. Most of the real news you’ll find online originated from a print newspaper, TV station, or wire service. The mainstream news media actually have a greater audience than ever before in their history. The problem isn’t drawing eyeballs. It’s drawing revenue.

The traditional business model faltered not because people stopping consuming the content it produced but because new technology served to unbundled what had been an all-or-nothing product. If you were looking to find a job, buy a house, or pick up a user car, you had to buy the entire newspaper to get to the valuable classifieds.

Yup.

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US Airways fleet news: Of 737-300s and A350-800s

Out: On November 28 1984, Boeing began deliveries of the second generation of the legendary 737. The first customer of the new aircraft, the 737-300? US Air, as it was then called. (Piedmont Airlines would take its 737-300 in April 1985.) The 737-300 era at US Airways is now coming to an end. The last of the 124-seat planes will soon to be retired from revenue service by the airline — they’re already out of the schedule but I suppose could still be used as a fill-in for a short period to come. The larger 737-400 — which seats 144 for US Airways and for which Piedmont was the first customer back in 1988 — are still being flown by US Airways but in ever declining numbers. All should be gone from the airlines fleet within about two years or so.

In, eventually, in some form, maybe: Presuming it doesn’t merge with American Airlines, the next big thing for US Airways is the A350, Airbus’ next generation of widebody jet. Airbus is currently planning to build the A350 in versions (lengths): the base -900, which will be introduced first, a stretch -1000, and a shortened -800. The -900, which is an Airbus A330-300 and A340-300 and Boeing 777-200ER replacement, is selling well. The -800 is, however, having issues. Qatar Airways and Libya’s Afriqiyah Airways have recently converted their -800s orders to -900s, cutting the -800 order book from 118 to 92. There’s widespread industry speculation that the -800 will either be delayed, cancelled outright, or redesigned for improved efficiency.

US Airways is tied with Aeroflot as the largest remaining customers for the -800; both have 18 -800 and four -900 on order. US Airway’s 22 A350s are currently due between 2017 and 2019 with 10 being replacements for its old Boeing 767-200ERs. The airline may also choose to use A350s to replace its 9 A330-300, which will be 20 years old by then. The other remaining A350-800 customers are Aircraft Fleet Purchase (12), Asiana Airlines (8 plus 12-900 and 10 -1000), AWAS (2), Hawaiian Airlines (6), ILFC (6 plus 14 -900), Kingfisher (5), Libyan Airlines (4), Tunis Air (3), and Yemenia Yemen Airlines (10). There’s not a lot there — the leasers (AFP, ILFC, AWAS) can and will jump to other types if the -800 continues to struggle for sales, Asiana and Aeroflot could also easily convert to the -900, while Kingfisher is pretty nearly bankrupt.

There are a lot of ways this can turn out, depending upon what Airbus and US Airways choose to do. A conversion by US Airways to other Airbus types is a distinct possibility. I don’t pretend to know what will happen, but however it turns out it will greatly effect the airline’s intercontinental operations.

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Weird governance for education in North Carolina

That’s the subject of John Hood’s column today. Highlights:

Public schools, community colleges, and the University of North Carolina system each have their own governance boards. But these boards differ substantially in design and operation.

and

Now, I know enough North Carolina history to recognize that these oddities are not accidental. The legislature have long relished its control of the UNC system – this was even a big political issue in the 1870s, believe it or not – while governors have sparred with state superintendents and lawmakers over who should be responsible for forming and carrying out public-school policies.

But here we are, well into the 21st century, with a set of governance policies for North Carolina education that serve mostly to confuse the public and confound effective management. Let’s do something about it.

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Panthers in free fall

Hard to put a positive spin on the Panthers latest move: After blowing an 11 point lead with 6 minutes to go at home against Tampa, the Panthers felt the need to show their commitment to winning by… that’s right, firing kicker Justin Medlock. Medlock’s replacement? Graham Gano. Yes, that Graham Gano, the guy with an overall career 73.8 percent field goal percentage, who is far from automatic from even 30 to 39 yards out (9 made, 7 missed). Why did they hire Gano? Apparently because he agreed to a contract through next season… why any rational front office would want his service next year is unclear.

As ESPN’s Pat Yasinskas observes:

Oh, like it matters at this point? Medlock missed his last three field goal attempts, but the Panthers said they were looking at the long term when they chose to keep Medlock over veteran Olindo Mare in the preseason. But I don’t think anyone in Carolina is thinking about the long term right now.

Very true. More like management is looking for the scapegoat of the moment so that hopefully no one will notice their own incompetence. This is the sort “leadership” that causes players to lose respect for a coach ad the front office in a hurry.

Bonus observation
: I wonder who gets fired if the Panthers lose to the horrible Eagles on MNF

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