Easley in $1 million drought ads

Gov. Mike Easley's office is defending his appearance in a $1 million television ad campaign that urged people to conserve water during the drought.

The Insider, a newsletter that covers state government, reported Friday three state agencies paid for the ads that began in the spring.

State law bars state officials from appearing in ads funded by tax dollars. The law is designed to prevent elected officials from benefiting politically through such communication.

Easley spokeswoman Renee Hoffman says the governor's attorneys believe he met an exception in the law because the drought is one of the worst in state history and constitutes a state emergency.

The governor has never declared an official state of emergency, which requires that public safety or health be at risk.

Associated Press

Meck briefs


An elderly couple escaped without serious injury early Friday in a fire at their home in northwest Charlotte. The fire was reported shortly before 5 a.m. at a house in the 1600 block of Byrum Street, near Oakdale Road.

Charlotte fire Capt. Mark Basnight said the fire triggered an alarm in a portion of the house being used for a business. The alarm monitoring company eventually reached relatives of the couple, who then called the residential part of the house and alerted the two residents.

Firefighters arrived at about the same time and got the couple out. They were treated for smoke inhalation but did not need hospitalization. Electrical problems caused the fire, Basnight said. Steve Lyttle

Regional briefs

Gaston County


Federal regulators have given Duke Energy permission to install a temporary cooling-water system at its Allen power plant in Gaston County.

Duke applied for the approval last week, saying it needed to pump additional water from Lake Wylie to moderate the temperature of cooling water discharged from the plant. The water returned to the lake may not exceed 102 degrees.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said in a letter Thursday that it does not object to the plan. The temporary system, to stay in place through September, will allow the plant to operate at full capacity. Bruce Henderson

Forsyth County


The North Carolina School of the Arts has a new name.

Gov. Mike Easley on Friday signed legislation that immediately changes the name of the Winston-Salem school to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

School officials requested the switch because they felt the inclusion of the word “university” would better reflect that the school is a campus within the UNC system where students can obtain college degrees.

They said the name change would help eliminate confusion with other schools and help the university market itself.

Some alumni had opposed the change and unsuccessfully asked lawmakers to give graduates more time to discuss it.

Associated Press

Union County


A Monroe man has been charged with intentionally setting fires at the Union County Public Library after he was banned for allegedly harassing female patrons, police said.

Henry Authur Winchester Jr., 20, was charged Thursday with burning an unoccupied building and burning of personal property, both felonies, Monroe Police Det. Gabe Broome said.

The fires occurred late at night Tuesday and Wednesday, when no one was inside. In the first incident, Winchester is accused of setting fire to a decorative trash can outside the library at 316 Windsor St. East, Broome said. The second night, a second trash can was lit next to the library's rear entrance, causing $8,000 of heat and smoke damage to the building's exterior.

Broome said the fires appeared to have been retaliation for Winchester's July 15 banning. Patrons had complained to staff about 10 times over the past two years, accusing Winchester of misconduct toward women, Broome said.

The library's assistant director, Dana Eure, said the misconduct was annoying to patrons but not sexual. Staff received complaints that Winchester “would be following people around” but not touching anyone or saying anything, Eure said.

Winchester was freed on $2,000 unsecured bond shortly after his arrest. He was not listed in several telephone directories and could not be reached for comment.

Library policy on banning disruptive patrons “depends on the nature of what (offenders) are doing,” Eure said. “Generally, if it's repeat offender we give them one more opportunity. Obviously, if they break the law, we would report that.”

Eure said she didn't expect administrators to recommend changes to the banning policy when the library's governing board meets Aug. 19.

Mike Torralba

York County, S.C.

Rock Hill

Mortgage foreclosure counseling workshops will be held in Rock Hill in August.

The workshops are for homeowners having trouble paying their home mortgages. The workshops are sponsored by The Homeownership Resource Center, a division of the South Carolina nonprofit, Family Services. The workshop is free and HUD approved. To register, or for more information, call 888-320-0350.

The workshops are 6-8:30 p.m. Aug.12 and 16 at the city of Rock Hill Housing and Neighborhoods Service Department, 150 Johnston St. in Rock Hill.

Dan Huntley

Police digest


A Mooresville man died early Friday after his motorcycle hit a culvert on a rural Rowan County road.

Gary Allen Wyatt, 45, of Cricklewood Lane in Mooresville was traveling north on Shinn Farm Road in western Rowan County at 4:37 a.m. Friday, according to a report filed by Trooper E.B. Perdue of the N.C. Highway Patrol.

His 2008 Harley Davidson motorcycle crossed the center line and ran off the road to the left, where it struck the culvert and turned over, according to the patrol. Perdue found Wyatt dead at the scene. No one else was involved in the accident.

Wyatt was wearing a helmet, but it did not meet standards for motorcyclists under state law, according to the patrol. He was believed to be traveling 45 mph in a 55 mph zone at the time. Steve Lyttle