North Carolina State Treasure Dale Folwell has rigorously opposed the sale of the New Hanover County hospital, questioned Cape Fear Community College’s purchase of the Bank of America building, and protested the removal of Jimmy Hopkins from the community college board. 

Last week, Folwell was also the sole dissenting vote against Wilmington’s $70 million purchase of the Thermo Fisher building at a meeting of the Local Government Commission (LGC). The measure passed 7-1, leading Wilmington Councilman Luke Waddell to accuse Folwell of picking on the region.

“For unknown reasons, our community has drawn his attention – perhaps because of our success – and now a Raleigh politician is trying his hardest to knock us down to size,” Waddell wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “This kind of behavior is often displayed by bullies who seek to diminish others.”

There is no question Folwell has been all up in New Hanover’s business. The question is, why?

We asked him.

“I have 85 counties that would love to trade places with New Hanover County in Wilmington in terms of its economic tailwind,” Folwell told The Assembly

New Hanover County is among the top 10 wealthiest in the state, according to [the financial website SmartAsset. Orange County came out on top as the wealthiest in the state, followed by Wake and Chatham.

“What I hate is in many instances, especially over the last few years, the lack of transparency and the lack of what I consider to be good governance and the lack of really asking all the tough questions regarding conflicts of interest on the different transactions that we’ve dealt with,” Folwell said.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell. (Jade Wilson for The Assembly)

He has been particularly critical of several local county purchases and redevelopment plans, including the “lease to own” financing plans for the Government Center redevelopment and Project Grace, which would move the Cape Fear Museum and library into a new building in downtown Wilmington.

Project Grace is following the same playbook as the Government Center redevelopment and attempting to address concerns the LGC raised by scrapping the lease-to-own proposal for direct financing. New Hanover County plans to pay around $60 million for a new Cape Fear Museum and library building, and Cape Fear Development will purchase the remaining portion of the property for a minimum of $3.5 million.

In Folwell’s view, he isn’t a “bully” but a strict parent.

“When you’ve got that much juice in New Hanover County – nearly half a billion dollars sitting in bank accounts – things shouldn’t be that difficult,” Folwell said. “I mean, the need to partner with all these individuals, when you have that much money in the bank and when you have these bond ratings, that to me is a mystery.”

I asked Folwell what advice he would give Wilmington leaders when it comes to projects and dealing with the LGC going forward.

“Every transaction needs to have the highest levels of transparency, the highest levels of competence, the highest levels of governance and the highest levels of challenging every assumption when it comes to conflicts of interest that could be to the detriment of the taxpayers.” 

– Kevin Maurer

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A Battleship’s Next Fight

The USS North Carolina sits along the Cape Fear River. (Julia Wall for The Assembly)

From his office in the captain’s quarters on board the USS North Carolina, Terry Bragg began to notice something was amiss: Even on sunny days, water from the Cape Fear River would sometimes cover half the parking at high tide. 

“When the battleship lifts off the bottom, and the parking lot’s flooding,” Bragg said, “and there’s 10,000 dead fish in the parking lot, those speak to us.”

The most-decorated World War II battleship is now a museum and memorial to the 11,000 North Carolinians who fought and died in that great conflict. But the ship now faces a new threat.

Climate change is fueling sea-level rise, which has in turn made water levels in the adjacent river higher than it was in the past century. On some days, the water reached the top of the fire hydrant in the middle of the parking lot – and made the main access road to the battleship impassable. 

Hurricanes have done even more damage to the ship and surrounding property, prompting Bragg and other staff to launch an effort to protect it from new and novel impacts of climate change. 

For The Assembly, reporter Ben McNeely takes us inside the battleship’s next fight. 

The USS North Carolina’s Next Battle

America’s most-decorated battleship of World War II helped win the war in the Pacific. Now, the USS North Carolina is fighting for resiliency amid rising water levels.


New Hanover County Schools announced last week it had reached a settlement with the victims of former teacher Michael Earl Kelly. 

The school’s insurers, Liberty Mutual and its subsidiaries, agreed to pay $5.75 million, which the victims say will help them access much-needed counseling and therapy. The school also committed to expanded training on recognizing and reporting abuse and a public report on its efforts to improve Title IX compliance and sexual abuse prevention – something victims have been asking for since filing the suit four years ago. 

The school board expressed “sorrow” over Kelly’s damage, but did not apologize or admit wrongdoing. Imperfect as it might be to some, plaintiffs’ attorneys say it brings a sense of closure for their clients.

The settlement resolves the lawsuit against the district and several top administrators. Here’s what it doesn’t resolve:

  • The civil case against Kelly himself, which is still proceeding in the courts.
  • The fate of the Safe Child Act, which increased the maximum age to file civil suits over childhood abuse from 21 to 28: the state law was passed with bipartisan support in October 2019 but is facing numerous legal challenges – a process that could likely take years and go to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
  • The 2020 civil case from three female students over alleged sexual abuse by former NHCS teacher Peter Michael Frank. The search warrant for Frank implicated NHCS for repeatedly counseling him on “inappropriate relationships with students over his tenure” as a teacher, but didn’t dismiss him.
  • The 2019 criminal investigation, which District Attorney Ben David and Sheriff Ed McMahon requested after Kelly’s plea hearing. The State Bureau of Investigation collected potential evidence of obstruction of justice and top NHCS administrators’ failure to report abuse. The case was turned over to the office of Attorney General Josh Stein, where it is still under review. 

  Ben Schachtman

Around the Region

A few of the stories we’re following this week:

WHQRThe Federal Government Wants Its Big, Bronze Lanterns Back

In 1977, the City of Wilmington approved the installation of the lanterns on North Front Street. Now the federal government wants them back — arguing they were never the city’s property and suggesting litigation might be necessary if they aren’t returned.

USA Today Biden Campaign Targets North Carolina

President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign is targeting North Carolina as a top state to flip in 2024, with Democrats convinced that the Tar Heel state’s booming suburbs with college-educated voters around Charlotte and Raleigh’s make it prime for a Democratic pickup.

StarNewsHere’s How to Celebrate Juneteenth in Wilmington

Juneteenth celebrates the freedom of Black Americans, marking the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas finally learned they were free – two and half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s now a federal holiday, and many events will mark the celebration. 

Across the State

Development Might Be Shaw’s Future. Can It Hold on to Its Past?

Inside the debate over Shaw University’s attempt to rezone its downtown Raleigh campus — the cash-poor school’s biggest asset.

The Governor Floats a Grand Bargain on Boards

Cooper says reform recommendations for the UNC System are opening bid in a broader negotiation over dozens of appointed boards.

Whitewater, Gold Medals, and Green Cash

How a few hippies and hillbillies with a good idea created a billion-dollar industry in western N.C.

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