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2014 has been a big year for big news about Western North Carolina. Looking back, here are highlights of what Carolina Public Press’ in-depth and investigative reporting unearthed during the past 12 months.

January

The view from the top (Part One; Part Two): Thirty years ago this month, North Carolina legislators enacted the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983, legislation banning high-elevation ridge-top development in the state. We report in-depth about the political pressures that stopped development on — and preserved, some argue — many Western North Carolina mountaintops.

To drone or not to drone?: We’re there in Raleigh when North Carolina legislators get their first in-depth look at efforts by researchers and state officials to assess the value of unmanned aerial systems, or drones, in the state.

February

Asheville’s role in the debate over growing fees for public records in North Carolina: We fact-checked an assertion by the governor’s attorney that Asheville and Charlotte, like some state agencies, were charging higher fees, and found it inaccurate.

March

The political and PR moves behind the state’s suspension of an Asheville abortion clinic: We obtained thousands of stage agency records that revealed the behind-the-scenes pressures and maneuvers that accompanied the suspension, which took place the during heated debate over new state rules on abortion.

April

What about 30,000 public records boils down to. In March 2014, we published an investigation into the political and PR maneuvering surrounding the temporary closure of Femcare in Asheville, based on what the records show. Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

How a lack of funds is limiting the state legislature’s call for more abortion clinic inspections: We reported that the state’s Department of Health and Human Services is $1 million short of the funds it needs to add 10 new inspectors.

The impact of new coal-ash dam inspections for Asheville’s power plant: Inspection reports we obtained and published showed issues that Duke Energy will be compelled to address.

The race to book billboards for political ads: We found a booming business surrounding this relatively old-fashioned campaign tactic.

May

How your legislators vote on key North Carolina bills: We launch our ongoing Vote Check feature this month with a by-the-numbers post on how legislators across the state voted on the fracking bill allowing the state to issue permits.

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The poverty problem in rural Western North Carolina (Part One; Part Two): We go in-depth in this award-winning series to explore the data and trends facing the poorest residents and communities in the 18 westernmost counties of the state.

June

The inner workings of Rep. Tim Moffitt’s political media company: Based on extensive digging through campaign-finance reports and an in-depth interview with Moffitt, we showed how InTouchNC was handling the messaging of some 30 of Moffitt’s state House colleagues, and that he was his company’s biggest client.

The early money in the races for WNC’s seats in the House of Representatives: Our analysis of campaign-finance reports found that the incumbents held major sway in early fundraising efforts.

July

The Asheville Police Department evidence room audit, published in its entirety by Carolina Public Press in July 2014, offers further clues to what guns, drugs and money went missing from the department. Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

The long-sought audit of the Asheville Police Department’s evidence room: When the report on missing evidence was finally released, some three years after it was commissioned by Asheville City Council, we published its 4,000 pages in their entirety. We also provided a paper copy for public access in the North Carolina collection at Pack Memorial Library in downtown Asheville.

Just how wealthy WNC’s congressional representatives are: We found that our reps hold assets that most of their constituents can only dream of having.

The city of Asheville’s concerns with concessions management at the U.S. Cellular Center: An audit we published showed potential problems with the handling of cash from concessions and the lack of transparency with the center’s nonprofit fundraising program.

The debate surrounding the city of Asheville’s new overhaul of public housing: Amid this major shift, we found concerns about transparency and other matters relating to the development.

How the FBI faulted the Asheville Police Department’s IT system: We published a mostly positive FBI audit that said the APD had insufficient online security for a key crime-reporting system.

August

How a regional counternarcotics task force was plagued with evidence-handling problems: We revealed details of a lengthy State Bureau of Investigation probe into how guns and money were improperly managed by officers in Cherokee County.

The key role of local legislators in the state’s new coal-ash legislation: Our Raleigh bureau chief tracked the process, politics and personalities behind the law.

How the state’s open records laws shifted during the legislative session: We documented the details on changes to public info regarding fracking, charter schools, military base closings and campaign-finance reporting.

September

The expansive but little-known work of the State Ethics Commission: Crunching data from years of reports by the commission, we found that the commission is almost overwhelmed by its mandate to ensure that elected and other public officials avoid conflicts of interest in their public service.

October

In October 2014, we obtained and published a huge trove of documents that detailed the assets and connections of mountain-area legislators and their challengers in November’s election.

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We launched an ongoing series of in-depth reports on WNC national forest planning: Through our stories and a public forum CPP hosted in November, we’ve documented the contentious debate about what the future holds for the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests.

The disclosure requirements of nonprofits funded by local governments: We took a close look at the top 10 nonprofit recipients of public funds in Buncombe County and pinned down just what they do and don’t have to reveal to the public.

Area legislators’ economic interests: We obtained and published a huge trove of documents that detailed the assets and connections of mountain-area legislators and their challengers in November’s election.

November

The big money behind 2014’s election campaigns: On the cusp of the election, we published all of the latest campaign-finance reports by WNC’s state legislators and their challengers.

New Nixon White House disclosures on the Rev. Billy Graham’s role in the Nixon Administration: We discovered and published the frank observations on President Nixon and Graham’s relationship that were long ago recorded by Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman.

December

New details on the militarization of WNC law agencies: While the state’s Department of Public Safety refused to release specifics about how military gear was shared with the agencies, we found the facts in a Defense Department disclosure.

The politics of local beer: We broke the story of how and why New Belgium, which is building a major new brewery in Asheville, formed a political action committee.

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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