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News 2011: The Year in Review - Part II July - December

Newsmakers & Top Headlines of the Year (continued from the Jan. 5th issue)


Shields appointed to SCC Board of Trustees

The Macon County Board of Commissioners appointed school board member Gary Shields to fill a vacancy on the Southwestern Community College’s Board of Trustees in July.

Shields, former principal of Franklin High School, was appointed to complete the term of Charles Leatherman, who resigned from the SCC board effective June 1. Shields’ term is set to expire on June 30, 2012.

Shields was selected in a split vote by the commissioners after two names were submitted for consideration. Commissioner Ronnie Beale recommended former teacher Kathy Tinsley for the appointment, but before a vote was taken on the motion, Commissioner Kevin Corbin submitted Shields’ name for consideration.

James Bryan selected principal of Nantahala

Head Coach Josh Brooks and the Franklin Panthers football team had a historic season in 2011. The team won 13 consecutive games and an outright conference championship, their first title since 2005. They managed to roll through conference oppponents and two postseason foes before falling to high powered Burns in the third round of the state playoffs. Photo by Ruby PeoplesJames Bryan, who served as the P.E. teacher at Nantahala for more than 12 years, took over as principal effective July 1.

While the new position signaled a big career shift for Bryan, who spent 19 of his 21 professional years in Western North Carolina, Bryan said that working with the staff and students at the school for so long gives him a lot of confidence.

“Obviously, I feel at home in Nantahala,” Bryan said. “Like a manager of a ball team, I already know the players,” he said of the faculty and staff at Nantahala.

Bryan’s tenure signaled a return to stability for the school after a year of challenges and uncertainty due to the extended illness of their former principal, Robbie Newton, who passed away in the spring after a long battle with cancer. “Robbie and I were good friends and good colleagues,” said Bryan, adding that he does not intend to make a lot of changes. “If something’s not broke, you don't need to fix it. Robbie and I were on the same page on a lot of things that we’d like to see,” he said.

New redistricting maps introduced in NC

The Congressional redistricting map released in July, cut most of Asheville out of the 11th District. Democrats across the state began organizing lawsuits and claimed the GOP proposal was a typical example of partisan gerrymandering. Chris Cooper, director of the WCU Public Policy Institute, said the electoral packing is neither uncommon nor illegal. And while the minority party invariably protests the redistricting done after each Census, neither party has ever offered to give up the power to an independent commission.

The United States Justice Department approved the redistricting maps on November 1. The decision by the Obama administration will likely give Tar Heel Republicans an electoral advantage for the next decade.

Secular group speaks out against Nantahala’s commencement

The staff attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a formal letter to Macon County Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Dan Brigman in July, requesting that he “take immediate steps to ensure that religious ritual and proselytizing” are kept out of high school graduation ceremonies from now on.

Dr. Don Tomas, SCC PresidentThe letter from the nonprofit organization was in response to the sermon delivered last June by Rev. Daniel “Cowboy” Stewart during a commencement address given last year at Nantahala School. The graduation ceremony was held on June 4 in the gymnasium of the small, K-12 school in the mountainous northwest corner of Macon County.

While Brigman said that he intended to direct schools’ attorney, John Henning Jr., to draft a response to the attorney’s letter, he also played down reports of the presentation and notes that his office had received no complaints from the community about it.

“If you took the sum of the information that was shared [by Stewart] out of the presentation and talk about it with a third party, it would sound more extreme than it really was,” said Brigman who attended the ceremony. “I think the pastor tied the decision- making process in with his speech, as well as tying it in with scripture. The students chose Stewart, and I put confidence in the students’ discretion. However we will take careful note of future exercises.”

Macon schools start date threatened by injunction

At a special called meeting on July 18, the Macon County Board of Education passed a resolution in support of the 2011- 2012 school calendar authorizing its attorney to intervene in a lawsuit challenging the calendar and this year’s school start date.

The lawsuit was the result of a petition for a case hearing and injunctive relief filed by a Highlands parent and Save Our Summers- North Carolina (SOS-NC), an organization that supports a statewide calendar law proscribing starting and ending dates for all school districts. The petitioners have challenged the decision of the State Board of Education to approve a waiver granting an alternative calendar for Macon County schools which allowed the schools to by-pass the Aug. 25 start date mandated by the state and instead begin classes on Aug. 4.

The petitioners also asked for injunctive relief that could potentially force schools in the county to abandon their alternative calendars with only weeks to go and postpone the first day of classes for three weeks.

According to the resolution passed by the school board, the case was scheduled to be heard before the State Office of Administrative Hearings in October, but after a continuation and unsuccessful injunction attempt, Hawkins and SOS-NC withdrew the lawsuit in November.

Macon Citizens petition for dialysis center

In July, citizens and local officials began an effort to seek special consideration to establish a dialysis center in the county. The State Health Coordinating Committee, the body charged with making determinations of need for healthcare facilities throughout the state, publishes its findings in the twice annual State Medical Facilities Plan.

Jim FatlandMacon County received an extension granting it extra time to complete a petition seeking special needs consideration from the state for a dialysis center. Many residents of Macon County who require dialysis for kidney disease must travel across Cowee Mountain into Jackson County to access the nearest facility offering such treatment.

The county was approved for the center in September and is currently soliciting bids from companies to build the new facility.

SCC’s new president hits the ground running

When he assumed his duties as Southwestern Community College’s new president on July 1, Dr. Don Tomas immediately plunged into a whirlwind of activity.

As the sixth president of SCC, Dr. Tomas describes his leadership style as “open, honest, and there is an element of try to keep up with me because I have high expectations; along with high expectations come accountability, and I don't hold anyone more accountable than I hold myself accountable.”

Tomas joins the SCC family from Weatherford, Texas, where he served as vice president of instruction at Weatherford College. Tomas chose SCC because he recognizes its sterling reputation as well as its potential for growth.

SCC is currently evaluating the campuses in each county and identify what Tomas calls “pockets of potential growth.” But already, according to Tomas, the Macon County campus is being closely examined. “We are tight with Macon. That campus is pretty well maxed out with classroom space and students attending there.”

Highlands manager fired

In mid July, The Town of Highlands terminated its manager, Jim Fatland, without giving any details to the public.

On July 20, Highlands Town Attorney Bill Coward released this statement to the local media:

“I drafted a release agreement in which the town was released from all liability and all possibility of a claim by Jim Fatland against the town, which Jim agreed to sign in return for a statement of the reasons for his dismissal being: ‘Mr. Fatland did not meet the reasonable expectations of the board as to his overall job performance as Town Manager.’” The statement, Coward added, would go onto Fatland’s personnel jacket, possibly affecting any similar employment opportunities in the future.

Robert Zoellner assumed the position of interim Town Manager until December when a replacement was officially found. “After quite a number of candidate interviews, he was our final choice,” says Highlands Mayor David Wilkes. In December, the Town of Highlands announced it had offered the Town Manager’s position to Robert A. (Bob) Frye.

“I am looking forward to becoming Highlands’ Town Manager,” Frye said.


WCU found its ‘superhero’ in university’s 11th chancellor

When Chancellor John W. Bardo retired after16 years of service to Western Carolina University, UNC system’s president Tom Ross had one simple request for the search committee — find a “superhero.”

Dr. David Belcher may not be able to see through walls or have superhuman strengths that leave him invincible, but he did have some superpowers Dr. David Belcher, WCU Chancellorto bring to WCU. After taking over the reigns in July, Belcher embarked on a tour of North Carolina to reach out to citizens to solicit their input on how to better the University.

WCU’s new chancellor and his wife Susan visited Macon County in August as the third of 15 stops on their “Get Acquainted Tour.”

Belcher came to WCU from Arkansas and is finding the transition to be an easy one. “Susan and I absolutely love being in this part of the country,” he said. “It is an absolutely spectacular place, the people are wonderful and we love Western Carolina University. “

The chancellor immediately began demonstrating his leadership skills and introducing strategic goals to bring much needed improvements to WCU. “I didn’t just come here to praise the past. I came to raise the bar,” said Belcher.

Cabe takes on new role for Town of Franklin

Warren Cabe, former director of emergency services for Macon County, left the position in early August to take a new job with the Town of Franklin.

The town announced that it had hired Cabe as the director of fire and emergency management, a new position that will allow the town to develop its own emergency operations plan and tailor such planning to the town’s specific needs. The position will absorb the role of the town’s fire chief, a job which became vacant with the retirement of Pete Haithcock.

Cabe said establishing the new department will help the town as it plans, not just for fire or standard emergencies, but for natural disasters and other catastrophes. He added that many towns in North Carolina have begun looking at the advantage of having a person on staff that is specifically responsible for such planning.

“A lot of municipalities are looking at the option of expanding into the emergency management field,” Cabe explained. “A lot of times it is the fire and rescue departments that are performing those duties, and it just makes sense that if you are going to have an emergency management department, to combine that with the fire department.”

A composite sketch of the Rose Creek rape suspect.Rose Creek sexual assault

Macon County authorities are still looking for an unidentified man who reportedly sexually assaulted someone at their Rose Creek Cove Road on Aug. 1.

At approximately 6:10 p.m., authorities responded to a 9-1-1 call referencing a breaking and entering and sexual assault that occurred just an hour or so before on that same day. According to reports, the victim did not know the suspect, nor did they know his mode of transportation.

Five months after the assault occurred, the investigation is ongoing and the Sheriff's Office is still requesting assistance from any person that observed any unusual or suspicious activity or individuals in the north Macon area, specifically near Highway 28 Bryson City Rd., Bennett Rd. and Rose Creek Rd.

Sylva native hosts 4th Annual Shinefest at Fontana Village Resort

Jackson County native Matt Stillwell returned to the region in August to host the 4th annual Shinefest at Fontana Village Resort for what he said was “going to be a great one this year for sure.”

Shinefest started in 2008 and was created around the filming of Stillwell’s music video, “Shine.” According to Stillwell, there is something special about having no cell phone service and enjoying the beauty of the national park which surrounds Fontana Village Resort. Shinefest allows guests to enjoy the area and to interact with the songwriters and artists who all come out to enjoy “one big party.”

Community honors life and legacy of ‘Senator Bob’

Former N.C. State Senator Robert C. Carpenter passed away on Aug. 6 in his Franklin home at the age of 87.

Lovingly known to many as Senator Bob, an entire community mourns the loss of a legend, but finds comfort in remembering his tireless efforts and dedication to the people of Macon County.

The Macon County Board of Commissioners took time to honor Carpenter before beginning its August meeting. Before Commissioner Kevin Corbin led the invocation, he offered attendees the opportunity to join in a moment of silent reflection or prayer. Corbin said, “Senator Bob was probably a friend to everybody in this room, regardless of political affiliation. He was a true gentleman, a servant to Macon County and a servant to this state; we all loved him.”

Vickie CarpenterA decade with Macon County News

The Macon County News recognized and congratulated Vickie Carpenter for her 10 years of service to the newspaper.

Carpenter started working for the newspaper in August 2001 as a parttime sports photographer. “I have always loved photography and was happy to have the opportunity to cover the sports in Franklin,” said Carpenter.

According to Carpenter, one of the coolest things she has been able to do while working for MCN, came in 2001 when she was able to follow Franklin High’s baseball team all the way to Raleigh for the State Championship. “I was able to be on the field taking pictures during the game. It was really neat!” she said.

Clabo begins new role as Planning Director for Highlands

Highlands had been searching for a full time Planning Director since October 2010, when Planning Director Joe Cooley abruptly resigned under pressure.

Highlands' Town Board appointed David Allen Clabo, who has worked for the private and public sector in Georgia and Virginia, to take over the role previously left vacant by Cooley.

Along with the responsibility of the new position, Clabo receives $55,000 annually, a three-month rent stipend, and all of the standard benefits that are offered to the Town of Highlands employees.

Chopped, sliced or pulled, barbecue connoisseurs had their own ideas about the best way to serve BBQ at the annual festival in July.Mountain High Festival showcases the best in southern barbecue

The smell of barbecue was in the air for the third annual Mountain High BBQ Festival and Car Show held in August at the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center.

The two-day event was hosted by the Franklin Chamber of Commerce and was sanctioned by the Official Kansas City Barbeque Society. The events included the famous BBQ contest, the “tastin’ tent,” a beauty pageant, a car show, live entertainment, and various vendors, including wares of all kinds from canned BBQ sauce to homemade totes, wood carvings, and candles.

JCGEP uses methane gas to power facility

The smelly gases being produced by the old Dillsboro landfill started to smell a little sweeter in August, after they were being used as a renewable energy source at the Jackson County Green Energy Park (JCGEP).

The JCGEP is a landfill recovery program located in Dillsboro, North Carolina. The JCGEP website shares the program’s mission statement - “to offer environmental protection, educational opportunities, and increased economic development to the community through the utilization of landfill gas (LFG) and other clean, renewable energy resources.”

According to the JCGEP director Timm Muth, they’re capturing methane gas from the Dillsboro landfill, and using the gas to fuel their blacksmith forges and foundry, glassblowing studios, and greenhouses.

Investigators bust WNC meth distribution ring

State and local investigators uncovered a large scale methamphetamine distribution ring in August, following a 10-month investigation that spanned two states and various Western North Carolina counties.

According to a criminal complaint and affidavit released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, nine individuals from WNC were rounded up in the investigation which began last fall. The investigation was spearheaded by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and was assisted by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and the Macon County Sheriff’s Office.

Authorities arrested William Andrew Estes, 40, of Franklin; Ricky Dean Fisher, 55, of Sylva; Johnny Ray Frady, 47, of Cullowhee; William Wesley Hargett, 42, of Shelby; Kirsten Beaubien McGillivray, 40, of Highlands; Lonnie Payne Jr., 44, of Sylva; Pedro Avila Serrano, 38, address unknown; Michael James Taylor, 29, of Sylva; and Larry Michael Watkins, 58, of Bryson City. The U.S. Attorney’s office said the suspects’ bonds were set at a minimum of $25,000 and they are expected in federal court on Aug. 26.

Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale was sworn in as second vice president of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners as daughter Cara Beale and fellow commissioners Ronnie Haven, Bobby Kuppers, Kevin Corbin and County Manager Jack Horton look on.Commissioner Beale elected to state office with NCACC

Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale was elected Second Vice President of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) on Saturday, Aug. 20, during the Association’s 104th Annual Conference, which was held in Cabarrus County.

Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons performed the inauguration ceremony for Commissioner Beale and the other elected county commissioners who will serve as NCACC officers in 2011-2012.

According to Beale, it is crucial to continue the tradition of the NCACC and of counties working together on a state level, and he is excited to be a part of the process.

As NCACC Second Vice President, Beale works closely with the other members of the NCACC Executive Committee to guide the NCACC Board of Directors on legislative and administrative issues affecting counties throughout the year.

Dillsboro toddler recovering after being attacked by step-grandmother

Kirsten Simpkins, the 28-month-old victim of a brutal attack at the hands of her step-grandmother, Lisa Plank Hart, which occurred in Dillsboro on Aug. 31, was released from Mission Hospital in Asheville and transferred to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to continue the recovery process closer to her family. “She is making progress everyday. She isn’t the same little girl as before this attack, but she is better than what she had become after the attack,” said Kirsten’s mother, Jennifer Hart, of Kirsten’s current condition.

A prayer and a moment of silence was held to honor past veterans and current service members at a 9/11 tribute before the Franklin High vs. Swain football game. It was also the 10th anniversary of the attack on Sept. 11, 2001.Kirsten was originally transported to Asheville Mission via helicopter in critical condition. Amongst other visible injuries to her face and body, Kirsten suffered from a hematoma and extensive damage to the left side of her brain. She had to undergo surgery to have the left bone flap of her skull removed to reduce the swelling of her brain. Kirsten’s injuries are a result of alleged attacks that occurred over a three-day period while in the care of her stepgrandmother. Kirsten remained in ICU in critical condition until she was transported to Atlanta.

Kirsten has since returned home and is continuing the recovering process. Lisa Hart is set to appear before a judge in late January, to be sentenced. After a plea deal, she is facing 4-6 years in prison.


Jackson radio station unexpectedly silenced

Nothing but static could be heard on Sylva’s WRGC AM (680) radio station after the station was forced to go off air on Aug. 30.

A notice posted on the station's website cited that “incredibly difficult economy has made it impossible for us to secure the local advertising support needed to continue providing Jackson County a full service community radio station.”

In December, Jackson County Commissioners approved $179,000 in Economic Development Commission (EDC) funds and $110,000 in Revolving Funds Loan (RFL) to be loaned to Roy Burnette to bring the WRGC radio station back to the air. Burnette plans for the station to return to the air waves in February.

Quilts of Valor founder visits area guilds

The founder and executive director of the Quilts of Valor Foundation (QOVF), Catherine Roberts, made a stop in Franklin in September while on her “Coast to Coast” tour promoting the foundation. Roberts met with volunteers to discuss strategy and to recognize three area veterans who have received quilts through the foundation.

Ansley Taylor, Homecoming QueenQOVF is a non-profit organization comprised solely of volunteers who work toward their mission of the covering “All those service members and veterans touched by war with Wartime Quilts called Quilts of Valor (QOVs). This foundation is not about politics. It’s about people.”

Franklin resident and World War II veteran Jack R.Vaughan Jr. was among the veterans being honored at the luncheon. Vaughan received his Quilt of Valor from his service in the U.S. Navy Reserve from June 1944 to June 1946 as an Aviation Store Keeper that supplied stock and issued all types of aircraft repair equipments.

[10th anniversary] 9/11 tribute at FHS

Before the Panthers and Maroon Devils met in the Panther Pit, citizens of Macon and Swain Counties came together to remember and thank their local veterans for their sacrifice and service. The event recognized area veterans from every United States wars since World War II including, Operation Iraqi Freedom. The ceremony also included a special commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

The event was organized by Rhonda Blanton, Tommy Cabe, and the Booster Club. Local veterans and their guests were allowed free entrance into the football game. Hundreds of veterans were at the ceremony.

Democrats rally around Snow

The Macon County Democratic Women’s Club hosted a rally for state and local party officials in early September at the Otto community center. The Democratic Women’s Club, led by President Margaret Perry, held the rally for former N.C. State Senator John Snow, who lost his reelection bid against Sen. Jim Davis in 2010 by a slim margin of 161 votes. After a moment of prayer and a recital of The Pledge of Allegiance, Democrats began to discuss how they should approach the 2012 campaign season.

Democrats in attendance were hoping to witness Snow announce his candidacy to unseat Sen. Jim Davis in 2012, but were somewhat disappointed when Snow said he was still undecided. Snow made his official announcement to unseat Sen. Davis on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2012.

N.C. Highway Patrol dealing with diminished manpower

North Carolina’s public sector was scaled back significantly, attested by the 2011-2013 state budget, which imposed cuts to numerous programs and state agencies. One such agency, The North Carolina State Highway Patrol (NCHP), faced large budget reductions that impacted the way the agency operates.

David OgdenTroopers across the state, including those in Macon and Jackson counties, will be forced to cope and adapt to declining resources, as it may represent the new permanent reality of the public sector environment. In practical terms, the recession and state austerity measures will culminate into more stress for state troopers, according to NCHP public information officer Jeff Gordon.

The NCHP had a $197 million budget for the fiscal year, a reduction of about $8 million from the previous year. The department is scheduled to lose a total of $15 million in funding in the next two years, after having suffered through $28 million worth of budget cuts in the past two years.

AMC unveils hospice rooms

Angel Medical CEO Tim Hubbs invited guests to a dedication service for four newly remodeled hospice rooms located on the second floor of the hospital.

The new inpatient hospice rooms include two new patient rooms and two specially designed family rooms. The remodeling began in April and finishing touches were completed only minutes before the rooms were revealed to the public.


Inaugural WNC OutdoorAthlon event held in Franklin

The first ever WNC OutdoorAthlon event was held on Oct. 8- 9, at Cullasaja Park in Franklin. The event took four months to plan and showcased a variety of sporting events, including flyfishing, kayaking, rock-climbing, biking, hiking, disc golf, and pilates. Also, six competitive events were sponsored by event organizers, including an ultimate frisbee tournament, a triathlon race, corn-hole competitions , and a 5k run.

Numerous vendors represented businesses and organizations at the OutdoorAthlon as well, and event organizers were able to entertain the crowd with music from the Corbitt Brothers and Zach Deputy. The event lasted for two days, and although attendance was somewhat sporadic, event organizer Rob Gasbarro said that they managed to attract more than 1,700 people over the course of the weekend. “There’s been no other festival that has made an attempt to capture a demographic like this,” said Gasbarro after the event. “People came here from Chattanooga and Greenville. For a first year event planned in just four months, it was a great turnout,” he said.

Gasbarro and fellow organizers are planning the second annual OutdoorAthlon for 2012, without seeking assistance from the TDA or TDC.

Ansley Taylor crowned FHS homecoming queen

FHS senior Ansley Taylor was crowned homecoming queen during halftime of Franklin’s football game against North Henderson on Oct 7. Sophomore Nina Astling won runner-up.

Along with a plaque commemorating his service with the Franklin Police Department, Larry Moses was honored with the prestigious award known as Order of the Long Leaf Pine given by the governor to public servants who have served the state of North Carolina for at least 30 years.Commissioners unanimously vote to delay revaluation until 2015

On Oct. 11, Macon County Commissioners unanimously voted to delay the revaluation process to 2015, instead of the scheduled 2013. Commissioners also voted to go back to the county’s traditional eight-year revaluation cycle. The vote came after county tax administrator Richard Lightner went before the board in September and presented the pros and cons of moving forward with the 2013 revaluation, and the pros and cons of moving it back to 2015. After weighing all the options, commissioners felt like the county simply did not have enough comps [home price comparisons] to do an accurate revaluation. Moreover, board members felt like middle class Maconians would be unfairly hit with a tax increase in the case of a 2013 revaluation, especially if the county kept a revenue neutral budget.

Panthers’ coach breaks record

FHS football coach Josh Brooks captured a record breaking 48th career victory in Franklin’s lopsided victory over North Henderson on Oct. 7. The win made Brooks the all-time winningest coach in the history of Franklin High School’s varsity football program. Brooks took over head coaching duties after former head coach Fred Goldsmith stepped down in 2005. The win gave Brooks a 48-23 record as head coach, and considering Brooks is only 37 years old, it makes the achievement even more commendable. “I think the record is just one milestone in his career,” said former head coach Fred Goldsmith after the win. “I foresee him staying in Franklin until he gets 150 wins,” he said.

FHS tennis and golf finish strong

FHS tennis seniors Andrea Bell, Katie Rogers, Nikki Valley, and Savannah Herman thrived on the tennis court this past season, amassing a 16-2 overall record and 12-2 conference record. For four consecutive years, the group compiled a 65-10 record during that time frame. The team finished second in the WNCAC and sent several players to Raleigh to compete at state.

Franklin High School’s girls golf team finished the season on a good note last October, as two standouts qualified to represent FHS at the state tournament held at the Foxfire Resort and Golf club in Foxfire Village, N.C.

Residents from surrounding counties, including Macon County, traveled to Sylva in September to support the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protest.Senior Carly Payseur shot a 103 in both rounds to finish 42nd overall. Sophomore Erin Campbell shot a 106 and 108 to finish 51st overall. A total of 13 teams and 78 individuals competed at the event. “I was pleased with our season this year,” said head coach David Morgan following the state tournament. “I want to congratulate Carly, Erin, Keirsten, and Sydney on a great season and for setting a lot of FHS gold records this year,” concluded Morgan.

The team finished third in the conference and every player managed to qualify to compete at the regionals tournament in Asheville on Oct. 24. The team placed sixth at the regionals match.

Southard retires as Macon County’s Finance Director

Evelyn Southard, Macon County’s Finance Director for 19 years, retired from public service at the end of October. Southard worked for Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College for 15 years before coming back to her home county to lead the county’s finance department.

Southard brought state-level recognition to Macon County, helping the county receive a total of 17 National Governmental Finance Officers Association Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting awards. She also served on the executive board of the N.C. County Finance Officers Association for five years, and then became president of the organization in 1996. “Evelyn is one of, if not the top financial director in the state,” said Commissioner Ronnie Beale on Southard’s retirement.

‘Occupy Wall Street’ reaches Jackson and Macon County

The Occupy Wall Street protest movement, which began in New York City in mid-September, officially made its way to Jackson County on Oct. 15. Nearly 100 protesters from Jackson, Macon, Swain, Clay, and Haywood counties, including State Rep. Phil Haire, attended the rally, which was held in downtown Sylva.

Rep. Haire spoke at the meeting, blaming two wars and two tax cuts for causing more debt, and lax regulation for igniting the financial crisis. “Times are hard because of all the tax cuts Congress and the state have proposed,” said Haire at the rally. “I have figured out what all the tax breaks are about. All that corporate money is going into Republican fundraisers to get people elected, like what happened in the state of North Carolina,” he said about the 2010 state elections.

Nantahala LakeProposed Duke Energy rate increase stirs public opposition

Macon County residents and citizens from across the Western North Carolina (WNC) region arrived at the Macon County Courthouse on Wednesday, Oct. 26, to speak out against Duke Energy’s proposed 15 percent rate hike. The N.C. Utilities Commission held public hearings across the state to hear evidence for and against the rate increase, and in Franklin, nearly 40 citizens spoke out against the rate hike. Fred Alexander, Duke Energy’s District Manager, was the first person to testify at the hearing and the only person to endorse the increase, citing recent Duke Energy investments to make WNC a competitive region economically. Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale testified at the hearing as well, saying that Macon County citizens would find a 15 percent rate hike hard to endure.

If approved by the North Carolina Utilities Commission, the increase will become effective beginning in February of 2012.


Intersession offers enrichment activities but was poorly attended

Board members were eager to see the final numbers of the fall intersession after viewing a presentation highlighting the week, which took place from Oct. 10-14, at the October Board of Education meeting.The intersession was beneficial for the students who attended, but board members showed concerns about whether the week was cost effective due to low participation numbers. The intersession was available to some students and the school system encouraged parents to become involved, but only about 400 students attended the intersession on any given day, which amounts to about 10 percent of the entire district’s student population.

The total of attendances for the week was 2,015. That figure reflects the number of attendances, not the number of individual students who participated in the intersession. The average daily attendance was 403, and considering the majority of the students who attended the intersession did so each day, only about 400 total individual students participated.

EDC’s Macon County’s Business Development Manual. Tommy Jenkins was apponted as the new EDC director after Trevor Dalton resigned.Hall replaces Southard

County Manager Jack Horton announced in early November that Lori Hall had been selected as the new finance director for Macon County. Hall replaces Evelyn Southard, long time county finance director who retired at the end of October.

Hall assumed her duties with Macon County Monday, Oct. 31. Hall was selected from among some two dozen applicants for the job according to Horton. “The selection process has been extremely thorough and time consuming,” stated Horton, “but necessary due to the tremendous responsibility this vital position carries for Macon County.”

Ogden sentenced for sex crimes

David Wayne Ogden, 64, of Franklin, changed his plea from innocent to guilty to all charges in early November at the Macon County Courthouse. The amount of evidence stacked against him and the testimony of the victims caused Ogden to switch pleas.

Ogden received an overall sentence of 34-35 years in prison for 35 charges, including sexual exploitation of a minor, indecent liberties with a minor, delivering controlled substances to a child between the ages of 13-16, and other offenses.

“I’m pretty happy with the judgment,” said Hornsby- Welch after the sentencing. In her eight years of working as an Assistant DA in Macon County, Hornsby-Welch admitted that she has dealt with similarly atrocious cases, though “not with this many victims.”

Nantahala students see public beach access

Several Nantahala High School students presented their case for a public beach access area at Lake Nantahala during the Nov. 8 Macon County Commissioners meeting. Amber Gearhart, a sophomore at Nantahala High School, was the first student to speak before the commissioners, laying out the case for an access area in a detailed Power Point presentation. Gearhart explained that there is no safe area for people to swim at the Lake, which raises safety concerns for residents of the Nantahala community. Gearhart and her fellow students noted the 2003 Duke Energy license agreement, which promised the people of Nantahala that they would fund a five different amenities at the Rocky Branch Access area. Unfortunately, the licensing agreement just recently went into effect.

Sen. Jim Davis spoke at a town hall meeting in Franklin.The students also gave commissioners three possible ideas for a public beach access area. The student group told commissioners that they would name the public beach after former Nantahala High School principal Robbie Newton, who passed away from cancer last May.

Municipal Elections yield few surprises in Franklin, Highlands

Elected officials in the Town of Franklin ran unopposed in the 2011 elections, with incumbent Mayor Joe Collins winning reelection for the fifth consecutive time. Franklin Alderman Bob Scott, Joyce Handley, and Farrell Jamison were all reelected to serve another four years as well. Jamison was appointed to the board in May following the passing of Alderman Jerry Evans.

In Highlands, native Eric Pierson won his first term as Commissioner after receiving 180 total votes, while Brian Stiehler captured the other vacant seat by garnering 202 votes. Incumbent John Dotson won in his reelection bid by receiving 160 votes, making him the only incumbent victor in Highlands. The other serving incumbents, Dennis DeWolf and Larry Rogers, decided not to seek reelection, opening the door for Stiehler and Pierson to lead the town going forward.

Commissioner Brian McClellan resigns following second DWI arrest

Chairman of Macon County’s Board of Commissioners issued his letter of resignation following his second DWI arrest in two years. Brian McClellan, who was elected to the board in 2006 and reelected in 2010, was arrested by a North Carolina Highway Patrolman for a DWI in Jackson County on Nov. 18. McClellan’s resignation became effective on Dec. 1.

“I am resigning my position as the District 1 representative on the Macon County Board of Commissioners. This will give the county time to complete any immediate business before I vacate the seat,” wrote McClellan in his resignation letter. “I must refocus my priorities on my family and personal issues. Serving Macon County has been a high honor, and I am grateful for the opportunity. At this time I need to concentrate all of my energies on taking care of those things and people most dear to me.”

Commissioner McClellan was arrested by a North Carolina Highway Patrolman at approximately 9:27 p.m. while traveling on US 23 South in Dillsboro. The affidavit stated that McClellan was swerving back and forth across the median at an approximate speed of 40mph, prompting the stop.

Mayor Joe Collins presents a plaque to former Frankln Fire Chief Pete Haithcock for his exemplary service on behalf of the Town of Franklin.Tommy Jenkins hired to serve as county’s EDC director

Following the resignation of county economic develop director Trevor Dalton last September, County Manager Jack Horton and the Economic Development Commission actively sought his replacement. On Nov 1. the county hired Macon County native Tommy Jenkins to be the county’s new Economic Development Director.

“It’s a great hire,” said EDC chairman Ed Shatley following the announcement of Jenkins’ hiring. “We are very excited to have Tommy on our team. His contacts and knowledge of economic development will provide us with what we need to move forward,” he said.

Jenkins’ experience is worth acknowledging, including one term in the North Carolina House of Representatives from 1993-1994, and a stint in the N.C. state Senate from 1997-1998. Jenkins was also Chairman of Advantage West Economic Development Group from 2007-2011. He also has more than three decades worth of experience as a real estate broker in Macon County.

Macon County signed a contract with New South Strategies, LLC on Nov 1. The independent firm is managed by Jenkins and the new EDC director is the firm’s only employer. “I think public service is important and I want to help make Macon County the best place it can be,” said Jenkins after his hiring.

FHS varsity volleyball and football teams make historic runs in the state playoffs

It was truly a memorable year for the FHS varsity volleyball and football teams last fall. For the first time in the history of the program Franklin’s volleyball team went to the state semifinals. Led by seniors Karey Conner, Kacie and Katie Peck, Lori Morgan, and Lindsay Simpson, the team fought hard enough to secure yet another conference championship, going 24-3 overall. The Lady Panthers won four playoff games before falling to North Iredell, then 28-0, in the semifinals.

The Panthers made considerable noise on the football field too, securing an outright conference championship and going undefeated in regular season play for the first time in school history. They won 13 consecutive games before falling to Burns in the third round of the state playoffs. It was Franklin’s first appearance in the third round since 2005, and it was also the only time Franklin has secured a number one seed in the state playoffs.

Sylva welcomes Lynda Sossamon to board

Sylva’s board of commissioners will be welcoming back Chris Matheson and fellow board member, Harold Hensley, who were both re-elected to the town board on election night last November. Lynda Sossamon, a former Sylva board member, was also elected to fill the third open seat.

The newest addition to Sylva’s town board is no stranger to town politics. Sossamon, who was elected to Sylva’s town board with 152 of the 619 votes that were cast, first served on the board from 1998- 2001.

According to Sossamon, after her first round on the board, she took time off to focus on the family business with her husband. A graduate of Western Carolina University, Sossamon plans to use her chemistry degree and 27 years of business experience to approach political issues in a logical way, bringing a fresh perceptive to the commissioners.

“My place as a commissioner will be to make sure that it is done in a fashion that gives the people of Sylva the best and the most for their tax dollars.” Sossamon had debated running for reelection since her first term and finds now is the best time to do so while balancing her business.

Main Street’s annual Winter Wonderland welcomed the holiday seasonCounty Commissioners debating term limits for county advisory boards

Macon County’s Board of Commissioners agreed to take a closer look at enacting term limits for county advisory boards during their regularly scheduled meeting in November, following an extended conversation on the topic which arose in October.

A previous board of commissioners decided to eliminate term limits from county advisory boards, but then Chairman Brian Mc- Clellan and current Commissioner Ron Haven believe the policy should be reconsidered. At the meeting in October, Haven made a recommendation to limit service to two terms of three years each for advisory boards, but commissioners decided to delay the motion until the list of advisory boards could be narrowed down.

McClellan initially brought the issue to the board’s attention in October, and after a long discussion on the matter, commissioners agreed to email a list of their top five committees to consider for term limits to County Manager Jack Horton to analyze, while County Attorney Chester Jones would study the state statutes and ordinances to see how potential term limits could be enacted. That process is still ongoing and Jones told commissioners that he would need more time to study the state laws and local ordinances, as well as the by-laws of certain committees.

“I don’t believe someone should serve in perpetuity and never have to be held accountable,” said former chairman Brian McClellan. He added that he believes term limits should be imposed on county commissioners as well, saying that he proposed it to the board earlier in his tenure, but was voted down, 4-1.

The conversation in October seemed to focus directly on the Planning Board, but other boards being currently considered for term limits are the Economic Development Commission, Board of Equalization and Review, and the Board of Adjustment. These committees were the only boards explicitly mentioned for term limits during the two discussions. The board will take up the issue at the next scheduled meeting in January.

Senator Davis promotes conservative agenda for NC

Senator Jim Davis (R-50) held his first town hall at the community building in Franklin on Nov. 22, where he discussed policy issues with concerned constituents. Davis engaged with citizens about a variety of issues, including the gasoline tax increase, the gay marriage ballot initiative, Voter ID laws, and education in North Carolina.

District Attorney Jim Hunt and several dozen citizens were on hand to ask Senator Davis questions about a number of issues. Davis was awarded with the highest “Defender of Liberty” rating by the American Conservative Union, an organization that supports politicians who promote limited government, individual liberty, and traditional values. Davis’ support for the gay marriage ballot initiative and anti-abortion laws are just a few examples of the Senator’s conservatism.

Robert Frye is Highlands new town manager

Highlands new town manager Robert Frye, 49, has more than 20 years of experience in local government. He was employed as the Town Administrator for the Town of Sawmills from Oct. 9, 2000, until Sept. 14, 2010. Sawmills, in Caldwell County between Lenoir and Hickory, has a population of about 5,000.

Prior to Sawmills, Frye was employed by Watauga County as Assistant County Manager/Operations Services Director from February 1996 until November 1999.

Frye started his career in local government at the Region D Council of Governments in 1987 as a regional planner. His professional experiences include grant writing, economic development activities, land use planning, environmental planning, solid waste operations/planning, bid specifications development, municipal budgeting, municipal water/sewer operations and general municipal managerial activities.

Senior point guard Lindsay Simpson became one of only 10 varsity girls basketball players in WNC history to surpass 2,000 career points. No other player from FHS has reached the milestone. Pictured above is Simpson shooting the record breaking shot. Photo by Vickie CarpenterHe has graduated from a variety of UNC Institute of Government courses, including county administration. His educational background includes a B.A. in Political Science from N.C. State University and graduate level courses in Public Administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.


Franklin Christmas parade brings cheer

Despite the threat of inclement weather, Macon County citizens lined the streets on the last Sunday in November for the annual Christmas parade. The theme for the parade was “Candy Canes and Christmas Carols,” which allowed float designers to use a broad range of creative and fun ideas.

The parade, which started on Highlands Road before turning left onto Main Street, was full of excitement and fun for all ages. Complete with Christmas characters like Frosty the Snowman, the Grinch, Rudolph, and of course, Santa Claus, the parade filled the streets with music, laughter and candy.

Bank robbery suspect nabbed

The 21-year-old Western Carolina University student arrested for robbing a State Employees Credit Union (SECU) near campus on Dec. 14 was convicted and sentenced in Superior Court in Jackson County on Tuesday, Jan. 3. Bryan Anthony Edwards was sentenced to a minimum of 10 months and a maximum of 21 months to be served in the North Carolina Department of Corrections after pleading guilty to Common law robbery.

The fact that Edwards used a toy gun, which under the law is not a dangerous weapon, is the reason he was convicted of common law robbery and not robbery with a dangerous weapon, which were the original charges.

Winter Wonderland on Main Street

Main Street in downtown Franklin came alive last December as part of the Winter Wonderland festival.

Starting at 5 p.m., holiday figures like Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the Grinch roamed about downtown Franklin, amid countless Christmas lights, curbside luminaries and glowing window fronts. This year, the event was saved from the cold bite of winter — something event organizer Linda Schlott said contributed to the overall success of the festival, as the temperature remained in the low 50s.

Yuletide carols were sung at the gazebo downtown, while hot cider and holiday treats were given out by Main Street merchants. The holiday-time serenades were performed by the South Macon Elementary Chorus, the Arts Council and Men Macon Music.

Macon County Commissioners elected Kevin Corbin to be the new Chairman of the board for 2012.Haithcock retires after 34 years

Dozens of people gathered to wish former Franklin Fire and Rescue Chief Pete Haithcock a fond farewell in early December. After a total of 34 years of working at the department, starting as a regular fireman, Haithcock officially retired from a long career with a reputation for leaving his post in top notch condition. For the last 15 years, he has reigned as chief of the department.

“On behalf of Franklin Fire and Rescue, we appreciate Pete and the efforts he’s made for the town and the department,” said Warren Cabe, Haithcock’s successor. “Obviously I can fill his office and his duties, but I can never fill his shoes. We wish him the best in his retirement.”

Cabe, who before taking over at FFR worked as County Fire Marshal for many years, has worked with Haithcock for more than a decade. As Cabe has stepped in to take on his new role as Chief, he trained with Haithcock for approximately three months.

“I appreciate everything you’ve done for me as well,” remarked Cabe of his training. “The responsibility doesn’t go away at the end of the day, or when you’re on vacation. One accomplishment I can say, is that for 15 years, all of our people have gone home at the end of their shifts.” Cabe lauded Haithcock for a job well done in keeping the fire fighters safe.

“We continue to modernize and continue to grow,” said Franklin Mayor Joe Collins. “A lot of this is due to your contributions.” Collins then presented Haithcock with a plaque of his exemplary service on behalf of the town.

Cuts Hurt

Western Carolina University’s Office of Leadership and Student Affairs and the WCU Student Government Association cosponsored a nonpartisan discussion titled “The Western Carolina University Cuts Hurt Education Forum: Collaborating Toward the Success of North Carolina Education.” The forum was supported by student political groups and the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE).

The WCU Cuts Hurt Education Forum was a collaborative effort towards the success of North Carolina education and served as the very first forum to highlight how education cuts affect an entire community. The forum speakers, which included students, House Representative Ray Rapp, NCAE representative John deVille, WCU’s Vice Chancellor Sam Miller, former Southwestern Community College president Dr. Cecil Groves, and WCU professor Dr. Lori Oxford, each explained how much the budget for public education was cut, and what the state of

Jim Davis (R-50th District) attended the forum and welcomed the opportunity to meet with students to listen to their concerns and comments regarding educational budget cuts. “I take my hat off to the students who made the effort and put the forum together,” said Davis. “It is always great to see them involved. I was able to meet a lot of fine students. They had concerns and I was happy to listen to them and will continue to work diligently with their best interest in mind.”

Speaker of the House visits Franklin, hosts business roundtable discussion

Thom Tillis, Speaker of the House in North Carolina’s House of Representatives, hosted a business roundtable discussion with local government officials and business leaders in Macon County on Dec. 8. Tillis’ tour across WNC brought him to Franklin, which is the first time the Speaker of the House has visited the area since the 1980s. Tillis and the roundtable attendees discussed a whole range of public policy issues concerning the economy, and spoke candidly about ideas to move the economy forward. Topics about reforming the unemployment insurance system, steep slope development regulations, financial regulatory reforms, and taxes were just a few issues on the agenda at the meeting.

Gaming contract gets big boost from Perdue

After a lengthy debate between Governor Beverly Perdue and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a new 30-year gaming compact has been developed and was signed by the Governor and Principal Chief Michell Hicks in early December in Raleigh. The new agreement will bring vegasstyle gambling to the Cherokee Reservation, which is anticipated to inject additional funding directly into classrooms, and create 400 new jobs in western North Carolina by expanding the Cherokee’s gaming enterprises.

“My top priorities are strengthening our schools and creating jobs, and this agreement does both,” Gov. Perdue said. “This will mean additional dollars going directly to school districts, and it will provide an economic boost for western North Carolina. I urge the General Assembly to act so that we can quickly start receiving the benefits of this expansion.”

The 30-year compact, which will allow the Cherokee to offer live table gaming at Cherokee’s Harrah’s Casino, and provide the state with a share of the revenue generated from the new games, was originally set to be voted on in September, but due to the Tribe and Gov. Perdue being unable to reach an agreement on the amount of revenue to be given to the state, the vote was delayed. The final compact calls for the state’s share of the revenue to be channeled directly to school districts. The school districts will be required to spend the funds on educating students in the classroom.

Macon County Republicans select Jimmy Tate to replace McClellan

Jimmy Tate, a sixth generation Highlander, was selected by Macon County Republicans to replace former chairman, Brian McClellan. Tate was later unanimously approved by the board on Dec. 13.

Tate will represent the first district of Highlands and be up for reelection in 2012, as mandated by the N.C. General Statutes.

“I’m very excited to work for the people of Macon County,” said Tate after his selection on Dec. 4. “I’m very humbled by the opportunity the Republican Party’s given to me. I got a steep learning curve ahead of me and my first goal is to learn the process, learn the faces and meet the people who run this county.”

Corbin takes over as chairman of the board of commissioners

Commissioner Kevin Corbin will step into the leadership role in 2012. Fellow Republican Commissioner Ron Haven made a motion to appoint Corbin to be the board’s new Chairman during their Dec. 13. meeting, and board members subsequently approved Corbin’s nomination. North Carolina General Statutes requires county commissioner boards to vote on a chairman annually. Corbin, who was picked by the county’s Republican Party to fill former Commissioner Jim Davis’ seat in Jan. 2010, will serve as Chairman through the duration of 2012. Board members also voted to retain Commissioner Bobby Kuppers as Vice-Chairman, a position he has held since last January.

See last week's issue for part I of the Year in Review (click here)


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