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News 2013 Year In Review

Another year comes to a close and the country as well as the state has experienced a year of ups and downs. We saw the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and President Obama's fight with the United States Congress to keep in moving forward.

We saw a house divided when it came time for the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and their attempts to reach a deal on the budget in order to avoid default and we were helpless as the sequester tightened around various aspects of our lives.

Here in North Carolina, on a state level, it wasn't much better as budget struggles often stole headlines as well. If it wasn't monetary issues atop the pages it was new legislation such as the requirement of identification to vote, the rejection of the ACA's medicaid expansion, the state's decision to allow some illegal immigrants a driver's license, and so on.

But here in Macon County, we've seen our own headlines, some of which has been bigger to this small area than those from a national perspective.

January

Forum alleviates concerns over proposed rec site

A community input meeting was held in January regarding the proposed acquisition of the Parker Meadows property by the county to construct a new recreation complex. Macon County residents were able to ask questions and give feedback.

The forum was a result of the Macon County Board of Commissioners' November 2012 decision to move forward with plans to purchase the 48-acre lot on old Patton Road with the intention of developing a recreation complex to contain new baseball and softball fields. After identifying a need in the community and a way to bring economic advancement to Macon County, the board of commissioners unanimously approved pursuing the purchase of the former golf course at a cost of $550,000, half of which was anticipated to be paid for out of state monies such as the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF). At the Dec. 10 board of commissioners meeting, Macon County Recreation Director Seth Adams informed commissioners that the county was approved for a $500,000 grant to begin construction on the new recreation facility.

Franklin's first 2013 baby

Franklin's first baby of the year, Riley Irene Wood was born on Jan. 2 at 4:40 a.m. to Sterling Whorton and Duran Wood both of Franklin at Angel Medical Center. She weighed in at 6 lbs., 14 oz., and was 18 ¾ inches long.

N.C. Supreme Court orders sweepstakes establishments to shut down

The state's high court dismissed in short order the request filed by software and gaming companies to put a hold on a law which justices unanimously agreed to uphold that deemed sweepstakes establishments illegal. Members of the sweepstakes industry requested that the state's Supreme Court delay the Jan. 3 closing date to allow time to appeal to the United States Supreme Court. By the end of January, parlors would be open again citing a loophole in the new law.

Sheriff Holland speaks out in favor of SROs

In response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn., in which a 20-year-old gunman shot 20 children and six adults, then turned the gun on himself, Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland gave presentations to both the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners regarding the district's school safety plans.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park was among those affected by the government shutdown in October.During the commissioners' meeting that took place on Jan. 2, Holland and members of his staff played out a scenario for the board in which Commissioners Ron Haven and Jimmy Tate were to role play as teachers faced with a situation involving a gunman within a school. The scenario allowed both commissioners three seconds to respond  to a situation in which they were not privy to the details beforehand. The intent of the Sheriff's demonstration was to prove that without proper instruction and training, individuals outside of law enforcement — including teachers — are not mentally prepared to assess a situation and make conscious decisions under pressure. Holland gave the demonstration to suppport his position that arming teachers was not the answer.

“I think teachers should be teachers, and law enforcement officers should be law enforcement officers,” said Holland.

At the time of the meeting five School Resource Officers (SROs) serve in Macon County Schools. Holland said that he believes that safety should remain a priority to school officials and the community and that every effort possible needed to be made to put an SRO at each school site.

Macon County Sheriff's Office investigates one of their own

Macon County Sheriff's Office launched an investigation into allegations brought against Detective Amy Stewart. On Sunday Jan. 6, the Sheriff's office served two criminal summonses on a Macon County Sheriff's Office employee for communicating threats.

According to affidavits filed by parents of two Franklin High School students, Stewart threatened a student on Facebook in a matter concerning illegal activity that had taken place at her home and threatened another parent at a basketball game regarding her daughter.

In March, Macon County District Court would dismiss charges against Macon County Sheriff's Office detective Amy Stewart.  One charge was dismissed because of “successful mediation” while the other was dismissed for “insufficient evidence”

As a result of the circumstances surrounding the charges, Stewart was prohibited from being present at Franklin High School and all related athletics. Once Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan was informed that the charges were dropped, he lifted the ban.

The N.C. Supreme Court ordered all sweepstakes establishments closed on Jan. 3. Some reopened shortly thereafter citing a loophole in the law. In February, a Superior Court judge gave law enforcement the authority to enforce the state ban on sweepstakes parlors.Congressman Mark Meadows takes Oath of Office

On January 3, Mark Meadows took the Oath of Office as the new representative of North Carolina's 11th Congressional District.

After defeating Democrat Hayden Rogers with more than 57 percent of the vote, Meadows replaced former Congressman Heath Shuler, who served for six years before announcing his retirement from politics.

Meadows is a Jackson County (Cashiers) resident and is the first Jackson County resident to serve in the U.S. House since 1960 when Democrat David Hall served. Meadows serves as only the fourth Republican to be elected as representative of the 11th District since the early 1800s.

Macon County's National Guard unit placed 'on alert' for possible deployment

The Military Police companies of North Carolina's 210th unit of the Army National Guard, which is based in Macon County, was placed 'on alert' for possible deployment. According to Capt. Rick Scoggins, spokesperson for North Carolina's National Guard, the guard uses the 'on alert' status as a way to forewarn companies and their families that they may be needed for a mission or deployment. The 211th unit based in Haywood County was also put on alert.

They would later learn that they would be shipping out in 2014.

'Cold for a Cause' raises support for fourth year

Local Farm Bureau agent Patrick Jenkins spent 48 hours suspended 60 feet in the air by a crane in order to raise donations for Macon County CareNet. He encouraged the community to donate food, coats and blankets to benefit those in need in the local community. Recognizing his efforts, Jenkins was named the Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year during its annual banquet.

New tag and tax program combines vehicle fees

The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles worked with county revenue offices across the state to educate vehicle owners to a new legislative program that requires the payment of vehicle property tax at the same time vehicle registration renewals are due.

Landslide in Great Smoky Mountain drowning Cherokee economy

As a result of torrential rainfall accumulations, a portion of road on the Great Smoky Mountains Parkway connecting Cherokee and Tennessee, was swept away in a landslide. The first assessment of the landslide which occurred along Newfound Gap Road in North Carolina shows that the landslide was approximately 90,000 cubic yards of material or 350-400 feet – around the length of a football field – and 45-50 feet deep.

Mark MeadowsAs the most visited National Park in the country, the landslide was predicted to do significant damage to the region's economy.

“The impact of the slide on Cherokee's economy is nothing less than substantial,” said Jason D. Lambert, director, Division of Commerce, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

A reopen date was originally projected for the month of June but reopened April 15, more than a month ahead of schedule.

Contractor Phillips & Jordan, Inc. was awarded the contract in February to complete the work by May 15, but surpassed that deadline by exactly one month.

P&J were given a $18,000 per day incentive package, up to 28 days, to get the project done ahead of schedule in time for the summer tourist season.

Cherokee put up half the incentive dollars and the other half was covered by the National Park Service.
 
Whitley closes

More than 100 people found themselves out of a job when they were informed that Whitley Products Franklin facility would be closing its doors. Employees first learned of the closure the week before the doors were closed when they received a letter from Whitley's corporate office in West Warsaw, Ind. The letter cited financial difficulties as being the reason for the facility's demise.

Students in Macon County granted a long summer due to state calendar law changes

State changes to the school calendar laws gave students three full months of summer last year. The Macon County Board of Education approved the school calendar for the 2013-2014 school year during their January meeting. The calendar aligned with North Carolina's school calendar law passed by the N.C. General Assembly which states that schools may begin no earlier than the Monday closest to August 26. Since the 2012-2013 school year was set to conclude on May 24, students would have a summer vacation that lasted nearly a month longer than it had in the two previous years.

According to then interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan, as in previous years, a committee comprised of teachers, PTA members and central office staff was assembled to develop the calendar.

A portion of the Great Smoky Mountains Parkway connecting Cherokee and Tennessee was swept away in a landslide. Thunderstorms flood downtown Franklin

Thunderstorms swept through Western North Carolina on on Jan. 30, causing severe flooding. Throughout the day, Macon County was under a tornado watch, a flood warning, high wind warning and a thunderstorm warning.

Main Street to the Highlands Road was temporarily closed after the road became impassable due to drainage pipes being unable to keep up with the torrential rainfall. Duke Energy reported 3,602 power outages for Jackson County and 3,315 outages for Macon County.

The Newfound Gap Road would reopen April 15, one month ahead of schedule.Macon County Schools' informed parents that buses were temporarily delayed to allow crews to survey roads and determine if routes were passable. Despite a short delay, all buses were able to run on schedule and were advised to proceed with caution.

February

Building found for new dialysis center

Lease negotiations for the highly anticipated and valiantly fought for dialysis center concluded and renovations to an already existing building began.

At the request of community members, which was supported by commissioners, representatives with DaVita Dialysis Center, the company awarded the contract to open a center in Macon County, diligently searched for an already existing and vacant building in the county to house the new center. The search hit a small snag when options and locations for the center were limited to buildings not able to accommodate the center's needs.

The building that was ultimately chosen had once been the Social Security Administration building and then the CareNet thrift store located in Westgate Plaza. The thrift store relocated to Palmer Street.

The DaVita Dialysis Center would be completed in September and a grand opening was held to alert the community that the dialysis center was open for business.

Jackson County's R-5000 road project begins despite opposition

The R-5000 road project entails the construction of a connector road of 0.7 miles running from NC 116 through the Southwestern Community College (SCC) campus, and ending at US 107. With only one entrance and one exit to the campus, concerns of a possible disaster began to surface and in 1994, plans to address the issue started to develop.

The new road was included in SCC's Master Plan in hopes that another exit would alleviate the stress on a bottle neck evacuation of the grounds if a campus-wide emergency ever took place.

The original price tag for the project began at $6 million, but ballooned to $24.9 million as a result of some unexpected factors, drawing the ire of some Jackson County residents.

AMC requests land for memorial garden

At February's Franklin Town Board of Aldermen meeting, Angel Medical Center employees Don Capaforte and Bonnie Peggs requested that the town consider a deal to transfer town property to the hospital for the development of a memorial garden.

Officials with Whitley Products of Franklin announced in January that the plant would be closing.“A memorial garden is something that we have been thinking about for a long time and definitely think it is something the hospital needs and can benefit from,” said Peggs.

Peggs and Capaforte, executive director of the AMC Foundation, asked aldermen to consider giving AMC a piece of town owned property adjacent to the backside of the hospital. “The piece of property is in the back of the hospital near the emergency room,” explained Peggs. “There is not a lot of traffic there, and we think it would be relatively peaceful.”

The board, which seemed in favor of AMC's request, decided to allow more time to examine the property and to determine the best method of executing a lease for the transfer of the property.

United States Postal Service declares that Saturday delivery to end

The Postal Service's financial hardships continued in the first quarter of the fiscal year as the agency waited for Congressional action to address its mounting debt. As a result of a net loss of $1.3 billion in its first three months of the 2013 fiscal year (Oct. 1 – Dec. 31, 2012), it was announced that the Postal Service would move forward with accelerated cost-cutting actions necessary to help maintain liquidity because Congress had not passed comprehensive postal reform legislation.

Commissioners honor JC Jacobs

Before opening the February meeting of the Macon County Board of Commissioners, Chairman Kevin Corbin took time to honor a special member of the community. For more than 60 years, JC Jacobs has been a business owner and active member of the Macon County community. First opening up the Twins' Shop, then 55 years ago, opening up People's Department Store. At the end of 2012, Jacobs announced that he would be closing People's.

State General Assembly overhauls unemployment benefits

A bill introduced in the North Carolina House of Representatives made drastic changes to the state's unemployment benefits as well as cause business owners to up their employer contributions to the program.

Much of Macon County experienced severe flooding as a result of thunderstorms that produced torrential rainfall on January 30.According to Republican House Representative Roger West, who presides over Macon, Graham and Cherokee counties, the main objective of the bill is to begin paying off the $2.7 billion debt N.C. owes to the federal government. “We have to repay the $2.7 billion we owe the federal government, it has to be paid off,” said West. “In order to do that, we looked at cutting the number of weeks, the amount given out as well as raising employers' contributions.”

House Bill 4 outlined cutting Unemployment Insurance (UI) from 26 weeks, which is the amount of time 43 states give UI, to a sliding scale of 12 to 20 weeks. In addition to fewer weeks, the bill also decreases the maximum benefits allowance from $535 per week, to $350 per week. This amount makes North Carolina the second highest paying state in the Southeast.

The bill also mandated that the employers' contribution be increased in order to pay off the debt more quickly.

Duke Energy asks for another 9.7 percent from customers

Duke Energy Carolinas' customers were hit with another proposed rate hike in early February when the company announced plans to seek permission to raise electric bills on its nearly two million N.C. customers by nearly 10-percent.

The request to the N.C. Utilities Commission would serve as the third since 2009, which Duke said would help pay for building and upgrades to power plants, transmission lines and pollution controls.

The proposal would force residential rates to go up 11.8-percent, which would raise the monthly bill for a customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours from $102.72 to $116.99.

Disc golf course at SCC opens to public

A new disc golf course was constructed in Franklin just behind the Southwestern Community College building on the Macon County Campus where the old Siler farm once operated.

The new DaVita dialysis center celebrated its grand opening in September 2013.golf is a quickly growing sport and according to Noa Sparks, designer of the new course, there are around 1,000 courses around the country. Like it sounds, disc golf is similar to “ball” golf. The main difference being the substitution of a frisbee or a “disc,” for a golf ball. A player stands at a specific area called the tee, then tosses the frisbee towards the designated basket in an attempt to get it in the specially made basket in as few attempts as possible.

Sweepstakes establishments closed again

The back and forth between law enforcement and sweepstakes establishment owners looked as though it was finally over when N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Johnson ruled against International Internet Technologies LLC, a software distributor of sweepstakes machines. Police were given the go ahead to enforce North Carolina's ban on sweepstakes video games.

DSS attorney arrested for assault

William Shilling, 51, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor counts of simple physical assault and simple non-physical assault. Shilling is an attorney with the Macon County Department of Social Services.

According to documents on file at the Macon County Clerk's office, an arrest warrant states that there was probable cause to believe that Shilling inflicted physical injury to his child, who at the time, was less than 16 years old.

Originally released on a $500 bond with order not to contact his son or wife, he was arrested again on Feb. 15 after he violated the protective order.

Drivers licenses available for qualifying immigrants

N.C. Department of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata announced on Feb. 14 that the DOT would be issuing driver licenses and identification cards to applicants qualifying under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

DACA was implemented by President Obama in 2012 and called for deferred action for some undocumented young people who came to the United States as children and then pursued an education or served in the U.S. Military.

N.C. would begin issuing the licenses to those who qualified on March 25.

Franklin business wins national award

JC and Frankie JacobsTherapeutics of Franklin was named a Blue Ribbon Small Business Award winner by the United States Chamber of Commerce. The company was recognized for its “dedication to the principles of free enterprise and its contribution to restoring jobs and prosperity.”

“The Blue Ribbon Award winners show that, even facing uncertainty and economic challenges, small businesses can grow and succeed,” said Thomas J. Donohue, U.S. Chamber president and CEO. “They are America's economic engine, driving growth and job creation all across this country.”

Located in the Macon County Business Development Center, Luxury Therapeutics is owned and operated by Debra Green and Karen Kneeland. The business produces quality made, stylish hot and cold packs. Luxury Therapeutics combines an abundance of fabric and years of contacts in the textile community to produce high end designer boutique products.

Batting cages see much-needed renovation

Commissioners gave final approval for much needed upgrades on the Macon Middle School batting cages. Used by both the Macon Middle School and the Franklin High School baseball, for batting practice, safety concerns prompted the FHS baseball coach to request the upgrades.

Athletics, teachers on chopping block during school budget discussions

During a budget work session, members of the Board of Education were told by Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan that in order to continue operating at the same levels once August rolled around, the school system would have to ask the county to add more than $2 million to the county's allocation for the school system budget.

Principal Barry WoodyDr. Duncan presented board members with a list of proposed budget cuts totaling $1,950,393 that would significantly lower the school system's budget, and leave them with asking the county for an $83,125 increase from last year's funds.

Among the nearly $2 million in cuts proposed, a total of $1,088,118 includes instructional staff. The board looked at absorbing 11 teacher positions and 25 teacher assistant positions.

Other possible cuts included closing Macon Early College and Union Academy, and the possibility of eliminating middle school athletics as well as co-curricular (non-revenue generating sports) throughout the county. Football and basketball are the only revenue generating sports.

Congressman Meadows introduces legislation to create safer schools

Congressman Mark Meadows visited East Franklin Elementary School shortly after introducing a bill to the U.S. Congress that would improve safety in public school. The bill called for $30 million to reinstate the “Cops in Schools” program that was started 15 years ago.

Charlie Leatherman with retiring Sam GreenwoodThe bill known as the Protect America's Schools Act would put more school resource officers in schools through a program that has not been funded since 2005. The Cops in Schools program, originally started by President Bill Clinton and funded with a $753 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, was cut in 2005 after putting more than 6,500 officers in schools.

Meadows worked with his colleagues in Congress and identified nearly $134 million in “unobligated” funds in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admistration budget. He proposed using $30 million of those funds to reinstate the program and immediately begin filling what he views as being a void in the nation's school system.

Undercover wildlife operation cracks down on bear poachers

State and federal wildlife officials in North Carolina and Georgia.  Announced an undercover operation that involved 80 wildlife violators and some 980 violations.

Primary violations documented by Operation Something Bruin stem from illegal bear hunting but included an array of state wildlife and game law charges.

The four-year investigation, the largest of its kind in recent years targeted poachers in North Carolina and Georgia, and in adjacent states.

March

UK company buys Whitley plant

Whitley Products, Inc. looked as though it could be closing its doors for good, but quick action and the dedication of local officials were able to stop that from happening. Tricorn Group PLC, a holding company for a group of companies that develop and manufacture pipe solutions for international sale, officially acquired the facility in early March.

The company stated that it had plans to create 121 jobs and invest $4 million in the local economy over the next three years.

Lady Panthers defeat Enka for sectional title

The Franklin High School Lady Panthers defeated the 3A Mountain Athletic Conference Champions in the sectionals. The Panthers rolled the Sugar Jets by a score of 61-49.

A string of arsons occured in early 2013. With no leads to go on, fire investigators turned to the public for help.Macon Early College students stand up against budget cuts

After the Macon County School system released a list of proposed budget cuts to account for a $2 million shortfall in next year's budget, Macon Early College (MEC) students discovered that their school funding was among potential cuts.

In response, third year MEC student Emily Ritter launched a petition in order to save the school. The initial goal was to get 50 signatures, but that goal was quickly surpassed when almost 600 members of the community signed on to the petition.

Much of Macon County experienced severe flooding as a result of thunderstorms that produced torrential rainfall on January 30.The petition was then delivered to the Macon County School Board, N.C. Senator Jim Davis, the N.C. State House, the N.C. State Senate, Governor Pat McCrory, the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and President Barack Obama.

Under McCrory, new graduates to have new diploma designations

Under a new law signed by Governor Pat McCrory, the State Board of Education will develop curriculums with increased emphasis on career and technical courses with the intention of increasing the number of students pursuing vocational programs such as auto repair, welding, and healthcare technology. When students graduate they will have an endorsement of career ready, college ready, or both. Licensing requirements will also be reduced for the teachers of these courses.

County Commissioners send message to Washington in attempt to save Franklin's LBJ Job Corps Center

Due to federal budget cuts, Lyndon B. Johnson Job Corps in Franklin faced a reduction in funds to its carpentry training program and other vital programs. With the county at risk of losing a valuable source of community service that is contributed annually by the Job Corps, county commissioners stepped up and sent a stern message to members of the U.S. Congress about the importance of the program to the county and to the students who rely on it.

Simpson named to SoCon All-Freshmen team

Former Franklin High School basketball standout and current Western Carolina University basketball player Lindsey Simpson was named to the 2013 Southern Conference All-Freshmen team by the leagues coaches as well as the SoCon Sports Media Association.

Corey Duvall, 21, was named the chairman of the Macon County Democratic Party.Her standout performance of the season came against Furman in mid January when she scored 25 points in a triple overtime showdown that saw WCU pull out the win, 88-83. No player on the women's team had scored that much in four years.

After ending the season as Western's top scorer and consistent starting guard, Simpson was named the SAAC Student Athlete of the Year.

She averaged 7.2 points per game and scored in double digits during nine outings.

WCU's SAAC purpose is to promote and actively encourage the involvement of student-athletes on campus and in their communities, while allowing those student-athletes to have an open line of communication to voice their concerns to institutional administrations and the conference office.  

Woody named principal of Franklin High School

Barry Woody, then assistant principal of Franklin High School, was selected as the school's new principle.

Woody replaced Dr. Chris Baldwin, who assumed the role of Macon County Superintendent on July 1.

MEC removed from list of school budget cuts

Both the Macon Early College and Union Academy were removed from a proposed list of budget cuts. Dr. Jim Duncan pointed to the fact that the schools operate from funds allocated from the state as well as around $200,000 from local funds, saying that if they can live within the means of the state grant, then the school would be okay.

Franklin community honors Sam Greenwood's contribution to town

The Town of Franklin hosted a reception for retiring Town Manager Sam Greenwood. Greenwood had been Franklin's manager since 2008 when Franklin began to use a council-manager form of government.

Members of the community and Town of Franklin employees gathered to to show their support and appreciation for the years of service committed from Greenwood.

April

Town board denies Pauline Avenue zoning request

Property owners brought forth a request for the rezoning of three parcels on Pauline Avenue totaling 13.74 acres. The properties are owned by Gary and Edith Holland and their former daughter-in-law, Natasha  Tallent. The request that was before the board was to rezone the residential area from an R-1 to an R-2. The reasoning according to Gary Holland is that Tallent would like to install a manufactured home on her property which R-1 zones prohibit.

When the request was sent to the Town Planning Board it was recommended that the aldermen approve the request, but a protest petition was submitted in hopes of keeping the property from being rezoned.

After listening to both sides of the proposition, the aldermen voted 4-2 to deny the rezoning request.

Macon County health ranks 16th in the state

Macon County was ranked 16th in North Carolina for over-all good health in the 2013 rankings, three spots lower than it did in 2012. It ranked fourth in WNC behind Watauga, Henderson and Transylvania.

The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program is a collaboration between the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The program ranks almost every county in the country. The purpose behind the rankings index is to help communities create solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their communities, focusing on specific factors that they believe affect health, such as education and income, whether a person has health insurance and the quality of health care they receive.

Officials seek community help in string of arsons

Authorities in Macon County turned to the public for help in solving a string of fires that ensued in the early part of the year. Franklin Police Chief David Adams said that with no solid leads to go on, investigators were asking the public to notify the police station with any information regarding suspicious behavior or activity.

The first fire was in a dumpster near the Good Will store. The second occurred a week later at the Board of Education property. A vehicle in the parking lot which had not been driven in a number of days, was set on fire. Since the fire did not begin in the engine compartment, authorities believed it was set intentionally. A week later, a third reported fire torched an abandoned home near Trimont Christian Academy. Just days later, another fire occurred at a vacant home on Promise Lane.

In the same time period, two additional fires were reported, but were determined to be unrelated. One took place on Calico Drive, killing one man, Erin Crawford.

Commissioners commit to bring county employees up to minimum pay level

Almost two years after a compensation study was completed for Macon County employees, in a 3-2 vote, the Board of Commissioners voted to implement the findings of the study, without raising taxes.

Gary Michael Hilton was sentenced in May to four life sentences for the kidnapping and murder of a Hendersonville couple.The study which was conducted in 2011, was carried out by Springsted Incorporated, a highly touted firm closely associated with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. According to then-County Manager Jack Horton, based on the market data used by Springsted, the pay plan in place in Macon County reflected minimum, maximum and midpoints that were on average 21 percent lower than the market surveyed minimums, maximums, and midpoints. The study also revealed that 55 percent of county employees were making less than the minimum of the study's survey results.

On a motion made by Commissioner Ronnie Beale and seconded by Commissioner Jimmy Tate, the board approved the pay increase. Commissioners Ron Haven and Paul Higdon cast the opposing votes with Chairman Kevin Corbin breaking the tie with a "yes" vote.

Franklin TDA appoints new board members

The Tourism Development Authority voted to recommend the appointment of Josh Drake, co-owner of Mulligan's Bar and Grille, and Leland Riske, with Signs Express to the Franklin Town Board.

As an authority board, the TDA recommends board members for approval to the town aldermen, who have the final say in making appointments to the board. Both would be approved unanimously.

Young leadership steps up to rejuvenate Macon County Democratic Party

During its annual convention, the Macon County Democratic Party voted to elect Corey Duvall as its chairman. At just 21 years old, Duvall stands as the youngest chairman in recent history, and the second youngest in the state.

Duvall started in politics during the 2008 election with the Young Democrats of Franklin High School. He also served as the president of Western Carolina University's College Democrats until November 2012.

Franklin man charged with six counts of sexual exploitation of a minor

The Macon County Sheriff's Office arrested Christopher Lee Burk, 50, of Matlock Creek Road in Macon County. Burk was charged with six counts of first degree sexual exploitation of a minor and his bond was set at $500,000.

The arrest followed an extensive investigation by juvenile investigators that began in March. Multiple search warrants were executed and numerous witnesses were interviewed to establish probably cause for the arrest.
 
N.C. Supreme Court overturns Duke Energy's

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled to overturn a portion of Duke Energy Carolinas request for a rate increase, sending the case back to state regulators for further action.

In a unanimous decision, the state's Supreme Court ruled that the North Carolina Utilities Commission failed to make the necessary findings of fact to support its decision to grant a 10.5 percent return on equity.

Customers still had to continue paying the higher rate while the Utilities Commission were tasked to make the necessary findings of fact.

Unemployment rates fall across WNC

Signifying a turn in  job conditions across Western North Carolina, unemployment rates fell between March and April across each of the 18 westernmost counties of the state, according to data released by the N.C. Division of Employment Security.

The Macon County Sheriff’s Office shut down a large indoor pot growing operation in May.Even though the county still has the second-highest unemployment rate in the state, Swain County posted the largest over-the-month drop, from 16.5 percent to 14.6 percent. Still, it was one of two WNC counties that saw unemployment increase compared to a year ago, which is the comparison employment officials often cite as the most representative of overall conditions. Swain and Mitchell counties were the only two of the 18 westernmost counties to see unemployment increase compared to a year ago. Both were also well above the statewide rate for April, which was 8.5 percent.

Overall, 10 of the 18 counties were above the statewide rate; eight were below. Eight — Avery, Cherokee, Graham, Macon, Mitchell, Rutherford, Swain and Yancey — all posted unemployment rates of more than 10 percent for the month. And among all the counties in the state, Graham County’s unemployment rate was the highest, at 15.9 percent.

May

Sheriff's Department shuts down two pot growing operations

Authorities with the Macon County Sheriff's Office shut down and seized property in two indoor marijuana growing operations. According to documents on file with the Clerk of Courts office, a warrant was issued for a home at 526 Coweeta Church Road. The warrant allowed MCSO Detective Chris Murray to search the premises, vehicle, and person of Christopher Michael Belvedere.

Belvedere was arrested and charged with one count of manufacturing a schedule VI controlled substance. According to the warrant, Belvedere was growing marijuana in his basement.

Tyson Shawn O'Neil was also arrested and charged with one count of manufacturing a schedule VI controlled substance in the basement of his residence.

Gary Michael Hilton gets four life sentences

Nearly six years after the brutal murders of a Hendersonville couple in the Pisgah National Forest, Gary Michael Hilton was sentenced to four life sentences in a U.S. District Court for kidnapping and the murder of John D. Bryant and Irene W. Bryant. He was also sentenced to 15 years in prison for a related robbery offense.

Hilton was able to avoid the death penalty in N.C. in exchange for a plea arrangement.

The Tourism Development Authority approved $35,000 for digital billboards in its 2013-14 budget. The billboard are located in the Atlanta area.According to police report, Hilton, a drifter and visitor to the area, camped out and waited for victims before he encountered Irene and John Bryant and killed them in October 2007.

The murder charge was the one of four to which Hilton pled guilty. Conviction for the Bryants' murder was in addition to sentences Hilton had already received: Life in prison for the murder of 24-year-old university of Georgia graduate Meredith Emerson in Georgia and death row for the murder of 46-year-old Sunday School teacher Cheryl Dunlap in Florida. The bodies of both women were beheaded.

No banners across Main Street says Town Board
The Board of Aldermen revisited the issue of banners being hung across Main Street when it became a concern to town officials and organizations who sought to hang banners across the street to promote festivals.

Alderman Verlin Curtis, citing safety concerns in the past, offered a motion to delete any wording from the town ordinance that would allow banners to be hung across the street. The motion passed 4-1 with Alderman Bob Scott opposing.

Thirty-one teachers notified of possible job loss

Following a closed session during a continuation meeting for the Board of Education, Interim Superintendent Dr. Jim Duncan announced that he would be sending a letter to 31 probationary first-year teachers to notify them that at that point in the budget process, their positions would not be filled in the 2013-2014 year.

Dr. Duncan said the possibility of inadequate funding was the reason for sending out the letters. By law, the Board of Education was required to notify teachers of the possibility of job loss by May 15.

The final decision to dismiss the 31 teachers would depend on the outcome of the county commissioners meeting that was to be held on May 20.

Horton presents $46 million budget; Leaves schools with $1.7 million shortfall

During May's regular county commissioner's meeting, then-County Manager Jack Horton presented the 2013-2014 proposed budget. As a result of the proposed budget, the Macon County school system was left with a $1.7 million shortfall.

With the possibility of state budget cuts to education and the uncertainty of funding sources, the school system was forced to turn to the county back in April to request $9,567,455 from county commissioners for the 2013-2014 school year; an increase of $2,656,455 from the previous year. According to Horton, while the school system had requested $9.6 million, in order to continue county operations and to avoid a tax increase, the county would only be able to provide the school system with $7.8 million, which was a  three percent increase from previous years.

The Macon County Board of Commissioners would hold several budget work sessions in the following weeks.

FHS softball ends strong season in 3rd round of play-offs

Franklin High School’s ladies softball team finished the season with a third round playoff appearance. The team posted a 15-6 record overall.The Lady Panthers saw their season come to an end when they hosted Fred T. Foard, losing to the Tigers for the third straight year. The team hoped to avenge losses from the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but were unable to pull off the win, losing 2-1 in the third round of the state play-offs. Despite the loss, the team enjoyed a highly successful year posting a 15-6 record overall.

The Panthers began their season with a four game winning streak, making it clear that they were going to make a mark in their division. Knocking off conference rivals like Smoky Mountain and Tuscola and avenging a loss to Pisgah helped to continually fuel the team's confidence making them a discouraging match-up for any team they were set to encounter in the play-offs.

Mayor Joe Collins will not seek reelection

Mayor Joe Collins announced in May that he would not seek reelection.

Collins', a Franklin native and a lawyer by trade, graduated from Franklin High School in 1973 and UNC at Chapel Hill in 1977. Ten years later, he received his law degree from Campbell University's School of Law. In 1997, he was elected to the Town Board of Aldermen and served in that capacity until 2003 when he was elected as mayor. Alderman Sissy Pattillo and Alderman Bob Scott would register to run for the vacant seat.

June

Nineteen members of meth trafficking ring face multiple charges in joint investigation

Nineteen members of a methamphetamine trafficking ring were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

The arrests were the result of a multi-agency investigation conducted by DEA, ATF, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, Macon County Sheriff's Office, Jackson County Sheriff's Office, Swain County Sheriff's Office, Franklin Police Department and Cherokee Indian Police Department to target and reduce the trafficking of methamphetamine in Western North Carolina.

According to documents unsealed in the U.S. District Court, from in or about May 2012 to April of 2013, the 19 defendants did knowingly conspire to possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of actual methamphetamine or more than 500 grams of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, which has a street value of $100 per gram.

All 19 defendants in the methamphetamine trafficking ring were charged with engaging in narcotics conspiracy and they were facing a minimum prison term of ten years and a maximum term of life imprisonment, and a $10 million fine.

HB 813 passes N.C. General Assembly to ban synthetic marijuana

House Bill 813 was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory. The law makes it illegal to possess, manufacture, sell, use, and deliver synthetic cannabinoids.

The synthetic cannabinoids, more commonly referred to as synthetic marijuana or “incense” garnered public attention over the last few years across the country and especially in Macon County when local youths spoke out against the drug.

At June's county commissioner meeting, Adrian Martinez and Cassidy Ledford were commended for their awareness campaign against synthetic cannabinoids. The commissioners presented the teens with a copy of the ratified bill that awaits the governor's signature and a framed keep-sake resembling the Macon County flag.

The event that sparked this movement came when a friend's mother contacted the teenagers about her son who had become dependent on the drug.

N.C. Utilities Commission approves Duke rate hike

Customers of Duke Energy began to see their power bills increase as a result of the North Carolina Utilities Commission's decision to allow Duke's rate increase. The commission approved a 7.5 percent increase in utility rates for consumers.

As a result of the increase, a total of $178.7 million, or 5.5 percent average, increase for N.C. customers will be implemented over the next two years. As of June 1, rates had already begun to go up. The first year includes increases of about 4.5 percent, or $147.4 million. Beginning on June 1, 2014, the rates will increase by an additional $31.3 million or 1 percent. Because of this increase, there will also be a return on equity of 10.2 percent and a capital structure of 53 percent equity and 47 percent debt.

At hearings across the state the previous month, the public was given the chance to voice their opinions on the rate hikes and though some applauded Duke for their efforts within the community, most of those in attendance at the Franklin meeting pleaded with the commission not to allow the increase citing the tough economic times that N.C. and its residents are still experiencing.

As a response to this, according to Duke officials, the company will contribute an additional $20 million to help low-income customers in the state pay their energy bills and provide training that improves worker access to jobs and increases the quality of the workforce.

Budget gives schools additional $430,000; Board flip-flops on Burningtown fire tax increase

After weeks of meetings and deliberations among community members and the county commissioners, Macon County officially has a budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. In a vote of 3-2, the budget was put into place and will take effect on July 1. Commissioners Ron Haven and Paul Higdon opposed the budget as presented.

The proposed budget for 2013-2014 fiscal year sat at $47,145,470 to start, but would likely face amendments throughout the year that will change that number. The 2012- 2013 budget that was set to close on June 30 ended at $48,515,476. When it was proposed, it sat at a little more than $44 million. Unexpected costs throughout the year could elevate the final total.

The Macon County Board of Education (BOE) had requested $440,000 more than the $7.1 million that the county had previously granted, a significant decrease from the $9.6 million the school board initially requested. Realizing that teacher positions were going to be cut if an agreement could not be made, the BOE and finance officer Angie Cook whittled the budget down by $914,000.

In the end, the commissioners did not meet the $440,000 request, but they did allow $220,000 to hire back some of the 32 teachers that had been let go because of the budget constraints. Positions that will be open as a result of retirement would be absorbed by the school system.

Commissioners also approved a fire tax increase of .069 per $100 for the Burningtown fire district following a presentation by residents of the community. Paul Higdon, who represents the Burningtown community, voted against the increase citing conversations he had with the community members who were against the increase.

TDA passes budget for 2013-2014 fiscal year

When it came time for Franklin's Tourism Development Authority to pass a budget for the new fiscal year they considered a marketing plan that had been pitched by local firm Premiere Marketing.

The budget that member Josh Drake proposed would give $25,000 to festivals, down from $30,000; $35,000 for digital billboards; $10,000 for Facebook; $15,000 for Google Ad-words; and $15,000 to be put towards “other” means. Leland Rykse seconded the budget, which passed unanimously.

Board of Education begins process of rehiring teachers

After being forced to notify dozens of teachers that their jobs were not guaranteed in the 2013-14 school year because of a lack of funding, after a closed session during their June meeting, the Macon County Board of Education voted to begin the process of hiring those positions that are essential to the education process.

The Board of Education was originally granted $7.1 million from county commissioners for the 2013-14 school year. Because of budget cuts to public education on both the state and federal levels, Macon County was compelled to inform 31 first year teachers that their jobs would not be available in the next school year. In addition to the teachers who were laid off, 11 positions that were held by interim and probationary teachers, would be absorbed completely.

In an attempt to keep staffing as close to the current level as possible, before approving the final budget for the county, commissioners increased the $7.1 million allocation to the school system by $220,000 in order to hire back some of the 31 teachers that were laid off earlier.

Next week: Part II of the Year in Review.





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