op frThis is one tradition that could just die and I don’t think many will care. I’m talking about the recently announced plan by Haywood County Schools to do away with the time-honored ritual of naming a valedictorian and salutatorian.

Haywood joins many school systems across the nation in going this route. Some want to argue that this is more evidence that we are dumbing down our schools and finding ways to tell all students that they are all fantastic and that everyone will succeed.

op frWith the right leadership, it can happen. If the national and regional economy continues chugging along for another few years without a stumble, it can happen.

I’m talking about a rejuvenation of the small east Haywood County town of Canton, where elected leaders are saying they want business growth and new residents. That’s the town dominated by the giant paper mill that sits unabashedly in the town center, the mill that still occasionally emits a smell that envelops the town, the mill that still discolors the Pigeon River.

op frRecently released figures on the impact of tourism in Western North Carolina are encouraging. More visitors are spending more money, and that means new jobs and increased sales tax revenue. 

But there’s even more relevant news for those of us who believe that tourism should be viewed as a long-term, viable industry for the region. A study conducted in Buncombe County found that successful tourism marketing leads to direct increases in more traditional manufacturing jobs. Those jobs are increasingly difficult to attract in this era of cheap overseas labor.

op frI was watching my son’s soccer game last night and the old Al Stewart tune, “Time Passages,” kept running through my head:

Well I’m not the kind to live in the past
The years run too short and the days too fast
The things you lean on, are the things that don’t last
Well it’s just now and then, my line gets cast into these
Time passages.

And so it started last night. It continues this week, and will keep coming around until August 2016. It’s what I’ve been calling the “year of lasts.”

op frI’m sure the founders of Haywood County’s new charter school — Shining Rock Classical Academy — never imagined a week like the one they just had.

Not only was our newspaper challenging them on what we feel sure were violations of the N.C. Open Meetings Law, other media were giving ink and air time to problems at what may become the new location for their school. Seems surveys done at the property damaged the corn crop of the farmer currently leasing the site. Lawyers have gotten involved, meaning the site acquisition process just got more complicated.

op frThe Tribal Council kicked us out again. Holly Kays, a reporter for The Smoky Mountain News, was told on July 9 to leave a meeting of the Cherokee Tribal Council. No meaningful reason was given as to why members of the council did not want our reporter present. 

This is the second time in the last seven months the Tribal Council, under the leadership of Chairwoman Terri Henry, has decided to exclude the media from their meetings. Such actions would be against the law in all 100 counties in North Carolina.

op frThe North Carolina Senate has become emboldened in its partisanship over the last couple of years, and there appears to be no end in sight. Under the leadership of Sen. Phil Berger, the president pro tem, and his troops — including our own Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin — it has ventured so far to the right and is making moves that are so politically heavy-handed that even Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP-controlled state House often call foul.

op frI should get over being astounded by the way the world works. And I’m talking about the good stuff, not the negative.

The package of stories that graced the cover of The Smoky Mountain News last week, “The Golden Children,” is almost allegorical in its arc. Staff writer Holly Kays traveled to an orphanage in a remote part of Bolivia to help do some construction work and spend time with the children. Her reporting about the orphanage — named Kory Wawanaca, which means “Golden Children” — its founder, Carrie Blackburn Brown, and the connection to Western North Carolina and particularly Haywood County, is so touching that it could never be scripted because it would come off as too heartwarming, too many people doing the right thing for all the right reasons.

op frComplicated. Ignorant. Entrenched. It’s easy to come up with words to describe the state of race relations in this country and especially in the South, but some come to mind more easily than others after what happened in Charleston last week. Dylann Storm Roof attended Bible study with black congregants of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and then summarily gunned down nine of those in the group.

And once again we in this country are forced to confront the ugly reality of racism, compelled to search for ways to turn tragedy into change.

op frI remember someone once telling me that all the seemingly trivial, decidedly unimportant choices you make every day prepare you for when the big thing comes along and the right decision might have life-changing consequences. Do right everyday for the right reasons and you’ll most likely do right when that moment arrives. At least we all should hope that’s the way it will turn out.

I think that admonition has more to do with morals and ethics than actual actions, but it still popped into my head when I was editing one of the stories in last week’s paper. I’m referring to the school bus driver in Macon County who may have saved the lives of children and staff at South Macon Elementary School with a singular act of courage.

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