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2015: News in review

coverTime to put a bow on 2015 and call it wrapped. But not just yet, at least not for all of the hundreds of people, events, happenings and mishaps we reported on and covered this past year. A little time perusing the 2015 archives uncovered plenty of fodder for our annual tongue-in-cheek awards, our tribute to all those who held our attention for at least a few moments during the past year.

The Biggest Loser Award

Jonnie Cure made a big splash when she entered the race for Waynesville’s mayor, erecting the largest campaign signs Waynesville has ever seen. These mini-billboards were so big a few had to be moved for impeding the visibility of drivers. 

Cure’s signs were so prolific, they cropped up in unorthodox places — like the lawn of the courthouse, the local middle school, a town park and flower planters on Main Street during a fall festival — where they weren’t legally allowed to be.

The signs were certainly a fitting accouterment for Cure, who’s been a larger-than-life figure in Waynesville. A conservative activist, Cure was railing against government long before railing against government was trendy.

However, her run for mayor was the first time she stepped into the ring to take on town hall from the inside, instead of, in her words “always being on the outside, shouting through the windows.”

It didn’t go so well for Cure, however, who lost to Mayor Gavin Brown in a landslide of 1,394 votes to 216.

Cure gave new meaning to the saying “Go big or go home.” She went big … and went home.

 

The Homecoming Queen Award

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park gets this one, because if it were a teenage girl, it would be the most popular kid in school. 

The Smokies — the most visited of America’s national parks — is set to hit record numbers of visitation this year, topping the 10 million mark for the second year in a row. As of the end of November, visitation for 2015 had already reached a level 12 percent higher than for the entire year of 2011. With the National Park Service rolling out a big media push to promote its centennial in 2016 and gas prices projected to stay low, visitation is likely to continue rising, bringing both opportunity and challenge to a cash-strapped national park. 

 

The Jedi Award

When Tribal Council adjourned Oct. 29, councilmembers were in support of a study looking at legalizing marijuana for recreational, medicinal and industrial use. Completely, for sure, totally in support. After all, they’d voted unanimously to approve funding.

Until Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, the recipient of this award, vetoed the decision. Using what might be best described as Jedi-like powers of persuasion reminiscent of the famous “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for” line from the movie, Lambert not only got enough councilmembers on his side to keep council from getting the two-thirds majority it would need to overturn his veto — he got an 11-1 vote to uphold his decision. 

The reason they should uphold the veto, he told council, was the piece in there about recreational use. Permitting the recreational sale and use of the drug would “create a haven for outsiders to come onto our boundary and use an otherwise illegal substance,” he wrote. “The detrimental impacts this would have on our communities is immeasurable in its human toll.” 

Lambert indicated that he might support legalized medical marijuana, and the group Common Sense Cannabis, which submitted the original resolution, plans to create a new version that focuses on the medical component. So the issue is not dead, but the Force never dies either. 

 

Michele Knows Best Award

She doesn’t live at Lake Junaluska, and technically doesn’t even represent Waynesville. But that hasn’t stopped N.C. Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, from bestowing her wisdom from afar. 

Presnell has blockaded the merger of Lake Junaluska with the town of Waynesville for three years running. Not one to let pesky details get in the way of a good old-fashioned hunch, Presnell has discounted things like engineering reports, financial economies of scale and the people’s own wishes — insisting she’s saving both the Lake and the town from what’s in fact a bad deal for both of them.

Presnell even blocked the latest version of a merger bill that called for the chance to let residents decide for themselves by holding a vote.

 

Big Cojones Award

Franklin Mayor Bob Scott never imagined his swearing-in ceremony would cause uproar in the community. All he did was place his hand on the Constitution while swearing to uphold the same document, but it’s what he didn’t do that has many Christians throwing stones at Scott. While it’s traditional to place your hand upon the Bible to take an oath, Scott said he thought it made more sense to swear on the document he is supposed to uphold as mayor.

In a region sometimes described as the buckle of the Bible Belt, many have questioned his personal religious beliefs, accused him of not having morals and said he is an embarrassment to Franklin. For someone who has given more than 12 years of service to the town he loves, the lambasting has been tough for Scott to understand. 

As a former journalist, Scott has an immense respect for the First Amendment. He said he would stand up for anyone’s right to take an oath on the Bible, the Quran or any other religious text because that’s their personal right. So it’s a bit ironic that his critics are acting as though his actions are an attack on Christianity.   

It takes courage and conviction to stand up for something you believe in — especially when you know it isn’t going to be a popular decision among your conservative and religious constituency. The second-term mayor has had overwhelming support in office and was even unopposed in the last election. His decision will probably cost the well-liked mayor some support in the next election, but Scott refuses to make decisions based on political games.

He could have placed his beliefs on the backburner by swearing on a Bible and moving on, but he should be commended for having the backbone to hold fast to his principles no matter the consequences. 

 

Animal House Award

Just like the frat brothers in the National Lampoon movie, members of the Pi Kappa Alpha chapter at Western Carolina University have had their share of misteps, earning the fraternity this award. 

From a pledge’s claim that PKA members had waterboarded him — he said they forced him to recite the frat’s preamble while holding a running water hose to his mouth — to a fist-fight that resulted in assault charges against two frat brothers and left freshman Zachary Denson, who was not a member of PKA, with injuries rendering him unable to finish the semester, the frat’s had its share of press time this year. And that’s not even mentioning PKA’s troubles in 2010, when the university found the frat guilty of violating multiple policies. PKA was stripped of recognition until spring 2014, just one year before losing its status once again. 

This spring, WCU handed the fraternity a five-year suspension, and the national fraternity later suspended the chapter was well. That means members can’t meet on PKA business or use the frat’s marks. If the Council votes to revoke the chapter’s charter at its next big meeting in 2016, this installment of Animal House could be headed toward the ending credits. 

 

Where’s Waldo Award

A hometown version of Where’s Waldo has been all the rage in Haywood County this year, but instead of searching for the quirky cartoon character in red-and-white stripes, this game centers around sightings of Mike Matthews, the newly elected Haywood County tax collector.

County officials went public with their irritation over Matthews’ spotty office attendance record this year, claiming he’s at work less than 50 percent of the time.

Matthews countered that the county officials are “full of shit” and are still bitter that he won election as tax collector. He beat out the long-time tax collector in a shocking upset election last year.

While Matthews is a county employee — he makes $55,000 a year — because he’s elected he can’t be fired or even reprimanded until his elected term is up. Matthews said county commissioners will just have to “suck it up for the next three years.”

Haywood County is the last county in the state that still elects its tax collector.

 

WTF Award

December 2015 wins this award, as most of us are still just coming up empty on how to explain a month of Florida-like weather when it’s December in the Smokies.

Let’s see, this crazy month of weather is responsible for dashing the plans of children everywhere for a white (or even a cool) Christmas, dealing out a stocking full of coal to the local ski area that counts on the rush of holiday business to make its season profitable, throwing a curve ball to Mother Nature as flowers and shrubbery are already blooming, forcing people into attics to retrieve warm-weather clothing, and essentially smirking at everyone who kept telling themselves it was eventually going to get cold in December. 

It never did, and instead we’ve been dealing with flooding and incessant rain as the month draws to a close. The historic average high temperature for December in the region is 49 degrees; this year only two days were below that mark, and many days were almost 20 degrees above average. What the f*@#?>

Oz the Great and Powerful Award

Just as the character in the classic “The Wizard of Oz” movie, it seemed as though Canton Mayor Mike Ray was trying to control everything from behind the big curtain during the last election. However, once Dorothy and her crew pulled back the cloak of secrecy, they realized Oz didn’t possess the power he claimed to have.

Ray is serving his second term as mayor after running unopposed in 2011 and 2013. Many respect his opinion as a lifelong Canton resident and businessman. Even though the mayor only has a vote on the town board in the event of a tie, Ray’s input into town business has carried a lot of weight in the past. Ray tried to throw that weight around during the 2015 municipal election by supporting the two challenging candidates instead of the two incumbents running for re-election.

While Ray wouldn’t come out and say he would rather have the challengers in office than see incumbents back on the board, he did admit to making monetary contributions to the challengers. Alderman Ralph Hamlett and Alderwoman Gail Mull said Ray did not make any contributions to their respective campaigns. 

Of course there is nothing wrong with the mayor openly supporting other candidates if they are the best for the job, but Ray never could explain his reasoning behind encouraging Kate Brown and Neal McCracken to run against the incumbents. Mull and Hamlett felt like the board and Ray had the same goals during the last two years in office and had accomplished many of those goals together. Meanwhile, the candidates challenging them for office didn’t really offer any new ideas that the current board wasn’t already working toward. 

So what was this divide really about? The incumbents’ best guess was that it had to do with Ray’s discontent with the new town manager Seth Hendler-Voss. If Ray could get two of his supporters on the board to replace Mull and Hamlett — who fully support Hendler-Voss’ leadership — he could theoretically have the majority vote to fire the manager. 

Although Ray said Hendler-Voss had room for improvement, he denied allegations that he was trying to get the challengers elected so he could fire the manager. In the end, the incumbents were re-elected and the current board can continue on its path down the yellow brick road toward a brighter future for Canton.   

 

Go Ahead, Make My Day Award

Alice Bradley definitely channeled her inner Clint Eastwood back in June when she went above the call of duty to ensure South Macon Elementary School wouldn’t be in danger. 

Bradley has been a bus driver for Macon County Schools for nearly 30 years and treats all of her students as her own children. Perhaps it was that motherly instinct that made Bradley risk her own life to protect the school against armed intruders in the early morning hours of June 4.

She was warming up her bus around 5 a.m. before heading out on her morning route when she saw two heavily armed suspects coming toward her. She jumped into her personal vehicle and got in the floorboard to hide, but when she looked up again, the two suspects were heading for her bus. 

Not wanting them to take off with her bus, Bradley cranked up her car and charged at the two gunmen like she was going to run them over. The plan may have been unsafe and reactionary, but it worked. She chased the intruders away from the bus and away from the school until law enforcement officers arrived and apprehended them. 

Based on police interviews with the two gunmen — Adam Conley and Kathryn Jetter — intended to shoot students and staff “if it was God’s will.” 

Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland and Macon County commissioners have recognized Bradley for her bravery during the incident. She went on to win the Heroism Award from the National Association for Pupil Transportation and served as the grand marshal in Franklin’s Christmas parade this year. 

Bradley remains humble about all the honors being bestowed upon her, which makes her even more of an inspiration in the community. 

“I feel like I didn’t do anything someone else wouldn’t have done, but evidently they feel like I did,” she said in a previous interview.

 

Fall from Grace Award

Controversy erupted at award winner Western Carolina University this year when a conservative foundation backed by the Koch brothers offered to put up $2 million to found a free enterprise center on campus. Free enterprise sounds benign, but its tenets are rooted in the Libertarian economic agenda the Kochs espouse.

Many faculty objected to taking the money, fearing the university would be corrupted and manipulated as part of the Koch propaganda machine. The professor behind the plan, Dr. Ed Lopez — who has long-standing ties to the Koch network — vehemently insisted any research and teachings that came out of the Koch-backed center would be entirely objective.

WCU administration and trustees decided to take the money.

 

I heart Jackson County Award

The search process to land a director for the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority might have been a long one, but in the end the TDA reeled in Jackson County’s biggest cheerleader for the position — Nick Breedlove, recipient of this award. 

Born in Sylva, a graduate of Western Carolina University and — until a couple weeks ago — mayor of Webster, Breedlove is a homegrown act. Though only 30 years old, his resume also includes 13 years as a reporter and photographer for The Sylva Herald, owner of a photography business and head of NB Management. He formed the corporation in preparation to bid for the director’s job, which the TDA initially awarded as a one-year contracted position. 

As director, Breedlove will be responsible for planning Jackson’s future in tourism and selling the county as a destination. Though he stops short of brandishing pom-poms or wearing an “I heart Jackson County” T-shirt, it’s hard to imagine a more enthusiastic candidate for the position. 

“I don’t just reside here. This place is home to me and I absolutely love it,” Breedlove told the TDA board earlier this month. “I can’t think of a place I would rather live than Jackson County.”

 

Oh No You Didn’t Award

This one goes to the group behind a lawsuit filed this October against a slew of current and former leaders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Their protests against the salary bumps Tribal Council gave itself were shut down, but they didn’t let that stop them. They took the matter to court. 

Tribal Council’s October 2014 vote to hand its members $10,000 raises and fat backpay checks — backpay was also given to Principal Chief Michell Hicks, Vice Chief Larry Blythe and four former councilmembers — was a quiet one, but reaction from tribal members was swift. They showed up in force at council meetings following the decision, demanding explanation for what they saw as an action that went directly against the tribe’s Charter and Governing Document. 

The ensuing debate involved gavel-banging, the filing of formal protests by two councilmembers and the exclusion of multiple media outlets, though the proceedings continued to be streamed live online. The Smoky Mountain News reporter was given a police escort off the premises. 

After it had become apparent she and others who felt the same way would get nowhere with Tribal Council, Cherokee tribal member Peggy Hill asked council, frustrated, “Where do we go now? What do we do now?”

“If you choose to bring a lawsuit against the tribal council, you have the right to do that,” then-Chairwoman Terri Henry had responded.

Hill and the others who joined her in forming the EBCI for Justice and Accountability did just that, in April having a letter sent warning councilmembers that if the raises were not rescinded and backpay returned, a suit would be filed in Tribal Court. 

The raises were not rescinded, and the backpay was not returned. A suit was filed. Fifteen people given raises and/or backpay were named as individuals, with former Finance Director Kim Peone named in her professional capacity as well. 

Judging by discussions that have taken place in council chambers since the suit’s filing, it seems likely that sovereign immunity will play a part in the defense. Because the alleged offense happened in the course of the defendants’ duties as elected officials — with the exception of Peone, whose position is appointed — the tribe’s sovereign immunity, which protects its government from suit, could come into play. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss earlier this month.

But one thing’s for sure: The EBCI for Justice and Accountability won’t go down without a fight. 

 

Friends in Low Places Award

Frog Level merchants in Waynesville pitched a fit this year over a homeless encampment in their midst stymieing their attempts to revitalize the eclectic commercial district in the outskirts of downtown.

While Garth Brook cherished his “Friends in Low Places,” the Frog Level merchants were fed up with the public drunkenness, homeless people sleeping in the bushes and public urination. They blamed the soup kitchen the Open Door for enticing the homeless people to the neighborhood with the lure of free meals.

 

Robert Frost Award

As the famous poet wrote, “good, soundproof fences make good neighbors.” Well, maybe Frost didn’t use the word “soundproof,” but if he had the line would sum up Sylva resident Drew Hooper’s philosophy — at least when it comes to one particular neighbor, No Name Sports Pub. 

Hooper has lived in his house off of Skyland Drive for 30 years, but ever since the bar opened in 2010, he said, his quality of life has been driven way down by what he termed the “loud hollering and noise and cussing” emanating from No Name. 

Hooper and No Name owner Gregg Fuller went head-to-head this year over the issue, with Fuller contending that Hooper was out to get him, angry more because a dog of his had been killed crossing the road to eat scraps from the bar than because of the noise. After that incident, Hooper fenced his yard. Fuller told the town board he’d done everything possible to soundproof his building and work with the neighbors, even cancelling No Name’s music acts for a while following that town meeting. Meanwhile, Hooper presented the town with a petition bearing 50 signatures to show he wasn’t the only one who had a problem with No Name. 

The controversy brought up a larger discussion about the town’s noise ordinance. The language was too subjective, Fuller said. No Name launched a petition asking Sylva to change its noise ordinance to set specific decibel and duration limits, but the ordinance has not changed. 

These days, music is back at No Name and the noise violations were dismissed. 

 

Showstopper Award

Though Brasstown will ring in this New Year in the traditional manner — lowering a plexiglass case containing a live opossum — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals did its best to save the star of the annual Possum Drop from its fate and last year kept Possum Drop possum-free. For that, PETA gets this award. 

This will be the 22nd year Clay’s Corner General Store has sponsored the alcohol-free, possum-centered New Year’s Eve event, but when its existence came to PETA’s attention, the animal rights group took action against the “abhorrent” event that it believes constitutes animal cruelty. It first filed suit in 2012, claiming the drop violated state wildlife laws. When the N.C. General Assembly passed a 2013 law to exempt Clay County from possum-related laws between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 each year, another round in courts followed, PETA decrying the legislation as favoritism. The Legislature responded by passing another law, extending the possum rules exemption across the entire state. 

The issue is still playing out in court, but for this year the folks of Brasstown will have themselves a live possum. After the event, the marsupial will get checked over by a vet before its release, but there’s no word on whether it will also be given a bodyguard to protect it from subsequent run-ins with roads. 

 

Sticker Shock Award

“And how much will that cost?” has been a common question in Jackson County’s commissioner chambers this year, earning the board this award. 

Renovating the old Drexel factory, building a new Health Department building, revamping the Skyland Services Center, adding onto the Green Energy Park, expanding the Justice Center, replacing roofs in the school system, building a new animal shelter — the number of wish-listed capital projects is quite extensive. 

But wait, there’s more. With the county’s real estate values set to tank in 2016 as new, post-recession tax values go into effect, commissioners will be faced with the possibility of raising tax rates to keep its budget the same. That will make prioritization and justification of expenditures all the more important. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to building projects, Black Friday discounts are hard to find. 

 

The Stop the Presses! Award

It made for an exciting day of work Dec. 11, 2014, when an attempt by The Smoky Mountain News to cover a meeting of Cherokee Tribal Council ended with the reporter being excluded from council chambers and escorted from the building by a police officer. 

So, too, did July 9, when council once more denied the reporter’s request to sit in on the meeting. Then there was Aug. 6, when council allowed the reporter to stay only after spending 15 minutes criticizing the newspaper on live television. No substantial reasons were given for these exclusions, though they did all follow publication of news stories unflattering to some actions of Tribal Council. 

For all of this, the 2013-15 Cherokee Tribal Council gets the Stop the Presses! Award. 

Free press has long been a struggle in Cherokee, as well as on Native American lands across the country. Laws allowing a free press are on the books in Cherokee, but enforcement often depends on the priorities of those in power. And because the Cherokee newspaper is owned by the tribal government, that government is used to interacting with a different model of hometown paper than exists in many other places. 

The 2015 election brought a turnover in membership to Tribal Council as well as new administration in the executive branch. In the three months since the new councilmembers have been seated, The Smoky Mountain News has been allowed to stay at all the meetings it has attended; the current administration campaigned in favor of solidifying a free press in Cherokee. However, no changes have yet been made to portions of Cherokee code dealing with free press or to the Cherokee One Feather’s place in the tribe’s organizational chart. 

Though as it stands now, even when we’re kicked out, The Smoky Mountain News can watch what’s happening in council chambers as it streams live online. 

 

The Beating a Dead Horse Award

Sylva’s Main Street — or, more specifically, its one-way traffic pattern — gets this one in recognition of the endless discussion and study it’s endured over the past couple years. 

The N.C. Department of Transportation finished a study in 2014 looking into the possibility of changing Main Street back to the two-way thoroughfare it was in the 1950s, and later that year Sylva commissioned another study on the same topic from J.M. Teague Engineering. Similar studies had been done in 1996 and in 1977, but Main Street has remained one way. 

The discussion, in town board meetings and the two public hearings held on the topic this year always tread the same circular ground. Two-way traffic is said to be better for business, but Mill Street merchants would likely get shorted if traffic bypassed them. The street isn’t wide enough for modern cars to travel both directions and also park, and how would delivery trucks make turns? Nearly everyone, it seemed, was against two-way traffic on Main Street — though many said the town should look at increasing parking capacity — but the subject continued to turn up at town hall. 

By all accounts, the topic is now down for the count — though, if the past is any indication, a resurrection is still possible. 

 

The Alamo Award

It’s been battered, it’s been bruised, but the Jackson County Green Energy Park is still standing, earning it this award. 

Launched in 2006 as a way to turn methane gas from the recently closed landfill into something valuable — methane fuels blacksmithing forges, a foundry and a glassblowing workshop — the Green Energy Park enjoyed a few years in the sun as the golden child of the board of county commissioners sitting at the time. 

But when the 2010 elections brought a board more critical of the park — the majority saw the park as a cash drain on the county that amounted to government subsidy of private artisan businesses — the Green Energy Park came under fire. The park was hit with a $44,000 cut in county contribution in the new board’s first year of office. The next year, $53,000 less was given. The next year, $34,000 less. 

However, the Green Energy Park weathered the storm and saw a $44,022 increase in its budget this year with a new board in office. The board is also considering building an addition to the park. It’s quite possible the Green Energy Park’s ultimate fate will be much different than that of its award’s namesake.

 

The Duh! Award

After several years of trying to revive Ghost Town in the Sky, owner Alaska Presley has finally come to grips with the fact that the outdated amusement park can’t survive and thrive if it continues to use the same tired old tricks. 

For several decades Maggie Valley’s economy relied on Ghost Town to bring in tourists, but what was popular in the ’70s and ’80s is no longer relevant to current audiences. The western motif doesn’t make sense anymore, which is one of the reasons Presley’s plans to revive Ghost Town haven’t worked since she bought it out of foreclosure in 2012. 

When Ghost Town announced its plans last month to rebrand the western town as an Appalachian Village, the overall response was “Duh!” With local icons like Popcorn Sutton and a history of moonshining in the valley, highlighting that heritage makes perfect sense for Ghost Town and for Maggie Valley. The old gunfighters will be replaced with outlaw moonshiners and the saloon girl entertainment will be replaced by bluegrass. 

Another obstacle Presley has had a hard time overcoming is the ticket prices to enter the park. A $25 ticket was once justified when Ghost Town had carnival rides and plenty of entertainment, but now the only things left on top of the mountain are a few kiddie rides and the old western town. Ghost Town Village now plans to offer $10 tickets, which basically pays for the chairlift to take you up the mountain. With a 20-minute ascent and beautiful views, it’s a good deal. 

Ghost Town promises to have plenty of live entertainment, restaurants and retail shops in the new Appalachian Village, which will hopefully entice locals and tourists to visit the attraction throughout the year. Presley has always said her No. 1 goal when buying Ghost Town was to help Maggie Valley’s economy, and hopefully with these changes she’ll be able to do so. 

 

The Freaky Friday Award

This one goes to Patrick Lambert and Michell Hicks, who, like Lindsey Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis’ characters in the film, got the chance to experience life in one another’s shoes — almost. 

Until stepping down to run for chief, Lambert had served as executive director of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Tribal Gaming Commission. Hicks, on the tail end of his 12 years as principal chief, was named to take over Lambert’s old job as TGC director, the highest-paying position in Cherokee. 

But the switch never happened. Hours after his inauguration, Lambert asked Tribal Council to remove all three members of the TGC board, which had hired Hicks. Council complied unanimously, approving Lambert’s appointments for replacement members. The new board was quick to yank Hicks’ offer of employment. 

The former TGC members protested, pointing out that they’d used an outside firm to rank the applications and merely offered the job to the top-ranked candidate, who, incidentally, had not been Hicks. Hicks was made an offer after salary negotiations with the first pick failed. But many tribal members felt Hicks hadn’t been honest with money during his time in office and said the hiring process itself represented a conflict of interest, as Hicks had appointed the board members and negotiated his salary while still holding office. 

 

The Mission Accomplished Award

When Haywood County commissioners unveiled a plan to create a few dozen low-skill jobs sorting tin cans and bottles, they were ready to unfurl the Mission Accomplished banner — just like George Bush during his infamous victory speech on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

But we know now the Iraq war was far from over, and the jobs commissioners had so proudly announced would ultimately go up in smoke.

A plan to sell off land in the county industrial park to a private recycling sorting plant was considered all but a done deal when initially announced. After all, landing new jobs in a depressed economy is tantamount to finding the Holy Grail.

But instead of being cheered, the proposal unleashed a furry of grassroots opposition — an angry mob of more than 150 people packed a public hearing in protest — that led to the project’s unraveling.

 

The “He Said, She Said” Award

When questions arose this spring about who was responsible for enforcing Jackson County’s steep slope ordinance, finger-pointing and blame-shifting promptly ensued, earning this award for the county’s Permitting and Code Enforcement Department and Planning Department. 

The issue blew up after former planning director Gerald Green sent in his two-week notice in May. During Green’s last planning board meeting, he brought up the fact that Tony Elders, director of the Permitting and Code Enforcement Department, had not been enforcing the county’s steep slope ordinance. Elders said that was Green’s job. Green replied that back in 2012, when his department split off from Elders’, he’d been told not to enforce those rules, that it was Elders’ responsibility now.

Other questions later arose about Elders’ office. He hadn’t been collecting some of the paperwork on construction the state requires, and he also disagreed with Green on the legality of a construction project in Dillsoboro. Green said it shouldn’t be allowed under the steep slope rules, with Elders maintaining that it was grandfathered into the rules governing construction before the county’s 2007 steep slope ordinance passed. 

Jackson County commissioners then requested a performance audit to investigate goings-on in the two departments. The report came back saying that, while errors had been made, there was no nefarious intent. However, the company put forth a number of recommendations for improvement, some of which the county is now implementing. 

 

J. Edgar Hoover Award

The ringleader of Haywood County’s self-proclaimed “tyranny response unit” has taken a page from Hoover’s playbook, wielding the tools of intimidation and harassment to keep political foes in line.

Monroe Miller and his band of conservative activists are always at the ready, waiting to pounce on any poor sap who draws a government paycheck. Those who speak up to defend Miller’s target du jour run the risk of having the tables turned on them next. 

Forget the secret files and covert recordings of Hoover’s day, however. These days, fabricated claims of malfeasance and conspiracy theories about local corruption get posted online and plastered over mass emails.

Miller’s snarky keyboard lashings landed him in court earlier this year on cyber stalking charges, but a judge threw it out, claiming it was protected political speech.

Miller went to the trouble of getting the charges officially expunged from the criminal record.

“My record is now, once again, as clean as the driven snow. It would be appreciated if you wrote a front page piece on this (expunction) like the ones you created when I was arrested on this charge,” Miller wrote to local media outlets on his website Toeprints last week.

 

Manifest Destiny Award

A takeover of the Haywood County Republican Party by a bloc of conservative ideologues was both righteous and inevitable. It was the fulfillment of a moral calling to wrest the party from the clutches of liberals masquerading as Republicans and set it on a pure and uncompromising path.

At least that’s how John O’Sullivan, the journalist who coined the term manifest destiny, would tell it if he were around today. But in reality, the new guard of Haywood’s GOP is hard-pressed to claim a mandate, as they really only won by default.

Two years of party infighting culminated in a showdown this year between two camps — the mainstream Republicans and a new guard with libertarian, Tea Party leanings.

A Haywood GOP convention would finally settle who would rule the party. 

While the new guard rallied its troops for battle, legions of disaffected Republicans tired of the tug-of-war and the discord simply walked away, handing over the party rather than deal with the bickering.

A takeover of the party was a self-fulfilling prophecy in the end. As for changes the new guard’s made: “Waterboarding Instructor” T-shirts are now for sale at the GOP booth at local festivals.

 

The Straightshooter Award

This might seem an unlikely award to bestow upon a lawyer, but Western Carolina University’s attorney Mary Ann Lochner earned it for her explanation of why the board of trustees should expand the university’s tailgating zone. 

“We want to drink in more places than we currently do,” Lochner told the board’s Administration, Governance and Trusteeship Committee in March. “What else? Are there more questions?”

Her presentation led to a unanimous vote to approve the Belk Building parking lot as a new space for tailgating. The move was spurred by increased attendance at football games, due to rising enrollment and better performance from the marching band and football team, which had a 7-4 record this year. 

 

The Heart of Darkness Award

Undercover wildlife agents aiming to infiltrate bear poaching circles in the backwoods of Western North Carolina nearly came up empty-handed. But like the characters in Joseph Conrad’s famous novel, they went rogue, becoming the very image of the native savages they sought.

Undercover agents with state and federal wildlife agencies enticed hunters to break the law, often engaging in bear poaching themselves and then pinning it on the hunters they’d befriended. A state and federal probe into allegations of entrapment followed, and Operation Something Bruin will live in infamy as a compromised mission.

 

The Tickle Me Elmo Award

Hiking the Appalachian Trail used to be an accomplishment that only a select few could claim, but these days doing the trail has become something of a fad — like the Tickle Me Elmo, the namesake for the A.T.’s award. 

In 1977, fewer than 100 people hiked the trail’s entire 2,189-mile length. Compare that to 2013, when nearly 900 made the trip. The number of hikers who begin the trail but drop out somewhere along the way is far higher. In 2016, numbers are expected to surge by somewhere between 30 and 60 percent. 

Many factors are at play in the trail’s rising popularity, but movies and books are one of the biggest, with the release of works glorifying the A.T. and other long-distance hikes historically coinciding with spikes in the number of hikers. That’s what’s at play with the projected influx for 2016. The September movie “A Walk in the Woods,” which chronicles the adventures of a pair of out-of-shape older men as they attempt to hike the trail, is expected to inspire a lot of people to give the A.T. a go. 

By all accounts, the trail’s popularity is set to last a good bit longer than that of the Tickle Me Elmo.

 

Dawg Gone Time Award

For many years, Swain County has put the leash before the dog when it comes to addressing animal control issues. 

Commissioners have tried a number of temporary fixes to tackling the problem, but without any kind of animal control ordinance in place, all of the attempts have fallen through. With more and more complaints popping up about stray dogs and feral cats throughout the county, commissioners finally agreed to try solving the issue once and for all. Many would say it’s about dang time, as Swain is only one of two counties left in North Carolina without an animal control ordinance.

Commissioner Ben Bushyhead took the charge this year of coming up with an ordinance everyone could be happy with, which is a tall order when it comes to balancing nuisance animals with personal property rights. With a committee formed to explore different options, the public meetings held to gather input have gotten serious … but still pretty funny at times. 

Everyone wants some kind of recourse when a nuisance dog is damaging their property, but no one wants to be held accountable for their own dog when it wanders off their property. A draft ordinance is nearly complete and more public meetings will be held once the document is available to the public. Even if an ordinance is passed, the county will still have to deal with the lack of infrastructure needed to enforce such an ordinance. Currently the county has no animal control officers or a shelter to house stray animals. That will be a whole other dog and pony show. 

 

The Finders Keepers Award

This goes to Innovation Brewing in Sylva, a small brewery making upwards of 500 barrels a year, which filed a federal trademark application to register its brand name, Innovation Brewing. In opposition of the application, Bell’s Brewery, a Kalamazoo, Michigan-based microbrewery powerhouse producing upwards of 310,000 barrels a year, felt it had common law ownership of the word “innovation” in terms of the craft beer industry, seeing as it’s used the word in their marketing (“Bottling innovation since 1985”) for several years already. Bell’s also claims it’s trademarked slogan “Inspired Brewing” may also confuse consumers when comparing the two breweries.

This dispute has been dragged out into social media, with a microscope of worldwide media attention being placed over both companies. It is the timeless tale of “David versus Goliath,” with public opinion and ramped-up legal teams throwing gasoline on what began as a small spark of controversy between Innovation and Bell’s. 

The case is still currently in a holding pattern in the courts after mounting lawyer fees (in the tens of thousands of dollars), with no clear resolution in sight.

 

The Book is Always Better than the Movie Award

Just because something looks good on paper doesn’t mean it’ll work in method, as is the case with this award winner, the book Serena by acclaimed author Ron Rash.

The novel, a Great Depression-era murder drama amid the Western North Carolina logging industry, was a New York Times bestseller, and the film roped in two of the hottest stars in modern-day cinema — Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. 

Even though Rash wrote the book, once he sold the movie rights, the story, and its fate, was out of his control. Add in post-production delays, editing issues, a moving target for a release date, a heap of bad reviews and a lack of marketing and promotion, and you have yourself a $30 million Hollywood production falling through the cracks of 21st-century pop culture. 

Upon viewing the film, one is easily lost in the plot points, where rather large segments of the story are rushed through to get to the next scene. Characters are thrown into and out of the film as if a tornado rolled through the screenwriting process. And those main actors that do put the film on their shoulders barely scratch the surface of the people they portray. Granted, the cinematography and mountainous landscape are beautiful, but that is all too easily dismissed with simple dialogue, a cheesy panther attack that appears to be computer-generated, and not to mention the bear hunting scene, which shows a grizzly being shot at (an animal not native or documented to have existed in Western North Carolina).

 

Magellan Award

A young bull elk with a case of wanderlust was on the adventure of a lifetime when he struck out from the green pastures of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a cross-country voyage this summer. But like Magellan, he would never make it home from the expedition.

Venturing more than 60 miles to the Nantahala community of Macon County, he tucked into a ripe cornfield that would ultimately prove his demise. After day three of watching the elk feast on his corn, the farmer hauled off and shot him.

The ill-fated elk isn’t the first pioneer to ply unchartered waters, nor the first one to stray into unwanted territory. Following their reintroduction in the Smokies 15 years ago, the elk have more than tripled in number from their original herd of 50 and expanded their range, leading to increased run-ins between wayward elk and landowners.

 

007 Award

Rangers weren’t taking any chances when it came to tracking down the black bear that mauled a camper in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer. They had a license to kill. 

Given the nature of the bear attack, they were told to shoot first, ask questions later. A bear had dragged a sleeping teenage boy from his hammock by his head. He was saved by his dad, who jumped on the bear’s back and repeatedly wailed on it until it let go.

During stakeouts of the backcountry campsite in Swain County where the mauling occurred, two bears returned to the scene of the crime over the next couple days. Both were shot on a presumption of guilt. 

One of them, obviously, wasn’t the right one, according to DNA tests that came back a week later.

The other bear they shot ran off and couldn’t be tracked after a rainstorm came up. Rangers believe that bear was in fact the right one based on DNA recovered from the bullet.

The teenager was expected to make a full recovery aside from facial scars.

 

Smoke and Mirrors Award

Waynesville leaders made a noble statement this year by banning smoking on town sidewalks. Smokers shouldn’t foist their habit on the general public by stinking up the sidewalks everyone has to share, so the reasoning went.

No one seems to be racing for the ashtray, however.

The town pledged to gently “educate” the public about the smoking ban — like handing out friendly no smoking brochures during the Waynesville Christmas parade — rather than crack the whip on offenders.

Smokers are either undeterred by the new ban or haven’t gotten the memo.

 

Paul Revere Award

A proposal to sell off land in the Haywood County industrial park outside Canton to a private recycling sorting plant proved fatally flawed, thanks to a grassroots army that sounded the alarm.

The controversial plan to import trash, mine it for recyclables and ship it back out brought together demographics that rarely — if ever — intersect in Haywood County. Natives and newcomers, hippy environmentalists and staunch conservatives, old-school farmers and new-age types, local laborers and Asheville business commuters united to save their community’s character.

From Facebook forums to old-fashioned community meetings, the opponents launched a campaign to defeat the proposal, and in the process, turned up a critical detail.

The promise of bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes was a top rationale for selling off the industrial park land. But county leaders failed to realize recycling plants are exempt from local property taxes. It was a bombshell moment when opponents shared this fact during a public hearing, a revelation that ultimately proved to be the project’s death knell.

 

The Mulligan Award

The infamous median in front of McDonald’s on Russ Avenue in Waynesville seemed like the perfect fix to an imperfect problem when it was put in several years ago. Lured by the siren song of Big Macs and Egg McMuffins, drivers were throwing caution to the wind, throttling across oncoming traffic and causing a rash of accidents in their fast food quest.

While a median put an end to the ill-fated left turns, it had a downside: it was built on top of the turn lane leading to Ingles. The waiting queue of grocery-bound motorists was clogging the busy thoroughfare, causing back-ups.

So the DOT took another stab at the median this year, tearing up the old one and building it back with a slimmer profile — it’s more of a long, thin parking bumper down the middle of the road than a true median — restoring the vital turn-lane capacity for Ingles while still putting the brakes on McDonald’s dare devils.

 

Rage Against the Machine Award

When mentioning the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad to a local in Bryson City, be prepared to receive an earful. 

Since the railroad moved its depot from Dillsboro to downtown Bryson City more than five years ago, the company has made promises and enemies all over town. Not everyone is resentful of the train — it has brought hundreds of thousands of tourists to town throughout the years — but many residents and businesses feel like the train gets special treatment when it comes to financial assistance and governmental cooperation.

The major train controversy this year has been the potential closure of Fry Street, which is located between the train depot and several downtown businesses. The railroad owns all the storefront and roadway property, but asked the town board to relinquish its right of way on the street so they can shut it down to vehicle traffic. The railroad and the Swain County Tourism Development Authority hatched a plan to turn the area into a pedestrian plaza, which would improve safety concerns. 

Everyone agrees it’s a great plan, but those opposed to the street closure don’t trust the train to follow through with its promise. Maybe it would be different if the railroad was willing to pay for the construction project, but the plan is for the TDA and railroad to apply for grants in the future. In the meantime, Bryson City residents and business owners don’t want the street to be shut down without being assured improvements will be made to the area. The topic has made for two heated public hearings with strong opinions on both sides. Bryson City Alderman Rick Bryson has called it the most controversial issue he’s seen while on the board. 

It wouldn’t be the first time the railroad has made grand plans that haven’t come to fruition. Opposition to the Fry Street closure keep reminding people of the railroad’s 2012 promise to rehabilitate an old steam engine and install a turntable on the railroad tracks downtown. The county pitched in $700,000 through a low-interest loan to build the turntable but the steam engine still isn’t in place. 

 

Hometown Hero Award

When Macon County native Ashley Welch was elected District Attorney of the 30th Judicial District in a landslide victory, constituents weren’t too concerned about whether she would do a good job. They were more concerned with whether Welch would keep the DA’s office based at the Haywood County Courthouse. Historically, the DA’s main office has been in Haywood County because it’s the largest county with the most cases in the district.

However, Welch resides in Franklin and immediately began making plans for more office space in the Macon County Courthouse. Macon County News reported that the DA’s office was moving to Macon County for the first time in state and the county commissioners were more than thrilled to accommodate Welch’s needs. They approved about $1,000 worth of renovations in the courthouse so she could locate a couple more staff members there and thanked her for staying in Macon County. From the territorial comments about Welch’s new digs, you would have thought she was moving the entire office, but Welch said the Haywood County courthouse would still be fully staffed. She likened the adjustments to having two DA headquarters on either side of the district and claimed to divide her time equally between the offices. She may even spend more time on the road than behind any of her desks. 

It’s understandable why Macon County officials would want to lay claim to Welch’s home base — she’s smart, young, hardworking and homegrown. 

 

Oliver Twist Award

This wasn’t the first year Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran has asked for a raise — and it’s not the first time he’s been turned down either. 

During this year’s budget process, Cochran sent commissioners a written request for a $20,000 raise to his $73,000 annual salary. Cochran said his request was completely justified. 

“I know it sounds like a lot of money, but if you figure the time spent on the job it is not a high hourly rate,” Cochran wrote in the letter. “It would equal around $25.00/hour at 12 hours/day and 6 days/week. The salary now figures out to about $19.50/hour with the work hours I put in.”

The hefty request didn’t sit well with commissioners who were already working with a tight budget. Commissioner Ben Bushyhead called in an exorbitant amount of money, especially since all other county employees were only getting a 2-percent raise in the budget. If the $20,000 raise would have been granted, Cochran would be making $15,000 more a year than the Haywood County sheriff even though Swain’s population is a fraction of Haywood’s. 

When first discussing the request, it looked like commissioners were willing to compromise and give the sheriff an $8,000 raise, but when it came time to approve the final budget, commissioners approved a $5,000 raise instead, which equals out to a 5-percent pay increase. 

Cochran asking for a raise has been a regular occurrence since he first took office in 2006. He even filed a civil lawsuit against the county commissioners regarding his salary, but it was shot down in court in early 2011. Cochran accused commissioners of cutting his pay in 2006 as a form of partisan retribution after he narrowly defeated the Democratic incumbent. 

To his credit, the sheriff’s salary in 2006 was only $38,000, which was one of the lowest in the state. Commissioners have given him incremental raises since then bringing him up to a competitive wage, but he just keeps coming back to ask for more. 

 

The Dumb and Dumber Award

How do you pass the time when it’s a slow day at work? Well, if you’re award recipient Shawn Solitis, the answer is to grab a Taser and try it out on your co-worker. 

Solitis was fired for just that this year, barely six months into his hire as a Jackson County detention officer. He was so new he wasn’t even authorized to use a Taser or a gun yet, picking up the weapon generally assigned to detention and deploying it on a female co-worker, who thankfully wasn’t injured. 

Solitis wasn’t the only officer from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department to make the news this year. James Henry Wesley Jr. was fired from his job as a sheriff’s deputy after attending a 2014 Halloween party that allegedly involved underage drinking and led to charges of statutory rape against two other men. Wesley pled guilty to obstruction of justice. In addition, two detention officers were given five days of leave without pay after the second suicide within a four-month period occurred in the jail on their watch. The suicides prompted an investigation from the State Bureau of Investigation, whose report is now in the District Attorney’s office. 

 

The Taskmaster Award

Superior Court Judge Brad Letts has been working hard the past couple of years to convince Jackson County to create more space for the court system. It hasn’t been an easy sell, but if anyone’s up to the task, it’s Letts, the recipient of this award. 

With only two courtrooms, Letts has been saying, the outdated Jackson County Justice Center is just too small to meet the county’s current needs. A study conducted in 2014 came back saying the courts needed a whopping 36,000 additional square feet, a project that would cost millions to complete. 

This year, Letts did convince commissioners to improve courthouse security by hiring security guards, buying metal detectors and restricting the county building to a single entrance. The next order of business is to come up with a plan to meet space needs. Commissioners have asked the county manager to start talking with Heery International, the company that did the 2014 study and designed the Haywood County Justice Center, about putting together a proposal, but budgets are tight. It’s a safe bet that Letts will continue to keep a close eye on progress through 2016 and beyond.

 

Pink Slip Award 

Patrick Lambert, newly elected principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, gets this one for the batch of 14 letters he sent out in his first full day on the job this October. 

The tribal employees who received them discovered that their services would no longer be needed, and their protests prompted an emotional emergency meeting of Tribal Council. Fired and demoted employees packed the house with their spouses, children and former co-workers, testifying at length as to what the change in employment would mean for them personally and claiming that they’d been serving the tribe well in their jobs — the firings and demotions were politically motivated, they said. 

Lambert, meanwhile, pointed out that the six people who were fired were deputy-level employees who are typically considered political appointees. Those positions were being reworked as part of Lambert’s larger project of reorganizing lines of reporting within the tribe. The other eight were transferred to different — typically much lower — positions. He maintained that the reasons had nothing to do with politics, and the demoted employees were well aware of what those were. There’s a lot of cleanup to do in tribal government, he said, and with a 71 percent majority of voters putting him in office he believes he has a clear mandate to do what he feels must be done. 

 

Hillbilly Hang-Up award

Becky Ramey and Terry Frady have been working to build their grassroots music and moonshine festival in Maggie Valley for more than six years. While they are usually thrilled to get any kind of publicity for Hillbilly Woodstock, they were shocked earlier this year when their festival got the attention of some influential people in New York City. These people were actually lawyers who work to protect the Woodstock Ventures trademark. Yes, that Woodstock — the producer of the world-famous WOODSTOCK Music Festival, which was held in upstate New York in 1969.

Ramey and Frady received a cease and desist letter from the Woodstock lawyers just nine days before Hillbilly Woodstock was set to start. On one hand it was truly a pain for the organizers to rename the festival, re-order new banners and T-shirts and change all their promotional gear right before the event. On the other hand, Ramey and Frady can’t help but feel honored to get notoriety from the big-city lawyers. It just means Hillbilly Woodstock — now Hillbilly Jam — has made it to the big time. The two-day music festival will return to Maggie Valley Festival Grounds July 29-30, 2016.  

 

Hangin’ Tough Award

No one is more deserving of the Hangin’ Tough Award than Canton Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss. His first year has not been easy, but he has been able to stay calm, cool and collected as he leads Canton into the new millennium. 

Hendler-Voss faced a number of obstacles — he was new to Canton, new to being a town manager and wants to see Canton progress more quickly than some people are comfortable with. When people have been set in their ways for so long, it can be difficult to make progress, but Hendler-Voss isn’t letting it get him down. 

Since leaving his job with the city of Asheville to take on Canton less than a year ago, he has tucked a fairly extensive list of accomplishments under his belt. With direction and support from the board of aldermen, Hendler-Voss has revamped the beloved Labor Day Celebration, created downtown commercial building standards, put an economic development plan in place to attract new businesses and come up with a plan for replacing the town’s community pool.

But Hendler-Voss’ leadership capabilities came under fire in September when he was reprimanded via email by Canton Alderwoman Carole Edwards for speaking to the press about the pending settlement for Camp Hope. She also told him residents were saying he was dismissive of their concerns about certain issues had approached her. 

“I wanted to give you a chance. I have wanted to work with you and support you but I simply cannot do that if you cannot listen and be mindful of how you treat and respond to others,” Edwards wrote.

Mayor Mike Ray also had some criticism aimed at the manager for expenses associated with the revamped Canton Labor Day Celebration, and all of these issues were discussed at length during a closed session between the board, mayor and town manager to discuss “personnel.” 

There was no doubt Hendler-Voss must have been fearful of losing his job pending the outcome of the election in November, but you’d never know it. He continued to work on the Camp Hope settlement, the pool restoration project and other tasks with a smile on his face. Hendler-Voss has experienced some first-timer faux pas during his first year, but overall he has shown a genuine desire to help Canton get back on its feet. 

 

Change of Heart Award

It’s hard to change the name of an institution people have come to know and love without feeling like the heart and soul of that institution has also changed. 

Two Macon County institutions changed their names this year and have lost a sense of place in the process. Macon Bank is now Entegra and Land Trust for the Little Tennessee (LTLT) has changed its name to Mainspring Conservation Trust. 

As both of these organizations have grown over the years and now operate beyond the borders of Macon County, it’s understandable that their names should better reflect the business, but it doesn’t mean everyone will like it. Change is hard and name recognition is important. So perhaps the staff at Mainspring didn’t like being referred to as an abbreviation, but LTLT had a meaning in these parts. For people who hadn’t heard of it, they could at least guestimate the organization did something to conserve the Little Tennessee River. 

The same goes for Macon Bank — the strong, popular financial institution has long been branching out of the county and the state, but here in North Carolina, everyone knows where the bank’s roots are. Even though it has grown, Macon Bank still gives people a feeling of a small, hometown bank where people stop to smile and say hello when you walk through the door. 

Of course, it’s pretty safe to assume the great work Mainspring and Entegra do will not be diminished by a simple name change. 

 

Life Isn’t Fair Award

After more than 30 years as Swain County’s elections director, Joan Weeks would probably like to retire sometime soon. She deserves to get the retirement benefits she’s earned during her years of service, but sometimes life just isn’t fair. People don’t always get what they deserve. 

From the looks of it, Weeks may not get what she think she deserves when she retires and there has been quite a bit of finger pointing as county officials try to figure out who is at fault. The board of elections has gone to bat on Weeks’ behalf on several occasions, but this year Board of Elections Chairman John Herrin was determined to get a final ruling on the issue.

When he went before the Swain County commissioners in March, he appeared to be prepared for a trial and verdict. He had an entire box of documents containing what he called proof that Weeks had been a full-time employee since 1983 and the county owed her more than $76,000 in retirement benefits. 

On the other side, commissioners argued Weeks wasn’t eligible for county retirement benefits until she became a full-time employee in 1992. Prior to that, she was only working an average of 23 hours a week and didn’t qualify for benefits. 

Herrin said local boards of elections and their employees are considered an arm of the state board of elections. Since the state doesn’t distinguish election directors as part-time and full-time, Herrin said she’s been a full-time employee since she started in 1983. 

Well if she is considered a state employee, the commissioners argued she should get state retirement benefits. These arguments have gone on for months without an end in sight. Herrin has since presented his evidence to the state board of elections for review, and the Swain County Board of Elections has hired a lawyer to provide guidance on the dispute. 

 

Whack-A-Mole Award

Everywhere they turned this year someone would knock them down, but no matter how hard they were hit, they just kept popping back up. 

Shining Rock Classical Academy — Haywood County’s first charter school — opened its doors for the first time in August at the Wilson Children’s Complex at Lake Junaluska. Knowing the location was only temporary, the school’s all-volunteer board of directors continued to look for more permanent options.

When the school submitted its charter application to the state, several site options were listed — including Long’s Chapel Methodist Church and Haywood Christian Academy — but both leaders of those institutions said they were never officially approached by Shining Rock folks and probably wouldn’t be able to accommodate them even if they were.   

Back in June, Shining Rock happily announced its intentions to purchase a piece of property near the intersection of Ratcliffe Cove Road and Old Asheville Highway to set up its modular classrooms. That plan had to be abandoned a couple of months later.

No biggie, it happens — so they moved on to plan B. The school set its sights on a 35-acre tract on the corner of U.S. 276 and Raccoon Road just outside Waynesville. The farmland belongs to Charles Collins, who had been leasing it out to another farmer to grow his corn every year. With the clock ticking, Shining Rock signed a contract to purchase the property and started due diligence right away. 

But the surrounding farming community in Francis Cove banded together to put a stop to a charter school moving into their neighborhood. The series of events was set off when a truck came out to begin the environmental testing process for Shining Rock and ended up damaging the farmer’s corn crop that was still growing there. 

The community didn’t want the school there and they made it clear to the town of Waynesville when the planning board held a public hearing on whether to grant Shining Rock a special-use permit for the location. The permit was denied, but Shining Rock kept holding out hope that they could create a more detailed plan to present to the town and also work out a truce with the farmer with the damaged corn. 

School officials just kept getting kicked while they were down, but eventually Lake Junaluska offered them a long-term lease on the other side of Dellwood Road. The five-year lease will allow them to set up their modulars, but they aren’t allowed to build a permanent structure. 

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