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PUBLISHED ONLINE MARCH 3, 2022   •   VOL. 4, NO. 9

Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
(Click on highlighted link to e-mail the editor)
 




METEOROLOGICAL SPRING HAS ARRIVED . . .

announced by daffodils blooming this week below the Belmont neighborhood sign beside East Market Street.

According to climatologists, Meteorological Spring extends from the first of March through May, arriving three weeks earlier than Astronomical Spring that begins with the Vernal Equinox (March 20 this year).

And, are these flowers called daffodils or jonquils?

Here's one answer, from gardeningknowhow.com: "Jonquils have slender leaves that round on the tips while daffodils sport slim sword-tipped foliage. Jonquil stems are hollow and usually shorter than daffodil varieties. They tend to have clusters of flowers on the stems and a delicate fragrance."

Meanwhile, are we entering a drier spring than usual?

We didn't get our normal ration of rainfall this winter, with just 6.66 inches measured from January 1 through the end of February
, according to Cornell Cox's Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield. Last year the two-month total here was 14.47.
 

2022 ELECTION REPORT

11 candidates file for 3 school-board seats

And only one of them is an incumbent: Al Byrd, who was appointed to Johnston's Board of Education a year ago to fill a vacancy following Tracie Zukowski's resignation. Incumbents Terri Sessoms and Todd Sutton (the board's chairman) have not filed for re-election.

Meanwhile, only four candidates – including all three incumbents – have filed for seats on the Johnston County Board of Commissioners up for election this time.

With redistricting settled for this year's voting (unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes), we've got wide-open races (without incumbents) in both a revamped U.S. House of Representatives district including all of Johnston with parts of Harnett, Wake, and Wayne counties and a new N.C. Senate district that's all of Johnston County and nothing more.

N.C. House redistricting puts all of Smithfield in District 28, presently represented by Larry Strickland of Pine Level who has filed for re-election but has opposition in the Republican Primary (South Smithfield was removed from Representative Donna White's district).

VIEW maps of the new districts for Congress and the N.C. General Assembly on the State Board of Elections website>

The Town of Smithfield's election, postponed from last November because of delayed Census numbers, so far has produced contests for two of four Town Council seats up for grabs but no opposition to Mayor Andy Moore's bid for another term.

Voting is now scheduled for Tuesday, May 17 for both county and state primary elections as well as Smithfield's municipal election. The filing period for candidates in all races ends at noon this Friday.


Filings through Wednesday for contested seats in districts that include Smithfield:
[D denotes Democrat, R denotes Republican, asterisk (*) denotes incumbent]


Smithfield Town Council
Townwide voting for mayor; one-shot voting within districts for council members
Mayor – Andy Moore (*), Cypress Point
District 1 (East Smithfield)  –  Marlon Lee (*), Lemay Street
District 2 (South Smithfield) – Sloan Stevens, Chestnut Drive
                                                Elizabeth Anne Temple, Chestnut Drive
District 3 (North Smithfield)  – Travis J. Scott (*), Parkway Drive
District 4 (West Smithfield)  –  David Barbour (*), Whitley Drive
                                                Doris Louise Wallace, Roderick Drive


Johnston County Board of Education
countywide voting for 3 seats without districts or party affiliation

Stuart Ashby Lee, S. Second Street, Smithfield
Rick Mercier, Fireweed Place, Clayton
Terry Tippett, Simon Road, Middlesex (O'Neals Township)
Joe Preston, Carissa Drive, Smithfield
Melissa Bowers, Glamorgan Drive, Clayton
Kevin Donovan, Stevens Sausage Road, Smithfield
George M. Brewer, Bonnie Avenue, Smithfield
Jenn Gurley, Castleberry Road, Clayton
Jennifer Slabaugh, Jacobs Court, Archer Lodge
Aldostin Byrd (*), P.O. Box, Clayton
Mark Lane, Yelverton Grove Road, Smithfield

Johnston County Board of Commissioners
countywide voting for 3 seats filled by residential districts

District 3 – Richard D. (Dickie) Braswell (*) (R), Shoreline Drive, Princeton
District 5 – Patrick Harris (*) (R), Crescent Drive, Smithfield
                  Jyl Burgener (R), Aviary Court, Clayton (Cleveland Township)
District 7 – R.S. (Butch) Lawter (*) (R), P.O. Box, Clayton

U.S. House of Representatives, District 13
Wiley Nickel (D), Raleigh
Nathan Click (D), Raleigh
Denton Lee (D), Killarney Lane, Clayton
DeVan Barbour IV (R), P.O. Box, Benson
Chad Slotta (R), Holly Springs
Kelly Kathleen Daughtry (R), P.O. Box, Smithfield
Kent Keirsey (R), Chapel Hill
Bo HInes (R), Winston-Salem
Jessica Morel (R), Fayetteville

N.C. Senate, District 10
Jill Homan (R), Heart Wood Court, Archer Lodge
Matt Ansley (R), Fawn Lane, Archer Lodge
Benton Sawrey (R), Riverglade Drive, Clayton

N.C. House of Representatives, District 28
Wendy Ella May (D), P.O. Box, Micro
Larry C. Strickland (*) (R), P.O. Box, Pine Level
James Davenport (R), Harvey Road, Kenly

Superior Court Judge, District 11B (new Johnston County seat)
Paul A. Holcombe (R), P.O. Box, Clayton
Steven Walker (R), McCormick Drive, Selma

District Court Judge (Johnston County seat)
Travis Wheeler (R), P.O. Box, Smithfield
Charlene B. Nelson (R), Charleston Drive, Clayton

District Court Judge (Harnett-Lee seat)
Jason P. Kimble (R), Lillington
Brian E. Lewis (R), Sanford

VIEW the latest list of all candidates for local and statewide offices
on the Johnston County Board of Elections website>

 



CORONAVIRUS REPORT

Face masks made optional on school buses

Following last week's revision of guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Johnston's Board of Education voted 5-1 during a short special session Wednesday to make wearing of face masks on school buses optional.

Kay Carroll cast the only dissenting vote, as he did when the board decided two weeks ago to make face masks optional for students and staff on school campuses.


Mr. Carroll said the new CDC guidelines recommend lifting of the face-mask mandate on school buses "in counties of low to medium transmission" – and "we're not one of those areas." He continued, "Johnston County is still 'high transmission' with a (COVID-test) positivity rate, I think, somewhere (near) 9%." (The state's mid-week report showed Johnston with a 14-day rate of 10%).

Board member Terri Sessoms asked Assistant Superintendent David Pearce if special accommodations will be made "for drivers or students who have some type of immune-compromised system."

"Yes, we will continue the work accommodations process for our employees," he replied, "and students as well can go through our health-care process if they need accommodations."

Board member Mike Wooten made the motion to make masks optional on buses. Al Byrd seconded the motion, and they were joined in voting yes by Lyn Andrews, Ms. Sessoms, and Board Chairman Todd Sutton. (Ronald Johnson was not present for the meeting, which was conducted remotely by teleconference.)

This morning's report from Johnston County Public Schools showed just 17 active cases among students and 2 among school staffs, down from a total of 33 last week. Only one active case was reported among students and staff in our immediate area – at Smithfield Middle School. No school anywhere in Johnston reported more than 2 active cases this morning.

VIEW the school system's COVID dashboard with data for all schools>

VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics in Johnston County>

VIEW the current list of testing sites in Johnston County>

 

CORONAVIRUS
weekly
measurements
Case total
since 3-20 
(last week)
Deaths
since 3-20 
(last week)
Hospital
patients

(last week) 
Fully vaccinated *
[got boosters]
JOHNSTON COUNTY 55,752
( 55,314)
434
(430)
17
(23)
111,997: 54%**
[49,970]
NORTH CAROLINA 2,592,991
(2,574,867)
22,671
(22,390)
1,461
(2,123)
6,416,941: 61%**
[3,155,913]
UNITED STATES 79,143,885
(78,731,240)
954,519
(941,909)
  215,775,839: 66%**
WORLDWIDE 441,139,258
(430,197,972)
5,977,162
(5,920,434)
  10,548,026,808
total doses
* 2 doses Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or 1 dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine
** Percentage of total population (all ages)

Data provided by: County of Johnston at 5:05 p.m. March 1
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:05 p.m. March 2
Johns Hopkins University at 8:21 a.m. March 3
 


Police station's expansion boosted by federal aid

Smithfield's Town Council approved a $784,572 loan last March to finance expanding the Smithfield Police Department's headquarters on South Fifth Street. During a special session last Thursday, the council learned that estimated cost of the project has ballooned to $1,393,208.

The question, then, was whether to delay construction until prices for building materials come down or find additional money to cover the inflated cost.

Mayor Andy Moore and Councilman David Barbour favored a delay. "If government agrees to continue to pay these prices they're not going to come back down," Mr. Moore declared. Dr. Barbour predicted prices will down in months ahead as the nation recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. "It can't last," he said.

The other council members favored going ahead with the project despite the higher cost after Bill Dreitzler, the town's consulting engineer, offered his opinion that "it isn't going down any time soon." Councilman Roger Wood said the Police Department has needed larger quarters for some time now. "With the growth we're seeing, it's only going to get worse," he said. "We can't wait on these things."

The council voted 5-1 to proceed, with Mr. Barbour dissenting (Councilman Marlon Lee was absent; Mayor Moore doesn't vote on such matters unless there's a tie).

Given three choices for finding additional money for the project, the council was in agreement to allocate the necessary $600,000 or so from Smithfield's $4.3 million allocation of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act adopted last year by Congress for pandemic relief. The other choices offered by Town Manager Mike Scott were to seek an additional commercial loan or appropriate the money from the town's General Fund Balance.

Initial financing for the project is a loan from United Community Bank at an interest rate of 2.13% for 15 years. Construction will add 3,500 square feet to the existing police station's 7,884 square feet. One of the reasons Engineer Dreitzler cited for the project's inflated cost is a switch from a "pre-engineered" metal structure to a cinder-block building since delivery of the metal option is "two years out" due to widespread supply and delivery issues with construction materials.

Manager Scott said the police station's expansion is the second Smithfield project to be aided by American Rescue Plan money. The first was a $130,000 appropriation to rebuild a flood-prone section of Cedar Drive in the Pine Acres Subdivision.



SMITHFIELD'S POLICE
OFFICER OF THE YEAR


Patrol Officer Alexander Watts (right) received the Officer of the Year Award from Police Chief Keith Powell during Tuesday's regular monthly meeting of the Town Council. Officer Watts, a former jailer with the Johnston County Sheriff's Department, joined Smithfield's police force just two years ago but was the "hand's down" choice of other officers and supervisors for this year's award, Chief Powell said. "Officer Watts is always willing to go above and beyond in the performance of his duties," the chief noted. "He always has a positive attitude. He is an asset to the department and the town."

EXTRA PAY FOR POLICE OFFICERS FLUENT IN SPANISH
The council approved a request from Chief Powell to offer up to 5% in extra pay to help recruit officers fluent in Spanish. "This is an effort to bridge the gap between the Smithfield Police Department and the Hispanic Community," the chief noted. The 2020 Census shows 21.1% of the town's population of 11,292 is Hispanic, he pointed out. The department currently has six officer vacancies, according to Chief Powell's monthly report to the council.

DOWNTOWN AND RECREATION APPOINTMENTS MADE
The council appointed Stuart Lee, a Smithfield resident who works as a regional economic developer, to the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation's Board of Directors and Jason Evans, a Smithfield resident who's an operations manager at Novo Nordisk, to the town's Recreation Advisory Committee.

TWO SPECIAL EVENTS AT TWO TOWN PARKS APPROVED
The council approved Aidan DeSimone's request to hold a fund-raiser at Smithfield Community Park from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, 19 and LifeSpring Church's request to hold a "Spring Movie Night" at Civitan Park from 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 2.

TOWN JOINS REGIONAL OBSERVANCE OF "CREEK WEEK"
It was started by the City of Durham in 2009 and has since spread to other local governments in Eastern and Central North Carolina, which have conducted "Big Sweeps" and other efforts "to clean up trash in waterways." The observance is set for March 12-19. No plans were mentioned at Tuesday's meeting for local activities.

STATE EASES RESIDENTIAL SEWER-FLOW REQUIREMENT
Town Manager Mike Scott reported that the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality and the County of Johnston have agreed "to a sanitary sewer reduction for Smithfield residential projects" – from 120 gallons to 90 gallons of capacity required for each bedroom of newly constructed dwellings. Utilities Director Ted Credle called the change "a positive thing for our development."

 



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African-American health-care pioneers remembered

The Johnston County Heritage Commission's annual Black History Month program this year was "Honoring Johnston County's African-American Health Care Professionals, Past and Present." It was streamed online last Thursday evening and is now archived for viewing on the Heritage Center's YouTube channel>

The program highlighted the services of the late Dr. Charles W. Furlonge, the first African-American physician allowed to practice at Johnston Memorial Hospital when it opened in 1951, and Lucille Raiford Jones, a Smithfield native who advanced to a long career in nursing in New York City.

Dr. Furlonge began practice as Johnston's first credentialed African-American physician in 1912, and in the late 1920s opened a small hospital in Smithfield that served the minority population until the arrival of Johnston Memorial.

Nurse Jones was recruited by Dr. Furlonge to join the staff at the county's new hospital but she left after two years for New York City "where there were better jobs with better pay and more opportunities for advancement, in contrast to the Jim Crow South," noted presenter Monique Austin. Ms. Jones held several important positions during 38 years at NYC's prestigious Mount Sinai Hospital before retiring in 1994.

Dr. Marilyn Pearson, current director of the Johnston County Public Health Department and the first African-American to hold that position, talked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which she said "has been amplified in part due to the racial and social inequalities of our past."

She said African-Americans make up 16% of Johnston's population yet most recent data show the infant mortality rate for blacks here is more than two times that for whites, as is the rate of deaths due to diabetes.

"The pandemic did not create this divide; it magnified it," she declared. "These health disparities exist not because they have to, but because we have not allocated enough of our resources to eliminate them."

Dr. Pearson urged citizens to "stand in the gap and be the bridge that connects people to opportunities for optimal health." That, she said, can be done "with the smallest act – mentoring a young person; talking with our community leaders about our experiences; advocating for inclusion in decision-making; or being there for someone through a difficult time."

The video concludes with scrolling of a long list of African-American Johnstonians who have served here and elsewhere on the front lines of public health over many years, including dentists, pharmacists, physicians, physician assistants, podiatrists, registered nurses, adult day-care workers, technicians, and clinical nursing aides.

 


WHAT'S COMING UP?

County Commissioners will be asked for matching
funds to secure a large school-construction grant

The board will be asked during its 10 a.m. session at the Courthouse to commit more than $22.5 million in local matching funds for a requested state grant of $150,480,000 for renovations and additions at several of Johnston's public-school campuses. Included on the list of projects is expansion of the auditorium at Smithfield-Selma High School. Classroom additions are proposed at Cleveland High, Cleveland Middle, Clayton's Cooper Academy (elementary), Benson Elementary, Four Oaks Elementary, Corinth-Holders Elementary, and Princeton Elementary.


Also during the morning session, the board will conduct a public hearing on an Economic Development Incentive Grant for a "speculative industrial logistics facility" in Banner Township (Benson area). The company's name is not given in the hearing's public notice. VIEW the complete agenda for the 10 a.m. session>

The board will conduct public hearings on four land-use rezoning requests during its 6 p.m. session. Two of those cases are in Cleveland Township; two are in Pleasant Grove Township. VIEW the complete agenda for the 6 p.m. session>


Board of Education's monthly session next Tuesday

The school board's regular March meeting begins at 4 p.m. in the Evander Simpson Building on US 70 Business east of Smithfield. Once it's posted, the agenda may be read on the school system's website>
 


 

DEATHS & FUNERALS

Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

ALMA JOYCE LASSITER, 76 – died February 28

DENNIS O'KEITH TERRY, 65 – died February 28

FREDERICK WILLIAM HOYT JR., 85 – died February 27

MATTHEW RAY WIGGS, 44 – died February 27

ANN PEELE EARP, 80 – died February 26

ALENE HARPER JOHNSON HOLLAND, 89 – died February 26

CORA ANN PIPKIN, 84 – died February 26

SANDRA BEASLEY CRUZ, 51 – died February 25

JESUS JR. JERELL QUINTERO, 3 – died February 25

TYSON YATES DOBSON JR., 91 – died February 23

 




A WORD (OR TWO) FROM THE EDITOR

Traffic fatalities increasing again: Who's to blame?

I thought one of the "benefits" of the coronavirus pandemic was less traffic congestion and an accompanying rise in highway safety as more folks worked remotely from home and had fewer places to go as public activities were curtailed. But then we learned this week that the number of persons killed in traffic crashes in North Carolina last year rose to its highest level since the early 1970s.

What's going on?!

One theory is that speeding shot up as motorists found themselves freed from the usual traffic jams, especially in urban areas like Raleigh-Durham. No surprise there. But then we read that another factor was a decrease in seat-belt use, with  43% of North Carolinians killed in motor-vehicle wrecks last year unbelted.

I think another big factor is simply more careless driving among the populace. Folks have gotten into some bad habits that undermine safety on the road.

Speeding tops the list, as drivers have figured out their likelihood of getting a speeding ticket that sticks is practically nil these days.

My pet peeve is an apparent defiance out there about using turn signals. I know that's not a likely cause of traffic fatalities, but it's a bad habit that makes me wonder about drivers' attention to other details related to safety – and respect for one's fellow motorists.

Perhaps the rising fatality rate is a product of Americans' aggravation with rules and regulations from the COVID pandemic. Many folks don't like mask mandates, vaccine mandates, and other restrictions put in place to protect us from infecting one another. Given that mindset, why not flout annoying rules like speed limits and seat-belt laws as well?

The bottom line: Defensive driving, as some of us were taught, is more important than ever these days.


Chamber's transportation update is now online
Since last week's report in this space from the online teleconference about regional transportation projects, the Triangle East Chamber of Commerce has posted the hour-long session online for viewing at any time. Besides an update on highway construction from NCDOT, the session included reports from two Johnston County transportation managers: Neal Davis of Community & Senior Services, which operates J-CATS, and Phil Lanier of Johnston Regional Airport. If you'd like to hear what they had to say, click this link>
 



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