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PUBLISHED ONLINE JUNE 16, 2022   •   VOL. 4, NO. 24

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


Schools' lowest-paid workers plead for raises

Melanie Autry is president of the Johnston County Association of Teacher Assistants. She spoke to the County Commissioners during a budget session Monday evening in behalf of TAs and other "classified employees" of Johnston County Public Schools including cafeteria workers, custodians, and clerical staff.

"We need to get a school budget passed so we can get a living wage and not keep losing our qualified people," she pleaded. (YouTube screenshot)

Ms. Autry repeated the plea at Tuesday's monthly meeting of Johnston's Board of Education, where board member Lyn Andrews pointed out that $5.2 million of the school system's request for an additional $8.4 million from the county in 2022-23 is earmarked to raise pay for the schools' classified employees. (Teachers are categorized as "certified" staff by the state and county.)

County funding for Johnston's public schools in the new fiscal year that starts July 1 has not been discussed by the commissioners in either of two meetings dealing with the budget so far. Their schedule calls for adoption of the 2022-23 spending plan when they meet again at 6 p.m. Monday (June 20) at the Courthouse.

"We are (paid) below poverty level," Ms. Autry told commissioners this week. Facing a state mandate that all classified employees get at least $15 an hour starting July 1, Johnston County Schools raised its minimum to $13.50 earlier this year and recently pushed pay for bus drivers to $17.50, she noted. But teacher assistants called to duty as substitute bus drivers don't get that much, she added.

"My TAs are having a pretty hard time with that," Ms. Autry said. As a result of low pay and extra duty as bus drivers, "30 percent of our work force is no longer there," she estimated.

Ms. Autry said her calculations show the school system's lowest-paid workers are making $10,000 a year less than the county's lowest-paid employees.

Commissioners were disturbed by her report, recalling that county funding for pay raises was included in last year's belated decision to grant the school board's request for county appropriations "in full." Said Commissioner Patrick Harris to Ms. Autry: "This board is not the board that's withholding funds from you."

Commissioners receive more requests for increased county aid

Johnston Community College's interim president, Kenneth Boham, told commissioners that $250,000 of JCC's request for additional county aid in the year ahead would cover tuition expenses for about 300 Johnston County residents who achieve at least a 2.6 GPA (grade point average). JCC got $4.8 million from the county for operating expenses this past year and wants that raised to just over $6 million in the year ahead.

Terry Lee, vice chair of trustees of the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield, said a big part of a requested increase in county aid – from $610,000 this year to $843,160 in 2022-23 – would raise employees' salaries. The library, she told commissioners, "has lost many librarians over the years to Wake County." Additional funding is also requested to renovate the children's area of the library, she said.

Chris Key, speaking for Johnston's Partnership for Children, said the agency agency seeks an increase from $50,000 to $100,000 from the county along with matching funds from municipalities to expand its literacy efforts.

Kay Johnson of Harbor asked for an increase in county aid from $75,000 to $325,000 to make up for temporary reductions in federal aid and lost revenue from fund-raisers canceled by the COVID pandemic. The agency is serving a rising number of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, she said, and is seeing an uptick in "homeless calls" including requests for rental assistance.

Commissioners' Chairman Butch Lawter asked Ms. Johnson if Harbor qualifies for federal American Rescue Act funds received by the county. "It does," she replied.

Ben Olsen of the Smithfield Rescue Mission asked commissioners to increase county aid from $21,000 to $28,000, primarily to increase security measures at the non-profit agency's shelter for women and children.

Rodney Cabe, board chair for the Moccasin Creek Service District, asked commissioners to raise the property-tax rate for maintaining the 22 miles of the creek above Highway 39 north of Selma to Holt's Pond below Pine Level from 1.5 cents to 3.0 cents per $100 valuation. That tax is paid by property owners along the course of the stream.

County's Solid Waste Director
retiring at the end of this month

Commissioners thanked Rick Proctor at the outset of Monday's meeting for almost 30 years as a county employee, the last nine directing operations of the county's landfill and solid-waste disposal centers.

Mr. Proctor started work with the county as a solid-waste compliance technician in January 1993. (YouTube screenshot)


These front-yard signs
are endorsements you
can trust in all seasons.

Smithfield-Selma High School graduates 247

The school's 53rd annual commencement celebration took place June 3 under sunny skies at Charles Tucker Stadium. This year's graduation class of 247 ranks in size among Johnston County's high schools between West Johnston's 263 and South Johnston's 231 (according to numbers reported by the Four Oaks-Benson News in Review). Corinth Holders, Clayton, and Cleveland graduate larger numbers; North Johnston and Princeton are smaller.

VIEW the list of SSS graduates as listed in the event's program (as a PDF)>


LuLong Ogburn Medlin in Athletic Hall of Fame


Best known as winner of the 1951 Miss North Carolina Pageant and runner-up in the Miss America Pageant, LuLong Ogburn Medlin was also a star basketball player for the Smithfield High School Red Devils. Now she's one of six new members of Johnston County Public Schools' Athletic Hall of Fame.

Joining her in this year's class: sportswriter D. Clay Best, Major League baseball player Al Evans of Kenly, West Johnston High School swimming champ Sarah Henry, Corinth Holders High basketball and baseball star Glen M. Hinnant, and Princeton High three-sport standout Rodney Odney.

The schools' announcement had this to say about Mrs. Medlin:
Her high school basketball career began as a freshman in 1947. The coach, Luby Royal, decided to start her first game and over the next four years Medlin became a standout for North Carolina. That year she scored approximately 250 points. As a sophomore, Medlin scored 400 points. In her junior year she bagged 486 points, and she ended her high-school career by scoring 718 points during her senior year. LuLong became the all-time scoring leader of Johnston County with nearly 2,000 points.

More about the other inductees in a story posted on the schools' website>

The Johnston County Athletic Hall of Fame display is located in the former Smithfield High School building on South Third Street that serves today as the school system's West Campus administrative building. The display may be viewed during normal business hours. From now through August 11 those hours are 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, closed Friday.




Food-truck vendor
opens a dine-in grill
at Pine Needle Square

Daniel Covington, operator of a food-truck and catering business the past five years, has opened 815 Gourmet Grill in the Pine Needle Square shopping center at 721 North Bright Leaf Boulevard. The Triangle East Chamber of Commerce staged a virtual ribbon-cutting there last week. Known as "Chef Dash," Mr. Covington said he started out as "a mac-and-cheese grill" and has expanded to where "we have a food choice for every food pallet." (Triangle East Chamber screenshot)
For operating hours and more information, visit the grill's website>



4-bedroom brick ranch on half-acre landscaped lot at 707 Crescent Dr. in South Smithfield with an office, all appliances, stair lifts, wired workshop, 2-car carport, greenhouse. 2,936 square feet: UNDER CONTRACT (MLS#244987)

LAND FOR SALE  2.4-acre vacant lot at 1558 W. Market Street (US 70 Business) in West Smithfield. Mostly level with 323-foot road frontage. Less than 3 miles from Johnston Regional Airport, about 5 miles from I-95: $525,000 (MLS#2447472)



Juneteenth celebrations begin at JCC Friday evening

Sunday, June 19 is the official day designated in Smithfield as Juneteenth, yet celebrations begin with the weekend's arrival:
• Johnston Community College's Black Music Appreciation Month and Juneteenth Celebration starts at 6 p.m. Friday on the lawn of the Learning Resource Center with musical acts JusOnce and Mack Band plus food trucks and games.
• The Town of Smithfield's Juneteenth Freedom Day celebration will be held Saturday at Smith Collins Park, with a parade beginning at 10:30 at the Alumni Center on Massey Street followed by an afternoon of free food, vendors, spoken word, singing, games, live entertainment, and a cookout.

301 Endless Yard Sale returns this Friday and Saturday

Started in Selma a decade ago, this roadside series of yard sales by individuals, organizations, and businesses now stretches along 100-plus miles of US 301 from Weldon to Dunn. The Johnston County Visitors Bureau expects more than 15,000 shoppers and more than 2,500 vendors to take part in this year's event.
VIEW a map of Johnston County's scheduled vendors>

Downtown's Third StrEATery event is back this Friday

The June installment of Downtown Smithfield's Third StrEATery outdoor-dining series continues from 6 to 9 p.m. this Friday featuring entertainment by The Radio, described as a "soundtrack to the great American road trip" with a variety of tunes from the 1930s to the present day. These performances are supported by funding from the North Carolina Arts Council, a state agency.

3 Little Pigs Triathlon will close roads Saturday morning

The 12th annual Chick-fil-A 3 Little Pigs Triathlon, presented by Sysco, will be held this Saturday at the Recreation and Aquatics Center. As a result, from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. motor vehicles will be barred on Durwood Stephenson Parkway from Buffalo Road to Kellie Drive, and the entire length of Kellie Drive will be restricted to bicycles only. The Smithfield Police Department will be on-site to assist drivers.

Event to mark Solstice next Tuesday at St. Paul's Church

Earth's Solstice, when the Sun reaches its northernmost point above the Equator, will take place at 5:14 a.m. EDT next Tuesday, June 21. To commemorate the astronomical changing of the seasons from Spring to Summer, the Daughters of the King, Mary Magdalen Chapter at St. Paul's Episcopal Church has scheduled a Solstice Labyrinth Walk and Mandala Rock Painting from 10 a.m. till noon both inside and ouside the church, located at the corner of South Second and Church streets in Smithfield. "All ages and visitors welcome!" the invitation reads.


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

CLYDE HOUSTON WEEMS, 73 – died June 13




LAWRENCE NOEL GIBSON, 88 – died June 9

JAMES STEVEN LANE, 74 – died June 9

JOHN ROBERT WILLIAMS, 95 – died June 9

VICTOR EDSEL PENNY, 94 – died June 8

CALVIN (CAL) JOSEPH ROBOL, 82 – died May 31


Neuse bacteria at alarming levels here? Town says not

Sound Rivers, an organization of volunteer "riverkeepers" who monitor water quality in the Neuse and Pamlico basins, says a sample taken at the Smithfield Town Commons last week exceeded "the EPA standard for recreational water quality." Two other sites on the Neuse in Wake County below Raleigh also produced bacteria readings above the standard, yet two sites near Clayton had readings within acceptable levels. VIEW details on the Sound Rivers website>

Asked about the report, Smithfield's Town Manager Mike Scott provided this response: "At no time has the river water been considered harmful/dangerous. If it were, the NCDEQ (N.C. Department of Environmental Quality) would issue an alert – and none have been issued. I will surmise, however, that the river is very low due to lack of rainfall in our area. When there is less water, any contaminants will appear to be higher in volume than when the river is (at) normal levels."

The Town of Smithfield draws its water supply just upstream from the Town Commons and regularly monitors water quality there. The Neuse River's depth at Smithfield is presently running below 5 feet, which is typical this time of year.

The photo above was taken on Wednesday, looking upstream from the boat ramp toward the abandoned intake structure used for many years as part of the Front Street treatment plant that has been demolished. The small sand bar as well as the rocks visible along the bank indicate how shallow the river is running just now.



Silencing citizens is no way to run a democracy

The Johnston County Board of Education has found itself in the crosshairs of public frustration surrounding numerous issues facing our nation's public schools these days. For the most part, board members have exhibited remarkable patience, especially this past year in dealing with everything from mandating masks during a pandemic to teaching the role of racism in American history.

But there remains one glaring deficiency in the school board's procedures that continues to undermine the public's trust and fuel the fires of frustration among parents and employees. And that's the board's three-minute limit on "Public Comment" at its once-a-month regular session.

What a contrast with the public forum provided not once, but three times every month by the Johnston County Board of Commissioners – at both the morning and evening sessions on the first Monday of the month and the evening session on the third Monday.

Furthermore, the commissioners – while requesting speakers to be considerate to others in time taken for their remarks – do not place an arbitrary time limit on citizens desiring to address the board.

This week's appearance before both boards by the president of Johnston's Association of Teacher Assistants is the best (or worst) example yet of how it should and should not be done:

Melanie Autry was allowed to speak for almost 20 minutes Monday evening to the County Commissioners about low pay for many school employees. She repeated her plea for better treatment at Tuesday evening's Board of Education session, but the YouTube audio feed was cut off after her allotted three minutes even though she continued speaking for two more minutes without knowing that.

Oh well. Cutting the audio wasn't as bad as what's usually heard when one's time is up: an annoying loud alarm bell fitting for a fire drill but certainly not appropriate for silencing a citizen.

Board of Education meetings tend to go on for hours, but surely there are better ways to cut down on the length of those sessions than a strictly enforced time limit on public speaking.


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