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Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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Candidates resume filing for May 17 election

With altered maps for Congressional and state legislative districts upheld by the N.C. Supreme Court this week following challenges to previously adopted versions, candidates for offices up for election across North Carolina this year were able to resume filing this morning (Thursday).

As a result, the rescheduled May 17 Primary Election is on, including postponed nonpartisan contests for Smithfield's mayor and four seats on the Town Council.

Before the legal challenges of statewide electoral maps, a number of candidates filed in early December before the filing period was suspended. Among local races subject to the May Primary and November General elections are three seats on the Johnston County Board of Education as well as three seats on the Johnston County Board of Commissioners.

CHECK the Board of Elections website for daily updates on who has filed so far>



Face masks are now optional inside Johnston County's public schools, but they're still required at Johnston Community College until March 7 when "we will move to masks optional," JCC's President David Johnson e-mailed the Sun on Wednesday. He added: "I'm ready to get rid of them!"


Johnston's vaccination status vs. our neighbors

Now that face masks in public places are mostly off in Johnston County, let's take a look at how we're doing with COVID-19 vaccinations.

The good news is that 88% of Johnstonians age 65 and older have been "fully vaccinated" with two doses of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or a single dose of the more potent Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Incredibly, 100% of Wake County's seniors have been fully vaccinated, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Falling short of that mark, neighboring Wayne County reports 77% of seniors fully vaccinated, Harnett and Sampson 79%. Percentages for other nearby counties are closer to Johnston's 88%: Nash 90%, Franklin 87%, and Wilson 84%.

For residents age 12 and older who have been fully vaccinated, Johnston's 61% trails Wake's 81% and Nash's 65%, with Franklin and Wilson at 60%, Sampson at 59%, Wayne at 56%, Harnett at 50%.

This morning's report from Johnston County Public Schools – our first recorded look at the numbers since mask wearing in schools became optional this week – showed 26 active cases among students and 7 among school staff, down from a total of 60 last week. Today's report shows just one active case among students and staff at two local schools: Smithfield Middle and West Smithfield Elementary. The highest number at any one school in Johnston currently is 5 at Corinth Holders High.

The schools' COVID dashboard no longer shows numbers for quarantines since they're required only for infected students and staff from now on.

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>


Case total
since 3-20 
(last week)
since 3-20 
(last week)

(last week) 
Fully vaccinated *
[got boosters]
( 54,556)
111,219: 53%**
6,377,316: 61%**
UNITED STATES 78,731,240
  215,129,430: 66%**
WORLDWIDE 430,197,972
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 5:13 p.m. February 22
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:15 p.m. February 23
Johns Hopkins University at 8:21 a.m. February 24

Commissioner Larry Wood of Benson resigns

A surprise announcement came from Larry Wood at the end of Monday night's meeting of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners: "With mixed emotions, I'd just like to inform the public and this board that as of February 28 I plan on resigning, reason being my residence is going to change counties." He did not elaborate.

Mr. Wood, a resident of Benson, represents Johnston's southernmost district, which stretches from McGee's Crossroads to Meadow Township. The remaining commissioners will appoint a successor to serve the rest of his current term, which expires in late 2024. Mr. Wood has been serving since his election to the board in 2016 (re-elected in 2020).

Paula Woodard, Clerk to the Board of Commissioners, is accepting applications for the vacancy from residents of Mr. Wood's district who are registered Republicans. Applications may be e-mailed through March 11 to

Last fall the board filled another vacancy when its chairman, Chad Stewart, resigned to accept a position as manager of Johnston's Alcoholic Beverage Control system. Dickie Braswell was appointed to take his seat, which is up for election this year.

Grant being sought for a trails and greenways plan

Commissioners agreed at Monday's session to seek a $120,000 grant from the state to pay most of the cost of developing a plan for trails and greenways throughout Johnston. Adrian Branch, the county's recreation coordinator, said a local match of $7,500 will be required to secure the grant.

Dr. Charles Williams appointed to Board of Health

Commissioners appointed Dr. Charles Williams of Clayton till a vacant physician's seat on the Johnston County Board of Health. VIEW the board's current roster>

"State of the County" report presented with a video

Commissioners' Chairman Bruce Lawter delivered the annual State of the County Address by a means of a pre-recorded video with film clips of County Government highlights of 2021 along with plans for the year ahead. Produced by the county's Public Information Office, the video lasts less than five minutes. WATCH IT HERE>

One of the projects cited in Chairman Lawter's report is the new Detention Center and Public Safety Center campus under construction on US 70 Business east of Smithfield. Related to that is a current study of options for moving other county departments into expanded quarters once the Johnston County Jail along with the Sheriff's Department and 9-1-1 Communications are moved out of the Courthouse.


real-estate broker

Most popular first names for 2021's newborns?

The Top 10 names for newborn girls and boys recorded by the Johnston County Register of Deeds in 2021:

For girls – Olivia (11); Riley & Sophia (8); Ava & Camilla (7); Emma, Isabella & Naomi (6); Amelia & Caroline (5).
For boys – Liam & Lucas (13); Wyatt (10); Waylon (9); Ian, Jackson & Mason (8); Dylan, Mateo & Maverick (7).

For the year, the office recorded 1,859 births (945 boys, 914 girls) and 1,781 deaths.


Student leaders at SSS bring home "Spirit Stick"
Smithfield-Selma High School students attended the first annual Johnston County Student Council Conference held earlier this month at Cleveland High School. The conference focused on fund-raising, student engagement, community service, school spirit, and team building. The day closed with an event where the SSS Student Government delegation won the "JoCo Student Council Spirit Stick": (left to right) in front – Storme Harbinson Wheeler, Laici Deravil, Michelle Chen; in back –Ayana Casado, Elsy Bararmna-Datchah, Carlie Morris, Emily Stuckey, Abby Adeshina, Jenny Yang, Catherine Cepin, Hailey Stephens, Courtney Lassiter, Carmen Rodriguez, Savanah Allen, and Daniel May. (Photo from SSS)

As the seasons change,
so do the signs in the yards
of our satisfied customers.



Smithfield Council meets today on budgetary matters

The special session is set for 6:30 p.m. at Town Hall to discuss goals for the upcoming 2022-23 budget and more immediately whether to proceed with a project to expand the Police Station in the wake of recent construction price increases.

Town Council's regular monthly session next Tuesday

The meeting, on the first day of March, begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Heading the agenda is presentation of the Police Department's 2021 Officer of the Year Award. A public hearing will be held on preliminary approval of a 134-lot residential subdivision at the intersection of Wilson's Mills Road and Durwood Stephenson Parkway.
The full agenda is posted on the town's website>



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

WANDA LEE BARBER, 69 – died February 18

ALVIN THEODORE LEE, 68 – died February 16



Black-owned funeral homes have stood the test of time

Smithfield's Walter Sanders Funeral Home (pictured here) has been in business since 1949, Sanders Funeral Home since 1957, and that's something to celebrate during Black History Month. Gary Ridout's interviews with the present-day operators of these long-time community servants are on the FEATURE PAGE>


An update on regional transportation projects

The Triangle East Chamber of Commerce hosted an online "webinar" this week on regional transportation projects impacting Johnston County. At the top of that list is construction of the next leg of the I-540 beltline around Raleigh that will extend that toll road from Holly Springs to a massive interchange with I-40 and U.S. 70, shown below in a designer's rendering:

The  rendering actually shows what the interchange, located just inside Wake County near the Johnston County line, will look like once I-540 is completed from here around Garner to the existing freeway near Knightdale (this view is looking northward).

Dennis Jernigan, deputy chief engineer with the N.C. Department of Transportation, reported that the phase from Holly Springs currently being built is scheduled for completion two years from now. (Too bad it's being built as a toll road – unlike its toll-free relative finished some years ago around the northern fringes of Raleigh.)

He also reported that what's now known as the Clayton Bypass for U.S. 70 from I-40 to 70 Business between Clayton and Smithfield will soon be officially labeled as Interstate 42. That's a designation being sought for 70 to the east as construction continues to replace stoplights with interchanges at Wilson's Mills and Princeton.

I call this discovery an example of "urban archaeology"

Speaking of transportation on a much smaller scale, I came across this grass-infested remnant of a greenway-type pedestrian and bicycle way while walking the the Buffalo Creek Greenway's "detour" last weekend.

The forgotten strip of asphalt was put down by the town along Buffalo Road beside Talton Park and the Public Works yard back in the 1970s, I recall, by the administration of Mayor Bob Wallace and Town Manager Hubie Talton. It was an attempt to lure the NCDOT into building a "bike path" out to what was the brand-new Smithfield Junior High School (today's middle school).

The state didn't follow through with that idea, citing right-of-way restrictions along Buffalo Road. But something even better took its place when the town got a grant to construct the Buffalo Creek Greenway trail that links the Town Commons park Downtown to Community Park adjacent to Smithfield-Selma High and just across the road from Smithfield Middle School.

That "detour" I followed, by the way, is in place to get pedestrians and cyclists around the Smithfield Water Plant complex, which is temporarily closed to such traffic because of a major construction project there.

I relish discovering these remnants of "urban archaeology," especially when they're related to stuff I remember from my younger days.


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