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Ringing in the rain for the Constitution's birthday

A light rain was falling Sunday afternoon as members of the Smith-Bryan Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, gathered with others on the steps of the Johnston County Courthouse to ring whatever bells they could muster to celebrate the 236th birthday of the United States Constitution. Taking note of the weather, Chapter Regent Frances Aycock Kiker announced she had received "a text message from Benjamin Franklin" who said it would be OK to start the ringing before the 4 o'clock hour so folks could get out of the rain. Church bells throughout Philadelphia began ringing at 4 p.m. on September 17, 1787 to spread the news that the Constitution had been signed by the nation's Founding Fathers.

Board of Education antagonism intensifies
Michelle Antoine joins Ronald Johnson in legal assaults

The simmering division within the membership of the Johnston County Board of Education was stepped up a notch or two with several incidents this past week.

It started with a complaint filed in Johnston Superior Court just prior to the board's monthly meeting September 12 by Michelle Antoine against the board as a whole. But at this point we don't know the content of her complaint since it has been sealed from public view, at her request.

"Sealing of these documents is warranted because the filing contains information that, the release of which, would constitute a publishing of defamatory material against plaintiff and would irreparably harm plaintiff," reads the request filed by her attorneys associated with the Walker Kiger law firm based in Garner.

Superior Court Judge Tom Lock granted that request by issuing a temporary restraining order. Then, later in the week, the school board's attorneys from Raleigh's Poyner Spruill law firm requested a transfer of the case from Johnston Superior Court to the U.S. District Court for Eastern N.C. That request was granted on grounds that Ms. Antoine's
complaint "alleges causes of action for violations of federal constitutional due process rights and for violations of the federal constitution’s Equal Protection Clause."

Ms. Antoine joins board member Ronald Johnson in challenging the rest of the board in court. He filed a federal complaint in June against officials of both the county's school system and the Town of Smithfield following his indictment by a Johnston County Grand Jury in April on criminal charges of extortion, felony obstruction of justice, and three counts of willfully failing to discharge his duties as a member of the Board of Education.

Those charges came in the wake of Mr. Johnson's censure on two occasions last year by all the other school-board members at the time for violating various board policies, followed by his dismissal last October as an employee of the Smithfield Police Department for "detrimental personal conduct."

Differing opinions on a clause in Code of Ethics policy
During last week's Board of Education meeting, Ms. Antoine joined Mr. Johnson in voting against a proposed revision in the school system's "Code of Ethics for School Board Members" after he argued that it wrongly equates board members with school employees. Under state law, "elected officials cannot be employees," he declared.

His objection centered around a clause added to the policy that requires board members to comply "with
all board policies that set expectations for staff conduct."

Kay Carroll took issue with Mr. Johnson's position: "It's not about employment. It's about the way you conduct yourself. It's about the way you behave," Mr. Carroll said. "People that are elected, it just seems, feel like they are not held to same standard as the average Joe out there, and we should be."

In the end, the revised policy won approval by a 5-2 vote of the board, with Chair Lyn Andrews, Kevin Donovan, Terry Tippett, and Mike Wooten joining Mr. Carroll in favor of the added statement.

Public outcries regarding social-media statements
Meanwhile, Ms. Antoine – who joined the Board of Education last December following her election in November – has been chastised by several citizens during Public Comment sessions at recent school board meetings, primarily for disparaging remarks attributed to her on social media against the LGBTQ community.

"She has referred to openly LGBT youth enrolled in Johnston County Schools as a 'contagion'," stated Ben Chapman, an employee of the Johnston County Heritage Center, at last week's board meeting. "She said the Progress Pride flag represented 'the collapse of Western civilization'....

"To imply that minority communities are a threat to the whole and that we somehow represent a disease that must be dealt with is the language of genocide. It's unacceptable from a member of this board, unacceptable for an elected official, and you don't have to accept it," Mr. Chapman admonished the board.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: "LGBTQ" – a widely used acronym nowadays – stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer. The multi-colored Pride flag is the banner hoisted by the LGBTQ community in the public arena.)

Parents and students complain about new dress code

A recently adopted policy for all Johnston schools – this one on a dress code for students – drew complaints from parents and students of Corinth Holders High School who addressed the Board of Education at last week's meeting.
READ a report that was published in The News & Observer last weekend>


County ratifies new wastewater contract with town

Johnston's County Commissioners this week put their stamp of approval on a revised Bulk Wastewater Agreement with the Town of Smithfield following negotiations that increased the town's sewage-treatment capacity allocation and cleared the way for construction of a new hotel here.

The Town Council two weeks ago had authorized legal action against the county after learning that the county was holding up approval of sewage treatment from a proposed Homes2 Suites Hotel by Hilton on a site next to the new Hampton Inn. Town officials said the county was doing that to force acceptance of a wastewater contract with terms unacceptable to the council.

Last week the county agreed to accept the new hotel's sewage, and the town's treatment capacity under the new contract was raised from 2.477 to 2.676 million gallons per day (MGD). The contract notes that the town's sewage flow into the county's treatment plant on the Neuse River below Smithfield averaged 1.817 MGD in 2021 and 2022.

A key point in the contract, which the Town Council approved last week, will require payment of bulk capacity fees for future increases in the town's 2.676 MGD allocation. Similar agreements with the county have been signed by the towns of Four Oaks and Pine Level; the Town of Selma has not yet signed. Those towns also depend on the county's treatment plant for disposal of sewage.

County exercises option to buy 45.7 acres near new jail

The commissioners, at their meeting Monday evening, authorized purchase of 45.7 acres split by Yelverton Grove Road south of US 70 Business within sight of the new Johnston County Detention Center and Public Safety Center to the east.

The board in March had approved an option to purchase the land from John Timothy Hughes at $40,000 per acre, pending "due diligence" including an environmental assessment, which turned up no issues. Monday's action sets a closing date on or before November 30.

The county intends to use the site for administrative offices and warehousing, most likely starting with a new home for the Department of Social Services.

County commits future funding for JCATS expansion

Commissioners approved a resolution committing a county match of $219,297 in its 2024-25 budget to secure a state grant of $1,313,089 for next year's operations and capital purchases by JCATS, the Johnston County Area Transit System.

Josh Jensen, who recently took over as executive director of Community and Senior Services of Johnston County, said the promised state funding will enable JCATS to expand its operations, particularly the QuickRide Uber-like service started this past year in the Smithfield-Selma area. "We're looking to expand to Clayton," he said.

New residency districts for commissioners proposed

The board received three proposed maps that would redraw the boundaries of the seven districts represented by a single county commissioner. Those districts haven't been changed since they were created almost 30 years ago and today have populations ranging from more than 44,000 to less than 15,000.

County Attorney Jennifer Slusser presented the three proposals, each of which would produce district populations close to an evenly distributed target of just under 31,000. (The maps were produced by county staff including GIS Director Tish Jones.)

Another goal of the new arrangement, Ms. Slusser noted, is to keep incumbent commissioners in separate districts. But two of the three maps were drawn without protecting the seat of Commissioner Tony Braswell, she said, since he has declared his intention not to seek re-election next year.

That drew a thumbs-down from Commissioner Ted Godwin, who said he could only support the map that would protect Mr. Braswell in case he changes his mind and decides to run again.

A public hearing on the realignment of districts is scheduled during the commissioners' 10 a.m. meeting on Monday, October 2. Ms. Slusser said the board must adopt new districts by October 6 to be in effect for the 2024 election when four of the seven commissioner seats will be on the ballot. While candidates must run for the seat of their district of residence, they're elected by voters countywide.

Maps and other details about the proposed new districts – including a link for the public to submit comments prior to October 2 – are posted on the county's website>


P&R Department a youth sports "Quality Provider"

The Town of Smithfield Parks & Recreation Department has been awarded the Better Sports for Kids Quality Program Provider designation for the 2023-24 season by the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

The designation is a seal of commitment to quality and safety based on nationally accepted standards, the department announced on its Facebook page. As a result of a review process, Smithfield Parks & Recreation "has shown a commitment to the children and families we serve."



Autumnal Equinox arrives early this Saturday morning

It's the astronomical beginning of Fall, but usually not the meteorological start of the season since "Indian Summer" around here hangs on till sometime in October. The exact time of this year's Autumnal Equinox – when the Sun lines up with Earth's Equator to produce equal hours of day and night – is calculated to be 2:50 a.m. this Saturday. The date of the occurrence varies from year to year, coming as early as the 20th day of September and as late as the 23rd.

Downtown Farmers' Market back after a weather break

The next-to-last scheduled edition of the Farmers' Market in Downtown Smithfield continues from 9 a.m. till 2 p.m. this Saturday along the 100 block of South Third Street. The edition scheduled two weeks ago was canceled because of a threat of inclement weather. The season's final edition is set for October 14.

Robotics club hosting Renaissance Festival Saturday

FRC 6004 f of x Robotics – a students' club based at Smithfield-Selma High School – will host a Renaissance Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday in the parking lot of the Public Library Downtown. Attractions include robots, STEM activities, book signings, crafts, petting zoo, sidewalk chalk, cosplay, along with ice cream, a jester, and vendors.

Neuse Little Theatre's Willy Wonka: six shows sold out!

And that's after a sixth performance was added to the usual NLT schedule.
If you're curious about who's performing in the local production, here's a link to NLT website page with details about the show>
And here's a link to a brochure about upcoming shows in NLT's 49th season>



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


AMANDA CHRISTINE HUGGINS, 33 – died September 16

LOU GLENDA GUPTON, 85 – died September 4

Colby Stevens, manager of the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site, greeted visitors last Friday morning as they headed onto the newest segment of North Carolina's Mountains-to-Sea Trail.


Bentonville's link in the Mountains-to-Sea Trail

I couldn't resist the invitation to attend a ribbon-cutting celebration last Friday morning during what's officially designated as "The Year of the Trail" in North Carolina. It's only a one-mile addition to the Mountains-to-Sea Trail – the "MST," its builders (mostly volunteers) like to call it – yet it leads into thick woods where a key part of the Civil War Battle of Bentonville was fought in March 1865.

"When you walk these trails, you walk into history," said Betsy Brown, associate director of Friends of the MST, which works closely with state and local parks and recreation agencies to add new links to an envisioned 1,175 miles of trail winding its way from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks.

With last Friday's opening, about four and a half miles of the MST now traverse portions of the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site, starting near the Visitors Center on Harper House Road east of US 701. The new segment includes a loop through the woods beside the remains of trenches dug by Union soldiers as they sought to hold off attacks from Confederate troops.

Also visible along that loop are straight-line mounds of earth that are remnants of a "pine tree plantation." We were told that the farmers who planted those trees during the 1990s were careful not to disturb the Civil War trenches. They were respectful of the "sacred ground" where American brothers fought valiantly against one another in that bloody three-day battle 158 years ago.

There's only one other segment of the MST currently in place in Johnston County, and that's the three-mile Buffalo Creek Greenway here in Smithfield. Plans for linking the Smithfield segment to MST's Neuse River Trail at Clayton are already in the making. Not so advanced is identification of a route for an off-road link from Smithfield to Bentonville.

Meanwhile, the MST in place at Bentonville beckons us now, especially as we head into a cooler season that's ideal for a hike in the woods.

Here's a link to a page on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail website where you'll find maps showing completed segments and where future segments are likely to be built>

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