ONLINE FEBRUARY 25, 2021 • VOL.
3, NO. 8
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter
unless otherwise noted
(click highlighted link to e-mail the editor)
School board will interview six finalists
to fill vacancy after some controversy
Voting independently by written ballots at last Thursday's special session, members of the Johnston County Board of Education selected five of 31 candidates as finalists to be interviewed for the seat left vacant by the resignation of Tracie Zukowski.
Terry Tippett, first runner-up in last fall's election of four board members, was not on that list --- a result of the balloting that left board member Ronald Johnson "at a loss for words" as he pointed out that Todd Sutton, the board's current chairman, had been appointed to fill a vacancy on the board following his fourth-place finish in the race for three seats up for election in 2018.
Mr. Tippett's name was added to the list at Monday night's board meeting after Chairman Sutton announced that one of the five chosen last week --- Jeff Robinson of Clayton --- had withdrawn his name from consideration. Chairman Sutton asked that Mr. Tippett and Marvin Rawls Jr. be added to the other four finalists since they tied for sixth place in last week's balloting, and that the interviews be postponed till next week. The board accepted the chairman's recommendation by unanimous vote.
Mr. Rawls of Clayton and Mr. Tippett of O'Neals Township will join Al Byrd of Clayton, Brian Jenkins of Clayton, Robert O'Neal Jr. of O'Neals Township, and Chuck Williams of Clayton for interviews by the board at 3 p.m. Monday (March 1). That session will be live-streamed on the school system's YouTube channel>
SCHOOL TEACHERS AND STAFF GET COVID-19 SHOTS
Johnston County Public Schools made arrangements for more than 2,000 of its employees to get coronavirus vaccinations on Wednesday, the first day of eligibility granted by the state for teachers and all other school employees to receive the shots regardless of their age. The school system provided this aerial photo of vehicles lined up at North Johnston High School where the Health Department administered doses of the Moderna vaccine. The school system said "approximately 2,109 employees" signed up for the clinic, which continued from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Number of new cases rising slower;
hospitalizations also on the decline
The numbers continue to look better for Johnston County as elsewhere across the state and nation: Fewer new cases reported each week and a noticeable decline in hospitalizations (see table below). As a result, Governor Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced an easing of restrictions on public gatherings, effective this Friday.
READ the details in his latest order>
Despite the good news, the COVID-19 death toll continues to rise: 8 more in Johnston this past week for a total of 189 since the outbreak hit us last March. Statewide, the number of deaths passed the 11,000 mark while the nationwide toll rose above 500,000 this past week.
Johnston County reported 1,093 active COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday:
1,056 recovering at home plus 37 in hospitals. That's down significantly from 1,469 active cases a week ago.
Johnston County Public Schools reported 44 active cases among students, up from 36 a week ago --- and 13 among employees, down from 23 a week ago --- as of Wednesday afternoon. The number of active quarantines among students declined from 619 last week to 529 this week, while the number of quarantines among school employees dropped from 134 to 102.
VIEW real-time updates on the schools' COVID-19 Dashboard>
21,685 Johnstonians have received first doses of COVID-19 vaccines since mid-December, with second doses given to another 12,642, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday.
VISIT this official state web page to find upcoming vaccination locations>
VIEW the current list of COVID-19 testing sites throughout Johnston County>
The end of February means it's time
for belated high-school football season
BASKETBALL SEASON HAS ENDED
The Spartan boys' team finished the season with a 6-7 record that included a victory over Clayton by a score of 70-65 at the final home game last week. Junior Jaylen White led SSS with 24 points in that contest. Leading scorer for the season was junior Jalen Hinton, who averaged 11.2 points per game.
The SSS girls finished their season with a 3-10 record that ended with a 46-42 victory over East Wake. The team's leading scorer for the season was senior My'shiah McQueen, who averaged 14 points per game.
Meanwhile, both the varsity and junior-varsity boys' soccer teams have begun their seasons.
VISIT the SSS Athletics website for the school's complete sports schedule>
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Should the Department of Social Services complex of buildings on Smithfield's North Street house county administrative offices presently inside the Courthouse?
Johnston commissioners debate relocation
of county's offices outside the Courthouse
At last week's day-long "work session" of Johnston's County Commissioners, County Manager Rick Hester offered a potential scenario for relocating all the county's administrative offices outside the Courthouse:
Social Services has outgrown its quarters in three buildings beside North Street at Bright Leaf Boulevard that formerly housed headquarters of the Cooperative Extension Service and other agencies related to agriculture.
If a new building were constructed somewhere else just for Social Services, Mr. Hester said, the North Street "campus" could house county administrative offices presently inside the Courthouse including the Tax Office, Register of Deeds, County Manager and Finance, plus a larger meeting room for commissioners.
That would clear the way for the Courthouse and its additions fronting Johnston and South Third streets to become an all-judicial center with more courtrooms and larger quarters for the District Attorney and other functions related to the courts, he noted.
Putting all that into motion would be next year's completion of the new Detention Center under construction off US 70 Business east of town along with a new Public Safety Center that would house the Sheriff's Department, Emergency Services, and 9-1-1 Communications presently crammed into newer sections of the Courthouse.
That's one scenario. But there's a bigger question:
"Do we renovate existing facilities, or is it best to move to one big place and build multiple county facilities?" the county manager asked the board.
Commissioner Fred Smith advocated constructing a new building or buildings on a sufficiently sized parcel of land that the county would need to identify and purchase. "It's a whole lot more efficient to build new rather than renovate," he said as he passed out examples of relocated administrative complexes in Harnett and Brunswick counties.
"It really doesn't matter to me where the location is," he continued. "We need to think new; we need to think big."
But Commissioners' Chairman Chad Stewart questioned the public's acceptance of spending perhaps $100 million and more on a new governmental center. "We don't need to take an old building and throw it out the window," he said, referring to the present Social Services complex that's likely to be vacated.
In the end, commissioners seemed to agree that employing a consultant to evaluate options for future work space for county employees should be the first step to take.
READ MORE about the commissioners' "work session" on OBSERVATIONS>
WHAT'S COMING UP?
COUNTY COMMISSIONERS BACK IN SESSION NEXT MONDAY
The Johnston County Board of Commissioners will meet twice on Monday --- the usual procedure for the first Monday of the month. Both sessions will be held in the Old Superior Courtroom of the Courthouse and live-streamed on the county's Facebook page>
At the 10 a.m. session, the board will get its monthly COVID-19 update from Health and Emergency Services as well as reports from the Beaver Management Assistance Program and Johnston's Cooperative Extension Service.
VIEW the complete agenda on the county's website>
At the 6 p.m. session, commissioners will hold just one public hearing --- on a request from the Wake Electric Membership Corporation for a special-use permit to construct an electrical substation on 4.05 acres in the 2000 block of Feed Mill Road in O'Neals Township. Another item on the agenda is presentation of a schedule of activities and fees associated with a comprehensive overhaul of the county's land-development ordinance over the next several months.
VIEW the complete agenda on the county's website>
SMITHFIELD COUNCIL'S MONTHLY MEETING NEXT TUESDAY
It begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall and is open to the public with requirements for mask wearing and social distancing. On the relatively light agenda is a single public hearing --- on a request from Saint Ann Catholic Church to modify recently adopted rules for columbaria on church grounds regarding height limits and trust funding. The council will also make appointments to the town's Planning Board, Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, and the Board of Trustees of the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.
VIEW the complete agenda with supporting data on the town's website>
REMINDER ABOUT COUNCIL'S PUBLIC SESSION ON BUDGET
The Smithfield Town Council's "public input budget meeting" takes place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. today (Thursday) at the Recreation and Aquatics Center. In-person attendance will be allowed, but citizens may also express their views via telephone conference call by dialing 1-800-719-7514 or 919-391-3517 and entering the code 808829 when prompted.
SMITHFIELD SCHEDULES "CHLORINE BURNOUT" FOR WATER
The town will conduct a "free chlorine burnout" of its water-distribution system starting at 8 a.m. next Monday (March 1) and continuing till April 2. "During this time customers may notice discoloration or a change in taste and smell of their water," the town advises. "Customers who experience this are advised to flush their plumbing fixtures and water lines throughout their homes thoroughly. If any water-quality issues are experienced please be assured that the water is still safe and there is no need to boil water or take any other precautions." For more information, contact the town's water plant during regular business hours at 919-934-2661.
SCHOOLS ANNOUNCE RULES FOR PROMS AND GRADUATIONS
Johnston County Public Schools will allow proms this year, provided they are held "in an outside area" with no more than 100 students "per time slot or per outside venue." All attendees must wear masks, follow social distancing, and use hand-sanitizing stations; and only seniors will be permitted to attend along with one guest each. "Based on current orders from the governor prom must end by 10:00 p.m.," the school's directive states.
For high-school graduations, JCPS will maintain its current plan, which allows drive-through ceremonies where graduates receive diplomas and have pictures taken one at a time. Smithfield-Selma High's commencement will be spread over two days: Tuesday, June 1 and Wednesday, June 2.