Johnston County Board
of Commissioners


report from July 19th sessions

All commissioners present: Chairman Chad Stewart, Tony Braswell,
Ted Godwin, Patrick Harris, Butch Lawter, Fred Smith,
Larry Wood


SPLIT VOTE FUNDS D.A. DOMESTIC-VIOLENCE POSITIONS

The board voted 4-3 to appropriate $95,000 to cover the salaries of two employees who handle domestic-violence cases in the District Attorney's Office after learning that the state has not renewed a grant for those positions. Joining Commissioner Smith in opposition were Commissioners Godwin and Wood. "It's crystal clear this is the state's responsibility," argued Mr. Smith, who took the same stand earlier this year on a similar funding shortfall in the D.A.'s Office. Chairman Stewart countered: "I am not going to take taxpaying citizens and let them go under-served in my county because of other government entities." He was joined in approving the funding by Commissioners Braswell, Harris, and Lawter. Mr. Braswell said the $95,000 will keep the two employees --- one assistant D.A. and a clerical assistant --- on the job for six months with hopes that the N.C. General Assembly will adopt a budget soon that restores state funding for the positions.


$1.25-MILLION "WRONGFUL DEATH" SETTLEMENT OK'd

The board approved a $1.25-million payment to the estate of Shirley James, who was killed in a motor-vehicle collision involving a Sheriff's Department deputy on Highway 301 near North Johnston High School in January. The deputy was responding to an emergency call when the collision occurred. The payment comes from the county's liability insurance.


A NEW WAY OF ELECTING COMMISSIONERS REQUESTED

Timothy Hodges, an African-American resident of Clayton, read a petition signed by a number of citizens seeking changes in the current setup for electing county commissioners. Instead of candidates from the seven residential districts subject to countywide voting, the petitioners ask that voters cast ballots only for their district's candidate. They also ask that the districts be redrawn to create at least one where minorities are in the majority. Later during Monday's morning session, Commissioner Godwin said he wouldn't be in favor of doing away with countywide voting for all the board's seats "but we do need to look at revising boundaries" of the current districts. County Attorney Jennifer Slusser said changing from at-large to district-only voting would require approval by Johnston's voters in a referendum.


BOARD'S SCHOOL-FUNDING FREEZE CALLED "BULLYING"

James Gathers, an African-American resident of Devil's Racetrack Road, chastised the board for withholding $7.9 million in requested new funding for Johnston's public schools until the Board of Education adopts a policy specifically banning Critical Race Theory in the county's classrooms. He called the commissioners' tactic "bullying," which he said is "something we teach against." Those campaigning against CRT, he continued, "don't speak for the whole county." Referring to his grandchildren, "I want them to hear the truth," he said. "African-Americans didn't come here as slaves; they were made (to be) slaves."


"TRANSGENDERS IN SPORTS" ADDED TO CRT PROTEST

John Saluppo, one of the organizers of the anti-CRT campaign in Johnston, added a new wrinkle to the protest as he addressed commissioners Monday morning: "We don't want CRT or transgenders in sports," he said. "Already it's started," he continued. "There was a spa in Los Angeles (where) an individual who is a transgender went in there, in the ladies' locker room, showing genitalia. It's going to happen in our schools if we allow it," he predicted. Mr. Saluppo concluded his remarks by deriding a "liberal agenda" that he said is "taking away our voting rights, our freedom of speech, and our Second Amendment."


DOOR-TO-DOOR CAMPAIGN CALLED "VACCINE SNOOPING"

Kenneth Taylor, a frequent speaker during "Public Comment" at board meetings, voiced his opposition to county employees going door to door to asking Johnstonians to get coronavirus vaccinations, calling the practice "door-knocking COVID-vaccine snooping that's being pushed by Washington." He said the practice may be in violation of federal law that protects patient confidentiality, thereby putting the county and its employees at risk of legal liabilities.


DESPITE COVID, TAX-COLLECTION RATE REACHES 99.7%

County Tax Administrator Jocelyn Andrews reported that property-tax collections for the past year reached 99.7% --- another high mark despite economic setbacks associated with the coronavirus pandemic. At this point, she told the board Monday, only about $350,000 of current taxes due remain to be paid. Exclaimed Commissioner Larry Wood: "The taxpayers of Johnston County pay their bills."


BROADBAND REPORT SHOWS COUNTY'S WEAK SPOTS

The board received a completed report from a consultant taking stock of Broadband Internet connectivity throughout Johnston. Jeff Brooks of ECC Technologies, Inc. of Raleigh said "the county, generally speaking, is fairly well served" by Internet providers offering connections capable of handling large amounts of data transmitted for educational and commercial purposes. A map in the report shows two areas most lacking: the larger south of the Neuse River and east of I-95, a smaller area around Kenly and Micro. Among steps the county should now take to improve that service, Mr. Books advised, is to solicit proposals from the various Internet providers currently doing business in Johnston.


REVENUE BONDS AUTHORIZED FOR SEWER PROJECTS

Commissioners authorized the issuance of $52.5 million in water and sewer revenue bonds and then approved contracts for projects spending a good chunk of that money. Several of those will "upsize" sewer mains and pumping stations to serve a larger wastewater-treatment plant the county is about to build on its property adjacent to the landfill off NC 210. That plant will eventually replace the county's treatment facilities on the Neuse River below Smithfield that were inundated and temporarily put out of commission by Hurricane Matthew's floodwaters in 2016. Revenue bonds are financed through monthly rates charged customers of the county's water and sewer systems rather than property taxes, which are the source of financing general-obligation bonds requiring approval by the county's voters.



ANNUAL REPORT ON JOHNSTON'S CHILD FATALITIES

Kathleen W. Lane, a retired nurse who serves as review coordinator for the Child Fatality Prevention Team associated with the county's departments of Public Health and Social Services, presented an annual report on deaths of Johnston's children under 18 years of age during the past year. Of 23 deaths documented, 13 resulted from premature birth, four from illness, two from motor-vehicle accidents, one from homicide, and two undetermined. The Prevention Team's mission is "to prevent the abuse, neglect, and death of juveniles."


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