Thursday, August 5, 2021
Stories and photos by Wingate Lassiter (unless noted otherwise)


Raising their hands in favor of parental choice regarding masks: (left to right) Ronald Johnson, Todd Sutton, Lyn Andrews, and Mike Wooten. Favoring required mask wearing: Kay Carroll, Al Byrd, and Terri Sessoms.

School board makes face masks optional

By a vote of 4-3, the Johnston County Board of Education has decided not to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Governor Roy Cooper's administration to continue requiring students in all grades as well as staff to wear masks at school.

Before the vote, Johnston school administrators warned of negative consequences if state and federal guidance on COVID-19 infections are ignored. "There is the absolute potential for significant numbers of student and staff absences," declared Nicholas King, the school system's Chief Academic Officer as parents seated behind him shook their heads in disagreement.

The state's "Toolkit" for dealing with school outbreaks prescribes options for both school districts that will require masks and those that won't. Where masks are optional, a student testing positive for COVID-19 as well as "anyone within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes cumulatively over a 24-hour period" would have to quarantine for 10 days away from school.

"You are not exempt from being deemed a close contact unless the positive person and the close contact were both wearing a face covering, or unless both parties have been fully vaccinated or had COVID-19 in the last 3 months," Assistant Superintendent David Pearce told the board.

Academic assignments would be sent home with quarantined students but remote learning would not be offered them as was done this past year, he added.

Dr. King emphasized the importance of keeping absenteeism among students and teachers to a minimum during the school year ahead in the wake of lost instructional time during the past year's pandemic. "We are already dealing with significant learning loss," he stated.

The 2021-22 academic year for most North Carolina public schools, including Johnston's, begins August 23. Among neighboring counties, school boards in Harnett, Sampson, and Wayne have decided to make masks optional. Boards in Wake, Wilson, Nash, and Lee have decided to continue requiring masks in schools.

Johnston Community College this morning (Thursday) issued a mask mandate:

"In light of the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases and the highly contagious nature of new variants, Johnston Community College will require masks to be worn indoors, effective immediately and until further notice."


County health director prescribes shots & masks

Dr. Marilyn Pearson, director of the Johnston County Public Health Department, repeated an old prescription to County Commissioners on Monday on how best to put an end to the coronavirus pandemic now in its 18th month:

"We encourage everyone who's able, willing, and eligible to get vaccinated," she urged. And, "we really need to do masking, particularly (among) those who are indoors... even if you're vaccinated," she advised. "This Delta variant is pretty contagious."

Dr. Pearson reported case numbers climbing again in Johnston County (545 new cases in the past week), with 89 re-infections and 98 "breakthrough cases," which are reports the Health Department has received of vaccinated individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. Even so, she emphasized, "we know the vaccine protects against extreme illness, hospitalization, and death."

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Johnston increased this past week from 26 to 40, while the current outbreak in the county's jail is up to 65 inmates plus four staffers. Two more deaths among Johnstonians were reported, bringing the total since March 2020 to 249.

Dr. Pearson noted that 39% of residents of all ages are fully vaccinated – a number still significantly lower than state and national percentages – yet on a positive note 80% of Johnstonians age 65 and older have gotten at least one dose of vaccine.

Meanwhile, the State of North Carolina announced this week that it will give gift cards of $100 to persons who get their first dose of vaccine "at a participating location." So far, the closest location to Smithfield is in Goldsboro. Here's the link to finding them all> 

VIEW the current list of Health Department vaccination clinics in Johnston County>

Case total
since 3-20 

(last week)
since 3-20 

(last week)

(last week) 

(last week)
81,681: 39%*
(80,830: 39%)
4,940,832: 47%*
(4,898,881: 47%*)
UNITED STATES 35,292,721
  165,081,416,: 50%
(163,312,474: 50%)
WORLDWIDE 200,014,602
total doses given
Information from: County of Johnston at 4:45 p.m. August 3
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:45 p.m. August 4
Johns Hopkins University at 3:21 p.m. August 4 
* Percentage of total population (all ages)

Smithfield Council rezones for new charter school

American Leadership Academy Johnston plans to have its campus for grades K-12 ready for students by this time next year, the Town Council was told during a public hearing Tuesday night on rezoning almost 48 acres of vacant land off US 70 Business beyond Whitley Heights to permit its construction.

It's one of five new North Carolina charter schools approved earlier this year by the State Board of Education and will be operated by Charter One, an Education Management Organization founded in Arizona in 2015. Since then it has expanded into Florida and Nevada as well as North Carolina.

David Powlen of Little Diversified Architectural Consulting said plans call for separate buildings for a "lower school" for grades K-7 and an "upper school" for grades 8-12, a gymnasium for each, and a stadium that could accommodate football, soccer, and lacrosse. Total enrollment is projected to reach 1,950 students, the council was told.

Dawn Carol, who chairs the new school's board of directors, told the town's Planning Board last month that admission to the school will be determined by lottery following an application process likely to start this fall. She said bus transportation will be provided within a 30-mile radius as well as cafeteria service for meals. She said there's no tuition to attend (the school's operation will be funded by the state).

Planning Director Stephen Wensman told the council Tuesday that the school intends to seek voluntary annexation to the Town of Smithfield, even though it lies within the Wilson's Mills Fire District.

Mayor Andy Moore raised concerns about potential traffic backups from US 70 Business. Mr. Powlen said the site plan for the school calls for a four-lane driveway into and out of the campus, divided within to serve the two classroom buildings.

Both the Planning Board and the Council gave the project unanimous approval.

Large residential subdivision in the works across from Amazon site
READ ABOUT THAT and other matters addressed at Tuesday's Council session>


County's property-tax collections up $9 million

Johnston's County Commissioners got a report at Monday's meeting showing an increase of $9 million in property taxes paid to the county this past year, rising from $141.6 million in fiscal 2019-20 to $150.6 million – an increase of 6.36%.

The number for fiscal 2020-21 produced a collection rate of 99.77% – just under the record-high rate of 99.9% three years ago. County Tax Administrator Jocelyn Andrews noted that 57% of $340,882 billed but unpaid this past year was "barred from collection due to bankruptcy or valuation appeals."

Since fiscal 2015-6, property taxes paid to the county have jumped 43% --- a result of Johnston's rapid residential and commercial development augmented by rising market values for most real estate.

The rosy fiscal picture prompted commissioners to cut the county's property-tax for 2021-22 from 76 to 73 cents per $100 valuation. "Growth is good," Commissioner Tony Braswell remarked.

Salaries for Sheriff and Register of Deeds
The board approved new salaries for two of the county's elected officers: Sheriff Steve Bizzell $164,000 (up from $136,472 a year ago) and Register of Deeds Craig Olive $105,000 (up from $95,304). Commissioners' Chairman Chad Stewart said the new amounts are based "on market salary data" provided by the county's Human Resources Department.

How American Rescue funds could be used
County Manager Rick Hester recommended that the county set aside $35 million of $40.6 million in federal funds it is receiving from the American Rescue Plan Act adopted by Congress earlier this year for water and sewer and Internet Broadband projects, leaving the remaining $5 million uncommitted. Commissioners agreed to take his request under advisement until more is known about additional federal aid under consideration in Congress.

Appointments made to several governing boards
• Alcoholic Beverage Control Board – Craig Williams reappointed.
• Johnston-Lee-Harnett Community Action Board – Dawn Winn-Burdo reappointed, Derrick Applewhite Jr. newly appointed.
• Johnston County Board of Health – Tim Little newly appointed.
• Public Library Board of Trustees – Janice Bizzell reappointed; Jennifer Seagraves newly appointed.
• Livestock Arena Management Board – Eric W. Honeycutt and Paul H. (Sonny) Howard reappointed.
Also, the board nominated Davis Mills and Dr. Marilyn Pearson for reappointment to the Hospital Authority Board of Commissioners, subject to concurrence by current members of that board.

Rezoning petitions approved for rural businesses

Following public hearings during Monday's evening session, commissioners rezoned 7.12 acres at Bertie Heights Road in Pine Level Township to allow a mechanic's shop and 2.67 acres at 8488 Cleveland Road for expansion of a landscaping business. A third request – to "downzone" 2.56 acres at 3469 US. 70 East in Pine Level Township from General Business to Agricultural Residential – was tabled because the applicant was not present for the hearing.


Almost 10 inches of rain fell upon us in July!

According to Cornell Cox's Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield, we got 9.81 inches last month, bringing the year's total to 37.92.

That's not far from our normal yearly total of just under 48 inches, and we've got five months to go. Other monthly readings since the first of this year: January 6.84 inches; February 7.63; March 3.02; April 0.92; May 2.62; June 7.08.

Last year was unusually wet when just over 76 inches fell upon us. We're halfway there after seven months this year. But at least we've enjoyed unusually cooler temperatures beneath rain-laden clouds this past week. Daytime highs at Johnston Regional Airport: 73 on Tuesday, 77 on Wednesday.


301 north of Holt Lake will be closed next week

To complete repairs resulting from a recent washout, the N.C. Department of Transportation will close the roadway between the N.C. LIcense Plate Office and Holt Lake Restaurant for 7-10 days starting Monday (August 9), Town Manager Mike Scott announced at Tuesday's Town Council meeting. "Traffic will be detoured onto I-95 via exits 90 and 93 during these repairs," he said.


School board's regular monthly meeting next Tuesday

The board usually begins its 4 p.m. meeting with a closed session followed by business open to the public at 5 p.m. Seating for citizens is limited at board meetings in the Simpson Building on US 70 Business east of Smithfield; as a result, the meeting will be live-streamed on the schools' YouTube channel> The agenda for Tuesday's meeting will be posted by week's end on the schools' website>

Smithfield's Pedestrian Plan to be shown next Wednesday

The Town of Smithfield Pedestrian Plan will be shown to the public during an open house from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. next  Wednesday (August 11) at Town Hall. "It is your opportunity to learn about the current pedestrian plan and offer input as we look to improve mobility through the town's pedestrian networks," reads the town's announcement about the event.

Finalists for fire chief will meet the public next Thursday

They are Mike Morton, assistant fire marshal for the City of Winston-Salem, and Michael Brown, deputy fire chief for the City of Wilson. They'll be on hand to "meet and greet" the public in an informal setting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. next Thursday (August 12) in the Town Hall Council Chambers.

Author will offer his tips on "How to Market Your Book"

The Johnston County Writers Group will host the public session led by fiction and non-fiction writer Oakley Dean Baldwin from 6 to 7 p.m. next Thursday (August 12) at the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield at 305 East Market Street Downtown.


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


MYRTLE BROWN WATSON, 103 – died August 2

THOMAS EDISON SULLIVAN, 93 – died August 1

CAROL ANNETTE JOHNSON, 58 – died July 31

MAVIE JEAN DAUGHTRY, 84 – died July 30

JORDAN RAY LANE, 20 – died July 30


CHASE DIEGO JOHNSON, 26 – died July 28

SUSAN QUINN STEWART, 66 – died July 28



Parental choice vs. COVID-19: a risky game to play

Perhaps it will turn out OK in the end: Students will return to Johnston County's public schools later this month with some wearing face masks and others unmasked and still avoid COVID-19 outbreaks that could send many of them home where they'll miss valuable time in the classroom.

But in a county where more folks than not aren't vaccinated against the coronavirus – and many among us are behaving as if the pandemic is over when it's not....

Here's a better scenario, even under the risky mask policy adopted by our school board: Perhaps the threat before us will spur more parents and older students to get those free vaccinations they should've gotten way before now.


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