Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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Commissioners OK "full funding" for schools

$7.9 million released with acceptance of policy addressing CRT

Johnston's County Commissioners voted unanimously this week to meet the school board's requested increase in county funding for Johnston's public schools this year.

That funding was withheld from the county's 2021-22 budget when the commissioners adopted it in June as a result of Commissioner Fred Smith's insistence that any increase be contingent upon the school board's adoption of a policy banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT).

In a brief special session last Friday, the Board of Education adopted a policy amendment that addresses the CRT issue (without specifically naming it). That action was enough to satisfy Mr. Smith, who made the motion at the outset of the commissioners' Monday evening session to grant the school board's request for $7.9 million in additional funding. His motion was quickly adopted.

"I believe this is the first time in history, or in many, many years, that the school system has been fully funded" (by the county), declared School Board Chairman Todd Sutton as he thanked commissioners following Monday's vote.

"Now, don't let us down," responded Commissioners' Chairman Chad Stewart, referring to school leaders' pledge to raise the academic performance of Johnston County's students.

The additional $7.9 million brings the total county appropriation for operating Johnston's schools this fiscal year to $79.9 million plus another $2,962,000 for capital improvements – both amounts meeting requests from the Board of Education.

Among provisions in the school board's new policy are these statements:

"No person should be judged, subjected to stereotypes regardless of negative or positive, or marginalized based on race, gender, religion, preference, ethnicity, immigration status, socioeconomic standing, ability, or any other identity group. No person should be limited by the assumptions of race, gender, religion, creed, ethnicity, preference, immigration status or identity group regarding the individual’s behavior and future success.

"Racism causes damage to individuals and the community. When racism is present, it creates a lack of trust and respect. No student or staff member shall be subjected to the notion that racism is a permanent component of American life....

All people deserve full credit and recognition for their struggles and accomplishments throughout United States history. The United States foundational documents shall not be undermined. No employee of Johnston County Schools will make any attempt to discredit the efforts made by all people using foundational documents for reform...."

School board member Ronald Johnson, who produced the first draft of the policy amendment, told commissioners Monday that the final version resulted from a collaborative effort involving school principals, law-enforcement officers, and teachers along with school board members and county commissioners.

Mr. Smith thanked fellow commissioners Tony Braswell, Patrick Harris, and Larry Wood in particular for their involvement in crafting an acceptable policy.

Dale Lands, leader of a citizens' group that spoke out loudest in support of a policy outlawing CRT in Johnston's schools, thanked commissioners for "getting it across the finish line." He also thanked them for withholding the $7.9 million until the CRT issue was adequately addressed by the school board.

April Lee, a teacher who's president of Johnston's Association of Educators, labeled the commissioners' funding delay as "extortion" and the anti-CRT policy amendment as "ethically wrong" because it's "trying to limit what we teach."

READ the accepted policy in full, with new provisions shown in red letters>

Commissioners split over purchase price of property

The controversy arose over an option to buy about six acres next to the new Detention and Public Safety centers under construction east of Smithfield.
READ about that decision and other matters before the board on Monday>


Smithfield's new place for recreational drone flying

Town Councilman David Barbour demonstrates flying with his own device during Saturday's official opening of the town's new drone field in West Smithfield. In the photo he appears to be giving the "stay" command to his hovering "pet" drone (upper left), which is also pictured in the inset.

MORE about this unique public facility on the FEATURE PAGE>


Two more West Smithfield subdivisions approved

Developers continue to roll out plans for new housing west of the river. The Smithfield Town Council cleared the way for two more sizable projects Tuesday, both with the new conditional zoning option that specifies exactly how properties are to be developed.

Marin Woods is the name of a subdivision in the works off NC 210 west of Skyland Drive that was approved for 49 single-family dwellings and 94 townhouses. The project came before the council a month ago but its approval was postponed to give petitioner StrongRock Engineering of Raleigh and the town's planning staff an opportunity to satisfy council members' concerns about parking, setbacks, and other items.

"You've done a good job," Councilman David Barbour, who represents the West Smithfield District, told a StrongRock representative on hand for Tuesday's meeting.

Whitley Townes is the name of a 70-unit townhouse development being planned by J&J Flowers Finch, Inc. for a site beside US 70 Business just west of the vacant Heilig-Meyers and K-mart store buildings. It gained immediate approval Tuesday after the council saw that Planning Director Stephen Wensman and the developer were already in full agreement on details of the project.

Mr. Wensman noted that the "target price" of the Whitley Townes units is $230,000 for a typical dwelling of about 1,700 square feet.

Rezoning to allow those two subdivisions comes on the heels of last month's approval of a 669-unit project across US 70 Business from the Amazon warehouse under construction. Floyd Landing will encompass 89 single-family dwellings, 220 townhouses, and 360 apartments on almost 200 acres.


Amazon pay raised to $18 yet still below county average

That fact came to light as a result of Tuesday's modification of a federal grant application by the Smithfield Town Council. Amazon announced the company-wide hike in starting pay back in mid-September.

Town Manager Mike Scott told the council its application for a grant to upgrade West Smithfield's sewerage will require a larger local match because the 500 jobs Amazon says it will create here "do not have an average annual wage that exceeds the county's."

According to the county's Economic Development Office, Johnston's current private-sector average wage amounts to $41,776 a year.

READ about that and other matters addressed at Tuesday's council session>



"We are doing much better," says health director

That was the word from Dr. Marilyn Pearson in her monthly COVID report to Johnston's County Commissioners this week. The county's director of public health tempered her remark with the observation that Johnston is still seeing "a lot of deaths" caused by the coronavirus.

Tuesday's report from the Health Department showed 326 fatalities since the pandemic hit home in March 2020. That total included 13 deaths this past week. Over the past 18 months 247 Johnstonians age 65 and older have perished from COVID, 56 in the 50-64 age group, 23 ages 24-49, but none under age 24.

Meanwhile, COVID-related hospitalizations are on a downward trend, from 65 two weeks ago to 40 this week.

Vaccinations are another story. Last Thursday's drive-thru vaccination clinic at the BrightLeaf Flea Market here drew just 64 shot takers – a big drop-off from clinics held by the Health Department earlier this year when more than a thousand lined up each time to be vaccinated.

Besides the occasional drive-thru events, the Health Department offers all shots at its Smithfield headquarters 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, till 6 p.m. Tuesdays.

This week's report from the school system (posted Thursday morning) shows 110 active cases among students and staff (up from 90 last week) with 502 students and 22 staff members quarantined (a week ago 437 students and 32 staff were quarantined).

Schools with the most students in quarantine (Thursday morning): Polenta Elementary 39 (19 last week), Dixon Road Elementary 26, West Clayton Elementary 25, Pine Level Elementary 24. Locally, West Smithfield Elementary reported 19, Smithfield-Selma High, Selma Middle, and Wilson's Mills Elementary each with 10, Smithfield Middle and Selma Elementary each with 9, and South Smithfield Elementary 7.   

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) 

(last week)
97,217: 46%*
(94,796: 45%)
5,627,084: 54%*
UNITED STATES 44,060,356
  186,385,751: 57%
(184,335,263: 56%)
WORLDWIDE 236,612,988
total doses given
* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 4:35 p.m. October 5
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 11:50 a.m. October 6
Johns Hopkins University at 8:21 a.m. October 7


Rainfall slacked off in September: just 1.8 inches

Will September turn out to be the driest month of 2021?

Just 1.8 inches was recorded at Cornell Cox's Backyard Weather Station in South Smithfield this past month, bringing the year-to-date total to 44.59. Smithfield's average annual rainfall is just under 48 inches.

One big reason for September's below-normal precipitation this year: no nearby hurricanes!



Football Spartans crush Wilson Fike, 42-14

After a decade of many more losses than wins, Smithfield-Selma High School's football team is showing a rejuvenated competitiveness. The latest piece of evidence was Friday night's victory at Fike High in Wilson.

That was also the Spartans' first win in the new Quad County 3A Conference. SSS is now 1-2 in league games, 3-3 overall.

Friday's victory featured three touchdowns in three minutes for the Spartans just before halftime. With Fike leading 14-7 and driving for another score, SSS defenders intercepted not one, not two, but three passes on successive Fike possessions – one returned 65 yards by Isaiah Dawson for a TD, the other two setting the stage for TD runs by Dashawn McCullough and Brandon Perry, who scored two touchdowns apiece during the game. A TD pass from McCullough to Dawson accounted for the Spartans' other score.

Up next is a home game at 7 p.m. Friday against intra-county rival West Johnston, which is 4-1 after last Friday's 33-20 win over East Wake. A recap of the Spartans' season is posted on MaxPreps>




Monday is Columbus Day holiday for some workers

It's a federal holiday but not a state or local holiday for employees of public agencies. Therefore, federal agencies including the Post Office are closed. Also, most banks will be closed for Monday's holiday.

School board meets Tuesday: another vote on masks?

A new state law requires school boards to vote monthly on whether to require students and staff to wear masks or make it optional. The Johnston County Board of Education's regular October session is scheduled for next Tuesday at the Simpson Building on US 70 Business east of Smithfield, beginning at 5 p.m. The board postponed last month's mask vote till September 20 because one of its members was absent for its regular meeting on September 14. The agenda for next week's meeting, once it's released, will be posted on the schools' website>


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

PAUL SANDERS, 81 – died October 5

REV. ELDRIDGE GRAHAM DIXON, 96 – died October 4

LINA MAE ALTMAN, 101 – died September 30



Overnight, Smithfield will become a "bicycle town"

That'll be the case this evening (Thursday), when hundreds of cyclists pedaling from the mountains to the coast this week make an overnight stop at Smithfield Community Park. They're taking part in Cycle North Carolina's annual trek that started in Sparta last Sunday and ends at North Topsail Beach this Saturday.

Looking ahead, we have a good chance to become a permanent "bicycle town" when that missing link of the Neuse River Greenway Trail is built from Clayton to Smithfield, linking us to Raleigh and a whole bunch of long-distance bicyclists sure to head our way on a regular basis.

Johnston's County Commissioners have appropriated a modest $7,500 to hook us up with the N.C. Department of Transportation to identify a precise route for that missing link along the river. Once that's done, construction should follow in the not-too-distant future.

Funding for that work from state and federal coffers is a good bet because the existing greenways at Smithfield and Clayton are part of both the N.C. Mountains-to-Sea Trail and the East Coast Greenway Trail. Neither of those trails is complete, but existing bits and pieces are linked by street and highway connections. We've seen recent evidence of that effort with the attachment of East Coast Greenway markers to sign posts along Smithfield's South Second Street (pictured here).

Whatever happened to that marketing slogan about Johnston County: "We've Got Great Connections"? These bicycle and hiking trails hold promise as the icing on that cake.


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