Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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It appears to be an Autumn Leaves Spectacle surpassing any we've seen in recent years, highlighted by the golden maples decorating numerous Smithfield yards. The Sun's editor took a walk around the southwestern quadrant of the town last Sunday afternoon and found spectacular leaf outbreaks at every turn.
A photographic report from that excursion appears on the FEATURE PAGE>


Dickie Braswell is new county commissioner

By unanimous vote at Monday's session, Johnston's County Commissioners appointed Richard D. (Dickie) Braswell of Princeton to fill the District 3 seat being vacated at the end of this month by Chairman Chad Stewart of Four Oaks.

Mr. Braswell, who lost a close race against Mr. Stewart three years ago, will serve the term's remaining 12 months and has already announced his intention to campaign as a candidate for commissioner in next year's election. The filing period opens Monday, Dec. 6, coincidentally the date of Mr. Braswell's first meeting as a commissioner.

District 3 encompasses a wide section of southeastern Johnston County stretching from Four Oaks to Princeton.

Commissioners Ted Godwin, Fred Smith, and Larry Wood served as a committee that interviewed three applicants for Mr. Stewart's seat: Gary Wayne Lee and Ralph Stewart as well as Mr. Braswell. They also consulted with leaders of Johnston's Republican Party since Mr. Stewart had to be replaced by a registered Republican.

Commissioner Smith, who made the appointment motion, said all three candidates were "really quality applicants." He said the committee recommended Mr. Braswell because of his experience as a real-estate developer in dealing with infrastructure, water and sewer projects especially.

Mr. Stewart will give up his seat on the board Nov. 30 to begin work full-time as manager of Johnston's Alcoholic Beverage Control system. The board will elect a new chairman at its Dec. 6 meeting.


County exercises $450,000 property-purchase option

Commissioner Godwin called it "the biggest miscarriage and waste of taxpayers' money" as he and Commissioner Wood voted Monday against completing the purchase of nearly six acres next to the new Detention and Public Safety centers under construction beside US 70 Business east of Smithfield. The other five commissioners approved the purchase, to be finalized no later than next June 1.

Mr. Godwin and Mr. Wood voted last month against taking the option because of the price, which at $77,000 an acre is much more than the $20,000 an acre the county had paid for adjacent land.

County Manager Rick Hester told the Sun after Monday's meeting that warehousing for Emergency Services heads the list of possible uses for the additional property.

READ the board clerk's summary of all matters handled at Monday's meeting>



How legislative redistricting affects Johnston

Currently, Johnston County is represented in the North Carolina General Assembly by three state senators, none of whom are Johnston County residents. After next year's election, Johnston will have one state senator who represents the entire county and no other territories.

Meanwhile, Johnston will continue to elect members to the N.C. House of Representatives from two districts revised yet still contained within the county's borders, plus a third new district encompassing the westernmost corner of Johnston and the eastern half of Harnett County.

With addition of a 14th Congressional district in North Carolina resulting from 2020 Census results, Johnston will be in a newly crafted district with all of Sampson and Cumberland counties, most of Harnett, and a small portion of Wayne to the southeast. That does not include New Hanover County where Republican David Rouzer, Johnston's current representative in the U.S. House, now resides.

Those changes were adopted by the N.C. General Assembly earlier this month for state and federal legislative redistricting that's required after each 10-year federal census. They'll be in place for 2022's primary and general elections, barring a delay resulting from lawsuits challenging the new boundaries.

Currently, Johnston's representation in the N.C. Senate is split among three districts represented by Republicans Lisa Barnes of Nash County (whose district encompasses Smithfield), Brent Jackson of Sampson County, and Jim Burgin of Harnett County.

In the N.C. House, Johnston is represented by Republicans Donna White of Clayton and Larry Strickland of Pine Level from two separate districts that split Smithfield in half. Under the new plan, all of Smithfield will be within a single district that includes Mr. Strickland's place of residence but not Ms. White's.

The filing period for state and county offices up for election in 2022 opens at noon Monday, Dec. 6 and closes at noon Friday, Dec. 17.


No rush so far to get children vaccinated here

The Johnston County Public Health Department reports a total of 321 COVID vaccinations were given to children 5-11 years old November 4-12, the first week they've been offered in North Carolina to that age group. That's just a fraction of an estimated 20,000 Johnston County children ages 5-11.

Meanwhile, the mid-week report from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services shows little progress in the number of Johnstonians fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The 102,355 Johnstonians in that group make up 49% of the county's population. Statewide, 56% are fully vaccinated; nationwide, 59.5%.

This week's report from the school system (posted this morning) showed 114 active cases among students and staff (up from 107 last week) with 325 students and 17 staff members quarantined (294 students and 21 staff quarantined a week ago). As of this morning, East Clayton Elementary reported 74 students quarantined; no other school in Johnston had as many as 20. In the immediate area, Wilson's Mills Elementary reported 8, Smithfield-Selma High and South Smithfield Elementary 5 apiece, Smithfield Middle 4, and West Smithfield Elementary none.

VIEW the school system's COVID dashboard with data for all schools>

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)
102,355: 49%*
5,902,781: 56%*
UNITED STATES 47,421,879
  195,612,365: 59.5%
WORLDWIDE 255,193,384
total doses given
* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 5:35 p.m. November 15
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 12:00 p.m. November 17
Johns Hopkins University at 8:22 a.m. November 18


Schools' audit confirms improved finances

"No surprise here; this is not abnormal," said Adam Scepurek of the auditing firm Anderson Smith & Wike referring to a hefty jump in the cash position of Johnston County Public Schools during the 2020-21 fiscal year that ended June 30. "Every district we've worked with has added fund balance," he told the county's Board of Education last week as he summarized findings from the schools' annual audit.

The biggest reason for that, he noted, was the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought forth a flood of federal aid even as it shut down schools and produced huge savings in operating expenses.

But in Johnston County's case, there was more: an extra infusion of cash from the County Commissioners at the end of fiscal 2019-20 followed by a new school administration that got a tighter grip on the system's finances.

As a result, Johnston's schools ended 2020-21 with a General Fund balance of $23,389,423. That's up about $13 million from the previous year and a dramatic increase from a dangerously low balance of about $900,000 two years ago.

Even so, Director of Finance Stephen Britt followed the auditor's presentation with a reminder that Johnston's school system continues to rank near the bottom in North Carolina in terms of per-pupil expenditures: 111th among the state's 115 school districts, he said.

It wasn't brought up at last week's meeting, but that standing appears likely to improve with the County Commissioners' recent approval of the school board's funding request in full for the current fiscal year.

Smithfield-Selma High Advisory Council appointments

The Board of Education appointed Latoyta Green-Baker, Shannon Macedo, and Rick Mercier to three-year terms. (Mr. Mercer was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the school board last year.) They'll join holdover council members Frank Creech (chair), Van Boothe, Shamona Foreman, and Kathleen Stuckey.

Town pays tribute to a long-serving pastor

Dr. CJ Allen is retiring after 30 years as pastor of Mt. Zion Church of Deliverance on East Smithfield's Second Avenue. Make that "Dr. CJ Allen Avenue" following approval of the new name by the Town Council.

Shown with Dr. Allen at a surprise presentation at the church last Sunday is Councilman Marlon Lee (left) and the church's new pastor, Wyatt Ragland. The Town Council approved the new name last week after learning that residents of two homes affected by the change of address had given their consent. (Contributed photo)


SSS ends season with most wins since 1995 

A long-time-coming winning season for Smithfield-Selma High School's football Spartans came to a close last Friday with a 39-21 loss to Northern Nash in Round 2 of the state 3-A playoffs. (The Northern Knights were the higher-seeded team with only one loss this season.)

Wrote Principal David Allen in his weekly message to the SSS family: "A Spartan shoutout to our Football Team who... finished their season 8-4, the most wins in a season since 1995. Way to go Coach Donald (Deron) and team; we are very proud! We know this is not the end, but the beginning of great things to come."

REVIEW the Spartans' landmark season on the MaxPreps website>

Meanwhile, two Johnston County teams remain undefeated in advancing to Round 3 of the playoffs. Cleveland High, competing in the 4-A ranks, has a record of 11-0 following last Friday's 62-20 win over Wilmington's Laney High; Princeton, a 2-A contender, also has a record of 11-0 after defeating Kinston High 41-31.



Harbor's Wine Walk returns to Downtown this Friday

Yet another community event shut out by the COVID pandemic last year is coming back to life. It's the Wine Walk, an annual fund-raiser to benefit Harbor, Inc. – Johnston's non-profit agency assisting victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and "women in transition." Walkers will begin at the Raymond James office at 310 Bridge Street and move at their own pace to a dozen other business locations to sample a variety of wines. Tickets may be purchased in advance online for $25 or at the event for $30. The walking starts at 5 p.m. and continues till 9 p.m. Friday.

Thanksgiving next Thursday; school's out the entire week

This "air-stuffed" turkey in a front yard on First Street might win a prize in the Thanksgiving Decorating Contest (if we had one) because we don't see many outdoor displays like this to remind us of next Thursday's observance.

And what a holiday it will be as our public schools are getting the whole week off since the Board of Education added a couple of "wellness days" to the usual three-day break.

Gobble on.


Local hospitals graded "A" for patient safety

Once again, Johnston Health's hospitals in Smithfield and Clayton have received an "A" Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade – a measuring stick updated twice annually.

"This national distinction recognizes the organization's achievement in protecting patients from harm and error in the hospital," reads the announcement from Johnston Health.

The Leapfrog Group is an independent watchdog organization that grades hospitals based on more than 30 national performance measures. "The grading system is peer-reviewed, fully transparent, and free to the public," notes Johnston Health.

VIEW Leapfrog's scoring report for both of Johnston's hospitals>



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

AUDREY BLEDSOE NORRIS, 89 – died November 16

DELLA MAGAREE CREECH, 96 – died November 15

JANIE MARIE MEADOWS, 65 – died November 15

ANTONIO SALAZAR, 78 – died November 15

JAMES (JIM) CECIL HENDERSON JR., 73 – died November 13

TERESA RHODES SMITH,  51 – died November 13

JOHN IRA LEE, 66 – died November 12

IRENE CHANCE BURGESS, 91 – died November 11

RUTH OLA PEGRAM DANIEL, 96– died November 11

ROBERT POWELL HOLDING III, 69 – died November 11

BARBARA JEAN PALIN, 63 – died November 10


Redistricting looks like a stacked deck – again

The newly adopted districts for electing Congressional representatives and state legislators make things simpler for Johnston County's voters. We're no longer chopped up into multiple N.C. Senate districts, our Congressional district is more compact, and we've still got two self-contained N.C. House districts with a small part of the county paired in a third House district with half of neighboring Harnett.

And yet, the big picture isn't so pretty.

Gerrymandering is "alive and well" in North Carolina as elsewhere across the land, and Republican candidates appear to be the predominant beneficiaries since the GOP controls most of the nation's state legislatures, including ours, which draw the boundary lines rather than leaving that task to fair-minded non-partisans (public-opinion polls have shown most Americans favor that mechanism).

A nationwide analysis by The New York Times came to this not-so-surprising conclusion this week: "A year before the polls open in the 2022 mid-term elections, Republicans are already poised to flip at least five seats in the closely divided House thanks to redrawn district maps that are more distorted, more disjointed, and more gerrymandered than any since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965."

The situation is especially disturbing here in North Carolina. Our Congressional delegation is currently split between eight Republicans and five Democrats, but initial reports show next year's election with the new districts could change that to 10 if not 11 Republicans and four and possibly three Democrats (we gained a seat in the U.S. House from 2020 Census results).

That doesn't seem fair in a so-called "purple" state where voters are almost evenly split between Democratic and Republican candidates in statewide election results.

"Our democracy is under attack" is a warning cry we've heard often since last year's contentious election, and reasons for that apprehension are many. None, perhaps, are as troublesome as the gerrymandering both political parties continue to practice – wherein legislators get to choose their voters rather than the other way around.



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