PUBLISHED ONLINE MAY 12, 2022   •   VOL. 4, NO. 19

Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
(Click on highlighted link to e-mail the editor)


The Smithfield Kiwanis Club has been serving up country-ham biscuits at the same spot since the first festival in 1985. At the peak of business near lunchtime last Saturday, veteran Kiwanian Whit Whitley (right) was minding the ham-frying with assistance from Tracy Harrison and her husband James. It started out as a fine day weather-wise for the "36th-ish" annual event, but the arrival in mid-afternoon of thunderstorms with cloud-to-ground lightning short-circuited practically all activities including a concert by the Rondells of Beach Music fame that was canceled.

Delayed Primary Election's finish in sight

It should have been held in March but was delayed till now because of North Carolina lawsuits challenging legislative redistricting. Some of you have already taken advantage of early voting, which continues through this Saturday. Many others will visit their precinct polling places between the hours of 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to cast ballots.

There's a Second Primary scheduled for June 26 – in contests where no candidate wins at least 30% of Tuesday's vote.

It's the first round of a nonpartisan race for school board
Thirteen candidates, running without regard to political party affiliation, are on Tuesday's ballot for three seats on the Johnston County Board of Education. The top six finishers will qualify for November's General Election ballot (without regard to the 30% rule).

Only one of those candidates is an incumbent board member: Al Byrd, who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy (board members Terri Sessoms and Todd Sutton chose not to seek re-election). Among the other candidates on Tuesday's ballot are four who fell short of winning seats two years ago: Terri Tippett (who was the first runner-up), Rick Mercier, Mark Lane, and Michelle Antoine.

Smithfield's election involves just half the town's voters
Tuesday's voting, postponed from last fall because of late-arriving Census data, will be restricted to just two of the town's four electoral districts, with two-candidate contests in South Smithfield and West Smithfield. Incumbent council members Marlon Lee of East Smithfield and Travis Scott of North Smithfield, along with incumbent Mayor Andy Moore, filed for re-election without opposition.

Competing for the South Smithfield seat are first-time candidates Sloan Stevens and Elizabeth Anne Temple (seeking to succeed Councilman David Stevens, who chose not to seek re-election). In West Smithfield, incumbent Councilman David Barbour is being challenged by Doris Louise Wallace. Town of Smithfield elections are nonpartisan.

Three Johnstonians seek U.S. House seat in a new district
Denton Lee, a teacher at Smithfield-Selma High School, is one of five Democrats competing in Tuesday's primary while Smithfield attorney Kelly Daughtry and Benson-area businessman DeVan Barbour IV are among eight Republicans seeking nomination to represent a newly established Congressional district that includes all of Johnston County, a large portion of Harnett County, the southern half of Wake, and the western half of Wayne.

Other contests of local interest Tuesday include a three-candidate Republican race for nomination to a state Senate seat for a new district that encompasses Johnston County alone, a two-candidate Republican primary for nomination of a state representative from a new district that includes all of Smithfield, a two-candidate contest for county commissioner representing a district that covers all of Smithfield and Cleveland townships and part of Elevation Township, and contests for one Superior Court and two District Court judgeships.

Statewide, the main event features primaries in both parties for the U.S. Senate seat presently occupied by Richard Burr, who is retiring from office. In the hunt are 11 Democrats and 14 Republicans. Also, there are statewide Republican primaries for a seat on the N.C. Supreme Court and two seats on the N.C. Court of Appeals, with Tuesday's victors in November facing Democrats unopposed in the primary.

For the record, here's the breakdown of registered voters in Johnston County by party affiliation (or lack thereof) as of April 1: Republican 55,890; Democrat 40,254; Libertarian 1,161; unaffiliated 50,374; total 147,679. Unaffiliated voters, by the way, may choose to cast ballots in either party's primary (but not both).

MORE information about candidates appears on this week's FEATURE PAGE>


Elect us now & you'll be
cool & comfortable when
things really get hot.


Town Council moves to raise employees' pay

Following last month's move by the County Commissioners to raise salaries of many county employees, Smithfield's Town Council Tuesday night ordered staff to undertake an immediate review of all town employees' pay to see what needs to be done to make salaries more competitive in a volatile labor market.

Town Councilman Travis Scott insisted the town's "healthy" finances make it possible to add as much as $890,000 to the coming year's town budget to get the job done. That, he proposed, could be done by taking $680,000 from the town's uncommitted General Fund surplus (more than $11 million at the end of fiscal 2020-21 last June 30) plus $105,000 from each of two reserve accounts for the town's Electric Fund and its Water and Sewer Fund.

"We've got to take care of our employees," he declared.

The council backed his proposal without a dissenting vote (Councilman David Stevens, who is giving up his seat next month, was the only one absent).

The decision followed Police Chief Keith Powell's plea for increased pay and benefits in recruiting and retaining officers in his department. He said offering more "take-home cars" is currently "a big deal" with new recruits.

The Police Department has six vacancies among its patrol force of more than 40 officers, with two new recruits available for duty in about two weeks, the chief noted.

"I've got officers waiting to see what happens July 1," Mr. Powell added, referring to what the new fiscal year's town budget will do to address police compensation.

Councilman Scott said staff's evaluation of salaries in all the town's departments needs to be done "as quick as possible so we can make changes with this budget," which must be adopted before the end of June. Tuesday's was the second in a series of council budget sessions. A third was scheduled for 6:30 p.m. this Monday.

Town Manager Mike Scott said another idea under study to attract and retain employees is restoration of a previous benefit to provide health insurance at no cost to retirees with many years of service. That benefit was eliminated about 15 years ago when the County of Johnston made a similar move.

Should the town hire a full-time code-enforcement officer?
That question was raised by Councilman David Barbour during Tuesday's session. "We need to put more efforts into code enforcement," he said, specifically mentioning "junk cars in the yard."

Town Manager Scott discounted the need for another staff position. "Based on complaints (the town receives from the public), we're doing OK with what we have," he said.

Planning Director Stephen Wensman, whose department handles complaints about code violations, said his office maintains a spreadsheet keeping up with the status of his staff's investigations, with "a whole lot of cases sitting on Bob's desk" (referring to the workload confronting Town Attorney Bob Spence).

The town manager's "draft" budget, as it now stands, is balanced without changes in the town's property-tax and utility rates and without any new town employees. It includes 2% pay raises for all town employees in July plus individual merit raises up to 3% in January.

EXAMINE the town manager's "draft" budget in full detail>

Town Clerk honored with a proclamation of thanks

Shannan Parrish was recognized at last week's Town Council session with a resolution read by Mayor Andy Moore and adopted by the council proclaiming Professional Municipal Clerks Week in Smithfield. "You are a very, very valuable asset," Mr. Moore told her. Council members chimed in with their own remarks of praise for "keeping us in line." Shannan has served as town clerk since 2011. (Town of Smithfield photo)

School board raises bus-driver pay to $17.50

Johnston County Public Schools operate 278 buses for students every school day with just 81 drivers that aren't "dual employees" called away from their regular jobs as teaching assistants, nutritionists, and custodians to cover a driver shortage. There's even a "duty to drive" policy in place requiring that practice where necessary.

The system's administrators want to do away with that by raising the number of "driver-only" employees to 280. Toward that end, they asked Johnston's Board of Education on Tuesday to raise minimum pay for those drivers from $15 to $17.50 an hour (effective July 1) and employ a recruiter to find more drivers. The board approved the recommendation by unanimous vote.

Also approved is a doubling of a safety and perfect-attendance bonus for bus drivers from $500 to $1,000 to be paid monthly rather than annually.

Board member Ronald Johnson said the compensation upgrades are "a good start, but over over the years we're going to have to get this pay up" to match wages offered by major new employers such as Amazon coming to Johnston.

Board member Kay Carroll said parents have asked him why high-school students can't work as bus drivers as they did in years gone by. Marlon Watson, the school system's newly employed director of transportation, said that's no longer practical since drivers must be at least 18 years old and have six months "behind the wheel" before they can operate a school bus.

Mr. Watson said the school system currently has 540 staffers in various jobs who are licensed by the state to drive buses. A recent survey found just 46% of current drivers would be willing to continue with that duty if the current policy requiring the extra duty were eliminated, Mr. Watson reported.


Prices for meals at Johnston's schools going up

The Board of Education approved a staff recommendation to raise meal prices for students with the start of the 2022-23 school year in August. Meals for all students have been free of charge the past couple of years because of federal legislation linked to COVID relief, but Congress has not extended that beyond June 30.

The new prices are $2.25 for breakfast for all grades, $3 for lunch in grades K-8, and $3.50 for lunch in the high schools. To qualify students for free and reduced-price meals, parents will have to re-apply for that assistance, the board was told. When asked how many families would be eligible, newly employed Director of Nutrition Jennifer Lawson said it ran about 30% in Johnston when the program was in effect two years ago.

Emphasizing that school meal prices are set to cover costs and not to make a profit, Ms. Lawson listed four points of emphasis directing the system's handling of food purchases during the year ahead:
• Provide greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
• Provide high quality proteins.
• Provide cleaner labeled products.
• Buy local.


"Different Not Less"
walk-and-run benefits
SSS Unified Spartans

More than a hundred persons turned out for a "Different Not Less Color Run" at Smithfield-Selma High School April 23 when volunteers doused participants with powdered color as they walked or ran a 3.1-mile trail course. Proceeds went to support Unified Spartans, a program that partners schools with Special Olympics to promote inclusion for those with intellectual disabilities. The SSS event was organized by Unified pair Emily Stuckey and Gary Smith (pictured). They are student leaders in the program, which currently has about 100 members. The program is led by faculty members Bethany Jones and Haley Cubbison. (Story and photo from SSS)

Public Library to lend hotspots and Chromebooks

The Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield (PLJCS) has launched a new program to allow library-card holders and students to borrow mobile hotspots and/or a Wi-Fi enabled Chromebook.

The library has 15 mobile hotspots available for 21 days at a time. These provide 4G Internet service and unlimited data usage. Ten Dell Chromebooks can circulate for seven days, with two renewals. Both devices, if not returned once their check-out period has expired, will be turned off to encourage return for the next customer.
To borrow a hotspot device or a Chromebook, patrons may visit the Reference Desk on the second floor of the library or place a hold via the library's online catalog. Replacement costs for lost or damaged hotspots are $90 and $390 for Chromebooks. Meanwhile, PLJCS continues to offer free Wi-Fi inside the library in Downtown Smithfield.

The hotspots and Chromebooks are made possible by funding from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services under provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina. For more information, call 984-985-BOOK.


FOR SALE: Cherished 4-bedroom brick ranch on half-acre landscaped lot at 707 Crescent Drive in South Smithfield. Includes office, all appliances, stair lifts, wired workshop, 2-car carport, greenhouse. 2,936 square feet: $399,000


County Commissioners to get Space Needs Study Monday
The board will consider a consultant's recommended options for expanding facilities housing County Government's principal agencies during its regular third-Monday session at 6 p.m. Monday at the Courthouse. The key decision is what to do with the Department of Social Services complex of office buildings if new quarters for that agency are constructed elsewhere. On another matter, the Johnston County Fire Chiefs Association will present a proposed Fire Service Supplemental Funding Matrix for the board's consideration.
VIEW the complete agenda, with details, for Monday's meeting>

Registration now open for Parks & Rec summertime activities
Smithfield Parks and Recreation will host a wide selection of sports camps this summer including soccer, tennis, football, basketball, and wrestling. The Recreation and Aquatics Center will host week-long summer camp sessions along with art camps, swimming lessons, lifeguard training, and an opportunity to swim with the SRAC Sharks Swim Team. VIEW details about the summer lineup>


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


THOMAS RAY BENSON, 74 – died May 8

ROGER EARL GOWER, 73 – died May 6

NATHANIEL LOFTON, 91 – died May 6




One more chance to learn about (some) candidates

A "Voter Guide" posted online by The News & Observer includes written responses to questionnaires sent to candidates on Johnston County's ballots, but like the Triangle East Chamber's Candidates Connection posting, it's incomplete.

In the hotly contested Primary races for the District 13 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, four of the Democratic candidates (including Johnston County's Denton Lee) submitted responses, while just half of the eight Republican candidates did so (Johnston's Kelly Daughtry and DeVan Barbour did not).

Only one of three Republicans competing for Johnston County's seat in the N.C. Senate took part. And in the nonpartisan Board of Education Primary here, just four of the 13 candidates responded to the N&O's request for viewpoints.

These online forums are providing free political advertising! Why wouldn't any serious candidate for public office take advantage of that?

Anyway, here's the link to the N&O's Johnston County Voter Guide>

Here's another option for "getting to know the candidates": curbside placards like these on South Fourth Street near the early-voting site inside the First Baptist Church Ministry Center (former home of The Smithfield Herald).

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