James Howell and Dylan LightfootStaff Writers
December 26, 2012
Editor’s note: Our review of the top stories of 2012 is presented in two parts. Part II will run in our first editon of the New Year on Jan. 1, 2013. The Jefferson Post wishes you a safe and happy New Year.
A small-town newspaper with a community focus faces a special challenge with the inevitable slow news cycle: having little to report in a place where news travels fast. Fortunately, Ashe County is a community which knows how to keep things interesting.
This year, we’ve seen crimes and misdemeanors as well as great outpourings of charity. Layoffs and bouncing jobless figures reminded us the local economy is still taking a knee, even as local officials have admirably protected our public schools from the ravages of slashing budget cuts.
Until this time next year, to quote from Phillipians: “…whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Mitchell named County Manager
The Ashe County Board of Commissioners appointed Dr. Pat Mitchell as the new Ashe County Manager in an executive session on Jan. 3 by a vote of 4-1.
A former faculty member at East Carolina University’s political science department, Mitchell had served as the county’s director of economic development since 2004, and held the post of interim county manager following the resignation of County Manager Dan McMillan in July, 2011.
Casting the dissenting vote, Commissioner Gerald Price said Mitchell, who would continue to give direction in economic development, might be “wearing too many hats” in her dual role.
A press release issued by Mitchell at the time read her previous position would “not be immediately filled.” Corey Osborne, an Appalachian State graduate intern working with the county, was named assistant director of economic development earlier this month.
Concealed carry laws regulated
After two months of debate, a motion to restrict carrying of concealed weapons in Ashe County parks and recreation facilities was approved by the county commissioners 3-2 in a split decision.
Need for a new ordinance was contended after the N.C. General Assembly passed HB 650 last year, which relaxed state gun laws, allowing permit holders to carry concealed weapons in state parks.
While the law contained provisions allowing N.C. counties and municipalities to regulate concealed weapons in certain recreational areas, Ashe County Attorney John Kilby said the bill also superseded county concealed carry ordinances, forcing county commissioners to pass new legislation.
In what Commissioner Judy Poe called “a tough decision,” concealed weapons were restricted at county recreation facilities including Beaver Creek Industrial Park practice fields, Family Central’s gym and ball fields, as well as during organized events at Ashe County Park.
High school band director indicted
Ashe County High School Band Director Ryan Claar was indicted by an Ashe Superior Court grand jury on three felony counts of taking indecent liberties with a student on Mar. 12.
Sheriff James Williams reported his office had conducted a month-long investigation of allegations of inappropriate contact between Claar — 30 at the time — and a 17-year-old student before presenting evidence to the grand jury.
Claar, who had been employed as band director for a year and a half, was suspended without pay by the Board of Education on Feb. 6 when the investigation began. Ashe County Sheriff’s Office Captain Carolyn Gentry said the alleged relationship began when “the victim wanted to be a drum major.”
On Jul. 9, Claar pleaded no contest to the charges in Ashe County Superior Court, was sentenced to 90 months unsupervised probation, avoiding any mandatory jail time. He no longer resides in North Carolina.
Three stabbings in three days
Ashe County saw a rash of stabbings in mid-April, with two incidents over three days, totalling three victims.
A double-stabbing in Fleetwood on the night of Apr. 17 left Brian Smith, 48, wounded, and James Carroll, 52, dead. According to the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office, the incident resulted from an altercation between Brian and Carroll, who was his landlord.
Smith was rushed to Watauga Medical Center, and treated for non-life threatening injuries.
Two days later James Ray Stanley, 33, of Lansing allegedly stabbed Joseph Dean Wilcox, 45, of Lansing on Little Windfall Road. The ACSO believed alcohol to be a factor.
Wilcox was airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in serious condition, but was upgraded to good condition the next day.
Stanley fled the scene, but later turned himself in, and was released on a $10,000 secured bond.
Updates on these cases were not available from the sheriff’s office by press time.
West Jefferson con-man convicted
Keith Franklin Simmons, 47, of West Jefferson, was sentenced to 50 years in prison on May 23 in connection with a $40 million Ponzi scheme he ran between 2007 and 2009, according to a press release by U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins of N.C.’s western district.
On Jun. 5, Ashe County Schools requested $540,000 in extra-budgetary funds from the county to offset a loss of $2.2 million in state and federal funding.
For fiscal year 2013, state lawmakers are requiring N.C. local school systems give back more than $500 million in allocated funding — up $74 million from 2012. Ashe County School’s share of this discretionary reversion is $1.1 million, according to ACS Assistant Superintendent Phyllis Yates.
In addition to state budget cuts, another $1.1 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Edujobs money have been exhausted.
The Board of Commissioners increased education spending 4.05 percent for the coming year, but denied the request.