As another year comes to a close, we like to look back at the events that have taken place over the last 12 months.
Although a small county, Ashe County continues to make its mark in the High Country region and throughout the state of North Carolina.
Today, we look at some of the stories that occurred from July through December.
Ashe native among 19 killed in Arizona fire
Eric Marsh, a graduate of Northwest Ashe High School was one of the 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Hill fire outside Prescott, Ariz.
Marsh had been involved in firefighting since he graduated high school. He also received a degree in biology from Appalachian State.
Marsh had moved to Arizona eight years ago to help organize the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of firefighters that were specifically trained to combat wildfires.
The fire started a mile and a half outside of Yarnell. The fire started when a lightning storm ignited multiple small fires during 101 degree temperatures with winds blowing at 40-50 mph.
According to Eric’s father John, the firefighters were under their fire-resistant shields when they were overrun by the fire.
In December, the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health issued three citations to the Arizona State Forestry Division for workplace safety violations resulting from the fire. The ASFD was penalized $559,000 with an additional penalty of $25,000 for each employee that died.
Fiddler’s Convention takes place
On Aug. 2-3 the 44th Annual Ashe County Fiddler’s Convention took place at the Ashe County Park.
Many believed this would be the last year the annual convention would take place, after an announcement made by the Rotary of the Jeffersons said it would be the last year the club would sponsor it.
“Once you go to (the Fiddler’s Convention), you realize how much of a cultural (event) it is for a lot of the musicians and how important it is to them,” Rotary President Cameron Keziah said in a July interview with the Jefferson Post.
The organization announced in July it was looking for a new organization to take over the event. Many were concerned about what not having the convention would mean for local musicians, children and the economy.
In December, the Ashe County Arts Council received approval from the Ashe County Board of Commissioners to continue the event, which will continue to take place the first weekend in August in 2014.
“The Arts Council is pleased in many ways to be able to use the arts as a vehicle to enhance the quality of life here, to impact the economy here through the arts and to have an opportunity through the Fiddler’s Convention to preserve our musical heritage,” said Jane Lonon, executive director of the Ashe County Arts Council in the Dec. 16 meeting of the Board of Commissioners.
Search for a new county manager begins
On Aug. 19, former Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell was removed by the Ashe County Board of Commissioners by a 3-2 vote, the second county manager removed in two years.
Starting in September, the Board appointed themselves to a search committee to find a replacement. The County Manager is responsible for the operations of the county, its 300+ employees and an approximate $40 million budget.
While the search was taking place, County Clerk Ann Clark had taken over many of the roles affiliated with the position.
A posting of the job read “Preferred qualifications include: graduate degree in public administration or its equivalent; five years experience in county government, including experience in… economic development; and a thorough understanding of N.C. State law governing county administration.”
In November, the Board unanimously approved Sam Yearick to become new County Manager. He assumed his role on Monday, Dec. 2.
Yearick said economic development, jobs and the budget were the highest priorities for the Board and himself.
“You can’t be from here without wanting to bring jobs here,” Yearick said in a November meeting of the Board of Commissioners. “Anything we can do to make our community a better place to live and work, that’s what I think everybody here wants to do.”
Yearick, an Ashe County native, was a graduate of Northwest Ashe High School in 1977 and received a Bachelor degree in Business Administration with a major in accounting from Appalachian State. Throughout his career, Yearick has served as a CPA and auditor for the N.C. Department of Revenue, a finance director and tax consultant in Caldwell County.
West Jefferson commits $615,000 to GE Aviation expansion
The West Jefferson Board of Aldermen in a special session on Wednesday, Oct. 9 approved a resolution to commit $615,000 in matching incentives for an N.C. Rural Center grant to assist with the GE Aviation facility’s expansion.
“The county wanted the town to take the lead in the Rural Center grant, due to them not having a county manager,” West Jefferson Brantley Price said in an October interview with the Jefferson Post.
The GE Aviation expansion is projected to create approximately 105 jobs in Ashe County and generate $56 million in taxable capital investment over the next five years.
In June, the West Jefferson Board Aldermen and Ashe County Board of Commissioners approved a $1.2 million local incentive package to help with its 80,000 square foot expansion. The factory is located off Ray Taylor Road in West Jefferson.
The county committed $585,000 to the project. Another $350,000 of incentives were promised by the Ashe County Job Development Inc. and another $500,000 from a Rural Center Building Reuse and Restoration Fund grant.
Price files affidavit questioning IRS legitimacy
Ashe County Commissioner William Gerald Price filed an affidavit with the Ashe County Register of Deeds to the Internal Revenue Service establishing conditions for payment of his taxes.
Price demanded in the public documents that the IRS verify “that you and your delegates’ collection activities and performances are within your official duties as the officer or employee or assignee of the United States Government.”
Aside from the affidavit, Price sent an email to Daniel Werfel, Commissioner of the IRS. In the email, Price said he is willing to pay back any taxes he owes under certain conditions, the email was in response to an Aug. 5 correspondence with the IRS.
In the email Price said the IRS could not communicate with him through telephone or come to his dwelling or work place. According to public documents, justification for Price’s request came from U.S. Title 15 which outlines commerce and trade, as well as an unspecified state law.
The email was also sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and IRS commissioner delegate Bill Banowsky.
Soucek education forum draws passionate crowd
In December, N.C. Senator Dan Soucek hosted an educational forum on Dec. 6 at the Deep Gap Volunteer Fire Department.
Representatives of education from Ashe and Watauga counties were at the meeting to discuss the state of education in North Carolina. From Ashe County was Director of Secondary Education and Accountability Phil Howell, Mountain View Elementary Principal David Blackburn and parent Dr. Ann Margaret Wright.
One of the key topics of the forum was how bonuses and contract extensions are to be awarded to 25 percent of teachers each year while the rest only receive a one year extension. The changes are from the state as part of the state’s removal of tenure.
“The damage done to the morale of teachers and the instructional fallout that will happen from children (will be) a detriment to the state of North Carolina,” Howell said in the meeting.
Howell said it was one of the most undermining moves he has seen concerning N.C. teachers.
Controversies arose from the forum, open to the public, because recording the event was not allowed. One teacher in the audience was escorted out of the meeting by an on-duty sheriff’s deputy after standing up to assert there were too many hours dedicated to assessments in the third grade.
When asked why recording was not allowed at the event, Soucek said, “I felt it created an environment that allowed the panelists to feel safe to engage in a more open, honest and robust conversation.”