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Author Archive for Heather Hyatt

Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina recognizes Child Abuse Prevention Month

North Carolina’s future prosperity relies on the healthy growth and development of all children. During April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina (PCANC) encourages all North Carolina citizens to come together to celebrate community efforts to ensure all children have great childhoods. When children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships with their parents and other adults in their community it builds healthy brain architecture, forming a sturdy foundation for future success.

Adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse and neglect result in toxic stress that damages the developing brain architecture. If left unaddressed, this leads to increased risk of academic failure, chronic long-term health issues, and increased crime rates and violence. One of the most effective ways to prevent these long-term consequences is to ensure children grow up in nurturing, supportive homes and communities. PCANC accomplishes this by raising awareness for effective child abuse prevention efforts, supporting local family support and parenting education programs in all 100 North Carolina counties, providing training and education opportunities for professionals and the public, and advocating for policies that benefit children and families.

“We invite every adult in our community to play an active role in the lives of the children and families they know,” said Bud Lavery, PCANC president and CEO. “By working together we can prevent child abuse and neglect and help all children grow up healthy and ready to make a positive impact on the future of our state.”

North Carolina Cold Case Re-Opened 34 years later

New developments have sparked renewed interest and have led to the creation of a task force to investigate the 1980 murder of Ronda Mechelle Blaylock, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation said.

The 14-year-old ninth grader was found murdered on Friday, August 29, 1980 on a rural road in the Pilot Mountain area of Surry County.

The renewed attention to this case occurred shortly after a telephone call was made by Ronda’s mother to law enforcement asking about the status of her daughter’s murder investigation. “Within a day or so after receiving her call there were developments that I cannot discuss here today, but this task force is actively pursuing good leads,” Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson said.

State and local law enforcement believe this renewed focus on the nearly 35-year-old homicide will lead them to her murderer.

The Ronda Blaylock Homicide Task Force was recently formed by the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, Stokes County Sheriff’s Office, South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, and the SBI to concentrate efforts on locating Ronda’s killer. Ronda lived and attended school in Forsyth County and her body was found in Surry County only a few yards from the Stokes County line. “This case involves the three jurisdictions represented here today due to the proximity of county lines to the crime scene and Ronda’s locations the day she disappeared,” said Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson.

Ronda was a student at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem when she disappeared on Tuesday, August 26, 1980, from Rural Hall. Three days later on Friday, August 29, 1980, her partially clothed body was found in a heavily wooded area near Sechrist Loop Road in Pilot Mountain. The Medical Examiner’s report indicates she was viciously assaulted and stabbed to death.

Ronda was walking a friend home after school near the Rural Hall Bowling Lanes when they accepted a ride from a stranger. Ronda’s friend was dropped off unharmed at the railroad tracks near the intersection of Tuddle Road and Priddy Road and without any indication Ronda was in any danger. Ronda’s parents, Rebecca and Charles Blaylock, desperately attempted to find her when she failed to return home. That evening they reported to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office that their only child was missing.

Passersby found her body only 18 miles from where numerous witnesses in Rural Hall saw Ronda and her friend voluntarily get into a blue Chevrolet pickup truck driven by a white man who authorities say is Ronda’s killer.

Eyewitnesses described the driver of the blue pickup truck as a white male with a tan, possibly late teens or early 20’s, tall, 165 pounds, with straight brownish hair feathered on the sides and light facial hair. He listened to a rock radio station, and smoked cigarettes. He wore a black t-shirt, faded jeans, white tennis shoes, aviator style sunglasses and a baseball cap.

Obviously, this man has aged over the past 34 years and his appearance will most likely differ from the description given in 1980. He also told Ronda that his name was “Jimmy,” but his friends called him “Butch.”

Witnesses said the blue 1970’s model truck was immaculate, except that the passenger side mirror was missing and the rear tires did not match the front tires. The truck had snow tires on the rear and white wall tires on the front. The cab had a bench seat. A CB radio was mounted underneath the middle of the dashboard and the word “Chevrolet” was on the steering wheel. A white camper shell covered the bed of the truck. The vehicle could have been borrowed when the murder occurred or sold afterward. Unlike many cases that are decades old without arrests, all of the evidence collected during the investigation of this homicide case exists and is in excellent condition. Some of which is currently in the State Crime Laboratory to be analyzed using DNA testing and other technology that previously did not exist and results are expected soon.

“DNA testing abilities today were unimaginable at the time of Ronda’s murder,” the sheriff said. “We are confident that we will not be disappointed by the test results.”

The task force is also using social media to keep the public informed on the progress of this investigation. Confidential or anonymous contact with the task force can be made through email at rondablaylock1980@gmail.com or by calling the task force hotline (336) 401-8971.

“This task force wants the good citizens of our region to know that this investigation is ongoing and that they can monitor our work through social media. They are welcome to contribute to this case any information they have about Ronda’s murder and killer,” the sheriff said.

There may be others in the community with potentially significant information and the task force is prepared to talk with anyone who comes forward.

Jackson County students win Youth Art Month awards at WCU

More than 60 Jackson County school students received awards for work exhibited at Western Carolina University during Youth Art Month.

The winners were chosen by a panel of judges that included WCU art education students and staff members of the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Their art was among more than 300 student works selected by local art teachers for the display at the Bardo Center in March.

Several hundred people attended a reception held Sunday, March 22, to honor all of the young artists. The works ranged from painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics to basketry, printmaking and other visual arts. The exhibit ended Monday, March 23.

Youth Art Month is a national observance and WCU has hosted the exhibit for more than 30 years to celebrate and encourage school art programs.

“The Youth Art Month exhibit at WCU remains as the largest exhibition of children’s art in and from Jackson County,” said Erin Tapley, associate professor of art education who serves as the event coordinator. “It’s always great to watch the children get excited when they’ve found their piece and point it out to their proud families.”

The exhibit sponsors include Jack the Dipper Ice Cream of Sylva, Claymates Pottery of Dillsboro, Jackson County Arts Council, North Carolina Arts Council and WCU’s School of Art and Design, Art Education Club, College of Fine and Performing Arts, Bardo Center, Fine Art Museum and College of Education and Allied Professions.

Participating schools and the winners are:

Blue Ridge School – First place, Brittany Kinsey (grade seven); second place, Cazmarine Jones (grade nine); Teacher’s Choice Award, Jeffrey Burnette (grade 12); honorable mention, Cheyenne Bryson (grade 10).

Cherokee Elementary School – First place, Patricia Armachain (grade five); second place, Kamia Wiggins (grade four); Teacher’s Choice Award, Logan Biddix (grade one); honorable mentions, Hilarie Howell (grade two), Tyruss Thompson (grade two), Ahanu de los Reyes (grade two), Lilliann Bigmeat (grade three).

Cullowhee Valley School – First place, Alex Noltensmeyer (grade three); second place, Enoc Alvarado (grade two); Teacher’s Choice Award, Aliya Mayton (grade seven); Claymates Award, Carter Pastoris (grade six); honorable mentions, Serenity Shook (kindergarten), Kyle Shanklin (grade seven), Sarah Grider (grade seven), D.J. Drakeford (grade eight), Sierra Galayadick (grade eight).

Fairview School – First place, Tashi Hacskaylo (grade five); second place, Ty Howard (grade one); Teacher’s Choice Award, Cheyenne Clayton (grade eight); honorable mentions, Isabel Townsend (grade two), Coco Wells (grade three), Cole Stillwell (grade four), Brenan Martin (grade five), Jeff Stillwell (grade eight).

Jackson County School of Alternatives – First place, Solomon Elam (grade eight); second place, Kenneth Maney (grade 11); Teacher’s Choice Award, Lakota Russell (grade two); honorable mentions, Kim Pannell (grade nine), Tyler Fisher (grade 11).

Scott’s Creek School – First place, Chloe Ledford (grade four); second place, Landon Maloy (grade three); Teacher’s Choice Award, Bethany Cartwright (kindergarten); honorable mentions, Kason Powell (kindergarten), Devlin Bright (grade one), Iriss B. Connoly (grade two), Cadence Medford (grade two), Ryland McCoy (grade three), Georgie Schweinler (grade five), Oswaldo M. Salano (grade six).

Smokey Mountain Elementary School – First place, Laura Alich (grade four); second place, David Chiltowski (grade eight); Teacher’s Choice Award, Abby Branning (grade two); honorable mentions, Amarni Wachacha (grade one), Mason Napier (grade two), Teyha Price (grade six), Corbin Moore (grade seven), Hailey Carter (grade eight), Lucy Miller (grade eight).

Smoky Mountain High School – First place, Heather Mangus (grade 10); second place and WCU School of Art and Design Director’s award, Morgan Carpenter (grade 10); Teacher’s Choice Award, Emily Miller (grade 10); honorable mentions, Morgan Carpenter (grade 10), Amelia Ray (grade 10), Kendall Rhymer (grade 11), Casey Owen (grade 12), Emily Miller (grade 12), Allie Smith (grade 12).

Summit Charter School – First place, Megan Reihmeier (grade six); second place, Chase Coggins (grade eight); Teacher’s Choice Award, Ava Grace Kapdohr (kindergarten); honorable mentions, Benjamin Ball (grade two), Lalo Tepepa (grade three), Braden Collins (grade six), Leah Grace Craig (grade eight).

Next Phase of Work on Newfound Gap Road Begins in April

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that a project to repave 4.3 miles of Newfound Gap Road will begin on April 13. This work is part of a multi-phased rehabilitation project started in 2007. The section to be resurfaced extends from Sugarlands Visitor Center south to Chimney’s Picnic Area where the last phase ended.

This section of road was last repaved in the 1980s and is badly deteriorated. In addition to the repaving, several drainage culverts will be replaced and two retaining walls will be constructed near the Carlos Campbell Overlook. The contractor will temporarily shift the road to the west by 2 to 3 feet to accommodate a drill rig used for setting the structural parts of the retaining wall near the pullout just north of the main Carlos Campbell Overlook. This lower pullout will be closed for approximately two months while the retaining wall is being constructed, but the main, upper overlook will remain open.

The work will be performed under a $ 14.4 million contract with Estes Brothers Construction of Jonesville, VA and will be administered by the Federal Highway Administration’s Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division. Funding is provided to the NPS through the Federal Lands Transportation Program to support this work.

Motorists should expect delays due to lane closures through June 15. There will not be any daytime lane closures from June 15 through August 15, but nighttime lane closures may occur throughout the project. After August 15, daytime lane closures will again be allowed through September 30. No work of any kind will be permitted on federal holidays or during the month of October. Daytime lane closures will resume from November 1 through December 17.

Harvey Gantt to keynote April 10 symposium at WCU

Harvey Gantt for newspapersHarvey Gantt, an architect and civil rights activist who formerly served as mayor of Charlotte and was a candidate for the U.S. Senate, will be the keynote speaker for a daylong symposium at Western Carolina University – “North Carolina in Dialogue: Our Past, Present and Future.”

Set for 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, April 10, the interdisciplinary symposium will provide a platform for the public and WCU’s students, faculty and staff to learn from a lineup of distinguished scholars and public activists and intellectuals who will offer perspectives on North Carolina’s history, politics and culture, said Rob Ferguson, an assistant professor in WCU’s Department of History who co-organized the event with Chris Cooper, head of WCU’s Department of Political Science and Public Affairs.

“Our hope is that we have brought together a wide array of scholars and activists who can offer thoughtful and compelling perspectives on our state,” Ferguson said. “Perhaps more importantly, we want the audience to engage the panelists and each other in productive dialogue regarding the future of North Carolina.”

Cooper said the symposium will offer an impressive and diverse lineup of speakers. “I’m looking forward to hearing their perspectives on North Carolina’s past and present, and I hope that this conference can play a small role in helping shape the future of our state,” he said.

Panel sessions will address issues such a public education, farming and foodways, social change, and politics and voting rights. Panelists will include June Atkinson, N.C. superintendent of public instruction; Elizabeth Engelhardt, the John Shelton Reed Professor of Southern Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; David Cunningham, professor and chair of the sociology department at Brandeis University; Dan Carter, professor emeritus in the history department at the University of South Carolina; and J. Peder Zane, chair of the journalism and mass communications department at St. Augustine’s University and contributor to the Raleigh News and Observer.

The event is free and open to everyone. Individuals planning to attend are asked to register at the event website, which can be accessed by visiting pdp.wcu.edu and clicking on the event link. The website includes a detailed schedule of activities that will be held in the Blue Ridge Hall Conference Room and Grandroom at A.K. Hinds University Center.

The symposium is being sponsored by WCU’s Office of Undergraduate Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology and Sociology, Department of History, Department of Political Science and Public Affairs, Public Policy Institute, and Office of Continuing and Professional Education.

JCDPH PROMOTES ALCOHOL AWARENESS MONTH

Drinking too much alcohol increases people’s risk of injuries, violence, drowning, liver disease, and some types of cancer. This April, during Alcohol Awareness Month, the Jackson County Department of Public Health (JCDPH) encourages you to educate yourself and your loved ones about the dangers of drinking too much and drinking underage.

According to the NC State Center of Health Statistics, more traffic crashes are alcohol-related in Jackson County than in Western North Carolina or North Carolina—29% more than Western North Carolina and 42% more than in North Carolina. To spread the word and prevent alcohol abuse, JCDPH is joining other organizations across the county to honor Alcohol Awareness Month.

If you are drinking too much, you can improve your health by cutting back or quitting. Here are some strategies to help you cut back or stop drinking:
· Limit your drinking to no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men.
· Keep track of how much you drink.
· Choose a day each week when you will not drink.
· Don’t drink when you are upset.
· Avoid places where people drink a lot.
· Make a list of reasons not to drink.

If you are concerned with underage drinking, a new tool is available. Talk it Out NC is a statewide initiative launched by the ABC Commission to fight back against underage drinking by starting the conversation between parents and youth. Statewide, underage drinking is not only a financial burden to the state, but also results in lives lost, crimes committed, and hundreds of teen pregnancies. This initiative reports that the average age that children in North Carolina take their first drink is 13.9 years and more teens will die as a result of alcohol use than all other illicit drugs combined. Further, in 2009, underage drinking led to 60 murders, 26,800 violent crimes, and 67,400 property crimes. Finally, alcohol use by teens is one of the strongest predictors of teen injury, fighting, academic problems, truancy, unprotected sex, unwanted sexual advanced, illegal activity, and other illicit drug use. These statistics, while alarming, only scratch the surface of the physical, social, and emotional damage that can weigh down teens for the rest of their lives.

For more information on Talk It Out NC, visit the initiative’s website at http://www.talkitoutnc.org/.

Study Shows Dangers of Teen Driving Distractions

A study conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety simulated with dash cams what happens when a teen is distracted behind the wheel.

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety hopes the study will shed light on the magnitude of the dangers in teen driving.

New statistics show the majority, 6 out of 10, of teens who crash were distracted. Those distractions don’t only include texting while driving but also talking to passengers and adjusting the radio.

Those numbers are more than four times the rate that officials previously estimated based on police accident reports.

People with the study, traffic safety groups, and Johnson all hope these shocking numbers are a wake up call for all teens behind the wheel and their parents.

44 states, including North Carolina and D.C., ban texting for all drivers. Now, people want tougher laws on teen driver cell phone use.

Be safe during National Work Zone Awareness Week

This is National Work Zone Awareness Week and North Carolina DOT workers are urging motorists to be extra careful.

On Monday, a NCDOT worker was hit and killed on the job in Goldsboro.

Spokespersons for the DOT says warmer weather leads to more road and bridge construction projects. It also brings more tourists, unfamiliar with the roads.

According to the NCDOT, there were 4,000 work zone accidents nationwide in 2014, leading to 22 deaths and nearly 2,000 injuries. DOT advises drivers to go slow in a work zone, leave plenty of distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you, and don’t pass other vehicles.

The penalty for speeding in a work zone is a $250 fine on top of the speeding ticket and court costs.

WCU’s Alexander Macaulay named among UNC system’s top teachers

Alexander Macaulay, associate professor of history at Western Carolina University, has been named one of the best teachers in the University of North Carolina system in recognition of his ability to convince students that history is more than just the memorization of dates and the study of accomplishments of “dead white men.”

Macaulay, a member of the WCU faculty since 2004, is among 17 recipients of the 2015 UNC Board of Governors Awards for Excellence in Teaching, announced Monday, March 23.

A member of the Board of Governors is scheduled to present the award at WCU’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies that begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 9. Macaulay also will speak at the Graduate School commencement ceremony Friday, May 8.

The UNC committee noted that Macaulay regularly wins rave reviews for being a dynamic teacher who combines the qualities of a gifted storyteller, engaging discussion leader and rigorous academician, prompting many students to continue studying history beyond their undergraduate years.

“Dr. Macaulay demonstrates that he reads every word of the assignments he grades. His comments are thoughtful and concise, and students end up not only with assessments of their work but also with feedback that is useful in developing them as writers and as thinkers,” said 2014 graduate Joshua Wilkey, a WCU master’s degree student in history planning to earn a doctorate and teach at the university level. “Dr. Macaulay is the sort of professor who pushes students to unlock their potential.”

Kaylynn Washnock, a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, applauded Macaulay’s availability and open-door policy. “Dr. Macaulay is concerned with both the intellectual and personal development of his students. He takes an interest in his students and their well-being long after time in the classroom has ended,” Washnock said. “Even when I was no longer in his class, Dr. Macaulay would suggest stories for my projects and spend time brainstorming future research topics with me. He truly understands what teaching is all about.”

Macaulay’s faculty colleagues praise his ability to engage students – many of them confessing to not liking the subject of history because they don’t think it matters – in dynamic classroom activities that make history relevant to their lives.

He has linked historical lynchings with more modern cases of institutional violence and injustice, and has shown the connection between late 19th-century labor unions and contemporary issues of free market economy and workplace regulation, said Elizabeth McRae, associate professor of history. “Over and over, students leave his classroom engaged in issues that began for them as facts to memorize about a distant past but ended with them critically analyzing the thorny political issues of both the past and present,” McRae said. “And it is those debates and those discussions that they tell other students about, who then decide to take his class.”

Macaulay’s interest in oral history has led to his students recording histories of veterans of World War II, the Vietnam War and recent conflicts in the Middle East; members of the Jackson County African-American community; residents forced to leave their homes when the construction of Fontana Dam flooded their communities; and long-time residents of Sylva in connection with the town’s recent 125th anniversary celebration.

That work has resulted in the launching of an Appalachian Oral History Project modeled after UNC-Chapel Hill’s Southern Oral History Project. The new project, a collaboration with WCU’s Hunter Library and Special Collections, involves Smoky Mountain High School students who, after training, will conduct the first oral histories for the effort.

In addition to oral history, Macaulay teaches classes in 20th-century U.S. history, the American South, U.S. cultural history, U.S. diplomatic history and gender history. He is author of the book “Marching in Step: Masculinity, Citizenship and the Citadel in Post-World War II America” and numerous articles, book chapters and professional papers.

“I seek out familiar, yet nontraditional topics and sources that will not only pique students’ interests, but also alert them to ways they can analyze and understand the past and the present,” Macaulay said. “For those who believe history is the study of dates and ‘dead white men,’ they learn that history is made by millions of ordinary and extraordinary people who live both everyday and exceptional lives. It also helps me democratize the past and the classroom, encouraging contributions from those who may not know about Alger Hiss, but do know about Elvis Presley.”

The 2011 recipient of WCU’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, he received his bachelor’s degree from the Citadel, master’s degree from the University of Tennessee and doctorate from the University of Georgia.

Macaulay and the other recipients of the UNC honor, representing an array of academic disciplines, were nominated by special committees on their home campuses and selected by the Board of Governors Committee on Personnel and Tenure. Established by the Board of Governors in April 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to reward good teaching across the university, the awards are given annually to a tenured faculty member from each UNC campus. Winners must have taught at their present institutions at least seven years. No one may receive the award more than once.

Monica Lewinsky and the Scourge of Adult Cyberbullying

A growing awareness of adult cyberbullying was underscored last Friday when Monica Lewinsky adressed it in a TED Talk. Cyberbullying can happen to people of any age, according to author Blair London, who heard some of her adult friends share stories of their experiences on social media.

After researching, she realized they were not alone. She says the “distance” provided by online communication can sometimes make people more cruel than in “real life.” “So, you get the friend of a friend of a friend, who doesn’t really care who this original person is, and so they don’t care if any harm comes to them.”

London recently published “Lure to Death,” a novel that centers on the issue of adult cyberbullying. Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky spoke publicly at a TED Talk in Vancouver last Friday on her experience with bullies who sent cruel messages to her via social media. According to no-bullying-dot-com, cyberbullying or “trolling” can play out with harassment, impersonation, or sharing someone’s secrets online.

In her speech, Lewinsky offered others encouragement as they struggle with cruelty online, “Anyone who is suffering from shame and public humiliation needs to know one thing. You can survive it. I know it’s hard. It may not be painless, quick or easy, but you can insist on a different ending to your story.”

London says while adult cyberbullying may be a growing problem, online cruelty between young people is nothing new. She says it often starts as “tweens” “friend” people for the sake of quantity and not quality, “Young people, I think that they collect friends. They go on the Internet at that young of an age and put things out there and they think nothing of it. They think they’ve got a friend out there.” North Carolina law prohibits anyone from using a computer or computer network to intimidate or torment a minor. The state also makes it a crime to “intimidate or torment” teachers online.

Help Wanted: Businesses Call for Early Childhood Education Funding

Fortune 200 companies say they are having trouble finding a qualified workforce in North Carolina at times. Photo credit: morguefile.com/phaewilk

Fortune 200 companies say they are having trouble finding a qualified workforce in North Carolina at times. Photo credit: morguefile.com/phaewilk

Businesses wishing to locate and hire in North Carolina are at times having trouble finding a qualified workforce.

That’s according to Bill Millett with Charlotte-based Scope View Strategic Advantage, a firm that works with companies looking to fill positions utilizing a variety of skill sets. Millet joins other business owners in the opinion that it starts with early childhood education, “There are some companies that go overseas because it’s cheaper over there, but there are some major Fortune 200 companies that we work with that just can’t find the talent here. They are patriots. They want us to up our game in terms of workforce development and they believe that workforce development begins in the earliest months of life.”

The First Five Years Fund estimates that children who receive early education are 33% more likely to be employed and earn a higher average salary and 70% less likely to be arrested for a violent crime before the age of 18.

According to the NC Early Childhood Foundation, for every dollar invested in early education in the state, North Carolina sees between a seven and 10% return on its investment. Tracy Zimmerman with the Foundation says it’s money well spent, “Really, at the state level, the more that we can do to be ensuring that children have what they need, that they have access to high quality early environments and learning experiences, that they have good health, that we’re supporting families. That is in the best interest of this state.”

Millett says in the global economy it’s important to remember what was adequate education in the last generation won’t make the grade as the US works to compete with other world economies, “Their competition for quality lives and quality jobs is growing up on at least four other continents, and those kids have access to information and in many cases better early education than our kids have.”

He says multiple bodies of scientific research support the opinion that the brains of children under five years of age are able to absorb information and develop in ways that’s not possible once their brain is fully developed.

Teacher Pay Still Falling Behind In NC

The latest public school teacher pay rankings show North Carolina still below the national average but making improvement after raises were approved last summer.

The new annual National Education Association report showed North Carolina ranked 47th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia during the 2013-14 school year in average teacher pay, at almost $45,000.

The NEA’s average pay estimate this year for North Carolina is about $47,800, compared to the national average of about $57,400. North Carolina’s 6.2 percent increase represented the highest jump in the country. The legislature raised the minimum salary to $33,000 and gave raises of varying amounts to others

The North Carolina Association of Educators said the state is now ranked 42nd. This year’s per-pupil expenditures show North Carolina behind Southeastern neighbors.

North Carolina Taxpayers Report Leaner State Returns in 2015

If you’re among the North Carolinians who already have filed your taxes, you may have noticed your state tax burden is a little greater this year. Greg Elder, a Spruce Pine tax preparer for H & R Block, says the state’s decision to eliminate tax credits like the earned-income tax credit from the tax system is impacting the budgets of his clients, “Most people, it boils down to a smaller North Carolina refund than they’ve received in the past. So if you’re making a plan prior to getting your taxes done that you’re going to use your North Carolina refund, don’t go buy that refrigerator just yet.”

The new system eliminated the tiered income-tax rates that were tied to income levels, setting the tax rate at 5.8% for 2014 and 5.75% for this year. The tax changes are a result of a tax overhaul passed in 2013 and put into effect for the 2014 tax year.

Alexandra Sirota, director of the NC Budget & Tax Center, says while her organization doesn’t take issue with the necessity of taxes, her analysis indicates the new tax model disproportionately impacts the working class, “The key thing about a tax system is it absolutely has to be adequate to meet the core public-service commitments that we need to be making as a state, but the way in which we raise revenue is really critical. ”

Sirota says taxpayers making less than $67,000 a year, about 80% of the state, will see their taxes increase under the tax plan. Even with that, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates state tax revenue will be down by about one-billion by the end of this year because of an overall reduction in corporate taxes.

Elder says while a tax refund is never a guarantee, the abrupt change in the state tax system is leaving many of his clients without a much needed boost this spring, “People do count on that money. It’s been similar for years and years and years, and so they had no reason to think that it wouldn’t be for tax year 2014.”

In addition to the EITC, deductions for medical expenses, retirement income, child care expenses and college 529 plans also were eliminated.

Expect traffic delays on I-40

Safety improvements are coming to a stretch of Interstate 40 in Haywood County prone to rockslides.

Beginning Monday, March 16, traffic along mile marker 7 on Interstate 40 in the Pigeon River Gorge will be stopped for up to 30 minutes at a time between 30 minutes after sunrise and 10 a.m. The closure will help crews safely remove timber from the rock slope. The work is part of a $6.4 million project that will remove potential rockfall hazards and help prevent future slides from happening.

During the road closure, the contractor will be performing rolling road blocks in both directions with assistance from law enforcement between the North Carolina/Tennessee state line and Exit 15. Due to the limited time frame in which the contractor has to work, the removal of the timber will take several days to complete.

Motorists are encouraged to adjust their travel plans to avoid this area during the time frames mentioned above if possible. An alternative route would be to take I-240 in Asheville to I-26 West toward Johnson City and then I-81 South back to I-40. However, this route adds a considerable amount of travel time for anyone traveling from the Asheville area to Knoxville, Tenn.

Mile marker 7 has seen several rockfall events in recent years. The area was closed briefly in early June 2014 while crews scaled the rock wall and removed potential rockfall hazards. In 2009, a major rockslide closed I-40 westbound at mile marker 3. During cleanup and repair from that rockslide, another rockfall event occuured at mile marker 7 that would have closed I-40 westbound had it not already been closed.

Due to its location in a sharp downhill turn, mile marker 7 on I-40 is seen as the most beneficial location for a slope stabilization project. The new engineered slope will have state-of-the-art design and construction and bring it up to the safety standards of new interstate slopes, similar to those on I-26 in northern Madison County.

For real-time travel information at any time, call 511, visit the Traveler Services section of the NCDOT website or follow NCDOT on Twitter. You can also access NCDOT Mobile, a version of the NCDOT website especially for mobile devices. Visit m.ncdot.gov from your mobile browser.

WCU board approves tailgating changes for 2015 football season

There will be more places to tailgate at Western Carolina University home football games this fall.

The WCU Board of Trustees unanimously approved a revision to the university’s tailgating policy that adds an additional parking lot to areas in which alcohol may be consumed on campus as part of fans’ pregame festivities. Approval of the change came during the board’s regularly scheduled quarterly meeting Friday, March 6.

Beginning this fall, the Belk Building parking lot, which previously had been designated as an alcohol-free zone, will be among the alcohol-permissible tailgating areas.

The move became necessary because of increased interest in pregame tailgating at WCU in the wake of recent improvements to the football program. In 2014, the WCU football team enjoyed its first winning regular season since 2005, earning a second-place finish in Southern Conference play.

With the revision to the policy, parking lots at the H.F. Robinson Administration Building, John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, Camp Building, Jordan-Phillips Field House, Ramsey Center, E.J. Whitmire Stadium, Hennon Baseball Stadium and Belk Building are considered alcohol-permissible areas during approved tailgating hours.

Lots located at Walker and Scott halls remain alcohol-free tailgating areas.

Tailgating at WCU may begin no earlier than three-and-a-half hours before kickoff of the football game. Consumption of alcohol must be discontinued at the start of the game, and tailgating without alcohol beverages may continue after the game for a period of two hours.

Only malt beverages (beers and other brewed libations) and unfortified wine are allowed in approved tailgate areas. Spirituous liquor and kegs or other common-source containers are not permitted.

Campus officials vigorously enforce laws regarding underage consumption of alcohol.

NC Bill Would Increase Citizen Involvement in Police Probes

 Rep. Rodney Moore's legislation would remove the current requirement that North Carolina communities have to receive permission from the Legislature to create a Citizen Review Board to oversee police-related complaints. Photo courtesy Moore's office.

Rep. Rodney Moore’s legislation would remove the current requirement that North Carolina communities have to receive permission from the Legislature to create a Citizen Review Board to oversee police-related complaints. Photo courtesy Moore’s office.

The issue of racial profiling is front and center this week in Raleigh, with the introduction of a bill Tuesday that supporters hope will be the first step to ending racial profiling in North Carolina. House Bill 193, introduced by Representative Rodney Moore, calls for more diversity training for law enforcement and additional oversight through Citizen Review Boards.

Representative Moore says his proposal reaches beyond race, to include other groups sometimes marginalized by the system, “I think all of those particular subcategories – nationality, religion, sexual identity – are subject to some type of profiling, one way or another.”

North Carolina communities have to receive permission from the Legislature to create a Citizen Review Board – the bill would remove that requirement. It comes after instances of police shootings across the country in which profiling was thought to be a factor. In September 2013, Charlotte police shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell after mistaking him for a suspect in a breaking and entering case – when Ferrell had been looking for help after a car wreck.

Angeline Echeverria works with El Pueblo Incorporated, an advocacy group for the Latino community in North Carolina. She says her group anticipates the cultural education law enforcement would receive if the bill passes, and the opportunity for people to be involved in providing it, “We’re excited for the possibility that there might be an additional body that provides community members with the opportunity to have oversight and have more interaction, direct interaction, with police departments.”

She adds her organization receives regular reports of profiling during traffic stops, “What we hear from families who come to El Pueblo is that they are often stopped in traffic stops and that the only ticket that they receive is a ticket for driving without a license. This is very common in communities where a lot of community members are undocumented.”

Charlotte and Durham have Citizen Review Boards in place, but Fayetteville’s recent request to create one was denied twice by the State Assembly.

Law enforcement involved shooting in Transylvania County

The SBI is the lead investigating agency in a fatal shooting of a suspect in
Transylvania County near Brevard this evening.

The investigation is in its very early stages, but the SBI can confirm that
Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Alcohol Law Enforcement and a
federal agent were serving warrants when a suspect was fatally shot. More
information on the law enforcement involved and the person shot will be
shared as promptly as possible.

Information from the Sheriff’s department has not been release whether it was a deputies or another agency’s officers who pulled the trigger.

Medical Marijuana Could Be in NC Soon

A North Carolina bill would legalize medical marijuana in the state, nullifying the federal prohibition.

Introduced by State Rep. Kelly Alexander, House Bill 78 (HB78) would allow medical marijuana to make its way into the hands of the qualified patients after receiving ID cards issued by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services; something that federal law says is illegal.
Under HB78, a qualified patient would be defined as someone who “has been diagnosed by a physician as having a debilitating medical condition.” There is no specific or finite list of specific conditions necessary to qualify. Patients would be allowed to keep a 24 ounce supply.
Additional provisions make it illegal for a person to be denied entry to a school, a job position, visitation or child custody rights, or a lease with a landlord due to their use of medical marijuana.

Medicinal products would go towards treatment of such physical and mental illnesses as anorexia, PTSD, Chrohn’s disease and cancer treatment, depending on patient.

Bill H78 will now go to a special House Committee, which will conduct further studies into the proposal and offer amendments and recommendations to the bill before it comes up for consideration by the NC House of Representatives.

Report Card: Unhealthy State Could Create Unhealthy Economy in NC

North Carolina isn’t making the grade when it comes to the health of its citizens – according to the 2015 N-C Prevention Report Card released by Chapel Hill based Prevention Partners. The evaluation gave the state failing marks when it comes to nutrition and obesity.

Rachel Zucker with Prevention Partners says the state’s overall health could ultimately impact its economic development as out-of-state companies evaluate whether to locate or expand in the state, “We could really start to see North Carolina losing out on opportunities for economic development if companies are seeing ‘Oh, North Carolina is not doing so well in health. Do we really want to locate there and pay a bunch more in employee health-care costs?’ ”

According to the report, slightly more than 12% of the population eats the recommended serving of at least five fruits and vegetables every day, and two out of every three North Carolina adults are overweight or obese. Together with the North Carolina Department of Commerce, Center for Health NC and the North Carolina Hospital Association, Prevention Partners is coordinating the “Healthy Together NC” initiative, which is working in all 100 of the state’s counties to meet specified health goals by 2025.

Zucker says programs such as “Healthy Together NC” are working with policy makers, employers, health-care providers and schools to increase the availability of healthy food and means for exercise, “If we put those policies into place where we can create tobacco-free spaces, where we can create cheaper foods that are healthy, that’s where we can start to see the change is really at that policy level of change.”

Zucker says individuals should set a goal of 30 minutes a day for physical activity to improve their health. That time can even be broken down into shorter increments to make it easier to make it a part of your daily routine.

SBI Investigation Results in Four Arrests From October Underage Drinking Party in Jackson County

Four people, including a former Jackson County deputy and a jail nurse, were arrested by the State Bureau of Investigation Tuesday in connection with alleged rapes and underage drinking during a Halloween party at a Sylva business in October, 2014.

Michelle Watson Dillard, 40, and James Wesley Henry, 39, both of Sylva, were each indicted Monday by a Jackson County grand jury on one count of obstruction of justice in relation to the alleged incidents.

Dillard was a jail nurse and Henry was a K-9 officer for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office at the time of this party held at Dillard’s husband’s business, Dillard Excavation.

Dillard and Henry surrendered themselves to SBI agents at the county jail where they were processed. They both appeared before Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope who set their bonds at $10,000 each, though their attorneys argued for unsecured bonds. No court dates have been set for them.

Austin Trent Davis, 19, and Cody Jacob Scott Jenkins, 24, were also indicted by the grand jury yesterday for one count each of felony statutory sex offenses. Their bonds will be set later today and their court date is April 15.

Sheriff Jimmy Ashe requested the assistance of the state Alcohol Law Enforcement Branch to investigate the initial reports of underage drinking received by his department and then later requested the SBI investigate after learning that employees from his department may be involved. The sheriff’s office cooperated fully in this investigation.