Maggie police under the gun in budget talks

The Maggie Valley Police Department will see minimal cuts to its new budget despite multiple discussions about whether the small valley has more officers than it needs.

The budget was cut by $55,000 to $854,000. The town will postpone replacing two police cars.

With a nose for trouble, K9s are put on trial

By Paul Clark  • Contributor •

Norris Bunch called his dog Maxo to attention. Maxo, alert and ready, waited for his release.

Barbara Holt, a judge for the U.S. Police Canine Association, gave the go-ahead, and Bunch, a K9 handler at the nuclear Savannah River Site, shouted for Maxo to move.

Laser-quick, Maxo charged toward the “decoy” – a fellow K9 officer acting as a criminal suspect. The decoy had a 25-yard head start on the football field at Waynesville Middle School. And, he certainly had the sympathy of the civilians spending a sunny June morning watching the police dog trials from the stands.

Sylva guts green amenities from police department project, price still over budget

The Sylva town board has trimmed the green energy features from its new police department project and boosted the proposed cost to more than $1 million.

The town originally budgeted $786,500 for the construction. The lowest bid, however, came in nearly $100,000 higher, forcing the town to decided whether to downsize the project or increase the amount of it’s willing to spend.

Sylva finds it easy being green Solar panels and passive heating find their places in new police, fire stations

The Town of Sylva, in a quiet way, is busy setting a green example for its Western North Carolina neighbors.

First the fire department, and now the new police department, incorporate green, environmentally friendly components. Sylva’s police soon will take over the former library building on Main Street now that the library has moved to a new home on the hill alongside the historic courthouse.

There are a couple of common denominators in these two municipal green projects: town leaders who support these sorts of efforts and Sylva architect Odell Thompson.  

“If you can tap into that, you should,” Thompson said. “We do want to do the right thing.”

Police Chief Davis Woodard is a convert, too, adding it’s important “to go as green as possible.”

Green strategies packaged with renovations to the old library include solar cells to augment the electrical system and a solar setup to heat water for showers. Solar tubes, a form of sky lights, will provide additional natural lighting. Some of the retrofitting includes adding insulation along the brick walls inside the old library.

Town council members last week approved $786,500 to fund the renovation. Interim Town Manager Mike Morgan said he believes the project will be ready to go out for bid next month.

The green elements are provided as alternatives in the bidding package, Thompson said.

“Up until the last possible second we can accept them or not,” he said.

If the cost comes in higher than the town wants to pay, it can opt to include the green features or trim them down.

The town’s new firehouse was completed a couple of years ago.

There are photovoltaic solar cells to convert the sun into electricity. To save on heating costs, hot water warmed by the sun’s rays flow through coils beneath the concrete slab in the garage bays where the trucks are parked, a form of passive, radiant heating. The slab retains heat because it has thermal mass, which helps keep temperatures warmer.

Up to eight sky lights, known these days as solar tubes, to bring in natural daylight. The building is south facing, and there’s an overhang to prevent heat buildup in summer and accept heat during the winter.

The men’s room has a waterless urinal to save on water use. Plus the building avoided the use of volatile organic compounds in the paints or carpet.


Architect wants ‘timeless’

Plans also call for a new look for the library façade on Sylva’s Main Street. The outside of the former public library is dated, even to the casual observer.

“Our goal is to make it look like a municipal building in a good sense,” Thompson said. “Secure, welcoming — not dated. This, now, is 1970s. We want something that is timeless.”

Architectural features from Sylva’s oldest building, the C.J. Harris building on Main Street that now houses Jackson General Store, provided ideas. The architect termed the creative borrowing as a way of “paying homage” to Sylva’s historic past. This includes a portico entrance, which as it sounds is a porch of sorts leading into the building, plus simplification of the roof canopy.

Inside, the police department will have women and men’s locker rooms, office space and a secure area for keeping evidence critical in criminal cases.

Outside and inside will be updated and modernized, Thompson said, adding that Chief Woodard brought a self-created lay-out for the interior space that worked with just some tweaking. Woodard said he collected ideas from visiting law enforcement facilities in Franklin, Maggie Valley and in Clay County. Plus, he said, his officers had ideas about what would make for an efficient workplace in the 6,400-square-foot building

For now, the 15-member town police, counting only fulltime employees, will continue to squeeze into the current police department on Allen Street next to town hall. The officers share just 1,000 square feet.

“We’ve been in that box too long,” Davis said.

Jackson County owned the old library building, but agreed to a property swap with the town last year. The county gave Sylva the old library building, and in exchange the town gave the county the former chamber of commerce building on Grindstaff Cove Road.

No jail cells will be built in the future police department. As takes place now, any prisoners detained by police will be taken to the county jail at the administration building.


Sylva police department expense breakdown

Architect and engineering: $36,000

Site work: $40,900

Construction: $561,120

Fixtures, furnishings and equipment: $76,800

Contingency: $71,680

Total: $786,500

Are cops making a pest of themselves in Maggie Valley?

Complaints from business owners and customers have Maggie Valley leaders asking if its police presence in the small tourist-oriented town is a bit overbearing.

Cruising along Soco Road — the single stripe along which Maggie Valley businesses have sprouted up — drivers are likely to see police cars camped out along the side of the road or in a parking lot.

While some find this fact comforting, other Maggie leaders and business owners argue that an overwhelming police presence in the valley deters possible consumers who fear that the cops are simply waiting to bust someone.

“There is a perception that it intimidates customers,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone during a meeting of Maggie leaders this month.

It is not just a perception; people are intimidated, chimed in Alderman Mike Matthews. Board members agreed, however, that cops mustn’t turn a blind eye and should enforce the law.

“Nobody is asking you to turn the cheek by any means,” Matthews said.

Although no one wants a lawbreaker to get away, some think that people shy away from Maggie Valley because they are afraid of being pulled over even if they are not speeding or driving drunk.

“They’ll be texting each other “Don’t go to Maggie. Don’t go to Maggie,’” Matthews said.

Chief Scott Sutton said he had not heard the same concerns. Visitors to the valley like to see cops out and about, patrolling the town, Sutton said.

“It don’t bother most people,” he said.

In fact, Sutton said, the police department will receive calls from a restaurant or a bar, asking the cops to show up around closing time to make sure the peace was kept.

“I can’t discourage my officers from doing their duties,” he said.

As far as drunken driving goes, DWI rates in Maggie are low, Sutton said. Most offenders are locals, he said. Others haven’t been out on the town in Maggie but are coming back from a show at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Cherokee.

Alderwoman Saralyn Price, the former town police chief, said that the officers are not picking on particular businesses but rather parking in a favorite spot or in the most convenient place.

“You are going to pull over in the easiest place,” Price said.

The aldermen and mayor made it clear that they, too, do not want the police to start shirking their responsibility, but DeSimone suggested that the town use some unmarked cop cars, which would allow police officers to continue to monitor the valley conspicuously.

“Nobody is complaining that you are pulling over people who are drunk or speeding,” DeSimone said. “We don’t want you to be less effective.”

The mayor also proposed fiddling with the police department’s patrol schedule, ensuring that a couple of cops are watching Soco Road while others make the rounds through residential areas — a circuit that takes 3 hours and 20 minutes to complete.

The aldermen said they brought the concern to Sutton after hearing complaints from business owners — but one alderman stated that the talk might not have not taken place if Maggie Valley businesses were not experiencing hardship as a result of the recession.

“If this was five years ago … then we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Matthews said.

Like the town leaders, business owners had mixed feelings about the fuzz in Maggie Valley.

Steve Hurley, owner of Hurley’s Creekside Dining & Rhum Bar, said he has not heard any patrons protest about the number of patrol cars along Soco Road.  

“It’s never affected me,” Hurley said. “I like having the cops around. I want them to be getting the drunk drivers.”

In regards to officers parking their vehicles near his business, Hurley replied that they have to park somewhere.

In contrast, a co-owner of Stingray’s said it is a chronic problem.

“Here is the feedback we hear: we don’t want to come to Maggie Valley because all the law does is sit around and wait on us,” said Nathan Hughes, Stingray’s owner. “That kills business. People get intimidated by that.”

The police need to find a happy medium, in which they continue to keep people safe but avoid scaring off potential customers, Hughes said.

Maggie has historically had an active bar scene. It was one of the first and only towns where liquor drinks were legal at bars. For nearly two decades, it was one of the only WNC towns west of Asheville where mixed drinks were sold, and revelers would bring their partying to Maggie as a result, setting a precedent of an active after-hours police presence.

Police beating in Bryson City leads to $22,500 settlement

A mentally ill man got a $22,500 settlement in a lawsuit against a Bryson City police officer who hit him multiple times with a baton and sprayed him with pepper spray.

The settlement came more than three years after the incident, which involved a 25-year-old with schizophrenia. The man sustained physical injuries and mental trauma after a Bryson City police officer hit the man repeatedly with a baton while serving involuntary commitment papers on him outside a downtown pizza restaurant.

The out-of-court settlement was reached through mediation in November.

The settlement is being paid by the town’s insurance company and not out of town coffers. In fact, the town didn’t even know it had been settled, said Bryson Town Manager Larry Callicutt.

Callicutt said he found out last week that the case had been settled by the insurance company back in November.

The suit by Jacob Grant claimed Bryson City Police Office Leon Allen sprayed him with pepper spray and hit him on the head, face, shoulders, stomach, back and legs, even after he was already on the ground. Grant’s family had petitioned for involuntary commitment because they feared Grant was not taking his medication.

When Allen tried to take Grant into custody, Grant asked to see the commitment papers, Allen couldn’t produce them, and a verbal argument ensued that allegedly escalated into Allen beating Grant. Ten witnesses stepped forward and filed police brutality complaints against Allen.

Allen, meanwhile, claimed Grant assaulted him. Grant was charged with assaulting an officer but those charges were dropped when Grant agreed to plead guilt to the lesser charge of obstruction of justice.

Allen was placed on leave while the department conducted an internal investigation, but was eventually reinstated on the force. He later left the Bryson police department and went to work in another county.

The settlement was signed on Bryson City’s behalf by Attorney Sean Perrin with Womble and Carlyle law firm out of Charlotte, who specializes in liability claims against police departments. The insurance company hired and paid for the attorney.

Grant was represented by Asheville attorney Andrew Banzhoff. The civil suit was filed almost two years after the incident, just shy of the statute of limitations cut-off.

Banzhoff said he could not discuss the settlement due to confidentiality provisions.

Clyde’s top cop sidelined on suspension

Clyde’s police chief has been placed on suspension, but town leaders are not saying why.

Police Chief Derek Dendy is currently on a 30-day unpaid suspension, with the possibility of further action pending the outcome of a hearing in two weeks. Clyde Town Administrator Joy Garland cited state personnel laws as preventing the town from discussing the reasons for the suspension. Dendy has been a police officer for the town of just more than 1,300 since September 1998. He was promoted to chief in 2008.  

Mayor Jerry Walker said a pre-disciplinary hearing for Dendy is set for Jan. 9 at 2 p.m. with the five-member town board. This hearing presumably affords Dendy the opportunity to respond to further disciplinary action being considered by the board.

Walker noted town leaders opted for an unpaid suspension because otherwise, the mayor said, “it’s just a month-long vacation.”

Sylva crunching budget to pay for police department move

Renovating the old library on Main Street in Sylva for a new police department is on something of a hiatus until a new town board convenes.

The town board will get a new member following this month’s elections. Lynda Sossoman will replace current town Commissioner Ray Lewis. Sossoman said Monday that she fully supports the renovation of the old library for a town police department.

Town leaders must identify where the estimated $700,000 needed for the job will come from, interim Town Manager Mike Morgan said.

“The next thing we would want is to get an architect to do detailed plans — but (commissioners) are not there, yet,” he said.

Until then, the 15-member town police — counting only fulltime employees — will continue to squeeze into the current police department on Allen Street. The officers share just 1,000 square feet. The old library is 6,400 square feet in size.

Jackson County owned the old library, but agreed to a property swap at the town’s request earlier this year. The county gave Sylva the old library building on Main Street, and in exchange the town gave the county the former chamber of commerce building on Grindstaff Cove Road.

As takes place currently, any prisoners detained by police will be transported immediately to the county jail at the administration building instead of being held at the police department.

Sylva merchants have repeatedly requested a greater presence by town police on Main Street. In addition to the prospect of having the department located physically there, a new police officer was recently assigned to foot patrols downtown.

Too fancy or just right?

Waynesville has spent $7 million over the past four years building a new fire station, police station and town offices — projects that have come under fire by some challengers for the town board.

Opponents point to the architecture — the brick towers on the fire house, the wood timber frames over the police department entrance — and question how much they added to the price tag.

“I think it is a little extravagant,” said Hugh Phillips, who is running for mayor.

“They may be just a bit more than we really needed,” said candidate Sam Edwards, calling the buildings too fancy. “It certainly helped prettify things, but I don’t know if that was what we should be doing right now.”

But the incumbents say the attractive building design added little to the cost and was worth it.

“I am proud of those things, and if they want to rag on me for that, guilty as charged,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown.

Mary Ann Enloe, a challenger in the race, lauded the buildings and doesn’t consider them extravagant.

“I think the designs are beautiful,” Enloe said. “Why didn’t we make the justice center look like that?”

Alderman Gary Caldwell said the town actually scaled back some elements of the building design.

“It could have been far more fancy than what it is now,” Caldwell said.

The new police department on Main Street also houses the town planning office where developers and entrepreneurs come for their building permits and business licenses. It was important for it to look nice, Brown said.

“You are trying to create atmosphere when they come in to town they are impressed, that they are in a progressive arena, a place where people are doing things,” Brown said.

Criticism of the town building projects has originated from a political action committee called the Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens. A web site by the group cites the “ostentatious” police department and “extravagant” fire station.

The web site questions a few others town spending priorities as well, but one of the chief examples is inaccurate. It blasts the town for spending money on fancy downtown art. However, no town tax dollars went for the public art pieces. They were funded entirely with private donations.

Sylva police department to find new home on Main Street

A dire space crunch for Sylva’s police officers has been solved.

Jackson County will give the old library building on Main Street to the town for a new police department. In return, Sylva will give the county the former chamber of commerce building on Grindstaff Cove Road.

“One hand washes the other,” Commissioner Charles Elder said in summing up the deal. “Maybe some people will think we are giving too much for a lot less from the town, but it’s not just for (Sylva’s) benefit.”

The old public library has an appraised tax value of $796,000; the former chamber of commerce building was valued at $157,560. County commissioners met with town board members Monday to discuss the trade and voted unanimously to make the deal. Commissioner Joe Cowan was absent.

Town police are strapped for space in the current police department on Allen Street. Fourteen full-time officers (soon to be 15) and three auxiliary officers share just 1,000 square feet. The old library is 6,400 square feet in size.

“We’re not trading apples for apples, I recognize that,” Commissioner Mark Jones said before endorsing the deal as ultimately beneficial to both parties involved. “Let’s help each other out.”

Commissioner Doug Cody said he had some reservations, primarily because he’d prefer to see more retail business on Main Street.

“But I think we can probably work things out since we don’t have anyone beating our doors down to get that building,” Cody said.

County Manager Chuck Wooten confirmed Jackson County hasn’t received any inquiries from anyone interested in buying the old building. The library in June moved to a new location at the historic courthouse overlooking Main Street.

“We need the space, bad,” said Harold Hensley, a Sylva town council member, who added that the swap would also be good for the town and county’s overall relationship.

Chris Matheson, a former district attorney who sits on the town board, confirmed that prisoners would not be detained in that building. As takes place currently, any prisoners detained by police will be transported immediately to the county jail at the administration building, she said.

Matheson said Sylva merchants have repeatedly requested a greater presence on Main Street by town police. In addition to the prospect of now having the department located physically there, council members also decided recently to hire a new police officer assigned to foot patrols downtown.

Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower, in a follow-up interview after the workshop, said there are already rough blueprints drafted for how the new police department would be built. She said the town’s public works department, also currently strapped for space, would probably move into the vacated police department.

Police Chief Davis Woodard described he and his officers as “just tickled,” and emphasized his gratitude for the united backing of town commissioners in helping the police department gain more space.

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