Scott McLeod

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If you don’t vote, then just shut up. You don’t even really deserve the right to be heard. Especially when you consider the treatment many in this country endured before — and after — they earned to right to vote.

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Keep electing people who are ideologically too far left or right to reach across the aisle, and we’ll have the same kind of Congress we have today: divided, ineffective, laughable. So despite Madison Cawthorn trying to brand himself as a new face of conservatism, many of his statements since winning the 11th District GOP primary reveal a young man with a narrow, hard-right world view that may make him the darling of a certain segment of his party but will do little to help those in his district or help get Congress moving in a positive direction.

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In the streets of Western North Carolina, mostly young protestors calling for an end to structural and sometimes violent racism are being confronted by working-class Americans who think many of those grievances are illegitimate. Statues of Confederates and former slaveholders are toppling, and those that remain will forever be looked upon differently.

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I was walking my animal last night at sunset, enjoying the evening views and cool temps, thinking back to the July 4 weekend. Along the way, it hit me that half of 2020 is now in the history books. The verdict is still out as to how this time will be viewed by those who look back, but hell, it sure feels like the world is in a different orbit.

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Haywood County resident Lynda Bennett was beaten badly in the Republican runoff primary for Congress last week against 24-year-old political newcomer Madison Cawthorn. As a reporter and editor who has been involved in the coverage of more than a dozen races for this congressional seat, I was heartened by her loss.

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When I saw the video of the mostly young crowd marching Monday night in Waynesville to protest the killing of George Floyd and the systemic, violent racism that still exists in this country, it gave me a jolt. I was proud of those who turned out, but also feared it would turn violent. It didn’t, and it’s these mostly young people who will bring needed changes to this country if those of my generation can just get the hell out of the way. And that this small protest happened in this place in Western North Carolina where people of color are so few made it even more meaningful. 

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National Emergency Medical Services Week is May 17-23, and in the midst of a global pandemic the timing resonates more this year than at any other moment in recent memory. What these men and women do — whether it be EMTs, those in the medical field, firemen and the police — has never been more essential to helping our society maintain some semblance of normalcy and order. 

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It seems every time I sit down to write these days, it has something to do with journalism and the state of our industry. Forgive me my obsession, but during this time of isolation it’s difficult to concentrate for long on any other topic. I am obsessed — a strong word, I know, but the truth —  with steering our company through this strange, once-in-a-lifetime business disruption.

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Way back, way back, like three or four weeks ago, our little company was on track for its best year ever.

Our print newspaper was going strong and we had just added a new, energetic and driven sales professional. Our digital footprint was growing faster than we had expected, and our staff was brimming with new ideas to help local businesses get their message out via several online platforms. Our niche publishing sector had grown significantly in the last 12 months, adding two annual magazines and the four-time-per-year Blue Ridge Motorcycling Magazine to our portfolio.

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The helplessness is the thing that’s making all of us so uneasy. Like being pushed along by a wave that you know is big and that you know could hurt you, but in that second before it crashes it’s too late to do anything but ride it out. 

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The world changed over the weekend, especially on main street. And it likely won’t ever again look the same as it did on Friday, not with the Covid-19 hell storm unleashing its fury.

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The family of a Sylva woman who died by suicide in the Jackson County Detention Center last year has filed suit in federal district court against members of the sheriff’s department who handled her incarceration. Filed by Rice’s son Matthew Dillard, who is the administrator of Rice’s estate, the suit seeks a series of judgments that would easily exceed $3 million if granted in full. He claims that the defendants’ “negligent” acts and “malicious, willful and wanton disregard” for Rice’s rights led to her death.

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The phones we carry everywhere contain or have access to more information than the largest libraries in the world, many times more. It’s the same with our laptops, tablets, desktops or whatever digital device one prefers. All the collected knowledge of science, literature, mathematics and the arts that humans have amassed since the dawn of civilization is right there at our fingertips. 

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Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.

— Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom

“Let me put a face on this for you.”

So uttered Natalie Henry Howell in a gut-wrenching presentation to Haywood County Commissioners and a roomful of Second Amendment Sanctuary supporters on Tuesday night, Jan. 21. 

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I just turned the big 6-0. Sixty. What the hell?

I’ve been reading essays on reaching this point in life, and I don’t seem to be taking this as philosophically as some. Unlike others, I don’t think I’ll be posting up on a barstool or relaxing in an easy chair and waxing poetic regarding the wisdom attained over so many years, or professing to be at the stage of life where I am perfectly satisfied, confident and content in being the person I want to be and where my life is. That’s what so many essays on aging seem to prioritize.

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The Great Smoky Mountains National Park — for all its grandeur — is facing serious challenges, and it’s going to take those who cherish it the most to protect this acclaimed natural and cultural resource for future generations. If that means instituting entrance fees, then we’ll support taking the necessary steps to make that happen.

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Under this commander-in-chief, war criminals are framed as heroes for political gains with his base while veterans who served with honor for decades are vilified. Of all of President Trump’s outrageous, disruptive behavior, it’s his un-military like actions toward our soldiers in uniform that roil me the most.

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It’s called Blue Ridge Motorcycling Magazine, and it’s become part of our family. Let me explain.

At almost 60 years old — damn, I can’t believe that’s true — odds are I’m beyond the midpoint of my life. That means I couldn’t realistically blame a mid-life crisis around three years ago when I became obsessed with buying a motorcycle. I had owned dirt bikes as a teenager and so knew how to ride. I wasn’t one of those old guys who was starting from scratch, figuring out the gears and the clutch and braking and starting on a hill and all the nuances of counter-steering and leaning into curves. Once upon a time all that was second-nature.

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Does the information we provide each week — information that we have been producing free for the last 20 years — have a value? I am asking that question of all of our readers.

At our inception in June 1999, we were not so unusual in the newspaper world. We decided to give the paper away, our revenue source being the advertisers who wanted to get their message to our readers. That remains a relatively common model in our business, and you can look around the world and around Western North Carolina and find other print media who do the same.

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These days, too many Americans refuse to concede that a point-of-view other than their own has any validity. I’m afraid that the root of this problem is that too few are willing to put in the intellectual energy required to walk in someone else’s shoes. That requires reading, thinking, taking time for reflection, diving deep into issues rather than relying on Twitter and Facebook posts as the whole of one’s political philosophy. 

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Is it a Taj Mahal or a wise use of tax dollars? 

I’m talking about the proposal to spend around $13 million to build a central office for the Haywood County School System that will bring administration, food services, transportation, teacher/staff training facilities and more all under one roof.

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Remember those old movies where submarines find themselves navigating through an underwater minefield, sometimes relying on skill to avoid what would be a sure death and other times surviving near misses on luck alone?

That’s what it feels like sometimes in the world of journalism as we try to make the right ethical choices. It seems almost every day we are discussing the right way to cover a story or whether some event should even be reported. Sometimes these issues are discussed at length, other times reporters and editors have to rely on gut instincts and past experience.

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It’s rare when one newspaper questions the integrity of another paper and the intentions of a hard-working journalist whose entire career personifies honesty and ethical decision-making. So we were surprised and a bit taken aback after we read Editor Robert Jumper’s column in last week’s Cherokee One Feather in which he referenced an article in The Smoky Mountain News. For that reason, I felt compelled to respond.

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Summer is ending and schools are opening. It’s the time year when I remember the teachers.

These days, teachers are too often scapegoats for the shortcomings of parents, politicians and society at large. Truth be told, what they do each day in the classroom changes lives and changes the world. 

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It’s fascinating to watch a cultural arts organization grow up, mature, get a little long-in-the-tooth, and then re-define itself to adjust to a changing world. That’s exactly what is happening with Folkmoot, which is now in its 36th year in Western North Carolina.

And what about that mission statement above. In these times when politicized culture wars and presidential twitter tantrums divide us, here is an arts organization whose very existence is based on trying to build bridges and foster international understanding. Folkmoot avoids politics, but now more than ever its mission is relevant and necessary.

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As we celebrate Independence Day, it seems an appropriate time to call for an independent commission to address North Carolina’s grossly gerrymandered voting districts.

In a much-anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision last week, a 5-4 majority of justices decided they should not be the arbiter of extreme political redistricting, however damaging to democracy that practice may be. The court’s conservative majority, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing, determined that drawing maps to favor one party presents “political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” 

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Many readers know or suspect that Hannah McLeod, who has been publishing columns semi-regularly in The Smoky Mountain News since mid-2018 after graduating from Appalachian State University, is related to me. She’s my daughter.

Hannah is smart, well-read and stays informed on happenings in our country and abroad. She can discuss literature or poetry, current events, music, movies, pop culture, geography, history, and is fluent in Spanish. She took her college classes seriously and managed to earn two undergraduate degrees. 

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In the beginning, one doesn’t even think about the long run. When you’re fighting every day to survive, there’s no time to look over your shoulder. Slow down long enough to take in what’s in the rearview mirror, and you’re all too likely to get eaten alive by those who would love nothing better than to chew up and spit out the upstart.

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My wife, Lori, and I recently attended the wedding of my nephew in Fayetteville. While there, we wandered around downtown for a couple of meals and I was reminded of how the city’s affiliation with the monster military machine of Ft. Bragg defines this Southern town.

Fort Bragg is the largest U.S. Army base by population, with more than 52,000 active duty soldiers. The base also has more than 12,000 reservists, almost 9,000 civilian employees and 63,000 active duty family members. Throw in almost 100,000 retirees and their family members, and you begin to get the scope of the military’s impact. All told, the census bureau pegs the metropolitan area’s population at about 375,000.

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“But for the grace of God, it could have been my child.”

News of college and school shootings cut straight to the heart of all parents, and I really can’t count how many times I’ve silently mouthed those words. Selfish thinking, in part, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit to owning such sentiments when I first hear of shootings like those at Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook or (insert tragic school shooting here).

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North Carolina Community College President Peter Hans says his main goal is to advocate for more funding for the state community college system, including working to boost the salaries.

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It’s one of those anniversaries most would rather forget: April 20, 1999, the Columbine High School shooting. Two high school seniors murdered 12 fellow students and a teacher, and they shot and injured another 21 people before they committed suicide. They also brought bombs to the school, so the carnage could have been much worse. 

Twenty years later, the tally of school shootings and mass killings continues to mount. That shooting and its aftermath changed this country, but rather than coming together to find ways to reduce random mass shootings we’ve instead become numb, seemingly accepting the reality that they are part of life in 21st century America.

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From the outside looking in, the current Nikwasi Mound disagreement in Franklin seems almost contrived. I mean, do serious people truthfully believe that the volunteers who comprise the Nikwasi Initiative and who are seeking ownership of this historic Native site have any intentions other than honorable ones? 

And, as town board member Joe Collins said so succinctly in the Franklin Press, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a wealthy tribe. Tribal leaders and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation have millions of dollars to invest in preserving Cherokee culture. Turning the mound over to this initiative would do a lot to attract funding, subsequently turning the mound into a significant cultural attraction rather than just an afterthought for a town that has many important issues affecting its taxpayers.

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A little more than two weeks ago I was part of a public radio panel that was discussing the “state of media in Western North Carolina.” The catalyst for the show was the Gannet corporation’s — owner of USA Today and more than 100 dailies and 1,000 weeklies — nationwide layoff of reporters and editors, including five at the Asheville Citizen-Times. We discussed the importance and relevance of local newspapers and media sites, and how our communities are adapting to the shift away from one or two dominant — and trustworthy — media sources. 

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My son was home from college for spring break. As we ate dinner one night, he described to my wife and me how a professor warned the students that many of the jobs they are studying for will be gone within a few years. Artificial intelligence and automation could put millions out of work in the very near future, the professor had told the class, and my son seemed genuinely worried.

In the next breath, he recounted a speech he heard from one of the lesser-known Democratic presidential candidates who discussed a future where U.S. citizens may receive a “universal basic income,” particularly if AI and automation take us to the point where there just aren’t enough jobs for a growing population. 

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Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people’s business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly.

— NC General Statute 143-318.9 

When our local boards hold official meetings, they often end with a closed or “executive” session. The North Carolina Open Meetings law allows elected officials to deliberate secretly on a just few specific subjects, which are clearly outlined in the law.

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When the text came letting us know that our daughter Hannah had arrived safely in Costa Rica, a sense of relief — mixed with pride — enveloped me. 

To state the obvious, parenting is both complicated and never-ending. You get your kids to 18 and out of high school, you feel some small sense of accomplishment. If they choose college, you do your best to help out and provide whatever guidance you can. As they enter adulthood, the role becomes more complicated. You’re not quite on the outside looking in, but it sometimes feels that way.

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The libertarian in me believes in the “live and let live” mantra, which when it comes to legalizing pot means I think it’s way past time for it. No adult should ever be fined or arrested simply for possession of small amounts. It’s ridiculous, in my opinion.

But last week’s Smoky Mountain News cover story on marijuana legalization and the growing of hemp created some heavy-duty social media back and forth, so much so that it’s clear Americans are still divided on the issue.

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A genuine dilemma, or merely some people grousing? You tell me.

We’ve been hearing complaints for months now that the homeless situation in and around Frog Level and the Pathways Center in Hazelwood is causing problems for locals and businesses. And that it is spreading to other parts of town.

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“I think it’s the right thing to do as much as we use the park and as free as this is. It’s one of the few there’s no charge. I don’t mind giving back. It’s a beautiful park. It’s ours — I take care of my house, I’ll take care of the park.”

— Mike Walker of Franklin, a frequent Great Smoky Mountains National Park user, who was picking up trash near the Oconaluftee Visitor Center during the shutdown.

It is bringing out the best in some and the worst in others. I’m talking about the government shutdown.

Come this Friday, around 800,000 federal workers won’t get a paycheck, which means many won’t be able to pay their bills. That’s everyone from Secret Service agents and federal prison guards who daily put their lives on the line to rangers in our national parks.

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“Stray from the truth, and whoever corrects you can be dismissed as ‘the other side.’ The strategy runs on a dangerous assumption — that we’re not all in this together.”

— Time magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year article

When it was reported that Time magazine had named the “guardians” as their person of the year, I have to admit to the sin of pride.

The guardians it was referring to were reporters and journalists, those with media outlets large and small who toil daily to inform on important and fundamental issues so that we might be better citizens.

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I’ve spent most of my career at small newspapers, and one thing I’ve learned is the value of making connections.

I’m not talking connections that bring personal gain, but rather those that bring people together. One of my former publishers used some variation of that word almost every time he talked to reporters and editors responsible for getting out on the street and developing story ideas: “How many people would such and such story connect?” “How can we reach out to that particular community and make some connections?” “We should follow up with that story and connect the dots.”

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It sure would be nice for his constituents to hear Rep. Mark Meadows come out with a mea culpa regarding his actions in the sexual harassment controversy that has dogged his office for the last couple of years. Apparently, that’s not going to happen, even after the official rebuke he received last Friday from the bipartisan House Ethics Committee.

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There were many winners and losers last week on Election Day, but perhaps the best outcome is that the move to end gerrymandering appears to be taking root across the country. 

Nothing will do more to quiet the current strident tone of our political discourse than having state legislatures and the U.S. House better represent the will of the people. That means lawmakers will have to compromise, and radical gerrymandering is the enemy of reasoned debate.

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As election fatigue sets in, keep this in mind: it’s the local races that will most affect each of us. The decisions voters make at the lowest levels of government will have the most impact on our lives here in Western North Carolina. 

The over-the-top television commercials, the misleading mailings, the signs, the newspaper stories and ads, the forums and Q&As, candidate hopefuls out on the stump — all of it adds up. By this point, the overload starts overwhelming one’s senses. What did we do with our time prior to this election, and how did we fill our pages?

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As we started working on this year’s Women in Business stories, a fundamental question kept coming up: do we still need to highlight women-owned and women-operated businesses in this day and age, or has it become so commonplace it’s the norm? Are we perpetuating a storyline about overcoming obstacles that’s no longer relevant?

Haywood County GOP leaders last week took the podium at a public meeting and proceeded to act as shills for Tax Collector Mike Matthews, trying to make the argument that Matthews suffers more from county commissioners and the media criticizing him than from his own ineptitude.

It was a curious — albeit flawed and completely wrong — argument, one that mistook facts for opinions and also included an unsavory dose of the increasingly popular attack on the media as an entity not caring about whether their reporting is accurate.

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The sounds, the feel of the coming fall is always comforting, like reconnecting with an old and dear friend.

It was just shy of 8 a.m. Saturday as I opened my book, blowing lightly at my steaming coffee. I sorted the pillows from our porch furniture on my lap so I could aim the pages in the direction the sun would appear when it cleared the mountain. Angling the book to catch just the right natural reading light is tricky early in the day on the covered porch. My wife, Lori, and I usually play this game together and against each other, the early riser getting the best spot, the loser spending more time than the other to coax the sunlight into position.

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North Carolina got a new slice of public land last week when Headwaters State Forest was opened to the public Thursday, Sept. 6, the first large tract to be added to N.C. Forest Service lands since acquisition of DuPont State Forest began in 1996. 

Headwaters State Forest — so named because it contains the headwaters of the east fork of the French Broad River — encompasses 6,730 acres in Transylvania County south of Brevard abutting the South Carolina line and contiguous to the Jocasse Gorges Management Area, the Greenville Watershed and the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area. It contains three named waterfalls and 25 waterfalls in total, as well as 9 miles of the 76-mile Foothills Trail. Until Headwaters was created, that was the only stretch of the path not in public ownership.

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Every Labor Day we celebrate the American worker. We wax nostalgic about the bygone days of the great American middle class when parents worked hard and expected their children to climb the economic ladder.   

Unfortunately, evidence today shows workers are not doing well. The standard of living for the American worker is, by many measures, falling. Politicians of all stripes need to address fundamental issues that have been ignored if the great working class is to flourish and remain the backbone of this country. And despite challenges, I’m not ready to concede that we can’t turn things around.

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