Holly Kays

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After a closed session Monday, the Franklin Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to give Interim Town Manager Summer Woodard a permanent place in town hall. Woodard, who has been acting as town manager since Warren Cabe resigned in May, now has the job for good.

“We were unanimously very pleased with her work,” said Alderman Barbara McRae. “She is very qualified and has been an employee for years.”

Woodard, a Franklin native, received a master’s degree in public administration in 2010 and has worked for the town ever since, including serving as assistant to the town manager under three different managers. As a student, she did an internship that gave her experience working in every town department. 

The board voted to award her the same contract they signed with former manager Warren Cabe, an annual salary of $85,000. They did not go through a search process for the position, agreeing that Woodward was highly qualified and up to speed on everything happening in the town. 

“Since she proved herself, why go through the expense of a major search when we already had a viable candidate in-house?” asked Mayor Bob Scott. 

As part of the same discussion, the board also did some shuffling of positions in town hall, with the moves expected to save about $25,000. Woodard told the board she did not need an assistant but did not want to serve as human resources director, since that could cause a conflict of interest. 

“If you get into a conflict with an employee and the HR director decides something, the employee should have the opportunity to appeal,” McRae said, “and if the town manager and the HR person are the same individual, there’s nobody that you can appeal to.” 

The board gave the human resources job to Chad Simon, who has been working in the front office for several months, splitting the HR job with the town clerk position. Janet Anderson had been doing that job in addition to her responsibilities as finance director but now is continuing solely as finance director. 

“The town has grown and we have to look periodically at positions and how we can operate more efficiently,” Scott said.

— by Holly Kays, staff writer

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One month after low oxygen levels killed the bacteria needed to process sewage at the Cherokee Wastewater Treatment Plant, discharge flowing back into the Oconaluftee River is still on the cloudy side as employees work to get the plant fully back online. It’s not clear exactly what killed the bacteria, but the best guess is it has something to do with 8 tons of sand employees removed right around the time the bacteria crashed. 

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The general election ballot for Jackson County Sheriff will finally be final next week when polls close on a second Republican primary July 15. Though the field of six Democrats came out with a clear winner, the three-person Republican race ended in a narrow victory for former Sylva Police Officer Curtis Lambert, who won by 41 votes, or 36 percent. 

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Macon County Schools got a little extra to fix up their buildings when some bids for the Parker Meadows recreational complex came in low. All of the extra money went to education, with $39,400 going to Southwestern Community College and $100,000 to MCS’ capital outlay fund. 

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fr sccshootingrangeResults are back from the first round of testing for lead at Southwestern Community College’s shooting range, and the conclusion is that there’s plenty of lead to go around. In the area 15 to 20 feet downslope from the range, lead levels are as much as 73 times higher than the safe amount, occurring in concentrations of 19,700 mg/kg 0 to 6 inches below the surface and 5,320 mg/kg 2 to 3 feet below the surface. 

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Though the Corridor K debate was the impetus for the Opportunity Initiative Study, Opt-In wasn’t all about transportation. The results of the year-long regional visioning study has been enlightening, unifying and awash with great ideas to improve the area’s economic and cultural landscape, said Ryan Sherby, executive director of the Southwestern Commission Council of Governments. 

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A stalemate in the debate over Corridor K boils down to a central issue: can upgrades to the existing two-lane road do the job, or is a new four-lane highway the only solution?

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coverAfter a year-long study capping off years of debate, the verdict is in on what’s next for the controversial Corridor K road project — sort of.

SEE ALSO: Dueling studies | Beyond the road

There were high hopes for the $2 million Opportunity Initiative Study at the outset: to find a clear answer for whether a four-lane highway through the remote mountains of Graham County is worth the enormous price tag and environmental damage, whether it is in fact wanted by the majority of people, and whether it will indeed be a magic bullet to bring the rural county into the 21st century economy.

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out frIt’s no secret that an accurate weather forecast is hard to come by in the Smokies. But after two months of intense measurements at more than 100 stations around the region, scientists working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are crunching data that could change that. 

“I think we’ve made an important contribution to understand the hydrology and the water cycle of the Smokies,” said Ana Barros, professor of earth and ocean science at Duke University and principal investigator on the Smokies project. 

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out frWalk into Bowed Up Outdoors, and the first thing you’ll notice is the friendly banter moving back and forth between customers seated at the stools in front of the gun counter and the staff on the other side of it. Then, your eyes will wander to the lineup of rifles hung on the wall behind the counter and travel past the rows of shooting accessories to the back wall, hung with a variety of bows — compound, recurve and long. An eight-lane indoor shooting range is hidden behind that wall, giving the Maggie Valley shop a claim to fame among counties west of Buncombe.

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Cherokee Bear Zoo hoped a federal civil lawsuit alleging it mistreats grizzly bears in its care would be tossed out.

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fr socialenterpriseWhat began as a vision to convert a shutdown state prison in Waynesville into a halfway house, homeless shelter and soup kitchen has spiraled into a larger vision of transforming society one life at a time.

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fr sccA budget-trimming effort in Macon County has leaders in multiple counties talking about what’s fair when it comes to community college funding. Charged with proposing an as-small-as-possible budget in advance of expected hard times ahead, Macon County Manager Derek Roland eyed a $200,000 line item for Southwestern Community College.

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fr mobile erHaywood Regional Medical Center is on its way to recovery after a small fire in its power room earlier this month knocked out the electrical system, closing the hospital and causing its 62 patients to be shuttled to hospitals in neighboring counties.

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out frIt wasn’t until Brad McMillan got his canoe on the water that the moment hit him. He’d been preparing for this for a long time, both mentally and physically, and he’d just watched his three friends in kayaks descend the falls before him. But once in the water, he struggled to keep the calm of that preparation. Nothing makes the idea of running a 70-foot-high waterfall more concrete than, well, pushing off to run a 70-foot-high waterfall. 

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Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, has pulled a bill she introduced last month to de-annex a 3.5-acre property from the town of Maggie Valley following pushback from local leaders. 

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A new logo will soon chug onto the marketing landscape of Bryson City following the Swain County Tourism Development Authority and the Swain County Chamber of Commerce’s approval of a design meant to emphasize the town’s most unique aspect — the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. 

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fr hospitalThe campus of Haywood Regional Medical Center is full of cars coming and going, staff walking toward or returning from shifts and people in workout gear heading toward the Fitness Center. Staff members help an elderly woman in a wheelchair get in her vehicle after discharging her from care, and staff working with those still admitted move between stations. 

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coverIt’s a little after 7 p.m. when the first trolley shows up to Elkmont Campground. Green, red and yellow, the flashy Gatlinburg transit vehicle seems a bit out of place in the backwoods greenery of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but so, too, do the crowds of people that pour out of it.  

People bearing fold-up chairs, blankets and cameras. People with North Face and Patagonia strapped to their backs, and people toting oversized purses and tote bags. Children, teenagers, parents, retirees. People who are always in and out of the National Parks, and people who have probably never set foot in one in their lives.

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Consumers will start seeing some extras added to their subtotals as a result of a state law adding sales tax to a variety of items that had previously not been taxed, or were taxed at a lower level. Among them are mobile and manufactured homes, electric bills and “service contracts,” which is basically a catch-all entailing labor costs for everything from car repairs to plumbing. 

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fr casinoTwo months after a management shake-up in which the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise removed construction manager Sneed, Robertson and Associates from the casino construction project in Murphy, the project is on time and on budget, according to TCGE chairman Ray Rose. 

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fr macon daysA group of past Macon County Commissioners spent an hour reminiscing about their triumphs and reflecting on lessons learned in front of an audience that included two Election Day hopefuls last week. The lunchtime program was the third in a series from the Macon County League of Women Voters examining the county’s growth from the perspective of those who served it during key moments. 

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Franklin residents will be paying a bit more on their property taxes next year following a unanimous decision by the Franklin Board of Alderman to increase the rate by 2 cents per $100. Currently, the rate is set at 25 cents, but the town had been thinking about raising it for a while. 

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out frA black bear — and possibly one of its cubs — is dead after a run of bird seed raids resulted in a confrontation with a Maggie Valley homeowner’s 12-gauge. 

“Everyone has a right to protect their property, and it was clear to me this individual felt threatened and it was either his life or the bear’s life,” said Sgt. Andrew Helton of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. 

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Business license fees will disappear in North Carolina following the recent passage of the Omnibus Tax Law Changes. Currently, towns and cities use any of a number of schemes for calculating how much a business must pay for the privilege of doing business in municipal limits. The majority of legislators agreed that this patchwork of regulations was too inconsistent, led to exorbitant taxes and needed to be addressed.  

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fr pigeonfundIt’s been more than a month since seven of the Pigeon River Fund Board’s nine members learned that a dictum from Raleigh was booting them off midterm, but the restructured board is still raising eyebrows and ire. Typically, the board recommends replacements to fill vacancies when a member’s three-year term ends in August, and the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources approves them. This go-around, however, that didn’t happen. 

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fr teachersSen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, faced a group of 50 Macon County teachers and staff last Tuesday in the library of South Macon Elementary School, and it was not a happy crowd. 

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out frRhododendrons are opening deep pink blooms along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and new spring foliage blends into a bright blue sky dotted with puffy clouds. At the Graveyard Fields overlook this Friday morning, chirping birds and the occasional passing car are the only sounds. “Idyllic” is the word that comes to mind, but this peaceful scene is far from the norm for this pull-off near mile marker 418. 

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It’s only eight lines long, but a de-annexation bill Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, has filed with the General Assembly’s Government Committee is drawing ire from some and cheers from others. The bill would remove a 3.4-acre property owned by Joe Maniscalco, 77, from the town limits of Maggie Valley. 

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In its quest to cut the fat ahead of the looming county revaluation, Macon County is turning to its retirement policies. Commissioners recently voted unanimously on a pair of personnel policy changes that will tighten up post-retirement health benefits for county employees. 

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Economy of scale tends to lean toward effectiveness of action, and that’s a fact that three environmental advocacy organizations in Western North Carolina plan to take advantage of over the coming year. By January 2015, the Jackson-Macon Conservation Alliance, Western North Carolina Alliance and the Environmental Conservation Association, known as ECO, hope to have merged into one organization with a new name and a familiar purpose.    

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fr alligatorA young alligator is on its way to a new life after the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission discovered it being sold illegally through a Craigslist ad in Clyde. After confiscating the reptile, the NCWRC had to find somewhere to put it while they sought out a more permanent abode. 

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fr frackingNatural gas drilling is one step closer to becoming reality after the North Carolina General Assembly delivered a newly ratified bill to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk on Friday, May 30.

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out frTo the untrained eye, the tree looks like just another evergreen, just another species thrown into the mix of natural diversity along the Blue Ridge Parkway. But the American larch tree growing opposite the pull-off for Courthouse Valley Overlook fails on both counts: though it’s in the pine family, it is not an evergreen, and it is not a native. 

“This just blew me out of the water a little bit,” said Dan Pittillo, the retired Western Carolina University botany professor who found the tree. “I didn’t expect it.”

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fr prisonPlans are moving forward to convert the old state prison in Hazelwood to a resource center for the hurting, homeless and recently incarcerated. The trio of Christian ministries teaming up to make that happen are already thinking about how they’re going to raise the estimated $300,000 they’ll need to get the facilities up to snuff, but they’re waiting on an official contract to kick their fundraising efforts into high gear.  

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fr authorpastorFor George Thompson, the struggle to understand how a supposedly good God could be so unfair began with his birth. He came into the world just a week after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, a tragedy in which 14,000 Jews were killed and another 42,000 deported to concentration camps.

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fr nonprofitFrom animal shelters to free clinics to food banks, nonprofit organizations of all stripes make a yearly knock on county commissioners doors, hoping to be included in the upcoming budget. But as the recession marches on, those knocks are becoming more frequent — and more costly — for Jackson County commissioners. 

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As this year’s budget talks kicked off, Macon County Schools presented its petition for a $500,000 funding increase to pay for teacher raises and insurance increases, but County Manager Derek Roland’s proposed budget doesn’t include any of those extra dollars. He’s asking commissioners to fund the school system at $7.3 million, the same amount as last year. 

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out bikeshopBryson City is about to get a second bike shop with the grand opening of Tsali Cycles on May 23. Local cyclists Rob Acton, Chris Royce and Brad Gerard are teaming up to head the business.

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out frWhen the Campus Conservation Nationals Competition wrapped up this spring, Western Carolina University came out near the top of a nationwide field of 109 schools. Schools didn’t receive specific rankings, but WCU made the top 10 with a 13.7 percent reduction in its residential halls’ energy use over the three-week competition period. 

“A common adage in the world of energy conservation is: Human energy change is low-hanging fruit, but the fruit grows back, so as we get new students in, we have to continue to improve our programs,” said Lauren Bishop, chief sustainability officer at WCU. 

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fr shootingrangeSouthwestern Community College is gearing up for some soil testing following a meeting with Robin Proctor, environmental chemist with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, on Tuesday. SCC had taken the initiative to call the meeting as plans to improve its shooting range brought up the fact that an estimated 60 tons of lead shot have accumulated in the range’s clay berm in the 30 years it’s been in use. 

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School vouchers are back on the table for the 2014-15 school year following a ruling in the North Carolina Supreme Court last week. In March, N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood issued a preliminary injunction against the Opportunity Scholarship Program, preventing the voucher program from going into effect until the court could hear the case and issue a final ruling.

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REACH of Macon County won’t find out for another month or so whether its application for a $909,000 grant toward a new building gets approved, but the shelter for victims of domestic abuse is optimistic about the outcome. Already, REACH is working to raise the $303,000 it would need to unlock the grant, and the organization is knocking on the doors of county government for help. 

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coverFire, smoke, and efforts to make more of both fill the event pavilion at Haywood County Fair Grounds on a chilly May morning that feels more like early March. The Dutch oven class gathers around a fire in the right corner of the open-walled building, the blacksmiths get ready for their afternoon class in the far end and a cotton ball flames placidly atop the green metal case that Doug Knight is using to hold flint rocks for his fire-starting class. Class is in full swing, but nobody is paying the burning cotton any mind. They’re all too busy trying to ignite nests of frayed rope and char cloth with hard-won sparks from flint and steel.

It’s harder than it looks. 

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out frTake a walk in mid-May, and you probably won’t get far before finding somebody bent over a garden bed, weeding. Eric Romaniszyn and Christine O’Brien were doing just that on a warm Thursday afternoon, but they weren’t in a garden — they were on a stream bank. Specifically, they were on the bank alongside Richland Creek at Vance Street Park in Waynesville. 

“We try to take every little piece out,” Romaniszyn said, yanking a clump of Japanese knotweed roots out of the dirt and stowing them in the trash bag by his side.

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It was a pretty normal Wednesday morning was for most students at Tuscola High School last week, but as the school day went on word leaked out that one second-period biology class had involved threats, a call to the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and the arrest of 16-year-old sophomore Joseph “Joey” Jacobs. 

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Kingdom Care Ministries, a faith-based recovery home for women that had been looking to locate in the village of Forest Hills, is searching for another place to settle. In mid-March, the organization had applied for a conditional use permit for the drug recovery home but has now withdrawn that application. 

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A single primary wasn’t enough to clear out the crowded field of candidates for the sheriff’s seat in Jackson County. Though Deputy Sheriff Chip Hall carried 42 percent of the vote in a field of six Democratic candidates, the three Republican candidates finished virtually neck and neck. 

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coverA soda bottling operation. An original children’s book. A new music album. A mural downtown. Pallets and pallets of Mason jars, and fresh jam to fill them. 

They’re all good things, but they all require money to become reality. And when you’re talking arts and niche business start-ups, money can be a rare commodity. More and more, artists and entrepreneurs in Western North Carolina have been turning to a recently emerged source for sponsoring dreams — crowdfunding. 

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fr horsesWhen summer school starts up at South Macon Elementary this year, a pair of horses will be standing in a round pen outside, waiting for their first playmates. The equines will be helping Macon TRACS, a nonprofit dedicated to providing horse therapy to people with special needs, try out a pilot program bringing horses to the schools.

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