Cory Vaillancourt

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WNC elected officials reluctant to speak on monuments

By Cory Vaillancourt

Staff Writer

On Wednesday, June 10, The Smoky Mountain News sent emails to 43 elected officials in Haywood, Jackson and Macon Counties, along with Western North Carolina’s current state legislative delegation, asking for their position on the removal of Confederate imagery. Emails were also sent to candidates competing against elected officials this coming November. As of press time on June 16, almost half of them failed to take a position.

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Waynesville. Sylva. Murphy. Canton. Bryson City. Franklin. Demonstrations associated with the death of George Floyd aren’t solely a big-city phenomenon, nor are they all destructive. Since June 1, more than a thousand Western North Carolina residents have taken part in a series of actions in small, rural mountain towns without any of the violence and vandalism associated with protests in larger cities. 

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A group of almost 100 demonstrators hoping to draw attention to racial injustice marched through Waynesville on the night of June 1, but unlike protests in other parts of the country and the state, this one ended peacefully, with no arrests or injuries to marchers, onlookers or first responders. 

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A year ago, few would have predicted that a crowded field of Republicans would eventually whittle themselves down to two, in a runoff, competing for the U.S. House seat of Asheville Republican Rep. Mark Meadows.

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As cities across the nation smolder amidst the destruction of racially charged rioting over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, social media backlash against the branding of a locally-brewed beer has some people leveling accusations of alt-right white nationalism and anti-government militia sentiments at the brewers.

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The Class of 2020 will forever be remembered as the “asterisk” class. Whether it be high school, community college or university, the instructional disruption that came about in North Carolina in mid-March as the result of the COVID-19 outbreak will be as much a part of their permanent records as their marks in reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. 

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Canton native Lily Payne still remembers her last day of school at Haywood Early College. 

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Maggie Mehaffey’s taken a bit of a different academic path than many of her peers — a path that gives her a unique perspective on the Coronavirus Pandemic. 

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Since the Coronavirus Pandemic began in earnest in Haywood County in mid-March, emergency physician Dr. Mark Jaben has been the face of the county’s response, so much so that he’s now regularly stopped on the area’s hiking trails by strangers exclaiming, “Hey, you’re the guy from YouTube!”

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The March 3 Republican Primary Election for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District between 12 candidates hoping to represent the party in its bid to retain an important U.S. House seat resulted in no candidate achieving the required 30 percent threshold for victory, so a Second Primary – a “runoff,” in common parlance – will take place on Tuesday, June 23. 

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As expected, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he believes the state is ready to begin phase 2 of his three-phase reopening plan, although the increasing number of cases warrants a more modest reopening than originally planned.

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An economic development incentive plan first passed by the Haywood County Board of Commissioners in 2004 underwent a significant retooling in late 2017, but a string of disappointments has led commissioners to revise it once again in hopes of luring businesses to the county.

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced moments ago that he believes the state is ready to begin phase 2 of his three-phase reopening plan, although the increasing number of coronavirus cases warrants a more modest reopening than originally planned.

“Today we’re announcing another cautious and gradual step,” Cooper said during a 5 p.m. press conference.

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On May 17, a typical sunny spring Sunday in this community of churches, congregants gathered for religious services all across Haywood County much as they’d done hundreds or thousands of times before. 

Choirs warmed up. Pianos tinkled in the background. Pastors shuffled papers and pamphlets at podiums, testing the microphones and speakers and projectors. Worshipers parked themselves in place and prepared for the sermon.

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Despite the reticence of some local governments to spend money on non-essential services due to uncertainty in revenues amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic, the Town of Canton and Haywood County are moving full speed ahead with development of the Chestnut Mountain project. 

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Waynesville Town Manager Rob Hites, an experienced professional with almost 40 years in municipal government, called the current budget year a strange one, and apparently town aldermen have heard him loud and clear. 

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As local government units across the state work on their annual budgets a variety of approaches have been taken by administrators, but in one Haywood County town, it’s pretty much business as usual. 

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The Coronavirus Pandemic has made it that much more difficult for many low income and unsheltered individuals to feed themselves especially with Frog Level’s Open Door being closed, but thanks to a partnership with the Salvation Army, volunteers will soon be able to take meals, mail and clothing to people who need it. 

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Contractors performing work at Waynesville’s wastewater treatment plant last week were surprised to make a revolting discovery that highlights the importance of personal responsibility in terms of what should and should not go into one’s toilet.

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Every year around this time, local governments, community colleges and public schools are busy crafting budgets for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1. In a normal year, budgeting is a year round process, however this is anything but a normal year.

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The debate across the state still simmers — too soon, too late, or, like Goldilocks’ porridge, just right?

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The nation’s annual Small Business Appreciation Week is held around this time each year and, coincidentally, couldn’t have come at a better time this year. 

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Less than five weeks after issuing a “stay home” order and barely three weeks after extending it, Haywood County commissioners approved a resolution May 4 to terminate their countywide order and told Gov. Roy Cooper they hope he’ll do the same with his statewide order when it comes up for possible renewal May 8.

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Over the past year Haywood County’s tourism industry had been cruising along well above historical averages — until the Coronavirus Pandemic resulted in a substantial downturn. 

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A decision has finally been made on where to put Haywood County Schools’ central administration office before their lease at the Historic Haywood Hospital runs out at the end of this year, and as it turns out, they won’t have to go far. 

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Workers, businesses, schools and local governments impacted by the Coronavirus Pandemic will benefit from a comprehensive, bi-partisan relief plan that appropriates billions in aid while also modifying and clarifying a substantial number of regulations and deadlines rendered untenable by state and local “stay home” orders.

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Less than five weeks after issuing a “stay home” order and barely three weeks after extending it, Haywood County commissioners approved a resolution today to terminate their countywide order and told Gov. Roy Cooper they hope he’ll do the same with his statewide order when it comes up for possible renewal May 8.

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Despite being mostly spared from large numbers of COVID-19 diagnoses, Haywood County's totals have continued to grow slowly in recent days and have more than doubled since April 28.

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Results from large-scale testing designed to gauge the level of asymptomatic coronavirus carriers among front-line workers at essential businesses conducted by Haywood County’s Department of Health and Human Services last Tuesday were released by the county earlier today.

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While the Coronavirus Pandemic has affected the way many people perform their jobs, for the nation’s consummate front-line workers — sworn law enforcement officers — not much has changed at all. 

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One thing that most front-line workers have in common right now is that they’re serving some of the community’s most vulnerable members, and in most communities, there are few members more vulnerable than mistreated children.

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A coalition of local nonprofits will pay to house some of Haywood County’s unsheltered population amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic after Haywood County government announced it wouldn’t pursue federal funding — essentially, free money — to do so. 

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Last weekend may have been a little bitter for BearWaters Brewing’s owners Art O’Neil and Kevin Sandefur, but it was also a little sweet. 

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Several hundred workers lined up by car at Haywood Community College April 28 to receive drive-through testing designed to gauge the level of asymptomatic, undetected COVID-19 cases in Haywood County, and if all goes well the results will soon help county decisionmakers evaluate the feasibility of reopening parts of Haywood County’s economy. 

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It’s been a long, strange trip for radio host Pete Kaliner, who came into the industry just as it was beginning an era of dramatic change. In many ways, his 20-something year career in Western North Carolina broadcast journalism mirrors the ebbs and flows of the modern media waterline.

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Globally, more than 2.5 million people have contracted the coronavirus since its identification earlier this year. The hardest-hit country, the United States, has reported 802,159 cases as of April 21. Of those, 685,679 cases are still active. 

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After more than a month of COVID-related social distancing, self-isolation, business and school closures, travel bans and enforced quarantines for non-residents, some Western North Carolina residents are saying they’ve had enough.

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One unfortunate but not unexpected consequence of the Coronavirus Pandemic in Waynesville is that the homeless — who have nowhere to shelter in place — also have no place to wash their hands or defecate, posing a danger to themselves and to the population at large.

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Southwestern Community College Director of Career Services Michael Despeaux has been holding bricks-and-mortar job fairs for almost 20 years, but on Friday, April 24, he’ll hold his very first “virtual job fair” to connect employers and job seekers online. 

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While not yet a humanitarian tragedy in terms of lives lost, the Coronavirus Pandemic has quickly become an economic tragedy in terms of livelihoods lost. Intuitively, local and statewide “stay home” orders have resulted in large-scale unemployment, but counterintuitively, there are still plenty of places putting out the proverbial  “now hiring” signs all across Western North Carolina. 

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Heavy rains and high winds associated with strong storms last Sunday night led to plenty of headaches Monday morning, as downed limbs cut power and closed roads while swollen streams slipped their banks, flooding businesses and residences across Western North Carolina.

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Of late, many businesses and individuals have been forced to re-evaluate how they do things, but municipal governments are also grappling with governing in the age of social distancing and the “stay home” orders part and parcel to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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Lost in the struggle to combat the Coronavirus Pandemic is the fact that local governments have already begun incurring unanticipated costs related to COVID-19 response.

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More help is on the way for small business owners now that several nonprofits have teamed up with Haywood County government to create a fund that will soon begin issuing loans to companies affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. 

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The irony’s not lost on many that one of the most essential businesses affecting the lives of people around the world is the business of death. 

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Workers affected by layoffs associated with the Coronavirus Pandemic are still reporting major problems with North Carolina’s unemployment benefit system almost four weeks after North Carolina’s hospitality industry was effectively shuttered by executive order.

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Less than two weeks after issuing a joint proclamation restricting movement to essential activity only, the Haywood County Board of Commissioners has extended the duration of that proclamation by 18 days.

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I have a childhood friend from Chicago — we nicknamed him “Lucky” — who messed up bad and deserved what he got but he was penitent and he wasn’t a rotten guy and it wasn’t a life sentence.

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For weeks now, people have been asking why a county of 60,000 people like Haywood hadn’t yet reported a case of COVID-19, even as national, state and local leaders have cautioned that it’s a “when, not if” proposition.

According to a press release issued by the Haywood County Sheriff’s office around 11:15 this morning, that “when” is now.

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When the first rumors of a strange new contagious pneumonia-like illness began circulating in China late last fall, few could have imagined that the coronavirus outbreak would grow to become the global pandemic that it is today. 

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