Cory Vaillancourt

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When President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law on Dec. 22, 2017, proponents hailed it as the most significant tax reform in three decades. Lost in the hullabaloo over the tiny, temporary tax bracket adjustments — financed by a burgeoning federal deficit — was a new program designed to spur investment in low-income census tracts across the country. 

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A broken window, classrooms in shambles, irreplaceable items destroyed, kitchen coolers left open and perishable food thrown all over the floors — that’s what Tausha and Lynn Forney walked in to find last week at the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center in Waynesville. 

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What was hoped to be a slick new attraction designed to bring more visitors to Maggie Valley during wintertime has instead been shown to be an attraction of a different sort — a magic trick that turned $36,268 of taxpayer money into just $4,338 of ticket sales.

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On Friday, Jan. 29 at the Lake Logan Conference Center, Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown convened a board retreat where he and aldermen Caldwell, Feichter and Roberson talked about infrastructure, cemeteries, and the general financial status of the town. 

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Woe to those public bodies that fail to comply with North Carolina’s sunshine laws; transparency underpins American democracy to the extent that there’s a whole chapter of complicated regulations in the N.C. General Statutes that define public records, public meetings, the availability of both and the very real penalties for violations.

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As the largest local government unit in The Smoky Mountain News’ four-county coverage area, Haywood County sees more action — in public, and in private — than probably any other government out there. 

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The Town of Waynesville Board of Aldermen meets every two weeks, or about 24 times a year, depending on the calendar. 

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Haywood County’s five local governments more or less fall into two tiers — there’s the county and there’s Waynesville, and then there’s everybody else. 

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Aided by the left and abetted by the media, violent jihadists are slowly but surely infiltrating our government, our schools and our society in furtherance of their nefarious goal of turning the United States into a Sharia-ruled Islamic caliphate — and only a small group of patriotic conservatives, like the Haywood County Republican Party, can stop them. 

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Not long after retired U.S. Air Force officer and former teacher Mary Ford moved to Waynesville with her husband, she decided to enroll in something called the Waynesville Civilian Police Academy. The next year, she found herself in charge. 

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Barely a year after he was hired, Nathan Duncan is out at Shining Rock Classical Academy.

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In a county as old as Haywood, there exist all manner of half-remembered places and faces long gone from the physical world yet immortalized through penciled notes on the backs of dog-eared, sepia-toned photographs.

Sunburst, in southeastern Haywood County, is one of those places; the subject of intense historical research, it’s been documented better than most ghosts of Haywood past, but the story of Sunburst has always been short one chapter. 

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With his thick Brooklyn accent, Danny Mannlein isn’t exactly the type of “local” most Haywood County residents are used to seeing, but as Waynesville’s downtown business district continues to boom, more and more people like him are making Main Street their commercial home. 

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As the Great Recession recedes further and further into the rear-view mirror, most local economic indicators in Western North Carolina appear to have recovered or at least stabilized sufficiently, including the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority’s revenue collections. 

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Financial aid and scholarships are a great way to pay for college, but not everyone qualifies. For those who do, financial aid doesn’t always cover the full cost of tuition, making it harder for some to break the cycle of generational poverty through education. 

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The longstanding brouhaha over a makeshift dwelling near Frog Level has escalated to the point where enforcement action is likely in the coming days. 

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Four-time freshman legislator and recently re-elected Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, launched into this year’s legislative session by hosting a trio of town hall meetings across his district, but if the ones held in Jackson and Swain counties were anything like the one in Waynesville on Feb. 16, there’s just one thing on people’s minds — expanding Medicaid. 

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North Carolina’s rigid school calendar law has been in place since 2004, but over the past few weeks, a pair of resolutions — one passed by the Haywood School Board, the other by Haywood County Commissioners — have again expressed a desire for changes in the “one size fits all” calendar. 

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During the protracted approval process of a proposed development that would bring around 200 new apartments to a 41-acre parcel of land near Waynesville’s Walmart, opponents threw everything but the kitchen sink at the project — everything, that is, except for the possibility of Cherokee cultural artifacts on the property. 

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At 13, Tuscola High School freshman Elira Bego-Cardoso was like almost any other American teenage girl — she liked popular music, boys, hanging out with friends and chatting on social media. 

Elira, however, wasn’t like every other teenage American girl. She was different. 

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It’s $13 million now, or $40 million later, according to a presentation by Haywood Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bill Nolte intended to give Haywood County commissioners an idea of what it will take to address the district’s classroom and administrative needs for the next several decades. 

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It’s not Haywood County Manager Bryant Morehead’s first budget, but it is his first budget in Haywood County. 

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Huddled together in the dark near an old wood stove beneath an elaborate rigging of tarps and tents on a debris-strewn mucky dirt lot they’d called home for nearly a year, Susan “Sassy” Fulp and her fiancé Ronnie Hicks watched the heavy wet snow fall and felt the waylaid limbs of weary trees crash to the ground until Sassy finally noticed an unusual silence rising from the town around them. 

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A little over two years ago, I woke up in Alexandria, Virginia, less than 24 hours after the inauguration of the nation’s 45th president. 

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An architect by training, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest became only the second Republican in the last 120 years to be elected to the post when he defeated Democrat Linda Coleman by less that two-tenths of a percent in 2012. Four years later, in 2016, his victory over Coleman was much more decisive, but Gov. Pat McCrory’s narrow loss to Rocky Mount Democrat Roy Cooper created an unexpected opportunity for the state’s highest-ranking Republican. 

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It’s a perplexing dichotomy. Maggie Valley has been portrayed as a town that rolls up the sidewalks once the leaf-lookers leave each fall, even though it’s home to two popular winter attractions — Cataloochee Ski Resort and Tony’s Tube World draw thousands each year to the western end of Haywood County — but now a third reason to visit the Valley will further test tourists’ appetite for winter wanderings.

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Grumblings about Tuscola High School’s athletic reclassification from 2A to 3A seem to have fallen on deaf ears, but administrators at Haywood County Schools say they’re not yet done trying to bring attention to what they say is the school’s unfair plight. 

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The federal shutdown didn’t have as much of an effect on Haywood County’s social services as one might think, but with another shutdown looming, the belt-tightening may not be over — especially for recipients of food aid. 

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The organization charged with maintaining and revitalizing Waynesville’s downtown core is setting an ambitious plan of work for 2019, to an extent not seen since the major streetscaping projects of the late 1980s-early 1990s. 

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With the recent actions of Michigan and Vermont, 72 million people in 10 U.S. states — 23 percent of the population — can now purchase recreational marijuana in a retail setting, after decades of strict prohibition and despite a lingering federal ban. 

North Carolina isn’t one of those states, but it soon could be if a recent trend towards the legalization of recreational marijuana continues. 

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On Jan. 15, The Smoky Mountain News contacted almost every elected official in Haywood County for whom an email address was listed with the county’s board of elections. Around half failed to respond, but those who did were sometimes too verbose for print, so an excerpt from their response was used in the Jan. 23 edition of The Smoky Mountain News. In the interest of transparency, their full responses are included here.

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Like the region’s opioid crisis, if Western North Carolina’s affordable housing crisis could have been solved by meetings, panel discussions or task force recommendations, it would have been over long ago. 

But last week, the town of Waynesville finally became the first Haywood County government to take concrete steps that could rid the county of a troublesome, underutilized asset — or liability, as some have called it — while at the same time transforming a blighted area just north of downtown into a vibrant, rejuvenated economic center. 

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A booming real estate market brings with it many benefits and is a sign of a thriving economy, but some unintended consequences are making it even more difficult for residents of Western North Carolina to find affordable homes for sale or rent. 

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A beef between the Town of Waynesville and local property owner Ron Muse over an ersatz dwelling on an otherwise vacant, garbage-strewn Church Street lot is about to heat up again. 

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There are plenty of misconceptions about the federal government shutdown — what it is, who it affects, how it happens, and why — but what is clear is that both parties have engaged in the tactic for almost 45 years, and as time goes on, shutdowns are becoming longer, and becoming more commonly used as a policy tool. 

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Not for nearly half a century has anyone been able to say, “Haywood County has a new county attorney,” but now that an era has ended, everyone will have to get used to hearing it. 

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After a minor delay due to the concerns of a newly-elected commissioner, Haywood County has again decided to move forward with the redevelopment of the Historic Haywood Hospital by granting Landmark Services a purchase option on the property, but the looming issue of what to do with its current occupants remains unresolved. 

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That’s right. It may seem like election season just ended, but it’s also just beginning, and in less than 300 days voters in every Haywood County town will again head to the polls to choose from candidates seeking a spate of municipal offices.

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A pair of public hearings for a pair of local businesses — one old, one new, one small and one huge — will solicit citizen input on economic development incentives proposed for Evergreen Packaging and Boojum Brewing.

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This is my third Christmas as a member of The Smoky Mountain News staff, and this is also the third installment of the FAKE NEWS FREAKOUT. Conspiracy? No. Coincidence? Likely. 

But since there seems to be some lingering confusion over what fake news is not (stuff you don’t agree with) and what fake news actually is (the stories below), submitted herewith for your amusement are a number of genuine fake news stories gathered from around the region this past year. Co-conspirators Holly Kays and Jessi Stone contributed to this fake news report, which is fake. 

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American agriculture is experiencing a tougher time than ever, and that includes farmers in North Carolina. But as the latest version of the Farm Bill awaits President Donald Trump’s signature after passing through Congress, apparently there’s not a lot of help coming. 

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It took a while, but after a surprise addition to the Haywood Board of County Commissioners’ agenda, no small amount of debate and an unusual procedural move, Haywood County Schools will move forward with a land acquisition it’s been eyeing for more than a year. 

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Legislation implementing North Carolina’s first-ever voter ID requirement passed both the House and the Senate Dec. 6, but a veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had Republicans scrambling back to the legislative chambers to override it before their power to do so evaporated. 

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An ongoing effort to qualify for tax credits that would make redevelopment of the county-owned Historic Haywood County Hospital more financially attractive to developers will have some extra heft behind it if a series of Waynesville public hearings meets with board approval.

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Long-established rules and regulations created by the Town of Waynesville that proscribed periodic cleanup of the town’s historic Green Hill Cemetery upset family members of the deceased, who were taken aback — and, they say, by surprise — when the cleanup resulted in dozens of shrubs, statues, vases and floral arrangements being cleared from plots. 

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As many residents of Southern Appalachia stocked up on necessaries in advance of a powerful winter storm that ended up leaving thousands without power, governments and nonprofits across the region scrambled to open shelters and warming stations that wound up being, for some, more of a necessity than milk and bread. 

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Not far from the historic homes nestled along Waynesville’s Church Street sits a small plot of land that’s home to a typical Haywood County family — Ronnie Hicks, his girlfriend Sassy and their dog. 

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Somewhere on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio, about 18 months ago, Waynesville resident Peg Harmon — who notes her first name is just one letter away from “Pez” — experienced the power of one tiny candy in bringing people together. 

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Around a foot of heavy, wet snow that started yesterday afternoon and continued through the night brought down trees, snapped power lines and made travel impossible for some, prompting Haywood County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kevin Ensley to declare a state of emergency as of 8:15 this morning.

Maps from Duke Energy show more than a hundred separate outages affecting at least 4,000 Haywood County customers, who remain without power as of about 11 a.m.

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Months ago, just after he finished mopping the floor with pro se defendant Eddie Cabe, Haywood County attorney Rusty McLean said, “You should always have a lawyer.”

Apparently, someone heard him. 

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