Becky Johnson

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fr jaxcommissionersThree challengers for Jackson County commissioner opened with a strong offensive charge at a candidate debate last week, rarely letting up from their hard-driving line as the night wore on.


fr da raceJim Moore and Ashley Welch have been on the same team for years, working side-by-side in the district attorney’s office to put criminals behind bars, seek justice for victims and keep society safe in the seven western counties.


coverMore than 200 acres of scattered tracts along the meandering Pigeon River Valley in Haywood County are quiet sentries to the not-so-pretty past of Canton’s century-old paper mill. 

SEE ALSO: A better wayThe good, the bad and the silver lining

Mountains of toxin-laced sludge and coal ash are buried in vast industrial dumps on the outskirts of town, hidden relics of the mill’s long papermaking presence here. The old unlined landfills leapfrog along a 2-mile section of the Pigeon River downstream of the mill.


fr landfill2The Canton paper mill has been an economic anchor in Haywood County since 1908, providing livelihoods for tens of thousands of workers over its proud and storied history.


fr landfill3The dangers of coal ash have taken center stage in North Carolina in the wake of the Dan River disaster, when a breach in a faulty Duke Energy coal ash pond near Eden unleashed a toxic slurry downstream.


Although the ink is dry on the sale of Haywood Regional Medical Center, how much the county will get for the hospital remains a moving target.


Haywood County commissioners have joined the growing ranks of local elected leaders to take a stand on fracking.


An innovative tool to help recruit the best and brightest teachers to Haywood County has become too costly for the school system to continue in light of education budget cuts in recent years.


The owner of a rental trailer in the Cruso community of Haywood County will be locked up until he complies with a court order to stop spilling raw sewage onto the ground.


fr playgroundA new park and playground under construction at Lake Junaluska carries a price tag of more than $200,000.


fr jimdavisTwo candidates battling for the state Senate seat representing the seven western counties are heading into the homestretch of what could be a close and hard-fought race.


It hasn’t take long for the interim CEO of Haywood Regional Medical Center to pick up on the hospital’s biggest strengths: high-quality doctors and broad community support.


Six candidates are vying for three seats in the Haywood County commissioners race. They fall in two tidy camps when it comes to their views on the county’s emergency management ordinance, making the issue a quick study for voters.

When passed in 2009, the emergency management ordinance was a sleeper, a bunch of government legalese that few paid attention to other than the emergency services workers who actually think about things like FEMA money and disaster declarations.


A $4 million public safety facility will be constructed at Haywood Community College over the next two years, providing police, fire and rescue workers of all stripes a state-of-the-art training center for simulations, drills and classes.

The HCC Board of Trustees formally voted on Sept. 6 to proceed with the project after nearly two years of planning.


Cherokee leaders have formally asked the town of Franklin to turn over Nikwasi Mound, the latest turn of events in a two-year controversy swirling around the cultural and historical site.

The town owns the prominent landmark at the edge of downtown, but Cherokee claims the town isn’t taking care of it. 

“The town of Franklin is being issued a vote of no confidence for their failure to provide upkeep of the Nikwasi Mound,” Principal Chief Michell Hicks wrote in a resolution presented to tribal council last week.

The resolution called on the town to hand over the property deed for the mound, citing the Cherokee people’s “cultural affiliation with our historic homelands.” It passed unanimously by tribal council.

But Franklin leaders countered their town also has a strong attachment to the mound, which has become part of the community fabric.

“We have a lot of people in Franklin who have a strong feeling for the mound as well,” said Franklin Mayor Bob Scott. “Both sides — the town of Franklin and the Eastern Band — have ties to the mound, so why can’t we work together jointly on preserving this mound?”

Scott said he understands Chief Hicks’ position, and might feel the same way if he were in Hicks’ place. But Franklin residents cherish the mound, too, and Scott doubts the people of the town would want to give up ownership.

“The mound would not even be there if it wasn’t for the people of the town raising the money to buy it back in the ‘40s,” Scott said.

The mound would have been bulldozed by a private property owner, but the community raised $1,500 for the town to buy it.

The primary point of contention for Cherokee leaders seems to be the grass on the mound — or rather lack of it — dating back to an ill-fated brush with weed killer almost three years ago. 

Mowing the mound was time-consuming for town maintenance workers, so the town manager at the time decided to kill all the existing grass and replant a low-growing variety that doesn’t need mowing.

Once the mound was denuded, getting the new grass to grow didn’t go too well, however. The new grass is uneven and spotty, with bare patches in some places and weeds growing among it.

Chief Hicks brought pictures of the mound to the tribal council meeting last week. The council members weren’t pleased with the unkempt appearance.

“The tribe’s expectations are higher than the town of Franklin’s, I think. There is no reason for that mound to be in that condition,” said Cherokee Tribal Council Member Albert Rose, from the Birdtown community.  “We can do a better job than that.”

David Wolfe, a tribal council member from Yellowhill, agreed.

“We would certainly take better care of it than what’s being done now,” Wolfe said.

Franklin leaders agree on one count.

“Yes, I know the mound got messed up and, yes, it does not look its best,” said Joyce Handley, Franklin town board member. “We don’t like the looks of it either — none of us do.”


Competing versions

But portraying the town as uncaring toward the mound is inaccurate, according to town leaders. They, too, want to rectify the appearance, but have been in a holding pattern awaiting direction and coordination with the tribe.

The town has reached out multiple times to Chief Hicks asking for a meeting to discuss the way forward, but to no avail, according to Handley and Scott.

“We have tried to get in touch and say to them ‘Please, if you are unhappy, tell us what you are unhappy with,’” Handley said.

“It is not like we’ve said we don’t want to do anything. We’ve said we want to work together and want to know what it is you want us to do,” Scott added.

The town even started sending certified letters to prove that it had attempted communication on its end.

“We had sent several certified letters that were received on their end but got no response. Whenever someone called him there were no phone calls back,” Handley said.

Hicks could not be reached for comment, however, the resolution he presented to tribal council portrays a different version of events. The tribe offered to help with maintenance of the mound to no avail, according to the resolution.

“The town of Franklin board of aldermen has disregarded the upkeep of the mound and ignored the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians offers of assistance and has failed to demonstrate respect to the Cherokee people through the disrespect of the Nikwasi Mound,” the resolution states.

Scott and Handley said the opposite is true — the town has offered to work together, but the tribe, or at least Hicks, were unreceptive.

After months of missed connections, Hicks and tribal representatives finally met with Franklin leaders last week.

But instead of collaborating as the town leaders had hoped, Hicks told the town he wanted them to turn over the mound.

“I told him ‘Really, I don’t think we can do that right now,’” Scott recalled.

The next day back in Cherokee, Hicks went before tribal council with the resolution. Franklin leaders said they first heard of the resolution on WLOS television news.

“We were caught completely off guard,” Scott said.


Mutually exclusive

Hicks has been at odds with Franklin ever since weed killer was sprayed on the mound three years ago. Hicks publicly voiced his disappointment on behalf of the tribe and demanded an apology.

But the majority of Franklin board members didn’t want to apologize. When the former mayor apologized anyway, the board censured him for apologizing out of school.

Scott, who wasn’t mayor yet but was an alderman at the time, also went rogue by reaching out to the tribe after the weed killer incident. He made a trip to Cherokee to apologize personally and “see what we could do to make it right.”

Scott said the whole situation was “very unfortunate.”

“It happened. I don’t deny it, but it is over and it is past, so let’s look at what we can do to work together for what is best for the mound, the Eastern Band and the town of Franklin,” Scott said.

At times, it seemed that was happening. Representatives from Cherokee and Franklin met once or twice last year to discuss what should be planted on the mound, how to go about it, and the best practices for maintaining it.

But discussions were preliminary, mostly brainstorming in nature, and never arrived at a plan. Follow-up meetings never happened.

Franklin leaders were then thrown a curve ball late last summer. Hicks asked Macon County commissioners to pass a resolution urging Franklin to work with the tribe — and specifically to engage in discussions over mound ownership and maintenance.

That seemed unnecessary and even insulting to town leaders, who claim they were more than willing to work with the tribe and the lack of discussions wasn’t their fault.

The stalemate seemed to take a positive turn in the spring, when Chief Hicks came to the Franklin town meeting to talk about the mound.

“Everything was cordial, it was a very amenable productive meeting. We were going to be working together I thought, and all of a sudden this thing blows up again,” Scott said.

To Cherokee Tribal Council members, the appearance of the mound sends a message that the town didn’t care as much as they do.

“There was just a bunch of dead spots on it and there were vines growing on it,” said Bo Crowe, a tribal council member from Wolfetown. “We think it should be taken care of better than what they are doing. We thought it was really disrespectful.”

Crowe said he isn’t sure the tribe can force Franklin to do it, but “Hopefully, it will put a little pressure” on them.

Scott countered that the town has simply been waiting on input from the tribe before doing anything. 

The mayor said the town’s interests are ultimately the same as the tribe’s.

“The mound needs to be here 500 years from now,” Scott said. “We want to be good stewards of the mound.”

But with Cherokee angling for ownership, and Franklin refusing to give it up, any hope of middle ground remains elusive. 



What are mounds?

Man-made earth mounds, some quite large, were the spiritual and geopolitical center of prehistoric Cherokee towns.

People gathered on the mound for celebrations, religious services and social occasions. Tribal affairs were conducted in council houses built on top. 

The mound was like a church, town square, town hall and auditorium stage — all in one.

Dozens of major Cherokee towns once lined the banks of the Little Tennessee River and surrounding river valleys before white people destroyed them and took the land. The mounds are the only surviving record on the landscape of the vast network.

There were once around 25 mounds in the seven western counties, but there are only about 16 mounds left, estimated Tyler Howe, the tribal historic preservation specialist.

“Not all of those are in existence any longer,” Howe said. They’ve been farmed over, bulldozed to build on, flooded by dams and dug up by archaeologists.

There were far more towns, but not every town was marked by a mound, Howe said.

The tribe has made an effort in recent years to inventory the remaining mounds. The location of most was retained in the collective cultural memory, passed down by Cherokee elders, but some have been rediscovered in modern times.

“The mission is really re-establishing the Cherokee world,” Howe said.

The tribe has even bought two mounds — Cowee Mound in Macon County and Kituwah in Swain County. Many still remain in private ownership, however.

The Nikwasi Mound in Franklin is owned by the town, after residents raised $1,500 back in the 1940s to save it from being leveled by a private property owner. Deed stipulations prevent the mound from being altered, a measure put in place at the time to ensure continued protection by future generations of town leaders.


fr logoIn a never-ending quest to lure tourists to Haywood County, the county tourism agency has once again changed the logo and slogan that will appear in its marketing and advertising materials.


fr da raceFew put as much thought into their to-go morning coffee as Jim Moore.

Most of us grab whatever’s on the way, whatever’s cheapest, or whatever brew we like the best.


fr visitorcentersThe Haywood County Tourism Authority is exploring whether to close its two visitor centers in Waynesville and Maggie Valley, questioning whether money to run the sites could be better spent luring tourists in the first place rather than itinerary planning once they arrive.


fr industryIt’s an industrial mechanic’s worst nightmare.

A machine on the assembly line goes down, and production screeches to a halt. Workers stand idle despite being on the clock. Orders are backing up. All eyes are on the mechanic. Is it a worn bearing, a loose belt, a slipped coupling, a blown fuse? The trouble-shooting within the bowels of the hulking metal parts is endless. 


fr schoolfacilitiesYouth sports teams will no longer be able to trade bags of fertilizer, free coffee for teachers or a fresh coat of paint on the dugout for use of the practice fields, stadiums and gyms of Haywood County Schools.

There are dozens of youth sports teams and clubs — from cheerleading teams to Bible clubs to soccer leagues — that aren’t affiliated with public schools. Yet they rely on the schools’ fields, classrooms, stadiums and gyms to meet, practice and host games.


Mission Health plans to expand its presence in Haywood County with a large medical complex housing doctors’ offices and a line of healthcare services.

The move is unwelcome competition for Haywood Regional Medical Center. But to Mission, it’s a reflection of “the strong preference that many Haywood County residents” have already shown by traveling to Asheville.


Haywood County Manager Jack Horton resigned today following a ?-hour closed door meeting with the Haywood County Commissioners on Tuesday (Jan. 3) where he was given the choice of stepping down of being fired.

Commissioners Mark Swanger, Kevin Ensley and Mary Ann Enloe supported Horton’s departure. Commissioners Kirk Kirkpatrick and Larry Ammons wanted Horton to stay.

Swanger, Ensley and Enloe say Horton disobeyed their directives and withheld information from them. It was not the first time, they said.

Horton’s departure was precipitated two weeks ago by a tug-of-war over the small business incubator in Waynesville. Horton is a member of the Smoky Mountain Development Corporation, a not-for-profit economic development group set-up to run the incubator.

Critics claimed the incubator had failed in it mission to support start-up businesses. A plan was hatched to dissolve the Smoky Mountain Development Corporation and transfer the incubator to the Haywood County Economic Development Commission.

Commissioners discussed the benefits of the county owning the incubator at two commissioners meetings in December with Horton present. But Horton voted against the plan at a meeting of the Smoky Mountain Development Corporation.

“I was disappointed because I believe it was not in the best interest of Haywood County,” Swanger said. “When you are employed by Haywood County you must put Haywood County first and our taxpayers first.”

Commissioners questioned whether something else influenced Horton’s vote.

“The way he voted it is obvious the interests of Haywood County taxpayers were not his top priority. There is not other way to interpret that vote,” Enloe said.

Ammons, who is also a member of the Smoky Mountain Development Corporation, voted against the plan as well. Ammons said he’s the one to blame for Horton’s vote.

“He got there late and I briefed him. I’m not sure he didn’t follow my lead out there,” Ammons said of the meeting.

Ammons also argued that it was not clear what commissioners wanted Horton to do.

“Do you really know the commissioners wishes unless we vote on something?” Ammons said.

Horton agreed.

“There were no instructions and there was no vote on anything,” Horton said.

Enloe said they couldn’t instruct Horton specifically because Horton never told commissioners he was a member.

“Neither Larry nor Jack said anything at the meeting when they were going within an hours to do this vote,” Enloe said. “That was the time for their concerns — when we were making plans to get back for the Haywood County tax payers what they had paid for in beginning.”

That bothered Ensley as well.

“If it had been me, I would have said ‘Wait a minute, y’all, I am going to this vote tonight,’” Ensley said of Horton. “It seemed kind of sneaky.”

Swanger agreed.

“Our board has been very open and we discuss things in a public arena, especially something of this magnitude that could have such a potential positive impact on Haywood County,” Swanger said. “Anyone who had anything relevant in any way, shape or form should have brought it up.”


The rest of the story

Ammons and Horton said they, too, want the county to get the incubator and had every intention of voting that way.

“If the county wants the building, I am 100 percent in favor of doing that. It had nothing to do with that,” Horton said.

Ammons agreed.

“I think the building needs to be used for economic development and I don’t think Smoky Mountain Development has been able to accomplish that,” Ammons said. “They need that off their plate. It is in Haywood County so let Haywood County take it and make something out of it.”

But the vote was not that simple. The proposal to transfer the incubator was linked to a plan to dissolve the corporation. A “yes” vote would apply to both.

Once a corporation is dissolved, it can’t be undone. He said there is still merit in the corporation’s other function: making loans for new and expanding businesses through the Small Business Administration.

Also at stake was the fate of $300,000 cash in the corporation’s bank account. The plan to dissolve called for the money to be split among the 10 counties represented by corpoartion for their own economic development initatives.

But at the meeting, the proposal was floated to put the money to work in a revolving venture capital fund for start-up companies. Ammons thought the plan had merit and he decided at the last minute to vote “no.”

“The circumstances changed when I heard the other proposals,” Ammons said.

Horton said he planned to vote “no” until he got to the meeting and other proposal were being thrown around.

“It seemed confusing. There were a lot of unanswered questions. I thought they would have more input from the members. There was a lot of confusion of the whole process,” Horton said.

Some argue Horton should not be penalized by commissioners because his vote would not have changed the outcome anyway. A vote to dissolve a corporation is so weighty and irreversible it requires a two-thirds majority of all voting. In this case, there had to be 12 votes.

“My vote one way or the other would not have made a difference in the passage,” Horton said.

Ensley disagrees. Ammons and Horton were sitting in the front row and like influenced votes of those behind them, Ensley said.

“If I am undecided and I see them vote not to dissolve it, I would think ‘Well, evidently Haywood County doesn’t want the building,” Ensley said.

Ammons said their vote did influence anyone sitting behind them.

“It was pretty obvious to everyone there that there was a significant group that had been part of that for a long time that felt like there were still possibilities,” Ammons said.


A business incubator building in Waynesville has become the epicenter for a political firestorm among Haywood County officials looking to grow small businesses in the region.

Convinced the incubator was being squandered by the Smoky Mountain Development Corporation — a not-for-profit economic development group — and its long-time director Tommy Fouts, a coalition of critics instigated a movement to wrest the incubator from the corporation’s control. The critics — including some Smoky Mountain Development Corporation board members — believed Haywood County’s Economic Development Commission was better equipped to own and run the incubator.


A small business incubator in Waynesville has failed in it mission to nurture entrepreneurs and start-up companies, and instead has devolved into little more than a building to house a handful of companies for the long haul, according to critics.


A debate over whether to sell alcohol at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino has pitted conservative tribal members against the economic interests of the casino, which generates revenue for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.


For nearly 20 years, Jerry Plemmons’ hour-long drive from Hot Springs to Waynesville every couple of months for a Smoky Mountain Development Corporation board meeting afforded him plenty of time to ponder the group’s purpose.


Citing increased problems for humans, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has proposed new regulations that will step up hunting of black bear, skunk and coyote.


The National Park Service says the management guidelines governing national parks need to be clarified in the face of a changing world, thus prompting the pending rewrite.


An attempt by the National Park Service to rewrite the guidelines governing protection of parks has prompted conservation groups to cry foul.

The guidelines are the ultimate yardstick used to measure activities in national parks, whether it’s allowing cell towers and billboards or limiting the number of campers at backcountry sites.


Board members on the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce and the Maggie Valley Area Visitors Bureau voted unanimously to pursue a merger last week, a monumental move given the historical tug-of-war between the two entities.


Anyone approaching Waynesville from Russ Avenue has likely appreciated the distant view of downtown, its quaint brick skyline marked by steeples and nested in the surrounding mountains — along with the less appealing gigantic yellow “M” superimposed over the scene.


Turf divisions in the Haywood County tourism industry are melting away on more than one front these days.

At the same time the Maggie Valley Visitors Bureau and the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce have committed to a merger, the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is poised to do away with a controversial system of dolling out tourism dollars to promote individual sections of the county.


Top fly and bass fishermen will be coming to Cherokee to show off their skills at the North Carolina Casting Championships scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4.

The casting competition will be held at the Cherokee Fairgrounds. Fishermen will compete for both accuracy and distance.


A new cycling shop opened in Waynesville just in the nick of time for Bob Gatis.

The notion recently struck him to take the parts of his Trek road bike and put them on a bare Jamis frame — a project that counts as building a bike from scratch.


fr johnsonA Haywood County businessman who has historically supplied dishwasher detergent and rinse agent for Haywood County school cafeterias lost his contract for the coming school year to a major national cleaning supply company.


A challenger in the Haywood County commissioner race lost ground last week in a fight with the county over his property values, a three-year dispute laced with political overtones.

Denny King claims the county incorrectly pegged the value of his home and land, which in turn determines his property tax bill. King has accused the county of mass errors in a countywide property revaluation conducted in 2011, a criticism that is a cornerstone of his campaign for county commissioner.


As the nation debates the role of creation and evolution in the classroom, a research paper assigned in a 10th-grade biology class at Franklin High School in Macon County has sparked a local controversy on the issue.

Students were asked to compare the scientific evidence for both creation and evolution.

“The student is to present SPECIFIC SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCES for BOTH SIDES of the debate,” according to the teacher’s instructions. Students were given specific topics to expound on: the age of the earth, radiometric dating, dinosaurs, Darwin’s theory, and the fossil record, among others.

Students were then instructed to pick the side they believed and write a conclusion.

“Make your argument using SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCES to support your stance,” the teacher’s instructions stated.

One parent feels the assignment was a subversive attempt to teach religion in school. Two national organizations have questioned whether the assignment is Constitutional.

School officials support the assignment, however. They claim the teacher was not promoting a religion, merely allowing students to explore it and thereby develop an inquisitive mind — a tenet of science.



Macon County School officials are standing behind a research paper assigned in a 10th-grade honors biology class that requires students to research the merits of both evolution and creation and explain which one they support.

“To me this is a school assignment about two theories that exist in our world,” said Kevin Corbin, chairman of the school board. “You are asking students to evaluate those and come to their own conclusion.”

Corbin, 44, said the assignment does not violate the separation of church and state.

“The Constitution says the government should establish no religion. Period. This is not establishing a religion,” Corbin said.

Corbin said the research paper acknowledges the fact that religion exists, but does not promote it.

“The reason people get so messed up is because they think you can’t even talk about religion anymore,” Corbin said. “Any time you discuss religion or politics, it’s a touchy subject. Is it unconstitutional? No. Could it create controversy. Yes.”

But that’s no reason to deny students the chance to expand their mind.

“If the teacher wanted to assign the Bible as a book, and say ‘Read this as a historical work and write a paper on it,’ they could do that,” Corbin said. “Take something controversial in history, like Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. If you assign a paper on that, it doesn’t mean you are for or against it. Whether you agree with creationism or biological evolution, the fact is they are out there and exist. You aren’t going to do away with that.”

Gary Shields, principal of Franklin High School, also said he had no problem with the assignment.

“In the high school arena, we have to allow students to explore all sides,” Shields said. “They are intelligent enough to draw their own conclusions.

“We are not here to alter anybody’s beliefs,” Shields said. “This is neutral ground. Research is fine, but if you start moving to one side or another, you’re proselytizing.”

Shields said this assignment falls into that neutral area.

“He’s assured me he does not have a personal agenda,” Shields said of the teacher, John Cantrell. “As a teacher, he wants them to research this as a topic.”

When the assignment was brought to Shields’ attention, he did a little research of his own and found a philosophy he agreed with on the Web site of the American Center for Law and Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit law firm founded to represent Christians in church-state cases.

“Students should be permitted to examine all sides of an issue — and that includes the origins of life. Don’t put up road blocks to knowledge,” wrote Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. “Information is knowledge and there is nothing wrong or unconstitutional about presenting students with alternatives — especially when studying the origins of life.”

A place in science

Patti Nason, a science professor with the Institute for Creation Research in Texas, said evolution is the teaching of a religion just as much as creationism is. Evolution is the religion of humanism, the belief that life on earth is all a big coincidence rather than led by a divine being, Nason said.

“They regard the universe as self-existing and not created,” Nason said. “It believes that man is just a part of nature.”

Creationists believe the earth is only a few thousand — not billions — of years old. Nason points to the recent discovery of intact bone marrow in a dinosaur bone. Bone marrow cannot last millions of years, but instead of re-examining the purported age of the dinosaurs, scientists are re-examining how long bone marrow can survive, Nason said.

“We interpret evidence according to what we believe,” Nason said. “They say that science equals evolution. Creationists use the very same data that evolutionists use.”

But they come up with different conclusions. Nason said creationists believe there was a massive upheaval of the earth that created all the layers of fossils and rocks quickly, not over billions of years. Nason said the Institute for Creation Research also has disproved radiometric dating, a method scientists claim can date the age of rocks and bones to hundreds of millions of years ago.

“A creationist’s reasoning is that the earth is not that old and that God did it,” Nason said. “Just because God did it doesn’t make it not scientific.”

Nason said teachers that only teach evolution are brainwashing students.

“It is taught so dogmatically. They don’t want kids to start thinking because they would realize how ridiculous it all seems,” Nason said, citing the evolutionist idea that life randomly cropped up of its own accord. Nason said students should be taught creation science.

Corbin, the Macon County school board chairman, agrees that creation has scientific merit.

“I believe there is scientific evidence for creation,” Corbin said.

In the right

Rodney Shotwell, superintendent of the Macon County school system, said the assignment does not violate state teaching guidelines.

“When I looked at the assignment, it is asking for logical scientific evidence to support the student’s position, whether they support one system over another,” Shotwell said. “I think what he is asking is to put things in a logical order and support your statement.”

State curriculum requires the teaching of evolution in high school biology. Shotwell said the assignment strikes a balance between teaching evolution, but at the same time not discriminating against those who object to evolution on religious grounds.

“We teach evolution. It is in the standard course of study,” Shotwell said. “But there are some students who don’t believe in evolution. So on an individual basis they can take what they believe, and if they want to refute that theory, they need to use scientific proof to do it. I think it is important in the development of children to ask them to be critical thinkers, to ask them. ‘OK if you believe this, why do you believe it?’”

In fact, developing critical thinking is also part of the high school biology curriculum, Shotwell said.

“‘Inquiry should be the central theme in biology,’” Shotwell said, quoting from state curriculum standards. “‘The essence of the inquiry process is to ask questions that stimulate students to think critically and to formulate their own questions.’”

Shotwell said the question of creation and evolution is something the students will encounter in life, and this assignment will prepare them for that.

“People have Web sites and books out there that say they can prove creation scientifically and then there’s another side that says they can prove evolution scientifically,” Shotwell said. “I was told one way you can make your belief stronger is to defend it and have it challenged. It’s another way of using facts they can find to represent their side.”

Shotwell said if a student objects to the assignment, they should be entitled to an alternative research paper topic. Shotwell said similar exceptions were made for students opposed to dissecting frogs in biology.

Tommy Cabe, a member of the Macon County school board, is not quite as comfortable with the paper as his counterparts. Cabe questioned whether there is scientific evidence for creationism.

“I think about anything could be brought into question if you worked at it enough,” Cabe said.

Cabe said he does not plan to challenge the teacher’s assignment, however.

“It’s not really part of the curriculum, but it’s kind of a grey area,” Cabe said. “If a parent complained, then we would have something to go on.”

Shotwell said he received an anonymous letter from someone complaining about the assignment. Unless that person comes forward to talk about their concerns openly, Shotwell said the school system does not plan to address the issue nor ask Cantrell to drop the assignment in future years.



A research paper assigned by a high school biology teacher at Franklin High School requiring students to delve into the scientific merits of creationism could potentially be unconstitutional, according to religion watchdog groups.

“This is a real constitutional problem,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director for the National Center for Science Education, upon seeing a copy of the assignment. “This is a bad idea on any number of grounds.”

Jeremy Leaming, spokesperson for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in Washington, D.C., agreed.

“It looks constitutionally suspect, quite frankly,” Leaming said. “There is no such thing as scientific evidence for creationism. If you are teaching students that there is, you are not only giving them a poor education, you are also violating the Constitution.”

The teacher John Cantrell, has assigned the research paper in the past but remained under the radar. This year, a parent has spoken up about the assignment, however.

“My main thing when I saw the assignment was that creationism was put on par scientifically with evolution,” said George Hasara. “I think the fact that it is in a science class, it gives it credence.”

Hasara said the assignment was akin to proselytizing. If students failed to produce scientific evidence for creationism, they could not get a good grade on the paper, according to the scoring system outlined on the assignment sheet.

Kathy Tinsley, a retired biology teacher who taught at Franklin High School for 23 years, said approaching evolution can upset students who feel the concept violates their religious beliefs.

“I tried to make students feel comfortable that I wasn’t trying to challenge their faith. I tried to be very sensitive,” Tinsley said.

Tinsley said she did not elevate religious ideas to an academic plane, however.

“I kept issues of faith and issues of science separate,” Tinsley said. “We were in the classroom to look at evolution as a key component of biology. Faith is a personal journey and I wasn’t comfortable trying to address any one certain faith or story of creation.”

“Theories like evolution are powerful, powerful explanations of what we see, and are backed up by years of documentation and data,” Tinsley said.

Scott said there is a red flag in the language of the assignment that could indicate the teacher’s motives. The teacher, John Cantrell, repeatedly used the term “scientific evidences” in the plural form in his instructions for the paper instead of simply “scientific evidence.”

“You will have to look long and hard in a scientific journal for the word ‘evidences,’” Scott said. “The word ‘evidences’ is a term from Christian apologetics. The only place you pick up ‘evidences’ in the plural form is if you’ve read a lot of the creation science Web sites.”

Leaming also said the assignment appeared to be driven by religious motives.

“Science doesn’t have the tools to tell us whether there is a divinity or not,” Leaming said. “To me it looks like an effort to support creationism. He is saying creationism is science. It is disingenuous for him to claim all he has done is ask students to write an academically objective paper.”

In the beginning

Scott said the assignment is designed to mislead students that scientific facts are not real.

“For teachers to represent to students that there is a scientific dispute going on over the age of the earth is extremely bad education,” Scott said.

Leaming said the assignment presents evolution and creationism as dueling theories in science, which is not correct.

“In science, a theory is not just a hunch or a guess,” Leaming said, citing the theory of gravity as an example. “In a mathematics class, would you argue whether two plus two equals four? That would be awfully strange in a math class.”

The teacher had a DVD on creation science that students could borrow.

Greg Adkison, a biology professor at Western Carolina University, said the topics students were asked to debate — such as the age of the earth and whether dinosaurs lived tens of millions of years ago — are not a matter of debate in the scientific community.

“Are we talking 3.5 billion or are we talking 4.2 billion? That’s debatable,” Adkison said of the age of the earth. “But there’s no debate between whether the earth is 10,000 years old or billions of years old.”

The same goes for radiometric dating, something creationists consider a fallacy, but no reputable scientist disputes, he said.

“If you date a rock and it is 98 million years old, maybe it’s 100 million or 96 million, but it’s not only 10,000 years old,” Adkison said.

Adkison did not always think that way.

“I was a junior in college before I thought, ‘Oh, this evolution stuff is real,’” Adkison said. “I traveled the path of thinking it was a bunch of hooey to totally embracing it.”

Adkison assigns a paper similar to Cantrell’s in his introductory biology course at WCU. But Adkison does not require students to argue which side they believe – something that was worth 30 out of 100 points on Cantrell’s paper.

“I just want them to see where both sides are coming from,” Adkison said.

Another difference is that Adkison follows his paper up with lots of teaching on evolution. Otherwise, such a paper could be seen by students as validating creationism as an equal theory, when in fact it is not a theory, but a hypothesis or personal belief.

“I do acknowledge there are other ideas out there, but I think it is a real disservice to society to teach something that is wrong,” Adkison said.

Cantrell’s paper was turned in on the last day of class, which was a semester long on the block schedule.

By the book

High school students are required to learn about evolution, according to the curriculum set by the North Carolina State School Board. The curriculum calls for the teaching of “current scientific theories” on evolution and the origin of life, earth and the universe.

The curriculum specifically cites fossil evidence, radiometric dating, and natural selection of species — all of which Cantrell asked students to debate when writing their paper.

The state curriculum also requires science teachers to stick to “evolutionary process as outlined in the National Science Education Standards,” which don’t include creationism.

“Explanations on how the natural world changes based on myths, personal beliefs, religious values, mystical inspiration, superstition, or authority may be personally useful and socially relevant, but they are not scientific,” according to the National Science Education Standards.

The North Carolina State Board of Education has an ethics policy that requires teachers to recognize “the diverse views of students ... and not proselytize for personal viewpoints that are outside the scope of professional practice.”

The assignment could cross that line, according to Scott.


Waynesville’s residents have long reaped the benefits of the town’s electricity enterprise — a sideline business that was making $1.2 million a year.

The money paid for the Waynesville Recreation Center — a $6.5 million fitness center with indoor pool, gym and weight and workout rooms. And when talk of a downtown parking deck came up, town leaders pledged $2.5 million toward its construction, thanks to electricity revenue.


Two years ago, the future of Waynesville’s electric system — a lucrative cash cow for the town — was turned on its head by a single email that popped up in the inbox of an energy consultant in Raleigh.


As judges and lawyers, politicians and lobbyists, and parents and school officials debate the place of evolution and creationism in the classroom, what do students think?

At Franklin High School, students in Lee Berger’s journalism class — an arena where students are used to tackling controversial issues — engaged in a discussion last week on the subject. The question at hand was whether creation, evolution and intelligent design should all be taught, and if so, in what subject they belonged and in what manner they should be taught.


coverIt promised to be one of the most riveting nights of the year for members of the Jackson County Genealogical Society.

Half a dozen men filed through the door of the Sylva library hauling boxes and pulling hand trucks bulging with old tools and implements, some of them scrounged from their papaw’s blacksmith shop or granny’s cellar, and others collected over the years from auctions or relatives or flea markets, because there’s really no such thing as too many tools.

“People could stay for hours and talk about these items and their uses and the stories that go with them,” said Tim Osment, president of the genealogical society. “The tool itself represents a time when folks used their hands to build their own items. There is a sense of nostalgia that goes with that.”


A lawsuit casting blame for a massive landslide in Maggie Valley four years ago was settled at the 11th hour last week.

A jury pool had been called in, a judge seated on the bench and attorneys on both sides were lined up in preparation for a trial that was two years in the making.

But a last-minute out-of-court settlement was reached between the parties and the jury sent back home.

The suit was filed by a couple whose home was in the path of the landslide. They claimed an extensive retaining wall that snaked a few hundred feet across the face of the mountain at Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park collapsed, triggering the landslide. The couple sued the engineers and builders of the wall, along with the former owners of Ghost Town, for damages.

The settlement has not yet been filed in court. See next week’s issue of The Smoky Mountain News for more on the outcome.


fr bruceA well-known businessman in Haywood County is questioning why school officials would steer a contract for cleaning supplies to a major national chain that’s more expensive instead of his own company.

Buying local and buying cheap don’t always line up. But this time, they do, and that’s what flummoxes Bruce Johnson.


fr hospitalsWhen Janie Sinacore-Jaberg walked the halls of Haywood Regional Medical Center Friday morning, the congratulations were flowing and the balloons flying.

“Our staff is incredibly excited. There are just smiles everywhere. You could feel it. It was palpable when you walked in the hospital today,” said Sinacore-Jaberg, the CEO of Haywood Regional.

The Haywood Advancement Foundation, a non-profit economic development entity, has pledged $2,700 to the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce start-up business competition.

The donation marks the end of a campaign to raise $10,000 that will be awarded to an entrepreneur with the best business plan. The contest, funded solely by the private sector, has two functions. It sends the message that Haywood County is supportive of small business. It also will spur entrepreneurs to hammer out their ideas in tangible business plans — which will make them more prone to success regardless of whether they win the contest.

Other contributors included Haywood Regional Medical Center, First Citizens Bank, Progress Energy, BB&T and Smoky Mountain Development Corporation.

“Having the $10,000 secured is wonderful,” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of the chamber. “It is a good fit for the Haywood Advancement Foundation to be a part of such an important initiative.”

Haywood Advancement could be looking at similar small business initiatives in the future thanks to a couple of windfalls coming its way from the sale of property. Offering large tracts of property at discounted rates to industry was once considered a key economic development tool. Two tracts owned by Haywood Advancement are nearing a sale. Money made on the land could be invested toward the new paradigm in economic development: small business.

“We felt like the business plan contest was a great way to continue fostering entrepreneurship and support small business development,” said John Howell, president of Haywood Advancement Foundation. “Part of what we have viewed as our mission for economic development is fostering entrepreneurship. That’s one of the things we are going to be addressing as we sell these pieces of property.”

Haywood Advancement has nearly closed on the sale of a tract at the corner of Old Asheville Highway and Howell Mill Road that will bring a profit well into the six figures.

The other property Haywood Advancement Foundation has up for sale is Dayco, a run-down factory on 30 acres in Waynesville. It is currently under contract. Haywood Advancement bought Dayco out of bankruptcy court where it was languishing and with hopes of putting it back into productive use. The town of Waynesville and Haywood County each contributed $650,000 to buy Dayco. When Dayco eventually sells, Haywood Advancement will get whatever is left over after paying the town and county back.

A committee of those on Haywood Advancement Foundation Board will be appointed to come up with ideas on how to use the money from both sales.

The land Haywood Advancement is expected to sell this week off the Old Asheville Highway was acquired in the mid-1980s with public funds, namely ABC revenues. It was transferred to Haywood Advancement in 1999.

Haywood Advancement officers for 2006 were appointed at the last meeting. Howell will serve his second term as president. Other appointments include Jeff Norris as vice president, Steve Kaufman as secretary and Patsy Rogers as treasurer. Ron Leatherwood of Clark and Leatherwood was reappointed to a seat on the board.


Every patient knows the drill. Walk up to the window, tell the nurse your name, take the clipboard and seek out the comfiest seat in the waiting room while you try to recall every allergy and ailment you and your ancestors have had.


A move to rewrite the Endangered Species Act has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is expected to come before the U.S. Senate in February.

The cornerstone of the Endangered Species Act is protecting places where endangered species live. The proposal repeals protection of critical habitats, a change that could have numerous implications in Western North Carolina.


Dick Hamilton, director of the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Biologists with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park want to increase the elk herd in Cataloochee by bringing in a new batch of elk from Kentucky.


N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority last week seeking to significantly reduce pollution from TVA’s coal-fired power plants.

Pollution from TVA’s coal plants, which do not meet current federal emissions standards, damages the health of North Carolina’s people, its economy and natural resources, according to Cooper.


The Waynesville Rotary Club has been caught up in the fallout following the forced resignation of Haywood County Manager Jack Horton.

Horton is president of the Waynesville Rotary Club. Commissioner Kevin Ensley, who voted for Horton’s resignation, is a member of the same Rotary Club.


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