Galax firms sign trade petition

GALAX, Va. – Employees of three furniture companies in Galax, Va., signed petitions on Tuesday in support of levying duties, or an import fee, on furniture imports from China.

“It went extremely well,” Wyatt Bassett, of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture in Galax, said about the petitions. “Ninety-eight percent of the workers at our companies supported the petition.”

A group of furniture manufacturers joined together recently and announced that they were going to file a petition with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) that could levy duties or an import fee on furniture imports from China.

Local factories in Caldwell County can join the petition if 51 percent of the workers at a factory sign in support of the duties, even if management decides not to join the effort.

“No one can stop anyone from doing this. It’s the law,” Bassett said. “But the employees of furniture companies have a say in this.”

Vaughan-Bassett Furniture, Webb Furniture Enterprises and Vaughan Furniture were the three companies that held the petitions. Approximately 3,229 of the 3,305 workers at the companies signed the petition, according to Bassett.

A group of 15 companies announced that they plan to file a petition this fall and since the announcement, seven more companies have joined the petition. Both Bernhardt and Broyhill haven’t joined, but individual Bernhardt and Broyhill factories can join through a petition.

The actual petition is an antidumping petition that will target imports from China of wood bedroom furniture. If the petition is successful, bedroom furniture imported from China would become subject to antidumping duties.

“When a plant closes, the employees don’t have a say in it,” Basset said. “But they have a say in this.”

Once a petition has been filed, the ITC will immediately commence a preliminary investigation to determine whether “there is a reasonable indication that the domestic industry is materially injured, or threatened with material injury, by reason to dumped imports from China,” according to the committee’s legal counsel Joe Dorn. The ITC is required to make a preliminary determination within 45 days.

If the ITC’s preliminary determination is affirmative, the Department of Commerce will proceed to determine the margins of dumping and the corresponding level of duties that would be applied to U.S. imports of bed furniture from China. Antidumping duties, if imposed, would be paid by the U.S. importers of record. The duties would be set at the amount required to offset the margin of dumping and to restore fair competition to the market, according to Dorn.

Currently there are 25 furniture companies that are in support of the petition. The 25 companies are: Bassett Furniture Industries of Bassett, Va.; Carolina Furniture Works, Inc., of Sumter, S.C.; Century Furniture Industries of Hickory; Copeland Furniture Company of Bradford, Vt.; Crawford Furniture Manufacturing Company of Jamestown, N.Y.; Cresent Manufacturing Company of Gallatin, Tenn.; Durham Furniture Inc. of Canfield, Ohio; Good Companies of Carson, Calif.; Hart Furniture, Inc. of Collierville, Tenn.; Higdon Furniture Company of Quincy, Fla.; Hooker Furniture Corporation of Martinsville, Va.; Johnston/TomBigbee Furniture Manufacturing of Columbus, Miss.; Keller Manufacturing of Corydon, Ind.; Michels-Pilliod Company of Linwood, Calif.; Mobel Furniture Company of Ferdinand, Ind.; Moosehead Furniture of Monson, Maine; Palliser Furniture Limited of Manitoba, Canada; Sandberg Furniture of Los Angeles, Calif.; Shermag, Inc. of Sherbrooke, Canada; Stanley Furniture Company of Stanleytown, Va.; Stickley, Inc., of Manlius, N.Y.; Vaughan Furniture Company of Galax, Va.; Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company of Galax, Va.; Vermont Tubbs, Inc., of Brandon, Vt.; and Webb Furniture Enterprises of Galax, Va.

For more information about the petition, contact the Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co.

Book details Grandin railroad dream

LENOIR – Many years ago William J. Grandin had a dream that included a railroad that is little known today – the Watauga and Yadkin Railroad – and a lumber empire in Caldwell and Wilkes counties.

Thanks to Matthew C. Bumgarner and R. Douglas Walker people can now read about the railroad and Grandin’s dream. The two men have complied” “The Watauga and Yadkin Railroad: A History of Grandin.”

The book is the latest in a series of books that Bumgarner has compiled on the history of Western North Carolina. Other books he has written include two books on the Civil War – “Kirk’s Raiders,” and “My Face to the Enemy.”

“I am interested in the history of Western North Carolina,” said Bumgarner, a Hickory native. “I am especially interested in the history of North Carolina railroads, particularly smaller ones. It’s easy to get to know the people who ran them and lived beside them.”

The president of an electronic manufacturing firm, Bumgarner spends his spare time doing research and writing historical books. “I find it to be relaxing,” Bumgarner said. “I can’t dig up a dinosaur, but I can read a 100-year-old newspaper.”

Bumgarner’s first book on a railroad was about the June Bug line in Alexander County. “I fell in love with the history of railroads,” he said. “They have a marvelous history. I love the stories of the people who ran them. Railroads have a rich tapestry of history that is fascinating.”

Bumgarner also wrote a book about the Carolina and Northwestern Railroad. “I am glad that Caldwell County was able to save the line to Hickory,” he said. “I served on the committee that worked on the effort to save the railway.”

While doing research, Bumgarner became interested in the Watauga and Yadkin Railroad. “It’s a little railroad that not many people have heard about that has a wonderful history,” he said. “It was not just a railroad. William Grandin was planning a way of life around the forest, the mill and the village. He was creating his whole lumber empire. Any one project would have been daunting enough for anyone else. Grandin was from southeastern Missouri. He was trying to relocate his timber business from there to Caldwell and Wilkes counties. Ultimately he was unsuccessful, primarily because of the Yadkin River. The Yadkin River has not been beaten in thousands of years.”

The story of the Watauga and Yadkin Railroad “is a story of real interest that at the turn of the century Grandin was trying to build a railroad to Boone through the mountains to Tennessee,” Bumgarner said. “It’s a good story of yet another episode in Western North Carolina’s history, like the stories of Tom Dooley and Fort Hamby. It’s an epic tale of man versus nature.”

A native of Tidoute, Penn., Grandin was a grandson of Samuel Grandin, a Quaker State investor in oil and lumber in Pennsylvania. His two sons led a successful effort in Southeastern Missouri to create a logging company and a town also called “Grandin.”

As that business began to slow down, Grandin turned his sights on North Carolina. He hoped to harvest timber along Elk Creek into Darby and Buffalo Cove. By 1912, he had begun to put his dream into action.

Grandin wanted to build a railway from Lenoir into Grandin and eventually into Watauga County. However, human events and the flooding of the Yadkin River created problems. He chose instead to build his railroad from Wilkesboro.

This lumber venture of Grandin’s lasted a lot shorter than his Missouri venture. However, it did result in the creation of the town of Grandin in Caldwell County. A few people who relocated with Grandin remained after the lumber business failed and contributed to Caldwell County’s growth.

The town of Grandin had water lines and fire hydrants and some people had electricity from a generator. Thirty-two houses were completed or in the process of being completed. The town also had an official boarding house, a company store, a Baptist church, a company doctor, a brick kiln, a horse barn, a blacksmith shop and a small depot. At one time, approximately 50 people lived in Grandin. Today, all that remains are two mill buildings and the boarding house.

On May 3, 1913, the Watauga and Yadkin train made its first run. The railroad had a spur line up Elk Greek to near Darby. The name of the train reflects Grandin’s intention of extending the line on the Boone. The Grandin Lumber Co. had 66,000 acres of timber in Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties.

“One can only speculate what the future of Grandin Lumber Company and the town of Grandin might have been if the war in Europe had not broken out and the floods of 1916 and 1918 had not occurred,” Bumgarner said

5 indicted in Caldwell vote-buying case

LENOIR – What started out as an investigation conducted late last year by the Caldwell County Board of Elections into alleged vote buying on behalf of the Republican Party and current Caldwell County Sheriff Gary Clark has now resulted in five Caldwell County residents being indicted on federal charges.

Wayne Shatley, Anita Moore, Valerie Moore, Carlos R. “Sunshine” Hood and Ross “Toogie” Banner were indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Charlotte on nine counts alleging conspiracy to commit and actually committing vote-buying.

The indictment alleges that the defendants recruited various residents of Caldwell County to participate in early voting at the Caldwell County Board of Elections office prior to the Nov. 5, 2002 general elections.

“The indictment indicates that individuals recruited by the defendants were offered and/or paid $25 to vote the “straight Republican ticket” for all the Republican candidates for state and federal office appearing on the ballot in the general election or, alternatively, to vote for the Republican Party’s candidate for the office of Caldwell County Sheriff (Clark),” stated Suellen Pierce, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney – Western District of North Carolina.

The indictment also alleges that the defendants and others offered to pay and paid persons to register to vote in the 2002 general election.

In the “overt acts” described in the indictment, Banner allegedly paid a persons, “H.M.” and “B.B.,” $25 each to vote on Oct. 29, 2002.

Shatley and Anita Moore allegedly offered “L.C.” $25 for voting and paid “D.L.H.” $10 to register on Oct. 30, 2002. Also on that date, Anita Moore and Valerie Moore allegedly paid D.L.H. $25 to vote and Anita Moore allegedly paid “T.P.” $25 to vote.

Shatley, Anita Moore and Hood allegedly paid “C.H.” $25 to vote on Oct. 30, 2002. The next day Anita Moore allegedly paid “T.P.” $25 to vote, the indictment states.

Pierce stated that, if convicted on all counts, Shatley faces 20 years in prison, Anita Moore – 35 years in prison, Valerie Moore – 10 years imprisonment, Hood – 10 years and Banner – 15 years.

Fifteen people testified before the Caldwell County elections board in December that they sold their votes to a handful of people working at Caldwell County Republican headquarters in the days before the election.

Information presented at the hearing also implied that up to 250 voters sought to sell their votes. The lawyers for the Republican Party’s candidates claim only a handful of votes may have been changed. No one has linked either the GOP’s candidates or the Republican Party to the vote buying.

In the 2002 general election, Clark won the sheriff’s race by 746 votes. Clark received 11,588 votes and former Sheriff Roger Hutchings, a Democrat, received 10,842 votes. Republicans Tim Sanders and Alden Starnes also defeated Democrat Bill Wall in the race for two seats on the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners.

Appeals for a new election by Hutchings and Wall to the N.C. Board of Elections and a N.C. Superior Court judge failed and Clark, Sanders and Starnes were admitted into their elected offices in late February.

An appeal for a new election by Hutchings and Wall is pending in the N.C. Court of Appeals and a decision by the court is expected in October.

Hutchings, who now heads the N.C. Boxing Commission, declined to comment Wednesday as to whether he would run against Clark if a new election is ordered by the court.

Clark, who learned of the indictments from the News-Topic, said he was glad that justice was moving forward in the vote-buying scandal. He said the alleged actions of the conspirators resulted in a four-month delay in him being sworn into office.

“It hurt me and it hurt my family being without a job for so long,” Clark said.

Hutchings also said he learned about the indictments from the News-Topic. He said the alleged vote-buying conspiracy hurt the faith of many people in Caldwell County in the democratic process.

“It was deplorable to a lot of honest people. It hurt people in both parties,” Hutchings said.

Clark and Hutchings both commended the work done by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Attorney’s office in investigating the matter.

Clark criticized the Hutchings administration for not making arrests and putting an end to the alleged vote-buying scandal as soon as they learned about it.

“The thing that perplexes me is why the old Sheriff’s Department administration did not arrest anybody for buying votes, said Clark. “Why did they let it go on?”

Hutchings said he contacted the SBI about the alleged vote-buying conspiracy as soon as it was detected, about two weeks before the election. He said there was a delay in fully investigating the conspiracy until the District Attorney’s Office realized the scope of the matter.

“We could have made arrests but we would have been accused of making a political issue of it,” Hutchings said. “We did our best to get an outside agency to look into it.”

Caldwell improves on ‘No Child Left Behind’

Caldwell County showed improvement in 2003-2004, based on the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

But there were still four schools, two of which are now considered “Schools of Choice”, that had not shown AYP in a given area, based on the federal mandates.

Parents of students at Gamewell Middle and Hudson Elementary will receive notification this week of the designation and, according to No Child Left Behind rules, will have the option of transferring their child or children to alternate schools that do meet the qualifications.

Of the 374 required testing objectives established by the federal program, schools in Caldwell County met 363 goals or 97 percent in every area tested for 10 different subgroups: White, Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, multiracial, economically disadvantaged students, limited English proficient students, students with disabilities and the school as a whole.

Out of Caldwell County’s 24 public schools, 20 (83 percent) made AYP, an improvement of more than 20 percent over last year.

“The overall data is very good, and we are pleased with the high success rate; however with this legislation if one subgroup does not meet the standard, then all are subject to a dark shadow of nonperformance,” Caldwell County Schools Superintendent Tom McNeel said. “We, like every school system in North Carolina and across the nation, have this challenge with this new legislation because if a school misses even one goal it does not make adequate progress.”

The schools making AYP are: Baton Elementary, Collettsville, Davenport, Dudley Shoals, Gamewell Elementary, Granite Falls Elementary, Granite Falls Middle, Happy Valley, Hibriten, Horizons Elementary, Kings Creek, Lower Creek, Oak Hill, Sawmills, South Caldwell, Valmead Basic, West Caldwell, West Lenoir and Whitnel Elementary and William Lenoir Middle.

Gamewell Middle, Gateway Alternative School, Hudson Elementary, and Hudson Middle did not make AYP in 2003-04. For Gamewell Middle and Hudson Elementary, 2003-04 was the second consecutive year of not meeting the federal AYP standards.

Because both schools are entitled to Title I federal funds, students in those schools are eligible for “school choice.” That means that all students enrolled, approximately 600 at Gamewell Middle and 790 at Hudson Elementary, now have the option to transfer to designated schools, with priority given to the lowest achieving, low income students.

Hudson Elementary students will be allowed to transfer to Whitnel Elementary or Baton Elementary. As for middle school students at Gamewell Middle, they may attend Oak Hill or Kings Creek.

This week, parents of students enrolled at Gamewell Middle or Hudson Elementary school will receive a letter in the mail providing notification of the NCLB status and options available, to include student transfer and transportation services.

Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act is intended to create accountability for results; an emphasis on doing what works based on scientific research; expanded parental options; and expanded local control and flexibility, according to the Department of Education Web site.

Caldwell County Schools Title I Coordinator Caryl Burns said she is pleased with the school system’s performance in the first two years of the program. Last year Caldwell County Schools had a total of eight schools that did not show AYP, four of which were Title I schools.

“I feel pretty good about it,” Burns said. “We cut it in half. If we cut it in half next year we will be doing well.”

But that still leaves the opportunity for parents of students at Gamewell Middle, which has an enrollment of 600, and Hudson Elementary, which has an enrollment of 790, to transfer.

It’s impossible to predict how many students will opt for transfers because this is the first year that the School of Choice requirements will take effect, School-Community Relations Director Libby Brown said.

“At Hudson, parents are very satisfied with the new facility and they have done well with their test scores,” she said. “I think the parents (of both schools) are satisfied.”

Parents of Gamewell Middle and Hudson Elementary will have until July 30 to decide whether they want to exercise their right to have their child transferred to one of the designated alternate choices.

Other than the possibility of having to move teachers, Brown said there is no anticipated cost to the school system if large groups of students transfer. Those students who transfer will be bussed to their alternate school choice, but funds for that service are financed with federal funds.

McNeel emphasized that the newly released results are not necessarily a poor reflection of the school, and in the case of Gamewell Middle and Hudson Elementary, it was a failure to meet standards in one specific area.

McNeel said that in End of Grade reading and math testing, more than 90 percent of Hudson Elementary students in grades 3 through 5 were at or above grade level. At Gamewell Middle, 85 percent of students were at or above grade level. As a whole, 91 percent of Caldwell County’s students were at or above grade level on the End of Grade tests.

Under NCLB, schools are expected to have 100 percent of their students at proficiency level by 2014. Schools must make AYP toward meeting proficiency goals each year, and the state has established gradually increasing levels of proficiency.

The yearly standard for improvement is based on the same reading and math End of Grade test scores for grades 3-8 used in the State ABCs accountability model and for high schools the 10th grade Comprehensive Reading and Math Test. Science will be added in 2007-08.

Hibriten falls in MVC opener

The Ashe County Huskies eked past the Hibriten Panthers in the first game Tuesday night in Lenoir before cruising to a 3-0 (25-22, 25-16, 25-9) victory in the volleyball conference opener for both squads.

The see-saw battle for the first game began early as both teams made runs. The Panthers jumped out to a 6-4 lead before the Huskies rallied to take a 10-6 lead.

Hibriten fought back trimming, the lead to just one, 10-9. The Panthers steadily regained the lead and extended it to 18-14.

But Ashe battled back knotting the first game at 18-18. With the score tied at 20-20, the Huskies posted two points on Briana Day serves. The Panthers picked up two more points, but Whitney Day finished off Hibriten with two aces.

The second game began in much the same fashion as the entire first game. However with the game tied 7-7, the Huskies rattled off a 9-2 run for a 16-9 lead. Ashe County steadily built upon their lead gaining a 2-0 lead by winning the second game 25-16.

The Huskies cruised in the final game as Kendra Tedder posted eight service points, including the final six points of the match.

For the Panthers, Rachel Keller posted a team-high seven service points for the match while her teammate, Aya Negooka, posted six straight service points in the second game.

The loss drops the Panthers to 0-6 on the season and 0-1 in the Mountain Valley 2A. Hibriten travels to Wilkes Central to take on the Eagles on Thursday.

West wins MVC opener

The West Caldwell volleyball team got its conference season off to a solid start, winning in three games at West Wilkes.

The Lady Warriors improved to 4-2 with the 25-20, 25-9, 25-20 victory.

Kaylin Carswell led the team in service points, kills and digs. The Lady Warriors had 17 points on her serve, Carswell put down 12 kills and came up with eight digs.

Lauren Owens totalled 16 assists, and Jordan Greer finished with nine service points and 10 assists.

Ashley McKinney had eight service points, and Melissa Watson totalled eight kills.

McKinney had five service points in the opening game, and Carswell and Watson combined for 10 kills.

With the Lady Warriors wining 7-2 in the second game, Carswell rolled off nine service points for a 16-2 Lady Warrior advantage. Greer served out the game.

West Wilkes (4-2, 0-1) used a 6-1 run to open an 18-16 lead in the third game. But the Lady Warriors bounced back to take a 21-18 lead before Owens served out the game.

Girls’ tennis

The Ashe County Huskies narrowly nipped the Hibriten Panthers 5-4 in the tennis conference opener for both teams.

Hibriten’s Maggie Sime knocked off the Huskies’ No. 1 player, Katherine Hanes 6-4, 6-1.

Cameron Joyce, the Panthers’ No. 2 player, helped out the Hibriten cause with a dominating 6-0, 6-1 victory over Emily Hudler.

The Panthers’ Katie Rash, playing in the No. 4 spot, secured a 3-3 tie for Hibriten heading into doubles play with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Lauren Roland.

However, the Panthers doubles team of Wallis Hutchens and Rash were the only Hibriten team to pick up a victory in the final three matches of the contest.

Hibriten will travel to defending North Carolina 2-A team champion Wilkes Central on Thursday.

Ashe County 5, Hibriten 4

Singles

Maggie Sime (H) def. Katherine Hanes 6-4, 6-3; Cameron Joyce (H) def. Emily Hudler 6-0, 6-1; Alex Eller (A) def. Wallis Hutchens 6-1, 6-4; Katie Rash (H) def. Lauren Roland 6-2, 6-4; Lorna Vaga (A) def. Gracelyn Cruden 6-0, 6-0; Ruthie Stafford (A) def. Kate Barlow 6-3, 6-1.

Doubles

Vaga/Hanes (A) def. Sime/Joyce 8-6; Hutchens/Rash (H) def. Hudler/Eller 8-1; Roland/Stafford (A) def. Cruden/Barlow 8-3.

Middle School Softball

The Granite Falls Blue Demons knocked off the Gamewell Braves 23-7 Tuesday afternoon at South Caldwell High School.

Kayla Gross picked up the win for the Blue Demons. Granite Falls’ Allyson Minton went 3-for-4 with a homer and five RBIs while her teammates Britney Bartle and Kristin Lackey each went 3-for-4 also and driving in three and two runs respectively.

Felisha Smith and Holly Beane each posted triples for the Braves.

Granite Falls’ next game is Thursday at East Alexander.

Blue-collar attitude: McCall gives consistency and heart on defensive side of ball

There is a bulletin board that hangs in the auxiliary gym at West Caldwell as you head down the hallway towards the boys’ basketball locker room.

On this particular bulletin board, draped in royal blue paper, hangs a white banner across the top proclaiming “Player of the Week” and two weeks into the 2004 football season Justin McCall’s name has been posted under that banner twice.

The senior linebacker, who is also putting in some time at tailback and punting, was a natural choice for the Warrior coaching staff to make for consecutive players of the week.

“He plays hard when you’re winning and he plays hard you’re behind,” West Caldwell head coach Mark Buffamoyer said. “He exemplifies what we’re asking our football players to do and that is play hard regardless of what the score is, regardless of what the situation is.

“He’s out there trying to make plays and we’re proud of him. He’s setting an example for some young kids in West Caldwell football.”

Even during a disappointing 31-13 loss to South Caldwell – the first loss to the Spartans since 1993 – McCall tallied 14 tackles and an interception against West Caldwell’s county rival.

“Every game I play, I play with all my heart,” the Warrior linebacker said. “I try my best to do what I can out there. I just leave it all out on the field and try until I can’t go no more.”

The loss hurt, but McCall said he cannot dwell on past games.

“It was hard (to lose to South Caldwell),” McCall said. “(You) go out there and try your best and lose. You’ve just got to fight until next week and see what happens.”

Even in the fourth quarter, the Warrior linebacker never conceded the victory to the Spartans, posting five of his 14 tackles in the final frame.

“That’s when it counted for us. It’s an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, I slept,’ or ‘I’m not going to make a play,’ and here’s a kid who makes four (tackles) in a row at one time in the fourth quarter,” Buffamoyer said about McCall’s fourth quarter performance.

“That’s what we tell our kids – it’s easy to play when you’re winning. We want to know when the chips are down how hard you’re going to play.”

However, McCall, in a typical football defense mindset, is less interested in individual accomplishments than he is in winning.

“Without the team, we can’t win because one guy can’t do it all,” he said.

McCall would not mind repeating his all-conference and all-county performance from last year in his senior season, but he also recognizes there are 10 other guys on defense that have to do their jobs for the Warriors to find success.

“We’ve got to practice hard everyday and get better and better,” the Warrior linebacker said.

This get-the-job-done mentality impresses his new football coach to no end.

“We may have some kids who have great numbers that may not be our player of the week,” Buffamoyer said. “We’re talking about beyond the call of duty and he’s been named (player of the week) twice – the Watauga and the South Caldwell (game) – because he plays hard consistently.

“He’s not playing one quarter and then taking a quarter off – just consistently for eight quarters now in two football games, he’s exemplified that.”

As with any coaching change, especially at the head coach’s spot, there is an acclimation period for a football team. However, McCall’s blue-collar attitude made the adjustment quickly.

“It’s a lot different. We changed offenses and we changed the defense around a lot,” McCall said. “But the more you practice, you get used to it. It didn’t take long for me to get used to it.”

As a linebacker, he preferred the 6-3 defense to the 4-4, eight-man front which Buffamoyer brought in, but he’s never complained and simply made the changes he’s needed to make to be successful in the new system.

“Whatever he wants to do,” McCall said about Buffamoyer’s changes.

And the coaching staff has the utmost confidence in McCall’s talents and leadership on the gridiron.

“He sets his example by what he does, and that is on the field. When he is on the field, I trust him because I know that he is going to play hard,” Buffamoyer said. “Vocal? No, but I think he sets the best example. He’s going to do it and then talk about it, and actually he doesn’t really talk about it. He just plays hard and that’s what we want him to do is play hard.”

The senior linebacker is more than just a football player, though.

McCall also plays baseball and wrestles. He admires St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger Albert Pujols and plays first base for the Warriors as well as wrestling in the 189 weight class.

“My dad got me into (baseball),” McCall said. “He’s pushed me to play any sport that I could, mainly to keep me out of trouble.”

He enjoys hunting and swimming.

But for now, he’s a football player – a blue-collar, get-your-job-done football player.

“He’s not looking for anything special,” Buffamoyer said. “He’s just wants the opportunity to play football, and he’s getting that opportunity and he’ll continue to get the opportunity to do that here.”

Coffey loses position, seeks legal counsel

Caldwell County Fire Marshal Dale Coffey has been fired and says he is seeking legal counsel.

“I have served the county for 22 and a half years as fire marshal and emergency management director,” Coffey said. “I was terminated on Aug. 4 by Tommy Courtner (Caldwell County Emergency Services Director). I have sought legal counsel. I have enjoyed working for the citizens of Caldwell County and the different county managers and county commissioners through the years.”

Coffey said that after he returned from vacation this week, he turned down a reassignment offered earlier this month by the county.

Caldwell County Human Resources Director David Hill announced the second week in August that effective Sept. 1, Coffey would work as a county code officer rather than in the Emergency Services Department.

In accordance with Article 10, Section 2 of the N.C. General Statutes on personnel records, Hill said the only public information he can disclose is the date of Coffey’s termination, which occurred on Aug. 4.

The statute says that the following information about county employees is public information and can be disclosed by the human resources director or a representative of the Human Resources Department:

€ Name and age.

€ Date of or original employment or appointment to county service.

€ Current position title.

€ Current salary.

€ Date and amount of most recent change in salary.

€ Date of most recent promotion, demotion, transfer, separation or other change in position classification.

€ Office to which employee is currently assigned.

Caldwell County Commissioners recently formed a Grievance Committee to hear employee grievances. According to the county’s grievance procedure each employee has the right to present a grievance, “with or without a representative, free from interference, coercion, restrain, discrimination, penalty or reprisal.”

Coffey has 30 days from the date he was fired, Aug. 4, to file a grievance. Under the county policy the employee’s immediate supervisor meets with the employee within five days of receipt of the grievance and tries to resolve the grievance informally. If informal resolution fails, the supervisor must issue a written decision on the grievance no later than five days following the meeting.

If the employee is dissatisfied with the response, the employee may file the grievance in writing with the department head within five days of receipt of the immediate supervisor’s written decision. The department head must meet with the employee within five days and review the decision and issue a written decision within 10 days.

If the employee is dissatisfied, the employee may forward the written grievance to either the human resources director or the county manager within five days. The human resources director and/or the county manager will render a written decision within 15 days.

If the employee is still dissatisfied, the employee may appeal to the Grievance Committee. The appeal must be made in writing. The appeal must be submitted to the human resources director’s office within 10 work days from the decision rendered by the human resources director and/or county manager.

Within 10 working days of receiving the appeal, a meeting will be held to review the steps taken and to investigate. The Grievance Committee may hold as many sessions as necessary and may hold an executive session in compliance with the open meetings statute for the purpose of making a decision.

The three members appointed by commissioners to the Grievance Committee are Betsy McRee, Frankie Roff and Stacey Siler.

Coffey has held several different titles and job responsibilities in his years of working with the county. Most notable among those jobs was his role as the county’s fire marshal.

As the county’s fire marshal, Coffey’s duties included investigating and assisting with fires in the county. He also was responsible for enforcing the N.C. General Statutes for fire inspection, conducting inspections on structures like schools, businesses, churches and day care centers around the county but not in Lenoir. The city has its own fire inspector.

The county is not required to have a fire marshal, Hill said earlier this month. The N.C. General Statutes provide three means for investigating fires. One of those is through a fire marshal, but the county’s sheriff or the fire chief of a fire district can request investigations.

Hill indicated that the decision of filling the fire marshal’s position will be handled by Courtner, who said earlier this month that the county plans to hire a fire marshal.

The county also is without an assistant fire marshal after Rebecca Byers resigned from the position last month, Courtner said earlier this month.

Courtner said a group of county building inspectors will take care of any fire inspections, and any investigations will be handled by Emergency Services.

Collettsville, Buffalo Cove areas deal with flooding

Flash flood watches were issued for Caldwell County on Thursday, and heavy rain and runoff caused isolated flooding in low-lying areas throughout the county.

According to the National Weather Service, heavy rains along the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains and moisture-laden winds from the east hit the area.

The weather service said that up to 1 1/2 inches of rain fell early Thursday in Caldwell County, and isolated areas could receive an additional one to two inches of rainfall, resulting in flooding problems after precipitation let up in the afternoon.

The weather service said that widespread showers with a few embedded thunderstorms will continue to develop and venture north across the mountains and foothills of North Carolina.

According to the Director of Caldwell County Emergency Services Tommy Courtner, the combination of local rainfall and runoff from the Boone and Linville Falls areas resulted in rising water levels that mainly impacted the Collettsville area.

The main source of the problem was the runoff and the local rainfall. Water levels in some creeks experienced an increase of a foot in as little as an hour.

Roads such as Wilson Creek Road, Old John’s River Road and Brown Mountain Beach Road were completely covered by standing water in some areas.

According to Chad Price of Collettsville Fire and Rescue, the Department of Transportation placed warning signs at those locations because the roads were impassable.

Price also said that many students left school early at Collettsville Elementary. He said that it was not an official early dismissal made by the school. Parents who picked up their children were simply deciding to take precautionary measures.

Courtner said that once the rain stopped, the water levels were able to slightly taper off.

Rainfall and runoff also washed away more of the shoulder of Buffalo Cove Road. The shoulder is located about 400 feet above the convenience site. The erosion increased the size of a hole that is about three feet away from the pavement and runs about 75 feet downhill.

Courtner said that the main concerns were for tourists in the area. He said that locals have dealt with this before and know what to expect whereas the tourists may not know the potential problems that may lie ahead. Rescue crews were dispatched to warn and help tourists evacuate some areas.

Courtner said that rescuers will remain on call until flood threats have passed.

He is also concerned about the potential threats that are posed by Hurricane Frances. Courtner said that the rain and wind that Frances may bring to Caldwell County next week may be a problem with such a short amount of recovery time from Thursday’s flooding.

Water rescue teams remained on call throughout the entire night, and Courtner said that he is very pleased with the preparedness of all the local fire departments and rescue squads. He said that Caldwell County will be ready for Frances, but for now Caldwell County Emergency Services will monitor all current flooding issues as well as those that may arise as a result of Frances.

The Google Negotiations, Part 1: Several sites considered

According to documents released by the North Carolina Department of Commerce this week, Google examined several other sites in North Carolina and discussed splitting its sever farm project between Caldwell County and Gaston County.

The materials were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the News-Topic and other media outlets. Additional documents by the Commerce Department, along with those from local government, are being prepared for release.

Google announced Jan. 18 that it will build a large-scale data processing center in the Overlook Drive and Virginia Street area of Lenoir. In addition to tax incentives granted by Caldwell County and Lenoir, the company received a $4.77 million Jobs Development Investment Grant from the state’s Economic Investment Committee. The state incentives are targeted to the creation of a minimum of 168 jobs by 2010.

A global leader in Internet search and Web applications, Google also obtained a tax exemption on power usage and computer equipment from the state.

IDENTIFYING A SITE

The state first became aware of Google’s interest in a Nov. 14, 2005 e-mail from Google representative Taliver Heath. In the e-mail Heath inquired about “what counties/regions should I be looking at for favorable property tax rates?”

One month later, Google Senior Leader Rhett Weiss met at the Duke Energy offices in Charlotte with the economic development directors of Burke County and McDowell County, along with Caldwell County Economic Development Commission Executive Director John Howard and Marketing Director Alan Wood. Harry Poovey, a state economic development manager for Duke Energy, also was at the meeting.

Google officials returned to the area in February and toured sites in Caldwell, Rutherford and Rockingham counties. After follow-up meetings with Caldwell and Rockingham officials Feb. 22-23, Caldwell emerged as the front-runner for the project. In a Feb. 24 e-mail to Poovey, Weiss said he would be returning to Lenoir “with a couple of professional engineers from the client’s consulting engineering firm to perform a detailed site investigation.”

SECRECY AND UNCERTAINTY

Google’s demands to keep the project quiet began in March, with the company pressing the Commerce Department to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). In a March 3 e-mail circulated within the Commerce Department, its general counsel and state legislative liaison Don Hobart said, “In light of the Department’s status under the public records and open meetings act, we will not enter into an NDA.”

Four days later, March 7, Weiss sent an e-mail to Commerce Department representative Peggy Anderson and said “please dissuade your department’s counsel from suggesting any changes (to the NDA) at all…Trust me, getting any changes made will take a long time if made at all…At best the project’s progress in NC will slow down appreciably relative to its progress elsewhere. That slow-down effectively could put NC out of the running due to timeline constraints.”

Anderson had written Weiss a day earlier, suggesting that “it would be a good idea to get a proposal from Gaston County on the Gaston Technology Park…The incentive proposal is their typical package. I have told them they will need to make it more attractive.”

In an e-mail to Howard March 8, Weiss forwarded the non-disclosure agreement for Lenoir and Caldwell County officials to sign. Weiss noted that the Commerce Department had not signed the NDA and said, &#8220Commerce’s failure so far to sign the NDA is causing the client concern and could have quite a chilling effect on the project and its communications, if this course continues.”

In a March 13 letter to Weiss, Commerce Secretary Jim Fain sought to assure him of confidentiality. “I will take the necessary steps to ensure that we limit access within our Department to the identity of the company and the existence of details of your project,” Fain said.

The next day Weiss met with Commerce and N.C. Department of Revenue officials then traveled to Lenoir for discussions with the Caldwell EDC, Caldwell Commission Chairwoman Faye Higgins, then-County Manager Bobby White, Lenoir Mayor David Barlow, City Manager Lane Bailey, Lenoir Planning Director Chuck Beatty, Bernhardt Furniture attorney Jason Hensley and Poovey. The trip also included a stop in Gastonia to tour its technology park.

By April 6, Anderson sent an e-mail to Hobart and said, “Rhett (Weiss) said that we are not considering sites other than Caldwell County at this time. If for any reason the buildings cannot be located on that site, we have other sites that have already been considered that we can fall back on. The client does not want me to expand the search at this time…The bottom line is that they want a break on the property tax, sales tax and possible Duke Power rate reduction.”

One week later, Weiss wrote to Howard about efforts by the company to acquire land owned by Bernhardt Furniture Industries. “(A)nother constraint I’m up against is, believe it or not, I have a small budget for land acquisition per se, and all these various and sundry parcels combined with Bernhardt’s prices are creating a brain teaser as to how to acquire everything within budget.

“We don’t want ‘free land’ on the one hand…but we also don’t want to deploy more capital there than need be…Between you and me, and I do not want this circulated, we will not pay Bernhardt’s prices for their parcels (clearly too high), but at this point I’m truly not sure what a reasonable counter-offer will be…”

In an April 21 memorandum from Anderson to Sandy Jordan, the Commerce Department’s director of business recruitment, she said, “Project H-3 is considering Caldwell County for a high-tech data center. They had planned to do a mega-site at the Lenoir location but do not feel that the site will accommodate the large footprints they have planned. They have asked for additional information on the Gastonia Technology Park as a possibility for splitting the project into two locations.

“The company is also considering South Carolina and New York for the project.”

Vote-buying defendants guilty

Guilty on all counts.

That was the jury’s verdict Friday afternoon in the trial of three Caldwell County men accused of conspiring to buy votes in the 2002 general election.

The jury deliberated for 2 1/2 hours before returning its verdict in Statesville. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Voorhees said it may take a couple of months before the court sentences Wayne Shatley, Carlos “Sunshine” Hood and Ross “Toogie” Banner.

According to Suellen Pierce, spokesperson the U.S. Attorney – Western District of North Carolina, Shatley could receive as many as 20 years in prison, Hood – 10 years imprisonment and Banner – 15 years.

The defendants were named in a nine-count federal indictment. Count One alleges that all three defendants along with Anita and Valerie Moore conspired to pay voters to vote and to register in the 2002 general election. The purpose of the conspiracy was to secure the election of the Republican Party’s nominees and party’s nominee for Caldwell County sheriff, Gary Clark.

Shatley, Hood and Banner were found guilty of Count One. Anita and Valerie Moore pled guilty to Count One earlier in the year and were witnesses for the prosecution in the four-day trial in U.S. District Court.

The testimony of the Moore sisters on Wednesday pointed at Shatley as financing and leading the criminal conspiracy.

Shatley was found guilty of Counts Two, Four and Seven. Count Two alleges that Shatley and Anita Moore offered to pay Latoya Craig to vote. In Count Four, Shatley and Anita Moore were accused of paying Donna Lynn Harshaw to vote. Count Seven alleges that Shatley, Anita Moore and Hood aided and abetted one another to pay Charles Harbison to vote.

Hood was also found guilty of Count Seven.

Banner was the defendant named in counts eight and nine. He was accused of paying Barbara Banner to vote in Count Eight. Count Nine states that Banner paid Herman “Pete” Michaux to vote.

According to testimony of the numerous witnesses who said they were paid to vote or to register to vote, voters were paid $25 to vote for Clark or a straight Republican ticket and $10 to register to vote.

At the conclusion of the trial, the defendants were not taken into custody and were allowed to leave. All three are currently free on $25,000 bond. Prosecutor Josh Howard motioned for Voorhees to revoke Shatley’s bond because the investigation into the conspiracy revealed that Shatley was a danger to society and a flight risk. But Voorhees denied the motion.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Matthew Martens reminded the jury that 16 persons had testified under oath that the trio along with the Moore sisters had bought or had attempted to buy their votes.

In the closing arguments of the three defense attorneys, they attacked the credibility of the witnesses, many of whom had criminal records. They said that the bank and phone records submitted by the prosecution did not substantiate the trio’s involvement in a criminal conspiracy. They were especially critical of the testimony of the Moore sisters.

It was noted that Anita Moore admitted to lying to under oath at the Caldwell County Board of Elections in December 2002 by denying her involvement in the conspiracy. It was also stated that it is up to the sole discretion of the prosecutors in the case to grant the sisters, who have not been sentenced yet, a reduction in their sentences. It was implied that they may have lied on the stand to please prosecutors.

“Their testimony was bought and paid for,” stated Banner’s attorney, Andrew Jennings.

Shatley’s attorney, Steven Brackett, stated that prosecutors coerced Anita Moore to pleading guilty. “She sold her soul and pled guilty to something she didn’t do. She folded up. Anita Moore was scared,” he told the jury.

Banner’s attorney, Victoria Jayne, said that Anita Moore was “the very definition of a lack of credibility.”

The defense attorneys all stated that the investigation was politically motivated. It was noted that the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation was first notified of the vote buying conspiracy by former Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office detective Eddie Taylor. Taylor lost his job when Clark was sworn into office after defeating former Caldwell County Sheriff Roger Hutchings in the election.

“Terror struck in the Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department. They had to dirty up the 2002 election,” Brackett told the jury.

While it was noted in trial that Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office investigators under Hutchings’ administration had video taped the vote buying activity, the video tape was not shown to the jury. The jury was reminded of this fact during the defense attorneys’ closing arguments.

“Why wasn’t the video tape shown? It’s because it doesn’t show the facts that the government wants you to see,” Jennings told the jury.

All of the defendants declined to comment on verdict. Brackett said he was disappointed with the outcome of the trial. “The important thing now is the sentencing,” he said.

Of the prosecution’s victory, Martens said, “We are pleased that justice was done.”

Fifteen people testified before the Caldwell County elections board in December 2002 that they sold their votes to a handful of people working at Caldwell County Republican headquarters in the days before the election.

Information presented at the hearing also implied that up to 250 voters sought to sell their votes. The lawyers for the Republican Party’s candidates claim only a handful of votes may have been changed. No one has linked either the GOP’s candidates or the Republican Party to the vote-buying.

In the 2002 general election, Clark won the sheriff’s race by 746 votes. Clark received 11,588 votes and former Sheriff Roger Hutchings, a Democrat, received 10,842 votes. Republicans Tim Sanders and Alden Starnes also defeated Democrat Bill Wall in the race for two seats on the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners.

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