A1 A1
Hauser is new North Wilkesboro mayor
  • Updated

Marc Hauser was elected North Wilkesboro’s new mayor on Nov. 2 with 309 votes, a strong 50% of votes cast in the race.

Michael Cooper received 230 votes (37.22%) in the mayoral race, followed by incumbent Robert Johnson with 49 votes (7.93%) and William Hamby with 30 votes (4.85%). Hauser, Cooper and Hamby were all first-time candidates.

Winning the two North Wilkesboro commissioner seats on the ballot were Otis Church with 339 votes (32.91%) and incumbent Angela Day with 291 votes (28.25%).

Voters returned two incumbents to Wilkesboro Town Council seats. Russ Ferree finished with 302 votes (44.15%) and Nellie Archibald with 290 votes (42.40%). Newcomer Lee Taylor received 83 votes (12.13). There were nine write-in votes.

North Wilkesboro had a 26% voter turnout, with 622 ballots cast. Wilkesboro had a 16.6% turnout, with 379 ballots cast. Combined, there was a 21% turnout.

Wilkesboro must have a second polling place, which is West Wilkes Middle School, for voters in portions of Cricket, Reddies River and Millers Creek precincts in the Wilkesboro town limits not contiguous to the rest of town. Two people voted there on Nov. 2.

The North Wilkesboro Elks Lodge on Cherry Street was used as the polling place for a North Wilkesboro town board election for the first time.

There were 312 ballots cast in early, one-stop voting, including 223 in North Wilkesboro and 89 in Wilkesboro. Twenty-two absentee ballots were cast in North Wilkesboro and 13 in Wilkesboro for a total of 35.

Municipal elections in Wilkes are non-partisan and all terms are for four years.

Mayoral race

Hauser said he wanted to thank everyone for their support and hard work and added that he faces a learning curve as mayor-elect. He started the process the day after Election Day and said he believes he is a fast learner.

On Nov. 3, Hauser met with Town Manager Wilson Hooper to learn more about the role of mayor. He received tutorials from North Wilkesboro commissioners on Nov. 3 and 4.

Hauser said the election outcome and what he was told while campaigning indicated “people wanted improvements and that there is a need for change.”

He said voters demonstrated their preference for a conservative platform in the mayor’s race and seemed to appreciate his experience in business. During the campaign, Hauser noted that he led people to achieve goals as a national sales manager for Honeywell before retiring about two years ago.

He said his goals as mayor include building unity on the North Wilkesboro Board of Commissioners and between North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro. He has known Wilkesboro Mayor Mike Inscore for many years and said Inscore reached out to him by phone soon after the election.

Hauser said he plans to bring up ways to move ahead during the “emerging issues” portion of town board meetings. “We need to move along at a more expedient pace (with town projects) and the commissioners seem to agree,” he added.

Hauser said he knows he can’t please everyone and won’t make promises he might not be able to keep, “but I want to try to do what is best for everyone.”

Johnson was seeking his fourth four-year term as mayor, having been first elected to the office in 2009, He served five four-year terms as a North Wilkesboro commissioner, from 1982-1994 and from 2000-2008.

Johnson said he feels good about what was accomplished in North Wilkesboro during his years in office. He said he looks forwards to having more time to devote to his work as an electrician and for pursuing other interests and opportunities.

Church, Day win board seats

Otis Church was a candidate for one of three North Wilkesboro commissioner seats on the ballot in 2019, finishing with 190 votes to third place finisher Bert Hall’s 205. He chairs the North Wilkesboro Planning Board but must step down from that board due to being a commissioner.

In an interview, Church thanked everyone who supported him. He said he was grateful and that he looks forward to working with the other commissioners and serving the people of North Wilkesboro for the betterment of the town. Church is co-owner and co-operator of A Baby Celebration (children’s boutique) on Main Street, North Wilkesboro.

Angela Day, re-elected to her second term as a commissioner, thanked all who supported and cheered her. “I am blessed to call North Wilkesboro home. This community means so much to me.”

Day said she is looking forward to working with Hauser and Church. “There is still much work to be done and I am looking forward to the challenges in the future.” She said citizens can call her at 336-927-0696. Day owns Ivy Ridge Traditions, a retail store on Main Street, North Wilkesboro, and is a Realtor.

Joe Johnston finished a close third in the North Wilkesboro commissioners race with 279 votes (27.09%), but Wilkes Board of Elections Director Kim Caudill said it wasn’t close enough for a recount. Johnston was appointed to an unexpired term in 2012, was elected in 2015 and didn’t seek re-election.

Jonathan Swift received 112 votes (10.87%), despite saying in September that he was leaving race due to being told the real estate transaction firm he works for prohibits employees from holding public office to avoid conflicts of interest. Ballots with his name were already printed.

Wilkes Board of Elections Director Kim Caudill said 214 voters marked their ballots for just one person for North Wilkesboro commissioner instead of the two allowed.

Commissioner Debbie Ferguson’s term ends in December, but she didn’t seek re-election.

In Wilkesboro

Ferree was elected to his third straight four-year term as a Wilkesboro councilman. Archibald was elected to her second consecutive four-year term. She was elected to the Wilkesboro council in 2009, but didn’t seek re-election when that term ended.

Archibald said she wanted to thank all the people who voted, but especially polling place workers for ensuring the elections are fair and safe.

She said she looks forward to working on more downtown improvements and expansion of Cub Creek Park, as well as major water and wastewater plant expansions. “We have housing and other projects underway and in planning phases. The next four years are going to be big in Wilkesboro.”

Ferree said the Wilkesboro election “turned out the way it should have” considering the winners were “two candidates who followed the rules and did it the Wilkesboro way — working together and with transparency.”

He added, “I enjoyed working with the council members each of my last two terms and look forward to working with them in the next four years…. Exciting things are going to happen.”

Ferree filed a complaint with the N.C. Board of Elections in late September over several “Vote for Lee W. Taylor” banners not having information stating who funded them. He said they were large enough (about 7 feet long, 3 feet tall) to require this under state law.

State Board of Elections spokesman Patrick Gannon said these requirements vary based on types of sign, but the state board generally has required that signs larger than 3-by-5 feet have language stating who funded them. Gannon said a person who spends money supporting a candidate without the candidate’s prior knowledge is responsible for meeting the requirements.

By Oct. 25, “Paid for by Ron Cohn” and “Not authorized by candidate” were added to the Taylor banners. Cohn said in an interview that he added this Oct. 22. Cohn also said he bought the banners and put them up on properties he owns in and near Wilkesboro without Taylor’s prior knowledge.

Right to life resolution passes
  • Updated

The Wilkes County commissioners unanimously approved a “resolution for life” at their Nov. 2 meeting, drawing applause from a standing-room-only crowd of about 230 people.

The 1 ½-page resolution said the commissioners urged Wilkes citizens “to promote and defend the unalienable right to life and the inherent dignity of all human beings, including the unborn, from conception or fertilization through all stages of development.”

The document said the county board also “resolves to use all means within its power to support the sanctity of human life in accordance with its God-given responsibilities as the people’s elected governing body.” Later in an interview, County Attorney Tony Triplett said the commissioners “don’t have authority to enact laws with respect to abortion, but they do have authority to express their collective opinion in the form of a resolution, which is what they did” Nov. 2.

The resolution and a request for commissioner approval of the document were received from the Rev. David Dyer, pastor of Fairplains Baptist Church. Triplett said he reviewed it for legal concerns and removed a portion identifying Wilkes as a “sanctuary for the preborn.”

Dyer said in an interview, “We’re certainly thankful for the resolution as it was read and passed. The tremendous turnout for the county commissioners meeting was encouraging as well.”

He added, “As for the future, we hope that the counties or cities that pass similar resolutions over the course of time will make our state legislature aware that there is widespread support in North Carolina for them to take action concerning protecting the life of the unborn.”

Resolutions similar to the one passed by the Wilkes commissioners were approved by the Davie County commissioners in October 2020 and by the Yadkin County commissioners in August 2019.

Dyer said right to life resolutions are in the process of being presented to local governing bodies elsewhere in North Carolina. He said they’re tied to a movement initiated by Centerville, Tenn.-based Personhood Alliance, which encourages churches to present such documents to their local county and municipal boards.

Dyer and Susan Sturgill, director of Wilkes Pregnancy Care Center, appeared before the commissioners at the Nov. 2 meeting on behalf of the request for approval of the resolution and were applauded after they spoke. Except for commissioners, no one else was given an opportunity to speak on the matter during the meeting.

Dyer said then that well over 30 churches and about seven denominations were represented at the meeting, held at the Wilkes Agricultural Center due to the large crowd expected.

He told commissioners that the resolution represented deeply held convictions of thousands of Wilkes citizens and added that 1,835 people signed a petition supporting its passage. “Men and women from across this county have signed this effort to declare that a child in the womb has equal value to you and to us.”

Dyer thanked people for attending and showing their support for the unborn. “That’s why we’re here, because they’re not. That’s why we speak, because they can’t. It’s our duty as followers of Christ to stand in the gap on their behalf.”

He said the Bible speaks clearly about the value of life and when life begins. Dyer cited Scripture saying God told the prophet Jeremiah that He knew him “before I formed you in your mother’s womb.” Similarly, said Dyer, the prophet Isaiah says in the Bible that God called him by name while he was in his mother’s womb.

Dyer said people have cried out and prayed for protection of unborn babies for a long time. “Our hearts are grieved that their innocence is so easily overlooked by this current culture. We are saddened when we hear the monthly and yearly statistics telling us that the lives of thousands upon thousands of those made in the image of God have been extinguished. As followers of Christ, we cannot stand by in silence and witness this.”

He said ultrasound machines allow people to see “the miracle of life in the womb,” so ignorance can’t be claimed regarding this issue. “God knows that we know the truth and He will hold us accountable for what we do with the truth.”

Dyer concluded, “This is the moment that we have been given that we as a county believe in the value of every person, including those who have yet to be born. Tonight, is a meaningful step that we take as a community to make it known that we stand boldly for life.”

Sturgill said the resolution represented what the pregnancy care center in Wilkes has been doing in Wilkes for 25 years. “It’s very heartening to see the community, which has supported this work for 25 years, come out in such great support.” She also said she doesn’t know another species that devalues their unborn like humans have.

The center is a non-profit, non-denominational organization offering positive alternatives to abortion, while providing care, compassion, information and support to women facing unintended pregnancies. It’s located on Eighth Street, North Wilkesboro, near the North Wilkesboro Post Office.

Eddie Settle, chairman of the commissioners, thanked Dyer and Sturgill for bringing the resolution before the board. Settle said the document didn’t pass judgment on anyone, but rather was “a voice for the unborn…. a stand for the right to life.”

He added, “We can’t pass a law in here, but we can pass a resolution. The Scripture says I knew you in the womb. To me that’s enough. That’s all I need to know. I certainly am prayerful that we have not aborted the person that had the cure for cancer.”

When Settle gave other board members the opportunity to speak, Commissioner Brian Minton stated, “I think we would be remiss if we didn’t recognize our former (state) senator, Shirley Randleman, for her tireless efforts in the legislature, passing laws to protect the unborn.” Randleman is Minton’s mother. She has announced her candidacy for the Senate in 2022, as has Settle.

Commissioner Keith Elmore said that when he entered the meeting room, he was asked if he would stand up for the unborn. “I said certainly. It was not a question.” Elmore noted that the commissioners just heard an update on Wilkes Department of Social Services and added, “I’d like people to stand up for the born also and remember these foster kids. If you’ve got the opportunity and you’re able to do it, it would be great to take the training” to become a foster parent because they’re needed. Elmore said he was a former foster parent.

Commissioner Casey Joe Johnson said he was excited all day about the meeting. He thanked people for their support of the resolution and said it’s an exciting night for Wilkes County and North Carolina. Johnson added that he is privileged to serve on the Wilkes Pregnancy Center board.

The resolution, which Settle read out loud, states that the U.S. Constitution provides for protection of human life and that the Declaration of Independence and N.C. Constitution say life is among certain rights all people are endowed with by God. It said protection of these rights “is an affirmative duty of federal, state and local governments.”

The document continues, “The federal judiciary has, in the opinion of the (Wilkes) Board of Commissioners, accumulated and exercised powers far in excess of its proper role under the United States Constitution in its rulings concerning the rights of the unborn and has violated the above stated precepts of the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution.”

An extra special Veteran's Day
  • Updated

Veterans Day is always doubly special for Warren Harding Brown of Fairplains Road, North Wilkesboro, due to his service in World War II and because it’s his birthday, but the significance is even greater this year.

Brown is preparing to celebrate his 100th birthday, which is Thursday, Nov. 11.

He was born to James Robert and Catherine Player Brown in 1921. His namesake, an advocate of full civil rights for Blacks, was sworn in as nation’s president that same year.

Brown was born in New York City, where his father (originally from Greensboro) had gotten a job driving a mail truck between New York and Philadelphia. His mother was originally from Alabama.

Brown was a young child when the family moved back to McDowell County, W.Va., after Brown’s father decided to return to work in a U.S. Steel coal mine. He had first moved there after leaving North Carolina.

Brown was class valedictorian when he graduated from Gary District High School in McDowell County in 1939. He was working as a plumber’s helper for U.S. Steel when he was drafted into the Army in late 1941, soon after the U.S. entered WWII.

Brown was inducted into the Army in Virginia and sent to Fresno, Calif., where he became part of the 445th Signal Battalion, activated in September 1942, and assigned to the Air Force (formerly Army Air Corps). Brown scored well on an Army aptitude test and initially was a corporal in Co. A of the 445th.

Because the military was segregated at that point, said Brown, “the only whites in our battalion were the officers.”

He added, “When we were in training, I advanced fast because we didn’t have any white non-commissioned officers.”

Brown later was acting first sergeant, but didn’t like that because it meant staying in camp under direct control of officers. “I wanted to be out in the field like everybody else,” he said.

The 445th installed telephone poles and lines on the West Coast before it was sent overseas to install communication systems in 1943, going from Newport News, Va., to North Africa briefly and then to India.

“We didn’t have it too bad, but they had us fighting just like the infantry. But we were trained for that,” said Brown, a platoon leader. He said he told men in his platoon, ‘If you expect to be back in the United States, you know what you have to do. Kill or be killed.”

Brown added, “The Japanese were trying to stop everything we were doing,” including when the 445th installed underwater cable to cross the Assam River in India. “The jungle we had to go through was infiltrated with the Japanese.”

Brown said, “Being a young man and not being accustomed to anything more than the coal mines, a whole lot of it was exciting to me.”

Brown said the Indian people had hard lives, but were curious about the communication lines being installed. Brown befriended some of the Indians until a major in the 445th ordered him to tell them to stay away. Brown can still recite the Indian phrase he learned to accomplish this.

He recalled having a furlough and going to Bombay, India, with a couple of other sergeants near the end of the war, when there was more free time.

“I hate to tell this but it happened. There was a Coca-Cola machine there (in Bombay) and I loved Cokes back when I was in West Virginia. It was three rupees for five Coca-Colas. I drank all five and didn’t share with nobody, but not all at one time,” said Brown.

“Coming out of that jungle, you were glad to get anything. You were glad to have a good bed.”

Brown was in India with the 445th when the Japanese surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, and remained there with the battalion for a few more months after the war ended.

He said he was offered a promotion to warrant officer or second lieutenant if he remained in the Army, but he was ready to leave the military. Brown was a staff sergeant when discharged.

He said race relations were a challenge during his time in the Army. Even though race wasn’t supposed to matter, white soldiers in other units that he outranked wouldn’t recognize this.

“I had a time with this, but I remember Oglethorpe, our main officer, said, ‘Sarge, don’t pay any attention to it. You do what you’re supposed to do and they’ll be responsible for what they don’t do.’ I never did forget that.”

Brown recalled being refused service at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., because of his race immediately after he was discharged.

He said he was accustomed to Black and white people working together without problems at U.S. Steel before he was drafted and found this to still be true when he returned to West Virginia to work for U.S. Steel after his discharge.

He said U.S. Steel counted his time in the military toward his retirement pay, giving him a total of 36 years.

Brown met the woman he married, Arlene Grimes, while working for U.S. Steel in McDowell County, W.Va. She was from North Wilkesboro but her father, Spencer Grimes, was working in West Virginia then.

They had been married for 66 years when Arlene Brown, a retired school teacher, died in 2016. They moved to Wilkes County in 1978, and lived in a home on Fairplains Road that Brown partially built with his own hands. He still lives there.

Brown has been a Sunday school teacher at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Fairplains since 1980, the same year he joined the church. He became a deacon there in 2002, and served as the church’s financial secretary for 18 years.

Brown said God richly blessed him, including with longevity, and he likes witnessing to others about Christ. He also enjoys reading his Bible.

He still drives, still mows his lawn and is known as a good cook, especially vegetable soup, potato salad and

baked cakes.

Brown was the second of nine children and has one surviving sibling, Roslyn Keith, and her husband, Eldridge Keith, of Hillside, N.J. He has a daughter, Gwen Latham, in Westbury, N.Y. Brown also has a sister-in-law, Connie Brown, in Los Angeles, Calif.

He has 17 nieces or nephews, 17 great-nieces or great-nephews and 14 great-great nieces or great-great nephews. Brown is a favorite uncle and patriarch in his family. The importance of family to him is demonstrated by the many photos of relatives on walls of his home.

Brown’s family is honoring him with a birthday celebration this weekend.

Report: Nonprofit hospital charity care lacking
  • Updated

A new report listing Wilkes Medical Center with the largest profit margin among the state’s 103 hospitals in 2019 says many of these hospitals don’t provide enough charity care to justify their tax exemptions.

The report, released Oct. 27, is based on a study by researchers at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and North Carolina’s State Health Plan. It showed Wilkes Medical Center (WRMC Hospital Operating Corp.) with a 37.21% profit margin and 3.79% of its expenses on charity care in 2019.

N.C. Treasurer Dale Folwell, who oversees the State Health Plan, requested the report and analysis. Current and retired state employees, teachers and legislators participate in the plan, making it the largest buyer of medical and pharmaceutical services and supplies in the state.

Under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules, nonprofit hospitals are expected to provide charity care and other community benefits in exchange for exemptions from federal, state and local taxes; to receive tax-deductible charitable donations; and for tax-exempt bonds.

The report said there are no minimum amounts of charitable care required for hospitals to keep nonprofit status and tax exemptions and no public entity determines if they fulfill their mission to provide charitable care. It said lawmakers need to know that tax exemptions aren’t achieving their intended purpose and that policymakers could consider requiring that nonprofit hospitals provide certain levels of charity care spending.

N.C. Healthcare Association (NCHA) spokesman Stephanie Strickland said the report “paints an inaccurate and misleading picture of North Carolina hospitals’ community investments and charity care spending.” She said the IRS audits required reports of charity care spending and hospitals can lose tax-exempt status due to non-compliance.

Strickland faulted the report for having data inaccuracies; inconsistencies such as switching back and forth between hospital-specific and system-wide data and using the non-standard term ‘excess profit margin’ to dramatize claims. She said it uses data that is nearly three years old, which is before the COVID-19 pandemic placed unprecedented financial pressures on nonprofit hospitals and health systems.

The report said there is a health care cost crisis in North Carolina. “Premiums and deductibles surpassed 13% of state median income — making the state one of the most expensive in the nation for health care for working families.” It also said there is little transparency regarding hospital practices for collecting bad debt.

The report found that the value of charity care provided by Wilkes Medical Center and about 80 other hospitals in North Carolina was less than the value of tax exemptions they received in 2019.

More than 85% of the hospitals in North Carolina were nonprofits in 2019, including Wilkes Medical Center. Of these 99 hospitals, the average profit margin was 8% and the average proportion of charity care to expenses was 3.8% in 2019. Among all N.C. hospitals, the average profit margin was 10.9%.

The report listed Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in Elkin with a 7.78% profit margin and 3.07% of its expenses on charity care. It listed Watauga Medical Center in Boone with a 4.53% profit margin and 1.62% of its expenses on charity care.

The report said hospitals with the largest profit margins provided the least amount of charity care relative to their net incomes, while those operating at a loss and with the narrowest profit margins “shouldered a larger burden of charity care spending relative to their financial ability to support such spending.”

It said Wilkes Medical Center and five other hospitals that were part of the Wake Forest Baptist Health, Atrium, Novant or Cone health systems had the highest profit margins in the state in 2019, all exceeding 30%.

Wilkes Medical Center is owned by the Town of North Wilkesboro but became part of the Winston-Salem-based Wake Forest Baptist Health system under a 30-year lease in July 2017. With the merger of Wake Forest and Atrium in October 2020, Wilkes hospital’s official name became Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Wilkes Medical Center.

The report says that in fiscal 2019-20 (before Wake Forest Baptist Health and Atrium merged), Wake Forest Baptist Health had tax exemptions worth $210.30 million and provided charity care worth $54.8 million. It said Atrium had tax exemptions worth $440.1 million and provided charity care worth $260.1 million.

Wake Forest Baptist reported that it provided $73.5 million in charity care in 2018-19, an $8 million increase over the previous year. It reported providing $14.6 million in community health initiatives, including Faith Health care; athletic trainer programs in the Forsyth, Davidson, Davie and Wilkes county schools; pastoral care counseling through CareNet; free medication; community donations; and Brenner FIT programs.

Wilkes Medical Center’s 990 report for 2019 said 7.750% ($16.9 million) of its total expense was community benefit spending (charitable care) in 2018. That was down from 13.72% ($21.1 million) the prior year.

Folwell said hospital 990 reports include patient care costs not covered by Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements as community benefit spending, which he said is misleading because hospital charges often are too high due to lack of competition.

The report said many North Carolina hospitals use bad debt and Medicare underpayments to unjustly inflate community benefit spending.

Folwell said only the value of health care provided by hospitals without charge should be considered charitable care. This information, submitted by hospitals to the government, was the basis for the report he requested.

The value of health care provided without charge and of tax exemptions for Wilkes Medical Center weren’t available from Folwell’s office.

The IRS identifies eight categories of community benefits — charity care; unreimbursed costs from Medicaid; community health improvement projects; unfunded research; community donations; subsidized services provided at a loss that aren’t means-tested; and unreimbursed costs from other “means-tested” programs and from education of health professionals.