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8 on ballot in North Wilkesboro; 3 in Wilkesboro
  • Updated

Otis W. Church

Angela J. Day

Robert L. Johnson

Russell F. Ferree

Candidates for two North Wilkesboro commissioner seats on the ballot this year doubled to four and a fourth person filed as a candidate for mayor of the town before the filing period ended at noon Friday, July 16.

There were no additional filings for two Wilkesboro councilman seats on the ballot beyond the two incumbents and one challenger listed in the July 14 issue of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.

The third and fourth candidates for the two North Wilkesboro commissioner seats are Otis W. Church and Jonathan Swift, who filed July 13, and July 15, respectively.

William Hamby became the fourth North Wilkesboro mayoral candidate on July 16.

Swift, 38, of E Street, is seeking elected office for the first time. He is a Realtor with Ward & Ward Properties in Wilkesboro. Swift said that with more people moving to Wilkes County due to a variety of factors, “we are in a unique position to grow in North Wilkesboro and we need to capitalize on this.” He cited the expanding presence of Samaritan’s Purse in North Wilkesboro as one positive factor offering potential.

Church, 75, of Finley Avenue, narrowly missed being elected when he ran for one of three commissioner seats on the ballot in 2019. Church finished with 190 votes to third place finisher Bert Hall’s 205. Church is co-owner and co-operator of A Baby Celebration (children’s boutique) on Main Street, North Wilkesboro. He also chairs the North Wilkesboro Planning Board. “My primary concern is that there are a lot of (town) projects on the books, but nothing ever seems to get done,” he said. Church said he wants to represent the town in a positive manner.

Hamby, 73, of Hinshaw Street, is seeking elected office for the first time. He has been self-employed with multiple businesses, including now with a used vehicle business called Trucks & Cars on N.C. 115 in North Wilkesboro. Hamby said he also buys, improves and then sells property. He said it’s time for changes in North Wilkesboro government, including those that make it less difficult to have a small business in the town. Hamby said he sees too much traffic going to Wilkesboro due to what North Wilkesboro lacks.

Other candidates for North Wilkesboro mayor are incumbent Robert L. Johnson, 77, of Seventh Street, seeking his fourth term as mayor; Michael Cooper, 35, of Townsend Street, and Marc R. Hauser, 67, of F Street. Hauser and Cooper are both are seeking elected office for the first time.

Johnson is an electrical contractor. Hauser was a national sales manager for Honeywell before he retired. Cooper is regional government affairs director for the N.C. Association of Realtors.

The other candidates for North Wilkesboro commissioner are incumbent Angela J. Day, 50, of J Street, and Joseph A. Johnston, 69, of 10th Street. Day is seeking her second term. Johnston served six years as a North Wilkesboro commissioner before not seeking reelection in 2019.

Day is a Realtor and owns and operates Ivy Ridge Traditions on Main Street, North Wilkesboro. Johnston owns and operates Johnston Casuals, a furniture manufacturer in North Wilkesboro.

North Wilkesboro Commissioner Debbie Ferguson is up for reelection this year but didn’t file.

First time candidate Lee W. Taylor and incumbents Nellie Hubbard Archibald and Russell F. Ferree are running for the two Wilkesboro councilman seats on the ballot.

Taylor, 77, of East Main Street, is licensed as a United Methodist minister and serves as assistant pastor of the Union-Arbor Grove charge. He is retired from Wells Fargo, where he worked in a trust department.

Ferree, 70, of Shady Lane, is seeking his third term as a Wilkesboro councilman. He is an attorney with an office in downtown Wilkesboro.

Archibald, 56, of Forest Hill Drive, was elected to the Wilkesboro council in 2009. She didn’t seek reelection when that term ended, but was elected in 2017. She was advertising director of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot before retiring earlier this year.

All municipal elections in Wilkes are non-partisan elections and all terms on governing bodies of the towns are for four years.

Election Day is Nov. 2 and one-stop voting starts Oct. 14.

Murder suspect caught in Ronda park
  • Updated

A man charged with murder in a fatal shooting in eastern Wilkes County early Sunday morning was apprehended about 11 a.m. Monday, the Wilkes Sheriff’s Office reported.

Donald Ray Lassiter, 36, was taken into custody by officers from the sheriff’s office in the Ronda Town Park and transported to the Wilkes County Jail, said Chief Deputy James Summers of the sheriff’s office.

Lassiter was charged with murder Sunday in the death of Stephanie Nicole Hatton, 25, of Kernersville. Summers said the sheriff’s office found Lassiter’s vehicle in the Ronda Town Park parking lot. Authorities had been looking for him since he was charged.

Sheriff’s office deputies were dispatched to a home at 8521 Greenhorn Road, which is in the Benham community, about 4:30 a.m. Sunday in response to a report of a shooting there and found Hatton deceased from a gunshot wound.

Lassiter’s address is listed in records as 8521 Greenhorn Road, Elkin. The brick and wood frame home there is near Benham Baptist Church, about 6 1/2 miles northwest of Elkin.

Investigators from the sheriff’s office and State Bureau of Investigation were on the scene until about 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

“This is an active and ongoing investigation. No further information is available at this time,” the release said.

Wilkesboro also closing recycling centers

Wilkesboro’s recycling centers on School Street and in Cub Creek Park will be permanently closed after Aug. 31 due to people using them to dispose of non-recyclables, said Town Manager Ken Noland.

The Town of North Wilkesboro’s only recycling center was closed June 1 for the same reason. It was in a far end of the Memorial Park behind the North Wilkesboro ABC Store.

Noland said people are using the two Wilkesboro sites to dispose of whatever non-recyclable products and materials they can fit through openings of bins and piling up larger items behind the bins.

Friday afternoon, pillows, blankets, carpet, wooden pallets and other non-recyclables were piled up behind two rows of bins at the recycling center in the Wilkesboro Civic Center parking lot on School Street.

A sign on the front of one of the bins announced the permanent closure of the site after Aug. 31. It also said no dumping is allowed in or around the recycling bins and warned that the “site is under video surveillance and violators will be prosecuted.”

Despite this warning, a wooden headboard was leaning against the same bin, immediately below the sign.

The situation was similar at North Wilkesboro’s recycling center behind the town’s ABC store.

Hooper said closure of the North Wilkesboro facility resulted from numerous complaints from town citizens about its unsightliness “and confirmed reports of regular trash being placed in the containers…. Individuals were also using the facility to dump large furniture and appliances.”

Both towns offer their residents and businesses curbside pickup of recyclables and provide containers for this.

With that in mind, said Noland, “we’re serving people outside town with the recycling centers.” He noted that a town recycling center at an apartment complex off Woodfield Way is remaining open because is isn’t feasible to collect recyclables from individual apartment units there.

Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro residents and businesses both pay their respective towns $10 per month for weekly curbside pickup of garbage and recyclables in rollout containers provided by the towns. Businesses can opt to pay more and also get dumpsters for solid waste collected by town personnel.

Residents and businesses don’t have to separate their recyclables for collection by town personnel, but it’s $10 per month either way.

Noland and Hooper said their town governments have had to pay North Wilkesboro-based Foothills Sanitation & Recycling for recyclables town personnel collect and take to Foothills since a trade war with China in the Trump administration caused the loss of the Chinese recyclables market.

Since May 2019, both towns have paid Foothills $30 per ton of recyclables.

Foreign trade issues are among multiple factors that make demand and prices for recyclables highly volatile.

Husband and wife Jeff and Janet Miller of Wilkes have owned and operated Foothills since starting it in the mid-1990s.

Noland provided a copy of a letter from GFL (Green For Life) Environmental sent to the town last week saying Foothills Sanitation is now GFL Environmental. The letter said, “GFL acquired your account from Foothills Sanitation & Recycling on July 1….”

The letter also said, “On matters related to service scheduling, pricing, contracts and partnerships, all operations will remain business as usual.” It said GFL is the fourth largest diversified environmental services company in North America.

Hooper said Monday that he wasn’t aware of a change in ownership of Foothills and noted that the town recently renewed a contract with Foothills with the $30 per ton fee for recyclables.

Noland and Hooper both said that with the Wilkes County Landfill charging their respective towns $43 per ton for solid waste dumped there and with disposal of recyclables costing them $30 per ton, it’s still cheaper to have as much of their waste flow as possible recycled.

Not charging residents or businesses extra for picking up recyclables and then having to pay to dispose of them means these costs are covered by tax dollars, said Hooper.

He said this use of tax dollars is offset by the fact that diverting recyclables from the landfill reduces additional landfill space county government must fund and helps keep landfill “tipping” (dumping) fees down for the town.

Hooper also noted environmental benefits of promoting recycling, including reducing trash along North Wilkesboro streets and in yards.

Wilkes Solid Waste Director Anderia Byrd said she was aware of GFL purchasing accounts in Wilkes from Foothills, including Wilkes County government.

“We do not anticipate any changes in the foreseeable future” as a result of the change in ownership, said Byrd. “I believe they (GFL) will be a positive presence.” She said she was told GFL plans to expand the recycling portion of the local operation. The facilities of Foothills are on Boone Trail, North Wilkesboro.

Foothills collects mixed recyclables at county government’s four manned convenience centers, as well as school trash and recyclables at 19 of the 22 Wilkes schools under a contract with the county.

Byrd said that for two years, the county has paid Foothills $33 per ton for recyclables it collects. She said this resulted from a downturn in the recyclables market related to the trade war with China, which she said caused some municipal governments elsewhere to end recycling programs.

“It’s still more beneficial for Wilkes to recycle as much as possible rather than consume valuable landfill space,” she added.

In fiscal 2019-20, Foothills collected 483.43 tons of mixed recyclables for Wilkes County government and was paid $15,953. In fiscal 2020-21, the county paid Foothills $15,283 for collecting 463.14 tons of mixed recyclables.

Byrd said these totals don’t include cardboard because Foothills can still make a profit collecting and selling cardboard without charging a collection fee.

She said county government doesn’t have problems with non-recyclables being left in or near recycling bins at the four manned county convenience centers, nor is it a problem at the county’s unmanned convenience center near Crossfire United Methodist Church on N.C. 115

Among the school sites, she said, it’s mainly a problem at Mulberry-Fairplains and Millers Creek elementary schools due to the distance of containers from school buildings there.

There is at least one company in Wilkes that picks up mixed recyclables from homes outside the Wilkesboros for a monthly fee.

Garris will retire as Wilkesboro police chief on Oct. 1

Craig Garris has announced his retirement as the Wilkesboro police chief, effective Oct. 1, after serving as chief since December 2015.

His successor will likely come from within the town’s police department, according to Town Manager Ken Noland. “I will be posting an internal candidate search for chief; I don’t expect any need to go external,” said Noland during a town council work session at the Wilkesboro Civic Center on July 13.

Noland added, “Council has asked for an (internal) succession in all our departments over the years, and we feel confident we have that in the police department, too. There’s three guys over there who are high up enough to apply” for chief.

Noland also announced on July 13 that Capt. Tommy Rhodes had been promoted to major, which means he’s the department’s second-in-command.

Garris, 53, was sworn in as Wilkesboro police chief in December 2015, replacing the retiring Robert Bowlin.

He is a 29-year veteran of the Wilkesboro Police Department. Prior, he served two years and seven months with the North Wilkesboro Police Department.

Before being named chief, Garris served as interim chief for 90 days and as deputy chief from May 2014 to December 2015. Wilkesboro has not had a deputy chief since Garris was named chief.

A native of Traphill, Garris has been with the Wilkesboro Police Department since February 1990. He worked as a patrol officer for more than 11 years at the start of his career. He was promoted to sergeant in 2001 and to lieutenant in 2007.

Garris was over the patrol division until 2009, when he became the investigative division manager. He served in that role until 2011, when he returned to the patrol division and was promoted to captain.

He was promoted to the rank of major in 2014.

Garris is a 1986 graduate of North Wilkes High School. He graduated from basic law enforcement training at Wilkes Community College in 1989 and holds a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice from Gardner-Webb University.

Garris comments

In an interview last week, Garris said he plans to travel as much as possible when he retires. “I will see where the road takes me, but I have completed my law enforcement career.”

Garris said that of the many goals and ideas he’s implemented in Wilkesboro for public safety, the core one is “that people should feel that we have performed our duties with respectful service. It’s been my goal that we have helped them in some way, big or small and each day we are making a difference. I am happy that we have accomplished that over the last six-plus years and I’m sure that we have in place the personnel to continue that success.”

As the head of a 22-person force, Garris said that the personnel under him “bring skill sets that are just amazing. We have a knowledgeable traffic crash reconstruction team, a well-equipped special response team, a K9 team, bicycle patrolling, making charitable efforts, experienced and trained investigators and strive toward staying ahead of trends in our profession.”

Garris said that due to the support of Noland, the town council and Mayor Mike Inscore, “We have great equipment and always are looking for better ways to do things through training and best practices. I wanted us to be a very comprehensive department within our community that addresses quality of life issues—not just enforcing the law and responding to calls—and I think we’ve done that.”

Concerning his replacement, he said, “I feel it is very important for any agency, company, or entity to always look within for the next leader and prepare all employees to look for taking on extra responsibility. I am confident that we have people in place to keep Wilkesboro a safe and great place to live, as they are dedicated to our mission.”

Reflecting on the people who have helped him in his law enforcement career, Garris said, “I wouldn’t be where I am today, first and foremost, if it wasn’t for the support of my wife, Donna, of almost 32 years as my schedule included lots of nights, holidays and weekends for a long time.”

Garris said his father, Jerry Garris, was a Wilkes deputy and later retired from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. “I wanted to follow his career path, so I owe a lot to him. My mother, Linda, instilled in me the qualities and ethics to do the job.”

He thanked Gary Parsons, Barry Brown and Robert Bowlin as the chiefs who hired him and influenced his career. The Wilkesboro police staff “have always supported me and that is reciprocal, and that is so very important to actually enjoy your work.”

Garris continued, “There are so many educators and mentors I can’t list them all, but I have been very blessed to have grown up here and worked the job that I was born to do.”

He also acknowledged the people of Wilkesboro and Wilkes County “for supporting the job that we do and realizing that it’s an imperfect world, but law enforcement are out here doing our best to make it a better place to live in.”

Garris concluded, “The police are the public and the public are the police, and without that type of support, that community is a place you don’t want to live in. Wilkes is a great place to live.”