Controversy Marks Many Top 10 Stories
BY DAVID SINCLAIR
O n a series of 3-2 votes, the Moore County Board of Commissioners have moved forward with the plan to build an expanded jail-public safety complex in downtown Carthage - much to the chagrin of critics.
The plan included issuing $50 million in limited-obligation bonds, which does not require a public referendum something that further infuriated a small but vocal group of opponents. They have filed a lawsuit trying to block construction of the enlarged jail.
It was one of the stories that dominated the headlines this year, generating spirited - and sometimes downright nasty - comments through the letters section and on thepilot.com like no other.
Members of the Pilot's news staff recently voted the jail expansion and bond issue as the No. 1 news story of 2010 in Moore County. It will likely carry over to the new year. A hearing takes place next month on the lawsuit.
Closely following the jail expansion is the North Carolina Supreme Court's decision not to block the annexation of Pinewild Country Club by the village of Pinehurst.
That ended a long and bitter battle by some residents of the gated country club to stop the annexation. They formally threw in the towel in May, dropping all appeals. The village finally completed the annexation effective Feb. 28.
The drawn-out Pinewild annexation battle has been a mainstay on the Top 10 list for several years.
Several other stories from last year also made the 2010 list, including what was the No. 1 story from 2009 - the Pinelake nursing home massacre. A judge ruled in November that the trial for Robert Kenneth Stewart, who is accused of gunning down seven elderly patients and a nurse at the Carthage nursing home in March 2009, will take place in Moore County in July, with the jury to be selected from Stanly County. Defense attorneys wanted the trial moved from Moore County, arguing that Stewart would not get a fair trial here because of the publicity.
Also on the legal front, the surviving soldier from the tragic 2003 Robin Sage shooting settled his lawsuit against the county, the Sheriff's Office and the deputy who shot him. A federal judge later threw out the deputy's suit against the Army. The deputy shot two student soldiers near Robbins, not realizing they were taking part in a Special Forces training exercise. The other soldier died.
Another big news event happened over the summer when four armed men attempted to rob a convenience store on U.S. 1 in Lakeview. The suspects probably were not expecting that 78-year-old Angus Kelly would show up to pick up his wife, Gracie, who worked there as a clerk.
As the robbery was going down, Angus Kelly pulled out a gun and fired into the store, trying to defend his wife. One of the suspects was hit in the face, and his wife was struck in the arm. But Angus Kelly was also struck in the chest in the exchange. He died two weeks later. The incident led to an outpouring of support from the small community for the Kelly family.
Both of the county's two charter schools dealt with controversy this year.
In March, the state school board voted against renewing the charter for The Academy of Moore County, citing poor academic performance. The school challenged the decision and ultimately prevailed, reaching a settlement with the state in August.
The state placed the STARS charter school on governance probation for a series of violations of its bylaws by its own board. That led to a lawsuit, which was settled out of court.
This year saw four of the five suspects charged in the murder of 12-year-old Emily Haddock - voted the No. 1 story of 2007 - face their judgment, including the confessed killer. In August, Michael Graham Currie asked the Haddock family for forgiveness before he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
The five suspects broke into the Haddock home near the Moore-Harnett County line. Emily was home sick from school that day. The intruders did not expect to find anyone there.
Two other entries from Pinehurst made the top 10 - the planned expansion by The Village Chapel and the failure of the village's planned purchase of the water and sewer treatment facilities at a Wagram textile plant.
Rounding out the list was the big victory by Republicans, both nationally and on the state level, in the Nov. 2 election.
The Pilot's staff members chose the top 10 stories from a list of 19 nominees.
News value, the main criterion in the judging, is an admittedly subjective and hard-to-define measure. It is not necessarily the same as long-term community importance - though that, too, factored into the staff's consideration. Other criteria included reader interest and the amount of coverage given to each story.
Here are the top 10 news stories of 2010:
- Jail Expansion
On a 3-2 vote Oct. 19, the Moore County Board of Commissioners accepted a design and development phase plan for the public safety-detention center to be constructed on a 21-acre tract adjacent to the existing jail in downtown Carthage.
Commissioners Jimmy Melton, Nick Picerno and Larry Caddell voted for the plan. Commissioners Tim Lea and Cindy Morgan cast the dissenting votes.
The detention center would initially be large enough to house 192 inmates. However, the facility is designed for future expansion to house as many as 500 inmates but not more than 600.
The public safety portion of the other building would house the Sheriff's Office, now in the basement of the Courts Facility, along with the the fire marshal, emergency medical services, emergency communications and 911 center and related safety agencies. They are now located in the Currie Building next door to the library and a block from the existing jail.
The commissioners decided not to build a proposed county government office building on the site because they may decide to use the same site for a new and much larger courts facility. The county bought the property for $1.5 million.
The board voted along the same 3-2 lines in June to approve issuing $50 million in limited obligation bonds, which does not require a public referendum, which touched off another storm of opposition. The board repeatedly rebuffed calls for a referendum.
About $40 million of the bond issue is designated for the planned public safety-jail complex. The remaining $10 million is to pay for utility capital improvements in Pinehurst, a debt to be paid by ratepayers, not from property taxes.
The board voted 3-2 in September to award a $27.2 million construction contract. Work is under way on the site, despite legal efforts by opponents o block it
Melton said during that meeting that he feels comfortable with his decision and pointed out that the board has studied the matter since 2007.
"I can understand why everyone has strong feelings about this," he said. "I have strong feelings, too. I feel that this is the right thing to do. It is the right plan. It is the right time, and it is the right size."
Lea read a statement into the record repeating his previous objections and said the county had never encumbered a debt in excess of $10 million without a referendum.
"In my opinion, it was bad policy to buy the Grimm property for $1.5 million," he said, adding that the savings from a new project could possibly help meet county education needs.
Morgan acknowledged the need for the new jail but said the county should have handled the project in a different manner.
"It has nothing to do with the need," she said of her objections to the existing plan. "It has to do with the finance."
Charges of conflict of interest were also directed at Caddell and Picerno because of their connection with Southern Software, which provides computer software for the sheriff and related agencies.
Picerno, elected chairman of the board earlier this month, no longer takes an active part in the company's operations but does serve as chairman of the board. Caddell now serves as CEO.
However, some of the software was purchased before both men's service on the board, and other software was donated by the company. Picerno was not a commissioner when the two transactions were made.
A number of Carthage residents also oppose the jail expansion on that site. They argue that the expanded jail is too close to an elementary school, public library and a church and that it would turn Carthage into a jail town.
Jail foe Bert Patrick, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor on an anti-jail platform in 2009, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the jail expansion. A hearing will be held Jan. 10 on a preliminary injunction. Meanwhile, crews have continued working on the site of the expanded jail and pubic safety offices.
"I'm not against a new detention center," Patrick said during a public hearing in September. "I'm not against the sheriff. I'm against putting this monster on top of our children."
- Pinewild Annexation
The village of Pinehurst finally annexed Pinewild effective Feb. 28, ending a long and bitter legal battle.
On Jan. 28, the state Supreme Court denied the last appeal from annexation opponents.
The Village Council adopted an ordinance to annex Pinewild effective June 30, 2008, but it was put on hold pending resolution of state and federal lawsuits. All of the rulings along the way favored the village but were appealed.
"It's time to get past the rancor," Village Manager Andy Wilkison said in February, "and move forward with providing them the very best services we can. Hopefully, [Pinewild residents] will eventually be happy they're in the village and continue to be the productive citizens they have been.
"[Those against annexation] fought the good fight and raised some interesting questions. The court's ruled. It's time for all of us to abide by that and move on."
In May, Pinewild annexation opponents abandoned all remaining appeals. One appeal had been headed by Doug Aitken, and the other by Lydia and John Boesch, along with groups of other Pinewild property owners who did not want to be part of the village.
StTOP, which stands for Stop the Taking of Pinewild, was the name of the group the Boesches helped organize to fight annexation in the courts. It did not, in the end, prevent annexation.
Once the village had taken in the gated community, John Boesch said it was time to make peace.
"People out here by and large are happy with the form of the annexation," Boesch said. "The focus now is to support FAC. That is still an issue that concerns people."
FAC, the Fair Annexation Coalition, has some 17 chapters across the state of North Carolina. Aitken and others are pushing the N.C. General Assembly to reform the state's involuntary annexation law.
- Lakeview Robbery
On the night of June 28, Angus "Gene" Kelly went to pick up his wife, Grace, at the Exxon Short Stop and Food Mart on U.S. 1 in Lakeview, where she worked as a clerk.
As he arrived, four suspects were attempting to the rob the store. The 78-year-old man pulled out a gun and fired it into the store. One of the suspects was hit in the face, and his wife was struck in the arm. Angus Kelly was shot in the chest in the exchange of gunfire with the suspects. He died July 9 at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where he had been since the incident.
Four suspects - Randy Joel Williams, 17, Paris Yusef Mack, 17, Leroy Richard Medley Jr., 20, all of Southern Pines, and Demarcus James Dennison, 18, of Polkton - were caught and initially charged with two counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, and first-degree kidnapping. They were later charged with Kelly's murder.
The incident led to an outpouring of support from the community.
Mark Metcalf, a family friend, called Gene Kelly a "fixture in the community," and said his death was a great loss personally and for the community.
"He was one of those guys in a (Norman) Rockwell painting, who are slowly fading away," Metcalf said in July. "This community is stunned right now, but you will see that it will pull together and Gracie will get through this. We'll make sure of that."
- Charter School Issues
Last March, the State Board of Education voted not to renew The Academy of Moore of Moore's charter, citing poor academic performance.
Parents, along with the school's faculty, protested the board's decision, saying it was based on poor test scores from previous years. They said the school was making progress and improving.
The school had met both federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and the state's expected growth goals for the past two years.
During a hearing in June, Administrative Law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. granted a stay on the state board's decision, which allowed The Academy to remain open for the 2010-2011 year. Without the stay, the school would have been closed June 30.
In August, the charter school resolved its case with the State Board of Education, a day before mediation talks were scheduled to begin between the two parties.
The school must meet specific academic benchmarks over this year to have its charter renewed for another four years, according to Kieran Shanahan, a Raleigh attorney who represents The Academy of Moore County.
Shanahan said the agreement allowed the school and the State Board of Education to move forward with a shared understanding of what is best for students at the Academy.
"It really puts the Department of Public Instruction and the school on the same sheet of music, and that is educating these kids in the best possible manner," Shanahan said at the time. "We're delighted for the resolution, and I know The Academy is very pleased to have this matter put behind them."
STARS, the county's other charter school, was also embroiled in troubles of its own.
The Office of Charter Schools placed the board on "governance probationary status" July 16 after learning that the board has been out of compliance with its own bylaws and had violated the state Open Meetings Law. The state agency received complaints from parents and teachers about the board's unwillingness to adhere to term limits called for in the bylaws and to properly hold open meetings accessible to all members of the public.
The probation, which lasts through June 30 of 2011, requires that the board provide the Office of Charter Schools with information that is normally required by the Open Meetings Law, such as proper notice of regularly scheduled and special called meetings, along with making meeting minutes available.
On Aug. 6, a lawsuit was lodged by several board members and representatives of the PTO against other board members.
Though mediation came to an impasse, both parties reached an agreement during a hearing in Superior Court.
The board is moving forward with efforts to improve the school. A new principal will start work Jan. 3.
- Robin Sage Decision
A federal judge in September dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former Moore County sheriff's deputy against the Army over a fatal shooting during the Robin Sage exercise eight years ago.
Deputy Randall Butler shot 1st Lt. Tallas Tomeny and Sgt. Stephen Phelps in the parking lot of Acorn Ridge Baptist Church near Robbins in February 2002. Tomeny died, and Phelps was badly wounded. Both were training to become Green Berets in an exercise in which student soldiers pretend they have been secretly inserted in a foreign country.
Butler said he was unaware that the soldiers and a civilian driver were part of the military training exercise that is conducted in Moore and several surrounding counties.
Investigations conducted in 2002 by the State Bureau of Investigation, the Army's JFK Special Forces Center and School at Fort Bragg and the district attorney's office all concluded that it was a tragic accident resulting from a misunderstanding. No criminal charges were filed, but two years later, Phelps and Tomeny's family sued the county, Sheriff Lane Carter and Butler, charging excessive use of force.
In January, Phelps agreed to dismiss his claims against the Moore County Sheriff's Office and Butler in an out-of-court settlement under which he was to receive $580,000. A federal jury's award in a 2009 trial was bypassed, because no judgment had been entered before the case settled.
Toomey's estate settled its lawsuit for $65,000 on the day trial was to begin,
As a result of the incident, the Army changed some of its procedures to prevent such a tragic misunderstanding from ever happening again.
- Haddock Case Pleas
The admitted killer of 12-year-old Emily Haddock asked her family to forgive him Aug. 10 before he was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
"First I would like to apologize to the victim's family, the DA, and all I have hurt," Michael Graham Currie said in Moore County Superior Court. "I am not cruel or anything like that. The only thing I am asking for is the solitude of forgiveness. If you will grant me that, I will greatly appreciate it."
Haddock's mother, Joy, was allowed to address Currie before sentencing.
"You sit here today and get a sentence of the rest of your life in prison," she said. "We got our life sentence on Sept. 11, 2007. We were sentenced to a life without Emily. There is a punishment that never goes away. In my heart, it will never heal. You have taken away a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a friend."
"When we go home today, Emily is still not there. We will still do things in her memory and nourish the spark of her life. The memories we have are the only thing you can never take away. May God bless you."
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb then imposed the life sentence - something the Haddock family wanted and that both defense and prosecution had agreed to in a plea bargain that spared Currie the risk of a death sentence.
A week earlier, Currie had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
On Sept. 11, 2007, Currie and others broke into the family's double-wide manufactured home on Marks Road near the Moore-Harnett county line. Haddock was home from school with strep throat. The intruders did not expect to find anyone in the home.
Currie shot Haddock in the mouth and the top of the head with a stolen .22-caliber pistol when he encountered her, according to his previous admission in an earlier hearing.
Four other suspects were charged in the murder.
In October, Van Roger Smith Jr., 19, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 58 to 79 months in prison. With 37 months served in jail awaiting trial, Smith could be out in less than two years.
Ryan Jermar White, 18, of Sanford, pleaded guilty in September to being an accessory and was sentenced to 40 months in prison.
Sherrod Nicholas Harrison pleaded guilty in June to being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder in return for his testimony against the other suspects.
Webb sentenced Harrison to serve 93 to 121 months in state prison, the time to run concurrently with present sentences. He would get credit for time served awaiting trial since his arrest in the fall of 2007 - reducing his time in prison to about seven years.
The deal was an Alford plea, meaning he didn't admit actual guilt but took the agreement as being in his interest.
The only remaining suspect yet to go to trial is Perry Ross Shiro. His first-degree murder trial was set for Jan. 3, 2011. But his attorney, Richard Roose, does not expect that trial to take place. The Moore County grand jury indicted Shiro on a charge of being an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder, and the state is expected to proceed on that charge.
- Wagram Deal Failure
Pinehurst's bid to buy water and wastewater treatment plants in Scotland County for $5.5 million ended in March.
Village Manager Andy Wilkison said at the time that the Scotland County Board of Commissioners had still not approved the deal, and it didn't appear that would change. The owner of the plants - WP Properties Wagram - was shopping them to private entities, he said.
"As far as the village of Pinehurst being the lead agency in trying to make something happen that would involve the Wagram plants and their use for the public in the Lumber River basin, I think that initiative has stalled out, probably permanently," Wilkison said then, adding, however, there is still the possibility that another public entity could take up the cause.
The two plants served a former Westpoint-Pepperell textile plant. The village announced its intention to purchase the plants in July 2009.
According to state law, the Scotland County Board of Commissioners has the right to approve or deny the sale of utilities to an entity that is from outside the county.
Village officials who supported the deal said the plants not only would help alleviate Pinehurst's water issues, but also would be a resource for the entire region.
The village had hoped to form a consortium of partners - neighboring counties and municipalities - to utilize the facilities.
Mayor Ginsey Fallon said that if anything, Pinehurst's bid to acquire the facilities has raised public consciousness and the visibility of the resource.
She said the village would continue to study the possibility of additional wells to supplement its water supply. She stressed the importance of conservation and planning for the future.
The Moore County Board of Commissioners expressed its preliminary interest in the facilities and agreed to join other communities in seeking a grant to study the plants' potential.
- Chapel Expansion
After two days of discussion, the Pinehurst Historic Preservation Commission on Oct. 1 issued a certificate of appropriateness for The Village Chapel's proposed learning center, the second of three hurdles the church must clear.
It included a condition that the village planning staff work with representatives from the church to revisit parking issues. Thursday's special meeting was the continuation of a hearing that began Sept. 30.
The Village Council approved issuing a major special-use permit in August after a holding a quasi-judicial hearing that took two days. The site plan must now go before the Planning and Zoning Board and the Village Council for approval.
The Village Chapel plans to build a 16,500-square-foot learning center that will accommodate the growing congregation - which now numbers more than 1,000 adults and children - and serve other community organizations.
Opponents argue that the expansion will cause traffic and parking problems, disturb the historical nature of the area, harm property values and damage the beauty and appearance of the chapel and the surrounding Village Green.
News of the proposed addition to The Village Chapel prompted the National Park Service to send a letter to members of the Village Council expressing concern over the possible impact the project could have on the village's status as a National Historic Landmark. The federal agency oversees the landmark program.
The National Park Service placed the village on a "watch list" after learning of the construction of the disputed Carolina Vista roundabout and the proposed changes to the Village Green, which have since been dropped. The Village Chapel is on the Village Green in the Pinehurst Historic District
Village officials held a conference call in October with the National Park Service. They called the discussions "positive" and "productive."
- Pinelake Murder Trial
The jury for the trial for the man accused in the Pinelake nursing home murders will come from Stanly County.
Once jurors are chosen in Albemarle in July, Robert Kenneth Stewart's trial will be conducted in Carthage.
He faces eight counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and other charges stemming from the March 29, 2009, shooting deaths of seven elderly nursing home residents and a male nurse who tried to protect them. District Attorney Maureen Krueger is seeking the death penalty.
Investigators believe Stewart went to the nursing home that Sunday morning looking for his estranged wife.
In Superior Court on Nov. 8, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb ordered that jury selection begin July 11 in Stanly County.
Those proceedings in Albemarle are expected to take three or four weeks, then the trial comes back to Carthage.
Defense attorneys filed a motion to move the trial out of Moore County, contending that Stewart could not receive a fair trial in Moore County because of the extensive pre-trial publicity in the case.
Webb ruled that the defendant "failed to show that there exists in Moore County so great a prejudice against the defendant that he cannot obtain a fair and impartial trial."
- GOP Election Wins
Republicans in Moore County and across the nation had a lot to celebrate Nov. 2 as the party registered dramatic gains.
For the first time in more than 100 years, Republicans will control the N.C. House of Representatives and Senate when lawmakers convene next month. That will be good news for the county's two legislators, Rep. Jamie Boles and Sen. Harris Blake, both Republicans
It was a doubly good year for Blake, who handily defeated his one-time ally Richard Morgan, former co-speaker of the state House, in a hotly contested primary election in May. Morgan's wife, Cindy, lost her re-election bid as a county commissioner in the primary.
The Republican Party also regained control of the U.S. House, while Democrats held on to a slim majority in the Senate in the most expensive midterm election in history.
The returns nationally showed voters, overwhelmingly concerned about the economy, were strongly backing GOP candidates in congressional and governors' races. Democrats also scored big wins in some key races.
"I believe the people have given us a second chance," said Bob Levy, chairman of the Moore County GOP.
Senior Writers Florence Gilkeson and Tom Embrey and staff writers John Chappell and Hannah Sharpe contributed to this report.
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