“Connecting the curious across the county”
January 11, 2019
What should we look forward to in 2019 in Chatham County?
Happy New Year, Chathamites! We thought to kick things off, we’d pull back the curtain on how reporters think about stories and their work — which, incidentally, helps anyone looking to keep up with events locally understand and keep tabs on their community. We also find that sometimes journalists’ work is shrouded in mystery, when really we want to pursue the questions and topics that matter and will impact you most.
Two UNC-Chapel Hill students, Eva Ellenburg and Diane Adame, took on Chatham County news as part of a journalism class last semester. We asked them to share part of their year-end impressions that they left for the next class of journalists looking to dive into Chatham County — and we think you’ll be interested in their insights.
Eva Ellenburg is a junior studying journalism and political science:
At the beginning of the semester, I covered a story on how Chatham County votes for its Board of Commissioners. Earlier in the year, the board had formed a task force to assess long-standing complaints about how commissioners are elected on a county-wide basis to at-large seats. There were concerns that Latino and African American communities’ concerns weren’t represented well under the current system.
The task force recommended to the board to keep at-large voting, but this issue could come up again as the 2020 election draws nearer – and the board could decide to go against that recommendation. I would pay attention to that story.
Another important topic to pay attention to is the Siler City chicken plant. Mountaire Farms bought out the old plant two years ago, and the new plant, which is expected to bring in around 1,500 jobs, opened this month. This will be important for the city’s slow economy. I would pay attention to who takes these jobs and their specific needs. Ilana Dubester, the executive director for the Hispanic Liaison, a group that advocates for immigrant populations in Chatham and surrounding counties, expects new, relocated immigrants to work at the plant. She said that the company has begun to bring in different immigrant populations to work at the plant, including some from Burma and, she expects in the future, Haitian immigrants. She has explained that Siler City and Chatham County does not have resources available to help those groups – neither the language resources to help them navigate their new life in the U.S. and Chatham, or enough housing.
Now that I mention it, housing is another important topic to pay attention to in Chatham County because there is a serious affordable housing shortage. Mountaire Farms bought nearby property where Johnson Mobile Home Park was located, evicting 28 Hispanic families. Many of those who were evicted have struggled to find housing, and some of their immigration statuses complicated the process of reaching settlements with Mountaire. I would keep up with how these families are doing.
Diane Adame is a senior studying journalism who covered Chatham County schools:
Chatham County is building two new schools in the northeastern part of the county to accommodate for local population growth. The new schools will consist of one elementary school, Chatham Grove Elementary School, and one high school, Seaforth High School.
Chatham Grove Elementary School is set to open in 2020 and Seaforth High School is set to open in 2021. Both are currently on track to be completed on time and should accommodate the school district’s expected growth. As we get closer to the schools’ opening dates, progress on the construction of these schools is something to keep an eye on.
It may be useful to keep an eye on their progress or any issues they encounter that could cause potential delays.
“Project Leave No One Behind”
Three Chatham County women, Julie Cummins, Mary O’Donnell and Jamie Summers, wrote a poignant Op-Ed last month in the News & Observer to raise awareness around “Project Leave No One Behind.” They want to ensure people know about North Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law, that no one faces penalties for calling 911 when a friend or loved one is having an overdose. They also said that law enforcement should not necessarily charge a friend or loved one who has provided an overdose victim with drugs. In some cases, they said, law enforcement has charged those providing drugs with murder after an overdose — meaning those involved with drug activity might not call for help if they fear the consequences.
“There is nothing like the pain of losing a child. As a group of North Carolina moms who have lost children to alcohol and drug-related deaths, we know this pain all too well,” they wrote. “[A]s overdose deaths in our state continue to mount, more and more families are suffering the unimaginable. We want to stop this cycle of loss anyway we can. We want to prevent more people from dying. And we want justice for those we have lost. But murder charges for low level distributors are not the answer. We believe more lives will be destroyed as a result.”
Still sailing home
The intermittent flooding problems from Jordan Lake on Jeremiah Drive in Pittsboro didn’t abate for the holidays and New Year’s. At times, residents told the Herald-Sun, they have to take a boat to get home. A presentation to the county board in October and a letter from State Sen. Valerie Foushee to state officials have yet to yield a solution.
“People are doing what they’ve got to do,” resident Chris Stanley told the Herald-Sun. “We’re not adapting, we’re surviving.”
More complaints for Moore
A new ethics complaint is expected to be lodged against North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore regarding whether a member of his legislative staff improperly swayed state officials in the sale of the old Siler City chicken plant, previously owned by one of Moore’s companies, the News & Observer reported.
The State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has dismissed a previous complaint that Moore had improperly swayed state environmental officials to receive a fee waiver and deadline extensions related to a required clean-up of the property. The board also declined to take action against Moore for allegations that he improperly benefited from taxpayer incentives given to Mountaire, which bought and now operates the chicken plant.
The Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group Campaign for Accountability, which filed the previous complaints, plans to file a new ethics charge based around the involvement in the sale of Moore staffer Mitch Gillespie. Moore, though, considers the issue finished. “The state board of ethics has dismissed the complaint and found that I didn’t do anything wrong,” the House Speaker told the newspaper.
Healthy, happy Chatham County
The northeast corner of Chatham County boasts the longest average life expectancy in the country — The National Center for Health Statistics places the average life span in the northeast corner of Chatham County at between 90 and 104 years, reports the Herald-Sun.
As for the county as a whole, Chatham ranks fourth in life expectancy (81.2) in North Carolina. Orange County ranks first at 82.
Experts chalk up the longevity of Chatham County residents to a variety of factors —services for the elderly, nearby hospitals at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke, an abundance of parks and other natural amenities are just a few of the perks that may be helping Chathamites live longer.
When? Monday through Friday 7:00 am – 3:30 pm
Where? Solid Waste & Recycling Main Facility – 28 County Services Rd. Pittsboro
What? Still have that Christmas Tree? Through Friday, residents can take trees at no charge to 28 Services Road in Pittsboro. After today, trees will be subject to the normal debris charge of $20 per ton with a $2 minimum.
“We are offering free Christmas Tree Recycling at the Chatham County Solid Waste and Recycling Main Facility from Wednesday, December 28 through Friday, January 20. Only real trees can be accepted. All decorations, stands, and pots must be removed,” the county says on its website.
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