Confederate supporters and anti-monument protestors meet in downtown Pittsboro rally

The scene in the center of Pittsboro Saturday was one that’s become familiar: two groups – dozens of people in all – stand sentry, divided over the fate of a Confederate monument that has stood in front of Pittsboro’s historic courthouse since 1907. 

Saturday hit just more than two weeks before The United Daughters of the Confederacy are due to respond to a Chatham County Board of Commissioners Aug. 20 4-1 vote to begin the removal process, which could end with the statue being taken down Nov. 1. And it follows months of debate on the fate of the monument to Confederate veterans and sometimes raucous meetings before the board, with people on both sides of the issue lining up by the dozens to support the statue as a symbol of honor for those who fought for the South – or an emblem of hate and blatant racism sitting at the historic door to the old courthouse. On one side of Hillsboro Street, those supportive of the statue’s pending removal held signs with slogans like “Make Racism Wrong Again”.

Curious Chatham: For mental illness help, does Chatham – or the state – provide enough?

Last week, I spoke with Chatham County resident Ken Howard. He told me he was at a loss: his 18-year-old son Jack, whose name – like his father’s – has been changed for privacy, was soon be released from his third stint at a psychiatric facility. The challenges Jack faces – depression, social anxiety and bipolar behavior – leave his family feeling unsafe allowing him in their home. So, Howard has embarked on a intensive one-man research project to help his son: he estimates that he’s called 50 local resources looking for group homes, and he sent me some meticulous notes of his contacts. 

His list includes phone numbers for health insurance attorneys, faith-based housing resources, at least one outpatient facility. But it was strikeout after strikeout: 

“Wait of weeks or months.”

“No openings”

“Left message, have not heard back.”

“Never returned calls or emails”

Hopeway Residential Mental Health Service, a Charlotte-based group home in Howard’s notes, had a price tag that took my breath away: an “upfront cost base” of $26,000 for a 30 day stay in the facility. Howard’s goal seems straightforward.

Briar Chapel sewage spill: Any danger?

Less than a month ago, around 2,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilled out of a broken pipe in Briar Chapel managed by Old North State Water Company. Though the untreated water flowed into nearby Pokeberry Creek, there have been no reports of danger to the public. 

Our Chatham first caught wind of the story from our friends at the Chatham County Line, who Tweeted about it. Then I reached out to Envirolink, a company that manages Old North State Water Company’s assets, about the issue.  

Carr Mclamb, general counsel and chief operating officer of Envirolink, says the company helps governments and private industry “in operating their water and sewer utilities.”

“To give you some context,” Mclamb said, “This incident … was the 1,062nd such incident [in the state of North Carolina] that has occurred as of June 11th when we reported our incident. So, they’re very common.”

Sarah Young, a spokesperson for North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, told me that the latest sewage spill on June 11th follows two other recent spills in Briar Chapel: 1,000-gallon sanitary sewer overflows occurred April 18th and June 5th. 

According to state law, Old North State Water Company was required to distribute a press release “in the event of a discharge of 1,000 gallons or more of untreated wastewater to the surface waters of the state.” 

A press release matching the one Envirolink provided Our Chatham can be viewed on a page of the Greensboro News & Record. 

Carr said that the failure was uncontrollable. 

“It’s a mechanical operation,” he said. “Things are going to fail.

You Asked, We Answered: How will Chatham’s social services respond to the coming population increase?

One of this week’s story topics comes from Bridget McEnaney, who asked about how Chatham County’s social services programs will change in response to the expected rapid population growth of the county. I spoke with Jennie Kristiansen, director of Chatham County’s Department of Social Services, to discuss the county’s unique challenges and needs as growth increases. Our discussion, lightly edited for brevity and clarity, is below. 

But first, a bit of background on Chatham County’s Department of Social Services. The department serves the county’s population by facilitating a long list of programs: CCDSS’s economic services division runs programs for childcare subsidies, Medicaid, SNAP, and child support. Their “work first” initiative aims to support families with unemployed adults, and their family services division works to improve child welfare by assisting in adoptions and investigating abuse and neglect complaints. The adult protective services unit of CCDSS is legally responsible for 30 adults. According to Kristiansen, that program means CCDSS is North Carolina’s only public agent guardian.

Chatham County Board of Commissioners Meeting June 20, 2019

BoC & UDC sign MoU 

Let’s start with the most noteworthy moment of the meeting: the board’s unanimous passage of a memorandum of understanding with the Winnie Davis chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group responsible for erecting the statue. 

Commissioner Mike Dasher started the topic discussion by recalling a meeting he had with a representative of the Winnie Davis chapter. During that meeting, they discussed whether the monument be modified and rededicated as a broader monument to all veterans, not just those who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. 

Commissioner Howard calls the MoU the “framework for opening up a conversation.” She says it will not compromise the integrity of the views of the board. Commissioner Hales calls it an “appropriate step,” and Commissioner Dasher adds that the MoU will not result in “legal determinations” but is rather an attempt to find common ground. 

The most decisive comment on the issue comes from Commissioner Crawford, who offered his support for the MoU while “personally” wishing the statue would be moved away from its current location near a “seat of government.”

As they have done for weeks, residents spoke up about their differing views on the statue. Residents like Howard Fifer, who spoke on behalf of an anti-statue group called “Chatham for All,” asked that the statue be viewed in context of what they believe to be a racist history. Throughout the debate, other residents have expressed a familial connection to the monument and a desire to preserve historical memory. 

Other News

At the beginning of the meeting, the Board received an update from Chatham County Schools representative Robert Schooley, a facilitator of student health instruction.

Curious Chatham: As Chatham considers options, hundreds of kids go without a home

While visiting Northwood High School a few weeks back, a student asked Our Chatham about homeless students, which immediately drew our interest and attention. In a county of such wealth in pockets but despair in others, wasn’t there a shelter or some place these kids could call home? The county is working on options for children without such a basic need, but the quick answer is no – there isn’t, and hundreds of students are in this precarious spot of making do with little to nothing. Adrianne Cleven dug in to explain the matter further. A 17-year-old student at Northwood High School – to protect her, we’ll call her Kate – returns from her days working and attending class to sleep at her friend’s home.

“One Chatham” community forum brings Chatham’s east and west together

a diverse community that spans over 700 square miles, Chatham
County residents seemed connected, communicative and ready to brainstorm
solutions at the “One Chatham” community forum held Wednesday in Pittsboro. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss issues of economic development, housing and disparity across the county. The Chatham News + Record partnered with Our Chatham to host the event, and a panel of five community leaders helped facilitate the conversation: Alyssa Byrd, Tami Schwerin, Stephanie Watkins-Cruz, Paul Cuadros and Susan Levy. Bill Horner III, publisher of the Chatham News + Record, served as the panel’s moderator. The panelists at One Chatham from left to right: Alyssa Byrd, Paul Cuadros, Susan Levy, Tami Schwerin, and Stephanie Watkins-Cruz.

Debate over Pittsboro’s Confederate monument continues

With additional reporting by Ari Sen.

For something that hasn’t uttered a word – ever – the Confederate monument outside Pittsboro’s historic courthouse has caused quite a stir lately. The
debate over the Confederate monument has tested loyalties and revealed deep
divides in the community over the past few months. Some say it should be
removed, citing issues of racial equality. Others say the statue’s removal
would be akin to erasing history. Monday
night’s Chatham County Board of Commissioners meeting served as another
manifestation of that unrest.