Local News

Soldier's job reinstated

08 Dwayne CofferThroughout its history, the United States government has enacted legislation protecting the civilian employment of men and women who serve in times of armed conflict. Congress passed the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act during World War I to offer employment protections to service members fighting in Europe. Shortly before the United States entered World War II, Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940. Most recently, Congress passed the U.S. Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994 to protect the civilian employment of active and reserve military personnel in the United States called to active duty. USERRA also makes major improvements in protecting service member rights and benefits by clarifying the law and improving enforcement mechanisms.

Just this month, the government won a North Carolina case of a senior noncommissioned Army reserve officer who lost his job while he was away on active duty. Command Sgt. Maj. Dwayne Coffer was dean of students at a Warren County middle school when he was called to active duty and found his job gone when he got back. U.S. Department of Justice officials said that the Warren County Board of Education agreed to settle a lawsuit brought on Coffer’s behalf. He was reportedly demoted to a gym teacher after his return. Coffer will be reinstated as dean of students at Warren County Middle School and will receive back pay and pension benefits as part of the settlement, court documents show.

“This settlement agreement with Warren County resolves the (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act) claims brought by the United States and serves as a reminder that our service members, like Command Sgt. Maj. Coffer, deserve fair and lawful reemployment following their return from active military duty,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. According to the Justice Department’s complaint this past April, Coffer was called up for a six-week active-duty period in July and August 2017. When he returned home, officials said his position as dean had been eliminated, and an offer of re-employment as a gym teacher was made. Justice Department officials said such a demotion violates USERRA, which protects military members’ jobs while they are serving.

Warren County has not admitted to that violation under terms of the deal but did agree to future compliance. In addition to being reinstated for the 2019-2020 school year under a two-year contract, the settlement permits that Coffer’s pension and health benefits, as well as his sick and personal leave days, be restored. Coffer will also receive $25,000 in back pay, settlement documents show. It turns out this is the second such settlement for Warren County. The Justice Department also sued the county in 2012 for reportedly failing to renew Coffer’s employment contract after an earlier period of military service.

Pictured: Command Sgt. Maj. Dwayne Coffer

 

I-95 expansion plan

05 I95 Photoat exit 61 2Development plans are underway on a proposed project to widen 25 miles of I-95 to eight lanes between Exit 56 in Cumberland County and I-40, Exit 81, in Johnston County, including all of Harnett County. Proposed work includes rebuilding at least six interchanges with new overpasses, loops and ramps. Additionally, service roads will be realigned or shifted to meet modern design standards. The portion of I-95 being proposed for this project has the highest traffic volumes in the state, reaching nearly 60,000 vehicles a day, according to a 2016 survey. The proposal should ease congestion and accommodate future growth in traffic along the north-south interstate. I-95 is also scheduled for widening to eight lanes in Robeson County and lower Cumberland County between mile marker 22 in Lumberton to mile marker 40. Construction of this segment isn’t scheduled to begin until 2028.

Hospital executive named to national agency

Dr. Roxie Wells has been elected to the American Hospital Association’s Board of Trustees. The term is for three years beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Wells is president of Cape Fear Valley Hoke Healthcare, where she manages Hoke Hospital and its associated outpatient clinics. She also serves as an associate chief medical officer for the health system. The Fayetteville State University graduate received her medical degree from East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine in Greenville. She Joined Cape Fear Valley Health in 2010 as a family practice physician at Stedman Medical Care. Wells’ work led to partnerships with Bladen County Health Department and EMS, as well as increased access to primary care services in the primarily rural county. 

State Trooper recovering from serious injuries

On the morning of July 22, Trooper Chris Wooten was seriously injured as a result of a collision in Charlotte. Wooten was pursuing a motorist on his motorcycle when he was struck by a truck. He has been hospitalized receiving around-the-clock care because of the serious nature of his injuries. He was recently transferred from Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte to Shepherd Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta where his treatment process continues. 

“The overwhelming amount of support offered by our law enforcement partners, medical staff, other first responders and the public is unmatched and truly expresses the appreciation for Chris’ law enforcement service,” said Colonel Glenn McNeill Jr., commander of the State Highway Patrol. 

For those wishing to provide financial assistance to the Wooten family, an account under Christopher and Sharon Wooten Special Account has been established at the North Carolina State Employees Credit Union.

Register of Deeds office honored

The Cumberland County Register of Deeds office received an International Association of Government Officials Innovator Award at the association’s annual conference held in Houston, Texas, in July. The Register of Deeds received the honor in recognition of technology upgrades to better serve customers. The upgrades include electronic recordings, online vital records, instant recording of real estate records, three marriage license kiosks and the ability to submit the date for a marriage license online. 

“It is an honor for our office to be recognized by an organization that has members in most states across the United States as well as a number of foreign countries,” Register of Deeds Lee Warren said. 

In addition to technology upgrades, the selection committee also considered the Register of Deeds annual Book Bag Drive for homeless children in Cumberland County Schools. The book bag drive has benefited an estimated 650 homeless school children. The Highlands Chapter of the American Red Cross also received funds to help families who have experienced disasters. 

Hurricane season is upon us 

Hurricane season is here, and Cape Fear Valley Health System has a jump on preparations, thanks to a new emergency water pump system. Costing nearly $380,000, the system went online in late July. It is located on Cape Fear Valley Medical Center’s campus and includes two new water wells and three large storage tanks. The upgrades were paid for by a grant from the Golden LEAF Foundation’s Disaster Recovery Program. 

“We’re really excited about the new system,” said James Bullard, Cape Fear Valley Health’s emergency management coordinator, “especially since all the water will be potable.”

Cape Fear Valley sought to upgrade its backup water system in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. The storm knocked out water pressure to the medical center’s main campus for nearly a week, crippling services to patients. Bottled water was brought in by the truckloads for patients and visitors. The new system pulls water from new wells behind Cape Fear Valley Medical Center at a rate of more than 200 gallons per minute. The water is stored in three large 8,000-gallon storage tanks where it is filtered and treated. 

Public Works Commission receives national award

07 PWC Fayetteville Public WorksThe city of Fayetteville’s hometown utility has received the American Public Power Association’s E.F. Scattergood System Achievement Award. The award honors the Public Works Commission and other APPA member systems that have enhanced the prestige of public power utilities through sustained achievement and customer service. It’s considered the most prestigious award given by the public power association. 

“It was a great honor to accept the award for PWC,” said PWC Chairman Darsweil Rogers at the national conference in Austin, Texas.  “Anytime our public power peers acknowledge the hard work of the staff, it reaffirms what the commissioners already know, which is that we have a talented and dedicated group of employees serving our community.” 

PWC’s achievements noted in the award included a system-wide conversion to advanced electric meters and the conversion to LED streetlights. It installed four free electric vehicle charging stations. Time-of-use electric rates, a new customer web portal providing customers direct access to utility usage data, advanced customer payment options, and incentive programs were PWC customer-focused initiatives that were also recognized by the APPA. PWC has also begun the installation of North Carolina’s first public solar power farm. 

Community support and involvement also contributed to PWC’s recognition, including PWC’s partnering with Fayetteville Technical Community College to establish a local lineworker program and being recognized 13 times by the local United Way. 

“While the award is given by APPA, because of its focus on customer service it is a reflection on PWC as a total organization providing electric, water, wastewater service as Fayetteville’s Hometown Utility,” said PWC CEO/General Manager David Trego. This is the second time PWC has been recognized with the APPA’s top award.

During the APPA national conference, PWC also received the Energy Innovator Award.  The award recognizes utility programs that have demonstrated advances in the development of creative, energy-efficient techniques or technologies, providing better service to electricity customers or projects that increase the efficiency of utility operations or resource efficiency. PWC has developed an innovative way to locate electrical faults in its electricity distribution system. “This method is about reliable electric service because it enables us to identify locations where electrical faults occur when it is not possible to see where the problem exists.” said Rick Anderson, PWC electric system engineering manager. 

This has allowed the utility to limit outage durations, reduce callouts and enhance the quality of life for its community. Improved reliability has resulted in savings on labor costs, vehicle maintenance, fuel, vegetation management and electrical component maintenance. In addition to benefiting PWC operations, the method will be available to other utilities while potentially benefiting public power customers throughout the nation. PWC has earned the Energy Innovator Award three times since 2010. 

Recent events are reminders that hurricane season has begun. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Florence in 2018 are reminders that inland North Carolina is susceptible to storm damage. PWC offers online plans to help you and your family stay safe in the event of a hurricane or another emergency. At Fayetteville PWC, an emergency plan of operations is in place and can be implemented on a moment’s notice. For information, go to the Storm Central page at FayPWC.com. 

911 call center planning update

06 911 Call Center 2A drive past Cumberland County’s new Emergency Operations building reveals virtually no activity since it was purchased nine months ago. But the county says it is moving forward with plans for its new emergency services and 911 call center building. Officials submitted a grant application to the North Carolina 911 Board in May seeking funding for renovation, hardware, equipment and associated technology costs for the facility, which will eventually replace outdated facilities in the law enforcement center downtown. The new building at 500 Executive Place was purchased in November for $5.1 million. The 911 committees for the county and the city of Fayetteville had discussed colocating their separate call centers in the building with the intent of consolidating services in the future. The county sent an interlocal agreement approved by the Board of Commissioners on May 20 to the city but did not receive an official response. 

“It’s time for us to move forward with this project without delay,” said County Commission Chairwoman Jeannette Council. She said that on behalf of the Board of Commissioners, she notified Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin that county government would proceed to submit a grant application to the state without participation by the city. Assistant County Manager Tracey Jackson said at the time that a joint grant application would have been stronger. 

Convicted robber sentenced to federal prison

A Robeson County man who confessed to taking part in armed robberies of three Fayetteville convenience stores was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison. The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Robert J. Higdon, Jr., announced that Michael Devonte Hill’s prison term will be followed by five years of supervised release. Hill pled guilty to three counts of robbery, one count of discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. 

He was sentenced in late July by Chief U.S. District Court Judge Terrence W. Boyle. The government’s evidence established that in July 2017, hill robbed three Fayetteville-area convenience store — the Circle K on Rosehill Road, a Circle K on Yadkin Road and a third Circle K on Owen Drive. 

A second man involved in the two of holdups remains at large. This case was part of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement, and the communities they serve, to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. 

Higdon said this initiative emphasizes the regional assignment of federal prosecutors to work with law enforcement and District Attorney’s Offices on a sustained basis in those communities to reduce the violent crime rate, drug trafficking, and crimes against law enforcement.

Cumberland County library wins community foundation grant

The Cumberland County Public Library and Information Center received a $10,000 grant from the Cumberland Community Foundation for its Summertime Kids project to provide books and book bags to children attending summer camps throughout the county. The Summertime Kids project is an enrichment program that reaches underserved populations to promote literacy throughout every stage of life. The grant money provided funding for two books and a bag for each child participating in the program. Library staff visited 14 camps at 18 different locations and gave away 1,158 bags with books during June, July and August. Sites visited include the Autism Society of Cumberland County; Boys and Girls Club of Cumberland County; Cape Fear Botanical Garden, Cape Fear Regional Theatre; Clark Park Nature Center; Communities United for Youth Development; Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office Youth Summer Camp, Ellington White CDC; Fayetteville State University STEM camp; Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex; St. Ann Neighborhood Youth Center; Fayetteville Urban Ministry, Inc.; Moore Street Foundation; and The Salvation Army. 

“This is such a wonderful grant for these kids, and the books that were available for the campers to choose from were wonderful,” said Joe Kabbes, camp director of Fayetteville State University’s STEM Summer Camp. 

These programs offer children preschool age through high school opportunities to socialize and interact with peers. 

Cut My City helps Cumberland County youth prepare for school year

09 Cut My CItyFor the fifth year, the Barber Kings of Hope Mills have helped to organize Cut My City, a charitable event aimed at helping the youth of Cumberland County get ready to start another school year. This year’s event is scheduled on Saturday, Aug. 10, at the Crown Coliseum from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. All Cumberland County residents are welcome.

Chancer McLaughlin, development and planning administrator for the town of Hope Mills, said the mission of the Barber Kings is to instill pride in the young people of the county by providing them with free haircuts to begin the school year.

The Barber Kings have arranged for more than 100 local barbers to be on site at the Crown on Aug. 10 to provide free haircuts for any school-age youngster that shows up, from elementary school all the way to college.

While there is no fee, anyone wanting a haircut needs to register. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Crown, and everyone wanting a haircut needs to be signed up by 1 p.m. at the latest.

Haircuts for boys and hairstyles for girls won’t be the only thing going on at the Crown on Aug. 10.

There will be free gift bags of school supplies for the children, along with free face painting and other activities.

Representatives of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department will be on hand preparing free hot dogs for the children.

“Everything is free for the kids,’’ McLaughlin. “Nothing will be sold to the children.’’

There will also be a number of service-oriented vendors at the crowd to provide information for both parents and children.

Last year’s Cut My City attracted between 5,000 and 6,000 children and McLaughlin said a bigger crowd is expected this year.

If anyone has questions about this year’s event they can call 910-485-3111 or email cutmycitync@gmail.com.

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