Local News

City Council authorizes $450,000 for planned Black Voices Museum

8 The city is contributing $450,000 for a planned Black Voices Museum downtown.

The Fayetteville City Council authorized the appropriation at its meeting Monday night, Sept. 12.
Organizers say the museum would spotlight the rich history of African Americans in Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

The Learning Together Co., which is promoting the proposed museum, has asked for a total of $895,000 from the city and the county.
In April, the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners voted 5-1 to set aside $450,000 for the museum. That would cover half of the cost of the initial phase of the proposed project.

“Half from the city and half from the county,” Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin said Tuesday. “We voted last night to give them $450,000. What that is for (is) the planning, the design. … They’ll be back once they come back from that.

“It was a pretty thorough memorandum of understanding entered with them,” Colvin said of the museum planners. “I think we can use a similar model when talking about the N.C. history center.”
The agreement is among the museum planners and the county Board of Commissioners, the city and the Community Development Foundation.

The N.C. Civil War & Reconstruction History Center has been a controversial idea from the start. Critics say the center would not be the right move for Fayetteville because of the racial implications of its subject matter.
Earlier this month, the City Council delayed voting on a request for $6.5 million for the history center.
Colvin said he would support similar conditions on funding for both projects.

The city is requiring the Black Voices group “to establish a committee acceptable by the City Council who will handle content selection and curating,” Colvin said in a message to the City Council.

“I believe we must be equitable and consistent,” he wrote.

Robert Van Geons, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Cumberland Economic Development Corp., has frequently supported Black Voices organizers when they have pitched the idea to the City Council and county Board of Commissioners.

"One of the biggest things we want to do is engage to collect and borrow the actual documents," Van Geons said of museum reference materials. "A big part of that is cataloging, connecting, engaging with local historians and bringing on board people that can do the research. That's the first step.

"I think what we've got is an early stage of concept that continues to resonate with everybody we have spoken to," he said. "We need to tell this very important story."
Dauv Evans, the project director, and William Cassell, the project coordinator, have been having discussions for the past few years about building a museum in Fayetteville to acknowledge the achievements of the area's Black community. As proposed, the museum would tell the story of how Black culture has shaped Fayetteville and Cumberland County, from the founders of Fayetteville State University to the present-day social justice movement.

Sir David Adjaye was selected to design the museum. Adjaye is perhaps best known for designing the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
On Monday night, Mac Healy made another pitch to the City Council on behalf of the Civil War History Center. Healy is chairman of the center's board of directors.

Healy said he had received some calls from members of the council and wanted to try to answer some questions.
He said one of the center's projects is to procure 100 historical stories from each county in the state.

“The question was, were we going to be committed to diversity and inclusiveness in those stories?” Healy told the council. “We are committed to diversity, race, religion, men and women, everything in those stories. As we collect our stories, you have our word we will commit to being inclusive and diverse in the stories that we have in our record."

Another question, he said, was about governing boards.

“We have an advisory board right now,” he said. “And unlike a lot of museums and history centers in the state of North Carolina, we set this up so there would be a local advisory board for input. This board will advise the state and programming and exhibits. It's different from a lot of places. This is an advisory board set up. We welcome participation on that.”

At 7 p.m. Oct. 10 and 10 a.m. Oct. 11, Highland Presbyterian Church, at 111 Highland Ave., will host a community forum on the history center as part of its organizers’ public outreach. The center's design team will display storyboards that will be the beginning of the content of the history center, according to Healy.

“This will be left for a week for citizens, at their leisure, for a walk-through and (to) make suggestions, corrections and give any input they want on those,” Healy said. “We'll take those back and get with the historians.”
Mayor Colvin said Tuesday he is unsure what the council’s next step would be on the Civil War & Reconstruction History Center.

Shifting strategies for monkeypox vaccine

virus Raynard Washington, the Mecklenburg County health director, takes umbrage when he hears people say the monkeypox vaccine clinic staged at the Charlotte Pride celebration last month fell short of expectations.

In mid-August, Mecklenburg Public Health worked with the state Department of Health and Human Services to administer the Jynneos vaccine at the Pride events through a pilot program offered by the White House and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The pilot program had set aside 50,000 doses of the vaccine from the Strategic National Stockpile, vials that had been reserved to fight potential smallpox outbreaks. Monkeypox is related closely enough to smallpox that the vaccine can be used to prevent either disease, even though monkeypox is a much milder infection that rarely causes death.

Mecklenburg County received enough vaccine to inoculate 2,000 people from monkeypox that weekend. The county health department had more supply than takers at the two-day event.

Nonetheless, Washington chooses to put a different spin on the large-scale vaccine event than some in the national media.

“I definitely would not call vaccinating 540 people not a success,” Washington said during a phone interview with NC Health News. “That pilot that we did with the CDC and the feds was literally organized the week of.”

A little more than a week before, the Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorization for Jynneos, changing how the vaccine could be administered. Before then, the vaccine was administered subcutaneously, in the layer of tissue between the skin and the muscle below, in two doses four weeks apart.

The Mecklenburg County health department had not planned to do a large-scale event because supply was limited before the FDA decision on Aug. 9. That allowed administration of the vaccine intradermally, just under the skin, similar to how tuberculosis tests are given. Changing the administration method stretches the supply because only one-fifth of a five-milliliter vial is required per dose, meaning vaccine administrators could get five shots from a vial instead of one.

With a couple thousand vials en route, Mecklenburg, which had the highest number of cases at the time, did a lot of scrambling days before the Pride events.

“So in context, certainly we would consider it a success that we were able to mobilize so quickly, and to get so many people engaged,” Washington said. “We have been since the beginning of our response activities, sort of managing both a broader outreach campaign and a very targeted campaign, specifically at the Black and brown community to assure that access was available.

“We noticed very early on that there was a divergent in our case demographics and our vaccine demographics, where we were seeing more individuals of color with cases and fewer, a lower proportion that were getting the vaccine.”

The health department worked with party promoters, nightclubs and an inclusive church to get the word out and provide monkeypox vaccination opportunities during the Pride celebrations.

In a trend that mirrors what has happened elsewhere across the South, the larger events have not drawn as many vaccine-takers as Jynneos vials allotted to the events. Some attribute it to people not wanting to interrupt the party. Others question whether people are vaccine weary because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some say, such public settings turn people off. Public health advocates have shifted the vaccine strategy to smaller, more targeted events.

“We started working with the party promoters several weeks before Pride and actually and even participated in Black Pride — Charlotte has a separate Black Pride, which a lot of people don’t know about — and so we started working closely with them,” Washington said. ”Even in one weekend where at just a couple of parties, we were able to vaccinate 200 people, and you know the majority of them are Black, and so we had been working the ground prior to Pride, and Pride got a lot of national attention.

“Our campaign efforts have been going on before and after that, vaccinating individuals,” he said.

Engaging the community
Monkeypox cases in North Carolina and across the country have largely been confined to men who have sex with men, or MSM.

As of Sept. 15, 446 cases of monkeypox had been reported in North Carolina, according to DHHS. Ninety-eight percent of the cases were in men. Ten women have contracted the virus, according to the dashboard.

So far, North Carolina has vaccinated at least 16,042 people to protect them against monkeypox. The shots are available to anyone older than 18 who has had close contact with someone infected with the virus within two weeks.

The shots also are recommended for people who have had sexual contact within the past 90 days with gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men or transgender individuals. People who were diagnosed with syphilis in the past 90 days or people with HIV or taking medications to prevent HIV also are encouraged to get a vaccine.

In North Carolina, where nearly 70 percent of the cases have been among the Black population, they represent only 27 percent of the people who have been vaccinated. Kody Kinsley, DHHS secretary, highlighted that a week and a half ago when he went to N.C. Central University, an HBCU in Durham, and got a vaccine to highlight partnerships that DHHS wants to continue to build with HBCUs.

At a White House briefing on Sept. 7, Demetre Daskalakis, deputy coordinator of the White House Monkeypox Response team, said building partnerships at the ground level with county health departments and community organizers would be key to virus containment efforts.

“It’s not about just the vaccine allocation,” Daskalakis told reporters, “It’s about that intense community engagement that happens on the ground because, ultimately, public health is a local event. And so, giving the tools that people need to be able to sort of reach health goals is what we’ve been doing. And the support of organizations that serve Black and brown people have been pivotal in really turning the tide in what I think you’re going to see, the new vaccine numbers emerging over the next few weeks.”

Erika Samoff, who heads up HIV/ STD surveillance for the state’s Division of Public Health, said the plan is to recruit and deploy more community health workers to help attack the spread of monkeypox.

“Which I think is a really smart way to spend public health funds, to employ people who are coming from the populations that are sometimes most affected by disease,” she said. “I think that’s something new that we haven’t had before.”

Rebby Kern, director of education policy at Equality North Carolina, agrees that a successful campaign against monkeypox will require open lines of communication between state leaders and a collaboration of LGBT advocates. They have set up an educational site at poxvirusnc.org. They’ve had two virtual town halls since the first case was reported in North Carolina on June 23 and have plans for a listening session on Sept. 29.

The response thus far
David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at UNC Health, spoke recently with NC Health News about the federal response to monkeypox compared to its response to COVID-19. Public health advocates complained in May, June and July that the demand for vaccine vials outpaced the supply.
“We’ve all become armchair epidemiologists and procurement specialists,” Wohl said. “I do think that there were problems with the monkeypox response but they are at a different level of magnitude compared to what happened with COVID-19 during the previous administration.

“These are two very different outbreaks. These are two very different fumbles, if you will. So while the current administration was slow off the block in things like procuring vaccine and getting therapeutics out there, to their credit, testing was never a problem as far as capacity.”

There was no scramble to get reagents and stand up testing sites. Health care workers were not waiting for personal protective equipment.
“There was a cogent message,” Wohl said. “You might not have always agreed with the message, but one part of government wasn’t saying one thing, another part saying another thing, and there wasn’t denial, saying, ‘Oh this is nothing. It’s going to go away.’ It’s a completely different response and we’ve all become very cynical and jaded.

Nonetheless, some things frustrated Wohl.

“But it is a tenth or a hundredth of the incredible mismanagement that we saw during COVID-19, for months on end, that continues to reverberate,” Wohl said. “Those miscues and misinformation from our own government continue to reverberate in the fact that people don’t want to do things like wear masks, not all the time, but some of the time, or take a vaccine.”

Wohl treats people with monkeypox and has not gotten a vaccine himself.

“I don’t think I need to be vaccinated against monkeypox because of my occupation because I’m careful,” Wohl said. “I don’t think that I’m going to catch it. I think the PPE we have, the protective gear, does protect us. So I’m not really feeling that I’m at risk sufficiently to take a vaccine.”

It’s too soon to know whether the federal government and state will be broadening the scope of who needs a vaccine in the months and years ahead. Will pediatricians be giving vaccines once supply is readily available?

“I think it depends,” Wohl responded. “You don’t want to do this unless there’s some indication that there’s a need. If we start seeing this in wrestlers and field hockey players and we’re seeing this in kids, then we might think about who else should we give this to. But at this point, while we do not have all the vaccine that we want, I think we should focus on those most at risk.

”Just here in North Carolina, in the last few days, the criteria for getting vaccinated has basically expanded to if you’re a man who has sex with men and I would hopefully put into that, also I would add if you’re a transgender woman who has sex with men, we should consider vaccinating you. I think sex workers of any type should get vaccinated,” Wohl added. “I think if we can start expanding to the people who really are at greatest risk, then if we start seeing any indications that we should be expanding this more broadly, then we should do it.”

At this point, Washington and his Mecklenburg public health team and their community partners are focusing sharply on the parties, nightclubs and events where they know they might find people at risk of getting monkeypox but less likely to seek out a vaccine on their own.

“Our general philosophy is we’ve got to meet people where they are here and do so in a way that honors and respects their identity and culture so we’ve been working to do that and make sure we bring vaccine into the community and let the community help us drive our response,” Washington said. “I think so far we’re making good progress. I look forward to putting this outbreak behind us.”

This article first appeared on North Carolina Health News and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Homeless camp removal plan outlined in Fayetteville

IMG 8558 Fayetteville staff presented a plan this week to implement a new ordinance that grants the city more authority in removing homeless encampments.

At a meeting Aug. 8, the City Council passed the ordinance 8-2, with council member Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and former council member Yvonne Kinston voting against the measure.

The ordinance, which is similar to others in major urban centers across North Carolina such as Charlotte and Raleigh, will allow the city to clear encampments on any city-owned property, including rights of way, which are public lands usually used for roadways and utilities.

It’s something that the city has worked on for several months as the City Council directed staff to formulate policy in May, Carolina Public Press reported.

“The core point of this is to protect the health and safety when we find concerns where encampments have crossed the threshold to where they are a public health or public safety concern,” Chris Cauley, Fayetteville’s economic and community development director, said in May.

The ordinance does make an exception. If there are no beds available at local homeless shelters, officials will not clear the encampment unless the camp “poses a danger to the person who is there or the public,” said City Manager Doug Hewitt at the Fayetteville City Council meeting on Monday.

How it will happen
Brook Redding, the city’s special projects manager, laid out how the city will implement the ordinance over the next several weeks, detailing three phases of the plan.

The plan started Monday and will end Dec. 5, when the ordinance will be in full effect.

Starting on Monday, city staff began engaging with homeless people at identified encampments with the purpose of education about the new ordinance. No clearing or citation has begun yet.

“We conduct street outreach. We go and engage those encampments periodically. We inform them that the ordinance has been adopted. We let them know what that looks like in terms of the rule and the law,” Redding said.

Starting Oct. 10, the city will shift to the next phase. Staff will continue education, but police officers will start verbally warning people they are in violation of the law. City staff will also begin classifying encampments based on public health risk.

“We’ll have conducted a risk assessment. We will have stacked that information together and begin to triage those encampments that are quantified as high risk,” Redding said.

The final phase will begin Nov. 7 when officers will begin issuing citations. Education about the ordinance will continue as it did in the first two phases.

Full enforcement will start Dec. 5.

Area homelessness
The PIT count, conducted on one day every year, measures the number of homeless people in a given community. In Fayetteville, that count decreased from 515 in 2016 to 297 in 2020. Due to precautions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of homeless individuals not in shelters was not counted in 2021. The preliminary count for 2022 increased to 475, though that is subject to change pending confirmation from HUD.

Banks-McLaughlin, who voted against the ordinance, said at the Aug. 8 meeting that while she understood that “tents are eyesores,” she was concerned about where the homeless people would go once the camps are cleared.

“We need to consider that these individuals don’t have anywhere to go. We have a shortage of shelters in the city,” she said. “Right now, it is premature to vote on something like this.”

Cape Fear Valley Health and Cumberland County are in the early stages of bringing a new homeless shelter to the area, CityView Today reported in March. But that project is not yet complete.

“How can we basically run them off the streets with nowhere to go?” Banks-McLaughlin said. “Where will these people go? Do we have an answer for that?”

In response, Mayor Mitch Colvin pointed out that the ordinance largely only grants the authority for removal if there are no beds available in homeless shelters.

“We are encouraging the circumventing of the system that we are talking about wanting to invest more in,” the mayor said. “We’re giving the option to sleep beside a dangerous highway.”

Council member D.J. Haire stressed the need to remove encampments along exits of major highways such as those along Gillespie Street south of downtown.

“We all have a passion for our homeless and how we can better serve them, but also at the same time, we want to help protect those that are in these dangerous areas,” he said.

Council member Shakeyla Ingram encouraged the public to reach out to other elected officials, such as the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners and representatives in the N.C. House and Senate, with concerns about providing aid for those that are homeless.

“We are exhausting all that we possibly can to help out our homeless community,” Ingram said.

Fayetteville will receive $40.5 million in federal pandemic relief. How can local businesses benefit?

open sign Fayetteville is receiving nearly $40.5 million in federal pandemic aid to help the city recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and $5 million of that will go to businesses that were burdened by the economic effects of the virus.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, known as ARPA, was passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021. The purpose of ARPA is to help municipalities, counties, states and tribal governments recover from the pandemic.

According to guidance from the U.S. Treasury, ARPA recipients can use the aid to fund public health initiatives; recoup private and public economic loss from the pandemic; pay for workers in critical industries who are exposed to the virus; and invest in infrastructure related to water, sewer and broadband.

All funds received from ARPA must be allocated by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026.

Fayetteville’s ARPA portion was split into two parts valued at about $20 million each. One part was received in May 2021 and the other a year later.

While the most recent payment to the city has yet to be allocated, the $20 million portion from May 2021 will be spent on business, housing and infrastructure needs, each receiving $5 million. This allocation was made official by the City Council in April, Carolina Public Press reported.

The remaining $5 million will be spent on administrative costs, according to city officials.

Infrastructure will primarily be used for drainage improvement and City Hall renovations, and the housing portion will be used on a housing affordability trust fund.

Here’s how local businesses can benefit from the remaining $5 million.

How business portion will be spent
Among the funds being spent on recovery for local businesses, $3 million has been set aside for Fayetteville’s ARPA-funded Small Business Relief Grant Program. Businesses with 200 employees or fewer are eligible to apply for the program.

Another primary eligibility requirement, among others, is that the business is located within a qualified census tract. These tracts make up most of downtown and northwest Fayetteville.

If not in one of those tracts, the business must commit to hiring or keeping employees of low to moderate income.

Certain businesses are not eligible under the program. These include franchised stores, liquor stores, vape and hemp shops, national or regional chains, child care centers and financial institutions, among others.

Businesses that have seen a net revenue growth of 10% or more are also not eligible due to federal regulations associated with ARPA.

Any business that existed before the pandemic began and meets the revenue growth requirement is eligible under ARPA if it can show decreased net revenue, costs to the business from COVID mitigation efforts and challenges with affording payroll, rent or mortgage and other operating expenses.

Any amount awarded, which has a maximum of $50,000 per business, can be spent on payroll, mortgages, rent, assistance with business planning or any costs associated with the pandemic.

Among the business portion, there is also $500,000 for the Commercial Corridors Improvement Grant. This grant, which also has a maximum of $50,000 per business, can be spent on rehabilitation of commercial properties, exterior improvements, security and landscaping, among other items.

Under this grant, businesses must also be in one of the qualifying census tracts. Unlike the other grant program, even businesses with a growth rate of 10% or more, as long as they are located in one of the census tracts, are also eligible.

The remaining $1.5 million will be spent on business assistance loans and child care assistance.

Can’t vote in person? Here’s how to vote by mail in NC

vote by mail The midterm elections are coming, and there are a few ways to vote in North Carolina from early voting to casting your ballot on Election Day.

But if those don’t work for you, voting by mail is an option.

Any registered voter in North Carolina, for any reason, can request an absentee ballot to complete and mail to that voter’s local board of elections by Election Day. Here are the details for the mail-in voting process in North Carolina.

How do I request an absentee ballot?

Before you can request a mail-in ballot, you have to register to vote. A detailed, step-by-step walk-through for voting registration from Carolina Public Press can be found here.

The deadline for registration in North Carolina is Oct. 14. If you’re not registered by then, your only option is same-day registration during the early voting period from Oct. 20 to Nov. 5. Once you’re registered, you can request an absentee ballot either online or on paper, available in English and Spanish.

When requesting an absentee ballot, you must provide your date of birth and either your driver’s license number, your official N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles identification card number or the last four digits of your Social Security number to verify your identity.

The request must be signed by the voter, the voter’s near relative or a legal guardian. Paper requests can be mailed or submitted in person at your county’s board of elections. Requests must be made by Nov. 1, a week before Election Day on Nov. 8. If you make a mistake on your absentee ballot, you can contact your local board of elections to request a new one.

You can track your mail-in ballot online through BallotTrax.

How do I fill out my mail-in ballot?

Once you fill out your vote on the mail-in ballot, you must either have two people or one notary public witness you marking your ballot. The witnesses do not need to see how you vote.

Once filled out, seal your ballot, and nothing else, inside the return envelope provided.

Then sign your name on the back of the envelope. Your witnesses will then sign and print their name, along with their addresses.

Anyone 18 years or older can be a witness unless that person is a candidate. Exceptions include if the candidate is a near relative or guardian or if the voter is a patient with a disability at a hospital, nursing home or some other medical facility requesting help from the candidate due to the disability.

If you received assistance due to a disability, the assistant must also sign and print their name along with their address.

If you need assistance, here’s who can help

If you need assistance with your ballot, typically only a near relative or a verified legal guardian can assist you.

If a voter is unable to read or write, and a relative or guardian can’t assist, another person can help the voter with the ballot. That assistant, however, must fill out the assistance section on the absentee ballot request form. If you have a disability, however, anyone that you choose can assist you in filling out the request form.

Patients in a hospital, nursing home or some other medical facility can request a multipartisan assistance team, or MAT, from the county’s board of elections to assist them in the mail-in voting process. If the patient does not have a disability, it is illegal “for any owner, manager, director or employee of the facility other than the voter’s near relative, verifiable legal guardian or member of a MAT to request an absentee ballot on behalf of a voter,” according to N.C. State Board of Elections.

If a relative or guardian isn’t available or a MAT is unable to assist within a week of a request, anyone not affiliated with the facility or a political party can assist the patient through the voting process.

When should I mail by absentee ballot?

An absentee ballot must be postmarked by Election Day, which is on Nov. 8 this year, and received no later than 5 p.m. Nov. 14. The N.C. State Board of Elections recommends that voters mail their ballots well before Election Day. You can also return your absentee ballot in person to your county’s board of elections office or to an early voting site during the early voting period.

You can also take it to your board of elections office on Election Day, but you must do so by 5 p.m. You cannot submit your absentee ballot at a voting site on Election Day. Only you, a near relative or a legal guardian can mail or submit your ballot in person.

If you have a disability, however, anyone of your choosing can deliver the absentee ballot as long as they sign the voter assistant certification on the back of the sealed envelope.

How do I know my ballot will count?

Every ballot that is properly filled out, returned and postmarked by Election Day on Nov. 8 will be counted. If an absentee ballot is rejected for some reason, your local board of elections will contact you.

Your ballot can also be tracked online at BallotTrax.

In all North Carolina counties, results from all ballots, those cast by mail and in person, are tabulated and reported on Election Day.

Is mail-in voting secure?

Following the 2020 general election, during which there was a spike in mail-in voting due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation spread about mail-in voting, particularly from former President Donald Trump, who lost the 2020 election to current President Joe Biden.

But there are many safeguards in place to ensure the security of mail-in voting in North Carolina, according to NCSBE.

Voters must be registered to request a mail-in ballot. They must provide their driver’s license number and the last four digits of their Social Security number when requesting.

Ballots must be marked in the presence of two witnesses or one notary public. The voter or a relative or legal guardian are the only ones who can submit the mail-in ballot. The only exception is if the voter has a disability.

Once a ballot is accepted, the voter is marked in the system and will not be able to vote in person if an attempt to do so is made.

NCSBE also has an investigations division that investigates “credible allegations of elections fraud and refers cases to prosecutors when warranted by the evidence,” according to NCSBE.

NCSBE also audits election results after Election Day several times to ensure there are no inconsistencies.

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  • Can’t vote in person? Here’s how to vote by mail in NC
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