Local News

‘Grinding of the Greens’ Christmas tree recycling carries on in 2023, collection begins Jan. 9

111The Annual Grinding of the Greens Christmas tree recycling program, a Fayetteville holiday tradition since 1994, continues in 2023. The annual program is celebrating its 29th year of protecting and enhancing the environment.

Grinding of the Greens encourages Fayetteville residents to recycle their live Christmas trees and, since its beginning, has kept thousands of pounds of recyclable material out of our landfills.
The long-standing partnership between Fayetteville Public Works Commission, Cumberland-Fayetteville Parks & Recreation and Duke Energy Progress turns cut Christmas trees into mulch for the Fayetteville Community Garden and other local parks.

The Cumberland-Fayetteville Parks & Recreation will collect the trees from Fayetteville city residents in a special tree pickup beginning Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Pickups are separate from yard waste, trash or recycle pickups and city residents should put their trees out for curbside collection by the morning of January 9 . All lights, stands and trimmings should be removed from the tree.

Residents who live outside the city or those who miss the pickup, may drop off trees at the Fayetteville Community Garden, located at the corner of Van Story and Mann Streets, just off Old Wilmington Road, any day by Jan. 20. PWC and Duke Energy Progress volunteers will grind them into mulch at the Grinding of the Greens at the Community Garden on Jan. 21 following a ceremonial start at 8:30 a.m. For more information: www.faypwc.com/grinding-of-the-greens/.

Annual New Year’s Day black-eyed peas dinner comes to an end in Cumberland County

10 For many Cumberland County residents, the annual black-eyed peas dinner was a decades-old Southern tradition.
Each New Year’s Day, thousands of people gathered at the Crown Expo Center to share bread — and the signature black-eyed peas and other fare — with others from the community.

The dinner, which was free, hasn’t been held since January 2020 because of concerns related to COVID-19. After being put off for several years, organizers said this seemed like a good year to stop the event.

“At this point, there are no plans to have the black-eyed peas dinner in the future,” Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West said.

West and Cumberland County Register of Deeds Lee Warren have hosted the event for years, but its roots date back much further.

“I kind of have mixed emotions,’’ Warren said Dec. 28. “It’s a phenomenal amount of work and a phenomenal amount of expense. Seems like with COVID, along January of this year and February, it seemed to be getting a little better. As the year progressed, it started getting worse. It’s kind of like a roller-coaster.

“We can’t seem to get a grip on all of the illness. All the COVID,” he added. “We just don’t feel comfortable getting people together like we did. That’s a lot of people. We can’t risk making anyone sick.”

The prevailing theme of the dinner evolved from a long-held belief that eating black-eyed peas would bring you good luck and prosperity for the coming year. Along with the black-eyed peas, participants were served such down-home country favorites as pork barbecue, candied yams and collard greens. You also would find dignitaries from the Fayetteville area. For many, it was the ideal setting to see and be seen.

“We had Larry Chason who provided gospel music. We just always had such a nice time,” Warren said. “We had congressmen every year come. Occasionally, somebody from the senate. We had the lieutenant governor come before. It was just a good way to get together and renew old friendships.”

The idea of a single black-eyed peas dinner came about when former Cumberland County Sheriff Ottis Jones and local attorney Willis Brown held separate New Year’s Day dinners, inviting their friends to come.
Following years of that, everyone who had attended the separate functions gathered together for the one meal, Warren said. That ended in 1987 with the death of Jones. Warren, at the time a county commissioner, and Owen Spears, who was elected to the N.C. General Assembly in 1992, started the tradition again at the suggestion of Warren’s father.

“Owen and I did them together,” Warren said.

When Spears got out of the General Assembly, Warren partnered with District Attorney Ed Grannis. Eventually, West joined the hosts and carried on with Warren after Grannis died, the register of deeds said.
“So, Billy and I had been doing it ever since,” Warren said.

According to the old Southern superstition, eating collard greens on New Year’s Day will bring you dollar bills and eating black-eyed peas will bring you pennies throughout the upcoming year.

“Many of the folks who helped us each year have either passed away or are not able to help us anymore,” West said. “After not having it because of COVID the last few years, we decided this was the best year to stop it. We will miss it. It was a great community tradition.’’

Carolina Public Press revisits top stories of 2022

CPP logo The year 2022 took the nation through many economic, legislative and political twists and turns and North Carolina marched in step.

The state started the year with a winter storm that dropped as much as five inches of snow across central NC; COVID-19 tests and vaccines continued to be rolled out and the state experienced the spread of new coronavirus variants as the pandemic left in its wake an economic upheaval.

Later in the year, inflation surged across the nation, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned abortion rights in June and Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order to protect access to abortion; Hurricane Ian ravaged the coastal cities at the end of September, leaving thousands without power or homes and killing at least four people.

Mass shootings increased, reaching epidemic levels, with a mass shooting occurring in October in Raleigh, North Carolina when a 15-year old went on a rampage in a suburban neighborhood — killing five and injuring two.

Politically, North Carolina also made some turns in the road. The state gained a congressional seat, sitting congressman Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) lost the primary, and voters elected a new U.S. Senator. To wrap the year up, the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case, Moore vs. Harper, originating in North Carolina, that could change election law in the state and the rest of the country.

Throughout the year Carolina Public Press reported on the in-depth stories that mattered to our communities. The stories for this end-of-year edition were selected based on human interest, impact and inclusiveness, relevance, timeliness, uniqueness and alignment with Carolina Public Press’ mission. We also took into consideration the readership of each of these stories. They have been arranged chronologically.

Why NC legislators are arguing a legal theory that could upend US democracy (April)

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, tried out a legal theory in 2020 elections litigation that had the potential to change the balance of power between the state legislature and the executive branch.
It failed at every level of state and federal courts.
Now, they’re trying to apply that theory again with a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, this time over a disagreement with the other branch of government, the state courts.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/53029/why-nc-legislators-are-arguing-a-legal-theory-that-could-upend-us-democracy/

7 Pilot program brings sexual assault nurse training to historically Black university (May)

By the end of summer, a handful of nursing students at Fayetteville State University will have started taking courses on how to care for sexual assault survivors. It’s a small start but one Sheila Cannon has worked toward for more than two years. The funding comes from the state legislature, which allocated $125,000 for a pilot training program in Cumberland County late last year.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/53627/pilot-program-brings-sexual-assault-nurse-training-to-historically-black-university/

Child’s death triggers new state response to Cherokee County DSS (May)

The death of any child whose family was in contact with a county DSS unleashes a hurricane of bureaucracy. In North Carolina’s system of state oversight and county administration, state workers examine whether county workers followed law, policy and accepted practice.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/54341/childs-death-triggers-new-state-response-to-cherokee-county-dss/

What does Supreme Court action on abortion mean for North Carolina: An FAQ (May)

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn the nearly 50-year-old legal precedent upholding the legal right to an abortion. If that happens, North Carolina is one of the few Southern states where abortion would remain legal after six weeks.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/53758/what-does-supreme-court-action-on-abortion-mean-for-north-carolina-an-faq/

Judge orders Cherokee County DSS to turn over open case records (June)

The Cherokee County Department of Social Services must hand over all documents related to all open DSS cases on the calendar, a District Court judge ruled at a Monday hearing. Last month, local attorney David Moore said he filed a subpoena for DSS records after learning that Cherokee County DSS was under investigation by the state of North Carolina yet again after a 5-month-old’s January death.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/58454/carolina-public-press-top-stories-of-the-year/?utm_source=Subscribers&utm_campaign=2611f7a0ba-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1545d58992-2611f7a0ba-207707765&mc_cid=2611f7a0ba&mc_eid=ed69f794fd

8 NC town set to cease existence as state treasurer calls for criminal charges (June)

For the first time in North Carolina’s history, the Local Government Commission used a new law, Senate Bill 314, to vote unanimously to dissolve the town’s charter, which is scheduled to take place on June 30.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/54987/nc-town-set-to-cease-existence-as-state-treasurer-calls-for-criminal-charges/

Monkeypox cases spreading in NC (July)

North Carolina officials have confirmed 11 cases of monkeypox, a disease caused by the monkeypox virus, in the state as of Wednesday. Of those cases, 10 involve North Carolina residents, and one involves a nonresident. At least 929 people in the United States — and over 7,500 people around the globe — have been infected with it since May 18, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/55329/monkeypox-cases-spreading-in-nc/

81 ‘Ghost forests’ are creeping across NC’s coast at an alarming rate. Researchers are trying to stop them (August)

The spreading stands of dead trees are what’s known as “ghost forests,” a general term to describe contiguous areas of dead trees. And they are the focus of Duke University ecosystem ecologist and biogeochemist Emily Bernhardt’s research.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/55902/ghost-forests-are-creeping-across-ncs-coast-at-an-alarming-rate-researchers-are-trying-to-stop-them/

NC child welfare leader says system is ‘in crisis’ and state could be sued ‘at any point’ (September)

The state’s child welfare system “is in crisis,” and “at any point there could be a massive class-action lawsuit,” the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services told county directors of social services departments during a presentation earlier this month.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/56616/nc-child-welfare-leader-says-system-is-in-crisis-and-state-could-be-sued-at-any-point/

 Automated gunshot detection is coming to Fayetteville. The community is split on whether it’s the right fit for the city (December)

Cynthia Leeks, 60, lives in a neighborhood off the Murchison Road Corridor in Fayetteville. She moved back to the area five years ago to be close to her aging parents. She is now the secretary of her local neighborhood watch. She loves her neighborhood, she said, even though it’s in a city where gun violence is commonplace. Even with the violence, Leeks doesn’t want police officers knocking on her door after a ShotSpotter gunshot alert has been sent to them.
https://carolinapublicpress.org/58197/automated-gunshot-detection-is-coming-to-fayetteville-the-community-is-split-on-whether-its-the-right-fit-for-the-city/

 Editor's note: Carolina Public Press is an independent nonprofit news organization dedicated to nonpartisan, in-depth and investigative news built upon the facts and context North Carolinians need to know. Their award-winning, breakthrough journalism dismantles barriers and shines a light on the critical overlooked and under-reported issues facing the state’s 10.4 million residents.
Ben Sessoms covers local government in eastern North Carolina, primarily in Cumberland County and the surrounding region. He can be reached at bsessoms@carolinapublicpress.org or 828-774-5290 extension 414.

Braden named new Fayetteville Police Chief

6 Kemberle Braden will be the next police chief for the city of Fayetteville. Braden, an assistant chief who has been with the department for 27 years, will replace Police Chief Gina Hawkins, who announced in July that she is retiring in January.

“I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to continue to serve the Fayetteville community, which I have called home for the past 45 years,” Braden said during a Dec. 28 news conference. “I want to thank City Manager Doug Hewett for his confidence in my ability to lead and giving me this opportunity.

“I look forward to bringing what I’ve learned throughout my career to lead the Fayetteville Police Department as many others have done before me,” Braden said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I’m ready for this responsibility.”

Hewett made the announcement during a news conference at City Hall. As the city manager, Hewett is responsible for the hire.
He was flanked by Braden and Hawkins during the news conference. Assistant Chief James Nolette, who was the other finalist for the position, was in attendance during the announcement.

“We are just a few days away from celebrating the new year,” Hewett said. “And now we can celebrate the selection of new leadership for our Fayetteville Police Department.
”... In particular, I’d like to say to the staff of the Fayetteville Police Department, ‘Thank you.’ Throughout this entire process you have been in my thoughts, and I’m very pleased to be able to make this selection and appointment today.”

The appointment follows what Hewett called “an intense search process.”

The final selection came down between the 49-year-old Braden and Nolette, the department’s 47-year-old commander of the Specialized Services Bureau. Braden has served as the Field Operations commander for the Police Department. In that role, he supervises patrol operations and investigations. He started his law enforcement career as a patrol officer assigned to the Murchison Road area. Braden is married and has two grown children.

“We are truly fortunate to have identified exceptionally qualified candidates through the search,” the city manager said, “and making an internal hire exemplifies how well we cultivate and nurture talent from within.”
Braden said he looked forward to working with Nolette and others in the community in the coming year.

"There's a lot of work ahead of us as we prepare to close out 2022 with the New Year's Eve Spectacular this Saturday,” Braden said of the second annual event set for Festival Park.

Hewett said the Fayetteville Police Department employs 605 members on a budget of more than $59 million.

“We’ll start conversations and develop strategic plans that align our departmental strengths with the needs of our community," Braden said. "There will be many conversations concerning recruitment, retention and strategies to address violent crime.”

Braden then thanked Hawkins for her leadership and service to the community for the last five years.

“For me personally,” he said, “she has provided opportunities that have allowed me to grow as an officer and an individual. And prepare me for my time to lead. I’d like to thank her and wish her well in her retirement.”

Hawkins then made a brief statement, initially congratulating her successor. She said the community should be proud.

“Chief Braden, you should be proud. Chief Braden’s family, you should be proud," she added. "You have someone who has come from the city and is about to lead this department and this community into the next chapter. And I’m very proud. We will continue to transition for the next month as I continue my retirement. We are one city that’s going to move forward with the next chief.”

Following the news conference, Hawkins called Braden “a good officer. He has experience, and he has the heart of the city embedded in him. He’s humble; he’s sincere," she replied when asked if he was a good hire.

“The department is going to be in good hands,” she said. “I pray the community supports him and the department as they have supported me.”

Retiring Cumberland County manager looks back on successes, challenges of 32-year career

19If you happened to be at the Cumberland County Courthouse last month, it was hard to miss the news that Nov. 30 was Amy H. Cannon Day. On every floor, a huge poster display in the area of the elevators thanked Cannon for 32 years of service.

The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners had proclaimed the day in her honor. Cannon has been the Cumberland County manager for the past eight years. Unlike the departures of many chief executives in public service these days, hers was civil. She did not get fired on the whim of an elected body. And she’s not packing her belongings to head to some faraway place.

Instead, Cannon is retiring amid a host of accolades from the county commissioners who hired her and the fellow employees she worked with. The Fayetteville native grew up in the Cliffdale Road area of Fayetteville and graduated from Seventy-First High School in 1983.

Commissioner Jeannette Council said Cannon was good at her job. And she had to be: She was a woman at the helm of one of the largest counties in North Carolina, Council said. Commissioner Jimmy Keefe also praised Cannon and said she served the county well. Commissioner Charles Evans echoed those statements.

At one of Cannon’s last meetings as manager, those three commissioners were asked to present her with awards because they were on the board when it hired her as manager in 2014.
Cannon acknowledges that being a native and having the opportunity to serve 32 years in local government doesn’t happen often.

“Not many managers have the opportunity to service in their own community,” she said.

She plans to stay right here in Fayetteville and spend some quality time with her family: her mother; two sons; a daughter-in-law who she says is like the daughter she never had; and an 8-week-old grandbaby.

A team player

Cannon started her final morning as manager visiting employees in the tax department and thanking them. She said other goodbyes and thanked employees; had lunch with her administrative staff; and honored her assistant county manager, Tracy Jackson. Jackson also plans to retire in December. Cannon credits her team with any success she’s had, referring to them as “dedicated public servants.”

Her fifth-floor office overlooks the parking lot where the county commissioners, just days before her last day, decided to build a 69,000- to 89,000-square-foot multipurpose center that they say will be a downtown showpiece to replace the aging Crown Theatre and Crown Arena, located just off U.S. 301.

“I am very excited about the Crown Event Center,” Cannon said. “I’m excited to have had a part in it. It’s going to be transformational for our community. The next step is for the county to hire a construction manager.”

Cannon said to be successful as a public servant and leader, one must “feel the burden of those you represent.” That includes understanding the pressure on elected officials who may have come into office with a specific agenda or passion for a certain project.

“I always understood their burden. (The commissioners) make difficult decisions. The needs often outweigh the resources. And, at the end of the day, they are the policymakers.”

Challenging times

Looking back over her career, Cannon reflects on her accomplishments as well as the things she wanted to get done before she left. The one project she wishes she could have seen to completion is building a homeless shelter.

“Homelessness is a significant issue. I do wish we were further along to providing a solution to homelessness,” she said.

The county is working to acquire land to build a homeless center. It’s one of the commissioners’ top priorities, she said. Cannon believes one of her successes was achieving financial stability in county government.
“It’s something I’m extremely proud of,” she said.

She recalls the dire years of 2012 and 2013, when the federal government shut down. County sales tax revenue plummeted in part because the military quit contracting with local vendors. When she became manager, she initiated stringent measures to ensure financial security, setting aside money for just such economic downturns.

“When I became manager, I put into place some long-term capital plans. We set aside funding for capital projects so we didn’t have to raise taxes and the money would be there,” she said.

“I’m so proud the board adopted those measures and embraced them and followed through on them,” she said. “It went a long way to stabilize the county financially and to weather upcoming storms.”

Setting money aside for a rainy day paid dividends in 2017, the year the county underwent a property revaluation. Property values declined in Cumberland County that year, which resulted in a drop in tax revenue.

“That never happened before. There was a $5 million shortfall in property taxes that year,” she said.

Cannon recalls the difficult decisions that faced her management team. They included cutting jobs, slashing department budgets, and asking the commissioners to pass a small tax rate increase. But that needed to be done to ensure the county’s financial integrity and that it could weather economic storms.

Some of the economic storms came in the form of hurricanes — first Matthew in October 2016, then Florence in September 2018. Cannon said Hurricane Florence resulted in historic flooding in Cumberland County.
In the midst of recovering from the lower property revaluation and the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence, the county faced another economic disaster.

“Then came the pandemic, another historic event,” Cannon said. “Those were significant events, and we survived each one of them.”

Cannon graduated from UNC-Charlotte in 1987 with an accounting degree. An on-campus interview landed her a job with Cherry, Bekaert and Holland, a Raleigh-based accounting firm. At the time, the firm was hired to conduct annual audits for both Cumberland County and the city of Fayetteville.

For the next several years, Cannon’s employers had her delving into local government finances, giving her what she calls “a great foundation” in the budget process. She moved on from the accounting firm to become the city of Fayetteville’s internal auditor, giving her more experience.

But soon she was hired as a county budget analyst. Eight years later, in 1998, she became the county’s finance director. In 2000, then-County Manager James Martin appointed Cannon to a dual role: finance director and assistant county manager.

“It was the best of both worlds: finance and budget, and an opportunity to grow in a leadership role,” she said.

Looking back over her years with the county, Cannon says her successes came from the people who worked for her.

“I could not have done this job without the grace of God, my family, and an extremely supportive workforce,” she said.

For the rest of the month, Cannon plans to reconnect with friends and spend time with her family. In January, she hopes to start several home projects that have been waiting on the wings. And at some point, she said, she may reach out to colleagues in local government seeking part-time work.

“When you have public service in your heart, you can’t cut it off after 32 years,” she said.

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