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

 

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.

Two Fort Bragg paratroopers died in combat

06 01 SPC NANCETwo more American service members have lost their lives at the hands of those they are sworn to protect. They were paratroopers of Fort Bragg’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division killed by an Afghan soldier in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.  The Pentagon identified the soldiers as Spc. Michael Nance of Chicago, Illinois, and Pfc. Brandon Kreischer of Stryker, Ohio. They were members of Company B., 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The Afghan soldier was wounded and is in custody, according to U.S. Central Command officials. 

The incident is the first known insider attack in Afghanistan since November when Maj. Brent Taylor of the Utah National Guard was killed by an Afghan soldier at a military training center in Kabul. Insider attacks as they’ve become known, have plagued American forces throughout the war, but enhanced security have made them less common in recent years. The most recent deaths brings the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year to 14. All but two were combat related.

“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the loss of two paratroopers from the Brigade during combat operations,” 3rd Brigade commander Col. Art Sellers said in the statement. “As we move forward together, I ask for your thoughts and prayers for the families affected and for the paratroopers of their unit who are still deployed,” Sellers added. Violence has continued across Afghanistan even as American and Taliban officials hold direct talks aimed at ending the U.S.’s longest war, now in its 18th year.

Although the number of American troops in Afghanistan has dropped to about 14,000, the American military has taken a more proactive role in assisting Afghan forces. The remaining American forces are helping the Afghan military defend its positions and have worked to deplete the Taliban through airstrikes and commando raids, partly to gain leverage at the negotiating table in Doha. More than 2,400 American military personnel have been killed since the war began in 2001, and more than 20,000 more have been wounded. General Scott Miller, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan, reiterated the need for a political settlement to end the conflict. “Peace talks (are) out there, regional players pressing for peace, the Taliban talking about peace, the Afghan government is talking about peace,” Miller said soon after his arrival in country earlier this year. 

Meanwhile, the U.N. h06 02PFC KREISCHERas documented 1,366 civilians killed and 2,446 wounded in its latest report on Afghan noncombat casualties between January and June of this year. In April, the world body documented more deaths caused by pro-government forces for the first time since it began systematically tracking civilian casualties a decade ago. Together, the figure was down by over a quarter from the first half of last year and is the lowest number for the period since 2012. Despite the overall decrease, the U.N. said the numbers remained “shocking and unacceptable.” 

Pictured from top to bottom: Spc. Michael Nance, Pfc. Brandon Kreischer

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