Top 10 stories of 2019

The following stories were selected using single-copy sales numbers, website clicks, Facebook shares and comments, and general feedback.


1. DSS head will keep moving allowance

The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners in a 4-1 vote Tuesday, Oct. 15, decided to let Mitchell County Department of Social Services Director Sara Ross keep her $12,000 moving allowance although she chose not to move to Mitchell County, per the terms of her employment contract.

The board, with the exception of commissioner Jeff Harding, chose to call the $12,000 an “incentive” payment and voted to let Ross keep the money. 

Ross, who lives in Hendersonville, was hired as Director of Mitchell County Social Services in late 2018 and started in the position Jan. 1. She replaced former Director Paula Holtsclaw. 

Ross makes $86,500 annually, and her $12,000 relocation allocation was provided with the stipulation she would relocate to Mitchell County by June 30, 2019. She told the board during an Aug. 5 meeting she did not intend to move.

At the beginning of the Oct. 15 meeting, commissioner Jeff Harding made a motion to move the discussion about Ross’ relocation allocation off the consent agenda for further discussion before approving it. Board vice-chair Matthew “Vern” Grindstaff agreed with Harding’s decision to discuss the issue further, but Chair Danny Burleson and commissioner Jacob Willis voted against Harding’s motion. Commissioner Steve Pitman, who joined the meeting late, became the deciding vote. After pausing to think for several seconds, Pitman said he was OK with leaving the item as-is on the consent agenda. Harding was the lone commissioner to vote against the payout.

The original article written by Cory Spiers appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 23, edition of the News-Journal.


2. Mountaineers lose 35-28 to East Surry after controversial finish

The Mitchell High School varsity football team’s 1AA state playoff run ended in sudden, heartbreaking fashion Friday, Dec. 6, in a 35-28 loss at East Surry in the regional championship round. 

Down 35-28, the Mountaineers methodically drove down the field and deep into East Surry territory. With less than 30 seconds on the clock, senior quarterback Noah Pitman was flushed out of the pocket and found senior receiver Garrison Phillips open in the back corner of the end zone. 

Phillips, who created a small window of separation from the East Surry defensive back, reeled in the pass, tapped his toe and heel inbounds and then landed in a heap on the turf, just a few feet from an official. 

After a brief pause, the pass that appeared to be complete and caught inbounds for a touchdown was ruled incomplete, sending the East Surry faithful into a jubilant frenzy and the Mitchell sideline into chaos. 

Head Coach Travise Pitman declared the call as “missed,” and his opinion was confirmed the day after the game when he received an email from Regional Supervisor of Coastal Plains Football Officials Mike Webster, who admitted the call was missed and should have been a touchdown.

The original story written by Cory Spiers appeared in the Wednesday, Dec. 11, edition of the News-Journal.


3. Commissioners attempt to withdraw from Toe River Health District

When the Mitchell County Board of Commissioners finalized its 2019-20 budget, the funding for the Toe River Health District drew public ire and became the first step in an attempt to withdraw from the District that serves Mitchell, Avery and Yancey counties.

Before adjourning from the May 20 meeting, commissioner Jeff Harding, who is Mitchell County’s representative on the Toe River Health Board, started a discussion about the county’s funding of the Toe River Health District, stating he is “bothered” by the county using no local money to fund a department that provides services to the people of Mitchell County and is instead dipping into the fund balance created by the sale of home health to pay the full amount of TRHD’s request.

The decision to not use local money to fund the Health District drew considerable public criticism and although some members of the Board of Commissioners offered several reasons for trying to withdraw, none were ever discussed in detail publicly. 

Dozens of citizens attended the June 2019 meeting to express their concerns about leaving the district. During the board’s regular July meeting, Harding, along with Commissioners Matthew “Vern” Grindstaff and Steve Pitman, agreed to meet with members of the Toe River Health District. Commissioners Danny Burleson and Jacob Willis declined to attend the meeting.

The Commissioners had been in talks with Jennifer Greene about joining the AppHealth District, but AppHealth abruptly canceled a Tuesday, Nov. 5, meeting that was set to vote on whether to allow Mitchell County to join. That meeting was not rescheduled.

The original stories written by Cory Spiers appeared in the Wednesday, May 29, and Wednesday, Aug. 14, editions of the News-Journal, as well as others.


New festivals draw thousands to county

A pair of new festivals, SPACE and Toe Jam, organized by Mitchell County native Jimmy Hinshaw drew thousands of people to the area.

The Spruce Pine Alien Conference and Expo, or SPACE, festival took place Friday, June 14, and Saturday, June 15, in downtown Spruce Pine. The multidimensional event drew thousands of people to the area from around the United States.

The inaugural Toe Jam Music Festival rocked downtown Spruce Pine Saturday, Aug. 31, well into the night. Live music took place in the Carolina Theatre parking lot on Lower Street with seven rock ‘n’ roll bands taking the stage throughout the day playing hits spanning several decades of music.

The original articles written by Brandon Roberts and Cory Spiers appeared in the Wednesday, June 19, and Wednesday, Sept. 4, editions of the News-Journal. 


Microbrewery coming to Spruce Pine

Thanks to Thiago Ferreira, downtown Spruce Pine will soon once again have a brewery.

Ferreira, a 38-year-old who came to the United States from Brazil as a child, needed less than a year in Mitchell County to make his goal of opening a brewery a reality. He previously lived in Florida and had a friend who lived in Mitchell County, and after coming to visit that friend, he decided the area was for him.

Ferreira’s brewery, which he plans to call BierDock, will be inside the old Not Bob’s Antique building on Locust Street. Ferreira plans to begin renovating the building soon and hopes to give it an “industrial and modern” feel.

Ferreira said in addition to the open bar area for serving beer he plans to integrate dining options eventually. BierDock will also be the lone downtown microbrewery and the first since The Pizza Shop and Dry County Brewing Company closed in late 2017.

BierDock will feature many local ingredients and a master beer consultant named Dante Pelo, an award-winning brewer who owns a brewery in Brazil. Customers will be able to watch the brewing process take place inside easily-viewed enclosures.

The original article written by Cory Spiers appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 4, edition of the News-Journal. 


Young not re-appointed as County Manager

The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners at its regular meeting Monday, Dec. 2, approved a decision to replace County Manager Kathy Young.

The appointment of the County Manager was one of several on the agenda for the meeting. Before the agenda was adopted, the board approved a decision to add a closed session before appointing the County Manager. Young waited alone in another room in the County Administration Building as the board convened for more than 40 minutes.

Young re-entered the room just after 8 p.m., roughly 45 minutes after the beginning of the closed session. After spending about 10 minutes inside the conference room with the board, Young was seen with her coat and bag in hand exiting out of the back door of the building.

Young had worked for the county for more than 30 years and had been County Manager since 2016.

The original article written by Cory Spiers appeared in the Wednesday, Dec. 4, edition of the News-Journal. 


HCA completes purchase of Mission Health

HCA Healthcare, a provider with 185 hospitals and approximately 1,800 sites of care in 21 states and the United Kingdom, announced Friday, Feb. 1, it had completed the purchase of Mission Health for roughly $1.5 billion. The sale included Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine.

The original article written by Brandon Roberts appeared in the Wednesday, Feb. 6, edition of the News-Journal. 


Pizza Shop building burns

The building that once housed The Pizza Shop and Dry County Brewing Co. at 585 Oak Ave. in Spruce Pine was still smoldering Thursday, May 2, after it was destroyed by a fire Wednesday, May 1.

Spruce Pine Fire Chief Josh Boone said a report of the fire came in at 8:21 p.m. Wednesday and the first engine was on the scene soon after.

“We were fortunate that two of our guys were at the station when the call came in,” Boone said. “As a result, we were able to get there quickly enough to keep any nearby buildings from getting damaged.”

Spruce Pine Fire and Rescue was assisted by the Bakersville, Parkway, Ledger and Green Valley fire departments. Boone said it took around two hours to extinguish the fire and another two hours to clean up the site. First responders left the scene just before midnight.

The original article written by Brandon Roberts appeared in the Wednesday, May 8, edition of the News-Journal.


$2 million water upgrade project begins in Bakersville 

A $2 million water pipe and meter upgrade project began this past June in Bakersville.

Funds for the upgrade were awarded through a Community Development Block Grant and paid for the administration of the grant, construction contracts and materials to complete the project.

“A lot of people are involved in the project, and a lot of contractors we have worked with in the past stepped up to help us determine the cost of the project before we submitted the project to the federal government,” said Charles “Chuck” Vines, mayor of Bakersville. “These improvements will last for many, many years.”

New water mains were installed at several downtown locations and the project started with installation across from the Bakersville Community Health Center and around to Pine Drive, then down the hillside back to NC Highway 226, Vines said.

The original article written by Brandon Roberts appeared in the Wednesday, June 5, edition of the News-Journal.


Animals rescued from extreme neglect 

SPRUCE PINE – Volunteers and employees from Mitchell County Animal Rescue responded Friday, Oct. 25, to a report of animal neglect.

The joint investigation of Mitchell County Animal Rescue and the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Department recovered four horses, two dogs and 19 cats.

The Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office later arrested John Taylor, 68, and Ruthanne Taylor, 71, of Bakersville, and charged them with misdemeanor cruelty to animals. They were released after posting a $1,500 bond.

The original articles were written by Brandon Roberts and appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 30, and Wednesday, Nov. 6, editions of the News-Journal.

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