ANOTHER NEW YEAR, FULL STEAM AHEAD
The Rant looks ahead to 2023 and looks back at the biggest and best stories from 2022
Hop on board, we’re charging full steam into 2023
In 45 editions of The Rant Monthly going back to April of 2019, we’ve never been so vain to put our own faces on a cover. Well, move over Oprah, because we’re starting 2023 by putting ourselves on the front page.
The idea behind our “photo shoot” on the No. 12 locomotive in Depot Park was to symbolize looking ahead (“full steam ahead”) to 2023. But honestly, The Rant has been around far longer than this publication — we started as a radio show a decade earlier in 2008 — and we used this same train back then for a promotional video for that show.
We’ve gotten grayer and a little larger around the belt since then, but it was nice to goof off again. We’ll also take any chance we can get to utilize the best photographer in Sanford — Ben Brown.
Another reason for the Monkees-esque album cover — we’re legitimately excited
about what’s to come in 2023. As you’ll see in our recap of 2022, the past 12 months have been about hope and potential in Sanford and Lee County.
When the nation had its “Great Recession” in 2007 and 2008, Sanford didn’t come out from the other end of it in great shape. Unemployment rose sharply, several businesses closed or simply left for greener pastures, and few people looked at our area as a viable place to live, work and play.
The 2020 pandemic could have had a similar impact, but the exact opposite seems to be happening on the tail end of it. Sanford has come out stronger — business is good, housing is booming, and we’re expecting a population spike in the next few years that we’ve never experienced before.
In this edition of The Rant Monthly, we offer our predictions on what will make news in the coming year, we report on why Lee
County believes it’s in good shape to take on more people, and we look back at 2022 month by month and recap the biggest stories and the news you clicked on most.
But before we get to that point, allow us to thank you, our very literate and very wonderful readers, to supporting us both online and in this printed publication for the last decade-plus. Your continued engagement drives us, even if our comment sections can get a bit out of hand.
And thank you to our amazing advertisers. Your support keeps us running — we hope you get as much out of this relationship as we do.
So sit back, eat your black eyed peas and collard greens, and enjoy another edition of The Rant Monthly. And now that you know what we look like, we kindly ask that you leave us alone in public. We’re deathly afraid of human contact. Peace out.
In 45 editions of The Rant Monthly, we’ve never been so vain to put our own faces on a cover. We break that streak with our first edition of 2023. Perhaps you’ll see us again in the 90th front page.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN MOORE COUNTY?
As a Moore County native, the answer to this question has been positive for most of my life. My home county has hosted multiple U.S. Opens and is home to more golf courses than possibly anywhere in the world. The USGA is opening a major hub there. The Golf Hall of Fame is moving back to Pinehurst. The whole Sandhills area is booming with new stores and development. The world’s largest military base is just down the street. In the last month, though, that reputation has changed.
Now, when I hear this question, I know exactly what the questioner is referring to, and it ain’t good.
On the afternoon of Dec. 3, my friend sent a message over a group text with several friends from high school saying his power had gone out. Quickly, others on the chat followed with similar messages.
Then came screenshots of protests in the street outside a theater in Southern Pines hosting a drag show or of crazy Facebook posts from someone claiming to know what was happening. There were reports of gunshots at the Carthage courthouse (unsubstantiated) and looting at Walmart (possibly true), and break-ins at gun stores (pretty sure this didn’t happen.)
The power stayed off for hours for some or almost a week for others. Eventually, the lights came back on and normalcy returned. A few weeks later, someone wrote antisemitic slurs on an overpass along U.S. 1 and did it again just before Christmas.
But the trail has gone cold in the search for the power station bandits. At least, there has been no new news since the initial week of press conferences. The FBI, SBI and local law enforcement are investigating, and a $75,000 reward has been offered for information leading to an arrest.
Frankly, we may never know who shot out the power in Moore County. If you think about it, it’s a tough case to crack. No one could have possibly known to make a mental note of the vehicle driving down a country road before the power went out. But you don’t carry out a coordinated attack like this without help. Someone out there knows who did it.
Why does it matter? Well, Moore County is likely just the first of many such attacks. It was just too easy to cause mayhem and get away with it. On Christmas Day, four substations in Washington state were vandalized, knocking out power to 14,000 people.
That’s why we can’t let it die. News outlets need to be asking questions every day. Rewards need to be raised. Progress needs to be made. If not, it may not be a power station in rural Moore County getting attacked next time. It may be a church or a school or a voting site.
Two power substations in Moore County were attacked by gunmen on Dec. 3, and more than 45,000 people in the area were left without power for multiple days.
MOORE COUNTY POWER OUTAGES
No arrests or motives in Moore’s power station attack
No arrests have been made, no evidence has been released publicly and no suspects have been named in the gun attack that damaged two power substations in Moore County in December, leaving roughly 45,000 households and businesses without power for nearly a week.
o What happened?
On Dec. 3, a person or group of people intentionally fired multiple gunshots at two power substations in Moore County, heavily damaging the power sources and leaving much of
Moore County — more than 45,000 homes and businesses in all — without power for nearly a week.
Federal and state agencies immediately began helping Moore County law enforcement investigate the attack, and a state of emergency and curfew were imposed across the county.
“The person who did this knew what they were doing,” Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said in a press conference days after the attack. “It appears they were trying to shut down the county.”
An inauspicious start
This publication stirred up community sentiment in a way we haven’t seen in a long time when we reported on the first meeting of the new Lee County Board of Education in December.
Following the November election, three new Republican members took office, replacing Democrats Christine Hilliard, Pat McCracken and outgoing Republican Pamela Sutton. Despite a national wave one way or the other failing to materialize, Republicans turned out in Lee County, and the three GOP school board candidates — Eric Davidson, Chris Gaster and Alan Rummel – topped the ticket by hundreds of votes. The outcome handed Republicans a 5-2 majority on the school board and signaled a change in direction we expect to watch unfold in the coming months.
The Rant’s coverage of that new board’s first meeting in December included an observation that the new members didn’t appear to have done their homework ahead of time. Awkward motions and lengthy periods of time behind closed doors seemed to rule the day. There’s still plenty of time to see how the new board’s agenda plays out, and we plan to continue watching it. That’s our job.
Unsettling was much of the reaction to this piece. “Instead of judging,” multiple arguments went, “Why don’t you come back in six months and report on how the schools are doing then?”
The idea that a news organization should ignore a public body for any period of time until some later date is beyond silly. We may not be able to show you how all of the sausage is made (that was a lengthy closed session from the school board), but we can document as much of it as is made public. You can reach your own conclusions from there. Obviously, you can watch the meetings for yourself online, but most won’t.
Most everyone in Lee County — whether they have kids or not — wants the schools to do as well as possible. Covering the school board won’t ensure that entirely. Not covering the school board at all, or any other public body, might ensure the opposite. Look for more coverage in the months to come.
OPINIONCOLUMN | BILLY LIGGETT
OVER AND OVER AND OVER
In my late teens and early 20s, I worked summers and holiday breaks in a plant that recycled alternators and sold them back to wholesalers. Most of the jobs there involved factory line work — standing in one place, taking apart, cleaning and rebuilding auto parts for eight hours a day, five days a week. It was monotonous, repetitious labor, and the factory fans did little to help the Texas heat that hung in the air in July and August.
I was thankful I only had to do it for a few weeks over a few years.
During my final week of my final summer, I was on hand for a small retirement party for a man who had worked for this company for 35 years. His smile was big, and his pride was evident while coworkers showered him with gifts, cake and hugs.
But what stuck with me then — and sticks with me to this day — was the “35 years” figure. For a job as grueling and repetitive as his was, I was in awe of his dedication to his work. I tried to calculate the number of alternators and other various car parts he’d handled in that time. I tried to break down the number of hours and even minutes he spent standing upright, head down, blistered hands at work.
I thought about this man again last month during a family trip to Disney World. Stay with me here.
My family has been fortunate enough to make this trip to the “happiest place on Earth” roughly once every three years since our first child was born, and each trip has been an absolute joy for them and for me — a guy who just likes seeing other people happy (and who enjoys a good coaster or two). Every time we go, I enjoy taking in and quietly analyzing the well-oiled machine that is Disney World. The animatronics, the rides, the music, the queues, the noise — for visitors, it all flows. You get a quick, magical experience, then you’re on to the next one. And the next one.
But without fail, even when I’m supposed to be “lost in the magic,” my mind wanders and tries to fathom the repetition of it all. I think about the employees who have to say, “Can you lift up on your bar?” several hundred times a day at whatever ride they’re working. Or the people in the character suits who pose for countless photos — acting in each one like it’s the first time they’ve ever done it. Or the
guy at the end of the “Journey Into Imagination” ride who has to hear the “I-maaaaaa-gin-aaaaaa-tion” song over and over and over and over until his shift ends.
Disney World has existed for 51 years, and it’s home to a few attractions that have been running since opening day. The same music, the same words, the same performances — 12 hours a day, 365 days a year for 51 years.
Take “It’s a Small World,” for example. You knew I was going there. It’s the little boat ride through various lands with miniature dolls singing the same song in different languages. The song never ends, and as long as there’s a Disney World or a Disneyland, it probably never will end.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to do the calculus on this one. Others are apparently equally curious. They say “It’s a Small World” has run in five Disney parks for a total of 150 years, give or take a few months. According to Time.com, the song is played an average of 1,200 times a day per park, making it the unofficial “most played song in the history of the world” — more than “Happy Birthday” and more than anything Elvis or the Beatles made — at roughly 50 million plays.
Disney World’s Carousel of Progress is an animatronic stage play that takes viewers through decades of 20th century progress. It’s the oldest attraction at Disney World to have been touched by Walt Disney himself. Over the last 47 years, it’s run more than 500,000 times, making it the longest-running and most watched stage show in the history of American theater.
I know a few current and former Disney Parks employees — they’re officially called “cast members” — and I’ve asked about the repetitive nature of their jobs. Though they never worked the aforementioned rides with the earworm music, they’ve admitted it can all get very, very monotonous, no matter the job. But they’ve all professed love for their work, too. It’s just a happy place to be.
I’ve tried to explain to anyone who’ll listen that I believe the repetitive sound waves Disney has produced over the last 50 years will remain in the air, etched into the walls, long after we’re all gone from this planet. Much like hearing the ocean in a seashell, aliens will still hear echoes of “It’s a Small World” when they visit centuries from now.
And they’ll probably get tired of it by the third listen.
Sennnnd an email, afterall, to firstname.lastname@example.org
The takeoff of Raleigh Exec
What began as a small, rural airstrip has blossomed into an economic engine with a $61M annual impact on the region
o The Story : A 2021 report estimated Raleigh Exec’s annual economic impact at an eye-popping $61 million, all while supporting as many as 400 local jobs. Additionally, its mere presence serves as a catalyst for economic development.
Bob Heuts — formerly in economic development himself with the old Lee County Economic Development Corporation in the mid to late 2000s — and Jimmy Randolph, CEO of the Sanford Area Growth Alliance, both said Raleigh Exec has been at the heart of any of the blockbuster jobs projects announced (think Pfizer, Bharat Forge, Astellas) by Sanford and Lee County’s government and business leaders in recent years.
o Quotable : “You look at it the same way you look at highways or rails or any other type of transportation. But it’s also an asset to the community, just like the community college or our public schools. And this may have an even farther reach, because the people that use this airport are from around here, but that could mean a 30 mile radius. And if those people weren’t using it, they’d be going somewhere else.” — Bob Heuts, Raleigh Exec’s director since 2016.”
o Reader Response : “The Raleigh Executive Jetport is a huge asset for Sanford and Lee County and something the community should be very proud of. Early Sanford business leaders such as Lewis D. Isenhour saw this value and was instrumental in establishing the airport; and the facility now has grown to be a transportation hub, economic engine for Lee County and Sanford, educational resource, and even provides community activities and entertainment. We’re very fortunate to have this facility and to see continuing investment.” — Al Roethlisberger
The ‘hidden problem’
Murder of local woman puts area’s domestic abuse problem in the spotlight; Lee County home to support for victims
o The Story : Ten months before Missy Bockes was found dead in her home on Jan. 5, 2022 — launching a statewide manhunt for her husband and alleged murderer and an Amber Alert for the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Riley — she was the victim of domestic violence. It isn’t known whether it was the first time. It, unfortunately, wasn’t the last. Her death and the subsequent arrest of her husband, Brent James Bockes, eight hours away in Tennessee put a very public face on an often unspoken problem in Lee County and North Carolina — domestic abuse.
Sanford Police Department responded to 766 calls for domestic violence in 2020, of which 93 resulted in an investigation or charge, and 802 in 2021. The Lee County Sheriff’s Office responded to 279 calls in 2020 and 274 in 2021. Organizations like HAVEN of Lee County are working tirelessly to help, support and protect victims of domestic violence and their families. In addition to reporting on the numbers, the February 2022 edition of The Rant Monthly highlighted those efforts to help those in need.
o Excerpt : In 2020, there were 134 domestic violence-related homicides in the state, according to the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That number represented a 24-percent increase over the previous
year. Missy Bockes, Yvonne Christiansen and Wendy Bryant were all killed (allegedly killed in Bockes’ case) by their husband or fiancé in Lee County in the last three years. Christiansen and Bryant were both killed by a handgun.
o Reader Response : “Thank you HAVEN for the support group I participated in over 24 years ago. Verbal abuse is abuse. It helped to know I was not alone.” — Anonymous
o Since it Ran : In May, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner released the autopsy report of Missy Bockes, stating she died of “multiple sharp and blunt force injuries.” Brent Bockes was charged with first-degree murder, but no trial information has been released since his arrest.
MARThe large white brick building at the corner of Wicker and Moore streets in downtown Sanford is one of many recently purchased properties currently under renovation for business and/or residential use. Mark Lyczkowski purchased the building in 2021 and spent much of 2022 working on improvements to the decades-old structure.
o The Story: In 2013, voters approved a bond measure that invested $6.5 million in streetscape improvements for the downtown areas in Sanford and Jonesboro. When leaders pitched that bond, they argued that Sanford needed to invest in itself in order to attract even more private dollars to an area that had shown signs of being on the upswing and needed just a little boost from local government. Today, it’s hard to argue that it’s worked less than perfectly.
It’s easy to forget the contrast between the downtown that existed before that project and the one that does today. In Sanford, longtime stalwarts Local Joe’s, Java Express and Mrs. Wengers made up the bulk of the area’s eating and/or drinking establishments. Today, they’re joined by places like the Smoke & Barrel, Hugger Mugger Brewing, and the Chocolate
Cellar. As entertainment went, Temple Theatre wasn’t a bad only option to have, but some of the same establishments just mentioned have joined it in hosting live music and more.
Name the retail sector, and it’s indisputable that Sanford’s city center offers more options and attractions to bring people downtown than it did a little less than a decade ago. But while those years might seem today like the focus of a development boom for downtown, there are some signs that indicate they could be just a prologue for what’s to come.
o Quotable : “Five years ago, you could get some of these buildings for $120,000 or $180,000, and today they’re going for $350,000 to $450,000. There are people who are under 45 who are investing in downtown right now. Prior to that, you
had a lot of people who had owned these buildings for a lot of years, so it’s a little bit of a generational shift and that’s really exciting to see.” — John Ramsperger, Sanford Real Estate
o Reader Response : “We’re one of those younger couples. Sanford came on our radar because of this exact thing, new growth and excitement in a cool small town. We’re building a house 10 minutes from downtown, and I can’t wait to see Sanford continue to grow.” — Jackson Wall
Properties in downtown Sanford are changing hands at a rapid pace with both buyers looking to jump on the area’s growth
Major Tom, the Pirate
Sanford’s Thomas Harrington went from unheralded college walk-on at Campbell to first-round Major League pitcher
o The Story : He expected the six-year plan for college — a degree in kinesiology and a few years of graduate school, followed by job interviews and eventually a career in physical therapy. But the job interviews are coming much sooner for Thomas Harrington. And the career path now laid before him is the stuff of dreams.
On July 17, just six days after he turned 21, Thomas Harrington became a professional baseball player, drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Pirates (joining fellow Campbell first-rounded Zach Neto, who went earlier to the Los Angeles Angels).
The journey that got him to this point — solid though unheralded prospect coming out Southern Lee High School, walk-on at Campbell University, last-minute addition to the pitching rotation as a freshman, Big South Conference Freshman of the Year, first-team All-American and conference Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore — is nothing short of remarkable.
o Quotable : “Two-years-ago me would have probably been pretty proud. This is all so different than where I
thought I would be right now. I get to be a baseball player now. The physical challenges I’ve overcome. The mental challenges I’ve overcome. Yeah, my younger self would be pretty happy with all of this.” — Thomas Harrington
o Since it Ran : In December, Harrington was listed as the 10th top prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, and he’s expected to make his Minor League debut this spring in Class A-Advanced Bradenton (Florida), or possibly Class A Greensboro, closer to home.
The Rant’s Top 20 of ‘22
11. Struggling Riverbirch sold to Ohio-based company
(November) Riverbirch Corner, the shopping center that has anchored west Sanford since the late 1980s but largely fallen into decline in recent years, was sold to CASTO, an Ohio-based real estate company with offices in N.C. and Florida. CASTO runs several shopping centers in the state, including Stone Creek Village in Cary and the Shoppes at Wakefield Park in Raleigh.
10. City files nuisance complaint against Prince motel
(June) After years of complaints from nearby residents and businesses and mounting reports of criminal activity, the city of Sanford filed a formal complaint against the owners of the Prince Down Town, calling the business a “public nuisance” and requesting a preliminary injunction that would essentially close the motel pending a trial.
9. Speed limit lowered on U.S. 1
(April) Not huge news here, but people love a good story about speed limits. The limit on U.S. 1 through Sanford was lowered from 70 to 65 miles per hour.
6. Brass Kettle forced to leave Horner location
(May) Brass Kettle Family Restaurant, the popular breakfast/lunch spot that has spanned generations in Sanford, announced it would move from its Horner location to make way for a Sheetz gas station.
5. Bowling alley owner charged with arson
(July) Two Sanford men were charged in connection with a 2021 fire which catastrophically damaged the Kendale Lanes bowling alley and an adjacent business. One of the arrested men was owner of the alley.
4. FBI investigating power outages in Moore County
(December) A huge national story — the attack on electrical substations in Moore County that left more than 40,000 people without power for several days — had an impact on neighboring Lee County as many sought shelter, food and gas.
Lee removed from vehicle inspection program
Two large subdivisions planned for south Sanford
(March) Two large subdivisions — one of them a mixed-use plan that will include apartments, townhomes and commercial buildings — are in the works in the fast-growing southern end of Sanford near the city’s two largest big-box retailers.
7. Mother of missing 3-year-old found dead
(January) Minutes after a statewide Amber Alert was issued for a missing 3-year-old Sanford girl, Sanford Police reported the girl’s mother was found dead inside her home on Lee Avenue. The girl was recovered and the father was arrested and charged with murder that evening. More on this story can be found on Page 16 in this edition.
(June) Sometimes we’re surprised about what stories get the hits. The end of emissions testing in Lee County is one of those stories.
2. SanLee teacher charged with sexual abuse
(November) A veteran SanLee Middle School teacher was charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse against several of his students.
1. Woman’s ‘woodpecker in hair’ video goes viral
(June) It’s one thing to get a baby woodpecker stuck in your hair and to have the whole thing captured on video. It’s another to have that video unexpectedly go viral (15 million views on TikTok alone). Brittany Bronson’s experience outside her Sanford home was by far our most-viewed story of 2022. Congrats!
Those here before us
The history of N.C.’s indigenous people has gone mostly untaught, but there’s hope as state tribes develop a stronger presence, voice
o The Story : Katie Eddings has taught history in North Carolina public schools for nearly 20 years. She remembers her North Carolina history textbooks — back when students still used actual books — and the painfully small amount of ink given to those who lived here long before the first Spanish and English settlers arrived.
Thousands of years … reduced to a few paragraphs.
“The history of North Carolina that we teach to our children doesn’t do justice to the people who were here long before. It doesn’t represent all of the people here,” says Eddings, a world history and personal finance teacher at Lee Early College in Sanford and a native of the Lumbee Indian tribe in the southeastern part of the state.
“But I do see things are starting to change. I think younger people are more willing now [to learning history of indigenous people], and I think social media and wider availability to this history has made this possible. People are more open to hearing all sides and having these sometimes difficult discussions.”
o Excerpt : The
is the closest state-recognized tribe to the Lee County area. Descendants of the aboriginal tribe of the Neusiok Indians near the Neuse River, they settled to their present location in the mid 1700s.
o Quotable : “Do we need Americans today to to apologize for what the colonists did? No. But they need to acknowledge that I have a language, I have these traditions and I have this history that is real to me.”
— Katie Eddings
THE YEAR THAT WILL BE
The Rant breaks out the crystal ball and predicts the stories that will have the biggest impact on our area in 2023. (Don’t hold us to any of this).
We don’t claim to be able to predict the future, but we’ve been at this long enough to recognize what’s coming down the pike. The picture for Sanford and Lee County looks pretty rosy for 2023, so here are five positive guesses about what we think you can expect to see in the coming year. Email your predictions for 2023 to email@example.com and we may publish some of them in the February printed edition. And be positive!
o Growth, growth, growth
Lee County’s housing explosion continued in 2022, and we don’t expect it to slow in 2023. Each look at the Sanford-Lee County Planning Department’s monthly permit report showed a seemingly endless list of permits issued for construction of a staggering number of new single family homes, and each look at the city’s Technical Review Committee agenda shows the consideration of some new development or apartment complex. There really are too many to list.
Make no mistake. This is a good thing. The Rant frequently receives comments on stories about growth lamenting our lack of preparedness. But a piece in this
month’s edition shows that – at least as schools go – we’re more than ready. Not only is there room in the county’s public schools for at least 1,000 additional children, there are more private and public charter options than ever before. Beyond that, the county is sitting on a pretty hefty balance of funds to build new schools when they’re needed.
This growth may cause some headaches with regards to things like traffic, but that’s just a fact of life. You can focus on that, or on the ever increasing number of options the growth is bringing us when it comes to dining, shopping, entertainment, and more. We’ll take the latter.
Lee County is ‘ready for growth’
Outgoing county manager says area is prepared for the impending population spike as new subdivisions, apartments and businesses begin arriving in 2023By Richard Sullins firstname.lastname@example.org
As the populations of Sanford and Lee County continue a period of sustained rapid growth, concerns have been repeatedly raised the county isn’t ready to support the level of investments necessary to support new industries and housing on which that kind of growth can be expected to be built.
Most often cited are new schools that will have to be built to handle the expected influx of new students, particularly in the elementary schools that have grown up in neighborhoods with significant numbers of families having small children. We should be purchasing land now, this argument continues, but the county can’t do that now because, again, “we are
not ready for it.”
It’s a case that Lee County Manager Dr. John Crumpton, who will retire from his position in late February after a decade and a half, has heard many times before.
It’s one he isn’t buying into.
Crumpton piggy-backed onto the results of the county’s most recent financial audit to make his own case that the county is prepared today to take on the obligations and requirements that are part and parcel of expanding our network of schools.
He told Lee County’s commissioners at their meeting on Dec. 19, “If we needed to spend money today on schools, we are ready. I want to make that perfectly clear. We are ready.”
o ‘Solid’ financial numbers
Crumpton gave his assessment after Stuart Hill, a CPA with the accounting firm of Thompson, Price, Scott, Adams and Company, shared his opinions about the state of the county’s finances following the audit.
It’s important to remember here that the numbers presented to the commissioners covered the county’s finances from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022. So, the beginning date for financials was 18 months ago and ended just before the July 4 holiday in 2022.
Hill said the county’s revenues and transfers were just short of $87 million, representing an increase of 7.35 percent (or $5,950,395) above the 2020-21 fiscal year. Ad valorem, or property, taxes
accounted for 58 percent of the county’s receipts during the last fiscal year, followed by 25 percent from local option sales taxes and another 10 percent coming from restricted governmental dollars that typically come from grants allocated to the county.
Income resulting from ad valorem taxes was propelled by the increasing assessed value of real and personal property across the county, valued on June 30 of this year at $6.581 billion and representing a 6.69 percent growth in the total valuation from Fiscal Year 2020-21.
From the standpoint of percentage, an even larger growth number was reported in sales tax revenues. During the fiscal year that ended in June, the county took in $20,987,160 through its local option sales tax, showing a year-to-year growth of $2,410,926 over its performance in FY 2020-21. That accounted for an increase of 12.98 percent that continues to drive the county’s strong recovery from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the other side of the equation, the majority of the county’s expenditures during FY 2021-22 continued to be in education – a total of $33,807,884 last year that accounts for 39.44 percent of the total budget during that 12-month
MINTER NAMED NEXT LEE COUNTY MANAGER
Changes in personnel were on the minds of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, as the board selected Assistant Lee County Manager Lisa Minter as the next county manager. Minter will fill the shoes of outgoing County Manager Dr. John Crumpton, who announced in November he would retire at the end of February.
Minter will be offered a two-year employment contract at the rate of $185,000 per year. She served as the county’s finance director for many years and was promoted to assistant county manager during a reorganization a few months ago.
Crumpton also announced that Director of County Development Services Santiago Giraldo will be leaving his position at the end of December. Giraldo has been the point-person for Lee County’s capital improvement projects, from planning through construction. He is a U.S. Army veteran whose last posting was at Fort Bragg.
Robert Walters has been promoted to director of the general services department following the retirement of Russell Spivey last week. With Walters’ experience in construction, the Development Services office will be moved under his supervision.
$35K FROM TRUIST
Outreach Mission Inc., which currently operates men’s and women’s shelters for people experiencing homelessness in Sanford, was the recipient of a boost from the Truist Foundation in December.
The foundation presented a check of $35,000 for the purposes of funding the construction of OMI’s new Samuel J. Wornom Community Shelter in Sanford. On hand to receive the check were OMI President Hamer Carter and Vice President Laura Spivey. The check was presented by Jimmy Keen, the Market President for Truist’s Lee and Chatham County markets.
LEE COUNTY GOVERNMENT
‘Dream Center’ funds delayed while org seeks nonprofit statusBy Richard Sullins email@example.com
A $500,000 grant made by Lee County’s Board of Commissioners on Nov. 14 to an organization affiliated with a local church will be delayed for an unknown length of time because the group — the Life Springs Action Team, Inc. — has not yet been approved by the IRS as a tax-exempt entity.
Lee County Manager Dr. John Crumpton told The Rant after Monday afternoon’s meeting of the commission -
ers that “it could be a matter of a few weeks or a few months. Nothing can happen until that is approved. But once it does happen, we will come back to the commissioners and seek their approval of a contractual agreement.”
Commissioners had been set to vote on a contract for the grant money at the final December meeting. That vote did not take place.
An IRS designation as an approved 501(c)(3) entity allows an organization to be exempt from payment of corporate taxes. But more importantly, it quali -
fies the group as a charity that makes it eligible to apply for, and receive, grants and to declare that contributions it receives are tax deductible by the donor, with some restrictions.
The IRS typically approves applications for 501(c)(3) status within a four to six month period. But most agencies of government are still recovering from backlogs of work that piled up during the COVID-19 pandemic and are still awaiting processing because staffing remains an issue in many departments.
The award made by the commission -
ers is a part of the county’s $12 million allotment from COVID relief dollars that were authorized by Congress, signed into law by the president, and paid from taxpayer funds held in trust by the U.S. Treasury. County commissioners have been making use of these very same COVID dollars to address critical issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic.
Mental illness was determined to be one of the critical challenges facing Lee County as the community and the local economy continue to recover, and the commissioners had set aside $1.5 million to address mental and emotional concerns. The $500,000 award by the commissioners for the Life Springs Dream Center represents about one-third of the amount they had reserved for mental health issues.
o Commission’s cash leaves project still $834,000 short
It was just 15 days after their success with the county that Life Springs Pastor Rev. Dale Sauls and Rev. Daniel Owens, also a pastor at Life Springs and the director of the Dream Center project, moved on to another unit of Lee County government: the Sanford City Council.
The council had a handful of items to discuss in closed session as they met for a special-called workshop meeting on November 29, but the only open session item on the agenda was to “consider an update from Life Springs Church.” When it came their time to speak, the two pastors said that they had not come to ask for money, but Sauls added that “we’re at a stage where we feel like for us to do this on the level that has been done in other communities, and now since the separate 501(c)(3), we’ve never asked for the community to fund it. It’s all been funded by Life Springs Church.”
“We’re at a place now where we’re gonna need help to really go with the level of excellence and do the things that we have the vision to do,” he continued. “None of that goes back to the church at all. It is simply to be able to help the community, and so we’re just wanting you guys to be in the loop as we figure it out. And if you think it would be a
blessing, if you think we could serve, if you think we could do that, then help us take it to the next level.”
The 12-page proposal the Life Springs Action Team submitted to the county estimates their budget for implementing the project over the next three years will cost approximately $1,334,400. The award of $500,000 from the county represents about 37 percent of that amount, leaving Life Springs with the need to raise another $834,400 (or 63 percent) before the Dream Center project can be fully funded.
Like the county, the city also received COVID relief dollars, as well as others that are being allocated from the multistate opioid settlement. And again, just like the county, the city identified mental health and drug abuse concerns as being near the top of its list of priorities to be addressed through these allotments that come along once or twice in a generation.
The biggest-ticket item in Life Springs’ proposed budget is $800,000 for a building to house the program. The budget detail doesn’t specify whether this would be a purchase or a rental of an existing facility, but it does contain one interesting bit of information – that they “would like to be located in Downtown Sanford.”
That’s important, because were it not for the efforts of Sauls, the ordinance adopted in 1999 that prohibited religious complexes from locating in the central business district of downtown would also have barred an organization like the Dream Center.
Getting that law removed from the city’s book of ordinances this past October opened the door to make this project legally eligible to be located somewhere in the nine blocks that make up the central business district. And if an organization had $800,000 in cash ready to either lease a facility or purchase it outright, it would surely have no competitors for the space.
The county cannot write a check to the Life Springs Action Team for the $500,000 it has promised until the IRS gives final approval to their application for approval as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That could come in a matter of days, or it could take months.
FEATS OF STRENGTH
Sanford man hikes the full Appalachian TrailBy Gordon Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org
Running a marathon (26.2 miles) is a big deal. Completing a full triathlon (swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a marathon 26.2 miles) is a bigger deal.
Sanford native Larry Autrey (Sanford Central High School class of 1976) has all that beat. Autrey, a real estate agent who now lives in Florida, began a trek in March that took him six full months to complete — all 2,194-plus miles of the famed Appalachian Trail.
Autrey has run marathons in the past,
and prior to his walk on the AT — which stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katadhin in Maine — had completed hikes of as much as 72 miles in the Ocala National Forest near his home.
Autrey told the Living Valencia publication near his home in Florida that he began preparing for his hike by walking four to six miles each day around his neighborhood while wearing a 20-pound pack on his back.
“The elevation gain/loss is equivalent to hiking Mt. Everest from sea level to summit 16 times,” Autry told the publication. “Nothing compares to actually climbing a mountain. I literally hiked
myself into shape.”
Autrey’s hike began on March 26 and lasted until Oct. 1. He celebrated his 64th birthday on the trail, and started out walking eight to 10 miles per day, advancing to as many as 20 miles in a day as he went. His personal best was 24 miles in a day. He lost 45 pounds on the journey (after telling The Rant in March that he expected to lose 25).
Along the way, Autrey would stop where possible to catch a ride into town so he could resupply, eat a (very large) hot meal, do laundry, sleep in a bed, and more.
“People in those trail towns wear it as a badge of honor to pick up a hiker,” he told The Rant . “And to pick up a through hiker — that’s really special for them.”
The hike wasn’t just for kicks, though. Autrey used the adventure to raise money for Alzheimer’s research organization The Longest Day. Of a $22,000 goal, Autrey
raised $16,000. Donors can still give by visiting https://act.alz.org/goto/LarryAutrey.
First ‘Help & Healing Festival’ coming to Mann Center on Jan. 28
Helping Hand Clinic is spearheading the first-ever “Help & Healing Festival” that will bring community organizations and local businesses together at the Mann Center on Jan. 28 to share information about the services they provide.
The event is also an opportunity for nonprofit, for-profit and institutional organizations interested in building a stronger community to exchange ideas about how services can be streamlined, consolidated and modified to improve delivery.
“We chose a Saturday for this event so that
those who need help will be able to attend, and most of them are hard-working neighbors who struggle to make ends meet,” said Gwendolyn Lee, HHC’s executive director of Helping Hand Clinic. “Our goal is to provide a convenient one-stop-shopping opportunity.”
Helping Hand Clinic, founded in 1993, is a volunteer-driven, community-supported free and charitable clinic that provides medical care, pharmacy services, dental referrals, vision exams and mental health referrals to uninsured low-income residents of Lee
County, in most cases at no charge to the patient receiving the care.
The all-day event will run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free to attendees. In addition to meeting with service providers one-on-one, attendees will have the opportunity to hear brief presentations from participating organizations between noon and 1:30 p.m. Event sponsorships and booth space at the Mann Center are still available for businesses and nonprofit organizations interested in participating. Organizations will have the opportunity to arrange breakout
sessions with other groups to discuss topics of mutual interest.
In addition to Helping Hand Clinic, a sampling of organizations that will participate include BInsured Advisors, a Sanford-based health insurance advisory service, Walgreen’s, Fair Promise AME Zion Church and Ministry, ADS Security, Kemper Life and Health, Lee County NAACP and Nique’s Sweet Wild Kitchen.
For more information, contact Gwendolyn Lee at (716) 603-4089 or by email at email@example.com.
Womack elected chair of school board; first meeting of new board has rocky startBy Richard Sullins firstname.lastname@example.org
A meeting of the Lee County Board of Education that started with only a handful of items on the agenda turned into an affair lasting just short of five hours on Dec. 13, with more than half the gathering taking place behind closed doors.
By the time it was all over just before the clock struck 11 p.m., the new Republican majority had provided a textbook example in how the direction of an organization can be changed in the span of a few hours when you have the votes.
This new majority, joined by veteran Republican board member Sherry Lynn Womack, began by ousting fellow GOP and politically moderate Republican member Sandra Bowen as chair of the board, handing the gavel to Womack as its new leader.
With three new members joining the board all at once, a bit of time in bringing them up to speed was expected. But some people in the audience were surprised that not all of them seemed to have spent adequate time with their homework before taking their oath of office.
Democrats had reclaimed a majority on the school board in September 2021 when Vice Chair Christine Hilliard switched her political affiliation from Republican to Democratic.
But the Nov. 8 elections saw the political pendulum take a swing to the right with the election of three first-time members of the GOP — Eric Davidson, Chris Gaster, and Alan Rummel.
o New direction set
Davidson, Gaster and Rummel were sworn into office at 5:30 p.m. before the meeting started, followed by a short reception for congratulations and well-wishes. When the meeting started promptly at 6 p.m., the new Republican majority made clear that they intended more besides changing who will hold the gavel.
As the meeting’s agenda came up for a vote, Rummel and Gaster offered up a quiver of seven motions to add additional items for consideration and have the public take notice that at least for the short term, there will be investigations and, in some cases, re-investigations of things that were previously believed settled.
The list of potential topics offered in a rapid-fire fashion sought to collectively set a direction that few subjects, if any, would be off-limits for this board during their next 12 months.
Gaster succeeded in adding an item that to create new performance and fiscal audits of Lee County Schools “so that we will have the latest data to work with. Gaster linked his motion to a performance audit done by Evergreen Solutions of the school district in 2012, suggesting new findings might lead to new policies and strategies to relate to a decline in test scores observed over the past decade and noting his intent in offering the motion was to create a foundation for the school board and commissioners to work more closely together.
o Much to be learned
But Gaster seemed to be operating from a perception that a fiscal audit had not been done since 2012, a notion that was quickly corrected by Womack and Bowen. Rummel wanted the work to include sections on the status of each funding stream from which the board obtains funds and strategies for making use of those dollars.
No one was prepared to provide detailed information on the 2012 recommendations that resulted from the study, but Democratic board member Patrick Kelly remembered that the Evergreen Solutions document recommended doing away with locally hired custodians and bus drivers, replacing them instead with contracted workers. The difference among the board members centered on the amount of information being provided through the current auditing process
LEGENDARY GOSPEL SINGER MARY
Gospel singer, performer, historian and educator Mary D. Williams will perform a one-night show at Temple Theatre on Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m. Local audiences may remember her from Mike Wiley’s tour of “Blood Done Signed My Name.” Says author Timothy B. Tyson: “Her power as a singer and educator comes from the heart and her scholarship, from her commitment to humanity and her belief in the God who drowned Pharaoh’s army and still seeks to let His people go, and from her faith in the blood that has signed all our names.”
SEND YOUR EVENT
The Rant Monthly's community calendar has returned, and we're doing our best to track down everything going on in Sanford and Lee County. Send us your events by email at email@example.com and include the date, time, location and a brief description.
Hugger Mugger Brewing’s 1st Friday Event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. The free event will feature live music from Emily Musolino, face painting, vendors and Cousins Maine Lobster food truck.
House in the Horseshoe historic site will host “Yule Have a Ball: Twelfth Night Party” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Children of all ages are invited for a night of historic fun and dancing at the Alston House. Learn a simple 18th century dance, sip on punch and enjoy amusements from the past. Children must be accompanied by an adult. For more information and ticket purchases, visit eventbrite.com.
Whiskey Bent will perform at The Smoke and Barrel in downtown Sanford at 8 p.m. Whiskey Bent is a local three-piece band that performs a variety of rock and modern country songs.
The Quilting and Fiber Art Marketplace will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center in Sanford. The event is one-stop shopping with the best vendors from North Carolina and South Carolina. Visitors will see lots of fabric, yarns, books and patterns, and several quilt shops will be on site with quilting supplies. Admission is $5.
JAN 19-FEB 5
Temple Theatre will present its first main stage show of 2023 — “Unnecessary Farce” directed by Craig Rhyne. Synopsis: “In a cheap motel room, an embezzling mayor is supposed to meet with his female accountant, while in the room next-door, two undercover cops wait to catch the meeting on videotape. But there’s some confusion as to who’s in which room, who’s being videotaped, who’s taken the money, who’s hired a hit-
man and why the accountant keeps taking off her clothes. Learn more or buy tickets at templeshows.com.
The N.C. Cooperative Extension-Lee County Center will host a blueberry pruning demonstration and workday (option 1) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.. at the center, located at 2420 Tramway Road. The class will include an overview of blueberry care, a guide to restoration and maintenance pruning and an opportunity to practice your newly-learned skills on the blueberry bushes with expert guidance. Fee is $10 a person.
The Simpletones will perform at The Smoke and Barrel in downtown Sanford at 8 p.m. The Simpletones are comprised of four Sanford locals who play a wide mix of popular rock-n-roll and pop covers.