ASHEBORO — There were 18 child deaths in Randolph County in 2021, the latest year that statistics are available. Children are defined as anyone through the age of 17.
That figure was given to the Randolph County Board of Commissioners during their Feb. 6 meeting. Tara Aker, director of Public Health, provided the figures. Breaking down the causes, she said:
- 1 was the result of an accident.
- 3 were from birth defects.
- 3 children died of illnesses.
- 2 had perinatal conditions.
- 4 were undetermined.
- 2 committed suicide.
- 2 were victims of homicide.
- 1 died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
Aker said the 2021 deaths were five fewer than 2020, when there were 23 reported child deaths.
Child deaths are reviewed by the Community Child Protection Team, which met six times during the past year. Among the 18 members are Aker and Tracie Murphy, director of Randolph County Social Services.
The team is mandated by state law to report annually to the commissioners.
Aker said the team looks for ways to prevent child deaths and works to prevent unsafe conditions.
Murphy reported, “The purpose of the Community Child Protection Team is to identify systemic deficiencies in child welfare services or resources. Once identified, teams develop strategies to address the gaps in the child welfare system within the county.”
Murphy said the team reviewed nine cases during the past year and held a training session on safe sleeping, found the need for mental health services for low-income families and recommended increased public awareness about conditions that impact child protection.
In addition to the training on safe sleeping, the Department of Social Services:
- Strived to increase awareness and open communication with community partners.
- Worked to continue open and clear communication between DSS and 911 communications.
- Met with the charter schools, Randolph County and Asheboro City school nurses and social workers keeping them abreast of all new child welfare policies and procedures.
- Met with Randolph County Partnership for Children staff, educating them on how to make reports, child welfare policies, procedures and signs to look for.
- Gave out informational handouts and flyers on how to report abuse, neglect and dependency.
Murphy said a top area of concern for the team was substance abuse and the resulting access to substances to children.
Another concern was that “sleeping with a parent is unsafe.” She said mental health and behavioral health are also challenges.
“We’re reaching out for public awareness with our community partners,” Murphy said.
Commissioners also dealt with other business items.
Final round of fire district changes
Commissioners passed resolutions to abolish and create new rural fire protection districts for Coleridge-Erect, Fair Grove, Farmer, Julian, Northeast and Staley.
The six, and final, fire districts in the county to be so considered will be subject to public hearings at the April 3 commissioners meeting.
As explained by Aimee Scotton, associate county attorney, it was felt necessary to abolish all the rural fire protection districts because they were created with a 15-cent cap on the fire tax rate. In recent years, some districts have said they need to tax beyond the 15-cent cap in order to provide adequate fire protection for their residents.
To date, all other fire districts in the county have been re-created without the 15-cent cap. These are the last districts to be considered.
According to the resolutions, notice of the public hearing will be published at least one week before the hearing and that notice shall be mailed to the owners of property in the district at least four weeks before the hearing.
Each resolution ends by saying “that a report shall be prepared containing a map of the Proposed New District, a statement that the Proposed New District meets the findings contained herein, and a plan for providing fire service to the Proposed New District, said report to be available for public inspection in the Office of the Clerk to the Board at least four weeks before the date of the public hearing referenced above.”
Mission for county’s first PIO
Commissioners heard an update from Chelsey Butler, the first public information officer for the county.
Butler said the mission of her office is to provide government information to citizens, be transparent, clear and interactive, and provide information in a timely and reliable way.
Butler’s responsibilities include managing the county’s digital assets, overseeing publications, being a point of contact for the media, managing communications and public relations, and increasing the visibility and presence of Randolph County government.
Her methods include Randolph Recap on the county website which summarizes recent events, publishing press releases and using social media.
Butler said the county’s biggest following on social media is 4,700 on Facebook, with 7,000 across all social media.
A future initiative Butler is planning is crisis communications training and a crisis communications plan, in collaboration with all county departments.
Voluntary Agricultural District
Commissioners were presented an update on the Voluntary Agricultural District by Kenny Sherin, director of the county’s Cooperative Extension.
Sherin said another 191 acres of land were admitted into the program during 2022, increasing the total acreage to more than 26,240. Of the total, 33 parcels with nearly 1,904 acres are in the Enhanced Voluntary Agricultural District and 517 parcels with more than 24,145 acres are in the Regular Voluntary Agriculture District.
Sherin told the commissioners that the Extension office and the VAL Board of Directors held the first Randolph County Land Use Summit. Topics included long-range county planning, farm tax considerations, conservation easements and succession planning.
Visitor spending saves citizens money
Commissioners received the annual report from Amber Scarlett, executive director of the Randolph County Tourism Development Authority.
Scarlett’s report provided figures showing that visitor spending in 2021 provided tax relief to each resident of $90.90. That spending sent tax revenues of $8.2 million to the state and $5 million to local governments.
The total payroll of the tourism industry in Randolph County amounted to $41.1 million and more than 1,120 jobs in the county.
In 2021, visitors spent $172.06 million in the county, an increase of 65 percent over 2020.
Hurley, McNeill, employees honored
Commissioners honored Pat Hurley and Allen McNeill, both retiring from the NC House of Representatives.
The commissioners also recognized two retiring county employees:
- Det. Lt. Michael Blackwell with 30 years with the Sheriff’s Office.
- Ruia Virginia “Gigi” Rogers with 23 years with the Department of Social Services.
Commissioners heard from several people during the public comment portion of their Febrary meeting:
- Alan Pugh, who advocated for opening the county public libraries on Sundays from 1-6 p.m. He suggested making up the five hours by moving openings on other days from 9 to 10 a.m. Pugh asked the board to try it to see how it works.
-Tim Saunders, who referenced recent attacks on electric substations. He said the “perpetrators are home-grown neo-Nazis,” and are “an existential threat.”
- Sharon Castelli, superintendent of Uwharrie Charter Academy, said her school has received a 10-year renewal of its charter.
- Jane Braswell spoke in favor of moving the Confederate statue from the front lawn of the Historic 1909 Courthouse. She said her father was principal of Seagrove School the first day of school in 1965 when integration began in Randolph County. She said a crowd had gathered at the school chanting racist remarks and had a Black person in effigy. Braswell said her father took the effigy and, rather than placing it in the trash, kept it in his office.
Braswell said there remained a small group of men outside the school, and when her father asked them to leave they said they were there to protect him. “I want to see that type of courage today,” she told the commissioners.
- Clyde Foust, head of the local NAACP, reminded the board that in 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education mandated integration nationwide, yet it took another decade for it to be instituted. Referring to the Confederate statue, Foust said, “You can’t expect us to wait 10 years for you to do the right thing.”
Foust said that during the Civil War, Confederate soldiers killed Randolph County people. “If you think (the statue) should stay there, you should explain why.”
- Jane Gant, noted that “you’ve erected a fence (referring to a fence around the statue after vandals spray-painted it) at county expense to honor people who fought against” the United States. “You took an oath to represent the county, not white citizens only.”
In response to Gant, commission chair Darrell Frye said, “It’s still a work in progress.”
- Tammie Coley said she was raised in Asheboro, lived in several large cities and came back home. “I love being in Asheboro,” she said. But the Confederate statue represents “people who oppressed black people. They didn’t want me to be successful. Why honor the Confederacy in downtown Asheboro?
“I want to be proud of the county, not one that honors the Confederacy and slavery. Think about how I feel, how black people feel, confronted by a symbol of slavery. The effects still linger.”
- Franklin Suggs said those who support keeping the statue in place have made the issue “us versus them.” He called that the same attitude as the secessionists leading up to the Civil War.
Suggs said those who want the statue moved are “a cross-section of Randolph County. It has nothing to do with politics.” He said some matters can be dealt with by compromise, such as moving the statue to an area where people can go see it, or not. “It’s the logical and reasonable thing to do,” Suggs said.