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Ashe County to petition N.C. Supreme Court for discretionary appeal in asphalt plant case

JEFFERSON — Following an emergency closed executive session that interrupted budget workshopping Tuesday, June 4, The Ashe County Board of Commissioners unanimously authorized Ashe County Attorney John Kilby to petition the N.C. Supreme Court for a discretionary review of the N.C. Court of Appeals ruling in Ashe County v. Ashe County Planning Board.

N.C. Court of Appeals judges ruled in favor of the Ashe County Planning Board May 21, deciding that Appalachian Materials has a right to be issued a Polluting Industries Development Ordinance permit for a proposed asphalt plant in Glendale Springs — as granted by the county planning board, but disputed in court by county administration and the commissioners, Ashe Post & Times previously reported.

“This next step in the process is — comparatively speaking — going to be extremely affordable,” chairman Todd McNeill said. “We are essentially just asking if the state supreme court will even hear anything else.”

According to McNeill, the cost of the discretionary review is estimated to be about $12,000, of which, $2,000 was designated by a local interest group called Protect Our Fresh Air and Clean Water during the board’s June 3 meeting.

“We would hope that other parties as interested in the outcome as we are would support this effort — financially or otherwise,” McNeill said.

Because the county cannot accept donations, financial support should be directed toward Pat Considine of Protect Our Fresh Air and Clean Water, McNeill said.

The board’s closed emergency session lasted half an hour, and came in the middle of a second consecutive day of the commissioners’ three-day budget workshop for 2019-2020.

Commissioner Larry Rhodes made the motion to authorize the discretionary appeal, seconded by Paula Perry and agreed upon 5-0 by the board.

Kilby and commissioners had scheduled the emergency meeting about one hour beforehand, closing the doors of the budget room for a second straight day to further discuss the asphalt plant litigation.

Kilby clarified that the appeal authorized Tuesday is not a full-on appeal, but a quasi-appeal that asks the N.C. Supreme Court to review the N.C. Court of Appeals decision that upholds the Ashe County Planning Board’s vote to issue a PIDO permit to Appalachian Materials.

The discretionary appeal will request the N.C. Supreme Court to determine if the correct decision was made in its review of Ashe County. Ashe County Planning Board, or if there were errors in the N.C. Court of Appeals that would require the Supreme Court to change the ruling.

“The first step in getting there is there has to be a petition filed in the (N.C.) Supreme Court, and there are criteria for how they will make that determination,” Kilby said. “It’s still discretionary — they don’t have to hear it — but if they meet criteria, there’s a greater chance that (the case) will be (heard).”

Ashe Post & Times will provide updates on the case of Ashe County v. Ashe County Planning Board as they are made available.

Ashe County High School congratulates Class of 2019

WEST JEFFERSON — Ashe County High School held its graduation ceremony in the ACHS gymnasium Friday, May 31, celebrating the accomplishments and accolades of its most recent graduating class.

Among other student and faculty speakers, valedictorian Anna Blackburn spoke to the graduates just before the student crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.

“It is hard to believe that we are in our last few moments of high school,” Blackburn said. “By my calculations, we have spent 720 days together here over the last four years. I know that on some of these days we felt like graduation would never be here, but I hope we can find comfort in the fact that there were just as many days when we wanted to savor the end of high school for as long as possible.”

Blackburn continued, adding that high school graduation has become a traditional expectation of society, but it is important to celebrate the accomplishment.

“We must recognize that we’ve spent the last 13 years of our lives getting an education and enlightening ourselves to the realities of the world,” Blackburn said

Blackburn would later praise her class for venturing outside its educational comfort zones.

“By making it this far and graduating high school, each of us has already demonstrated that we are seeking something beyond,” Blackburn said.

With students pursuing many different career paths, Blackburn urged her classmates that some characteristics have positive results no matter the walk of life.

“Some of us already know what our role will be, while others are still in the process of discovering,” Blackburn said. “No matter where you are in this process, it is important to recognize that determination and hard work are vital in success in any area.”

Before students crossed the stage, received their diploma and were officially pronounced graduates, Blackburn left her classmates with words of encouragement.

“Many years from now, we will look back on the Ashe County High School Class of 2019 and proudly say that we affected positive change in the world around us,” Blackburn said. “It has been an incredible honor to share the past four years with all of you, and I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.”

Improper footwear prevents one senior from crossing the graduation stage

Ashe County Schools logo

WEST JEFFERSON — A night of celebration has been followed by controversy, as one family’s experience has gone viral.

After her daughter was not allowed to walk during Ashe County High School’s May 31 Graduation Ceremony due to improper footwear, mother Amanda Dixon took her thoughts to YouTube, calling on Ashe County High School for its decision.

“She has struggled for 13 years to get to this day,” Dixon said in the video. “At 7 p.m. this evening, graduation was supposed to start. At 6:25 p.m., I was told she would not be able to walk for her shoes, which she had previously been approved to wear. ... Thank you, Ashe County High School, for taking my daughter’s day away from her.”

Dixon continued, adding that her daughter, who asked to remain unnamed, battled bullying and educational struggles throughout her time in school. Dixon also said she would be contacting a lawyer about the matter.

“This was her day,” Dixon said in the video. “This was her ceremony, just like all of the other students that were there. Her wearing black Converse shoes was not going to make or break their day.”

Ashe County Schools responded with a release Monday morning.

“For 19 years, Ashe County High School has educated and supported all students through their educational journey. The graduation experience is a time for students to be recognized for their hard work and accomplishments. In the months prior to this event, seniors are made aware of all the activities that will be leading up to this milestone. Students are informed of dress attire that meet the guidelines to participate in the ceremony,” according to the release.

The release continued, stating that graduation from high school is a momentous occasion, not only for graduates, but for their families. Students are expected to wear dress clothing and dress shoes, and all seniors are required to follow the same policy.

Additionally, the release described that wardrobe assistance can be provided to any student needing proper attire.

“In the seven years I have been an administrator at Ashe County High School, we have always supplied any clothing needs for any student,” Principal Amanda Hipp said in the release.

According to ACHS, faculty did receive an email May 29 from Graduation Coordinator Christina Pennington, stating that at 6:30 p.m., on the night of graduation, “Seniors must be in (their) assigned room to take attendance and check dress code. Please see Linda Sloan if you see someone who needs appropriate shoes (Absolutely no tennis shoes or converse — even the sparkly cute ones).”

According to ACS Superintendent Phyllis Yates, ACHS provided dress pants for two students who wore jeans for the occasion.

Dixon said she believes other students did not have to follow the dress code.

“(My daughter) was not trying to be a rebel and break the dress code,” Dixon said in a phone interview. “The dress code was not applied to all students.”

Yates said in a phone interview that ACS has started an investigation into the incident at the high school, adding that ACS has not heard from a lawyer representing Dixon as of presstime.

Yates continued, saying the only two people who can approve graduation attire are Hipp and Pennington. Yates said neither signed off on the Converse shoes.

In the phone interview, Dixon said her daughter wore the same outfit she did to the ACHS 2019 Prom, for which the shoes were acceptable by ACHS standards. Dixon said her daughter was offered shoes from the school, but the offers were either much too small or too large to wear. She added that her daughter was afraid she would fall on stage if the shoes were too large. Dixon said one alternative that was provided was for her daughter to wear her father’s work boots, which he was wearing at the time. The shoes were five sizes too big, according to Dixon.

According to Human Resources Officer Lesia Goodman, the student was offered shoes from a teacher, and Guidance Receptionist Linda Sloan searched the high school’s clothing closet thoroughly for other options for the student. When Sloan came out of the closet, the student had left the premises, according to Goodman.

After gaining traction on, a site for community petitions, Dixon has received 808 online signatures as of presstime to support changing requirements for walking at graduation. Additionally, Dixon’s YouTube video has more than 13,000 views.

Ashe Post & Times will provide more updates on this developing story as they are released.

Mayor proclaims June 30 as "Jane Lonon Day"

WEST JEFFERSON — At the West Jefferson Board of Aldermen meeting Monday, June 3, West Jefferson Mayor Dale Baldwin proclaimed that Sunday, June 30, 2019, will be “Jane Lonon Day” in the town. The day will be Lonon’s final as Executive Director of the Ashe County Arts Council.

In her time with the Arts Council, Lonon has overseen the growth of the organization and the increased presence of art in and around West Jefferson and Ashe County.

“In addition to her tireless work with the Ashe arts community, Jane’s impact on West Jefferson as well as the entire county has been enormous by serving on various committees and board of directors including the West Jefferson Community Partnership, Chamber of Commerce and Ashe Memorial Hospital,” Baldwin read from the proclamation.

After Baldwin handed Lonon a plaque recognizing and honoring her, Lonon had the floor.

“What an honor it is to be presented this and that beautiful proclamation, those wonderful words coming from a group of folks and a town that I so dearly love,” Lonon said.

She talked about how much West Jefferson has changed in her time as executive director, from it being packed with empty buildings to now being filled with art and life. Lonon was very thankful for the town allowing the Arts Council to spread the arts throughout the streets.

Each aldermen took the time to thank Lonon for her years of service and what she’s brought to the town. Stephen Shoemaker started it off by mentioning how Lonon can drive people to volunteering.

“The most enthusiastic person I know, (Lonon) can make you volunteer whether you want to or not,” Shoemaker said humorously. “She’ll make you do it and you’ll have a smile on your face.”

John Reeves looked back at what Lonon has helped the town accomplish in her time at the Arts Council.

“The art community in the town of West Jefferson is what has helped us grow and you’ve been behind it all this time,” Reeves said. “We’ll sorely miss you and thank you for all that you’ve done.”

Jerry McMillan , who has worked closely with Lonon in the past through Christmas in July and other boards, echoed the sentiments about losing Lonon, but was happy to have worked with her.

“You are a breath of fresh air and I don’t know how they’re going to get along without you,” McMillan said. “I’ve enjoyed working with you.”

Calvin Green started by agreeing with Reeves, adding that Lonon’s work with Christmas in July has helped the festival be as successful as possible.

“You have helped the town fill up some empty buildings and I appreciate what you’ve done. Whoever does take your place is going to have some big shoes to fill,” Green said.

Lonon had announced her upcoming retirement in February after 38 years with the Arts Council, spending 31 as the executive director.