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County honors retiring employees, donates ambulance to MCC

NEWLAND — A pair of longtime county employees were recognized at the Jan. 6 meeting of Avery County Commissioners who accumulated 83 combined years of service in law enforcement.

Avery County Sheriff’s Office Chief Jailer Trina Cook, as well as Chief Deputy Troy Cook, were each honored on the occasion of their retirements with the reading of a resolution for the declaration of service sidearm presented by Sheriff Kevin Frye. The pair also received a badge for their more than four decades each of employment in law enforcement, which was greeted with a standing ovation by those in attendance at the meeting.

“Forty-two years of service for Trina and 41 years for Troy Cook. I am replacing 43 years of service at one whack with two people retiring. They’ve been a real bright and shining star for Avery County, both in their respective positions,” Frye said during the presentation. “Each has saved the county tons of money, and have brought in tons of money just by keeping up with everything, doing the things they do. They are true public servants, and I’m going to miss them greatly in the positions they have been in. They have done a great job for Avery County. I couldn’t have been near the sheriff that I’ve been without them being there to help me along the way.”

The board also heard a request from Mayland Community College EMS Program Coordinator Tony Cook, who explained that the program at the college is in need of an ambulance, as the state now requires an Emergency Vehicle Driver course for EMT’s, and is greatly needed in all levels of certifications.

Cook cited information from the North Carolina State Office of EMS, who noted that results from four classes held across the state indicated that students “did not know how to properly check the trucks, inadequate driving skills, and not being able to perform skills in the back of the truck.” Cook added that MCC possessing an ambulance for training purposes would help financially to give the program the opportunity to set up classrooms, as well as give students a greater learning opportunity for real-life scenarios within the world in which they will work.

The board discussed its current fleet of ambulances, noting that the county has four ambulances currently in service, plus two in reserve, one of which is a 2011 Chevrolet ambulance with 161,000 miles that has had its chassis remounted three times, County Manager Phillip Barrier noted.

“The only other option for that ambulance would be to sell it as surplus property, and I think it’d be stupid to sell it if they could use it,” Commissioner Woodie Young said during discussion. “If there’s a need for it, I think we should fill that need.”

Following an additional brief discussion period, the board unanimously moved to convey the property on condition that the vehicle be used for class training, noting if the vehicle ceases to be used for the purpose it would revert back to the county.

Avery County Transportation Director Debbie Smith presented information to commissioners about the Rural Operating Assistance Program, R.O.A.P. for short, which is an annual state-funded, formula-based grant which is administered by the NC Department of Transportation for operating costs of passenger trips for counties within the state.

Smith explained that the funding had been delayed due to the delay in the state budgeting process, but that the county is to receive a funding increase of a little greater than $19,000 from last year, equaling a total amount of funding for the 2020 fiscal year of $131,546 for the program.

Smith noted that R.O.A.P. covers elderly and disabled trips, some employment trips, as well as veterans and some members of the general public. Smith concluded by requesting that the board approve a certified statement for Fiscal Year 2020, which was so moved unanimously.

Smith also informed commissioners that the Transportation Advisory Board is holding a retreat at the County Agricultural Building beginning at 10 a.m. on Jan. 23.

In other news and notes:

  • Commissioners unanimously approved the appointment of Jean Ray to a three-year term to serve on the Avery County Joint Community Advisory Committee.
  • County Manager Barrier informed commissioners that the 2020 Census would get under way beginning in April, noting that $675 billion in federal funding is determined with the assistance of Census calculations. Barrier brought a Census resolution for consideration by the board, but following discussion regarding whether the board would be required to establish an advisory committee in connection with the resolution, commissioners moved to table the issue until its February meeting.
  • Barrier added in his County Manager’s report that the courthouse roof repair project continues, including an extension of metal and insulation work, noting that he was informed by Burleson Roofing that the project could be completed in a couple of weeks with cooperative weather. Barrier informed the board that response had been overwhelmingly positive to the recent opening of the Sugar Mountain convenience site, that residents in the area were thrilled to have the site available. Barrier reminded the board that each Saturday of the month of January is designated for electronics recycling from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. behind the Avery Board of Education in Newland. Barrier also reported that the Avery Parks and Recreation Department reports sign-ups in record numbers for its winter youth basketball program, which will compete against teams in Watauga, Mitchell and Yancey counties, numbers that include more than 275 children, 34 teams and more than 40 volunteer coaches.
  • Finance Officer Tim Greene reported to commissioners that Cannon Memorial Hospital has received a Duke Endowment Grant to establish a Community Paramedicine program in the county. Greene presented an itemized budget amendment with totals that the county would administer under the program and receive funding from the hospital. Commissioner Young asked Greene to clarify that the funding was entirely the result of private endowment funding, and that no money from county taxpayers or the state would be used for the program, which Greene affirmed. Following discussion, commissioners approved the budget amendment in the total of $83,500 for the program. Shortly following the vote, county attorney Michaelle Poore referenced during her attorney’s report that she had sent a revised Memorandum of Understanding with the hospital earlier to commissioners, and asked that they review the document and consider discussion of the item at the board’s special meeting later in the week.

Avery County Commissioners will hold a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 9, at the County Agricultural Building. The board’s next regularly scheduled monthly meeting will take place at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 3, at the Commissioners Boardroom in the County Administrative Building.

Lists of credibly accused priests include six who served locally

CHARLOTTE — The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte on Dec. 30 released a list of 14 clergy who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse since the diocese was established in 1972, as well as lists of those who worked in Western North Carolina who have been named by other dioceses and orders. They include several who formerly pastored in the High Country.

The list is the result of a year-long process by the diocese that included “an independent review of more than 1,600 files dating back almost 50 years to ensure a full accounting of credibly accused clergy in the diocese’s history,” it said.

“It is painful to even try to comprehend such gravely immoral behavior,” Charlotte Bishop Peter J. Jugis wrote in a published letter.

“However, in speaking with survivors and hearing their stories, it is clear to me that making known the names of their abusers can promote healing for them and their families.”

“This list is the culmination of a process begun more than a year ago in our belief that a full accounting of credibly accused clergy would provide validation for victims and demonstrate our commitment to transparency and accountability,” he wrote.

Included on the Charlotte Diocese’s list are Damion Jacques Lynch, who served at St. Elizabeth of the Hill Country in Boone from 1991 to 1995, as well as serving as campus minister at Appalachian State. A diocese spokesperson previously confirmed to The AJT’s sister publication The Watauga Democrat that the diocese considered reports of abuse by Lynch to be credible.

Also named is Aloysius Joseph D’Silva, who had assignments at St. Bernadette Catholic Mission in Linville and St. Lucien Catholic Church in Spruce Pine.

Among those who served in Western North Carolina before the Diocese of Charlotte was established, when the Diocese of Raleigh oversaw the Catholic Church across North Carolina, are William J. Kuder, whose assignments included St. Bernadette Catholic Mission in Linville and St. Lucien Catholic Church in Spruce Pine and Edward William Smith, who had one allegation involving abuse in 1963 in Boone, when Smith was pastor of St. Elizabeth.

The Charlotte Diocese then includes a list of clergy and religious brothers who served in Western North Carolina with no allegation documented in the Charlotte diocese but who were named on lists or publicized by other dioceses and religious orders.

It includes H. Cornell Bradley, whose assignments included Church of the Epiphany Catholic Mission in Blowing Rock and St. Elizabeth in Boone, and Anthony Thomas Jablonowski, who served at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Jefferson and St. Frances of Rome Catholic Mission in Sparta.

The diocese compiled the information on a new webpage, www.accountability.charlottediocese.org, which also features resources including a new hotline for reporting sexual abuse operated independently by Red Flag Reporting. The hotline allows people to speak up, anonymously or not, when suspected sexual abuse or other unethical activity is noted.

Damion J. Lynch

Two of the priests said to be credibly accused served consecutive assignments as pastor at St. Elizabeth in Boone: H. Cornell Bradley (1989 to 1993) and Damion J. Lynch (1993 to 1995). Lynch was placed as associate priest at St. Elizabeth in June 1991, and after the departure of Bradley, was installed as pastor of the church.

In the mid-1990s, parents of a 14-year-old boy alleged that Lynch molested him from 1991 to 1995, the diocese stated.

“Lynch admitted the abuse and was sent for psychiatric treatment,” according to the diocese stated. He was placed on administrative leave by then-Charlotte Bishop William G. Curlin, a diocese spokesperson previously confirmed.

Court records show that in 1996, the diocese paid $87,000 to the family to settle a complaint of sexual abuse of the boy, which included an agreement not to publicly discuss the matter. In 1997, after a counselor cleared Lynch for return to ministry, Curlin appointed Lynch to Our Lady of Consolation Catholic Church in Charlotte, the diocese stated.

But when the family learned of alleged abuse of the other twin brother, they filed a civil complaint in Watauga County Superior Court against Lynch, Curlin and the Charlotte Diocese in February 1998. The lawsuit ended in March 1999 with a settlement of an undisclosed amount paid by the diocese.

Lynch was removed from ministry in January 1998, and Lynch was released from the clerical state in 2009, the diocese said. The nonprofit organization BishopAccountabilty.org indicates that Lynch was last known to be living in the Washington, D.C., area.

Aloysius Joseph D’Silva

In December 1998, a teenager reported D’Silva had inappropriately touched and kissed her at St. Bernadette Catholic Mission in Linville, the diocese stated.

“D’Silva denied the allegation and the Diocese of Charlotte could not substantiate the claim at the time,” the diocese said, and D’Silva died in 2005. But as part of the diocese’s 2019 historical file review, the allegation was re-examined and found credible through an independent investigation, it said.

William J. Kuder

Kuder was pastor of the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church and its school from 1949 until his death in 1960. The west Asheville-area parish was under the supervision of the Diocese of Raleigh at the time but became part of the Charlotte diocese when it was established in 1972.

Discussions with some of Kuder’s victims originated in 1992, when the first victim came forward. Raleigh Bishop Joseph Gossman and Charlotte Bishop William Curlin, both now deceased, found the allegations credible and publicly apologized for Kuder’s crimes in a joint statement in 1995, the diocese said. Afterward, numerous additional victims came forward to report having been abused by Kuder, it said.

The Raleigh diocese reported the allegations to law enforcement although no criminal charges could be filed, the Charlotte Diocese stated. In 2018 the Raleigh diocese publicly named Kuder on its list of clergy credibly accused of child abuse.

According to the nonprofit organization BishopAccountabilty.org, immediately prior to his time at St. Joan, Kuder was assigned to St. Lucien in Spruce Pine from 1942 to 1949. St. Bernadette in Linville is a mission parish of St. Lucien.

Edward William Smith

In October 2019, the Ohio-based Glenmary Home Missioners publicly named Smith on its list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. The Diocese of Charlotte sought more information since Smith’s ministry with the Glenmary society included one assignment in Western North Carolina in the 1960s, when the Raleigh Diocese oversaw the Catholic Church across the state.

“The society told the Charlotte diocese it had received two credible allegations of sexual abuse many years after Smith’s death in 1975,” the Charlotte Diocese stated. “One allegation was received in 1993 of abuse in the 1960s at Buck Creek, a short-lived training facility and summer youth camp run by the society. The other was received in 2001 involving abuse in 1963 in Boone, when Smith was pastor of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church.”

“In December 2014, the Charlotte diocese received a separate allegation against the deceased priest from a man who reported he had been sexually abused in the 1960s on Boy Scout camping trips in the Boone area,” the diocese stated. “The diocese’s Lay Review Board alerted Watauga County DSS as well as the Glenmary society, which found the allegation credible.”

H. Cornell Bradley

In December 2018, Bradley’s supervising religious order, the Jesuits’ Maryland Province, named Bradley on its list of accused clergy for credible allegations of sexual abuse in the late 1960s to early 1980s in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

“There are no credible abuse allegations documented during his time in the Diocese of Charlotte,” the Charlotte Diocese stated.

Bradley was assigned to St. Elizabeth in Boone — another parish of the Charlotte Diocese — from July 1989 to September 1993, according to church records. Under Bradley’s pastorate, two education wings were completed at St. Elizabeth in 1993 to accommodate continued parish growth, according to a parish history formerly published on the Charlotte Diocese website.

Province spokesperson Mike Gabriele confirmed in early 2019 that Bradley was temporarily removed from ministry and sent to treatment in 1993 — the year he left St. Elizabeth — following reports of abuse that allegedly occurred at a different location years before.

Bradley was returned to ministry in 1994 and was assigned to Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia as a campus minister and basketball team chaplain until 2006, when the province permanently removed Bradley from ministry amid an investigation of additional allegations, according to media reports. He left the Jesuits in 2007.

Anthony Thomas Jablonowski

In 2004, Jablonowski pleaded no contest to charges of abusing a 17-year-old boy at a Wyoming parish in the 1980s, according to public records. He served prison time and was dismissed from the clerical state in 2006.

“In the 1970s, Jablonowski served on loan to the Ohio-based Glenmary Home Missioners, who assigned him to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Jefferson, North Carolina,” the Charlotte Diocese stated. “There are no documented abuse allegations from his time in Jefferson.”

The review process and history

Beginning in January 2002, the Boston Globe revealed the vast extent of abuse by Catholic priests. In June 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

The charter mandates a zero-tolerance policy, strict screening and training standards, and protocols for reporting and preventing abuse in all U.S. Catholic churches, facilities and programs.

In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that hundreds of priests were accused of abusing more than 1,000 children and that church leaders took steps to cover up the crimes, renewing the international focus on the scandal. The revelations mounted increasing pressure on dioceses and orders to release the names of accused priests.

In a statement released Dec. 30, the Charlotte Diocese said that it set in motion a multi-layered process to publish the names of clergy credibly accused of child sexual abuse in fall 2018.

“The diocese automatically placed on its list clergy who had admitted to allegations or were charged by law enforcement with child sexual abuse offenses,” it said. “In addition, the diocese placed on its list all clergy who were determined by its Lay Review Board to have been credibly accused.

“To ensure historical allegations were identified in the diocese’s files, independent investigators from U.S. Investigative Security Services of Charlotte reviewed 1,600 personnel files of priests, deacons and religious brothers, as well as other archives, for any indication of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. Their review took more than 1,000 hours and encompassed 150,000 pages of documents. As a result, four credible cases of alleged abuse handled before the Charter protocols took effect in 2002 were surfaced from the files and included on the list.”

“A credible allegation is one that has the semblance of truth; one supported by information worthy of belief. It is not a finding of guilt,” the diocese explained.

“Very little attention had been paid to our personnel files going back almost 50 years, but we knew it was important to explore their contents and make relevant information known,” said the Rev. Patrick J. Winslow, a canon lawyer and former promoter of justice who oversaw the file review as the diocese’s newly appointed vicar general and chancellor, in a statement. “Today, we sincerely hope our efforts will provide some validation for abuse survivors and promote a culture that allows people who may be suffering in silence to come forward and seek help.”

Unemployment rates decrease over most of state

RALEIGH — The latest county unemployment figures show an unemployment decrease in 92 of North Carolina’s 100 counties in November, according to statistics from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Of those 100 counties, 91 counties had rates of five percent or below, and nine counties had a rate between five and 10 percent.

Hyde County experienced the highest unemployment rate in the state during November 2019 at 9.8 percent, while Buncombe continued its low streak at 2.5 percent. Avery County’s unemployment rate was 3.2 percent, down .1 percent from the previous month. Watauga County had the lowest unemployment out of all bordering counties at 2.7 percent. Mitchell had the highest unemployment of bordering counties at 4.0, with 3.5 percent in McDowell and Caldwell counties, respectively.

Avery: 3.2 percent

Ashe: 2.9 percent

Burke: 3.3 percent

Caldwell: 3.5 percent

McDowell: 3.5 percent

Mitchell: 4.0 percent

Watauga: 2.7 percent

North Carolina experienced a statewide rate of 3.4 percent, highest among bordering states and just slightly more than that of Tennessee and Georgia, with Avery County rating below the state unemployment average by 0.2 percent. South Carolina had for the lowest unemployment rate out of all bordering states at 2.4 percent.

North Carolina: 3.4 percent

Georgia: 3.3 percent

South Carolina: 2.4 percent

Tennessee: 3.3 percent

Virginia: 2.6 percent

The total number of workers employed in the state decreased by 32,434 in November, translating to 4,935,767, while the number of people unemployed decreased by 11,654 to 173,571. Since this time last year, the number of workers employed in the state has increased by 124,001, while those unemployed decreased 6,679.

NC Commerce notes that that employment estimates are subject to large seasonal patterns; therefore, it is advisable to focus on over-the-year changes in the not-seasonally adjusted estimates.

All figures courtesy North Carolina Department of Commerce and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.