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The Town of Banner Elk held its monthly meeting on Monday, Feb. 8.

BANNER ELK — The Banner Elk Town Council reconvened for its monthly meeting on Monday, Feb. 8, in which council members agreed to pursue hosting the annual Art on the Greene festival, as well as to proclaim a day to remember those who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the beginning of the meeting Ted Silver addressed the council and commended the town’s public works department for its efforts to keep the roads clear during a particularly stormy winter. Silver also updated the council on recent changes Lees-McRae College has made to its cycling program.

Lees-McRae has decided to make March Bike Month, and we have formed an on-campus bike advocacy group known as CRANK, which stands for Community, Riding, Advocacy, Nature and Knowledge. In March, they’re going be pushing for students to get out of their cars, given the weather maybe many of them won’t be out on their bikes or walking more, but I want to share that there is a group forming on campus to enhance recreation and transportation around the community and on campus,” Silver said.

As the first order of business, the council approved the enactment of a Title VI policy, as required by the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Office of Civil Rights. Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that no person shall on the ground of race, color, or national origin be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

The council then proceeded to discuss the possibility of hosting the annual Art on the Greene event in light of the ongoing situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Councilman Robert Tufts began the discussion by pointing out that the town had decided to cancel the festival, which is traditionally held four times each summer, due to the pandemic.

“Last year we had to cancel Art on the Greene shows, and this year things are still very much up in the air. But it is a very timely issue, and we need to proceed if we are going to hold Art on the Greene for this year. There are still a lot of concerns about people gathering. Vendors are concerned if there are crowds, what kind of restrictions might be on these shows. There’s just a lot of unknowns at this point, but if these shows are going to happen, we need to get applications out to the vendors,” Tufts said.

To ensure that the town was 100-percent behind the decision to host the festival, each member of the council gave their input as to whether the event should go forward. Tufts added that it would be understandable if the event had to eventually be canceled due to obvious reasons.

Mayor Brenda Lyerly favored hosting Art on the Greene, saying that people would be looking forward to outdoor events this summer and cited the Avery County of Chamber of Commerce’s success when holding its arts and crafts festival last year. Mayor Pro-Tem David Lecka also gave support to the idea.

“If things are no worse than they are now, I think we should do it,” Lecka said.

Councilmen Allen Bolick and Mike Dunn also agreed, while Charlie VonCanon stressed that mask wearing should be enforced. Police Chief Kevin Hodges said that the police department does not have unilateral authority to enforce mask wearing due to the way the law is written, but Town Attorney Four Eggers said that the town does have authority to ask visitors to leave the premises for not wearing a mask.

Tufts recommended holding the event at 50-percent capacity, and the rest of the council agreed. No formal motion was passed on the matter, but applications will begin to be sent out to vendors and event planning will begin.

As the next order of business, the council approved Dunn to be included on the list of signatories for the Town of Banner Elk, and the council approved two motions related to ordinance updates to the water and sewer ordinance, as well as changes to the event and solicitation ordinance. As part of the motion, the council also moved to approve the fee schedule for the petitions for events. The council then approved the annual publicizing of delinquent taxes to be published in The Avery Journal-Times.

As the last order of business, the council voted to approve a resolution for the first Monday in March to be COVID-19 Memorial Day in remembrance of those who lost their lives and in honor of those who have been forever marked by Covid, as well as those who continue to suffer from the impact of the virus.

In his manager’s report, Town Manager Rick Owen gave a brief update on the county’s vaccination effort. The county continues to receive a limited number vaccines and the administration of the second dose of the vaccines have begun. The county is expected to give out about 700 second dose shots this week. Owen and Village of Sugar Mountain Manager Susan Phillips said that town employees from the two municipalities will be assisting the county out in its efforts.

In regard to road conditions, Owen said that this winter has been the worst one he has seen in the 10 years that he has lived in Banner Elk, and that he will be asking the council to approve budget amendments related to the purchase of salt, since the town’s public works department has put down “twice the amount of salt” compared to years past.

In November 2020, the Banner Elk Police Department received communication from the newly formed North Carolina Law Enforcement Accreditation (NCLEA) program requesting that its Use of Force policy shows that it complies with the new order. Chief Hodges said that he requested that the Banner Elk Police Department be one of the first pilot programs for the new NCLEA.

The council met in closed session before adjourning.

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