March Creswell Forum Sparked Discussion

Published 11:20 am Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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Over 200 people attended a community forum in Creswell  on March 28, sponsored by Washington County Commissioner Cole Phelps.

“This night is about you. It is about your concerns and your vision about what you would like to see happen in our county,” said Phelps at the beginning of the forum.

Phelps moderated the entire forum. He directed the audience at certain times to the appropriate officials who could answer their questions. He also stressed respect for the panel members.
Five panel members fielded the majority of the questions for the night. Other county officials were called upon when necessary.
The panel members included:
Seth Edwards, District Attorney for the 2nd Judicial District
James(Smiley)Ross,Sheriff of Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Dr. Joe Davis, Superintendent of Washington County Schools.
Ann Keyes, Planning and Safety Director
David Clary, EMS Director
District Attorney
District Attorney Seth Edwards mentioned that he works out of four other counties in addition to Washington County. He has been the District Attorney since 2003. He has eight assistant DA’s that work for him as well as seven other legal staff.
“We prosecute everything from a traffic ticket up to first-degree murder,” he said.
Edwards received a written question:
“Why are some many criminals found not guilty in Washington County courts?
Edwards noted that ultimately the reason for not guilty convictions falls back on the jury system.
“This is you. Which is Washington County,” Edwards pointed out.
Edwards mentioned a trial held that week that looked like an open and shut case.
The case seemed straightforward from Edwards’ perspective. He mentioned that he was also a defense attorney for ten years. Therefore he had a unique way of evaluating the strength of a case because he has been on both sides.
The defendant was ultimately found not guilty. Edwards’ assistant came back and did not understand what happened.
“I did not understand it either. I guess the State of North Carolina, which would be my office would bear some responsibility on that,” said Edwards.
Edwards said that he has been practicing law for over 20 years. Half of those years were spent each between being a prosecutor and being a defense attorney.
“I will say that of the five counties, Washington County is the most difficult place for us to get a conviction,” Edwards said.
Edwards explained that this was not something that was easily explained. Rather it was something that needs fixed.
“I guess, I will close by saying, I need your help. If we are going to clean up some of the crime, we have got to send a message that if you do crime and the state can prove it, that you are going to be held accountable,” he said.
Edwards also discussed crime in Washington County in greater detail.
“Washington County has a major problem with drugs,” he said. “I am not just talking about the cocaine, heron, and marijuana.”
Edwards mentioned that probably a third of the audience had prescriptions for painkiller like Vicodin and Percocet.
“These painkillers have opium in them. Opium is what is in heroin. When a chemist puts black tar heroin on the table and then puts something like oxytocin or hydrocodone next to it, it is the same.”
Edwards mentioned that there was a stigma attached to heroin. But there is not a stigma attached to pills that a doctor prescribes.
Edwards mentioned that seven or eight of these pills getting into someone’s hands without a prescription can result in trafficking in opium and they can go to prison for a minimum of seventy months or a little over six years.
“It is a real epidemic,” Edwards said.
Edwards also mentioned the dangers of “sexting” or sending sexually explicit messages via text messages.
Edwards mentioned that he would be glad to come to the Washington County area and speak about these two issues.
Law Enforcement
Sheriff James Ross mentioned that his constitutionally elected office has a variety of duties.

One of the tasks includes patrolling the country. The county is divided into three zones: The Plymouth Zone, the Roper Zone, and the Creswell Zone.
Members of the Sheriff’s Office also work in the county court system as security. They work at the 911 center where calls can go to a law enforcement officer. The county jail and animal control division also involves the Sheriff’s office.
Ross faced a question on patrols:
“Right here lately, I have not seen officers patrolling the area like they used to. Are they still doing it?
Ross explained that in January, law enforcement officials set out to reinvent the Washington County Sheriff’s office. One of the main concerns was giving proper coverage to the Creswell and Pea Ridge area. Ross said that this is something the Sheriff’s office has maintained.
A written question directed to Ross went:
“The Town of Creswell does not have police force. So we are at the mercy of criminals and drug dealers. Our distance from the county seat makes it difficult to get to us in an emergency situation. Why can’t there be a deputy in the Creswell Pea Ridge area all throughout the week?”
Ross pointed out that Washington County Sheriff’s Department could not currently fund a position for just the Creswell Pea Ridge area. Nearly two years, a grant allowed for a position in that area to be available.
“Right now, grants are kind of dried up,” said Ross.
Still Ross noted that deputies currently working for the Sheriff’s Department were trying to patrol the area as much as possible.
Emergency Services
EMS Director David Clary said that his department offers paramedic level coverage in the Plymouth, Creswell, and Columbia areas. EMS trucks operate in all three areas throughout the day. A scheduled transport division operates six days a week.
Clary answered a question regarding EMS Services:
“Since taking over Tyrrell County EMS, If I call 911 from Newland Road how different is the response time now?”
Clary noted that in this situation, the Creswell truck positioned in the area would respond to the call. He emphasized the use of strategic locations of vehicles.
“When it is right here on the county line or just inside Tyrrell County, we may utilize the closest unit whether it is the Columbia unit or the Creswell unit,” Clary said
Clary explained that response times with an EMS truck not stationed in Creswell averaged just over ten minutes. The last three months with the Creswell truck had responses times just under six minutes.
“My goal is to provide the best possible services for Washington and Tyrrell County,” said Clary.
Clary mentioned that if his department gets an emergency call during flooding situations they will work with Ann Keyes or the Emergency Operations Center.
“In the event that something medical happens during a flooding situation, we do have resources that I can activate at the state level as well,” said Clary.

Dr. Joe Davis, Superintendent of Washington County Schools mentioned that he has been on the job for about five and a half months.
Davis said that he has dedicated his life to helping children,
““The most important part of my job is to ensure that our children get a high-quality education. I defied the odds that were stacked against me coming from a family where I was first-generation college,” he said.
The Wilson County native previously was special assistant to the Wilson County superintendent and was a principal in Wilson County for eight years.
“No community would ever be better without a good quality education system. Economic development and everything else is tied to education,” Davis noted.
Stanley James had a question for Davis on hiring policies at Washington County schools.
James mentioned that he was 55 years old and entered into the military at age seventeen.
James mentioned he has previously spent some time working for the Washington County Sheriff’s Department.
James mentioned that his wife often mentions that the kids in Washington County Schools need help. So he often thinks about how he can do his part.
James mentioned that he was indicted in 2004 on a charge of embezzlement. He ended up with a felony charge.
James mentioned that he was going out to the area schools prior to the charge giving his time in various activities.
“As of now, I cannot do any of that. Because of what the computer says that I am,”
Davis said that his opinion cannot matter in a situation like this. He has to follow policy with volunteers or people that work in the county School District.
“We have to screen everyone. It really depends on the situation. We look at every situation as closely as possible and try to make the best decision, “Davis said
Ann Keyes, Planning and Safety Director for Washington County, explained some details regarding her job.
“I am responsible for the protection of lives and property here for the citizens here,” she said.

Keyes is responsible for making sure that the Field Operations Center is manned in the event of a disaster and equipped with resources.
Keyes mentioned that the planning side of her job includes the enforcement of the flood ordinance for the citizens’ protection. It also includes enforcement of the mobile home ordinance and the subdivision ordinance.
Ms. Keyes faced a written question:
“I live on East Main Street. I know that hurricane season is coming. Are we prepared and when will the flooding stop?”
Keyes noted that prior to a hurricane in Washington County, she gathers information and is the manager of the emergency operations center in Washington County.
Keyes calls the emergency responders and the control and support group for the county. The control group consists of the three mayors, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners, the county manager, and Keyes. The support group encompasses all emergency response heads including the Fire Department, Emergency Services, and Law Enforcement.
“All the agencies come to the table. We sit down and just plot strategy,” said Keyes. “We also have our emergency operations plan in place which is our standard operating procedure. It tells how we would actually manage an incident if we had it here in the county.”
Keyes noted that citizens are encouraged to apply for special permits to build above base flooding.
“Because you are in a flood plain, we are doing more than is required so you can get a reduction in your flood insurance premiums,” she said.
Keyes also explained a first call alerting system that gets out necessary information regarding hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Citizens not aware of whether their property was in a flood plain or not were encouraged to contact Keyes’ office.
“Home owners insurance will not cover a flood claim. So you need to have flood insurance,” she said.
Pam Waters mentioned that she lives on Highway 94 between Creswell and Pea Ridge.
She said that handling the issue of flooding in Creswell is more complicated than just preparing for a hurricane.
“That is not just a home owners problem, when one home owner has flooding on their road. If they have a kid that goes to school in Creswell, school can be canceled for day and even weeks,” Waters said.
Waters mentioned that a heavy rainstorm can also cause flooding. She mentioned that The Department of Transportation can also take better care of the highways and roads around Creswell.
“The last time our kids were out of school, they were out for about eleven days. That is just unacceptable,” she said.
Joe Davis mentioned that so far in his tenure, he has only dealt with school delays.
“I would probably want to have more conversations around what it looked like when that flooding happened,” Davis said.
Davis explained that a couple of months ago a weather situation caused school to be delayed for about two hours.
Schools officials try to prepare as much as possible for weather situations.
“Whenever there is an issue with weather, what we do is get together and converse on what is going on. This is especially in the mornings, we want to know if there is going to be a hazard,” Davis said.
Davis said the matter also involves paying attention to the area before a school session.
“I try to call it as soon as I can. I understand there are parents who have to take care of day care issues and the like,” he said.
Cheryl Young mentioned that Washington County officials were aware that Creswell area was definitely affected by flooding.
“It takes the community supporting an area to make a drainage district,” she said.
Washington County officials were in the process of trying to get meetings scheduled for the Pea Ridge and Creswell area to put in place another drainage district.
“It comes with a tax. That tax money goes into a fund that help you be able to start supporting some of the ditches and some of the drainage issues in the area. One of the benefits of having that when is you have a drainage district and you are in showing maintenance in the event of something like a hurricane, you qualify for federal money. If you do not have that in place, they will not help you. That is what we experienced in the last issue. This is another way to pull in the dollars that we need for general maintenance, but to make certain that in those big storm issues that we are actually able to get some more assistance,” she said.
Young mentioned paying attention to when community meetings for a drainage district for Pea Ridge and Creswell take place.
Keyes followed Young’s remarks noting that a group of citizens had been working on this issue.
“We worked on that trying to get some assistance down here on the flooding in this area. They attended meetings down at the office of Coastal Management. We had a large meeting down here in the Creswell area trying to get assistance. But when you are dealing with flooding and problems associated with the Scuppernong River, you have got a lot of environmental agencies that you have to deal with. It kind of slows the process. But please understand that we do understand your concerns and we have been working on the issue.
Betsy Spruill mentioned she had a sewage issue near her home.
“A work crew had put the pipes down for the sewage near my mailbox. What happened is that the area where they put the pipes at has opened back up,” she said.
Spruill mentioned that she approached the supervisor of the work crew before the collapse. But the collapse still happened.
Washington County Attorney Cheryl Young clarified that Washington County does not operate a sewer service.
Creswell Town Council Member J.D. Melton mentioned that Ms. Spruill’s problem was connected to a project between Tyrrell County and Creswell.
Melton mentioned that the matter would be resolved.
“The construction people have to fix it. Or they will not get their last paycheck,” he said.
Tyrrell County Commissioner Leroy Spivey was in attendance at the Forum. He gave some background on the issue.
“TA Loving is the company that did the work. We have similar problems in Tyrrell County that you have. We are working with them so that they can come back and correct all these areas that they left undone,”
Community Development
Community Development was mentioned as a major concern for citizens at the March 28 forum.
Rosa Hill, a Roper resident, noted that a park near Pea Ridge Road had been empty for a while because of drug dealing.
“As a little girl coming up, I saw things done there that were not right. Being that was originally supposed to be a park there, is there a possibility that another park could eventually be put there?” Hill asked.
Phelps directed Ms. Hill to Washington County Manager Jerry Rhodes for input on the matter.
Rhodes mentioned that a new highway is being constructed near the park area.
“I do not know what that configuration is going to look like when the plans come up for the highway connecter. The purpose of the highway connector is to make it an easier route to get off the four-lane Highway 64 to the Sound Bridge.”
Rhodes mentioned waiting until the Department of Transportation plans for the Highway are more developed. The DOT is currently purchasing right of way through the land. Public hearings and drawings of the proposed highway will not come for another year.
However this does not mean all possible uses for a park are out of the question.
“If we cannot put the park back into that particular spot, we can look at how we incorporate a rest area and picnic area into that recreation complex there,” said Rhodes.
Channell Ransom mentioned that officials in Creswell should think about retaining their younger population. Kids that live in Creswell tend to graduate and move away because this is a lack of jobs and other opportunities.
Ransom mentioned starting a Boys and Girls Club in Creswell.
“This would be an opportunity for people like me to show the younger people that Creswell can be a place where you can grow,” she said.
Ransom explained that Creswell can be more than a retirement home for people.
She mentioned a personal connection to the issue.
“I have a young little man who wants to play basketball and football. I want to see him have that opportunity. But right now living in , he does not. That makes people have to move away from Creswell,” she said