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After impasse, N. Carolina politicians make big deals in '21 (copy)

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — As the year draws to a close in politically divided North Carolina, hostilities have eased somewhat between the Democratic governor and majority-Republican lawmakers, both of whom recently agreed on a comprehensive budget more than three years after the last one was approved. But their relationship is still far from harmonious.

Last month, second-term Gov. Roy Cooper signed a two-year, $53 billion state budget bill penned by GOP legislative leaders that was 4 1/2 months late, and with lots inside for him to dislike, such as provisions that rein in his emergency powers and phase out corporate income taxes. And there are only plans to study the broad Medicaid expansion he's sought for years, with no promise for an actual vote.

Two years ago, Cooper vetoed the spending bill. But this year, there was enough in it to make him sign, including an avalanche of surplus funds that Republicans were happy to direct toward myriad projects across the state, including broadband expansion and water treatment plant repairs.

“The good outweighed the bad, and it was time to move forward,” Cooper said in an interview with The Associated Press. “There’s been a long time since we’ve had a budget, and (vetoing) it would have at that time stopped everything.”

North Carolina, the nation's ninth-largest state, was the last to enact a budget for 2021.

The governor's signature capped a year in which Cooper agreed with Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and Republican Senate leader Phil Berger that good-faith negotiations, rather than stalemate, was the path to take.

The two sides also passed compromise legislation requiring more students to return to in-person classes earlier this year when the coronavirus pandemic eased and data showed low transmission among young people; raising police accountability standards; and making North Carolina the first southeastern state to establish greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements. And they celebrated announcements that Apple will build its first East Coast campu s and Toyota its first North American battery plant in the state, thanks in part to approved incentives.

“I think we’ve worked to try and make a difference,” Cooper said, and “we’ve come together on some historic legislation that’s going to make this state better.”

Conflict between Cooper and the General Assembly hasn't ebbed fully. The governor used his veto stamp on 16 bills this year, and none of the vetoes have been overturned. His fights with the Republicans began even before he was sworn in. Just two days before taking office in January 2017, the then-outgoing attorney general began suing GOP legislators for passing laws shifting gubernatorial powers to themselves.

In 2019, Cooper vetoed the budget bill, insisting that Medicaid expansion be negotiated. The GOP disagreed, and a conventional spending plan was never approved for the first time in recent state history. There was no government shutdown, yet many agencies operated at previous-year levels.

Then COVID-19 arrived, as did billions of dollars in federal relief. A 2020 election to determine control of state government didn’t change a thing: Cooper won reelection, and Republicans maintained majorities that weren’t veto-proof.

Some Democratic legislators who were committed to upholding Cooper’s 2019 budget veto were determined this year to enact a plan. Massive amounts for building construction and other special projects sprinkled nearly everywhere in the budget appeared to give Republicans leverage, too.

“We had funding in there to touch the lives of every North Carolinian,” said Rep. Charles Graham, a Democrat who was one of the budget negotiators because he had voted for the original House plan. Failing to enact a budget, Graham added, “would have not been ... good leadership.”

Cooper managed enough concessions, particularly on education spending, to accept the final product.

“To his credit, he really wanted to make sure that we had a budget, and he was willing to sign a budget,” Berger said in a recent interview.

GOP Rep. Jason Saine, a top House budget writer, said that Cooper, who is term-limited from serving beyond 2024, may have felt pressure to sign a budget because he had never done so.

“The (game) board has changed a little bit. And I think anybody that seeks that office, whether Republican or Democrat, they’ve got to think about their legacy, too,” Saine said.

More than 50 Democrats ended up voting for the bill after Cooper signaled he'd sign it. Criticism from Cooper's allies was muted or directed at Republicans.

“After working for the past two years during the pandemic with no raises and no state budgets, educators have every reason to be disappointed,” North Carolina Association of Educators President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a video. The 5% average pay raises for teachers, for example, was only half what Cooper had sought.

Mac McCorkle, a Duke University instructor and former adviser to North Carolina's two previous Democratic governors, said it was a “close call" but believes Cooper did the right thing.

“While the die-hard partisans want a bitter fight to the end — on both sides — a lot of other people, people who voted for Roy Cooper, think that the governor should be cooperative, and should collaborate, and that budgets should be signed,” McCorkle said.

Cooper, who leads the Democratic Governors Association next year, is often held up as a model for the party, winning in a state that voted twice for Donald Trump. He could be weakened, however, should Republicans win enough seats next November to regain veto-proof control. Democrats and allies are suing GOP leaders to halt Republican redistricting maps that would help retain or expand GOP majorities.

Pikeville Cardinal Drop to herald in 2022

PIKEVILLE — A giant 6-foot cardinal will glide into a facade representing Pikeville’s downtown area Friday night to help the town usher in 2022.

The inaugural Cardinal Drop, sponsored by the Greater Pikeville Improvement Committee, will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at Dees Memorial Park, 403 Northwest Railroad St.

“It is going to be our New Year celebration similar to how Mount Olive does the Pickle Drop,” said Rodney Jarman, Greater Pikeville Improvement Committee member. “It will be right there in the park, and we’ll have plenty of room.

“We are excited about it.”

Tommy Evans will perform, and food trucks will be at the park.

The event is free other than what participants purchase at the food trucks, Jarman said. He recommends people bring cash.

Food will be available at local restaurants, too, he said.

“We (committee) came together a few years back, and we have been slowly, but surely, trying to bring events back to town trying to make it community-focused,” Jarman said. “We brought the fireworks back this year for the Fourth of July.

“We did the Halloween event with a trunk or treat. We run the movies in the park during the fall. We did the Christmas parade, and then we did the tree lighting. So this is kind of our wrap-up, our last event for the year, before we take a little bit of a break ourselves.”

The decision to hold the drop at 10 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. (midnight Greenwich Mean Time) or midnight was a nod to the Mount Olive Pickle Drop at 7 p.m. Friday and to provide options for people to ring in the new year at midnight, Joyner said.

“We wanted to stagger it because we felt like the Pickle Drop has been established and people go there,” he said. “We wanted to give people time to still participate in that and then still have time to come up here to Pikeville to participate in what we have got going on and then still be able to do what they wanted to do for their New Year’s plans at midnight.

“We just figured this would be the best way to open it up for all of Wayne County, not just the Pikeville community but all of Wayne County. So, we picked that as a kind of a neutral time.”

The cardinal always has kind of been the town’s insignia, Jarman said.

It was adopted some time back, and the committee just kind of ran with it, he said. It is part of the committee’s logo, and the teams under the committee’s athletics subcommittee are the Cardinals.

“We wanted something that Pikeville has and build around that,” Jarman said. “Why reinvent the wheel? So let’s do the Cardinal Drop. We do plan on in the future, we are starting the planning stages, to have a Cardinal Festival, which will be Pikeville’s first town festival, kind of like Fremont has the Daffodil Festival and Mount Olive has the Pickle Festival.

“That is going to be Pikeville’s festival coming here in the future. We will start it off as a one-day festival, and as it grows, it may turn into a two- or three-day event.”

The committee designed the cardinal that also went through a design phase with Benton and Sons Fabrication that built the 4-foot by 6-foot bird.

It is similar to a die-cast cutout, Jarman said.

The cardinal will glide down into an 8-foot-tall and 20-foot-long facade of downtown Pikeville during a countdown, he said.

Friday’s weather forecast is favorable with mild temperatures expected in the 60s.

“The last forecast I saw is looking like we are pretty good with the temperature fairly mild,” Jarman said. “I don’t think they are calling for rain or anything.”

Planning for the event started this past January, Jarman said.

The committee itself oversees six or seven different events throughout the year. There are several subcommittees, too.

“We have a beautification subcommittee,” he said. “Their primary focus is to find areas of the town to beautify. The athletic committee has been been putting on sports throughout the year.

“We have an events committee, and their sole purpose is to try to plan these events and put them on, and then you’ve got that board of directors, so we meet about five times a month in one meeting or another.”

There is a historical committee as well, he said.

The committee has about 30 members but is always looking for new members and volunteers, Jarman said.

“We’re going to do a big kind of volunteer advertising push after the first of the year — really get more hands on board — anything from anybody who wants to help trim bushes to help coach a soccer team, to sit as the secretary on the board of directors,” he said.

“Anybody who’s interested in any of those things that may even fall remotely close, give us a call, and we will lead, guide and direct you and get you where you need to be.”

For more information, call Jarman at 252-286-9579.

Pickle Drop to ring in new year

MOUNT OLIVE — The Mt. Olive Pickle Co. will hold its 22nd annual New Year’s Eve Pickle Drop Friday, starting at 5 p.m. in front of Kornegay Arena on the University of Mount Olive campus.

The celebration will get underway when food trucks begin serving at 5 p.m. The Harmony Boys will perform at 5:30 p.m. L.J. Manley as DJ will lead line dancing.

A lighted, 3-and-a-half-foot pickle will drop from the Mount Olive Fire Department’s tower truck into a giant pickle jar at the stroke of 7 p.m., which also happens to be midnight Greenwich Mean Time. “Auld Lang Syne,” a fireworks display and door prizes will follow.

“We always encourage folks to get here early,” said Lynn Williams, Mt. Olive Pickle Co. spokesperson. “The whole thing used to be over at 7:05 — as soon as we awarded all the door prizes.

“We’ve added a little more time to it with the fireworks, but it will still be over by 7:30. That means some folks can catch other, later New Year’s celebrations, or, like many of us here, you can be home in bed well before midnight.”

Free pickles will be available, courtesy of Mt. Olive Pickle Co., and the event will include the company’s annual tradition of collecting donations and food for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.

“The food drive has been a Pickle Drop tradition since the beginning,” Williams said. “Last year we were able to raise over $5,000 online, which Mt. Olive Pickle matched. Even though we couldn’t hold the Pickle Drop and the canned food drive as always last year, we were still able to make an impact for the Food Bank.”

Anyone donating food or a cash donation will receive a chance to win door prizes from the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. gift shop. The grand prize is a 3-foot pool pickle similar to the one that will be dropped during the celebration.

Friends of the Raleigh-based Food Bank will double all contributions, up to $600,000, made through Friday. Mt. Olive Pickle Co. will match up to $5,000 in donations for its virtual food drive, which ends Jan. 5.

The pickle drop and donations to the food bank will also be online, at https://www.mtolive

Food donation suggestions include canned fruits and vegetables; canned meats, beans and soups; cereals, whole grain pastas and rice; peanut butter; paper products; hygiene items such as feminine products, hand sanitizer, toothbrushes, soap and shaving items; children items such as diapers, wipes, formula, infant cereal, macaroni and cheese cups, crackers and juice boxes; and for seniors items such as nutritional shakes and drinks and adult hygiene products. Pop-top items and microwavable cups are requested.

In business since 1926 in its hometown of Mount Olive, Mt. Olive Pickle Co. manufactures the best-selling brand of pickles, peppers and relishes in the United States. The company has maintained its relationship with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina since its inception in 1980.

Commissioners plan four afternoon meetings in 2022

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners is giving afternoon meetings a try.

The board has scheduled four of its regular meetings in 2022 for afternoons, beginning with agenda briefings at 4 p.m. and the formal sessions at 5 p.m. The meetings will be on Jan. 4, April 5, July 5 and Oct. 4.

The meetings are in the commissioners meeting room on the fourth floor of the Wayne County Courthouse atrium, 224 E. Walnut St.

The Board of Commissioners normally meets on the first and third Tuesday of the month. Agenda sessions begin at 8 a.m., and the regular meetings begin at 9 a.m.

Wayne County Commissioner Bevan Foster had tried unsuccessfully in October to convince a majority of his fellow commissioners to move one of their two meetings every month to afternoons. Foster said moving those meetings to afternoons would benefit people whose schedules do not allow them to attend morning meetings.

Foster credited Commissioner Antonio Williams with bringing the idea to the board’s attention previously. Williams thanked Foster for bringing the matter up again.

The vote in October for moving one of the two monthly meetings to afternoons failed 2-5. Foster and Williams voted in favor of the change. Voting no were Commissioners Barbara Aycock, Wayne Aycock, Joe Daughtery, Chris Gurley and Freeman Hardison.

At Williams’ request, the board took up the matter again in November. Williams recommended having afternoon meetings once per quarter. He said one of the commissioners had suggested having afternoon meetings once per quarter on a trial basis.

“We could see if it will work to get our community involved in the process of transparency,” Williams said.

Daughtery said holding the four meetings on a trial basis seemed like a fair compromise. He mentioned there had been some previous concerns about conflicts involving staff availability.

“I think on a trial basis, if we did that on a quarterly basis, we could see how it works and what we would need to do to address those concerns,” Daughtery said.

Hardison’s motion for afternoon meetings once per quarter for a year passed 5-2. Voting yes were Barbara Aycock, Daughtery, Foster, Hardison and Williams. Voting no were Wayne Aycock and Gurley.

Tuesday’s meeting will include a public hearing at 5:15 p.m. on an economic development incentive grant for Hosokawa Micron International. The board is considering a $240,000 grant payable over 10 years in exchange for the company’s commitment to invest $6,335,169 in capital improvements and to create 16 jobs in Wayne County.

Hosokawa Custom Processing Services announced in November that it will relocate from New Jersey to a “shell” building at 508 Challen Court in the ParkEast Industrial Park.

Hosokawa Custom Processing Services, a division of Hosokawa Micron Corp., processes powders to be used primarily by the chemical, mineral and plastics industries.