Buzzworm news briefs

Go to the head of the class

Education is a lot of things to a lot of people: It’s a foot in the door, a chance for self-improvement, a head start on the career path. It’s also expensive. That’s why the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council is bringing back the annual Sherrill/Forney Scholarship Gala.

Named in honor of two local leaders, the late Phyllis Sherrill and the late Gladys Forney, the scholarship program offers two $500 awards to students planning to continue their education. Sherrill worked as a human-rights activist, focusing on race relations, while Forney served as an educator at the Stephens-Lee High School in Asheville, which was, for decades, the only secondary school for African-Americans in WNC.

Eligible candidates for this year’s awards include graduating seniors as well as previous graduates who are planning to get a little more schooling under their belts. The scholarship can be used toward tuition for college, junior college or trade school. The 2004 recipients were Leslie Davidson, an Asheville High School grad, and Jose Luis Marino-Saldana, a student at A-B Tech.

Here’s how it works: Applicants write an essay stating why they should receive the award, stressing their record of community service and volunteer work, as well as any future plans. The submission packet (due October 6) must include two letters of recommendation and be delivered to the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council office.

The 2005 awards will be announced at the Scholarship Gala, which is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 4. For applications and additional information, call 252-4713.

— Alli Marshall

Breathing easier at school

A bill designed to protect children from toxins in classrooms and on school grounds passed the state House on May 24 and is now in line for Senate action. The Schoolchildren’s Health Act (H.B. 1502) was co-sponsored by Reps. Wilma Sherrill and Susan Fisher of Buncombe County.

The bill would require the State Board of Education to establish guidelines and policies addressing the health risks of arsenic-treated wood, elemental mercury, diesel-exhaust fumes, pesticides, mold and mildew; the policies would then be adopted at the local level. Each year, schools would have to notify parents, guardians, custodians and staff of the schedule for pesticide use on school property and of their right to request advance notice (at least 72 hours, when possible) in cases of nonscheduled pesticide use. Exceptions would be made for products that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as “relatively nontoxic,” such as antimicrobial cleansers and disinfectants. In addition, the bill would require schools to adopt integrated-pest-management policies to prevent and solve infestation problems without using pesticides.

The proposed legislation is “not anything on our radarscope right now,” said Asheville City Schools spokesperson Charlie Glazener, noting that there are hundreds of education-related bills in the General Assembly. “Not that it’s not good stuff [or] not important, but it’s not a priority for us.”

And Belvin Hall, assistant director of the Buncombe County Schools Maintenance Department, said: “We were introduced to that bill several months ago. It’s been in several different forms over the years; basically, [it contains] things we’ve been doing.” The county schools, he noted, adopted integrated pest management in 1999 — “years before anybody else in the state even considered it.” Since then, he said, the only pesticide use has been minimal spraying in unoccupied buildings.

The county is also pretty much on board with other requirements in the bill, according to Hall. The county schools have been replacing arsenic-treated wood in playgrounds with plastic since 1995, he reported, and mercury was mostly purged from high-school classrooms during two “very large” hazardous-waste drives in recent years.

As for mold and mildew, “We have a lot of complaints,” said Hall, adding, “It all stems from roofs.” As a result, he said, addressing leaks and moisture in classrooms has become “priority one.”

The county is also ahead of the legislative curve in terms of diesel-exhaust hazards. A grant obtained by the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency through the EPA’s Clean School Bus USA program paid for installing diesel-oxidation catalysts on all the county’s buses, reducing hazardous emissions. (See “A Standing Ovation for Cleaner Air,” Jan. 19 Xpress.)

“The language of the bill is very general in nature,” said Fisher, “leaving the means of implementation up to individual school systems.” Schools would have until 2010 to meet most of the requirements — which, Fisher believes, “is why both the School Boards Association and Department of Public Instruction were amenable to its passage.”

Information on the bill’s status is available at the General Assembly’s Web site (www.ncga.state.nc.us).

— Nelda Holder

Social Security town hall meeting rescheduled

The town hall-style meeting to discuss the future of Social Security, originally scheduled for June 4 (see “Social Security’s Future,” June 1 Xpress), has been rescheduled for Wednesday, June 8, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Rep. Charles Taylor, Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Vice Chairman David Gantt and Woodfin Mayor Jerry VeHaun have been invited to participate, though at press time, none have confirmed their attendance. The event, sponsored by North Carolina United to Protect Social Security, will take place at the West Asheville Library (942 Haywood Road).

For more information, contact Lavinia Frank at (828) 225-8930 or lfrank@americansforsocialsecurity.com.

— Cecil Bothwell

Better than fare

For the past 18 years, the international accounting firm of Ernst and Young has awarded an annual Entrepreneur of the Year award. The company, whose origins reach back to the 19th century, has a work force of more than 100,000 employees in 140 countries, with 95 U.S. locations. The accounting giant initiated its award to recognize business leaders for “vision, leadership, and ability to grow the successful businesses that help sustain our economy.”

This year Earth Fare, Inc. has been selected as one of 27 regional finalists by a panel of independent judges drawn from business organizations in the Carolinas. The natural food chain’s founder, Roger Derrough, and CEO, Mike Cianciarulo, are in the running for the Carolinas’ Award, which will be presented June 16 at the Westin Charlotte hotel.

Carolinas’ Award recipients will become contestants for the 19th Annual Entrepreneur of the Year award, to be presented at a gala in Palm Springs, Calif., Nov. 20.

For reservations for the June 16 black-tie awards fete, contact Linsey Dyson by June 9 at (919) 981-3036 or linsey.dyson@ey.com. Admission is $200 per person.

— Cecil Bothwell

Expressing herself

“I retired from Asheville City Schools last December with the intent of going home and resting awhile,” explains Marjorie Coleman from behind the cash register of her recently opened store, Expressions.

Obviously, however, she’s not sitting around with her feet up. Twenty-five years of educating others, it seems, has made for a habit that’s hard to break.

“I wanted to continue helping the community,” Coleman says. “This bookstore happened so easily, I felt like it was God’s plan.”

Located on Eagle Street, where a variety of new businesses are flourishing, Expressions is a one-room shop filled with books, cards and gift items. A quick glance around the merchandise on display reveals Coleman’s specialty: literature by African-American authors.

“There was no African-American store in Asheville that focused on topics of interest to African-American readers,” she points out. Since the closing of Issues, which was located around the corner on Biltmore Avenue (see “Big-hearted Business,” July 31, 2002, Xpress), the African-American community has had to search for favorite authors in less specialized stores around town. According to Coleman, many readers found that the hot-off-the-presses titles they were looking for weren’t readily available.

“I try to put a focus on new releases,” she says. “New books are added regularly — twice weekly.” Among the titles carried by Expressions, readers can find favorite authors like sultry, one-name-only Zane, as well as works by local writers such as Charles Blount and Damion Bailey. Older titles can be ordered.

“All readers are welcome here,” Coleman pledges, pointing out that there’s something for everyone, from the current Farmer’s Almanac and the all-purpose People’s Pharmacy to classics by the likes of Toni Morrison. “I’ve always had a passion for reading,” the proprietor muses. “I feel that this way I can share it with the public.”

Charles Blount will read from his novel, Whatever Happened to Charlie Boy, at 1 p.m. on Saturday, July 2, at Expressions. For more information, call 350-9283 or visit the shop at 6 Eagle St.

— Alli Marshall

High speed, low price

The Mountain Area Information Network cut its high-speed-wireless broadband rates by more than 12 percent for all basic residential customers on June 1. Sweeter still, all wireless subscribers will receive higher transmission speeds and additional e-mail accounts at no extra cost. MAIN’s wireless service is available in many parts of Buncombe, Mitchell, Yancey and Madison counties.

MAIN is also making partial-year accounts available for the convenience of the region’s snowbirds who flit off to parts unknown when the thermometer dips.

The monthly fee for MAIN’s “Silver” residential service will drop from $40 to $35, and the speed will increase from 256 to 512 kilobits-per-second. The nonprofit Internet service provider is also increasing the transmission speeds for its enhanced residential and commercial wireless Internet services.

“This is a flat rate; there are no hidden fees or surcharges,” says Wally Bowen, executive director of MAIN. The changes “reflect MAIN’s goal of ensuring that no citizen or small business is left behind as our nation moves increasingly into a digital economy.”

Noah Miller, MAIN’s wireless network administrator, says consumers should pay close attention to their actual monthly costs when comparing service offerings from broadband providers. “Both cable and DSL companies often pad their bills with surcharges and fees over and above their advertised rates. They want people to think those extra charges are government taxes, though often they aren’t. MAIN is upfront in its pricing, so our monthly fee of $35 is exactly what you’ll pay each month.”

For more information about MAIN’s wireless service, including a complete list of features and application information, visit www.main.nc.us and select the “Wireless broadband” link.

— Cecil Bothwell

The church, the state and the East Waynesville Baptist Nine

In early May, when nine congregants claimed they were voted out of the East Waynesville Baptist Church for disagreeing with the pastor’s politicking, the controversy garnered national attention. However, the church members weren’t ousted for their opposition to the re-election of President George W. Bush — as has been commonly reported by the national media — but because as Smoky Mountain News notes, “they simply didn’t agree with [Pastor Chan Chandler] allegedly drawing a line in the sand and forcing members to choose between church and their political views.”

The event inspired Americans United for Separation of Church and State to file a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service asserting that Chandler’s actions amounted to blatant partisan activity in violation of the federal tax law that bars nonprofits, religious or otherwise, from endorsing candidates for public office.

Unbeknownst to many, according to Phillip B. Allen, president of the WNC chapter of the watchdog group, there is currently a bill before Congress that would overturn this very law. The Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act (H.R. 235) would allow religious organizations — but not their secular equivalents — to support or oppose candidates for public office without losing their 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

The WNC chapter of AUSCS will hold a free public forum — “Should Our Houses of Worship Be Used For Partisan Politicking?” — at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 9, at UNCA’s Lipinsky Auditorium. The event will include presentations by three panelists, followed by an open Q-and-A period.

The panelists are Dr. James M. Dunn, an adjunct professor of Christianity and Public Policy at Wake Forest University; David Wijewickrama, attorney for the “East Waynesville Baptist Nine,” the congregants who were allegedly tossed out of their church; and Dr. Robert Prince, pastor of First Baptist Church in Waynesville (who, says Allen, was unwittingly caught up in the controversy when his church was repeatedly misidentified as the church in question.)

“Bringing partisan politics into the pews is divisive, as illustrated by the case out of Waynesville,” says Allen. “The tragedy that unfolded at East Waynesville Baptist Church did not have to happen. But there is great pressure being applied to houses of worship to become more actively involved in electioneering.”

For more information, contact Allen at 669-5521 or phillip@brencase.com.

— Lisa Watters

Mountain Area Hospice opens new Solace Center

Twenty-five years ago, Mountain Area Hospice opened its doors to care for its first patient, who was in her final weeks of life. At the time, the nonprofit was headquartered in a 40-square-foot office within Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church on Merrimon Avenue and had a grand total of one-and-a-half staff members.

Since then, the hospice has cared for thousands of people in their final days, serving 1,650 patients and their families in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2004. Along the way, the staff has grown to include 114 people, including physicians, nurses, social workers, certified nursing assistants, chaplains, bereavement counselors, office professionals and others. In 1996, the hospice also became a founding member of CarePartners Health Services, along with Thoms Rehabilitation Hospital, Visiting Health Professionals and MountainCARE adult day center.

This year, CarePartners Mountain Area Hospice is celebrating its silver anniversary with the opening of its soon-to-be completed $5.85 million Solace Center, which was financed by individuals, businesses, charitable foundations and government grants. The center will be dedicated to the memory of the late John F. Keever Jr., a physician’s assistant, former hospice patient and husband of former Buncombe County Commissioner Patsy Keever.

An open house (complete with public tours) will be held from 8 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 14, at the new facility (68 Sweeten Creek Road, Asheville).

The new 27,260-square-foot inpatient center includes 27 private patient rooms, (including a pediatric hospice room). Special features include sleeping areas for families in each room, handicapped-accessible bathrooms, a chapel and a spacious family room with an adjacent family kitchen area. Each patient will have a view of the garden areas outside, which include a labyrinth surrounding a black granite fountain and a secure garden area to allow patients with dementia to be outdoors. The new center will increase the available inpatient hospice rooms in Buncombe County by one-third.

Patients at the current inpatient facility on Zillicoa Street in the Montford neighborhood will be moved to the new location by July 1.

For more information on the open house events or on hospice services, call the CarePartners Foundation at 274-6159.

— Tracy Rose

Progressive radio, live from Asheville

Radio talk show host Stephanie Miller is coming to Asheville “to say thank you,” as she recently told Xpress. And with good reason: Asheville’s WPEK-880 AM (“The Revolution”) was one of the first stations to pick up Miller’s nationally syndicated show, which went on the air just a week before 880’s progressive talk format hit the airwaves last fall.

“We took a gamble adding her show,” says Brian Hall, local program director for Clear Channel Communications, which owns WPEK. “We took her show because she had a good track record: She had been a TV host, she had radio experience in Los Angeles, and she is a former stand-up comedian. And she is one of a few women hosts in the progressive format.”

Apparently, the gamble paid off. Miller’s show, which airs weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon, is the most-listened-to program on WPEK, Hall reports, outranking more established syndicated progressives such as Al Franken, Ed Shultz and Randi Rhodes. And “The Revolution” as a whole seems to be faring well, having tripled its audience share after switching its format from “adult standards” to progressive talk last September.

The show’s success is part of a broader growth in progressive talk, notes Miller, who is based in Los Angeles. From 1998 to 2000, she hosted a liberal talk show for ABC Radio that didn’t reach national prominence. “Now, it’s big,” she says. “We are getting a lot of new stations, thanks to good ratings in markets like Asheville.”

Still, Miller’s careful not to overestimate her influence. “Progressive radio is not a political movement, it’s entertainment,” she says. “People listen for different reasons: They hate you, they love you, they think you’re funny.”

Miller’s program, a mix of comedy and left-leaning, opinionated commentary, offers decidedly political entertainment. Each day, the show features a satirical rendition of the news that often pokes fun at conservative media heavyweights like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Her co-host, Jim Ward, provides voice impersonations of political figures ranging from George W. Bush to Jeff Gannon. Asheville-area residents who listen on WPEK can often be heard calling in and offering barbs and comments of their own.

Some listeners might be surprised to learn that Miller grew up in the party she fights today: Her father, the late William Miller, was Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s running mate in 1964. Miller often says that her father wouldn’t know the Republican Party that is in power today, and that “I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the party left me.”

On Thursday, June 9, listeners of any political stripe can take in the Stephanie Miller Show live, when the program broadcasts from the Orange Peel in Asheville from 9 a.m. to noon. Tickets are on sale at the venue for $5 each, and the proceeds will support the Alvy Memorial Fund, in honor of Michael Alvarez, former Orange Peel ticket-booth staffer and owner of Gold Hill Coffee. The same day, WPEK will host a reception with Miller and Ward at the Laughing Seed Cafe from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets for the latter event are free and available at Earth Fare and the Laughing Seed.

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