Here’s a look at what’s making news around Western North Carolina:
• Fletcher police chief named: Tom Christol, a 51-year-old officer with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department in eastern Tennessee, will be the town of Fletcher’s new police chief, the Hendersonville Times-News reports. Former Chief Langdon Raymond resigned in July following a tenure marked with controversial police-officer firings, lawsuits and countersuits. The town hired two former Henderson County sheriffs and a consultant to reform the troubled department.
• Mountain economy scrutinized: The Asheville Citizen-Times launched a 10-part series of stories Sunday looking at the economic downturn’s effect on area residents. Thursday’s installment notes that WNC “is seeing its largest employment slowdown in years. The overall jobless rate for 17 WNC counties rose from 3.7 percent in September 2007 to 5.7 percent for September of this year. Over the same period, the number of people out of work in the region rose by more than half to more than 23,000.”
• Ghost Town struggling: Ghost Town in the Sky, the 1960s-era Wild West amusement park in Maggie Valley is struggling since it reopened a year ago, reports the Smoky Mountain News. “Rides don’t work, costs have piled up, ticket sales fell short of expectations and there have been disagreements over the best way to promote Ghost Town as a tourist destination.”
• Preserving the night sky: Jackson County commissioners have adopted a new local law aimed at reducing “light pollution, light trespass and offensive lighting sources,” reports the Sylva Herald. The regulations will affect all new development, according to the newspaper.
• New Cherokee watchdog: Joe Martin, the former editor of the Cherokee One Feather newspaper, has started his own newspaper, The Cherokee Times. The newspaper is currently a Web-only production. The One Feather is owned and funded by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, and Martin for years has pressed for free press laws in tribal territories. Now he’s on his own, reporting his news independently.
• Murphy Medical Center lay-offs: Murphy Medical Center, the biggest employer in Cherokee County, plans to lay off 30 employees by the end of January, according to the Cherokee Scout newspaper. The hospital employs about 740 people.
• New Franklin town hall: The town of Franklin plans to move ahead with renovating town hall and building a new police department and public-works building. The Macon News reports that the projects will cost about $9.5 million in taxpayers’ money.
• Polk County has new sheriff: Polk County’s Democratic Party has nominated Donald Hill to serve as sheriff in the wake of the recent resignation of Sheriff Chris Abril. Hill’s nomination will have to be approved by county commissioners. Abril resigned last week, just before facing trial on rape charges. Abril pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was sentenced to 120 days of house arrest.
• Moratorium extended on Watauga billboards: Watauga County commissioners extended a moratorium on electronic billboards as they work on local regulations, reports the Watauga Democrat.
• Water work: Asheville continues to work on $40 million worth of water-system improvements, including about $10 million in major improvements in south Buncombe County, reports the Pisgah Mountain News. “In south Buncombe, old 2-inch lines are being replaced in Royal Pines, a new pump station is going up on the Weston Road area, a 24-inch line is going in along Hendersonville Road and a 24-inch pipeline will connect Long Shoals and Brevard roads.”
• Schools returning money: Public schools across the state are sending money back to the state as the economic downtown shrinks state-government coffers. In Macon County, the school system sent back $174,000, reports the Franklin Press. “We will be relying on our local fund balance to cover losses due to the reversion of state monies,” school Superintendent Dan Brigman told the newspaper.
• Woodfin skate park still closed:The Weaverville Tribune’s blog reports that the Woodfin Skate Park remains closed after a recent act of vandalism. The park closed Nov. 2.
• NAACP celebrates 75th anniversary: The Urban News reports that the Asheville chapter of the NAACP recently celebrated its 75th anniversary with a banquet. The newspaper reported that O.L. Sherrill, the group’s membership chairman, told the people assembled that “it is important that you consider becoming a member; the challenges and injustices are not over!”
• Comic shop opens:A new comic book shop has opened has opened at 1 Kenilworth Knolls, just off Tunnel Road in east Asheville, according to UNCA’s Blue Banner newspaper. Comic Envy is owned by Darrin Williams, who moved to town four months ago from Georgia. The store offers new and old comics, graphic novels and a wide selection of manga, according to the newspaper. The grand opening is set for Nov. 28-30.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor