News briefs: Xpress wins for community coverage, Asheville school board affirms superintendent selection

Gene Freeman
COMING SOON: Gene Freeman, new superintendent of Asheville City Schools, is now scheduled to start work on April 20. Photo courtesy of Asheville City Schools

Xpress wins for community coverage, general excellence

Mountain Xpress earned the prize it most covets — first place for Community Coverage — in the 2019 N.C. Press Association awards. Announced at the association’s annual banquet in Raleigh on Feb. 27, Xpress’ wins also included a second-place finish in the General Excellence category for the state’s largest community newspapers.

Staff writer Edwin Arnaudin brought home a first-place honor in business writing for “Asheville’s newest breweries see room for continued industry growth,” part of the 2019 Xpress Sustainability Series.

Editor and reporter Daniel Walton won second place in the election and political coverage category for “2020 election campaigns already stirring in WNC,” a look at the historically early start to the election season that’s now in full swing. Managing Editor Virginia Daffron snagged a second-place finish in the education category for her ongoing coverage of the racial achievement gap in Asheville City Schools.

The snappy leading paragraphs of Food Editor Gina Smith’s 2019 stories won her a second-place prize in the ledes category. And designer Olivia Urban netted second- and third-place awards for two of the layouts she created for Xpress advertisers.

Asheville school board affirms superintendent selection

In stories that appeared online on Feb. 19 ( and Feb. 26 (, Xpress examined news reports that highlight concerns surrounding Gene Freeman, incoming Asheville City Schools superintendent. The reports cover his time both with his current employer, the Fox Chapel Area School District (located in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pa.), and in his previous position with the Manheim Township School District (near Lancaster, Pa.).

A lack of transparency, unusually generous contract terms, potential conflicts of interest and an extended recent absence are among the issues raised by reporting from PublicSource, a nonprofit journalism project in Pennsylvania.

Through district spokesperson Ashley-Michelle Thublin, the Asheville City Board of Education said, “We firmly believe Dr. Gene Freeman was and remains the best long-term fit for our district. We anticipate that upon Dr. Freeman’s arrival, his experience, his leadership skills and his genuine desire to foster success for all students will solidify our community’s support for our new superintendent.”

Freeman pointed to his record of improving test scores and financial stability in his previous districts. He is scheduled to begin work in Asheville on Wednesday, July 1.

Buncombe County leaders prepare for coronavirus

Representatives from Buncombe County Health and Human Services, Buncombe County Emergency Services and Mission Health held a press conference Feb. 28 about plans to prepare for and prevent the spread of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China — should the virus make its way to Buncombe County.

Although Dr. William Hathaway, Mission Health’s chief medical officer, said Mission’s leaders “fully anticipate” seeing the coronavirus in the community in the future, he and other officials emphasized that no cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Buncombe County. On March 3, Gov. Roy Cooper confirmed that North Carolina’s first case of the virus had been reported in Wake County. Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, medical director for Buncombe County’s HHS, said residents should begin preparing for a potential community outbreak by stocking up on food and supplies.

Buncombe County HHS spokesperson Stacy Wood said the agency will be providing a weekly update on the status of the virus in a call-in format. General, nonmedical questions about coronavirus preparations can be sent to Information about COVID-19 in North Carolina is available through the N.C. Department of Public Health website at

Stein demands HCA response

In a letter dated Feb. 25, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein called on HCA Healthcare to respond to complaints about staffing levels, charity care, health care access and billing received since the company began running Mission Health last February.

The complaints were filed with the Stein’s office and raised during public meetings held by Gibbins Advisors, the independent monitor appointed to ensure HCA lives up to terms set by Stein for the $1.5 billion acquisition of nonprofit Mission Health. Should the company fail to comply with the purchase agreement, Stein wrote, his office “will do whatever we can for the people of Western North Carolina.”

Read the full text of Stein’s letter at


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.