Lilly Knoepp

Reporter

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network.  She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science. 

Ways to Connect

Photo by Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University

Western Carolina Faculty Senate will vote on Monday for a resolution asking the university to be 100 percent online because of COVID-19.  Chair of Faculty Senate Kadence Otto says the emergency meeting was called in order to bring up the resolution before the semester starts – even though it won’t send students home.

“Even if the resolution passes nothing is going to change because the resolution is simply the voice of the faculty,” says Otto. The vote will take place via Zoom. 

Lilly Knoepp

Jackson County Commissioners voted on Tuesday night to keep the county’s Confederate monument in its place. But the conversation over Sylva Sam is far from over, as evidenced by what happened during and immediately after the vote.

The discussion over removing Sylva Sam from its perch in front of the old county courthouse created at least two new groups - Reconcile Sylva and the Jackson County Unity Coalition.  Both are mostly based on Facebook.  

Many members attended Tuesday’s commissioners meeting which was both virtual and in-person. 

Photo by Caitlin Penna/Western Carolina University

 

The first day of class for most UNC System schools is August 17. BPR spoke with a Western Carolina University student who already contracted COVID-19 as school officials set out new policies to address the pandemic.

Miranda Curtis is from Murphy. She’s a hospitality and tourism management major at Western Carolina University. Right now she’s rethinking that career path... 

“I mean it seemed like a good major before all of this started,” says Curtis, who is 23-years-old.

Photo courtesy of Western Carolina University

Western Carolina University students will be back on campus this weekend.

 

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Sam Miller expects about 400 students will move into the residence halls on Saturday. Students have signed up for specific times to remain socially distant.  

 

In total, about 3,500 students will be living in the dorms when classes start on August 17. Miller says this is down from about 4,000 last year for a variety of reasons. 

 

Courtesy of U.S. Census

Right now only about 30 percent of Jackson and Swain Counties have responded to the U.S. Census. Statewide almost 60 percent of North Carolians have already responded to the census. 

“Western North Carolina has historically been undercounted in the Census and 2020 is no exception,” said Jackie Simms, chair of the programs and grants committee at Dogwood Health Trust in a press release. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Sylva commissioners voted to remove a Confederate monument from the town this week. However, that’s far from the end of the story.

The decision doesn’t actually remove the monument.  Only Jackson County commissioners can do that since the monument is on county property.  So the board asked that the statue be removed from the town limits.

Sylva leaders had to reschedule their vote Monday after their last meeting was the target of a ‘Zoom-bombing’ full of racist speech.

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Black Lives Matter protests across the nation have sparked rallies in support of law enforcement.

 

Hundreds turned out for the Back The Blue Rally hosted in part by Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland. 

 

“We have people here from Jackson County, Macon County, Swain County, Clay County. We have people from all over who came out here to support us,” explains Holland.

 In the crowd you hear someone yell: “Andrews.”

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Town of Sylva board of commissioners met this morning - in part to discuss the removal of the county’s Confederate monument. However the meeting was cut short after being “zoom bombed.”

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Western Carolina University is preparing for next month’s fall semester, which will have a mix of in-person classes and online instruction. 

 

Western Carolina University has 15 different work groups and task forces finalizing the details of the return to school next month.  Cory Causby is the associate vice chancellor of human resources. 

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Guns have been present at most protests and demonstrations across Western North Carolina in the last two months.   That included a rally for President Trump and the Second Amendment last weekend in Bryson City. 

 

A North Carolina General Statute lists protests as one of many events where it is illegal to open carry a firearm.  

 

Courtesy of Harrah's Cherokee Casino

Five employees of the table games section at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino have tested positive for COVID-19. 

"The cluster occurred as a result of 5 employees testing positive in a 14-day period," says Vickie  Bradley, Secretary, Public Health and Human Services in an email. The fifth employee was identified on Friday, July 17. 

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The town of Andrews has transferred their police department over to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s leadership.

 

Andrews Police Chief Michael Hobgood resigned at the beginning of July. This week, Andrews' Mayor James Reid says that instead of searching for a new police chief the town board decided it should transfer its three police officers to the leadership of the Cherokee County Sheriff Derrick Palmer. 

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Cherokee County Board of Commissioners have changed the location of its monthly meeting because of the new requirement that persons entering court facilities must wear a mask.

The board’s meetings usually take place at the Cherokee County Courthouse.

The July 20 meeting will be held at the Penland Senior Center in Murphy, located at 69 Alpine Street. The board says all future meetings will take place at the senior center while court facilities are under COVID-19 pandemic requirements. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The timeline for counties in Western North Carolina to take part in an affordable housing deal has been extended. 

Located in Murphy, the Hulburt Johnson Friendship House is the westernmost homeless shelter in the state. It has just 33 beds and serves men, women and children. 

“Housing is at a premium here. You don’t have a lot of housing, period.” 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Jackson County Commissioners did not to move forward with creating a task force to discuss the fate of a Confederate statue in Sylva.  

At a Tuesday work session, all commissioners could agree on was that something should be done to improve the context of the statue known as “Sylva Sam,” which sits on the steps of the old Jackson County courthouse.

There is a movement to remove the statue, and another group who wants to keep the statue. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The town of Sylva has seen its share of vigils and marches following the death of George Floyd.  The most recent over the weekend focused on the Confederate monument that overlooks downtown. 

Traffic backed up along the detour route Saturday as two separate demonstrations set up – one seeking the removal of the statue of a Confederate soldier on the old Jackson County Courthouse steps, and the other wanting it to stay. Demonstrators who want the statue, known as "Sylva Sam," to keep its perch met in a parking lot behind the Old Courthouse.

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Town of Sylva Board of Commissioners passed a resolution on Thursday to prohibit Confederate imagery on town vehicles and property. Currently, the old Jackson County Courthouse including the Confederate soldier statue which stands in front of the building, is featured on town vehicles and Sylva Police badges. 

 

Matt Bush / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has amended its federal lawsuit which hopes to block the Catawaba Nation, based in South Carolina, from building a casino near Charlotte.

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Sixteen people spoke during the Jackson County Commissioners public comment period on Tuesday night about the Confederate soldier statue which stands in the middle of the old Courthouse steps. 

 

The county commissioners are set to discuss creating a task force to decide the monument's fate at their July 14 work session. Many who spoke say they would consider a taskforce a step in the wrong direction. 

 

NC DOT

The North Carolina Department of Public Transportation is asking the people of Yancey County to weigh in on the future of the county's transpotation.

 

Yancey County is updating its Comprehensive Transportation Plan, which was last released in 2008. The plan will map out what transportation will look like in the county for the next 30 years, according to NC DOT. 

Jarret Porter

Three men have been charged for carrying firearms in downtown Asheville on June 21 at a demonstration, according to the Asheville Police Department.  

Pexels

Sheriffs across North Carolina will not enforce the statewide order on wearing face masks in public.  Here’s why: 

 

Eddie Caldwell is Executive Vice President for the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association.

 

“We’ve tried to read it and explain it to the sheriff’s in as clear language as we possibly could,”says Caldwell. 

 

NC DOT

NCDOT has announced a big change in construction plans to build a new bridge in the town of Dillsboro. 

Officials plan to close down Haywood Road (U.S. 23 Business) for nine months instead of building a temporary bridge. This will shave about 2 years and $3 million dollars off of the project, according to Div 14 Construction Engineer Ted Adams. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Highlands Mayor Patrick Taylor announced that a Highlands Town Hall employee tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. All of the town hall’s employees - about 10 including the mayor - have now been tested and are awaiting results. Taylor says the employee had been working from home but had been in the office intermittently. 

 

 Taylor says that he supports the new mandatory order for masks in public. 

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

The public comment period for Nantahala Pisgah Forest Plan is coming to a close on June 29. 

 

After over 5 years of discussions and drafts, this draft plan was released in February. The pandemic caused many of the public comment meetings across the region to be cancelled. As a result the deadline for comment was extended by 45 days.

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Jackson County commissioners will discuss the future of the statue of a Confederate soldier on the old courthouse steps in Sylva next month.  

Commissioners held a meeting on Tuesday which included a conversation about “diversity and inclusion” which centered around the statue which stands on the old courthouse steps. About ten people spoke during public comment in support of the statue's removal at the afternoon meeting. 

One resident was Christina Sutton, who identified herself as an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

Courtesy of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital

Erlanger Health System has laid off CEO Mark Kimball of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Murphy.

The health system laid off 11 leadership positions throughout the Erlanger Health System due to revenue losses associated with COVID-19. 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Macon County continues to have the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in Western North Carolina. BPR takes a deeper look at one of the county’s largest employers, which saw one of the first clusters of cases there. 

 

About 8 percent of Macon County roughly 34,000 residents have been tested for COVID-19 explains Emily Ritter, the public information officer for the county’s Public Health department.

 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Protests in the rural towns of Western North Carolina for racial justice are growing into a movement.

 Molly Haithcock, 24 and Erykah Lasha, 22, didn’t know each other until a few weeks ago even though both went to Franklin High School. Haithcock, who identifies as a black woman, says she was sickened by the killing of George Floyd and wanted to do something - anything: 

Lilly Knoepp / Blue Ridge Public Radio

Macon County now has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 proportionately in the Blue Ridge Public Radio listening area. 

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