At the end of each year, The Robesonian’s newsroom brain trust designates what it believes are the top 10 stories of the year, with the most weight being given to the stories that affected the most lives. As you read them, understand that they are not ranked in any order, but are assembled to the degree that was possible in chronological order. And we acknowledge you might disagree — editor.
After more than two decades of work to establish a local world-class facility capable of providing for equestrian and livestock events, the multi-purpose pavilion at the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center — formerly the Southeastern N.C. Agricultural Center — opened on April 17. The official ceremony for the facility, long promoted as one that would boost regional tourism and spark the local economy, was attended by local, county and state officials, as well as those residents who had spent years to make the facility a reality.
The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services constructed and administers the $4.99 million facility, which is a 50,000-square-foot pre-engineered steel building with a dirt floor. A covering, to eventually be replaced by a permanent portable floor system, can be placed over the dirt to provide for events other than equestrian or livestock such as family reunions, weddings, concerts, trade shows and proms.
Construction of the facility was delayed for years because of lack of funding. It started to move forward in 2008 with a $3.7 million allotment from the General Assembly. The state Golden LEAF Foundation chipped in with a $1.2 million grant, and the Robeson County Board of Commissioners and the Lumberton City Council each provided $50,000 as a match for a request to Golden LEAF for additional money to build stalls.
Currently a movement is on to raise money to provide stalls, a necessity if the facility is to hold multiple-day equestrian shows to boost the local economy.
While changes in voting districts for Robeson County commissioners and school board members were minimal, changes in state and congressional districts that were effective beginning with the 2012 elections were significant. For the first time in more than a century, Republicans had control of the General Assembly — and with it the right to draw districts to represent changes in state demographics recorded during the 2010 Census.
The changes result in only a small population of Robeson County voters still being able to call on native son, Democrat Mike McIntyre of Lumberton, to be their voice in Congress. Most of Robeson County was moved out of the 7th Congressional District that McIntyre has represented the past 16 years, and put in the the 8th Congressional District, which encompasses counties, or parts of counties, from Robeson west to Mecklenburg.
There were also changes in the General Assembly.
Senate District 13 no longer consists of Robeson County and Hoke County. Instead, the district encompasses Robeson and Columbus counties.
Only one House district, District 47, is made up of just Robeson County.
Only a small part of Robeson County is now included in House District 46, a district that now encompasses much of Columbus County. Also, for the first time, a sliver of Robeson County is included in House District 66, which previously encompassed only Richmond and Montgomery counties.
While Robeson County will get a new congressman and two new state House representatives, November elections yielded no new faces on the county’s Board of Commissioners.
Commissioner Tom Taylor, a Democrat who had no May primary contest, defeated GOP challenger Dennis Harrell in the November General Election. Commissioners Raymond Cummings, Roger Oxendine, and Jerry Stephens all won their primary races in May and were not challenged in November.
Voting district changes significantly altered Robeson County’s congressional and state representation. State Sen. Michael Walters, a Democrat, won an easy victory in District 13, which now encompasses Robeson and Columbus counties. State Rep. G.L. Pridgen, a Republican, did well with voters in Robeson County, but with much of Columbus County now in House District 46, he lost his re-election bid to Democrat Ken Waddell, the mayor of Chadbourn.
Beginning in January, Robeson County will have a fourth member in the state House, Ken Goodman. Goodman’s District 66, which includes Richmond and Montgomery counties, for the first time includes a small piece of Robeson County.
Two Democratic incumbents, Charles Graham, District 47, and Garland Pierce, District 48, were unopposed in the November elections.
At the federal level, redistricting left only a small sliver of Robeson County in Congressional District 7, represented by McIntyre. Most of Robeson County is now in District 8 and will be represented by Republican Richard Hudson. Hudson defeated incumbent Larry Kissell, a Democrat, in November.
Despite the tribe’s chairman and council members calling tribal “unity” the tool needed to move the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina forward, 2012 was a year of conflict.
Council members throughout the year repeatedly charged that Chairman Paul Brooks fails to provide financial and other information they need to carry out their legislative oversight. They have questioned why all federal dollars received for housing programs and other services for tribal members have not been used over the past several years.
Brooks has responded by charging council members with trying to interfere with his constitutional rights of day-to-day management of tribal government. He at times has refused to attend council meetings, or allow tribal staff to attend council meetings, claiming that council members use such occasions to personally attack him and tribal staff, not ask pertinent questions.
As a result of what they contend is inefficient government, many tribal members have signed a petition seeking to reduce the number of seats on the Tribal Council from 21 to seven. Others are talking about trying to recall some of the council’s current members.
Entering the new year, the Tribal Council has not finalized the tribe’s fiscal year 2012-13 budget, a budget that was supposed to have become effective Oct. 1.
Lumberton officer killed
Tragedy struck on July 17 when Lumberton Master Police Officer Jeremiah M. Goodson was shot and killed while attempting to serve an arrest warrant. Goodson was shot multiple times as he approached the vehicle of Marques Brown — who is charged with first-degree murder and is being held in jail without bond — at the Xpress Depot at 5030 Fayetteville Road.
Goodson served as a member of the Police Department’s gang unit and worked at Lumberton High School as a school resource officer.
“He was a personable officer. The kids loved him, the officers here loved him,” Lumberton Police Chief Mike McNeill said. “… He did his work diligently. He did it without any kind of bias. He was impartial on everything he did. He was just a good officer.”
As the end of the year draws near, a community-based movement is under way to have the state Department of Transportation name the bridge being built as part of the reconfiguration of Exit 22 as the “Master Police Officer Jeremiah M. Goodson Memorial Bridge.”
As the new year begins, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners is reviewing a study conducted by County Manager Ricky Harris that compares the benefits the commissioners in Robeson County receive with those collected by the commissioners in contiguous counties. The study — which provides no recommendations — includes salaries, travel stipends, retirement benefits and health insurance.
The study was initiated after The Robesonian reported hat the combined salaries and travel stipends of Robeson commissioners are the fourth largest in the state; that both the commissioners and their family members can receive free health insurance; commissioners have a 457 retirement plan where the county matches 4 percent of their salaries; and each commissioner has a $40,000 discretionary fund that he can spend without the approval of the rest of the board. In October, the board voted to do away with a deferred compensation plan that allowed a commissioner to draw a portion of their salary after they left office.
Noah Woods, the board’s chairman, has repeatedly said that the commissioners will review the study and take action if necessary. When that might happen is unclear as the new year begins.
McGirt goes low
There was no sophomore slump for Fairmont native William McGirt, who won more than $1 million on the PGA Tour this year while also positioning himself for a big 2013.
McGirt made the cut in 17 of 29 events this year, had six top 25 finishes and three top 10 finishes while winning $1,217,699 to finish 74th on the tour’s money list. The highlight of the year came July 29 at the RBC Canadian Open, when McGirt, playing in the final group, led the tournament with four holes to play before a couple of late bogeys dropped him into a tie for second.
His prize, $457,600, put him in the FedEx Cup playoffs and also ensured full status on the PGA Tour during 2013, which will allow him to set his schedule and also gain him entry into some of the tour’s premier and most lucrative events. He also had top 10 finishes at the True South Classic and The Barclays.
As this is being written, McGirt and his wife Sarah are awaiting the arrival of their first child, a boy, any day.
County celebrates 225th birthday
Robeson County residents celebrated the county’s 225th birthday in September with a large birthday bash held on the grounds of the county’s Department of Social Services. Billed as a celebration of the county’s diversity, several thousand people attended the event that included entertainment for all ages, informational booths from the county’s municipalities and nonprofits, and free food.
Once part of Bladen County, the “State of Robeson” was established in 1787. It was named in honor of Col. Thomas Robeson, a Revolutionary War hero of the Battle of Elizabethtown.
The county’s birthday celebration continued on Nov. 7, when a time capsule containing Robeson County memorabilia was buried in the ground near the entrance to the DSS building. The capsule will be opened in 2037 when the county celebrates its 250th anniversary.
SRMC surgical outpatient center
A new era of health care was ushered into Robeson County on Dec. 4 when ground was broken for Southeastern Regional Medical Center’s proposed $22.2 million surgery outpatient center. The 80,000-square-foot facility, to be completed by late 2013, is just the first phase of Southeastern Health Park, located at 4901 Dawn Drive.
A 13,000-square-foot ambulatory surgery center that will handle any outpatient procedure that doesn’t require an overnight stay in the hospital is the facility’s major feature. It’s estimated that 50 percent of the hospital’s surgeries could be performed there, according to Joann Anderson, the hospital’s president and CEO.
The building will also include a comprehensive orthopedic center, a gastroenterology center, pre-admission testing for outpatient procedures, an anesthesia center and outpatient rehabilitation. All of these services provided by the hospital are currently housed in different buildings.
Hospital officials say the 26-acre park has plenty of room for expansion. Eventually the park might include an orthopedic center, women’s pavilion and diagnostic center.
Hector MacLean dies
County residents were saddened at year’s end by the death of Hector MacLean, known to many as “Mr. Robeson County,” the architect of present-day Lumberton and Robeson County. MacLean, who died on Dec. 7 at age 92, was a former Lumberton mayor, state senator, banker, philanthropist and civic leader.
Among his achievements, MacLean is credited with helping to get Interstate 95 constructed through Robeson County, an accomplishment that has boosted the county’s economy for decades. As the president and CEO of Southern National Bank, now a large part of BB&T, he was a driving force behind recruiting business and industry to Robeson County. As a state senator, MacLean played instrumental roles in efforts to establish Pembroke State College as a university and create the North Carolina Zoo.
MacLean also left his mark in Robeson County in many other ways. He was the driving force behind the establishment of the county’s local chapter of the United Way; led efforts to enhance local health care, especially at Southeastern Regional Medical Center; and served as the first chairman of the Robeson County Human Relations Commission.