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As a Senate impeachment trial and the partisan spectacle of a presidential election cast long shadows over the New Year, Wilsonians can take solace that, at least on the local level, there are more things that unite us than divide us.
That 2020 will bring peace, prosperity, progress and growth to Wilson County is a wish we all share regardless of our political leanings. It’s a unifying vision for the community we call home.
In that spirit, we offer this year’s “Wishing for Wilson” editorial, a tradition started by Times matriarch Elizabeth Gold Swindell. The newspaper’s recommendations are something akin to New Year’s resolutions for government agencies and community institutions, but it’s ultimately up to Wilson stakeholders whether those resolutions are made and kept.
• For Wilson County’s workforce, we wish for an abundance of stable, good-paying jobs throughout the full range of local industries in order to reduce an unemployment rate that’s sat stubbornly in the five highest such figures among North Carolina’s 100 counties. As of October, the most recent month for which data is available, Wilson County’s 5.6% jobless rate was our state’s fourth-worst. We think Wilson can do far better, and we call on city and county elected officials, nonprofit leaders, educators and employers to collaborate on ways to put Wilsonians back to work.
• For the Wilson City Council, we wish for teamwork, cooperation and receptivity to new ideas as Mayor Carlton Stevens begins his first year of leadership. Just as longtime mayor Bruce Rose cultivated consensus to achieve ambitious goals, Stevens will seek to put his own stamp on city policy, business recruitment and redevelopment plans. We wish our mayor and council members wisdom, patience and foresight as they vote on issues that will affect city residents’ daily lives. Most of all, we hope Stevens and his council colleagues will remember that they are your representatives. They should always seek to conduct themselves as servant leaders, remaining accountable to their constituents.
• For the Wilson County Board of Commissioners, we wish for swift construction of the new public animal shelter slated to be built on N.C. 42 in east Wilson. The facility will replace a crumbling, decaying and sinking shelter on Airport Drive that’s been structurally deficient for nearly two decades. While a replacement shelter will represent a victory for county pet owners — who have paid 10 years’ worth of pet license fees to see the new building take shape — it must be a true animal adoption center, not just a holding cell for strays. We urge county commissioners and Sheriff Calvin Woodard, whose Animal Enforcement Division will operate the facility, to focus on matching adoptable dogs and cats with loving homes and partnering with nonprofit rescue groups to reduce pet overpopulation and bring the shelter’s euthanization rate as close to zero as possible.
• For the Wilson County Board of Education, we wish for a continued commitment to partnerships with other local government agencies such as the successful application for $15 million in state funds to build a permanent home for the Wilson Academy of Applied Technology at Wilson Community College’s Lee Technology Center. Teamwork between the school board, WCC Board of Trustees and county commissioners made this worthy project a reality. Similar community collaborations could help students gain in-demand job skills and leverage local resources to support our public school system.
• For the town of Lucama, we wish for a fair and just resolution to conflicts over Commissioner David Johnson’s alleged use of racial slurs including the N-word to describe fellow Commissioner Patricia Uzzell and African American town employees. Johnson has denied the claims and is entitled to due process, but public records show he met with Town Attorney Gabriel Du Sablon to discuss “allegations regarding conduct” on Oct. 18 and had a telephone conference with Du Sablon a month later. If the claims are true, Johnson should resign his post. For the benefit of Lucama’s residents and town workers, the full Board of Commissioners must make it clear that discrimination will not be tolerated.
• For Gov. Roy Cooper, we wish for a pardon of innocence for Charles Ray Finch, a Wilson County man freed from prison on May 23 after serving more than 43 years for a murder he didn’t commit. Federal judges exonerated Finch and vacated his conviction in shopkeeper Richard “Shadow” Holloman’s February 1976 killing. Suggestive police lineups, faulty ballistics evidence and a rush to judgment robbed Finch of more than half his life. A governor’s pardon is required before he can petition the state for restitution payments capped at a $750,000 maximum. The system failed Finch and must now seek restorative justice. That will require Cooper to dust off his pardon pen.