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School board to hire new attorney

After interviewing representatives from two law firms Thursday, the Lee County Board of Education will decide on its new attorney Tuesday.

The board’s current attorney, Jimmy Love, plans to retire June 30 after more than 40 years of representing the school board, he said Friday.

Love was born and raised in Sanford before earning his undergraduate and law degrees at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He went on to clerk for the then-Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court and practice law in Sanford.

Love was a member of the N.C. House of Representatives for more than 14 years before becoming attorney to the Lee County Board of Education and Central Carolina Community College. He said he plans to continue his work for the college after retiring as attorney to the board, but it will be a big adjustment after decades of service.

The Brough Law Firm

On Tuesday, the school board first interviewed S. Ellis Hankins of The Brough Law Firm, a longtime lawyer who earned his undergraduate, law and master’s degrees at UNC Chapel Hill.

Before working at the Brough Law Firm, Hankins worked in private practice and for the N.C. League of Municipalities as general counsel, chief legislative lobbyist and executive director. Hankins also does consulting work and teaches at UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State and Duke universities. He is married to Leanne Winner, the executive director of the N.C. School Boards Association.

The Brough Law Firm, based in Chapel Hill, represents city and county governments across the state as well as the Rockingham County School System. They employs seven lawyers as well as support staff, Hankins said.

If hired, Hankins would serve as the primary board attorney and his colleague Brady Herman would serve as a backup in case Hankins is unavailable.

“We think our job is to give you good, sound, defensible advice,” Hankins said. “Certainly to answer your questions, but to help you the best we can, help you accomplish your policies and priorities.”

Many of the guiding principles for school boards come directly from the state statute, Hankins said.

“A lot of it is just statutes and piecing those together,” he said. “Finding where in here it says what you must do, and how you can do the things that you want to do, and whether you can.”

Sometimes there will be a legally defensible way to accomplish the board’s goals and sometimes there won’t, but “we will give you a straight answer,” Hankins said.

Although the Brough Law Firm primarily represents local governments and has less expertise in education law, Hankins said they are dedicated to providing the best service possible.

“We will learn, we will ask questions and we will get to know the key folks, starting with you all and your policies and your priorities,” he said.

Hankins said one of the strengths of the firm is that they understand the working relationship between the elected board and the superintendent.

Herman, an associate with the firm, also said he is familiar with working to collect fines and forfeitures for school boards, which was a longtime priority for Love. The work typically takes 1-2 hours per month, excluding court proceedings, which may happen 2-3 times per year, Herman said.

The firm is also familiar with mediation and arbitration, which is typically found in construction contracts, said lawyer Nick Herman.

“It’s much better than taking a matter to court, in terms of time and expense,” he said.

The firm charges a $4,000 monthly retainer, which covers 20 hours of legal work and $185-200 per hour for any additional work. The firm does not charge for administrative support or travel time.

Tharrington Smith

Also Thursday, the board interviewed Stephen Rawson of Tharrington Smith law firm, a Duke University of Law graduate who has worked in education law for eight years and served as a clerk to the N.C. Supreme Court.

Tharrington Smith, based in Raleigh, has roughly 40 lawyers who work in criminal, civil and family law, as well as education, Rawson said.

”One of the things that’s nice about that is that in the public school setting, we run into all those issues,” Rawson said. “We run into custody issues, we run into criminal defense, we run into litigation issues. If I need to, I can go to specialists in each of those.”

The education law section has 15 attorneys including Rawson, who specializes in special education, bond forfeitures and appeals. Rawson, like Hankins, has worked with the school board in the past, primarily on cases involving equal employment opportunity and children with special needs.

Special education was a major issue for the school board two years ago when they were faced with several lawsuits concerning the Exceptional Children’s Department.

“If we can keep you out of court, that’s priority number one,” Rawson said. “I love being in court but nobody else does. It’s expensive and it’s time-consuming and energy-consuming.”

Rawson added that the firm spends a lot of time, “problem-solving around special education issues.” One of the goals of the firm is to avoid going to court, because once that happens, the trust between the family and the school system is broken, he said.

“We are all about mediation and frankly, getting ahead of it,” Rawson said. “Mediation happens after the lawsuit gets filed. My goal is that lawsuit doesn’t get filed in the first place.”

Regarding forfeitures, Rawson said his goal is to make the process efficient, ensuring the school system gets the money they’re entitled to and they don’t have to pay to much to get it.

“You were elected to do a job and our role is to help you do that job,” he said. “My job is not to tell you the values of the public school system, it’s to make it easier to run a public school system, to eliminate barriers, to solve problems.”

The firm charges an hourly rate for all legal work, which is $235 per hour for partners, $210 per hour for associates and $110 per hour for paralegals. The firm does charge for travel time but Rawson said he often schedules phone calls during that time to ensure a minimum of empty billing.

COVID-19 vaccines given to homeless

The Lee County Health Department gave COVID-19 vaccines to about 35 people living with homelessness Thursday, adding to the roughly 12,000 who have been fully vaccinated.

The county’s efforts to vaccinate people began in January while vaccine supply was still extremely limited. Since then, primary care physician and Board of Health member William Hall has been pushing for an initiative to vaccinate the homeless, who may be at higher risk from the coronavirus.

“They’re a high-risk population anyway, with lots of serious medical problems,” said Cindy Hall, who helps her husband run the city’s H-3 street medicine program.

The program aims to prevent and treat pre-existing medical conditions among the homeless such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Such conditions are higher among people who are homeless, which also puts them at greater risk of complications should they contract COVID-19, according to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council.

“We’re just happy we could add this one little layer of protection,” Hall said.

Health department nurses administered the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the homeless at the Bread of Life shelter downtown. The fact that the vaccine is only one shot, not two like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, makes it easier to give to people living with homelessness who may be hard to track down for a follow-up appointment, Hall said.

William and Cindy Hall were able to spread the word about the clinic during their usual rounds to area motels and shelters to give medical care, she said. So far, the couple has not seen much COVID-19 among the homeless. There have been only two confirmed cases, which Hall attributed to the lack of indoor shelter.

“We did a lot of (COVID-19) testing,” she said, noting the results. “So many of them spend so much time outside.”

The pandemic is not over yet

With the trajectory of new COVID-19 cases declining and the number of individuals fully vaccinated against the virus climbing, you may be wondering if the COVID-19 pandemic is over?

Sadly, the answer is not yet. While there are signs that we may be nearing the end, our communities remain vulnerable to a virus that may cause severe illness in those infected. We are also seeing a number of individuals infected experience long-term health impacts from the virus as we continue learning more about COVID-19 as time goes on.

At the same time, we know that people’s mental health and well-being have suffered after a year of social distancing, virtual learning, work-from-home, and limited opportunity for social interactions. COVID fatigue is widespread and even those who have most strictly followed guidelines and recomm-

endations are finding it difficult to maintain habits that have helped drive down the rates of COVID-19 infection and spread to current levels.

The Lee County Health Department has administered close to 30,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine but just over 12,100 county residents (approximately 20%) are fully vaccinated against COVID-19; an additional 3,800 (total of approximately 25%) residents are at least partially vaccinated against the virus. But with only 20% of county residents fully vaccinated, the demand for the vaccine should remain high; and while there is still strong demand, the number of new vaccine registrations is slowing.

COVID fatigue and complacency are some of the biggest challenges we face in our pandemic response efforts. While many in our community are vaccinated, the vast majority remain vulnerable to the virus. And as long as the virus has available hosts (i.e. people) to infect, it will survive and have the potential to thrive and continue to evolve new variants, which may prove to be more infectious and less susceptible to existing vaccines.

If you have not done so already, please consider getting your COVID-19 vaccination. Vaccines are safe and free to the public. Individuals may register for the vaccine with the Lee County Health Department at (919) 842-5744 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. or pre-register online at leecountync.gov/covid19.

Also, please do not assume your sniffles are “just allergies” — if you are not feeling well and you have symptoms of COVID-19, please contact your healthcare provider to review your symptoms and seek guidance on testing. If COVID-19 is suspected, please get tested and stay home and away from others until you receive your test results and/or are feeling better.

Remember too that the three W’s are a great defense against COVID-19. When in public (especially indoors) be sure to Wear a face mask that covers your nose and mouth; Wait six feet or more away from others; and Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet but the end is on the horizon. Continue following the guidance of health care professionals — follow the three W’s, see your doctor if you are not feeling well, and get vaccinated — and our community will be one step closer to a return to normalcy.

Sanford municipal facilities open to the public
  • Updated

The City of Sanford will resume standard operating hours of 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at its municipal facilities starting Monday, April 12.

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the City of Sanford has been operating under reduced hours. Employees have continued to work on a regular schedule.

The following facilities will be open to the public: the Sanford Municipal Center, which includes Utility Services and Engineering; and all municipal offices at the Buggy Company building, which include Planning, Inspections, and Code Enforcement.

All municipal parks and playgrounds are open to the public, including the Endor Iron Furnace Greenway Trail. The Sanford Municipal Golf Course is also open.

The Public Works Service Center, Sanford Compost Facility, and Sanford Fire Department remain closed to the public.

Residents are encouraged to continue using online and phone services where possible to conduct business.

Make utility payments online at www.sanfordnc.net, at our payment drop box located in the circular drive at the Sanford Municipal Center, at any local pay station, by mail, or by phone at 919-775-8215 using a credit or debit card.

• Apply for water and sewer service by calling 919-775-8215 or by visiting www.sanfordnc.net/utility-services.

• Apply for water and sewer connections by calling 919-777-1122 or 919-777-1155.

• Planning services can be accessed at www.sanfordnc.net/planning.

• Schedule compost deliveries by calling 919-775-8247.

• View our job openings and find out how to apply at www.sanfordnc.net/jobs.

• Access arrest, crash, and incident reports at www.p2csanfordnc.net.

All pandemic safety protocols will be enforced in municipal facilities, including wearing masks and social distancing.

Find more information about the City of Sanford’s pandemic procedures at www.sanfordnc.net/corona virus.

One-dose COVID-19 vaccination clinic scheduled

A one-dose COVID-19 vaccination clinic is scheduled May 1 at Christian Provision Ministries in Sanford.

Pre-registration is required to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to a release.

The clinic is sponsored by Christian Provision Ministries, StarMed Healthcare, the Lee County Health Department and Emergency Management.

To register, call StarMed Healthcare at 980-445-9818 or the Lee County’s vaccine call center at 919-842-4744 between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, the release said.

Online registration is available at unityphr.com/campaigns/starmed/vaccine/758 or leecountync.gov/covid19.

Christian Provision Ministries is at 2300 Courtland Drive.