BOONE — The High Country Council of Governments held its annual awards ceremony at the Grandview Ballroom on Appalachian State University’s campus to recognize outstanding achievements and contributions by elected officials, local government employees and advisory committee members on Sept. 9
High Country Council of Governments (HCCOG) is a regional entity that serves and supports local governments in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes and Yancey Ccounties.
Award winners were nominated by elected and appointed officials from the seven-county region.
Blowing Rock Town Manager, Shane Fox, was recognized by the region’s managers/administrators, and local elected officials, as this year’s Outstanding Local Government Manager in the High Country region. The award acknowledges the contributions a manager has made to local government through his/her professionalism, leadership and accomplishments as manager or chief administrator.
Mr. Fox has managed with leadership, honesty, and integrity in a community that has faced the challenges of a global pandemic, business shutdowns, and a local health crisis. He brings a “can-do” attitude to even the most challenging situations.
During his 3 years as Town Manager, he has successfully executed the completion of many projects including the Bass Lake sidewalk project, which was started well before his tenure, completed the Sunset streetscape project, implemented and completed several crosswalks in town, secured a $500,000 PARTF grant, completed the new playground project, secured $4.8 million in state funding for water and sewer line replacement on Main Street, plus much more.
Mr. Fox’s success as a leader in local government is in part because he has worked in so many roles over the course of his career, from fifteen years in Public Accounting to Executive Director of the High Country Council of Governments to CFO and Assistant County Manager for Cleveland County. He has been a fully credentialed manager through the International City/County Management and North Carolina City and County Manager Associations, and brings knowledge and professionalism to everything he does.
His support for town staff is unwavering. He is approachable and treats his employees as if they are partners. His desire to maintain high levels of employee productivity and morale cannot be matched, due in part to his dedication to this town.
Mr. Fox is also fully engaged as a citizen of the community he serves. He serves on the Children’s Council, the North Carolina Housing Coalition, and the Blowing Rock Village Foundation. Outside of work he can be found spending time with his family. He is heavily involved with watching and coaching his sons in sports and supporting his daughter’s passion for dance.
HCCOG Executive Board Chair and Ashe County Commissioner Chair, Todd McNeill presented the first three awards.
NCDOT Board of Transportation Member, Cullie Tarleton, was recognized as this year’s Outstanding Rural Transportation Advisory Committee (RTAC) member by his fellow board members. This award recognizes an individual’s contribution to the region as a whole and their knowledge of the region’s transportation needs.
Mr. Tarleton was appointed by Governor Cooper to the NCDOT Board of Transportation as the Division 11 representative in 2017 and has served on the High Country Rural Planning Organization (RPO) with excellent attendance. He is an engaged member of the committee and is very interested in addressing the region’s transportation needs and improving the local transportation network. In addition, he served in the N.C. General Assembly from 2007 to 2010 and is also a veteran of the N.C. National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserves.
Mr. Tarleton works effectively with other RTAC members, NCDOT staff, RPO staff, and supports the efforts of the High Country RPO to plan for and continue to improve the region’s transportation network. He is a resident of Blowing Rock, N.C. and always makes time to stay involved in the RPO’s work program and projects.
Avery County native, Rachel Deal was recognized posthumously as one of this year’s Outstanding Senior Tar Heel Legislature members. This award honors remarkable service and contributions to the older adults in the region.
Ms. Deal was admired throughout the entire state and was loved in our mountain community for her lifetime of service to others. As a dedicated volunteer for many causes over the course of several decades, Rachel Deal leaves behind a huge legacy. In addition to the Senior Heel Legislature, Rachel gave time, energy, and talent to many causes including, but not limited to the Avery Humane Society, the Rural Transportation Coordinating Committee, WAMY Community Action, Crossnore School, Crossnore Presbyterian Church, Dellinger Memorial Park, and Avery Senior Services.
Ms. Deal’s service to the aging community of our region and North Carolina was lengthy and robust. Rachel was an original member of the Senior Tar Heel Legislature, serving for almost 30 years starting in 1993 when the organization was founded. Her tenure and efforts contributed to many accomplishments that have improved the lives of countless older adults throughout the entire state. Her dedication as a volunteer was honored with many awards including the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
At the most recent statewide Senior Tar Heel Legislature meeting, the entire group of almost 200 people sang one of her favorite songs, God Bless America, in her honor. This fitting tribute left everyone with a smile on their face thinking about Rachel’s dedication to community.
Ms. Deal’s niece, Maggie Lauterer accepted this award in Rachel’s honor.
Mitchell County native, Charles P. Duncan was recognized posthumously as this year’s second Outstanding Senior Tar Heel Legislature member.
Charles Pippin Duncan was born and raised in Spruce Pine, North Carolina and dedicated his entire life to serving the families and residents of Mitchell County. While attending Harris High School, Charles met the love of his life, Norma, and the two married after he attended Lees-McRae College. Throughout their 64 wonderful years of marriage, Charles and Norma raised two children and welcomed four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren to their growing family.
Mr. Duncan’s entire adult life was spent in service to others. First, Charles served two terms in the United States Army, then continued his service as a church deacon, where he served as a volunteer with youth services as a teacher, leader, and bus driver. Charles was also a long-time member of the Spruce Pine Optimist Club, being awarded a lifetime membership in 1977 and playing an instrumental part in establishing the Brad Reagan Memorial Recreation Park. Charles was also heavily involved in Little League Youth Programs and volunteered as the clock operator for Harris Middle School and Mitchell High School football games. He was a lifelong Tar Heel fan and could often be found traveling to Chapel Hill for games.
In his spirit of service to others, Charles served as a volunteer with the Senior Tar Heel Legislature alongside his beautiful bride, Norma, for over 12 years. He rarely missed a meeting and always contributed thoughtful suggestions on improvements to aging services in North Carolina. Needless to say, we will miss his presence within the High Country. His strong will, grace, and determination to make our community better made Charles someone we all should attempt to emulate.
Mr. Duncan’s wife, Norma Duncan accepted this award in Charles’ honor.
HCCOG Executive Board Vice-Chair and Town of Blowing Rock Mayor Pro Tem, Doug Matheson, presented the next five awards.
Felicia Culbreath-Setzer, Regional Operations Director – Northwest Prosperity Zone for N.C. Department of Commerce and Lynette Orbovich, member of the State Employees Association of N.C.(SEANC) were selected by fellow board members as this year’s Outstanding Regional Workforce Development Board Members. This award recognizes service and effort given to the region and its citizens in workforce development, and this year there was a tie.
Ms. Culbreath-Setzer and Mrs. Orbovich have been board members for more than a decade combined. Ms. Culbreath-Setzer is employed by the NC Division of Workforce Solutions and Mrs. Orbovich is retired from Appalachian State University.
Mrs. Orbovich currently serves on the board’s Executive Committee, which reviews grant applications and request for proposal submissions among other regional workforce issues including NCWorks Career Center operations. Ms. Culbreath-Setzer is actively involved in partnering with the workforce development board staff and has provided essential leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic to the career center staff in the region.
Both women have shown a commitment to excellence as well as a commitment to the Board – through committee work, engagement, and leadership.
Jessica Welborn, GIS Planner was recognized as one of this year’s Outstanding Staff Members at High Country Council of Governments. This award recognizes an individual’s willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty, contributing to a positive work environment, and promoting a healthy image of the COG in our region and this year there was a tie.
Mrs. Welborn has been a dedicated employee for almost 15 years.
She is known within the organization, the region, and even internationally for her technical knowledge, expertise, and for her thorough, high-quality work. She is a tremendous asset to the region as evidenced by the many positive comments made by the region’s elected officials, local government staff, and COG staff.
Mrs. Welborn was described by staff members as “intelligent, hard-working, professional, and invaluable.” Another noted that she is always willing to help, extremely proficient at her job, and plays a vital role in almost every project within the department.
It was also noted that Jessica “has a positive attitude and a kindness that radiates from her.”
Victoria Oxentine, Communications Manager was also recognized as one of this year’s Outstanding Staff Members at High Country Council of Governments.
Mrs. Oxentine is said to always go above and beyond to help everyone she works with. She does so with a “positive attitude and a smile on her face.”
Another staff member noted that Victoria seems to be doing the work of more than one person as she wears many hats while supporting the organization.
Mrs. Oxentine has also been recognized for the quality of her work by those throughout the region and throughout the state. Samples of her work have been featured in statewide presentations.
Mrs. Oxentine has been a tremendous asset to the COG and has made numerous contributions in a short period of time.
HCCOG Executive Board Chair and Ashe County Commissioner Chair, Todd McNeill presented the final two awards.
Town of Sparta Mayor, Wes Brinegar was selected as this year’s Outstanding Local Elected Official in the High Country region. This award honors outstanding service and leadership to the community.
Mr. Brinegar is an Alleghany County native and graduate of Alleghany County High School. After graduating high school, he proudly joined the United States Marine Corps. He has been employed by the United States Postal Service for 27 years and has served as mayor since 2017.
Mr. Brinegar serves on the High Country Council of Governments’ Advisory Committee and Executive Board, Alleghany County Rescue Squad Board of Directors, Sparta Alleghany Earthquake Relief Fund Board of Directors (and founder), and currently serves as the Marine League Commander for Alleghany County Detachment 1298.
As stated in one of his nominations, “Mayor Brinegar has been instrumental in recovery efforts for the earthquake that not only impacted Sparta and Alleghany County but also Ashe, Wilkes, and Surry County. He connected with Representative Stevens and Senator Ballard immediately after the event to initiate conversation about the needs for recovery which ultimately yielded $24M in recovery funds from the state legislature that has aided the affected 4 county area. He also setup a non-profit disaster assistance fund to aid residents that were impacted by the earthquake with utility and housing assistance. This fund paid out in excess of $30,000 to local residents in Alleghany County. Additionally, he was able to secure $7M for the Town of Sparta for roadway improvements. These are only two of the multitude of efforts Mayor Brinegar puts forth on a daily basis to serve those that elected him and the region in which we live.”
The High Country Council of Governments’ Executive Board chose Eddie Settle, Wilkes County Commissioner, as their Outstanding Executive Board Member. This award honors service and effort in promoting cooperation among local governments in the region and the state.
Mr. Settle is a native of Wilkes County. He graduated from East Wilkes High School in 1978 and attended Wilkes Community College majoring in Business. In 1979, he went into the family business that his dad started in 1970, Nu-Line Printing, Inc. As a side venture, he started Settle Cattle Company in 1990. In 1994, he bought Nu-Line Printing, Inc. from his father and continues operating both the printing and cattle companies today.
He has been married to his wife, Shelia Settle for 41 years, they have two children Melissa Settle and Matt Settle. He and his family attend Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, where he has been a Deacon for over 13 years.
Mr. Settle has been a Wilkes County Commissioner since 2012 and has served as Chairman for 4 terms and Vice-Chairman for 3 terms.
He also serves on over a dozen committees and boards throughout Wilkes County, the High Country region, and the state. Mr. Settle has served on the High Country Council of Governments’ Executive Board and Advisory Committee for almost 2 years.
Mr. Settle is currently running for the North Carolina State Senate to represent District 36.
He was a founding member of the Blue Ridge Youth Football League in 1994. He has served as head football coach at East Wilkes Middle School for 25 years. His time with local youth showed him that kids need positive role models who will support and encourage them to work hard and reach their goals. Christian, husband, father, business owner, public servant, youth advocate are the words that best describe Mr. Settle.
The High Country Council of Governments is a regional entity that serves and supports local government members and stakeholders with professional services by effectively maximizing resources to meet ever-changing needs that improve the quality of life and economic prosperity of the High Country.