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Clark welcomes chance to coach Mountaineers

Shawn Clark could not pass up an opportunity not only to run his own football program, but one that he was so close to.

Clark, who was an All-American offensive lineman at Appalachian State, was officially hired to be the program’s 22nd head coach Dec. 13.

Clark, who was promoted from offensive line coach, had the boosters at the Ricks Center cheering, laughing and listening to every word. Clark was a little emotional after going through a list of friends, colleagues and family members who helped him through a career that started as a player at App State, took some turns as an assistant at other colleges, and then made its way back to Boone.

“When you coach at your alma mater, there’s something special about it,” Clark said at his press conference. “The extra hours you put in, you know you want to make your alums, your fellow teammates, everyone in App Nation proud. That’s what’s so gratifying to me, to make you guys proud.”

Clark, whose first game is Dec. 21 against Alabama-Birmingham in the New Orleans Bowl, has a week to get the 12-1 and Sun Belt Conference champions Mountaineers ready. He said the current assistants on staff would stay to coach the bowl game, so he won’t have to spend his first week recruiting assistant coaches and players, since this is a live week.

He had a message at the start of his press conference to the supporters of the program.

“Let’s state the obvious,” Clark said. “I have inherited a great program — a program that broke many records in the 2019 football season. (It’s) a program that has made history. A program that ended up being ranked in the top 20 in college football. It’s a program that I am proud to be a part of as a player and a coach.

“What do you expect moving forward, you may ask? I think the answer is pretty simple. You can expect a football team that holds up our winning tradition. A football team that is tough and exceeds expectations and a football team that stands together that when fulfilling its destiny, it rarely arrives alone.”

Clark takes over a program he helped build. He was hired by Scott Satterfield to coach the offensive line in 2016. He was also hired to be the co-offensive coordinator for the running game.

He won’t start assembling a new staff until after the New Orleans Bowl. He’s already three assistants short from the 2019 season to have a full staff. Special teams coach Erik Link, outside linebackers coach D.J. Smith and cornerbacks coach Charlie Harbison have all followed former head coach Eli Drinkwitz to Missouri.

Clark said he heard the rumors following Drinkwitz, who took the Missouri job Dec. 9. He said he spent most of that day recruiting and doing what he always does in a typical week.

“There are always rumors, so it was business as usual,” Clark said. “I was out recruiting — I was in a home, and my phone didn’t stop ringing, so I turned the phone off and finished my home visit. I went to my car and understood what was happening, so we had to make a change of plans.”

Clark said he went to visit a recruit in Columbia, S.C. when he learned he was in the running for the job. A phone call from Doug Gillin on that recruiting visit let him know he had to interrupt his plans for that day.

“I looked at my phone and I had 817 text messages,” he said, drawing heavy laughter from the crowd. “I went to the home visit and Doug called and said you have to get back to Boone right now and I said ‘I’m on my way’.”

“It’s been a whirlwind,” he added. “It’s been an excellent experience and I can’t wait to get started.”

Mason caps 18 years on Boone Town Council

BOONE — After serving on the Boone Town Council since 2001, Lynne Mason spent her last meeting as a council member on Dec. 17.

The newly elected Boone Town Council members took their seats during the meeting, ending the tenure of Mason and the first term of Marshall Ashcraft — both of whom did not seek re-election.

“It has been both an honor and a privilege to serve our community,” Mason said. “I’m just in awe with the Boone community’s confidence and trust in letting me serve for 18 years. I look forward to continuing ways to stay involved with the community that I’ve grown to love with a commitment to continue to make it a great place to live.”

Mason and husband Andrew moved to Boone in 1995. Later, Mason became employed with New River Behavioral Healthcare. It was during this time that a rezoning request came before the Boone Town Council involving a mobile home park on Blowing Rock Road. Through her duties at New River, Mason said she worked with several families living in the mobile home park who were worried about displacement.

That began Mason’s involvement with supporting affordable housing in the community, as she worked with the mobile home park residents to advocate for themselves. While the property was ultimately rezoned, Mason said she helped to coordinate organized relocation for the families.

Mason then served on the Boone Area Planning Commission for a year starting in 2000. Mason said soon after community members urged her to run for the Boone Town Council. She added that she was at a place in her life that she had the time for it, and thus embarked on her first campaign. Knocking on lots of doors, Mason said she met with tons of people.

Mason was elected to the Boone Town Council on Oct. 9, 2001, according to the Oct. 10, 2001, edition of the Watauga Democrat. She ran alongside four others — two incumbents and two other challengers — for three council seats. Mason was elected to the council alongside incumbents Loretta Clawson and Dempsey Wilcox. These three were joined by Graydon Eggers — who was elected to the position during the same time to fill the unexpired term of the late Jimmy Smith — as well as Dana Folk.

At that time Mason was elected to a two-year term, and went on to serve a total of five terms. She said she continued to run for re-election because she cared about the community and had a desire to balance responsible development while protecting the community’s character and quality of life.

“Effective public policy is about making decisions that are going to be in the community’s best interest,” Mason said.

Simultaneously, Mason served for 12 years as the executive director of the Hospitality House, until 2014.

One of the first challenges Mason faced on the council — and one of the accomplishments of which she is most proud — was the adoption of a steep slope ordinance. The ordinance addressed development on steep slopes and was prompted by the development above Walmart as well as a landslide at White Laurel.

Mason mentioned other achievements of the council during her tenure, including the town’s purchase of the Appalachian Theatre for preservation, passing standards to protect the character of downtown, protecting the livable nature of neighborhoods, adoptions of the pedestrian and bike plans and initiating a fare-free bus transportation system. Additionally, the Boone water intake project was one Mason said she still stands behind, saying it was needed to meet Boone’s future water needs.

Of all the council decisions that Mason supported, she said it was conversations involving the building of The Standard that she now looks back on with skepticism. She said while the project brought some benefits in the form of stormwater management, she isn’t sure it fits with the character of Boone. It was The Standard that helped put height requirements for new development into perspective for Mason based on community input and dialogue.

The Boone Town Council spent its Dec. 16 meeting discussing the very topic of height requirements, and Mason said the council finalized some updates to town ordinances and additional Unified Development Ordinance amendments.

“It’s been a full agenda,” Mason said. “I’ve been busy up until the very end.”

Mason said she understands the council will have to “wrestle with” public policies when it comes to height requirements, as she understands that with limited land in the mountains, buildings typically need to build upwards. She said these conversations need to be had while ensuring development fits the community’s character.

Going forward, Mason had a list of issues she hopes the council will discuss. These matters include workforce/affordable housing, stormwater management as a result of climate change and town growth, an update of the town’s comprehensive plan and additional sidewalk and bike lane improvements. Mason added that she felt fortunate to have started work on initiatives to aid in combating climate change, and that the council going forward should continue the work.

Mayor Rennie Brantz has worked alongside Mason on the town’s council since he was first elected in 2005. He said Mason is always prepared and brings good ideas, and that she is knowledgable and caring. He said her departure from the council is a great loss, as Mason tended to serve as a historian of past council actions to help guide the current council.

“She was really a model of a councilperson in so many different ways — from the way she treated people, the ways she contributed, to the ideas she’s brought forward,” Brantz said. “She’s been a wonderful person to work with. It’s been one of the most rewarding cooperations that I’ve experienced.”

John Ward, Boone’s town manager since 2014, said he has appreciated Mason’s openness, her ability to tackle tough issues and her persistence on the matters that she took to heart. He added that Mason had worked tirelessly on transportation-related issues, especially when it came to bicyclists and pedestrians.

“She’s made an overall lasting impact during her time of service that the community will continue to see as we move forward with a lot of different plans that were adopted during her time on the town council,” Ward said.

Advice Mason has for incoming council members is to commit time to read meeting materials, because “to be effective you need to ... understand the issues before you.” She said it’s important to understand all sides of an issue that comes before the council in order to make policies that are in the best interest of the community.

Additionally, she said it was important for council members to learn about the legislative process, understand the role of the town’s Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment as well as how to work well with community members.

“It’s been a journey,” Mason said. “I’ve learned so much along the way.”

The decision to not run for a sixth term came with careful thought and consideration, Mason said. With two adult children and five grandchildren, Mason said she felt this is the time in her life that she needs to be available for them. Additionally, she mentioned a planned brewery expansion project for Lost Province Brewing Company — the business she co-owns with her husband — that will need her attention.

“The town council meetings are frequent and long,” Mason said. “I had to carefully consider whether I could commit the time required. With these other important needs in my life, I decided it’s time to focus on those right now. I also know never to close doors. I don’t know what the future will hold.”

Mason said she is sure she’ll find some way to stay involved in the community; in the short term, she said she might join a couple local committees that are doing important work. She said she plans to take a couple weeks off, and then will re-evaluate what she can do to maintain some involvement. For now, she hopes to enjoy more of the outdoors as well as do some traveling.

Woman accused of embezzling over $400,000 from Carolina West

WEST JEFFERSON — A woman from Millers Creek has been charged with 43 felonies after allegedly embezzling more than $400,000 from Carolina West Wireless over three years.

Ashley O. Church, 27, was arrested Monday, Dec. 9, and charged with 43 counts of larceny by employee.

According to Captain Josh Hodges of the West Jefferson Police Department, the WJPD received a report of fraudulent activity Aug. 29 and worked with the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation to investigate. Hodges said Church’s alleged activity occurred between June 2016 and August 2019.

This included 20 fraudulent transactions equaling $10,982.53 in August 2019 and 25 fraudulent transactions equaling $15,583.52 in July 2019, according to the warrants for Church’s arrest.

Church was released from the Ashe County Detention Center Dec. 9 under a $50,000 secured bond.

County, town still at odds on future of Turner House

BOONE — Differing opinions on what should happen to the county-owned Turner Law Office building on Water Street continue as the Watauga County Commissioners move forward with plans to demolish the building in spring 2020.

The commissioners — with the exception of Chairman John Welch who was not in attendance — unanimously voted on Dec. 17 to surplus the building for demolition or any future sale. The county purchased the former law office and apartment building, also known as the Oscar and Suma Hardin House, at 136 N. Water St. in Boone from Professional Holdings LLC for $755,000 on Nov. 29, 2018.

According to County Manager Deron Geouque, the current tenant of the building is planned to be there until April. After this time, the county would plan to demolish the building in order to increase parking spots used by courthouse facilities with a potential to add a second level of parking in the future.

At a meeting of the Boone Historic Preservation Commission in February, the idea of a property swap between the town and the county was discussed — Geouque was in attendance. From there, the Boone Town Council discussed a proposed idea to swap the town-owned Queen Street lot for the Turner House property. In May, the council passed a motion to discuss the matter in closed session and designated representatives to meet with county officials about the matter.

Town Manager John Ward said that Mayor Rennie Brantz and Eric Plaag, a historical consultant, attended a meeting with the county soon after. During this meeting, there were some discussions of the town’s interest in preserving the structure to move forward with its creation of a historic district.

Ward said the county offered to sell the house to the town for the cost that they paid for it. He added that this was communicated back to the town council, and the council did not act upon the offer. According to Geouque, the county advertised the sale of the Turner House and outbuilding and it did not receive any bids.

Plaag — who noted that he was speaking on his own behalf and not for the Historic Preservation Commission — approached the town council on Dec. 16 about the surplussing of the property, and Ward said he suggested that even though the surplussing of the property allowed the county to move forward with a sale or a planned demolition, the town could reach back out to the county on potential options for the town and the county to partner on saving the “historic structure” — to which the town council agreed.

According to county records, the structures on the property — located across from the Watauga County Administration Building — were built in 1925 and 1953. Plaag approached the commissioners at the Dec. 17 meeting, expressing frustration that the conversation between the town and county about the property seems to have ceased.

Plaag said he worried that the planned demolition was “just another way for the county to continue its long-running battle with the town.” Several commissioners disagreed. Commissioner Billy Kennedy said there wasn’t any sort of “revenge” associated with the planned demolition, but rather that the county was trying to find a solution for parking.

“I enjoyed the meeting with you, but nothing came of it,” Kennedy said. “We’re frustrated too that we can’t work more in cooperation with the town.”

Kennedy added that no one seems to want to move or purchase the building. According to Commissioner Larry Turnbow, the county offered to move the building for the town within a reasonable distance and sell it for $1.

“They will not negotiate with us,” Turnbow said. “They don’t want the house either.”

Turnbow added that the house is not on the National Historic Registry, as it has had several additions and wouldn’t be placed on the list without “millions of dollars put back in to restore it.” Plaag told the commissioners he would like the opportunity to meet with the council once more about the Turner House.

“I do believe there are other options out there that don’t involve the removing of historic structures in the downtown district,” Ward said to the Watauga Democrat. “The town’s hopeful with the next four months there could be a resolution reached between the town and the county.”

The commissioners will not meet for their regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 7. The board will next meet on Jan. 21 at 5:30 p.m.