Town swears in two new police officers

Franklin's two newest police officers were sworn in March 6 at the Town Council Meeting, from left, Jonathan Lauffer, Police Chief Devin Holland, and Kaitlyn Harper.

Dan Finnerty – Contributing Writer

Franklin Town Council members gathered Monday, March 6, in the Town Hall boardroom for its regular monthly meeting. The March meeting included a public session focused on use of the former Angel Medical Center building, political sign ordinance amendments, and departmental updates.

The meeting opened with Franklin Police Chief Devin Holland recognizing Master Officer Eli Kirkland for his years of service with a 15-Year Employee Service Award. 

“He’s the one and only canine officer [with the police department], with his canine Toro. There is a lot of work behind the scenes that goes into the canine program,” said Chief Holland. Kirkland also conducts “Canine Care Time” outside of work hours to demonstrate the canine program throughout the community.

Mayor Jack Horton conducted a swearing in ceremony for two new police officers, Kaitlyn Harper and Jonathan Lauffer. 

“These are the two we’ve invested in for our (town-sponsored) Basic Law Enforcement Training program,” stated Chief Holland, quipping: “They started in September and they can now hit the mean streets of Franklin tomorrow morning.”

As reported by Town Clerk and Human Resources Director Nicole Bradley, the police force now has only three openings remaining to be filled.

Next, Town Finance Director Sarah Bishop presented Budget and Fiscal Analyst Ali Stamey with a Certified Local Government Finance Officer qualification certificate. Since 1985, North Carolina’s Finance Officers Association has offered a program of voluntary certification for local government finance officers. In order to become certified, one must complete six core courses offered through the N.C School of Government, possess the equivalent of an associate degree or higher, have at least four years of experience in a professional position – specifically with an administrative responsibility from one or more financial functions – and complete four exams in the public finance field.

“It’s not required for her job; this was completely voluntary on her part. She wanted to enhance her knowledge and I’m very proud of her and I’m honored to present her with this certificate,” stated Bishop.

Under new business, the Council discussed appointing two new members to the Firefighters Relief Fund Board (FRFB), as recommended by Franklin Fire Department Chief Ben Ormond. The current relief fund board members have been in place for many years. 

“Myself, along with the executive board, felt it was time to refresh this board and put members on it who were more in touch with the department’s needs,” said Ormond, adding that last month a business meeting was held at which six nominations were submitted. Of those, Ormond requested to the Town Council that Brian Leopard and Rick Westerman be appointed to the board.

Leopard currently serves as a member-at-large, meaning he serves as the voice of all volunteers, has a seat on the executive board of officers for the FRFB, and has been a member for 30 years. Westerman, who has not been associated as long, was formerly a firefighter in Florida and is now the Franklin Habitat for Humanity director. Both nominees were unanimously approved.

A Resolution of Support for Medicaid Expansion in North Carolina was presented by Councilman Stacy Guffey. 

“The resolution talks about not only economic benefits but also the benefits for the people of Franklin and Macon County,” Guffey said. “It’s my understanding that the (North Carolina) House and Senate have reached an agreement on the expansion and this board has passed such a resolution before.”

Council member David Culpepper offered that while he intended to vote for the resolution, “Insurance does not equal healthcare … Insurance at its best helps people get healthcare; at its worst it is a barrier and an obstacle to getting healthcare.” 

The Council subsequently approved adoption of the resolution. The expansion is reported to provide affordable health insurance to approximately 600,000 people, whereas up to half of those people have no other affordable insurance options currently available. The plan is predicted to create up to 37,200 additional jobs statewide and will reportedly bring $11.7 billion in additional federal funding to the state in its first three years.

Updates on human resources, tax collections, and the fire department were also provided by personnel from each department. Leading off the updates was HR Director Bradley, who reported the hiring of a new police officer, Brandon Hooper, who is a lateral transfer from Jackson County and has 18 years of service already logged. Additionally, a firefighter, Darian Greene, was brought in via a transfer from the Public Works Department and will join the fire department by the end of March. His pump maintenance mechanic position is now open within Public Works. A new meter reader was also hired recently and is slated to start work on Friday, March 10.

Regarding tax collection, Sabrina Scruggs reported that as of March 1, $2,360,000 has been collected for 2022 taxes. Scruggs informed that “330 past due notices have been sent out, just for real estate. People are paying now but they’re also coming in mad.” They have until March 31 to pay without incurring additional penalty. Thus far, collection is at 93% with approximately $177,000 left to collect.

Lastly, Ormond presented an annual report on the fire department. The new substation passed its final inspection and is now in use. Three new positions created over the past year have resulted in “the first time in history our community is covered full-time, 24/7 by three personnel a day,” Ormond said. He also provided data on calls issued to the department, revealing in 2022, 1,974 total responses were conducted; 103 were for fires, equaling a 14% increase; 1,462 were medical, which comprises about 74% of the department’s call volume; the national average is 66%. He reported the above-average numbers are probably related to Franklin having numerous retirees and an older population.

Town Planner Justin Setser opened a public hearing on text amendments to the Sign Ordinance. These amendments are designed to bring Franklin in compliance for political signs in driveways (General Statute 136-32). According to Setser, under the current ordinance, “signs must be removed three days after elections but there is no timeframe before. The recommended amendments are intended to mirror what’s in the general statute for a compliant political sign, which states, “Signs are allowed 30 days prior to early voting and must be removed 10 days after primary or general election days.” Other amendments include sizes of signs and clarification on where they can be placed, which prohibits placement at any location that inhibits line-of-sight for drivers on roads/highways. The text amendments were approved as submitted.

Comments about the Addiction Dilemma

The public session comprised the majority of the meeting time and focused primarily on use of the former Angel Medical Center building as a facility to assist with the rapidly growing addiction problems, mental health issues, and suicide in Macon County. Most of the close to a dozen speakers were either directly connected to or in some way associated with No Wrong Door, a local organization offering support to those struggling with substance abuse or other addiction and mental health issues.

No Wrong Door Executive Director Sheila Jenkins was one of the speakers and she led her discussion with a brief overview on the organization’s interaction with those struggling in Franklin and Macon County. 

“When people get out of rehab or prison/jail, they come back to the community with absolutely nothing. We need to have something for them to be able to get their feet back on the ground … they need support, they need classes, to where they can then move into housing and a job, and keep it.”

She went on to state that “we’re going to have people keep going back on their drugs; recovery’s not going to last and they’re going to lose their homes, their jobs; we’ve got to fill in that stability piece and the best way is if we can have somewhere they transition back out into the community.”

She also lamented about the current waiting time involved with getting people treatment, explaining that with addicts, the effective window for help that prevents overdose or death can be quite small. No actions or motions were taken in response to the public session; however Mayor Horton stated that the town will do all it can to assist with the issue.


The Streets of Franklin Heritage Association requested street closures for two events: the Spring Makers Market (formerly known as Spring Market Day), which will be held May 27, and for the Hometown Heritage Festival, scheduled for July 15. Both requests include streets normally closed for in-town events: Iotla, Phillips, and Main.

Also requested was a street closure for April 22 to support the Feeding the Future event, hosted by Altered Frequencies. The closure request affects Carolina Mountain Drive and includes the area between South Patton Ave. and Technology Drive. The event will include music, food trucks, a bounce house, and bands and will run from noon until midnight.

The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for April 3, at 6 p.m.