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Local
Farrior won't seek election, Wells throws hat in ring

Announcing the end of a 35-year career in public service, long-time Wallace mayor Charley Farrior said Thursday night that he will not be running for re-election in the coming political season.

Farrior led a regular town council meeting and reserved his remarks for the end of the meeting.

“Everybody knows this is an election year, and I’ve had a lot of people come to me over the last three or four months asking what I was going to do,” Farrior explained. “I do not plan to run for mayor again in the fall.”

“This has been a tremendous honor and truly an incredible privilege to do this over the last number of years. I’m going to miss it,” Farrior said. “I’m going to miss working with you all. I’m going to miss working with the staff. I’m not sure I can go three or four days without talking with the staff. And I’ll even miss the telephone calls from the folks that need a problem solved. But it’s time for me to step back.”

Farrior was first elected to town council in 1986. He spent nine years on the council and is finishing his 26th year as mayor when his term ends in December. His father was also mayor from 1970 until 1979, and he said that originally he didn’t understand why his dad would do the job.

In an interview on Friday, Farrior said he remembers his father taking a phone call in the middle of the night from a town resident who had a complaint.

“I thought ‘Why would you want to do this?’” he said. “But he and I talked about it and I understood.”

“I will tell you, you don’t do it for the money,” he said with a laugh. “It truly is about serving your community and the folks within the community, and hoping that what you’re doing will benefit everybody.”

He said the town has a very promising future and a good administrator in manager Larry Bergman.

“I feel very good about this town and where it’s at,” he told the council. “I know you all will work closely with a new mayor, and one of the reasons I know I can do this right now is Larry. Larry knows the town, and he knows the projects that we’re working on. He knows the personalities involved.”

Despite the early announcement, Farrior said he’s not done yet.

“I’ve got ten more months in this seat, approximately, and my pledge to you all is that I will continue to work on those projects as hard as I can for the rest of the time that I’m in this position.”

Following closely on Farrior’s announcement, council member Jason Wells threw his hat into the mayoral race with a Facebook post on Friday morning. Wells, who was elected to the council in 2015, is a government account manager with Abbott Labs and co-owner of Burney’s Sweets and More on Railroad Street.

“After much thought, consideration, and a lot of prayer, I have decided to announce my candidacy for Mayor of the Town of Wallace,” Wells wrote. “While the election is still nine months away, I felt it important to share this with our community. I will be sharing my thoughts and ideas with you in the coming months, but I also want to hear from you. Please know that as a current council member, my door is always open.”

Wells said in an interview Saturday that he also wanted to clear up any questions about his intentions.

“I’ve been considering running for mayor since last year,” he said. “It’s not something I take lightly and will certainly have big shoes to fill. I’ve had several question me about my thoughts on running, and so I felt it important to go ahead and make my intentions known to the community.”

Farrior said he e ndorses Wells’ candidacy.

“Absolutely. He’s my man,” he said. “He and I have talked a lot in the last month, and Jason will make an excellent mayor if elected. He will be really good.”

The last mayoral race was a squeaker and came down to just a handful of votes between incumbent Farrior and challenger Linda Sikes.

Sikes said on Friday that she does not intend to run for mayor, but that she is considering a run for a council seat.

“I am not running for the office of Mayor,” Sikes said. “As far as running for a council seat, I am undecided. I do support Jason Wells one hundred percent. I don’t know of anyone that would be more suited for mayor. He has experience on the council and is a local business owner. I also appreciate the fact that he is young and energetic, and will work hard to see Wallace prosper and grow.”


Local
Cheers

ROSE HILL — The largest-wine producing facility on the East Coast is expanding to the Sunshine State in 2022.

Last week, Duplin Winery announced it purchased land in Florida for a second out-of-state facility after its cork-popping success in Myrtle Beach, which opened its doors in 2015.

The Rose Hill winery made what it called a $45 million investment, purchasing 20.6 acres of land in Panama City.

Yet the toast over two states hasn’t kept the 45-year-old company from realizing the impact both expansions have made at its “Mother Ship,” as co-owner Jonathan Fussell called its 70-acre facility where it started its voyage.

“We matched the number of new employees and spent the same amount of dollars in the production facilities in Duplin County as we did in Myrtle Beach,” Fussell said. “And we’ve already started an expansion here in preparation for Panama City.

“We learned a lot putting Myrtle Beach together and we’re very excited about doing the same in Panama City. We feel we understand the demographics and look forward to building relationships. It’s wide open.”

Fussell said the Rose Hill facility added three 40,000-gallon tanks, a $2 million bottle line, built an 8,400-square-foot warehouse and planted its vines on 200 more acres.

“We’ll have 25 or more people in Duplin County if it affects us the way Myrtle Beach did,” Fussell said. “If you take away the cost of the land, we will spend just as much here. And that is fine because this is our Mother Ship.

“But I really feel it’s a news thing here as it is in Panama City.

Fussell said before the Palmetto location opened the winery was producing 341,000 cases annually. It now makes 562,000 cases per year.

Duplin Winery’s two locations are known for their sweet Muscadine wines, homemade cheeses and crackers and a bubbly atmosphere for tastings, weddings and courtyard music.

Fussell, whose brother Dave is the company’s CEO and president, said the Panama City expansion will be in several phases, which he hopes can be finished some time in 2022.

The first involves building a 35,000 winery that will have the same amount of second-story space for offices, apartments and condo suites.

A vineyard, restaurant and boutique/hotel will be goals in Phase 2. A wedding chapel and “plush” hotel are end points in the third phase.

Customers will be able to bottle their own wine, a new feature for the winery.

“We bottle 7,500 bottles per hour and we may be able to do 300 (bottle your own) per day, but people are going to love to participate,” Fussell said. “It’s a fun thing.”

But no sipping will be done on Sundays, as per a pledge left to honor Lib Fussell.

“Mama passed away, but she made us promise not to open on Sunday,” Fussell said.

The Panhandle property is near a 500-home subdivision. Panama City is the largest city between Tallahassee and Pensacola, and is known for its powdery beaches and emerald Gulf Coast waters.

“It’s absolutely amazing and something we would not have dreamed about even three years ago,” Fussell said.

It took about that long to find the property.

“The market is similar to Myrtle Beach,” said Fussell, who said it took four offers and many conversations with landowners who wanted to sell but could not because their strong sentimental value. “I made cash offers at above-market prices. It was frustrating.”

A landowner he met in 2018 called him last October.

“I made an offer on his front piece of property, and ended up buying it all,” Fussell said. “We’ll use 20 acres for nature/beauty, and this is a $15 million investment right now and who knows where it will go from there?

“We’re just real excited about the location. The attractions are there. It’s the beach and beyond.

“All of this has been a whirlwind, but going there to check it out was the best trip ever.”

The vineyard is the 36th largest in the US with its wines sold in 16 states and shipped to 47.

D.J. Fussell Sr. started the company in the 1970s. Dave and Jonathan are third-generation owners.

Duplin wines have won many awards throughout the years, including some that considered it better than West Coast vineyards.

The winery uses its own grapes and also buys from 60 farming families in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi.


Local
Although still high, covid curve is flattening

KENANSVILLE — After nearly 11 months of days when there was little to no progression and far too much regression, the U.S. has seen positive signs in the past month of COVID-19 pandemic numbers dropping nationally, in North Carolina and in Duplin County.

Health experts say it is because of mask wearing, social distancing and the emergence of two vaccines.

As of Monday, 4,576 first doses of vaccines have been administered to county residents, which is 7.8 percent of the population.

About 1,583 second doses have been given, a 2.7 percent of the county.

Both vaccines — Pfizer and Moderna — require two applications to reach full immunity.

Duplin has seen 5,529 cases and 121 deaths in about a year. It’s 6.6 percent rate of positive results is almost identical to the statewide number of 6.5 percent.

“Our numbers are pretty stable right now,” said Tracy Simmons Kornegay, Duplin County Health Director. “They may go a little higher when activity around the Super Bowl comes in.”

NC reached the 1.5 million first-vaccine mark last week and Gov. Roy Cooper rolled out guidelines for a third group to get into the vaccination lineup. About 1 million Tar Heels have had a first dose.

Starting Feb. 24, anyone working in child care or Pre-K to grade 12 schools will be in Group 3.

There are so many people in that group that the health organizations and the state need time to get the amount of vaccines required.

Groups 1 and 2 included health-care workers, long-term staff and residents at residential care facilities and anyone age 65 and older.

Yet the supply isn’t keeping up with demand quite yet, even as the state announced it would roll out a program to tell counties and health organizations how many doses will be available and when.

“We knew what was coming for the first three weeks in February,” said Simmons Kornegay, whose department had three vaccination events last week. “This helps our county and others in planning vaccination events.”

The state released the following information on vaccinations.

  • 68 percent say they either didn’t know if they were eligible for a virus vaccine or how to get one.
  • 52 percent say they are unlikely, or very unlikely, to get a shot.
  • 55 percent cited concerns over the vaccine, for its side effects (18 percent) to the fact they did not trust the government (15 percent) to 22 percent who said the vaccine is too new and they want to wait to see how it works on others.
  • Yet the most shocking figures came when it broke down the vaccine along political lines.
  • 72 percent of people who identify as Republican said they probably will not get the vaccine, and 63 percent who lean Republican do not want a shot.
  • 21 percent of those identifying as Democrat said they probably won’t get the vaccine, and 33 percent of leaning Democrats do not want a shot.
  • 54 percent of independents said they are shying away from vaccination.

The state summed up its report by saying 71 percent of strong Republicans won’t get the vaccine, while 79 percent of strong Democrats probably will.

Further insight into our county shows the virus has affected 37 percent of Duplinites ages 25 to 49, 21 percent are in the age 50 to 64 category and 16 percent are 65 or older.

Seventy-three percent are white, 18 percent black and 16 percent Hispanic.

In gender terms, 55 percent are male and 45 percent female.

Hope is on the horizon, at last, and barring a setback, using the phrase “back to normal” is still in the faraway distance.

But now it can at least be said.


Local
Warsaw names Giddeons as its new chief of police

WARSAW — The search for a replacement for Eric Southerland ended last week when Warsaw named Patrick Giddeons as its new chief of police.

Town officials didn’t have to look far to find Giddeons, who was named interim chief on Jan. 11.

Giddeons has been Captain of Operations at the Warsaw Police Department since July 2014 where he oversaw service delivery and developed goals, objectives and policy, as well as performing personnel and departmental evaluations. He was also involved heavily in the department’s annual budget.

The Willard native has been in law enforcement for 19 years, and has worked at the Warsaw Police Department for six.

“We’re truly fortunate to have him on our team,” said Town Manger Scotty Summerlin.

Before coming to Warsaw, Giddeons worked as the program supervisor of the Guardian Ad Litem for the 4th Judicial District, which covers Duplin, Jones, Sampson and Onslow counties.

He also spent time with the Pender County Sheriff’s Office as a detective and K9 handler.

Giddeons earned a B.A. degree in psychology at The Citadel in 1998 and a masters in administration from Methodist College in 2012.

He taught criminal justice at the University of Mount Olive, and is currently an instructor at James Sprunt Community College.

He is a member of the North Carolina Training Officers Association, National Tactical Officers Association and the International Association of Firearms Instructors.

Giddeons and Southerland’s mutual philosophy should ensure the department is operating from the same blueprint. Southerland, retired as chief and became the full-time director of JSCC’s Basic Law Enforcement Training program.

Giddeons, a recipient of an Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate, and his wife, Teresa, have four children: Nathan, Naomi, Natalie and Nadine.

Warsaw’s Board of Commissioners also approved a measure that would reduce the speed limit from 35 mph to 25 mph on Elm Street and Dogwood Drive.


Local
Wallace explains timing of retirement

WALLACE — Duplin County’s top law enforcement officer for the last two decades announced in a press release on Feb. 5 that he will not seek to be re-elected to the office of sheriff in the 2022 election.

Blake Wallace, who was first elected sheriff in 2002, said he wanted to clear the way for newcomers who want to vie for the position.

“I decided to announce that I was not going to seek a sixth term as sheriff now, because filing for the next term begins in December 2021,” Wallace said Friday. “That’s less than ten months from now. The primary for the next election will be in March 2022, just over a year from now.”

Wallace said serving as sheriff has been “a true honor, and I look forward to completing my final term.”

Born in Pitt County, Wallace will be 56 years old when he retires as sheriff. HIs 34-year-long career in law enforcement has included stints as an Alcohol Law Enforcement agent and a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation. He is a graduate of both The Citadel and the University of South Carolina. He only hinted at future plans, and said he had decided in early January, after “numerous conversations with my family” that he would retire at the end of his current term.

“I feel like it is the right time to pass the torch and to pursue other endeavors,” he said.

In addition to his law enforcement activities, Wallace counts among his proudest accomplishments the Sheriff’s Ball and the Duplin Foundation for Youth Advancement.

“Before COVID, we had the Sheriff’s Ball for almost 15 years and raised over $800,000 for the Duplin Foundation for Youth Advancement.”

“The foundation supports non-profit youth programs in Duplin County that improve the quality of life for young people,” he said. “An endowment has been established for the foundation so that financial support for these vital programs can continue indefinitely.”

So far, no candidates have come forward announcing an intention to run for sheriff in the 2022 election.


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