Economy, jobs, OLF dominate headlines in 2008

Published 7:42 am Friday, January 2, 2009

Before we get too far into the new year, The Tidewater News has decided to take a look back at the stories of 2008 that seemed to have the most significant effects on our readership area.


While both Isle of Wight held local elections in 2008, Franklin had the most intriguing election news.

Locally, incumbent Mayor Jim Councill had his seat challenged by two newcomers to the Franklin political scene, Greg McLemore and Ellis Crum. Mayor Councill managed to fend off his opponents, garnering more than 700 votes.

Heads turned when Benny Burgess, a local accountant, threw his hat in the ring against Councilman Charles Wrenn to represent Ward 2. Burgess’ message of fiscal responsibility apparently resonated with voters as he defeated Wrenn with an overwhelming 75 percent of the vote.

Barry Cheatham also was a new addition to the City Council, representing Ward 1 after Joe Scislowicz opted not to run for re-election. Cheatham took the seat after defeating Dan Hoctor with 67 percent of the vote.

Burgess and Cheatham instantly made waves soon after being sworn into office, speaking out on city budget cuts and areas to improve the city’s relationship with new businesses.

Franklin also became a part of history, contributing votes to Barack Obama’s historic bid for president.

Some older African-Americans from this area said they never thought they would see the day a black man would run the White House.

“Before now, I never would have dreamed anything like this would happen in my lifetime,” said 96-year-old Ben Holland soon after the election.


In April, James Henry “Hank” Fuller resigned his position as a Virginia state trooper and was convicted on three charges related to having sex with a minor.

By September, Fuller was hired as the new town sergeant of Boykins after a 4-1 vote by Boykins Town Council members.

Vice Mayor Linda Beatty defended the council’s decision by saying, “Considering the qualifications and the imminent need that we had, he was the most qualified.”

Councilwoman Rhonda Mathias, the lone opposer of the hire, said she was unhappy about the hiring. “I did not think that it was the proper thing to do to hire him,” she said.

Many readers also weighed in on the debate through message boards and letters to the editor. Many were upset that The Tidewater News covered the story.

FHS star athlete dies

The area was saddened to learn about the passing of Franklin High School senior Joshua Willis, 19, in April.

The four-year letterman in both basketball and football was only a few weeks away from graduation when he collapsed and died suddenly while preparing for school in his family home.

More than 1,300 people attended a memorial service for the teen, relaying testimonials about his character both on and off the field.

The message boards were flooded with condolences acknowledging the teen’s death. One such passage read, “Josh was a good man and well respected. He left us with great memories about him. We will miss him deeply…love u Josh.”


No subject seemed to get more attention this year than the Navy’s proposed outlying landing field. We counted more than 20 articles and editorials devoted to this hotbed issue, starting with our very first edition of 2008.

Concerns about the OLF initially sprang up in 2007 after the Navy named northeastern North Carolina and Southampton County among the possible sites for a proposed auxiliary landing field.

Throughout the year, several forums and public meetings were held across the region to discuss those concerns. In Virginia, Gov. Tim Kaine had promised not to “force” the OLF on any of the state’s named sites if local officials did not want to bring the Navy in. After hearing this, officials voted in all area localities about whether or not they believed the OLF should come to their respective areas.

The answer was clear: No one wanted the OLF.

Residents of Southampton County have been extremely vocal in their opposition and have even created an online petition to stop the OLF from coming here.

Broncos Win State

The Franklin High Broncos won their second state title in four years. The Broncos took home the Group A Division 1 football championship by defeating Clintwood High School 28-20 in early Dec.

The city of Franklin celebrated the athletes for their achievements by greeting the team with a surprise pep rally late in the night upon their victorious return from Salem only hours after taking the title.

Many Franklin residents took part in a special rally to acknowledge the team’s achievements a week later.

The Broncos were also honored and given proclamations by both the city council and school board.

Head Coach Darren Parker said they only won as a result of the collective efforts of all his players and supporters.

“Whatever you do, wherever you go, someone else helps you get there,” he said. “The team couldn’t have gotten here without each other or everyone’s support.”

The team dedicated its season to former teammate Josh Willis and Dr. Charles Green, an assistant coach. Both died in 2008 before the football season began.


The city of Franklin was hit hard by a rash of resignations by officials in key leadership positions.

In June, School Superintendent Bill Pruett surprised the school board by announcing his resignation after two years of service. The board has yet to fill his position but is currently conducting an exhaustive search for a replacement.

The city lost two other leaders in July. Rowland “Bucky” Taylor decided he would resign his post as city manager to take over as director of the Southeastern Public Service Authority. Former Palo Alto, Calif., City Manager June Fleming is serving without pay as interim city manager while the council searches for Taylor’s successor.

Amid citizen complaints that the city was not using its profits from utility funds efficiently, Dave Howe decided to retire from the position he held as director of Franklin Power and Light for the past 20 years.

The Downtown Franklin Association will also go into 2009 searching for a new manager after Dan Howe left his position in November after barely a year on the job.

Concerned citizens like Franklin resident Thomas Councill complained that turnover is one of the city’s biggest problems. “Without continuity in the leadership of the city, it won’t progress,” he said.

Double-murder arrest

Franklin resident William Curtis Futrell, 34, was arrested in November for the 2006 murders of two elderly sisters from Emporia.

Futrell was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Dorothy Hobbs, 74, and Nellie Bradley, 71, whose bodies were found in a wooded area north of Murfreesboro, N.C.

When Futrell appeared before a Hertford County, N.C., court to be arraigned, he responded to a reporter who asked if he had killed the sisters by saying, “No, I did not.”

Hertford County, N.C., investigators continued to look for breaks in the case long after the sisters were found.

“I’m so glad that we made an arrest,” Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan Sr. said. “It’s been a tough two years.”

The Economy

Our readership area was not spared the effects of national economic woes. Not only did gas prices rise to nearly $4 a gallon, but we also saw several layoffs and closings.

In October, the governor announced that, due to budget cuts, the Southampton Correctional Center, a medium-security prison near Capron, would be closed and demolished, and 116 employees would lose their jobs.

The Armory Cinema and Franklin Equipment were among businesses forced to close their doors, too.

At the start of summer, unemployment rates in Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties all rose from May to June, reaching 6.5 percent in Franklin, 5.3 percent in Southampton and 3.9 percent in Isle of Wight.

Another big shockwave came when International Paper Co. announced it would be displacing 50 of its employees because of a low demand for certain products the mill produces. The mill also announced that it would offer buyout to its work force. So far, more than 100 employees have applied.


The future of the Southeastern Public Service Authority (SPSA) will continue to make headlines in 2009.

The authority, which has been managing the region’s waste since the 1970s, is $234 million in debt, and has limited options available to try and pay it off.

A private company wants to buy SPSA for $205 million. Meanwhile, residents in Franklin, Isle of Wight and Southampton could be facing higher trash fees in 2009.