At the Timeline event on Aug. 27 at the Matthews Living History Farm Museum, reenactors set up various encampments representing a soldiers’ life during wartime, ranging from the Civil War to World War II to Vietnam.
In addition to vintage firearms demonstrations and hands-on interactive camps, there were readings from soldiers’ letters home, and artisan vendors on site.
INDEPENDENCE — At-Large Supervisor John Fant had strong words for CenturyLink — the main internet provider for much of Grayson County — at the Sept. 8 board of supervisors meeting.
Time was set aside, as an informational item on the agenda, for the board to speak by Zoom with Steve Brewer, the director of government affairs for CenturyLink, aka Lumen Technologies, and soon to be renamed Brightspeed.
Due to a technology issue, Brewer had to wait for a connection to be established before his portion of the meeting took place. The discussion, when it took place, lasted over 30 minutes.
After introductions, Brewer said, “In just three weeks, I’ll be joining Brightspeed and I’d like to give you a bit more information about that transition.”
On Oct. 3, he said, the company formerly known as CenturyLink — which had changed its name to Lumen in 2020 — will become Brightspeed. “Lumen, the parent company of CenturyLink, agreed to sell local assets in 20 states, including the state of Virginia,” Brewer informed the board and its audience. “Apollo Global Management, which is a very large investment firm, agreed to purchase assets from Lumen, and Apollo is doing so with the purpose of bringing as many fiber connections as possible to those assets. So we’re tremendously excited about that.”
Brewer said that after the company changes — it will be “completely a new company with a new executive leadership team” — CenturyLink equipment will be rebranded over to Brightspeed.
“Brightspeed will use its own investment dollars and also participate in broadband grants, again, to bring as many connections to the communities that it serves over the next few years,” Brewer said, noting that at the time of the change, “I hope to have an internal Virginia-based governmental affairs team member join us, as well, and certainly when that happens, I’ll provide you with that contact information.”
In his comments, Fant expressed some skepticism. “Help us understand how it’s gonna benefit us, because right now everything still sounds like a name change,” said Fant. “How’s it gonna make anything different for people here in Grayson?”
Brewer said that Brightspeed is only focusing its attention on 20 states it will offer service in — across the Midwest, Southeast and portions of Pennsylvania and New Jersey — as opposed to every large national market; and that the incoming executive team are former Verizon members who took part in building the Fios network.
“And again, the intent is to bring as many connections as possible to the communities that we serve,” Brewer added. “Certainly, we still have a significant amount of copper network in the ground, and those networks are not intended to go away anytime soon.”
Brewer acknowledged that many small communities have been frustrated by poor service. “I believe that’s about to change in a really big way,” he said, adding that Apollo made available “an additional $2 billion to invest in these properties.” He did not specify how much would be used in Grayson County.
Additionally, Brightspeed is bringing in 120 additional American customer service call center representatives to hopefully begin working as soon as the change occurs. “I am very, very optimistic we will not experience those extended hold times when we transition over to Brightspeed,” Brewer said. There will also be 10 additional in-house service technicians and more contractors.
Despite these reassurances, Fant had further questions for Brewer regarding existing issues. “Your comment about the frustration of the public — it’s understated,” said Fant to some laughter from the audience.
He noted that, for example, his house had suffered a lightning strike and now his phone cannot call out, and has no good internet connection in order to file a report about it. Further, the company’s rsmartphone app doesn’t work, and the only workaround was to text the regional CenturyLink representative and file tickets through him. “Well, he’s gone now,” said Fant of the representative.
Responding to Brewer’s statement about installing more fiber in the ground, Fant said Grayosn has “been working on fiber in this county for six years, and we’ve got a lot of fiber now, but none of it is phone-based. The frustration we have here now is that we can’t get technicians. We can’t get repair people. We cannot get anybody on the phone to give a s— about what is happening in Grayson County.”
A chorus of agreement followed this speech.
“That’s the reality,” Fant continued. “So back to the very first question: what are you doing for the citizens in Grayson County? What are we doing today to solve the problems? Even though you’re in a transition, that is what we need help with.”
“As I said earlier, we are bringing on 10 additional technicians and we’re bringing on additional contractors,” Brewer replied. “We’ve also relocated technicians from other states, when available, to Virginia, to help with the service quality issues. So there certainly is additional work going on in order to bring service quality measures into standards.”
Throughout the exchange, board members who spoke were clearly frustrated, on behalf of the county and themselves, for years of inadequate service. Brewer maintained his composure and reassurances, but appeared surprised by the breadth of issues being described and the amount of animosity with which they were presented.
“I would like to tell you, Steve, that [the statement about the additional technicians and contractors] makes me feel better,” said Fant, “but I gotta tell you, I’m just not getting a warm fuzzy.”
Fant described the problem as immediate. “Because of our [mountainous] geography, geography gets a vote in everything we do around here. Because of our geography, the only reliable — and I use that probably not the right way — means of communication for a lot of folks in this rural area is that landline, and we have a 911 service. That’s the only way they’re gonna get hold of our volunteer fire and rescue.”
He continued, “So when our landline doesn’t work, we don’t have a cell phone option in a lot of parts of the county. We don’t have the backup internet cable yet to be able to do redundance. So the message here is that we have a single point of failure that’s tied to CenturyLink, Lumen, Skybright [sic] — whatever you want to call it — that has to have some immediate attention even though you got this transition going on and everything’s gonna get better in six months.”
He continued, “But, we need some immediate attention from the leadership of both organizations now, because we have single point failure occurring today.”
Fant’s remarks received applause.
“I understand that we need to show you and not just talk about it,” said Brewer. “I am completely convinced that is about to happen. Again, there’s additional actions and work being taken to [improve] the customer service level standards... There is movement afoot to resolve the issues that you’re discussing here.”
Supervisor Zeke Anderson said to Brewer, “I guess you know we were excited that something different is happening other than CenturyLink, because it’s become a bad word in this county for a long time. But you’re hiring 120 people to take complaints, but you’re only hiring 10 to service those complaints, and it takes a good hour-and-a-half to get from one end of our county to the other.”
Anderson continued, “Could you guys reconsider your plan and maybe get some more technicians up here to to address these immediate issues? Because you’re going to take over in October, but the bills aren’t going to stop. We’re still going to be paying the same bills and get the same crappy service until something’s addressed. Is there any way you could take another look at that?”
“So please understand, these are additional technicians,” Brewer said. “We’re also bringing on additional contractors for the same purpose.”
Supervisor Keneth Belton informed Brewer that the problems are particularly bad on the western end of the county.
Fant asked Brewer to come back in 30 days and give the board an update.
“I’ll be happy to come back,” said Brewer.
“Thank you for your time and your effort,” said Fant. “Thanks for putting up with that. Thanks for hearing us.”
“I’ve certainly made notes,” Brewer said. “I understand your frustration. If you’ll just bear with us a bit longer, I’m convinced that we’re going to deliver you a product that you’ll be happy with.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Fant. “Thanks.”
INDEPENDENCE — Jeff Miller, a member of Independence Town Council for eight years, has announced his candidacy for mayor in the Nov. 8 election. Butch Reeves, the current mayor, is retiring at the end of his current term. Miller and fellow council member Ronald Sexton are running to fill the seat.
Miller is in the final year of his second four-year term on council.
“When I ran for council the first time, it was because I wanted to give back to the community and be a part of the action; of what’s going on. I was born here and have basically lived all my life in Independence. I have a love for Independence. I left a couple times, but I always came back.”
Miller is widely known for spearheading the Making Grayson Glow effort, which raises money for holiday light displays, and for town beautification projects.
When he told friends and family he was running for mayor, “they said, ‘Well, everybody knows you.’ And they do. If you don’t know, I’m the one out watering and planting flowers all the time.”
Miller has been a nurse for 40 years, with a focus on emergency nursing; was an assistant professor of nursing at Wytheville Community College; and taught nursing at Surry Community College in North Carolina.
Asked about his interest in community service, Miller said, “You have to be civic-minded if you’re council member or mayor of a small town, because there are so few people willing to get involved. And, you have to keep the momentum for projects going beyond the council meetings and committees.”
Miller said he feels the town is lucky to have six council members and a current mayor who all have the town’s best interests at heart. “They are all genuinely there because they care... We all have different opinions about things, but I see a lot of cooperation. They’re all doing it for the right reasons.”
When complimented for his work with Making Grayson Glow, Miller is quick to point out that it’s not a one-person effort. “People always say, ‘Jeff, you did a wonderful a good job.’ No, no, no. I’m just the catalyst — there are a lot of people involved.”
He said Making Grayson Glow is growing. They added Easter decorations last year, and are adding Halloween lights this year and lights for the Fourth of July next year.
If elected mayor, Millers said his first priority is seeing the town finish work at the farmers’ market and town park.
Another priority is the Historic 1908 Courthouse. “It’s at the center of everything,” he said. “What would Independence be without it?”
Miller serves as vice president of the non-profit 1908 Courthouse Foundation.
The town code gives the mayor very little power, other than casting tie-breaking votes, but Miller said there’s one duty he said he would take very seriously if elected. “The mayor has a responsibility to make sure that, when council approves something, it gets done.”
With his background in volunteering and organizing town projects, he said he feels he is already adept at taking action to improve the town.
“And you need to be visible [as mayor],” he said. “If there’s a new business opening, you need to be there. You need to be present.”
Also on the Nov. 8 ballot, incumbent council members Buddy Halsey and Tom Maxwell are running for re-election, and first-time candidates Joan Collins and Mark Miller are new challengers.
Effective immediately, eligible residents of Virginia are able to schedule appointments with their healthcare providers to receive the new, free COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccinations, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
According to an announcement from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) on Wednesday, the new updated boosters are targeted specifically at the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which initially emerged in the United States in November 2021.
“The elderly and those with significant chronic disease remain at the highest risk of severe illness and hospitalization due to COVID-19,” said State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene. “Being vaccinated and boosted significantly reduces this risk.”
On Aug. 31, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted an Emergency Use Authorization to the two vaccines. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), a panel of independent scientific advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), met Sept. 1 and voted to recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech updated bivalent vaccine for persons aged 12 years and older and the Moderna updated bivalent vaccine for persons aged 18 years and older at least two months after completion of a primary series or booster dose. The CDC director endorsed the ACIP recommendations on Sept. 1.
The state’s 35 local health districts have pre-ordered 100,800 Pfizer-BioNTech vials and 40,900 Moderna vials through the VDH. Pre-ordered vaccine was anticipated to arrive at local health department offices and partner providers this week. VDH said pharmacies preordered vaccines through their federal partnership, as well.
People with questions about the vaccine and their individual situations are advised to contact their healthcare providers.
To find free vaccination opportunities near you, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 711) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Assistance is available in English, Spanish and more than 100 other languages.
SPARTA — An Alleghany County, N.C., woman has been arrested on several narcotic charges.
Alleghany Sheriff Bryan Maines said in a recent news release that on Aug. 26, Alleghany County and Surry County deputies were conducting a drug enforcement operation in Alleghany. The operation led to a residence in the Fox Ridge community, where detectives served a search warrant for narcotics.
Maines said the search concluded with the seizure of several types of narcotics, including methamphetamine; prescription pills; marijuana; and drug paraphernalia items that are consistent with the use and sale of illegal narcotics.
Michelle France Todd, 53, of Johns Lane, was charged with a total of 10 narcotics violations, including possession with intent to manufacture, sell and/or deliver methamphetamine; possession with intent to manufacture, sell and/or deliver marijuana, maintaining a dwelling place to keep a controlled substance; possession of methamphetamine; two counts for the possession of a Schedule II drug; two counts of possession of a Schedule IV drug; possession of marijuana; and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Todd is free on a $10,000 bond pending her first appearance in Alleghany General District Court.
Alleghany Detective Cody Chamberlain is handling the investigation.
“We will always take a strong stance against these terrible drugs that plague our streets,” Maines said. “I want these drug dealers to know that we will relentlessly pursue you until you are caught and brought to justice. I want to thank all my detectives and the Surry County Sheriff’s Department detectives for their hard work and dedication to the citizens of Alleghany County and Northwestern North Carolina.”