Kerr-Tar COG presents annual awards

Sep. 29—HENDERSON — The Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments held its annual awards banquet Thursday night at Oxford's Carlee Farms.

The better part of a 100 COG staff members and representatives from local governments dined in the barn-style venue; lights strung between the barn's columns bathed attendees in a soft orange hue as last year's award winners presented this year's.

Paula Pulley, clerk to the Warren County Board of Commissioners, presented the award for Outstanding Town Clerk to Norlina's Christina Ebron.

Clerks work to grease the wheels of local government, said Pulley. Ebron fills that role with aplomb, and then some.

"Through her dedication over the past five years, she has helped to ensured that the community's values are upheld," said Pulley. Ebron is "not just a keeper of records" but a "guardian of the community's legacy."

She's hardworking and attentive, to boot.

"I didn't know I was getting anything," Ebron said. All she could say, she said, was "thank you."

Henderson City Manager Terrell Blackmon presented the award for Outstanding City or County Manager to Franklin County Manager Kim Denton.

During her tenure, Denton has "spearheaded the expansion of broadband internet," secured a $1.5 million investment from the private sector and overhauled the county's emergency communications radio system, said Blackmon, among many other accomplishments.

"With her profound understanding of Franklin County's past, and her clear vision for its future, Denton stands as a dedicated advocate for opportunity and community in the region," said Blackmon. "For her, Franklin County is not just a place, it's her cherished home."

Right as Denton was called up, her family made a surprise appearance from a loft overlooking the podium.

"I'm a little overwhelmed right now," said Denton. She thanked her team for their help in improving the county.

Betty Wright, a member of the COG Board of Directors, gave the award for Outstanding COG Board Member to Mary Anderson, "an individual who wears many hats, excels in every role."

"She is a shining example of what it means to be a truly engaged and impeccable member of our community," said Wright. Besides being a board member, she also volunteers at Maria Parham Health as a chaplain.

"She doesn't just preach about community," said Wright, "she lives it."

Anderson is a role model for all those in attendance, said Wright.

"I am speechless," said Anderson, who hadn't gone up to join Wright at the podium when first called because she thought there must have been another Mary Anderson. She thanked the COG for the honor.

Next up was Vance County Commissioner Leo Kelly Jr. He presented Gordon Powell, chair of Person County's board, with the award for Outstanding Commissioner.

Powell "isn't just an elected official," but somebody who has dedicated his life to Person County. The time and service he's given to the county have improved the quality of life.

Like others, Powell was shocked to have received the award. He gave a piece of advice to all elected officials: "Listen to and serve the people in your community."

"I don't feel I deserve it, because it's all about the people," said Powell.

Last but certainly not least, Oxford Mayor Jackie Sergent presented her neighbor down south, Creedmoor Mayor Bobby Wheeler, with the award for Outstanding Mayor.

His town is one that's "rapidly growing," said Sergent. "Mayor Wheeler's journey of public service started long before he assumed the role of mayor in 2017."

Throughout his life, as a small business owner, Board of Adjustment member and mayor, he has displayed "relentless devotion" in bettering Creedmoor, enough for the state to recognize him with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.

Creedmoor's story is one of continuing growth and success, said Sergent, and Wheeler is a big part of it.

Wheeler began by joking that this year's winners "had to know something is up," given that they received an invitation to the banquet. He again joked that, after having complained about the local government for years, that he "needed to get up there and do something about it."

"My boards have been helpful, and we have done some great things," he said. "We look forward to doing more great things in the future."

Zelodis Jay, outgoing COG chairman, thanked all in attendance for their "support, dedication and friendship."

"The work that we do is critical," said Jay. "I have no doubt that I will miss you."

With that, he passed the gavel to Derrick Sims, Person County Commissioner and the incoming Chair.

Well, Wheeler wasn't the last award winner. Sims presented Jay a plaque — which was half-clock — in appreciation for his service.

In his acceptance speech, Sims recalled a pastor told him many years ago that he was destined for leadership. Sims felt encouraged, but thought he might have been "talking about the wrong kid."

"Give a kid encouragement," said Sims, "you never know how we might turn out."

The sponsors for the event were Wake Electric, Granville Health System, Dill Air Control Products, Farm Bureau Insurance, Altec, VC3 and Granville County.

The new officers joining Sims are Vice-Chair and Louisburg Town Councilwoman Betty Wright, and Treasurer Carolyn Faines, who serves on the Vance County Board of Commissioners.

What is the COG?Representing Vance, Granville, Warren, Person and Franklin counties, the COG acts as a liaison between their governments and that of the state. The Henderson-based council has a singular goal of collaboration between governments.

The council doesn't enact or enforce policy but functions almost like a nonprofit, summarized COG Regional Program Coordinator Kenia Gomez-Jimenez.

Indeed, the COG's three departments, the Area Agency on Aging, Planning and Economic Development and Workforce Development, in part act as stewards for state and federal programs at the local level.

The upcoming Food is Medicine program is one — it offers healthy meals to senior citizens who can't get them. Workforce Development connects employers to potential employees through job fairs.

The Kerr-Tar COG began as one of 17 in the state. An executive order in 1970 authorized their formation.

Many hands make light work, as they say. Sims noted that the COG works under the direction of locally elected officials and work together to "solve common problems."