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High Country Council of Governments Present Awards at Scaled Down Ceremony

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Last Updated on November 8, 2021 12:03 pm

The 46th Annual Banquet and meeting of the High Country Council of Governments was cancelled by Linville Ridge in September due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. In lieu of the banquet, the awards were presented to recipients at a small outdoor gathering at Chetola Resort.

(Blowing Rock, NC) – On October 27, 2021, High Country Council of Governments held its annual awards ceremony to recognize outstanding achievements and contributions by elected officials, local government employees, and advisory committee members.

High Country Council of Governments (HCCOG) is a regional entity that serves and supports local governments in Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, and Yancey Counties.

Award winners were nominated by elected and appointed officials from the seven-county region.

HCCOG Executive Board Chair and Mayor of Newland, Valerie Jaynes, presented the first two awards.


Mayor of Banner Elk, Brenda Lyerly, was recognized as this year’s Outstanding Rural Transportation Advisory Committee (RTAC) Member by her fellow board members. This award recognizes an individual’s contribution to the region as a whole and their knowledge of the region’s transportation needs.

Mayor Lyerly has served on the High Country Rural Planning Organization (RPO) with excellent attendance since 2006. She is an engaged member of the committee and is very interested in addressing the region’s transportation needs and improving the local transportation network. In addition, she recently served on the NCDOT NC First Commission which was formed to advise the Secretary of Transportation in the formation of sustainable long-range transportation investment strategies to ensure North Carolina remains competitive and attractive from an economic, quality of life, and safety perspective.

Mayor Lyerly works effectively with other RTAC members, NCDOT staff, RPO staff, and supports the efforts of the High Country RPO to plan for and continue to improve the region's transportation network. She always makes time to stay involved in the RPO’s work program and projects.



Mitchell County resident Norma Duncan was recognized as this year’s Outstanding Senior Tar Heel Legislature member. This award honors remarkable service and contributions to the older adults in the region.

This year’s recipient is a native of Mitchell County and lives in Spruce Pine. She graduated high school from Harris High, earned a bachelor’s degree in Health Care Administration from Mars Hill College, and completed the Family Nurse Practitioner program from UNC Chapel Hill. Over her nursing career, she has worked as Director of Nursing at Spruce Pine Community Hospital, in long term care at Madison Manor, for the state with licensure, a parish nurse at Bakersville Baptist, a school health nurse, and in Long-Term Care Certification.

She has taught Sunday school for 30 years in the youth department and served as a deacon at Spruce Pine First Baptist Church. She married her husband, Charles, 64 years ago and together they have two children, four grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. This year’s award recipient’s family is so important to her– she is the heart of her family and keeps in touch with siblings, and many nieces and nephews.

She has represented Mitchell County in the Senior Tar Heel Legislature for eleven years and serves on several committees. She has served as Speaker Pro Tem and currently serves as Speaker. She has continued to be an advocate during the Covid-19 pandemic and has remained committed to representing seniors even it if had to be virtually or by phone. Her life has been one of service to others and devotion to family and church.

HCCOG Executive Board Vice-Chair and Ashe County Commissioner Chair, Todd McNeill, presented the next four awards.


Edward Hinson, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for SkyBest Communications was selected by fellow board members as this year’s Outstanding Regional Workforce Development Board Member. This award recognizes service and effort given to the region and its citizens in workforce development.

Mr. Hinson has been a board member for four years, currently serves as Vice Chair and has served the board’s Executive Committee which reviews grant applications, request for proposals and takes part in many other important functions related to regional workforce issues; including NCWorks Career Center operations during the pandemic. He has also assisted in recruiting new board members and has represented the board on statewide discussion panels.



Alleghany County Manager, Michael Carter was recognized by the region’s managers/administrators, and local elected officials, as this year’s Outstanding County Manager in the High Country region. The award acknowledges the contributions a manager has made to local government through his/her professionalism, leadership, and accomplishments as manager or chief administrator.

Mr. Carter was appointed to his role in January 2020. He joined the High Country after 24 years of service to Smyth County Virginia, having served 10 years as the County’s administrator. He grew up in Rich Valley, Virginia and holds a bachelor’s degree from Bluefield College.

Mr. Carter has been quoted as saying that he likes a challenge and says, “once you enter a position, you do all you can to understand and implement the task and responsibilities associated with it.” He further stated that he chooses “to be the kind of person that doesn’t settle but continues to grow and climb at each level encountered.”

County staff members stated that he has been “a great leader and team builder and has earned the respect of the staff.” Others stated he “is sharp with words, to the point, and handles business very well,” a “very strong leader who has a level head,” and that he “has been an amazing asset, dedicated to the county, and listens to the needs and concerns of the citizens and employees.”


Boone Town Manager, John Ward was recognized by the region’s managers/administrators, and local elected officials, as this year’s Outstanding Town Manager in the High Country region. The award acknowledges the contributions a manager has made to local government through his/her professionalism, leadership, and accomplishments as manager or chief administrator.

Mr. Ward has demonstrated vision, leadership, honesty, and integrity in a community facing the challenges of a global pandemic, business shut-downs, and a local health crisis, but also a community that is challenged by managing growth, sustainability, a vibrant student population, and year-round tourism. He has worked with citizens, staff members, business owners, elected officials, and community constituents to bring the Town through unprecedented challenges while keeping local businesses afloat and community members safe and healthy.

During his seven years as Town Manager, he has successfully executed the largest infrastructure project in the town’s history, secured more than $8 million in grant funds for Town Council initiated projects, and has partnered with Appalachian State University, Appalachian Theatre, and countless other organizations in the community on many projects.

His success as a leader in local government is in part because he has worked in so many roles over the course of his career to include roles as County Marshal, Park Manager, Police Officer, Firefighter, Planning Director, and Environmental Educator.

Mr. Ward’s support for his staff is unwavering. He is approachable and treats his employees as if they are partners. The numerous and lengthy comments accompanying his award nomination speaks to how valued he is by his staff.

Overall, Mr. Ward has a reputation in the High Country of working with citizens, elected officials, community constituents, and government employees at all levels to get things done. He brings a “can-do” attitude to even the most challenging problems.


Phil Trew was recognized as this year’s Outstanding Staff Member at High Country Council of Governments. This award recognizes an individual’s willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty, contributing to a positive work environment, and promoting a healthy image of the COG in our region.

Mr. Trew has been a dedicated employee for more than 25 years. He is regularly recognized within and outside of the organization for his knowledge, expertise, commitment to the region, and for his thorough and high-quality work. He is also commended and recognized for the millions of dollars of grant money he secures for our region and its local governments each and every year.

Mr. Trew was noted to “work tirelessly for the region” and “goes above and beyond.” He is said to always be willing to pitch in when needed.

He is “fair, immensely supportive, reliable, highly valued, and sought after”…. “A wonderful asset” another noted. This person provides “meaningful, valuable, applicable deliverables.” It was noted that Mr. Trew has added significantly to the COG over the years.

Mr. Trew has an excellent sense of humor and is said to “keep us laughing.”



HCCOG Executive Board Chair and Mayor of Newland, Valerie Jaynes, presented the final three awards.


Blowing Rock Town Council Member, Doug Matheson was selected as one of this year’s Outstanding Local Elected Officials in the High Country Region. This award honors outstanding service and leadership to the community and this year there was a tie.

Councilman Matheson was raised in Blowing Rock. He is a proud stepfather, grandfather, great grandfather, and husband.

He has served his community in many ways over his lifetime, including as Fire Chief, from which he retired with 30 years of service.

Councilman Matheson serves and represents his community on various boards and in various capacities and has served on the Blowing Rock town council for 12 years.

Nominations stated that “he humbly serves his hometown with an eye to the future. He does not seek out the spotlight but quietly works behind the scenes to facilitate unique solutions to issues that trouble the community. He eagerly accepts new challenges and currently serves as the Secretary of the HCCOG Executive Board and an At Large Member of the NC League of Municipalities.” Another stated that “Councilman Matheson embodies leadership and a life of servitude.”


Ashe County Commissioner/Chair, Todd McNeill was selected as this year’s other Outstanding Local Elected Official in the High Country Region. This award honors outstanding service and leadership to the community.

Commissioner Chair McNeill is a proud husband and father of four, soon to be five and says, “being a dad is the best job I’ve ever had.” He attended Appalachian State University where he received a degree in Communications – Public Relations.

Commissioner Chair McNeill has served on the Ashe County Board of Commissioners since January 2018 and has served as Chairman since December 2018.

He serves in multiple capacities, including as the HCCOG Executive Board Vice Chairman, the High Country Forum Delegate for the NC Association of Regional Councils, and the NCACC District 14 Director. He also serves on multiple boards within his county.

Commissioner Chair McNeill is a member of the inaugural cohort of The Hunt Institute’s State Policy Fellows Program (2021).



The High Country Council of Governments’ Executive Board chose Dennis Aldridge, Avery County Commissioner, as their Outstanding Executive Board Member. This award honors service and effort in promoting cooperation among local governments in the region and the state.

Commissioner Aldridge is a 7th generation Avery County resident and attended 12 years in the county school system. He furthered his education at Lees McRae and Gardner Webb Colleges graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

He currently serves as the Pastor of Linville Falls Community Church and has served as pastor of several other local churches throughout the County in past years.

Commissioner Aldridge has always been interested in the welfare of the County citizens. He has a deep love for the area and understands the allure and gravitation that other people have for the natural beauty of the area of Western North Carolina and the High Country. He has served his fellow citizens by always lending a helping hand when needed.

When interacting with this year’s recipient, he presents a very dry, distinguished manner; however, he loves and participates in a good joke or pun. Many are directed at himself and/or his own actions.

Commissioner Aldridge has served on the Board of Commissioners and the HCCOG Executive Board since 2018. Professionally, he serves in multiple capacities and on many boards within his county. He is also currently the High Country COG Executive Board Treasurer and as the Forum Alternate for the NC Association of Regional Councils.

HCCOG would like to congratulate all award recipients and thank them for their dedicated service to High Country citizens.

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