The make-up of Sylva’s town board shifted this week when board members voted 3-1 to replace outgoing board member Sarah Graham with Harold Hensley.
The vote changes the town’s disposition from one with a progressive voting majority to one likely to be characterized by fiscal conservatism and a more traditional philosophy.
Graham, who came to the board after leading the Downtown Sylva Association, stepped down from her seat after moving outside the town limits, her new address making her ineligible to serve as an elected town leader. Hensley, 72, formerly served on the board for four years but narrowly lost re-election last year.
Graham and Hensley often had opposing visions for the town and voted on the opposite side of key issues.
It’s the second time in less than a year that Sylva’s board has had to vote to appoint one of their own. Mayor Maurice Moody vacated his seat as a board member to move up to mayor after the November election. The other board members replaced him with Chris Matheson.
In the November 2009 election, board members Danny Allen and Stacy Knotts narrowly edged out Hensley. It was Allen who tipped Hensley for the spot at this week’s town board meeting.
“I think the fairest and the honest thing to do is consider the third runner up, previous board member Harold Hensley,” Allen said.
Only Knotts objected to the motion. In a dignified prepared statement, she explained her opposition to Hensley, who was seated in the crowd.
“To respect the voters who voted for me I’m going to vote ‘no’ to the motion,” Knotts told Hensley. However, “I will work with you for the betterment of Sylva.”
Knott’s opposition to Hensley was based on her support for town initiatives like downtown improvements, funding for the Downtown Sylva Association, the expansion of recreational facilities and land-use planning. That type of progressive platform is one that was largely shared in recent years by Graham and Moody — and more recently by Knotts, Graham and Matheson — giving them the three votes needed to push an agenda.
Now Hensley, Allen and Ray Lewis, who in general share a vision of fiscal conservatism, now hold the majority voting block.
Hensley downplayed his historic opposition to funding for the Downtown Sylva Association after the appointment.
“There probably will be a difference between mine and Sarah’s opinion, but I’m definitely not against the DSA,” Hensley said.
But he did indicate where his priorities lie.
“I hope I can do what I did before, which is never take a decision without the taxpayer in mind,” Hensley said.
Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody only votes in the case of a tie. Moody shares a progressive inclination with Knotts and Matheson, but has also used his energy to try to create consensus on the board. He had hoped to find a candidate that would result in a unanimous nomination.
“I’m not disappointed,” Moody said. “Harold and I agree on some things, and we disagree on some things. I can work with Harold. We’ve known each other most of our lives.”
Another result of Hensley’s appointment is that Knotts is the only sitting member of the board not originally from Sylva.
Moody said Graham had provided a fresh outlook and great experience to the board, and he said there was little point in attempting to draw meaning from a board member’s birthplace.
“I don’t put much importance on being a native, even though I am one,” Moody said. “I would put more importance on the welfare of the town.”
Hensley’s appointment lasts until November 2011.