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.
Sylva Commissioner Sarah Graham will step down from the town board at the end of June because her family has decided to move outside town limits.
Graham said she and husband, Bill, had been looking at homes that offered more land for their growing family, when they found a perfect place on Fisher Creek Road.
“Because the house isn’t in the town I have no choice but to resign my position on this board,” said Graham, who lived downtown and loved being part of its vibrant scene.
As a result of Graham’s announcement, the four remaining board members –– Chris Matheson, Danny Allen, Ray Lewis, and Stacy Knotts –– will be left with the task of naming a replacement in June. Mayor Maurice Moody only votes in the case of a tie.
The board underwent a similar process last December. Moody was a sitting town board member when he ran for mayor. He won, but still had two years left on the town board, leaving a vacant seat to be filled on the board.
During that process, Moody was instrumental in searching out his own replacement, Chris Matheson, and ensuring she had the support of the entire board before she was nominated, although he technically couldn’t vote except in a tie.
“Chris has had a unifying effect on the board and has done a good job, and I would hope to find the same type of candidate this time,” Moody said.
Graham said she wanted to serve until the town’s budget for next year was finalized, which means serving until the end of June when the fiscal year ends.
The town board has been divided on the some budget issues for the past four years, most notably over whether the town should make annual financial contributions to the Downtown Sylva Association, a cause particularly close to Graham’s heart.
Moody commended Graham for her work as a commissioner, particularly on issues directly affecting downtown.
“I hate to lose her, but I think when someone is putting their family’s best interest first, you have to support them,” Moody said.
In leaving, Graham said she felt the town is moving in the right direction, and she will continue to work in its best interests.
“I think the town is moving in a great direction and that, given the state of the economy, the town is in a great financial situation,” Graham said. “I look forward to serving Sylva in any way I can.”
Graham served as the director of the Downtown Sylva Association before being elected commissioner. She was instrumental in the revitalization of Bridge Park, a downtown green space and concert venue.
Most of us in the course of a week find a reason to go to downtown Sylva. We may go out to eat, or to the library, post office or bank, or perhaps just shop. There’s plenty of pleasure — and necessity — to be found downtown for residents of the area. As a real, working, genuine town, Sylva functions very well.