Pro-planning group wins in Jackson

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Jackson County will usher in a new board of commissioners committed to addressing the county’s growth issues with the election of pro-planning candidates William Shelton, Tom Massie, Joe Cowan and Mark Jones in Tuesday’s primary election.

Twelve of 13 candidates in the county’s unusually large commissioners campaign pool ran on the Democratic ticket, with three of the four district seats unchallenged by the Republican party. The election of the board chairman was decided prior to the election, with Democratic incumbent Brian McMahan, running totally unopposed.

Only Jackson County’s District 4 seat election will carry over to the general election in November as Republican Geoff Higginbotham will face Jones.

Shelton, a self-employed farmer, and Jones, general manager of High Hampton Inn, battled throughout the evening to be the high vote-getter in the county. In the end, Shelton topped the list bringing in 2,337 votes. His opponents in District I — Carroll Buchanan and Raymond Bunn — earned 1,210 votes and 1,050 votes, respectively.

“I’m pretty well humbled and I feel there’s a challenge ahead,” Shelton said. “I think we’re going to have to be more pro-active when it comes to planning for growth.”

In District 2, Massie, the western field representative for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, kept just ahead of a runoff, which state election law mandates if no candidate receives more than 40.01 percent of the vote. Massie registered 46.32 percent with 2,117 votes, besting the next highest vote-getter Bob Ginn by 1,152 votes.

Massie said that citizens’ votes for pro-planning candidates was akin to a referendum on the issue and that the next step will be building a consensus and working toward a compromise that will fit all of Jackson County’s needs.

Massie said his goal between now and when newly elected commissioners take office this winter is to continue to be involved.

“In general I have to educate myself on everything that’s going on in the county so I can hit the ground running,” Massie said.

District 3’s Darrell Fox, executive director of Webster Enterprises and incumbent Cowan, a teacher at The Hub School of Alternatives, ran the election’s closest race. The two were separated by only 21 votes after one-stop and absentee votes were counted and remained neck-to-neck throughout the night. With all of the county’s precincts reporting but Webster — the candidates’ stomping grounds — Cowan was ahead of Fox by just 48 votes.

Final results show Cowan taking the election with 50.94 percent of the votes, compared to Fox’s 49.06 — or 2,276 votes to 2,192.

In District 4, Jones edged out Nathan Moss, a self-employed farmer and pastor, by 628 votes.

Jones attributed his win to his stance on land use, which he said was one of few issues that separated the two candidates.

Overall the election saw a low voter turnout.

“It’s going to be less than a third of registered voters,” said Jim Mason, Chief Democratic Judge overseeing the Webster precinct.

Approximately 25 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the election. Mason blamed low participation on news media for purveying the belief that the election would experience a low turn out.

“If they’d have said high voter turn out, they’d have flocked to the door,” Mason said.

In the other county elections incumbent Clerk of Superior Court Ann Melton held off Elaine Carter 4,031 to 626.

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