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Wednesday, 25 October 2017 14:18

Maggie Valley candidates ask for votes

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Unlike Haywood County’s other contested municipal election — in Maggie Valley — two incumbents are running for reelection and seek to defend their seats from three challengers.

But those challengers had a tough time making their case for change or demonstrating why aldermen Clayton Davis and Mike Eveland shouldn’t be returned to their posts.

“They work their behinds off,” said Jasay Ketchum at The Smoky Mountain News candidate forum held Oct. 18 in the Maggie Valley Town Board room. “Some of the things they do, as a person I don’t approve of, but they do it for the best of the town.”

As an example, Ketchum cited his opposition to a proposed brunch ordinance that’s been making the rounds in Western North Carolina governments since it was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.

“I would vote no, but really I feel like, why can’t they wait two hours? If it was up to me, I would go back to blue Sundays,” Ketchum said, of the era when alcohol sales were prohibited altogether on Sundays. “Sunday is the day of the Sabbath, and we shouldn’t be out there doing all that.”

Fellow challenger Allen Alsbrooks, however, highlighted a rare yet cogent problem with the religious argument as he expressed his support for the brunch ordinance.

“If we’re going to sell alcohol at 10 a.m. on Saturdays — my Sabbath — why don’t they sell it on Sundays?” said Alsbrooks, who is Jewish.

The third challenger, Brooke Powell, said he’d personally vote no, too.

“However, it’s not my decision — it’s the people in the town, the people who vote, the people who pay the taxes,” Powell said. “If they think that it’s best for the town, I’m all for it.”

Aldermen Davis and Eveland declined to give their opinions on the proposed brunch ordinance, citing the fact that they will likely have to vote on the issue in an upcoming meeting.

While the utility of a brunch ordinance in Maggie Valley is still questionable, it does carry with it economic development ramifications; those ramifications, however, are not quite the tonic Maggie’s sagging economy needs.

Nor is a revitalized Ghost Town in the Sky, according to candidates.

“It’s a lost cause,” Ketchum said of the shuttered mountaintop amusement park currently listed for nearly $6 million. “We need other things here besides that.”

“Ghost Town is no longer, and will one day probably be something else,” said Powell.

“I’m not waking up in the morning, praying and hoping something happens at Ghost Town,” Eveland said. “As a business owner who is looking at tourism and the local economy, we certainly would love to have something move in to Ghost Town that is tourism-related.”

Eveland also said he’d have no problem if the property was redeveloped as residential.

“As long as the land is developed and used properly, it will benefit the town.”

Alsbrooks took a similar view of Ghost Town’s potential role in Maggie Valley.

“To say that’s the only draw we have in Maggie Valley, that’s wrong,” he said. “We have plenty of other things to do to keep people active.”

But replacing the draw that once was Ghost Town is still the subject of much speculation.

“Maggie Valley is the ideal location for a convention center,” Davis said, adding that although there’s not enough room for one up on Buck Mountain, the town could benefit immensely from one, or from increased use of the Eagles Nest facility on Soco Road.

The tourism-based economy in Maggie Valley by far collects the lion’s share of room occupancy tax revenue, so the work of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority means more in Maggie than in most county municipalities; Eveland is the town’s representative on the TDA board, and serves as its finance chair.

As such he’s party to discussions within the TDA of reorganizing the committee structure and possibly reevaluating spending priorities.

“The last several years we’ve been making changes as to what we spend, and how we spend,” Eveland said. “A lot of the monies being spent two, three, five years ago just weren’t generating the type of interest [we want].”

Aside from differences over the brunch ordinance, there wasn’t a lot of contention from the challengers.

“I have a great amount of respect for Nathan Clark, the town manager,” Powell said, adding that he couldn’t think of any poor decisions the current town board had made.  “He knows this town up and down and I’m glad he’s in charge of it.”

“The best thing that we’ve done is hire Chief Gilliland,” Eveland said, referring to the town’s news police chief.

But Davis said the best thing he’s seen over the past two years is how much less drama there is.

“I’ve been on the board for two years, and the most amazing thing for me during that two years is the number of times that the board voted unanimously,” Davis said. “There have been very few times we’ve had split votes. Part of the reason is when Nathan or the mayor presents something, they will give the pros and the cons and we’ll discuss them, listen to each other. That way instead of choosing up sides and fighting it out, we have the best thinking of the total board as a result.”

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