Lynn Collins, the director of Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, was unanimously appointed as the new director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority this week following a muddled process involving three separate votes.
The process and the outcome seemed clearcut last week, when the first vote was taken and Collins emerged the winner with five out of 12 votes. But by the next morning, one of the TDA members had called for a do-over, citing a technicality in the voting procedure.
The tourism authority initially narrowed down a pool of 200 applicants to five finalists for the job. When the vote on the finalists was held last week (Dec. 18), Collins received five out of 12 board votes, including that of TDA Board Chairman Alice Aumen.
Aumen’s vote swung the decision in Collins’ favor: the runner-up behind her had four votes. Technically, however, Aumen was not supposed to vote except in the case of tie. Had Aumen not voted, there would have been a tie, and she would have had to vote — and would have voted for Collins.
But instead of first waiting to see if there would be a tie, Aumen cast her vote along with the rest of the board. In effect, she pre-emptively cast the tie-breaker.
Pat Smathers, Canton mayor and member of the TDA, claimed the entire vote should be nullified and called for a do-over.
“I was laying in bed thinking about it that night, and it occurred to me, something’s not right,” said Smathers, an attorney who hadn’t voted for Collins but instead backed former county commissioner Mary Ann Enloe for the job.
Smathers waited until the day after the vote to notify Aumen that her pre-emptive tie-breaker was in violation of the TDA statutes, and asked her to contact the board’s attorney. Smathers said his theory was better safe than sorry in calling for a revote.
“It appears to me the vote would be invalid and I don’t want to get controversy started over this,” Smathers said.
Rather than let the board’s vote stand and simply re-cast her tiebreaker, Aumen said Smathers convinced her to call for a whole new vote by the entire board.
In the meantime, second-place vote-getter Larry Harmon, a tourism official from Henderson County, pulled out of the running.
TDA Member Ken Stahl said Harmon pulled out due to confusion over retirement benefits that came with the job — namely that there aren’t any. Harmon thought he could transfer his retirement benefits from Henderson County to his new post, but can’t, Stahl said.
But in an interview Monday, Harmon told The Smoky Mountain News that wasn’t the primary reason he withdrew.
“I decided it would be my best interest and the best interest of Haywood County to withdraw my application so they could move forward and pick someone and do what is best for the county and tourism,” Harmon said.
Harmon said had he gotten the job, he had every intention of taking it. Harmon would not say who called him to tell him there would be a revote, only that he called Stahl to say he was pulling out.
Regardless of the reason, that left Enloe as the new runner-up with three votes and with a viable shot at the TDA director post if she could lay claim to Harmon’s cast off votes.
The two other finalists for the position — John Keith of Waynesville and Austin Mott of Murphy — had received no votes.
Yet when the TDA convened for the re-vote on Monday (Dec. 22) rather than hold an outright vote, they decided to first narrow down the pool to only two candidates. Each TDA member voted for their top two choices. Collins emerged with eight votes and Keith with six. Enloe only got four, and didn’t make the cut.
The TDA board then went into closed session to discuss the two candidates. After 15 minutes, they emerged and voted unanimously for Collins.
“It makes me feel good that we have someone with the ability that knows the tourist industry to step in and take over because we have work to do,” said James Carver, a TDA member and restaurant owner in Maggie Valley.
Carver said Collins can hit the ground running since she is already familiar with the tourism industry in Haywood County, and regularly attended TDA meetings due to her post as the Maggie chamber director. Carver said Collins is also able to work well with parties that don’t always agree for the betterment of tourism.
Even those who didn’t vote for Collins initially praised her abilities.
“I think Lynn is imminently qualified and capable of doing an outstanding job for the county,” said Marion Hamel, TDA board member and president of Smoky Events. “She is excellent.”
Collins said she was pleased with the final outomce.
“I appreciate the board’s vote of confidence and look forward to working with them,” she said..
The director post was left vacant Nov. 1 when former director Scotty Ellis resigned following her second charge in less than a year for marijuana possession.