Table is set for Sylva town electionWritten by Quintin Ellison
This November, Sylva residents will elect three commissioners, deciding who will control the majority on that five-member board. All three incumbents are running for re-election, plus two challengers.
In the next four years, it’s likely that Sylva’s chosen leaders will help decide what should be done, if anything, to the main commercial and commuter artery of N.C. 107. They might pick a new town manager, if a permanent one hasn’t been selected before then by the current board.
In other words, this selection of board members could have ramifications for Jackson County’s largest town for years, if not decades, to come.
N.C. 107, a busy stretch of highway south of town that has in the last decade or so seen the addition of a Super Walmart and a Lowe’s Home Improvement, has proven controversial in Jackson County. The N.C. Department of Transportation has proposed massive widening, which could displace many businesses, or possibly building a by-pass around it, which could level a number of homes out in the county.
A bypass between N.C. 107 and U.S. 74 doesn’t much seem to excite anyone running for town council. Most expressed worries that such a bypass could divert traffic not only around town, but also away from the town’s businesses. But something, each agreed, probably needs to be done to alleviate the growing traffic problem on N.C. 107.
A new town manager is also in the headlights for Sylva. The town board forced former Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower to resign in September. The commissioners, citing personnel laws, did not make clear their reasons for demanding the resignation.
Dan Schaeffer, the town’s public works director, is serving as a stopgap manager.
Commissioners, pick three
John Bubazc, 44, owner of Signature Brew Coffee Company
Bubazc is running as a candidate because he wants to provide voters “a moderate, flexible, informed decision maker.”
He also wants to help the town of Sylva work with Dillsboro to redirect thru trucks around the two towns, unless the truckers have business in the downtowns. Too many concrete trucks and delivery trucks heading for Walmart or the university or elsewhere are thundering through, he said.
“It’s really dangerous with cars having to back out into traffic,” Bubazc said.
Bubazc said his overall solution to N.C. 107 hasn’t been settled on, because there’s a committee made up of various stakeholders studying the issue now. “Why would we ignore their recommendation?” he said rhetorically.
Bubazc, a member of the Downtown Sylva Association board, wants the group to become 100-percent funded again, and for the DSA board to hire and oversee its own director. This does not necessarily negate the need for a town economic development director, who was hired recently in a dual role overseeing DSA, he said. Until then, DSA had its own director, which is what Bubazc is pushing for again.
The coffee roasting company owner has clear ideas about the type of individual he’d like to see hired as the town’s manager: “Someone who is experienced, who knows how to deal with groups of people and who is good at interagency communications, and who is sensible enough to work in a small town.”
Harold Hensley, 74, retired maintenance supervisor for Jackson County Schools
Hensley had served on the board previously, but narrowly lost his seat in the last election in 2009. He found his way back on the board last year, however, after being appointed to replace the outgoing Sarah Graham, who resigned after moving out of the town limits.
“I think, really and truly, that I have tried my best to be a voice for all of the people of Sylva,” Hensley said, adding that there are ongoing town projects such as additional sidewalks and the police department’s move to the old library he’d like to see through.
“I think there are some good things going on,” he said.
Hensley believes that the solution to N.C. 107 traffic problems lies, at least in part, with undoing “the bottleneck” that exists at an intersection where hospital and other business traffic dumps into the highway.
“That’s where the traffic backs up at,” he said, adding that in such sour economic times he doesn’t believe Jackson County will get millions of dollars to fix the problem — the solutions must be smaller, such as relieving the pressure at the intersection.
Hensley, too, knows the type person he wants to see as the town’s new manager. They need the necessary qualifications, and people skills, too, he said.
“I would look strongly at some local person, if you get the (proper) qualifications,” Hensley said.
Ray Lewis, 68, retired Sylva police officer
If reelected, Lewis will serve his third four-year term as a town board member. He said the actual job of commissioner “isn’t really a political thing, but I’ve always been interested in politics — and if I can help the people out, that’s what I want to do.”
Lewis is the only member of the town board to flatly support building some new roadway to alleviate traffic pressure on N.C. 107. But his idea echoes one made by SmartRoad proponents in Sylva a few years ago. That of building, or in many ways connecting existing roads, to create a “service road” running behind businesses along the highway, giving some relief to traffic congestion, Lewis said.
Like Hensley, Lewis would like to see a local person hired as the town’s new manager. Someone, he explained, who knows, understands and cares about the community.
Christine Matheson, 52, owner of a gift shop in Cherokee
Matheson, like Hensley, gained her seat on the board via an appointment. The former assistant district attorney stepped in when Mayor Maurice Moody was elected, leaving a commission seat vacant.
“I feel like I’ve made a contribution to the town for the last two years, but I feel like there’s still more to do,” Matheson said. “I love Sylva. It is my home and my heritage.”
Matheson, like Hensley, wants to help see the new police department built, which will require extensive work to the county’s old public library on Main Street. And she wants to help mold the DSA and town relationship.
“That relationship is growing and defining itself,” Matheson said. “We are meshing two entities.”
Matheson is serving on the committee studying what best to do to “fix” N.C. 107.
“I think the committee needs to do its work,” she said, adding that there’s seemingly no clear solution that won’t adversely impact someone.
Matheson wants a town manager who is willing to learn, who has good communication and management skills, is personable and who isn’t afraid to not know something because they are willing to learn and research to find answers. Most importantly, it must be “someone who loves the community” and is willing to be part of the community, Matheson said.
Lynda Sossoman, 64, owner of Radio Shack in Sylva and Cashiers
Sossoman isn’t a newcomer to the town politics — she served a four-year term on the town board in the late 1990s. Sossoman said several people in the community have asked her to run again.
“I really care about my community, and I want to give back to it,” said Sossoman, who is an active volunteer in Jackson County.
Owning a business on N.C. 107 has given her a unique perspective on the problem of what to do to ease congestion.
“I’ve thought about that a lot — the road just doesn’t have very far to grow,” she said.
Perhaps a traffic circle at the intersection where Radio Shack is could help, Sossoman said, who worries that a connector could pull business away from downtown.
Sossoman is deeply concerned about downtown. Radio Shack used to be located there, and she helped form the group that evolved into DSA.
“I want to make sure the downtown stays strong,” Sossoman said, adding that she wants a continuation of downtown events, though she also gave a strong nod to extending the strength of the downtown outside of its traditional limits.
Concerning a town manager, Sossoman wants someone with an education, the proper qualifications and who “is able to communicate with everybody in the community, and with the town board.”