Jackson County 

Jackson Sheriff 

About the race:  This promises to be one of the most hotly contested elections in the region this year. Current Sheriff Jimmy Ashe will step down and that has thrown the floodgates wide open for contenders — nine in all.

Candidates were going public months before the official candidate sign-up period in February. And several had turned in their election finance paperwork far in advance so they could start their campaign wheels turning.

Ashe would have been a vulnerable candidate had he decided to run, due to lack of public visibility in recent years and a series of public relations stumbles and controversies.


•Steven Lillard, assistant police chief at Western Carolina University

•Chip Hall, chief deputy in the sheriff’s department

•Glen Biller, a Haywood sheriff’s deputy

•Robin Gunnells, who has a custom truck cover business and has worked in a variety of law enforcement positions

•Doug Farmer, a Sylva police officer

•Michael Gosnell, private security guard in Highlands, with a variety of law enforcement positions over his career 


• Curtis Lambert, a Sylva police office

• Jimmy Hodgins, a retired logger

• Mary Alice Rock, a bail bondsman 


Jackson Commissioner

What’s up for election? Three of the five seats on the board.

About the race: There was a major power shift in county politics four years, after an upset election ushered in a slate of conservative-leaning candidates. Three sitting commissioners, all Democrats, were ousted by three challengers.

It’s hard to say whether the election four years ago was an indictment of the progressive policies of the commisioners at the time, or whether it was trickle-down effect from a national Republican tide that election year.

This year, Democrats are trying to take back the seats they loss, and voters will have a chance to endorse or oust the new leadership that took over four years ago.

Do I vote in all the districts, or just mine? Every voter in Jackson County gets to vote for every commissioner seat, no matter where you live in the county. While the county is parceled up into four territories for the commissioners race, the geographic districts only apply to the candidates. Candidates must live in the district of the seat they are running for, but are elected by voters countywide.


Commissioner chairman

•Jack Debnam, the current commissioner chairman and a Realtor. As an unaffiliated candidate that belongs to neither party, Debnam must gather 1,200 signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot. He has until June. 

•Brian McMahan, a Democrat, previously served as commissioner chairman but lost to Debnam in 2010. The 39-year-old chief of security at Balsam Mountain Preserve is now seeking a rematch.

Jackson commissioner: district that spans from Dillsboro to Qualla 

•Charles Elders, a Republican and sitting commissioner, is the owner/operator of Elder’s Superette. 

•Joe Ward, a Democrat and farmer, is retired from CSX Transportation. 

Jackson commissioner: district that includes Sylva and Scotts Creek

•Doug Cody, a Republican and sitting commissioner, has worked in the insurance industry for 29 years. “I feel that we’ve done a good job and there’s still more to be done, and I want to be part of that.” 

•Boyce Deitz, a Democrat, is a retired teacher and football coach. He coached former U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler as a high school quarterback, and later went to work for the congressman. 

“I have a passion about where I live, our culture and the mountains. People back in the coves and hollers don’t have a voice and I feel that they need one.”

The Canton town board remains undecided about who will take over as town manager. The board was expected to choose between three finalists at its March 13 meeting, but two members pushed for a delay until at least the next meeting.

The daunting challenge of courting industry, cultivating entrepreneurs, helping businesses expand — and ultimately adding new jobs to the economy — will soon become an all-hands-on-deck affair in Haywood County.

Nearly a year after cutting down the historic maple trees in front of the Haywood County Courthouse, the lawn still isn’t as grassy or green as county commissioners would like.

Haywood County

Haywood Commissioners 

What’s up for election? Three out of five seats on the county board. 

About the race: The current Haywood commissioners have enjoyed a stable tenure, consistently winning their seats when they come up for reelection. They have largely avoided controversy and kept a steady hand at the helm. All three incumbents, with long histories of elected office.

Democrats: only three advance

•Kirk Kirkpatrick, a lawyer, has been on the board since 2002 and has been a supporter of recreation.

•Michael Sorrells has been a commissioner for four years and previously served six years on the school board. He is a service station, convenience store and café owner in Jonathan Creek.

•Bill Upton, the retired superintendent of Haywood County Schools, a principal and teacher, has been on the board eight years.

•Bob McClure has been a bailiff for 14 years for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department. Prior to that, he worked at the now-closed Dayco manufacturing plant in Hazelwood for 33 years.

•Kyle Edwards owns the Stompin’ Ground in Maggie Valley, a campground, and is a general contractor. He considered bringing jobs to the area to be a priority. 

“We need to keep jobs for our younger generation here in Haywood,” Edwards said. “Our jobs and our people are leaving the county.”


• Denny King, a conservative voice in county politics and frequent critic of sitting commissioner’s decisions, previously ran for a commission seat in 2012. He came within 300 votes. 

• Phil Wight, owner of a motel in Maggie Valley and Maggie town alderman. Wight has long been involved in Maggie’s controversial breed of politics and a player in the tourism industry.


• Dr. Windy McKinney, is a historian and writer with a doctorate in Medieval Studies from the University of York, in the United Kingdom. She is the Libertarian Party of Haywood County’s first candidate for county commissioner and feels the area is ready for a candidate who will “change politics as usual.”


Haywood Sheriff 

About the race: And the winner is… Sheriff Greg Christopher. Christopher has proven immensely popular and effective in just a short time, after being named sheriff barely a year ago after the sitting sheriff at the time stepped down. Christopher has made several innovations at the department. He has improved moral, public outreach, cooperation with other law enforcement agencies and drug enforcement. He has also made a point of being more visible and accessible in the community.

Word on the street was no challengers would have had a chance.



Haywood County Schools’ attorney has countered accusations that Pisgah High School administrators allegedly hampered a student’s attempt to form a club for atheists and non-religious students. 

Just shy of a decade after county offices moved into a brand-spankin’ new Haywood County Justice Center, Jackson County is considering its own courthouse overhaul — and it’s using the Haywood project as a model. Jackson pulled in Heery International, the same company that designed and built the Haywood courthouse, to do a preliminary needs assessment, and now commissioners are waiting on the results to come back before planning the next step. 

fr naacpPolitical backlash against the new conservative policies of state lawmakers has given rise to two local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Haywood and Jackson counties — the first such affiliates to be formed in the rural, predominantly white mountain counties since the NAACP’s creation about a century ago.

art frZach Haney looks at obstacles as opportunities.

“I wasn’t even supposed to walk, but here I am,” he said. 

Guitarist for the Joe Lasher Jr. band, Haney is a 21-year-old Canton native. Born with cerebral palsy, he’s turned whatever adversities he faced into a promising career in music.

A plan to turn the old state prison campus in Hazelwood into an epicenter for changing lives is moving forward fast. 

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