For nearly a year, the Maggie town board has been mired in a logjam — the four town representatives locked in two-to-two stalemate on issue after issue — and Maggie residents are fed up.
“The people who live here are exasperated,” said Mandy Hartline, owner of Stony Creek Motel. “If a good idea is brought up by two, then the other two are against it no matter what. It’s almost like kids in the playground.”
The town boards are supposed to have an odd number, preventing tie-votes and stand-offs like the ones witnessed in Maggie. But a seat became vacant a year ago when long time Alderman Phil Aldridge moved away. The remaining board members couldn’t agree on who to name as a replacement, so the seat has been vacant all this time.
With a town election around the corner in November, residents hope the divisiveness will end, one way or another. Voters will elect someone to the empty seat, and a majority will finally be had — either on the side of Aldermen Mike Matthews and Phillip Wight or Alderwoman Saralyn Price and Mayor Ron DeSimone, assuming that Matthews and Price keep their seats in the election.
“I feel like a majority view, no matter what point of view it is, is better than a stalemate all the time,” said lifelong Maggie resident Beverly Ketner.
The current board was elected two years ago with the hope that Maggie would move forward after years of a ruling “good ole boy” system. Past boards were accused of making decisions to benefit their friends rather than all of Maggie. However, some residents feel that is still the case — only now it’s a different “in-group” on the receiving end of favors.
“If they don’t start making decisions for everybody, you know, the whole group instead of friends, then I feel like we are definitely not going to go anywhere,” said former Alderman Colin Edwards, who resigned after being fed up by town politics. “When you are put on a board, you are supposed to work together. You’ve got to make the best decision for everybody.”
Edwards said different groups of people in the valley have always been at odds, but he hopes that will change.
“It’s been like this ever since I was young, but it’s time for change,” Edwards said. “I think there are some good candidates running. Then there are some, I hope and pray they don’t get elected.”
Edwards, who now lives outside the town limits, declined to say which candidates he preferred.
Ketner became so frustrated with the goings-on in town hall that she stopped attending board meetings. Like Edwards, she wants aldermen who consider the whole valley rather than just the business-interests lining Soco Road.
“I am thinking 60 percent of the people who live in the valley are not business owners. I am looking for someone who is for the total valley, not just the businesses,” Ketner said.
Ketner said she would also like someone who is open-minded and willing to work through disputes.
In addition to compromise and cooperation, one of the top issues weighing on Maggie voters’ minds is the economic climate. Jo Pinter, a resident and Realtor, said she wants the town to ease up on business regulations since they are still struggling.
“They need to be a little more lenient this time because the commercial people are having a hard time,” Pinter said. “If you have places boarded up in the commercial zone, it is going to hurt the residential zone.”
It is about a balance, Pinter said. Residents need to appreciate the motorcyclists who feed the economy, for example, but the motorcycling tourists also need to respect that people live nearby and don’t want to hear a lot of noise after 10 or 11 p.m.
Pinter doesn’t know whom she will vote for yet.
“I am kind of going to wait and see what stand they take,” she said.
Meanwhile, fellow resident June Johnson said she wants town hall to expand its business horizon and not focus all its time and energy on lodging accommodations.
“I don’t just think, I know that what must be done is broad-based economic development,” Johnson said. “Our town officials have become focused on getting heads in the beds.”
The valley can’t survive as it did in the past, catering to blue-collar families taking week-long vacations to the mountains every summer. The tourist demographic that once fueled Maggie’s economy simply doesn’t exist anymore given the massive loss of furniture and textile jobs in the eastern part of the state — demanding Maggie adopt a new strategy.
Maggie also can’t place all its hopes on the resurrection of Ghost Town, an amusement park that was once the tourism king-pen in the valley, she said.
“All you have to see is what Dolly is doing over in Dollywood right now,” Johnson said, referring to the $300 million planned expansion of the Tennessee amusement park.
For Johnson, and other Maggie voters, the preferred candidate is interested in expanding the valley’s business portfolio.
“The candidate has got to be someone who is knowledgeable about broad-based economic development, who has business sense,” Johnson said, adding that she doesn’t want an alderman with a questionable history. “I want someone who can stand having a background check and a criminal check and financial check.”
Business owner Hartline said her top consideration is business sense, and she already knows which alderman candidate fits that profile for her.
Better or worse
While much of the focus is on who will snag the board’s vacant seat — Janet Banks, part-time resident Joe Maniscalco or business owner Charlie Meadows — two seats are also up for reelection, and there is no guarantee that the incumbents will be the victors. Challenging Matthews and Price are Billy Case, Mike Eveland and Steve Hurley. Should one knock out Matthews or one beat out Price for votes, the board could flip from two against two to four against one.
Depending on the outcome of the election, “It could turn much worse or it could turn much better,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone, who is not up for reelection. “It is a very crucial election for Maggie Valley.”
DeSimone has become the main target for the other side to lob its vitriol at, claiming that he is the reason Maggie is stuck in neutral.
“There are only a few issues separating us. We aren’t far from working together now,” said Alderman Phillip Wight. “The only person that has held up everything has been the mayor himself.”
Not to say that DeSimone and those on his side of the fence haven’t done their share of mud slinging as well.
“Phillip Wight thinks that compromise is a sign of weakness,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t represent the rest of us.”
For many, the problem is not that the board of aldermen don’t see eye-to-eye, it’s that they cannot compromise and find a mutually agreeable solution.
“It is not the disagreement that matters. It is the inability to be flexible to reach an agreement,” DeSimone said.
Maggie residents have to decide if they want five people with five different points of view that can do what’s best for Maggie or five people with the same views, he said.
“I think that is the question out before the town,” DeSimone said.
However, for Wight, the question is different. Do residents want progress or regress?
“If they want to roll back to eight o’clock noise ordinance and more taxes and behind-the-door-meetings, then they know who to vote for,” Wight said. “It’s a clear choice. Which direction do you want to take the town?”
To help keep the candidates she finds undesirable out of town hall, Johnson said residents, who have in the past thrown their hands up in frustration, will need to rally and vote this November.
“What we need to do is get the residents who’ve just given up,” Johnson said. “We have got to reengage them.”
She added that much of Maggie still gets along despite the town board’s infighting.
“The community is still out there that is still vibrant and cohesive, but it’s not apart of town hall,” Johnson said.
Maggie Valley candidates
In Maggie Valley, three of the five seats are up for election. Two of the seats are held by Mike Matthews and Saralyn Price, who are both running for reelection, along with challengers Billy Case, a Realtor; Mike Eveland, manager of the Maggie Valley Inn; and Steve Hurley, owner of Hurley’s Creekside Dining and Rhum Bar. The third seat is vacant, with two years left in the term. Three candidates — Janet Banks, retired nurse practioner and nursing school professor; Joe Maniscalco, retired police officer; and Charlie Meadows, owner of Charlie’s Wing House — are running for the empty seat.