Kirkpatrick: ‘It feels like we have no representation’

Tensions between Haywood County and a state legislator are on the rise as commissioners called her out at a recent meeting for yet again obstructing a request for legislation that has overwhelming local bipartisan support. 

Back in early February, Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, effectively killed yet another proposed Tourism Development Authority occupancy tax increase by saying she would refuse to shepherd legislation requested by the towns of Canton, Clyde, Maggie Valley and Waynesville as well as Haywood County Commissioners. 

A few weeks later and after much ado, commissioners asked Presnell to help make the county’s tax collector position an appointed, rather than elected, one. 

That request, too, appears to be going nowhere, and commissioners aren’t happy. 

“The grumbling is the disappointment in our representatives,” said Commission Chairman and Democrat Kirk Kirkpatrick. “It feels like we have no representation.”

On Feb. 20, commissioners passed a resolution asking Haywood County’s legislative delegation to the North Carolina General Assembly to “introduce and seek passage” of legislation bringing Haywood County into line with the other 99 counties in the state by being able to hire its tax collector.

“It was a unanimous decision by the Board of County Commissioners, which is split between three Democrats and two Republicans who were elected by the whole county,” Kirkpatrick said.

Commissioners have repeatedly called Matthews’ performance and character into question. Matthews, a Republican, has alleged corruption and party politics as the reason. The resolution would not remove Matthews from the position immediately, but instead make him and any other interested parties apply for it in 2018 when his term expires.

Regardless, the resolution needs the full support of Presnell as well as Rep. Mike Clampitt, R-Bryson City. 

Both represent a portion of Haywood County, and — according to a letter read by Kirkpatrick during the March 6 board meeting — seem to prefer the county hold a referendum to let voters decide on the issue. 

“Mr. Clampitt wants us to have a referendum — that is, a vote at the 2018 election, and it’s my understanding that Ms. Presnell wants the same,” he said, later calling the $5,000 referendum “ridiculous.”

“With that being said, it does not appear that Rep. Presnell or Rep. Clampitt is going to honor our request for the resolution,” Kirkpatrick stated. “So, I don’t know how you feel about that, commissioners, or what we need to do.” 

Expressing his frustration first was Democratic Commissioner Mike Sorrells, who wondered if Clampitt and Presnell understood that the county was trying to get someone more qualified into the position in the future.

Commissioner Bill Upton, also a Democrat, opined that the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners might be able to help with Presnell’s repeated obstruction of proposed legislation bearing overwhelming bipartisan local support, like a proposed 2013 occupancy tax increase, a proposed 2015 Waynesville-Lake Junaluska merger, the proposed 2017 occupancy tax increase and the 2017 tax collector resolution.

When Kirkpatrick initially asked Republican Commissioner Kevin Ensley for comments, the affable Ensley said he probably oughtn’t say anything. 

But after Upton, Sorrells and Kirkpatrick kicked it around some more — accompanied by silence from newly elected Republican Commissioner Brandon Rogers — Ensley finally decided to weigh in with a philosophical exposition drawing upon the very roots of American government. 

“I would like to make one comment,” Ensley said. “We live in a constitutional republic. We don’t live in a democracy. The democracy part of our republic is that we elect our officials to make decisions for us, and enact laws. We don’t put it out for the public to vote on every issue. If we did, the founders called that ‘mobocracy.’ That’s not the government they set up for us.”

Indeed, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson have all made explicitly clear their fears of such a government.

But those sentiments beg a salient point around which most of Haywood County politics seems to revolve nowadays — should state legislators put aside their own political views when asked by local officials to cooperate with something they may not support?

Ensley said that commissioners were closest to the residents — the taxpayers — of the county, and that their word should be given due deference. 

“The best government is when you have home rule, and you abide by the constitutional process that our founders have put in place for us to operate our government, and that’s when our government works best. And it has for over 200 years,” he said. “It is very disappointing that this is happening.”

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