It was July or August of 1999, best I remember, and the Swain County Commissioners at that time were meeting in a cramped boardroom in the Administration Building. I’m not sure if anyone from a newspaper other than The Smoky Mountain Times covered these meetings, but we had published the first issue of our upstart newspaper in June of that year. As its only reporter at that time, I was finally getting around to one of Swain’s meetings.
I was a little out of sorts as I wandered in unannounced. I found an empty chair against the wall that was so close you could have touched the commissioners. They all greeted me as I told them who I was and what I was there for.
Since it is, after all, the Haywood County School Board, I can only hope they’ve learned a lesson.
Last week it was announced that a settlement has been agreed upon in the lawsuit filed by Waynesville attorney Mark Melrose against the school board for the way it closed Central Elementary School. The settlement mandated that neither party discuss the particulars, but here’s part of the 57-word statement that was released:
The school board “does not admit it violated the law or its own policies, but agrees it would have been preferable if circumstances had permitted to have provided more advanced public notice of its intention to vote on January 11, 2016, to study the possible closure of Central Elementary School.”
He’s a respected member of the community, a physician, and we ran into each other unexpectedly.
“I really have to say I like your opinion pieces. I think we’re on different sides as far as politics, but I like what you say about civil discourse and talking to each other. Besides, for me, politics is way down here,” he said, holding his hand down close to his knee, palm downward. “There are so many other more important things in life.”
We reported last week that Haywood County Tax Collector Mike Matthews may have been showing favoritism to some local Republican leaders who were behind in their taxes. As it turns out, we were likely too narrow in that assessment. It seems Matthews may very well just not be enforcing strong and even-handed collection measures for a lot of people, not just GOP leaders.
Matthews’ job performance has been questioned since he won the tax collector election in 2014. He couldn’t get bonded, had no experience in the field, and had his own record of nonpayment of taxes. County officials who depend on those taxes were worried and immediately took steps to try and help Matthews succeed. And taxpayers who pay on time had to be worried that there taxes might have to be raised.
Brandon Rogers almost certainly disappointed — and surprised — many of his supporters during Monday’s Haywood County Commissioners meeting. Apparently that discomforting politician’s habit of saying one thing and then doing something completely different once in office has now reached down to the local level.
Rogers, a Republican, is the newly elected county commissioner who earned the most votes in the November election. He worked hard during the campaign, expressed his position clearly on several important issues, and is a likeable guy. He undoubtedly benefitted from the Donald Trump tidal wave that swept a lot of GOP and independent voters to the polls, but that’s the electoral reality of 2016. Chances are he would have won even without the Trump coattails.
It was just a press release, one among the dozens a week that media outlets receive and that may or may not make it into the paper, on TV, on the radio or on a website. When it came across my computer screen, though, it seemed suddenly clear to me that it was symbolic of how our economic development priorities have to change.
“Gov. Cooper recommends eight Western North Carolina projects for ARC funding,” read the headline. Looking at the eight projects revealed that of the $3 million the Appalachian Regional Commission will most likely award, $1,374,714 was for an access road to a new development in Morganton and another $873,509 was to repave a road to an existing industrial site in Rutherford County.
As the holidays drew to a close, I began preparing for the reporting we will do on the upcoming session of the North Carolina General Assembly and kept watching President-elect Trump and the Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — jousting on several fronts.
In this still politically charged post-election atmosphere, I found myself trying to define my own beliefs and establish my own footing, as I know countless ideological debates lie ahead. Why do I support certain actions, programs and leaders over others? When did my fundamental political beliefs come together to form the basis of what I believe today?
Now that it’s 2017, I can’t bear the thought of continuing to fixate on politics and its atmosphere of pomposity and negativity that paints a picture of this country far different from what I encounter in my everyday life. It’s part of my job to cover this stuff, but our lives are about so much more than politics.
During the holiday season I was fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with a lot of young adults — my kids and their friends are all ages 18 to 24, and nephews and nieces were around who are as old as 28. And here’s what I heard from them: they aren’t buying into the vision of a country that is crumbling. Instead, I would argue that it’s the fresh optimism of the young — their belief that they can fix problems others have ignored or caused — that helps fuel this country’s ongoing prosperity.
Some things never change, and the reality of collateral damage from news stories is one of them. Plus the fact that I really just don’t like it when it happens.
Our cover story last week (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/18931) examined concerns about how the presence of alcohol in rural Haywood County might change small communities like Fines Creek, Bethel or Jonathan Valley.
Fidel Castro’s death should remind us that we are oftentimes more powerless and rudderless than our country’s leaders like to admit when it comes to foreign policy.
And that’s a timely lesson as a president who promised change prepares to leave his office to a president-elect who also promises change. Castro is a nagging symbol of how difficult it is even for a country as big and powerful as the U.S. to steer the world in the way we think it should go. Oftentimes, despite our best intentions or our horrible mistakes, we just can’t have it our way.