“With my eye on the time clock, it’s time to step aside and allow someone else the privilege and honor to serve as mayor,” Collins said.
During his tenure, Collins witnessed notable changes in town government, adding fulltime staff such as a town manager, town planner and a human resources officer. A state-of-the art police station was also built, and so was a public works facility and the new town hall on Main Street.
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Collins also backed a progressive shift in government policies, supporting the comprehensive zoning laws that are now in place and pushing the passage of alcohol sales in town limits when he cast the tie-breaking vote to put the issue to a referendum. Collins went against the grain on other occasions, in one instance apologizing to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians after the town applied herbicide to an ancient burial mounds. That move earned him censure from the board, on which a majority of the members didn’t agree an apology was necessary and that the mayor was out of line.
Collins said lack of family ties in Franklin allowed him to operate more independently as a policymaker, especially when pushing the envelope. Although born in Franklin, his mother grew up in Cherokee and his father in Haywood County, so many of his family members live in other parts of Western North Carolina. Those that did live in Franklin have either died or moved off.
“It’s my hometown, but it’s just me,” Collins said. “I didn’t have ma or dad or grandma or grandpa around the table Sunday afternoon critiquing me.”
Ever since Collins was in the sixth grade he said he knew he would be mayor of Franklin someday. He kept that thought in the back of his mind as he moved up the Franklin social ladder from one of his first jobs working in a pharmacy on Main Street to a local lawyer.
He first ran for alderman in his early 40s and, as a practicing attorney, felt natural in politics. He served for six years before becoming unhappy with the town’s direction and deciding to run for the influential position of mayor. In his first mayoral election, and in a true display of hometown politics, the incumbent was his dentist of 40 years, who Collins beat in a bittersweet victory. But throughout all the elections, the experienced politician said he never really caught on to the idea of politicking.
“Small town elections — you don’t have a campaign committee; you buy a few signs, and you get you an ad or two a week or two before the election,” Collins said. “Your campaign has been done over a lifetime.”
Now, citing a shift toward more privacy in his personal life and as a nod to his philosophy on term limits, Collins is bowing out.
“The political system works best when there’s a fairly consistent turnover,” said Collins before joking that “it may be good to be out the door before they get tired of you.”
Although he hasn’t ruled out a future bid for elected office, he has no immediate plans. His absence also opens up the field for other mayoral hopefuls. Rumors are circulating around Franklin as to who will seek the mayoral post and already some candidates have offered up their names.
Former Macon County commissioner and gun store owner Bob Simpson is eying the move to make himself a candidate. Alderman Sissy Pattillo, a retired educator, is also circling the wagons on a bid for mayor. The town had its first female mayor in the 1960s, but it could be due for another one.
Fellow Alderman Bob Scott, a former law enforcement officer and journalist, said he too is seriously considering a bid, but says he won’t be sure into he actually files in July.
“I am very seriously considering it,” Scott said. “But I won’t be running until I sign up.”