Aldermen Mike Matthews and Phillip Wight’s main pickle with the mayor boils down to a single letter. The duo argued that Mayor Ron DeSimone went behind the town’s back earlier this year when he delivered a letter on town letterhead to N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, without authorization from the board of aldermen.
The letter lobbied Davis to support an increase of the county’s overnight lodging tax to raise money for special tourism-related project. All the other town boards in Haywood County and the county commissioners supported raising the lodging tax, but needed the blessing of the state General Assembly.
Matthews and Wight have gone back and forth with the mayor over the letter. DeSimone said he wrote it as a citizen of Haywood County, not as mayor.
“Their opinion that that undermined the board decision is completely false,” DeSimone said. “They are interpreting in it as being something it is not.”
While DeSimone claims he never intended the letter to represent the views of the town, the opinion of the Maggie board — Matthews in particular — flip-flopped.
The bill never passed in Raleigh because of vocal opposition in Maggie, but even so, Matthews and Wight said the letter to Davis wasn’t authorized by the town board and showed that the mayor misled his fellow board members.
“They disagreed with my authority to write that letter. It doesn’t say anything about the board or about the town,” DeSimone said.
The letter, several times, references “we,” which is partially why Matthews and Wight have a problem with it, since “we” connotes he was speaking for the town. And it was signed “Mayor of Maggie Valley.”
Technically, at the time DeSimone sent the letter, the official position of Maggie town leaders was in support of the lodging tax increase. DeSimone sent the letter on March 26, two weeks after a town board voted 3 to 1 in support of the tax. Matthews later changed his position, but at the time the letter was sent, the town’s record of decision was in favor of the lodging tax increase.
Some town residents were so incensed by what they perceived as the mayor’s underhandedness that they filed a formal complaint with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office and even the State Bureau of Investigation. A petition signed by more than a dozen people alleged DeSimone committed forgery and created an official document under false pretenses.
SBI sent the matter back to the county law enforcement, saying it was not within its jurisdiction. The District Attorney and Sheriff’s Office ruled that no law was broken.
“They didn’t find anything wrong,” DeSimone said.
So in an effort to hold the mayor accountable for his alleged grievances, Matthews and Wight wanted to hold a hearing about complaints they have and have received about DeSimone. However, neither the mayor nor Alderwoman Saralyn Price agreed to hold such a hearing.
Sequence of events
The Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen voted 2 to 2 in February on whether to support the lodging tax increase, leaving the town opinion in limbo. With two against two, Maggie neither officially supported nor opposed the bill.
Nearly a month later at the aldermen’s regular meeting, that vote would change when a new version of the lodging tax bill was presented to the Maggie board. The new version included the caveats that Matthews wanted — a sunset clause on the tax increase and a guarantee that representatives from the Maggie tourism industry would hold the majority of seats on the funding committee that decided how the money raised from the lodging tax increase got spent.
Once the new bill language was presented to the Maggie board, Matthews was all in.
“It addressed all the concerns that I had,” Matthews said. “We all agreed that this is what we wanted to happen.”
He switched his vote and Maggie’s official position on March 12 became 3 to 1 in favor of the lodging tax increase.
Two weeks later, the mayor sent the letter to Davis, thanking the state senator for sponsoring the tax increase bill “On behalf of Haywood County and her towns Canton, Clyde, Maggie Valley and Waynesville.” The letter also stated that all the government entities supported the lodging tax increase, which was true at the time.
That is not Matthews’ biggest problem, though.
“I don’t care about him sending a letter. He can send all the letters he wants to,” Matthews said, as long as he doesn’t do it in his capacity as mayor without prior permission. “That could have been dealt with a ‘Don’t do that again.’”
If that was all, then Matthews said he would be content with a slap on the wrist. However, in the letter, DeSimone asked Davis to consider eliminating the sunset clause and adjusting the committee makeup in a way that watered down Maggie’s voice in how funding would be spent. Since those were the only reasons Matthews agreed to support the bill, he felt duped.
“He lied to myself. He lied to everyone,” Matthews said.
In the end, the two items Matthews liked were taken out of the bill. The primary reason was because the county and other towns did not support the new version — namely, they weren’t OK with giving Maggie Valley such a large majority of seats on the committee that would dole out funding.
Realizing the changes were made, Matthews switched his vote back to opposed on April 9, leaving the Maggie leaders at square one.