Collective discontent bonds candidatesWritten by Becky Johnson
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Three candidates running for the Maggie Valley town board with a similar message have buddied up in the campaign and chosen to run as a slate.
They claim the current town leaders discourage new ideas and fail to bring residents and business owners to the table to solve the town’s problems.
“This present regime has really closed out any other ideas other than their own,” said Ron DeSimone, a challenger for mayor. “They are not very open. They have allowed that podium to be used for vile personal attacks while limiting the voice of other people.”
DeSimone has joined forced on the ticket with town board candidates Phillip Wight and Phil Aldridge. They partnered by putting all three of their names on both yard signs and brochures.
“The main reason I am personally running is I think it is the people’s seat and I don’t think it has been represented properly over the years,” Wight said. “I really hope I can help solve problems and reach across the isle.”
Both Wight and DeSimone ran for town board two years ago unsuccessfully. Aldridge has been on the board for eight years, but is a self-described “odd man out.”
“I have been a lone voice on that board for many years,” Aldridge said. Aldridge said he hasn’t been able to bring about the change that he hoped.
“I had the same ideas then that I have now as far as trying to bring this Valley together,” Aldridge said. “We want to invite the public and business to share their ideas and bring them forward to us. That is not happening right now.”
That’s why he needed to run as a team with Wight and DeSimone.
Challenger Danny Mitchell is not part of the slate but shares some of the same views.
“My main concern is that everybody needs to get along and have professional meetings and not argue and fuss,” Mitchell said.
Two incumbents running for re-election — Mayor Roger McElroy and Alderwoman Danya Vanhook — disagree that there is widespread dissatisfaction. Critics have been a near constant element in Maggie’s small town politics, and the town has tried to reach out to them over the years but can never seem to satisfy them.
“I think a good majority of the people are pretty much happy with what is going on in town,” McElroy said, despite what he called “a faction in town that has felt differently for a long time.”
McElroy said despite his 30 years on the board, he is open minded to new ideas for the town.
“If an idea comes up you can’t say we tried that and it didn’t work because situations change. Something that didn’t work 10 years ago might work now, and I’m aware of that,” McElroy said.
Vanhook said being impartial and open-minded is her forte as a former judge. Vanhook joined the town board just six months ago. She was appointed after another an alderman who stepped down and left a vacancy.
At first, she didn’t apply because Maggie politics were known for being contentious but thought her skills may be of use on the town board.
“Someone who is a former judge, who can be fair, has an open mind, who hasn’t even involved in local politics before,” Vanhook said. “I was used to being very neutral and I thought that would serve Maggie Valley well, who would make decisions in the best interest of residents and businesses and didn’t have an ax to grind.”
Vanhook said she isn’t in one camp or the other.
“I certainly don’t vote in lock step with anyone,” Vanhook said.
Vanhook said Mayor Roger McElroy is in a tough spot as the moderator of town meetings. Maggie’s town meetings seem to have the best attendance per capita than any in the region. And, those interested enough to come often want to weigh in from their seats.
When McElroy calls on people in the audience, or lets people speak past their allotted time at the podium, people complain he isn’t keeping order and doesn’t know how to run a meeting. When he limits public input, he is accused of shutting them down, Vanhook said.
“I think he has always erred on the side of being inclusive,” Vanhook said. “I assure you every single person who comes to the meeting is heard.”
Vanhook said the town is better off for debating issues but wishes the debate was more cordial.
Until a few months ago, the town had public comment at the end of the meeting. The odd placement meant people were often commenting after the board had already come to a decision rather than before, so it was moved to the beginning as with other towns and counties.
Musical town board members
The election aside, the town has already seen two newcomers join the board this year. Two aldermen have resigned over the past six months. One alderman resigned after a political falling out with other board members. The second resigned because his motel business was struggling, and he decided to move elsewhere.
Two new board members were appointed to fill the seats.
One is Vanhook, who was appointed in March and now must formally run to keep her seat. The second is Michael Matthews, who was just appointed in September. His seat isn’t among those up for election.
Prior to being appointed, however, Matthews had signed up as a candidate in the fall election and his name will still appear on the ballot, even though he now already holds a seat on the board.
Matthews said he threw his name in the ring after witnessing a “huge disconnect” between the town leaders and the residents and business owners of town.
“I want to get everybody on the same page. I want everybody to start working together,” Matthews said.
While everyone seems to have good intentions — namely wanting the best for Maggie Valley — dueling personalities seem to get in the way, Matthews said.
Matthews considers himself neutral and says he isn’t aligned with either of the feuding camps that have marked Maggie Valley politics.
“People need to put the past in the past and start moving forward,” said Matthews, who works across the mountain at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort.