Meet the candidates: Who’s who in Waynesville’s raceWritten by Caitlin Bowling
Waynesville mayor: Pick one
Mayor Gavin Brown, 64, attorney. Mayor for four years, town alderman for eight
Every morning Mayor Gavin Brown dons his town of Waynesville pin on his suit lapel before heading out the door to his law office. If he forgets, his wife never fails to remind him.
Brown makes a habit of strolling Main Street almost every day. He sticks his head in businesses to say “hello.” If he sees tourists taking pictures, he offers to step behind the camera so the whole family can be in the photo. If he sees men loitering on benches while their wives shop, he stops and hands out his mayor’s business card.
“I say ‘I have a few minutes, I’m the mayor, what do you want to know?’” Brown said. In exchange, he queries them on where they’re from and why they chose to visit Waynesville.
“It’s fun for me to do that,” Brown said. “I am nondiscriminatory … I talk to anybody.”
Those who know him wouldn’t doubt it. He even carries a list of all the downtown eateries to offer tourists wondering where they should eat.
Earlier this summer he noticed an elderly lady on Main Street who was feeling faint. He helped her inside the nearest business, LN Davis Insurance agency. He asked the employees to get her some water and offered to call her a medic.
“I really feel that my job is to be the head cheerleader for the people of Waynesville,” Brown said.
Brown’s four years of mayor have been devoid of controversy, scandal or dissent, giving him a clear leg up against his challenger.
Low voter turnout is a fear among the incumbents, however. If voters happy with the direction of the town feel the current leaders are a shoe-in and stay home on Election Day, a minority of voters with an ax to grind could swing the race.
Hugh Phillips, 50, co-manager at Bi-Lo grocery
Hugh Phillips ran unsuccessfully for mayor four years ago, but undeterred, he is back for another bid. Phillips said that people might not have taken him seriously last time. After all, he jumped right into politics for the first time in the mayor’s ring, rather than wading in as a town board candidate first. But there’s a reason, he said.
“If I ran for alderman and got elected, I don’t know if I could get along with the rest of the people on there. I think we would have butting heads,” Phillips said.
Of course, even as mayor, Phillips would still have to sit shoulder to shoulder with the other board members in meetings, and his vote doesn’t count any more than their votes on the issues. But he thinks he would get to control discussion more, he said.
“I said if I was going to do this, I was determined to make a difference, so that’s why I am running for mayor and not alderman,” Phillips said.
Phillips said he has been to one or two town board meetings, and none since signing up to run for election.
As a manager of Bi-Lo, customers are constantly bending Phillip’s ear, and not just about what aisle the bread is on.
“People tell me the town board is not approachable. They aren’t in touch for the citizens of Waynesville,” Phillips said. “If you are elected to office you should be working for the people. That’s my first and foremost.
“People’s got to be able to talk to you. It’s who you work for is the people of Waynesville,” Phillips said.
Phillips said the biggest thing that motivated him to run is the town’s development standards, which he said are too strict and are deterring new business.
Phillips was not aware that the town board relaxed some of the standards earlier this year in response to complaints from the business community.
Waynesville town board: Pick four
Alderman Wells Greeley, 59, president and owner of Wells Funeral Homes and Cremation Services. Alderman for three years
Wells Greeley was appointed to the town board to fill a vacancy left when former Alderman Kenneth Moore died three years ago. It wasn’t exactly new to him, however. He’d been on the town board in Canton for four years in the early 1980s. Both his father and grandfather were town aldermen as well.
Greeley said serving on the Waynesville town board has been an “enjoyable and rewarding experience.” The board is professional, courteous and thoughtful. The board is devoid from petty politics that plague some small towns. There are no entrenched camps, no staking out of sides before meetings.
“Everybody is an individual,” Greeley said. “It was a pleasant surprise to me to know that everybody’s voice was really heard. We didn’t always agree, but at the end of the day, we came away with a respect.
“I was fortunate to come on board and inherit such a good team. I want to try to continue the great work we are doing,” he said.
Greeley credits the board’s demeanor, in part, to Town Manager Lee Galloway. It’s why finding the right replacement for him when he retires next year is what Greeley calls “Job One.”
“That is going to be the most critical issue that the new elected town board will face,” Greeley said.
The town has hired a consultant to aid with the search. A glutton for public input processes, the town has asked the consultants to include community leaders in crafting a vision for what skills and traits the next town manager should possess.
Greeley believes he is well suited to the important task. He was on the UNC-Asheville board of trustees when it conducted a search for a new chancellor. And as a business owner with 15 full-time and 20 part-time employees on the payroll, he is no stranger to hiring.
Leroy Roberson, 67, owner of Haywood Optometric Care. Alderman for four years
Leroy Roberson has been an eye doctor on Main Street for 35 years and remembers all too well the days when downtown wasn’t the vibrant place it is now. More than a quarter of the storefronts were shuttered, and buildings had fallen into disrepair.
“Slowly but surely with the efforts of the Downtown Waynesville Association, it has come back and it has become a model for other downtowns. Statewide people know Waynesville,” Roberson said. “It has shown us what can be done when there is a public and private synergy. The amount of money the town has put in to streetscapes is small compared to the private investment, and the result is you have some very viable businesses.”
Roberson considers the town’s investment in downtown “less than a drop in bucket” compared to the benefits it has reaped.
The success story shapes Roberson’s philosophy for the town now. Take pride in the town, invest in it, make it attractive, and prosperity will follow.
“You can take pride in Waynesville now because of what’s been done,” Roberson said.
Roberson, who previously served on the Waynesville town board in the 1990s, has also learned the worth of local business owners who are vested in their community. While some opponents in the race complain the town’s development standards don’t accommodate chain store style architecture, Roberson places a higher value on local businesses anyway.
“If you spend $100 in a local restaurant, $68 of the revenue will be circulated through the community. If you go to a chain like Cracker Barrel or Sonic or anything like that, $45 recirculates through the community. Which would you rather have? For me it is a no brainer,” Roberson said.
Roberson said an important goal for the next four years is creating a vision and plan for South Main Street, the corridor around Super Wal-Mart. He doesn’t want it to become another Russ Avenue, but instead wants the town to lay the groundwork for a pedestrian-friendly, aesthetically pleasing mixed-use district.
Gary Caldwell, 58, production manager at Cornerstone Printing. Alderman for 12 years
When Gary Caldwell first ran for office 12 years ago, his platform was recreation, namely pushing through a town recreation center.
Little has changed, at least as far as his platform is concerned. The recreation center, a crown jewel for Waynesville, is now built. But Caldwell’s got other projects he’s pushing for. He’s the chief advocate behind a skateboard park currently under development. The town has put in $80,000, and gotten $80,000 in grants. That’s only half what’s needed, however, and Caldwell is working on fundraising.
Caldwell also wants to nurture recreation offerings at the Waynesville Armory, which has blossomed lately as a senior recreation center, from bridge games to the new Brain Gym.
“The big thing down there now is pickle ball,” Caldwell said. “You can’t hardly get a parking space.”
Caldwell wants the town to buy a neighboring vacant lot to create more parking for the Armory, and then build sidewalks and plant trees along the street leading to the Armory from Frog Level.
This ties in with his other pet project: revitalizing Frog Level. Caldwell works in Frog Level, and has been active in forging a path from the forgotten side of the tracks to a flavorful downtown business district.
“They call me the mayor of Frog Level,” Caldwell said.
He is brokering a deal now among Frog Level merchants and the town to install street lamps in Frog Level, borrowing from a similar project on Main Street years ago. Businesses raised money for the lampposts, while the town streets and utility workers provided the labor to install them. Caldwell remembers the lamppost project on Main Street nearly failed.
“We just kept bearing down on it,” Caldwell said. And that is his motto for the next four years.
“We just got to keep going on the same track that we are going,” Caldwell said.
Mary Ann Enloe, 70, retired Dayco senior purchasing agent
Mary Ann Enloe is a well-known local politician. She was a county commissioner for eight years and the mayor of Hazelwood for 12 years, its own town prior to merging with Waynesville.
Her heart is in town government, she said. She grew up immersed in it: her father was mayor in Hazelwood for 27 years.
“I have the experience. I have the interest. I have the time,” Enloe said. “If I have a platform, it’s common sense. My daddy taught me that. If all else fails common sense will carry you through.”
Enloe also believes she can bring representation to the Hazelwood area and west side of town.
“Historically people look to me to be their voice when they think they don’t have a voice,” she said when asked who her constituents in politics have been.
Enloe won’t say anything negative about the current town board, however. She has had a bird’s eye view of town government for the past year as a correspondent covering the town for The Mountaineer newspaper.
She quit being a correspondent for the paper after announcing plans to run, given the obvious conflict of interest. But she kept right on going to the twice-a-month town meetings all the same.
That, coupled with her years in town and county government, means she won’t have a learning curve if elected, she said.
She knows the town’s tax rate to the 100th of a penny — 40.82 cents. She can recite how much profit the town made selling electricity last year — $1.2 million. She knows how much debt the town has now, how much will be paid off this year, how much a penny on the property tax rate raises.
“I have a lot to offer,” Enloe said.
As for her view of elected leaders?
“We work for close to 10,000 people,” Enloe said of the town’s population. “We have 10,000 bosses.”
Sam Edwards, 57, substitute teacher and GED instructor
Sam Edwards is conservative by any standard. He believes in not just small, but extremely small government. He believes in only the bare minimum of regulations, preferring for government to get out of the way of business.
Edwards helped start a group called the Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens, which shares many of the ideas and philosophies of the Tea Party.
“There is cross fertilization,” Edwards said of his group and local Tea party followers. The concerned citizens group has registered as a Political Action Committee to donate to town board candidates and take out political ads for candidates.
A web site created by the group blames the town for driving away new businesses with its too-strict development guidelines — guidelines that mandate sidewalks, require so many trees in parking lots, limit the height of signs, and lay out architectural standards.
Edwards said government shouldn’t intervene in such things. If a business wants to build, don’t tell them where or how. Business sense should dictate they build something that looks decent.
“I do not think a responsible business is going to trash the neighborhood they are moving into because they know it is bad for business,” Edwards said.
Edwards admits the metal warehouse design of new Dollar General’s cropping up in the county or the cinderblock architecture that was a hallmark of Walmart in days-gone-by wasn’t particularly pleasing. Nonetheless, he doesn’t like government intervention when it comes to what gets built on private property.
“You have to trust people to make decisions that are good decisions and allow them to be adults and occasionally make mistakes and fail,” Edwards said.
Edwards said government can’t be the problem solver for everything. If kids need a skate park, then private enterprise, not the town, should step up to the plate.
Julia Boyd-Freeman, 44, director of REACH, a domestic violence nonprofit
Julia Boyd-Freeman made an important choice when she moved back to her hometown of Waynesville in her mid-20s.
“The people make the town. It has such a personality of its own that is unique in a way that you don’t see in many areas, and the natural beauty is just incredible.”
That same passion for Waynesville has motivated her to seek a seat on the town board.
“I have a fresh perspective that I think could bring some positive solutions to the challenges we are going to be facing and opportunities coming down the pipeline,” Freeman said.
Freeman was working as an interior designer when she landed the role of REACH director 15 years ago. The organization was between directors, and Freeman, who was on the board, stepped in to serve as an interim but never left.
Freeman is billing herself as a pro-business candidate.
Freeman is one of three challengers in the race criticizing the town’s development standards as too strict. Despite an overhaul of the standards over the past year, a process driven by a blue-ribbon committee comprised mostly of businessmen, Freeman believes the town’s ordinances need to be loosened even more to remove “undue burdens” on business.
“I think it is a priority to start that review process again,” Freeman said.
Freeman is one of three candidates being supported by the conservative group Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens. Freeman, a Republican, does not share all their views, however. She does not believe the town’s new fire and police department are extravagant, nor does she believe the town has been wasteful in spending.
As part of her pro-business platform, Freeman also wants to develop a new road plan for South Main Street that will make the corridor more fertile for business growth. She is concerned about the ability of the town’s aging sewer lines to serve business expansion and wants to perform an assessment of the system.
Coming next week: Did Cracker Barrel really walk away from Waynesville?
Waynesville’s elected leaders believe the town is on a progressive track, one that has made Waynesville one of the most prosperous and desirable towns in Western North Carolina for business and tourists.
The town has been a magnet for development despite the recession, from giant chains such as Best Buy, Staples and PetSmart, to local entrepreneurs opening upscale restaurants, microbreweries and art galleries.
But opponents claim that town leaders have been unfriendly to business, imposing costly development standards. Aimed at improving the aesthetics of commercial districts, the town standards are too arduous and have deterred business from locating here, they say.
The Smoky Mountain News will investigate the truth behind these claims next week.