One board seat up for grabs in Jackson
By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer
Jackson County commission candidate Mark Jones, a Democrat, will face Republican Geoff Higginbotham this November in the only contested race for the county board.
This May, Jones defeated challenger Nathan Moss, a self-employed farmer and pastor, in the Democratic primary. Twelve of 13 candidates in the county’s unusually large commissioners campaign pool — fueled partly by incumbents choosing not to seek re-election — ran on the Democratic ticket, with three of the four district seats unchallenged by the Republican party.
Now, only Higginbotham stands in the way of the Democratic Party’s total sweep. However, the retired Marine Corps major general is a formidable opponent. During his 33 years in the military, Higginbotham served around the world, with responsibilities that included the coordination and movement of all forces by sealift and airlift in Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s U.S. Central Command while in the Middle East. He also oversaw the largest construction project in the Department of Defense while in Japan.
Higginbotham was inspired to run for county commissioner by a desire to serve Jackson County communities by making a difference. In turn, Jones was asked to run two years ago by the area’s acting commissioner Eddie Madden, who was considering a bid for chairman. Madden chose not to seek re-election this year, citing family obligations.
Consequently, Jones threw his hat in the ring.
As with the May 2 primary election, in which Jackson County voters were faced with the question of what kind of board of county commissioners they wanted to shape growth in the coming years, this partisan election revisits many of the same issues.
One hot-button issue that was off the table in the primaries is once again a non-issue — zoning. Each candidate was then, and is now, against the controlled development measure, often billed as the nail in the coffin of any electoral platform.
However, both Higginbotham and Jones are in favor of ordinances to protect health and safety, and preserving the natural landscape.
Higginbotham said it is necessary to have regulations controlling steep slope, flood plain and mountain ridge construction.
Jones said that the county has an advantage in that many of these types of ordinances have already been written in nearby mountain counties. Interest in land use planning has risen lately as a result of a proposed rock quarry to be located in the Tuckasegee community.
“With the recent rock quarry in Tuckasegee I truly think Jackson County people are more interested in some of the land issues when it affects them in their backyards,” Jones said.
Land use planning, such as designing roads specifically with emergency personnel in mind was a concern for Jones, who has made increasing police presence, particularly in outlying areas, a focus of his campaign.
“We need police presence everywhere,” Jones said.
Similarly, Higginbotham says crime in Jackson County is most often associated with methamphetamines or gangs. To combat the rise in crime, he will work for sheriff’s department funding and effective expenditures.
“It is commissioners responsibility to make sure that the sheriff’s department is funded,” Higginbotham said.
However, one should not simply throw money at the problem. Rather funding should be tied to performance, Higginbotham said.
One defining characteristic in each candidate’s platforms lies in their approach to the local economy.
Jones said that while jobs are a concern for the future, the county’s continued growth should provide jobs relating to the housing market such as contractors and plumbers, and related service industries.
“I don’t see a downward trend of construction for 20 years, I truly don’t,” Jones said. “We will need people helping us with housekeeping, mowing and yard maintenance.”
Those types of jobs in Cashiers pay well. Second homeowners aren’t looking for the lowest rate, but the highest quality. Such labor may bring in around $12 an hour, Jones said.
Higginbotham, on the other hand, citing his work with Western Carolina University’s Institute for the Economy and Future, hopes to help create public-private partnerships that will attract new businesses.
“We’re talking about high-tech jobs, 21st Century high-tech jobs,” Higginbotham said.
Having such jobs available will increase the retention of local youth, who often go to college and seek jobs elsewhere because there is a lack of opportunity in their chosen field at home.