Archived Opinion

In Rep. Presnell’s view, it’s local leaders be damned

op frSome teacher a long time ago explained to my class of intro to political science undergrads the difference between a statesman and a representative. The statesman, once elected, votes his conscience and does not necessarily bend with the whims of voters; the representative votes according to the wishes of their constituency. That’s a notable difference. What’s confusing, though, is when a leader goes both ways, depending on which is most convenient.


As Haywood leaders try to convince Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville, to support a hike in the room tax from 4 to 6 percent that almost everyone who holds elected office in the county favors, I was reading what she had said about the tax and trying to figure out where her opposition is coming from.


Rep. Presnell has called the bill controversial. 

“This is a very controversial bill. That is a fact,” Presnell said. “It is still controversial.”

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The “still controversial” is her description after Maggie Valley’s board voted 4-1 in favor of hiking the occupancy tax by a penny. Maggie Valley’s decision follows unanimous votes last year by Waynesville, Clyde and Canton, along with the Haywood County commissioners, to ask our legislative delegation to approve the room tax hike. The proposal must be passed by the General Assembly, and Haywood’s other two reps — Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, and Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville — support it.

So despite the support of every elected leader in Haywood except one — Maggie Valley’s Phillip Wight — Rep. Presnell is still refusing to support it and still referring to it as “controversial.”

I attended the Haywood Council of Government meeting in January that was held in Clyde. The COG provides the elected municipal and county leaders in any particular county the opportunity to get together and discuss important matters. At that meeting, elected leaders once again voiced overwhelming support for the room tax hike. County Commissioner Kevin Ensley, in fact, pointed out that it wasn’t just elected officials who want this bill to pass.

“It’s not just the elected boards who support this,” said Ensley. “The Economic Development Commission, the Recreation Advisory Committee, and the Tourism Development Authority are all for it. Democrats and Republicans support it.”

On Rep. Presnell’s side is a recently passed resolution from the Haywood County GOP, which puts it on record against the tax. But the GOP in Haywood is divided. Commissioner Ensley is a Republican, and he says a small faction has now taken over the party. No doubt others are against the bill, but by any measure it has the overwhelming support of those elected to lead Haywood County.

Tourism is the industry in Haywood (Evergreen Products in Canton notwithstanding), and so those who want the county’s economy to continue pulling out of this recession know this bill is tool to help achieve that without taxing locals. 

The only conclusion I can make is that Rep. Presnell must be voting her conscience: tax increases are no good no matter what.

Presnell, who is from Burnsville and only represents a portion of Haywood because of the gerrymandered district that was drawn to elect a Republican, took a different approach to governing last summer when the Lake Junaluska-Waynesville merger bill was under consideration. 

Despite support from Lake Junaluska leaders and Waynesville’s elected board, despite extraordinary efforts by Lake Junaluska to gauge public opinion that included a property owner survey in which 65 percent said they approved the merger, Rep. Presnell did not get behind the bill and shepherd it through the House.

Late in the game, she said she would support the measure if a formal referendum was held and residents said yes. So with the Lake Junaluska-Waynesville merger issue, Presnell fell back on the will of her constituents (although her district does not actually include Lake Junaluska). If they spend the time and money to hold a referendum and vote yes, she’ll lend her support to the bill.

In two of the most pivotal issues Haywood County leaders have dealt with over the last year, Rep. Presnell has come out against the wishes of most of her constituents and in opposition to the desires of the county’s elected leaders. That’s not the way it is supposed to work. She may as well be saying my way or the highway, local leaders be damned. 

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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