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Haywood’s old and new tax collectors settle into new roles

When Haywood County’s long-time tax collector David Francis was narrowly ousted by a younger, inexperienced opponent in last fall’s election, county commissioners decided to keep Francis around anyway as a mentor for his successor Mike Matthews.

Keeping Francis on to train Matthews seemed a little awkward on the surface — since the two had just been campaigning against each other days earlier — but it was billed as a temporary arrangement to get through the transition. 

County commissioners this week decided to make that arrangement permanent. 

Francis said he already had a job in the private sector lined up, but would rather be where he is.

“I am happy to stay with Haywood County. This is my home and I think we have done lots of good work in the past,” Francis said.

Before Matthews won the seat of tax collector, Francis had been serving in a dual roles: as both tax collector and tax administrator, which also oversees of property value appraisals, property assessments, mapping and land records.

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Francis will keep the title of tax administrator, while Matthews fills the more narrow capacity of tax collector.

The changing of the guard in the Haywood County tax office exploded into a political drama following last fall’s election. Republican activists who recruited and backed Matthews as a candidate felt slighted that the county would peel off the tax collector duties to give Matthews, while letting their crony Francis keep his larger administrative role. 

Matthews said he was actually glad for Francis’ assistance and support, especially early on, but even going forward.

“He has been a huge help,” Matthews said. “We are up to speed now but it is nice to have his experience in the building where you can just pick up the phone and ask when something new comes up.”

It’s not unusual for counties to have a separate tax collector and tax administrator — they are two separate positions in Buncombe, Jackson and Macon counties. 

Commissioners also said Matthews didn’t have the experience to take on a larger management role of tax administrator, so the position would have simply been jettisoned or filled by someone else if the county hadn’t decided to keep Francis on.

The county does have the added salary load of Matthews’ —  who gets $55,000 as tax collector —  on top of Francis’ salary of $77,000.

But Francis will actually serve in a trio of capacities going forward tax administrator, trash and landfill manager and department and project evaluations.

On the trash side, the county has gradually privatized every aspect of the trash operations over the past few years: its landfill, trash hauling, convenience centers, recycling processing, and the central repository for bulky items like sofas, old refrigerators or car batteries.

But the county still needs someone to oversee the contractors who handle the solid waste stream, and that person will be Francis. Francis was already a special project manager for trash over the past few years, leading the privatization transition.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick pointed out Francis is technically assuming the role of the departed solid waste director, and it is not a new position per se.

The last part of Francis new job description is program evaluator, who will work in a floating capacity.

“It’s another set of eyes if we have some issues or to analyze departments to help create efficiencies,” County Manager Ira Dove said.

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