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Candidates call for a Canton comeback

haywoodAfter two years of getting a feel for Canton politics, two Canton aldermen hope to continue their work for another four years.

Gail Mull and Ralph Hamlett were both elected to the Canton Board of Aldermen in 2013 to serve two-year terms in order to begin staggering the board elections in Canton. Both candidates plan to run for a full four-year term in the November election.

Filing for municipal elections begins July 6 and ends July 17. This year’s election is Nov. 3. 

A self-proclaimed “unlikely politician,” Mull said she enjoyed her first two years more than she thought she would.

“I feel like we have a good, cohesive board and did some good things,” she said. “But I guess we’ll find out what the public opinion is in November.”

Hamlett, a professor at Brevard College, said he also feels very optimistic about the current board and the progress being made in Canton. He said the two years really served as a learning curve for the entire board, but now with a unified vision in place, he wants to see projects come to fruition. 

“I hear a lot positive feedback. Often times people will come up to me on the street or in the grocery store and tell me there’s a new feel in Canton and they like it,” he said. “What I’m told is that people have noticed a difference, but we’ll see in November how they really feel.”

Prior to the 2013 election, the mayor and the board members were all up for election at the same time. With the potential for complete turnover every four years — which is what happened when the entire board decided not to run again in 2013 — staggered terms were implemented. 

Not only did Canton start out with a completely new board in 2014, but it also started out with a new town manager — Seth Hendler-Voss. Hiring new leadership after longtime Town Manager Al Matthews retired was a long and arduous process, but board members seem pleased with their choice. 

Hendler-Voss has brought a youthful and progressive leadership style and a renewed since of energy to the town. He has been instrumental in addressing some of Canton’s top concerns — reviving downtown, revamping Canton’s Labor Day celebration and making economic development a top priority. 

“He is so innovative and such a hard worker,” Mull said of Hendler-Voss. “We could not have done everything we’ve done without him.”

Mull said all of the projects the town is working on basically boil down to improving the town’s economic development. The board is trying to draw more people to Canton with its 109th annual Canton Labor Day Celebration, trying to attract more businesses by requiring downtown commercial building owners to better maintain their structures and responding to the needs of residents by making upgrades to parks and recreation facilities. 

While looking to the future, Mull said the board also was trying to be thankful for what the town already has, which is a paper mill that employees more than 1,000 people. 

“I’ve lived here my entire life — 67 years — and I’ve seen good times and bad times,” Mull said. “The mill (Evergreen Packaging) is the most positive thing we have going for us. Many small towns would give anything to have something like that, so we can’t forget that.”

Mull and Hamlett are ready to throw their hats in the ring again, but board members say they haven’t heard of anyone else who might be thinking about running against them. If Mull and Hamlett are re-elected, it will be an indicator that voters approve of the direction the board is moving. If they are replaced — and depending on who replaces them — it could derail the current progress. 

Mayor Mike Ray has been on the disagreeing side a few times in the last two years, but he can only vote in the event of a tie. Ray ran unopposed in 2013 and began his third term as mayor with a completely new board. 

It’s not that Ray opposes what the board wants to do, but he sometimes opposes the way the board wants to do it. Alderwoman Carole Edwards often sides with Ray on issues, which can lead to a 3-1 vote. However, if Mull or Hamlett are replaced, the vote could begin swinging the other way.

Hamlett said every member of the board is intelligent and offers his or her own perspective on issues. As he often says, “the board can disagree without being disagreeable.” 

“I think overall the board works well together,” Mull said. “We may disagree on how to get there, but we all have the same goals — it’s just a matter of everyone coming to a consensus. You’re never going to agree on everything.”

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