Five candidates seek Maggie board seats; two mayoral candidates step forward
The town of Maggie Valley is small and only an average of 300 residents vote in any given election, but this year’s race for spots on the town board is shaping up to be full of competition.
Five candidates have signed up to run for two board seats — incumbents Janet Banks and Phillip Wight and challengers Nikki McCauley, Billy Case and Kristen Warstler.
Mayor Ron DeSimone signed up to run again last week but was killed in a tragic construction accident last Friday.
While the community is still grieving from the sudden loss, the election will continue with the two other candidates who signed up to oust DeSimone — Justin Phillips and Jasay Ketchum.
Phillips, 35, owns Organic Beans Coffee Co. in Maggie Valley. He has lived fulltime in the valley for six years and has owned the coffee shop for two years. Phillips believes he would be a good asset to the town because of his experience in sales and marketing. The valley has great assets, but he feels like they need to be marketed better.
“The biggest problem Maggie Valley has is the local government,” he said. “If local government would get out of the way a little bit it would be a huge benefit.”
Phillips said he would like more public involvement in the town meetings, more oversight of taxpayer money, more money spent on repairing potholes and repaving roads and improved aesthetics along Soco Road.
He encounters many people at the coffee shop who have moved here from Asheville to get away form the hectic city and he anticipates that number will grow in the next few years.
“The population will continue to grow and we need to be prepared for it and capitalize on it,” he said.
Ketchum has lived in Maggie Valley for 25 years and has been a regular fixture at town hall meetings for many of those years. Now retired and active with the Catholic church and the community gardens effort, Ketchum had a career as an X-ray technician.
He said he was running because he wants to make sure the public has a say in the decisions being made by the board. Board meetings used to entail quite a bit of discussion, he says. Most of the discussion is now occurring at the board’s “agenda workshops” that are held at 9 a.m. on Wednesdays prior to the Monday night meeting.
Local Realtor Billy Case is making his third attempt at serving on the board. He’s been chairman of Maggie’s planning board for six years and is very familiar with the town’s ordinances and planning and zoning issues.
“I’d like to continue to keep the board transparent and prevent stalemates in the future,” he said. “We’re having some good open discussions and the public feels a little better but I still feel it can be improved.”
His priorities would include balancing the needs of businesses and residential areas, a variety of festivals each year, an anchor at the entrance of the valley to let people know where they are and to look at ways to slow down traffic.
Case said efforts to beautify the town and come up with a master plan for a Maggie Valley town center should continue.
“The town center plan is great — the plan will work, but it takes time,” he said.
McCauley, 49, has lived in Maggie and owned Salty Dogs Seafood and Grill for 10 years. She is fairly new to town politics and said she would begin attending the meetings again to educate herself on the issues.
“I’ve seen what Maggie Valley used to be and how it used to bring people to town and used to flourish for a while and I just want to make a difference and have a positive influence,” she said. “I used to go all the time and got really disappointed in the actions being taken, but if you want to make improvements, you need to step up to the plate and do it.”
Warstler, 24, has lived in Maggie for only four months since relocating from Asheville to be closer to Western Carolina University, where she is earning a degree.
“I found a good community here, and maybe I can bring a new perspective to Maggie Valley,” she said. “I thought it would be a new experience. I feel like I can learn a lot.”
After filling a vacant unexpired term for two years, Banks has decided to run for a four-year term. She said she has learned an incredible amount about municipal government and the town’s ordinances. She’s also attended six training sessions with the N.C. School of Government on different topics, including leadership and budgeting.
“I want to take that experience forward for the next four years and continue on the path this board has chartered,” she said.
While campaigning can be a major task, she is excited to get it going again and welcomes friendly competition among candidates.
“The more candidates you have running out there talking about the town, the better it is for the town — you don’t ever want a race for two seats with two people,” she said.
Wight, who was on the fence about seeking another term just a few weeks ago, decided to sign up at the last minute. Even though he is often the lone opposition on the board lately, he said his opinions on town spending have influenced the board to reduce taxes and pay off debt during his last four years in office.
“I feel like we’re forming a community atmosphere where everyone feels welcome — it took us a while to get there but we’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “I feel like I’ve earned another four years and I hope the voters feel the same way.”