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Waynesville candidates share vision of an even more prosperous town

fr mayorraceWaynesville candidates running for the town board and mayor got an audience with the business community last week at the monthly Issues and Eggs breakfast hosted by the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce.

Candidates universally touted a desire to make Waynesville more business-friendly.

“It is my intention to increase economic development and make our town strong and our tourism and industry even better,” said Alderman Gary Caldwell, who’s running for re-election.

Pro-business talking points weren’t trotted out as mere lip service for the chamber crowd. Economic development was widely mentioned in the platforms of several candidates during earlier interviews when asked about their goals and reasons for running.

“I think the absolute top of the list of my priorities is economic development,” said challenger Jon Feichter, a small business owner. 

Feichter said there’s an “unfounded perception” that Waynesville is a difficult place to do business in.

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“Nevertheless the perception is out there, so what do we do to help reverse that perception?” said Feichter, a member of the town planning board. Feichter offered a concrete suggestion of helping new businesses comply with town sidewalk requirements by providing labor if the businesses paid for the materials.

Candidates were limited to only three minutes of floor time, making it difficult to convey much substance. But there were a few distinctions in the candidates’ views on improving commerce.

Phillip Gibbs, a challenger for a town board seat, emphasized the importance of creating jobs so young people can stay here rather than “have to pick up and leave.”

“A community without young people is a dying community. Growing is better than dying. If we don’t grow, we will be dying,” said Gibbs.

Jonnie Cure, a candidate for mayor, said several of her children have made their way in Waynesville by going into business for themselves.

“Talk about opportunities in Waynesville, they are abundant,” Cure said.

But in a follow-up interview, she said they didn’t always have an easy row to hoe and had to overcome hurdles due to town policies.

“There are horror stories out there that are unforgiveable,” said Cure, who takes issue with burdensome regulations that make things more difficult for businesses.

Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown, who has been active on various economic development boards over the past three decades, said it was “intriguing” that candidates focused on the economy at the chamber gathering.

“The town of Waynesville has an important role to play in the economic development of the community,” said Brown, citing that as one of many differences between himself and Cure. “My esteemed opponent doesn’t believe that government has any business in business. I believe government and business need to be in partnership together.”

Cure suggested that Brown survey the business owners of Waynesville and see how many are interested in “partnering” with government.

“I would bet him lunch at The Patio they will say ‘Hell no, Gavin Brown,’” Cure replied.

A couple of candidates mentioned quality of life as paramount to creating a robust economy.

“I really want to make Waynesville the best place to live, work and play,” said candidate Anthony Sutton. Sutton mentioned expanding natural gas availability and high-speed Internet as ways to improve quality of life, along with continued recreation initiatives to “broaden Waynesville’s appeal as a destination for outdoor activities.”

“Together we can make Waynesville a town of progress and vision,” Sutton said, citing “smart and sustainable growth.”

Alderwoman Julia Freeman said town board policies do impact businesses, but also pointed to the bigger picture of creating a vibrant community that in turn supports and underpins a healthy economy.

“That is why we must review current policies to ensure that they promote sustainable growth, improve the quality of life of our citizens and employees, and protect town assets such as the watershed,” said Freeman in a follow-up interview.

Alderman Leroy Roberson, a long-time small business owner in town, cited the importance of sustaining locally owned businesses — a common refrain during his tenure on the board.

“As alderman I have made my priorities supporting small local business development that provide jobs and income to Waynesville,” Roberson wrote in prepared comments delivered by his wife, Gail.

There was another universal theme in the candidates’ speeches. All claimed there was nowhere better than Waynesville.

“I love our town and to me Waynesville is still one of the greatest places in the world to live. That’s the reason people want to come here. I want to do my part to keep it that way,” said Kenny Mull, a challenger for alderman.

(The Smoky Mountain News will provide more in-depth coverage of the candidates and issues as the campaign season heats up.)


Who’s up? 

Ten candidates are running for five seats on the Waynesville town board this November: seven candidates for aldermen and three for mayor.

All the current officeholders are running for re-election except one, Alderman Wells Greeley.

In an interesting twist, one candidate who initially signed up to run as a challenger for mayor is telling people not to vote for him. While Lynn Bradley’s name will appear on the ballot, he changed his mind and isn’t really running, but it was too late to get his name struck. He is asking voters to throw their support the other challenger on the ballot — Jonnie Cure — instead of him.

Running for mayor are current Mayor Gavin Brown and challenger Jonnie Cure (although Bradley will be on the ballot, too.) Running for town board are current Aldermen Gary Caldwell, Leroy Roberson and Julia Freeman, and challengers John Feichter, Phillip Gibbs, Kenny Mull and Anthony Sutton.

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