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Who loves Waynesville most? Town board candidates pledge undying devotion to Waynesville

fr forumCandidates running for the Waynesville town board can’t seem to talk about their campaign platforms without first saying how much they love Waynesville, and, for good measure, repeating it often. Sometimes very often.

If the election was a matter of who loved Waynesville most, it could be a seven-way tie. But only four will ultimately land a seat on the town board when the dust settles.

This week, you can get a flavor for what each candidate would bring to the board, and their take on Waynesville’s greatness.


Gary Caldwell, 62, regional printing and publication representative for Clarke Communication

Caldwell has been on the town board for 20 years, offering institutional knowledge that’s an asset to the town.

“I feel like I am doing a service being there as long as I have and having the knowledge I have.”

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He also prides himself on being a liaison for residents.

Caldwell is routinely called or stopped on the street — even passed notes in church sometimes — from residents who need help with an issue. Earlier this month he got a call about a dangerous gulley that had opened up along the road shoulder in a blind curve.

“She said ‘Gary, I know you are the one I need to talk to.’ I get right on it, I don’t hesitate. I know the right resources to go to. I am probably the one on the board that is most in touch with the people out there.”

Caldwell first ran 20 years ago amid debate over whether to build a town recreation center.

“You had a group that was for it and a group that was against it. I was in the group that was for it. We bit the bullet and we did it.”

That was 20 years ago, and he’s still running.


Jon Feichter, 50, owner of New Meridian Technologies, an IT service firm providing computer and networking services

If you’ve encountered Feichter on the campaign trail, you’ve probably heard the story of his youthful exuberance after graduating from college, when he pointed his car toward Atlanta and allegedly — as the story goes — told his mother he was never coming back.

Feichter soon found himself dying to get back to what he left behind and start his own family here, and his own company as well. He’s served on the town planning board since 2009, as his father did before him, and is now running for town board, in the footsteps of his mother, Libba.

“I was exposed to the value of public service early and often and it would have been next to impossible for me not to have developed that same desire.”

He hopes to bring a new generation of engagement between the town and its residents.

“That is one of the things that I am key on. We need to find ways to seek out additional input. One of the things I would really focus on if elected is increasing the citizen participation.”

Feichter has some specific ideas on that front, too.

“The other thing that I’m extremely passionate about is collaborating with smart, engaged and enthusiastic people to tackle problems and come up with solutions together.  I get such a charge out of coming together and finding the best possible solution.”


Julia Freeman, 48, director of REACH domestic violence nonprofit

Freeman’s not only adept at moving in organizational and government structures but also understands what it means to serve others — a skill she has acquired as the director of REACH that makes her well-suited for the role of town board.

“I have a complete working knowledge of how governments work. Working with state and federal budgets, that’s part of my job daily. Giving back to the community is also something I do on a daily basis. I bring an open mind and willingness to work with other people.”

Freeman has been on the town board four years.

“The decisions we make impact the community across the board. They are very serious decisions.”

Some are probably never on the public’s radar, but help make Waynesville better every day — whether it is installing grant-funded electric car charging outlets downtown, building a new police evidence room and in-house fingerprinting analysis lab, implementing wellness initiatives for employees or partnering with Frog Level merchants to put in historic street lamps, Freeman said, rattling off more than could fit here.

Freeman said the town’s employees are its best asset.


Philip Gibbs, 70, retired paper mill worker

Gibbs is running on a dual platform of job creation and bridging the divide of Waynesville’s forgotten blue-collar majority.

He hopes to be a voice for the poor and working-class people who have been shuffled aside as Waynesville has evolved into a vibrant model town.

“These are the people we have to reach out to and take care of. They are so unheard. It is sort of they are lost out there and nobody cares. The only thing we can think about is making Waynesville the way we want it to be so the elite can enjoy it. We are too busy with this town vision to see the other side of Waynesville. They say it seems like the town has forgotten about them.”

Gibbs pledges to represent the common man.

“Waynesville needs some new direction. Waynesville needs some diversity. Waynesville needs to loosen up their collar a little bit.”

Gibbs is one of the few candidates who has been going door to door in neighborhoods asking people for their vote. What’s his elevator speech?

“I want you to know I will be your voice and I will speak for you, but I need your help.”


Kenny Mull, 61, co-owner of family-run Bob’s Sports Store

It’s hard to say what Mull’s better known as: the owner of Bob’s Sport Store or Little League coach. He’s done both forever. Since the mid-1970s, he has been behind the counter of the family-owned store or behind the pitcher’s mound on the Little League field.

Mull said he is a down-home local boy, and that’s the type of alderman he would want to be.

“I feel like I have a good rapport with the people. They know me and they can talk to me. I want people to come to me and relate to me and feel comfortable.”

Even if what the majority wants isn’t the best or most-informed choice?

“You should still go with what the majorityof the people who put you in there want.”


Leroy Roberson, 71, retired optometrist

Roberson said Waynesville’s track record and stellar reputation speak volumes for why voters should re-elect the current board members. 

“Stay the course that we have. The wrong town board can sink it.”

It’s not an accident Waynesville is a great town. 

“We don’t do things haphazardly. We have a very good reputation. I think the governance of Waynesville is well-thought of. We think about an issue, judge its merits, and make a decision based on the merits and what’s best for the town.”

Roberson served on the town board in the 1990s for five years and took a decade-long break before running again in 2007 — for a total of 12 years as alderman, although not consecutive.

Roberson said he wants the town to do what it can to ensure small, locally owned businesses aren’t trampled by out-of-town corporate chains.

“That is my primary platform, to support the small businesses and make sure they have the opportunity to succeed.”


Anthony Sutton, 43, accounting and systems manager for Biltmore Farms development group based in Asheville

Sutton is running on a campaign platform of making Waynesville the best town in which to live, work and play, with specific ideas to enhance each arena of his “live, work and play” slogan — all the while maintaining the town’s character and fostering sustainable growth.

Sutton supports proactive planning and the town’s motto of “Progress with Vision.”

“You can’t put everything on autopilot. If you keep a plane on autopilot long enough, you crash. It is something that needs to be fostered and looked after.”

Sutton started as a night auditor at a hotel in the Biltmore Farms development group, and quickly rose to upper level management thanks to his keenness for planning, analysis and goal tracking. 

Sutton oversees a budget many times the size of Waynesville’s, which would make him an asset on the town board.

“You need a good mix on a town board. You need someone on the board who is compassionate. You need someone on the board who will fight for the police and fire department. We don’t need to all be the same. But you need someone who is analytical and has a good financial background. It is not that you don’t trust the department heads that are doing it but you always wants someone who will challenge your perception of what is going on.”


What makes Waynesville great?

Here’s what candidates had to say about why they love Waynesville and how they think it is perceived by others.

Town board candidates: pick four

“It is a very beautiful small community. When I am stuck in traffic I think I could not be stuck in traffic at a better place. The good thing is you know everybody and the bad thing is you know everybody. It is a great place to live and I want to continue to make it a great place for generations to come.” 

— Anthony Sutton

“When you travel to various meetings across the state, people know Waynesville, and they just love it. Just look at how many people have visited here and are now residents. They fell in love.” 

— Julia Freeman

“We have become an example for other municipalities to follow, especially with our Main Street program. Other towns say ‘how can we do this?’ We need to want to work together to ensure the high quality of life while preserving the beauty and nature so much of us depend on.” 

— Leroy Roberson

“The beauty here is what really, really draws people. Who else in the world has water that’s first come, first served out of the mountains? We are very well known for our law enforcement here. Our police officers are top notch.” 

— Gary Caldwell

“Waynesville is a great little town to live in. I want to help Waynesville grow and to be an even better place to work and raise a family.” 

— Philip Gibbs

“I think people out of this area look at this as a nice place to visit. It makes me feel good to be able to say ‘Yeah that’s where we are from.’ To me Waynesville is still one of the greatest places in the world to live. That’s the reason people want to come here and I want to do my part to keep it that way.” 

— Kenny Mull

“I think Waynesville has an absolutely sterling reputation worldwide. You tell people that you are from Waynesville their face lights up. It is always ‘Oh my gosh, I love Waynesville, what a nice town Waynesville is.’ It is gratifying to hear that because that is what I believe.”

— Jon Feichter

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