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Moving a small town forward: Clyde board candidates debate the issues

haywoodClyde may be a tiny little two-stoplight town, but at a recent candidate forum, the panel of contenders for seats in the upcoming town board elections was full of ideas on how to grow the town while maintaining its close-knit heritage.

Communication and community involvement were chief among the topics of conversation, with challengers and recently appointed board members suggesting that the town should make government accessibility a priority. Namely, the board should think seriously about changing its traditional 3 p.m. Wednesday meeting time. 

“I believe these meetings should be moved to the evenings where more of the community could attend,” said Melanie Cochran, who is challenging incumbent Frank Lay. 

Cynthia Golden, a challenger for the mayor’s seat, agreed, adding that because Clyde business owners who don’t live in town limits can’t vote in its elections, board meetings are one of the few ways for their voices to be heard. She’d like to hold the meetings at a time when they’ll be able to make it. 

“There are decisions being made for them that they don’t have a say in,” Golden said.

Lay and Dan Jesse, an incumbent board member who is running unopposed, agreed that evening meetings would promote more community involvement in town decisions and said they’d make the issue a priority if re-elected. 

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Incumbents James Mashburn and Mayor Jerry Walker, however, disagreed. 

“We’ve got a lot of old people in this area, and they don’t like to get out after dark and such as that and we changed it on that reason years ago,” Walker said. 

Some candidates added that, regardless of meeting times, the town should look at promoting other avenues of communication — perhaps publishing the town’s quarterly newsletter monthly instead, or putting a sign in front of town hall advertising upcoming events. 

“I think signs posted in front of town hall would help a lot of people participate in the community,” Cochran said. 

Curb appeal was another big topic of conversation. Clyde is a small town, but it’s a great town, candidates said. The town’s appearance should reflect that, so ongoing beautification projects should be a priority. 

But beyond that, some candidates said, the town should look at spearheading some festivals and special events, perhaps with the aim of creating revenue for the town outside of what it takes in from property taxes, which candidates said they would not raise.

“I believe that there are ways that we can start small,” Golden said. For instance, what if the town created its own drive-in movie theater? Vendors could be invited, perhaps a small admission charged, and it would be a chance for the town to come together and enjoy a nostalgic pastime. 

Golden said she’d also like to spend time learning from other communities that have successfully created artistic and shopping districts, such as the River Arts District in Asheville. 

“We can’t just sit back and let Clyde fade away,” Golden said. “We have to take action, and action means change.” 

Not everyone thinks that Clyde needs to become a hub for shopping and festivals to be successful, though. Walker has lived on Smathers Street in Clyde for more than 40 years and feels the town has a pretty solid identity already. 

“We got festivals in Canton and festivals in Waynesville, and we just never have worried about having a festival of any kind, but we do have activities,” Walker said. 

According to Lay, improving Internet service should be a priority for the new board. 

“I think that high-speed Internet access to all the homes helps us to teach our kids,” he said. “It really gives us a lot of opportunities.” 

The town had been working on the issue with Maggie Valley Mayor Ron DeSimone, Walker said, but after DeSimone died this summer in a tragic construction accident, that effort stalled. 

“I think it is a huge service that needs to be researched, further delved into,” Golden said. 



The cast of characters

The Clyde town election has six people running for four seats. Cindy Golden is running against incumbent Jerry Walker for the mayor’s seat, and Melanie Cochran is challenging Frank Lay for his seat on the board, which he was appointed to earlier this year. Incumbent board members James Mashburn and Dann Jesse are running unopposed. 

Cynthia (Cindy) Golden

• Age: 36

• Professional background: Owner of art-to-order business Golden Expressions, currently pursuing a master’s degree in theology, former missionary in Scotland and Nicaragua. 

• Political experience: Golden has not held elected office before. 

• Reason to run: “In the last five years having lived in Clyde, I’ve seen little to no change, and there are things I’d like to see done. I believe that I can help propel those things into motion.” 

Jerry Walker 

• Age: 79

• Professional background: Worked for 41 years in maintenance for the Champion International mill in Canton, now owned by Evergreen Packaging. 

• Political experience: Served 24 years as Clyde alderman and 11 years as mayor. 

• Reason to run: “I’ve got some stuff started that I’d like to see finished.”

Melanie Cochran

• Age: 38

• Professional background: Worked as a dental assistant for 12 years and worked 2.5 years with the Haywood County Department of Health and Human Services.

• Political experience: Cochran has not held elected office before.

• Reason to run: “I know that Clyde can grow, and I would like to see the growth of Clyde and the community pull together like they did back in 2004 from the flood.”

Frank Lay

• Age: 47

• Professional background: Has been a licensed attorney since 1996, currently operating his own practice focusing on criminal law with some domestic and government work. 

• Political experience: Lay was appointed to fill an unexpired term on the Clyde board four months ago. 

• Reason to run: “There are issues to me of interest and concern, and I want to give back to the community.” 

Dann Jesse

• Age: 58

• Professional background: Has worked 35 years for Evergreen Packaging, currently as systems engineering manager.

• Political experience: Jesse was appointed to the town board in April to fill an unexpired term. 

• Reason to run: “I raised my family here and I feel like it is a good place to raise a family. I want to maintain that atmosphere that worked for us.”

James Mashburn 

• Age: 75

• Professional background: Career included work as tax appraiser for Haywood County and 29 years as a supervisor at Dayco Corporation. 

• Political experience: Served 11 years as Clyde alderman

• Reason to run: “To be perfectly honest, I like my job. I like the people in Clyde. I’m excited to do it. It’s a good thing for me to do.”

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