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Candidates answer call for change in Bryson

swainThe five newcomers running for the Bryson City Board of Aldermen and mayor have made it clear they want to see some new faces on the board and some much-needed change to the town.

Four new candidates are running in an attempt to unseat incumbents Jim Gribble and Kate Welch, while one candidate is challenging one-term Mayor Tom Sutton. 

The complaints from candidates seem to center around the current board not being effective at making timely decisions and isolating itself from other players in the county, including the Chamber of Commerce, Bryson City merchants and the county government. 

Alderman candidate Tee Angel said she wouldn’t even mind if she didn’t get elected as long as people voted in some new blood on the board.

“We have all good candidates running so don’t worry about hurting my feelings,” she said. “The main thing I hear over and over is that people want change. The current aldermen have done a good job and served their time, but now it’s time for change.”

Alderman candidate Heidi Woodard agreed that Gribble and Welch have no doubt done a lot for the town over the years but fresh views and ideas would be a welcome addition for the town government. As a chamber employee, she has seen firsthand the lack of cooperation and collaboration between the town board and community organizations. 

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“I want to see restored networking and communication with the county and other entities such as the merchants association and the chamber,” she said. “We should all work together to accomplish things.” 

 

Making timely decisions 

Candidates say the current board doesn’t make decisions in a timely manner because they table an issue if the board doesn’t reach unanimous consensus or if one of the aldermen is absent from the meeting. 

Mayor Tom Sutton, who is running for re-election, said the way the board has been operating is somewhat problematic because it prevents important decisions from being made. That way of operating is not a written policy or anything, Sutton said, it’s just the way the board has been doing it.  

“It inadvertently gives each member a veto power — if there’s not unanimous support or one member is absent they don’t vote and that can slow things down,” he said. 

Tim Hines, who is running for alderman, said the pending Fry Street closure was a good example of how the town has stalled important issues. It’s been more than a year since the town was asked to give up its right of way on Fry Street so the street can be shut down to vehicle traffic, but the board still hasn’t made a decision. 

With so much pedestrian traffic in the area near the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad depot, many say Fry Street has become a safety concern. The Tourism Development Authority and the railroad also have plans to build the Fry Street area into a pedestrian-friendly plaza with landscaping, a stage and more space for pedestrians to hang out after they get off the train. 

The board has been holding public hearings about the possible closure and has temporarily closed the street through the holidays for the Polar Express crowds, but a final decision may still be months away.

“I commend the current board for holding public forums on this topic, especially in a larger venue than the normal meeting space, but this should have been done months and months ago,” Hines said. 

In talking with people in the community who are against closing Fry Street, alderman candidate Mike Treadway said the lack of public parking was a concern. If the road closes and a pedestrian plaza is constructed, the parking spots on Fry Street will be gone. 

“I thought the plan was gorgeous that they put together for the property and I love the idea of the whole depot and historic architecture,” he said. “I think there are some real pluses and some real concerns.”

Catherine Cuthbertson, who is running for mayor, said many people in town are against it because they feel that the railroad and its partnerships have too much control in town as it is. However, she thinks the plans for the plaza look great and that a mutually beneficial decision can be made. 

“Also, I would like to explore the possibility of the town renovating Fry Street with pedestrian safety, merchant loading/unloading, parking and a park-like setting in mind,” she said. 

Woodard and Angel are both in favor of closing Fry Street if only for the safety concerns. Angel’s business is just across the railroad tracks and she sees the near misses that occur between cars and pedestrians. They also hope the plaza would encourage visitors to stay longer in downtown. 

“The idea of losing parking is simply a misrepresentation — we’d be gaining parking in the back and it will be a valuable place that will help the merchants — right now people can’t linger in a parking lot,” Angel said.

 

Building for the future

Having sound infrastructure and policies in place to protect the aesthetic beauty of downtown is important to the candidates. 

It’s something the board is constantly working on, according to Mayor Tom Sutton. During his first term, he said the town has upgraded its water and sewer system, replaced all the old water meters with new digital meters and completed a number of street paving and repair projects. 

“We’re always going to be working on infrastructure,” he said. 

As someone who has worked for the school system for many years, Treadway said he understands what small towns are up against financially. There is only so much money and too many projects that need to be completed. He said the town had to be smart when it comes to prioritizing to maximize its limited funding. 

Cuthbertson said she would like to see the town fill all the potholes in the city then arrange for a prioritized list of streets to be paved by the department of transportation — the amount of traffic a road receives should be a major factor in where it falls on the priority list. 

Woodard said she would like to see zoning requirements in place for downtown Franklin to ensure the aesthetics that bring people there is maintained.

Angel agreed beautification efforts needed to continue — a better appearance will lead to more visitors and shoppers, which equals more prosperity for the local businesses. 

Hines said zoning was always a sensitive subject because it’s restricting what someone can or can’t do with their private property, but he said many residents have mentioned the importance of cleanliness of properties in town. Before the town considers zoning, he would like to see an effort between city resources and local property owners.  

“For example, if someone owns a property that is full of trash and clutter, the city could offer to assist with roll-off dumpsters at a discounted rate,” Hines said. “If a business building in the heart of our town needs a good cleaning/pressure washing, the city could develop a discounted pricing for the city to assist with cleaning.”  

 

 

Mayoral candidates

Catherine Cuthbertson, 60

• Profession: School psychologist

• Political experience: None

• Why are you running? “I am running to offer a choice of candidates for the mayor of Bryson City and hopefully increase citizen participation.”

Tom Sutton (incumbent), 57

• Profession: State probation and parole officer

• Political experience: One term as mayor 

• Why are you running? “I feel like I’ve got some unfinished business and I enjoy the job and being able to contribute.”

 

Alderman candidates

Heidi Woodard, 37

• Profession: Membership coordinator for the Swain County Chamber of Commerce 

• Political experience: None

• Why are you running? “I see this as a great opportunity to participate in the town I grew up in and love. I want to see positive growth for the future.”

Mike Treadway, Age: 45

• Profession: Director of Exceptional Children and former principal and teacher for Swain County Schools.

• Political experience: None

• Why are you running? “I don’t have an agenda, but as I was reading the paper leading up to the filing date, the incumbents were the only ones filed. I thought surely folks ought to have some choice.”

Tim Hines, Age: 36

• Profession: IT helpdesk supervisor at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort

• Political experience: None

• Why are you running? “Personally, to give back to the town that has given me so much and to be a positive example to my daughter. I want to show her that if you want to see change happen, you have to take an active role.”

Tee Angel, 57

• Profession: Business owner – Anthony’s Italian Restaurant, Derailed Bar and Angel Cabins

• Political experience: Former board member of Swain County Tourism Development Authority, current member of Bryson City Merchants Association. 

• Why are you running? “Because I feel like we need a change in how we approach things. We’re a community and we need to be bound together — not set apart.” 

*Editor’s Note: Jim Gribble, who is seeking re-election for alderman, did not return phone calls seeking an interview. Incumbent candidate Kate Welch returned a phone call but said she was unavailable for an interview due to a death in the family. 

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