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Vice mayor aspirant to challenge incumbent for mayor

Two-term Franklin Alderman Bob Scott has wanted a turn as vice mayor going back a while — an honor that traditionally rotates among aldermen. But a couple of years ago, Mayor Joe Collins reportedly told him, Bob, “ain’t gonna happen.”

So instead, Scott’s gunning for the mayor’s spot.

Collins, who’s completing his third two-year term, said he wasn’t taken unawares by the news of Scott’s challenge. “It’s a small town; you hear things,” Collins said. “I look forward to the race and all, it’s not a surprise. Certainly it’s a choice he’s free to make.”

Collins didn’t want to get into personalities. Nor is the vice mayor episode necessarily what’s mainly driving Scott’s run — but his issue with the mayor’s leadership style is clearly part of the picture.

Collins has no official say in whether or when Scott might have been tapped as vice mayor. The board as a whole name one of their own to the post. But Collins seemed to have had an inside line on whether the board had any interest in elevating Scott.

That relates to one of Scott’s ongoing beefs with Collins. He charges that the mayor communicates selectively, outside of meetings, with favored members of the town board — and he isn’t part of that circle.

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“I’m learning things on the streets that I should have been told” by Collins, he said.

Collins said he’s not sure there is such a circle.

According to a Feb. 18 article in The Smoky Mountain News, Collins visited Scott at his home one Sunday afternoon a year and a half earlier and, regarding Scott’s chances of becoming vice mayor, said it wasn’t in the cards. In the article, Collins confirmed a conversation was held, but declined to comment on its content.

In addition to believing in a more inclusive board, Scott said a major element of his platform in running for mayor is his advocacy of open government. He said, despite state open meetings and public records laws, too many government entities in Western North Carolina still hide behind closed doors too often — and without proper basis, he believes.

“I bet most public officials aren’t familiar” with those government sunshine provisions, he said. For example, too many deliberative bodies don’t give a specific enough reason why they are going into closed session — and even when they do, it is often not a valid one.

Collins said his re-election run for mayor is based on his belief that things are going well, so why change the lineup? “We’ve got a good leadership group in place. Things are running in a way I feel comfortable with,” he said. “We have a lot of projects that are under way, and if the citizens choose to entrust me with the next two years, I’d feel honored and do the best that I could. It’s a choice the voters get to make.”

Collins said other than the vice mayor issue and “Slategate” flap, he couldn’t think of acrimonious divisions nor even important policy differences between himself and Scott. In the Slategate controversy, Collins was accused of improperly allowing a former resident of the Whitmire property, acquired by the town as a possible new town hall site, to take slate from the property. Collins was caught in the middle when other aldermen blamed him for allowing it, although Collins said he didn’t agree to the amount that was taken.

Scott, too, didn’t cite any significant policy differences with the mayor, but pointed to his own concern “to see that we protect basic town services so that economic growth is not hindered” in the tough economy.

“I believe town employees are our most valuable asset and we need a pay plan and a personnel policy for them,” he said.

If Scott should lose the mayor’s race, he still has two years of his four-year board term to finish out, while if Collins loses, he’s out. Aldermen have four year terms while the mayor’s seat is up every two years.

The seats of aldermen Carolyn “Sissy” Pattillo, Jerry Evans and Billy Mashburn, who is currently vice mayor, are also up this year. They did not return messages seeking to confirm whether they will be running for their offices again.

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