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Nikwasi Initiative can proceed without deed

By Bob Scott • Guest columnist

As mayor of Franklin, my duty and loyalty is to the town. With that being said, I will be blunt. Turning the town’s Nikwasi deed over to the Nikwasi Initiative — in my opinion after 17 years’ service to Franklin’s Town Council — is not in the best interest of the town at this time. 

A better solution is for the town to become a partner in whatever it is the Initiative wants to do in East Franklin. Then, after a reasonable length of time, when the Initiative establishes a track record and the public sees actual progress, the issue of the deed could be raised again. It may be a year or two for this to take place. 

But there should be no rush to turn the deed over to the Initiative, which is a relatively new organization when compared to the town which has been around since 1855 and has preserved and protected the mound since 1946.

This would be an acceptable compromise to those wanting the town to hold off on handing over the deed. This nation was founded on compromise, and there is no reason this deed deal cannot be settled with a compromise. I have repeatedly called for such an agreement. 

The issue over the deed is dividing the community and that should not be the case. I warned Vice Mayor Barbara McRae and Stacy Guffey, both members of the Initiative, that bringing up the deed transfer would split the community. And it has. Unfortunately, some friends of mine in the groups wanting the deed to be transferred have given me side glances and stated their anger at me for taking the stand I have.

These groups are the Women’s History Trail, Mainspring, Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center, and to some unknown degree, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

What has yet to be explained to the public is why turning over the deed is key to revitalization of the area these groups are promoting?  What do they want to do? Mainspring has bought some property near the mound and the EBCI has bought a building adjacent to the mound, but so far nothing has been done with either of these properties. It is time to see some action and concrete plans before the town turns over the deed.

I know there has been an extraordinary letter writing campaign to the news media and members of the town council. I have been copied on these and I have noted the vast majority of these letters, supporting transfer of the deed, are from people affiliated with one or more of the above groups. The divisiveness is increasing daily with those against turning over the deed being told to look beyond the “misinformation,” and “grandstanding taking place around this issue .…” only because they are opposed to the town giving up the deed.  The issue has gotten ugly and emotional. 

Another point that is being alluded to by those groups wanting the deed is that somehow giving up the deed to the Initiative will right some wrong done to the EBCI over 200 years ago. What I have yet to see is any thanks to the residents of Franklin and Macon County for saving the mound. Rationality and practicality should be the issue. Not emotionality. 

I have reached out to the last three principal chiefs and offered — by a 2014 town council resolution — for the EBCI to work with the Town in maintenance and other matters involving the mound. To date, I have had no luck and just for information, I have approached Chief Richard Sneed on three occasions to ask if I might meet with him. He has not committed to meet with me.

The Nikwasi Initiative started out as something called Mountain Partners. Since then several charter members have resigned. Then an outfit called Catalpa Partners entered the picture. Now Mainspring seems to be pulling most of the weight in this. All of these groups are intertwined and interconnected. What is the real reason behind the deed transfer? Why is their reason so secretive? 

In my earlier life, as a journalist and law enforcement officer, we had an old saying we lived by, “Follow the money.” Is there significance to this old saying in this deal? 

Before a vote is taken by the town council, there should be a disclosure of any connection any council member may have with any of these groups. If there could be any conflict of interest by any council member it should be disclosed. There should be an avoidance of even the appearance of a conflict of interest. 

It is past time for this to simmer down and give the Nikwasi Initiative the chance to come forward and put into action, on the ground, their ideas. Then we can take another look at the deed deal.

(Bob Scott is in his third term as Mayor of Franklin. He served 11 years on the Town Council. He is a member of a number of environmental organizations and is Chair of the North Carolina Mayors Association.) 

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