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Two launch write-in campaigns for Sylva board

Charlie Beam and Natalie Newman. Charlie Beam and Natalie Newman.

With early voting already underway and the Nov. 5 election just around the corner, two Sylva residents have declared their intention to run as write-in candidates for a seat on the town commission. 

Because write-in candidates’ names do not appear on the actual ballot, it is rare for them to win election. But sometimes they do — in 2010, Alaskans elected write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski to represent them in the U.S. Senate, making Murkowski the first senator to win a write-in campaign since Sen. Strom Thurmond got South Carolina’s vote in 1954. 

In a small, close-knit community like Sylva, where people tend to know each other and ballot counts are low, a write-in victory is certainly possible. Candidates needed fewer than 200 votes to win a seat in 2015, when David Nestler became the top vote-getter with 182 votes and Greg McPherson edged Charlie Schmidt by winning a coin toss after both men received 63 votes. Sylva currently has 1,521 registered voters, and if turnout is similar to the 17 percent recorded in 2015, fewer than 300 will cast a ballot. 

Both write-ins said concerns about the N.C. 107 project contributed to their decision to run. Many community members have spoken out against the plans due to the large number of businesses expected to relocate as a result. But, according to N.C. Department of Transportation Division Engineer Brian Burch, halting the project now would require votes from the Southwestern Commission’s Transportation Advisory Commission and the N.C. Department of Transportation Board of Transportation. That would kill the project and remove its funding, meaning it would take at least 10 more years to address traffic issues on N.C. 107. 

The two write-in candidates are throwing themselves into an already crowded field seeking one of three board seats. The ballot will list Danny Allen, Ben Guiney, Luther Jones, Carrie McBane, Greg McPherson and David Nestler as voters’ choices. Commissioners elected in 2019 will serve through 2023. 

 

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Charlie Beam

Beam, 45, has dedicated his professional life to helping people in recovery from substance abuse. He is a harm reduction peer support specialist with the Western North Carolina AIDS Project, runs a ministry through Webster Baptist Church and is registered as a substance abuse counselor. Originally from Columbus, Georgia, he has lived in Sylva for four years. 

Reason to run:

“I just fear this road construction is going to affect the businesses along East Main Street. I thought there would be more candidates in there coming out against it, but since there wasn’t I decided to jump in and see what I could do.”

Top three priorities: 

Preventing the current N.C. 107 plans from being carried out; opening up new treatment options for people with mental health and substance abuse issues; increasing the amount of low-income housing available. 

What do you think of town leadership’s current direction? 

Overall, Beam is happy with the town’s current leadership, but he doesn’t believe the board has addressed the N.C. 107 issue adequately. The plans as presented should not have been approved, he said, and commissioners should have worked harder to come up with other options. 

“The leadership’s awesome just other than trying to approve this roadwork,” said Beam. “I have nothing negative against Sylva at all. I love Sylva.”

What are your ideas for increasing Sylva’s housing inventory? 

While he doesn’t have an answer to that yet, Beam has been actively looking at models being used in Asheville and Haywood County to see how other communities are handling the issue.

What is your position on the proposed N.C. 107 plans? 

Beam opposes the plans as presented and would support either changing them drastically or scrapping them completely. The plan as presented will be detrimental to people who live in town and travel that road every day — whoever is designing the road should sit down with the people of Sylva and see if there might be a better way to do it, he said. 

“I think something better could be come up with than what they have now,” he said. 

What policies would you support to mitigate impacts from the N.C. 107 project?

While he doesn’t have an answer to that question at the moment, Beam believes that the town should be meeting with the business owners and others who will be directly affected by the outcome. 

Do you foresee a property tax increase resulting from road project impacts? 

Beam would oppose a property tax increase and believes the town can make up for road-related tax shortfalls in other ways. However, he does think that the road will have a long-term negative impact on Sylva’s tax rolls. 

 

Natalie Newman

At 27, Newman is the youngest person seeking a seat on the town board. She has lived in Western North Carolina since 2012 and purchased a home in Sylva in 2015. Holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Western Carolina University, she owns Regina Nicole Boutique + Beauty Bar and works full time as a leasing consultant at Mill House Properties. Newman hails from Roxboro but said her flag is firmly planted in Sylva. 

Reason to run:

“I definitely had some encouragement from local people that I talked to here. They said if you want to make a difference, run for town council. I didn’t want to miss that opportunity.”

Top three priorities: 

Change the current plan for N.C. 107; create a more collaborative relationship between the town board and the community it serves; better direct local resources to people who need them, whether that be small business owners, the elderly or the underprivileged. 

What do you think of town leadership’s current direction? 

Newman doesn’t have any deep criticism of the existing town leadership but believes that in all things there’s room for new ideas and different perspectives.

What are your ideas for increasing Sylva’s housing inventory? 

The town must be open to any ideas for boosting the existing housing inventory, and incentives will likely play a key role. When offering incentives, said Newman, the town board must ensure developers have the best interests of Sylva at heart and are planning to charge rates affordable to existing residents.

What is your position on the proposed N.C. 107 plans? 

Newman opposes the plans as presented and believes that they must be either amended to reduce impacts or scrapped completely. If improvements did have to be delayed for a significant period of time, in the interim the road could be made safer through alternative options like adding traffic lights and decreasing the speed limit. 

“I think that the current plans are going to cause more harm than good,” she said. “I really believe that our local economy is in a really good place right now, and it’s growing, and we’re seeing new businesses open. I think this project is really going to throw a wrench in that.”

What policies would you support to mitigate impacts from the N.C. 107 project?

Newman is not ready to give up on getting a better plan but sees a role for policies in softening the blow. 

“I really don’t want to accept that there’s nothing to be done, but if all else fails I think there is a lot that can be done to help those businesses and those affected by the project,” she said. “I think we need to continue to push TWSA (Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority) and the DOT to do what is right by the people of Sylva, and I think we need to continue working with local resources that are there to help people.”

Do you foresee a property tax increase resulting from road project impacts? 

Sylva can hold steady without a tax increase, Newman said, but some adjustments might be necessary to make that work. She hopes that the road project, whatever version of it is actually implemented, would cause only a short term rather than a long-term negative impact to the town’s finances.

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