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Pless’ behavior should worry voters

By Heather Hyatt Packer • Guest Columnist | When our government leaders deliberately mislead or lie to us, there is no immediate consequence. We would never hire or retain an employee who lacks personal integrity or responsibility, yet we seem to accept that the lack of integrity in political leadership is the norm — even at the local level. 

It is no secret Haywood County Commissioner Mark Pless — who is running for a state House seat in District 118 — is problematic. Not only has he vehemently opposed harm reduction efforts in our community but has lambasted our homeless population and often makes gross distortions of the truth. Pless habitually claims he’s never been given facts, information and studies on these subjects — when he has in fact received the materials. He offers no feasible solution to these problems. Instead he refuses to acknowledge science-based evidence that addiction is a disease. Pless, a salesman, says addiction is a “choice.” 

Pless has openly sparred with constituents who disagree with him. He has bullied — primarily females — and is disrespectful during meetings and through email exchanges. He has attempted to “humiliate” residents through social media shaming. A person with seemingly no ability to manage his impulses has no place in public service. That's right, Mark. You're a public servant. Your position exists to serve the people, not the privileged. 

In a June 2020 interview, Pless claimed he left his paramedic job in 2003 because of PTSD issues. Yet in the same article, evidence shows the contrary. Pless quit after having a verbal altercation with another county employee in which Pless made threats that he would “f*%@ the system.” An advisory board wrote a letter stating he exhibited “willful and deliberate misconduct which resulted in termination of your employment.” 

Obviously, Pless is giving folks the ole razzle dazzle about how he came to no longer be employed by the county. Why the dishonesty? It’s as if he’s ashamed of the termination and rumors of sexual harassment surrounding his career in emergency services. 

A reasonable person might inquire that if Pless is not qualified to be employed by the county, then why is he serving the county in the commissioner capacity? 

The same man has been accused of domestic violence. His wife filed a domestic violence complaint and restraining order in 2008. According to Mrs. Pless’ own words, Commissioner Pless was having an affair with a member of their church which led to multiple physical altercations. Her report states he grabbed her by the throat, slammed her to the bed. When questioned about the nature of this incident he downplays it as “the little domestic thing.” Am I to conclude that domestic violence and misogyny go hand in hand? 

Someone needs to stand up, say something. I guess I’ll be the one. This is atrocious behavior for an elected leader. With his controversial background, Pless has no place in local government. The unconscionable conduct in both his personal and professional life along with his blatant disdain for the female gender leaves me to wonder how someone like this has the arrogance to run for public office? 

There is a real and worthwhile conversation taking place in our community regarding harm reduction, addiction and the non-housing issue. Unlike Pless, there are superstars in Haywood County who tirelessly serve those in need, create opportunities for change, and deliberately move towards an end which will ultimately serve us all. 

We need a leader who truly lives mountain values. Simply put, mountain values to me include a sense of dignity and empathy that have been built by brave frontier men and women who endured troubled times through hard work and helping their neighbors. We need a leader who doesn’t send snarky emails suggesting he’ll “bring the homeless to your doorstep.” We need a leader who serves everyone — not just his base. We need a leader who doesn’t equate human worth to property ownership. We need a leader who not only proclaims himself a Christian (as if that somehow is an association with rightness) but in effect acts like a Christian. 

Jesus might find himself caring for those in Frog Level that Pless so execrates at public meetings. We need leaders who embraces servant leadership with a clear sense of duty and guides by example. 

Vote with thoughtfulness at the poll this November. Take a stand for Haywood County. Restore honor to the Haywood County Board of Commissioners.   

(Heather Hyatt Packer is a performance artist and podcast host who lives in Waynesville. Reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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