Phillips and DWA Executive Board Chair Carolyn Brunk, owner of the Oak Park Inn, did not respond to repeated calls and emails from The Smoky Mountain News. When SMN visited the DWA office on the morning of Friday, March 26, it was closed without explanation.
The Mountaineer reported that Phillips informed the executive board at its Tuesday, March 23, meeting of her intent.
Mayor Gary Caldwell and Town Manager Rob Hites both said last week in interviews after the meeting that they had not been informed about Phillips’ plans and did not know she had announced her intent to retire. The DWA executive board would be charged with hiring Phillips’ replacement, but funding for the organization and the executive director’s salary come from property taxes levied by the town on downtown property owners.
Phillips has been the executive director for 13 years and prior to that served as an assistant to former Executive Director Ron Huelster. She has been part of the DWA during an era in which the downtown district has earned many accolades as one of the most successful Main Street communities in the state.
In recent years, however, there has been dissension among DWA board members about the organization’s leadership and direction. There have been several board resignations, and at least one meeting was held at the former Gateway Club prior to the pandemic where nearly 50 disgruntled business owners discussed whether the DWA as it is currently formed was the best path forward.
The DWA was founded in 1985 to be the administrator of the Town of Waynesville’s municipal service district. The district includes properties along both north and south Main Street. Property owners pay an extra tax on their properties – currently 20 cents per $100 in assessed value – which is collected by the DWA and used to promote revitalization activities within the district. Total yearly expenditures by the DWA are in the neighborhood of $200,000. Phillips’ salary is around $55,000.
— Staff reports