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Four candidates vie for two seats in Maggie Valley

From left: Twinkle Patel, Jeff Lee, John Hinton and Jim Owens. From left: Twinkle Patel, Jeff Lee, John Hinton and Jim Owens.

Four candidates will compete for two open spaces on the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen in municipal elections this November. 

On Monday, Oct. 4, The Smoky Mountain News hosted a forum for all four candidates in the Maggie Valley Town Hall. 

Incumbent Alderwoman Twinkle Patel is among the four candidtaes competing for one of two spots. She was appointed to her seat in 2019 after Alderman Mike Eveland won the race for mayor. The other vacancy came when Alderman Clayton Davis chose not to seek a third term. 

Patel will compete against Jeff Lee, currently serving as chairman of the Maggie Valley Planning Board, John Hinton and Jim Owens.  

Patel graduated from Western Carolina University with degrees in accounting and entrepreneurship. She has served on the project oversight board for the Soco Road project in 2015, the planning board in 2018 and 2019, and on the TDA board for the past four years. Patel also serves as an ambassador for a nonprofit national hotel association. 

“I am doing this because I want to contribute to my community, using my background knowledge and ability to be objective,” she said. 

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Lee works as an occupational therapist in Maggie Valley, having earned his degree from the Medical University of South Carolina. He has been a resident of Maggie Valley for 25 years and is also a veteran. 

“It was an honor to serve, and I appreciate all the veterans who are in attendance today,” he said. 

In addition to his work as an occupational therapist, Lee owns Fantasy Golf and Game Room in Maggie Valley. 

“As you can tell, I love Maggie valley and look forward to helping us move Maggie Valley forward,” said Lee. 

Hinton is running on the slogan “open, fair-minded leadership for Maggie Valley.” He has been retired for five years, prior to which he spent 30 years with a major automotive supply company. During that time he managed over 350 drivers. Hinton has served on the board of the North Carolina Trucking Association for over 25 years and is a board member of the Maggie Valley United Methodist Church. He is a team leader in the risk-taking mission, serving homebound folks with food delivery, errands, transportation, yard maintenance and more. Hinton is a member of the Waynesville Elks Lodge and has been in Maggie Valley since 2011. 

“I’m retired. Alderman will be a full-time position for me,” said Hinton. 

Owens, a U.S. Navy veteran, has made Western North Carolina his home for the last 20 years, living in Maggie Valley for the last seven. Prior to retirement, he spent 45 years working in the travel and tourism industry. Most recently, he worked as vice president of Biltmore Estate for 14 years. He also worked as vice president for SeaWorld of Florida, and SeaWorld of San Diego. Owens founded, and was the first chairman of the Tourist Industry Retail Merchants Association. 

“My entire career has been spent working in tourism, small business and resorts, helping those businesses grow in a smart way,” said Owens. “I believe in Maggie Valley. I’m running for alderman to use my experience and my expertise to promote and protect Maggie’s heritage and incredible natural beauty. I’m running for alderman because the residents deserve and expect the highest quality services for the taxes we all pay. We must remain focused on our future. I believe if I’m elected, I can make a positive difference for Maggie Valley.”

The first question of the forum was about growth and investment in Maggie Valley. As the tourism industry in WNC remains strong, the opportunities for growth in the valley are abundant. Ghost Town in the Sky will likely open up shop in the town again and several other developments  are on the horizon. Each candidate noted that while growth is important — and likely inevitable — smart, responsible growth is what Maggie Valley needs. 

Hinton stated that in the 2020 census, Maggie Valley was the fastest growing town in Haywood County. 

“I want to see smart growth, smart investment. Campgrounds are not smart growth. We want to see homes built,” said Hinton. 

Both Owens and Patel voiced the importance of the town’s Unified Development Ordinance in fostering growth and development. The town planner and the planning board are currently working to draft the town’s first ever UDO. 

“I think one of the keys to us continuing to be able to develop new businesses, and residences for that matter, in Maggie Valley is to complete the UDO,” said Owens. “It’s been a long time getting that done. It’s not an easy task, I understand that. But, in order to give developers, both residential and commercial, the tools they need to develop a property that falls within our ordinances, this is critical to me.” 

Though candidates agreed growth is a good thing for Maggie Valley, the pool split over the issue of food trucks. At the agenda setting meeting Oct. 4, the board of aldermen approved the food truck pilot program to run through December 2021. The program is intended to gain insight on how food trucks may impact Maggie Valley, before the town makes a decision about food trucks in the valley. 

Patel voted to approve the food truck pilot program. Patel was also responsible for ensuring a food truck workshop with the town board, staff and residents to hear concerns on both sides of the issue, as well as details for implementing a food truck program. 

Hinton agreed with the other candidates that the pilot program was a good idea for gathering information, however he is concerned about the impact food trucks will have on local restaurants. 

“I don’t think that the food trucks are part of smart growth,” said Hinton. 

Patel on the other hand said that food trucks offer a different, often cheaper experience than traditional restaurants and therefore won’t demonstrate dangerous competition for local restaurants. 

Owens didn’t take a strong stance one way or the other but said the pilot program was a good idea and that he was anxious to see the results, saying that ultimately the decision would be up to residents of Maggie Valley. 

Lee was in support of food trucks, saying that in a free enterprise system residents should have the option of food trucks. He noted that as long as these trucks are permitted correctly, food trucks will be an addition to Maggie Valley and hopefully help tourism. 

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Maggie Valley was one of very few towns in WNC that did not hold virtual meetings. Instead, the town pivoted to hold meetings in the Town Hall pavilion where social distancing was possible and required masks when necessary. The four candidates all agreed that the town board handled the pandemic, and meetings during COVID-19 responsibly. However, they differed in their opinions of other procedural duties of the board. 

Patel argued for upgraded technology to facilitate access to the board and its business by the public. According to Patel, the board could broaden its reach through technology and thereby generate more input and understanding from town residents. Lee noted that if the board uses more technology to keep residents updated, they could likely reach a younger demographic of residents. 

“The technology is there and to me, that’s a priority. We need to get more word out to the general population,” said Owens. 

The last question of the forum asked candidates to speak about their budget priorities. 

Patel’s priorities are to raise compensation for town staff to keep their pay competitive. She would also like to see lower taxes for residents and businesses where possible. 

“All our taxes went up this year and can we prevent that? No, we can’t prevent rising costs and inflation. However, we must see that we don’t see an increase every single year. We must lower it,” said Patel. 

Lee stressed the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer money and agreed with Patel on the importance of keeping town staff with competitive pay. One of Lee’s main priorities is seeing the Soco Road project through, saying “pedestrian safety is just one of my heartbeats.” 

Hinton agreed that staff pay is important for the town of Maggie Valley and stressed the importance of fiscal responsibility when handling taxpayer money. 

“We need to be leery of some developers that may come in here looking for concessions on some of their developments,” said Hinton. 

Owens noted that Maggie Valley was fortunate to have had a 48% population growth between the 2010 and 2020 census, as well as to have the lowest property tax rate in Haywood County. He agreed with the other candidates that employee retention is important. He would also like to prioritize projects that will enhance visitation like greenways, or additional cleanup of Soco Road. 

“Managing our money correctly and making sure that we are spending it in the right place to keep Maggie Valley the way that we all love Maggie Valley is important to me,” said Owens. 

In closing statements at Monday’s forum, each candidate expressed final thoughts on why they are the best person for the job of alderman. 

“Maggie Valley needs to look for ways to strengthen our economy, provide even better quality of life to our residents, support our town staff and employees, and build on our local and existing assets. I am a job creator and business savvy. I understand we can’t fight growth, but I can work with developers and have input to have that balanced growth that includes more green space and preserving our natural beauty,” said Patel. “We need to support our rural landscape by continuing to beautify our town. We need to help existing businesses so they can thrive and stay open seven days a week. And we need to build a future for our town with smart balanced growth while maintaining that small town charm that is so important to us.” 

“As a 25-year resident and business owner, I have been supporting and growing Maggie Valley. I’m proud to say that I am supported and endorsed by the current four aldermen,” said Lee. “You can tell by my experiences I’m as well-qualified to serve Maggie Valley as all of them. I thank you in advance for your support and vote.”

During his closing statements, Hinton called out what he saw as “leadership at its worst,” during an Aug. 17 meeting  when the board voted to allow class A, B and C recreational vehicles in RV Planned Unit Developments. Previously, the board had discussed allowing PUD status for RV parks, only if vehicles were restricted to class A. 

“Open dialogue, open board, no allegiance to anybody, no endorsements by anybody, open leadership,” said Hinton. “That’s what this is about — the control. Doing the right thing for the taxpayers, doing the right things for the employees, doing the right thing for the people that come to work and play in Maggie Valley.”

“Maggie Valley needs a full-time leader working for you, and I’ll be that full-time alderman. I ask for your vote and here’s why. I have a 45-year track record in tourism, hospitality and resort management. That’ll translate to help Maggie grow but grow smart. I’ll promote and protect Maggie Valley heritage and its incredible beauty,” said Owens. “We need a board that listens to the concerns and the ideas from both residents and businesses to navigate both the opportunities and the challenges, aldermen will need to use due diligence, consistent standards and transparency. I’ve been blessed with a very rewarding career, and now I’m anxious to use that experience to give back to the community that we all love.” 

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