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The race for Jackson Commission begins

Clockwise from top, left: Rick Wood, Todd Bryson, Mark Lesson, Rainy Summer Brake, John Smith, Jarrett Crowe, Edward Thurston, David Brooks. Clockwise from top, left: Rick Wood, Todd Bryson, Mark Lesson, Rainy Summer Brake, John Smith, Jarrett Crowe, Edward Thurston, David Brooks.

Three of five seats on the Jackson County Commission are up for grabs this year — district one, district two and commission chairman.

With incumbent Democrats not having to endure a Primary Election in either of those races, it is Republican candidates who will battle it out over the next month to determine who will make it to November’s General Election.

Commissioners are elected county-wide for four-years terms and must reside within the boundaries of the district they will represent. One commissioner is elected for each district, except for the chairman.  


Incumbent chairman Brian McMahan is running for reelection this cycle. Two Republican candidates are vying for the nomination to challenge him this fall. 

Rick Wood has lived in Jackson County for most of his life working in the carpet and flooring business, and is now buying and selling campers. He’s never been involved in politics, but recent changes in Jackson County pushed him to the edge, and he sees a need for a change in leadership. 

“I never did want to get into politics,” said Wood. “But what’s been happening here in the last couple years, it ain’t nothing but a bunch of crap. These guys here are trying to do different stuff for our county that we don’t need, instead of helping the county they’re hurting our county.”

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Wood’s top priorities involve more opportunities for residents, additional restaurants in the county and stopping the NC-107 road expansion. He sees the money spent on the pool project in Cullowhee as an unnecessary extravagance, the funds for which could have been used somewhere else. 

“What would that have done for a couple nice restaurants in this county? That would’ve done more for this county than that swimming pool’s ever going to do,” said Wood. 

Another priority, not having a gay pride parade in Sylva. 

“I don’t want my grandbabies to see that kind of stuff,” said Wood. “That was one of the biggest things that got me burned about it, letting that happen. I’m hoping that when something like that comes up, that we can always vote it down.”

Mark Letson and his wife have owned Cashiers Valley Pharmacy in Cashiers since 2006. He currently serves as the chairman of the Jackson County Planning Board, is a member of the Business and Industry Advisory Committee for Jackson County and previously served on the Cashiers Planning Council. Like his opponent Rick Wood, he decided to run for commission chairman because he believes Jackson County needs a change in leadership. 

His top priorities for the county include more funding and resources for Jackson County Public Schools, as well as stronger partnerships with law enforcement and an in-house drug treatment facility to reduce recidivism rates. 

“Maybe the next park is not the best option,” said Letson. “Maybe we need to, instead of spending money on a new park, perhaps reinvest that into our schools so that we don’t have teacher loss.”

Letson sees planning as one path to greater economic development in Jackson County. He says that right now, the Jackson County Planning Board is working through the unified development ordinance to establish structured standards for small and large industries. 

“We’re working through those setbacks, reevaluating what’s really necessary,” said Wood. “I would continue to do that to promote more businesses to come here. We’re in one of the best places in the country, in my opinion, to live. But, we’re limiting ourselves with some of our coding language and what’s allowed.”

District 1 

Incumbent commissioner Gayle Woody is running for reelection this cycle. Four republican candidates are vying for the nomination to challenge her this fall. District one covers Sylva’s south ward, Dillsboro, Barkers Creek and Qualla. 

Todd Bryson is from Sylva and has worked for a funeral home for four years, since graduating from Fayetteville Technical Community College with a degree in Funeral and Mortuary Science. He decided to run for county commission because he wants to see more family restaurants that cater to the residents of Jackson County, rather than the breweries that he sees as catering to tourists. 

Bryson’s top priorities involve helping the next sheriff take care of the drug problem and bringing more businesses to Jackson County. By working with TWASA to expand sewer and water availability, Bryson thinks the county can encourage new business. 

“You have to go to neighboring counties to buy clothes,” said Bryson. “You can’t even buy a pair of shoes in Jackson County, so I think we need to catch up. Our infrastructure is behind.”

He would also like to see a fair grounds or a similar venue in Jackson County that would bring revenue into the county and be a place where residents can enjoy themselves. Additionally, he would like to see more recreational opportunities like parks for the Balsam, Qualla and Canada communities. 

“There’s nothing for children or even teenagers to do here other than drink and party,” said Bryson. 

David Brooks is a Jackson County native. He was the first in his family to graduate high school, and shortly after he began work as a carpenter. Eventually, he started his own business, David L. Brooks Builders. He has previously served on the Jackson County Planning Board. 

Brooks decided to run for commissioner because he thinks the county commission spends excessively and should lower people’s taxes. In speaking with people in the community, there are a few issues he hears brought up repeatedly — meeting the needs of the fire and police departments, as well as the sheriff’s office, the drug problem, and the lack of grocery stores and other major businesses. Brooks believes the county should be offering incentives to businesses to attract them to Jackson County. 

“You gotta help people,” he said. “I mean, in everyday life, in the community, you gotta help people. You gotta be nice to people, too. I’d rather give any day of the year than receive, because I grew up poor.”

The Sylva Fire Department recently requested money from the county  to fund paid personnel. Brooks said he would be in favor of partially funding that request, saying Sylva should be responsible for partial funding of the imperative need. 

“If you don’t have infrastructure, you don’t have jobs, you don’t have restaurants,” said Brooks. “My main goal is to concentrate on business.”

Jarrett Crowe is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. For 26 years, he worked as an actor in the historical drama “Unto These Hills,” and for eight years he served as a protocol officer in the Tribal Council House. 

Crowe is running for commissioner because he believes he can bridge the gap between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Jackson County Commission. 

“Jackson County and the Eastern Band do not have a really good relationship,” said Crowe. “I would like to see Jackson County and the Eastern Band come closer, because part of the land is in Jackson County.”

Crowe’s other priorities for Jackson County are access to affordable housing and increased opportunities for the elderly and disabled. 

“If we take care of our elders, we can live longer,” he said. “If you take away from our elders and our young, you are doing away with our future and our past, and we can’t do that.”

According to Crowe, the first and most important step for creating affordable housing opportunities is locating developable land. Then he believes the county should develop tax credits to attract developers, as well as new businesses. 

Rainy Summer Brake is from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. She came to Jackson County to get her master’s in Cherokee studies with a focus on linguistics. Soon after she became the first certified elementary teacher at New Kituwah Academy, the Cherokee language immersion school on the Qualla Boundary. For the last 10 years, she has been teaching Cherokee language at Western Carolina University. 

“I feel like when you teach children, you sort of have an obligation outside of school to try to make the world around them the place that they deserve,” said Brake. “I have always tried to do that. I’ve tried to do things to help improve the community. I’ve never gone into politics before, but I decided to make the jump into it this year.”

Brake is passionate about bringing resources to Jackson County for people struggling with substance use disorder, education, affordable housing and infrastructure. 

“I’m concerned that we need to make sure that we’re focusing on bringing in revenue streams that are assets to our community, that are wholesome and family oriented so that our families have places that they can go and spend time together, and that we can continue to incorporate multiple experiences, is going to make Jackson county a place that everyone would like to come visit, but we can do that while we still maintain our community values,” said Brake. 

With the JCTDA tourism capital project fund , Brake would like to see the floor opened to constituents in order to see what the community wants to spend this available money on. 

“I think that people all have input and I’m not coming into this job saying ‘this is what I want to accomplish,’” said Brake. “I want to come in and open a forum where people can come in and say what they would like to accomplish.” 

District 2 

Incumbent commissioner Boyce Deitz is running for reelection this cycle. Two republican candidates are vying for the nomination to challenge him this fall. District two covers Sylva’s north ward and Scotts Creek. 

Edward Thurston grew up in Jackson County and served in the Army for nine years before becoming medically retired in 2019. He worked homeschooling his son during the pandemic as an alternative to virtual learning. Disappointment in the school system, what he sees as an “open wallet” policy on the current commission, and a lack of response to public comment are all reasons Thurston decided to run for commission.  

“I was just really irritated with the leadership in the area overall and wanted to be part of it to make sure it gets changed,” said Thurston. “I don’t like to sit on the sidelines and complain without having a solution to present. My solution was to be part of the board.”

His priorities include bolstering Jackson County Public Schools performance, addressing crime and curbing drug use. For Thurston, addressing drugs in Jackson County will involve additional funding for the sheriff’s office to hire more personnel. 

In response to the lack of affordable housing in Jackson County, Thurston would like to see the county implement an affordable loan program to fix up abandoned houses and buildings for future housing. He would also like to see incentives for property owners to switch from short-term rentals to long-term rentals. 

John Smith spent seven years in the armed forces as an intelligence analyst. Since leaving the armed forces in 1992, he has worked in the information technology field and is currently a systems engineer. He has three children, all of whom attend Jackson County Public Schools. 

Smith decided to run for office because he wants to see a change in leadership and fresh perspective on current events. 

“I feel we need strong Christian and conservative leadership within our county commissioners, which seems to be lacking currently,” said Smith. “We cannot continue to spend money without the entire county benefiting from the expenditures, not just a select few. I never intended to be a politician, but if elected, I can assure everyone that votes for me that I will vote based on the best interests of the people of Jackson County and will not compromise my deeply rooted Christian beliefs.”

Smith’s top priorities for Jackson County are bringing in businesses, dealing with the drug and homeless problems, and creating a shelter for victims of abuse. He sees the lack of affordable housing as a result of the local college population that is able to pay more for a place to live than local families. 

With JCTDA capital project funds, Smith would like to see construction of a large fairground that could be used for outdoor events. The revenue, he says, could be used to build an onsite event center. 

“Jackson County has so much to offer, and we need to make it as easy as possible for tourists to participate in our heritage and the beauty we have here,” said Smith. “We have to make it easy, affordable and profitable to bring business to Jackson County and the tourism will grow as a result.” 

Leave a comment

1 comment

  • "and the tourism will grow as a result.”

    YES!!! We need MORE low paying tourism jobs!!

    posted by Thom Car

    Monday, 05/02/2022

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