Race for Jackson County Commission: Incumbent Democrats vs. Republican newcomers
The Jackson County Commission has three seats on the ballot this fall. In addition to commission chairman, districts one and two are up for election. Democratic incumbents Gayle Woody and Boyce Deitz are challenged by newcomers Todd Bryson and John Smith respectively.
In Jackson County, a commissioner must live in the district they are running to represent, but on Election Day, all voters vote for a commissioner in every district.
Gayle Woody is a local retired art teacher who has served on the county commission since 2018. Woody also serves on the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, Road Naming Board, Health Board, Emergency Food and Shelter Board and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
“In 2018 I was really discouraged about the disrespectful and divisive discourse surrounding politics,” said Woody. “So I filed to run in 2018, and my goal at that point was to try and bring civility and respect into local politics.”
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.
“I decided to run because I’m tired of the direction the county is going and I’m ready to see some improvements to the county, see it grow and move forward,” said Bryson. “It feels like we’re staying in the past while surrounding counties are growing, they’re building new things. They’re doing all the things that need to be done in order to have a county make money.
Boyce Dietz is a local retired teacher and football coach. He has spent much of his retirement in public service working for six years as a congressional staffer in Representative Heath Shuler’s local office and four years as an outreach coordinator for Western Carolina University. He has served two terms on the county commission. Commissioner Deitz also serves on the Fire Commission, Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, Mountain Projects and Transit Advisory Board.
“I never thought about running for county commission, but there was an issue that came up about mountain top development,” said Deitz. “I went to a meeting and gave a talk and afterwards several people said ‘you should run for county commissioner.’ And I thought, if running for county commissioner would save those mountains over there, I would do it. I wanted my great grandkids, when they looked at these mountains in Balsam Gap, for them to look just like when the first Native Americans looked at them, and we’ve got that done, through different conservation groups, the tribe, and the town of Sylva and through efforts that we put into it. I can rest knowing that will remain. That’s why I ran.”
John Smith spent seven years in the armed forces as an intelligence analyst. Since leaving the military 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.
“The reason I decided to run is because the same things keep happening over and over in the county,” said Smith. “Things get approved without discussion and things like that. If you want change, you gotta stand up and try to make change or, you know, get outta the way.”
Jackson County recently received its first of 18 payments in part of an opioid settlement that will total over $3 million. While there are certain restrictions for how the funds can be spent, the county commission will be in charge of deciding how to allocate that money.
“We’ve already decided as county commissioners, number one, we want to be very strategic and very careful that we make a direct impact with that money,” said Woody. “First, we’re listening to our local people, local stakeholders for a snapshot of what Jackson County’s concerns are. Second, we’re looking at other rural counties and how they’re addressing it. And then thirdly, we are looking at using some of that money for a regional residential program.”
“I’m a funeral director and I see many overdoses devastating families,” said Bryson. “If I’m elected, I want to see that money spent the right way. I want to work with the next sheriff and make sure that our citizens and our residents are protected. I wanted to see some sort of a rehab facility for drugs, not a homeless shelter, but a rehab facility for drug addicts and drug abuse.”
“The spending of those funds would mostly be in the law enforcement area,” said Smith. “Drug dogs, more officers to patrol out in the community, that’s a big thing. If we can get the cars and officers back out in the community patrolling, that’s a big deterrent to drugs, and right now we don’t have the force to do that. Random checks, walk the dogs to the school parking lot, to see if anybody’s got any drugs in their cars.”
“This is really complicated, there are so many facets of the issue,” said Deitz. “Besides the money, how to take care of this is such a problem. It is so important that we in some way alleviate some of this problem. It’s one of those things, if we figure it out, everyone would want to know how we figured it out. Working in conjunction with other counties may be helpful.”
In commissioner meetings, Deitz has floated the idea of hiring one person to help several western counties determine the most impactful way to spend the opioid settlement funds.
Housing availability and affordability continues to be a problem for Jackson County. Monthly data published by the Canopy Realtor Association shows the average listing price for a home in Jackson County in July at $968,809. The median sales price and average sales price were $402,000 and $448,746, respectively.
“What we’re going to have to look at, which has not been recognized as a need in rural areas, is multi-unit housing,” said Woody. “Most everybody traditionally has lived in single family dwellings, our rentals have been single family dwellings, we have very few multi-unit residential opportunities. What we need is more of those multi-unit residences so that people starting out in a job, maybe a single person, or a new, young family could rent until they get established and then maybe buy something.”
“I’m going to try to push affordable housing,” said Bryson. “I’m gonna talk with someone at Mountain Projects, maybe some former employees there within the next little while, and try to see what needs to happen from a county standpoint, what the county needs to do to help with affordable housing. I think that we’re lacking in that. We need to look at people that are willing to come in and build facilities and build apartment complexes.”
“There is some low income housing that was built in the county that filled up pretty quick,” said Smith. “I’d like to see more of those, but the question is funding and who are we going to get to sponsor that? Are there any grants available? It falls back to infrastructure as well. Do we have the water and sewer infrastructure to support more housing like apartments? We need to work with TWASA and different things and see how we can build that out. It’s going to be a long process and it’s probably not going to be cheap.”
“We do have a housing problem and that is something [the commission] works on. Affordable housing is so important,” said Deitz. “You try to get people to buy property and build homes that are affordable. Well, if you’re a builder, you’re interested in making money. We have this severe need, but so many people don’t want these houses near their nicer homes.”
Throughout the campaign Bryson has been vocal about his intention to bring more restaurant options to Jackson County, as well as a family-friendly public facility like a fairground.
“Voters should vote for me because I’m young and I want to see the county grow in different ways,” said Bryson. “I’m a Christian conservative and I just want our county to grow.
I want to see the right things come into the county that are beneficial to our residents.”
If reelected, Woody looks forward to finishing the projects the commission has started during the four years she has been on the board.
“I want to accomplish these things that we’ve started,” said Woody. “One thing I have learned in being a commissioner is that no one person can accomplish anything. It takes working together as a board to accomplish these things. For one thing, you have to have three votes at least, but our board has worked bipartisan and worked well together because we really care about our community. I’ve been very pleased to see how well our board works together to accomplish things.”
John Smith has campaigned on being the change that Jackson County needs, and on bringing more industry to Jackson County.
“We’ve been electing the same people for a long time,” said Smith. “So if you want change and you want to see different things happening in the county, then you need to move some different people in. Typically, to bring in industry you’d provide them incentives, maybe subsidize some of their connection fees to infrastructure, water, sewer, things like that, maybe a little tax relief for a period of time. From what I’ve seen the current group of commissioners are not doing that. They do not do any concessions for any business coming in.”
Deitz is running for commission again because he wants to bring more kindness to the public arena, continue to support county employees and serve the people of his community.
“I’m running again because I enjoy the work,” said Deitz. “I enjoy my relationship with the people. I think our county employees are so important and they do such a great job, and I want to be the go to person for them, look out for them. I’m a democrat, but sometimes I feel like I’m the most conservative one on the board. I always question our spending.”