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Maggie appoints former judge to town board vacancy

In the quagmire that is politics in Maggie Valley, the most recent appointee to the town’s board of aldermen says it’s her lack of agenda that makes her the ideal candidate — and possibly a rarity in a town defined by allegiances.

Danya Vanhook, a local lawyer who just finished a stint as district court judge, was chosen by a three-to-one vote to fill the vacant seat on the town’s board until elections are held in November.

“The reason I applied to fill this position is that I have no agendas,” Vanhook told the crowd assembled at the March 22 meeting of the town board. Vanhook was chosen after interviews with several candidates who threw their names into the ring to fill the seat vacated in January by former Alderman Colin Edwards.

Vanhook told citizens that she sought the position because she believes in public service and was looking for a place to get involved. She lost re-election as district court judge in November after just two years on the bench.

“I am doing this because it is a way for me as a private business owner and a private practitioner of law to serve my community,” said Vanhook.

The lone vote against Vanhook was cast by Phil Aldridge, who has recently disagreed with the other board members at nearly every turn.

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Aldridge said his vote wasn’t an indictment of Vanhook or her qualifications, but a salvo to his recent campaign to allow the next-highest vote-getter from the last election to take the seat. Since Edwards abdicated, Aldridge has maintained that it would be the most democratic way to replace him, railing against hand-picking by the board.

“I have to oppose simply because I support Phil Wight,” said Aldridge. “He was the citizens choice. I think we did have wonderful candidates but the people have spoken.”

The seat on Maggie Valley’s board was left empty after a rift over ABC operations, with Aldridge and Edwards on one side and fellow members Saralyn Price, Scott Pauley and Mayor Roger McElroy on the other. Edwards said the argument made it impossible for him to continue working with other board members, so he left.

In the wake of his departure, more conflict arose over precisely how his replacement would be chosen. After setting a deadline for applications, Town Manager Tim Barth extended the deadline at the last minute, which he said was to allow a wider field the chance to participate.

This rankled Aldridge, who saw it as a ploy by other board members to wait for hand-chosen applicants to express interest.

In this respect, thought, Vanhook is somewhat of a surprise appointment. While she has a history of public service, especially in the legal arena, her involvement in Maggie Valley politics has been negligible.

Despite that, Vanhook said she is eager to learn and sees local government as important decision-makers for residents and business owners.

“I think the most important thing is to serve our local town. The most important decisions happen right here in this room,” said Vanhook.

Maggie Valley’s town board has historically dominated by tourism-oriented business people. But as the town has annexed more subdivisions into the town limits over the past decade, the board has seen more representation from residents like Vanhook without commercial interests.

She will be sworn in at the town’s next monthly meeting and will serve for seven months before the seat is up for re-election.

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