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Hemmed in and busting out: The town of Clyde faces challenges alongside opportunity

The town of Clyde (in pink) is relatively small compared to its extra-territorial jurisdiction (grey). Canton’s ETJ looms just to the east. Haywood GIS photo The town of Clyde (in pink) is relatively small compared to its extra-territorial jurisdiction (grey). Canton’s ETJ looms just to the east. Haywood GIS photo

Things are changing in Haywood County’s smallest incorporated municipality. Although there are only 754 registered voters in Clyde, the town plays a central geographic and economic role in how the county itself will, or will not, thrive and grow in the 21st century. 


With the recent demise of the Pactiv Evergreen paper mill just a few miles to the east and the end of a moratorium on new water lines, Clyde is now poised for growth. But as in neighboring municipalities, elected officials must balance the need for maintaining a healthy tax base with the desire to maintain the small-town character of the place.

Mayor Jim Trantham, who’s served in Clyde’s government for decades, isn’t up for election this year and will continue to be a guiding force, using his irreplaceable institutional knowledge to shepherd Clyde’s governing board into its newest incarnation.

Incumbents Frank Lay and Diane Fore aren’t up for reelection and will remain on the board, but John Hemingway, who is moving outside the county, didn’t file for reelection.

Incumbent Alderman Dann Jesse, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the town’s Board of Aldermen early in 2015, won election to the board that year and was reelected in 2019. Jesse seeks to retain his seat, but because of Hemingway’s departure there will be at least one new face on the board next year — two, if Jesse doesn’t win.

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Also vying for a seat on the board are Amy Russell, Kathy Cogburn Johnson and two additional candidates who did not return multiple requests for interviews.


Dann Jesse

Jesse graduated from Miami of Ohio’s pulp and paper program and retired from Pactiv Evergreen at the end of last year, after more than 42 years of service and mere months before the company announced it would shutter the mill.

“It was a gut punch,” he said.

But the blow hasn’t really even landed yet. Jesse estimates somewhere around 100 to 150 families in the town have been affected, prompting concern that some of them might move out of town to seek work elsewhere.

Clyde is also still dealing with the aftereffects of the 2021 floods that devastated Canton and to a lesser extent affected Clyde. A number of prime properties have been condemned as a result of the flooding — as well as flooding in 2004 — stifling opportunities for residential growth.

“I think the biggest issue for us right now is, as we have seen, Haywood County has kind of become a bedroom community for Asheville,” Jesse said. “We have seen an influx of people that are getting on Interstate 40 from Clyde and heading to Asheville to work. Housing is an issue. We don’t have a lot of space.”

Clyde is not unique in facing the challenges associated with a housing market that has made homeownership all but impossible for the average resident of the county. However, there’s a unique opportunity for development in Clyde’s cozy central business district.

“I’d like to see our downtown get some business back in it, just to have some vitality,” he said.  “You see what Waynesville and what Canton has done, and it’ll be interesting to see how Canton fares with the mill closing, but in our case, we have limited downtown space and we’d like to make it look presentable for people that come through and take a walk around.”

The next board needs to deal effectively with Clyde’s limiting factors, but the key to the town’s ongoing vitality and significance is probably intergovernmental cooperation on one of the region’s most pressing issues.

“We have a council of governments, where all the municipalities in the county and commissioners meet,” Jesse said. “I view that as a very important component of what your role is as an alderman for the town — it’s to be able to listen to what else is going on in the county, and interject when you feel the need to represent the town of Clyde in those discussions, on things like water.”

Clyde purchases water from the town of Canton and pays the Junaluska Sanitary District to treat its wastewater. With the recent end of a moratorium on new water lines outside town limits, the town now has the tools to grow, should it so desire. The town’s water system currently has more outside customers than inside customers and doesn’t currently require annexation for out-of-town homeowners to access the water resources, but it could.

However, the floods, the shutdown of the mill and the yearslong wastewater treatment project in nearby Waynesville illustrate the precarious nature of water infrastructure in the county.

“From a certain standpoint,” Jesse said, “I think sometimes the county as a whole needs to at least embark on something that says, ‘Okay, these communities can’t just live unto themselves.’ They need to be interconnected in that sense.” 

Kathy Cogburn Johnson 

Kathy Cogburn Johnson, a native of Clyde and candidate for the Board, agrees.

“I think the water and sewer lines they are continuing to update, that’s what I think is the main concern,” Johnson said.

Johnson is the retired manager of First Citizens Bank in Canton and currently serves as a member of the town’s planning board. She admits to being bored with retirement and also occasionally works part-time for the town, answering phones and processing water payments when necessary.

Basically, her professional life has been devoted to customer service, in one way or another.

“I want people to be able to come to me and tell me their concerns, and hopefully I can help them,” Johnson said.

She said she’s satisfied with how the town responded to flooding in 2021, as well as in 2004, after which the town planned and constructed River’s Edge Park, which is designed to flood when the Pigeon River slips its banks. Johnson is also pleased with the way the town has responded to the mill’s closing — working with affected families on things like water billing — but remains concerned over their ultimate fate.

“Down at Sentelle’s or the Dollar General when you talk to people, I know there’s some that have moved and gotten jobs in the Asheville area when they got laid off and there are several that have moved to other states, which I can understand,” she said. “There’s not a lot of companies that pay what [Pactiv Evergreen] did.”

Like Jesse, Johnson is aware of the affordable housing crisis and the town’s geographical limitations, but points to an increasing supply of homes in the immediate vicinity of downtown.

On downtown and its continuing struggle for vibrancy, Johnson also points to the brighter side of things, despite the town’s limitations.

“There’s 55 businesses in Clyde right now. I only know of one building for sale, and I don’t know if it’s sold yet or not,” she said.

Johnson is in favor drawing business interest to the town through advertising, or simply talking more to economic development professionals about the opportunities there, including the comparatively low property tax rate of 43 cents.

Clyde’s elections are nonpartisan, and Johnson is registered as an unaffiliated voter. She’s aware of the as-yet unsuccessful efforts of Rep. Mark Pless (R-Haywood) to force Haywood County towns to conduct municipal elections in a partisan manner, but she’s opposed to the idea.

Amy Russell

That opinion puts Johnson squarely on the side of the vast majority of elected officials in Haywood County, including the Republican Jesse and the entirety of Clyde’s current board. It also lines up with the views of another aldermanic candidate, Democrat Amy Russell.

“We can’t do this. I mean, it shouldn’t matter,” Russell said. “It should be about the people who want the best for our community.”

Russell was born in Clyde, but grew up off Allens Creek. She did venture outside the area once or twice, but always returned and has called the town home for a decade now.

She owns two businesses in Clyde, a dog grooming operation and a canine-centric retail store, but for the past 23 years has worked for Champion Supply, a janitorial supply company in Asheville, where she’s the operations manager. She’s also served on the zoning board for the past four years, and sits on the county’s greenway council.

Affordable housing is a concern for Russell, who sits on the local Habitat for Humanity board. She foresees the closing of the mill as a driver for the local real estate market, and wants Clyde to be ready for it.

“Anytime that we can do anything to do that, we need to try,” she said. “Even finding these vacant lots that nobody’s done anything with and bringing them to the attention of people and saying, ‘Hey, what are you going to do with that lot?’”

Largely content with the job the town’s done in recovering from the most recent flood, Russell said she’s also pleased with the town’s utilization of some of those condemned properties — as a small orchard. She does, however, wish that cleanup on the river banks would proceed a little more quickly.

She’s also concerned that water could be an impediment to the town’s development.

“With us having to buy our water from Canton, we have no way to produce that water,” she said. “And then on the backside of that having the wastewater which is twice as expensive to get rid of, a lot of people don’t realize that when they do get their water bill later.”

And as a business owner, Russell says she has some ideas how to combat what she calls stagnation in the downtown development arena. She referenced pushback against a proposed brewery, and wants decision-making to take on a faster pace.

“I am committed to Clyde,” she said. “I am committed to the community, the overall wellness of our community, and bringing in businesses and residents as we can.”

The last day to register to vote in the 2023 municipal election is Friday, Oct. 13. Early voting for the municipal election begins on Thursday, Oct. 19. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. To check your registration, find your polling place, request an absentee ballot or find answers to other election-related questions, visit the North Carolina Board of Elections’ website,

Two other candidates did not return emails and calls requesting interviews for this story.

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