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Incumbents roll, ‘Team Waynesville’ falls flat

It's back to business for the Waynesville governing board. It's back to business for the Waynesville governing board. File photo

They ran a noisy campaign, filled with distortions, misinformation and outright fabrication, but in the end, that’s all it was — noise.

The members of the so-called “Team Waynesville,” running as a slate, failed to win any of the four Waynesville Town Council seats they’d sought, as each of the incumbent council members, plus Mayor Gary Caldwell, earned healthy vote totals at the polls and will return to the work of the people of Waynesville.

“The way they wouldn’t talk to the press created distrust with the community, knowing the job of the press is to hold everyone accountable, which the press has done fantastically over the past four years,” said Anthony Sutton, incumbent Town Council member. 

All five incumbents enjoyed solid early voting numbers. Mayor Gary Caldwell led challenger Joey Reece 697 to 435. Chuck Dickson led all Town Council candidates with 756, followed closely by Jon Feichter with 742. Anthony Sutton’s 689 was just ahead of Julia Freeman’s 681. Challenger Tre Franklin was a distant fifth, with 493, as other challengers fell in behind his total.

Once precinct results began to trickle in, it became clear the early voting totals weren’t a fluke; Dickson, Feichter, Anthony Sutton and Freeman never trailed and remained in the exact same order.

For the second election in a row, Dickson led all candidates, with a total of 1,443 votes. Feichter was right behind him with 1,411. Anthon Sutton came up with 1,290, Freeman 1,285.

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Franklin earned a respectable 1,019 votes; however, he ended up nearly 3 percentage points behind Freeman. Stephanie Sutton came away with 965, planning board member Peggy Hannah had 935, and Ken Hollifield — not a member of the “team” but in agreement with them on most issues — brought up the rear with 578.

This election was unique for Waynesville, as it’s the last time all four Council Members will be up for election at the same time. The top two candidates, Dickson and Feichter, earned four-year terms. Sutton and Freeman will serve two years, and then their seats will be up for reelection. The regimen sets up staggered terms, to bring Waynesville in line with other Haywood County municipalities.

The election was also unique in that each of the incumbents increased their vote totals from the last election.

Caldwell’s race was closer. The longtime Council member and first-term mayor tallied 1,283 votes to Reece’s 1,031, good for a 10-point win. Reece narrowly missed out on winning a seat on council in 2019, earning 931 votes in that election — just short of Anthony Sutton’s 1,000 vote total.

For Anthony Sutton [no relation to Stephanie], the election was about more than just winning. As the first openly gay member of Town Council, Anthony Sutton had to endure perhaps more negative attention than his fellow incumbents. He said he was pleased with the results.

“I feel that it’s a mandate for our town,” he said. “We are a welcoming town. We respect everyone in our community, including those in our LGBT+ community. I know [this election] wasn’t about gay issues, but it felt personal.”

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