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Incumbents roll, 'Team Waynesville' falls flat

Turnout in this year's election was significantly higher than last time. File photo Turnout in this year's election was significantly higher than last time. 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.

“I felt like the voters saw the truth,” said Caldwell, who was reelected to a four-year term on Nov. 7. “Most of the stuff [Team Waynesville] was putting out there was not based on facts.” 

All five incumbents enjoyed solid early voting numbers.

Caldwell led challenger Joey Reece 697 to 435, right out of the gate. Council member 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.

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“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 Sutton. 

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

“I believe the current board was re-elected because the electorate looked at our experience and track record,” Sutton said. “People were able to see through misinformation and wanted a team that was diverse and willing to bring different voices to the board in a productive and compromising way.” 

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. Sutton came up with 1,290, and Freeman had 1,285. Franklin earned a respectable 1,019 votes; however, he ended up nearly 3 percentage points behind Freeman. Stephanie Sutton [no relation to Anthony] came away with 965, planning board member Peggy Hannah had 935 and Ken Hollifield — not officially 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. Anthony Sutton and Freeman will serve for 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 and prevents the possibility of wholesale turnover on Council in the future.

The election was also unique in that each of the incumbents increased their vote totals from the last election. Caldwell’s race, however, 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 Sutton’s 1,000 vote total that year.

For Sutton, the election was about more than just winning. As the first openly gay member of Town Council, 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,” said Sutton. “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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