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Sylva town leaders must pick new member to join them

The Sylva town board has lost what was arguably its most progressive member with the resignation of Stacy Knotts, who is following her professor husband Gibbs Knotts to the College of Charleston in South Carolina.

Three people have applied to serve the remaining one year on Knotts’ four-year term. The town’s four remaining board members will choose Knotts’ successor, with Mayor Maurice Moody holding the deciding vote in the event of a tie. All five said they weren’t as concerned with picking an individual who matched Knott’s political ideology as they were with selecting someone who would serve the town well. The new commissioner will be named next month.

The three candidates are Mary Kelley Gelbaugh, who is the office manager for Wilson Family Chiropractic; Barbara W. Hamilton, a retired registered nurse; and Russ Harris, an outreach counselor for Western Carolina University.

“I think we’ve got three excellent candidates. I don’t see how we could lose,” Moody said. “I’m looking for someone who is interested in the community, who is independent minded and who wants to see the town progress and grow.”

If any town ought to be familiar and comfortable with naming replacement board members, it would be Sylva. This is the town board’s third round of musical chairs in as many years.

After losing his seat in 2009, Commissioner Harold Hensley found his way back on the board after being appointed to replace Sarah Graham, who resigned after moving out of town limits. And Commissioner Chris Matheson, like Hensley, gained her seat on the board via appointment. She stepped in when Moody was elected mayor, leaving his commissioner seat vacant. Both Hensley and Matheson won their seats during this past November’s election.

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For his part, Hensley said he’s looking to replace Knotts with someone who has the town’s best interests at heart.

“The replacement just needs to be someone the board feels will do a good job and who will be interested in the town of Sylva,” Hensley said.

Matheson wants someone who can step in ready to participate on the town board.

“I want someone who is familiar with the issues,” she said. “Somebody who is already knowledgeable about the town and the current issues and who cares about the town of Sylva. And who will place Sylva at the forefront and who is willing to devote time and effort.”

Commissioner Danny Allen wants equanimity on the board and a good working relationship among the commissioners.

“I guess I’m looking for someone who will fit in with the rest of the board. And, someone who will bring new ideas to the board,” Allen said.


Vying for Sylva commissioner

Mary Kelley Gelbaugh, 33, office manager at Wilson Family Chiropractic

Why seeking post: “This is a great opportunity for me to serve and give back to my community.”

Qualifications: A Jackson County native who has grown up in and around Sylva. Gelbaugh is the daughter of Livingston and Linda Kelly, owners of Livingston’s Photo on Main Street. Has served on the Sylva planning board and was the 2007 event coordinator for Greening up the Mountains.

Seeks to accomplish: “I wish to serve on the board as a supporter and voice of the Sylva residents, businesses and tourism opportunities. I would like to encourage a broader tax base through economic growth with the hopes of lightening the burden on current taxpayers. I am particularly interested in continuing to make Sylva a green community.”

Barbara W. Hamilton, 67, retired registered nurse

Why seeking post: “We have been residents of Sylva since 1971. We raised our family here and now enjoy grandchildren. We love this area and have been very blessed. I would like to advocate for all the citizens of Sylva in the same manner that I always advocated for my patients for 38 years.”

Qualifications: Started the first outpatient surgery department at Harris Regional. Since retirement has volunteered with REACH of Jackson County, Social Services, the Community Table and other groups. Serves as executive committee officer and treasurer for the Jackson County Democratic Party.

Seeks to accomplish: “I believe in true mountain values and in everybody having a voice. I have no loyalty to any certain group.” Hamilton said she wants to work at creating jobs for the town’s young people by being very proactive, including approaching companies in an attempt to lure them into the town. At the same time, the jobs created need to be ones that also foster clean air and clean water.

Russ Harris, 38, outreach counselor, Western Carolina University

Why seeking post: “I believe that all of us who care about Sylva and enjoy the benefits of living in this community have a duty to serve and contribute.”

Qualifications: Experienced in group facilitation and conflict resolution and has the ability to develop and implement programs.

Seeks to accomplish: “I think our most valuable asset is our natural beauty. We need to continue to be smart in the (planning) ordinances we have. I also think we are facing revenue issues with the town at zero growth. The revaluation of property is expected to go down, at which point we wouldn’t be able to do anything but cut services.”


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