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Maggie leaders in stalemate over board seat

The Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen is at an impasse.

Town leaders met Monday in hopes of appointing someone to fill an open seat on the board, which was vacated last month by an alderman who moved away. But, the four remaining board members could not agree on a replacement, meaning the controversy-laden process will continue for at least another three weeks.

Aldermen Mike Matthews and Phillip Wight named Steve Hurley and Charlie Meadows as their top two candidates, while Alderwoman Saralyn Price and Mayor Ron DeSimone found themselves agreeing on either Danya Vanhook or June Johnson.

Neither pair could convince a third to join their side.

“I am kind of where I am at,” Matthews said.

The only thing the group could agree on is that they could not agree. Board members said they would review the applicants again, but the likelihood of anyone changing his or her mind before the board’s next meeting on Oct. 9, when they plan to revisit the topic, could be nil.

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“I don’t really feel like I am going to change my mind,” Price said.

Unlike the usually verbose nature of Maggie meetings, Monday’s was rife with cold, heavy silences, broken either by questions posed by Price in hopes of jump starting a dialogue. The meeting was also laced with some snide remarks.

Matthews, who is typically vocal about his opinion, remained quiet for the first several minutes before saying he would prefer to talk about the candidates’ individual merits or pitfalls behind closed doors.

With several of those who put their name in the hat sitting in the audience that day, Matthews said he “didn’t feel comfortable,” talking about them when they could hear what was being said.

DeSimone reminded everyone that the decision is not personal nor is it a popularity contest.

“I think we owe it to these people to give an open discussion,” DeSimone said.

Besides, it would be against the law for the town board to have the discussion behind closed doors, per the N.C. Open Meetings Law.

DeSimone then offered to list his top three — Vanhook, Johnson and Billy Case — as a way to get the conversation started.

“Those three people brought the most to the table in a way of ideas. They seemed most balanced,” DeSimone said. “They weren’t in alignment with any one of us.”

Wight asserted that the description could apply to other candidates as well.

“But, everything you just said I could apply to Steve Hurley and think he is the best neutral candidate in the group,” Wight said.

“Or, Charlie Meadows,” Matthews chimed in.

DeSimone did not agree and later said he does not support Hurley or Meadows.

“That’s your position. That’s fine. It’s not mine,” DeSimone said.

After several seconds, a seemingly long pause, Wight asked that the board vote and try to weed out some of the applicants.

DeSimone shot back that none of the other board members had mentioned whom their favorite candidates were or why they preferred someone over another.

“I thought we were having an open decision, but so far, the only one having that discussion is me,” DeSimone said.

Hesitantly, and only after direct questioning by Price and DeSimone, Matthews divulged his top two — Meadows and Hurley — and explained his reasoning.

“I think Charlie Meadows has been extremely involved in everything that we do. He has been very successful and helped out a lot on the festival board,” Matthews said. “I think he has some good ideas about where he wants to see things go.”

As for Hurley, Matthews said the local restaurant and bar owner would be a neutral voice on the board and is someone who cares deeply about the valley.

Wight then piped up with his preference for Hurley as well, and although he admitted that June Johnson has one of the best interviews, he did not place her among his favorites. Wight said he was “stuck on” Hurley.

Price concluded the go-around of who likes whom with her favored candidates — Johnson and Vanhook.

“I don’t think you could find anyone who cares more about Maggie Valley than her,” Price said of Johnson.

Price called Vanhook, who has served on the board previously, intelligent and noted her law degree. Vanhook was appointed to the board in 2011 and ran for alderman last November but lost by 31 votes.

Price went on to list problems she had with appointing Hurley, some of which DeSimone concurred with, including that he didn’t have a realistic vision of what Maggie Valley is or its future. During his interview a week prior, Hurley had spoken out in strong support of the once-troubled amusement park Ghost Town in the Sky.

“He felt like Ghost Town was the answer to our problems. I don’t feel like that’s so,” Price said. And “he doesn’t want to live in a retired community, and that’s what we are in. So, that was a biggie for me.”

During the meeting, Vanhook made a case for appointing the runner-up from the last election, which would be herself.

“Something to think about,” Vanhook said.

Vanhook had been next highest vote getter in last year’s town election. DeSimone expressed his support for the idea, and Price, who also liked Vanhook, did not disagree.

“There was a strong case for that before,” DeSimone said. “It would not hurt my feelings at all.”

Wight at one time had been an advocate of using the runner-up system to fill town board vacancies. In fact, when Wight himself applied to a vacant seat on the board last year, he used the runner-up argument to advocate for his own appointment, as Wight happened to be the runner-up himself in the previous election.

But, Wight was passed over for the seat at that time, and now no longer subscribes to the runner-up system. He said the town shouldn’t flip-flop on rules and procedures when it’s convenient for their side.

Vanhook was the only applicant for the vacancy who ran in the last election.

After about 30 minutes of discussion, the Board of Aldermen decided to wait until their next regularly scheduled meeting, which is almost three weeks away, to give the alderman candidates more thought.


A Domino Effect

The Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen’s stalemate on who will fill the empty seat at their table could affect other decision in the future.

The fifth alderman ensures that there is never a tie when the board votes on a matter. However, since the board of aldermen currently has four members and is deadlocked on who to appoint, the board could find itself deadlocked on other topics as well until the stalemate on a new appointee is broken and a fifth member joins their ranks.

“It will probably come up time-to-time, but I don’t think it will happen as often as people think,” said Mayor Ron DeSimone.

In fact, Alderman Phillip Wight said the four-member board could be a good thing and help the aldermen get to know each other even better.

“If you have a four-member board, I think it will promote more discussion,” Wight said.

More time may have to be spent persuading each other to vote a specific way.

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