Some Swain candidates talk change, some want more of the same

Come November, voters will be selecting candidates to fill all four seats on the Swain County Board of Commissioners. They will choose from a slate of six candidates — four Democrats and two Republicans. 

Where Jackson commissioner candidates stand

Whether a grassroots movement to spark planning in Cullowhee dies or moves forward will rests with the next Jackson County board of commissioners.

A group of Cullowhee residents have called for development guidelines. Without standards, Cullowhee is vulnerable to unattractive development according to proponents. But, they need the county’s blessing to put them in place.

Macon commissioner candidates talk budget matters, schools and slope regulations

Despite having three Macon County commissioner seats on the ballot this fall, only one has any competition.

In the conservative leaning county, two sitting Republican commissioners will stroll back on the board after no Democratic candidates stepped up to run against them. While Commissioners Jim Tate and Kevin Corbin had to fend off challenges from other Republicans in the May primary, both won and are now enjoying a leisurely campaign season given the lack of Democratic opposition.

Trifecta of taxes, spending and debt debated in Haywood commissioner race

Haywood voters must pick two county commissioners from a field of four candidates. Both the sitting commissioners are running to keep their seats. Whoever wins come Nov. 6 will serve four years on the county’s highest decision-making board.

Commissioners Mark Swanger and Kevin Ensley hope to defend their seats against challengers Denny King and Mike Treadway.

Greene wins Jackson commissioner seat

Jackson County has a new county commissioner.

Vicki Greene, a longtime community planner and retired assistant director of the Southwestern Development Commission, clinched the Democratic nomination, which makes her a shoe-in for the Board of Commissioners as there is no Republican opposition running for the seat in November’s general election.

Greene will take the seat on the board currently held by Commissioner Joe Cowan, who decided not to seek re-election.

Stacy Buchanan, a former Jackson County commissioner, ran against Greene in the primary, but Greene walked away from the race with 60 percent of the vote.

“I look forward to working with all the folks of Jackson County to make this the best possible Jackson,” Greene said.

For three decades, Greene has worked as a resource for local governments and community leaders in the seven western counties. She is skilled in the art of consensus building and translating brainstorming sessions into tangible results

“Good communication is more about listening than talking,” Greene said. “For somebody to win, somebody else doesn’t have to lose.”

Another “Greene-ism” she tries to live by — “Do I want to be right or do I want to do right?” — is one she didn’t learn until she was about 50.

Greene’s top priority as a commissioner and biggest challenge facing the county is economic development. To say that Jackson County has not been proactive on the economic development stage is an understatement.

“When the unemployment rate was only 4 or 5 percent seven years ago, it was not as obvious that Jackson County needed a strong economic development strategy,” Greene said.

But, unemployment is now at 11 percent.

Greene said she wants to ensure that Jackson County continues progressive approach to managing growth and development, which includes strong subdivision and steep slope ordinances to protect the quality of life in Jackson County. She does not believe development regulations hamper growth and development.

“It is about seeking balance between the two,” Greene said.

There is a chance an unaffiliated candidate will try to get on the ballot for the November election, but to do so, a candidate would have to gather approximately 1,400 signatures.

Haywood Republicans must narrow their slate

Like a game of musical chairs, three Republican candidates for county commissioners are circling Haywood County and hoping they can secure one of the two places on the November election ballot.

Only two of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners seats are up for re-election this year. Two candidates from each party will advance to the general election in November.

Since three Republicans declared their candidacy, voters will have to narrow that number to two during the primary.

Among local, state and federal elections, jobs and the economy still seem to be voters’ main concern. And, the Haywood commissioners election is no different.

“We are borrowing a lot of money,” said Denny King, one of the Republican commissioner candidates. “I will not vote to raise taxes; I will not vote to go deeper into debt.”

The county has not been conservative enough with its money. For example, it should not be paying for the maintenance and upkeep on the MARC building, which is rented by elderly-focused nonprofits for $1 a year, King said. That same perk isn’t being offered to any of the other institutions that do good work in the county, he said.

“I wouldn’t expect us as a county to rent a church for $1 a year,” King said.

King also stated that he believes property owners are paying too much in taxes.

“I will support reducing the size of the burden that property owners pay,” King said.

Candidate Tracy Coward said residents are not getting enough bang for their buck when it comes to county spending. The county’s overall budget is about $65 million.

“I just don’t see where we are getting our money’s worth,” Coward said.

“In a lot of cases, they have done a good job in saving money and cutting down on expenditures, but I think there is a lot more that could be done,” Coward continued.

The current Board of Commissioners has expressed support for state legislation that would allow counties to consolidate redundant services within DSS and the health department.

Incumbent Kevin Ensley touted achievements that the board has accomplished during his current term. In particular, he noted that the board has saved money by privatizing the county landfill and maintained the tax rate despite having to make difficult job cuts.

“We have been able to make the cuts that we needed to without raising taxes,” Ensley said.

Ensley is currently the only Republican member of the five-person board.

Constituents have talked to candidates about their concerns going into this year’s election — and a main anxiety is jobs.

Coward said he can provide a “fresh set of eyes” to such concerns and will vote for what he thinks is best for the county and its people.

Young people continue to leave Haywood County because there are not enough available jobs, Coward said, and the county should work harder to help create more employment opportunities.

One way to create jobs, Ensley said, is through water and sewer projects — something he is a big proponent of. Up-to-date water and sewer systems are a must-have amenity for many businesses if they are looking at moving to a particular area. By building new and updating old systems, the county can create construction jobs and hopefully attract new businesses that will hire county residents, Ensley said.

 

Haywood Commissioner Republican primary: choose two

Tracy Coward, 55, Waynesville

Background: Coward is a maintenance technician at Continental and a former adjunct professor at Haywood Community College. Coward has never run for political office before.

Why are you running: “We need business experience on the board, but it seems like sometimes these folks have their own interests in mind. I was wanting to give the little man some representation.”

L. Kevin Ensley, 50, Waynesville

Background: Ensley has served on the Board of County Commissioners for eight years. He is surveyor by profession.

Why are you running: “I feel like I have provided some leadership in making sure we practice some budget austerity, which we have. I wanted to continue providing that leadership.”

Denny King, 52, Canton

Background: King is currently an engineer at BorgWarner in Asheville. He ran for county commissioner unsuccessfully one time before. This election season, King filed to run but later had second thoughts and tried to get his name taken off the ballot. “I really don’t want to comment on that. I am running to win.”

Why are you running: “I had a lot of encouragement to run, and many people in our county want a voice. They believe I will listen to their thoughts and concern.”

Jackson County Democratic primary features two experienced Democratic candidates

One thing is for certain. Whichever of two Democrats Jackson County voters pick in the May 8 primary will be bringing a lot of governmental experience to the table in their bid for a seat on the Board of Commissioners. Stacy Buchanan is a former commissioner and board chairman; Vicki Greene recently retired as assistant director for Southwestern Commission. They are running for the seat currently held by Joe Cowan, who decided not to seek re-election.

The two might face competition in the general election, despite no candidates formally signing up to run during the official filing period. Local builder Cliff Gregg, who plans to run as an unaffiliated candidate, has until June to collect the signatures of 4 percent, or roughly 1,400 names, of Jackson County voters. If Gregg succeeds, he will compete with whichever Democrat clears the primary hurdle.

 

Vicki Greene, 61, retired assistant director Southwestern Commission

Greene has one son and noted that it’s important to some people in Jackson County that she’s Maude Bryson’s daughter. Her mother worked at the old A&P grocery store, Greene said, and functioned “as a one-woman Chamber of Commerce.” Greene attended the University of North Carolina at Greensboro as a Reynolds Scholar. She holds a master’s in public administration program from UNC, a certificate in county administration from the School of Government at UNC and has taken a variety of courses in economic development and financing.

Where do you stand on land-use planning?

Greene said that she favors land-use planning and that she spoke in favor of and still supports Jackson County’s mountain hillside ordinance and its subdivision regulations.

“The board is looking at fine-tuning the subdivision regulations as far as having a hierarchy of standards for roads based on the number of lots in a development,” she said. “And, I think that’s a positive thing to do.”

Greene said she believes the conservative-dominated board is appropriately responding by evaluating the existing regulations. She emphasized her belief in the need to continue planning efforts in the Whittier and Cashiers areas and said she also thinks that the county needs to become directly involved in community planning in the Cullowhee area. Cullowhee, she pointed out, is the fastest-growing township in Jackson County, growth that most believe will increase more rapidly if an alcohol referendum passes during the primary.

“It would be an exciting time to have an entity such as the county to take a leadership role in developing a plan,” Greene said.

What are your plans for economic development?

“I think Jackson County has been unique in southwestern North Carolina in terms of having no or an ineffective economic development effort,” Greene said.

Jackson County’s economic development commission came under fire and was ultimately dissolved, during her opponent’s tenure on the board amid questions about $1.2 million in unpaid business loans and generally questionable lending practices. The economic development arm back then was an independent body outside the county’s direct control.

Greene said that Jackson County needed to follow the lead of neighboring counties like Haywood and Macon and hire an experienced economic development director.

“A lot boils down to having a director with the connections who can put Jackson County at the forefront” for when the recession ends, Greene said, adding that the county needs to work on a comprehensive strategy that considers health care, training, tourism and building the necessary infrastructure.

She’s running because…

“I have a commitment to make this the best possible Jackson County that it can be,” Greene said.

Greene noted that she has served for more than three decades as a technical resource for local governments on retreats, grant applications, workforce development funding and more.

“I’ve worked with Democrat and Republican boards for 36 years and have developed strong lines of communications with them all,” Greene said, adding that Mountain Mediations one year named her peacemaker of the year.

 

Stacy Buchanan, 49, district vice president America’s Home Place

Buchanan is married and has two children. He has a bachelor’s in business administration, two associate’s degrees in personnel administration and recreation administration, a master’s in public administration and certification in business and marketing education. He is an Air Force veteran who taught in the Jackson County Schools and who served from 1998-2005 on the Board of Commissioners, including as chairman. Buchanan resigned in the middle of his term in March 2005. Buchanan, at the time, cited his acceptance of a position as assistant head football coach and co-offensive coordinator at Smoky Mountain High School and an inability to split time between his school and public service career.

Where do you stand on land-use planning?

“I’m very much pro-land planning,” Buchanan said. “I support the ordinances we have in place, and I’m glad to see those were adopted.”

He said he does not oppose the revisiting of those ordinances now taking place under the new Board of Commissioners.

“I’m never opposed to seeing change; they constantly need to be updated,” Buchanan said. “You need to see the impacts they had positive or negative, and whether you need to tweak them. I see tweaking as making the language easier to understand and easier to follow.”

Buchanan said tweaking does not, in his book, mean diluting or watering down the ordinances, however.

“We need to protect the beautiful natural resources that God has given us. We need to be good stewards of the land,” he said.

What are your plans for economic development?

Buchanan noted he’d been part of developing a 15-year strategic plan for Jackson County that emphasized facility development. He said that he’d take the same approach to economic development and help construct a 15-year plan “that people will buy into” to guide the county’s efforts.

“I don’t think we’re being proactive enough going after companies that are looking to come back to the U.S. that went overseas,” Buchanan said, adding that Jackson needs to understand and market its assets. “We need to be able to ask these companies, ‘Why not Jackson County?’ I’ll match Jackson County up with any county.”

Buchanan was board chairman when a brouhaha erupted that ultimately resulted in the county’s economic development commission being dissolved, partly because of lack of results. At the time, the economic development arm was not under the county’s direct oversight or accountability. Just weeks before resigning, Buchanan called for a “restructuring” of that board, which had run afoul of commissioners amid questions about unpaid business loans and generally questionable lending practices.

“I believe in an EDC but not the way that we had it,” he said, advocating for a “paid professional” with a proven track record to head economic development efforts for Jackson County. And that professional, Buchanan said, needs to be “backed up by a board with experience.”

He’s running because…

Buchanan emphasized again that he believes Jackson County needs to develop a strategic plan for the next 15 years, and he said that he’s the man who can help the county reach that goal.

“To know where you’re going you’ve got to understand where you’ve been,” Buchanan said, pointing to the facilities plan developed under his prior tenure as where he’s been. “It’s coming to fruition now,” he said, adding that the facilities plan laid a critical groundwork for Jackson County’s economic future.

“Now we need a plan going forward so that we don’t miss opportunities,” Buchanan said.

Macon commissioner candidates share their views

Three of the five seats on the Macon County Board of Commissioners are up for election this year, and all have a primary race that needs deciding for either one party or the other. Democrats will be asked to narrow down the field in one race, while Republicans will have two races on the ballots.

Last week, in an effort to help voters hear from the candidates firsthand, the Macon County League of Women Voters hosted a forum for those men running for commissioner. Five of the six involved in the primary election participated.

The primary issues in these races were addressed at the forum: issues about what role, if any, land planning should play in Macon County; and how to jumpstart an economy struggling through a recession.

 

Republican primary for district two (Franklin): Pick one

(The primary winner wins the seat for keeps, as there is no Democratic challenger for this seat in the general election.)


Kevin Corbin, 50, insurance business owner

How would you help the local economy?

Corbin said that the recession hit Macon County particularly hard because of its heavy dependence on the construction market and tourism.

“What can we do? Government needs to stay out of the way. Small business creates business. Government does not create business.”

Corbin spoke about current efforts of the Economic Development Commission. He noted that the Board of Commissioners had identified the EDC as its top priority and taken measures to bolster it with the addition of a fulltime executive director as opposed to the previous position of an “economic development coordinator.”

“We hold them accountable,” he said, noting that the board gets a direct report once each month.

Where do you stand on land planning?

“I don’t have all the answers, and we’re learning as we go,” Corbin said of Macon County’s strident conversations about land planning. “It’s been very frustrating to me … when these things get emotional and people start arguing back and forth, it’s not helpful to anyone.”

Corbin said that he believes the recent move to define the planning board as clearly advisory in nature has helped, “and things will move forward in a positive way.”

What’s important to you to address?

Education, Corbin said, “is near and dear to my heart. Educating kids has got to be a top priority. If you don’t care about that, then you don’t care about our future.”

He said that the technology needs of the schools must be tackled. In 2000, he said Macon County went from 80th to 11th in state rankings on technology, but now the rotation of computers has gone from five years to nine and almost 10 years. Corbin said that some of the county’s healthy fund balance (it stands at 33 percent) should be allocated to the schools for the technology program.

“It just makes sense to take care of our kids.”

 

Vic Drummond, 68, retired owner of his own computer consulting and software development services business

How would you help the local economy?

While politicians might not be able to directly create jobs, “you can promote policies that attract businesses,” Drummond said, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a low tax rate and the continued development of a great school system and of necessary housing. “Those are the things that will attract people to come to the area,” Drummond said, adding that he does not support tax incentives for new business.

He did echo the sentiment that small business is the true future of Macon County and spoke of the need to have a trained workforce and adequate infrastructure.

Where do you stand on land planning?

“I believe that development is the lifeblood of any community. I’m against planning … that’s going to tell me where I can live, what size yard I can have or that will infringe on my rights to use my property as I see fit.”

Drummond did not totally exclude the use of regulations to fix development problems, but he did emphasize that “I’m against regulations simply for regulations sake.”

What’s important to you to address?

Drummond proposed a 9-percent property tax reduction. Macon County’s tax rate is currently the lowest in the state at 27.9 percent, it’s fund balance stands at 33 percent, more than double many counties.

Drummond said that millions would be returned to tax payers’ pockets under his plan, which would include holding the line on a 9-percent reduction until the fund balance stands at 25 percent.

 

Democratic primary for district 3 (Cowee to Nantahala): pick one

(The winner of that race will face Republican Paul Higdon in the general election.)


Bobby Kuppers, 58, Franklin High School teacher

How would you help the local economy?

The civics teacher emphasized three steps in his economic development ladder: keeping what’s there already by being an “entrepreneur-friendly community,” providing workforce training and ensuring there is adequate infrastructure.

“You can’t let your schools slip,” Kuppers said, adding that was equally true for the Macon County Airport facility and the recreation parks. Such things as good schools and recreation parks, Kuppers said, could prove “a big part of getting a company to come here.”

Where do you stand on land planning?

“I think there’s a misconception that there’s an equivalent between planning and regulations,” Kuppers said, adding that “tough economic times demand planning.”

Kuppers said that he believes the county needs to adhere to the Macon County Comprehensive Plan, a document commissioned in January 2009 that created a guide for policy decisions concerning the county’s growth.

He said going forward on proposals for governmental regulations on land planning people can expect to hear him ask, “How does that fit into the comprehensive plan?”

What’s important to you to address?

Kuppers said the challenge of coming out of a recession is that holding the line spending wise in Macon County has come at a cost.

“After awhile what you have is no longer what you need,” he said, referring to infrastructure as “the challenge” now facing the county.

“We’ve got to have a plan,” Kupper said, pointing out that computers in the schools, for instance, are now on a nine-year instead of five-year rotation.

Kuppers said the county’s recreation park, once Macon’s “crown jewel,” is showing impacts of reduced spending and attention.

“Our kids, grandkids, they only get one childhood.”

 

ick Snyder, 56, property manager

How would you help the local economy?

“I believe the county needs to explore every opportunity to make Macon County small-business friendly.”

Snyder indicated that he believes the county needs to consider making some financing available to companies that are looking to settle or expand in Macon County. Snyder emphasized that he’d want to see any such dollars extended tied directly to job creation.

Where do you stand on land planning?

Snyder, saying he wasn’t much of a talker, simply said that Macon County does need to review its existing ordinances to ensure they are not unduly burdensome.

“It’s making it hard on developers.”

What’s important to you to address?

Snyder briefly emphasized the importance of tourism.

“We need to make Macon County a destination, not a pass through.”

Snyder also said that he believes attention needs to be placed on providing affordable housing and affordable day care.

 

Republican primary for District one: pick one (Highlands)

The other candidate, Steve Higdon, did not participate in the forum or return a phone message seeking an interview.

(The primary winner wins the seat for keeps, as there is no Democratic challenger for this seat in the general election.)

 

Jimmy Tate, 40, landscape business owner

How would you help the local economy?

“I think we need to promote our county and be ready for (economic development) when it does get here. Promote, be ready and hold what we have.”

Tate said the table has been set in Macon County through work of the Economic Development Commission. He said that it is important that Macon County build and maintain excellent schools and keep a thriving medical community and hospital as incentives for new businesses.

“We need to outshine everybody else,” Tate said, adding that he, too, believes it’s important that the county keep property taxes low.

Where do you stand on land planning?

Tate has served as a member of both the Highlands planning board and on the Macon County Planning Board. He was recently appointed the liaison to the planning board for commissioners.

“As a county commissioner and as a resident, I will always be a good steward of this county,” he said, adding that he has also, as a small business owner, experienced burdensome government regulation before. “We need balance and commonsense regulations.”

What’s important to you to address?

Tate noted he’s “a rookie” at being a county commissioner. He said that if re-elected he has a simple goal of helping ensure government is efficient. Tate also wants to maintain good schools and ensure communities have adequate law enforcement protection.

Jackson Commissioner race for Cashiers’ seat heats up

The battle of the Joneses is about to commence in Jackson County.

County Commissioner Mark Jones will appear on the ballot alongside challenger Marty Jones in November. Mark Jones is a Democrat, Marty Jones a Republican.

The Joneses will fight for the right to represent the Cashiers area.

Marty Jones and Mark Jones were on the opposite side of a heated countywide debate five years ago over mountain development regulations. Commissioner Mark Jones was part of the board that ushered in progressive regulations aimed at protecting the beauty and quality of life in the mountains.

Marty Jones, a real estate broker/owner, was a vocal opponent of the regulations, claiming they were too restrictive and deterimental to the economy.

He formed the Property Owners of Jackson County, a private-property rights advocacy group.

“Everything we predicted came true,” Marty Jones said Tuesday shortly after filing as a candidate. “I am running because I want Jackson County to get back to work.”

He said he’d help ensure that by working with the sector most flattened, such as builders and real estate agents plus the county planning department.

Democrat incumbent Mark Jones first ran and won election in 2006 and again in 2008, defeating Republican challengers each time.

But that was then and this is now. During the last election, following 16 years of Democratic domination, Republicans Doug Cody and Charles Elders successfully won election. Chairman Jack Debnam, an unaffiliated candidate who received GOP backing and advertising support, also won against a Democrat incumbent.

A phone message left for Mark Jones went unreturned by press time.

Competition scant so far in Haywood commissioner race

Two seats are up for election on the Haywood County Board of Commissioners this year, and both Mark Swanger and Kevin Ensley are looking to retain their seats.

Both incumbents seemed relatively unconcerned about this year’s election.

“I’m optimistic,” Swanger said.

While the candidate sign-up period just started this week and continues until the end of the month, Swanger and Ensley were the only ones who had declared they would run by press time Tuesday.

Ensley, 50, has been on the five-member board for eight years and is currently the only Republican on the board. Swanger, 61, has also served as a commissioner for eight years.

Both commissioners listed the board’s response to the recession and the privatization of its solid waste operations among the most important measures taken by the board during their recent terms.

“I feel like the board as a whole has had a good handle on reacting to the economy,” Ensley said. “My first term there was money and revenues coming in. This term … the decisions have been harder because of the economic downturn.”

The county is operating on less tax revenue and has found ways to function more efficiently, he said.

But it has cost jobs.

Early last year, the county cut jobs for the third year in a row to help offset a budget shortfall — eliminating five full-time positions and freezing four vacant posts.

There have been 50 county jobs cut in three years. In 2009, Haywood County employed 557 full-time staff members; it now employs 507.

“I think the most difficult decision that the board did was reduce the number of employees,” Swanger said. “I think our board has done a very good job navigating the economic recession.”

Ensley added that more cost cutting measures could be in Haywood County’s future.

Ensley cited a bill being considered by the state legislature that would allow counties to combine their health and social services departments as a way to trim costs, save on overhead and eliminate any redundant services.

“Now that we have those under one roof in Haywood County, we could realize several hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings,” Ensley said.

Swanger agreed that the board must continue to look for ways to provide necessary services at an economical rate and take proactive steps to combat shrinking budgets.

Last year, the county signed a contract to privatize its solid waste operations — which will save the county an estimated $800,000 a year.

In addition to cutting costs, the board earlier this year signed a long-term lease with Mountain Projects for the Mountain Area Resource Center, which will act as a one-stop site for seniors seeking various services.

“I am pretty happy with what we have been able to do with our senior services,” Ensley said, adding that he would like to continue to augment the county’s senior offerings and possibly allow elderly-focused nonprofits space in the MARC building.

Although Swanger said most of the board’s future goals are a continuation of past milestones, if re-elected, he plans to keep the tax rate from increasing and continue to work with the Economic Development Commission and Haywood Community College to create jobs in the county.

“I think jobs are real important now,” agreed Ensley, adding that he would look for grants to fund county water and sewer projects, which could create jobs.

For example, Canton expanded its sewer system on Champion Drive, which directly created jobs, and it could indirectly add jobs to the area as new businesses move in, Ensley said.

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