Beale might not fit the bill following election; Macon board swings right

Ronnie Beale is an amiable chap, and for the past few years he’s injected a bit of humor into what is often the tediously dull process of overseeing county government.

“If you want to stay and see the rest of the sausage made, you are welcome,” Beale told two veterans Monday night after the two men completed a presentation before the Macon County Board of Commissioners.

Chuckling at Beale’s small witticism, the men took advantage of the opening and left, escaping the remainder of the meeting.

Beale, a Democrat, is currently chairman of the board. Macon County, along with most of the counties in Western North Carolina (though not Jackson County, where voters decide), allows commissioners to elect their own chairman. Following a dustup on Election Day, it’s debatable whether Beale will retain the top leadership post.

It took only one loss, and the makeup of the board swung right. From Democrat 3-2, to Republican 3-2: Bob Simpson is out, Ron Haven is in, and Beale — though he retained his position as commissioner — is likely gone, too, as chairman.

Thy will be done, Beale told fellow commissioners and the few folks on hand Monday night to watch a lame-duck commission meeting. The voters have spoken and we’ll abide by their wishes, he said.

To that end, new commissioners will be sworn in Dec. 6. There will be an 8 a.m. meeting held by current commissioners, which in addition to Simpson includes Jim Davis, who is headed to Raleigh after besting Sen. John Snow in N.C. Senate District 50. The county’s Republican party will select his replacement to the commission board. Two years remain to Davis’ commission term.

Current commissioners will take care of some housekeeping details in the morning. They will recess, and a second meeting will be held that evening, at 6 p.m.  That is when the newly constituted board will gather to select a chairman and vice chairman.

New Jackson commissioners, new county agenda

Jack Debnam says he’s simply trying to get his feet on the ground and figure out what needs to be done first before he and two other newly elected commissioners take control next month.

Debnam, running as an unaffiliated candidate, successfully unseated Jackson County Chairman Brian McMahan, a Democrat. Unlike most of the county commission boards in the area, Jackson County voters — not fellow commissioners — elect their board chairman.

As the top leader of the board and its only full-time member, Debnam, a real estate agent who owns Western Carolina Properties, will make $16,190 a year. Part-time commissioners (the other four men on the board) in Jackson County make $11,519.

Jackson County voters on Nov. 2 sent incumbent Democrat commissioners a strong, definite message. Now, the new guys have to decipher exactly what that message meant. At least they do if they want to remain in voters’ good graces.

 

What’s next?

“There’s a scene at the end of the movie, “The Candidate,” when Robert Redford has been elected to the Senate and he says, ‘What do we do now?’ My guess is that a lot of candidates — both local and national — can relate to Redford’s character,” said Chris Cooper, a political science and public affairs professor for Western Carolina University.

In addition to Debnam, Republicans Charles Elder (replacing Democrat William Shelton) and Doug Cody (replacing Democrat Tom Massie) will join current commissioners Joe Cowan and Mark Jones. Democrats Cowan and Jones are up for reelection in 2012.

This marks the first time in 16 years Republicans have been able to seize seats on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. Debnam, while unaffiliated, received support as a conservative candidate from the Jackson County GOP.

“The public sent a clear message that they want change — change in Jackson County, change in Raleigh and change in Washington,” Cooper said. “Watching President Obama try to capitalize on the ‘change’ platform, however, shows how difficult it can be. Add to that, that our local officials still have to contend with Democrats on the commission … it might be tough for the Republicans to execute the plans they campaigned on.”

What did they campaign on? Doing everything differently than their Democratic predecessors, essentially. There were promises to:

• Review Jackson County’s rigorous land regulations, and get the local builders building again.

• Examine the county budget for fiscal waste, department by department.

• Decide whether to add on to Smoky Mountain High School.

• Move forward with a promised recreation center in Cashiers.

• Consider allowing voters to decide whether future commissioners should not just reside in the district they run for, but also to let voters in those districts decide the winners. This has been a front-page issue, and received the editorial support of the Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle, a weekly newspaper serving the southern end of Jackson County. No more voting at-large, in other words, but by district.

Also on the table? A decision about property revaluations — as in, when best to do them.

 

A chicken in every pot

“I feel sorry for those guys, I really do,” Shelton said. “I think it is going to be a pretty short honeymoon. If there isn’t a chicken in every pot in six months, people will be mad.”

Shelton argued the ousting of the board’s majority was not an indictment on the land regulations commissioners passed. Rather, he pointed to a county pay-raise study that resulted in the highest paid employees receiving raises: lower-paid employees — not so much.

Shelton also threw in the county’s unsuccessful battle with Duke Energy over saving the Dillsboro Dam, plus an overall national and state sweep by Republicans.

Whatever the reason, the conservatives have taken charge in Jackson County.

Debnam, asked if the board would fire County Manager Ken Westmoreland, showed a certain political agility in his response. In other words, he didn’t really answer the question.

“It’s not going to be up to me,” Debnam said. “There are five commissioners … we are going to scrutinize several positions.”

 

Steep slope/land regulations?

“They’ll probably all be reviewed at the beginning of next year,” Debnam said. “… I’m not looking to repeal everything.”

Debnam made noises about holding a meeting with the two newly elected commissioners and the two remaining Democrats from the old guard, saying he could do so legally now without calling an open meeting. Whether that skirts the spirit of the law is certainly debatable.

The new board chairman said he’s met with McMahan (“he was gracious and helpful,” Debnam said) and he is meeting with various county officials.

The new commissioners will be sworn in at 6 p.m. on Dec. 6.

Democrats retain power on Swain board

Swain County will spend the next four years with an all-Democrat board of commissioners after all the incumbents running for office held onto their seats and Donnie Dixon and Robert White scooped up the two open spots.

Neither current chairman Glenn Jones nor commissioner Genevieve Lindsay sought re-election after both spent the last eight years on the board.

Steve Moon will serve his second term on the board, winning one district and 12 percent of the vote. He owns a tire shop and came to the board after a six-year run on the county’s school board. Moon said during the spring primaries that he wanted to stay on the board to watch over its allocation of interest from the North Shore Road settlement.

David Monteith, also an incumbent, came away with three of the county’s five districts and just under 15 percent of votes, the largest percentage of any winner. Monteith is a school bus driver and was the lone commissioner to vote against the North Shore Road settlement. He campaigned on a platform of protecting and increasing the county’s job base.

Donnie Dixon, a newcomer to the board, didn’t win outright in any precincts, but still pulled out nearly 13 percent of the vote. Dixon is a machinist who served a single term as commissioner in the 90s, but is coming back to the board with ideas of greater openness, televised meetings and courting higher paying jobs for the county.

Robert White is the second newcomer but is also no stranger to public life as retired superintendent of the county’s school system. He campaigned on strategic planning and citizen involvement to lead the board, citing the expertise in both areas that he gained as superintendent as good qualities to recommend him for the job.

While the four commissioners had to beat out a total field of nine challengers, the race for chairman was run between only two. Current board member Phil Carson won, edging out Mike Clampitt by just under 5 percent of the votes.

 

Swain County Board of Commissioners (Chairman)

Phil Carson (D)    2,319

Mike Clampitt (R)    2,083

 

Swain County Board of Commissioners (vote for 4)

David Monteith (D)    2,465

Donnie Dixon (D)    2,089

Steve Moon (D)    2,041

Robert White (D)    1,976

James King (R)     1,788

John Herrin (R)    1,778

Andy Parris (R)    1,724

Gerald Shook Jr. (R)    1,604

William (Neil) Holden (L)    1,015

Democrats buck trend in Haywood

Democrats claimed victory in all three open commissioner seats in Haywood County, with incumbents Kirk Kirkpatrick and Bill Upton keeping their spots on the board.

Newcomer Michael Sorrells took the chair left vacant by Skeeter Curtis, who did not seek re-election.

Current board chairman Kirkpatrick took eight districts, including all of Waynesville, Lake Junaluska and Clyde South. He has sat on the commission since 2002 and held the chair since 2008. A lawyer by trade, Kirkpatrick ran on a platform of experience, especially with budget management.

Upton won the privilege of a second term on the board, winning only four precincts but just over 17 percent of the vote. He claimed Clyde North and three Beaverdam districts, placing third behind Kirkpatrick and Sorrells. Now retired, he has spent much of his career in the public service, including a stint as principal of Pisgah High School and long-time superintendent with the Haywood County school system. Unsurprisingly, Upton lists education as his top priority, closely followed by keeping the county’s extremely low tax rate as low as possible.

Sorrells claimed 10 precincts, mostly in the northern and western districts, and took a little over 18 percent of all votes. Although new to the county commission, Sorrells is no stranger to the political process. He has spent the last six years on the Haywood County School Board and campaigned on promises of fiscal responsibility and maintaining low taxes. He is a native of Haywood County and runs a family business, Sorrells Merchandise Company, with his wife.

Republican Denny King pulled up just short of grasping a commission seat, and although he bested Upton in precincts won – seven to Upton’s four – he pulled in only 16 percent of the popular vote.

The three winners will now join fellow Democrat Mark Swanger and lone Republican Kevin Ensley, who both won fights for their positions in 2008.

While the chair currently belongs to Kirkpatrick and Upton serves as vice chairman, they are not guaranteed to keep those titles on the new board. Members will vote for the chairmanship when they take office in December.

 

Haywood County Commissioners

Michael T. Sorrells (D)    10,127

J.W. Kirk Kirkpatrick III (D)    10,022

Bill Upton (D)    9,652

Denny King (R)    8,927

David Bradley (R)    8,703

Tom Freeman (R)    7,919

Newcomer will be on Macon County Board of Commissioners

One new face — Republican Ron Haven — will be on the Macon County Board of Commissioners if unofficial voting results from Tuesday night hold.

Incumbent Bob Simpson, a Democrat, lost his seat as 53 percent of Macon County voters — an impressive number for a midterm election — turned out to vote. This right-leaning county did re-elect Democrat Ronnie Beale, the commission board’s current chairman.

Haven and Beale represent the top two vote-getters in District 2, the Franklin area.

Voters also returned Republican incumbent commissioner Brian McClellan of Highlands to the board to represent District 1. McClellan regained his seat by besting Democrat Daniel Allen “Ricky” Bryson, a former commissioner.

Haven, a business owner, has called for a county department-by-department budget analysis to find areas to cut waste. He campaigned vigorously against steep-slope controls, flatly stating at a recent candidates’ forum that he wanted the county’s planning board to even stop study on the issue.

Macon County is the site of the September 2004 Peeks Creek landslide. This was a natural, not manmade, disaster that claimed five lives, and has since shaped the nature of debate here about what should be done about development on mountainsides.

Beale, who defended the work being done by the planning board, campaigned on a record of school-building projects and the work done to set the table for future economic development.

McClellan also has emphasized job creation, and supports offering incentives to companies willing to settle in Macon County.

 

Macon County Board of Commissioners (District 2, vote for 2)

Ron Haven (R)    5,719

Ronnie Beale (D)    5,539

Charlie Leatherman (R)    5,362

Bob Simpson (D)    4,259

Vic Drummond (U)    2,316

 

Macon County Board of Commissioners (District 1)
Brian McClellan (R)    7,323
Allan (Ricky) Bryson (D)    5,099

Jackson County says no thanks, no more to incumbent commissioners

Jackson County voters upended the board of commissioners Tuesday, calling an abrupt end to progressive land-development regulations that had set this county apart from all others in far Western North Carolina.

The dismantling of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners is likely to resonate with other commissioners in WNC. Voters here clearly sent an unmistakable message not to move too far, too fast, when it comes to standing in the way of the region’s development juggernaut.

One of the three Democrat incumbents who lost was Chairman Brian McMahan, who actually cast the sole ‘no’ vote among commissioners against the current development regulations. He also opposed a subsequent moratorium on subdivisions, which some blamed for compounding an economic slowdown in the county.

McMahan, however, was consistent in supporting most of the regulations that were put in place: he just didn’t support all of them. His moderate position, however, didn’t prevent him from being ousted from the chairman’s post by challenger and political newcomer Jack Debnam, who ran unaffiliated with any political party.

Just 92 votes separated the two men in the unofficial tally Tuesday night.

Incumbents William Shelton and Tom Massie joined McMahan in the defeat.

“We’re historical,” said Shelton late Tuesday night, after learning he’d lost to Republican challenger Charles Elder, a former commissioner who represents a more traditional way of doing things. It is a way that Jackson County voters clearly found suited them far better than what had been taking place.

Massie, like Shelton a progressive Democrat when it came to regulating development, was defeated by Republican Doug Cody, a newcomer to Jackson County politics.

“I think it was just the perfect storm,” Shelton said, pointing to a national mood of ousting incumbents, Democrat Party apathy, right-leaning Tea-party influences and local voters upset about the stringent development regulations adopted in Jackson County.

Three years ago, Jackson County commissioners — including Shelton and Massie — enacted sweeping steep-slope and subdivision ordinances. Many in the development and real estate industry were angered by the regulations, which were crafted during a five-month moratorium on new subdivisions.

Another piece of commissioner legislation that likely stuck in voters’ craws was an attempt to wrest the dam in Dillsboro away from Duke Energy to make it the focal point of a new riverfront park along the Tuckasegee. The county lost the battle in court, and was forced to cough up a half-million dollars in legal fees. Per Duke’s wishes, the dam has been torn down.

A poll of Jackson County residents this summer was a harbinger of sorts: the poll showed only 33 percent of participants had a favorable opinion of their local government, and 46 percent were unfavorable.

The poll, conducted by the WCU Public Policy Institute in partnership with The Smoky Mountain News, questioned nearly 600 voters and had an error margin of plus or minus 4 percent.

 

Jackson County Board of Commissioners (Chairman)

Jack Debnam (R)    5,055

Brian McMahan (D)    4,963

 

Jackson County Board of Commissioners (District 1)

Charles Elders (R)    6,022

William Shelton (D)    4,916

 

Jackson County Board of Commissioners (District 2)

Doug Cody (R)    6,075

Tom Massie (D)    4,824

Jackson forum allows for more candidate scrutiny ... sort of

Jackson County commissioners passed a slate of sweeping development regulations in 2007 designed to rein in what they saw as runaway development. Commissioners touted the regulations as protecting not only the environment and but also the quality of life from irresponsible mountainside construction.

The end of the laissez-faire building climate in Jackson County, that had paved the way for a proliferating number of gated communities over the past decade, angered real estate and building interests. The homebuilder’s lobby pledged to oust the four commissioners who voted in the regulations.

They failed to do so two years ago, however, when both Commissioner Mark Jones and Joe Cowan were re-elected. This year, they have their shot at Shelton and Massie. While Brian McMahan was the lone vote against the regulations in 2007 — and works for the county’s largest gated community Balsam Mountain Preserve — he has been subject to the same attacks as his fellow commissioners.

That didn’t stop the three of them — Shelton, Massie and McMahan — from taking the stage at a candidates forum sponsored by the Jackson County Homebuilder’s earlier this month.

Their opponents, however, declined an invitation to a forum hosted by Jackson County environmental groups.

What could have been tit-for-tat forums — dominated by the opposing forces of developers and environmentalists — instead fell flat. Since challengers stayed away from the environmental forum, the sitting commissioners were left preaching to the choir, and a small one at that since there was little motivation among the general public to attend a one-sided forum.

The sitting commissioners criticized the challengers for failing to show.

“I wish they could have been here tonight. I wish we could have had some good dialogue on the economy and the environment,” McMahan said.

“I think our opponents are conspicuously absent,” William Shelton said.

“I am sorry you didn’t have the opportunity to hear from our opponents, to hear what they believe in,” Tom Massie said. “We don’t know where they stand on these kind of issues.

Shelton and Massie have rejected the accusation that the development regulations passed in 2007 are to blame for the slump in real estate and development.

“We have tried to beat the drum that the policies in Jackson County are not what has killed our economy. These ordinances did not kill the economy,” Shelton said.

Massie said the challengers on the ticket want to “roll back the ordinances.”

“The subtext of their message is they don’t like the ordinances and they want to go back to the way it was four years ago. But we’re not going to go back to the way it was four years ago,” Massie said.

Haywood commissioner candidates debate merits of spending

Taxes and spending in a recession economy have emerged as the top issue in the race for Haywood County commissioner this year.

Challengers vying for a seat on the board have jumped on the bandwagon of critics who have continually called into question county spending.

While county cut its budget dramatically in the face of the recession — from scaling back library hours to slashing public school maintenance —it wasn’t enough to avoid a small property tax hike last year.

As a result, commissioners caught flak for raising the tax rate by 1.7 cents amidst one of the worst recessions to strike the country. Critics claim the board is spending beyond taxpayers’ means.

But others criticized commissioners for making excessive cuts and slashing millions from the budget. Nonprofits in particular were hit hard after being completely dropped by the county.

“It’s something we had to do to reduce the tax burden on the people in the county,” said incumbent Kirk Kirkpatrick, adding that commissioners have cut the budget almost $9 million in the last four years — a 10 percent reduction. He anticipates the county board will have to make even more cuts over the next four years.

Democratic candidate Michael Sorrells said the commissioners could have reduced the budget further. “They cut the least painful things,” Sorrells said. “Well, now we’re going to have to look at the hard parts.”

But Upton says commissioners have already worked thoroughly and diligently to come up with the best possible budget. “[We] have put in many hours, most of it televised,” Upton said. “...I think this group has done an excellent job of balancing the budget and also listening to our citizens.”

Republican candidate Denny King disagreed. He pointed to big ticket items as the culprit: commissioners bought the abandoned Wal-Mart to replace crumbling DSS offices, expanded the landfill, bailed the Haywood County fairgrounds out of debt and tacitly signed off on a new Haywood Community College building.

“In my opinion the biggest thing that has caused taxes to go up is we are borrowing a lot of money. Every time we borrow money, budgets have to be cut or taxes have to be raised,” King said. “I think we will just really have to reduce the money we borrow on projects. If we don’t, the county services are going to have to continue to be cut and property taxes will have to continue to go up.”

Before tackling the budget, Republican David Bradley vows to communicate frequently with Western North Carolina’s delegation in Raleigh to underline the county’s needs. “Get more of a two-way conversation,” Bradley said. “Voice our concerns, not just carry out what’s dictated.”

With the recession likely to continue, Bradley said he would focus on diversifying the local economy. Tourism is always one of the hardest-hit industries during economic downturns, so Bradley wants to focus more on promoting emerging industries, like organic farming and technology-based business.

Meanwhile, Republican Tom Freeman said he would look at unconventional ways to save money, such as turning off the lights after hours at the historic courthouse and justice center. “I know it’s just lights, but it adds up,” Freeman said.

He would also keep employees from driving county vehicles home. If elected commissioner, Freeman would make unannounced visits to each department to see if all employees are being productive. “[Commissioners] need to go out and look, see what’s going on,” Freeman said.

 

The Wal-Mart debate

Earlier this year, commissioners decided to purchase the abandoned Wal-Mart in Clyde to house the Department of Social Services and Health department, both of which have long awaited moves from aging buildings. The project will cost taxpayers about $12.5 million.

This comes on top of the tens of millions dropped over the past eight years on the new justice center, a parking deck, a major school construction bond, and property on Jonathan Creek to house a future county sports complex — although not all the current commissioners were on the board at the time of these decisions.

So when the old Wal-Mart purchase came along, “it sure enough put everybody over the edge,” Bradley said.

But Kirkpatrick says that commissioners don’t spend money without thinking long and hard first.

“It’s always been tough for us to actually spend the money,” Kirkpatrick said. “We weigh the good for the county versus holding on to it.”

Incumbent Bill Upton points out that the Wal-Mart decision took commissioners two years. As the recession worsened, the property’s price became unbeatable — and no one else was picking it up.

“To me, it was our chance,” Upton said. “We couldn’t refuse.”

Even if the old DSS building were repaired, there would still be the issue of insufficient space, privacy and parking, Upton said.

While $12.5 million seems like a lot of money, constructing a building from scratch could have taken up to $30 million, Upton said. Repairing the crumbling former county hospital dating back to the 1920s and 1950s where DSS is currently housed would likewise be more expensive, commissioners asserted.

Kirkpatrick said buying the deserted Wal-Mart was a good move, considering the substantial cost of repairing and updating the old DSS headquarters, pressure from the state to bring the building up to code, and the county health building also being in disrepair.

“It also creates additional viability for stores in that area,” Kirkpatrick said, citing the gaping hole left in the strip mall when Wal-Mart pulled out.

Bradley said commissioners knew for years that the DSS building was in major disrepair, and they should have set up a separate fund to address the problem, which could have been used as a down payment on the old Wal-Mart.

Bradley said the purchase will be very beneficial in the long-term, but commissioners should have saved ahead of time.

Since funding sources are in place from the state and from a lease agreement with Tractor Supply, Sorrells, too, supports the Wal-Mart purchase.

“It was an inopportune time, but inopportune times bring opportunity,” Sorrells said. “...It appears to be a solid move.”

But Sorrells adds that some of the commissioners’ spending has addressed wants and not needs in some cases. He pointed to the million-dollar purchase of a 22-acre Jonathan Creek property for a future county sports complex.

“Should that property have been bought? Probably not,” said Sorrells.

Freeman opposes the Wal-Mart purchase. As a self-employed building contractor for 25 years, Freeman says there was nothing majorly wrong with the old hospital building. It needed “cosmetic work,” a new roof and handicapped access to bring it up to state codes.

King agreed.

“It could be renovated and brought up for less money than what the Wal-Mart building cost,” King said. King said he would have voted against buying the old Wal-Mart, but that ideally it would been sent to the people for a vote. “It is their money,” King said.

 

Tackling trash

County commissioners are considering an overhaul of Haywood’s current trash operations. Earlier this year, they decided to shut down the recycling pick line, laying off employees who manually sorted recyclables. Instead the county now sells loads of recycling in bulk without being sorted first. Commissioners also privatized operation of the convenience centers, where county residents who don’t have curbside trash pick-up can drop off their garbage.

As part of the ongoing overhaul, some commissioners want to shut down the transfer station, where town and private haulers take their loads of trash rather than making the long trek to the White Oak landfill. Commissioners are also considering turning over landfill operations to a private company, including selling off space in the landfill.

Kirkpatrick said the next county board must continue examining the efficiency of the county’s trash operations. It’s become increasingly expensive for the county to comply with strict environmental standards and replace aging equipment, and commissioners must scour for savings.

“You have to continually analyze what’s going to be best for the whole,” Kirkpatrick said.

At this point, Kirkpatrick opposes closing the transfer station.

“I’ll have to be convinced otherwise, and I’m not saying I can’t be,” said Kirkpatrick, who wants to maintain an open dialogue with towns before making a final decision. “What we want to do is what’s cheapest and do what’s best.”

Sorrells said he has already been researching and visiting the solid waste department. While he hasn’t come to a conclusion yet on whether the transfer station should be closed or the landfill privatized, Sorrells said making trash operations more viable is essential.

“The users are probably going to have to pay its way in order to make it more efficient,” Sorrells said of the transfer station, should it remain open.

Shutting it down has drawn ire from towns and private haulers as a double-standard, since convenience centers used by residents out in the county would continue to be subsidized.

Upton is still undecided on which path to take. The issue is a complicated one, so he’s waiting on more information despite all the research that’s already been done. “I feel like I’m back in school,” Upton said. “I think the more we research, the more we study and the more we listen to people, the better decisions.”

Bradley said commissioners must be open-minded when tackling the trash problem. Private companies will have a knack for solid waste operations since that is their main focus. As of now, Bradley is also undecided on the transfer station.

Freeman is adamantly opposed to privatizing only parts of any county department or closing the transfer station. “That’s just running from the problem,” said Freeman, adding that the issue is one of proper management.

King said the county needs to study the issue more and that he doesn’t know enough yet to say what the right thing is.

 

Commissioners vs. HCC

For months, county commissioners were at odds with Haywood Community College over new construction and maintenance needs at the college. Commissioners eventually approved the $10.3 million professional crafts building after accusing HCC of overspending on a green design and showcase features. A quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters to fund new construction and expansions at HCC should be used responsibly, commissioners said.

Kirkpatrick said he and fellow commissioners asked the tough questions. Though he’s not “completely comfortable” with HCC moving ahead on its craft building, the college board of trustees unanimously stood by their recommendation that it be approved.

“I don’t think it’s my responsibility to usurp their responsibility as a board,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s their money.”

As a school board member for six years, Sorrells supports the community college’s pursuit of a craft building but questions putting so much of the quarter-cent sales tax proceeds in one basket.

Upton said it is “mighty tough” to vote against education. He felt better about the purchase after the HCC board of trustees came to a consensus. “I feel pleased that we moved on that one,” Upton said.

Bradley said the HCC craft building needed to be replaced, but its size should have remained under 20,000-square-feet so the college could avoid more stringent environmental regulations for larger buildings.

Freeman said he voted for the quarter-cent sales tax, believing it would only be used to fix roads and maintain existing buildings. “What do they need that new building for?” Freeman said. “Fix the ones that are there.”

If the economy was booming, the new craft building might be acceptable, Freeman said. For now, Freeman is wholeheartedly against the new construction.

King also said the building was too expensive and wouldn’t have given it the green light. He said rather than borrow money, the college could have saved up sales tax revenue until the building could be paid for upfront.

“I think most citizens in the county, including myself, felt like this money would be spent on a yearly basis as it comes in,” King said of the special quarter-cent sales tax.

 

The 9-12 factor

Bradley and King have been endorsed by the WNC Tea Party. A local offshoot of the Tea Party, known as the Haywood 9-12 Project, has been a recurring critic of commissioners during the public comment period at nearly every county meeting for the past year and a half.

Though a handful of 9-12 activists have been especially vocal, Kirkpatrick points out that its members don’t represent all 60,000 residents in Haywood County. Kirkpatrick says he has supporters as well as opponents within the ranks of the group, and he hopes all voters will research before casting their ballots. “Don’t just vote to get someone out,” Kirkpatrick said.

While some members get “extreme,” Sorrells says everyone can agree with the core principles of the 9-12 group: a small, efficient government and fiscal responsibility.

Upton said his goal has always been to listen to the people, and he doesn’t mind the 9-12 group constantly turning up at commissioner meetings.

“I haven’t taken the 9-12 Project as a negative,” Upton said. “Because we want people voicing their opinions. If we don’t hear, we don’t know.”

Bradley said the group has been consistent in calling for fiscal responsibility.

“This is a nonpolitical organization,” Bradley said. “They’re looking for people to make best use of county funds.”

King said he appreciates the endorsement.

“I am glad they did chose me. I have a lot of respect for the Tea Party,” King said.

Freeman would not comment on the group because he said he wasn’t familiar enough with them.

 

Upcoming challenges?

Many candidates said the budget and setting the tax rate after the property revaluation will be the two biggest challenges in the next four years. The value of lots and homes in upscale developments are expected to drop, while the value of medium priced housing will hold steady. Property taxes will be adjusted according to the new appraised values.

“I’m afraid there’s going to need to be a greater tax burden on those with less valuable properties,” Kirkpatrick said.

“It’s going to disproportionately affect the lower-income portion of the population,” Bradley agreed.

Kirkpatrick said another major hurdle will be funding the school system, which will soon suffer the absence of stimulus funds that have helped prop it up during the recession.  

With the senior citizen population set to mushroom, there will be an increasing need to  provide services to the elderly. Upton said commissioners must plan for the impending crisis.

— Staff writer Becky Johnson contrbitued to this story.

 

In the running

Three of the five seats on the Haywood County board are up for election this year. Commissioner Skeeter Curtis will not be running for re-election this year, meaning at least one new face will join the board come fall.

 

Democrats

Kirk Kirkpatrick (incumbent)

41, attorney, Waynesville

“I’ve seen the good times and the tough times. I think that experience will be helpful for this county in the next four years.”

Bill Upton (incumbent)

65, retired superintendent of Haywood County Schools, Canton

“I feel like I listen...I’m sensitive to the needs of the people.”

Michael Sorrells

54, owner of service station, convenience store and cafe, Waynesville.

“I’m very knowledgeable about Haywood County...I understand how government works, and I’m already educating myself to be in the position.”

 

Republicans

David Bradley, 44, sales, Clyde

“I try to look long-term versus short-term...We can’t always take a hammer to the project.”

Tom Freeman, 53, self-employed building contractor, Waynesville

“I’ve had my own successful business for 25 years...When projects come up...I could go look at them, give my opinion on it and go from there.”

Denny King, 53 manufacturing engineer, Beaverdam

“I am in favor of a limited government to keep our taxes low in the county.”

Haywood commissioner candidates

Democrat candidates, pick three

Raymond L. Brooks, 59, owner of trucking company

Brooks has worked with citizens for more than 30 years as a preacher at Waynesville’s Bible Baptist Church. He wants to reduce the county debt and be more careful with spending. Brooks would also like to bring in more jobs and help the education system.

voteraymondbrooks.com

J.W. “Kirk” Kirkpatrick, 41, attorney, incumbent

Kirkpatrick has served as county commissioner since 2002, and became chairman of the board in 2008. He says his experience will be helpful in successfully managing county funds. Kirkpatrick would also like to continue work on the Wal-Mart renovation project and see good and reasonable use of the Haywood Community College’s quarter-cent sales tax.

John C. McCracken, 66, retired assistant superintendent and finance officer for Haywood County Schools

McCracken wants to hold the line on spending until the economy improves and keep the tax rate as low as possible. He said as a former Board of Education member, he’s already learned a lot about how the county budget operates.

Rhonda Schandevel, 45, dental hygienist

As a parent of a disabled son, Schandevel is a long-time advocate for children with special needs. She wants to work with the economic development commission, tourism development authority and local chambers of commerce to bring jobs with good wages and benefits to Haywood County.

www.facebook.com/pages/VOTE-for-Rhonda-Cole-Schandevel/112728778739407

Michael Sorrells, 53, owner of service station, convenience store and café

Sorrells has served on the Haywood County School Board for six years. He oversaw the construction of a new school in Bethel and flood repairs. No burning issues drove Sorrells to seek office, other than hopes to move Haywood County forward with better leadership.

www.michaeltsorrells.com

Bill Upton, 65, retired superintendent of Haywood County Schools, incumbent

Upton is nearing the end of his first term as county commissioner. Education is his first priority, both in the public school system and at Haywood Community College. Upton vows to keep the tax rate as low as possible, pointing out that 83 of the state’s 100 counties have higher tax rates than Haywood County.

* Frank “Danny” James will appear on the ballot but dropped out from the election last week due to personal reasons.

Republican candidates, pick three

David Bradley, 44, sales

Bradley hopes to create a diverse economy with stable jobs, especially for younger generations. Bradley says Haywood should focus on more than just tourism and create policies that are friendly to entrepreneurs. He hopes to create a strategic plan for the county with specific goals and objectives for the next 15 years.

www.bradleyforcommissioner.com

Tom Freeman, 52, building contractor

Freeman says his children and grandchildren have already been burdened with the commissioners’ out of control spending and the county’s high taxes. As commissioner, Freeman would like to work on getting the county debt-free by slowing down spending and putting an end to borrowing.

Jeanne Sturges Holbrook, 48, self-employed

Holbrook would like to stand up to state lawmakers who push state mandates on counties. She would also like to address the high percentage of the county population dependent on public assistance. Holbrook said she would be independent and objective if elected as commissioner.

www.holbrookforcommissioner.com

Denny King, 52, engineer

King said he decided to run because he believes the commissioners are spending too much money. King is a strong advocate for property rights and running a smaller, constitutional government. He opposes the proposed health board rule, which carries a maximum penalty of a misdemeanor for creating a public health risk by improperly storing trash.

www.dennykingforcommissioner.com

Michael “Hub” Scott, 45, maintenance supervisor for Canton paper mill out on disability

Scott plans to hold down taxes, spending and regulation. He hopes to provide incentives to keep established businesses running and attract new ones. Due to a brain tumor, Scott is now on disability. He promises to donate his salary as commissioner to the community kitchen in Canton.

Fiscal responsibility resounding theme in Macon election

This year in Macon County, three seats on the board are up for election. Each commissioner represents a geographic district in the county, although all voters get to vote for all seats. Once the board is elected, the sitting members choose a county chairman from their ranks.

There are two Republican candidates running for the Franklin district, Ron Haven and Charlie Leatherman, not profiled here since they automatically advance to the general election.

Franklin district

Democratic candidates, pick two

Carroll Poindexter, 50, building/ electrical instructor

Experience: Poindexter works part-time as an instructor for building and electrical courses. Poindexter is a former code enforcement officer who worked for the county.

Platform: Poindexter is running on a platform of limiting taxes and communicating more openly with the voters of Macon County. His goal is “to be a servant for the people, hold the line on taxes, and make sure the people are informed.”

Poindexter is critical of recent school expenditures in the county that will raise the tax rate.

“Our government has a record of passing things before they have figured out how they are going to pay for or operate it,” Poindexter said.

Ronnie Beale, 54, owner of Beale Construction

Experience: Beale has been a commissioner four years and serves as chairman.

Platform: Beale is running on a platform that emphasizes job growth and retention and the creation of more affordable housing in the county. He points to his record of establishing the county’s mental health task force and child daycare committee as proof of his record of looking for solutions for working families. Beale favors a steep slope ordinance, but wants it to incorporate the needs of the construction industry.

“We all recognize that these ordinances have an impact on property rights. I believe we must be very careful how this ordinance is crafted, but I also believe that future potential buyers will be looking for a safe place to construct their house and I do believe that a Steep slope ordinance will be of help in providing safety not only for the new homeowner, but also for their neighbors.”

Bob Simpson, 61, self-employed contractor

Experience: Simpson has been a commissioner for eight years. He is a trustee of Southwestern Community College.

Platform: Simpson is running on a platform that emphasizes fiscal responsibility. He believes his experience on the county board is crucial as the county faces its budgeting process in a harsh economy.

“I think the most important issue is the budget. We’re experiencing zero growth and the bills keep coming. This will take experience to get through.”

Simpson also supports steep slope regulation, provided it does not prevent property owners from developing their land.

“I’ll continue to be open, and my votes will reflect the concerns of everyone in the county.”

 

Highlands district

Democratic candidates, pick one

Michael David Rogers, 47, Highlands, contractor/grader

Experience: Rogers owns a landscape/grading business and runs a Christian-based recovery program at the Pine Grove Baptist Church. He also serves on the Appearance Committee for the Town of Highlands.

Platform: Rogers is running on a platform of balanced development, job growth, and protecting natural resources. “I am passionate about our natural resources. We have one of the most beautiful areas in the United States to live in, and I want to see us protect it.”

Rogers said he is running for commissioner in order to give Highlands a stronger voice on the county board. He supports the implementation of a steep slope ordinance, a subject with which he has firsthand experience, and he wants to support the school system.

“I feel there is a need for growth in our county, but at the same time, we do need ordinances and laws to protect our environment as well as our citizens.”

Allan Ricky Bryson, 53, business owner

Experience: Bryson has been owner and operator of Highlands Outdoor Tool for 26 years. He is assistant fire chief for the Highlands Fire Department and served two terms as a commissioner but lost re-election in 2006.

Platform: Bryson is running a platform that stresses fiscal responsibility and keeping taxes low. “I just believe we can move Macon County forward in an affordable way without raising people’s taxes during an economic turndown.”

Bryson favors steep slope regulation.

“I’d rather have it written by Maconians than it being written by the state.”

 

Republican candidates, pick one

Brian McClellan, 53, financial advisor

Experience: McClellan is a current commissioner and works as a financial advisor at Edward Jones Investments.

Platform: McClellan is running on a platform that stresses financial responsibility. He wants to limit county spending and attract business to the area.

“Creating a plan for economic development and putting that plan into action to bring non-polluting jobs to our area has been an important part of the process of working to revive our local economy. We need to hold the line on county spending and create opportunities for businesses to locate here in our area and provide us with jobs that will allow us to continue to live here and enjoy the uniqueness and beauty of Macon County.”

McClellan also favors a balanced steep slope ordinance that regulates building without rendering lots “unbuildable.”

Jimmy Tate, 38, landscaping business owner

Experience: Jimmy Tate is president of Tate Landscaping Services and a volunteer firefighter. He has served on the town planning board and land-use committee.

Platform: Tate is running on a platform that stresses fiscal responsibility. As a sixth-generation native of Macon County, Tate said his experience in local political offices will help him to guide the county during a difficult time.

“In a time when our country and state are falling deeper and deeper in debt, we, at the very least, need to be responsible and wise with our decisions and finances at the local level. Public service is all about listening to and respecting the taxpayer, and I want to work in this respect for the people of Macon County.”

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