Shelton beats Brown in Jackson primary

Incumbent William Shelton beat challenger James Bo Brown by almost a two-to-one margin to win the Democratic spot on the November ballot for the Whittier/Dillsboro district seat. The race was the only one of three county commissioners seats up for grabs in Jackson County this year that had a contested primary.

Shelton said the difference in the race came down to the fact that the Jackson County board has tried hard to push the county forward, even during one of the harshest economic climates in history.

“I think it was a choice between moving forward and moving backwards,” Shelton said. “With all the mistakes we’ve made, we’ve tried to lay the groundwork for future growth when the economy turns around, and it will turn around.”

Shelton said he was humbled both by the support he received during the primary run, and also by the significant vote count of his challenger.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has been criticized for giving pay raises to some of its high-ranking employees, for losing a fight with Duke Energy over the Dillsboro Dam, and for enacting stricter building regulations.

Shelton said his board was elected during a boom and worked through a bust and has at all times been proactive about its agenda.

“We’ve tackled a lot of controversy,” Shelton said. “We’ve inherited a lot of controversy and created a lot of controversy. We have not shied away from the issues, and I guess I should say I feel lucky to get the nomination.”

Shelton will run against a Republican candidate in the fall. He said that election will likely focus on the economy and jobs.

Whittier/Dillsboro district

Democrat – one winner advances

William Shelton: 2,417

James Brown: 1,315

*The winner of this race will face a Republican challenger in the fall. There was no primary for county commissioner chairman or the commissioner for the Sylva district, although both will see competition in the fall election.

Grassroots effort aims to make Jackson County greenest

What if the driveway to the county’s administration building were lined with blueberries?

It was January, and Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin and Heather Stevens were on a walk, dreaming about how green Jackson County could be. They had read an article on a little town in West Yorkshire, England, called Todmorden, which transformed the way it produces food in two years.

“I read the article, and I just thought, ‘Wow,’” Stevens said. “This would be great. We could do this here.”

Cabanis-Brewin and Stevens, long-time organic gardeners from opposite ends of the county, didn’t want the idea to die. Last week, Cabanis-Brewin asked the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to consider taking on the challenge of making the county the greenest in North Carolina. She’ll go back next month with a more formal proposal to be considered on the board’s agenda.

“We would need to formally declare that Sylva and Jackson County have a strategy for economic development and environmental preservation that involves trying to be the greenest county in the state,” Cabanis-Brewin said.

So far, their greenward movement has been based on food. Todmorden revitalized its food economy through a grow-your-own initiative that used publicly owned space for raising vegetables. Today the town’s three schools serve only locally grown vegetables and locally raised meats during meals, and its restaurants draw tourists from all over Great Britain.

Cabanis-Brewin said the Todmorden example — coupled with the knowledge that a Manna Foodbank report showed that more than 100,000 people in Western North Carolina seek emergency food assistance each year — made growing food the perfect place to start.

“You could focus on transportation or energy, but you have to start somewhere,” said Cabanis-Brewin. “And because it’s easy and because it’s spring, we wanted to start with food.”

Stevens called seed companies that have nonprofit initiatives and managed to get her hands on more than 500 seed packets from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and the Seed Savers Exchange. She is working with community partners to find people who are willing to plant the seeds in unexpected places. So far both the Sylva and Dillsboro community gardens have stepped up to the plate.

St. John’s Episcopal Church and the First United Methodist Church in Sylva have taken seeds to plant. Soul Infusion Café, Spring Street Café, and Café Guadalupe have also agreed to plant seeds and look for ways to use more locally grown food wherever possible.

Stevens argues that rainbow chard, purple basil, sunflowers, and scarlet runner beans can be as beautiful as any flowerbeds while still producing food for the table. Cabanis-Brewin told the Jackson County Board of Commissioners that their Buncombe County counterparts authorized a study that showed growing and eating local would bring $452 million into the local economy in Western North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Gov. Perdue recently named the Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council to study how to increase the amount of local and sustainable foods served to public school students.

“It’s a smart thing for business and it’s a smart thing for the environment. The two things don’t have to be in contention,” Cabanis-Brewin said.

Besides, she argued, with Sylva’s historic watershed in trust, the county’s thriving community gardens, and a board of commissioners who were the first to pass building regulations focused on land preservation, Jackson County already has a head start on becoming the greenest in the state.

“We can preserve the time-honored mountain tradition of self-sufficiency, and give our county a bright economic and environmental future at the same time,” Cabanis-Brewin said.

County Commissioner William Shelton, a local farmer who has focused on land preservation issues, said he liked the idea, but he wanted to learn more about the specifics.

“We should never close our minds to these types of ideas, and if there are models out there, then let’s look at them,” Shelton said.

Shelton fears that while the dream of producing food in public places is attractive, the work ethic it would require may be more than people can handle.

“We would have to figure out a way to adapt it to what’s here and what’s practical. It’s the type of idea the whole community would have to be behind,” Shelton said.

Jackson County schools hope for no more job cuts

On Monday evening, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners met with leaders from Jackson County Schools to talk about next year’s budget, but any outstanding fears had already been put to rest.

County Manager Ken Westmoreland said because the county has spent 12 percent less than it budgeted for the current fiscal year, he didn’t anticipate cuts in any county departments.

“I do not anticipate any furloughs, layoffs, or losses of service,” Westmoreland said. “We’re pretty much just going to tread water.”

Jackson County Public School Superintendent Sue Nations said her staff had already submitted capital outlay and operating requests to Westmoreland for consideration. The school district is asking for a 2 percent increase in funding to offset increases in insurance premiums and deep cuts in state discretionary funds.

Westmoreland said the county would evaluate the school budget request in line with its other funding obligations.

“It’s not that they would be treated any differently than any county department or agency we fund,” Westmoreland said. “I’m not anticipating any cuts or expansions.”

For her part, Nations was confident that the county would come through for the school district, but she expressed concern about Gov. Perdue’s proposed budget.

“The county will give us the amount of money we had last year, and I hope they’ll give us the 2 percent increase,” Nations said. “But the county can’t pick up what the state won’t give us.”

Perdue’s 2010 budget calls for $135 million of cuts in addition to the $304.8 million worth of discretionary cuts already contained in the budget the General Assembly approved last year for the 2010-11 fiscal year. Overall, the governor’s budget calls for an additional 3.8 percent in cuts plus another $90 million in General Fund reductions to the K-12 budget.

According to the North Carolina School Boards Association, districts across North Carolina had 16,253 fewer state paid public education jobs, including 4,701 fewer state paid classroom teachers, in the 2009-10 academic year. The additional $135 million in discretionary cuts could mean as many as 2,430 additional teaching positions could be eliminated next year.

Nations said her district already employs 95 fewer people than it did in May 2008. She said she does not intend to cut any positions this year, because she hasn’t replaced employees that have left or retired.

“I know we have to do our part. I really do,” Nations said. “But there’s a point at which it’s going to affect the classroom.”

Nations said the district would still benefit from federal stimulus money it received last year. Districts were instructed to use the money over a 27-month period, and last year the stimulus funds offset state cuts nearly dollar for dollar.

Jackson EDC debate is over, again

Anyone who thought the discussion over the Jackson County Economic Development Commission’s missing audits was over when the board closed the issue last December got a surprise on Monday night.

Chairman Brian McMahan announced that he had gotten a letter from the North Carolina Department of the Treasurer that cleared the county of the responsibility to produce the missing audits for the EDC for the years between 2002 and 2005.

The county was previously under the assumption the audits were necessary under state law, but an accountant hired to perform the back audits concluded it was an impossible task due to spotty records from the era. The EDC operated as an independent agency without county oversight during those years.

The county sought advice from the Local Government Commission in hopes of clearing the air once and for all.

“We went through a process where we asked the LGC what is the next step?” McMahan said. “How do we complete this obligation?”

That in turn prompted the state treasurer’s department to weigh in. The answer, apparently, was the county needed to get letters from each town that participated in the EDC and from past treasurers then communicate with the district attorney’s office.

“It is my understanding, if I interpret this correctly, that Jackson County is not being required at this time to comply with the audits,” McMahan said.

Controversy over the EDC erupted in 2005 amid allegations of financial mismanagement by its leaders. While the EDC was a separate entity, it relied on funding from the county. Concerned by the lack of oversight of public funds at the disposal of an all-volunteer body, the county decided to withdraw from the EDC and seized the organization’s records. But part of the records either weren’t there to begin with or went missing in the process.

The county tried to enlist the services of two separate auditing firms to help piece together what happened to the EDC’s finances to no avail.

But the commissioners, all but one of whom inherited the EDC fiasco, have received so much criticism over the issue that they apparently felt the need to go further.

Perhaps their most vocal critic has been Sylva resident Marie Leatherwood. Leatherwood has attended nearly every board meeting since May 2007 demanding at each one that someone be held accountable for what she claimed was the inexplicable disappearance of taxpayer money and the records that proved it. Getting to the bottom of the issue has become a crusade for Leatherwood.

McMahan became so exasperated with Leatherwood’s constant criticism that he invited her to present her evidence to the board. Leatherwood declined, saying the material was too sensitive.

At Monday’s meeting, Leatherwood reacted to the new information so strongly that the commissioners were forced to call a recess to escape her harangue.

“I’m not going to accept any ‘We’ve done it all,’” Leatherwood said. “That’s making a liar out of me.”

McMahan resorted to using his gavel to try to maintain order during the outburst. After the recess, Leatherwood left the building escorted by a sheriff’s deputy.

Commissioner Joe Cowan, who was on the board when the EDC controversy first emerged, was dismayed by the scene. Having remained quiet on the issue for months, he took time to reiterate that the county has never been responsible for producing an audit of the entity’s finances.

“We separated ourselves from the EDC. There was no legal responsibility to do anything with that audit in the first place,” Cowan said.

Sylva board elects to pay music licensing

With Sylva’s annual street festival Greening Up the Mountains right around the corner, town commissioners had a somewhat unusual decision land on their doorstep last week: risk a lawsuit or pay a licensing fee to a music industry group.

Apparently, you can’t just show up with a guitar at a town event and play “American Pie” anymore.

Sylva’s attorney, Eric Ridenour, advised the board not to pay $305 to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, because he believed paying the fee could set a precedent that would allow other licensing companies to gouge the town.

Ridenour based his advice on an experience with a representative of another licensing company, SESAC Inc., last year. The sales representative harassed Ridenour for weeks.

“It became more of a marketing tactic than a legal issue and it wasn’t hard to see through that,” Ridenour said.

Ridenour believes the town could win a lawsuit in the event that they are sued over a copyright violation during a town-sponsored event, in part, because the licensing companies don’t guarantee which artists’ songs are covered by their fees.

ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC are performing rights organizations. Effectively, they all do the same thing, issuing blanket licenses to music broadcasters, like television and radio stations and music performance venues.

By paying the blanket license fees, towns like Sylva are ensured that they can’t be sued if an artist at their festival plays a song without the permission of its author. It sounds ridiculous at face value, since most part-time musicians regularly play cover songs without permission, but if you don’t pay licensing fees, you are potentially liable.

“Potentially liable means it’s a gray area and you could probably write a dissertation on it,” Ridenour said.

Towns like Maggie Valley and Franklin, which have long-standing festivals that include music, pay the licensing fees. Ridenour said if Sylva was really concerned about the liability, it could get the musicians to sign a waiver saying they accepted responsibility for any copyright violations.

Mayor Maurice Moody didn’t like that idea.

“I would really be opposed to that,” Moody said. “Too many local musicians have day jobs. They’re part-time and they play for pleasure. I wouldn’t want to shift that burden on to them.”

The performing rights organizations aren’t boogey men. The licenses sold by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC pay royalties on copyrighted music. Royalties pay the songwriters. But Ridenour’s point is that the town could end up forking over $300 per year to each of the organizations, and over time the amount adds up.

Moody said he would rather pay the fee than face the possibility of a costly lawsuit.

“I don’t think it’s worth the risk,” Moody said. “Even though from a legal standpoint he’s probably right.”

Music rights will be an issue at Greening Up the Mountains, but they’ll be even more central to the town’s ability to hold its Friday night music events throughout the summer.

Commissioner Stacy Knotts also voted against passing the buck to the artists and said she didn’t mind the town paying the licensing fees.

“It might just be a part of doing business –– part of the joy of having music downtown,” Knotts said. “I definitely want to keep having music in the town.”

The commissioners voted 3 to 2 to pay the ASCAP fee. Cue up the Don Henley.

Jackson Sheriff’s race reveals rift in county

The Jackson County Sheriff’s race is hot and getting hotter. While a controversial pay raise and allegations of questionable financial transactions are dogging incumbent Sheriff Jimmy Ashe, the possibility of a politically-motivated arson at challenger Robin Gunnels’ business has provided a sinister sub-plot to the campaign. Now the contest has taken a new turn with a group of Cashiers residents forming a political action committee aimed at unseating Ashe.

Taxpayers Against Ashe for Sheriff has spent more than $2,000 on an ad campaign that reiterates allegations against Ashe that originally surfaced in newspaper accounts in recent months.

A primary organizer behind the political action committee is David Finn, the owner of Blue Ridge Public Safety, a private security business that patrols housing developments in the southern part of the county around Cashiers.

Finn sued Ashe in 2007, but he says the still unsettled lawsuit isn’t the motivation for the ad campaign the committee has launched.

“It’s no secret that I don’t like Jimmy Ashe,” Finn said. “It hasn’t always been that way. I’ve known him for 20 years, and I supported him in two elections.”

Finn said he could not comment on the lawsuit except to say he feels the trial will justify his stance against Ashe in the election.

“I’m looking forward to the trial, so the public can understand my change of heart,” Finn said.

Ashe has repeatedly said he will not engage in mudslinging with his challengers, and he said he could not comment on the lawsuit, either.

The suit itself provides a compelling backdrop to the election, because it sets up the rift between Ashe and Finn in the context of an up-county, down-county divide. In it, Finn alleges that Ashe used his office as sheriff to sabotage the $1.5 million sale of Sapphire Valley Public Safety as an act of political retribution.

The issue began innocently enough with Finn and Ashe on opposing sides of a policy debate playing out in Raleigh.

In 2006, as president of the North Carolina Company Police Association, Finn was advocating for a bill in the General Assembly that would have given private security forces like his jurisdiction on state and county roads adjacent to the properties they patrolled.

Ashe and the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association “vigorously opposed” the measure, which Ashe’s legal counsel concedes in the case file.

But Finn’s complaint goes on to allege that Ashe used his office and his deputies to harass Finn and the personnel of Blue Ridge Public Safety, then later sabotaged the sale of Sapphire Valley Public Safety. Finn had lined up a buyer for the subsidiary company, receiving a formal offer in May 2007.

In July, the buyers rescinded the offer.

The lawsuit alleges that Ashe used his influence to get the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate Blue Ridge Public Safety for wrongdoing — even though none had occurred — and that the investigation scuttled the sale.

“The investigations instigated by defendant James M. Ashe were based upon groundless and false accusation and were the specific reason the prospective purchasers did not perform under the contract,” the complaint alleges.

The case is scheduled for a trial in May.

From the beginning, Finn’s counsel has pushed for a jury trial while Ashe’s lawyers have asked that the case be dismissed on a lack of merit. In February, a judge declined to dismiss the case and ruled that it could proceed to trial.

 

Why form a PAC?

While political action committees are common in national politics, they are rare locally. People who spend money in local races usually donate to the candidate of their choice rather than form their own PAC with their own agenda.

In creating a political action committee, Finn said he is attempting to shed light on a pattern of abuse that has characterized Ashe’s leadership.

“I think the revelations in print media show Ashe’s misuse of tax money and raise some unanswered questions,” Finn said. “Without that attention, I think it would still be business as usual at the sheriff’s office.”

Ashe has come under fire for misappropriating revenue from drug seizures and for using a Harley Davidson seized from a drug dealer for personal use.

“The purpose of the PAC is to throw these things out there to get some answers,” Finn said. “We’re not supporting any candidate. I have my personal preference, but the PAC is not supporting anyone.”

Finn claims that he and his PAC are speaking out on behalf of a broader group of people who are reluctant to go on record for fear of incurring Ashe’s ire. The rules of PACs require any donors of more than $50 to be named in campaign finance reports. The PAC’s treasurer, John Bayley, said he preferred to let Finn speak for the group. The other two named contributors, Gary Ramey of Cashiers and Jeff Scott of Glenville, could not be reached for comment.

“A lot of people want to contribute under $50, because there is a real concern if the sheriff finds out,” Finn said.

The PAC has run ads in the Smoky Mountain News, The Cashiers Crossroads Chronicle and The Sylva Herald.

Ashe’s supporters have seen the ads as a smear campaign in what has become a dirty race for the sheriff’s office.

John Burgess of Sylva said seeing the negative ads in the newspaper have reinforced his support of Ashe.

“He really is the only candidate that is qualified to do the job,” Burgess said. “He has run a clean, no-slander campaign and is a leader in the community. I’ve never even heard of any of these other guys, but I do hear how nasty a campaign they run.”

The person who may have the most to gain from Finn’s ad campaign is Democratic candidate Robin Gunnels, who has emerged with Ashe as the frontrunner in the May primary.

Gunnels said the ads don’t have any new information, and he doesn’t think they’ll help his campaign.

“Those are things that came out last year and they’re just getting brought back up,” Gunnels said. “It’s just giving people the opportunity to see it and reflect on what’s right and what’s wrong in the county.”

Gunnels said the bigger issue in the election is how the Jackson County Sheriff will deal with the southern part of the county, where private security firms patrol expensive developments that are unoccupied for large portions of the year in the greater Cashiers and Glenville area.

Gunnels and Ashe clashed during a candidate’s debate in Cashiers last Tuesday over that subject.

Ashe has said one of his top priorities is to create a new substation in the south central part of the county that would help bolster security and enhance cooperation in those communities.

But Gunnels said Ashe had a policy of not responding to alarm calls in that area, something he routinely did when he was at the sheriff’s department.

Both Gunnels and Ashe have their power bases in the northern part of the county. Gunnels lives in Cullowhee and runs a business in Sylva, while Ashe is a highly visible political figure also in the north. Between now and May, both men will be trying to convince every voter they can that they have what it takes to keep the whole county safe.

The primary winner won’t be out of the woods, however, as two unaffiliated candidates are planning to get on the ballot through a petition process. One of them, Tim O’Brien, has worked for Finn at Blue Ridge Public Safety and lives in Cashiers.

Dillsboro bats looking for new homes

Throughout the years-long bickering over the future of the Dillsboro Dam, the little brown bats that spent the summer in the dam’s powerhouse had no voice.

Each April, the little browns would return to the Tuckaseegee from their winter homes in caves and mines throughout the region in order to mate and enjoy the bounty of insects the river furnished. They established a burgeoning colony in the dam’s old powerhouse, which offered the perfect warm, dry shelter.

“That was an ideal place for them by the dam,” said Mark Cantrell, field biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “With the powerhouse and the food sources on the river, it was just about perfect.”

The powerhouse was demolished along with the dam this winter.

Cantrell worked with biologists from Duke Energy to create mitigation plans for the different species of birds, bats, and fish affected by the radical overnight change. The idea of putting in bat boxes to replace the demolished powerhouse roost was Cantrell’s.

Duke erected four bat houses to accommodate the estimated 500 bats that colonized the powerhouse. Each four-compartment bat box has the capacity to accommodate about 250 bats. They are patterned after recommendations from Bat Conservation International.

T.J. Walker, the owner of the Dillsboro Inn perched on the river shore where the dam once stood, is also coping with the radical change in the landscape. Walker initially opposed Duke’s plan to take out the dam, but now he says he’s pleased to see the Tuckaseegee flowing wild and free beneath the deck of his inn. But Walker is worried about the bats.

“For as many bats as were in there, there are not enough houses,” Walker said. Walker doesn’t see how the boxes, roughly the size of a television set, will hold as many bats as biologists say they will.

Walker is not just a casual observer of the nocturnal hunters. He counts on them to keep the riverfront free of mosquitoes.

“We love the bats. They do pest control,” Walker said. “They make Dillsboro’s waterfront special. Our customers love looking at the bats. We don’t have a mosquito problem.”

Walker recently bought three additional bat houses himself because he has been worried by the sight of the bats swarming the site where the powerhouse once stood.

Cantrell believes there’s plenty of room for the Dillsboro bat colony in the new houses, but it will take them time to set up new roosts.

“I expect the bats to utilize the houses. They will come back,” Cantrell said. “Most bats will come back to an area like that. They’ll be a little surprised at first, but then they’ll start looking for other places nearby.”

Walker was concerned that the bat houses weren’t placed in close proximity to where the old powerhouse was, but are a quarter mile or more away. Cantrell believe the bats will find the houses, however.

Cantrell said the bat houses will be monitored for the next two years to see how well the bats have adjusted to the new surroundings. For both T.J. Walker and the bats, this spring involves more than just the normal change of seasons.

Becky Johnson contributed to this article.

 

Spring nesting

In the spring, little brown bats form huge nursery colonies like the one observed at Dillsboro. A nursery colony may have thousands of bats in it. Maternity colonies are commonly found in warm sites in buildings or other structures and can occasionally be found in hollow trees. The female little brown bat gives birth to only one baby a year.

Scant primary in Jackson commissioner race

While three of five seats are up for election on the Jackson County board of commissioners, there is primary competition for just one of the seats: the Democratic primary for the Cherokee/ Whittier/Dillsboro district profiled here.

 

William Shelton, 47, Whittier, farmer

• Experience: Shelton has been on the board for four years and is a full-time farmer. Shelton has worked as supervisor for the Jackson County soil and water conservation district and served as member of the planning board and the steering committee for the Mountain Landscapes Initiative.

• Platform: Shelton was elected to his first term after running on a platform of environmental stewardship and controlled development in Jackson County. While on the board, he helped pass steep slope and subdivision ordinances as well as create a Historic Preservation Commission and a Farmland Preservation ordinance.

“The beauty and natural resources of this area are our number one asset. We need, as always, to find ways to strike that delicate balance between growth and stewardship.”

Shelton said his focus now is on economic development, job creation, and fiscal responsibility.

“I think our goal as commissioners in Jackson County should be to support the infrastructure and services, from education and recreation to emergency services and well-justified capital projects, that would set the table in making this county as attractive as possible to people who are looking for business locations in this new ‘green’ and ‘high-tech’ economy.”

 

James “Bo” Brown, 55, Dillsboro, pastor/business owner

• Experience: Brown is pastor of Alarka Missionary Baptist Church in Bryson City, works full-time on the night shift at WestCare Medical as a floor technician, and is the owner of Bo Knows Construction.

• Platform: Brown believes the people of Jackson County are overtaxed and that over-regulation of development has accentuated the effects of the recession.

“The hard-working people who have grown up here starve or are having to sell off their land to pay the taxes. The people of Jackson County want a place they can be proud of, with jobs for all and the ability to keep their land for their children, so they too can raise their children here instead of having to go away to find work.”

As commissioner, Brown said he would seek to diversify the local economy by attracting manufacturing jobs and hiring local contractors for county work.

“Jackson County needs to seek manufacturing companies to come to this area to give jobs to the people. Tourism is fine, but not everyone has a business that runs on tourism. We really need stable places to work where people can look forward to having a retirement.”

Haire seeks re-election in N.C. 119 race

N.C. House District 119 represents Jackson, Swain and portions of Haywood and Macon counties. In the Democratic primary, incumbent Phil Haire faces challenger Avram Friedman. The winner will face Republican candidate Dodie Allen of Jackson County in the November election.

Phil Haire, 73, attorney in Sylva

Experience

Haire has served five terms as a state representative. He is chairman of the N.C. House Appropriations Committee. Haire served in the U.S. Air Force and obtained the rank of captain.

Platform

As chairman of the appropriations committee, Haire has seen the state’s budget crisis firsthand. He is running on a platform that features bolstering the economy, preserving jobs and balancing the budget.

“My number one interest is maintaining the fiscal integrity of the state. Let’s keep us strong without having to cut employees and services,” Haire said.

Haire points to his voting record on environmental issues — sponsoring steep slope development and clean air bills and promoting farmland preservation –– as proof that he is a champion for keeping the mountain region pristine.

“My people go back 250 years in the mountains, and I’m a mountain person, so it’s one of the first things I think about –– protecting this place,” Haire said.

Haire also emphasizes his record of helping critical local development projects –– like the Jackson County Senior Center in Webster –– and his advocacy for Southwestern Community College funding as evidence of his attention to detail in his district. His tenure has given him clout to help gets things done that a newcomer would not enjoy. He has pledged to keep education strong, and he said he will continue to press NCDOT to get I-40 open as soon as possible.

“I never get into finger-pointing,” Haire said. “I just run on what I’ve done, and if people like it, I hope they’ll vote for me.”

Jackson ridge law review off the table

The Jackson County planning board is no longer contemplating revisions to the county’s ban on ridge top construction.

The ridge law posed logistical challenges for county staff tasked with enforcing the ordinance. But discussion over how to tweak the ridge law resulted in backlash from the public, who feared the regulation was being weakened.

It turns out the planning board doesn’t have time to review the language of the ridge law anyway, according to Planning Director Linda Cable.

The planning board was asked by county commissioners this week to begin writing an ordinance that would regulate adult entertainment establishments. Commissioners also asked the planning board to tackle a false alarm ordinance that would incur penalties for homeowners if their security systems have an excessive number of false alarms, which take up valuable time for the sheriff’s office.

“Those are more important than reviewing the mountain and hillside development ordinance, which was administrative in nature,” Cable said.

Cable said the decision to table the review of the ridge law has nothing to do with the controversy it generated. Cable said there was never an intent to weaken the ridge law. The discussion was merely an attempt to clarify what qualifies as a protected ridge.

However, in an email memo to planning board members, Cable said said tabling the ridge law review, while intended only as an administrative change, made sense “particularly since it seemed to be controversial” and in light of “concerns from the public.”

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