Sylva board blesses Community Table move

Community Table, Sylva’s nonprofit community kitchen, has outgrown its existing facility and is targeting a move to the town’s now-vacant senior center.

The county built a new senior center, freeing up space in the old one, which is owned by the town. The building is located downtown adjacent to the town pool and playground.

Last month the Community Table’s executive director, Amy Grimes, asked the Sylva town board if it would support the move so the organization could move forward with concrete fundraising goals for the building switch.

The board voted unanimously to “bless” the project.

Grimes said the Community Table served an average of 120 meals per night in January for a monthly total of 2,076 meals, triple last January’s number.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces every week,” Grimes said.

Community Table –– which serves meals four nights per week and operates a food pantry by appointment –– turned 10 years old last August. The Sylva Church of Christ has donated the current space to operate the kitchen, but Grimes said the Community Table needs more room to accommodate a surge in demand for services.

“We’re busting at the seams,” Grimes said.

Grimes said the Sylva board’s vote cleared the way for Community Table to get cost estimates for the move and undertake a fundraising drive. Grimes expects to get a building inspector’s estimate on the necessary renovations to the building next month.

“We are hoping the town, the county and the community will come together to help us, and we’ve always had tremendous support,” Grimes said.

Community Table serves warm, home-cooked meals to anyone who wants them from Monday through Friday every week.

Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody said the senior center had always been a building devoted to community service. If the Community Table could raise the money to make the move a success, the town would support it.

“What the board did was basically bless the idea if they want to move forward with it,” Moody said.

Landowner dismayed N.C. 107 bridge widening will claim archaeology site

A Cherokee archaeological site spanning from at least 6,000 years ago to the 18th century stands in the way of bridge widening project over the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County.

Plans call for widening the N.C. 107 bridge over the river from its existing width of just 20 feet to 50 feet at a cost of $4.2 million. The new bridge will be three lanes with shoulders and a sidewalk.

Landowners and the N.C. Department of Transportation are at odds over the project. The archaeological site is on land owned by the Moses family for 120 years. The family has taken pride in the site and hosted university sponsored archaeological digs on its property through the years.

While a wider bridge has been in the making for more than a decade, plans initially called for building a new bridge in the same place, leaving the archaeological site untouched. Plans were altered in 2007, calling not only for a much larger footprint but also shifting the bridge over to sit on top of the site.

The DOT failed to notify the landowners of the change until now, according to Cherrie Moses of Tuckasegee.

The family got a phone call a few weeks ago from DOT to discuss purchasing their property for the widening.

“We were in total shock,” said Moses, 52, a retired school teacher. “This is the first time we are hearing about this, and it is already a done deal. It was like all you need to do is sign on the dotted line, and the bulldozers are ready.”

Since 1997, Moses said she was told the site would be protected.

“The plans that my family had been given stated that the bridge was going back basically where it is, that the site would not be compromised,” Moses said.

Pam Williams, a bridge project planning engineer, said the Moses family was made aware of the new plan, but they must not have fully understood.

The DOT was well aware of the archaeological site in the path of the bridge widening. It plans to excavate the site first and document all the artifacts that are found, said Matt Wilkerson, a DOT archaeologist.

Wilkerson said one of the most intriguing aspects of the site is relatively recent Cherokee occupation dating to the 1700s. One house site was excavated in an archaeology dig by a university team a few decades ago, and Wilkerson thinks there may be more.

The site won’t be destroyed by the bridge, Wilkerson said. If anything, the bridge project will allow the secrets of the site to be uncovered with an archaeological dig.

In crafting an excavation plan, DOT consulted with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the state historic preservation office. Both signed off on the project with the caveat that the artifacts be saved in advance of the bulldozers.

Moses doesn’t understand why they included everyone except the landowners.

“That is not right. We would have liked to been in on the meeting and voiced our concerns,” said Moses, who also happens to be the chair of the Jackson County Historic Preservation Commission.

The site is on its way to being listed on the National Historic Register after being recommended by the DOT archaeologist.

Federal law requires a formal public process when impacting sites that are eligible for the National Register, but no one ever sought out participation by the Moses family.


Chain of events

The bridge was targeted for replacement more than a decade ago due to its age and narrow width. It is technically deemed “structurally deficient” and “functionally obsolete.” It is still safe, Williams said, but won’t stay that way forever, and maintenance costs will increase.

The existing bridge has 10-foot lanes and no shoulders.

“We have had several side swipes over the past few years,” Williams said.

The new bridge will have three 12-foot lanes, 4-foot shoulders that will double as bike lanes and a sidewalk on one side.

It will also have a left-turn lane for Shook Cove Road, which sits 100 feet from the bridge. The turn lane will be 200 feet long in all. Some left-turn lanes may only be 50 feet — just long enough for a couple of cars to queue up while waiting to make a left. Why is Shook Cove’s turn lane so long?

“There are a lot of variables actually to determine how much traffic would back up on the main line,” Williams said.

Williams cited an increase in development up Shook Cove as justifying the turn lane. Traffic counts in 2005 showed 4,700 cars a day passing over the bridge, with 200 vehicles making a left onto Shook Cove.

Moses questioned why the new bridge has to be so wide.

“This is a massive bridge. It is not even going to fit in,” Moses said.

Moses believes the bridge was planned with the expectation that new developments would add to traffic in the future. But the once zealous plans of developers are drastically scaled back these days, Moses said.


How it will be built

Under the original plan, a temporary river crossing would be built on the Moses property to accommodate traffic while the existing bridge was demolished and built back in the same place. To protect artifacts, heavy black fabric would be laid down and fill dirt placed on top. It would all be hauled away when the project was done. That method is no longer considered sensitive enough, however, Williams said.

Instead, DOT will use the “staged construction” method. Traffic will continue to flow on the existing bridge while the new bridge is built alongside it. Then traffic will shift to the new bridge while the old one is torn down and the other half of the new bridge built in its place.

Williams said there were two attempts to share the new plan with the public. One was a newsletter sent to property owners in December 2007. While the newsletter announces that the bridge will use a “staged construction method,” it fails to explain that such a method necessitates a larger bridge footprint.

“Reading the literature and having someone sit down with you and explain the plans are two different things,” Williams said.

The other outreach by the DOT was a public meeting in early 2008 on upgrades to N.C. 107, specifically lane widening and the new shoulders through the Tuckasegee community. Williams went to the meeting with the bridge plans in hand expecting residents would ask about it as part of the larger N.C. 107 upgrades.

Williams also said she twice mentioned “data recovery” to Moses in emails. But just as the term “staged construction” means little to the lay person, Moses did not realize that references to “data recovery” translated to “archaeological dig,” meaning the bridge’s footprint would consume the site and require an excavation in advance of construction.

But, by the same token, the DOT didn’t know exactly where the new footprint would be until now.

“We can’t sit down and tell them how much land we are taking until we get the design plans done,” Williams said. And at that point, property owners are contacted about buying right of way.


More information:

Construction of a wider bridge over the Tuckasegee on N.C. 107 could start by spring of 2011. The project would take 18 months. Two lanes of traffic — one in each direction — would remain open throughout.

Sylva may be stuck with cell tower

The Sylva Town Board opposes the construction of a 195-foot-high cellular communications tower on the main commercial drag of N.C. 107, but a state law passed in August may allow the tower to go up anyway.

The cell tower, planned by Pegasus Tower Company of Cedar Bluff, Va., would dominate the ridgeline next to the unfinished Comfort Inn adjacent to Andy Shaw Ford.

Pegasus originally received a building permit for the tower in June 2008, but because construction did not begin within six months, the permit expired.

Sylva amended its cell tower ordinance in November 2008 to conform to Jackson County’s ordinance. The ordinance stipulates a maximum height of 120 feet, which would rule out the tower Pegasus plans to build.

The Sylva board met in closed session last month to discuss legal matters concerning the issue and determined they had grounds to deny Pegasus a new permit.

“We think we’re on firm legal ground to deny it,” Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody said.

Moody said the board considered the tower a safety issue because a “fall zone” had not been included in its design plans.

But Pegasus believes the North Carolina Permit Extension Act of 2009, a state law intended to offset onerous permitting requirements during the down economy, applies to cell tower construction. The company plans to build the tower without a new permit from the town of Sylva.

David Owens, professor at UNC Chapel Hill’s Institute of Government, said Pegasus’ permit is likely still valid.

“If that permit was valid at any time during that last three years, then it’s still valid,” Owens said.

Companies forced to put construction projects on hold during the recession would typically see their permits lapse. The state bill was intended to save developers from having to go through the permit process over again when they were finally ready to proceed.

Owens said the Permit Extension Act defines development so broadly that the construction of cell towers is included. The statute essentially delays the mandatory start period for development projects initiated between January 2008 and December 2010.

Following the logic of the bill, Pegasus would have six months from December 2010 to start work on the tower under the terms of its current permit.

Sylva board member Chris Matheson said she and her fellow board members felt strongly that the tower shouldn’t be constructed in the proposed location.

“I don’t know how much there is to say other than that the town is vehemently opposed to it,” Matheson said.

Matheson also said the town is working with Pegasus to see if both parties can agree on an alternative site for the tower.

“We’re working with Pegasus to see if we could provide a location that would be attractive to them but more in line with that the community needs,” Matheson said.

Sylva Town Manager Adrienne Isenhower confirmed that the town’s attorney, Eric Ridenour, has engaged in discussions with lawyers from Pegasus to resolve the issue.

If Pegasus and the town cannot come to an amicable resolution on the issue, Owens believes Sylva must have grounds other than an expired permit to prevent the project from going forward.

County and architect cross wires on library fee

Last week a confused set of Jackson County commissioners learned their new library may cost more money than they thought, but County Manager Ken Westmoreland said the administrative mix-up won’t result in a higher price tag than the one originally agreed upon.

“I think I’ve got the situation unraveled now,” Westmoreland said Monday.

When the scope of work for the library changed midway through the project, McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture wanted a higher fee. While the firm failed to secure a signed contract from the county, commissioners did grant verbal approval, but forgot they had done so.

The library was originally planned as a brand new building located near Jackson Plaza, but community advocates later convinced the county to build the library adjacent to the historic courthouse downtown, and renovate the historic courthouse in the process.

According to Westmoreland, the original contract between McMillan Smith and the county awarded the architects 7.5 percent of the total project cost. But in October 2007, after the project was shifted to the courthouse hill, the architects asked for 8 percent. Renovations generally involve more work for architects and demand a higher fee by percentage. Architects also faced new site constraints and the challenge of blending a new building with the old one.

The county board voted to adopt the new billing rate, and the project went forward. But the architects never submitted a new written contract for the county to sign. As a result, the county’s finance department never got confirmation of the new rate.

County Finance Director Darlene Fox continued to pay at the contractually agreed upon rate of 7.5 percent. When the architecture firm completed a merger with another company, its accountants notified Westmoreland of the error last October.

“I think when they merged their books, that may have been when they discovered they were paying the different rate,” Westmoreland said.

At last week’s commissioner meeting, Westmoreland knew of the error, but he couldn’t explain why the county never got the updated contract.

Commissioner Tom Massie said that if the error wasn’t the county’s, the county should discuss the possibility of “splitting the difference” with the architecture firm. The board directed Westmoreland to get to the bottom of the confusion.

That’s when Westmoreland uncovered records from an old meeting when the board voted to approve the new rate. Westmoreland said the county was bound to honor the agreement and pay the correct rate for work on the project.

“I didn’t have a contract saying 8 percent and finance didn’t have a contract for 8 percent, but the bottom line is the board approved 8 percent and that’s what we obligated ourselves to,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland said the board will not have to vote again on the contract, and the county will pay McMillan Pazdan Smith at 8 percent for the work. According to the finance department, the project’s total price tag is $6,667,169 and the half percent adjustment on the fee will amount to $30,335.85.

Landslide damages financially-strapped Jackson development

A landslide at the Waterdance development in the Tuckasegee area of Jackson County washed out a road and dumped a significant amount of mud and concrete into the Tuckasegee River in early February.

Robbie Shelton, erosion control officer for Jackson County, estimated the slide laid bare a 75-foot-wide swath about 100 yards long. A retaining wall holding back a cut-and-fill slope above a road broke, and the resulting slide covered an entire lot at the development.

“It was just retaining too much water and the hydrostatic pressure caused it to fail,” Shelton said.

Shelton said the cause of the slide had not yet been determined.

Shelton said cold weather froze the slide and limited the effects of runoff. He also said the near flood levels of the Tuck’s West Fork may have minimized the impact by diluting the sediment. Shelton said there were no visible soil deposits downstream of the slide when he examined the river days after the event.

Water Dance is located between Tuckasegee and Glenville and is owned by Legasus, a mega developer that once held more than 4,000 acres in Jackson County. The developer fell victim to the recession and has faced numerous foreclosures over the past year.

The slide damaged a lot owned by Patrick Kennedy, who bought large acreage from Legasus during the company’s financial problems. Shelton said Legasus is currently working on a mitigation plan for the soil and concrete that entered the river, and the company’s engineers are studying the roadway. Water Dance was started before Jackson County passed a new, more restrictive subdivision ordinance, but its roads met county standards, Shelton said.

Shelton has received numerous calls about slides around the county as heavy rains and snow hit the mountains hard in February.

“These slides are occurring countywide,” said Shelton. “None as visible as this one, but I’m vetting calls every time it rains.”

Another slide closed a lane of N.C. 281 near Little Canada, and Shelton received reports of a third heavy slide near Whittier.

Jackson sheriff sparks controversy, policy change with expenditures

Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe may not have done anything illegal, but he’s stepped into the middle of a controversy in the run-up to his re-election campaign.

Ashe used state and federal money from narcotics seizures to operate an informal fund for youth sports. Ashe funneled money from the narcotics fund to youth sports teams without county oversight and outside of the accepted financial procedures followed by local governments.

While state authorities deemed the sheriff’s use of the money on sports was not illegal, the lack of oversight when making the donations violated General Statute 159-25(b), according to the Local Government Commission.

Jackson County has changed the way it administers its narcotics fund, effective immediately, in response to a letter County Manager Ken Westmoreland received from the Local Government Commission on Feb. 9.

“We had a conference with the sheriff, and we addressed to him that it was somewhat out of the norm in how we provide fiscal control, and he agreed very quickly to conform,” Westmoreland said.

The issue was initially brought to light by the Asheville Citizen-Times, which reported that Ashe had used the money from a tax on narcotics seizures in an unorthodox manner, based on financial records obtained through a public records request. Ashe spent more than $12,000 from the narcotics fund on youth sports between July 2007 and January 2009.

In addition, the sheriff used $20,000 from the fund to pay for a carpet in the sheriff’s office and $400 to get himself listed on a national “who’s who” list.

The investigation also discovered that Ashe rode a Harley Davidson seized from a drug dealer while off duty.

The N.C. Department of Revenue assesses a tax on illegal drugs seized by law enforcement. Sheriff’s and police departments get 75 percent of what is collected from drug dealers on cases they investigate.

According to Westmoreland, state and federal statutes governing the narcotics fund dictate the money must be used for drug crime prevention and enforcement, but allow room for interpretation. In Buncombe, Haywood and Macon counties, the money is used strictly for law enforcement expenses, and each expenditure is approved by county commissioners.

For the past 8 years, that has not been the case in Jackson County. Sheriff Ashe has used the money mainly to fund youth sports activities to keep kids off drugs. The spending was included in the county’s audit each year, and auditors have never cited it as an issue for concern.

The controversy surrounding the use of the narcotics fund hinges more on the sheriff’s failure to adhere to accepted accounting procedures than on his use of the money for youth sports.

The fund was administered by Capt. Steve Lillard, who signed the checks. The county’s finance department only saw the expenditures after the fact. County Finance Director Darlene Fox said the practice made her uncomfortable.

“I was only seeing the transactions after they occurred and not prior to,” Fox said.

Westmoreland said he didn’t stop the practice sooner largely because it had never caused problems.

“I don’t know where it originated. The implication has always been that this is a fund that amounts to a gift from the state or federal government to the sheriff’s office that can be used at the sheriff’s discretion,” Westmoreland said. “It has never really been an issue.”

Sharon Edmundson, director of fiscal management for the Local Government Commission, expressed her department’s concern over the practice in a letter to Westmoreland.

The narcotic tax revenues amount to a public fund held in an official county depository, so the county should treat spending from the fund the same way it treats expenditures from any other department, the letter stated.

In essence, checks were being written from county coffers without prior budget approval and with only one signature — and that lone signature was a sheriff’s captain and not an authorized finance officer.

“We recommend that the checks used to disburse these funds be signed by two county employees or officials authorized to sign checks and duly appointed by the Board to serve in that capacity,” the letter stated.

Since receiving the letter the county has closed the separate account for the sheriff’s fund and changed the policies governing its use. Now any expenditure will have to appear in the budget for approval by the county board and all the checks will be signed by Westmoreland and Fox.

Mountain or mole hill?

Now that the county has changed its procedures, Westmoreland believes the issue is settled except in the case of Sheriff Ashe’s use of the motorcycle. County logs showed the sheriff had put 1,326 miles on the motorcycle since its seizure.

Westmoreland has asked the sheriff to submit an official letter stating how he used the vehicle. The sheriff would be required to pay taxes on the mileage he put on the vehicle for personal use.

“It is an issue but then again it’s not an issue of great importance because if every mile was personal use, we’re still looking at less than $50 of tax money,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland also said as a constitutional officer, Ashe is exempt from the county’s employee policies and is, technically, always working on the public’s behalf, making the separation between public and personal use difficult to determine.

Edmundson’s letter addressed the issue of the motorcycle separately from the accounting issues.

“We also recommend that the County consider the payroll implications of the Sheriff’s personal use of a seized motorcycle; personal use of anything other than a clearly marked public safety vehicle or the clearly authorized use of an unmarked vehicle is generally a taxable benefit,” the letter stated.

Ashe did not return multiple phone calls requesting comment on the issue, but he defended his practice of using the narcotics fund for youth sports to the Asheville Citizen Times. Ashe admitted that the expenditure on the “who’s who” list may have been a mistake, explaining that he made the decision to raise the county’s public profile.

Some of the county commissioners in Jackson County are standing by the sheriff. Commissioner Tom Massie has been particularly outspoken in that regard.

“I can’t say it loud enough. I think it’s making a mountain out of a molehill when you’re talking about a man in control of a $50 million budget,” Massie said.

Massie also spoke to the motorcycle issue.

“It struck me as peculiar, the motorcycle thing, and perhaps indelicate,” Massie said. “But quite frankly, I accept the sheriff’s explanation that he was evaluating it for patrol use.”

The questions raised by the investigation and the response from the LGC centers mainly on whether Ashe used the money appropriately as an effort to prevent youth drug use or inappropriately to build a personal following with public money. Ashe is one of the highest paid sheriffs in the region, making $105,571 after receiving a significant raise from the county board last year.

The sheriff is up for re-election this year will face at least one opponent, Robin Gunnels, a Sylva business owner with a background in law enforcement.

Local fishermen sad to see the dam go

The first day of demolition on the Dillsboro Dam attracted hundreds of spectators last Wednesday.

A roadside pull-off overlooking the Tuckasegee afforded a bird’s eye view of the machinery chipping away at the dam below. Some vying for a spot arrived early and loitered all morning, while others double parked, jumped out and snapped a photo with their cell phone, then went on their way.

Many watching from the roadside were clearly disappointed with what they were witnessing.

“I don’t see no point in it,” said Jake Dills. “It wasn’t hurting nothing to let it stay like it was.”

Like so many who grew up in Jackson County, fishing downstream of the dam was a big part of Dills’ childhood.

The wide waters below the dam are known for exceptionally large fish. The dam blocked fish from swimming any further upstream, making it fertile ground for fishing.

It was also a place fishermen could call their own, free from rafters and kayakers. A stone’s throw further downstream is a major put-in for commercial rafting companies and a favorite launching point for paddlers. Once the dam is gone, Duke Energy has pledged to add more put-ins upstream of Dillsboro. Fishermen fear an encroachment by paddlers along a stretch they once had to themselves.

“It will mess everything up for the local people and fishermen,” said Dills. “I hate to see it go.”

Oscar Woodard, 66, said taking out the dam will ruin the fishing.

“There’s some big ones in there,” Woodard as he watched from the roadside. “It’s a sad time, but it’s progress, I guess.”

Some even lament the loss of the slow-moving backwater behind the dam. John Hall, 60, liked to kneeboard and water ski on the pseudo-lake behind the dam. He also fished in the deep waters behind the dam, and even trapped muskrat around it.

“I don’t like it one bit,” Hall said, as he watched equipment hammer a hole in the dam. “I can’t understand why they’re doing it. The local people won’t benefit.”

But some onlookers were more positive.

Two friends, Lauren Cress and Casey Smith, like floating down the river on rafts and inner tubes. With the dam gone, they will have more river to play on.

“I think it is a good day,” said Smith, 28. But Smith said he understands why a lot of the “old-timers” don’t feel that way.

A few onlookers, despite their personal convictions in support of keeping the dam, said it was about time that the county commissioners stopped fighting a losing battle against Duke at the expense of taxpayers and let demolition proceed.

The river through Dillsboro will be far narrower with the dam gone. The dam was 310 feet long, as was the river above and below it. The natural river will be just 50 feet wide. Many watching the demolition during those early hours had a hard time visualizing what such a drastically smaller river would look like.

“I am anxious to see what it looks like when they get done,” said Brandon Ashe, 33.

Sylva teen club closes quietly

A Sylva teen club that sparked controversy two months ago by disseminating a flyer inviting high school students to “come as wasted as you want” has closed its doors.

In December, concerned parents brought 500 signatures to a town board meeting demanding that it shut down Club Offspring –– a private club for teens that held dances on the weekends. The club’s owner, Nathan Lang, defended his operation as an alternative ministry aimed at attracting “at-risk” youth.

The town board determined that it had no cause to shut the club down in spite of the petitions, but Mayor Maurice Moody admonished Lang about the wording of his flyer.

Last week, Sylva town manager Adrienne Isenhower confirmed the club had closed of its own accord.

“It wasn’t because of anything initiated by the town,” Isenhower said. “I guess the business was failing, and they couldn’t pay the rent.”

Isenhower said she learned the club had closed because Sylva police had stopped noticing any activity during the club’s hours of operation.

The club’s owner, Nathan Lang, used high-minded language to defend the club in the face of criticism from concerned parents.

“We see ourselves in the community not as a nuisance but as a place where teenagers can be who they are,” Lang said. “If anything, it’s a new doctrine attempt aimed at teenagers.”

Now the club has shut its doors, and Lang cannot be reached for comment.

Jackson County board race to meter voter confidence


The Jackson County board consists of four commissioners and one chairman. This year, the two commissioner seats and chairman are up for election. Commissioners must live within their voting district to seek election, but the county chairman is elected at-large.

After a year of controversy centered on a number of high-profile decisions on the part of the Jackson County board, three key members are up for re-election in November.

Chairman Brian McMahan, Commissioner Tom Massie, and Commissioner William Shelton have all said they will seek re-election.

The commissioners have been dogged by controversy over the past four years — some by their own design but some clearly landing on their doorstep uninvited.

McMahan said his decision to run was based on his desire to solve problems he inherited when he came on the board.

“Obviously we inherited some problems. I wasn’t part of creating those problems, but I will be past of solving those problems,” McMahan said.

The costly Dillsboro Dam fight, a controversial salary raise for top level county administrators, a tug-of-war over the county airport, and ongoing fallout from the implosion of the county’s economic development commission have kept county commissioners in the news.

However, McMahan cited the board’s ability to keep the tax rate among the lowest in the state while accomplishing key capital improvements as a measure of their success.

Some in the development and real estate industry are still angry over the passage of stringent mountainside development regulations four years ago, crafted during a five-month moratorium on new subdivisions. However, pro-development interests failed in their bid to oust Commissioners Mark Jones and Joe Cowan when they were up for election two years ago, suggesting the regulations were supported by the general public.

Commissioner William Shelton ran for his first term on a platform of environmental stewardship and responsible growth. After helping the county develop widely lauded development ordinances, Shelton said the faltering economy and some long-standing issues took center stage.

“I feel like in my first term the board has delved into some growth issues and we need to continue on and finish what we started for when the economy starts to grow again,” Shelton said.

Commissioner Tom Massie said he wants to run again to finish what he started.

“Most of the issues I originally ran on have been completed but not all of them,” Massie said.

Massie said he sees the next term as an opportunity for the board to move past the issues they inherited when they came on four years ago.

“We’re starting to get some things wrapped up and put behind us and now we’ll have some more time for projects that would move the county forward,” Massie said, citing the Jackson greenway and affordable housing.

The current members of the board are all Democrats. Jackson County GOP chair Dodie Allen said the party tried hard to find candidates to run, and thought they had found one, but the person changed their mind. As of now, Allen said there are no Republican challengers for any of the commissioner seats that she knows of.

The county heavily leans Democratic, which means the Democratic primary in May decided the final lineup of the board — which would be especially true if no Republicans even run.

Dillsboro, WCU move forward with marketing relationship

Leaders of the town of Dillsboro and members of Western Carolina University’s faculty unveiled the framework for an ongoing partnership that will help Dillsboro build a business identity.

Discussions between former mayor Jean Hartbarger and WCU Chancellor John Bardo last year led to interest in a partnership that would turn Dillsboro into a learning lab for WCU’s College of Business while providing the town with much-needed resources at a difficult moment in its history.

Reeling from the loss of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, the force behind Dillsboro’s tourist-driven retail economy, and from the highly publicized and protracted struggle over its dam, the town is looking ahead at an uncertain future.

Last week, WCU public relations professor, Dr. Betty Farmer, and Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald announced to members of the public at the Applegate Inn the outline for the partnership. Nearly 20 members of WCU’s teaching faculty were present at the event, and they took turns explaining how they would use their students to accomplish tasks that would benefit the town over the course of the next year.

Building from a consulting project the town undertook on its own, WCU’s business college plans to start by targeting “low-hanging fruit.” By increasing the town’s Web presence, creating a town newsletter, developing a schedule of common business hours, and strengthening the ties between the campus community and the town, the project would move towards creating a distinct marketing strategy for Dillsboro by the end of the year.

“We want you to know that this is the starting place and not the be all and end all,” Farmer said.

Farmer explained that the town has to have a strong voice in the partnership and that none of the solutions identified by classes would be imposed on merchants or the town leadership.

In keeping with that principle, one of the primary functions of the business college will be to conduct surveys of the town’s vendors and customers to develop a statistical framework for marketing decisions.

Brenda Anders, a town merchant who runs Dogwood Crafters, was pleased by what she saw.

“I was impressed by everyone’s excitement and I’m really surprised by WCU’s level of involvement,” Anders said. “It’s been like that at every meeting.”

Students in WCU’s public relations program, Garrett Richardson and Lauren Gray, showed their enthusiasm for the project by explaining how they could help create a vibrant e-newsletter linked to social networking sites.

“In two or three sentences, can you differentiate between Facebook and Twitter?” one resident asked.

The success of the partnership will likely rely more on the strength of the relationship forged between the community and the students and faculty at WCU than on their abililty to harness social media sites.

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