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.
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
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.
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.”
TWASA looks for long-term solution on orphan sewer lines
Last month, officials from the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority and the Town of Sylva clashed over who was responsible for fixing a clogged town sewer line.
The issue has since been resolved, with TWASA’s board voting 4-1 to reimburse Sylva for the cost of the repair after all. But the larger issue of what to do with “orphan” sewer lines that don’t appear on TWASA’s maps remains.
A committee representing all of the entities that formed the TWASA two decades ago has been convened to examine and interpret TWASA’s charter, according to Board Chairman Randall Turpin
At stake is whether TWASA is responsible for maintaining and repairing lines that weren’t on the original maps back when the newly formed private enterprise took over Sylva’s water and sewer system in the early ‘90s.
“How do we categorize the lines that weren’t identified at that time?” Turpin said.
TWASA’s has a policy not to repair small lines that didn’t appear on the original maps.
Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody doesn’t understand how such a policy could be in place.
“From my perspective, when TWASA was formed in 1992, they accepted the entire sewer system in existence at the time,” Moody said. “Therefore, I feel they have the responsibility to maintain it.”
But while TWASA’s charter document clearly gives the authority the responsibility to operate and maintain the entire system, it also gives it broad discretion to determine how and when to repair, upgrade and maintain the sewer lines.
The TWASA board felt it was important to pay Sylva back for the clog in order to move forward with a more productive discussion, according to TWASA Executive Director Joe Cline.
But they also wanted the municipalities to understand the planning process that goes into upgrades and maintenance of the system.
Turpin said TWASA relies on a regimented capital improvement plan that goes through its Water and Sewer Projects Committee, a system set up in the charter document.
Turpin said the authority has to be able to budget for maintenance and upgrades each year based on projected revenues. Spur of the moment repairs on unmapped lines present a problem.
“If there’s lines that are identified out there that we can get to the WASP committee and into the capital improvement plan, then that’s a positive outcome,” Turpin said.
TWASA already has a board made up of representatives from Jackson County, Dillsboro and Sylva. But Turpin wanted to get other people into the discussion, so he asked the municipalities to appoint members.
Jackson County commissioners refused to make an appointment, saying that County Chairman Brian McMahan could represent the county through the seat he already has on the TWASA board.
The committee will include Brad Moses, Larry Phillips, Chuck Wooten and Brian McMahan from the existing TWASA board; Maurice Moody and Chris Matheson from Sylva; and Mike Fitzgerald and Wade Wilson from Dillsboro. The subcommittee will meet for the first time at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 8, at TWASA’s main office.
Matheson said she was happy to serve on the committee, but she was still slightly confused about why she was needed.
“If going into the meeting, the idea is that the forming document is valid and binding and we just have to make sure everybody is on the same page, I’m fine with that,” Matheson said.
But she said Sylva’s board hasn’t changed its position that TWASA needs to repair broken lines when they cause problems.
Turpin said the meeting would provide a unique opportunity to talk through the issue of orphan lines and capital improvement planning.
“We have annual meetings with all the forming entities but this is the first time since I’ve been on the board that all of the entities have come together over a common concern,” Turpin said.
New Jackson library built as regional showpiece
The Jackson County Courthouse, Sylva’s most distinctive building, was built in a rush.
C.J. Harris, a prominent industrialist and wealthy Sylva businessman, bankrolled the $50,000 project in 1914 in return for the county seat being moved from Webster to Sylva. Harris had it modeled after the Madison County Courthouse and got it built in a year.
Transforming the historic building into a community space and anchor for a new county library has taken considerably longer. After a decade of debate, a year of planning and another year of building, the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library hosted a tour of the construction site last week to showcase the progress.
“We’re combining something that’s very historic with something that’s brand new,” said Betty Screven, a volunteer with Friends of the Library. “While it’s going to be modern in its technique, it will be historic in feel.”
Construction Manager David Cates of Canton-based Brantley Construction said the project will likely miss its December target for an opening date as a result of poor weather and complications with restoring the courthouse cupola.
“Our first 90 days of the project, we had 62 days of measurable rainfall,” Cates said. “We’ve worked around our elbow to get to our foot to get construction completed.”
Cates said the project will finish in the early part of 2011, but the tour showed that all the elements of what will be a regional showpiece are in place.
“This isn’t just going to be great for the people of Jackson County. It’s going to be great for Western North Carolina,” Screven said.
Architect Donnie Moore and interior designer Lynne Wilson of Macmillan, Pazdan & Smith have pored over historic records to revive the feel of the Jackson County Courthouse in its original state. The building was gutted during a renovation in the ‘70s and almost no original features remain. Love and Wilson used the Madison County Courthouse, which has kept its original character, as their model.
The new complex will feature three separate architectural spaces unified by recurring design elements. The old courthouse will be converted into a community space that will house the county’s historical and genealogical societies, the arts’ council, and catering kitchen. The historic courtroom itself will be renovated as an auditorium complete with vintage theater seats that will double as a community meeting room.
A giant addition will be built to the rear to house the new library. A glass atrium will connect the two and serve as the entrance to the complex. The atrium is to carry the name of the State Employees Credit Union Foundation in gratitude for their $250,000 grant.
The two-story rectangular library addition will be open to the ceiling in the center, showing off stunning stained glass skylights.
To offer some sense of the upgrade the new building represents, its children’s section will be larger than the entire current library. While the current library is drab-colored and lit by fluorescent light, the teen reading area on the second floor of the new library will feature a funky purple and orange design scheme, coffee shop booths, and a view of the Plott Balsams.
Jackson County Librarian Dottie Brunette, was inspired to become a librarian by her mother, Ada Moody Brunette, and by long-time county librarian Sadie Luck. Brunette said touring the construction site left her awe-struck.
“My mother, who’s the reason I’m a librarian, is hugging herself somewhere,” Brunette said.
Fundraising nears home stretch
The Friends of the Library is 90 percent of the way to its fundraising goal of $1.6 million to furnish and outfit the library.
As of last week, donations and pledges totaled over $1,440,535.
“It’s been a very grassroots effort, and the community has responded,” said Mary Otto Selzer, co-chair of the committee that led the effort.
Donations to the capital campaign fund may be made at the Jackson County Public Library in downtown Sylva, Friends of the Library Bookstore at 536 West Main Street, through the Friends website fojcml.org, or mailed to Friends of the Jackson County Main Library, P. O. Box 825, Sylva, 28779-0825.
Ashe squares off against three opponents
Voters in the Democratic Primary in Jackson County must choose which of the four candidates profiled below should advance to the November election. Two other candidates, Mary Rock and Tim O’Brien, plan to run in November as unaffiliated candidates, but won’t be on the ballot for the primary.
Jimmy Ashe, 50 • Sylva resident, Jackson County Sheriff
Jimmy Ashe has been the sheriff of Jackson County for eight years, but has worked in the office since 1981 when he started his career as a jailer. Ashe served in a range of positions and worked his way up to Chief Deputy in 1997. He was elected to the office of Sheriff in 2002 and re-elected in 2006.
Ashe said his goals for the coming term include opening a new south central district substation to better serve the Caney Fork, Little Canada and Tuckasegee communities. He also wants to create a sheriff’s advisory committee with representation from each community in the county.
“Being from here and educated here, I know the community,” Ashe said. “This is my home. I know the needs then, now, and in the future.”
Ashe said he chose to run again because he is young and has more to offer the county.
“To settle for anything less than experience, education, background, and commitment would be going back in time in an ever-advancing society,” said Ashe.
For more information: www.asheforsheriff.com
Robin Gunnels, 45 • Cullowhee resident, business owner/WCU police officer
Robin Gunnels is a small business owner with 15 years of law enforcement experience. Gunnels worked in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office for seven years, rising to the rank of lieutenant. He left after Ashe made him a jailer and reduced his pay.
For the past eight years, he has run his own business, Custom Truck Covers in Sylva, and worked part-time as a police officer at Western Carolina University.
Gunnels said he is running for sheriff because he wants to incorporate his experience as a businessman with his experience as a law enforcement officer to provide better service to the citizens of Jackson County.
“The experience I’ve gotten in retail sales and service has given me a different view of the public,” Gunnels said. “That combined with what I learned in law enforcement gives me a good foundation for the work as sheriff.”
Gunnels said he would like to re-focus the existing personnel at the sheriff’s office in areas of special expertise –– like elder abuse, cyber crime, and drug enforcement –– to optimize service. He also said he was committed to changing the impression that the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office is unfriendly.
“None of the officers look happy,” Gunnels said. “When you’re out dealing with the public, you have to go out there with that attitude that you’re helping people.”
For more information: www.vote4gunnels.com
Marty Rhinehart, 49 • Sylva resident, excavator/floor tech
Marty Rhinehart is the owner of an excavating business and also works as a floor technician for Westcare at Harris Regional Hospital. Rhinehart has worked for both the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the Madison County Sheriff’s Office.
Rhinehart said he is running for sheriff because he wants to establish closer ties with the community.
“I believe if you dig deep into your community and serve the people of your county, the people will help you any way they can,” Rhinehart said.
Rhinehart likened Jackson County’s problem with drug dealers to a berry patch attracting bears.
“Drug dealers are like an old bear. They will hang around a berry patch, but if you take away that berry patch, that bear will leave,” Rhinehart said. “Jackson County has been a hub for drug dealers for years.”
Rhinehart said he intends to lead the sheriff’s office by example if he is elected.
Radford Franks, 55 • Savannah resident, bail bondsman
Radford Franks has spent the last 10 years working as a bail bondsman and bounty hunter in Jackson County. Prior to that he spent 20 years working as a builder in the southern part of the county.
Franks said he is running for sheriff to make the office more accessible to the people of the county. He intends to implement a system that will redistribute sheriff’s deputies more equitably throughout the county, particularly to the Cashiers/Glenville area. Franks also said he intends to meet regularly with community groups throughout the county.
“I am not saying I can solve all your problems. I can’t,” Franks said. “But I am saying I will meet with the residents of each community, in their respective community centers, to discuss the problems or concerns they have for their community.”
Franks also said he would not tolerate preferential treatment in his administration.
“I believe everyone deserves fair and equal treatment regardless of race, political views, or social level in the county. I will strictly enforce this policy and hold my deputies accountable for their actions.”
Mary Rock 42 • Sylva resident, bail bondsman
Born in Macon County to parents from Jackson County, Rock has spent her professional career between the two counties. After serving with the Military Police from 1986 to 1988, Rock attended Western Carolina University and received her basic law enforcement certification. The 42-year-old Sylva native has worked as a bail bondsman in Jackson County for the past 12 years.
Rock said she wants to bring professionalism and equity to the sheriff’s office.
“Since I was a child I’ve seen a lot of things I didn’t think was the best way to run that office and I waited a long time to see if anyone would change that,” Rock said. “I decided this year that I wanted to do it myself.”
Rock said running unaffiliated was a way of de-emphasizing the political nature of the sheriff’s office. She said her experience has shown her that political influence can affect prosecution in Jackson County.
“It seems to be a highly political position and it should be a service position,” Rock said.
Tim O’Brien 40 • Cashiers resident, private investigator
O’Brien has worked as a private investigator for the past two years. After growing up in Franklin, O’Brien got a degree in criminal justice administration from Western Carolina University and then spent eight years as platoon leader of a military police unit. He was honorably discharged in 1999 with the rank of 1st Lieutenant. O’Brien later served as a patrol officer in the Highlands Police Department, a detective with the Macon County Sheriff’s Department, and a special agent with the State Bureau of Investigation assigned to Western North Carolina. He has 17 years of law enforcement experience.
O’Brien said he wants to bring a new level of professionalism to the sheriff’s office that will take politics out of it.
“I have no political ambitions beyond being the Sheriff of Jackson County. I do not intend to serve on numerous political boards; my intention is to spend my time serving and protecting the citizens of Jackson County,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said his experience as a business owner and law enforcement officer make him particularly qualified for the office of sheriff.
“I feel my seventeen years of law enforcement experience in patrol, investigation, and administration, combined with my business experience, makes me uniquely qualified for the office of Sheriff.
Arson case thickens plot in sheriff’s race
A fire at the business of a Jackson County sheriff candidate last week has cast a shadow over the race.
Robin Gunnels, owner of Custom Truck Covers in Sylva and a Democratic candidate for sheriff, believes the attack on his business was no coincidence.
“There’s things that led up to this that lead me to believe it was politically motivated,” Gunnels said.
The fire originated in a garage where Gunnels stored his campaign materials, which were destroyed in the blaze. With his signs gone and his business shut down, Gunnels is wondering how he will afford to run the rest of his campaign for sheriff. Gunnels insurance does not cover fire.
The Sylva Police Department confirmed last week that the fire is under investigation for arson.
“The fire is suspicious. There’s no doubt about that,” Sylva Fire Chief Mike Beck said.
The fire was discovered in the middle of the night on Sunday, March 21, when Sgt. George Lamphiear noticed water running out from under garage doors at Custom Truck Covers on East Main Street in Sylva. Lamphiear looked closer and saw heavy smoke inside the business. He called dispatch, and the Sylva, Cullowhee, and Savannah fire departments responded.
“The fire was about out by the time the fire departments got there, because it had taken out a water line or two,” said Beck. The fact that the fire had burned through the water line may have saved the building.
Gunnels said he got a call from Lamphiear notifying him his business was on fire. By the time he arrived at the scene, the damage was done.
Gunnels said he has no idea who started the fire, but after weeks of receiving harassing messages at his home and business, he is sure it is connected to the sheriff’s race.
Gunnels was once a lieutenant with the Jackson Sheriff’s Office but left the force soon after Ashe came into office eight years ago.
Gunnels estimates he lost $150,000 of property that include his election materials and parts he sells at his shop. Because many of the parts Custom Truck Covers sells were plastic, almost nothing was salvageable.
“I’ve lost a lot of equipment and I’m just trying to salvage what I can,” Gunnels said.
Gunnels said the fire would not deter him from pursuing the sheriff’s race, and he thanked the Sylva Police Department for their fast response.
“George was on top of his job. He saw something that wasn’t right, and he acted,” Gunnels said.
The Sylva Police Department has advertised a $2,500 reward for information.