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Meet the candidates: Who’s who in Waynesville’s race

Waynesville mayor: Pick one

 

Mayor Gavin Brown, 64, attorney. Mayor for four years, town alderman for eight

Every morning Mayor Gavin Brown dons his town of Waynesville pin on his suit lapel before heading out the door to his law office. If he forgets, his wife never fails to remind him.

Brown makes a habit of strolling Main Street almost every day. He sticks his head in businesses to say “hello.” If he sees tourists taking pictures, he offers to step behind the camera so the whole family can be in the photo. If he sees men loitering on benches while their wives shop, he stops and hands out his mayor’s business card.

“I say ‘I have a few minutes, I’m the mayor, what do you want to know?’” Brown said. In exchange, he queries them on where they’re from and why they chose to visit Waynesville.

“It’s fun for me to do that,” Brown said. “I am nondiscriminatory … I talk to anybody.”

Those who know him wouldn’t doubt it. He even carries a list of all the downtown eateries to offer tourists wondering where they should eat.

Earlier this summer he noticed an elderly lady on Main Street who was feeling faint. He helped her inside the nearest business, LN Davis Insurance agency. He asked the employees to get her some water and offered to call her a medic.

“I really feel that my job is to be the head cheerleader for the people of Waynesville,” Brown said.

Brown’s four years of mayor have been devoid of controversy, scandal or dissent, giving him a clear leg up against his challenger.

Low voter turnout is a fear among the incumbents, however. If voters happy with the direction of the town feel the current leaders are a shoe-in and stay home on Election Day, a minority of voters with an ax to grind could swing the race.

 

Hugh Phillips, 50, co-manager at Bi-Lo grocery

Hugh Phillips ran unsuccessfully for mayor four years ago, but undeterred, he is back for another bid. Phillips said that people might not have taken him seriously last time. After all, he jumped right into politics for the first time in the mayor’s ring, rather than wading in as a town board candidate first. But there’s a reason, he said.

“If I ran for alderman and got elected, I don’t know if I could get along with the rest of the people on there. I think we would have butting heads,” Phillips said.

Of course, even as mayor, Phillips would still have to sit shoulder to shoulder with the other board members in meetings, and his vote doesn’t count any more than their votes on the issues. But he thinks he would get to control discussion more, he said.

“I said if I was going to do this, I was determined to make a difference, so that’s why I am running for mayor and not alderman,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he has been to one or two town board meetings, and none since signing up to run for election.

As a manager of Bi-Lo, customers are constantly bending Phillip’s ear, and not just about what aisle the bread is on.

“People tell me the town board is not approachable. They aren’t in touch for the citizens of Waynesville,” Phillips said. “If you are elected to office you should be working for the people. That’s my first and foremost.

“People’s got to be able to talk to you. It’s who you work for is the people of Waynesville,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the biggest thing that motivated him to run is the town’s development standards, which he said are too strict and are deterring new business.

Phillips was not aware that the town board relaxed some of the standards earlier this year in response to complaints from the business community.

 

Waynesville town board: Pick four

 

Alderman Wells Greeley, 59, president and owner of Wells Funeral Homes and Cremation Services. Alderman for three years

Wells Greeley was appointed to the town board to fill a vacancy left when former Alderman Kenneth Moore died three years ago. It wasn’t exactly new to him, however. He’d been on the town board in Canton for four years in the early 1980s. Both his father and grandfather were town aldermen as well.

Greeley said serving on the Waynesville town board has been an “enjoyable and rewarding experience.” The board is professional, courteous and thoughtful. The board is devoid from petty politics that plague some small towns. There are no entrenched camps, no staking out of sides before meetings.

“Everybody is an individual,” Greeley said. “It was a pleasant surprise to me to know that everybody’s voice was really heard. We didn’t always agree, but at the end of the day, we came away with a respect.

“I was fortunate to come on board and inherit such a good team. I want to try to continue the great work we are doing,” he said.

Greeley credits the board’s demeanor, in part, to Town Manager Lee Galloway. It’s why finding the right replacement for him when he retires next year is what Greeley calls “Job One.”

“That is going to be the most critical issue that the new elected town board will face,” Greeley said.

The town has hired a consultant to aid with the search. A glutton for public input processes, the town has asked the consultants to include community leaders in crafting a vision for what skills and traits the next town manager should possess.

Greeley believes he is well suited to the important task. He was on the UNC-Asheville board of trustees when it conducted a search for a new chancellor. And as a business owner with 15 full-time and 20 part-time employees on the payroll, he is no stranger to hiring.

 

Leroy Roberson, 67, owner of Haywood Optometric Care. Alderman for four years

Leroy Roberson has been an eye doctor on Main Street for 35 years and remembers all too well the days when downtown wasn’t the vibrant place it is now. More than a quarter of the storefronts were shuttered, and buildings had fallen into disrepair.

“Slowly but surely with the efforts of the Downtown Waynesville Association, it has come back and it has become a model for other downtowns. Statewide people know Waynesville,” Roberson said. “It has shown us what can be done when there is a public and private synergy. The amount of money the town has put in to streetscapes is small compared to the private investment, and the result is you have some very viable businesses.”

Roberson considers the town’s investment in downtown “less than a drop in bucket” compared to the benefits it has reaped.

The success story shapes Roberson’s philosophy for the town now. Take pride in the town, invest in it, make it attractive, and prosperity will follow.

“You can take pride in Waynesville now because of what’s been done,” Roberson said.

Roberson, who previously served on the Waynesville town board in the 1990s, has also learned the worth of local business owners who are vested in their community. While some opponents in the race complain the town’s development standards don’t accommodate chain store style architecture, Roberson places a higher value on local businesses anyway.

“If you spend $100 in a local restaurant, $68 of the revenue will be circulated through the community. If you go to a chain like Cracker Barrel or Sonic or anything like that, $45 recirculates through the community. Which would you rather have? For me it is a no brainer,” Roberson said.

Roberson said an important goal for the next four years is creating a vision and plan for South Main Street, the corridor around Super Wal-Mart. He doesn’t want it to become another Russ Avenue, but instead wants the town to lay the groundwork for a pedestrian-friendly, aesthetically pleasing mixed-use district.

 

Gary Caldwell, 58, production manager at Cornerstone Printing. Alderman for 12 years

When Gary Caldwell first ran for office 12 years ago, his platform was recreation, namely pushing through a town recreation center.

Little has changed, at least as far as his platform is concerned. The recreation center, a crown jewel for Waynesville, is now built. But Caldwell’s got other projects he’s pushing for. He’s the chief advocate behind a skateboard park currently under development. The town has put in $80,000, and gotten $80,000 in grants. That’s only half what’s needed, however, and Caldwell is working on fundraising.

Caldwell also wants to nurture recreation offerings at the Waynesville Armory, which has blossomed lately as a senior recreation center, from bridge games to the new Brain Gym.

“The big thing down there now is pickle ball,” Caldwell said. “You can’t hardly get a parking space.”

Caldwell wants the town to buy a neighboring vacant lot to create more parking for the Armory, and then build sidewalks and plant trees along the street leading to the Armory from Frog Level.

This ties in with his other pet project: revitalizing Frog Level. Caldwell works in Frog Level, and has been active in forging a path from the forgotten side of the tracks to a flavorful downtown business district.

“They call me the mayor of Frog Level,” Caldwell said.

He is brokering a deal now among Frog Level merchants and the town to install street lamps in Frog Level, borrowing from a similar project on Main Street years ago. Businesses raised money for the lampposts, while the town streets and utility workers provided the labor to install them. Caldwell remembers the lamppost project on Main Street nearly failed.

“We just kept bearing down on it,” Caldwell said. And that is his motto for the next four years.

“We just got to keep going on the same track that we are going,” Caldwell said.

 

Mary Ann Enloe, 70, retired Dayco senior purchasing agent

Mary Ann Enloe is a well-known local politician. She was a county commissioner for eight years and the mayor of Hazelwood for 12 years, its own town prior to merging with Waynesville.

Her heart is in town government, she said. She grew up immersed in it: her father was mayor in Hazelwood for 27 years.

“I have the experience. I have the interest. I have the time,” Enloe said. “If I have a platform, it’s common sense. My daddy taught me that. If all else fails common sense will carry you through.”

Enloe also believes she can bring representation to the Hazelwood area and west side of town.

“Historically people look to me to be their voice when they think they don’t have a voice,” she said when asked who her constituents in politics have been.

Enloe won’t say anything negative about the current town board, however. She has had a bird’s eye view of town government for the past year as a correspondent covering the town for The Mountaineer newspaper.

She quit being a correspondent for the paper after announcing plans to run, given the obvious conflict of interest. But she kept right on going to the twice-a-month town meetings all the same.

That, coupled with her years in town and county government, means she won’t have a learning curve if elected, she said.

She knows the town’s tax rate to the 100th of a penny — 40.82 cents. She can recite how much profit the town made selling electricity last year — $1.2 million. She knows how much debt the town has now, how much will be paid off this year, how much a penny on the property tax rate raises.

“I have a lot to offer,” Enloe said.

As for her view of elected leaders?

“We work for close to 10,000 people,” Enloe said of the town’s population. “We have 10,000 bosses.”

 

Sam Edwards, 57, substitute teacher and GED instructor

Sam Edwards is conservative by any standard. He believes in not just small, but extremely small government. He believes in only the bare minimum of regulations, preferring for government to get out of the way of business.

Edwards helped start a group called the Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens, which shares many of the ideas and philosophies of the Tea Party.

“There is cross fertilization,” Edwards said of his group and local Tea party followers. The concerned citizens group has registered as a Political Action Committee to donate to town board candidates and take out political ads for candidates.

A web site created by the group blames the town for driving away new businesses with its too-strict development guidelines — guidelines that mandate sidewalks, require so many trees in parking lots, limit the height of signs, and lay out architectural standards.

Edwards said government shouldn’t intervene in such things. If a business wants to build, don’t tell them where or how. Business sense should dictate they build something that looks decent.

“I do not think a responsible business is going to trash the neighborhood they are moving into because they know it is bad for business,” Edwards said.

Edwards admits the metal warehouse design of new Dollar General’s cropping up in the county or the cinderblock architecture that was a hallmark of Walmart in days-gone-by wasn’t particularly pleasing. Nonetheless, he doesn’t like government intervention when it comes to what gets built on private property.

“You have to trust people to make decisions that are good decisions and allow them to be adults and occasionally make mistakes and fail,” Edwards said.

Edwards said government can’t be the problem solver for everything. If kids need a skate park, then private enterprise, not the town, should step up to the plate.

 

Julia Boyd-Freeman, 44, director of REACH, a domestic violence nonprofit

Julia Boyd-Freeman made an important choice when she moved back to her hometown of Waynesville in her mid-20s.

“The people make the town. It has such a personality of its own that is unique in a way that you don’t see in many areas, and the natural beauty is just incredible.”

That same passion for Waynesville has motivated her to seek a seat on the town board.

“I have a fresh perspective that I think could bring some positive solutions to the challenges we are going to be facing and opportunities coming down the pipeline,” Freeman said.

Freeman was working as an interior designer when she landed the role of REACH director 15 years ago. The organization was between directors, and Freeman, who was on the board, stepped in to serve as an interim but never left.

Freeman is billing herself as a pro-business candidate.

Freeman is one of three challengers in the race criticizing the town’s development standards as too strict. Despite an overhaul of the standards over the past year, a process driven by a blue-ribbon committee comprised mostly of businessmen, Freeman believes the town’s ordinances need to be loosened even more to remove “undue burdens” on business.

“I think it is a priority to start that review process again,” Freeman said.

Freeman is one of three candidates being supported by the conservative group Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens. Freeman, a Republican, does not share all their views, however. She does not believe the town’s new fire and police department are extravagant, nor does she believe the town has been wasteful in spending.

As part of her pro-business platform, Freeman also wants to develop a new road plan for South Main Street that will make the corridor more fertile for business growth. She is concerned about the ability of the town’s aging sewer lines to serve business expansion and wants to perform an assessment of the system.

 

Coming next week: Did Cracker Barrel really walk away from Waynesville?

Waynesville’s elected leaders believe the town is on a progressive track, one that has made Waynesville one of the most prosperous and desirable towns in Western North Carolina for business and tourists.

The town has been a magnet for development despite the recession, from giant chains such as Best Buy, Staples and PetSmart, to local entrepreneurs opening upscale restaurants, microbreweries and art galleries.

But opponents claim that town leaders have been unfriendly to business, imposing costly development standards. Aimed at improving the aesthetics of commercial districts, the town standards are too arduous and have deterred business from locating here, they say.

The Smoky Mountain News will investigate the truth behind these claims next week.

What’s going on, Franklin? Town leaders to stroll back into office unchallenged

In a town that has long thrived on competitive, and sometimes markedly heated, political contests, the prospect of an incumbents-only race this November in Franklin seems ghastly. Even to several of the shoo-in incumbents themselves.

“Maybe they’re afraid they might actually get the job,” a curmudgeonly sounding Mayor Joe Collins said when asked for an explanation.

“Maybe they love you, and the voters think you’re a fantastic mayor?” he was queried.

“No, no, no,” Collins replied unequivocally. “It’s just that nobody is running against anybody.”

Collins, unless upset by an unknown, unexpected and unlikely write-in candidate, will win a fifth, two-year term in office. Also running without competition? Four aldermen candidates: Bob Scott, Farrell Jamison (appointed to fill the unexpired term of the late Jerry Evans), Joyce Handley and Verlin Curtis.

It isn’t as if there aren’t important issues in Franklin. The board will be hiring a new town manager to replace governmental veteran Sam Greenwood, and a new police chief to replace Terry Bradley. Several more of the town’s top employees have enough years in that they could opt to leave, too.

“It is nice not to have to go through the process of putting up signs, raising money and going through the suspense of how the election comes out,” Collins acknowledged, “but it would absolutely be better” for the town if there were competition.

“That brings discussions, and different ideas, and maybe even different people around the table,” he said.

George Hasara, co-owner of Rathskeller Coffee House, a popular Franklin watering hole and unofficial discussion-central for the town, agreed with Collins that “it’s a shame” to have uncontested elections.

“Everyone should be challenged,” Hasara said. “If nothing else, to highlight the issues. But, sometimes it just happens that way. The town’s not rife with corruption — these are good people, so there’s no groundswell of indignation.”

Alderman Scott, who came within 14 votes of unseating Collins as mayor during the last election, agrees with his former political adversary that the lack of competition really isn’t healthy for Franklin.

“I can’t explain it,” Scott said. “I have two theories. Nobody wants to have anything to do with us or else we are doing such a good job nobody wanted to interfere with us. That’s my theories, and I am sticking with them. I am disappointed that there is no opposition. No opposition takes the fun out of politics.”

Millie Griffin, who co-owns Millie and Eve’s Used Bookstore on U.S. 441 south of town, believes the apathy in Franklin is simply a reflection of overall problems at the local, county, state and federal levels. She added that “outsiders” probably don’t signup as candidates because, “If you’re not from this area, you won’t get in — so why bother?” And that right there, Griffin said, narrows the pool of contenders considerably.

“‘Everybody’s happy,’ you could say. But a cynic would say, ‘Nobody gives a rat’s ass, they don’t want to be burdened with it,’” soon-to-retire Town Manager Greenwood said in his usual polished diplomatic manner. “I just hope it is not going to be the new trend. It would show that people aren’t interested. And that’s really not good for the community, long term.”

Collective discontent bonds candidates

Three candidates running for the Maggie Valley town board with a similar message have buddied up in the campaign and chosen to run as a slate.

They claim the current town leaders discourage new ideas and fail to bring residents and business owners to the table to solve the town’s problems.

“This present regime has really closed out any other ideas other than their own,” said Ron DeSimone, a challenger for mayor. “They are not very open. They have allowed that podium to be used for vile personal attacks while limiting the voice of other people.”

DeSimone has joined forced on the ticket with town board candidates Phillip Wight and Phil Aldridge. They partnered by putting all three of their names on both yard signs and brochures.

“The main reason I am personally running is I think it is the people’s seat and I don’t think it has been represented properly over the years,” Wight said. “I really hope I can help solve problems and reach across the isle.”

Both Wight and DeSimone ran for town board two years ago unsuccessfully. Aldridge has been on the board for eight years, but is a self-described “odd man out.”

“I have been a lone voice on that board for many years,” Aldridge said. Aldridge said he hasn’t been able to bring about the change that he hoped.

“I had the same ideas then that I have now as far as trying to bring this Valley together,” Aldridge said. “We want to invite the public and business to share their ideas and bring them forward to us. That is not happening right now.”

That’s why he needed to run as a team with Wight and DeSimone.

Challenger Danny Mitchell is not part of the slate but shares some of the same views.

“My main concern is that everybody needs to get along and have professional meetings and not argue and fuss,” Mitchell said.

Two incumbents running for re-election — Mayor Roger McElroy and Alderwoman Danya Vanhook — disagree that there is widespread dissatisfaction. Critics have been a near constant element in Maggie’s small town politics, and the town has tried to reach out to them over the years but can never seem to satisfy them.

“I think a good majority of the people are pretty much happy with what is going on in town,” McElroy said, despite what he called “a faction in town that has felt differently for a long time.”

McElroy said despite his 30 years on the board, he is open minded to new ideas for the town.

“If an idea comes up you can’t say we tried that and it didn’t work because situations change. Something that didn’t work 10 years ago might work now, and I’m aware of that,” McElroy said.

Vanhook said being impartial and open-minded is her forte as a former judge. Vanhook joined the town board just six months ago. She was appointed after another an alderman who stepped down and left a vacancy.

At first, she didn’t apply because Maggie politics were known for being contentious but thought her skills may be of use on the town board.

“Someone who is a former judge, who can be fair, has an open mind, who hasn’t even involved in local politics before,” Vanhook said. “I was used to being very neutral and I thought that would serve Maggie Valley well, who would make decisions in the best interest of residents and businesses and didn’t have an ax to grind.”

Vanhook said she isn’t in one camp or the other.

“I certainly don’t vote in lock step with anyone,” Vanhook said.

Vanhook said Mayor Roger McElroy is in a tough spot as the moderator of town meetings. Maggie’s town meetings seem to have the best attendance per capita than any in the region. And, those interested enough to come often want to weigh in from their seats.

When McElroy calls on people in the audience, or lets people speak past their allotted time at the podium, people complain he isn’t keeping order and doesn’t know how to run a meeting. When he limits public input, he is accused of shutting them down, Vanhook said.

“I think he has always erred on the side of being inclusive,” Vanhook said. “I assure you every single person who comes to the meeting is heard.”

Vanhook said the town is better off for debating issues but wishes the debate was more cordial.

Until a few months ago, the town had public comment at the end of the meeting. The odd placement meant people were often commenting after the board had already come to a decision rather than before, so it was moved to the beginning as with other towns and counties.

 

Musical town board members

The election aside, the town has already seen two newcomers join the board this year. Two aldermen have resigned over the past six months. One alderman resigned after a political falling out with other board members. The second resigned because his motel business was struggling, and he decided to move elsewhere.

Two new board members were appointed to fill the seats.

One is Vanhook, who was appointed in March and now must formally run to keep her seat. The second is Michael Matthews, who was just appointed in September. His seat isn’t among those up for election.

Prior to being appointed, however, Matthews had signed up as a candidate in the fall election and his name will still appear on the ballot, even though he now already holds a seat on the board.

Matthews said he threw his name in the ring after witnessing a “huge disconnect” between the town leaders and the residents and business owners of town.

“I want to get everybody on the same page. I want everybody to start working together,” Matthews said.

While everyone seems to have good intentions — namely wanting the best for Maggie Valley — dueling personalities seem to get in the way, Matthews said.

Matthews considers himself neutral and says he isn’t aligned with either of the feuding camps that have marked Maggie Valley politics.

“People need to put the past in the past and start moving forward,” said Matthews, who works across the mountain at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort.

Maggie candidates want to rekindle tourism, but how?

Waning tourism in Maggie Valley and what to do about it is dominating the town’s election this fall.

Four people are running for two seats on the town board, and there is also a contested race for mayor.

A slate of three candidates — Phil Aldridge, Phillip Wight and Ron DeSimone — say the current town leadership is a rudderless ship without a plan to bring back tourism.

“The town has been run off the hip. It really hasn’t followed a business plan,” said Ron DeSimone, a challenger for mayor.

Aldridge agreed.

“There is no game plan,” Aldridge said. “We want to sit down with the business people and come up with a plan. I don’t have the answers, and I don’t think any one person does. I think the town needs to be more willing to listen.”

Wight, a motel owner, has experienced declining tourism in Maggie first-hand.

“We are obviously suffering,” Wight said. “There are some people with good ideas out there that are not being heard.”

Maggie Valley was a kingpin of tourism in the mountains in the 1960s and ‘70s but has fallen from its former glory in recent years. The decline is blamed largely on the shuttered Ghost Town amusement park, which drew tens of thousands of people to the valley in its heyday.

Meanwhile, the rise of quaint downtowns like Waynesville and Bryson City and the burgeoning casino resort in Cherokee have proved tough competition for the older strip of mom and pop motels and restaurants that line Maggie Valley.

Candidate Danny Mitchell learned the ropes of tourism the hard way: a trial by fire after buying a motel and moving to Maggie Valley from Georgia 13 years ago as a mid-life career move.

Tourism has been decreasing steadily since then, Mitchell said, with motels losing up to 50 percent of their business when Ghost Town closed. The answer?

“Somebody with a lot of money to put Dollywood or Six Flags back on the mountain,” Mitchell said. “Look at Pigeon Forge. The main reason it has grown is Dollywood.”

Short of that, Mitchell didn’t have many ideas for how to improve Maggie’s tourism prospects. He also wasn’t sure what role the town could play in getting “somebody” to put in an amusement park where Ghost Town once was.

“Good question,” Mitchell said. “The economy is so bad right now as far the banks loaning money, it would take someone with a lot of money to buy Ghost Town.”

He suggested the town could offer them free sewer if they would come.

Wight said some guests at his motel check out early and spend the rest of their vacation in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg after running out of things to do in Maggie Valley.

Motorcycle tourism has become a brisk market for Maggie Valley, with the region’s myriad scenic roads at Maggie’s doorstep. Wheels Thru Time, a world-renowned motorcycle museum, is the crown jewel of Maggie’s motorcycle tourism scene.

The town has seen an outgrowth of bars catering to motorcyclists, while restaurants and motels go out of their way to advertise themselves as biker-friendly on their signs out front.

Wight and Aldridge said the town could hurt establishments catering to bikers if it goes through with a plan to tighten the noise ordinance.

 

Balancing tourism and residents

Striking a balance between tourism and year-round residents is a tough challenge for Maggie Valley leaders who find themselves trying to serve two masters.

Business interests want the town to double as a promotional arm and take an active role — including spending tax dollars — to help tourism. Residents, however, don’t want to see too many of their tax dollars plowed into aiding the struggling motels, shops and restaurants.

“It’s a fine line,” Aldridge said. “You try to make both sides comfortable or happy. The big picture of it is if the businesses continue to fail, taxes are going to go up for everyone else.”

Alderwoman Danya Vanhook said the town’s interests aren’t mutually exclusive.

“There is a difference in philosophy over whether the town should promote business and tourism at a loss or whether we should be fiscally conservative and better stewards of the taxpayers’ money — that is a false dichotomy,” Vanhook said.

In its current budget, the town didn’t lay anyone off, gave employees a cost-of-living increase, and didn’t raise taxes, Vanhook said.

The town in its early days consisted almost solely of businesses, the town limits drawn like a snake along the strip of motels, shops and restaurants lining Soco Road. But the snake began bulging over time, taking in a neighborhood here, a subdivision there, until the town gradually grew from a few dozen business owners to a population of more than 1,000 residents today.

Much of that growth has occurred in just the past decade, with the town nearly doubling its population since 2000 by annexing new subdivisions into the town limits.

DeSimone is one of those new town residents after the town’s forced annexation of the subdivision in which he resides, Brannon Forest.

“I’ve always been of the opinion they were paying attention to the businesses and not the residents,” DeSimone said.

But since his first run for office two years ago, DeSimone said even business owners are having a hard time getting the attention of town hall.

“I was surprised even the business people feel disenfranchised,” DeSimone said.

DeSimone said the town does have a responsibility to promote a friendly business environment.

“Let’s face it, the majority of the town is around that strip. We can’t ignore that fact,” DeSimone said. “It is in the town’s best interest for that business district to be thriving and active.”

DeSimone, Aldridge and Wight have questioned the town’s budget, calling it large for a town of Maggie’s size and questioning if there are items in the budget — such as the size of the police force — that could be cut.

The town’s tax base is split almost evenly between residential communities and businesses. The town provides services for residents that businesses don’t get, such as garbage and brush pick-up, McElroy said. So the way he sees it, it’s OK to spend town resources to help promote business sometimes.

McElroy said there are positive economic signs in the Valley. Around 10 new businesses have opened this year. The majority are bars or restaurants — four are new bars as a matter of fact, adding to at least that many already in Maggie.

But the list also includes an archery range and antique shop, plus a couple businesses that clearly cater to locals, like a hair salon and bakery.

“I think it is a good combination,” McElroy said, adding that he would like to see even more. “For us to continue to draw people, we need good restaurants and activities.”

Aldridge, however, pointed to the oft-used tally of 47 closed, vacant, ‘for sale’ or ‘for rent’ businesses along the roadside from Soco Gap to the stop light at Jonathan Creek.

As for the newly opened businesses?

“It sounds significant, but who is going to be here next year? Who is going to survive the winter?” Aldridge said.

Vanhook wants to see more businesses catering to residents. She also thinks the town could take a role in improving the quality of life by leasing Carolina Nights or Eagle’s Nest — performance venues that closed this year — to show movies, something locals and tourists would enjoy.

McElroy touted a new town park in the works, Parham Park. It will feature a picnic pavilion, public restrooms and other amenities.

The town has also taken steps to improve its appearance, requiring a “mountain vernacular” architectural style for new businesses being built or those undergoing major remodeling.

“We want to try to make it look like a mountain place,” McElroy said.

 

Festival ground drama

The town-owned festival grounds has emerged as a lightning rod for controversy as town leaders debate the best way to bring tourists to Maggie.

The town has latched on to its festival grounds as its best asset in the fight to increase tourism, attempting to pack the calendar with car shows, carnivals, craft fairs and motorcycle rallies to lure warm bodies to the Valley.

“We’ve tried hard to fill in the gap somewhat with more festival activity,” said Mayor Roger McElroy. “Other than sight seeing and visiting the stores, there is not much else to do. If there is nothing for them to do, they won’t come back.”

While the town won’t stop waiting and hoping for someone to open a major amusement park to replace Ghost Town, in the meantime, recruiting more festivals to fill the void has become the town’s top strategy.

The town pays half the salary for a festival director, who is tasked with recruiting events and festivals to the Maggie venue. The other half is paid out of a room tax on overnight lodging. The town also spent big bucks putting on two of its own festivals this year.

Critics have blasted the town for the expenses and claim the festival director is going about her job all wrong.

“I think the two events were grossly overspent,” Wight said. The town took on the risk associated with throwing the festivals, paying bands and ride operators up front and then collecting proceeds off ticket sales.

The net loss on the two taxpayer-funded festivals was around $50,000. The town spent just over $89,000 to throw the four-day Red, White and Boom but took in only about $47,000. The town lost $13,000 on the Americana Roots and Beer festival in the spring.

“I think there is a way to promote the festival ground without the town losing tons of money to do it,” DeSimone said.

DeSimone questioned what benefits businesses saw for the $40,000 cost to taxpayers for the July Fourth carnival.

“The results have been ethereal at best,” DeSimone said. “There is no discernable way to measure results.”

McElroy and Vanhook see it as an investment rather than an expense however.

Vanhook said she has heard rave reviews from people who came to Red, White and Boom. More importantly, they plan to come back next year and make Maggie Valley their annual July Fourth tradition. Vanhook sees the inaugural year of the festival as an investment that will pay off down the road.

Wight said there are more effective ways for the town to get a bigger bang for its buck, however. Instead of plowing so much in to two festivals, the town should put the money in a kitty and pay bonuses for festival organizers who bring a target number of people through the gate.

Wight also thinks it is a waste of money to send the town’s festival director to trade shows in Texas and California, a strategy to convince event organizers to look at Maggie as their next venue.

Candidate Danny Mitchell doesn’t like the town spending so much on the festival grounds, regardless of the strategy for how to spend it.

The town has recently debated whether waive fees for the festival ground as a recruitment tool to get organizers to hold events there.

Wight put the drama in perspective at least.

“It is nice to have the festival grounds to fight over,” Wight said.

 

Alderman: pick two

Phil Aldridge, 55, current alderman

Former owner of Phil’s Grocery for 12 years

Danya Vanhook, 33, current alderwoman

Attorney

Danny Mitchell, 55

Owner of Laurel Park Inn and estimator for WNC Paving. Bought a motel and moved to Maggie Valley 13 years ago.

Phillip Wight, 42

Owner of Clarkton Motel

 

Mayor: pick one

Roger McElroy, 73, current mayor

General contractor and owner of Meadowlark Motel and Cottages.

Ron DeSimone, 58

General contractor.

Election guaranteed to bring new leadership in Dillsboro

This November, the Town of Dillsboro will elect all five members of its town board, along with a new mayor to replace Jean Hartbarger, who is stepping down after eight years as mayor and eight years as alderwoman.

One incumbent and eight challengers are hoping for a spot on the five-person town board. Another alderman has decided to run for mayor, facing competition from one other challenger. The town board members and the new mayor, who does not hold voting power, will each serve a four-year term.

In those next four years, Dillsboro’s leaders will formulate a strategy to win back the hordes of tourists — about 60,000 annually — who once came to take trips on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, which pulled out of town in July 2008.

The excursion railroad’s headquarters were in Dillsboro before the company moved all its operations to Bryson City.

The Town of Dillsboro recently partnered up with Western Carolina University to create a long-term vision for the municipality and brainstorm on how to boost a local economy slammed both by the recession and the train’s departure.

Another major issue facing the town is the fate of Dillsboro Dam.

Jackson County is battling it out with Duke Energy in federal court to prevent the Fortune 500 company from tearing down the dam.

Depending on who wins, the dam could be taken down by Duke or taken over by the county to be included in a riverfront park.

Many Dillsboro residents are infuriated with Duke and have circulated petitions to save the historic dam. Candidates for mayor and the town board recently weighed in on both key issues and discussed their vision for Dillsboro.

 

Mayor – pick 1

 

Teresa Dowd, 59, owner of West Carolina Internet Café

Dowd wants to work closely with Jackson County and the Town of Sylva, as well major employers, to help promote the town in a much more effective manner.

“I want to see the merchants not just survive, but thrive, and help them find the right niche.” Dowd said many ideas are floating around with the WCU initiative, but she would make sure those ideas are properly implemented.

Dowd added that businesses in town would do well to stay open later, thereby meeting residents’ needs.

Dowd, who is the chairwoman of Dillsboro’s planning board and holds a degree in environmental studies, said the dam is worth preserving. She has been a vocal supporter of saving the dam but said the town can’t interfere with the judicial process.

Dowd added that she hated to see Duke begin dredging backlogged sediment behind the dam in preparation for its demolition. “We’ll have to monitor the water quality, see what’s going on.”

 

Michael Fitzgerald, 57, owner of Fitzgerald’s Shoe Repair

Fitzgerald has served on the town board for five years and is now Dillsboro’s vice mayor. He said the town must redefine the way it does business to attract more tourists — without undergoing a complete makeover.

“We don’t want to look like Gatlinburg with Day-Glo Signs. We’re just a historic type of town.”

Fitzgerald said with such a small budget, the town probably can’t make another major investment until the Monteith Park project is complete.

Fitzgerald said he was asked about the dam four years ago when he ran for alderman. “The answer is the same. Dillsboro is not big enough to take Duke Power.”

Fitzgerald said he applauds Jackson County for trying to save a dam he sees as “picturesque,” but it may be time to move on. “I believe it’s time for it to end. I’m glad we’re going to get some closure.”

 

Alderperson – pick 5

 

Jimmy Cabe, 46, former carpenter

Cabe has served on the town board for the last 4 years. Cabe would like to cooperate with merchants in town and gain more input about increasing tourism before devoting town money to a specific strategy. “I’d be willing to listen to anybody’s plan.”

Cabe also said he’d like to see the town begin garbage pickup and build a sidewalk west of the Huddle House out toward the Green Energy Park.

When it comes to the dam, Cabe said he supports the county wholeheartedly. “My grandfather was the superintendent of that powerhouse. It’s an emotional thing for me ... I would like to see it stay.”

 

Walter Cook, 57, owner of Smoky Mountain Dog Bakery

Cook would like Dillsboro to be a “real living town rather than just tourist shops.”

He envisions a downtown where locals can have breakfast, lunch and dinner, visit a health food store and listen to live music — all within town limits. “We can’t depend on the tourists driving by. We need to market to the local folks, too.”

Cook said he would like to see the dam remain but is not sure it’s worth the cost of pursuing a legal battle.

“If it goes away, I think we should have bargained a lot harder.”

Cook said whatever happens, the town must adjust and do what’s best for its residents. That may include creating a riverfront park or it might mean using that land to develop housing to increase the tax base.

 

David Gates, 48, owner of Bradley’s General Store, Appalachian Funeral Services

Gates said his number one priority is to take care of Dillsboro’s residents. According to Gates, the town must bring in more glassblowers, potters, and local craftspeople to appeal to visitors.

“If we could attract more crafters, I think it would bring a lot of people.”

The dam is a “dead issue” to Gates. “I think the dam is gone. I don’t know that there’s anything that Dillsboro or the county can do to save it.”

Gates said it could end up being a win-win situation. Removing the dam would open up the area for rafting and tubing, or if it stays, it could be put into operation. “There’s opportunities either way.”

 

K. David Jones, 64, retired vice-president of administrative services at a community college

Jones would like to take an active role in promoting the town to tourists who are in the region but don’t know about Dillsboro.

He said he would also search for “more diverse” types of funding, like grants and even gifts, to supplement a “very lean” tax base. Jones wants to work with WCU in all aspects, including on environmental issues.

Jones said the dam is a “non-issue” for the town. “I’m not real sure that we should resist the dam efforts any further. ... It’s over with.”

 

Tim Parris, 54, mechanic and DOT worker

Parris said he favors increasing the tax base by attracting more businesses to town. “Everybody’s going to have to sit down and work together and get something back in Dillsboro.”

Parris said he would also like to see more support to keep the dam in Dillsboro. “They always talk about green energy, why get rid of one?”

 

Joseph Riddle, 69, retired car dealership manager

Riddle said Dillsboro is not big enough to bring in a major new attraction. “You can’t put a Dollywood here. There’s just not enough space.”

Riddle said there’s not much the town can do until the economy improves, but he believes the partnership with WCU is a positive development. Riddle said he’s focused more on providing more services to local residents.

Riddle acknowledged that locals feel strongly about the dam, which does draw tourists and is “nice to look at.” He said, “That decision’s been made. I don’t think there’s anything else that can be done.”

 

TJ Walker, 56, owner of Dillsboro Inn

Walker, who narrowly lost Dillsboro’s last race for mayor, said he’d try to bring forward thinking to the town. He would do so by appealing to younger people traveling by and bringing in newer and younger artists and craftspeople.

Walker said he’d love to see an artist’s cooperative or a farmer’s market set up at the old railroad station. He supports cooperating with WCU and Jackson County in general. “Dillsboro has suffered from self-imposed isolation.”

Walker was a leading opponent of tearing down the Dillsboro dam for years. But after settling a lawsuit with Duke to withdraw from the fight, Walker would not comment on the dam. In the past, Walker condemned town leaders for not doing more to join the county’s fight save the dam.

 

Charles Wise, 46, regional superintendent for property management

Wise said what Dillsboro needs is a new anchor for tourism that distinguishes the town from everywhere else in the area.

“Every town has the same thing. You gotta have something that separates you.”

Meanwhile, Wise said the town mustn’t leave out local residents in its considerations. For example, the town should keep parks open year-round, he said.

Wise said he supports Jackson County “120 percent” in its fight against Duke and is disappointed that the current town board did not join forces with the county to strike up a deal to acquire the dam.

He said the dam is a part of the town’s history. “You can’t hold on to everything. ... but I don’t see the reason for why that dam should come out.”

 

Emma Wertenberger, 63, owner of Squire Watkins Inn

Wertenberger is strongly interested in Dillsboro’s heritage, which she said might be the key to bringing in tourists from all around the world. International visitors appreciate the small-town American charm that Dillsboro represents, she said.

According to Wertenberger, restoring the Monteith farmstead could bring a big boost to tourism. Wertenberger emphasized that unlike the train, the farmstead couldn’t just get up and leave.

Wertenberger said she’d rather focus on cleaning up the waterways and fixing problems with the sewer plant than on Dillsboro dam. “Sometimes you can get too focused on a single issue ... there are other issues that need to be worked on.”

In the running

The Town of Franklin has a town board with six aldermen/alderwomen and a mayor who votes only to break ties. Mayors serve for two years, while aldermen/alderwomen serve for four. This year, the mayor and three aldermen/alderwomen are up for election.

 

Mayor — pick one

Joe Collins, 54, real estate attorney

Collins is finishing up his sixth year as mayor. He served as alderman for six years before that. Collins says he’s pleased with the switch to a government with a town manager and placing the new town hall in a remodeled building downtown rather than in East Franklin.

“I’m very proud and want us to keep it going.”

 

Bob Scott, 68, retired law enforcement officer and long-time newspaper reporter

Scott has served as alderman for almost six years. He emphasizes his support for open government and wants to get the public involved with monthly New England-style town hall meetings.

“In my mind, the government exists only to conduct the public’s business.”

 

Aldermen — pick three

 

Jerry Evans, 54, manager of Terminix Service

Evans has been an alderman for 12 years, with two of those as vice mayor. He said he’d like to see an economic development committee formed to keep money in Franklin and attract new businesses.

“Unless the town can help attract new businesses, there’s no opportunity for our children and grandchildren to live and work in Franklin.”

 

Billy Mashburn, 57, paralegal

Mashburn is Franklin’s vice mayor and has served as alderman for 12 years. He said that the town must be diligent about where it spends its tax dollars.

“Up to now the town is in pretty good financial shape. We haven’t taken a hit like other towns have.”

 

Angela Moore, 28, stay-at-home mom

Moore worked as Franklin’s GIS analyst for almost two years. She said she wants to get more people involved in local government and have the town lower its taxes. Moore said the town should only handle infrastructure, including roads, water and sewer.

“They shouldn’t be doing a whole lot other than that ... There’s a lot we can cut back on.”

 

Sissy Pattillo, 69, retired teacher/counselor

Pattillo has served as alderwoman for four years. She also serves on the Angel Medical Center Foundation board. Pattillo is a third-generation resident of the town with children and grandchildren living in the town.

“I have a vested interest here. Franklin has made great strides, and I would like to help keep that momentum going.”

 

Ron Winecoff, 69, real estate agent

Winecoff is the chairman of Angel Medical Center’s Board of Trustees and the county chairman of the investment and development committee. Winecoff said he wants to improve downtown and see the town make financial adjustments to accommodate for the recession.

“Government has trouble saying no to people, cutting down personnel and cost. I have no problem saying no.”

Forest Hills mayor misses deadline, will run write-in campaign

Jackson County poll workers will contend with write-in ballots from at least two towns on election night this fall. One is Webster, where not enough people have stepped forward to run, leaving the town’s fate up to write-in candidates. The other is in neighboring Forest Hills, where the mayor missed the deadline to file for election and will now wage a write-in campaign.

Forest Hills Mayor James Wallace was hiking in the Swiss Alps in July when the sign-up period for candidates came and went, unbeknownst to him. When Wallace got back in town, he went by the election office only to discover he had missed the filing period and it was too late to get his name on the ballot. He now says he will run as a write-in candidate.

In the meantime, another candidate, Mark Teague, filed to run for mayor at the last minute. Teague was initially planning to run for a regular seat on the Forest Hills town board. He appeared in the Jackson County election office minutes before the filing deadline only to learn no one had signed up to run for mayor yet. So Teague filed to run for mayor instead.

Wallace said he always intended to run and had even told the rest of the town board that he would.

While Teague initially thought he was running unopposed, he said it doesn’t bother him that Wallace will be running after all as a write-in.

“Whatever turns up, turns up,” Teague said. “I was just looking to help out the neighborhood.”

Teague, 45, owns a company called Environmental, Inc., which provides wastewater treatment services. Wallace is a retired Western Carolina University professor.

Forest Hills is a tiny town of less than 350 registered voters. It was incorporated as recently as 1997 with the sole purpose of creating land-use protections that would keep out student apartments, trailer parks and undesirable commercial enterprises.

Forest Hills lacks a town hall. Records were historically kept at the mayor’s home, with the boxes shuffled off between neighbors when a new mayor got elected, along with a special fireproof box for the most important documents. When Wallace became mayor, he didn’t want to become custodian of all those boxes, however. When none of the town board members were willing to take in the boxes either, Wallace suggested renting a storage unit. Instead, the town board chose to have the records digitized with discs placed in a safe deposit box.

Long-time Sylva mayor won’t run again

Sylva’s mayor for the past 17 years, Brenda Oliver, has announced that she will not run for re-election this fall.

Oliver, 67, said she has enjoyed serving the town and is optimistic about the direction it is headed. Oliver said she was ready to do something else with her life, and by the same token the town was ready for new leadership.

“I just feel it is time for a change,” said Oliver. “I really feel that Sylva is a good place. We are headed on the right track and it was a good time for someone else to step up.”

Oliver has been on the town board for a total of 28 years, serving as a board member before becoming mayor. Oliver has not been a subject of controversy nor has there been an apparent lack of public confidence in the job she’s doing.

“Brenda was without a doubt one of the most popular local elected officials,” Town Commissioner Maurice Moody said. “Most local politicians have maybe a fourth or half of her tenure. Brenda still has a positive attitude toward the town. If we needed a volunteer I think she would be right there.”

Moody has already stepped up to run for mayor following Oliver’s announcement at a town board meeting last Thursday (July 2).

“The main reason is I couldn’t talk Brenda into staying,” Moody joked.

In actuality, Moody said the move seems like a natural one. With 12 years on the town board, he is the longest-standing member after Oliver.

“I think I can handle it without any difficulty,” Moody said.

The sign-up period for candidates began this week and runs through Friday, July 17. Moody said he will be surprised if no one else files to run for mayor.

Moody has two years left in his term as a town commissioner. If he doesn’t get mayor, he will keep his seat on the board. If he wins, the incoming board would choose a new member to fill his vacated seat as commissioner.

The Sylva town board is comprised of five members and the mayor. The mayor doesn’t get a vote except in the case of a tie.

“That is the one negative thing. I will miss that if I am elected,” Moody said. “But with my personality everyone will know what I think.”

Oliver was the opposite. She rarely took a public stand, but acted more as an arbiter in guiding discussion rather than voicing her opinion on issues.

Moody agrees with Oliver that the town is on the right track. Moody and Oliver have both been advocates of a progressive agenda, which has the support of the majority on the board right now. Moody offers a disclaimer, however.

“That’s not a name we picked. Other people gave it to us,” Moody said.

Moody said he wants to continue the momentum of the current board.

“Sylva is a good place to live and we need to enhance it anyway that we can,” Moody said. “I think there are some good things going on right now and I think we need to continue that.”

For example, Moody wants to advance projects like Bridge Park near downtown and Pinnacle Park in the town’s old watershed.

Town Commissioner Stacey Knotts said Oliver will be deeply missed. Knotts said her deep knowledge of the town and municipal operations have been invaluable to the town.

“Her integrity and deep knowledge of municipal government have been invaluable for the Town of Sylva,” Knotts said. “On a personal level, she has been a great mentor and close friend during my time in office.”

Likely contributing to Oliver’s decision are her eight grandchildren spread out in Texas, Georgia and North Carolina.

Town Commissioner Harold Hensley had favorable words for Oliver as well.

“I try to get along with everybody and I always got along with Brenda,” Hensley said. “We didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, but we never had a cross word.”

Knotts and Hensley — while coming from different viewpoints on the board — are both already backing Moody.

“I think he will be great for it,” Knotts said. “He has been a great board member and will do a great job as mayor as well.”

Hensley agreed, even though he admitted he and Moody aren’t always on the same side of issues.

“He definitely knows the ins and outs of the town,” Hensley said. “I don’t know who else will file but I know Maurice and I know he would do a good job.”

Vice mayor aspirant to challenge incumbent for mayor

Two-term Franklin Alderman Bob Scott has wanted a turn as vice mayor going back a while — an honor that traditionally rotates among aldermen. But a couple of years ago, Mayor Joe Collins reportedly told him, Bob, “ain’t gonna happen.”

So instead, Scott’s gunning for the mayor’s spot.

Collins, who’s completing his third two-year term, said he wasn’t taken unawares by the news of Scott’s challenge. “It’s a small town; you hear things,” Collins said. “I look forward to the race and all, it’s not a surprise. Certainly it’s a choice he’s free to make.”

Collins didn’t want to get into personalities. Nor is the vice mayor episode necessarily what’s mainly driving Scott’s run — but his issue with the mayor’s leadership style is clearly part of the picture.

Collins has no official say in whether or when Scott might have been tapped as vice mayor. The board as a whole name one of their own to the post. But Collins seemed to have had an inside line on whether the board had any interest in elevating Scott.

That relates to one of Scott’s ongoing beefs with Collins. He charges that the mayor communicates selectively, outside of meetings, with favored members of the town board — and he isn’t part of that circle.

“I’m learning things on the streets that I should have been told” by Collins, he said.

Collins said he’s not sure there is such a circle.

According to a Feb. 18 article in The Smoky Mountain News, Collins visited Scott at his home one Sunday afternoon a year and a half earlier and, regarding Scott’s chances of becoming vice mayor, said it wasn’t in the cards. In the article, Collins confirmed a conversation was held, but declined to comment on its content.

In addition to believing in a more inclusive board, Scott said a major element of his platform in running for mayor is his advocacy of open government. He said, despite state open meetings and public records laws, too many government entities in Western North Carolina still hide behind closed doors too often — and without proper basis, he believes.

“I bet most public officials aren’t familiar” with those government sunshine provisions, he said. For example, too many deliberative bodies don’t give a specific enough reason why they are going into closed session — and even when they do, it is often not a valid one.

Collins said his re-election run for mayor is based on his belief that things are going well, so why change the lineup? “We’ve got a good leadership group in place. Things are running in a way I feel comfortable with,” he said. “We have a lot of projects that are under way, and if the citizens choose to entrust me with the next two years, I’d feel honored and do the best that I could. It’s a choice the voters get to make.”

Collins said other than the vice mayor issue and “Slategate” flap, he couldn’t think of acrimonious divisions nor even important policy differences between himself and Scott. In the Slategate controversy, Collins was accused of improperly allowing a former resident of the Whitmire property, acquired by the town as a possible new town hall site, to take slate from the property. Collins was caught in the middle when other aldermen blamed him for allowing it, although Collins said he didn’t agree to the amount that was taken.

Scott, too, didn’t cite any significant policy differences with the mayor, but pointed to his own concern “to see that we protect basic town services so that economic growth is not hindered” in the tough economy.

“I believe town employees are our most valuable asset and we need a pay plan and a personnel policy for them,” he said.

If Scott should lose the mayor’s race, he still has two years of his four-year board term to finish out, while if Collins loses, he’s out. Aldermen have four year terms while the mayor’s seat is up every two years.

The seats of aldermen Carolyn “Sissy” Pattillo, Jerry Evans and Billy Mashburn, who is currently vice mayor, are also up this year. They did not return messages seeking to confirm whether they will be running for their offices again.

New mayor embraces new face of Bryson City

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

The election of Brad Walker, Bryson City’s new mayor, is more than just a changing of the guard — it’s representative of how the tiny Swain County town has transformed in recent years from a remote location in the Smokies to a much sought-after tourist destination.

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