Colby Dunn

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Ninety seconds. 

It’s shorter than the average YouTube video and less time (theoretically) than it takes to brush your teeth, but if you can squeeze enough charm and tenacity and business acumen into that space, you may just be on the receiving end of $1,000.  


art fr“I can’t sing.” 

“Nobody wants to hear my voice.” 

“I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.” 

They’re recognizable refrains, the shield of the perceived non-musical whenever the Christmas carolers come around or it’s time for someone to jump-start a chorus of “Happy Birthday.” 


art frOctober, of course, is the month for haunting, when lawns become littered with skeletons and witches fly in through branches of trees shedding their leaves. Store shelves are stocked with masks and makeup and an array of costumes, all designed to terrify. But on “Where Shadows Walk,” Franklin’s haunted history tour, you won’t find any of that. No masked hatchet men will jump from behind gravestones; black-eyed zombie undertakers will not be your guides, because, said Gregg Clark, the tour’s owner and guide, you won’t need them. The stories themselves elicit enough scare power on their own. 


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park might finally get a place to store its sizeable cache of historical artifacts, but it almost certainly won’t be in Swain County.

Earlier this year, when the park broke the news about what it’s calling a curatorial collections facility to be built in Townsend, Tenn., Swain County residents were unimpressed.

They packed a Swain County commissioners meeting to vent their spleen, asking why such a trove of historical treasures weren’t going to be located in the county that claims the lion’s share of the parkland.

“Was any consideration given to the fact that Swain County gave more land and our people were given more broken promises than any other county in the park?” Linda Hogue wondered rhetorically. She and others asked commissioners to pitch Swain County as a better location for the place. They pointed out that Swain residents, when displaced by the park’s creation, donated many of the artifacts that would be housed in such a facility and wanted them to be housed locally rather than in Tennessee.

“I’m weary and I’m sure you are, too, of singing a same song, different verse. I’m asking you to go to bat for us. We have land right here close to Bryson City for such a facility,” said Hogue.

Park brass, however, have said that a venue change is unlikely, especially since Swain County already has the park’s only cultural museum at the newly christened Oconaluftee Visitors’ Center at the Smokies’ main North Carolina entrance outside Cherokee.

That, said Swain County Manager Kevin King, is a misconception that has been circling around the project since its announcement. And indeed, many who voiced opposition to a Tennessee location cited the economic benefits of having an added visitor attraction in the county.

But even if the center were located in Swain County, the artifacts in question wouldn’t be set up for public viewing anyway, said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson in a letter to commissioners.

“What is proposed is a storage facility not a museum,” said Ditmanson, in the letter.

Currently, the Native American spear points, logging equipment, farm implements, period clothes, weaving looms, moonshine stills and various other relics from the area’s pre-park days are scattered around. Most live in a hard-to-reach facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The new facility would bring them together and provide a safer home that would keep them in better shape for longer, and avoid paying rent on a place to house them in off-site.

The real reason the storage house is staying in Tennessee, however, is financial. The park is partnering with four other national parks in that state to split the costs and the space, and a donation of 1.6 acres has already been made for the facility’s footprint. Plus, money was allocated in 2009 and 2010 to build a facility in Tennessee.

“This would be really convenient for us to be able to operate and manage and work with the other parks,” said Nancy Gray, a spokesperson from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s public affairs arm. “It would benefit everybody to get all of the artifacts into a central location.”

King agreed, saying that if and when Swain County gets a museum up and running in the historic courthouse — as is on the long-term to-do list for the county — getting some items on loan from the park would be a lot easier, were they in one locale.

Still, said Hogue, having the county’s historical assets in Tennessee is a travesty in the first place.

“A facility of this type would mean so much more to our people than just a building with old things cataloged in it,” said Hogue. “I have talked with many elderly Swain County citizens and they relayed to me that they had donated items to the park with the assurance that they would remain in Swain County.”

The park is still awaiting federal funds for construction, and it was missed out in this year’s allocation. So central storage is still a good few years away. But when it comes, Swain County probably won’t be its final destination.


Bryson City has a new fire chief, after a police investigation spurred the ouster of long-term fire chief Joey Hughes last month.

Brent Arvey has been named as the new department head, replacing Erwin Winchester, the Swain County fire marshal who stepped in to temporarily fill the post after Hughes was fired.

Arvey is an 11-year veteran of the Bryson City Fire Department and rises to the top position from the post of 1st assistant chief, the second in command.

Though the department now has a leader at its helm, the controversy surrounding it has not subsided.

The Bryson City Police Department began an investigation into the firehouse and its finances in August, and preliminary results led the town board to fire Hughes as they continued to sort out the details.

The probe has now been turned over to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, which will work with the district attorney’s office in the county to see if charges need to be filed.

“Due to the number of questions that were found, that’s why the SBI was called in to do this,” said Assistant Police Chief Greg Jones, who has led the investigation. “I thought we had enough discrepancies to call the district attorney and bring in the SBI.”

Not only was the investigation uncovering more questions, it was also becoming too unwieldy for Jones and the small, seven-member police department to manage on its own, while trying to simultaneously juggle regular patrols as well.

The only documents currently filed in the case are two search warrants for the fire department’s Friends of the Firemen and Ladies’ Auxiliary bank accounts. Though it would seem likely that these two accounts would take charitable donations on behalf of the department, neither is legally equipped to do so, lacking a 501-c3 designation that allows tax-deductible charitable donations.

It’s unclear what, exactly, is in the accounts and who controls them. As a town fire department, all money that comes in — even fundraiser returns and charitable donations — are supposed to come to the town for audit and allocation. But these two accounts, said Town Manager Larry Callicutt, have never been controlled by the town.

The battle between fire department and town did not start with this investigation. In June of last year, the town board voted to take a GMC Yukon away from the department, citing allegations that it was being put to improper, non-department use.

Then-chief Hughes maintained that he’d never been approached by the board concerning the truck, and said to the board and on the fire department’s Facebook page that it was used as a first responder vehicle.

Later in the year, a firefighter told the Smoky Mountain Times that he resigned his post in protest of the way the department’s finances were handled.

The county also got into a spat with the fire department over what it was paying for fire services.

Last week, the firehouse on Main Street was shuttered while local and state investigators inventoried and audited the equipment there. With that phase finished, the inquiry by the SBI continues, with no word yet on whether charges are forthcoming.


Two million dollars in grant money is coming to Haywood Community College for laid-off workers to find a new place in the workforce.

The money is part of a grant from the Department of Labor that’s been handed out across the state. HCC got the funding by going in with nine other community colleges to try for money from the advanced workforce training pot.

“As one of 10 community colleges in the NC Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, HCC will participate in the creation of a new learning model to place the unemployed, dislocated workers and others in viable advanced manufacturing jobs,” said HCC President Rose Johnson in a statement.

The funding is geared towards training in advanced manufacturing, giving the unemployed an avenue into the more skilled sectors of manufacturing.

Schools in the alliance will share a total of $18.8 million over a three-year period.

Local and regional manufacturing outfits such as Sonoco Products, Consolidated Metco and West CATV Supplies are also a part of the project, along with Workforce Development Boards and JobLink centers across the state.

In total, the money will help unemployed workers in 17 counties, including Haywood and Buncombe, where A-B Tech also got a cut of the grant, though its share was much smaller at $357,645.

Across the country, only 32 community colleges were awarded funds from the $500 million grant allocation, though 200 applied.

A large component of the programs funded by the grant will obviously be designed to retrain low-skill workers, but the colleges will also be working with the industries these students are likely to end up in, assessing their needs and tailoring the programs to meet them. Online learning will also be given a boost by the money.

Elsewhere in the state, Robeson, Beaufort County, Craven, Fayetteville, Nash, Edgecombe, Davidson County and Surry community colleges are a part of the alliance that won the funds.

Officials at HCC said it was a bit too early to announce with certainty exactly what the influx of cash will fund; the awards were only handed out last week.

But a committee was scheduled to meet over the weekend to discuss just where the money should go.

There are, however, restrictions on what can be done with it. The federal grant can only be used to retrain workers and improve their skills, not for other college projects like building repairs.


David Gifford proudly stood as a congressman presented him with medals for meritorious service in the Air Force and the Army. The assembled crowd applauded as the representative gave a short speech. Photos were snapped and a news camera rolled.

And Gifford, 61, beamed. He was not at the White House or a formal military ceremony, but in his humble backyard in Waynesville, surrounded by family and standing in front of a small banner emblazoned with the mantra Support Our Troops, finally receiving his accolades nearly 40 years after he earned them.  

This intimate ceremony was the culmination of years of work by his wife, Kim, who was told that to get her husband’s medals for his service in Vietnam, she’d have to pay for them.

Unable to do so, she eventually enlisted the help of U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, who threw his weight around to get the military awards free of charge.

Gifford’s story is far from unique among veterans, even though rewards recognizing bravery and service are promised for free to GIs coming home. They’re even supposed to get one replacement for every award without paying for it.

But that doesn’t always happen. Brandon Wilson knows that very well, as the veterans’ services officer for Haywood County.

“Most veterans’ services officers help widows or veterans themselves get medals,” said Wilson, because when the vets or their families try to do it on their own, they’re often stymied by red tape or get lost in the bowels of massive, draconian bureaucracy that is the U.S. military.

Or, in the cash-strapped recession economy, the particular branch of military may not have the right medals in stock or the money to order them. And what can and can’t be done is likely to change with every call, depending on who you talk to.

“It’s supposed to be free. That’s supposed to be what happens,” said Wilson. “But I’m supposed to be six feet tall and beautiful and worth half a million dollars.”

In his one-year tenure as Haywood’s veterans officer, he’s helped around 20 vets and their spouses get the medals owed to them, some dating as far back as World War I.

Each branch of service deals with its own medals and awards internally, and getting them depends largely on the diligence of a commanding officer to file the right paperwork and follow through with it. If they don’t, people like Gifford fall through the cracks.

“When you get the medal and you’ve earned the medal, right then they’re supposed to have an awards ceremony to give that Marine, soldier, sailor that medal on the spot. But it all depends on the command,” said Wilson. “Some commands do it when you get home, some do it on the field, some forget to do it altogether.”

Gifford spent seven years on active duty with the Air Force and another 14 with the Army. Two of those years were served in Vietnam, on a detail that he called “suicide jockey.”

“I drove a fuel tanker that was traffic yellow,” said Gifford.

In Vietnam and after, he said he was repeatedly promised medals for risking his life almost daily, but when he returned to U.S. soil, they never materialized.

“When we got home, the only thing we got was spit at and garbage thrown at us,” said Gifford.

His wife went around and around with the Army for years afterwards, trying to get them on his behalf.

“I’ve been fighting the VA (Veterans’ Affairs) for 18 years,” said Kim Gifford. “They kept telling me that his medals, he had to pay for them.”

It’s not so much that medals are in short supply. There are companies around the country that will supply you with nearly any U.S. military medal imaginable, for a price, of course.

Should you want to buy yourself a pair of military dress blues online and order a few dozen medals from an outfit like Medals of America, you too can appear to be a decorated serviceman in a matter of days, though it’s a felony if you didn’t earn them.

In fact, Medals of America is where the military itself refers veterans when they don’t have the resources to hand out their own medals.

They’re not inordinately expensive; a Purple Heart would set you back $34.95 plus tax.

“But if you can get a Purple Heart medal from the United States Marine Corps for free, why would you want to pay $35 for it?” asks Wilson. “I mean hell, you already paid for it, it’s yours.”

When even he can’t cut through the bureaucratic quagmire to get the medals gratis for veterans, Wilson and his compatriots — there’s a veterans’ services officer in every county — often turn to heavyweights like Rep. Shuler, whose clout is more effective at red-tape cutting.

“These men and women have made invaluable contributions to our nation and fought to defend the values of freedom and democracy that all Americans hold dear, and it is important that they receive the medals and awards they earned and deserve,” said Shuler, who said he’s long had a close relationship with vets and the VA in Western North Carolina.

But for those without access to a congressman, there is Veterans’ Legacy, a group that popped up in North Carolina last year to help vets get the recognition they’re owed.

John Elskamp is a retired Air Force veteran, and when he was on active duty, tracking down medals for service members was part of his job. After getting out, he and some friends just kept going with it.

Ten years later, they’ve found the demand to be so great that they set up a nonprofit to help deal with the requests, and Veterans’ Legacy was born.

Elskamp said that while yes, it’s possible for a veteran or their family to pursue an unawarded medal, or even get recognized for service that was never awarded a medal but should have been — a much larger task — it’s hard for a layperson to manage alone.

“They have to do all the work, they have to go through a member of Congress to submit it, and that’s a tall order for most veterans,” said Elskamp, who is based in a small community just west of Ft. Bragg.

“Even if it was already awarded, (the veteran) just wants replacement medals, that’s something fairly simple, but something that requires a lot of research for the veterans’ services officer to do.”

Elskamp and his colleagues are part detective, part paper pushers, poring through old files in forgotten archival warehouses, tracking down platoon leaders and commanding officers and funneling it all through the administrative processes of the military.

They take the hard cases, and those can take anywhere from 30 to 40 days for the easier ones to several years for the trickiest.

The group offers their service free of charge, because, said Elskamp, they can relate to the importance veterans attach to these medals.

“I mean, I’m a military man so I know what I did in the military is important to me and my family, and the same goes for other veterans,” said Elskamp. “It’s something that you want to leave behind.” Which is why the group is called Veterans’ Legacy.

Though most of the work they do is for veterans of long-past wars, newer cases are finding their way into the groups’ caseload. And with new veterans coming back all the time, Elskamp doesn’t see his service becoming obsolete, even in the digital age.

“I think we’ll always be needed, because even though everything’s on the Internet, people just don’t know what questions to ask,” he said, which is often a good chunk of the battle.

In WNC, Rep. Shuler is pretty active in the field, working to get medals for war widows and vets across the region. Next on the docket is a war widow in Macon County.

Wilson, too, is busy working on new cases himself, trying to get a service medal to one of the last remaining WWI wives in the region. He’s also recently been able to return a Purple Heart to its rightful owner in Bryson City and get long overdue World War II medals for his own grandfather.

Although this work is really just a footnote to the main portion of his job, he sees it as an important part of supporting veterans.

“What I’m majorly here for is to improve the quality of life of these people, and at least I’ve done something for them to make them feel good about themselves or feel positive about themselves.”


The growing local food movement that is gaining traction around the country has made its way into Haywood County Schools, where the first shipment of Haywood County produce rolled in earlier this year.

The tomatoes, peppers and corn came courtesy of Skipper Russell, a local farmer who is the only one in the county allowed to sell to the school system.

Russell works a 35-acre farm in Bethel called Seasonal Produce Farms, and his newest client is thanks to his recent GAP certification, a requirement for any farmer wishing to peddle their wares in schools and other government cafeterias.

GAP is short for Good Agriculture Practices, and it’s a strict set of guidelines that ensure food safety, making sure that what gets to the plate was grown and tended the right way. Most farmers say it’s just a recorded verification of what they’re already doing, since good agriculture practices aren’t just nice, they’re what produces quality, sellable produce.

But it’s not a cheap proposition, and each crop must be certified separately. It can take around $1,500 per crop, and sometimes that burden is too much for small farmers to recoup.

Plus, it’s time consuming and pretty onerous.

“The manual’s probably about two inches thick,” said Russell. “It’s a long drawn out process to get to them (the school system), you don’t just go up to them and start selling. But it’s something that more and more people are going to be looking for.”

And that’s why he did it, because he can see what’s coming down the road. Getting certified opens a lot of doors for medium and large farms to get their food into steady, reliable markets like schools. But Russell thinks it will soon close doors for those who don’t have it, as an increasing number of restaurants, stores and even consumers want to know just how the tomatoes on their table were taken care of before getting there.

With the recent outbreaks of E-coli in Europe and listeria still rearing its head in this nation’s cantaloupe, food safety is a hotter button than ever.

In Jackson County Schools, the move has been afoot towards local food — defined by the federal government as anything grown in-state, while local advocacy group the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project considers anything grown within 100 miles as local.

Jim Hill, the child nutrition director there, said he’d love to buy from more hyperlocal producers, but is overall in favor of the GAP regulations that sometimes hamstrings him in that effort.

“I don’t really want 10 farmers in pickup trucks backing up through the schools,” said Hill “You’d rather go through some kind of centralized co-op or warehouse or somewhere where it’s being checked really closely.”

But, he said, with GAP being such a costly endeavor — farmers have to pay the auditors for every hour of their inspection, starting when they leave Raleigh — it’s unfortunately pricing many local producers out of the market.

“The problem with that is, in my opinion, that it really, really, really hurts the small farmer because it’s very expensive to get that GAP certification,” said Hill “The state encourages us to by from locals, but they do make it really hard for us to buy from local farmers.”

One way around that, he said, is to go through a third party, a distributor who is certified, but doesn’t buy exclusively from GAP approved farmers.

That is a tactic he and other school systems use, but they’d prefer to ax the middleman and deal straight with the farmer, a better deal for both sides.

Alison Francis, child nutrition director in Haywood County Schools, said that, with Russell, cutting that middleman has helped them support their neighboring farm and reduce their bottom line simultaneously.

Tomatoes bought from Russell, for example, are nearly half the cost of tomatoes from their national supplier. And for a system that buys a dozen 25-pound cases of them each week, $10 per case instead of $19 adds up quickly.

In Jackson County, they’ve cut out the middleman on the salad bar by simply growing their own.

The hydroponic lettuce is grown by high school students at Smoky Mountain High School in their on-campus greenhouse, and eventually makes its way into the cafeteria what Hill has dubbed ‘Mustang Salads.”

“It’s the closest thing you can imagine to branding a salad,” said Hill. “You can brand a pizza ... but it’s really hard to brand a salad.”

The idea is that if kids know their classmates or siblings or friends grew the salad, they’re much more likely to eat it. They feel more invested in it.

And that’s one of the benefits both Hill and Francis find in local food: it teaches students about where their food comes from, an area in which many kids have a surprising dearth of knowledge.

Francis tells of a time when the subject of food origin came up in an elementary school.

“They asked about if anybody knew where bacon came from and most kids didn’t even know that bacon came from a pig,” said Francis. “I think it’s really important for the kids to see where their food comes from. It’s good for them to know that their food came from just down the road.”


In Tara Melton-Miller’s basement studio, the soft, rhythmic chatter of wood clanking repetitively against wood creates a soothing metronomic singsong on this quiet Friday morning.

Melton-Miller is a weaver at her loom, diligently rearranging the spools of thread dangling from the small, wooden frame into an intricately patterned braid that is emerging from the loom’s center.

What she’s doing is called kumihimo braiding, and it’s been practiced in Japan for centuries. Kumihimo braids once adorned the battle garb of samurai warriors and hung from their battle swords.

Here in Melton-Miller’s Sylva basement, however, the braids are destined for a more artistic life that doesn’t belie their warrior history. Something of a teacher-cum-artist, she puts these braids on collages and magnets and pins to be sold in local shops or at craft fairs in the region.

Though art is her background — she has a bachelor’s in studio art — it has always been her passion rather than her profession.

She chose, she says, to make art strictly on the side for many years to preserve her love of it, instead of making it a job. She has made some cash on the side painting wall murals, but even that wasn’t art simply for the love of it. There is no artistic freedom with a demanding client hovering over every brush stroke.

But when she stumbled across kumihimo, she learned one braid pattern and fell in love.

Melton-Miller used to work at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching, and one of her seminars was on the Japanese braids. But you can’t teach if you don’t know what you’re doing, so she learned her first pattern.

After the seminar, she just kept going, eventually incorporating paper art and collage and tiny clay sculptures into the finished products.

She found that she was spending her extra time working with the braids and collages, and she relished the creative control and artistic license it afforded her. So when she left NCCAT in its latest round of layoffs, Melton-Miller threw herself into the art wholeheartedly.

She sells her pieces at It’s By Nature in Sylva and at various craft shows around the region. They range from larger, portrait-sized pieces to tiny bookmarks, pins and magnets. Though the smaller items are more time consuming and less profitable, Melton-Miller is committed to them because they offer something for every budget.

“I really think everybody deserves to have art in their lives,” she said, “so I try to keep (everything) under $100.”

But even if nothing sells, Melton-Miller says this is art that she would do anyway.

“I just love it,” she says. “I want to do what I want to do with it, and if people like it, they can buy it.”

Just as much as doing it, however, she loves sharing it.

At last year’s Colorfest in Sylva, Melton-Miller set up shop, and though she says she sold hardly anything, she delighted in demonstrating for passersby and getting their very mixed reactions.

“It’s hilarious to watch people watch you do this,” she said, telling of one man who said that, while the loom made a good product, the cadenced clanking made him queasy.

Where her craft is going next, Melton-Miller isn’t sure. The once painter, then teacher of teachers, now collage artist says that the beauty of it is its ever-evolving quality.

And kumihimo has such a long and storied tradition that she could study patterns for years without every fully plumbing the craft’s depths. There are even whole — and very prestigious — schools in Japan devoted to the discipline and its many techniques.

For now, she’s content with making affordable, handmade art, and spending her days clattering away at the maru dai loom suits her just fine.

See more

Tara Melton-Miller will demonstrate kumihimo braiding at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 7, at It’s By Nature in Sylva as a part of Art After Dark.


Bryson City is short a fire chief after the town’s board voted unanimously to fire Joey Hughes at a special called meeting last Friday.

Hughes was sacked as the result of a police investigation into the fire department that’s still ongoing. Hughes could not be reached for comment by presstime.

The department was shut down on Monday so investigators could inventory the place, and state investigators were making their way to Bryson City to participate in the audit. Though police and town officials have declined to comment on the continuing investigation, search warrants show that the probe appears to center around two bank accounts held by the fire department.

Two search warrants were filed and executed more than a month ago to look into accounts belonging to the Bryson City Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary and a group called Friends of the Firemen.

According to Town Manager Larry Callicutt, those are funds handled directly by the department, not through the town board like the fire department’s regular budget.

But it seems there are questions about whether that is even legal. The department is a municipal, all-volunteer fire department. So while most independent fire departments would have their own governing board, in Bryson City that duty falls to the elected town board.

So is having separate pots of cash that aren’t under town control allowed? Callicutt said he wasn’t sure, and town attorney Fred Moody couldn’t be reached for comment on this story.

Since the bank accounts aren’t public record, and the active investigation is keeping officials mum on its focus, it’s not clear exactly what about the accounts is in question, or why it warranted Hughes’ removal.

Also unclear is precisely how much money is in those two accounts, where the money comes from or who controls them. Like many all-volunteer squads, in the past the department has held fundraisers to supplement its budget, though Callicutt said the town has before requested that those fundraisers be stopped.

Last year, the town budgeted $90,000 to the fire department, not including insurance.

This year, it’s getting just over $78,000, which also doesn’t count insurance or the water and sewer the town provides to the department. All in all, Callicutt expects the total to be around $80,000 this year.

Of the two accounts in question, only the Bryson City Fire Department Auxiliary is registered as a non-profit. It’s director is listed as Cylena Hughes, the former fire chief’s wife. That means any donations made to the Friends of Firemen account would not be tax deductible.

The investigation won’t hamper fire coverage, said city officials, and Swain County Fire Marshall Erwin Winchester has agreed to fill the gap as chief in the interim until a new chief is named.


Every year, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians get around $6,000, give or tax a few hundred here or there. In 1995, it was $1,190. In 2010, it was just over $7,000. It’s their cut, 1/28,890 of the net revenues at Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino, where the profits are divided 50/50 between operations and tribal members.

In the grand scheme of life, $6,000 is not an extravagant amount of money. When words like billion and trillion flash daily across headlines — numbers so big that even to grasp their breadth seems nigh upon impossible — $6,000 is a raindrop in the Pacific.

But Freeman Owle knows that $6,000 is more than that, really. Six thousand dollars is a powerful thing. It can open new vistas of opportunity and raise self esteem and change the face of an entire culture. And maybe buy a decent used car or a semester of college.

Owle has seen the tribe and the reservation change with the money — known locally as per cap, short for per capita — and for the better in nearly every way.

“I can’t see it as anything but good,” said Owle. He grew up here, then spent 13 years teaching in the Cherokee School System before heading over to Western Carolina University to teach there. He knows Cherokee, knows the people, and the change he’s seen from just this little bit of money is demonstrable.

SEE ALSO: Casino a catalyst for re-discovery of Cherokee power

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“I’ve seen more difference made in the self concept realm,” said Owle. When he was a kid, he said, keeping your head down was the order of the day.

“Before, they were just unobtrusively observing everything around them,” said Owle. In this post-per-cap world, his students and the ones coming after them, they’re engaging with the world instead of just watching it.

It’s hardly difficult to see the advantageous benefits of the casino in Cherokee. Brand new schools, brand new skate park, brand new, well, lots of things. But the benefits on an individual level are a slightly more difficult to track and quantify.

It’s easy to say that 473,000 square feet of new school is beneficial. But how do you measure the benefits of self esteem, or financial assurance?


Behaving successfully

‘Medically’ might be one answer.

Two long-term studies, one published in 2003 and one just this year, have studied the effects of per cap payments on the Eastern Band and its people.

The first was a Duke study looking at behavioral patterns in children. It was purely coincidental — researchers were looking at kids with problems acting out in school, and then, right in the middle of the study, something seemingly unrelated happened: the casino opened. And per cap checks started flowing freely.

Researchers discovered that, because of the small stipend provided by casino returns, parents were spending more time keeping up with their kids. The kids, in turn, acted out less and had fewer behavior problems, both at home and at school. Even if it didn’t have any effect at all on the parents’ lifestyle — workplace hours didn’t decrease, wages didn’t go up, because really, a few thousand bucks isn’t exactly a life of leisure — that small extra measure of financial safety led to great changes for their kids.

“Exploratory analysis suggested that the quality of parental supervision was linked to parents’ sense of time pressure,” researchers reported in a university newsletter at the study’s release. “Although the casino income did not lead parents to cut down on their working hours, it did seem to help them feel less ‘pressured,’ which may have helped them to devote more attention to what their teenagers were doing. Moving out of poverty was associated with a decrease in frequency of psychiatric symptoms over the ensuing four years.”

The second study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last May, was a follow-up to the first. So things were better for kids when their parents had that little extra income security. Would that persist for those children as they transitioned into adults?

The answer, apparently, is yes.

“The most important aspect of this follow-up into adulthood is to demonstrate that an intervention occurring in adolescence can predict outcomes in adulthood,” said the study results, which is a scientific way to say that the benefits of per cap grow with time.

The kids who did the best, who were most positively affected in the long-term by the change in their family income, were the youngest. The longer they were exposed to the new, per-cap norm, the less likely they would slip back into substance abuse and all the adult problems that grow from childhood misbehavior.

Per cap, however, like every good story, is not a tale filled only with sweetness and light.

There is a downside, and it manifested itself brazenly for years before the tribe could develop a good response.

That shortcoming, of course, is obvious: you can’t make people do good things with their money. And for 18-year-old tribal members, getting the money that’s been saved and invested for them, often since birth, was an invitation into enticing irresponsibility.

“We have 13 years of 18-year-olds getting money and wasting it, and there’s been a lot of bad stories about young people not knowing what to do with their money,” said Keith Sneed. He is the one who, in the end, engineered a way to at least try to keep the newly enriched from moronic financial choices.

Sneed, like Freeman Owle, was a teacher in the Cherokee School System for years before per cap. And like Owle, he saw the lot of the tribe change dramatically in its wake. But, he thought, it could be so much better. Sure, kids now know that they have opportunities, he said, but if they only opportunity they see is a Porsche they really can’t afford, how is that better?

So he created a course called Manage Your Money that’s now a requirement — along with a high school diploma or GED — for anyone wanting to collect their cash at 18.


A better life

In a broader sense, said Principal Chief Michell Hicks, what per cap and its companion, the tribal operations cut, have done is increase the standard of living for the Cherokee people. They have better schools and health care and recreation because of tribal operations, and they have nicer homes and stronger businesses and more solid financial footing because of the extra six grand in their pockets.

“I think, you know, any time you can change the living standard, it changes to some degree their mental capacity and it gives them more confidence to do better,” said Hicks.

After 16 years, the tribe has gone a long way towards improving the basics of life, and now, said Hicks, they’re moving on to the next stage of growth with their wealth. The tribe can preserve its culture in language schools and museums and foundations because it can afford to. More Cherokee people can open new and nicer businesses in town because, thanks to per cap and tribal lending funds like the Sequoyah Fund, they can afford to.

And that’s where Hicks sees the tribe going in the future. Of late, there has been much talk of moving some of the eggs away from the Harrah’s basket. Casino revenues were down 8 percent this year and tribal population grew by 2 percent, so the amountof money in everyone’s pocket is shrinking.

But what about using the spoils of Harrah’s to decrease dependence on it, asks Hicks.

“I think that the next success is to really expand the economic base for Cherokee,” said Hicks, to get away from what have been called rubber tomahawk shops and get into the higher-end shops and restaurants. And to use per cap and tribal funds to do it.

Inez Sampson has been around since far before the payments started coming in. She, like many, believe that it helps.

“You can’t really buy a house or anything,” said Sampson, “but it helps. It helps you be able to do the things that you’d really want to do.”

And to realize that they’re there to be done.


Maggie Valley doesn’t usually spring to mind as the noisiest of places in Haywood County. It’s a place known more for its pastoral mountain setting and quaint old-time kitsch than bustling nightlife.

But a spate of protests have prompted town staff to reconsider their rules on noise, which could put a damper on bands looking to spice up the valley’s evening offerings.

Currently, Maggie Valley has a noise ordinance that goes by use, time and actual loudness.

If you’re a business, nothing over 65 decibels until 11 p.m. on weekdays. That number goes down to 60 from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. On weekends, you can crank it up to 75 decibels until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. on Sunday.

A new standard being put forth by town leaders knocks down the weekend level to a top volume of 70 on weekends and holidays, and cuts the hours back to 10 p.m. on weekdays.

Some business owners in the valley, however, say it’s just not prohibitive enough.

At a town board meeting last week, Carol Burrell, who manages the Creekside Lodge, complained that bands playing across the street were loud enough to easily drown out her own music.

“The decibel level of 70 still is too excessive,” said Burrell. “This is hurting my business and it needs to be lower than 70. I just don’t need to be listening to someone else’s music in my home.”

Others in the crowd countered that live music was bringing much needed tourists and revenue to Maggie Valley, which suffered with the closing of the Eaglesnest and Carolina Nights, two event venues that once brought live acts to the valley.

Police Chief Scott Sutton, who has been researching and working on the ordinance for the town, sympathized with business owners resenting the need to cover their ears but emphasized that the new rule was still a work in progress.

“We try to work with the businesses, and we try to work with the residents, but when you get a business that’s pushing the limits, that’s where you get where we are today,” said Sutton. “All we’re asking is a little time to do some research.”

To those accusing the town of over-strictness and regulating away customers, Sutton pointed out that Maggie Valley is not on the strictest end of the spectrum.

“I‘ll be honest, our ordinance, as strict as we think it is in some ways, it’s not as strict compared to other places,” said Sutton.

In Waynesville, for instance, the upper decibel level is 60 without a permit. Even with a permit, the high water mark is 70, and only before 11 p.m. on Thursday and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Anyone wanting to amplify their sound outside must get a permit, no matter how soft the sound.

Sylva won’t allow any noise that can be heard at all 20 feet from its origin after 11 p.m.

Of main concern in Maggie Valley are the very few bars in town that offer late night options and outdoor music, though Sutton noted at the meeting that the cooling weather may take care of the problem before the ordinance this season.

While motel manager Burrell said she doesn’t object to having live entertainment in Maggie Valley, having it in her house or her guests’ rooms is quite another matter. The fix, she said, is simple.

“Come into my motel rooms and come into my home, and have them turn it down until I can’t hear it.”


For the second time this year, Maggie Valley can boast a brand new alderman on its five-member town board.

Mike Matthews was picked by an uncharacteristically unanimous vote at the board’s meeting last Tuesday, filling the seat left vacant by former alderman Scott Pauley’s departure in August.

Matthews is a long-time Maggie Valley resident who has lived in the town on and off for 15 years.

At 31, Matthews brings a much younger perspective to the board, and the current members noted that fresh outlook as one of the reasons they chose him over the other two candidates who had put in for the position.

“He’s got a lot of energy,” said Danya Vanhook, who was herself appointed to the board in March. “He has a lot of young fresh ideas.”

Matthews came to Maggie in high school, and after leaving for several years, has returned with his wife and two children to make the valley his home.

He said he went out for the job because of a longing to see the town, so often embroiled in conflict and infighting, return to the more harmonious days he remembers from his childhood.

“I’ve seen Maggie how it used to be and how everybody used to get along,” said Matthews. “Now, there’s such a disconnect between the businesses and the residents and the town officials. Everybody should start working together and getting on the same page.”

Indeed, even at the same meeting where he was appointed, there was contention among residents and business owners over noise ordinances and confusion over town-imposed fees.

Matthews said that he believes the best way to overcome those conflicts is better communication from all parties and more visibility by the town in the community.

“You’ve got to get out and be visible and go to the businesses and go to the residents,” said Matthews, though he pointed out that changing the mood in Maggie Valley can’t just come from the town hall. “It’s got to take everybody.”

Recently, however, the town board has had enough contention to deal with among its own ranks, without worrying about discord from the wider community.

Though this particular seat came up for grabs through non-political circumstances — Pauley moved from the valley due to financial constraints — the board hasn’t lacked its share of political quarrels.

In the months leading up to his resignation, Pauley and fellow alderman Phil Aldridge had several public disagreements, while Aldridge also took vocal issue with the opinions of other board members regularly.

And in February, the town lost another alderman to politics when Colin Edwards resigned over what he thought was poor handling of the town’s alcohol board and squabbles with Ralph Wallace, it’s chair and former town mayor.

Over many issues that come before the board, there are often discordant factions among the elected officials. Even the process of choosing replacement aldermen has been hotly contested between officials and among town members.

Outside the town hall walls, disagreements also persist as business owners and residents often have clashing priorities on town issues such as the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds and its profitability, budget spending and noise ordinances. It isn’t unusual to hear a few residents and business owners stand up at town meetings to take issue with how the board is run or even the board members personally.

It’s this climate that Matthews said he’d like to change.

“It seems like everything is so one sided, it’s divided up,” said Matthews. “I think we just need to figure out a way to get everybody together, to get everybody on the same page, get everybody to realize that we’re all working towards the same goal: to make Maggie better.”

He’s coming to the job after a stint on the planning board, which will now end. According to town rules, an alderman can’t also sit as a planning board member.

Asked whether he’d like to run when his seat comes up for reelection, Matthews said it’s certainly something he’d be interested in. He was planning to run for the seat anyway, had he not been appointed.

“I intend to keep going as long as I can,” he said.

The spot, however, won’t be up for election for another two years.

Mayor Roger McElroy said he was hopeful that Matthews could provide another good link between the board and the community.

“We thought he would be good to interface with the local people as well as the people who have moved into the valley,” said McElroy.

At their meeting, all the sitting aldermen seemed enthusiastic about Matthews, despite their differences of opinion over the process for choosing the post.

In the past, Aldridge, the regular voice of dissent, had advocated for filling an open seat with the next runner up from a previous election. But since that person, Phil Wight, wasn’t in the running, even Aldridge threw his vote behind Matthews.

Several times the idea of bringing the appointment of an empty seat to a popular vote, or at least appointing the next runner up, has been broached by Aldridge and other community members.

But the board’s sentiments seem unlikely to swing that way, should another spot become available.

“It’s not something that I look at, because it could be somebody that has 100 votes or somebody that has two votes,” said Alderwoman Saralyn Price.

Some at the meeting questioned why Pauley’s seat couldn’t be placed on the November ballot, along with the two alderman positions already up for reelection. However, state election law will not allow for such a change after the candidate filing period has closed.

Matthews will be sworn in at a special called meeting on Oct. 4.


Never tell people how to do things, said the indefatigable General George S. Patton. Instead, he said, tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

That viewpoint resonates clearly with Lori Anderson, and it’s why she’s working hard to keep old Appalachian traditions alive, remembering their creativity in an age where such resourcefulness is becoming increasingly harder to come by.

“The thing I rely on most about the past and history is their ingenuity. Here they were in the mountains and they had to figure it out themselves,” said Anderson. “I think that’s something that we’re losing, that if someone doesn’t show you how to do it or do it for you, you’re not going to do it.”

Anderson is a corn shuck artist, and her craft is not one that is practiced or passed down by many in the 21st century. She herself learned the art by self teaching and trial-and-error, before connecting with her mentor, Annie Lee Bryson, known regionally as the corn shuck doll lady.

Then she got plugged into the heritage and tradition that comes with corn shuck art, and when Bryson died last year, she shouldered the burden of keeping the Appalachian art alive.

Though most of what corn shucks are known for in the mountains is dolls, Anderson’s passion in the craft lies elsewhere.

“As I was apprenticing with her (Bryson), I could see the passion that she had for making her dolls. That was her joy,” said Anderson. “So, instead of grabbing a hold of her corn shuck joy, I found my own: corn shuck wildflowers.”

Her flowers are stunning replicas of the plants found here in the Smoky Mountains, and thanks to them, she was recently accepted into the prestigious Southern Highland Craft Guild.

In the absence of her friend and teacher, however, Anderson is now doing double duty, with one hand in the past, teaching and demonstrating the traditional corn shuck doll techniques that Bryson perfected and propagated, and the other moving forward, using the husks to make ever more unorthodox creations, stretching and redefining the boundaries of the craft.

But mostly, she’s trying to keep it alive. There are very few books around that teach the intricacies of corn shuck art — Anderson said that every time she comes across one, she snaps it up. And the human resources like Bryson who taught widely in the past are dwindling.

So Anderson goes into schools and fairs and places such as Western Carolina University’s annual Mountain Heritage Day to expose more people to an art that has roots in their communities.

“A lot of times the kids don’t even know what a corn shuck is,” said Anderson. “They think the corn comes frozen in the three-inch little cobs.”

It’s truths like that which keep Anderson pursuing the heritage art of corn husks, keeping up a steady education campaign and demonstrating regularly at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and elsewhere.

Technology, she said, is proving a bane to the ingenuity that birthed many of the Appalachian crafts that are, today, revered. Figuring out how to make something of what you have, said Anderson, is the crux of Appalachian heritage crafting, and it’s a skill she’s trying to keep alive and cultivate.

This, of course, hasn’t always been her livelihood. Anderson was born and raised in Florida, but spent summer vacations from childhood at Deep Creek in Swain County, instilling in her a deep love of the mountain community.

When an opportunity popped up for she and her husband to relocate to Bryson City in 1998, they leapt at the chance.

Crafting has always been a part of her life — she even bought a load of quilting supplies before the move, expecting to pick up the traditional mountain art — but it’s not until she got here that corn husk creating found her and she found Bryson.

“She had taught for all those years and, you know, some people were mildly interested in them,” said Anderson. But until she came along, there was no torchbearer. For her part, Anderson plans to be a little more vocal about passing on the art than her predecessor.

“I think I’m not going to be so quiet,” she laughs, when asked about where her replacement will come from. “Because I think it’s very important, to learn the old ways of doing things is very important.”

Even if you’re using the old ways to make new things.


For the second time this year, a Maggie Valley alderman is resigning from his seat, leaving it up to the rest of the board to pick a replacement. But in what appears to be an about-face from the process used just six months ago, aldermen refused to accept two applications that came in late.

In February, aldermen had five applications in hand at the deadline and chose to extend it.

This time, they had two fewer applicants and decided it was enough.

“It was more of an issue of look, we set a deadline and we need to follow the deadline,” said Town Manager Tim Barth, when asked about the policy change.

Barth polled the remaining four board members on whether to accept the late applications, and the majority favored sticking with the set deadline. That decision wasn’t made in an open meeting.

Alderman Phil Aldridge said he wanted to extend the deadline this time, but was vetoed by other board members.

Philip Wight, who has been critical of the current board, found himself on the wrong side of the shifting rules.

Last time, Wight had applied on time, only to see the deadline extended. This time, Wight didn’t get his in on time, only to learn the deadline honored. Wight has run for office in the past, and came in a close runner-up two years ago.

Wight and June Johnson were both one day late and had their applications rejected.

One of the three applicants who met the deadline — Bill Banks, Michael Matthews and Billy Case — will be picked at the town board meeting this week.

Banks and Matthews will be interviewed before the meeting. Case had a conflict and will be applying on the merits of his application.

Chuck Dickson, the town’s lawyer, said that there’s no set procedure when trying to fill a vacant seat. Consistency in the process from one seat to the next is the board’s prerogative.

In the past, there has been contention among board members over choosing a new person. Aldridge spoke out vehemently against extending the deadline for applications in February, saying that five applications was quite a turnout for small Maggie Valley.

On the agenda for this week’s meeting is a discussion about the process, as well.

The new member will start work at a special called meeting on Oct. 4.


Empty seats in Maggie

• Earlier this month, Alderman Scott Pauley left his seat two years ahead of schedule for financial reasons.

• In February, Colin Edwards exited the board over differences of opinion with other members.


Next spring, voters in North Carolina will voice their opinions on gay marriage when a constitutional amendment banning the practice will appear on the spring primary ballot.

The question isn’t whether gay marriage should be allowed; it’s already outlawed in the state. But the amendment would entrench the legal ban on same-sex marriage, giving it a much more unassailable legal footing by putting it in the state constitution.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, said he voted to put the measure to the people as both a campaign promise and a personal commitment to what he called the traditional family, not as an anti-gay tactic.

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“That’s not my intention at all. I just think that traditional marriage has been under assault for the last 30 or 40 years in our government, and I think that it’s paramount that we reestablish that in our society,” said Davis. “I think that traditional marriage is the bedrock of our society.”

The amendment got on the ballot after a three-fifths majority vote in the North Carolina House and Senate two weeks ago. In both chambers, all voting Republicans voted yes to a ballot initiative, while all voting Democrats cast no ballots.

North Carolina is the only southern state without a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and the outcome of this vote could signal which direction the state is headed in the future, said Chris Cooper, an associate professor of political science at Western Carolina University.

“What the outcome is going to signify to a lot of people what kind of state North Carolina is,” said Cooper. “North Carolina has always kind-of enjoyed this reputation of being a progressive state in the South. I think that signifies something in the state, we’re kind-of a purple state — we go for Obama, we aren’t for gay marriage but we don’t have a constitutional amendment against it.”

And that progressive, half-and-half reputation is about to be challenged with the spring primary ballot.

It could have bigger political implications, too, for the November election next year. Davis said the reason the initiative is on the primary ballot rather than waiting for the general election in the fall was a concession to Democrats.

Cooper says putting the issue on the primary ballot could give much more right-leaning Republicans the wins in the primary, as voter turnout for such a religiously charged social issue is expected to skew towards a more staunchly conservative demographic.

As for the amendment’s chances at success, Cooper says they look pretty good.

“I think it’s going to have a lot of support,” said Cooper. “Nationally and in North Carolina, younger people are the ones who support gay marriage, and we know that younger people are the ones who don’t often turn out to vote.”

In fact, data collected between 1994 and 2009 by Columbia University graduate students shows that, across the country, approval of same-sex marriage responds inversely to age: the older you are, the less you approve of gay marriage, and vice versa. If a vote on the issue were put to only those Americans 65 and over, no state would allow it. In the most gay-marriage-friendly state, Massachusetts, only 35 percent of seniors endorsed it.

There are 39 states that favor same-sex marriage more than North Carolina, and of the 10 behind it, most are southern states.

What the amendment’s passage would mean for North Carolinians is as yet unclear. Opponents have spoken against it for a number of reasons, calling it anti-gay and a distraction.

Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, was incensed that the General Assembly spent its time and money in the closing days of the legislative session on what he said is an unnecessary measure.

“North Carolina already has a law banning same sex marriage and has had it for 15 years. The law has not been challenged in the courts, but if it were, and a federal court ruled against it, the statute and/or constitutional amendment would be null and void,” said Rapp, in a legislative update. “We spent $150,000 to bring legislators to Raleigh for three days to vote on one constitutional amendment that was not reviewed by one of the House Judiciary Committees, is already a law but will cost even more money to put on the ballot in next May’s primary ballot.”

Before the chambers closed for the year, the issue was hotly debated on both the House and Senate floor, and in the eight months leading to the vote, things will likely get contentious in the public.

Davis said he’s already gotten a massive deluge of calls and emails from both sides of the debate.

In a June study assessing the legal implications of a constitutional amendment, UNC School of Law professors said it would throw into question the benefits and protections same-sex couples now enjoy under non-marriage partnerships such as civil unions.

The study said the dilemma lay in language that was “problematically vague.” An amendment would dictate that “marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.”

But that’s not what’s in the law now, and not what’s ever been there before.

The law professors found that might cause problems with health insurance, end-of-life issues such as wills, along with child custody and domestic violence protections for both homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples alike.

Davis said this is not the intention.

“I think that they still have legal rights at their disposal to protect them and they can have a civil union,” he said. “It’s just not called marriage.”


When all is said and expanded at Harrah’s, there will be 2,000 seats at the various restaurants scattered across the property. That’s enough for every employee at Harrah’s to sit down for a meal together, albeit at different restaurants.

It marks a massive expansion of the casino’s dining options — tripling its seating and bringing in a whole new line of culinary fare, from an upscale steak house to Dunkin Donuts.

Getting all the new restaurants ready for customers is a mammoth task that falls to Greg Gibson, the food and beverage director for the entire Harrah’s Cherokee operation.

Just deciding which restaurants should earn a spot in the made-over casino resort was a challenge. Not everyone who visits the casino is on the same budget or has the same tastes. Meanwhile, Harrah’s is trying to rebrand itself, shedding the casino-with-hotel image and moving towards a full-service resort mentality. And what kind of food is served at a place like that?

For Gibson, a lot of his job is trying to determine that.

“It’s about having different levels available for different guests, having a well rounded portfolio as we come into a resort,” he said.

So Gibson looks at focus groups and customer feedback to make sure the direction they’re moving in is the right one.

“We look at different developments and different price points (to see) how much demand would we have for 800 seats total of one type or one price point of food,” said Gibson.

He’s out on the floor, he makes the rounds, he shakes the customers’ hands so he can get a better handle on who they are and exactly what they want.

Some of the new offerings are an Asian Noodle Bar, Paula Deen’s Kitchen and a food court, home to Johnny Rockets, Dunkin Donuts, a deli and pizzeria Uno’s, which are already open. Alongside those will be Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Brio, an Italian Eatery and the Chef’s Stage Buffet, which will feature cuisine from around the world.

Gibson has a lot of corporate experience with Harrah’s, he’s been with the company for 13 years. But he knows what it’s like to work the restaurant floor, too. As a Louisiana college student, he was a bartender for a local hangout before opening his own restaurant, the Caddyshack Bar and Grill. From there, he moved into the casino world and has worked his way up since, now piloting Harrah’s food and beverage into an era where cafeteria-style buffets are giving way to high-class steak joints and upscale Italian eateries.

All those new restaurants require a few hundred new employees, whether it’s bussing tables or prepping food.

The person teaching employees what to do with this new paradigm is Denise Morrison, the food and beverage trainer. Like Gibson, she’s had a long and storied career with Harrah’s, starting in 1986 as a valet parker. From there, she moved further into hotel operations, became a cashier and then cashier manager in what they affectionately call ‘the cage.’

Now, she teaches supervisors how to teach the Harrah’s way.

“I assist managers, directors and supervisors in opening the food outlets, mentoring new supervisors and new employees. I’m a counselor, I’m a teacher, I have a lot of different roles,” said Morrison.

She helps write the standard operating procedures, then makes sure they’re being followed. She helps supervisors know exactly what their employees should be doing. She’s teaching them to cater to the kind of people who come to a resort, and being a resource for them when things don’t exactly work.

“The people skills are where my forte is,” said Morrison, and even amidst opening a bevy of new restaurants, the most thrilling part of what she does will always be the people. “I enjoy being with the employees, I enjoy seeing them grow, I enjoy taking a new hire and molding them into getting another position. I like to see them become successful and just have that passion. That sometimes is hard to find.”


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Dishwasher extraordinaire

Jeremiah Chatham is the kind of person who looks far too gregarious to be wearing a suit. He has an open face, an easy laugh and is prone to a quizzical, smiling expression that’s at once friendly and disarming.  

Chatham is the recently appointed executive steward at Harrah’s, which is a deceptively vague title for a hard-to-define job.

Basically, Chatham is supposed to make sure everything food-related stays clean — the dishes and cutlery and glassware and trashcans. Where cleaning and food service intersect, well, there will Chatham be also.

But really, it’s more than that, and the job is ever-changing, as Harrah’s grows and spawns new eateries, a new employee dining room and new buffets, to name a few.

“Every time I’m able to quantify it and define it, then we just grow,” says Chatham.

As the property grows ever upward and out, even the walls aren’t guaranteed to always be in the same place, a consequence of working in the middle of a massive construction zone.

“I remember when I first started here we’d have this pathway that we walked through. One day, I’m finishing shift and the pathway that I used to take now had walls,” says Chatham, by way of illustration.

Part of the challenge, in that kind of environment, is ensuring that the behind-the-scenes stay that way — in the back of house.

“I think one of the most interesting things that I’ve learned about is the logistics of trash. That you see a trashcan, and when you’re in a resort operation the trashcan is never full,” says Chatham. “You don’t think about where your trash goes, but there is a major process to it, there are all these steps that we have to take to make sure that it’s out of sight and out of mind.”

And the composting of all the food coming off the many restaurant lines is another, major operation entirely. It’s all sent to the Cherokee landfill for repurposing into compost, and Harrah’s is the top contributor.

And as new restaurants keep moving in, one of his top priorities is streamlining how all the cleaning, composting and trash pickup is done.

Sure, Paula Deen’s Kitchen has totally different forks than The Noodle Bar, but they should be washed the same way.

“The ultimate goal is to get every outlet essentially to run the same way, so that when we walk into Paula Deen’s, it should be just as clean as the food court,” says Chatham.

Doing that, he says, requires an intimate knowledge of how every process works to begin with, which is why his favorite part of the week is losing the suit and donning a work uniform, getting into one of the restaurants alongside his 70-person team and working a shift with them.

“I like it because it lets me see what problems we have procedurally,” says Chatham. “You need to be administrative and be operational at the same time. You need to know how to balance that.”

A balancing act is really what his job is becoming, a balancing act on a steep learning curve.

There has never before been an executive steward at Harrah’s Cherokee. This is the make-it-up-as-you-go phase. And in the midst of that, the job is doubling and, by the end, the stewarding staff will probably double, too.

Although it may be his first time in this job, Chatham knows this business back to front.

He’s been working in food service for a decade, in every position from the very front to the very back of the house. He finds something of a poetry in how he’s come full circle, from his first position as a dishwasher back to this job, a kind of king of the dishwashers.

In fact, he started at Harrah’s as a server, with no view towards bigger things. But after putting in his ten years on the line, this was the next natural progression.

Most of Harrah’s guests have no idea that Jeremiah Chatham exists, but without him, their experience would be a lot different in seemingly small ways that make a big difference.


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Deep in the labyrinthine basement at Harrah’s, in an ordinary hallway sits an extraordinary room. There’s a service counter and a door, and it seems, at first blush, like a standard work-and-storage room — a few shelves, some sewing machines on desks and a row or two of wardrobe racks.

The room that holds the wardrobe department is, however, TARDIS-like: it’s bigger on the inside.

And Arlene Reagan truly couldn’t be prouder.

Come in and look straight upwards, and before you unfolds an entire story of snaking racks, filled with skirts and shirts and raincoats and blazers and specially-tailored dresses and elaborate Asian-inspired costumes — the image of Harrah’s Cherokee, expressed in clothes.

This is Reagan’s domain. She’s the wardrobe supervisor, and on her automated racks are the uniforms of 47 different departments, enough to dress anyone from size zero to 26.

Every last person who dons a uniform for Harrah’s crosses Reagan’s threshold. No oversized shirts or misshapen pants miss her inspecting eye. Unlike many uniformed companies, employees here get fitted before hitting the floor. Some such as beverage severs who roam the gaming floors, cocktail tray in hand, get a custom tailored fitting, a uniform melded to their precise shape. Front desk clerks, in dry-clean-only suits, get the same courtesy.

Everyone else leaves the wardrobe room with what Reagan calls a street fit, an outfit that fits like you’d buy it yourself.

And with employees rotating in and out in a never-ending cycle — there’s a new hire class every week — the job in wardrobe is never done. The department closes for six hours each day, from midnight to 6 a.m. Otherwise, Reagan, her two seamstresses and five clerks are busily fixing and fitting for 18 hours a day.

They sew on buttons and hem pants and skirts and resize for those on the up or down swing of a weight-loss plan. A handmade dress hangs on a rack next to a sewing machine, modified for maternity after a beverage server announced her pregnancy.

Then there’s the testing. Of the 47 departments, Reagan helps managers pick new uniforms every few years. They bring in vendors, have a fashion show and then they test.

When clothing 2,000, it’s tempting fate to take the manufacturer at its word.

“We would look for the construction, the durability, we would run it past a stain test,” says Reagan. “If it was a beverage server garment, we would take everything that they would come into contact with and we spill it.” Coke, coffee, vodka, grape juice, cleaner. And then they wash it. Does it shrink or pill or stretch or otherwise react weirdly? Is it uglier post-wash?

For the seamstresses and clerks, it’s a constant education. With nearly four dozen departments and numerous different uniforms in each, an encyclopedic knowledge of how each works is essential.

Reagan came to the job when the casino opened in 1997 with a home economics degree, a remnant of days past, and experience making traditional Native American costumes. Plus, she’d just been sewing her whole life.

She has a warm, motherly air and a practical, cheerful demeanor. She’s reminiscent of Julia Childs, forthright and merry, and like the famed cook, came to her career later in life, after seeing her children through high school.

A lot of her clerks and seamstresses came from the now-diminished manufacturing sector that once employed many behind a sewing machine. There’s not much turnover here, but with those skills becoming harder to come by, finding their eventual replacements may prove challenging.

Though Harrah’s is entering ever-new iterations of itself, Reagan has watched the company’s outfits move rather more cyclically over the last 14 years, much like fashion in the wider world.

“It kind-of goes in a cycle,” she says, offering an example. “When we started out in beverage, they were in a dress, then after that they were in a bustier, then they were in a jacket, now we’re looking again back at a bustier.”

The current beverage dress du jour is somewhere between dress and bustier, a cropped jacket and tailored A-line skirt.

The looks have come and gone over the years, but Reagan’s business has barely changed.

As with any job, she’s learned tricks to make it better. There’s now a chute for dry clean clothes. The clerks have learned an assembly line to fly through routine repairs.

The best part of the job, she says, is the people. And while everyone says that about their job, when Reagan says it, it is truly believable.

She makes people look good, because good-looking people work better and better-working people make the company better.

“You get paid for being nice,” says Reagan. What, she asks, could be better?


Luring gamers to play longer, play harder

Gardener sees casino as a canvas

Dishwasher extraordinaire

A masterful game of musical chairs

Twelve thousand. That’s how many annuals Zeke Cooper and his crew have installed in the last month in and around the hotel and casino, adding summery punches of color to the landscape and bringing some organic life to the gleaming interiors at Harrah’s.

Cooper, the grounds supervisor, is in charge of the living décor at the casino, the thousands upon thousands of plants that dot the grounds and fill beds in every building.

That 12,000-strong installation he just completed will happen three more times in the next year, as the seasons change and the flowers wither. When they come out of the ground, some will go to the compost pile and some will get new homes in other venues around the property. They’ll all be replaced by a new design, planned six or more months in advance.

“It’s a little overwhelming sometimes,” says Cooper, whose background is in landscape architecture. “There’s probably a mixture of tens of thousands of plants. Right now in the hotel alone there’s over a thousand annual begonias. That’s coming probably in a three to five week cycle, constantly changing out.”

Simply put, Cooper is in charge of all the plants and everything that’s outside. He and his crew of seven keep the parking garages clean, the plants watered and growing, the live installations constantly pruned and changed with the weather.

They start at 6:30 every morning, scouring the grounds, looking for things like plant problems and trash and weed encroachment. Everybody has a section and they spend the morning looking for problems and the rest of the day fixing them.

Because of its picturesque mountain setting, it’s almost a challenge in itself to make Harrah’s match the natural beauty that surrounds it.

And with the new expansion, the landscape — in the shape of a rushing creek running through the heart of the hotel and casino complex — is now a part of Harrah’s itself.

It’s Cooper’s job to take advantage of that, working behind the scenes to make the outdoor areas change seamlessly from winter to spring, summer back into fall.

In the sometimes-harsh winters of the Western North Carolina mountains, keeping a lively, colorful horticultural atmosphere is not always easy.

“There’s a lot of science behind it and a lot of study and education behind everything we do,” says Cooper, and then there’s old-fashioned trial-and-error, too.

“It’s a fickle thing,” he says. “Sometimes you think you’re putting them in the right area and then they’re not going to do anything.”

It’s a process of learning things like microclimates — plants plopped down next to a parking garage might as well be in a desert, thanks to the heat radiating from the car-filled building — and color wheels.

Got a red building? It’s best to pair it with whites and yellows. For rust, go with brighter reds.

And then you get creative. What will look lively in the bitter cold of winter? Maybe red twig dogwood; the blooms will be gone, but the deep red branches are their own kind of winter art.

Like any artist, each landscape architect has their own creative flair. Cooper likes going for the big effect.

“I like to do large, vast blocks of color,” he says. “It just kind-of makes a larger impact.”

The impact, at Harrah’s, is key, especially when they’re trying to wow patrons who have frequented the place for years. Keeping it fresh is a challenge on multiple levels, and as the place blossoms into an ever-more-massive resort, it’s the details that will give the biggest impact.

“Because the property is so vast, there’s a lot of areas that haven’t been really detailed in the past just because it is so big,” says Cooper.

You may never see a Harrah’s groundskeeper, but look anywhere and you’ll probably see their work.


Luring gamers to play longer, play harder

Finding a custom fit 2,000 times over

Dishwasher extraordinaire

A masterful game of musical chairs

Go to Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino on any given day, and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a promotion of some kind. You could win a cruise. Or a car. Or $10,000. Or just more chances to play the slots.

At the height of the pre-recession glory days in 2007, the casino was running different promotional ploys to attract customers five days out of seven. These days, it’s scaled back a bit. But the number of ways the facility is trying to bring in potential gamblers is still into the hundreds a year. And it’s Leann Bridges’ job to think up new ways every day.

She is the vice president of marketing at Harrah’s, and she has a team of people who come up with new and different ways to make Harrah’s a more enticing place to come.

“We do a lot of brainstorming,” said Bridges, because it’s a challenge to keep the same product new and fresh.

Gambling, of course, will always attract the committed players. But getting the occasional gambler — and getting them to come back again — is the job of the marketing team. Because, unlike a clothing store or restaurant, there aren’t often new lines coming out and the gambling menu doesn’t often change.

So creativity is paramount for Bridges and her colleagues to get players to spend more and play longer. And they do come up with some interesting ideas. There was a long-running trout challenge for a shot at the $100,000 purse, where players earned points over two weeks of play toward a shot at fishing for the winning trout.

There are cash pots to be won by swiping your casino card, only to see the ante upped — keep the money, try for more? There are retail promotions, car giveaways, vacation getaways. Imagine a promotion, and Harrah’s has probably done it.

Around Bridges’ office, you can see the detritus of promotions gone by. A large disco ball sparkles in the corner, holdover from some past event.

But really, she said, for all the different spins they put on them, those in the business know that there are essentially three types of promotions. And making people think this or that one is special, day after day and year after year, is where the real talent comes in.

“It’s very, very difficult keeping things fresh,” said Bridges. There are some big breadwinners they can fall back on time after time, that people know and look forward too, such as the casino’s long-running take on the car giveaway called Fast Lane Frenzy.

“We have some brand equity in that, but if we tried to run that every single month it wouldn’t be successful,” said Bridges. So on top of that brainstorming, a lot of what they do in her department is borrowing. She trawls the internet regularly, looking for interesting deals.

Every time she hears a commercial on TV offering some new, hot setup or contest, she perks up. Part of the job is hearing other marketing ploys and thinking, ‘I know how that works, and how could we make it work better?’

Just last weekend, said Bridges, she stopped by a Chick-fil-a and picked up some ideas from its current pitch.

And unlike on the casino floor, the house doesn’t always have the advantage when it comes to promotions. What brings people in is sometimes as surprising to Bridges and her crew as anyone else, and much of their success comes from a minutely analyzed process of trial and error.

Say there’s a $15,000 prize giveaway. Analytical programs calculate how many people will be lured to play and how much — an ultimately how much revenue it would generate. Would it bring in enough to make up for the prize payout?

“There a lot of different ways that we can slice and dice the data to tell us this drove people in there, people opted in, there was a high level of interest in this,” said Bridges.

And, as with most business propositions, it’s revenue generation that matters. In the past, that has meant more money and customers in the casino. Until now, that’s been the name of the game: casino customers.

Their base demographic has always been the 55-year-old female slot player, and that was the crowd that the contests, giveaways and sweepstakes were playing to.

But with the massive expansion that’s remodeling the place, the focus is shifting entirely.

“There’s still a lot of people that think we’re just a little slot house. People don’t even know what we are in some cases. So we have that group of people that we need to address and talk to and educate,” said Bridges. These days, the buzzword around Harrah’s Cherokee is resort. Once, they say, we were a casino with a hotel. Now, we’re a resort. And not everyone that comes to a resort even wants to play the slots. At a casino, it’s all about the gaming. At a resort, it’s all about the experience.

So Bridges and her team are changing their game to get those people. What if some people came to Harrah’s and never spent a dime gambling?

That is the new goal.

They’re not leaving their old, core clients behind. And the gambling will always be there. But the new challenge is creating wild and wildly enticing promotions that are still doable.

In the past, they tweaked the contest to the clientele. One game had a giveaway that was valid for only five minutes after the winner’s name was called. Hear your name, you have five minutes to get to the prize redemption window. With that one, Bridges heard complaints because, well, Harrah’s clientele on the whole aren’t exactly young, lithe athletes. They couldn’t make it across the building in time to claim the prize. The time limit will be upped in response.

The same mindset, said Bridges, is what they have to take forward if they want new people to come.

“We are changing everything about Harrah’s Cherokee,” she said. “It’s almost like starting from the ground up. This is going to be a totally new facility, a new experience. And for us, no two days are ever the same.


Gardener sees casino as a canvas

Finding a custom fit 2,000 times over

Dishwasher extraordinaire

A masterful game of musical chairs

Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino towers over the landscape in Cherokee, its three hotel towers only surpassed in height by the mountains providing its backdrop.

The polished product it offers patrons — legal gambling in a refined setting with a high-class feel not found elsewhere in the region — is only a fraction of what happens on the 56-acre footprint that Harrah’s occupies.

Running the operation is a machine, and keeping all the working parts moving 24 hours a day means it must be immaculately oiled.

Laundry for the hotel alone amounts to around 12,000 pounds a day. There is so much, in fact, that it has to be taken to a large warehouse laundry a mile up the road.

The casino and hotel complex has 4.46 miles of walkways and corridors that must be vacuumed and kept trash free. Thousands of windows have to be washed.

Powering the campus is a monstrous feat in itself, and in a non-stop video gambling palace, there can be no such thing as a power outage. The casino employs eight generators, capable 16 megawatts of power. It’s enough power to light up the entire Cherokee reservation. It’s so much power that, on particularly toasty summer days when air conditioners are running full tilt across the state, Duke Energy calls up to ask Harrah’s a favor: can they switch over to their generators to free up power load on the grid?

Speaking of AC, the units that serve the new gaming floor each move 35,000 cubic feet of air every minute — designed to continuously pump out the cigarette-smoke laden air and pump fresh, clean air in.

And how, exactly, do you keep a place with miles and miles of corridors and gaming floors and restaurants and hotel rooms and lobbies full of fresh air?

“We pay for it,” says Norma Moss, laughing bluntly. Moss is in charge of operations at Harrah’s, so she knows precisely which cogs must turn in which wheels to keep things running smoothly.

And with 2,000 employees and a 24-7 schedule, the logistics can be slightly nightmarish, with cleaning being a particular challenge. It seems somewhat uncouth to clean around customers, but the customers never fully leave, so Moss and her team have to get creative in their efforts. On top of that, though, they just put a lot of man hours into it.

“We have people that do nothing but pull trash out of trash cans off the casino floor,” says Moss. “They pull trash out of cans and put in a new liner. That’s their whole job, that’s what they do every day. They’re not reassigned.”

There are people who come in the dead of night to do heavy cleaning in the parking garages. There are people who constantly empty ashtrays.

There is an on-site upholsterer who repairs and replaces the multitude of furniture, from hotel room sofas to stools on the gaming floor. There are people who roam the halls, replacing thousands and thousands of light bulbs.

That alone is a challenge, given the dozens of different light bulb types found throughout the casino and hotel, some highly specialized and very expensive indeed.

Basically, if you see something wrong anywhere in Harrah’s, there are probably people for that.

The place is gargantuan, so there are going to be problems. The goal, says Moss, is not just staying on top of them but staying ahead of them.

Even though there is a specialized job for just about everything — about 250 different job descriptions in all— the philosophy is that everyone should be responsible to the whole thing.

See peeling wallpaper? Tell somebody, make sure it gets taken care of.

Burned out light bulb? Missing trim? Cracked window?

When it comes to staying ahead of the avalanche in a non-stop business, Harrah’s has taken a leaf from the Department of Homeland Security’s book: if you see something, say something.

And it shows in their maintenance record. When things break, a form, of course, gets filled out. When the thing is fixed, the form is closed out. They close about 700 a week, says Moss. There are fewer than 20 that are two weeks old, ever.

It’s how they keep the machine from spilling out into the front of the house, this seemingly paradoxical philosophy: something is specifically your job, but everything is everyone’s job.

Paying no attention to the man behind the curtain is much easier when there are 2,000 wizards running the machine.

Luring gamers to play longer, play harder

Gardener sees casino as a canvas

Finding a custom fit 2,000 times over

Dishwasher extraordinaire

A masterful game of musical chairs


Haywood County is inching closer to exiting the landfill business, with plans to hand over the county’s White Oak landfill operations to a private company who will sell space to out-of-county haulers.

County commissioners will vote next month whether to enter into a contract with Santek Environmental to run the landfill.

The county would pay Santek a flat fee of $127,000 a month to run day-to-day operations of the landfill. Santek would also make money by selling space in the county’s landfill for trash from other places. Trash would only be accepted from other places in Western North Carolina, not other states.

Santek would get to keep the money from selling space in the landfill. If and when the landfill hits a threshold of 396 tons per day — including the county’s own trash as well as trash from elsewhere — the county would get a 5 percent cut of the money made by selling landfill space.

At that point, the county would no longer pay a flat fee and instead pay $22.25 per ton.

Once Santek hits the magic number of 396 tons a day, economies of scale would kick in, allowing Santek to reduce what the county pays to dump its own trash as well as share a cut of the revenue from selling landfill space.

The landfill currently takes in about 150 tons of trash a day from households and businesses in Haywood County. Trash from other places would exceed the county’s own volume of trash if Santek hits the 396 tons-a-day mark.

If hired the company will answer to the county’s current Solid Waste Director Stephen King.

David Francis, the county tax administrator who has also been spearheading the landfill project, laid out the proposed contract with the Tennessee firm at a commissioners’ meeting last week.

The central selling point made by Francis is the cost savings to the county. The county is projecting a yearly savings of $417,136 if Santek takes over the place.

That number includes some operational savings, but also includes about $1.1 million in what they’re calling “capital improvements,” big projects like new truck scales and a new scale house, a wheel wash station and mechanisms to keep the public off the face of the landfill.

In the past, the necessity of such improvements has been debated, but Francis says that he sees the measures, especially those limiting access to the active face, as essentials.

“Putting that drop off there prevents the public going out to the face of the landfill. I think it’s a genuine public concern,” said Francis, who recalled a 2009 incident in which a man died while dumping his trash. “I don’t think it’s a wish list, I think it’s a necessity.”

Of those improvements, the county would contribute $75,000 to the wheel wash, which Francis said will stop complaints from the N.C. Department of Transportation about the trash and mud tracked back into the environment from trucks departing the landfill.

Extra equipment like new heavy machinery and trucks are not included in the calculations.

Though talk of cost savings often means job cuts, county staff said part of the deal with Santek is that hourly employees at White Oak would be offered jobs with the new company at their current pay scale. King would also stay on and other employees would likely be brought in by Santek to make the upgrades and run the dump.

The greatest savings, however, are not in operations, but that day years in the future when the landfill is eventually closed down, said Julie Davis, county finance director.

Closing the landfill and maintaining it for years after its closure is an expensive proposition, and the county is currently on the hook for it.

“Currently, the county has a liability for these costs of over $5 million,” said Davis.

The county also has to pay to expand new sections of the landfill as the existing cells fill up. The county just spent $4.5 million opening up a new section of the landfill.

Under the new contract, Santek would build all future cells to house the county’s trash. And after reaching the 396 ton-per-day threshold, it would be responsible for closure and post-closure costs.

Getting to that threshold, said Francis, would likely take several years of trucking in out-of-county trash, something that raises the hackles of opponents to the plan.


Selling landfill space

White Oak now takes trash from this county alone, but under Santek, any of the 17 other western counties can find a home for their trash there.

Francis and King assured commissioners that the outside trash would be only household and commercial — nothing hazardous, nothing toxic, no construction trash — and nothing from other states.

Opponents to the plan have voiced concern that the county’s landfill — built at great expense to county tax payers — would get filled up with trash from other places too quickly, leaving the county with nowhere for its own trash a few decades from now.

The landfill was thought to have 30 years of life left, and Santek has contractually assured the county that it will still get 30 years out of it.

But the question hanging in the air from commissioners is how is that enforceable?

Santek will give the county up to $1.5 million in performance bonds that they’ll meet that three-decade goal, and the county will likely hire an engineering firm to regularly check that it’s not filling the place too fast.

The concern remains, however, that it would result in a too-little-too-late scenario. Sure, the cash would be nice, but siting the White Oak landfill was an onerous task. Finding another suitable landfill location would be nigh upon impossible, even with a few million in hand.

Francis said they won’t let it get that far.

“We’re going to do this year on year,” said Francis. “One of these things as a county that we’re not going to let happen is get to year 21 and say, ‘Man, we’re out of space.’”

Commissioner Michael Sorrells, however, wanted a clearer explanation of how such a situation would be prevented.

“That’s a very important issue to the public that we are protected in that 30-year life, and I think that probably needs to be explained more thoroughly how that’s going to be done,” said Sorrells.

Commissioner Kevin Ensley questioned the savings to the public. Davis estimated that the county would save $29.1 million at White Oak over the 30-year life of the contract. But would those savings be passed on to the citizens?

The answer was yes and no.

The $92 fee per household tacked on to residential property tax bills each year probably wouldn’t go down. But it probably wouldn’t go up, either.

Francis said that to keep running waste like the county is today with privatization, the cost to households could jump to $150. That, however, includes that $1.1 million in “capital improvements.”

One population who will not be saving in the plan is residents of Waynesville and Canton. Those towns will no longer be able to haul their trash to the centrally-located transfer station but will have to truck it directly to the landfill in far-flung White Oak.

The cost of trucking that waste out to White Oak will now fall on towns. But that will happen whether Santek comes in or not.

The transfer station in Clyde, known as the Materials Recovery Facility or MRF, would still be open to the general public wanting to drop bulky items or metal without driving to White Oak.

County Manager Marty Stamey emphasized that joining with Santek shouldn’t mean giving up total control at White Oak, but he maintained that the county couldn’t continue running it alone without upping the costs for consumers.

“We needed a public-private partnership,” said Stamey. “We didn’t want somebody coming in here and strong-arming us. We needed a good fit and Santek is that good fit for us.”

A public hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, at the next commissioners’ meeting. The issue will likely be voted on at the board’s Oct. 3 meeting.


Want to weigh in?

A public hearing on whether to contract with an outside firm to run Haywood County’s landfill, including selling space in the landfill, will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, at the historic courthouse.


Haywood County business owners who have been dodging the 4 percent lodging tax will now find themselves facing a crackdown, although some dodgers may not even be aware of their crime.

The lodging tax applies not only to hotels, B&B’s and traditional overnight stays, but also to those who rent out vacation homes or rooms for fewer than 90 days.

A flyer will be included in every property tax bill this year explaining the 4 percent tax vacation home owners should be levying and remitting to the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.

Many second-home owners who rent their houses on the side for a little extra money often don’t even know that they have to pay, said Lynn Collins, executive director of the TDA.

Collins and her team trawl Websites such as Trip Advisor, Home and Away, and VRBO, which all advertise vacation rentals, complete with address, photos and customer reviews.

Mostly, when people realize they have to pay, they’re pretty good about getting compliant, said Collins.

Collins calls the push to bring in the money an awareness campaign, but her group isn’t just trying to reach the unknowing. They’re going after folks who have simply stopped paying outright, not only by the standard methods of levying fines but also pursuing delinquents through court.

Determining why business owners don’t pay is a little tricky, especially motel owners who know they should and simply don’t.

“It’s a combination of things. Some of it has to do with the economy, some of it has to do with awareness,” said Collins. “For the people who have perhaps quit paying or quit filing, we don’t know.”

For those who use the economy as an excuse to not pay, the reason falls pretty flat.

“This is not coming out of their pockets,” said Collins.

The businesses are simply acting as a pass-through from customer, who pays the extra tax on their overnight room bill, and remitting it to the TDA.

Many businesses, she posits, may not consider the tourism tax quite as mandatory as across-the-board taxes like sales and income tax.

And, said Collins, the tourism authority hasn’t been as staunch about enforcing the laws in the past, which will now change.

Collins said that businesses who begrudge the tax should recognize that its buying them a range of marketing services, even for small, by-owner vacation rentals.

“They get a free listing on the TDA website, they get a free listing in the TDA visitor’s  guide, they get a free listing in the state visitor’s guide and travel website, so there’s a tremendous amount of marketing being done on their behalf,” said Collins.

Regardless of the benefits, paying up is just the law.

“We’re losing a lot of money and it’s not fair to the folks who are following the law and paying the tax for some of their peers to not be doing it,” Collins said.


After Sept. 11, the nation gave millions in donations to support recovery. America’s kids, meanwhile, gave in the way that schoolchildren do best: they made posters. In the days following the attack, posters and banners pledging moral support and offering encouragement poured into Ground Zero from schools across the country and around the world. At the time, they made their way to St. Paul’s Chapel, a tiny Episcopal church across from the World Trade Center that served as an impromptu triage and relief center in the days that followed.

Now, recreations of those same banners have found a temporary home at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, where they hang as a memorial to the tragedy of 10 years ago.

The exhibition, called “We All Remember 911,” is the brainchild of Jackson County resident Rick “Sharky” Gorton, a visual artist and photographer.

Ten years ago, Gorton was on a tour around the decimated Ground Zero was drawn to the little church that is Manhattan’s oldest public building in continuous use and once boasted George Washington as a member.

He was allowed to photograph the banners and signs, which hung from the balconies in the church.

When the anniversary of the attacks rolled around, Gorton thought there would be no better way to remember than to replicate the heartfelt sentiments of the nation’s children, many now adults.

Gorton, however, didn’t want to settle for just photographs, when the banners themselves were the most impactful. So he reproduced the banners from the photographs, which proved to be a complicated process.

Because Gorton was allowed to shoot only from the center of the church’s ground floor, with no strobe or flash, the perspective on the banners, hanging 20 feet aloft, was askew. The colors were off. The shadows were unclear. But with a lot of time and some technological wizardry, the photos were corrected to near-exact replicas of the banners in St. Paul’s.

They were then sent to a printing company in Durham that transferred the images to linen and sent them to City Lights, where they hang today.

But Gorton wanted Jackson County to be part of the remembrance, too. So a second set of banners was printed, and they’re being sewn into a massive remembrance quilt that will be signed by community members at a special ceremony 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.

Gorton chose a quilt as the local component because it combined the region’s culture with the nation’s sentiment.

“What better than a quilt to represent our area? We’re the craft area of North Carolina. This is our trade and our skill,” said Gorton.

He hopes that, in the future, the quilt will be able to travel as part of a broader remembrance of Sept. 11 and its impact. Its first trip, in fact, will be with the current pastor of St. Paul’s, who will take it on a fundraising tour.

Also on display in the exhibit are photos by Gorton of the many patches, badges, hats and other memorabilia sent to Ground Zero by supporters around the world and photos of peace ribbons mailed in by school children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

Gorton said he wanted to commemorate the event this way to help people remember both the terrible tragedy and the wonderful response.

He said his own mother worked in the World Trade Center, and though she survived, the memory is still powerful for Gorton.

“It just seriously affected me, watching it on TV and thinking my mother died. All I could do (now) was just thank people the only way I knew how,” said Gorton. “The uniting moment I saw in America was the day those towers came down — a horrific way to have a moment of hope and peace — but I wanted to express what I saw to everyone here.”

The banners are on permanent display at St. Paul’s Chapel in Manhattan, and the banner replicas can be seen at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. The memorial quilt will be hung there at 2 p.m. on Sept. 11.


“The first 12 are the easiest,” says Dee Massey, as he rounds the first landing of the parking deck stairwell in Waynesville.

Massey is decked out in fireman’s gear, and he and five other firefighters will spend the next 90 minutes climbing the six flights to the top, coming back down and then doing it all over again.

They are training for the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, a rigorous challenge to climb 110 flights in their turnout gear to honor the 343 first responders who lost their lives at the World Trade Center 10 years ago.

Massey, his son Chris and their friend Ross Escobedo will join more than 340 other firefighters for the memorial climb at various locations around the country on Sunday. They’re headed to Myrtle Beach.

Massey has been training for the event for two months, and he’s right about the first 12. Two trips up and back down the concrete stairwell is deceptively easy, even for these guys, decked out in full gear. With their full complement of equipment, it adds about 70 pounds to their body weight. On the first two rounds, they emerge onto the roof of the parking deck and start doing pushups before making the trip back down.

As time wears on, however, each round up and down gets harder and harder. The weight alone is difficult. The lion’s share of the extra bulk is in an oxygen tank pack, which provides anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes of air, depending on your size and how in shape you are.

It’s about 40 pounds, the size of a 6-year-old, and wears like a backpack, though oddly rigid. A hip belt helps support the weight. It looks like the seatbelt from an old Buick, and after a few flights, it starts to push uncomfortably on the hips.

The real challenge, however, is the heat. Bedecked in fire clothes, the climbers’ skin struggles to breathe, making each staircase a bigger challenge. By the third round, sweat is dripping off the end of every nose. Each trip to the top is accompanied less by pushups and more by short breaks, slouched against the deck walls and soaking in the fresh air.

They’ve started the climb at 7 p.m., taking advantage of the cooler weather that dusk brings. Even in the cool of the day, the un-air-conditioned stairwell can be sweltering, and there’s a wafting stench rounding the fifth landing, which only intensifies with heat.

In this crew, some are in better shape than others. Dee and Chris Massey and Escobedo have been preparing for the event. The other three are just here for the good physical training it provides.

For firemen in rural areas such as Western North Carolina, it’s a kind of training they rarely encounter, but Dee Massey says that the last two months have made him realize that doing drills like this should be a must for everyone in his profession.

“It’s probably the hardest exercise I’ve done, and I run four or five miles every day. Stairs are a little different,” says Massey, who is a professional firefighter with the Town of Waynesville and heads up fire training at Haywood Community College.

He’s been in the business for more than 20 years, and has mostly trained for smaller buildings. Waynesville’s tallest structure is only six stories.

“I never really have trained to go up any higher, but when you start adding 60 and 100 floors to it, it makes you realize you need to be in a little better shape,” says Massey.

The others agree with him, which is why they’re here.

Ricky Mehaffey Jr. is from the Clyde firehouse, and he’s been on the job for 10 years. Too many firemen die, he says, from heart attacks, because they’re not out doing these things.

The Masseys and Escobedo are doing the stair climb to remember those killed by a horrible tragedy. Each will be running with the name and picture of a fallen firefighter from that day 10 years ago.

But training for that has made them a kind of advocate group for preventing more tragic deaths among firemen whose bodies aren’t ready for the strain and heat of the job.

“There’s an average of 100 firefighters a year die in the United States. And the biggest majority of those deaths are due to heart attacks,” says Massey. “So the only thing I can think of is to keep my heart in shape.”

And he wants other firemen to do the same. Today, fighting fire is a brotherhood, and Massey is keen to take care of his brothers.

That, he says, is what Sept. 11 gave the profession; a sense of camaraderie born of tragedy that has lasted for a decade.

“The profession has changed drastically since 9/11,” says Massey. “It’s become a bigger brotherhood.”

Where once, the ties stretched only to your firehouse, now they reach across the country. That shows even here on the parking deck roof, these six guys representing five different fire stations, seven if you count that Escobedo works for three.

The two youngest, Chris Massey and Dustin Greene, became firemen in the post-Sept. 11 era, part of a generation whose childhood was shaped by the event. Massey was 10 when the towers went down. Greene was 9.

The Myrtle Beach stair climb is part of a nation-wide series of memorial climbs, and on Sunday in cities around the country, 343 firemen and other first responders will mount 110 flights of stairs in buildings from Atlanta to San Diego. Some will be in full gear, some won’t. Some will climb all 110 flights, and others will do a fraction of that, to honor their brotherhood, and remember those whose deaths created it.


Principal Chief Michell Hicks won Thursday’s election in Cherokee, becoming only the second chief ever to be elected to a third term.

All incumbents in Cherokee managed to hang on to their seats in the election, signaling that voters believe the tribe is on the right track and hesitant to upset that momentum with a change in leadership.

Hicks barely eked out a victory, however, besting challenger Patrick Lambert, by just 135 votes. But the gap was wider than the slim 13-vote margin Lambert lost by in 2007 when he took on Hicks for the first time.

Hicks believes it’s the advances he’s made and the continuity he provides that won over voters. They ultimately agree, he said, with the progressive track the tribe has been on and the advances it had made in the past eight years under his leadership.

“I think the real scare for people is they were afraid progress would not continue for the tribe and we would step backwards,” Hicks said. “I think that was one of the big decision makers.”

The tribe has built a state-of-the-art K-12 school, an emergency operations center, took over its own hospital, opened a movie theater, developed new parks and greenways, attempted a facelift for blighted commercial strips, and pushed a raft of green initiatives under Hicks’ tenure. It’s also focused on cultural renewal efforts, such as the Kituwah Academy, a school for children dedicated to keeping the Cherokee language alive.

There was no doubt the race would be close, with Lambert actually beating Hicks in the primary this summer. Though Hicks got more of the vote, he and Lambert split the six districts evenly.

In Yellowhill, Painttown and Big Y/Wolftown, Hicks carried the vote. In Big Cove, Birdtown and Cherokee County/Snowbird, the tally swung in favor of rival Lambert.

Stepping down to vice chief, Larry Blythe is back in for another term, beating opponent Teresa McCoy by a mere 76 votes. McCoy, who had 49 percent of voter favor, had challenged in 2007, but lost then as well.

McCoy’s bid for vice chief cost her a council seat. She currently sits on tribal council and couldn’t run for that seat and the vice chief position simultaneously.

Her vacant council spot hosts the only new face with a victory in this election. Bo Taylor will join incumbent Perry Shell in representing Big Cove at tribal council.

Elsewhere on the reservation, the other 11 sitting tribal council members held onto their posts, all with margins of at least 35 votes between the winner and the next closest challenger.

Turn out was average, with 62 percent of the 6,704 registered voters in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians coming out for the election.

During exit poll interviews, few were willing to hazard a guess as to the winner or share their personal leanings.

Many at the polls were tight lipped about who they voted for. One man in Painttown, Bryson Catolster, refused to divulge his choice before walking back to a car plastered in signs supporting Lambert.

In Big Cove, Carol Long cited professional concerns as the reason she wouldn’t open up about her preferred candidate. Long works with a drug and alcohol addiction program in tribal court and must keep good relationships with whomever is in power for her program to be a success.

Her concern is shared by others here, where so many rely on the tribe for jobs, whether it’s at Harrahs’ Cherokee Casino or in tribal government or the many programs it provides.

Margie Taylor would say she voted for Hicks in the Yellowhill community, but the woman who exited the polls just after wouldn’t give her name, even though she said she left the box for principal chief unchecked on her ballot.

With his win, Hicks is only the second chief to serve a 12-year term. He’ll now have to live up to his biggest campaign promise — eradicating tribal debt by 2014.

Hicks had said throughout the election season that he wanted to hold onto the seat to take care of the unfinished business of tribal debt, excluding the ongoing $633 million expansion at Harrah’s.

In addition to paying down the tribal debt, he listed better social services as another priority going into the next four years.

“I want to make sure the social services system is restructured so it truly takes care of Cherokee families,” Hicks said. The tribe currently relies on the Department of Social Services in Jackson and Swain counties to provide child welfare services, including intervening in cases of child abuse or neglect. After the death of a Cherokee child in Swain County earlier this year, Hicks is leading the charge to bring social services under the tribal umbrella.

Bringing tribal services in-house is a currently a theme in Hicks’ administration.

A new justice complex is also on the to-do list this term. Tribal members are now held in neighboring county jails, but the completion of the complex will allow them to stay in Cherokee and get drug and alcohol rehabilitation if they need it.

The center will also house the tribal court, where the tribe is working to get Tribal Prosecutor Jason Smith appointed as a federal prosecutor, too, so more Cherokee cases can stay in tribal hands.

“Our goal is to become self-sustaining and obviously we are well on our way to doing that in all areas,” Hicks said.

Meanwhile, Lambert, who wasn’t taking calls after the results came in, maintained throughout the campaign that spending and debt under Hicks were out of control and not accountable to the people.

“We can do better than we are doing, we can make the tribe a better place by paying down the debt, getting more resources going towards the families,” said Lambert in July.

Hicks wouldn’t say if he’s planning to run again in 2015, but did say he wanted to pass on a solidly positioned government to the next administration.

“In four years, by the time I leave, that is what I want to leave the next leaders is a foundation that is secure,” Hicks said.

The numbers aren’t yet official and probably won’t be until at least Friday.

Candidates have five business days to protest any voting irregularities and two business days to ask for a recount if the results showed less than 2 percent difference.

Only Teresa McCoy could ask for a recount this time. She lost to Blythe by just 1.83 percent. The other 0.17 percent went to the seven write-in votes for vice chief.

Hicks retained his place by a margin of 3.22 percent. There were 80 write-in votes for principal chief.

Yellowhill, Painttown and Big Y school board members were also chosen.

Official results are scheduled for presentation to tribal council on Oct. 5.


Election results

Winners in bold; top two vote-getters win council seats.

Principal Chief

• Michell Hicks: 2124

• Patrick Lambert: 1989

• Write-in: 80

Total: 4193

Vice Chief

• Larry Blythe: 2112

• Teresa McCoy: 2036

• Write-in: 7

Total: 4155

Yellowhill Council

• Alan ‘B’ Ensley: 289

• David Wolfe: 351

• Jimmy Bradley: 211

• John D. Long: 91

Big Cove Council

• Frankie Lee Bottchenbaugh: 190

• Bo Taylor: 230

• Perry Shell: 303

• Lori Taylor: 157


Birdtown Council

• Gene ‘Tunney” Crowe Jr.: 696

• Jim Owle: 691

• Terri Lee Taylor: 420

• Faye McCoy: 112

• Write-in: 1


Painttown Council

• Tommye Saunooke: 346

• Marie Junaluska: 241

• Yona Wade: 181

• Terri Henry: 280

• Write-in: 1


Big Y/Wolftown Council

• Dennis Edward (Bill) Taylor: 525

• Mike Parker: 531

• Dwayne “Tuff” Jackson: 354

• Kathy “Rock” Burgess: 363


Cherokee County/ Snowbird Council

• Diamond Brown: 266

• Adam Wachacha: 285

• Brenda Norville: 163

• Angela Rose Kephart: 211


Terrifying, exciting and kind-of liberating. That’s how Tom Scheve describes the inaugural experience of telling jokes on stage. And usually, he says, you either get it out of your system then and there, or the performance bug gets you.

“We’re trying to develop and encourage people who do it for the first time and try and see who’s going to catch the bug,” says Scheve, which is part of why he’s teamed up with a local comedian who styles himself  Shucky Blue and No Name Sports Pub in Sylva to start an open mic comedy night.

Now, for the budding humorist who doesn’t want to trek to Asheville, there’s a local evening where they can test out their best cracks.

The show is scheduled every Monday night, and beginners to seasoned pros are welcome on the stage, says Scheve. The regular performers, in fact, were one of the biggest factors in the night’s genesis.

“Performers that have been doing it for a while, they want to get on stage every night,” says Scheve, and he’s one of those guys. “I try to perform as much as I can and also build as much stage time as possible for regional performers. And there wasn’t anything close to me on Monday night. The closest one is in Greenville.”

With this new night, he’s hoping to cultivate something of a little comedy scene in Western North Carolina, like the one that gave him his start in Asheville.

That town, he says, now has a pretty vibrant comedy scene, even hosting an annual comedy festival with the appropriately tongue-in-cheek moniker, Laugh Your Asheville Off.

But it started, he says, with a night called Tomato Tuesday, where guests were given tomatoes to throw at a gong when they wanted you of stage.

Yes, it sounds pretty brutal. But Scheve says it was exactly what he was looking for.

Sylva’s evening of laughter may not be quite as caustic, but do expect it to be unexpected.

“This is an open mic, which means no promises, no expectations and it’ll be basically whoever decides to show up that night,” says Scheve. But he kind-of likes it that way, and the impromptu nature of an open mic offers benefits to performers and patrons alike, he says.

For the novices, it can be a try-before-you-buy experience. Not sure if you can hack comedy with a live audience? Then try it on stage for one minute, two minutes. It’s an open mic, so no one will commit you to a longer, more daunting time slot.

For the comedy consumer, variety is the selling point of nights like this.

“It’s just really fun because you really don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Scheve. “If you really hate it, if you wait a few minutes, somebody else is going to be on stage.”

In addition to being a performer, Scheve also writes the Asheville Disclaimer, a satirical column in the weekly Mountain Xpress. Plus, he has experience running shows. He’s at the helm of a similar comedy evening on Wednesdays in Asheville.

And part of making them a success, he knows, is having a good venue on board.

No Name was perfect in that sense. It was actually looking for some help with a comedy evening, and with some assistance from the sometimes-reliable Craigslist, got matched up with Scheve.

Though it’s only been on its feet for a mere two weeks, Scheve hopes that just the night’s existence will entice closet comedians onto the stage, giving them a community where they can hone and cultivate their skills.

“I want it to be a vehicle that kind-of nurtures and develops a little comedy scene west of Asheville,” says Scheve. “The people that want to perform comedy are out there, and they’ve been thinking about it and looking for a chance. I‘m hoping that they’ll come out and give it a try.”


What: No Name Comedy Night

Where: No Name Pub, 1070 Skyland Drive, Sylva

When: 8 p.m. every Monday

What else: Call 828.216.2331 for more information


Electric car owners rejoice. Haywood County may soon be home to two electric car charging stations for the sustainably inclined.

The idea is still in its infancy, but the town of Waynesville hopes to house two of 25 charging stations being set up in the five-county Asheville metro area, a project partially funded through a grant from the state Energy Office. Clean Vehicles Coalition and Advanced Energy are coordinating the grant and are in the process of deciding which locations in the region will get the public charging stations.

If approved, the grant would offer 50 percent of costs for the new technology, up to $6,000 per charging station.

The public parking deck in downtown Waynesville would be an ideal spot for electric car charging stations, according to Waynesville’s Assistant Town Manager Alison Melnikova.

Drivers would be able to charge their cars free of charge — helpful both to tourists traveling in electric vehicles or commuters who want to juice up. The stations also would be available for local governments, should they decide to go electric with fleets in the future.

The N.C. Department of Motor Vehicles expects nearly 12,000 electric vehicles to be on the state’s roads by 2015, with 10 percent of those in the Asheville metro area.

The idea to house charging stations in the parking deck still faces a couple of hurdles.

County commissioners, as the owners of the parking deck, must agree to the location. The town plans to approach commissioners at their meeting next week.

Waynesville and the county have already agreed to share the local portion of the project, including the cost of the match, with each government pitching in half, according to information presented to the Waynesville Town Board last week.

Advance Energy said that decisions on applications would be made by Sept. 9, and if approved, the new stations could be up as early as December.

Melnikova said that final prices haven’t yet been worked out, so just how much the town and county would have to lay down is unclear.

The stations will power cars such as the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. They’re not inexpensive — the Volt will set you back between $33,000 and $41,000, while the Leaf has a price tag of around $37,000 — but their makers tout the significant fuel savings the cars could provide.

The Leaf takes about $1.50 a day to run, says Nissan. And with complimentary charging stations, that cost could decrease.

There are already charging stations at the Biltmore Town Square in south Asheville, built by Eaton Corp., a company in Arden that produces the stations.


Haywood Community College can now boast a national champion after Daniel Jones took the title at the Stihl Collegiate Timbersports Championships in Oregon over the weekend.

Jones defeated five other collegiate champions from around the country. He won the standing block, cutting through a upright log in just more than 30 seconds, and also took first place in the single buck, peeling cookies from a felled 19-inch tree with a large, crosscut hand saw. In that event, he posted a 13.97 second time, which rivals even the speediest professional lumberjacks. His performance there would have won him eighth place in at the professional tournament, which ran alongside the college match.

In the other two events, underhand chop and stock saw, a chainsaw competition, Jones took second.

Jones won the prize with an overall score of 22. Events are judged solely on time.

He isn’t the first woodsman to bring a national title back to HCC. The team also produced a national champion in 2007.

As the only team sport at a college known for its forestry program, HCC has a strong timbersports team, which includes both men and women.

Jones recently graduated with two degrees from HCC, and his top rank at the collegiate final has won him a place on the professional circuit and a few other prizes.

Before the competition, Jones thought he would wait a few years to save for proper equipment before moving into the pro series. He will now be able to make the transition next year.


Business owners in Bryson City’s downtown are following in the footsteps of neighboring towns, attempting to put together their own downtown merchants’ association.

The infant group has been meeting for three months, but hasn’t yet gotten around to structure or membership, two issues that will be instrumental to the group’s future.

Currently, the only group serving merchants is the Swain County Chamber of Commerce. Several downtown business owners surveyed last week for this article said they chamber adequately serves downtown interests and they weren’t interested in a second organization.

Chamber Executive Director Karen Wilmot said that the idea of a downtown association has been tossed around town for years, although she expected it to come to from within the chamber.

“We’ve always hoped that when someone chose to start a downtown merchants’ association that they would choose to umbrella it under the chamber so everyone could stay in the same loop,” said Wilmot. By that she means making the association something like a chamber committee.

But that’s not how they want to do it, said Tim Hall, who runs the Storytelling Center of the Appalachians and is heading the effort.

“I want to be able to work beside the chamber, hand-in-hand with the chamber, but the chamber again is — even though they’ve done a good job on promoting Bryson City as the major city of Swain County — they are still a Swain County organization,” said Hall. “It might not be a bad idea to have two organizations that would work in conjunction with one another, in splitting out some of the responsibilities. The chamber could communicate with the county and then the merchants’ association for downtown Bryson City.”

Several towns in the region have their own downtown organizations, including Sylva, Waynesville and Franklin, that operate in addition to a chamber of commerce.

The challenge of maintaining both a chamber of commerce and a downtown group could prove straining for a town Bryson’s size, however.

Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, said that active involvement from members and a committed point person are key to actually bringing benefits to downtown businesses.

“Someone has to be in charge,” said Phillips. “There has to be a voice and a committee of others in charge, but there still has to be that one person that makes sure that something is going to happen.”

No officers have yet been elected in Bryson City, but Hall said that’s what he hopes the group will become.

A lot of people have ideas for downtown, but no way to get them off the ground.

“Everybody has their ideas, but what we’re wanting to do is take those ideas and have a clearinghouse for them, to work in conjunction with the other organizations in and around Bryson City to develop a cohesive plan,” said Hall. “(We want) to take the input of the merchants, the input of the visitors, the input of the residents and combine them all together.”

A clear mission with clear goals will be key to raise funds or soliciting members, according to Linda Schlott, director of Franklin’s Main Street program, which is run by the town.

“I think when you ask for that money, you really have to have something, a really good plan,” said Schlott.

In Bryson City, there has been no talk of a town-run program, and since Hall and his associates want to stay separate from the chamber, a dues system is one of the remaining options.

They haven’t yet convinced downtown businesses that banding together would be mutually beneficial — they’re touting things like standardized late opening hours, to combat the view that the sidewalks roll up at five o’clock — but some are just waiting for the group to mature before climbing aboard.

Ron Larocque, owner of the Cork and Bean on Everett Street and the president of the chamber, said he was taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Wilmot said the chamber isn’t against the idea, especially if it’s what the town’s merchants want.

“The chamber certainly is not threatened or does not feel antagonistic in any way towards the creation of a downtown merchants’ association,” said Wilmot. “If this is something that our members feel a need for, then we want to be able to fill that gap.”


Election season is closing in Cherokee, where races for principal chief, vice chief, tribal council and school board members will culminate when voters hit the polls on Thursday, Sept. 1.

Incumbent chief Michell Hicks is trying to keep a grip on the position for a third term. If he’s successful, Hicks would be just the second chief to hold office for 12 years.

His challenger is Patrick Lambert, long-time attorney for the Tribal Gaming Commission, which regulates the tribe’s gaming operations.

This is the second round between Lambert and Hicks, who sparred in the 2007 election. That race had a contentious ending, with Hicks besting his opponent by only a handful of votes. Though Lambert challenged the outcome in the tribal court, the count stood and he was put off for another four years.

But unlike 2007, Lambert won the primary earlier in the summer, taking 46 percent of the vote. Hicks garnered 40 percent of the roughly 3,000 voters who turned out.

At the time, Hicks said he was confident in his voting base, especially given that only around half of registered voters cast ballots in the July primary.

In the vice chief race, it’s another rematch. Larry Blythe is running to maintain his seat, while current council member Teresa McCoy is trying to take his job after a loss to Blythe in 2007. She took the primary, with 39 percent of the vote. But Blythe wasn’t far behind, taking in 36 percent.

The issues that have defined this election centered around Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino, the tribe’s central money-making venture. Questions about the economy, fiscal responsibility, diversification and services to tribal members all eventually came back to the casino, and what it was doing for the tribes 13,500 members.

Per capita checks, the payouts given annually to tribal members from casino revenues, were down this year, and some questioned the wisdom of continuing to pin the tribe’s financial hopes on Harrah’s alone.

Whoever wins the post on Wednesday will deal not only with falling revenues and a still-unfinished casino expansion, but also the impending negotiations over live dealers.

Gamblers at Harrah’s currently don’t enjoy the casino experience that Las Vegas patrons do; the tribe’s contract with the state doesn’t allow table games such as craps and roulette or live dealers at poker and black jack tables.

Last week, two top Republican state senators travelled to Cherokee to discuss the idea of Vegas-style gaming there.

The General Assembly has already pledged to vote on the issue in the new legislative session that starts Sept. 12.

The new principal chief, however, would still have to navigate negotiations with Gov. Beverly Perdue, and such talks can at times be tricky.

The last attempt to bring live dealers to the casino stalled after negotiations between Chief Hicks and then-Gov. Mike Easley disintegrated. At various times throughout the campaign, Lambert has charged that Hicks mishandled the situation.

Polls open at 6 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 1, and close at 6 p.m. Registered voters who are in line at 6 p.m. will be allowed to vote.


Maggie Valley Alderman and motel owner Scott Pauley is leaving his post, pushed out by the region’s sagging economy.

Pauley tendered his resignation on Aug. 23, effective that day.

He is the second alderman to resign the town board this year, following Colin Edwards’ departure in February because of a disagreement over what he felt was subpar oversight of the town’s liquor stores.

Pauley, however, is bidding not only the board, but the town, farewell.

He, his wife and daughter are moving back to Virginia after a string of tough tourist seasons made it impossible for them to stay.

“We’ve been struggling for a while trying to do what we could to stay in the valley,” said Pauley.

But this was the worst year in three for the Lowe’s Motel, which the family has been running. They have lived in Maggie Valley for just over six years, and Pauley has been on the town board for two.

He said that he regrets having to leave the board and the town, and that his decision isn’t political, just financial.

He even intended to run for mayor before the scope of the economic situation became clear.

But when he realized a move was imminent, he stayed off the ballot.

The remaining members on the town board will vote on Pauley’s replacement.

Though two of the four aldermen seats and the mayoral spot are up for reelection this November, whoever is chosen to fill the vacant seat will get a free pass in November. Pauley was not up for election for another two years, and his replacement will serve out the remainder of that term.

It’s possible some of those on the ballot could put in a bid for the vacant seat hoping for a direct route to a seat on the board.

Town Manager Tim Barth said the process for replacing Pauley has already begun. The town is currently taking applications, with notices being posted in newspapers and going out on the town’s e-mail list.

Anyone interested in the seat has until Sept. 13 to apply, and although the timeline for appointing a new member isn’t set, it will likely be within the month. Each candidate must be interviewed by the whole board, and depending on how many hopefuls turn out, it could take a while.

When Alderwoman Danya Vanhook was appointed to Edwards’ vacated seat in March, there was some contention among board members about how to deal with filling the opening. The original deadline for applications was extended because some board members felt there wasn’t enough time for everyone to express interest.

That raised the ire of Alderman Phil Aldridge, often at odds with the rest of the board. Aldridge felt there were plenty of applicants, but the rest of the board just didn’t like the choices.

This time, however, Aldridge didn’t have a gripe against the process as yet, though he did say he was not sorry to see Pauley go. The two engaged in a heated public exchange earlier this year over the town’s ABC board and the performance of ABC Chairman Ralph Wallace.

Pauley’s wife, Dorene Pauley, is also vacating a public position as a planning board member.

Pauley said he’s proud of his time in Maggie Valley and hopes to return one day.

“I always wanted to retire here and I can’t ever rule it out, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do for your family,” said Pauley. “We just regret leaving. Maggie’s a beautiful place, has got great people and I’ve enjoyed serving.”


In an out-of-the-way room on the ground floor, seven congregants of Longs Chapel United Methodist Church in Lake Junaluska gather around two beat-up tables. It’s Sunday School, a staple of Protestant church life, and there are thousands of groups just like it meeting around the country right now.

The room, even, is like any other Sunday School room. Battered rocking chair, metal folding chairs, a nondescript bookshelf or two.

The goal, though, is different.

They’re here trying to do something that few Americans have done: read the Bible — the whole thing, Old and New testaments — in 90 days.

Today, the topic is Genesis and parts of Exodus, and it’s a little controversial even among this group of professing Christians, many longtime churchgoers.

“I don’t like all the animal sacrifices,” says Kim Mullholland, a mother and full-time speech therapist who says she’s been in church her whole life. “It’s something that’s innocent, that’s what bothers me.”

Andrew Cooper also has some reservations. He’s much older than Mulholland, but is himself reading through the entire book for the first time.

“I’ve got a lot of questions now about this same God,” says Cooper. “I don’t know about all that.”

There isn’t much reliable data to show how many Americans have ever gotten from Genesis to the last page of Revelation. But there is a plethora of studies that tell us that, on the whole, even those who say they’re Christians are ignorant of most religious texts, the Bible included.

A 2007 Gallup poll showed that 60 percent of Americans don’t know who gave the Sermon on the Mount. Roughly the same number couldn’t name all four gospels.

A 2010 study by the Pew Research Center showed that nearly half had never heard of Ramadan and 61 percent couldn’t identify the Biblical character Job.

Among Christian subgroups, the stats weren’t much higher, even for the most basic doctrinal questions.

That, says Teressa Spencer, is the whole point of her church’s Bible in 90 Days initiative.

Spencer is director of ministries at Longs Chapel, and she’s been trying to get a read-the-Bible program going there for years.

“It just became really obvious to me how many people in worship spaces had not read the Bible,” said Spencer. And after enough talking about it, one pastor finally gave her a hand, finding a curriculum from Bible-publishing giant Zondervan.

It’s called, aptly enough, The Bible in 90 Days, and the Bible it’s using looks much more like a hardback self-help book than Bible.

It’s meant to be that way, says Ted Cooper. He is the guy who started the program by simply reading through the Bible in 1999. It wasn’t quite a literary exercise, but it was close.

Cooper was agnostic, and decided to read the Bible as a matter of interest, not devotion. So he got a large-print Bible and started on page one.

“I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to read the Bible just like any other book,” says Cooper. “I didn’t know that if you were going to try to do that you were supposed to do that over a long period of time.”

Back in the Sunday School room, that’s one of the obstacles that these regular churchgoers are tripping over. Though they study the Bible, they do know that few read through it like a novel. And most Bibles aren’t as reader friendly as novels, either, with their leaf-thin pages, copious footnotes and inches-thick bindings.

“Most people that try to read through the Bible bog down in Leviticus and lose it. Don’t be one of them,” says the smiling speaker on the study video that accompanies the course.

In much of his publicity material, Cooper highlights a stat from a 2007 study that says 72 percent of Americans would like to read the entire Bible some time in their lives.

But the problem many run into when trying is that, though they’ve long self-identified as Christians, what they find in a straight read of the Bible is at the very least unexpected and probably either loathsome or tiresome.

“I started reading and I was just appalled at what was in it,” says Cooper of his first read through. “It just had all these rapes and murders and disembowelments.”

He used to come home, he says, and read particularly shocking passages to his wife, both laughing in disbelief.

It did change his life, though. He changed from agnostic to Christian and decided to help other people read the good book, not necessarily with an eye towards conversion, but just because it’s a good idea.

“We do not say,‘Oh gosh, if you don’t come out of this thing as a believer, then you’ve failed,’” says Cooper. “Our goal is to help people read it, all of it, and we kind of think God can do the big stuff.”

Personal religious convictions aside, a survey of university professors across the ideological spectrum found that knowing the Bible is educationally helpful.

“I can only say that if a student doesn’t know any Bible literature, he or she will simply not understand whole elements of Shakespeare, Sidney, Spenser, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth. One could go on and on,” said Robert Kiely, a Harvard English professor, in the study by the Bible Literacy Project.

The numbers from that study showed that 92 percent of his colleagues agreed, which makes sense, given even a cursory look at art and literature.

Take Absalom, a minor character from the Old Testament. He murdered his half-brother, attempted to usurp his father’s throne and was subsequently killed when his own hair hung him in a tree. He appears for a few chapters in 2 Samuel, yet there are references to him in poetry, music, art and even William Faulkner used the allegorical theme of son revolting against father in his seminal Southern Gothic novel, Absalom! Absalom!

The utter lack of biblical knowledge is somewhat surprising, given that the Bible is the No. 1 bestselling book of the year. Every year.

Selling the Bible is a big business — Thomas Nelson, one of the largest Bible producers, was sold for $473 million in 2006.

Reading it, it seems, isn’t.

Cooper, however, has had success in every state and several countries largely, he thinks, because his program turned the Bible into a book again.

Ninety days, he says, is doable. There’s a light at the end of that tunnel. If you take a year to read any book, for most people, failure is almost a foregone conclusion.

The other key to the program’s success is doing it with other people. Because, Cooper says, the Bible is actually a fairly shocking book.

“Somewhere between 65 and 80 percent of our typical groups have read not very much of the Bible before they do this. Those people are encountering a God that they don’t know, and in many respects they don’t want to know. It’s disturbing to people,” says Cooper. “So if they don’t have anybody to talk with and process with, if you don’t get to share those emotions, either you quit or you feel defeated.”

So, like Mulholland and Cooper and their compatriots, readers get together. They talk about it.

When the 90 days concludes, Cooper says most people have made it through the entire Bible.

“We don’t have to convince people that they want to do this,” says Cooper. “We just have to convince them that they can do it.”


Pat Smathers is what you might call a born politician.

His first campaign was pitching Terry Sanford’s 1960 run for governor and John F. Kennedy’s bid for the White House. He was posted on a busy corner in downtown Canton by his politically active father, bedecked in a vest adorned with campaign buttons and matching straw hat.

“I was 6 years old,” recalls Smathers. “They had me standing out, handing out campaign literature, I guess because who’s going to be mean to a kid? That’s the first time I really understood politics.”

Today, Smathers is a lawyer, with an office on Main Street in downtown Canton, and on the waxing end of his 12-year tenure as the town’s mayor.

He has seen the small mill town through epic floods of 2004, a buy-out of the paper mill, the town’s centerpiece and largest employer, and more recently, an economy trending decidedly downward.

He’s leaving office to tend to his law practice, which he now shares with his son, and devote some time to the renovation of the long-vacant Imperial Hotel, a downtown icon whose restoration he’s bankrolling.

Though his political life may have started at the tender age of 6, his career in politics got off the ground in the mid-1980s when he won the post of chairman in the Haywood County Democratic Party.

After that, he held various party offices and following an unsuccessful bid for state senate in the ‘90s, he started his stint as mayor in 1999. He also ran as the Democratic candidate for the lieutenant governor position in 2008, which he lost.

He didn’t really intend to be the mayor, or indeed stay the mayor for more than a decade, says Smathers. But he really loves the town. He just couldn’t say “no.”

Sitting in his office, it’s easy to see that Smathers is truly proud of Canton, and he knows how to work that angle. He’s a seventh-generation Haywood Countian on both sides, and he’s got the black-and-white family photo hanging above a leather couch in his office to prove it.

The glad-handing required of any politician came easily to Smathers, and from the beginning he saw himself as a salesman, with Canton as his product.

“The role of the mayor is really principal spokesman for the town and the promoter for the town,” says Smathers, who looks the part of a quintessential Southern lawyer, complete with summer seersucker suit.

He’s spent the last 32 years as a lawyer, salesman of a point of view, and it has helped him in his role as town promoter.

One of his main jobs, as he saw it, was going to a lot of meetings. State meetings, regional meetings, local meetings, economic development meetings — if there’s a meeting, Canton should be there.

“You need to know what’s out there. You need to know what’s going to be happening five years from now. If they’re talking about plans for economic development or things that may be happening, you need to be there to say, ‘Hey look, what about putting that in Canton?’” says Smathers. In other words, it’s his job to be perpetually on the hard sell.

And that he was, which didn’t always make him popular. He’s quick to say that he came to the job with an agenda for changing the town, and that didn’t always sit well with some.

Some of his projects, such as better power poles in town, came to fruition.

“We could’ve won a contest for the ugliest power poles in the state. They were horrible,” he says with disdain.

Others, like a major visitor’s center on Champion Drive or a leg of the Great Smoky Mountains Railway, did not. When the county was embroiled in a debate on where to build a new courthouse, batting it from one site to another, Smathers didn’t pass up the chance to suggest “why not Canton?” — even if it would mean designating Canton as the county seat instead of Waynesville.

His prowess at politicking, however, did come in handy during one of the town’s darkest times: the floods that inundated it in 2004.

Thirty-six hours of rain from Tropical Storm Frances slammed the town, leaving it largely underwater. Nine days later, Tropical Storm Ivan brought another deluge. The mill closed, the sewage plant failed and wastewater flowed into the Pigeon River and through town. Every downtown building was filled with a layer of destructive water. Town facilities alone, says Smathers, sustained $10 million in damage.

“I was terribly concerned,” he says, remembering that time. “A lot of people — probably most of the people in Canton — don’t realize what a perilous situation we were in. We could’ve been a ghost town.”

Of his long mayoral career, he pinpoints that catastrophe as the nadir.

“That was probably the most difficult time, I think, for me as mayor was that period of time during the floods,” says Smathers. “I go back and look at it and try to figure out how I got through all that. It was hard. I was just being pulled every which way. I must have been running on adrenaline 24 hours a day.”

Not only were the floods an unmitigated disaster, but he was also studying for his master’s in strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College and mourning the death of his mother.

Still, though, his propensity for promotion won through. He saw the flood as a tragedy, yes, but also as a way to get a lot for Canton that it would never otherwise get.

When politicians in Raleigh called on him to pitch Canton’s need to the state and the nation, he saw his moment.

“I went down there and I stated the cause,” he says, and he brought home a lot of money not only to fix the millions of dollars in damage sustained by the town and its businesses, but fix other infrastructure problems and set the stage for Canton to emerge from disaster into a new era of economic development.

Smathers has a way of speaking in talking points, directing the conversation to highlight his favored themes and not letting the topic drift until he’s hit his key premises. He starts a lot of sentences with, “well, number one….” It’s a practiced rhetorical technique that has no doubt served him in the courtroom and behind the mayor’s desk in times of crisis.

Longtime Waynesville Mayor Henry Foy offered his town’s support when its neighbor disappeared underwater.

“He was mayor of Canton during its most critical times, the most critical situations that I can remember in my lifetime,” says Foy. “He had the flood and he had the restructuring of Champion (paper mill). Those were very critical issues for Canton and I think he did an outstanding job.”

Smathers himself attributes much of Canton’s success in recovery and growth to the town board, town manager and state representatives. And he hasn’t always gotten along with the aldermen, having seen three very disparate sets of elected leaders pass through town hall over the last 12 years.

“I think over the years, we’ve had some very frank discussions on the board about various issues,” says Smathers. “But you can’t take things personal. Nobody is going to agree with me all the time, and I’m not going to agree with everybody else all the time.”

To those who lament Canton’s decline since its mill heyday, Smathers aggressively pitches a more optimistic view. It has long been one of his goals to get young people to come here and come back after college or job training. And, he claims, it’s happening.

“Yes, we’ve lost a lot of businesses, but look, Canton is growing. People don’t realize just the changes that have occurred. Not everything has been successful, there’s been some things we’ve tried that have not worked out. We started on a very active self-improvement plan, and we did some things just to show people, well, you can change.”

Charles Rathbone owns Sign World WNC, one of the businesses that’s popped up since Smathers took office.

“Pat Smathers has always shown that he had Canton in his heart,” says Rathbone. “And you know, a lot of times a lot of the ideas that he had were not well-accepted by the different board members, but he was always looking to improve the image of downtown Canton.”

Smathers has struggled to bring back the once bustling town, where downtown was flush with grocers, dime shops, hat and shoe stores, watch repairmen: all the trappings of healthy, small-town America. Finding a new downtown economy has been his goal, and the number of filled storefronts these days shows success in that direction.

Reflecting on the last three terms, his major regret, says Smathers, is that he didn’t write more sympathy cards when long-time community members died.

The community — its history and tradition particularly — do genuinely seem to be in Smathers’ heart, pumping through his blood.

He’s vacating the mayor’s chair, yes. And his office will now just be the seat of Pat Smathers, lawyer.

In the November election, his name won’t be on the ballot. Mike Ray, a former town alderman who served with Smathers is running unopposed and will take up the mayoral torch.

But, says Smathers, don’t be fooled. He’s not going anywhere, and he hopes to still be involved in public life, just from the other side.

“It has been very rewarding to be the mayor, it’s an honor. If you take a small town like Canton, especially for someone like me who grew up here, the people in this community know me, they know the good and they know the bad,” says Smathers, by way of goodbye to his constituents. “Everybody has warts. And if the people that know you best are going to let you serve for 12 years, it’s an honor.”


Cherokee tribal elections are little more than a week away, and with the economy topping the list of major issues, the salaries of tribal officials are raising eyebrows and some ire on the reservation.

Both candidates for principal chief have stumped relentlessly on debt-reduction and spending-control platforms.

Whoever wins, however, will enjoy a sizable paycheck and a generous, lifelong pension, despite enrolled members seeing their per capita checks decline last year because casino profits were down.

Current Principal Chief Michell Hicks enjoys a base salary of $142,458, plus a car and an extra 30 percent of his base pay in fringe benefits, such as health care. That adds up to a total compensation package of about $185,000, not counting the car.

Vice Chief Larry Blythe is paid $129,896, plus given use of a car and 30 percent in fringe benefits, like the chief. Total, the vice chief earns nearly $169,000.

If challenger Patrick Lambert wins the top post, however, he’ll actually be leaving a much more lucrative position.

Lambert is executive director of the Tribal Gaming Commission, which makes sure the tribe’s gambling operations, whether in the casino or tribal bingo, are on the up and up.

The TGC regulates gambling licenses, monitors casino payouts to ensure compliance with federal regulations and provides other oversight, such as background checks into managers and internal investigations.

Lambert’s base salary this year was $250,000, according to a gaming commission budget provided to The Smoky Mountain News. When you add in the fringe benefits, bonuses and vacation pay, the total comes to $446,355.

Lambert said that weighing his salary against the pay of public officials isn’t a fair comparison. Elected tribal leaders are public servants, while he is in the gaming industry, he said. It’s business versus government, and the two will never be equal, he argued.

“It’s no secret that I make a substantially larger amount than the chief does, and my salary is graded on a national comparison level with my years of experience and qualifications,” said Lambert.

Lambert believes his opponents are publicizing his pay as a tactic to divert public attention from what he considers the real issues of the campaign.

Lambert’s pay doesn’t come directly from the tribe like the principal and vice chief’s salaries.

The gaming commission gets its money from the businesses it’s regulating: it is funded by the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise, the management entity that oversees Harrah’s operations. To a lesser extent, the commission is also funded by the Tribal Bingo Enterprise and revenue generators such as background checks and license fees that it charges the gambling operations.

Indirectly, however, both salaries spring from the same fiscal headwaters: gaming revenues.

And both are significantly higher than the average in Cherokee.

In Jackson and Swain counties, which the reservation straddles, the median household income is $36,761. Statewide, it’s $43,754.

Principal Chief Hicks makes more than North Carolina’s governor. Lambert’s base pay surpasses that of the vice president of the United States.

Lambert’s compensation is based on the results of a tribal pay scale study done every few years by an outside firm, which looks at comparable jobs around the country and what people in those posts are paid.

The principal chief’s salary is decided by tribal council. Tribal council also vote on their own salaries ($70,000 a year each), and that of the vice chief.

It’s difficult to gauge whether Hicks’ or Lambert’s incomes match comparable positions elsewhere. Salaries in the private gaming sector aren’t public information, and a good many tribal governments don’t offer that information up, either.

A few tribes do have pay stats out there, mostly as a result of a public row over whether the pay is too high.

The principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma currently makes $122,444, but a committee suggested this spring that the number be raised to $170,697 over the next four years. The Sisseton–Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota pay their top guy $80,000, decreased from $100,000 just this year.

For Lambert’s position, it’s even harder to determine. He maintains that a fair comparison would pit him against people such as Darold Londo, general manager at Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino. Londo’s salary isn’t public, and neither are those of many other top gaming officials, making the suggested comparisons impossible.

Recruiting firm Bristol Associates does an annual survey of gaming executives, and it reports that top spots in gaming can bring from $100,000 to $400,000 on average.

Lambert defended his pay, and said that if he won the chief’s seat, he wouldn’t keep his current job or the salary that comes with it.

“I’m a licensed attorney, I’ve got over 18 years of experience in this field, and we’ve been very successful. And the pay classification study proves that out,” said Lambert. “To me, if a man’s willing to take a cut in pay to do public service, to me I think that’s a good sign.”

Tribal council members also will have to defend their pay to voters. Their $70,000 annual payout far surpasses the $13,951 made yearly by North Carolina state legislators. In fact, only three states pay their lawmakers as much. However, it’s far below the $174,000 paid to members of the U.S. Congress.

Tribal council isn’t allowed to raise the pay of a sitting council; they can only decide what the next council should make. Usually, those raises are given in the October lame-duck council session.

Council Chairman Jim Owle wouldn’t speak directly to whether he thought the council members’ salaries were fair.

“The pay is what it is, it’s set by tribal council. It’s something that’s voted on in council, and if they think that’s what’s right, that’s what’s voted on,” said Owle, noting that any tribal member could bring a resolution to change it if they were unhappy with the pay.


Pensions for life

Salaries aren’t the only benefits afforded to tribal officials. Starting at age 50, all former chiefs, vice chiefs and tribal council members are afforded a pension that can be up to half of their in-office salary, depending on how long they served.

Tribal council in a split vote in 2009 made the decision to increase pension benefits, a controversial move in the midst of a recession.

Should Hicks lose the election and leave office, when he hits 50 in three years he’ll start getting a pension that’s worth half of his salary — or $71,229 a year for the rest of his life.

The chief’s spouses is also entitled to a lifelong pension if the chief dies, equal to a quarter of the chief’s last salary for two-term chiefs and an eighth for one-term chiefs.

The vice chief’s retirement plan follows the same rules as principal chief.

Tribal council members don’t get quite as much. When they hit 50, they’ll get between 12 and 75 percent of their salary depending on how many years they served.

Winners of principal and vice chief, the 12 tribal council seats and some school board positions will be decided during the Sept. 1 election.


In 24 seconds flat, Daniel Jones can chop through a 13-inch white pine log, perched atop it and swinging his sharpened ax in a downward arc into the braced timber.   

That, at least, is the kind of time he’s going for.

Today, he’s standing on a much harder poplar round behind his coach Jimmy Lawrence’s house. There’s a whole setup of timber-cutting apparatus out there, training grounds for Jones’ upcoming run in the collegiate championship of the Stihl Timbersports Series.

Jones just graduated from Haywood Community College, where he was a member of the timbersports team. His competition record this year was good enough to advance him to the national final in Oregon this week.

Timbersports isn’t exactly a household word, but woodsmen hacking away at logs or frantically sawing cookies from felled trees might seem a little more familiar, thanks to ESPN.

Getting ready for practice, where he’ll run through his four events — underhand chop, standing block chop, cross-cut saw and chainsaw — Jones suits up in chain mail to protect his legs and steel-toed tennis shoes.

Is the chain mail really necessary?

“Well, one of the professionals, he actually almost cut his calf off,” replies Jones.

So that would be a ‘yes.’

But, say Lawrence and Jones, injuries like that are pretty rare.

Part of that must be because the dangerous work is over so quickly. In the upcoming competition, Jones will be going against five other competitors and what counts is time and time alone.

In the chainsaw event, for example, he must saw two platter-sized cookies from a four-inch section of log. And it’s done so quickly that if you turn your head, you’ll miss it.

That’s not to underestimate the physical ferocity Jones has to bring to the practice. He’s no small guy, and after leaping back and forth astride that block, he’s well out of breath, and it’s clear that he’s using every stroke as efficiently as possible.

“That’s the first thing you’ve got to break everyone of,” says Lawrence, who coaches the HCC team. “Everybody tries to swing as hard as they can.” And that might be how you split firewood, but it’s not how you win.

Some of his team members, says Lawrence, have been chopping wood since childhood. Some have never touched an ax. And since it’s the only team the college has, it’s pretty popular. But everybody essentially starts on equal footing; no one comes in as a high school star.

Part of what Jones likes about it is the heritage behind it. Timbersports were born in logging camps, and they have a working history that few other sports share. Although Jones wasn’t an avid chopper before he joined the team, there was some foreshadowing that he might end up here.

“When I was little, me and my brother would go out in the woods and chop trees down and pick the biggest one we could, see how we could get them to fall,” says Jones.

Asked if he’ll continue on into professional competition circuit after this, he says he’d like to, thought it’s a bit of a financial hurdle.

A good ax can cost hundreds of dollars. A good cross-cut saw, with its long, wobbling blade, can run into the thousands.

There are only a few firms in the world that produce them, and each tooth is hand-filed.

But if he wins this week, he’s got an automatic spot in the pro tournament. It’s not something he could make a career of, but he hopes it’ll still be a part of his life.

“Even in the professionals, you don’t make a lot of money,” says Jones. “You just do it for the love.”


U.S. Senator Richard Burr, R-N.C., didn’t don kid gloves when addressing a cross section of Haywood County business leaders representing agriculture, tourism, banking, construction and professional sectors last week.

“Here’s the hard, cold reality. We’ve got to cut an additional 6 trillion in spending. That’s to get on a glide path so that 30 years out we can balance our budget,” Burr told about two-dozen businessmen at a private lunch at the Waynesville Inn.

The magnitude of what must be cut is staggering, and the results won’t be pretty, Burr said.

But, Burr said this juncture provides a rare critical mass to reform the corporate and business tax structure, something he hopes to see passed by Congress in coming months.

“All the tax loopholes, all the credits, all the deductions — gone,” Burr said.

Bad news for big corporations, but great for small business owners like those in the room, Burr said.

Burr sympathized with those who have fruitlessly tried to borrow capital to expand their businesses in recent years.

“You almost walk away and say ‘Gee, they’d lend it to me if I had enough money to where I didn’t need it,” Burr said.

But don’t blame the local bankers, Burr said. They are merely acting on orders from the banking regulators harping on debt-to-capitalization ratios.

Meeting with Burr was a little like sitting down with an economic analyst. He talked about currency and trade, foreign investment, the still frozen credit market, lack of capital, sovereign debt, how a new tax code could effect business’ bottom line. Europe’s financial crisis perhaps topped the list.

“Dominoes will fall from what happens in Europe. Nobody is smart enough to know what they are going to hit,” Burr said.

Burr was quick to joke and banter with those at his table as they introduced themselves.

“I should have given the caveat that for any brokers in the house, don’t trade based on my predictions. I don’t even take my own trading advice,” Burr told Larry East, financial advisor with Wells Fargo.


Food stamps and food pantry vouchers are finding their way into the farmers markets in Jackson and Swain counties, putting local produce into hands of the needy who are often quick to cut healthy, but more expensive, fresh fruits and veggies from their diets and budgets.

The Bryson City Food Pantry is in its second year of a program called Farm to Family, handing out $5 vouchers to the weekly Swain County Farmers Market. The initiative started with a surplus of funds that the food pantry needed to spend.

Because the pantry’s premises are pretty tight, it had never been able to offer produce before. There was no refrigeration for it.

So when the idea was floated that the money be put toward the farmers market, it seemed perfect.

“I mean, we could have given them vouchers to go to the grocery store and find produce,” said Renee Mulligan, who helped start the program, “but we wanted to support the local farmers.”

Mulligan now works for Cherokee Choices, a health program with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, but she used to be a cooperative extension agent, where she helped get the idea going.

For families who visit the food pantry, what they’re getting is dry or canned goods and many can’t afford to buy fresh produce.

“For health and disease prevention, it’s extremely important, but it’s also a matter of access in rural areas,” said Mulligan. “It’s important for them to have access to fruits and vegetables in a way that’s convenient.”

With that in mind, the food pantry gives out the vouchers on Friday, the same morning that the farmers market is open just down the street next to the old courthouse.

There, under a smattering of canopies, farmers and crafters set up to peddle their products each Friday in season.

Don and Belinda Carringer said that they’ve been pretty pleased with the new customers they’ve gotten through the program. They sell produce at markets in both Swain and Macon counties.

“We love the program because it’s great for us and it’s great for them, they get fresh produce,” said Don Carringer.

The vouchers are only good for fruits and vegetables, not fish, meat or other market wares like crafts.

Carringer said his patrons with vouchers seemed happy to be able to get their farm-fresh produce, and Belinda said that she often provides recipes to voucher customers, giving them ideas on using what they’ve just bought.

That’s another problem that’s plaguing the country’s low-income families.

“People who aren’t used to having those kinds of things in their diets might not know what to do with those or how to prepare them,” said Amy Grimes, executive director of the Community Table in Sylva.

Her organization has a garden worked by volunteers who give a third of its bounty to the Community Table, which shares the yields with clients who come to them in need of food.

Now, they’re also taking donations from the Jackson County Farmers Market, where vendors can deposit their unsold produce that might otherwise be on the compost pile at the end of a selling day.

The Community Table is working the fresh food into the hot meals it serves, as well as packing it in the boxes sent home with locals strapped for food.

Grimes said she’s seen an increase in interest from her clients in the produce, and in learning how to prepare and serve it.

She hopes that by next year, she’ll have classes running to teach those skills.

Whether it was on the old-school food pyramid or its more modern, streamlined offspring the food plate, we’ve learned since childhood that fruits and veggies are foundational for a healthy diet.

The plates of the needy, however, are far less likely to play host to leafy greens and other garden bounty.

Earlier this year, the USDA released a study that proved what community workers like Grimes have seen firsthand: the closer a family comes to the poverty line, the less they spend on fruit and vegetables.

Americans who make 300 percent more than the federal poverty level — that’s around $66,000 for a family of four — will spend about 50 percent more on fresh produce than families at or just above the poverty line.

“It’s stuff that’s pretty expensive to buy in the store,” said Grimes. “I mean, avocados are two for $5 now.”

Besides what it’s sending to the Community Table, the Jackson County Farmers Market is also opening another option to people who perhaps couldn’t ordinarily afford its local, organic fare.

After a multi-year effort, the Jackson market will soon be able to accept food stamps. An EBT machine, which reads the electronic debit cards issued to food stamp recipients, will be set-up at the market.

“It’ll provide an avenue for people who need it to be able to purchase fruits and vegetables that are fresh and local,” said Jenny McPherson, who manages the Jackson County Farmers Market.

In Swain County, the voucher program is proving to be a win-win for all parties, said Christy Bredenkamp, the extension horticulture agent who is running it in partnership with the food pantry.

“We’re worried about food security in Swain County and really in Western North Carolina. There’s a lot of people who are really struggling financially and the quality of their food is really not as good, so this is a way for them to get fresh produce that’s more healthy for them,” said Bredenkamp. “And the vendors like it because it’s extra income for them, and they’re tapping in to customers they wouldn’t otherwise do.”

In just the first year, they handed out nearly 600 vouchers, and 73 percent were actually used. Similar, federally funded farmers market programs only had a redemption rate of around 60 percent, said Mulligan, who considers the program a success.

In its second year now, organizers hope it will continue to support local growers, who took home an extra $2,150 last year from the vouchers. They’re currently looking for other sources of funding to keep the program going in the future.


Dancing has been a part of Native American culture for centuries, as celebration or grief or worship or even warning. But a central venue for those dances has only been a few years in the making.

The Festival of Native Peoples is unlike anything else in the Native American dance world. It brings dancers from tribes around North America to Cherokee, where they spend three days dancing, spectating and interacting with other dancers and the public.

There are, of course, Indian dances called powwows held year round all over the country. They’re fiercely competitive and titles from the events are coveted honors.

But, said Robert Jumper, manager of travel and tourism for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, they wanted this to be different.

“We actually looked at powwows as kind of a model, but powwow dancing is more of a competitive dance, and it is strictly dancing for the purpose of competition,” said Jumper. “We knew because of Cherokee culture that dance was much more than that to Indian cultures. We wanted to be able to present that in a format that people could come and see not only the Cherokee culture, but the diversity of Native American culture through that venue.”

And it is an experience different than any powwow in the country, according to Daniel Tramper.

He should know — Tramper is a fancy dancer, chicken dancer, and three-time world hoop dance champion. He’s been frequenting powwows around the world for years as a Cherokee warrior dancer and he also helped start the Festival of Native Peoples.

“It’s really just a different atmosphere at the Festival of Native Peoples,” said Tramper. “We’re not there to compete, and at any type of competition, you kind of get that intensity. But here at the Festival of Native Peoples, you don’t. Everybody’s there to experience a good time, to enjoy, to learn about new cultures and learn about new friends.”

Actually, he said, he’s made good friends from other tribes that he’s still in touch with through the festival.

He and his son have been able to visit tribes in upstate New York and join in their private dances thanks to connections they’ve made at the festival.

Besides the sense of camaraderie that the festival promotes, both Jumper and Tramper say that one of its biggest draws is the little-known cultural niceties that don’t always come out in competitive dancing or the one-off dances that show up at special events.

“Many of the dances are reenactments of what they do as far as their cultural identity as tribes at home,” explained Jumper. “Like the western tribes are hunters, nomads mostly, the woodland tribes like Cherokee, we were farmers so we didn’t have teepees or tents, so there’s a great difference in the way we lived. And when they act that out in their dances, there’s a variety of hunting scenes and living scenes. They tell stories in their dance.”

This year, the festival will feature tribes from Mexico, Alaska, Arizona and other places around the country. Organizers try to bring in different tribes each year to give audiences a diverse taste of the deep and varied tradition of Indian dance from year to year.

There is one group, however, that has returned to the festival time after time. Their popularity is such that two performances have been scheduled to satiate audience appetites for their daring feats.

They are the Totonac pole flyers, and as part of their traditional rituals, they climb — sans ropes or harnesses — to the top of a towering pole before swinging and spinning from its height’s on handmade rope swings.

It’s a heart-stopping and crowd-pleasing display, said Jumper, and one that’s done with completely traditional equipment.

The pole itself, in fact, took some research by Jumper and his colleagues to procure. It’s something akin to a telephone pole, but can’t have any of the chemical treatments doused on most telephone poles.

Eventually, Jumper said they found the perfect pole in Mississippi. But the Totonac aren’t they only group with unique, traditional accoutrements.

The groups bring their own musicians, and many of the instruments are handmade by the musicians themselves from natural materials.

“Sometimes the instrument is so unique that no one else could make them even if they wanted to,” said Jumper.

It’s things like that which make the Festival of Native Peoples a singular and rich experience for spectators, who may not have other opportunities to interact with native cultures.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” said Jumper. “You would have to go, really, all over the country to see this, and you get to experience it in one place in a couple of days. It would take you months if you try to go to their homelands and see this happen.”


Festival of Native Peoples

The festival will run from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Aug. 26 and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 27. Tickets are $10 per day and children under 6 are free. There will also be food, Native American and otherwise, and crafts and jewelry that the tribes will be displaying and selling.


Weary of criminals languishing in the system before finally facing their day in court, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians hopes to forge a new partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s office, getting their own prosecutor into federal court.

Tribal council this month called on the U.S. Attorney to deputize Cherokee’s tribal prosecutor as a Special Assistant United States Attorney, allowing him to pursue cases in federal court, where many of the more serious crimes committed on the reservation end up.

“It would provide them with a prosecutor that can handle those crimes that occur here, regardless of what kind of crime or where it happened,” said Jason Smith, the tribal prosecutor.

When someone commits a crime in Cherokee, bringing them to justice as a complicated process. Jurisdiction on the reservation can be labyrinthine.

Was the criminal a tribal member? Was the victim? Was it a major crime? Did it happen on the reservation?

It’s so complicated that Smith created a chart to remind him whether an offender should be prosecuted in tribal court or, if they’re not a tribal member or the crime is major, in federal court.

Under the current systems, prosecuting those deemed federal cases fall to the U.S. Attorney in Asheville. But the problem is that he can’t get to them all, and there are some — small-time white collar crimes and the like — that can take a lot longer to reach and fall into a sort of grey area on what cases the feds pick up and what they don’t.

So tribal members who are victimized by non-tribal members — a non-Indian husband abuses his Indian wife or child, for example — they’ve got to rely on the federal court to get their case heard. And it could take a while.

Smith hopes that, if he’s appointed as a special U.S. Attorney, it’ll help move those cases through more quickly. It never hurts, he posits, to have someone with a little more local knowledge and vested local interest following a case through the court system.

“It would help in terms of having closer knowledge of the cases that are going on in tribal court and in federal court,” said Smith. “Despite our best efforts, I don’t always know what’s going on in Asheville with federal cases, and they don’t always know what’s going on in Cherokee with Cherokee cases.”

Cherokee isn’t the only place with these problems. Tribal lands all over the country are faced with the same quandary, any many are in a more precarious situation.

“It’s a bad problem here, but it’s much worse everywhere else,” said Bill Boyum, chief justice at the Cherokee tribal court. By comparison, he said, the situation here is great.

Boyum pointed to tribes out West, some with reservations as large as states, that have one or two federal prosecutors trying to take on every case from an area far too massive and unwieldy for just one person.

“It’s kind-of inherent in the system,” said Boyum. “You would never have that in a state court. You have a state court in every county.”

And over the last year, special U.S. attorneys have been appointed all over the country to deal with the problem. The impetus was a big piece of federal legislation called the Tribal Law and Order Act. Among other things, it recognized that there is problem, and though the law didn’t require special U.S. Attorneys for tribes, it strongly recommended them.

In North Dakota, special U.S. Attorneys were appointed as part of a bigger push to build trust in tribal law enforcement that was waning. Elsewhere, they’ve been appointed just to deal with the growing backlog of cases that harried prosecutors don’t have enough time to handle.

The Eastern Band has been having conversations, both in the government and the community, about what a boon this would be to the effort to decrease crime on the reservation.

But they’re still waiting for the federal government to act.

Don Gast, the U.S. Attorney in Asheville who handles Cherokee cases kicked to federal court, said that he wasn’t ready to comment on what Smith would do, if appointed, or how the system would work — who would take which cases, how would cases be prioritized?

He did, however, say that his office is working on a decision. He’ll be making an official announcement “in the near future,” he said, but didn’t specify when.

If he is appointed, Smith said he would probably need another hand or two to keep up with the tribal caseload. He stepped up to lead prosecutor from the assistant prosecutor role when former tribal prosecutor Roy Wijewickrama won a spot as a district court judge last November. His former post still hasn’t been filled.

Smith has been using contract lawyers to shoulder the caseload, but taking on federal cases, too, would probably create the need for more contractors or another prosecutor altogether.

He’s waiting for the official announcement, though, before thinking too much about its ramifications. Being deputized to try cases in federal court would be better for the tribe, even if someone else had to be hired to pick up the slack in tribal court.

And now it’s just a waiting game, while the U.S. Attorney’s office decide if they’ll honor the tribe’s request.


First Macon County, and then Jackson, built big, beautiful, new libraries over the past five years. Now, it seems, Swain County residents — who are part of the same three-county Fontana Library System — believes it’s their turn to take a ride on the new library train.

Ron Dubberly, a library consultant who advised on both Macon and Jackson’s facilities, was sanctioned to do a study of how much library Swain needs to serve the county for the next two decades. He spelled out his findings in a report to county commissioners: the 7,000-square-foot library is half the size it should be to serve the county’s future population.

“If you build a library now, you would need a plan for expansion,” Dubberly told Swain County commissioners and an audience of 25 last week.

And after assessing the Marianna Black Library in Bryson City, holding public input meetings with library users and interviewing staff, that was one of the report’s central tenets: it needs to be bigger, with more space to meet and gather for programs and lectures.

“The major spaces that you need are comfortable seating in busy and quiet areas, ergonomic computer workstations and chairs, and lots of electrical outlets that are very accessible because things are changing. Increasingly people are bringing their own devices,” said Dubberly. “I think we’ll all see hard copy books around as long as we’re here … but library use is growing and people are using the spaces for community spaces.”

Right now, the county’s library is a modest 7,267 square feet, which is 37 percent below the minimum state standard — which recommends two-thirds of a square feet per person. So if the county is planning on a new library, Dubberly suggested looking for about three acres of land to do it.

But finding that much usable land in downtown Bryson City is something of a problem. Because that was the other major recommendation — that the library be in town, easily reached by pedestrians, and have adequate parking.

“Anything’s possible, but it’s not that easy to come up with three acres of flat property inside the city limits,” said County Manager Kevin King.

King said the county has been talking to Fontana Regional Library about a new library in Swain for about eight years. And the question of where has always been an issue.

Now that the report has put in writing what has been bandied about in the community for years, library advocates are hoping it will light the fire for fundraising in the county.

“I know that there are people who will step up to the plate when the fundraising starts,” said Jeff Delfield, the county’s librarian. And they have two shining examples of that, in Macon and Jackson counties.

While money to build the libraries came from county coffers, Friends of the Library groups raised all the money to furnishing and outfit the library, from computers to book shelving.

In Macon County, fundraisers reached their $1 million goal by going after grants and seeking a broader base of small donations.

“I felt that there were probably 100 families that could give $1,000, so we just started making lists and I would average calling 10 people a day,” said Roberta Swank, who headed up the fundraising efforts for the Macon County project.

In Jackson County, they reached their $1 million dollar goal and decided to keep going, eventually bringing in $1.8 million towards the furniture, fixtures and collections.

Mary Otto Selzer led that effort, and her group took nearly the opposite approach to Macon. They went after the big fish first.

“Our goal was to have half or two-thirds of our goal obtained before we went out to the community,” said Selzer, who came to the position after a successful finance career in New York and London.

And although both neighboring counties were successful in their efforts, even with different approaches, their victories shared a common birthplace — a building.

Both funding campaigns really grew legs and took off in the community once a location was identified.

In Jackson County, Selzer said the building itself was really the centerpiece of the fundraising campaign.

“I think one of the key elements to our success is that probably our most beloved structure that has become kind-of a symbol of Jackson County was the historic courthouse (where the new library is housed),” said Selzer. It was the vision of that structure in people’s minds that opened their wallets. “I really think that in this case, a picture was worth $1.8 million.”

Though Macon didn’t have quite such an iconic structure to market, having a location and a building — the certainty that money was going to an actual library, not just a library fund — helped.

“We had the land and commissioners had committed to building the building,” said Swank. “We wanted to be able to look people in the eye and say ‘if you give me $5, that $5 is going to go to the library,’” she said.

And that’s a problem in Swain County.

There is a space that could be used for the library, next to what will soon be the business education and training center on Buckner Branch.

It’s technically within the city limits, and even though King said a path could be created from downtown to the spot, most would put it outside the realm of true walkability. Somewhere like the Buckner Branch site, however, might be the most feasible.

To go along with the problem of land is the underlying problem of funding.

There’s no county money set aside to buy land or build anything on it.

“We don’t want land to be sold, we want land to be donated, for a possible naming opportunity,” said librarian Delfield. “We can’t rename the library, but there’s still other huge naming opportunities. I don’t think the county’s going to be able to just buy land that they don’t already own.”

Another option is that they simply ignore some of the recommendations in Dubberly’s report. Their successful neighbors did.

In Jackson County, the report suggested that the library be closer to Sylva’s retail corridor, where Lowe’s, Wal-Mart and Ingles populate a short stretch along N.C. 107.

And despite a tug-of-war over the library’s location that lasted more than a decade, a narrow majority of county commissioners eventually opted for a downtown spot.

In Macon, they took many of the suggestions and put them into practice. Others, they ignored.

“We followed some, but sometimes what you would like to have and what you can afford are two different things,” said Swank.

Talks between the library and commissioners have been under way in Swain County for more than eight years, but this is the first report to identify actual needs.

So getting a building on the ground will probably still be a good few years off.

“We need to find out what is actually attainable based upon the recommendations. That’s what we’re investigating now, after these reports have been done, what did the other counties do?” said King.

The report, though, is a step in the right direction. And in the meantime, as Commission Chairman Phil Carson said after hearing Dubberly’s report, if anyone’s got any land for a library, just give the commissioners a call.


The state will not investigate the death of Jessica Martin, who died last week after collapsing in a holding cell at the Haywood County Justice Center.

“The State Bureau of Investigation is not planning to open an investigation at this time, given the results of the autopsy,” said Noelle Talley, a spokesperson for the N.C. Department of Justice, in a voicemail message.

The autopsy report hasn’t been completed or publicly released, but Talley said the justice department received preliminary information that helped them make their decision.

Martin died on Aug. 10 at MedWest Haywood after emergency services were called to the courthouse around noon that day, but no cause of death has yet been released.

Haywood County Sheriff Bobby Suttles said that Martin had been seen, at least once, by the nurse kept on staff at the jail before she was sent to the courthouse to await her appearance. The nurse determined that Martin didn’t need to go to the hospital.

Martin fell ill before making it to the courtroom, and life-support measures were started when the ambulance arrived.

Martin was a 20-year-old Haywood County native and Pisgah High School graduate who was in the county’s jail because she didn’t show up for a court date in late July.

The charge was a holdover from her sole conviction, a 2008 drug paraphernalia charge, to which she pleaded guilty.

She was given a year of unsupervised probation and ordered to pay a fine of $331. But she never paid, and then missed both resulting court dates, in February and July.

She had been in the jail for five days before her death, and Suttles asked the SBI for an investigation.

“That’s just standard procedure for us,” said Suttles. “Not every time, but almost every time, we request the SBI.”

Martin is survived by a two-year-old son, Dillon, as well as her mother and several grandparents, all of whom live in Haywood County.

Her father, who operated heavy machinery for a local construction company, died last year.


There’s a new term coined by the federal government for places with low income and little access to quality food. It’s called a food desert.

And Maggie Valley is sitting right on the edge of one. The town doesn’t really qualify for the low-income component, but anyone who lives and works there will tell you the food access part is spot on.

However, if the town gives its nod of approval, that situation might improve.

A grocery store could be setting up shop on Soco Road, to the delight of residents who currently trek to Waynesville when the pantry runs dry.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Jeannie Shuckstes, a Maggie Valley dweller. “Anything to help the economy of Maggie I know is a plus, and everyone has to go into Waynesville to do any sort of shopping.”

She works in Waynesville, but lives in Maggie Valley, so she can hit the store on the way home from work without a special trip. But retirees, those who both work and live in the town and the tourists who populate the valley’s many vacation cabins, must venture out every time they need anything more than a loaf of bread or some lunch meat.

The town won’t be getting a shiny new Ingles, Bi-Lo or Food Lion. The proposed shop will be a locally owned endeavor housed in the cabin that was once the Bear’s Den restaurant.

There have long been rumors swirling that a big chain was eyeing the small town, said Nathan Clark, Maggie Valley’s planning director. But a smaller store with local appeal is just as good, he said.

“You have an entrepreneur like Ms. Weinstein coming in here trying to help the community, I think it’s going to be a really, really nice thing,” said Clark.

The aforementioned Ms. Weinstein is Bari Weinstein, the woman behind the new store.

Formerly, she ran the Bear’s Den in the same location. Now, she’s clearing out the tables and installing aisles, hoping to accommodate a request that she’s heard floating around the valley for years.

“My customers who are locals and my tourists customers have always said ‘Where’s the grocery store, why don’t we have a grocery store?’” said Weinstein. So after her restaurant closed its doors, she thought this was the year to fill that niche.

At first, she said, she’ll stock the basics and rely on her customers to fill her in on what they want and need.

That more personalized service, combined with the improved proximity, she hopes will bring her new venture success.

It’s the closeness, though, that’s the real selling point of the idea.

The closest actual grocery store is Ingles on Russ Avenue in Waynesville, and from the center of Maggie Valley, it’s a little more than eight miles, about 20 minutes one way, and the trip is much longer for those who live further along Soco Road or in one of the many circuitous subdivisions that pepper the valley’s mountainsides.

That means that even the most cursory jaunts for the essentials can take upwards of an hour.

There are a few closer options, the most comprehensive being the Dollar General that sits on the very edge of town, at the intersection of Jonathan Creek and Soco Road.

“That place, it’s the busiest thing that I see out there anymore,” said Shuckstes, when asked where she can go in town to pick up a few grocery items. “They’re doing great business.”

And in fact, that’s pretty much how Dollar General has made its money around the country, posting up in tiny communities with little in the way of retail other than fast food or gas stations, including Bethel and Beaverdam here in Haywood County.

But their business isn’t strictly food, and as a discount store, their offerings are constantly in flux.

A few convenience stores on both ends of Maggie Valley give their patrons a cooler or two of more substantial food than is usually found in a gas station — a gallon of milk here, some cold cuts and bread there. And in season, Duckett’s Produce has a well-stocked stand with a bounty of farm produce.

But as far as dedicated grocery stores go, Weinstein’s competition is nonexistent.

Some residents remember an A&P supermarket that once served locals and tourists, but it’s been gone so long the years have faded into one another. Did it close 10 years ago? Maybe 15?

Weinstein hoped to have the new, as-yet-unnamed establishment open by Labor Day, but fears she might be hamstrung by paperwork.

She does plan to have it open this autumn, though, and she’s hoping that the town will see the benefit her business would be to the valley.

“You know you have to listen, you can’t just hear, you have to listen to what your community wants,” she said.

For years, residents of Maggie Valley have been asking for a grocery store. And this year, they might finally receive.


There are a lot of things associated with the words “high school football.” Three-a-days. Pep rallies. Weight rooms. The quarterback sneak.

Summer reading club isn’t usually one of them.

Coach Sam Pattillo, however, would beg to differ. He is the head football coach at Swain County High School, and every one of his players has been in a summer reading group for the last three years.

He’s not just going along with a program that someone else came up with, either. The reading was his idea, and he’s the one pushing it with his players.

“It’s building that relationship with our teachers and [the] expectation that academics is first, athletics is below that,” said Pattillo. He wears a lot of other hats at the small school, but he’s known first, at school and in the larger community, as the football coach, and a good one. The students respect him and that’s helped in getting them on board with the unorthodox program.

“Males tend to process things differently, and we tend not to take the time to read like we should,” said Pattillo. “We started it in order to put a focus on literacy and to establish some value for reading. It’s all before school starts, and basically a part of that too is to get them started thinking about school, being together as a team going through this process.”

In the summer before practices begin, the players are given books and Kindle e-readers to get a jump on the material.

The coaches read the books with the boys, and they get helmet stickers for doing well in the program, just as they would for making crucial plays or excelling in practice.

On the reading end of the program is Dawn Gilchrist-Young, the head of Swain High’s English department.

She’s in charge of the books, the post-reading questions players answer and the discussion groups they have after.

The success of the program, she said, is somewhat hard to gauge. One of the defining characteristics of a high school is that the population is different every year. So with new kids always moving in and out, pinning down how much good extra summer reading is doing is a bit tough.

But the message the program sends, she said, is a success in itself.

“Since football gives Swain County something to kind of hang its hat on, having the football team do a summer reading program tells the whole county about what we’re doing here,” said Gilchrist-Young.

The idea being that if Swain is a football county, it’s significant to have the football team saying it’s a reading county, too.

“What you’re saying is academics are important and it’s what will see you through.”

Both coach and teacher say they’ve seen a positive response from the players, even if some are reluctant at first. And, Pattillo points out, this is not what’s normally on the menu for high school football practice.

“It actually is a paradigm change, because it’s not all football,” he said.

“It’s a big deal to ask a kid who is not necessarily interested in taking AP [advanced placement] classes to do summer reading,” adds Gilchrist-Young.

By now, they’re accustomed to what’s coming in July. The second year of the program, the chosen book — Friday Night Lights — was requested by a few players who said they’d like to read it.

While the immediate goal of the program was to get books into the hands and minds of more students, the end game is a broader, more macro approach.

What’s the final goal, asks Gilchrist-Young?

“That all of our students go to Ivy League schools and then come back and commit themselves to the betterment of Swain County,” she said, smiling. “Or another ideal would be that they read to their children, love the tradition, have a kid on their lap at night, reading a book.”

That long game is an approach being taken by not just one teacher and one coach, but by the school system as a whole.

That’s where Steve Claxton comes in. As the community schools coordinator, one of the things in his charge is promoting reading in schools.

“We thought, ‘Well, how early can we start?’” said Claxton. The answer:  “Well, when they’re born.”

The school system partnered with Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva, where most Swain County families go to have their babies. Now, every Swain County child born in that hospital goes out into the world with a book.

The system is using the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a program founded by the buxom country beauty to increase childhood literacy.

Through the program, the brand new babies leave the hospital with their own copy of children’s classic The Little Engine That Could, and they’re then mailed a book a month for the first four years of their life.

By the time they get to kindergarten, Swain County’s 2030 graduating class will all have a personal library that’s 60 books strong.

For kids who were born a little too early to catch that train from birth, the school system went into preschools around the county and offered the program to families.

This year, it cost a little more than they anticipated, around $8,000.

“We have 467 preschoolers in our county, and they [the program organizers] said to expect about 50 in the first year,” said Claxton. But they had 277 sign up. “We’re already halfway through our entire preschool population.”

They also bring high school students into preschool classes as readers, promoting literacy in students on both ends of the educational spectrum.

In addition to building libraries for preschoolers, the school system is giving parents the tools to know what to do with them.

They’ve produced two brochures — one for supermarkets and one for hiking trips — that teach parents how to make reading a part of both situations with their little ones. They’re also working with families who might not be able to read to their children, to foster early reading skills and help parents’ reading abilities, too.

“We have parents in this county who are illiterate. They can’t read to their kids. So we work with our siblings,” said Claxton. “They can take a book home that’s age appropriate for their siblings so they can read to them at night. That’s helping both kids.”

Most of these programs have only been going for a few years, but with the aggressive stance the schools are taking on reading, Claxton, Gilchrist-Young and Pattillo are hoping they’ll prove their value in the smarter more literate kids walking out the school’s doors. The programs are designed not only to get kids reading today, but to imbue them with a love of reading for years to come.


A family whose land was seized last month by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will now have their day in court, after they lodged a protest with tribal council last week.

The tribe had reclaimed the land, citing a technicality in the landowner’s will. The will lacked two signatures.

Tribal council voted 10 to 2 last month to take back the land. But the family has come forward with new evidence, an affidavit by a person they say was a second witness to the will. In light of that, Tribal Attorney General Annette Tarnawsky recommended that the issue be moved out of the political arena and into the legal system.

“I would request at this point, if that affidavit is being used as new evidence, I would request that a court rule on this,” said Tarnawsky, noting that there is case law in North Carolina that has dealt with similar issues.

But tribal council still spent more than an hour deliberating and debating the issue before finally deciding to absolve themselves and send it instead to tribal court.

In that hour, it was not only the issue itself that was debated, but a slew of other problems that it illuminates.

Several members returned to this month’s session complaining that they had little time to look over the documents of the case before they had to vote. The case had 12 pages of evidence, but those packets were only given to council members a few minutes before the vote.

“My concern is that council acted without looking at the information,” said Big Cove Council Member Teresa McCoy. “It’s a dangerous, dangerous thing to do.”

Snowbird Council Member Diamond Brown voiced a public apology to the family for the quick decision made last month. He voted to reclaim the land in July, but changed his opinion after speaking with the family and getting more information.

Even Principal Chief Michell Hicks stepped in to the council house to weigh in on the touchy issue.

“There has got to be a process that clarifies the specifics of the will,” said Hicks. “We’ve got to get that in place. We don’t want to see any family in this situation, but our duty is to uphold the law.”

Hicks added that, in this particular situation, he thought it deserved a hearing.


Tract of value to the tribe

The land in question is a 200-acre tract in Cherokee County, which just so happens to be adjacent to land the tribe bought last year to build a secondary gaming establishment.

The tract is part of the reservation, and like all reservation land is collectively owned by the tribe. But land rights can still rest with individual tribal members, and in this case the land rights belonged to Gladys Wright until she died in 2009. She thought she left those rights to her four children.

While Wright was an enrolled member, her children don’t meet the blood degree. They were entitled to land rights for the remainder of their lifetime only, and after that it would have  reverted to the tribe anyway.

However, when the chief asked Tarnawsky to buy the property for the tribe for the proposed gaming establishment, that’s when the will was examined and the questions over its validity emerged. Those questions, in turn, made it impossible to buy the land since it lacked clear title.

“I would have loved to have bought this property and not had an issue,” Tarnawsky said.

And that brought up yet another issue: the absence of legal counsel at tribal council.

Tarnawsky is the attorney general for the tribe, but she answers directly to the principal chief.

Painttown Council Member Terri Henry pointed out the inherent flaw in that system — what happens when tribal council needs its own legal advice? What if the advice it needs conflicts with what the chief or the rest of the executive branch wants?

“We essentially have a person who reports to him [the chief] standing up and advising the council,” said Henry. “We do not have a lawyer in this chamber to represent and report to the council.”

And, she concluded, they need one.

After the lengthy deliberations had concluded, however, the council made only one decision: to allow Gladys Wright’s four children to defend their mother’s will in tribal court.

And out of that single decision came a host of new issues that are sure to resurface in the future. As it turns out, the rules determining what makes a will valid or invalid aren’t exactly clear.

Although the Cherokee Code defers to state law for declaring a will valid or invalid, the Cherokee Charter, which legally trumps the code, doesn’t.

And then there’s the tradition of oral wills that is longstanding in Cherokee and has before been recognized by tribal council. The tribe also accepts wills from other states, where the rules might be different.

That lack of clarity, said Tarnawsky, makes the whole situation murkier and brings to light a larger issue that, she said, the tribe needs to deal with.

“It really needs to be a decision of council and a decision of the Cherokee people what you want to do,” said Tarnawsky on the broader issue of what constitutes a will.


The bell has just rung on the next round in the fight between Duke Energy and the Swain County residents living under its newest transmission lines and gargantuan metal towers.

Last week, the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission held a public hearing in Swain County to hear arguments from both sides on whether the power company was unreasonable when they erected 141-foot steel towers where once there were only 60-foot wooden poles.

“I’m sitting outside now, drinking my coffee, looking at the first tower that is about 100 feet from my front deck,” said Jennifer Simon, who is surrounded by the towers that dwarf her mobile home. “Four or five more towers are in my viewshed and the base of the closest tower is actually wider than my home.”

Simon is part of a grassroots group called Citizens to Protect Kituwah Valley and Swain County, and they’ve been protesting the line and it’s companion substation since work started on them more than a year ago.

The group started out charging that Duke needed a permit  from the utilities commission, along with public hearings, before proceeding with the new lines.

Duke claimed a permit wasn’t necessary, deeming the project a mere upgrade to existing lines, but residents called it a brand new project, since it put up 92 new towers, miles of new cable and upped the voltage running through them from 66 kv to 161 kv.

The citizens lost on that count. The Public Utilities Commission ruled in April that Duke was within its rights to change the line, moving within land they already had.

But now the issue is back, and the citizens — having conceded one loss — alleged that even if the power giant could put up the lines, they way they did it was out of line.

“I think generally their behavior in the process of doing this has been unreasonable,” said Paul Wolf. Wolf lives under a nest of towers. He can see 10, he says, from his front porch.

Wolf takes issue with where the towers were built, how the Duke’s contractors behaved and how the towers showed up in the first place.

His central complaint is against Duke’s contractors, who he said used his land as a bathroom.

“I’m personally outraged that these guys came and have been openly defecating on my land because they didn’t even bother to bring port-a-potties with them,” said Wolf.

That, plus the location of one tower next to his children’s play area and the fact that he said he was never notified — he came home to his neighborhood one afternoon to find towers going up before hearing the news from Duke — said Wolf, add up to the textbook definition of unreasonable.

The energy company, however, counters that it’s followed strict procedures for the project to make sure everything was above board.

“We had folks that actually made phone calls and personal visits and actually reached out to make contact to everyone who was along that route,” said Jason Walls, a spokesperson from Duke’s Charlotte office. As far as any contractor misdeeds, Walls said Duke dealt with them as they arose.

The dispute over the line and its components has been ongoing for nearly 16 months, starting with a protest from both the citizens group and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians over the location of a substation. Duke was planning to put it at a site overlooking the Kituwah mound, a location that’s central to Cherokee history and spirituality.

After some negotiating — and after the Swain County commissioners stepped in to block the move — the substation was moved elsewhere.

An official decision in Tuesday’s hearing probably won’t come down until the end of the year, said Sam Watson, general counsel for the Public Utilities Commission.

When the commission does, eventually, find for one side or the other, it’s not cut-and-dry what the result will be.

“The commission has a broad range of alternatives available to it, ranging from the relief requested by the complainants to nothing, as Duke has suggested is appropriate,” said Watson.

That means that Duke could, on one extreme, be forced to take down the entire line or move or modify towers or other equipment. Conversely, no action would force the citizens to live with the decisions Duke has made.

Either side can appeal the decision to the N.C. Court of Appeals.

Jennifer Simon said she’s concerned that the three-hour hearing was nothing but a formality.

“I don’t know that there’s any options on the table,” said Simon. “I think that this hearing was truly just an exercise of formality. I don’t know that we’re really being presented with any options.”

One option, however, that affected homeowners do have before them is civil court.

Throughout these proceedings, Duke has maintained that that would be the right venue for a large chunk of the complaints against them. The Public Utilities Commission can’t make decisions on financial losses. So for those, like Wolf and Simon, who claim their property has been irreparably devalued by the 13-story towers, the civil court is where they need to go.

And several in the citizens group aren’t ruling it out, though they still hold out hope that the commission will get the towers off their land before they have to take it that far.

But beyond the questions of financial damage and reasonableness, some are also questioning the necessity of such massive quantities of power in a sparsely populated rural area. Duke’s service area stops at the state line, for now, so the power pulsing through the new line will serve Swain County, Cherokee and parts of Franklin.

Walls said that this upgrade is necessary to keep steady power flowing to the region, particularly to Cherokee, where a sizeable casino expansion is sure to draw a much larger electrical load.

“We truly believe that upgrading this line and doing so in the way that we are will serve this region with reliable electricity for years and decades to come,” said Walls.

Paul Wolf and his neighbors, though, still contend that, though the lines might be necessary, Duke’s behavior wasn’t. And vital or not, they’d like it moved somewhere else.

“The first day they installed the tower above my house I stopped and broke out laughing because I didn’t want to cry. It was just so hideous,” said Wolf. “Even if they have the right to do all this, did they treat me rightly and fairly as a landowner? No.”


Farming is not an easy life — the hours start early, the labor is pretty backbreaking and success often depends on the vagaries of weather. One factor, however, that’s been working in the farmer’s favor is the recent trend in local food.

With farmers markets popping up across the country, and campaigns like Buy Haywood and the statewide Farm-to-Fork initiative encouraging consumers to patronize local growers, small farmers are tapping local markets where they can share their bounty. The Center for Environmental Farm Systems estimates that they’ve funneled $6.6 million dollars back into local farms in the last year alone through their 10 percent program, which urges people to buy 10 percent of their food locally. And they’ve only got 324 businesses signed up.

But there’s one segment of the farm population that isn’t jumping as readily on the local, straight-to-consumers bandwagon: dairies.

It would seem like a natural progression, especially in this area. The Southeast drinks more milk than anyone else in the country, so why not buy it from the dairy next door?

The simple answer is cost. But the factors that play into that are far less simple.

“It’s just a lot more complicated once you get into it,” said Ronnie Ross. He runs Ross Dairy in Haywood County, and the farm has been in his family for 45 years. “The equipment is really expensive, and you would have to have someone full time, someone really competent full time, to manage the other end of that, the marketing and the selling. Unless you went into it in a big way, I don’t think it would be cost effective. I think you would be losing money, a lot of money.”

For a regular farmer to sell their produce to neighbors or friends or farmers market customers, the regulation is pretty low level. In fact, in North Carolina, it’s nearly nonexistent. If you want to sell your produce, you can set up a stand and do just that.

For a dairy, the regulations are infinitely greater.

Diaries on the whole are heavily regulated, requiring testing and licensing and paperwork at the state and federal level. But those selling to the public require a whole other raft of costly licenses and equipment.

Peter Jackson has seen that problem firsthand. He is the executive director of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, and he’s been working with and surveying dairy farmers in the region for years.

“You know, we’ve been losing those dairies. That used to be a really big industry in Western North Carolina,” said Jackson. “The cost of processing it yourself is just huge if you weren’t already, if you were sending it away on a truck.”

And because of that high cost, that’s what most dairies in the region do.

Ross sends about 16,000 pounds of milk — almost 2,000 gallons — each day to Milko in Asheville. Milko is what’s called a milk pool; they buy from farmers and then process and package it for sale. At Milko, which is owned by Ingles and produces their Laura Lynn brand, around 80 percent of the milk comes from a 120-mile radius.

“We have the most local milk supply in the Southeast,” said Buddy Gaither, the plant’s manager. “But there’s not enough milk in Western North Carolina to supply our needs.”

Because, in recent years, dairy farmers in Western North Carolina have found it hard to compete with farms in the east, where contiguous, arable land is much cheaper and easier to procure. And where regular farmers might be able to turn to their local markets to boost sales, it’s hard for dairies to do that.

According to a 2007 study done by Jackson’s group, dairy farmers had dwindled by 70 percent in the region since 1985.

“Most of the 68 who were left said they weren’t going to be there another decade,” said Jackson.

In WNC, there’s only one dairy that sells its own milk, the Spring Ridge Creamery in Otto, just before the Georgia line in Macon County.

And their business isn’t hurting. They’ve got a pretty steady milk trade and they also process it into cheese and ice cream that sells fabulously on those hot summer days to travellers traversing U.S. 441.

But Jim Moore, the dairy’s owner, got into the business when startup costs were lower and second-hand equipment was much easier to come by.

Jackson said he now knows of farmers who would love to get into the business, but can’t afford the tens of thousands required to get going.

Of course, there are always under-the-table sales, which, Jackson said, are likely happening around the region.

With the recent trend in raw milk — milk that hasn’t been pasteurized — he posits that there are probably farmers selling to folks on the side.

Although raw milk has a wide interest base, it’s still illegal to sell for human consumption in North Carolina. After a spate of sicknesses last month caused by raw milk smuggled back over the border from South Carolina, it doesn’t seem like the law will soon be changing.

But while the outlook for local dairies may not be particularly bright, it’s not quite apocalyptic just yet.

Yes, it’s costly, but it is possible, especially for farmers who get into just cheese, rather than milk. That doesn’t require living up to the more onerous grade A standards.

Jackie Palmer is proof of that fact.

Palmer is the owner of Dark Cove Creamery in Cullowhee, and hers was the first licensed goat dairy in Western North Carolina. She’s been running the business for about 15 years and started it by depleting her savings.

“I’m the sort of person that doesn’t like to have debt, so I just worked a little at a time and it was paid off as I worked,” said Palmer. “I just bought the equipment that I needed when I had the money. It took me a number of years to make it happen. I just was lucky I guess.”

But she was also smart, making sure not to place a larger financial burden on the dairy than it could handle.

“The dairy is a huge part of this farm, but I find for sustainability purposes it’s good to diversify,” said Palmer.

The goat business is probably the main breadwinner, said Palmer, but she keeps other enterprises running because she wants to keep the dairy small. That’s part of what makes it successful.

“I believe in a tiny business,” said Palmer. “I think I can produce a better product if I can stay small. It’s a cleaner product, a more consistent product and something that I’m really proud of.”

And that’s essentially the conclusion Ronnie Ross and his family have always come to.

“We’ve thought about it, and it would be a nice thing to do, but it’s just so much work and stress and we’re pretty much loaded up as we are,” said Ross. It can work, said Ross, if you go really big or really small. But you’re heart really has to be in it, and even then it can fail.

He tells a story of a Buncombe County dairy that tried producing their own products and went under, despite valiant efforts.

So for those who get their produce from the farmer next door, finding the dairy next door might not be as easy.

But they’re still out there, like Palmer, you just have to know where to look.


Anyone headed to Canton will need to book a little more drive time starting this fall, when a key downtown bridge is razed and replaced. A dog-legged detour around the construction is expected to seriously slow traffic on the town’s two busiest downtown streets, Park and Main.

The aging bridge was built in 1924. The total cost to replace it is about $3.5 million, with 80 percent of that coming from the federal government and the remaining 20 percent from state funds. The bridge has been on the DOT’s to-do list since 2000, said Brian Burch, division construction engineer for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

For businesses perched on the edges of the bridge, the 16-month project could be quite a change.

“Apparently, the whole front of our parking lot is going to be taken up,” said Jason Siske, general manager at Napa Auto Parts, which sits just past the bridge on Park Street in downtown. His store is looking for a new home anyway, so the lack of road leading to their current location might not affect them for long.

Next door, however, Tom Wilson at American Cleaners has no plans to move.

“When they close one artery, it’s going to affect everybody,” said Wilson, who owns the store. “We just have to bear through it though. We’ve known this has been coming for years.”

Traffic moves through downtown Canton on parallel, one-way streets — Main Street and Park Street. Both have bridges spanning the Pigeon River.

With the Park Street bridge out of commission, traffic will jog over to Main Street where the bridge there will be pressed into service to carry traffic in both directions.

“People can expect some delays,” said Burch. “I’m sure we’ll have some delays during our rush hours in the morning and also when schools are dismissing.”

At the other end of downtown, Charles Rathbone of Sign World WNC isn’t anticipating too much hassle.

“I might look at changing my signage if it [Main Street] does go to a two-way, but I don’t really see it affecting us at all,” said Rathbone. “We’re going to be here with or without the bridge.”

But when the hassle, such as it is, finally subsides, contractors Taylor and Murphy say that the town will be left with a better, wider bridge. The firm won a $2.9 million contract, beating out six other bidders.

The bridge is now two-lane, but when construction closes in December 2012, there will be three lanes and a turning lane as well as wider sidewalks on both sides.

As part of the deal, the town will also come away with a greenway running under the east side of the bridge, which will connect to the town’s current greenway and provide safe passage for pedestrians under the bridge and into what will be Sorrells Creek Park.

“The bridge itself is obsolete to the traffic flow and the plans are to bring it up to date,” said Chris Britton, vice president of Taylor and Murphy. “It’ll be a lot safer, it’ll allow traffic to flow a lot better.”

Taylor and Murphy isn’t new to bridge building in Canton. The firm was behind the revamp of Bridge Street’s namesake in downtown earlier this year, has just completed work on the structure passing over Interstate 40 on Newfound Road and has a bridge in Cruso underway.

For the most part, said Britton, this bridge will be demolished and replaced by local laborers. He expects to have around 30 workers on the project, and all but the most specialized will be from the region.

Around half of the rubble from the soon-to-be-destroyed bridge will be recycled or sold as scrap metal. The new version, said Project Manager John Herrin, will also hopefully prove healthier for the river running beneath it.

“We’ll be making the river wider and cleaner, because right now you have three piers in the river and when we’re finished you’ll only have two,” said Herrin.

Contractors will start pulling up utilities and getting the bridge ready to come down by the end of August. The transportation department has a traffic flow plan in place, but they’re unlikely to need it until November, when Britton expects the bridge to close.

The town expects some upheaval during the process, but like Wilson, has long been ready for the replacement.

“We’re excited,” said Town Manager Al Matthews. “It’s going to be an inconvenience, but it’ll be good when it’s completed.”


A family is protesting after they say the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians seized land they claim is rightfully theirs.

When Gladys Wright died in 2009, she left all of her property to her four children. But last month, Cherokee Tribal Council voted to take 200 acres that once belonged to the family and put it under tribal ownership. The land, located outside Andrews, has long been part of the Cherokee reservation, known as the Qualla Boundary. Only enrolled members of the tribe are allowed to own land, or the child of an enrolled member.

Wright is a tribal member, but her children are not, so she could not leave the land to them outright. But she could grant her children a life estate, meaning they could own and live on the land for their lifetime, but could not pass it on when they die.

When a first descendant dies, or if a tribal member doesn’t leave a will, any trust land reverts back to the tribe.

The complicated nature of land ownership means that wills leaving property to heirs comes to tribal council for approval. Most of them are pretty routine and are often settled and voted on in less than five minutes.

Most of them, however, don’t concern a 200-acre tract where the tribe has expressed interest in building a satellite casino — as is the case with Wright’s land.

The tribe claims Wright’s will granting her children a life estate on the property wasn’t properly executed, and it was in its rights to take back the land.

Wright’s children and critics of the move say the tribe capitalized on a technicality: it only had one signature.

The will itself was pretty clear that Wright wanted the land to go to her children. But Wright’s final will had only one witness signature on it, and North Carolina State Law requires at least two.

Elizabeth Poscich, one of Wright’s daughters who lives on the property in Cherokee County, said she was blindsided by the decision.

“I didn’t even know this had happened,” said Poscich. “A concerned citizen called me and told me.”

Poscich said she thought everything had been settled, especially since the will had been probated in Kentucky, where Wright died, and stamped and accepted by the tribal clerk of court nearly a year ago.

Last year, too, tribal council passed a resolution about buying the land. Poscich said she was never contacted, but some of her siblings were not keen to sell.

The tribe has been eyeing the land for a hybrid gaming facility — not quite a casino but more than a bingo hall.

And to build the gambling center, the tribe needs the land. It purchased around 400 acres of adjoining, non-trust land last year, but gambling activities can only be conducted on land that was part of the original Qualla Boundary.

Though the family sees it as a technicality, Tribal Attorney General Annette Tarnawsky explained to tribal council members that the tribe defers to state law when it comes to the validity of wills. And without two signatures, it can’t be valid.

At the time, Council Member Diamond Brown voted to reclaim the property for the tribe. But he now says he wishes he’d had more time and more information before casting that vote.

How are people supposed to know, said Brown, that they need two signatures? Wright’s will only had a printed line for one witness, and the tribal court accepted it. Who was supposed to tell her she needed more?

“If you notice, it [the will form] does not have a place for two witnesses,” said Brown. “If I went in there and did the same thing and gave all my bequeath to my children, well I think I’m legit, I think I’m on the up and up.”

And because the will was accepted by officials in Kentucky and at the Eastern Band’s own tribal court, Poscich and her family thought the same.

There’s something else that, in hindsight, worries Brown as well. Over the years, Welch had drawn up several other wills. And the most recent incarnation before the disputed will did, indeed, have two signatures.

Tarnawsky told council members that it didn’t mention property in Cherokee County, though.

“It does not say Cherokee County, but it does say ‘all my property,’” said Brown. “It’s plain to see that she wants her children to have that land. I know they want the land, but from what I gather from what I read from all the wills, her children have the right to it.”

The chief, however, stands by the choice made in council.

“…[The] probate documents failed to comply with the Cherokee Code’s inheritance law,” said Hicks in a statement, though he conceded that the case highlighted a problem that could affect more than a few enrolled members. “As principal chief, I believe it’s imperative that every enrolled member feel confident and secure that their wishes for passing on their possessory holdings will be upheld and carried out.”

In response, the tribe will now offer will services to members for free starting October 1, hiring attorneys to draft new wills and review existing documents for any member who shows interest.

Poscich and her family, meanwhile, are coming to Thursday’s Tribal Council meeting to fight the ruling. Diamond Brown said he’ll support the family, along with Council Members Terri Henry and Teresa McCoy. Henry and McCoy were the only council members who didn’t vote for the measure. They moved to table it until the family could come to speak in their own defense.


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