Colby Dunn

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Principal Chief Michell Hicks hinted last week at a renewed effort to bring live dealers to Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino, in a ceremony renewing the management contract between the Eastern Band of Cherokee and Ceasars Entertainment.

At an event christening the first phase of the casino’s $650 million expansion project, Hicks said the tribe continues to lobby Gov. Bev Perdue to allow live card dealers at Harrah’s. Currently, the state limits the tribe to electronic gambling only.

“We’ll continue to push her to do the right thing,” said Hicks, who is running for a third term for office this year. Hicks said he hoped the governor would wake up and “smell the roses” on the issue, but later said that such negotiations were an ongoing process rather than specific haggling with the state.

“The Eastern Band of Cherokee is continually trying to impress upon all elected officials and state leaders the importance and value of an expanded gaming enterprise,” Hicks said in a later statement. “We maintain a cordial and productive relationship with the Governor’s office and the state legislature officials and look forward to continuing that relationship.”

Negotiations for live dealers and table games — slot machines, craps, roulette and other Las-Vegas style games in addition to live card dealers — stalled last year when a video poker company brought suit against the state. The suit claimed the governor had no legal right to negotiate with the tribe for increased gaming freedom. The same company hamstrung talks in 2009 with a separate suit, which charged that allowing video gambling in Cherokee, but nowhere else in the state, was illegal and unfair.

Harrah’s General Manager Darold Londo said that while the casino wasn’t involved in talks to bring the stepped-up gaming to Cherokee — that’s between the tribe and the state — it would certainly be a boon to the business if it came.

“I’d like to think that we would offer a full-service casino experience,” said Londo. “With our proximity to Atlanta and Charlotte and Knoxville, where you have people that fly to other places to play those games, if we offered those things they could come to Cherokee instead.”

The tribe’s renewed interest in negotiating comes at a time when casino distributions are down — 16 percent according to Hicks — though he and Londo both said they’re hopeful the new expansion, which includes expansive luxury suites for high rollers and is the largest construction project in the Southeast, will crank up revenues again.

As the primary election for principal chief draws closer, however, many in Cherokee are asking how the tribe can pull its focus away from Harrah’s and diversify its revenue portfolio.

Currently, 87 percent of the tribe’s income is generated by Harrah’s. The proceeds are split evenly, with half being divvied up among tribe members and the other half funding tribal operations and programs.

Hicks himself has said that the tribe needs to move away from the casino-as-cash-cow model, and a central tenet of his platform is eradicating the debt.

The Eastern Band now hold almost a billion dollars in debt — $650 million of that is from the major expansion underway at the casino, an endeavor approved by tribal council in 2007.

Critics, including opponents running against Hicks for chief, have questioned whether it was wise to take on so much debt.

Hicks said he has a plan to eradicate the debt completely within the next four years, though he hasn’t spelled out the details of how he’ll do it.

Moving forward, he said, the tribe should look less to gaming and more to its historical traditions, especially arts and crafts.

“To generate gross receipts you’ve got to create business, and we’ve got to change our view of what Cherokee is about,” said Hicks. “We’ve got to get creative by using the thing that we’re better at than anybody else.”

While he conceded that Cherokee couldn’t compete with tourist Meccas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge — they just have less real estate to work with — their selling point is the deep cultural heritage and quality craftsmanship the Cherokee bring to their crafts. This, he said, should be the basis of the new, diversified Cherokee economy.

But even as the call for fiscal diversity is made on all sides this election season, Hicks is still behind the push for live dealers, saying it would bring more jobs and dollars into the economy and help decrease the debt he’s promised to demolish.  

New suites cater to the high rollers

The crowning touch of Harrah’s new hotel tower is its range of newly opened luxury suites, reserved for casino high-rollers and VIPs.

The suites feature expansive mountain views, designer furnishings and subtle touches of opulence, like TVs in mirrors, marble logless fireplaces, 5-person Jacuzzis and wrap-around porches. Some even sport names like Crisp Hydration

The 21-story Creek Tower, the third hotel tower on campus, is part of a larger $650 million expansion of the casino.

The expansion includes a 3,000-seat entertainment venue that opened last fall, an 18,000-square-foot spa, Asian gaming room and additional poker room and will double the footprint of the casino floor.

New restaurants and retail stores will bulk out the space, too; Southern kitchen queen Paula Deen installed one of her renowned restaurants there earlier this year, while Italian chain Brio and the Ruth’s Chris steakhouse franchise are scheduled to move in by the end of 2012.

It’s currently the largest hospitality expansion project in the Southeast and, when finished, it will boast the most hotel rooms in the Carolinas.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee contract the casino’s management to Caesars Entertainment, which runs more than 50 casinos and seven golf courses across the globe. Harrah’s Cherokee has been in business since 1997 and opens its doors 24 hours a day.


In Graham County, a public hearing last week on Corridor K drew a crowd of 200 people, speaking for and against a new four-lane highway that would end rural isolation but destroy virgin countryside in the process.

The 9.9-mile highway would cost $383 million to complete. As one of the last missing links of Corridor K — known as section B-C by highway officials — it would go from Stecoah to Robbinsville.

The highway through Graham County has been in the planning stages for years but suffered a temporary setback in 2009. The North Carolina Department of Transportation was sent back to the drawing board by the Army Corps, who asked for a better analysis of the proposal and its impact.

At the time, many called for the current two-lane offerings, N.C. 143 and N.C. 28, to be widened and upgraded in lieu of a brand-new, four-lane highway.

But DOT officials have now said that their studies showed that to be impossible without damaging the renowned Appalachian Trail. The existing two-lane highway already crosses the trail, but should that road be widened, it would have a negative impact on the federally protected path.

Last week, the transportation department brought forward a new and improved version. The new plan offers two proposed routes that follow roughly the same path through the Stecoah Valley, with one swinging slightly further north. The DOT is are backing a combination of the two routes as their preferred option.

It  includes a lengthy tunnel, just over half a mile long, intended to preserve the integrity of the Appalachian Trail by burrowing under it rather than bisecting it. A 1,063-foot bridge spanning Stecoah Creek is supposed to protect the waterway from degradation.

Some in Graham County are heralding the road as a boon to the region. Others see it as a blight on the landscape and the budget.  

What is Corridor K?

The idea for a four-lane highway through the counties west of Asheville — known as Corridor K — had been on the books for decades. It is mostly completed except for a missing link of 17 miles through Graham County, the most remote and rugged stretch.

Corridor K is part of the Appalachian Regional Highway System, extending to Cleveland, Tenn., and devised in the ‘60s to engender economic development in isolated regions of Appalachia.


This June, 91,000 pounds of paper will make its way into Western North Carolina. Some of it will end up in kitchen drawers, some will be used as doorstops, some will end up as litter dotting the roads, while still more will eventually find a home in the landfill.

It’s this year’s shipment of Yellowbooks, an annual tradition that could one day be an anachronism in an increasingly digital world.

But Neg Norton doesn’t think that day will be soon. He’s the president of the Local Search Association, also known by various other names including the Yellow Pages Association.

“It still plays a big role,” said Norton of the good old printed phone book. “About 75 percent of adults used print yellow pages some 11 billion times last year. We have some 3 million small-business advertisers across the country. Clearly they do so because they’re getting a good return on investment.”

But some think that rather than being a relevant tool, the phone book is an annoying relic. On the West Coast, San Francisco lawmakers are looking to ban the book from city limits unless a customer requests it. A similar measure in Seattle was met with a lawsuit last year by Norton’s group, who lobby actively on behalf of the $13 billion industry.

In Waynesville, such severe measures aren’t on the table, but Town Manager Lee Galloway said he does hear complaints about the tomes.

“Especially at some houses that were vacant and it jut became litter,” said Galloway.

And that is a problem with phone books. While Local Search said it’s involved in recycling old and unused books, they don’t necessarily take responsibility for returning to collect phone books that haven’t been touched since delivery.

And then there’s just the sheer volume. Twenty-five years ago, there was usually only one phone book to be found on the market. Now there are dozens in every region across the country.

The two main competitors in WNC are Yellowbook and AT&T’s The Real Yellow Pages, but nationally Norton said there are 200 separate companies hawking books.

That’s thanks to a 1991 Supreme Court decision that declared phone books outside the realm of copyright, as they held only a miniscule amount of original content.

But with the Internet so ubiquitous that Google has become a verb, even Norton conceded that when a younger generation of digital natives reaches adulthood, the printed books might become museum fodder. And, he said, his group is OK with that. They don’t want to pass out unwanted books — it’s as bad for them as it is annoying to the consumer.

“It does us absolutely no good to deliver a phone book to somebody who doesn’t want one. We don’t make any money by distributing additional copies,” said Norton. That’s why they’ve created an opt-out website,, that allows consumers to pass on the phone book. According to Norton, they’ve gotten around 400,000 opt-outs nationwide with the site, which doesn’t include those who call the book publishers directly to cancel.

But even if they are self-regulating, the industry has historically railed against legally mandated opt-in or opt-out programs.

In 2008, a bill was introduced in the state Senate, co-sponsored by local senator John Snow, that would force phone book companies to provide customers the option to decline. It died after the first reading, thanks in part to lobbying by the Yellow Pages Association.

“We think it’s wrong of the government to select winners and losers in the print media market,” said Norton. “We think that’s a very dangerous precedent for the government to set.”

Plus, he pointed out, with programs such as the one proposed in San Francisco, if 75 percent of people use the book at some point in the year, it’s impractical to ask them all to opt in.

Though do-not-deliver programs aren’t mandatory in North Carolina, Yellowbook Market Manager Michael Hartnett said he does field a call every now and again.

“Yes, it happens. But it’s a rare occurrence,” said Hartnett. He said the 91,000 Yellowbooks they’ll be distributing this year in Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties have held pretty steady for the last few years. But nationally, the trend is going down.

This year, there are 8 percent fewer phone books hitting the streets than the year before. And many are smaller, thanks to the elimination of the residential white pages in many larger markets.

In this way, say industry advocates, phone book companies are doing their part to reduce their own waste stream. They’re making books smaller, and all books are completely recyclable. In fact, that’s what they’re made of — themselves. When old books are recycled, they’re combined with disused woodchips gleaned from the lumber-making process and pressed into new books, a cycle that repeats itself each year.

So even as the digital revolution marches on, that staple of the kitchen drawer still, for now, has a life and a place.

“We still have a lot of people using the phone books,” said Galloway, and for those that do, they’ll be pleased to know a new shipment is already headed their way.

• 1: percent all paper products accounted for by phone books
• 0.3: percent of municipal waste stream generated by phone books
• 731,000: tons of phone books distributed in 2010
• The first phone book was created in 1878 for New Haven, Conn., residents. 
• Interleafing two phone books will make them impossible to pull apart. 
• To opt out of phone book delivery, visit


You know it’s summer in Sylva when Concerts on the Creek gets going, bringing local and regional music and family fun to Bridge Park Pavilion every Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

This year, local favorites the Rye Holler Boys will get the season going with a performance on May 27.

They’ll be followed on the outdoor stage in the coming weeks by other popular local bands such as the Freight Hoppers, the Elderly Brothers and Balsam Range, as well as regional talent Big House Radio. Big House walked away with the top prize at WNC Magazine’s Last Band Standing battle of the bands style competition, and they’ll stop off in Sylva in mid-August.

Concerts on the Creek got its start in 2009, so concertgoers will be welcomed back to the park for the third year of free music this summer.

“We started Concerts on the Creek three years ago through an Appalachian Regional Commission Grant,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. It was the chamber who started the concerts, but when they proved popular with the public, the series started to grow from there.

“It was very well received and the locals as well as visitors really enjoyed it so we thought we’d expand on that and invite three other partners to help us produce the concert series,” said Spiro

These days, the chamber teams up with Jackson County Parks and Recreation and the Town of Sylva to produce the programs.

But, said Spiro, the free music is just the impetus to get people out and about. It’s the music along with the restaurants and shops in downtown Sylva that really create a festive, summer atmosphere.

“We hope both locals and visitors will stimulate the economy by shopping and dining out before the free concerts,” said Spiro. Part of the central idea behind the series is to give people a venue for getting out on the town, a gift to both natives and tourists and a chance to kick back with talented artists and support local businesses, all at once.

Marne Harris is a Sylva resident who frequents the concerts every summer, and she appreciates them as a piece of fun and relaxation that showcases the town’s mountain charm.

“They are a time for the community to reconnect, catch up with friends and to celebrate our awesome, beautiful town tucked in the mountains, all the while getting to enjoy some great local music and dancing,” said Harris.

One of her favorite aspects of the events, she said, is watching the hodgepodge of otherwise-unconnected music lovers come together. Harris and her husband have young children who, she said, take full advantage of the park’s open space, but they’re surrounded by older folks, students, young music aficionados and, of course, other families.

Of course, Sylva is well known in the region for its vibrant music scene, which mixes the traditional bluegrass acts that find their roots in these mountains, with more contemporary and underground acts that make the circuit of local venues in town. There’s even a metal band from Cherokee the jaunts over to play every now and again. So in Sylva, it’s not hard to find a range of listeners for the talent the series has to offer.

This summer, the town will be treated to 15 weeks of beautiful music against an equally stunning mountain backdrop, and all you need is a lawn chair and a listening ear.


2011 Schedule

May 27: Rye Holler Boys

June 3: John Luke Carter

June 10: Buchanan Boys

June 17: Mountain Faith

June 24: Johnny Floor

& the Wrong Crowd

July 1: The Elderly Brothers

July 8: Sundown

July 15: The Wild Hog Band

July 22: Josh Fields Band

July 29: The Freight Hoppers

Aug. 5: Balsam Range

Aug.12: Big House Radio

Aug. 19: Johnny Webb Band

Aug. 26: Hurricane Creek

Sept. 2: Mountain Faith Youth Jam


When having a conversation with Penny Morgan, you’ll hear a lot of phrases that aren’t often associated with business in Haywood County. “Military contracts” is probably the most notable. “Top secret” might be another.

Morgan owns a company called Aermor, and she just won $10,000 in the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce’s yearly Business Start-up Competition to get the tech company off the ground.

Technically, Aermor provides “network operations and cyber operations support” to its clients, but really, it’s hard to put definite borders around exactly what the company does; it’s nebulous, it changes with contract and client. But here’s an example:

Recently, Morgan and her team won a role as a subcontractor with the military as part of an effort to combat improvised explosive devices. That initiative is funded to the tune of $157 million, and Aermor will be using its tech skills to add context, data and expert information — gleaned from a variety of sources — to the military’s traditional intelligence-gathering techniques, providing research, training and analysis to military personnel trying to combat IEDs in the field.

It’ll bring a top-secret security clearance to the company’s Canton office, and probably several new, highly skilled employees who are paid with federal funds.

And this, said Morgan, is what she believes is the highlight of her business and what set her apart from other competitors in the start-up contest, which is put on annually by the chamber and attracts potential entrepreneurs from around the county to compete for the startup cash.

“Aermor is looking to bring in funds that do not already exist in Haywood County. We’re not looking for the same people that take their money to one place and turn around and spend it somewhere else,” said Morgan.

And that’s what seemed to put her over the top with the judges, too.

The competition is judged by a four-person panel of representatives from the economic development and financial sectors in the county.

Scott Connor, senior vice president and marketing executive for First Citizens Bank in Haywood County, said it was the genesis of completely new money that really impressed him.

“We felt that it would be bringing jobs and dollars to Haywood County that may not come here otherwise,” said Connor. “It would be monies that she wouldn’t be taking from a neighboring business.”

And among the other small business owners in the competition, Morgan’s proposition is truly unique. She currently has four full-time workers and around 11 part-time, and she hopes to grow that number as her contracts increase, bringing jobs to the county that are well above minimum wage or minimum skill level.

She realizes that this isn’t your average startup, and it’ll probably fly under the radar of most in the county. Her predecessors in the first-place spot have often been consumer services — a dance studio, a brewery, and other service outfits seeking Haywood customers. But Morgan sees that lack of local customers as one of her greatest assets.

“It’s a very different kind of concept,” said Morgan. “I’m not asking anyone in Haywood County to come and use my business. I’m growing the job force, growing the training, and not asking for any patronage,” she said.

Plus, she’s got the skills and knowledge to back it up, which also went a long way towards winning the hearts and dollars of the judges.

Morgan spent much of her career in the military, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy and going on to spend 14 years as a surface warfare officer. She did overseas deployments, she taught military strategy and seamanship, she worked with anti-terrorism squads. Basically, she knows the military and its people. And since those are now her clients, that knowledge and those contacts are pieces of capital that are invaluable to her company’s success.

“Her background is a very impressive resume,” said Connor, a contest judge. “She already has, it seems, the skills abilities and contacts to make it successful.”

Chamber Director CeCe Hipps said that the type of novelty and sustainability Morgan seems to bring to the table is precisely what the competition, now in its sixth year, is all about.

Each entrant must submit a business plan, but winning is about more than just having an impressive plan.

“It’s not just a business plan, but it has also to do with the sustainability in the county, the number of jobs it will create and if there are any other businesses in the area already doing the same thing,” said Hipps.

Small businesses that can bring long-term jobs and a unique economic perspective will always be a boon to the county, which is why, said Hipps, the competition was born and continues to remain strong.

“Small businesses are what make up our economy, and more than half of the jobs in America either own or work for a small business, so there’s a big drive to promote small business. That’s what the chamber does,” said Hipps. “The reality is that small businesses are an integral component of our economic future.”

Now that she’s won the money, Morgan said she plans to build it back into the company’s infrastructure, upgrading equipment and training to ensure that Aermor can keep its niche in the county’s business community for years to come. Her roots, she said, are in Haywood County, and she intends for her business to put down strong, lasting roots here as well.

“I was born and raised in Bethel. I’m not an outsider coming in. I was born and raised in Haywood County and that’s where my heart and soul is and will always be,” said Morgan.

Her plan is ambitious — to be a 100-person, $26 million outfit in five years — but she believes it’s feasible, especially with the injection of cash, which, she said, was a welcome but unexpected surprise.

“I was shocked, but I think I can be a good steward of those funds,” said Morgan. “And hopefully next year I can be sponsoring the competition.”


Waynesville employees will likely see a 3 percent raise in their paycheck next year, if budget suggestions proffered by the town manager are approved by aldermen.

The proposed budget for 2011-12, released last week, calls for an across-the-board, cost-of-living pay raise for all town employees — the first raise for town workers in three years.

On the whole, the town seems to be on fairly solid financial footing was the message given to town board members by Town Manager Lee Galloway, suggesting that a brighter fiscal picture might yet be on the not-so-distant horizon.

The pay raise is a nod to the reality that prices on necessities are rising, while employees are still making their 2009 salaries.

“It’s just evident with prices increasing, that I knew that our employees needed some additional compensation,” said Galloway. “So that was our driving force. I felt like that was our no. 1 priority, to try to provide our employees with a little extra.”

Since public-sector finances began to tank in 2009, the town has lost eight positions, though they were all vacant, so no layoffs were needed. This year’s budget suggests cutting another one-and-a-half positions, also currently vacant. And among the important unknowns is the state of the state budget.

Galloway said that, though the town’s finances look decent, there’s no telling what could come out of the General Assembly, where the financial situation couldn’t look less decent.

“Thus far, they haven’t shown any inclination to taking the revenues from local governments or handing down unfunded mandates,” said Galloway, which are the two measures that could level an unexpected punch at the town. “But I just don’t know how they’re going to do it without just reducing the level of services provided by the state.”

But regardless of what directives come down from Raleigh, Galloway said he’s behind a pay raise, especially given their firmer footing compared to the last two years.

“All of our funds — general, water, sewer and electric — are in  stronger cash position than they were two years ago,” Galloway told aldermen at a budget workshop last week, which allows for leeway in giving a little boost to employees.

And Waynesville, in that sense, is an anomaly among its close neighbors, who aren’t yet able to pony up raises like they were pre-recession.

Just up Main Street at the historic court house, things aren’t nearly as rosy for the Haywood County commissioners. County Manager Marty Stamey laid out their proposed budget on Monday, which calls for reinstating the Christmas bonus, which has been just a memory for the last three years.

Other than that, county employees are eligible for a merit-based raise of up to one percent, but cost-of-living raises have for now become an anachronism, which concerned some commissioners.

“Everywhere you [go], gas is higher, corn is up, everything that you need to survive is going up. Maybe you can buy a piece of property cheaper, but you can’t eat and take care of your family,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick. “That’s difficult and I’m concerned about that cost of living.”

But with state cuts and education needs rising, the county just won’t have the wiggle room for employee raises.

Galloway, who is spending his 18th and final year as town manager, said he believes their good fortune is down to good management by his staff and a boon from extra money, like the electricity fund.

And while this may not be the time for financial celebration, cautious optimism, he said, may not be out of order. So what better way to reward employees who pushed through the monetary valley, if the mountaintop might be coming into view.



Local government raises, bonuses at a glance

• Haywood County: In the past two years, employees were eligible for a merit-based raises up to 1-percent, but no across-the-board cost of living increase. The same is proposed this year.

• Jackson County: No raise in past two years. Nothing proposed this year. (However a pay study resulted in salary adjustments, including some quite large increases for top employees.)

• Macon County: No raise in past two years. A 3-percent increase is proposed this year.

• Swain County: No raise in past two years. Nothing proposed this year.

• Canton: Last year, a flat raise of $500. The same is proposed this year.

• Franklin: No raise two years ago. Last year employees got a one-time 3-percent bonus. An actual 4-percent increase is proposed this year.

• Maggie Valley: For the past two years, employees were eligible for a merit-based raise of up to 2 percent. A 2 percent cost-of-living raise is proposed this year.

• Sylva: Last year, employees received a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase. This year, town leaders are considering giving those making less than $50,000 a year a flat raise rather than a percentage of their salary.


Go into any store and you run into the term “green.” Bags of chips, detergents, new cars and fluorescent-light bulbs — all are bedizened in alleged greenness.

But what, exactly, does green mean? And who should get to declare themselves green? Should low-flow toilets get the same credit as solar panels?

In the building industry, the question isn’t academic — it’s critical to the bottom line. Green buildings and homes command a higher price tag. But the cost of true, environmentally friendly building is also steep. So how green is green?

That’s where LEED comes in. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a third-party green-building rating system that certifies buildings based on their merits as environmentally sustainable structures.

There are various incarnations of LEED — LEED for homes, for existing buildings, for retail, for health care, for commercial interiors — and different levels within each: certified (basic level), silver, gold and platinum, and the ranks are handed out based on points in five categories.

LEED is fairly customizable from building to building; which is a plus, given that what might be a massive, energy-saving measure in one structure would create trivial benefits to another. Builders can pick which categories they want more points in, and then which measures and materials they want to use to get them.


Paying a green price

But it’s costly. The price of LEED-style building over traditional methods is about 2 percent, said Scott Donald of Padgett and Freeman Architects in Asheville. About a quarter of Donald’s business is in LEED projects.

Fees vary, depending on size and which LEED program is giving the award, but for a large commercial building, a construction and design review can run as high as $27,000. And when it comes down to the bottom line, sometimes the merits of being certified don’t outweigh the costs — especially when all the environmental elements can be built in without certification. So property owners who might have come in liking the ranking may opt to sidestep it, building a LEED building without the LEED name.

“It actually occurs a lot,” said Donald, “because they don’t want to pay for the actual certification and the energy models, and the design is pretty much the same.”

That fee? It pays for extensive documentation. And in return, LEED provides an outsider arbiter, making sure everything is done properly.

“That’s where you lose by not doing LEED is during the construction process,” said Donald. “The end product is very similar, but the process is not at all. That’s part of what LEED does.”

But the real treasure that LEED has to offer is its name — a recognized brand of environmental friendliness.

“The value of a certification comes in when you’re trying to sell a building. That’s where that brand comes in,” said Maggie Leslie, the program director for the Western North Carolina Green Building Council, which helps builders navigate the LEED process.

“For someone who’s trying to sell a home or a building, instead of trying to explain all the terms, it’s a marketing program. It’s to help people communicate the value of these things.”


A trend that keeps on growing

George Ford, an assistant professor at Western Carolina University, teaches construction management. Recently, he’s been teaching a lot more about LEED. From the contractor’s perspective, the view is the same as from the owner’s; knowing green-building practices isn’t the same as knowing LEED building practices.

“A lot of times, that could be the difference between them getting the job and not getting the job,” said Ford.

Because of that, the professor has seen an increase in LEED certifications over the last several years.

In a tough construction industry, any edge is a good edge, especially if it offers true legitimacy in a quagmire of faux green.

And, for a quick bit of history, that’s why it was created.

“LEED has been around for 10 years, and it was created out of a response and a cry from the building community saying, ‘We want to stand out. There is no standard, and how do we separate ourselves from anyone else who says that they’re green?’” said Emily Scofield. She’s the executive director for the Charlotte region chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, the third party in third-party ratings system. They’re the ones that give out LEED badges.

Scofield views LEED as less a selling point and more as a mark of quality. She said the benefits of adhering to the system’s high standards are self-evident and good for health, the earth and the bottom line.

A 2010 McGraw Hill study found that, for new buildings built to LEED standards, operating costs dropped by just over 13 percent — eight for existing buildings that were retrofitted — while the value of new LEED buildings rose nearly 11 percent, compared to what it would’ve brought traditionally.

That’s part of why Donald is so successful in convincing his clients to go for sustainably designed buildings, whether they get the LEED stamp or not.

“If you meet the goals that LEED establishes, you’re going to save a lot of money,” said Donald, pointing to one of his recent projects, the new Cherokee Central Schools complex, as an example.

“Right now, they’re probably saving over a quarter of a million dollars a year,” said Donald, and he projected that the tribe would save $10 million over the life of the buildings.

And that, of course, is the basic premise of good branding. LEED isn’t just a name. It’s a symbol of quality and a promise that green really does mean green. People know and trust it, and that’s got a good deal of intrinsic value.

But they’re not the only player in the game. There are more green ratings systems out there. Some, like Energy Star, work in concert with LEED; some are in competition with it.

Different programs have their own merits, including, for many, lower fees. But in this relatively young market, LEED is still the front-runner, the internationally recognized standard that serves as the benchmark.

“I think that competition is good, and ultimately we’re all trying to achieve the same goal,” said Scofield. “If their intent is true, we don’t mind the competition.”

And really, LEED will have to keep evolving, not only to stay ahead of the competition, but to stay in business altogether. The general consensus among architects and builders alike is that the standards that are LEED today will simply be the building code tomorrow, rendering LEED and its ilk obsolete, at least in their current forms.

Today, new technologies like solar power and geothermal wells are becoming the next wave of green trends, but in five years time, the leading edge of the green movement will be somewhere else entirely, which will always leave LEED, and the professionals who follow it, somewhere greener to grow.


What do Harrill Residence Hall at Western Carolina University, the Cherokee Central School System, the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Smokies and the firehouse in Sylva have in common?

Each of these projects help make a whole: they are part of a burgeoning green-building trend in Western North Carolina that, in recent years, has seen sustainable commercial construction become less of a niche and more of the norm.

“It is definitely becoming mainstream,” said Lauren Bishop, campus energy manager for WCU, where a green retrofitting of Harrill dorm is under way and the earth friendly Health and Human Sciences Building was recently completed.

These green buildings use less power and water, are often built in a pre-existing footprint, produce less waste and use recycled materials. Most incorporate more natural light and fresh air than standard commercial buildings.

Some are certified sustainable, others are not: LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is the recognized standard (see sidebar on LEED certification). But that stamp of approval comes at a recurring annual cost and a whole lot of paperwork.

SEE ALSO: The price of being certifiably ‘green’

As George Stanley, projects manager for Southwestern Community College, put it when describing the non-certified but sustainable Conrad G. Burrell administration/bookstore building under way there, one can have a perfectly fantastic pedigree dog without having in hand the actual pedigree papers.

With or without the certification, WNC architects and local governments are paying increasing attention to sustainable building practices.


Not just green: healthy

Scott Donald is a principal architect with Padgett and Freeman Architects. The Asheville company drafted the plans for the massive new campus that’s home to Cherokee Central Schools, as well as the tribal emergency operations center. Both are LEED certified, but Donald said that he would try to bring environmental sustainability to the projects even without the certification, just because it’s his professional habit.

“This office has been doing that since the early 70s,” Donald said. “It’s really just environmentally conscious architecture.”

The schools in particular are chockablock with sustainable measures. It’s a sprawling, 473,000-square-foot campus that houses kindergarten through high school and incorporates green technology at every turn. There are waterless urinals, daylight sensors in every room to maximize natural light and minimize the artificial light used, underground cisterns stowed beneath the schools’ courtyards that can hold 60,000 gallons of rainwater for irrigation and toilet flushing. And, the school is heated by 450-foot geothermal wells that were drilled beneath the school to make use of the earth’s warmth.

The project cost $140 million, but Yona Wade, director of the school’s cultural arts center, said the benefits are worth the extra money spent to LEED certify the buildings. The measures will save the school system money in the long term  — $10 million over 40 years, according to Donald.

In Cherokee, the impetus for green building is largely rooted in a 2009 environmental proclamation made by Principal Chief Michell Hicks. He directed the tribe toward greater care for the environment in its policies.

“It comes from wanting to be good stewards of what we have,” Wade said. “This has got to be the building that will last us. We’ll probably never do this again.”


The sun and the wind are free

O’Dell Thompson, a Sylva architect, has chosen not to take the classes and pay the fees necessary to get LEED certified. But he designs in an environmentally friendly manner “because that’s the right thing to do.”

“I do a lot of houses, churches and stuff,” Thompson said. “With all of my clients, I encourage them to take advantage of the things that are free — the sun and the wind.”

Thompson was the architect on Sylva’s new firehouse.

He remembers that when Sylva leaders were developing the concept for the new firehouse, then Mayor Brenda Oliver emphasized, “no matter what, it should be as environmentally sensitive as possible,” Thompson said. “So that was one of our goals from the outset.”

Last fall, the firehouse was completed. Not too many years ago the obviously sustainable building might have seemed incongruous in this mountain town of just 2,500, with its large solar panels displayed prominently on the roof. But these days? It really hasn’t occasioned much comment.

There is a solar pre-heating hot water system that heats water to circulate under the slabs where the fire trucks rest when not in use. This saves propane costs — you can’t let a fire truck, full of potentially lifesaving water, freeze during the winter. The slab retains heat because it has thermal mass, which helps keep temperatures warmer.

Up to eight solar tubes help with lighting the firehouse. So much so, Thompson said a butterfly baffle had to be installed near the television so that the firemen could see the screen. The building is south facing, and there’s an overhang to prevent heat buildup in summer and accept heat during the winter.

There are photovoltaics, which is a method of generating power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity. There are no batteries being charged, the electricity generated simply offsets any electric costs.

The firehouse is metal, meaning parts of it were probably recycled; the men’s room has a waterless urinal to save on water use.

The building avoids the use of volatile organic compounds in the paints or carpet.

“It’s not just green,” Thompson said. “It’s an environmentally healthy structure.”


Green building helps bottom line

Tim Chapman is the associate director for facilities in the office of residential living at WCU. He’s a practical kind of fellow, one who clearly understands and appreciates the virtue and necessity of the bottom line.

“We’re a business,” Chapman said. “Everything we do must be done in sound business terms.”

Each of the 13 buildings he helps oversee is an individual “cost center,” meaning they have to cost out each year, bringing in enough money to offset expenses. But these days, that doesn’t exclude incorporating green practices — in fact, sustainable building techniques can save you money, Chapman said.

“The desire has been there for years, but the manufacturing process and science (of green building) is catching up,” he said.

WCU has reused sites instead of eating up more green space as it has entered a new building phase in recent years. More green space, in fact, has been added on campus.

There also have been such innovations as a central chilling plant to cool the buildings on the campus quad instead of separate units, and on-demand hot water heaters.

And Harrill dorm, a 38-year-old residence hall being upgraded and improved, will be the ultimate sustainable “showpiece” on campus, Chapman said.

Work has started on the 400-bed dorm, which should be completed by next summer. The $15 million project will include extensive upgrades to outdated heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical and plumbing systems.

Plans call for the installation of a rooftop rainwater collection system to provide water for flushing toilets, solar panels to supplement water heating and geothermal wells for heating and cooling.

WCU Architect Galen May said the new dorm will also allow students to be highly energy conscious. An energy monitor will be added to each pair of floors that will allow students to monitor their energy consumption.

A dashboard will be in the lobby so that all residents can view energy consumption throughout the entire dorm.

“It’s our responsibility to set a good example, and to teach our students about this aspect,” Bishop, the campus energy manager, said.

May said Harrill would serve as a learning tool for students. And, perhaps, it will serve as one for the region, too.

By Quintin Ellison and Colby Dunn



LEED ‘green’ buildings in WNC

• Cherokee Emergency Operations Center, Cherokee

• Ravensford School Project, Cherokee Central Schools

• Registered (in process of LEED certification)

• One single-family home in Bryson City

• Oconaluftee Visitor’s Center – Cherokee

• Haywood Community College, Creative Arts Building – Clyde

• Two single family homes in Franklin

• Unitarian Universalist Fellowship – Franklin

• Best Buy – Waynesville

• One single-family home – Sylva

• Cherokee Operations Center – Whittier

• Harrill Hall renovations – WCU

• WCU Health and Gerontological Building – Cullowhee

Source: U.S. Green Building Council


In Haywood County, the tax rate would have to bump up three cents for the county to bring in the same amount of money as last year.

Overall, the property values in the county were down following the recent revaluation, the first countywide appraisal in five years. To offset the slightly smaller tax base, the county would have to raise the tax rate from 51 to 54 cents.

County Manager Marty Stamey presented the budget to county commissioners at their meeting Monday, where he painted a picture of fiscal austerity.

“We’ve got less people working than in ‘05 and we’re doing the same amount of work, in some cases we’re doing more work,” said Stamey. “This is the new norm, doing more with less.”

Here’s what the new tax rate would mean based on how your property performed in the revaluation:

• For residents whose property values dropped by at least 5 percent, tax bills will be less.

• Those whose values were perfectly stagnant will see around a 5 percent increase. So for a home valued at $100,000 — both in 2006 and this year — the bill will go up by $27.

• Properties that increased in value will also see a hike in their tax bill by about the same percentage.

Throughout the budget process, commissioners have said they’re committed to a neutral tax rate.

“I think that’s fair because the county’s taking in the same amount of money if they’d not done a reval,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley. “I don’t know any other way to do it, except keep [the rate] the same, and then we’d have to make a lot more cuts than we have now.”

“We’ve made cuts the last three years and it’s bare bone,” said Commissioner Bill Upton.

While the property tax side of the budget will remain constant, wilting sales revenues mean the county will still have to make some cuts. Most notably, education — both Haywood County Schools and Haywood Community College — will be slashed 3-percent.

Sales tax is the county’s other main money spinner — it accounts for 15 percent of revenue — and it’s down 3 percent over last year. Thus the cuts to schools, which claim a large share of the county’s budget — about 25 percent of the county’s entire budget goes to education.

While a 3-percent cut may sound small, it is indeed a hit, given that the school system asked the county for an increase on what they were given last year. Instead, they’re now losing $430,000.

Stamey said he realized the schools’ need and asked them to dip into their fund balance to cover their losses from state and local defunding.

“These are difficult decisions, ones that we don’t like to make, but we have to do it to keep a revenue neutral budget,” said Stamey.

For the schools to get that money back, commissioners would need to tack another two thirds of a penny onto the property tax rate.

Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31, with a vote scheduled for their regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, June 6.


Haywood County’s tax rate versus tax base

Tax base before revaluation: $7.258 billion

Tax base after revaluation: $7.086 billion

2010 tax rate: 51.4 cents

2011 tax rate: 54.13 cents


What is revenue neutral?

A revenue-neutral tax rate means the county will bring in the same amount of revenue despite changing property values. Usually, property values increase so the tax rate can come down. But property values on average went down slightly in the recent countywide revaluation. The tax rate will go up to compensate for the smaller tax base.

The official revenue-neutral tax rate allows for a minor increase from newly built homes and buildings that are added to the tax base year to year.


Developers in Waynesville rejoice: your customers may now park in front of your buildings. Sometimes. In some places.

The new rules, passed after nearly two years of deliberation, will allow limited parking in the front of businesses for high-traffic commercial districts, something that was strictly forbidden under the town’s smart growth policies, much to the chagrin of some developers and business owners.

Parking design has been a controversial topic since 2003, when the town’s new land-use plan relegated parking to the side and rear of buildings in favor of a streetscape defined by building façades — a more attractive option than asphalt parking lots.

But a committee tasked with reviewing the town’s land-use plan over the past year recommended the town allow some parking in front buildings.

After two months of debate of their own, the town board was split 3-2 on exactly how much parking should be allowed in front during last month’s town board meeting.

Town leaders ultimately did not allow as much parking in front as the land-use review committee or the town planning board suggested. Instead of allowing two rows of parking spaces in front of the building, the town board cut that down to just one row.

Town board members Libba Feichter, Wells Greeley and LeRoy Roberson voted to limit parking in front to just one row.

Greeley, who wasn’t on the board when the original ordinance was hashed out, said he was pleased with both the process and the result. Greeley said that he knew coming in that the standards would be a challenge — the parking provisions in particular.

He said that he feels like the end result was a good compromise between the pro- and anti-parking factions.

“I think this strikes a compromise as being now commercially friendly but yet still trying to keep the façades and the front of the buildings maintained,” said Greeley.

Roberson said that he was also pleased with the eventual outcome of the months of discussions and debates.

He also came to the board after the initial statutes were penned, but said that the cleaned-up version will lay a good framework for future development.

“I just think it gives it a better look,” said Roberson. “Instead of having another Russ Avenue on South Main, you’ll have something that’s more appealing and something that will function better overall.”

Mayor Gavin Brown and Alderman Gary Caldwell sided with the committee in wanting two rows.

Caldwell said that, while he’d never be completely happy and did vote against the parking proviso, the overall compromises that were reached were workable.

Town Planning Director Paul Benson said the idea was to offer a clean and inviting aesthetic, while still giving businesses, and their customers, workable parking.

“The concept of one row is that it sort-of replaces on-street parking in places where you can’t have on street parking, and still keeps buildings pretty close to the road,” Benson said. “I think [the aldermen] recognized that a limited amount was probably desirable, at least in some locations, but they didn’t want to go too far.”

What that means will differ greatly for businesses and developers on the ground from district to district, and sometimes even from case to case, said Benson.

“It varies from no parking in front, like in the central business-type districts, to maximum parking in front with a controlled-use permit,” said Benson, referring to the new stipulation that allows some developers to ask that their property be made a special zone, with site-specific conditions.

Ingles on Russ Avenue, which is pursuing a major expansion, is the first to be granted such a permit.

Not everywhere in town, of course, would be privy to parking-in-front. For businesses, it’s limited to the town’s three major commercial districts — Russ Avenue, the Elwood-Junaluska district and South Main Street — and certain residential districts.


Under the newly verdant trees shading the lawn of the historic Haywood County Courthouse, 29 people silently lined the sidewalk last Friday, sending the message that they were “struck speechless” by slashed state funding proposed by House Republicans.

Their signs bore slogans decrying the deep cuts handed down to schools, universities, the elderly and environmental programs, among others.

Pacing in the sun on the courthouse steps behind them, Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, was anything but speechless. He’s the group’s spokesperson, and it’s probably fair to say that he’s livid about the cuts.

The phrase that he keeps returning to, and indeed the one that he has trotted out on the House floor throughout the budget debate to characterize the Republican’s approach to cuts, is “ready, shoot, aim.”

There’s no money, he said, he gets it. But there must be a line drawn somewhere, and he is concerned that the money-slashing sword is being drawn too quickly and wielded too loosely.

“We’re talking about fundamental services that are being cut to our people,” said Rapp. “These cuts are draconian, destructive and deeply disappointing.”

The ones he seems most viscerally worked up about are the ones that affect children and the elderly — the House plan calls for $1.2 billion to go from school funding and 50 percent of the money senior centers get would be taken away. Project Care, an in-home service for the elderly that got its start in Haywood County, would be eliminated completely. More at 4, a preschool program would take a big hit, as would its early development companion, Smart Start.

Rapp tends to refer to such educational reductions as “eating our seed corn,” and, he said, he thinks it’s going to have a negative impact on the future.

Rapp and his fellow Democrats have a plan to stave off some of the slash-and-burn that would sweep across the state if a similar budget emerges from fiscal wrangling in the Senate later this month. Rather than cutting the state’s sales tax by a penny, keep the sales tax at its current level. A one-cent sales tax billed as temporary to solve state budget shortfall two years ago was set to expire this year. Keeping it in place would at least defend schools from some of the more painful and deleterious blows.

“Nine-hundred million of that $1.2 billion could be erased by simply continuing that one-cent sales tax,” said Rapp.

The idea, though, isn’t likely to get much traction in a General Assembly that’s ruled by Republicans, many of whom ran on a no-tax-increase platform of fiscal conservatism, or at least promised a lightened tax load.

Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, who bumped out incumbent Democrat John Snow last November, is one of Rapp’s Senate counterparts. He’s not going for the sales tax extension, and his Republican colleagues, he said, are unlikely to do so, either.

“It was a temporary tax for two years and it expires June 30, and if they thought that they needed a tax for longer than that, they should’ve voted for it,” said Davis.

If all goes to plan, he expects that he and his Senate colleagues may be proffering their own budget — similar, he said, to the House offering — within a few weeks.

Davis concedes that these cuts aren’t easy to swallow, but he maintains that, for now, they’re necessary.

“We’re not too excited about cutting good programs, but there’s only so much waste, fraud and abuse in the budget,” said Davis.

Davis said that he is hearing pleas from constituents, however.

“The magnitude of this problem is significant. I have lots and lots of people calling me, writing me letters, emailing me, telling me that they know we have some serious problems, but don’t cut my programs,” said Davis. “This is not easy.”

For Davis, the loss of legitimate programs is lamentable but necessary to right the state’s listing fiscal ship. He’s hopeful that things will soon get better, good programs can be restored and rainy day funds replenished. But today, even a great program may not be great enough to stay around.

“We cannot fix our state budget without touching those items, so some programs are really getting the ax,” said Davis. “But you know, nothing is a good deal if you can’t pay for it.”

Rapp, however, said the cuts have become unpalatable.

“I don’t think the average citizen anticipated the depth of cuts that they’re making,” Rapp said.


Americans love pad thai.

This one fact, Nonglak Pafuang is sure of. After moving to the U.S. from Thailand five years ago, she’s learned that the varied cuisines of her homeland are popular stateside, but none more than pad thai, a popular stir fry that features fried egg and rice noodles. It’s just one of the things she’s learned over the last half-decade spent starting and running Thai restaurants around the Southeast.

Pafuang, known to pretty much everyone as Doh, is the manager of Waynesville’s newest restaurant, Thai Spice. The Main Street store isn’t her first foray into Asian dining. She and the restaurant’s owner, Karan Kalongrat, have opened and run two other Thai dining spots, one in Wilmington and one in Anderson, S.C.

Those restaurants are now in the hands of their capable staff, said Doh. And she and Kalongrat have brought their traditional Thai flavors to the mountains.

“We plan to stay here,” she said. “When I look out of the door, the mountains and trees are so pretty.”

Originally, they’d looked at Asheville as their next location, enamored of its beauty and mountain charisma. But they eventually settled on Waynesville, which won out with its small town charm. It took them three months to get the place ready for action, and they opened their doors in early April after checking off a sizable list of repairs and renovations.

And in their short time in the space once occupied by Ceviche’s on Main, she said things look promising.

Unlike the other locales where they’ve set up shop, Doh said that so far, their Waynesville patrons have been eager diners who have been waiting for a Thai option to open its doors.

“It seems like people in this town really seem to know Thai food,” said Pafuang. And while they grew love and support for their food over time in their other homes, she said they started almost from scratch with customers there.

And noticing those customers’ preferences is how they craft their menu; thus, the pad thai.

“We pick the most popular dishes that American people know,” she said, which usually include curries in addition to pad thai.

But if she had her way, Pafuang would be serving the more spicy and flavorful dishes that her home country’s national kitchen has to offer.

While much American food relies on the two heavyweights of flavoring — salt and pepper — to add kick to the cuisine, Thai fare, she said, samples a much broader selection of the seasoning range, both in taste and heat. On the restaurant’s menu, there’s even evidence of this: the options for each dish are mild, medium, spicy and Thai spicy. This, she said, is why her favorite Thai dishes are the most intensely spicy, flavorful offerings that don’t often make their way onto the restaurant’s menu. They’re a bit too punched up for the average American palate.

But she’s confident in the offerings that do feature on their menus, because she knows Kalongrat’s culinary standard is high. That’s why she can focus her energy and attention on making sure customers are not only enjoying a good product, but having fun and relaxing while doing it.

“I like to make a restaurant beautiful,” said Pafuang. “I’m happy when people come and enjoy the atmosphere.”

And she has, indeed, brought a sunny, Asian warmth to the place, gracing the vibrant orange walls with local art from Frog Level’s Gallery 262. A gleaming golden dragon greets diners at the front entrance and sheer white curtains billow behind it and in the front windows. The space itself is small but open, and diners are clustered around small tables that line the walls.

And while it’s a different experience than other restaurants that grace the downtown landscape, Pafuang hopes that locals will continue to warm to it, and maybe even try a new thing or two.

“When they get used to having Thai food,” she promises, “really, they’ll love it.”

(Thai Spice is located across the street from Sun Trust on Main Street in Waynesville.)


The July 7 primary is drawing closer in Cherokee, when the field for principal chief will narrow from five to two.

Current Principal Chief Michell Hicks is making a play for his third four-year term. He’ll again be facing his 2007 rival, Patrick Lambert, whom he defeated by a mere 13 votes to reclaim the seat.

Lambert is an attorney and head of the Tribal Gaming Commission Enterprise, and brought a lawsuit protesting the 2007 election results that was rejected by the tribal Supreme Court.

Also in the race are some newcomers, but they are in no sense novices to the hurly burly politics of the tribe.

Longtime political activist Mary ‘Missy’ Crowe has stepped back into the fray, after protesting the results of the 2003 election, when she failed to win a seat on tribal council.

Juanita Wilson, a former assistant to Chief Hicks, is also coming back to have another try at the top spot. She ran in the last primary, but threw her name in at the last minute and campaigned little in the primary run-up.

Gary Ledford, public safety director for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is the only candidate who hasn’t run for office before. That’s because his 20-year military career, which ended in 2006, precluded him from taking office. He’s been in public safety with the tribe since 2007, and he believes his two decades of public service have prepared him for taking the post.

The candidate list isn’t yet official — that won’t come out until absentee ballots are printed in mid-May — but registration for new candidates has already closed.

One of the issues likely to dominate the debate this year is, of course, the economy. Most of the five candidates listed it as one of the major issues facing the tribe in the upcoming four years, and Chief Hicks, the tribe’s former finance officer, is focusing his campaign on the basis of his fiscal leadership.

The Eastern Band, unlike many other local governments, isn’t hemorrhaging funds and doesn’t appear to be facing cuts thanks to its glittering cash cow, Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino. Half of what the casino pulls in is distributed evenly among members, while the other half goes to tribal operations. But not everyone is pleased with how that’s handled.

“There seems to be very little planning in how we’re spending money, even to develop, even to expand the casino,” said Wilson, who also mentioned the Sequoyah National Golf Club (a tribally owned operation in Whittier) as a concerning drain on tribal finances, and she characterized it as an unwise decision by tribal leaders.

Crowe echoed those sentiments of fiscal caution.

“We have seen a lot of things happen because of the economy, and they do have a direct effect to our economy here on the boundary. I feel that we need to start working towards other funding. There’s a lot at stake, so we have to be diligent in protecting our sovereignty and our assets,” said Crowe, suggesting that maybe relying solely on Harrah’s to continue buoying the tribe through tough economic times might not be the best idea.

Ledford’s also pitching diminished dependency on the casino.

“At very great financial risk, we’ve put all of our eggs into one flimsy non-double-weave basket. We have effectively turned our back on the small businessman by focusing all efforts on the casino, in a declining casino market,” said Ledford. “You have to — not should, have to — drive down your debt, build your cash reserves and eliminate or postpone unnecessary expansion projects that increase that debt.”

Meanwhile, incumbent Hicks is seeking to protect his perch by pointing to his accomplishments at the helm as the economic downturn has deepened.

“The biggest concern for this tribe right now is paying the debt off,” said Hicks. And, he said, as a CPA with 23 years of tribal service under his belt, he’s just the guy to keep working on it.

“I’ve helped bring us through the worst economy we’ve ever seen, and the tribe is doing great,” said Hicks.


Tribal transparency

Money’s not the only issue on the table in this race, though. Transparency is a buzzword that keeps surfacing when candidates discuss what led them into the fray.

Lambert said the desire for transparency is part of what pulled him back into the political arena.

“One of the things that we’re going to do is make sure that there’s audits and assurance of fairness and that all the tribal audits are made public,” said Lambert. “People are just looking for a change and that’s primarily the reason I got back into it.”

Crowe said that she, too, is lobbying for a more informative government than what she sees now.

“I’ve been the first one to be screaming transparency, all the way back to 1986,” said Crowe. “We have to be vigilant in knowing exactly what the government is doing with our land and our money. Would you not want the CEO of a business to allow the shareholders to know exactly what’s going on with that business?”

Wilson, who has seen the cogs of the tribe’s executive branch turning from the inside, said increased government transparency is one of her top campaign priorities and what pushed her to run in 2007 and now.

“Our government isn’t transparent. We don’t have our own constitution, despite the fact that we are a sovereign nation,” said Wilson. “It amazes me that we’re making the kind of money we are from the casino and we’re cutting programs. I want to get in and figure out exactly where things are going, how things are being spent, because it just doesn’t add up for me.

“I’m not on a witch hunt, I simply want to do this for the people.”

Hicks himself called for openness in campaign-finance disclosure during a debate with Lambert in the last election.

But as the two-term sitting leader, Hicks will be on the defense when it comes to touting the merits of open government. It’s an issue that’s popped up for the chief before, when Joe Martin, former editor of tribal newspaper The One Feather, brought a wrongful termination lawsuit against the tribe, saying Hicks tried to quash unflattering coverage of the tribe in the paper, then pushed Martin out when he didn’t acquiesce. The suit settled out of court late last year.


Incumbent’s advantage?

Though the primary is still two months out, Hicks is already mounting a concentrated offensive to win the affections and ear of the voting public.

Though it’s hardly a gauge of public opinion or popularity, if judging by publicity alone, Hicks takes the race by a landslide.

It is difficult to drive a few hundred yards on any major thoroughfare in Cherokee without encountering at least one sign seeking a vote for his re-election. And then there are the two massive tractor-trailers in downtown Cherokee, parked less than a mile from one another, draped with gargantuan banners that bear his stoic image and the phrase ‘Re-Elect Hicks’ in 10-foot-high letters.

At a re-elect-Chief-Hicks cookout this week, he told gathered supporters that he was going back for a third helping because he felt that there was more left to do.

“My work isn’t finished yet, at this point. We’ve accomplished a lot over the last eight years, but I’ve got a lot more that I want to do on behalf of this tribe,” said Hicks.

And he’s got the weight of two campaigns behind him, which offers a high level of brand recognition among voters; a few at the rally were sporting T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Chicks for Hicks,’ and though they planned for 400, stores of burgers and hot dogs were running low only an hour in.

But other candidates think that their freshness is what offers them an advantage. Wilson said she doesn’t see the benefits of keeping a many-term chief in office.

“I’m going in with a mindset of being one term,” said Wilson. “I supported [Hicks] in his first term. I went to work for him. And after the first three-and-a-half years, the policy shifted,” which she said she feels is due in part to the pressure for re-election.

Hicks himself, though, didn’t point to his eight-year incumbency as a challenge in this year’s campaign, but seemed to see it as an asset.

His greatest challenge, he said, will be getting voters out to the polls.

“This can’t be a lazy election,” said Hicks.

Challenger Lambert, though, believes this election will be about changing, not staying, the course.

“This election’s going to be about the tribe and trying to change the direction of the tribe,” said Lambert.


Also on the ballot

Elsewhere in primary battles, the field is broad, but not quite as crowded as it has been in previous elections. Vying for vice chief, the only other position elected by the tribe at-large, are former opponents Teresa McCoy, currently a tribal council member for Big Cove, and Larry Blythe, the incumbent. Also running for that seat are Carroll ‘Peanut’ Crowe and Joey Owle.

The six tribal council districts, which operate on two-year terms, have anywhere between four and eight hopefuls, and each group will be whittled to four in the primary, with two winners chosen. All sitting tribal council members are running for re-election.

The general election will be held September 1, but the last chance for voter registration is June 8.


Of the many games that grace the floors at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, poker might be the most universal. From casino floors to living room floors, the World Poker Tournament estimates that nearly 60 million Americans play the game. Even the president plays poker.

And now, any one of those 60 million will have their own chance at the game’s holy grail, the World Series of Poker.

This month, the casino will be hosting its first-ever World Series of Poker event, a 10-day poker extravaganza that culminates in two large tournaments and a 10-player final. The lucky winner of that game will go home not only with winnings, but a coveted slot at the prestigious World Series of Poker main event in Las Vegas. They’ll even be flown to Nevada, courtesy of their winning hand.

Ron Hager, director of table games for the casino, said that in the two years they’ve been offering the game, popularity among patrons has soared.

“They’re always asking, ‘Why don’t you have the big tournaments?’” said Hager. “Then there’s the added appeal of the World Series of Poker. It’s like every poker player’s dream.”

Indeed, that’s the appeal of this event: any player can become a Cinderella story. They just need the skills and, of course, that vital measure of luck that makes a good player a winner.

Although the poker at Harrah’s Cherokee isn’t exactly like the real-deal main event the WSP puts on in Vegas — it’s an electronic set-up, sans live dealers, thanks to some legal agreements the casino has with the state — Hager said that the players aren’t fazed. Some, claims Hager, even purport to like the electronic version better than the real deal. There are fewer errors.

“The players that play it, they all say it’s a heck of a lot better than you ever think it would be. People really like it,” said Hager.

And, he said, that claim is proven by the multitudes who are flocking to Harrah’s tables.

“We started with four tables, went up to seven tables after about two months, and increased to the 10 tables we have now. On weekends and holidays, 10 tables isn’t nearly enough,” said Hager.

In recent years, the game has seen a surge in popularity, thanks to events like the World Series of Poker and other televised matchups that bring the quiet drama of poker out of smoky back rooms and casinos and into America’s living rooms.

The game has the hushed, measured qualities of golf — patience, shrewdness, strategic calculations and a certain amount of bravado and luck are what make winners. But poker, unlike golf, offers everyday players the same shot at glory as the big-name players, no preternatural athletic prowess required.

As Hager said, it’s every poker player’s dream, and as the game gains a following, it gains a lot more hopefuls, too.

The World Series of Poker started in 1971. The headliner that year — the $10,000 Texas Hold-‘em tournament that’s become the star-studded spectacle of the poker world — had six participants. The numbers languished around the lower end of the size spectrum until 2003, when the event hosted 839 players. That was the year Chris Moneymaker won. He was a 27-year-old comptroller/restaurant worker who won the big pot by qualifying through an online poker site. He was young and fairly portly. He wore baseball caps. He was everyman. And he walked away with $2.5 million.

And that’s also when poker’s star began to ascend.

By 2006, the WSP had more than 8,000 hopefuls playing hands, an increase of more than 1,000 percent in just three years.

Last year, the tournament was down slightly to around 7,000 players, but interest in the game is clearly still blooming, even with the federal indictment handed down earlier this month against the three largest online poker sites on the Internet.

Moneymaker was proof that poker, unlike many other sports, doesn’t need extensive training from childhood, wealthy parents, the right build or the right coaches. It just needs the right hand in the right hands.

Moneymaker is set to appear at the Harrah’s event, which will, in itself, be a draw. Since his watershed win in 2003, he’s played in a plethora of tournaments, but he’s also parlayed his unique rise to stardom into a business opportunity with appearances at poker events worldwide.

Hager and his team are hoping that Moneymaker, and the ethos he represents, will bring in players to their event that might not otherwise frequent the tables. Though their pre-registration isn’t high, Hager said that’s normal and not something they’re particularly worried about.

“Amazingly enough, 60 percent of the people that register for a tournament do it in the last 30 minutes before the tournament starts,” said Hager.

So if you’re still honing your online skills getting ready for the big day, you’ve still got time. And if watching is more your speed than playing, there will be large screens and special coverage set up inside the casino for spectators.

And who knows? You might just be watching another Moneymaker in the making.


The schedule throughout the 10 days of WSOP includes live action tournaments and events for poker players of all types. Highlights include:

• Friday, May 6- May 8 — $550 buy-in multi-day tournament and final on Sunday, May 8

• Monday, May 9 — Omaha PL Hi/Lo $120 tournament

• Wednesday, May 11— $225 Carnival PokerPro Challenge Cruise Event

• Thursday, May 12 — $60 No Limit Turbo Hold’em event

• Friday, May 13-Sunday, May 15 — $1,075 buy-in tournament, winner receiving $10,000 seat at the 2011 WSOP in Las Vegas and a cash prize.


Legislation that would bring alcohol regulation in Cherokee completely under tribal control is now working its way through the General Assembly.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians established its own Alcoholic Beverage Commission in 2009 following a resolution to allow alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, and now the tribe is lobbying for recognition by the state.

The Tribal ABC Board controls the permits it gives to Harrah’s as well as the sale and distribution of alcohol at the casino. Now, Harrah’s must get a permit from the state, in addition to the tribal permit. With these bills, the tribe is trying to change that.

“Right now, they don’t recognize any of the ordinances other than their own. They only recognize towns, counties and townships,” said Bob Blankenship, chairman of the Tribal ABC Board. “We want them to acknowledge our authority, and we want to eliminate dual permits.”

And the issue is not just permitting, but enforcement. The Eastern Band has its own task force for alcohol enforcement, with two full-time officers on duty.

Because Cherokee is a sovereign nation, the state can’t enforce its permits there; they don’t have the jurisdiction. So the tribe is already doing it for them.

Now, they’re asking for full control of it, legally, instead of just operating on an ad hoc basis.

For Sen. Jim Davis (R-Franklin), who introduced the bill, it’s a local issue.

“I signed onto it because I believe in local control,” said Davis.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks said that he’s on board with the bill for the same reason.

Currently, there is nothing in the North Carolina alcohol statutes which specifically addresses tribal sovereignty and this bill will correct that deficiency.”

The measure has the backing of the Tribal Council, as well. In reality, the law will do little more than formalize the procedures already in place, and get rid of redundant permits.

What it won’t do is expand alcohol sales on the reservation.

Currently, Tribal ABC can legally issue sale permits to one place: Harrah’s. They can give one-time permission to serve alcohol at special events and issue brown-bag permits that allow patrons to bring their own — the Holiday Inn in Cherokee has had one since 1984 — but they still can’t let anyone on the reservation sell alcohol outside Harrah’s.

This means that, not only can other restaurants and shops in Cherokee not sell to customers looking to buy, Harrah’s itself has to take its money elsewhere, too. So ABC stores in neighboring counties are raking in revenue keeping the casino well stocked.

To change that, said Blankenship, another referendum would be needed to broaden the scope of his board’s authority.  

The idea of sales elsewhere on the Qualla Boundary, however, has been bandied about before and it has recently resurfaced. The Cherokee Chamber of Commerce sent out an informal survey, asking members to weigh in on the issue, and Chamber Executive Matt Pegg said that many seemed to be in favor of letting other local businesses get in on the alcohol game.

For now, though, said Blankenship, his board will be happy just to be recognized by the state for what they already do, without raising the question of whether they should do more.


It’s 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, and in a kitchen in Frog Level, a chocolate almond layered torte is beginning to take shape. It’s a paragon of decadent, gourmet virtue, and it’s being lovingly crafted, layer on layer, for entry in this year’s Taste of Chocolate competition.

But it’s not being forged at the hands of a professional chef or restaurant culinary team. It’s a group of teenagers in black aprons, taking over the old Armory kitchen after school, perfecting their entry before getting a jump on some homework.

These are the most recent participants in Kids at Work, a program put on by the Haywood Jackson Volunteer Center that gets at-risk kids out of possible mischief and into the kitchen, learning skills that they can take into their lives and, hopefully, into the workplace.

It’s headed up by Corey Costanzo, a counselor with Aspire Youth and Family, a Haywood County organization dedicated to helping young people and their families succeed.

Costanzo saw a niche in the educational system that needed filling — the region was pretty low on vocational training for young people that could offer them marketable job skills, right out of school.

When he heard that Haywood County’s Juvenile Crime Prevention Council was calling for ideas to help at-risk and court-involved kids get a kick start in society and the workplace, he jumped on the opportunity.

“If we teach them how to cook and give them counseling and social skills, we’re going to see a marked improvement,” says Costanzo, and the kids who are in the program seem to agree.

Averrie Gast says she is a good example of this. She’s a friendly, talkative blonde who is in the thick of the culinary fray in the kitchen, washing dishes, mixing chocolate, asking questions of professional chef Ambra Lowenstein, the group’s teacher.

She was referred to the program by her therapist, who thought it would help her confront her paralyzing fear of hot water.

“When I was 18 months old, I was burned by boiling water, and my whole life I’ve had a fear of boiling water,” she explains.

Since facing her fear with her friends in the kitchen, though, she’s broken its spell and says she’s now, a few months later, able to cook in her kitchen alone.

Plus, she says, the program has not only helped her conquer her fears but also given her a community that she loves and skills she can take into the workplace.

“It’s kind-of like our own little family,” says Gast of the tight-knit group of six.

They’re the third round of students to go through the program, and they learn everything from whipping up a roulade to washing the dish it’s served in. That way, says Costanzo, kids like Averrie graduate with the knowledge and experience to move into entry-level positions at any number of restaurants.

They don’t just stick with normal American fare, either, says Costanzo, which helps expose them to a raft of cuisines that will help them in the workplace, and will broaden their own culinary horizons and hopefully inject some more interesting, healthy options into their daily diets.

Kaleb Sise says this is one of his favorite elements of the program. He’s tall and tattooed, with his short, red hair styled up into a messy faux-hawk and gauges in his ears. Unlike some of his classmates, he’s dreamt of a chef’s life since childhood, and he appreciates the diversity that the program’s curriculum offers.

“My favorite food is Asian cuisine, and we’ve done that before,” says Sise, noting that he’s been experimenting in the kitchen since childhood. “When I was younger, I wanted to be a chef, I have since I was little, so I already knew some things.”

But whether their life’s aspiration is to be a chef or consider successfully producing unburned toast a culinary triumph, Costanzo has seen the benefits of the program change the lives of many students. So far, he’s had 84 participate, and says he’s seen some pretty dramatic improvements in some, both behaviorally and socially.

“One of my kids, he’s been in juvenile detention, he’s been kicked out of two schools, and now he calls me on weekends with his mother in the grocery store because he’s staying home on Friday night, cooking for his family,” says Costanzo. “To me, that’s the greatest success.”

That kind of transformation, he says, comes from not only teaching kids new and valuable skills, but putting them into a community of other kids and adult mentors who help them with homework, social and family issues and provide them a safe, fun and helpful environment on a regular basis. After being exposed to that, he says, a lot of his students don’t want to leave the program.

Among the six here today, a few were already expressing that very sentiment.

Although the program is producing pretty great benefits for the kids personally, its aim is really to offer them longer-term success professionally by getting them into the workplace.

The economy, though, is still brutal, especially for high school students and recent graduates with a dearth of on-the-ground experience.

That’s part of why they’re teaming up with The Open Door in Frog Level — where the kids already cook a few times a month — for this month’s The Whole Bloomin’ Thing festival.

The students will cook brunch to raise funds for the charity, and Costanzo hopes it will afford them some exposure to area restaurant owners who see their skills and will offer them a chance to improve them with real-world employment.

But even if not all of his graduates go on to culinary careers, Costanzo says he considers the shifts in their lives and their thinking a tremendous success in its own right.

“We really want them to be a part,” says Costanzo. “We want to give kids an opportunity to experience a different kind of family than what they’re used to.”

And in this group, where more than one said they came into the program with few friends or community and will be sad when they graduate from Kids At Work, that benchmark of success has probably already been reached.


The state’s bloodletting has begun, and for Haywood County Schools, the losses might add up to more than $4 million siphoned off next year’s budget.

School officials have been steadily crunching numbers since the state House of Representatives offered a look into its proposed budget this month, and their calculations paint a fairly grim picture for some of the system’s programs.

Line-item cuts from the state that target specific budget items range from a 5 percent reduction in transportation funding to 100 percent pulled from things like dropout prevention, school technology and staff development.

Those cuts, trimming from 17 categories, total $2.4 million and mean a loss of 46 positions, many of them teacher assistants.

Then there’s the $1.6 million more in “discretionary reversion,” which means that the school system can work out on its own where that money has to be saved, but it’s got to somehow.

Altogether, the proposed House budget would cut 13 percent from the school system’s budget.

Meanwhile, courtesy of another state mandate that governs how much the school system pays into its employees’ retirement and health benefits, they’ll have to spend an extra $138,403 to cover those expenses. And since the percentages they pay into those funds are set by the state every year, they’re stuck with those increased costs.

There are other increases, too, that the school system has identified as needs, but they’re realistic about the likelihood of getting them. From a guidance counselor for Haywood Early College to two school nurse positions to rotate among the schools, Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte is careful to say that they’re not just wants, but things the system might need to fund from somewhere.

“We may have to, or lose programs or even lose accreditation,” said Nolte.

In addition to the jump in operating expenses, school officials have found around $1.6 million in capital improvements that will need attention sometime soon. Some of those, like window tinting and new blinds, aren’t particularly urgent.

Some, like exit doors stuck shut by warped sidewalks, can’t wait.  

All this at a time when the county, too, is looking at its budget, trying to trim fat in anticipation of its own cuts from the state.

It would seem, then, that the schools are in a predicament. And that is the pitch education officials gave to county commissioners this week when they met to float their potential budget and test the waters on what kind of support they’d be getting from commissioners this year.

Though they didn’t pin down an exact percent increase on what they got last year, they’re looking to commissioners to at least stick to the funding formula they’ve been using for the last few years, and any extra on those capital projects and operating increases they could scrape up wouldn’t hurt, either.

They’re not looking for any help, though, in making up the difference cut by the state because, said Nolte, they’re well aware that more cash from the county just isn’t there.

“I don’t think we can, in good conscience, expect the commissioners to come up with revenue that they don’t have,” said Nolte. “It’s impractical, in my professional opinion, to say to our county commissioners, ‘Hey, the state cut all of this; fund it.’ There is a worldwide economic crisis, and to our knowledge, our commissioners do not have new revenues that would make up for any state cuts to any agencies.”

But with finances tight on every front, what they’re asking might still be too much.

“If we fund you at your requested level, that would be a 1.5 cent increase on the tax rate. That’s what you’re asking us to do,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley, the board’s lone Republican. Ensley told school officials that, while he understood their problems, he was committed to a revenue-neutral budget, which would be a hard feat to accomplish while doling out extra money.

When asked what they would do if the county couldn’t fund them with any extra dollars, Superintendent Anne Garrett said they’d make do.

“Well, we would have to make it work because we wouldn’t have a choice,” said Garrett.

But even if the county does pony up for as much as the school needs, it will still mean some pretty painful slashing next year.

Last year, of the school system’s $72.5 million budget, the state picked up the tab for 62 percent of it. They’ve been reducing funding pretty steadily since recession came into full bloom in 2009; the system has lost $5.2 million since that year.

But this year, they will, at one time, be losing 77 percent of what they’ve lost in the past three years combined.

In terms of real jobs, the biggest hits are coming for teacher assistants. A whopping 49 percent of state funding for those positions is going right out the window, which translates to 32 assistants.

While the state suggests that every class through the third grade have a dedicated assistant, Haywood County can’t reach that threshold with the resources it has now. Apparently, no one can, according to school officials.

Right now, they’ve got assistants in all the kindergarten and first-grade classes, with a few rotating in second and third grades. If the House cuts go through, that would whittle that number significantly, essentially down to just the kindergarten aides.

Nolte said they would probably be able to stave off that particular carnage thanks to some forward planning last year. They got a slice of a federal money pie called EduJobs and then promptly squirreled it away for just such an occasion. They can now dip into it to fund some positions in the coming year.

Here’s the problem with that, though: it’s only enough to fill in that gap for one year. And depending on the state of the financial world this time next year, they could be back in the same place.

“Basically, what we’re doing is trying to do one more year and hope it comes back,” said Commissioner Michael Sorrells.

In other places, though, they don’t have the caches to shore up the gaping funding holes the state might leave.

Some school bus replacements will have to be put on hold and dropout prevention, staff development and several other programs will be scuttled altogether.

One pretty high number on the House cuts list is the 68 percent of textbook funding they’d pull. But, said Nolte, that’s not the big hit that it seems, as Haywood schools have been moving away from textbook reliance for a while now.

It makes sense — in a digital world, it’s unlikely that the classroom will be the only bastion of traditional paper texts. It helped their test scores, said Nolte, and now it’s helping their bottom line, too.

If the Senate’s budget is anything like the austerity of the House’s, school officials said that next year will be tough. But they’ve been preparing for this situation since 2009, having been forewarned by economists and government sources alike that the upcoming school year would be the nadir of the crisis for public finances. It’ll be rough, but they can probably ride it out.

There are a few stashes here and there that the school system could raid if things got dire, their yearly lottery payout being the fattest. But with 16 schools and even more offices, Nolte said they’re protecting that money to use for maintaining the buildings and grounds, since all the other pools that once paid for those improvements are drying up.

“We have 1.47 million square feet under roof, and it just takes some revenue to fix the pipes and the valves that start to leak and the roofs that wear out,” said Nolte.

Plus, he said, that final pot may soon be gone, too, diverted to other state needs. Two years ago, the school stopped getting ADM funding, which gave them money based on their schools’ pupil population.

“The lottery is being seriously eyed by the legislature,” said Nolte.

Really, though, what he’s concerned about is what comes next if things don’t get better. There comes a point where only so much that can be cut, and he worries that they’re on the express train to it.

“At some point in time, there’s going to be a straw or two that breaks the camel’s back. There’s really not a lot of cushion left there,” said Nolte. “We’ve lost over 50 positions in the last three years and we’ve tried to spread those, but at some point in time, there’ll be a saturation point.”


In the world of Haywood County tourism, a turf battle is brewing, and the fiefdoms under fire are the county’s visitor centers.

What might seem like the friendly face of local tourism has once again become a battleground where funding dollars are the ultimate prize, and the most recent conflict has flared over Canton’s visitor center. It’s a small building, situated just off Interstate 40 on Champion Drive, in what was once a car wash. It has been closed on and off for the past year as the county’s tourism agency struggled with funding shortfalls, and is now at risk of having the plug pulled completely.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority plans to shift funding for the Canton visitor center, which sees little traffic, to a new, flagship visitor center on Main Street in downtown Waynesville with the promise of reaching more people.

Canton Mayor Pat Smathers has spoken out against the funding cut, pointing out the Canton visitor center’s proximity to I-40, making it more visible than any of the other three visitor centers in the county.

“I think a big push ought to be made to make that the premier center in the county, not just because it’s Canton, but because that’s the main corridor in the county,” said Smathers. “More visitors come in contact with I-40 than with any other place in the county and that visitors center should be a place to stop people and be able to funnel them into Maggie Valley, into Waynesville, Cruso, Canton, Clyde — everywhere in the county.”

Smathers said he’d be disappointed if the Canton center was relegated in favor of TDA’s newer Waynesville visitor center.

“I don’t know why we’re going to put more visitor centers up in Waynesville and not fund the one here on the main corridor,” Smathers said.

The visitor center isn’t Canton’s only bone to pick with the TDA. At last week’s TDA meeting, it was highlighted that a new map put out by the tourism agency showcased Waynesville and Maggie Valley as the only towns in the county. Canton didn’t even make an appearance. Neither did Clyde.

TDA Executive Director Lynn Collins defended the map, saying that listed locations were given to those who bought ad space.


TDA makes amends with Haywood Chamber

Canton isn’t the only visitor center to lose funding to make way for TDA’s new endeavor. The tourism agency announced it would ax $30,000 in funding a year for a Waynesville visitor center operated by the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce — diverting the money to its own visitor center instead.

While the TDA’s new visitor center will be mere blocks from the one run by the chamber, the chamber plans to keep operating its visitor center anyway — resulting in two visitor centers three blocks apart.

Pleas from the chamber of commerce not to yank its funding so suddenly convinced the TDA board to partially reverse course. The TDA board decided last week to restore partial funding to the tune of $13,000 for the coming fiscal year, but not without some dissension among board members.

TDA board member Lyndon Lowe questioned the decision, especially in light of the Canton visitor center predicament.

“Canton’s visitor center we say that we don’t have money for but we’re going to subsidize the one here?” Lowe asked fellow board members before voting against the funding.

Marion Hamel agreed, saying she would feel more comfortable with a smaller amount.

“I feel that $13,000 is putting us over the edge,” said Hamel, who represents Maggie Valley on the TDA. “I understand the rationale behind it, I just wish that it wasn’t as much money as it is.”

Jennifer Duerr, TDA board member and owner of the Windover Inn, also expressed concerns over the fairness of partial funding to the chamber for its visitor center but not Canton’s.

“If we’re going to not be making an exception for one, I’m a little uncomfortable making it for another,” said Duerr.

The measure eventually passed, though not unanimously, with Hamel, Lowe and Duerr casting the only dissenting votes.


Canton fate up in the air

TDA planned to pull its staff out of the Canton visitor center in May and turn it over to volunteers to run, but not enough volunteers materialized. Total closure seemed imminent, but a rescue came through from a special pot of tourism money controlled by Canton.

A portion of tourism tax dollars are divvied up between five locales in the county to use on pet projects. Canton has elected to use $3,000 from its special pool of money to staff the visitor center through July. The TDA, however, is still calling for volunteers to help work the center at other times.

TDA board members maintain that they are committed to keeping the center open and believe in its viability.

“It is our every intention to keep that visitor center open,” said Ken Stahl, a TDA board member, but he has also noted that many driving visitors find information via GPS and Web-enabled phones, rather than through traditional highway visitor centers.

Strictly by the numbers, Canton’s center ranks third out of the county’s four visitor’s centers for actual visitors, trailing the popular Balsam center and Maggie Valley’s location.

However, Haywood County Economic Development Director Mark Clasby, who sits on the TDA, said that the Canton center should be a priority for tourism in the county.

“I think it plays an important role,” said Clasby. “Before the rock slide that we had, the numbers for the Canton visitor’s center were up. I think it’s a very important geographic location.”

Canton Town Manager Al Matthews is  both the town manager in Canton and a TDA board member himself.

“The town sees the necessity and advisability of having a visitor center here,” said Matthews. “We have been working with the TDA, trying to make sure that the visitor’s center is open on a regular basis.”

The car-wash-cum-visitor’s-center may not be the only iron in the fire for Canton, though. Back in 2004, the idea for a more comprehensive visitor’s experience off I-40 in Canton was proposed, but stalled before getting funding for a feasibility study when the economy tanked two years later.

There’s talk of the concept being resurrected, however, as part of an economic development plan being crafted for the town using a grant from the N.C. Rural Center.

Matthews said that, though it’s an idea that’s on the table, it’s far too early to speculate about its practicality.

“Hypothetically that is an option, but it’s premature to say that could or should or would happen,” said Matthews.

It’s still unclear whether Canton’s current center will be able to stay open full time into the next fiscal year. Lynn Collins, TDA’s executive director, said they “were still working it out.”


Folkmoot festival has lost a vital source of advertising money, jeopardizing its ability to lure visitors to Haywood County during the festival’s two-week summer run.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority announced its intention this month to yank its annual contribution to Folkmoot USA. The TDA has given Folkmoot between $6,000 and $12,000 every year since the festival’s inception in 1984.

Folkmoot President Chuck Dickson made a heartfelt pitch to the TDA board last week, asking them to reinstate the funding.

“Folkmoot has helped put Haywood County on the map and has definitely enhanced Haywood County’s reputation as a tourist destination,” Dickson told the 15 members of the TDA board.

TDA board members cited a still-slumping economy and overhead associated with a new downtown Waynesville visitor center as the culprits.

The festival turns Haywood County into an international bazaar every July, with more than 200 dancers and musicians from a dozen countries staging a series of performances and parades. The TDA funding is spent marketing the festival to audiences across the South.

Last year, Folkmoot only got a portion of what they requested — $6,000 of the $9,000 they were looking for — which covered just under a third of the $19,000 spent on advertising.

Cutting the contribution altogether would hurt Folkmoot’s ability to publicize the festival. Dickson said Folkmoot helps TDA achieve its own mission of luring overnight visitors.

“We put heads in beds — perhaps more than any other event in Haywood County,” said Dickson. “In 2010, 5,000 people attended ticketed events, 2,000 attended free events, and over 50,000 attended the parade and Festival Day, two events for which Folkmoot receives absolutely no money.”

Dickson came armed with both a crowd of Folkmoot supporters and an economic impact study done by Western Carolina University in 2008.

The study walks through the particulars of just how much money and business the festival pulls into the county, but the final total was over $4 million for the 2007 festival.

“These contributions not only increase the appeal of the festival from year to year, but help reinforce the attractiveness of the area in general and that of all other cultural events in the region,” summarized the study.


TDA cuts spurred by budget woes of its own

None of the TDA board members were arguing against that claim. In fact, several espoused the merits of having such a large and unique event housed in the county for such a long time.

However, they weren’t enamored enough to restore the funding.

The TDA board cited the same oft-repeated reason for budget cuts heard at the local, state and national levels of late: it’s the economy, what else can we do?

“It’s more about looking at harsh finances right now and looking at the bigger picture. I would rather give people more money, but we’re just in a situation with the budget and the money’s just not coming in,” said Jennifer Duerr, TDA board member and owner of the Windover Inn.

The TDA raises money with a 4 percent tax on overnight lodging, bringing in close to $1 million a year. As tourism has dropped with the recession, however, the TDA has seen its budget shrink by nearly $300,000 in three years.

This year alone, the TDA has come up $115,000 short of what it anticipated, leaving the agency struggling to make mid-year budget cuts.

TDA Board Member Ken Stahl floated the idea that Folkmoot lobby Buncombe and Jackson counties for contributions, but Dickson said that tactic was a bit of a long shot, given that they only put on a max of two shows in those counties.

The official suggestion was that Folkmoot apply to special pots of TDA money controlled by individual communities within the county. Maggie Valley, Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Canton and Clyde each get a slice of TDA money to spend on pet projects, from concerts to brochures to micro-level marketing. A quarter of the total TDA budget is divvied up among the county’s five locales.

The TDA board told Folkmoot to take its request to the five committees that oversee the five pots of money.

Folkmoot has historically been paid out of the general fund since the festival is county-wide and holds events in literally each of the five locales, Dixon said. So which one would Folkmoot apply to? The board told Dixon to apply to all five.

The problem there is that those committees won’t have any cash to hand out until autumn at the earliest. In fact, grants for this round of funding were approved later at the same meeting.

Not everybody on the TDA board was in favor of cutting Folkmoot from the tourism agency’s general budget.

Mark Clasby, the county’s economic development director who also sits on the TDA, was vocally opposed to revoking the money.

“The recognition Folkmoot has brought to Haywood County is tremendous, and I disagree with the recommendation that you’re making,” Clasby told board members. “I think it’s wrong.”

Clasby said that Folkmoot is so well-known it’s one of the tools he uses to pitch Haywood County when he’s out courting business development for the county, and that if any organization deserves the money, it’s Folkmoot.

“I certainly understand the budget situation we’re all facing, but at least give them some funding and support,” said Clasby.

TDA Board Member Jennifer Duerr countered Clasby’s view, arguing that it’s just about a change in the way funds are given out, thanks to the economy. The dwindling general fund should be kept for county-wide causes, she said.

“It’s not that we want to not give the money, it’s just not there. Do we give the money to one event, or keep it to represent the entire county?” asked Duerr.

Other members voiced similar views, with Alice Aumen, the board’s chairperson, saying that this year’s budget has been particularly trying.

“It has been one of the most difficult years since I’ve been on the board,” said Aumen.

James Carver, owner of the Maggie Valley Restaurant and board member, said he’d love to give Folkmoot money this year, but that it just wasn’t there.

“I‘ve always been a big supporter of Folkmoot, but money’s down,” said Carver.

In the end, the TDA board gave Dickson and his compatriots their apologies and an invitation to come back and ask again next year, but if they were hoping for a check, they went away empty handed.

“What we would like to leave Folkmoot with is that it is an important event. We all hope it’s going to be a great year for travel and tourism and revenues are going to come up,” said TDA Board Member Sue Knapko, encouraging festival officials to come back again if the committees don’t work out.


Haywood County, like everyone else, is bracing for the impact of state budget cuts. But the good news is that they may leave the budget fray with fewer scrapes than they thought.

In Raleigh, budget committees have been busily trying to bang out cuts in the billions, and while nothing is yet final, a proposed House budget released last week gave a view of the carnage that may be to come.

So Haywood commissioners met with county staff to hash out what this might mean for the county’s budget and the services that rely on it.

Though there will certainly be state cuts that will fall to counties to pay for, but County Manger Marty Stamey told commissioners at a budget workshop last week he’s not as concerned as he could be.

“Best case scenario, we’ll be $250,000 out, which is good,” said Stamey, meaning that a mere $250,000 shortfall would be their best landing in the budget fallout. “A lot of counties would be proud to be where we are. People say what they want to say, but budget-wise, we’ve done the right things over the last few years.”

The county’s budget is still in flux, waiting on both state cuts and the reaction of other groups, such as community colleges and the school system, which may come to the county for helping plug holes from state cuts of their own.

Currently, community colleges are looking at a 10 percent reduction in state funding, while K-12 education was slightly shielded, only facing an 8.8 percent cut.

One area where the county might feel some crunch is in its health and human services budget. The state is seeking to reduce spending there by $527 million, including $527 million in Medicaid, $67 million for mental health services and half of the funding for senior centers. Also on the chopping block are Community Care block grants and Smart Start spending.

“Human services are really busting at the seams for demand in this county,” said Stamey, noting that a decline in services would affect many citizens harshly.

Another proposal that staff said seemed likely to come through is the closure of four state prisons. Though there’s no word yet on which prisons would close, it would shift the burden of housing prisoners serving time for misdemeanors to county jails.

Stamey reported that, while Sheriff Bobby Suttles said he was confident he could house the criminals currently in the system, predicting whether they’ll have room in the future is impossible.

“That’s one reason that we think we might need to have higher contingency this year, for things like this, because that’s an unknown,” said Stamey.

On the revenue side, Finance Director Julie Davis told commissioners that the picture is no clearer there.

Surprisingly, said Davis, the property revaluation that happened this year isn’t what’s throwing projections into turmoil.

Usually, property values would go up with a revaluation, requiring counties to tinker with the tax rate to offset would would otherwise be an unpallatable rise in property taxes.

But due to the stagnant real estate market, the total value of property remained nearly flat in the recent revaluation — requiring little adjustment to the property tax rate to bring in the same amount of revenue as last year.

Sales tax is a different story, however.

“Sales taxes have been up and down. Looking at the comparison to last year, four months they’re up compared to the current year and three months they’re down,” Davis said. “Were chasing a moving target on revenues.”

The fluctuation makes it hard to predict how much money the county can bank on from sales tax next year, but year-to-date on average, sales tax collections are down 10 percent over last year.

In light of that, and state-level slashing, a property tax rate increase might not be out of the question.

Overall, though state cuts do look grim, Stamey said he’s confident in the county’s ability to stay afloat without undue carnage. But, he said, there just aren’t any solid numbers yet to be had, so it’s impossible to know for certain.

“We’re at the mercy of a lot of people’s budget’s right now to sort of figure out our budgets,” said Stamey. “I feel like I’d be doing us an injustice right now [to give numbers].”

The picture painted by county staff was in broad strokes, an overview of what could be coming in stead of the nuts and bolts of what to do about it. But that was purposeful, according to Davis.

“We specifically did not mention numbers or the revenue neutral rate because there is so much up in the air right now,” said Davis.

Commissioners will be meeting throughout the spring for more budget talks, though they noted that much of it is out of their hands.

As Commissioner Kevin Ensley said, “so if the state leave’s us alone, we’ll be alright.”

A state budget is expected by early June.


Haywood schools talk budget

Haywood County Schools could be facing a budget shortfall of $4 million if the state House of Representatives proposed budget gets adopted. The school board held a public hearing on Tuesday to hear community feedback and discuss what cuts might mean for local schools.

The reductions would mean 46 positions would be slashed within the system. Teacher assistants would be scaled back by 49 percent, textbooks by 68 percent and dropout prevention programs, school technology and staff development initiatives, among other things, would be eliminated.

See Thursday for an update on the public hearing and the impact of threats to school funding.


For the last month, Greg Petty has been on a leaflet campaign around Canton. He’s been to parking lots. He’s been to offices. He’s been to bulletin boards. He’s been inside Evergreen Packaging, the paper mill that looms large in the town’s small center, and trolled its perimeter, plastering spots that might catch the eye of workers with his restaurant’s offerings.

“We’ve got menus up at every tunnel and every gate and every parking lot,” said Petty, the owner of the Canton Lunch Box.

The Main Street lunch and dinner spot is hardly in need of new business. On any given weekday around noon, there is nary a seat to be found. The wooden tables and chairs are filled with mill workers and other locals, and the staff seem acquainted with virtually all of them.

But what Petty, with his paper push, is gearing up for is an onslaught of new customers, thanks to more than 1,400 contract workers who will descend on the town next week for a massive mill maintenance, the largest since 2003.


A collective undertaking

The workers are coming for what, in the paper business, is called a cold mill outage. The paper mill will halt operations for three days and undergo major maintenance for several weeks to overhaul the place. They’re cleaning, they’re replacing pipes, they’re rebuilding boilers, they’re aligning massive pieces of equipment like steam turbines.

It’s going to take regular mill employees working at full pelt — some clocking overtime — and a hoard of outside contractors to get it all done.

But for an often-sleepy hamlet like Canton, such an influx of people isn’t just a massive undertaking for the mill: it’s a massive undertaking for the entire town. With the incoming contractors, the town’s population will swell by a third. And out in the streets, if they’re not busily gearing up, they’re anticipating the busyness to come.

“I’m not going out to eat for the next week,” said Nancy Rathbone at Sign World WNC on Main Street.

Sign World itself, meanwhile, has been cranking out custom signage for the mill as fast as it can: signs to mark parking lots, signs to mark exits, stickers for parking, ID badges, new plaques for machinery and a plethora of other printed pieces to orient and direct the out-of-town workers. Charles Rathbone, the company’s owner, said Evergreen officials have been in nearly every day in the weeks running up to the outage.

“We’re getting a lot done for the mill to gear up and probably expect a whole lot more during the period of time that they’re here,” said Rathbone, who said he’s excited about the outage and believes it will be good for Canton.

The mill estimates that it’ll be pretty good for it’s hometown, as well. The outage should boost the local economy by $500,000, according to Mike Cohen, a company spokesman.

According to Cohen, they arrived at that $500,000 figure by using an economic impact formula that factors in things such as hotel nights, meals and gas.

Mark Clasby, Haywood County’s economic development director, said that’s only one facet of the positive impact the outage will bring.

“It’s good news because of the capital investment that they’re making in the plant to continue operations, but there are multiplier effects — it means buying supplies, there’s hotel nights, meals, things like that, expenses. All those factors go into that,” said Clasby.


A boon for business

Businesses around Canton are already feeling the rising tide they hope will continue to lift all boats.

At Days Inn on Champion Drive, they’re completely booked. They’re pretty close at the Comfort Inn just down the road, the town’s other hotel.

“We just have a few rooms, but they are very few,” said Gagan Nanda, who works the desk there. He said they’ve been taking advance bookings for three months now in preparation for the work.

The contractors themselves have been preparing, too. Anchor Steam Power, based in Asheville, said that, although they keep a crew at the plant nearly year-round to repair and maintain boilers, they’ll be sending in nearly 200 extra workers to revamp most of the plant’s many boilers.

Evergreen will be paying dearly for the maintenance — they expect it to cost in the range of $20 million.

They’ve budgeted for the outage and upped production in the weeks leading up to it so they can keep their customers’ orders filled, said Cohen, though, he notes, it isn’t a move they’re keen to make regularly.

“It’s one of those things that you do them when you need to, but not anymore often than you have to,” he said.

Of the $20 million that the company thinks they’ll spend on the outage, 60 percent of it — around $12 million — will be spent on paying workers to do the maintenance. The other $8 million will go to pay for the maintenance itself, purchasing supplies and equipment, along with preparations for the incursion of extra help.

Some of those workers, like those from Anchor Steam, are from the region. Most, though, are industry specialists who travel around the country, bouncing from site to site doing similar work.

“Most of the contractors have specialized skills for what we need,” said Cohen. “A paper mill is not like anything except other paper mills, and even those can be very different.”

With so many out-of-region workers, that means they’ll be relying on the town for pretty much everything, and in addition to shops and motels, some of Canton’s restaurants are ready to entice the temporary customers in for a meal or two.

Back at the Lunch Box, they’ve bolstered their operations in addition to their marketing.

“During the outage and the upgrade, we’re going to be opening at 10 in the morning and we’re going to double our staff,” said restaurant-owner Petty. They’ll also be delivering to the mill, and just in case anyone didn’t hear about their offerings, they’ve saturated the campus with paper.

Petty is also the man behind the renovation of the town’s Imperial Hotel, which will include a restaurant slated to open later this year. Though he was shooting for both restaurants to be open, Petty’s excited about the infusion of people and believes it will be a boon to the town’s businesses and morale.

“I think a lot of the people in town are excited about having 1,500 people in town that aren’t from Canton,” said Petty.

Rene Cutshaw, the service manager at Sagebrush steakhouse, one of the town’s other lunch spots, said they’re bulking up their normal staff schedules, too.

“We are putting some extra staff on next week and getting ready for the people staying in the hotels that are right behind us,” said Cutshaw.

And as one of only two restaurants that serve alcohol, and the only bar, they’re expecting an upshot in their sales there, too.

“We’re the only option, but we’re a good one,” said Cutshaw. “The next closest [bar] is O’Malley’s in Waynesville, so we’re making sure we’ve got a bunch of bottled beer ready and making sure we’re ready to meet their needs.”

The town itself has been helping out with operations, too. Though Town Manager Al Matthews said Evergreen has been handling most of the logistics, his staff has been helping them locate parking lots to house the workers’ vehicles while they’re here, which is no mean feat in Canton’s small downtown.

“We’ve been coordinating with their people to accommodate the extra vehicles that will be in the town, and our law enforcement is trying to accommodate that, to have enhanced patrols to protect all those vehicles,” said Matthews.

With so many unmanned cars sitting in vacant lots all day, police realize that the temptation might be too much for potential thieves.

Matthews, too, is optimistic about the benefits that the maintenance will bring.

“I think it will be very positive,” said Matthews, echoing the sentiments and hopes expressed by many in Canton ahead of the outage.

So as the little town readies for the big mill ball, they seem to have their hopes high that the temporary boom will be as loud and prosperous as estimates promise.


If there’s one thing Western North Carolina is rooted in, it’s music. The rolling Appalachians were the birthplace of bluegrass, and the region has long been known as a bastion of folk tradition and talent.

Along with music, another industry has recently been finding its roots in the mountains as well. With a bevy of new craft brewers popping up around the region, WNC is making a name for itself in the beer world, too.

So Maggie Valley is taking the chance to celebrate both, kicking off their festival season with the inaugural Americana Roots and Beer Festival on May 6 that celebrates both the craft brewers and down-home musicians who call the region home.

The muse for the event was the storied Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion in Bristol, Tenn., said Maggie Valley Festival Director Audrey Hager.

The idea of a roots celebration was attractive because, said Hager, it’s a concept that has a multitude of facets that can be explored in years to come.

“Roots can be a lot of different things,” said Hager. “It can be rock, it can be punk, it can be folk, it can be a lot of different things so we can go a lot of different ways.”

The festival itself is designed as a companion to the long-running Maggie Valley Trout Festival that will take place the next day, May 7. Proceeds from the beer and music event will go towards water conservation efforts in the area, which is one of the chief aims of the trout festival.

For the fête’s birth year, Hager said they decided to go with a bluegrass theme, in keeping with the region’s heritage.

As for the craft beer, it just seemed a natural fit for an event showcasing acts that are true to their roots. North Carolina is at the leading edge of the craft brewery movement, which values local, grassroots brewing efforts.

“A lot of people are getting into craft brewing as a hobby, and Asheville is really becoming a craft brewing destination, so the craft beers just seem to go along,” said Hager.

And indeed, with the weighty distinction of Beer City USA being bestowed on neighboring Asheville for two years running, the area is becoming a haven for local brewers of all kinds.

Many will be at the event, offering beer tasting and information in a special beer garden section of the festival grounds. Waynesville’s newest brewmaster, Frog Level Brewery, will be on hand, as will Asheville’s Craggie Brewing and Asheville Brewing Company. Other as-yet unnamed beer-makers from around the region will also be offering tastings of their products.

For those not alcoholically inclined, however, music-only tickets will also be on sale, granting admission to the day’s busy lineup of shows.

The main stage will see performances by Balsam Range, well-loved local bluegrass aficionados, as well as Big House Radio, winners of Asheville’s Last Band Standing competition last year.

The Harris Brothers, an Americana duo from Lenoir, will round out the main shows, but according to Hager there will be much more musical.

The second stage will give up-and-coming talent who find their roots in WNC a place to demonstrate their abilities. New acts will perform for the crowd and a panel of judges, who will both cast their votes for the top new talent. The winners will get $500 in prize money, with the possibility of more, depending on ticket sales.

Other attractions on the afternoon will be a few craft booths as well as food and drinks from area vendors. Alcohol sales will close at 10 p.m., but the music will keep pumping until 11 p.m. To encourage responsible drinking, a shuttle will run continuously from the festival grounds to various locations around Maggie Valley from 4:45 until 11:45 p.m.

Hager said that, in the run-up to the festival, response has been strong and positive from local and regional partners, and she hopes that will translate into enthusiasm from festival-goers.

“ Maggie’s never had anything like this, so we hope the community supports this event” said Hager. “We’re excited about it and I think they’ll find this is something we want to grow into a regional event going forward.”


While the construction industry, the Haywood Home Builders’ Association is giving itself a makeover, one it hopes can keep them afloat and the doors open.

With home building still flagging, membership has been steadily declining, and instead of waiting on the ship to right itself, they’re beginning to realize that if the economic paradigm has shifted, maybe it’s time to shift with it.

“We have no choice,” Home Builder’s President Jim Howell said frankly. “We’re going to have to change and think outside the box.”

For the home builders, it’s a particularly salient lesson. In a bust that centered around real estate, the folks who build that real estate are going to take a pretty hefty hit.

If you’re looking at unemployment numbers, said Howell, go ahead and double them, and that’s what kind of unemployment you’ll find in the construction sector.

So, unsurprisingly, their membership has dropped — from just more than 200 at the height of the building boom to only 130 members now. The Haywood County Board of Realtors has likewise seen a drop in membership — from 430 Realtors in the county in 2006 to only 261 today.

Given the decline, the Haywood County Homebuilder’s Association isn’t certain it can keep its doors open.

“That’s something that could happen,” said Howell, when asked about the prospect of shuttering the association. “With the current loss of members, it’s very realistic. It could happen in the next year very easily.”

Howell is trying to change the body’s course while he’s at the helm.

They’re focusing efforts not only on how to maintain viability with a smaller membership, but also how to retain those members and give them the services they need in a changing market.

“We’re trying to change the format of our meetings, turn them into social events,” said Howell. “When you are in a business-style format, it’s pretty restricted.”

They’re also looking to other fundraising options, like an iPad raffle they’re holding and a shootout fundraiser planned for the summer.

They’re trying to get more involved in the community, as well, joining with groups like the Board of Realtors and the Chamber of Commerce to bring in more support, better networking connections and hopefully share the burden of a diminishing economy.

And they’re not the only ones who are looking towards changing their tactics.

The Haywood County Board of Realtors has been discussing a merger since last year with the Board of Realtors in Asheville, Henderson and Transylvania. The merger would help lessen the blow of a deflated real estate market by creating one large umbrella board that would help spread costs and consolidate benefits.

When the proposal was first floated to Realtors earlier this year, Lisa Brown, the board’s executive, said they were open to what was best for members, and with such a slip in membership, it’s hard not to see banding together as an enticing option.

“We saw strength in numbers, we could give more services to our members,” said Brown. “So let’s sit at the grown up table, let’s hear the proposal let’s see what’s in it for the association.”

The downside may be less of a local focus in Haywood, however.

Readjusting to a new kind of real estate economy isn’t going to be easy for organizations like Brown’s and Howell’s. But Howell believes that now, more than ever, they can offer their members connections and support that they’ll desperately need going forward.

Recognizing the new and different needs of the county’s homebuilders in today’s climate will be the key to any future success.

“I don’t think the building boom will be as big as it was,” said Howell. “I think we outgrew what we could afford to do, not only as an industry but as a nation. We were too busy living the American dream to sit down and figure out what we could afford.”

In a report released this week, the National Association of Home Builders noted a slip in builder confidence for the month of April. Every month, they do an assessment of home builders across the country, polling them both on the work they have and their confidence in future prospects.

While some parts of the country showed upticks in both jobs and confidence, the South went down.

However, in Haywood County, the construction industry is showing signs of a rebound, albeit a slight one. At the very least, things are leveling off, based on the number of building permits being issued.

And that would be good new for the entire county.

“Anything that happens in the building industry affects every business in this area,” said Howell. “If we’re not working, a lot of people are not buying hamburgers.”


By the numbers: Haywood construction permits

The construction industry has been on the decline witnessed by the decrease in all building permits issued in Haywood County. These numbers includes all permits for residential, commercial, new construction and additions.

2006    753

2007    772

2008    499

2009    388

2010    416

* These numbers do not include Waynesville and Canton, which issue their own permits. Building permits for Maggie Valley are included for 2010, but not previous years. Maggie quit administering its own building permits due to a decline in volume with the recession.


Plink plink plink.

A moment of silence.

Again – plink plink plink.

It’s 6 a.m. and the sky is still unlit, the color of chalky charcoal. But in a corner,  a small orange light is on a steady, metronomic blink, flaring and fading at half-second intervals, indicating that there are three e-mails and two texts and another four calendar alerts vying for attention.

Ding dong.

It’s the open laptop on the desk, declaring to the room at large that it’s 6 a.m. and its own ceaseless Web-trawls have gleaned more e-mails, more tweets, a few new blog posts.

Welcome to the 21st century, where every day is filled from open to close with a multitude of technological tethers that tie us, Gulliver-like, to our phones, computers and tablets. If we haven’t received an e-mail by noon, we suspect system malfunctions. We feel out-of-touch and somehow exposed if stripped of cell phone or PDA.

In a world that is increasingly interconnected, a virtual bazaar of non-stop information blasts, the ancient practice of spiritual devotion can begin to seem out-of-place, a reverse anachronism. We value the new and innovative and original, and juxtaposing that against quietude and reflection that are the hallmarks of spiritual development can seem nigh upon impossible.

But now, during Easter, what was once revered as a time of spiritual reflection is now another instance of busy-ness in the extreme. The children need to get Easter baskets and join 1,000 other kids to pick up eggs in public spaces. There need to be festivals. And hats. And runs. And chocolate. And cookie-decorating experiences. Angry Birds has even released a special Easter version, so you can spend your weekend slinging wingless birds at Easter-themed pigs on your iPad, if that’s your thing.


A moment to breathe

So is there value in clearing through the bursting spring schedule to make a space for spiritual development?

Scott Holmquist believes the answer is yes.

He’s the executive director of the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove, a retreat near Asheville whose mission is to promote spiritual growth and retreat.

“It’s like the difference between going to a regular movie and a 3-D movie,” says Holmquist.

Sure, a 2-D movie is decent, but it sort of pales in comparison to the wonders of three dimensions, popping out at you from unexpected angles. And while the spectacle of modern life is wonderful, it can limit how we interact with our own third dimension, the spirit, the 3-D glasses of personal growth.

“I’m so glad to be in the 21st century,” says Holmquist, “but those things that are wonderful can keep us from stopping, from taking a deep breath.”


A faith community

The ancient Sufi poet Rumi advised his students to “close both eyes to see with the other eye.” He was an Islamic Persian mystic who lived in the 13th century, and although that might usually qualify him for inclusion in the prudes-of-the-middle-ages category, the poet was actually an ardent believer in building spiritual life on love and devotion to God and others. Much of eastern Islamic music is built on the foundation he laid.

And ringing true eight centuries later, spiritual leaders from a plethora of faith backgrounds echo Rumi’s thoughts: spirituality in a modern world needs discipline, but more importantly it needs community.

The Rev. Michael Hudson is an Episcopal priest who leads St. David’s in Cullowhee. He says that, even after 60 years of life, he still sees the spiritual world as a mystery, and a good one. To him, it’s almost impossible for most people to experience that mystery alone.

“I think for 99.9 percent of us, it’s absolutely necessary to do that,” says Hudson of joining in a spiritual community. “I think we are diminished if we don’t do that.”

Heather Murray Elkins says much the same thing. She’s a pastor and professor and has also been a poet, a teacher at a bi-lingual Navajo school and an instructor in South Korea. And a truck stop chaplain. Next, she’ll be part of a spiritual growth retreat held in June at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, a Methodist conclave in Haywood County.

Elkins’ seminars attract people from around the continent to talk and debate liturgy, and she agrees with Hudson that community is key, not only to sticking it out on the sometimes-arduous spiritual road, but to getting to that spiritual road in the first place. Like Rumi, Elkins sees value in closing physical eyes to open spiritual ones, but in this culture, it’s challenging to go it alone.

“In a culture where time is money, we just keep going faster and faster and faster, so I teach students to try to tell time differently,” says Elkins “How you go about doing that are little acts of resistance. You have to do it with some kind of community. You can’t keep holy time by yourself.”

Elkins gives the example of Orthodox Jews as impeccable holy timekeepers, holding one another strictly to observances of Shabbat, where all of the distractions and responsibilities that life necessitates are taken forcibly from the equation.

“They agreed to protect each other’s time,” says Elkins, and without that protection, holy time falls by the wayside in deference to the frenetic pace of the world clock.

She holds in low esteem the idea that spiritual life can be healthy without community.

“I meet people frequently who say ‘I’m a Christian, I just don’t go to church.’ That’s an absolutely nonsensical answer,” says Elkins. “It’s not a matter of going to, it’s a matter of being in. It’s community, and you can’t do that by yourself.”

But actual community in the 21st century – one that is comprised chiefly of people you see face-to-face, rather than in a virtual arena – is not only increasingly hard to come by, it’s apparently becoming increasingly undesirable, as well.

In a study done by the Harvard Business Review, people showed themselves to be far and away more likely to use self-service or automated options over interacting with an actual human. And this rang true on every level – from banks, to supermarkets to troubleshooting their glitch-ridden smartphones. People, increasingly, do not want to talk to or interact with other real people if they can possibly help it.

A National Geographic exploration of worldwide longevity found that we, as average Americans, had three close friends just 15 years ago; now, most of us say we only have 1.5. This is not the case among other groups — in Okinawa, Sardinia or even American Seventh-Day Adventist communities — where close-knit, lifelong personal communities are the norm, as is longer life.

When the Harvard researchers agglomerated customer service call center data, the information showed that a staggering 57 percent of callers had already spent a considerable amount of time on the Internet and company website trying to address the problem themselves. Thirty percent stayed on the site, continuing to attempt self-service while actually talking to the person who is supposed to be the expert.

The author’s tone in the article trended toward concern for the fact that people just don’t seem to want to talk to other people without the barrier of an Internet connection. The piece was even endearingly titled “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers,” because, presumably, they are no longer interested in being delighted.

“Here’s a hypothesis that would be concerning if it’s right: maybe customers are shifting toward self-service because they don’t want a relationship with companies,” say Matt Dixon and Lara Ponomareff, who penned the analysis. And while that theory is certainly distressing to businesses trying to romance the spending public, it carries heavier implications for the spiritual life.

Nate Novgrod, a licensed acupuncturist who also teaches Chinese spiritual practice in Waynesville, says that he sees the lack of spiritual practice translating into negative implications for his patients’ health.

“I think it can definitely be very helpful to have a group of people that are of similar mindsets,” says Novgrod. “My patients that have strong spiritual direction or path, regardless of what it is, tend to be healthier than my patients that don’t.”

That thought has a thread in it that runs through Scott Holmquist’s evangelical Christianity, too. He calls it The Body.

“The vitality of our personal relationship with God is pivotal and is key and is really, really important,” says Holmquist, “but it is always in the context of the body of Christ, the church, the virtual church.”

What he means, he says, is that sure, your own knowledge and experience is essential, but only, really, when it’s up against other people’s. That’s why it’s called a body – hands are amazing instruments, but severed from the rest of the body, they just become grotesque.

And so this is the common denominator – community, being with other people, as Heather Murray Elkins says, not going to, but being in.

And all of these practitioners concede that taking the time to do this is not easy, and the modern, Western world is in no way structured to offer time out for spiritual pursuits. Even that phrase seems like it should be in quotes, almost sarcastic in its diametric opposition to our time-is-money culture.

But taking a moment to reflect and committing time to engage with other people spiritually is, they say, vital to spiritual growth. And, as Novgrod points out, it’s not bad for physical health either. Just look at the Okinawans.


Finding the moment

Mary Teslow is a professor at Western Carolina University and also a lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Franklin. For Unitarians, the guiding principle is to help one another search responsibly for truth. And for Teslow, that means that taking a minute to prioritize that search is a pretty important component to finding it.

“I think it’s easy for us to lose track of it, things get busy,” says Teslow. “I think being intentional about it and being willing to start small — if you can consistently carve out 15 minutes, 20 minutes — then you can build on that. You don’t have to make that ginormous change; even if you get started, that’s a good thing.”

At your law office, waiting in line for coffee, walking to work – engage your spirit in all of those times. If you don’t schedule at least a little time to nurture your spiritual life with others, it’ll fall by the wayside. At least that’s the advice of the professionals.

“It’s kind of like spiritual muscle tone. You use it or lose it,” is the way Episcopal priest Hudson puts it. Is it a challenge? Sure, he says. But that’s what makes it worth it, to you and the people around you.

Medical research has shown that leading a consistently stressful life causes something called the inflammatory response, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, is a contributing factor to all manner of nefarious afflictions like cardiovascular problems and Alzheimer’s. Stepping back from that stress-fest for just 15 minutes a day can help reduce those effects.

In his congregation, Hudson says, they often refer to a quote by Frederick Buechner, the Presbyterian theologian, to guide them to fulfilling spiritual life: “vocation is where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

Scott Holmquist says it’s really about taking the time you have, however small, and prioritizing it.

“The spiritual part of my life is going to require a priority that will need to have reflection in commitment of time and of resources,” he says. “Whatever we feed is going to grow.”

That’s a sentiment that hearkens back to our medieval friend Rumi, the love poet.

“But knowing depends,” said Rumi, “on the time spent looking.”

Places like Lake Junaluska Assembly exist to provide a respite and place to put in that quality time.

Jack Ewing, the director of the Assembly, says that’s what it’s been for him and his family for years; it’s what drew him to the job. He and his wife traveled to Lake Junaluska for 32 years to get away and recharge before moving there in 2005. Maintaining that spiritual space for other seekers is, he says, integral to what the Assembly is about, even as the church and world are changing.

“The reality is that we are in a world which is changing. What people want is changing,” says Ewing. “I think the mission of Lake Junaluska will always be to fulfill the needs of the church.”

That’s why, even in the action-packed Easter schedule they have going, the Assembly is carving out time for personal, spiritual celebration.

“We start Good Friday with what’s called a tenebrae service, which means a service of darkness, a relatively somber, quiet service of scripture reading and hymns,” explains Roger Dowdy, the director of ministry. That, he says, is followed by an Easter vigil, one of the most ancient ceremonies of the Christian faith that brings the church together to pause, in the darkness, and reflect on the sacrifice of Christ and their place in it together.


Changing pace

The lifestyle of our world puts pretty high value on speed, innovation and increased virtual connection. And as Scott Holmquist pointed out, there’s really nothing wrong with that. It’s led to some outstanding technological breakthroughs, like robotic surgery and nanotechnology and Post-It notes. But there is still, practitioners say, value in those little acts of rebellion against the clock. It’s a value that benefits our minds, spirits and even our bodies, and it is, they say, worth turning off the phone for, even for just a moment.

“Abraham Heschel said that if you had only one prayer to say,” says Heather Murray Elkins, “thank you would be sufficient.”


The absence of alcohol in Cherokee is hurting tourism, according to the business community. And that’s something the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce might like to change. Over the past month, the chamber has conducted an informal poll of businesses to see where they stand on the issue.

“More people want it than don’t want it,” said Matthew Pegg, executive director of the chamber. “It’d be nice if Cherokee had a little bit more opportunity economically to bring in some of the other dining options into the area.”

While casino patrons can get a drink after voters in 2009 approved alcohol sales for Harrah’s, the rest of the reservation is still bone dry.

As a result of the poll, the board of the Cherokee chamber is deciding whether, and if so how, it should officially push for a more permissive alcohol policy.

Pegg said that, while some people in this fairly traditional community are reluctant to talk about legalizing alcohol, many business owners are getting more vocal about allowing everyone to serve, not just Harrah’s.

“Essentially, they just want a level playing field,” said Pegg. “If you’re allowed to have it in one restaurant, why can’t you have it in all of them?”

That’s an argument that’s popped up on-and-off since the approval of drinks at Harrah’s two years ago. While alcohol has been a contentious issue in Cherokee, voters approved the idea of selling it at the casino by a surprisingly large majority of 59 to 41 percent.

Feeling slighted, however, the business community at the time circulated a petition lobbying for alcohol across the board. Pegg admits that a good number of business owners are just as passionate about keeping alcohol out.

Many restaurants in Cherokee already have a bring-your-own policy, though the percentage that take that opportunity is often much smaller than those who would buy drinks with their meal, especially given that the closest non-casino sales are a 30-minute round trip to nearby Bryson City.

When the referendum came around in 2009, much of the opposition centered around the social consequences it would bring and was steeped in the Christian religious tradition that runs deep in the area.

But Pegg maintains that, looking at other locales with alcohol sales, those concerns would likely prove unfounded.

“We are in a predominantly religious area where alcohol is not as acceptable,” he said. “The stigma is ‘Oh my goodness, you serve alcohol and the place is going to go crazy,’ but I think people are more worried about it becoming a booze town than they need to.”

Alcohol, he argues, would be heavily regulated. And with drinks offering higher profit margins than food alone, introducing beer, wine and mixed drinks might give some restaurants an extra few weeks on each end of the season. Some, he suggests, may even be able to stay open through the winter, where they currently shutter during the tourist off-season.

Right now, though, moral concerns aren’t the only obstacle standing in the way.

Elections for some council members and principal chief are ramping up, and it would be difficult to find a more hot-button topic in Cherokee than alcohol. In light of that, many have responded to chamber queries that this year might not be the time to bring it up.

But for Pegg and the 203 businesses that are members of the chamber, as the recession is still kicking, there is no better time than now.

Harrah’s alone pulled in more than $1 million in alcohol sales last year, and now the rest of the reservation is hungry for a slice of such a lucrative pie.

“It gives them an option to have more revenue,” said Pegg, “and that’s more jobs and more tax and more everything.”


David Cozzo is sitting behind a table at the Holiday Inn in Cherokee, trying to sell a ’76 Volkswagen to a teenager.

“The maintenance on these is rough, but you’d look good in it,” Cozzo pitched to his potential buyer, 18-year-old Chelsea Cucumber. She wavers slightly, then decides on a different ride, scooping it off the table and handing Cozzo several crisp $100 bills in exchange.

Cucumber didn’t buy a real car, of course. It was a Matchbox car. The money is also fake, printed with the face of Principal Chief Michell Hicks instead of the venerated Ben Franklin. Cozzo isn’t really a car salesman, either.

This is Money Mosh, where high-school seniors in Cherokee can test their financial knowledge before they come into a hunk of cash on their 18th birthday.

While all tribal members get a cut of casino profits, kids have to wait until their 18th birthday, when they get a serious check for years worth of casino payments.

For today’s high school seniors, it will amount to around $110,000.

To most people, $110,000 is a sizeable sum. To a high-schooler, it’s a nearly unfathomable amount, and developing strategies for what to do with it can be an equally challenging task.

That’s where Money Mosh is here to help. Real-life professionals such as bankers and investors come together with community volunteers like Cozzo and create a microcosm of financial society within a Holiday Inn ballroom and ask these seniors to navigate it.

They must pay taxes, they have to feed themselves, they have to buy housing and a car and at least three items at the ‘mall’ — you’ve got to wear something, right? — and then they have to decide what to do with the rest of it. Should they spend it? Should they save it? Or perhaps invest it?

On this particular night, there are 23 seniors milling about the room, visiting each station with fat stacks of funny money gripped in their hands. They start the night by cashing their checks and getting the fake cash, then they’re supposed to go straight to the tax man, where they get rid of around $28,000 right away.

Then they fill in cards ensuring that they’ve bought everything they should’ve.

Among the seniors — one-fifth of this year’s graduating class — the strategies are different, though most say they’re keen to hold on to a good bit of it.

“I’m trying to think of what I need the most,” says Cucumber, who decided that food, house and then car are the most important things on her list.

Trent Husky’s strategy was everything as cheaply as possible. He even tried to haggle with the real estate table, suggesting that going in on a house with his buddy James would be a better deal for both of them, though that was a no-go with the housing folks.

“I’m going to check out the investments and see how much money I can come out with,” says Husky.

“If you guys want to be real conservative and save as much of your money as you can, go for it. If you want to go wild and spend it all, go wild and spend it all,” says Shawn Spruce, who’s facilitating the night and helps run the Manage Your Money program, which includes the mandatory online financial education that all these seniors will also go through.

The point of this exercise, he says, is not to tell the students what to do with their money, but to give them experience in doing anything with it at all.

The evening is light-hearted and not too laden with financial terms or money management strategies, and that’s the whole point. The event is the brain child of Keith Sneed, who designed the money management course to appeal to teenagers turned off by presentations and brochures.

This is a chance for them to put what they’ve learned from the course into practice, and have a little fun along the way.

Spruce says his hope is that students can make their mistakes tonight, not with their real money that will only be given to them once.

“If somebody wants to go blow their money on a car,” says Spruce, “better that they do it with play money than six months from now at a real car dealership.”


Maggie Valley is gearing up for its next round of beauty treatments in an ongoing effort to spruce up the town and bring some color to its streets.

The beautification program, led by master horticulturalist and Maggie Valley resident Clayton Davis, is a sweeping plan that intends to bring color to the valley year-round through mass plantings.

The first phase, which entailed planting tulip and daffodil bulbs in the town’s signature red and yellow, got under way last autumn. The bulbs need to be dropped into cold ground, so the town along with residents and businesses collectively planted several thousand bulbs last November.

The next phase of the plantings will include knockout roses, a famously hardy and simple species that blooms throughout the warmer months. Davis said that other plants intended to add color in the winter months, like nandina, will also be on offer.

The town is able to get wholesale discounts on the plants because they’re buying them in bulk, so citizens and businesses who take them up on the offer get their plants at cut-rate prices, as well as the expertise of Davis and the town’s grounds staff.

After discussion at a recent meeting of the beautification committee, participants will also get fertilizer and Nature’s Helper, a special growth aid, to help their plants along.

For its part, the town is funding the planting of its own properties — such as the landscaped area in front of town hall — with $6,000 it’s set aside for the project. Half of that sum was donated as matching funds by Home Trust Bank.

The idea behind the beautification belongs to Davis, who was inspired long ago by a trip to Summerville, S.C., where azaleas bloomed across the city. Davis and city officials hope this initiative will give Maggie Valley a face lift and bring increased tourist visitation.

Order forms for the plants are available at the Maggie Valley Town Hall and all orders are due by April 18. On sale are Gulf Stream nandinas for $11, nandinas for $18 and knock-out roses for $11. The next meeting of the beautification program will start at 10 a.m. on April 18, in the Maggie Valley Town Hall.


After eight years of entertainment, Maggie Valley’s largest venue is closing its doors, falling prey to the poor economy.

800-seat Eaglenest Entertainment was one of the largest in Haywood County and has drawn big-name acts such as Percy Sledge and Pam Tillis, but in the end, they just couldn’t keep pace with a still-sluggish economic environment and consumers’ increasingly discerning tastes in entertainment.

“There’s a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar today,” said owner Grier Lackey. “We have not been able to attract the clientele that we needed to make the place profitable.”

Lackey is putting Eaglenest up for sale with hopes that whoever buys keeps it as an entertainment venue.

“We are going to make every effort we can to try and get someone back in there that will be an asset for Maggie Valley,” said Lackey. “That’s not going to be easy, but we’ll wait for the right opportunity that will be an asset to Maggie Valley.”

For now though, Maggie Valley is missing one of the few major attractions the struggling tourist town had left. Carolina Nights dinner theater is not reopening this season either.

It will “leave a big gap in entertainment options,” said Teresa Smith, president of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The massive center is state-of-the-art and unique in Maggie Valley. In addition to the large two-level auditorium, there’s also an outdoor amphitheater that can hold up to 1,000.

The site opened in 2003, replacing the notorious dance club Thunder Ridge with a family-friendly, alcohol-free venue. The idea, said Lackey, was to bring in entertainment that was geared towards families and tourists, bolstering the entertainment economy in the valley.

And to a certain extent, it worked. The place did draw a number of big names and crowds of music fans clamoring to see them. However, with the tanking economy, the shows Eaglenest has been able to book have steadily dwindled, along with each production’s attendance.

Lackey chalks this up not only to the economy, but to new entertainment venues that have come online in the region, like Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin and a new concert venue at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

“I think that has had a drastic effect on it,” Lackey said. Plus, the region is known for its plethora of free festivals and music events put on to attract tourists.

Really though, said Lackey, it wasn’t just the new competition that was the death knell for the place. It was also a changing tide in what people actually want and are willing to pay for. Expendable income, he said, is shrinking fast, and the money that was once put to seeing acts of all kinds is now spent more carefully.

People only want to see artists they’re really committed to, which makes filling an 800-seat auditorium in a semi-rural community a very difficult proposition indeed.

And to just break even, never mind turning a profit, Lackey said they need to be pulling in at least 60 to 70 percent of their capacity for each show.  That, of course, just hasn’t been happening.

Lackey says he’s not in a huge hurry to sell. The venue was always more of a hobby than a central business investment anyway. He is the president of Taylor Togs, once the nation’s manufacturer of Levi Strauss.


The cross on Mount Lyn Lowry still lies dormant, but repairs are under way with hopes that the bulbs will be shining again by Easter.

The 60-foot cross is a nighttime landmark in the Balsam mountains between Waynesville and Sylva. It went dark last November — the first time in its nearly 50 year history. Repairmen couldn’t make it up the road to the 6,000-foot peak until winter had passed. When they did, they discovered the culprit was a lightning strike that left the icon’s electrical systems damaged, said its longtime caretaker Marvin Bolick.

“The lightning strike, it just messed everything up,” said Bolick. Electricians have been working with Progress Energy to fix the components fried by the strike, as part of the damage was to the company’s systems.

Judy Meyers, who can see the cross shining from several rooms in her house nearby, said she feared the cross had shut off permanently.

“At first we thought it was due to clouds or fog coverage which sometimes occur, but then we noticed on the clear nights that it was still dark on top of the mountain. We kept watching to see if the lights would come back on but they didn’t,” said Meyers.

She was pleased, she said, to learn that the problems were simply electrical.

It was erected in 1965 by General Sumter Lowry, as a monument to his 15-year-old daughter Lyn who died of leukemia. It’s now maintained by the family through a foundation.


“Go Bobcats!” can now be the cry at Haywood Community College, where they’ve adopted the feline as their new mascot. The bobcat doesn’t, as yet, have a name but the school plans to hold a contest this autumn to christen their newest representative.

It’s not the first time the school’s had a mascot, and in fact, it’s not the first time the mascot has been a bobcat. However, HCC has been mascot-free for years now.

The college doesn’t have traditional sports teams, so you won’t find the bobcat cheering on competitors at standard sporting events. They do, however, have a team of woodsmen who can now take the moniker with them as they go head-to-head with opponents at timber meets, as well as an ecology team that competes against other schools in everything from wild game calling to estimating board feet in a tree.

The animal’s selection isn’t just symbolic, though. The school’s student government pulled together to purchase a bobcat costume that can be donned at everything from the aforementioned competitions to open houses and recruitment events.

Discussion and debate over which mascot to choose has been circulating on campus for over a year. But in the end, faculty, staff and students settled on the bobcat, in keeping with the school’s history and local indigenous wildlife.

HCC is one of the first community colleges in the region to choose a mascot. Neither Southwest Community College nor Asheville’s A-B Tech sport a mascot, and mascot’s aren’t common among other regional community colleges without conventional competitive sports teams.


When the sun crests the mountains’ edge Easter morning, it will creep down through the hills and fall on Lake Junaluska, where more than 300 worshippers will sit awaiting it at the foot of the massive wooden cross that graces the lake’s edge.

It’s the culmination of a weekend full of Easter celebrations and the continuation of a tradition that has stood at the Methodist retreat for years.

Though the Easter sunrise service might be the spiritual climax of the holiday at the Lake, it will be the end to a weekend packed full of events that will draw Lake Junaluska Assembly’s second-largest crowd of the whole year.

The services themselves — and there are several, all commemorating a different piece of Christ’s biblical journey to the cross — have been going on for years, but the other festivities just got their start five years ago, says Ken Howle, director of communications for Lake Junaluska Assembly.

“We did this as a mechanism for reaching out to the local community, to build stronger relationships and to make people feel welcome at Lake Junaluska,” says Howle. And if attendance is the measure of success, the effort is working.

The retreat center will host a massive egg hunt in conjunction with Waynesville’s recreation department, one of the area’s most popular, where 10,000 plastic eggs filled with tiny treats will be hidden for children to find. The hunt, says Howle, drew about 300 kids the first year and has been steadily growing since. They expect 1,000 hunters this year.

Staff and volunteers at the Assembly have been readying the eggs, many of which are recycled from years past, for nearly a month now.

The 5k and 10k Bunny Run last year attracted runners from 10 states, and 300 to 400 participants are expected to run this year.

An egg decorating contest will also be on offer, with prizes donated by Mast General Store.

“There is really something for everybody this weekend at Lake Junaluska,” says Howle. “It’s a big process, but for us this is one of the funnest events that we do each year because it’s a way that we can really give back to the local community.”

As for the services themselves, there will be four, each with a different focus and atmosphere to reflect the differences in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The spiritual aspects of the celebration will start on Friday night, with a somber service, followed by a massive Easter vigil on Saturday evening and culminating in Sunday’s sunrise service.

The Easter vigil is one of the oldest services in the Christian tradition and will include five different churches from four denominations around the region.


A hat parade

Lake Junaluska’s events aren’t the only ones ringing in the budding spring this weekend, though. Just a few miles west in Dillsboro, locals and tourists alike are dusting off their bonnets for another round of the town’s famed Easter Hat Parade.

Now in its 23rd year, the parade invites guests of all ages — and species — to don their best Easter headwear and join the march through Dillsboro on the Saturday before Easter.

Vintage cars will join the procession and judges will pick the best hats from 20 different categories, from biggest and smallest to ‘poofiest’ and most spring-like.

Here, too, kids can spend the afternoon searching out Easter eggs before taking in and English tea at the Jarrett House Inn.

And for those who are, as yet, hatless, never fear; the Dillsboro Crafters will be on hand for a hat-making workshop ahead of the parade.

So whether it’s taking in the sunrise at the water’s edge or donning a festive chapeau for an afternoon stroll with a few hundred friends, there’s something for everyone this Easter weekend as we celebrate the fading of winter and the budding green of welcome spring.


Easter events

April 16 — A visit from the Easter Bunny, arts and crafts, egg hunts, Easter bonnet contest, duck races and other activities at Stecoah. Activities start at 11 a.m. 828.479.3364 •

April 23 — Run the 5k or 10k Bunny Race, followed by egg hunts and decorating contests at Lake Junaluska. Run begins at 8:30 with Easter services throughout the weekend. 828.452.2881 •

April 22 - 23 — Ride the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad from Bryson City for an egg hunt, bunnies and photos with Snoopy. 800.872.4681 •

April 23 — Don your best bonnet for the Dillsboro Easter Hat Parade. Judging in 20 different categories as well as a hat-making workshop, egg hunt and English tea. Festivities start at 10:30 a.m. with parade at 2 p.m. 800.962.1911 •

April 23 — See the Easter bunny and join in two separate egg hunts: one for infants through age four, and one for ages five to 10 at Bryson City Horse Arena Grounds. Egg drop contest and other events will be available. Activities begin at 1 p.m. 800.867.9246.

April 23 — Community pancake breakfast and egg hunt at Tom Sawyer’s Christmas Tree Farm and Elf Village. Breakfast begins at 8 a.m. with egg hunt to follow at 10 a.m. 828.743.5456

April 23 — Easter egg coloring party for children ages four to 16 at The Waynesville Inn, plus a story reading, pizza dinner and ice cream. Activities begin at 6:30 p.m.

April 24 — Egg hunt led by the Easter bunny outside the Cork and Cleaver restaurant at The Waynesville Inn. Hunt starts at 1:30 p.m. following a brunch. 828.456.5988


Waynesville leaders will vote this month on whether to loosen town guidelines governing growth.

A special task force spent the past 18 months reviewing the town’s development standards and recommending changes. The town’s land-use plan was heralded for its smart growth principles when it was passed in 2003, but developers have repeatedly complained the standards were too arduous and confusing, prompting the task force review.

The task force, which includes development and real estate interests, presented its recommendations to the town board at its last meeting, but aldermen elected to take some extra time to consider the measures.

Long at the center of contention have been the town’s parking regulations. For new commercial buildings, parking lots must go to the side or rear — rather than in front — of the building.

The concept promotes a boulevard aesthetic in the town’s commercial districts, advancing the goal of making Waynesville a more walkable, visually-appealing town, said the Lawrence Group, consultants who helped the town craft the new ordinances.

The idea is to turn streets now fronted by parking lots into tree-lined avenues and store façades that will provide a more welcoming entrance into the town.

In the new regulations, however, there is a provision for allowing limited parking in front of buildings in certain commercial districts. But nailing down the specifics of just how and when that option can be invoked has been the subject of some ire over the last year as the new standards were discussed.

“That was probably our biggest friction point with developers was the parking in front,” said Paul Benson, Waynesville’s planning director. In the new regulations though, Benson pointed out “there are a lot of variables in parking patterns now.”

Benson presented aldermen with a number of different scenarios that could crop up under the new guidelines, trying to illustrate what the more relaxed rules would look like for real businesses.

For big-box stores like Wal-Mart, they could have up to 150 spaces in front, while large retailers with a slightly diminished footprint, like Best Buy, would only be allowed around 25 spaces in front. Smaller stores such as CVS or banks would only get about eight front spaces under new regulations.

Among some members of the task force, this compromise didn’t always meet a positive response.

“It doesn’t help that much,” Joe Taylor said of the front-parking concessions in the updated guidelines. Taylor, of Taylor Ford dealership in Waynesville, was on the steering committee and was an outspoken advocate of allowing parking in front.

He said the committee suggested the provision for front parking to give potential developers a break in otherwise tight regulations. The problem, he said, is that it doesn’t quite do what they’d originally envisioned.

Under the new wording, up to 50 percent of the minimum parking required for the stores under the town’s ordinance could go in front.

But the minimum number of parking spots required for a store is far less than any store would actually have.

“We don’t require a lot of parking. They [developers] usually want almost three times as much as we want,” said Benson.

Taylor said the required minimum is so small, that allowing 50 percent of that to go in front doesn’t do much.

“It takes the benefit of it away unless it’s a real large store,” Taylor said.

Though aldermen could have voted to adopt — or reject — the updated rules after the public hearing in March, board members all said they wanted just a little more time to mull over the proposals and give the public one last chance to weigh in.

And in the mean time, Benson has proposed a new option for the contentious front parking issue: special use permits, which would give developers with legitimate parking gripes a way to talk about it with planners.

By allowing special use permitting, said Benson, the board of adjustment would be able to hear pleas from business owners and builders on a case-by-case basis, judging them against a set of standards that complement the parking compromises already reached.

Under this recommendation, if a site meets one of several requirements — it has tricky terrain that governs where the building can sit or the business is looking to join with others and create a courtyard parking atmosphere, among others — the board would be able to give them some leeway.

In the end, the aldermen all said they wanted to reach a set of standards that are best for both the town residents and businesses.

“I’m a firm believer in compromise and finding the best compromise for this community. I want to maintain what is best for Waynesville and I believe we can do that,” said Alderwoman Libba Feicther.

For his part, Mayor Gavin Brown said that, after months of negotiation and debate, he’s ready to get the changes to the land-use plan out of discussion and on the books.

“I think the process has been more than democratic,” said Brown, and now it’s time to take that democratic effort and translate it into real, working guidelines that will hopefully lead the town into a better, more beautiful future.


Waynesville officials have finally signed an agreement with the Junaluska Sanitary District that marries the two entities for 10 more years of water service.

The contract had been in talks for several months and formalizes the relationship between the town and its largest customer, who buys water from the town wholesale and resells to its own customers, which include heavy hitters such as the hospital, Tuscola High School and Haywood Community College.

For the next 10 years, JSD has agreed to buy at least 200,000 gallons of water from the town each day, and no more than 750,000. The town, in turn, has agreed that the district doesn’t have to ask permission before selling to new customers.

Negotiations have centered around usage numbers — JSD was originally gunning for very low minimum and sky-high maximum limits — and Waynesville’s request that they grant permission before new customers hook on.

Part of the urgency for JSD was a $500,000 grant from the N.C. Rural Center that wouldn’t be doled out until a contract was in place, ensuring the flow of water between the town and the district.

On Waynesville’s side of the negotiating table, the desire for a contract was more philosophical than concrete. Without a contract, they could have been put in the tight spot of either losing their largest customer — a real revenue killer — after dropping significant investments on infrastructure for JSD or unwittingly becoming a regional water supplier, should the district decide to start selling water on to larger and larger areas without notifying the town.

Fred Baker, the town’s public works director, told aldermen last month that, although their relationship with JSD has always been cordial and mutually beneficial, keeping an eye on the town’s water is a wise strategy.

“Having plans and talking about future water supply is a good thing to do, and this is just the start,” said Baker.


The fight between Swain and Graham counties is growing ever deeper in a dispute marked by lawsuits, counter suits and pleas to the General Assembly over who is entitled to a greater share of payments off the Fontana Dam.

The stakes are high — hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the table — for the two small, rural counties. The row centers over payment in lieu of taxes, or PILT, the money that counties get when federal land holdings erode the property tax base.

Swain and Graham have gotten PILT funds monthly from Tennessee Valley Authority since the Fontana Dam was erected in the early ‘40s.

The formula for calculating how much each county is entitled to was thrown into dispute last year, however. The N.C. Department of Revenue ruled that Graham should get a bigger share since more of the generators were housed on Graham County’s side.

The ruling in Graham’s favor will cost Swain more than $200,000 a year.

But that wasn’t quite enough. Graham also wanted six decades of back payments they felt they were owed — up to $15 million. So in January, they filed suit to get it.

Swain County, of course, disagrees. They’ve filed a countersuit, decrying Graham’s claims on a multitude of different grounds, hoping that one will stick. Too many years have passed, Swain argued, and if Graham wanted the money, well, they should have spoken up sooner.

But they didn’t stop there. Swain County has countersued claiming that if anyone was slighted their fair share from TVA and was entitled to a back payments, it should be Swain.

While the latest state formula for calculating PILT payments is based on TVA’s property holdings in each county, that’s not always been the case.

Until 2009, state law said that each county was supposed to get PILT money based on the percentage of lost tax revenue. Since Swain gave up more land when the lake was created — 16 percent of the county, as opposed to Graham’s 2.5 percent — it lost far more tax revenue, and thus should have been getting a greater share of TVA’s PILT money all those years.

“If the Department of Revenue had properly calculated the percentage of lost tax revenue to each county and distributed the PILT revenue accordingly, Swain County would have received substantially more PILT revenue than Graham County received,” said the countersuit.


Swain seeks new formula

Concerned, though, that the counterclaim wasn’t quite enough to solidify their position, Swain County commissioners got together to formulate other tactics.

To add firepower to their arsenal, Swain Commissioners are seeking special legislation from the General Assembly.

Swain wants to change the way PILT payments are calculated. Instead of awarding PILT money based on the value of TVA’s assets — such a which county the generators sit in — it should be based on the value of the land removed from the property tax roles by the lake as a whole.

While Graham’s got more of the hydropower equipment on its side of the county line, Swain has a good deal more land under water than Graham does. Swain stands to benefit substantially.

Swain’s proposed formula for calculating TVA payments is consistent with the PILT formula for national forest service land. Each county gets PILT money based on the acres of land that lie in the national forest and thus have been removed from the tax roles.

Swain also wants the property line between the two counties redrawn. The historical property line was the center of the river channel, but that’s not the boundary currently recognized currently by the state — instead the latest boundary line awards more land to Graham. Swain wants the historical boundary be reinstated, since the more land Swain can claim its lost when the lake was flooded, the more it could get in PILT payments.



Currently, Swain doesn’t have anyone to sponsor the legislation in either the Senate or House so face, and could be a tough sell.

In the House, Swain is represented by Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva. If Haire chose to take up the cause, he could likely face opposition from Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, who represents Graham.

In the Senate, Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, may opt to steer clear, as he represents both counties.

None have yet weighed in, and Swain commissioners were reluctant to address the matter, saying they had a maneuver in the works it was best not to comment on.

Graham officials are similarly tight-lipped, though they declined to speak because the issue is pending litigation.

“We have approached people in the General Assembly, but we haven’t done anything one way or the other,” said Swain Commissioner David Monteith.

For Graham’s part, their attorney Charles Meeker, who is also the mayor of Raleigh, said the county has rejected all of Swain’s claims outright.

“We don’t believe that they are factually accurate,” said Meeker, and that, he said, was that.

The suits are scheduled to come before the Graham County Superior Court in early April, though Swain has applied for a change of venue. There is, as yet, no timeline for if or when the resolutions will see the General Assembly floor.


In the quagmire that is politics in Maggie Valley, the most recent appointee to the town’s board of aldermen says it’s her lack of agenda that makes her the ideal candidate — and possibly a rarity in a town defined by allegiances.

Danya Vanhook, a local lawyer who just finished a stint as district court judge, was chosen by a three-to-one vote to fill the vacant seat on the town’s board until elections are held in November.

“The reason I applied to fill this position is that I have no agendas,” Vanhook told the crowd assembled at the March 22 meeting of the town board. Vanhook was chosen after interviews with several candidates who threw their names into the ring to fill the seat vacated in January by former Alderman Colin Edwards.

Vanhook told citizens that she sought the position because she believes in public service and was looking for a place to get involved. She lost re-election as district court judge in November after just two years on the bench.

“I am doing this because it is a way for me as a private business owner and a private practitioner of law to serve my community,” said Vanhook.

The lone vote against Vanhook was cast by Phil Aldridge, who has recently disagreed with the other board members at nearly every turn.

Aldridge said his vote wasn’t an indictment of Vanhook or her qualifications, but a salvo to his recent campaign to allow the next-highest vote-getter from the last election to take the seat. Since Edwards abdicated, Aldridge has maintained that it would be the most democratic way to replace him, railing against hand-picking by the board.

“I have to oppose simply because I support Phil Wight,” said Aldridge. “He was the citizens choice. I think we did have wonderful candidates but the people have spoken.”

The seat on Maggie Valley’s board was left empty after a rift over ABC operations, with Aldridge and Edwards on one side and fellow members Saralyn Price, Scott Pauley and Mayor Roger McElroy on the other. Edwards said the argument made it impossible for him to continue working with other board members, so he left.

In the wake of his departure, more conflict arose over precisely how his replacement would be chosen. After setting a deadline for applications, Town Manager Tim Barth extended the deadline at the last minute, which he said was to allow a wider field the chance to participate.

This rankled Aldridge, who saw it as a ploy by other board members to wait for hand-chosen applicants to express interest.

In this respect, thought, Vanhook is somewhat of a surprise appointment. While she has a history of public service, especially in the legal arena, her involvement in Maggie Valley politics has been negligible.

Despite that, Vanhook said she is eager to learn and sees local government as important decision-makers for residents and business owners.

“I think the most important thing is to serve our local town. The most important decisions happen right here in this room,” said Vanhook.

Maggie Valley’s town board has historically dominated by tourism-oriented business people. But as the town has annexed more subdivisions into the town limits over the past decade, the board has seen more representation from residents like Vanhook without commercial interests.

She will be sworn in at the town’s next monthly meeting and will serve for seven months before the seat is up for re-election.


Of the many forms of entertainment readily at our fingertips, from television and movies to YouTube and the many vast and varied wonders of the rest of the internet, reading is probably still the most liberating.

Picking up a book not only takes the reader to another world, it gives them a hand in creating it. To read is to draw your own landscape, compose your own soundscape, shape the features of the characters yourself, the way that only you see them, with the writer as your hopefully expert guide. More than watching TV or going to the movies or perusing the endless pages of the web, reading is, at its essence, a creative pursuit. And that’s what makes the relationship between reader and writer so unique — it’s co-creative in a way that little other entertainment is.

Cultivating that relationship is the special draw of events such as Western Carolina University’s annual Literary Festival, an event that pulls together authors and poets from around the region and around the nation, giving them a venue to interact with their readers, past, present and future.

ALSO: Literary festival ‘invaluable’ teaching tool for WCU professors, students

Mary Adams, a professor at WCU and director of the festival, has been putting the lineup together for years. Each time, she tries to get a good mix of new and old, of regional and national, to offer readers access to some of their favorite authors as well as exposure to some excellent writers they may never have read otherwise.

This is partially what the festival is about — instilling a love and appreciation for reading in both newcomers and veterans, kindling excitement about written words by revealing the creator behind them.

One of this year’s featured writers, author Susan Vreeland, is a well-known novelist whose historical fiction is often rooted in art history. She believes that this is one of the most important and gratifying things about readers and writers meeting, peeling back the layers and exposing the story that lies beneath the story on the page.

“I’m telling them the story behind the story,” said Vreeland. “That’s what authors can offer, how they came to write the books what motivated them to.”

Vreeland, whose works have been made into movies and performed on stage, believes that the reader — or actor — interpretation of the writer’s work is an essential part of what makes literature, literature.

She gave the example of an actor portraying one of her short stories. He came to her, curious about whether she meant his character to be a constant teaser. No, she said, she hadn’t, but if that’s what he saw in it, it is what he should portray.

“That was a surprise, kind of a delightful one where he saw maybe more than I remembered,” said Vreeland. “It’s the viewer’s participation and you don’t want to deprive them of that.”

Adams, the festival’s director, said that she hopes this is just what festival-goers will be exposed to, meeting the writers and hearing their stories, putting a face on what might otherwise just be words.

“I would like people to read more and to have contact with the people writing the real books today, that people can come away with a greater love for reading,” said Adams.

Alan Weisman is another best-selling author gracing the festival this year. His most recent book, The World Without Us, explores what our planet would be like if humanity disappeared from it.

Weisman said that, especially in writing this particular book, the experience and interpretation of the reader was vital to him.

“I did not want to write another environmental book that gets read only by environmentalists,” said Weisman. He knew, he said, that average readers aren’t usually enticed by environmental tomes, and part of his mission in writing the book was to bring those readers into the dialogue.

“They find them [environmental books] scary, or they find them depressing or they find them overwhelming,” said Weisman. “Our mission [as writers] is to reach as wide an audience as possible, that it would be attractive or irresistible or seductive to that big readership out there.”

And, as the book is now in 34 languages and has long remained a bestseller, the strategy seemed to have worked.

The response to it, Weisman said, was somewhat surprising to him, but what his readers have drawn from the book and brought to the table in discussions around the country and the world is the resilience of life on earth.

“I have given countless talks, and it’s crossed a lot of boundaries — I’ve spoken to all different types of religious groups, I’ve been on Catholic radio programs, I’ve spoken to Mormon audiences, and ultimately, I think readers find out that life is this incredibly wonderfully powerful resilient force that always comes back no matter how messy things get,” said Weisman.

As a writer, he said, he’s been surprised by the wide range of people that responded to his work and pleased by their reactions.

“I really hoped that readers would take from all of that is not the message that this world would be better off without us, but if we would just lighten up on nature, we’d give it a chance to do the things that it does so beautifully,” he said.

And it’s venues like the Literary Festival that allow readers to glean those insights from writers, making the reading experience deeper and richer.

For writers, the chance to interact with their audiences, they say, improves and informs their craft, allowing the creativity of the reader to spill over into the work of the writer.

So many writers became so because they began as avid readers, so rubbing elbows with fellow and future bibliophiles is, to many, a privilege.

“I was so curious about so many different things,” said Weisman, which is why he became a writer to begin with.

Vreeland was a high school teacher with three decades of education under her belt before she turned to writing, and she sees her writing as an extension of her educational career, it’s next incarnation.

That’s why, for her, the reader is so important — they are, essentially, who she is writing for, and to expose them to new art, new time periods and new understanding is, she says, a great gift.

The greatest part of what she does, said Vreeland, is the knowledge “that something I write could reach into a person’s mind and heart and uplift that person and broaden his thinking and his understanding of life and humans.”

That understanding, she said, is the goal of writing and a contribution to culture that will last as long as the word is printed on the page.

“Each time we bring our readers imagination to the fore, each time we stimulate our readers’ imagination so that they live in another time and place,” said Vreeland, “that’s another step upwards for the human race.”


Spring Literary Festival

WCU’s ninth annual Spring Literary Festival will feature Cathy Smith Bowers, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Fred Chappell, Délana Dameron, David Gessner, Elizabeth Kostova, Don Lee, Bret Lott, Lee Martin, Ginger Murchison, Susan Vreeland, Frank X Walker, and Alan Weisman, as well as the Gilbert Chappell Distinguished Poet’s panel, with Distinguished Poet Mary Adams.

When: April 3-7

More information:


When the World Trade Center fell nearly 10 years ago, there was little left of its once-majestic towers but scattered bits of steel and a sorrow that blanketed the nation.

Now as the site is rebuilt, that steel is being ferried to communities around the country and the world to commemorate the lives lost that Tuesday.

The tiny town of Clyde, chosen from among 1,500 vying for the honor, is one of the lucky locales to garner hunks of the twisted metal that once framed the towers.

The steel rode into town with a guard of honor last week after being trucked by local firemen from New York’s JFK Airport. A hangar there has become the staging area for World Trade Center artifacts as they await distribution to monuments across the globe.

Mitchell Sellars, chief of the Clyde Volunteer Fire Department and one of the men who went to ferry the steel back down the Eastern seaboard, said the warehouse full of the towers’ remains is an unreal sight.

“There’s a bike rack that has a lot of the bicycles still chained to it that were pretty much destroyed. There was only one of the people who made it back alive,” said Sellars of the charred bikes’ owners.

He said that it was in honor of the days’ victims that the department decided last year to put in an application for some of the steel, after hearing, via the Internet, of the plan to give it out.

Altogether, there were 1,500 applicants who asked the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for remnants of the wreckage. According to Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the port authority, they have about 1,040 pieces to give out and 450 have been distributed already.

The criteria for getting the metal is simple: the applicant must be a non-profit or government organization and have a plan to display the pieces publicly.

The plan for the two pieces Clyde now owns — two six-foot-long I-beams, weighing in at around 1,000 pounds — is not yet solidified. But Sellars said the department is in talks with local architects, trying to work out a design that would be fitting.

The monument will eventually sit in front of the fire department on Carolina Boulevard, commemorating the 2,819 people who died in the WTC bombings, especially, Sellars said, the firefighters.

“We just feel like its something that we can create a memorial, not only for the citizens that lost their lives but mainly the firefighters that lost their lives,” said Sellars. When he and fellow firefighters went to New York to collect the beams, they spent some time visiting other fire departments around the city. The experience, he said, was heart-wrenching, even 10 years later.

“It’s still very close to home for a lot of those guys because they worked with them, beside them every day,” said Sellars. Sellars is hopeful that Clyde’s memorial to the 343 firefighters and paramedics killed in the collapse of the towers will be unveiled by this September 11.

Since the designs are in the planning stages, it’s unclear how much the monument will cost, but the department plans to launch fund drives to help make it a reality.

As for the rest of the steel, Coleman said he’s hopeful that the port authority will have the remaining portions donated to worthy memorials within the year. The pieces are doled out on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible groups, but since the response was so robust, applications aren’t being taken anymore.

“We’re already overloaded with applications,” said Coleman, “but the ones that we did take were from entities that could ensure that it would be in a public display.”

The lion’s share of the steel from the World Trade Center was sold, to be recycled into new and reusable steel. Around 150 pieces were retained for research, while the rest is being kept in JFK’s Hangar 17, waiting for Ground Zero’s memorial and museum to be christened on the tenth anniversary of the attacks.


The health care bills rolling into the Haywood County jail for inmate care might now be slashed by up to 25 percent after the sheriff’s office contracted with a company who will ferret out discounts on the county’s behalf.

Currently, the county pays full sticker price for all health care given to inmates, and since they’re legally obliged to foot the bill for any inmate treatment, it can get pricey.

Sherriff Bobby Suttles told county commissioners that $20,000 a year was on the low end of what they might expect to pay. In a year when an inmate needs major medical care, such as open-heart surgery, costs can skyrocket to more than $100,000.

What the company, Correctional Risk Services out of Brentwood, Tenn., would do is comb through the bills looking for mistakes, such as being billed for a higher priced procedure or more treatment than an inmate actually received.

A company spokesman said that they save counties an average of 20 to 25 percent. They work solely on commission, keeping 30 percent of any savings that are found.

In addition to checking the bills for accuracy, the company will also be able to save the county from shelling out for full-price procedures by bringing them into a PPO — preferred provider organization — which would give the county the same kind of discounts private citizens can get by being under a medical insurance plan.

If the county sees savings from the contract, the majority would be from such markdowns.

Suttles characterized this as a win-win situation for the county. If no reductions are found, they lose nothing, and whatever savings they do glean will be a big help to the sheriff’s healthcare budget, which is, he said, notoriously hard to manage.

“Right now, we’re holding $8,000 worth of bills,” said Suttles. “It’s just hard to budget for the unknown.”


In the sunny, windowed front room of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, a group of people are gathered around a table littered with maps, the light from the windows filtering through more maps and photos and wishlists that have been taped there. They’re a conglomeration of planners, business-owners and residents and they’re here to discuss the future of Bryson City.

In another corner on a cluster of leather couches and wooden chairs, more locals sit with team members from HandMade in America, who are assessing the town’s needs and wants, and will ultimately make recommendations on how to get there.

This is the second assessment Bryson City’s done with HandMade in America, a regional nonprofit that promotes crafts and cultural heritage as an avenue to economic development.

The town has been part of the group’s small towns program for nearly 15 years now, but their last assessment was in 1999. And, needless to say, a lot has changed since then.

So HandMade leaders decided it was time to bring pretty much everyone back to the table — business owners, the outdoor community, non-profits, churches, artists, residents, business organizations, even students — and ask them what they want their own town to become.

Luke Perry with the Asheville Design Center, who is helping with the project, spent the morning stationed in front of various maps of the town, sketching people’s ideas and wishes onto sheets of overlayed tracing paper. The idea, he says, is to find patterns or connections between what people want and how it can be achieved, connections that might not always be obvious.

Take the Tuckasegee River, a concept that kept resurfacing as people drifted in and out of the brainstorming session, looking at the aerial views of the town’s streets and postulating what could make them better.

“How can we activate the river?” That, Perry says, is a key question the community has been asking for years but never solved.

Everyone kept mentioning how inaccessible the river is — apart from Island Park, the best you can do is admire the waterway from the bridge and hope you don’t get sideswiped by the traffic flying by. And that leads to another problem: by car is how most to get to Island Park — there’s no dedicated sidewalk — and many other places outside the small downtown district.

So that led Perry and his colleagues to start sketching out how, exactly, the town could be more bike-and-pedestrian friendly, while giving residents and visitors better access to the river at the same time.

“One of the biggest things we’re doing here is telling stories,” says Perry. “How do you tell the story of Bryson City?”

Judi Jetson is at the head of the effort. She’s the director of the small towns program at HandMade in America, and it’s her job to get those stories, going around asking people what makes their community great and what could make it better.

For her, assessments like these are about creating the intersection between idea and implementation.

“This is not a pie-in-the-sky group,” she says. “It’s easy to have ideas, but if you never find out how to implement [your plan], it just sits on the shelf and nothing gets done with it.”

Perry echoes those sentiments. “We don’t want something that’s going to be a great plan and published with pretty pictures, but it’s never used,” he says.

So the ideal end-product of the exercise will be an action plan handed over to town officials, listing out 40 to 60 real — and feasible — suggestions for improvements, complete with recommendations on how to make them work.


Looking for local options

For Bryson City, a lot of what Jeston et al. heard from residents wasn’t just about improved pedestrian access, but more amenities for the community.

“This county needs a recreation center,” said Megan Cookston, who works with Yellow Rose Realty. “That’s the one thing I miss about living in Jackson County.”

Others repeated the general sentiment, noting that while there is a surfeit of stuff for tourists to do, activities and events geared towards locals are relatively few and far between.

It’s insider knowledge like this that Jetson says is vital to making a helpful, useful plan for a town. That nugget, for example, is something that she says she’d never have known without getting in-depth local feedback.

But appraisals like these aren’t just about slating towns, enumerating everything they don’t have to offer. There’s a reason people move to and stay in Bryson City, and it isn’t just the pretty scenery. So looking at what works, and why, is a good place to start when seeking to ferret out improvements.

Jeston and her team did interviews with a number of groups throughout the day, but in this particular idea session, many identified the small town’s smallness as its best asset, topped off by its naturally appealing locale.

“Well, just look around,” exclaimed Cookston, when Jetson asked the assembled crowd how they would pitch the place to outsiders. “And you can be in the National Park in three minutes.”

Diane Jones, who runs the Rocky Face Mountain development, said the chance to get out of the rat race is what makes the town so attractive. “That’s why I moved here,” says Jones. “There are people coming out of Atlanta to get away from the neon and get to the old-time Mayberry.”

Pulling against that slightly, though, is the truth that this is, after all, the 21st century, the digital age. Old-time and slow-paced are both valuable, but on the other side of the coin is the real need for connection, a struggle in the area.

High-speed internet and wi-fi were both sources of considerable ire for some locals, who made the insightful point that the idyllic atmosphere is only desirable long-term or even, increasingly, short-term inasmuch as it is connected to the wider, less-idyllic world.

That’s a problem that will probably be closer to the large-scale end on the recommendation continuum.

But Jetson says that’s the point. Yes, everything they suggest will be doable, but some things are more quickly completed than others.

“It’s going to be little things, like cleaning up a piece of property that’s really an eyesore, to more ambitious things,” she says. And with this visit, her team is taking the first steps toward helping the town work, in big and small ways, to make it a better, more vibrant place for locals and tourists alike.


It’s a sunny, mid-March Friday, the air is barely warm enough to warrant open windows and loosened collars, and on this particular spring morning, John Queen is a pretty popular guy.

His hip-holstered Blackberry stays quiet just for a few minutes at a stretch, and he has only to take a step or two around the shiny new offices at the WNC Regional Livestock Market before being waylaid by an outstretched invoice needing his signature or logistical question awaiting his advice. Where are the gate keys and who gets a set? How close are the welders to completion?

SEE ALSO: Farmers turn out in droves for cattle auction opening day

It’s the Friday prior to the market’s first Monday sale, and Queen, who is, in essence, the ringmaster, emcee and manager of this show, is like the queen bee of this hive of workers, all bustling diligently to finish off the details before the market’s opening.

On a mid-morning walkthrough of the new facility with the site’s project manager, he flits back and forth from problem to problem — giving direction to the Bobcat operators, gamely scaling the side of a dump truck to point its driver in the right direction, strategizing with workers on a last-minute water trough installation — though ‘flit’ really isn’t a word that would describe Queen’s style well.

He’s tall but not ungainly, with a long face, dark grey hair, eyes the mid-blue of a gas flame and a manner that is at once authoritative and friendly. He’s the longtime president and owner of Southeast Livestock Exchange, the Haywood County company in charge of running the new livestock market, and it’s not an overstatement to say that, for Queen, livestock is a lifestyle. In fact, it’s in his blood.

“I’m a fourth-generation cattle producer, from right here in Haywood County,” he says, the first words from his mouth, in fact, when asked to explain just precisely how he got into this business. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather before him all raised cattle right here, but it’s Queen himself who’s taken the business to a level far surpassing a simple cow-and-calves operation.

Though he may call himself a cattle farmer, livestock marketer probably fits the bill a little better; it’s what has made his career for the last 30-plus years and made his role in the new regional market possible.

Queen has been in the business of marketing cattle since 1979, first at the now-defunct Western Carolina market in Asheville, then briefly with an ill-fated Canton market, and since 2005, an online video marketing outfit that’s made Queen’s company into a regional marketer and national and international seller. Over the years, the birth of online sales coupled with Queen’s natural fervor for the industry has led his operations to open out into a panoply of new venues and ventures.

Essentially, the way the system works, says Queen, is much like a live auction — but larger, quicker and more profitable and efficient for both buyer and seller. His team will trek out to farms in a three-state area, take stock of a farmer’s livestock — weight, height, conformation and various other statistics important to those whose business is the bovine market — then shoot video of the cattle in question. DVDs and catalogs are then sent to potential buyers, often middlemen for end-users like beef companies, and the cattle are hawked on live video auction every Monday. The online operation has 800 virtual seats for would-be buyers, and for many, Queen says it’s far-and-away more efficient than approaching farmers or attending small auctions to put together a load of cattle piecemeal.

“He can buy a tractor-trailer load of cattle in about 15 seconds, where he couldn’t buy a tractor-trailer load of cattle in a sale barn in a matter of two or three hours,” says Queen, which is quicker, more convenient and cost-effective for the buyers and more lucrative for the sellers, who can get a better price per head when they go in with other farmers.

It’s part of what Queen calls added-value sales, and it’s a pitch he’s pretty passionate about, because he sees it as the ideal solution for helping small-time cattlemen to stay afloat. It’s also what he hopes producers can get out of this market as well.

Back in the open air of the market, Queen walks the catwalk that runs above the numbered metal chutes, explaining the complex process that brings cattle from the rear of the arena, snaking through a series of interlacing metal lanes and pens to the stadium-seated auction room at the opposite end. Queen looks the mixture of farmer and businessman that he is — faded Wranglers atop equally careworn Justin boots, both standard uniform for cowboys and cattlemen from San Diego to Syracuse, but with a crisp, pressed blue gingham button-down that is less farmer, more broker and that ever-present Blackberry hugging his right hip.

Shafts of morning light crisscross over the textured concrete and dirt floors, bouncing from the gleaming gray pen bars, giving the whole place the hushed feel of an ancient cathedral, and it’s clear that Queen is in his element, in this cathedral that seems to stir in him both reverence and pride.

But it wasn’t always this way. He’s really not one of those people that grew up wanting to take over the family business. He wasn’t, he says, exactly waiting in the wings as a young man.

“When I left to go to college, I swore I’d never come back to the farm,” says Queen, laughing wryly. “My dad made me work there when I was a kid, and I thought that day when I left, I told myself it was my chance to escape and I’d never come back.”

But it took only a few months at Western Carolina University for Queen to realize that the farm was really his love.

Even still, though, it wasn’t quite enough. His ambitions were greater, his talents broader than simple farming. And when he got into the business end soon after returning, he never looked back.

“I wanted to see the bigger picture rather than just what we did in Haywood County,” says Queen, and that he did, eventually becoming president of first the North Carolina Cattlemen’s Association and then the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assocation.

The business, he says, has evolved over the years, growing in scope and depth, especially since the advent of online sales has put the world of clamoring cattle buyers at the fingertips of every small seller with an internet connection.

The newly opened regional market will, Queen hopes, do the same thing for local producers that burgeoning online auctions have done — provide small Southern farmers, who average 20 head per farm, the outlet to reach big-time buyers by pulling together and selling together.

Queen says he knows some rail against progress such as this, but he minces no words when he says it is truly the only way forward.

“Tradition is a great thing, but you know, in all reality, tradition is probably the No. 1 enemy of agriculture today,” says Queen. “We all want to do as daddy did or as granddaddy did, and we can’t operate that way any longer. We have to change as time does. We’ve got to learn to adapt to that if we’re going to get the value out of our livestock.”

And really, he is the perfect spokesman for that growth, change and adaptation; with his roots deep in local soil, he understands and appreciates the history that brought regional agriculture to its current resting place, but with his head and heart in the global market, he understands that this can’t be its resting place for long, lest it be left behind by a speedily changing world.

Plus, for all his success in international livestock marketing — and he’s adamant that global exporting must be a part of every cattle farmer’s core principles — to meet John Queen is to meet one of the friendliest, most plainly genuine people you’re likely to come across. His ardent zeal for what he does and what it can become is endearing and contagious, and it’s not a mental stretch to envision him convincing veritably every cattleman that crosses his path of the merits of forward agricultural progress.

Though he doesn’t think he’ll pass his enterprise on to his daughters the way it was passed on to him — the business has changed, he says, grown and tendrilled out into a complex organism that needs someone with his passion behind it — he’d like nothing better than to be doing exactly this until the very day he dies.

“I’ve always been thrilled with the atmosphere and nature of the marketplace. The day I die, I hope I’m either running cattle around on my farm or somewhere marketing cattle. It’s just the ideal thing for me,” says Queen. And with that, and a ring of the Blackberry, he’s off once more, into the next incarnation of a business that he’s built from the ground up, and an industry that he’s helping lead into the future of American farming.


If someone said the word “hemp,” the first thing to spring to mind probably wouldn’t be home construction. But if you’re looking for a strong, green, energy-efficient building material that’s resistant to pretty much everything, hemp might be your best choice.

This is the concept being pitched by Greg Flavall and David Madera, owners of an Asheville-based business called Hemp Technologies. They’re some of the first to build with the material in the United States, where industrial hemp hasn’t seen the rise in popularity it enjoys in other countries, thanks to a federal ban on U.S. production.

Its recognition is slowly ramping up, though, due in part to its benefits over standard concrete. The third house in the country to be built with the technology is going up now, in the mountains above Lake Junaluska.

Roger Teuscher, the homeowner, said he was turned on to the idea by his first architect, who suggested the plant as a cleaner, greener alternative to standard homebuilding supplies. Tuescher, who lives most of the year in Florida, said he was drawn not only to the cost savings gained by increased insulation, but by the product’s recyclability.

“The whole house can be recycled,” said Teuscher. “The house itself you can take down, grind it up and put it back into another house.”

And that’s a far cry from standard concrete homes. But Flavall, whose company is providing the hemp for Teuscher’s home, said that with hemp-built homes, it’s unlikely that he’d ever need to do that. While standard American homes have a shelf life of about 80 years, hemp-made homes will last much longer. The oldest known hemp structure, said Flavall, is a Japanese building that’s been standing for just more than three centuries.

For most customers, though, the real selling points are the product’s environmental friendliness and energy efficiency.

Because the hemp is mixed with lime to create the hempcrete that makes up walls, floors and ceilings, it is actually carbon negative – meaning it takes carbon from the air and locks it up into the fabric of the building. In the simplest terms, lime needs carbon to continue existing and hemp is a breathable substance, so hemp buildings will suck significant amounts of carbon from the air during the building process and will continue to breathe for the life of the structure.

Flavall said that this, combined with high levels of resistance to things like fire, mold, termites and other insects and the plant’s extreme capacity for insulation, make it the ideal building material.

Flavall, a Canadian-educated New Zealand native, said he and partner Maderan stumbled across the glories of industrial hemp four years ago, while on a quest for sustainable materials. Now, he’s practically an evangelist for the plant and its benefits.

“It’s a miracle plant,” said Flavall. “In Canada they grow it as a break crop [to relieve the soil between crops] and they are getting a 27 percent increased yield after the hemp crop, because industrial hemp puts nitrogen back into the soil.”

And it’s true that industrial hemp has a variety of uses, both in and out of the ground for things beyond just building.

But industrial hemp in the U.S. isn’t all sweetness and light. It is around 10 to 15 percent more expensive to build a house out of hemp than via traditional methods. The price hike is thanks to all that pesky importing; although 16 states have granted permission for the growth of industrial hemp, the federal government still has a ban on bringing in the seeds to get the crop going.

For the sake of clarity, it begs explaining that industrial hemp isn’t the same as that other, more mind-bending variety of hemp that has garnered a bad reputation and a Schedule I Controlled Substance label from the Drug Enforcement Agency. It’s a biological cousin of that plant, but is missing the key ingredient — THC — which is the chemical that causes a high.

Flavall said that it was really lobbying in the early 20th century that kept industrial hemp out of American farms, and he is now doing his own lobbying to get those federal laws changed. He sees hemp as a potential boon to the nation’s economy, especially in areas such as Western North Carolina, where the money once raked in by tobacco has long since begun to dry up.

“It’s easier to get a license to grow medical marijuana than it is to grow industrial hemp,” said Flavall. “But there’s enough pressure now with thousands of people around the nation advocating for famers to be able to grow. America imported $350 million of industrial hemp product (last year).”

Another downside to the product is time; the process is more time-consuming, takes longer to mix and longer to apply, said Vinny Cioffi, the Waynesville contractor in charge of building Teuscher’s new home.

“It was a little more labor intensive and it’s a little more expensive,” said Cioffi. “But I hope it catches on because it’s more energy efficient and because of all the other benefits of it.”

And Flavall thinks it’s really only a matter of time before that happens. The technology has been widely used across Asia and Europe for several decades to fairly wide approval, thanks to the cost-savings it’s introduced. In the United Kingdom, the Adnams Brewery was able to build a large distribution center without an air conditioning system because the hempcrete was insulation enough to cool the stored beer, and it saved the company £400,000, just more than $640,000.

Meanwhile, Flavall and his company will stick to importing, trusting that the benefits to the environment and the wallet will continue to bring them clients eager to claim those benefits for themselves.


The Town of Waynesville is negotiating with its biggest water customer, trying to take a stronger role in the future of how — and to whom — it sells water.

The Junaluska Sanitary District, which provides water to some of Haywood County’s biggest customers, like Haywood Community College and Haywood Regional Medical Center, is in talks to sign a contract with the town for how much, and how little, water they’ll buy from the town over the next 10 years.

For Waynesville, these are pretty essential talks. Junaluska Sanitary District already serves a sizeable chunk of the county. Should they decide to expand that business — which isn’t out of the question — it could catapult Waynesville into the spot of de facto regional water supplier, not a role the town board is necessarily amenable to.

Equally, without a contract, the town could be spurned by its biggest customer, which would dent revenues and stick them with the bill for system upgrades they’ve done for JSD.

The original impetus for the contract was a $500,000 grant up for grabs from the N.C. Rural Center. JSD was poised to scoop up the money to expand or improve their water system, but they ran into a hitch: the Rural Center wanted a signed contract, guaranteeing that the flow of water from Waynesville would continue.

There had been a contract once before, signed in 1994 and expiring in 1999, but since then, the two groups had been operating essentially on a good-faith basis.

But with the need for a contract imminent, Waynesville then seemed to realize that it was in their best interest to formalize the relationship, too.

Currently, Junaluska Sanitary is an at-will customer. The town could shut off their taps anytime. Likewise Junaluska Sanitary could decide to buy water from Canton or Maggie Valley.

As the town’s largest water customer, losing their business would make the town’s investment in infrastructure to serve Junaluska for naught.

“If they decide to walk away from us, we’ve put all this infrastructure in,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown.

Perhaps a larger concern, however, is that Junaluska Sanitary may decide to get into the business of regional water transport, courting larger municipal customers like Clyde and boosting their demand from Waynesville dramatically.

Brown said the debate is a philosophical one.

“We don’t really want to tell them who and where they can sell to, but to dome degree we do. Yes, we sell water outside the city limits. And we want to sell it, but we want to know where it goes,” Brown said.

And that’s been the sticking point in negotiations with the JSD, who originally came to the table with a minimum daily purchase of 50,000 gallons, which is a pittance compared to the 400,000-plus they currently average each day. On the other end, they pitched a maximum daily amount of 1,250,000 gallons, an astronomical number that the town could technically accommodate, but would have to do some major upgrading to guarantee pressure and steady good service to everyone on the lines. It’s nearly a third of all the water Waynesville currently supplies to all of its customers.

“The concern we have is do they have aspirations to expand the system elsewhere?” said Town Manager Lee Galloway, who was slightly worried by the high- and low-ball figures thrown out by the JSD board in the initial contract draft.

In essence the town is concerned about being made a regional water supplier without their knowledge or consent, and with very little recourse if that happens.

In theory, Waynesville could terminate JSD as a customer if the latter began demanding more water than the town wanted, or was able, to give. But with vital public entities like the hospital, HCC and Tuscola High School all hooked into, and dependent on, water flowing through JSD’s lines, Waynesville would be hard-pressed to make such a drastic move.

Meanwhile, if the JSD were to ever see a better deal for water elsewhere, the town would be left holding the bag on all the infrastructure upgrades it’s made to accommodate them.

For their part, the JSD has said it doesn’t have any hidden agendas up its sleeve, and that the numbers in the original contract were just that — simply numbers. Their role, they say, is to provide water to people in the county who ask them for it, and they need this contract if they want to make the improvements necessary for that to happen.

“There are a few producers of water in the county, and there are plenty of people in the county that need water, so we have a statutory obligation to provide it,” said Burton Smith, the attorney for the district who is handling the contract. “In terms of how rapidly we grow, if we grow, those are decisions in part made by the [JSD] board and in part made by people who come to them and ask for water. We do not actively discourage or encourage anybody to do anything.”

But towns that provide water aren’t obligated to sell it to people outside their town limits. The choice to extend lines and expand water service beyond their borders is their own.

Since development often follows water lines, Waynesville doesn’t want to unwittingly contribute to sprawl by funneling more and more water to JSD for expansion, Brown said.

Waynesville has said that they’re happy for the JSD to grow, but within reason and with a little notice. They did concede to drop some contract wording that would’ve forced the JSD to come to them when they were considering new customers, but they also got the district to come down on their maximum limit to 750,000 gallons a day, which Galloway said will still require some system upgrades, but nowhere near what they’d need for 1,250,000.

In the end, said Mayor Brown, the discussions aren’t adversarial, but he sees the town as a public service concerned mainly with keeping the public good in view, while JSD, he said, is taking a business approach that sometimes clashes with the town’s view.

The contract is still with the town for review, and both sides said they expect to reach a workable solution soon.


Tribal members and leaders alike vented their discontent with Swain County’s handling of child welfare for Cherokee children at this month’s tribal council meeting.

The Eastern Band no longer wants to rely on Swain County’s Department of Social Services but instead is laying a framework for a new, tribe-operated child protective unit.

Their anger was in response to the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, who died in January despite repeated warnings by relatives to Swain DSS of suspected abuse and neglect. The department is now under investigation for possible missteps and a subsequent cover-up.

The Eastern Band doesn’t handle its own child protective services; the task falls to DSS agencies in neighboring counties.

That may soon change, however. Family members, community members and professional child advocates appeared before the council and implored them to bring child welfare in-house.

“Our priorities are not on our own people,” said Regina Rosario, director of Heart-to-Heart, a Cherokee child advocacy program. “We can realign priorities, and all it takes is just the will in this chamber right here.”

Principal Chief Michel Hicks, who said he had to tread carefully in light of the ongoing investigation, acknowledged that there were problems with the current set-up of child welfare services, and confirmed that “the fire is burning again” on an initiative dating back to 2007 to bring it under the auspices of the tribe.

Hicks said he’s pulled together a team of deputies and other officials to look into the feasibility of a child welfare unit, and that reports will be coming to council over the next few months.

Aubrey’s family also stood up to ask the community for support, putting their voice behind resurrecting the idea of tribal child protective services.

Ruth McCoy, Aubrey’s great aunt, with tears thanked the council for engaging a private investigator following the child’s death. Chief Hicks and Tribal Attorney General Annette Tarnawsky made the decision to hire the investigator to check into her death because of reservations about how the case had been handled. Case workers had visited the child’s home several times prior to her death, and state investigators are now looking into allegations that workers failed to follow up with Aubrey and then falsified records in the case.

“She can’t speak, so we have to speak for her,” said McCoy, who is heading a letter-writing campaign lobbying the state for a full investigation of Swain County child protective services, which has now been launched.

She too asked council and the chief about moving child protective services under the umbrella of the tribe, referencing a 2007 proposal by Hicks to do just that.

McCoy proclaimed this the time to take action in the wake of Aubrey’s death.

“Let’s do something about this and get some questions answered about what’s going to happen with our social service department,” said McCoy.

“The simple fact is we just want the truth to be told,” said Hicks. “We also don’t want to see this happen to another baby in our future.”


Tribal children at risk

Many members have questioned whether Swain County social workers take cases involving American Indian children as seriously as white children. The failure by Swain DSS to remove Aubrey from an unsafe trailer that lacked heat and had known drug activity underscores the concern, family members say.

“It’s unfortunate and it does bring question to what else may be sitting out there to where a job has not been done on behalf of our tribal memberships,” Chief Hicks said. “And that’s a huge question and that’s a huge issue that we have to get to the bottom of. It’s time to take a different approach on social services, without question.”

But Carol Maennle, a Swain County social worker, said their agency looks after Native American children the same as white children.

“Don’t think for a minute we don’t love and try to treat them the same way,” Maennle said during a Swain County meeting this week.

Swain County DSS stands to lose money if the tribe takes over its own child welfare cases. DSS receives more for services provided to Native American children than for other children. Reimbursement for social work involving Cherokee children comes from the federal government, which provides a higher level of reimbursement, while funding for other children comes from the state, which doesn’t pay as much.

Other community members asked council members to take action to improve social services, as well.

Council Member Teresa McCoy reported that at a recent community meeting in Big Cove, more than a few residents came forward to relay their own bad experiences with social services in both Swain and Jackson counties, and even more came forward to express similar grievances to tribal council.

“Obviously this issue has touched everybody on this boundary. We’re parents and we take it personally,” said McCoy.

Jasmine Littlejohn, Aubrey’s mother who is currently jailed on federal drug charges, called tearfully for DSS officials to be called to account, saying that she hoped her daughter’s death would not be in vain.

“I want to see that nothing else like this happens to another child,” said Littlejohn, in a jailhouse interview. “My daughter may have just saved other child’s lives.”

Littlejohn said she was confident that, had her daughter not been American Indian, she would have been given better treatment by DSS workers.

Tarnawsky’s office has encouraged members with complaints about social services to contact them, noting that they’ve been involved in the investigation from the outset.

“We just want to find out what happened to this child and see what steps we as a tribe need to make and to take so that our children are well-protected,” said Tarnawsky.

Other tribal council members also expressed support for the initiative to take some social services out of state hands.

Bill Taylor, who represents Wolftown, said moves should be made on meetings held nearly a year ago to discuss that very idea.

“I think it’s the consensus of everybody here that we need our own program,” said Taylor. “Who’s going to take care of our children better? Our own people. I think it’s time that we stop dragging it on, and let’s do something about it before this happens to another family.”

The chief, however, turned it back on the council, challenging them to take their own steps towards a more active role in the tribe’s next move on the issue.

“It’s time for us all to step up and do something about it,” said Hicks. “It’s not just on the chief’s shoulders. There’s 12 council members that can step up also.”

Haywood County Schools is currently without a finance director, after long-time finance officer Larry Smith stepped down amid an investigation into accounting irregularities involving one of his employees.

Payroll Administrator Sheila Nix, who had been with the district for more than 20 years, was fired as part of the investigation into policy violations in the bookkeeping department. Smith, who had been with the school for 10 years, resigned.

Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolte said that while he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the open investigation, they’ve brought in an outside auditing firm to pore over the system’s financial records, scanning for further irregularities or signs of misuse.

While Nolte said they were certain some fairly major policy violations had occurred, they were, as yet, unclear about whether any laws were broken in the process. Local law enforcement and state officials, he said, are waiting on standby for the results of the audit.

Meanwhile, the school district is now left without someone to direct their finances, at a time when schools across the state are facing one of the toughest budget years on record — Gov. Beverly Perdue has warned schools to brace for 10 percent funding cuts, on top of the millions in cuts they’ve suffered in recent years — it’s a tough time to lose an experienced finance director.

However, Nolte said the support they’ve received from the community and other school districts in the region has been encouraging. Local citizens with experience in the field have offered their expertise, while other districts have said they can lend a hand and possibly a few staff until the dust settles and a new director is named.

Nolte said Smith himself has even been in touch to ensure a smooth transition, though he wouldn’t comment on Smith’s exact reasons for parting ways with the school system.

“People resign for different reasons and when people resign it’s their reason, not ours. But he [Larry] is a good fellow and he has been very helpful to us in transitioning to a new finance director,” Nolte said.

While the investigation has no specific timeline, Nolte said he’s confident that suspected violations don’t extend outside the bookkeeping department. But when there are questions of taxpayer money, the best response, he said, is a quick one.

“There are some things where you can go, ‘Let’s look at that next week,’ but you don’t do that with taxpayer money,” said Nolte. “You look at it immediately.”


For those looking to learn more about the sculptures that dot the campus at Western Carolina University, well, there’s an app for that. Or at least there will be soon, thanks to a collaboration between the school’s Fine Arts Museum and Computer Information Systems students in the College of Business.

As a part of a class, now one of the major’s capstone courses, students are building a mobile application that will guide users on an audio-visual tour of the pieces that comprise the school’s public art program.

It’s an idea that really excites the Denise Drury. She’s the museum’s interim director, and she’s stoked about bringing art to the public.

“I’ve always been really passionate about public art because I feel like it’s kind-of a gateway,” said Drury.  “A lot of people get into art by seeing it outside.”

She hopes that adding an app to the school’s public-art approach, it’ll entice a whole new demographic into the museum and into interaction with the arts.

The school has run a public art program in some incarnation since the 80s, said Drury, ranging from specifically purchased pieces that find their permanent homes somewhere on campus to regional art competitions whose winners display their creations temporarily at the university.

Currently, the school has nine outdoor sculptures gracing the Cullowhee campus, as well as an indoor, two-dimensional sculpture that hangs permanently in the school’s Belk building.

Included in that number are the winners from a contest last fall that stand sentry in the courtyard outside the school’s Fine and Performing Arts Center.

The goal of the proposed app is to curate these works, giving students, faculty and visitors an interactive arts experience on their own terms and timeline.

Currently, Drury said they’re working on two different content styles – one a richer, more descriptive tour that would include a detailed explanation of the artwork, background information on the artist and their creation, and possibly even commentary from the artists themselves.

The idea is to pack the app with information for off-site users who aren’t standing in front of the works.

“We feel like this is a very good program for people who might not be able to make it to the campus,” said Drury.

But they’re hoping to build in some unique features for on-campus art lovers, too, including a GPS locater that will guide users from one sculpture to the next, highlighting their distance from the various public art pieces.

“It’s just an added incentive to get people out and walking on campus, people who visit Western for football games and are tailgating, people who are coming for a performance and get here a little early,” said Drury, as well as the thousands of students and faculty who pass the sculptures every day.

Associate Professor Dan Clapper is one of them. He teaches the app-writing class, only in its second semester, and he, too, thinks the possibility of new ways to interface with art is an intriguing.

“As a faculty member here, I drive by a lot of those sculptures everyday and I’m curious about them,” said Clapper.

His student team who are working with Drury and her staff to create the app are, said Clapper, treading new territory in how to convey that information, though.

“It’s all kind of new for us, I think it’s new for people in general,” said Clapper. “We don’t really know how long people want to listen to an audio clip when they’re standing in front of a sculpture.”

And that’s where testing comes into play. Drury and her staff provide the content for the app, while the students find a way to make that content work. But there are a multitude of options for introducing users to art. Should there be detailed descriptions? A bank of photos? Artist profiles? Art history information? Will people want to stand in front of a sculpture listening for 30, 60, 90 seconds?

These are all answers that student testing will hopefully answer. And at the end of the process, the result will not only be a great app, but a cadre of students who have hands-on experience in a marketable arena that everyone from museums to fast-food restaurants want to get in on.

From the educational side, Drury said she’s thrilled to be embracing technology and bringing learning to people on their terms.

“It’s something that a lot of our colleagues are doing in the arts, so we feel like it’s a natural progression for us,” said Drury. “A lot more people are buying smart phones and using them as learning tools.”

From a technological perspective, the app-writing class is pretty cutting edge, and Clapper sees it as an exciting technology that’s only going to get bigger.

“I think it’s a technology that’s really just starting to take off, and as more and more people start to have smart phones, we‘ll see a lot more applications,” said Clapper.

This semester, the class is also working on an app for the Catawba County government, the Mountain Heritage Center and a continuing project that will map out a tour of Cherokee history.

The Fine Art Museum app should be available by early summer.


In Western North Carolina’s thriving outdoors community, mountain bikers have long been at the center of the action. But now, they’re looking to make their presence official by kicking off a local chapter of the Southeast Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA).

The new SORBA chapter that local bikers and shop owners hope to create will focus on the Tuckaseegee River Watershed area, where Tsali Recreation Area is the mountain-biking crown jewel.

“It’s the powder skiing of bikes,” said Kent Cranford, owner of Motion Makers Bicycle Shop, who has stores in Asheville and Sylva. Cranford has been coming to Tsali since the late 1980s when he traveled over the state line from Tennessee to ride the trails with friends.

“Tsali was the one place where people could come spend a whole day riding on single-track trail,” said Cranford, and that’s why he and others in the area are keen to band together to ensure the trail’s continued glory.

“That old gal, she needs some loving out there,” said Andy Zivnisky of the 39-mile trail system in Graham County. He’s the co-owner of Bryson City Bicycles, and he, along with other enthusiasts, wants to help make sure the trail can be as good in the future as it’s been famous for in the past.

“As a group, we’d like to get together and recreate Tsali,” said Zivinsky. “The idea is to turn Tsali back into the place that everybody remembers.”

The true impetus for the group’s formation was some recent work done on the trail, and local riders want to be more involved in that maintenance in the future.

Forming a rider group like a SORBA chapter would also bring more money and opportunities to the area’s mountain bikers. According to Cranford, the National Forest Service — which is charged with maintaining and operating the trail system — stands a much better chance in competition for grants and other funding when there’s a volunteer group like a SORBA chapter backing them. It provides a built-in organizational framework for trail workdays and the manpower to help lay in the funds grants can provide.

And those benefits would extend beyond Tsali to the other trails in the area that mountain bikers use and want to make better.

Nathan Brock, manager and buyer for Nantahala Outdoor Center’s bike shop, said he’s long heard the request from customers — both locals and visitors — for a user group to serve the area.

“I hear it on a weekly basis, ‘what can we do to build more trails, what can we do to enhance the trails we already have?’” said Brock. “People are willing to come even from out of state.”

And now that the rumble is growing into action and a group is taking shape, he and other area professionals hope that the long-term effects of a SORBA chapter will grow the economic impact of mountain biking on the region.

One of the other oft-cited requests heard by bike shops is directions to more local trails like Tsali, or just more local trails. And while there are efforts taking shape at Western Carolina University and elsewhere to bulk out the region’s offerings, the thought is that a dedicated group of riders ready to work them can only make things better.

Local rider and business owner Robert Williams, who owns The Chocolate Factory in Dillsboro, said he’s stoked about the prospect of a new SORBA chapter. He’d love to see new bikers and business come to town for bike-centric events and better trails. And as a long-time mountain biker, he’s ready to pitch in to make it happen.

“Me and my family, my kids, we all use them and it’s important that the end user can support and keep trails open on public land,” said Williams. “There’s fewer and fewer dollars going around, so a lot of trail work is really done by clubs and organizations, and not by park employees.”

Andy Zivinsky agrees, and with the formation of a SORBA chapter and the cohesiveness it could bring to the area’s mountain biking community, that could, he said, translate into more dollars for the area and more fun and challenge for cyclists.

“We would all like to see there being more trails, a bigger trail network that drives business, drives new people into riding,” said Zivinsky.

There are other SORBA chapters in the area, but they’re geared towards the Asheville area or north Georgia, and the far-western region is lacking any kind of unified effort to create and sustain cycling opportunities.

For Cranford, that’s a void just waiting to be filled in an area brimming with potential to be more of a biking destination than it already is.

“If we can establish more cycling stuff in this area, we’re going to have more people that are good visitors — they spend the weekend or spend the week and aren’t afraid to spend the money for our restaurants, our music scene, our bookstores our arts and crafts, because that’s what they’re into, too,” said Cranford.

But increased business or not, he and his cohorts see this as an opportunity to support and further the sport they love, and they’re calling on other enthusiasts to join in the effort to keep maintain the joyous mountain ride that brought them here to begin with.


The Haywood County Fairgrounds are on the way to being back in business after a scare that shuttered the covered arena for code-compliance violations.

An infusion of cash by Haywood County commissioners saved the fairgrounds from cancelling upcoming events at the arena, which would have hurt the local economy and killed off the fairground’s main revenue stream.

The arena lacks permanent bathrooms and instead uses port-a-potties during events. As a result, the arena has been operating with a temporary building permit for the past five years.

ALSO: County’s leading critic stirs up trouble for fairground arena

The temporary permit has expired, however, forcing the covered arena to shut down, and in turn canceled upcoming events for the year unless someone came up with $400,000 for restrooms.

The Haywood Agricultural and Activities Board, which operates the fairgrounds, didn’t have the cash.

With the fate of the facility on the line, the fair board again appealed county commissioners for financial help. At their meeting this week, several members of the community spoke to how vital the place is to the county, its economy and its heritage.

“The fairgrounds are an important part of our agricultural heritage in Western North Carolina. It’s a big reason why people like and visit here in Haywood County. It’s part of who we are,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the Greater Haywood Chamber of Commerce, at Monday’s commission meeting.

He, like other supporters, expressed concern that once events left the arena, it would be increasingly challenging to court them back.

It marks the second time in a year the county has put up a cash infusion to save the arena and fairgrounds. The fairground arena was nearly lost to foreclosure last year after defaulting on a loan dating to its construction.

The fairgrounds once received an annual contribution from the county, which covered the loan payment. But when the recession hit, the county cut its contribution to the fairground, and it was left with no way to pay the loan.

So the county ultimately stepped in and paid off $337,000 left on the loan.


Good use of county money?

Not everyone spoke out in favor of the fairground, however. Some wondered why the facility had failed these 21 years to become self-sustaining, part of its original mission and still one of the current board’s main goals. They asked commissioners to let the fairground succeed or fail on its own, without more county help, especially since it’s not an essential government service.

But commissioners were sympathetic to the fairground’s plight, reminding the audience that the county provided 75 percent of the site’s funding until it was pulled three years ago, thanks to the tanking economy.

How many entities — churches, businesses, individuals — could be expected to survive without help if they lost 75 percent of their revenue, asked Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick also stepped in to defend the county’s support of the fairground as important, even if it is non-essential.

“This is not necessarily an essential government function, but there’s a lot of things that government does that are not an essential government functions. It’s more a quality of life issue,” said Kirkpatrick, to applause from the audience.

The county has spent over $1.7 million on the fairground since 1990, including paying off the loan last year, according to County Finance Director Julie Davis.

And while members of the fairground board say they’re looking at every possible revenue stream outside county coffers, it’s not exactly the best time to go on a money hunt.

Their most promising lead is a federal loan, but it hasn’t panned out — the loan agency won’t have funds to lend until the federal government has a budget in place, which may still take weeks or months. So the board is looking to other ideas to get the fairground back on its feet.

“We are looking at grant opportunities and other possible loan opportunities, we’re looking at the possibility of corporate sponsorships, we’re trying to look in as many places as we can come up with to make this work,” said Fair Board Member Nancy Davis, who also heads up the dog show slated to appear this June, one of the major events in jeopardy because of the closure.

Davis said the board didn’t know that the temporary occupancy permit would, or could, be a problem, and they were surprised by the arena’s closure.

But, she said they’ve been working hard on ideas that will push the facility into self-sufficiency, and they’re trying to take the place that’s been kept alive by the sweat and toil of volunteers on to the next level.


Working toward solvency

Enter Aaron Mabry. Mabry is a Haywood County native who has been brought on to beef up the fairgrounds offerings and schedule, to pitch it, full-time, to any event he can find.

He’s excited about the possibilities for the site, and sees self-sufficiency within three to four years as an extremely attainable goal.

“You’ve got car shows, you’ve got cook-off’s, you’ve got other types of fair events that we’ve never done before,” Mabry rattled off confidently. “It’s really unlimited as to what you can do, it’s just a matter of taking the time and the resources you have.”

The site has long been agriculturally focused — most of the events held here have an agrarian connection in some form or another. And while Mabry doesn’t see this as a bad thing — the heritage and lifeblood of Haywood County is, after all, farming and the fairground facilities lend themselves to agricultural events — he’s keen to widen the field on what kind of events and clients come to the fairground. And it’s safe to say he’s ambitious about the prospects, given that he’s now able to dedicate his efforts to selling the fairground full-time.

When asked how many events he’d like to see there annually, he’s quick to answer: “365.”

“Up to now, it’s really just been marketed for the weekend,” said Mabry. “I’d like to have an event here every single day, that’s my goal, to bring in consistent weekly revenue that’s dependable.”

The first step in getting there, though, he said, is getting the arena back open, getting its bathrooms up to par.  

According to Haywood County Facilities Director Dale Burris, the place should be completed and ready for inspection by June 15, just in time to accommodate the June 18-19 dog show.

And as for the county, County Manager Marty Stamey said the county is not over-extending itself. For now, money will be pulled from the county’s fund balance, but they’ll seek a short construction loan with the approval of the Local Government Commission to repay the fund balance, then hopefully recoup that with the sale of one of the county’s currently or  soon-to-be vacant buildings. Those properties promise to bring in upwards of $3 million, when sold.

They’ll also draft an agreement between the county and the fairground, making sure that if the fairground becomes profitable, they’ll try to pay the money back.


Beer brewing in Bryson City just took on a whole new look this weekend when Nantahala Brewing Company threw open the doors of its brand new tasting room. The town’s fledgling brewery welcomed friends and fans into its front room on Depot Street, which they’ve transformed into a rustic, high-ceiling tasting room – a beer bar to accompany the brewing operation that’s been cranking in the back for some time now.

Joe Rowland, head of the company’s marketing and part owner of the business, said that they’re thrilled to be able to serve their own brews. In fact, said Rowland, it’s the key to their business model, along with the self-distribution plan they’ve been working in the area.

“We want to be the beer destination in the area,” said Rowland, and with their tasting room just across the street from the Great Smoky Mountains Railway, they hope to pull in the droves of tourists that flock to the town in warmer weather.

For now, they’re pulling four of their own taps – Noon Day IPA, Appalachian Trail Extra Pale Ale, Bryson City Brown Ale and Eddy Out Stout – as well as a couple of guest spots reserved for brews from neighboring Greenman Brewing in Asheville. But Rowland says that they hope one day soon to be serving upwards of 20 different beer varieties, some of their own mixed with the plethora of other local brewers in the region.

And the region is replete with hometown craft breweries, a product, said Rowland, of the friendly environment North Carolina offers breweries.

Though the brewery taxes are high, he said, this is one of the only places in the country that affords beer-makers the right of self-distribution, allowing them to sell and send to restaurants, bars and stores themselves, cutting out the costly middleman.

Still, said Rowland, opening up in such a small location that’s so reliant on seasonal tourist traffic hasn’t been an easy proposition for the company, owned by himself and brewer Chris Collier.

“The brewing community is a very small community,” said Rowland, “and most of our friends thought we were insane.”

But sanity notwithstanding, they’ve been successful so far, getting their products into stores and restaurants from Weaverville to Murphy and even scoring places in Charlotte and Winston Salem.

Rowland said he was thrilled by the local response to the tasting room’s opening, too; they welcomed more than 120 visitors on Friday night alone, with only a few days’ notice.

“It’s been pretty huge,” said Rowland of the response, and with the opening comes a solution to one of the company’s perennial problems — regular hours.

When it was just a brewery, it wasn’t always easy for eager customers to catch someone at the warehouse. Now, those in search of a good beer and a good time know just when and where to come for them.

And for such a small community, Rowland said the regional response to their product has been pretty impressive.

“There’s a huge appetite for it here,” Rowland said.

This doesn’t really surprise Paul Gatza. He’s the director of the Brewer’s Association, a national organization that pretty much lives up to its straightforward name.

“All the consumer trends are pointing to a bright future for craft breweries,” said Gatza, which is good news for locals like Nantahala.

Technically speaking, a craft brewery is small, independent and brews their product in line with traditional beer-making techniques.

And those are qualities that appeal greatly to younger American consumers, even in this slouchy economy. While the major domestic breweries have shown a downturn in profits, the craft-brew revolution has meant a spike in profit for craft breweries, even in the most dire recession years.

“I think especially with the younger legal-drinking-age adults, they’ve been able to discover the world of craft beers themselves,” said Gatza. “There’s qualities of the small, local, independent that they can identify with in themselves.”

And with North Carolina being one of the most craft-brewery friendly states in the nation, it’s no wonder that last year, Asheville snatched the annually bestowed Beer City USA title from Portland, Ore., long crowned the nation’s best city for finding good brews.

Rowland and his company are happy to ride that craft-brew wave, and he’s confident enough in their product that even if the wave crests, they’ll still find an audience willing to shell out for the taste and experience that no other shop in the city can offer.


A new and long-awaited Creative Arts Building is only days away from its groundbreaking ceremony at Haywood Community College. But the tree clearing undertaken to prepare the way for the new crafts center has proven less-than-popular with some of the school’s forestry students.

Andy Fitzsimmons, a student in the college’s nationally recognized forestry program, said he’s lamenting the loss of trees that have been used as teaching tools for the school’s natural resources programs.

“There were some trees in there that had been there for a very long time, there were some that were just starting to sprout up,” said Fitzsimmons. “I feel like it just takes away learning tools from other departments.”

The college says that the trees in question had to go in order to make way for contractors to begin work. Some students were also displeased by the way the plants were taken out — dozed over rather than cut.

“They just seemed to go in there with tractors and push trees over, they didn’t even saw a lot of the trees,” said Jeremy Graves, a recent forestry graduate. “Even if they were going to proceed at that site, they could’ve taken their time and allowed the students to go in there and fell the trees. That would’ve been an excellent teaching opportunity for students that are still in the program.”

Debbie Trull, the school’s executive director of administration, said that the college really did everything in its power to fell the trees properly, making sure they were still useable either for firewood or to be milled and reused as flooring in the school’s new research house.

As for using students in the removal process, Trull said the idea was broached by the architect and discussed at the school, but because of a logging accident that happened there in 1982, the decision was made that letting students cut the trees was too dangerous.

“Where they get the opportunity to practice with their chainsaws is in their operating-a-chainsaw class,” said Trull, adding that they did use forestry students to mark the trees that were appropriate for removal before uprooting them.

Some students, however, see the bare and leveled patch of land as an eyesore and blemish on the face of their famously beautiful campus.

“It’s supposed to be an arboretum,” said Graves. “People come from all over to see the school, to walk through there and see the plants and wildlife. I think it kind-of goes against what the school claims to promote and I think it’s a big eyesore for the campus.”

Dae-Won Koh, the project manager for the building and vice president of Innovative Designs, the project’s lead architect, said that they’ve actually planned for the removal of as few trees as possible. In fact, said Koh, the amount of trees left on the site is going to be a greater challenge for the contractor, but they felt it was important to save as much of the surrounding flora as possible.

The contract for the $8.3 million building, which will house the college’s well-known professional crafts programs, was just awarded to Miles-McClellan Construction. The groundbreaking is scheduled for March 6, after which construction on the 41,665-square-foot, environmentally friendly building will begin in earnest.

By the time construction is finished, said Koh, the school is planning to replant two trees for every tree that was removed, which will be reflected in his final landscape plan.

In fact, he said, though the decision to cut down larger, older trees might not be as aesthetically pleasing or popular as removing smaller ones, research done by his firm has shown that it will go further towards reducing the building’s carbon footprint.

“The reason that we supported the college’s decision on planting new trees two-to-one is because when they [the trees] are old, their photosynthesis is quite low compared to the young trees,” said Koh. “If you plant new, young trees, they have to grow so fast, the contribution to the environment is the greater.”

Trull said that the school has taken all these things into consideration and has tried to make the most eco-friendly decisions for the site.

“There is a landscape plan and we worked within that contract as we could and with the department of natural resources as much as we could to do everything correctly,” said Trull.

Even so, the naked patch that now features in the center of an otherwise-green campus still doesn’t sit well with some who prize the school for its natural beauty and want to keep it that way.

“It’s an area of natural space that’s destroyed, it’s gone,” said Graves. “To drive by there and see it, it just hurts.”


The mood is grim. Few people in this tight community want to talk to an outsider about the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn.

Here on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, kinship ties are strong and families are extended and extensive. It doesn’t matter that they might not have known or ever even seen the toddler: in this tribe of just more than 14,000 members, there is outrage. Anger. Hurt. Aubrey was one of their own, another branch of the close-knit tribal family tree.

“It’s just uncalled for,” said Lisa Owen, who works in a Cherokee Harley Davidson store. “As a parent myself, I think the well-being of the kids should be first and foremost on anyone’s mind. They’re our future, and if we don’t take care of them, nobody will.”

The Swain County Department of Social Services failed to remove the child from the home despite numerous complaints by caregivers that she was in an unsafe home and being neglected by her caregiver. (see related story)

The allegations have spawned outrage among members of the tribe.

“DSS should’ve stepped in and took care of that baby,” said Scotty Gunter, a clerk at a local auto parts store. “She would probably still be alive if they had.”

His coworker Willene Gross agreed.

“I feel like that baby’s death could’ve been prevented,” said Gross. “They [DSS] need to do more investigating into stuff like that.”

Swain County DSS Director Tammy Cagle said she and her staff are deeply saddened by Aubrey’s death.

Regina Rosario, the head of the Cherokee child-advocacy group Heart-to-Heart, said that she’s dismayed, but not entirely surprised.

“I knew one day it would come down to this, you know, one of ours dying, and you see now that it’s a mess,” said Rosario of the DSS system. “It’s gotten a little better but there’s still things that I think that they should be on top of.”

Tribal Council Member Terri Howard also expressed her sadness over the baby’s death, saying that she hoped social services and tribal government both would use this as an opportunity to reexamine their roles and responsibilities, and possibly make some changes.

“I am very saddened that this little girl lost her life,” said Howard. “It’s a tragedy that it had to come to this.”

As the investigation into Aubrey’s death and the alleged coverup at Swain County DSS continues, more discussions about how the system could be improved are likely to be stirred on the reservation and in surrounding counties. Although the issue has not formally been placed on this agenda for a tribal council meeting this Thursday, Rosario has pledged to bring up the issue in public comment, and Howard believes that others will be there to voice their outrage, too.

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