Sylva elects new mayor, council members
The Sylva Town Council could have three new members, including a new mayor after vote totals become official later this week.
Mayoral candidate Johnny Phillips won 255 votes to Natalie Newman’s 174, or 59% to 40% of the vote respectively.
Phillips is originally from Sylva and spent 30 years working for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, followed by time in the private sector. Phillips also has extensive experience serving on and chairing public boards.
Newman was first elected to Sylva’s town board in 2021, when she beat out two incumbents and garnered the most votes of any candidate. In addition to her role on the town board, Newman serves on the Main Street Sylva Association Board and as a Jackson County Chamber Ambassador. She has lived in the area since 2011 and works as a property manager. Newman, who’s term as a commissioner was unexpired, will remain on the board in that capacity despite losing the race for mayor.
“Thank you to everyone who came out to vote,” said Newman. “It was nice to see those numbers and see everybody participating. I hope those numbers go up in the coming years in the next elections.”
In addition to the contest for mayor, three seats were up for election this cycle on the Sylva Town Council with six candidates competing for those spots. Incumbent Brad Waldrop won the most votes of any other council member candidate with 242 votes, or almost 20% of the vote.
“I am humbled and honored by the citizens of Sylva casting their votes to allow me to continue to represent them as a member of the Sylva Town Board of Commissioners,” said Waldrop in a statement. “Even more so, it’s exciting to see such improved voter turnout over the last municipal election.”
Waldrop was selected to serve on the town board earlier this year after Mayor Lynda Sossamon resigned and David Nestler vacated his seat as commissioner to fill the role of mayor. Waldrop was born and raised in Sylva and graduated from both Smoky Mountain High School and Western Carolina University. He is the co-owner and general manager of Ward Plumbing, Heating & Air, has been a member of the Sylva Rotary Club for over two years and has served on the Jackson County Planning Board for one year.
“I spent the day out at the election center on election day and got to spend time with candidates, including incumbents. I thought it was beyond civil, to the point of friendliness that’s not really normal in the rest of our political landscape,” said Waldrop. “Everybody was being friendly, and it really felt like a BBQ as much as anything political and I thought that was really refreshing.”
Newcomer Mark Jones came in second place with 206 votes or about 17% of the vote. Jones is a lifelong resident of Sylva, working 30 years as a sales manager at a local business.
Behind Jones, Blitz Estridge and Ben Guiney are unofficially tied for third place with 204 votes each, or 16.8% of the vote. If the tie stands after the Jackson County Board of Elections canvass later this week, a coin flip or draw will determine the winner between Estridge and Guiney.
However, according to Jackson County Board of Elections Director Lisa Lovedahl, there are 10 provisional ballots for the Board of Elections to consider on canvass day, which will take place at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 17. That is enough ballots to not only break the tie between Estridge and Guiney, but also put one or both of them ahead of Mark Jones.
Incumbent Council Member Guiney also tied for third place during the 2019 election, after which he won a seat following a coin flip for the seat.
Guiney, an emergency room doctor, has lived in Sylva since 2014 and was first elected to the town board in 2019, following three years on the town’s planning board.
Estridge is originally from South Florida and has lived in Sylva since moving here while in high school. He has a degree in electrical fundamentals and owns Catamount Electric in Dillsboro.
Turnout appears to be up from 2021 municipal elections when 330 ballots were cast to this year’s 469. In 2021, 378 ballots were cast.
Board members Greg McPherson and David Nestler will no longer have seats on the board. Nestler has been serving as mayor since February of this year when Mayor Linda Sossamon resigned, but he decided not to run for reelection. Greg McPherson came in fourth place for a seat on the board with 188 votes or 15.5% of the vote.
“I’d like to thank Greg and David for your service,” said Public Works Director Jake Scott during the Nov. 9 town board meeting. “It’s not easy or fun sometimes to come out here and do this. Y’all have been great. You’ve been good to work with and I personally appreciate your contribution to the community a whole lot.”
“I also want to thank Greg for his service to the town and it’s been a pleasure working with you,” said Waldrop.
Greg McPherson is an assistant professor at Western Carolina University in addition to his role as exhibition designer for the WCU Fine Art Museum. He won his first term on the town board in 2015.
“I’ve enjoyed my tenure as a commissioner for Sylva,” said McPherson. “I think when the history books are written that they will say that our collective time here has been some of the most productive, collaborative and positive in a long time. I think we’ve seen some really positive changes throughout the community. I hope that the spirit of cooperation, pride and comradery that I have helped cultivate on the various boards on which I have served will continue as Sylva continues to grow, prosper and move forward.”