Complaint filed over ballot counting before polls closed

An election watchdog in Swain County is protesting the tallying of early votes before the close of polls on Election Day, claiming it could have given some candidates an unfair advantage if those results be leaked.

The results from early voting are often an indication of who’s winning and losing. In the 2008 general election, some mountain counties saw nearly 50 percent of those who cast ballots do so during the two-week early voting period.

While state law allows election officials to get a jumpstart by tabulating the results from early voting during the afternoon of Election Day, Mike Clampitt of Swain County thinks it leaves too much room for corruption.

The results from early voting can’t be announced until after the polls close. But it is technically OK for those on the board of elections to call a few friends, party officials or even select candidates and share the results that afternoon.

“I would prefer they not talk about it outside the board office, but that is not publicizing or publishing the results,” said Johnnie McLean, deputy director of the N.C. Board of Elections in Raleigh.

Sharing the results indiscriminately with the public, such as releasing them to the media or posting them on the wall in the elections office, would be illegal. But a single phone call to a particular candidate to tell them how they fared is not illegal, McLean said. Besides, McLean doesn’t see what a candidate could do with that knowledge in just a few short hours.

“About the only thing they could do would be contact their supporters and ensure that they have gone to vote,” Mclean said.

Precisely, Clampitt countered.

Clampitt said there are still three to four hours left to drum up voters for your candidate once early votes have been tabulated. In a small county, where elections can easily be decided by less than 100 votes, that knowledge could make a difference.

Clampitt has filed a formal complaint over the tallying of early votes in Swain County, although the process is similar to that used in other counties and conforms with state law.

The counting of ballots, including early voting ballots, is a public process and can’t be done behind closed doors. Per state election law, any member of the public is allowed to witness the process. Technically, those present could overhear election officials talking about the results as they are printed out, or even catch a glimpse.

In Haywood County, Election Director Robert Inman said he would be disappointed if election officials tabulating results shared them outside the office. They don’t give verbal cues that would reveal results to those present as observers. In fact, they make a point of not even studying the tallies as they are printed out, according to Inman.

“We do all we can to not see them,” said Inman. “We do our utmost not to know.”

It is difficult to do, however.

“There is no way you can count without knowing the totals,” said Lisa Lovedahl, director of the Jackson County Board of Elections. “The board members are human.”

The human factor also makes it impossible to guarantee that the results stay within the four walls of the election office.

Clampitt witnessed the counting of early votes in Swain County and says election officials mulled over the results, as would most people in the same position.

“If a person has access to something, don’t you think they are going to do it? That is just human nature,” Clampitt said.

Retired superintendent, former commissioner join Democratic incumbents in Swain

Though both commissioner candidates running for re-election in Swain County have safely landed a spot in November’s election, a newcomer earned the top spot in Tuesday’s primary.

With only four commissioner seats up for election, all four Republican candidates automatically advanced to the November election. Democratic voters had to choose four out of nine commissioner candidates running in the crowded primary.

Democrat Robert White received the most votes in that race, with about 15 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Commissioners Steve Moon and David Monteith both received about 14 percent of the vote.

“I was a little surprised, let’s be frank about it,” said White, on election night. “This is my first venture in politics, and I really didn’t know what to expect.”

As a retired superintendent, White emphasized his experience in Swain County’s school system during the race, emphasizing that he’d spent countless hours creating a balanced budget and creating a strategic plan for the Swain’s schools.

If elected as commissioner, White promised to create an ad hoc committee of citizens to look at Swain County’s needs in the long-term.

Donnie Dixon, the fourth Democrat to move forward to the November race, received about 12 percent of votes cast in the Democratic ballot.

Dixon, a tool and dye maker and machinist, focused on bringing high-paying jobs to the county, creating a more open government with televised meetings and also focusing on setting long-term goals.

With Swain County’s reserve funds dipping dangerously low in the last budget cycle, Dixon vowed to bring financial stability to the county if elected. He served as commissioner in the 1990s when a similar budget crisis occurred and was able to help rectify the situation.

Monteith said he would be more than happy to work with all four Democrats primary winners should they win the November election.

“That, to me, would be a great bunch of people to work with,” said Monteith. “If this is the pick of the people, I would love to have this to work with.”

Monteith said if elected, his top priority is to develop an assisted living senior center in Swain County, which would not only help the elderly community but would bring jobs to the area.

Swain County commissioner

Democrat – top four advance

Robert White: 929

Steve Moon (Incb.): 877

David Monteith (Incb.): 856

Donnie Dixon: 741

Gerald (Jerry) McKinney: 629

Billy R. Woodard: 612

Tommy Woodard: 611

Judy Miller: 427

Janice Inabinett: 328

Raymond Nelson: 136

*There are also four Republicans and one Libertarian running for commissioner, all of whom automatically advance to the fall primary.

Swain County chairman

Republican – one winner advances

Mike Clampitt: 435

William (Bill) Lewis: 220

*The winner will face Democrat Phil Carson in November.

Friedman fails to give Haire a green scare

Phil Haire is a fortress as a state candidate. The seven-time incumbent is head of the General Assembly’s appropriations committee, and he’s been endorsed by every kind of voters group from realtors to the Sierra Club. On Tuesday night, he beat challenger Avram Friedman in a Democratic primary election characterized by a low voter turnout.

Haire took the vote as confirmation that his track record in Raleigh speaks for itself.

“It just tells me that people know my roots are here and I’m a mountain person and the voters feel like I’m representing them to the best of my ability in Raleigh,” Haire said.

In the election four years ago, Avram Friedman challenged Haire with a green platform that shook up the business-as-usual feel of the race. Friedman won 30 percent of the vote then, a total that gave him hope to challenge Haire this time around, but he fell short by a wider margin than last time.

Friedman said the low voter turnout was a sign of a demoralized electorate.

“I think the one thing that is pretty clear is the voter turnout was extremely low and what it shows is people are fed up with business-as-usual politics,” Friedman said.

Friedman challenged Haire’s reputation as an environmentally friendly candidate and offered voters a progressive platform that included reforming the way the state government does business.

Friedman said the media coverage of the election didn’t allow for a real debate on issues, which hurt his chances.

“I felt the issue behind the election were not well discussed in any of the media,” Friedman said. “For me, the race was worthwhile because it did get the message out to some degree.”

Haire said Friedman’s challenge was too one-dimensional.

“I had a tradition of support for environmental causes before Friedman got into it,” Haire said. “Friedman is basically a single-issue candidate and that’s being against Duke Energy and coal power.”

Friedman said the vote confirmed that the district’s voters weren’t ready for a change.

“Business as usual won. Congratulations to Phil Haire. We’ll keep on fighting,” Friedman said.

Haire will now face Republican candidate Dodie Allen in the fall, and he said that race will be about a broader range of issues.

“I think it’ll be jobs, the economy and education,” Haire said. “Those are the three things we need to be concerned about all the time. I’ve got a challenge, and anytime you have a challenge, you never take it for granted. I’ll get out there and work hard.”

N.C. House of Representatives, 119th district

Democrat – one advances

Phil Haire: 5,213

Avram Friedman: 1,894

*Winner will square off against Republican Dotie Allen in the fall. The seat represents Jackson and Swain counties, and portions of Haywood and Macon.

An engaged – and very angry – electorate

The primary election is over now, but even before the vote tallies made winners and losers out of so many candidates, this election season seemed to be sweeping in a tide of activism in the mountains.

The truth of this struck home the night of April 22. I had just moderated a political forum in Swain County, which was a first for me. More importantly, it was the first time many in Swain remembered a political forum being held during the primary election.

The turnout from the public wasn’t as good as it could have been, but that’s to be expected. Most people are content to read about the issues in the papers or vote for friends or friends of friends, and go on about their business. I’ve had an opportunity to attend dozens of local forums over the years, and more often than not organizers end up disappointed with the attendance. At the Swain County Center for the Arts at Swain County High School, about 75 folks showed up.

But not everyone is content to sit at home and read about it. As former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neil is credited with saying, “All politics is local.” County commissioners are about as local as it gets, and their decisions affect our lives in everything from the quality of our schools to public safety.

This truism manifested itself in two ways. One, the number of candidates running for county commission and sheriff in Swain County was, in a word, staggering. For the most part the candidates were well meaning people with a desire to give back to their communities. With 13 candidates running for commissioner and eight running for sheriff in Swain County, the election was somewhat of a free for all.

In Haywood County, a total of 11 candidates ran for three open seats on the county board. I can’t remember a time when so many local elections had so many viable candidates running for office.

The second point that hit home after the Swain forum was about the organizers. Neither Vicki Crews or Robin Hamilton are lifelong residents of Swain. Both moved here as adults, and neither come from a background of political activism. They simply wanted to get all the candidates together and allow the public — and themselves — the opportunity to gather some information prior to the May 4 primary.

Their goal wasn’t high-minded and it wasn’t devious. Instead, they were driven by a desire to make educated decisions at the ballot box. Plain, simple, and critical to the proper functioning of our system of government.

There’s a lot of anger about government right now, and polls show that Americans have as little trust in their political leader as at any time in our republic’s history. I think the reasons for that are two-fold: one, some particularly controversial issues, like health care and immigration, are fueling passions; and two, the digital age of media gives those who are mad and unhappy more power than ever. Any observer of government knows that anger is the best tool for galvanizing an audience.

But all’s not bad. The very fact that so many people are taking part in local politics, holding meetings, organizing forums and running for office provides ample evidence that the public is engaged, and that the pendulum is swinging. By November, perhaps, we’ll know which way.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Queen to face new challenger

After three straight match-ups with the same Republican challenger, Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, will face a new opponent on the Republican side of the ticket this year.

Ralph Hise, the mayor of Spruce Pine, narrowly beat out two other challengers in the Republican primary for state senate and will take on Queen in the fall. The sprawling mountain district spans six counties, stretching from Haywood up to Mitchell and back down to McDowell, forming a horseshoe.

Queen has served in the state Senate since 2002, taking a two-year break after losing the seat in 2004, but reclaiming it again in 2006. For years, Queen faced off against the same opponent, Keith Presnell of Yancey County, over and over — in 2004, 2006 and 2008. The only year Queen lost in 2004 was marked by Republican sentiment in favor of Bush, a presidential coattails effect that spilled its influence onto state races as well. Years Queen won were all good years for Democrats.

Given the fickle nature of the seat, if a Republican tide manifests this November it could help Hise and hurt Queen.

A 33-year-old native of Mitchell County, Hise would be the youngest member serving in the state Senate. He is already serving his second term as Spruce Pine mayor.

Mitchell County leans heavily Republican, a territory where Queen picked up few votes anyway.

The second runner up, Andy Webb, who trailed by just a slim margin of votes, was from McDowell County, which could have proved more formidable for Queen.

McDowell is the quintessential battleground county. It leans neither Republican nor Democrat, and neither Queen nor his opponents have ever had a home advantage there.

McDowell has been the only “swing” county in the race in past years, but had a candidate from McDowell been on the ballot, it could have proved challenging for Queen.

The toss-up nature of the district required a large and expensive campaign on Queen’s part, spending around $800,000 the past two elections. In his home county of Haywood, Queen took 64 percent of the votes in 2008, and won the district by 54 percent. He took four of the six counties that comprise the district — a marked improvement compared to past victories narrowly eked out.

The six counties comprising the district have markedly different leanings. In Avery and Mitchell, Republicans out number registered Democrats by 8 to 1. It means Queen has to win big in Haywood, his home county, to make up for the known losses to the north.

Queen supporters believe he can pull off a win.

“All his races are tough,” said Chuck Dixon, a Waynesville Democrat and Queen supporter, citing the nature of the district. “He has to work hard for all his votes.”

Dixon said the district is oddly drawn. The state legislature will redraw election district boundaries this term, however, so the party that wins usually gets to draw district lines to its own advantage.

N.C. Senate, 47th district

Republican – one advances

Ralph Hise: 4,965

Andy Webb: 4,610

Tamera Frank: 4,328

*Winner faces off against Democratic Sen. Joe Sam Queen in the fall.  

N.C. Senate, 50th district

Republican – one advances

Jim Davis: 5,467

Jimmy Goodman: 3,542

*Winner faces Democratic Sen. John Snow in the fall.

Politicians would be wise to read the Tea leaves

By Bruce Gardner • Guest Columnist

The Tea Party movement is sweeping the nation and has found its way through the media and into almost everyone’s living room. It is not a political party; it is a frame of mind. It is a grassroots organization unlike anything in our lifetime.

Quoting Richard Viguerie in his editorial in the Investor’s Business daily: “The Tea Party Movement not only brings millions of new people to the political process, it also brings more energy, enthusiasm and excitement to politics than we’ve seen in the last 100 years. I have been working and waiting 50 years for this populist, principled and constitutional groundswell against big government and the quasi-socialistic, crony capitalistic establishment institutions that have been abusing power and trust at the expense of hard-working Americans, their children and their grandchildren. In just one year, the Tea Party has become the fastest growing political movement perhaps in history.”

TEA stands for Taxed Enough Already. It represents the historical dumping of the tea into Boston Harbor in protest of the Stamp Act of 1765. Basically this was a revolution against taxation without representation imposed by the British monarchy of the time. This movement is uniquely American.

Today, people in America are upset with both political parties. They are outraged at the massive spending, oppressive debt, self-serving, arrogant behavior of Congress as well as the current and previous administrations. The Tea Party brings focus to these issues.

Professional politicians in both parties have created careers for themselves by mortgaging future generations to finance their own reelection campaigns through earmarks, closed door dealings and “selling” their votes to party leaders in exchange for re-election campaign funding.

Taxpaying, working Americans are fed up and are now demanding that elected representatives listen to the voices of the people who are paying the bills.

What do the Tea Partiers want? It’s easy to see what political issues they are against, but what are they for? They are for smaller government, substantially lower taxes, term limits, rot reform, individual liberty restoration, less intrusion by government, a fair tax code for everyone, transparency and accountability in government, respect for the Constitution, elimination of earmarks, a balanced budget, a strong defense, elimination of waste and fraud in government, state’s rights as defined by the Constitution, social programs that create independence rather than dependence on the system, and a no nonsense criminal justice system that favors the victim.

At first, the mainstream media ignored the Tea Parties. Now, the national media would have the public believe that this is a radical right wing movement. Look at the list above and ask yourself if anything on that list seems radical to you. The Tea Party is made up of folks that live in every hometown. They are Middle America — not extremists.

The Constitution was written to protect our individual liberties and order the structure of the federal government. The federal government was to be empowered by the states to provide for the states those things that were needed in common such as national defense. Over the years the federal government has expanded its role, enslaving the states through mandates in almost every area of our lives. The expansion of government and the unconscionable spending of the last 10 years have financially crippled our children and all future generations. This expansion has led to the near bankruptcy of our country and the degradation of our dollar around the world. The legacy we are leaving for future generations is the direct result of political greed and a total disconnect from and disregard for the American public.

Much of the strength of the Tea Party movement is in the fact that it is totally decentralized. There is no national leader or common set of talking points. Each group concentrates much of its efforts on local and state issues. These groups are challenging candidates for every elected office that affects their area. It’s all about policy and philosophy. Political party affiliation is of no consequence.

Every area seems to have a different organization with a variety of names. The common thread is the mindset found in the Tea Party movement. In Haywood County, the Tea Party movement is represented by the 9/12 Project. This nonpartisan group has grown tremendously in the past year and is extremely active through monthly meetings, Saturday morning coffee gatherings and events featuring speakers and candidates for office. Contrary to anti-Tea Party sound bites repeated by the national media, the Haywood 9/12 Project is made up of Democrats, Republicans and Independents who feel that government is out of control.

The Haywood 9/12 Project will be announcing an initiative to inform the voting public which candidates best represent the ideals of the Tea Party Movement at all levels: local, state and national. Any candidate for any office belonging to any party will be invited to participate. Watch for additional details or get involved with the 9/12 Project to learn more.

For information about the 9/12 Project and the Tea Party movement in Haywood County, visit the Web site at or call 828.506.5007 for meeting information or for ways to get involved.

(Bruce Gardner lives in Haywood County and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

The nuts and bolts of the bench

The starting salary for a judge is $109,000, but can climb much higher for judges with a long tenure thanks to cost of living raises plus a bump in pay for every five years spent on the bench.

Judge Steve Bryant now makes $132,000 a year.

“There are certainly lawyers making more than that and certainly lawyers making less than that,” Bryant said.

These days, however, with the recession taking its toll on the legal profession, there are far more lawyers below that figure than there used to be. Candidates have to plunk down $1,094 to run — 1 percent of the salary.

The job isn’t a cakewalk. While attorneys who labor 10 hours a day envy the judge that strolls up to the bench at 9:30 a.m. to start court, breaks for lunch between 12:30 and 2, then knocks off at 5, it’s not what it appears.

“I think people have the perception that everything you do takes place on the bench,” Bryant said.

But Bryant regularly takes work home to research case files and legal precedent, working nights and weekends.

And that doesn’t count the driving time. In a judicial district that spans seven counties — a more than two-hour drive from tip to tip — judges travel from courthouse to courthouse wherever they are needed.

“You can’t just decide to take a day off because there are 400 people waiting on you,” Judge Danny Davis said.

The district was so large and unwieldy — and had grown so much in case volume — that an additional judge’s seat was added four years ago, bringing the total to six seats.

Judicial candidates

There are three district court judge seats up for election this year. Candidates must designate which seat they are running for. The race is non-partisan. Two candidates for each seat will advance past the May primary to the general election in November.


Seat 1

• Danya Vanhook, 31, Waynesville*

• Donna Forga, 46, Waynesville


Seat 2

• Caleb Rogers, 29, Waynesville

• Kris Earwood, 32, Sylva

• David Sutton, 34, Waynesville

• Justin Greene, 30, Bryson City

• Greg Boyer, 60, Franklin


Seat 3

• Steve Ellis, 60, Waynesville

• Roy Wijewickrama, 34, Waynesville


*Vanhook currently holds this seat after being appointed to a vacancy last year.

Bench holds tradition of balanced temperament

Steve Bryant was fresh out of law school and just learning his way around the courtroom when the judge hearing his case one day threatened to throw him in jail.

The judge had announced a recess, and Bryant seized the opportunity to pass a file to a clerk. But when the clerk in turn passed the file to the judge, Bryant was blamed for interrupting the judge’s break — a sin apparently justifying jail time.

“I thought he was dead serious,” Bryant said. Distraught, he called the partners at his Bryson City law firm and gave them the bad news that his legal career was over.

But it turned out Judge Robert Leatherwood was infamous for such admonitions and old-fashioned tongue lashings during his reign in the 1970s and ‘80s. For the lawyers and clients on the receiving end, they spent their days in court navigating an invisible minefield for fear a misstep would invoke Leatherwood’s ire.

“People were afraid of him, and the lawyers were afraid of him,” said John Snow, a judge for 28 years and now a state senator. “When I became a judge, that was one of the things I made a conscious effort to do, to make people feel comfortable in the courtroom.”

Nine years after Bryant’s embarrassing day in court, he became a District Court judge himself. Leatherwood committed suicide in the parking lot of Moody Funeral Home in Bryson City in the mid-1980s, and Bryant was appointed to fill the vacant seat. Like Snow, Bryant didn’t want to the run the kind of courtroom that Leatherwood had.

“I was conscious of the fact that the courtroom under the volatile circumstances of my predecessor made for an unnecessarily uncomfortable workplace,” Bryant said.

Lawyers constantly feared a clash with Leatherwood would land their clients harsher sentences with no apparent reason other than a moody day on the bench. Bryant instead strove for a “degree of predictability.”

“If you are an even-keel person, and day in and day out you handle your interactions with lawyers on the same basic plane, it makes it easier for the lawyers to advise their clients of a likely outcome,” Bryant said. “I don’t think you can worry about if they like you or don’t like you or think you are smart or an idiot, but it is important that everybody who comes to the table has their day in court.”

Judge Danny Davis came on the bench about the same time as Bryant, and likewise had experienced the Leatherwood courtroom.

“I think we both lived through that in our early days practicing law and understood the downside of that,” Bryant said.

Over the next two decades, Snow, Davis and Bryant conveyed a courtroom demeanor that was ultimately institutionalized as standard operating procedure within the 30th Judicial District, a court circuit spanning the seven western counties from Waynesville to Murphy.

“Everybody that came to practice after that, they realized they were going to get a fair shake and be treated with respect,” Snow said.

As a result, the 30th Judicial District is the envy of lawyers elsewhere in the state.

“We’ve had such a good set of judges for so long, lawyers that practice in other counties like to come here and do cases because they know they and their people will be treated fairly and courteously,” said Steve Ellis, a Waynesville attorney running for judge. “Even if they ruled against you, you knew they had made a thoughtful decision, and it wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction.”

Bob Clark, a Waynesville attorney who has practiced in other districts, said the judges here are simply the best.

“Most of that is a consistency in temperament,” Clark said. “The judge won’t be in one mood one day and a different mood another day. Court runs well when you have judges who are clear in their rulings and dealings with others so you don’t have a tense situation of wondering what is going to happen next.”

That temperament is appreciated across the legal community.

“Judges should allow attorneys to try their cases without walking on eggshells,” said Roy Wijiwickrama, an attorney who lives in Waynesville and serves as prosecutor for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

What’s known as “judge shopping” — when lawyers jockey for a slot on the schedule to have their cases heard by the better judges — happens little in District Court here. Attorneys for the most part can roll into court without stressing about which judge they get.

“It’s something that is not so certain going forward given the amount of change we are facing,” Ellis said.

After two decades of relative stability, the 30th Judicial District is in major flux. Of six District Court judges now in office, three are new to the bench in the past five years. With the retirement of Davis and Bryant, two more seats will change hands. In all, five of the six District Court judges will be new since 2004 — with their combined experience being fewer years than any of their predecessors claimed alone.

Davis said demeanor is perhaps the most important quality voters should size up when picking from the daunting list of District Court judge hopefuls on the ballot this election year.

“The demeanor of who is on the bench is important. I think the main thing is to be courteous to people and to be fair to them and have patience, which is tested from time to time,” Davis said. “You can read about the law and listen to the evidence, but temperament and demeanor are sometimes hard to teach and hard to learn.”

The demeanor promulgated by tenured District Court judges and coveted by the legal community isn’t lost on candidates posturing for the open seats.

“We have been extremely fortunate here to have judges with a great judicial temperament that are fair and objective. We need to take care to ensure that continues,” said David Sutton, a Waynesville attorney running for one of the seats.

“It is the best bench in the state and always has been,” said Justin Greene, a Bryson City attorney running for judge. “They are not unapproachable. They are not bullies. If you need help, they will help you. They will work with you. They are all professional in their jobs. I would take a lot of pride in being part of that.”

Despite candidates’ pledges to carry on the tradition, this election can’t help but “change the flavor of the bench,” said Greg Boyer, a Franklin attorney running for judge.

“They are big shoes to fill,” Boyer said.

Those appearing in District Court come from all walks of life. But despite their socio-economic status or the crime they’re charged with, Davis said everyone in court deserves dignity.

“I still say ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No ma’am’ to folks in court. Even if you are getting ready to sentence them, they deserve a certain amount of respect,” Davis said.

It doesn’t go unnoticed by practicing attorneys.

“They look at people no matter what their station in life as individuals,” said Donna Forga, a Waynesville attorney running for judge. “They treat people with respect.”

The attitude is infectious throughout the court system.

“The key thing I have seen is a caring about people in the court system,” said Greg Boyer, a Franklin attorney who practiced in Florida prior to moving to the mountains. “They aren’t just a number or a cog in the wheel. The judges and the lawyers still see individuals. They see people.”

Another hallmark of the 30th Judicial District is the absence of an ivory-tower philosophy.

“One thing I always wanted to avoid as a judge is being enamored with my position, thinking that just because I am a judge, I am a special person,” Snow said. “You don’t want to be thought of as acting that way.”

The behavior of those appearing in court has gotten more raucous over the years, however, and doesn’t always make the judge’s job easy. Davis often finds himself telling people: “This is not Judge Judy’s court.”

“Some of these court TV shows are not realistic, but people think that they are,” Davis said.

Davis said the nature and volume of cases has changed for the worst.

“You have a front row seat for a lot of ills of society,” Davis said. “It is hard work. It is also emotionally draining. From time to time you will see things you don’t want to see. It is not the same job it was in 1984.”

There has been one improvement. Judges have their own office in the courthouse now, unlike in Davis’ early years.

“People would drive out to my house to get orders signed,” Davis said.

Fresh faces will lead Canton

As with the election two years ago, Canton will once again see three new faces on the board.

Voters had a deep bench of candidates to chose from: 10 running for four seats on the board. The only two returning board members are Alderman Eric Dills and Mayor Pat Smathers.

Town politics in Canton have been marked by division the past two years, and the vast majority of candidates running this time claimed they would rise above the fray and bring an end to opposing camps.

The two town leaders most at odds — Smathers and Dills — are the only two returning to the board, leaving it up to the three new board members to forge a new direction.

“I think we will sit around that table and come up with some good ideas and discuss them and come to a consensus hopefully a lot quicker than what was done in the past,” said Ed Underwood, one of the new candidates winning election to the board.

Candidate Jimmy Flynn agreed.

“I just feel like the three new people need to concentrate on bringing everybody together,” Flynn said.

Flynn said personality conflicts need to be put aside to do what’s best for the town.

“They have to concentrate on listening to each other more than talking,” Flynn said.

Two years ago, voters ousted three long-time board members and ushered in a slate of new faces for the first time in years. A power struggle between Smathers and Dills rooted in philosophical differences bogged down progress, according to both candidates and voters.

One voter interviewed for an exit poll, Paul Moore, said he went for a “complete change” when casting his ballot. Moore had supported a change on the board two years ago but was disappointed in what they had accomplished.

“Nothing,” he said.

Luckily for Moore, all the seats on the Canton board are up for election every two years, so he didn’t have to wait long to vote for another clean sweep.

Dills has been among the first to admit that the change promised by candidates two years ago hasn’t come to fruition but says progress was stymied by hold-overs in the town leadership who resisted the change.

“People haven’t been satisfied with the progress that has been made, but I know I will continue to stand in there with their best interest,” Dills said.


Coming to consensus

A hot topic in the race was forging a new place for the historic, blue-collar mill town in the 21st century economy.

“I think everybody in Canton wants Canton to be a vibrant community again,” said Randy Burrell, a voter interviewed on his way out of the polls. “I think all the candidates have that in mind. It is the main issue. Canton has a little niche somewhere and once we find it, we’ll be back.”

Indeed, most candidates made revitalization a central issue — but they differ on how to best target the town’s efforts. Some want the top focus to be on the core downtown. Others want to upgrade water and sewer around the Interstate 40 interchange to lay the groundwork for commercial development. Yet others believe Canton’s strength lies in its neighborhoods and want to clean them up.

Underwood said it is crucial they agree on some priorities, or they won’t be any better than the last board, which was chastised for getting nothing done.

“You hear presidential elections with a mandate. The mandate here was get down there and work together,” Underwood said. “I think if you didn’t hear that message, you got a problem.”

Mayor Pat Smathers published an op-ed piece in a local paper listing 17 priorities he wants to see the town tackle and challenged voters to elect candidates who would follow his lead on them.

Dills said he is going to come up with his own list to put before the board. He said the board should commit to priorities on paper rather than a piecemeal approach that is hard to track.

“We have to come to some concensus and figure out what we want to accomplish the next two years, put it on paper and let’s go do it,” Dills said.

Troy Mann, a current board member who lost re-election, wished the new board good luck.

“If they can fulfill Mayor Smathers’ list of 17 projects, they have their work cut out for them,” Mann said.

Smathers was running unopposed, and nearly a third of the voters chose not to vote at all in the mayor’s race and instead marked no name at all. Another 88 voters wrote in a candidate for mayor, but the names were not available as of press time.

Barry Mull, a worker at the mill, was among those who chose not to vote at all, rather than vote for Smathers.

“I think it’s time for him to slide out of there,” said Mull.

Most voters wouldn’t say who they voted for to avoid hurt feelings in a small community. For Cassie Erwin, 22, members of her own family were split over who to vote for and therefore she wouldn’t share her picks.

Flynn, a safety manager for Buckeye Construction, was the top vote-getter. He chalks it up to his experience working for the town for 30 years in a variety of jobs from the police department to recreation department to streets. He also served as town clerk and assistant manager.

“I think people were looking for experience,” Flynn said.



Pat Smathers (I)    448


Town board

Seats up for election:    4

Total seats on board:    4

Jimmy Flynn    364

Ed Underwood    337

Eric Dills (I)    288

Kenneth Holland    257

Carole Edwards    246

Patrick Willis    229

Charlie Crawford    216

Troy Mann (I)    214

Angela Jenkins    195

Gene Monson    171

Registered voters:    2,880

Voter turn-out: 648 (24%)

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