Caitlin Bowling

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A whimsical sculpture that honors the Folkmoot international dance festival will find new prominence at a different spot on Main Street in Waynesville.

The Waynesville Art Commission approved the relocation of the “Celebrating Folkmoot” for public safety reasons and concerns about its visibility at its meeting last week.

At its current location in front of Waynesville’s new town hall, the sculpture is subject to a wind tunnel effect. The wind serves nicely to rotate several flags mounted on the piece, but also causes a safety hazard.

Flags on the statue have flown off in the past and could potential harm someone or something.

“It’s only happened twice, but that’s twice too many,” said Jan Griffin, chair of the art commission board.

The commission wants to move the statue across the street to the old town hall building, specifically on the left side if facing the building.

“People really don’t see if up against this building,” said Griffin, later adding that people might enjoy the statue more if it is more visible.

The colossal, metal sculpture, created by artist Wayne Trapp, features a flowing banner-like dancer with seven flags that turn in the wind. The piece, which was paid for through private donations, was dedicated in 2009 as part of a Waynesville public art project.

The commission also discussed building a platform for the statue to sit on, making it more noticeable, and surrounding it by a 3- or 4-foot fence.

“It’s so much more delicate than music men,” Griffin said. That public art installation, made of hefty metal, often becomes a jungle-gym for children and tourists seeking photo-ops.

The fence should deter people from climbing on the “Celebrating Folkmoot” statue like they do the music men but should not detract from the piece itself, commission members agreed.

“We do not want a fence that is not compatible with the art work,” said Bill King, a member of the commission.

Griffin said she did not know how much the move will cost but the money will come from the commission’s funds.

In order to move the piece, both the artist and the town must approve it.

“(Trapp) is more than in favor of moving the piece,” Griffin said.

The commission will address the Waynesville Board of Aldermen in January for approval.


Bryson City Fire Department failed its state mandated insurance inspection last week for failing to respond to false alarms.

The department would often be en route to a call when firefighters heard from 9-1-1 dispatchers that it was actually a false alarm. The dispatcher would cancel the call, and the volunteer firefighters would go back home. It is unknown how many instances there were. It only takes two so-called “non-responses” to fail the inspection, and after that the state quits counting, said Marni Schribman, a public information officer with the N.C. Department of Insurance, in an email.

The state requires fire departments to respond to the scene, even in the case of a false alarm, to verify it is indeed false. The inspector met with the local dispatch supervisor and informed them of the rule, Schribman said. The dispatch supervisor said they will now notify the fire department if a call is a false alarm but will not cancel the fire department’s response, she said.

The argument over the non-responses seems to be a matter of paperwork, however.

If at least four firefighters do not report to the scene when a fire alarm is triggered, the call must be classified as a non-response. In some cases, a single firefighter may continue to the scene, but if the required four do not, it gets logged as non-response.

Fire departments are required to submit all their calls to the N.C. Department of Insurance. There is nowhere in the filings for the fire department to indicate if a firefighter confirmed a false alarm call, said David Breedlove, coordinator of Swain County 9-1-1.

Dispatch is working on how it logs calls to make records more comprehensive, Breedlove said.

Swain County’s three volunteer fire departments receive about 20 false alarm calls each year, he said. Most of the false alarm calls come from non-residential buildings, and a worker is usually present to confirm over the phone to the dispatcher that there is indeed no fire.

The Bryson City Fire Department has now been placed on a 12-month probation and must not report any non-responses during that time.

“If they continue to have non-responses on a regular basis, then they could lose the current insurance rating,” Schribman said.

The probation will not affect their current rating or insurance rates for homeowners in their coverage area. The fire department has a good rating, Schribman said.

The state insurance department must inspect fire departments at least every five years, and a low rating could cause the price of homeowner’s insurance to rise.

The Cashiers Glenville Fire Department in neighboring Jackson County only receives two or three false alarms each year.

“We don’t have a whole lot,” said Corey Middleton, chief of the department.

Often times, false alarms are triggered by strong winds or thunderstorms, Middleton said. When the department learns that the alarm is false, whoever is closest to the scene continues to the address to confirm the false alarm, he said.


With a Billie Holiday-style microphone, an Apple computer camera and her two bandmates on either side, Maggie Tobias transforms from a lively newspaper reporter into a sultry jazz singer.

“You can put on a mask a little bit; it’s very theatrical,” said Tobias, a 23-year-old reporter for The Sylva Herald and Ruralite.

Tobias and fellow musicians Michael Collings and Jeff Savage compose Maggie and The Romantics, a jazz band from Sylva.

Tobias described Maggie and The Romantics as a fusion band. Their original songs always have jazz roots but can also be classified as funk, salsa or singer/songwriter.


Sampling an idea

Last month, the band started an early resolution, the kind typically reserved for New Year’s — to write one original song a week. The exercise helps them hone their songwriting skills and learn to create new tunes quickly.

Although it may seem daunting, the task is easier than one might think, Tobias said. Just start with a single theme or idea, she said, and form the song from there.

“It’s not going to be perfect. There are going to be some things you wish you changed,” Tobias said.

Each week, a different band member debuts their new song.

“They (Collings and Savage) are really good,” Tobias said. “It always surprised me how they can take this little song I’ve been singing in my head and make it into a real song. That’s pretty cool.”

The group uses the camera on an Apple computer, an external microphone and five or six takes to record the original song and post it to YouTube.

The idea for the weekly song came from Savage, who told them about a more than two-decade-long project by They Might Be Giants, Tobias said.

From 1983 to 2006, the alternative music group They Might Be Giants recorded new songs each week, and sometimes daily, on an answering machine. People would call the answering machine to hear the band’s newest recording.

While Maggie and The Romantics original song project may not last that long, Tobias said the troupe will post “as many as we can.”

As of Monday, their four videos had racked up a few hundred views each and mostly positive comments.

“People have said they like it,” Tobias said.

Like any family, hers had a few critics, she said.

“My mom told me to stop being so sultry in my videos,” Tobias said, adding that one of her sisters thinks she puts on a different voice when she sings.

The trio hopes to include other local artists in their future videos and posted a call for guest musicians on their Facebook page.

Tobias is currently composing a folk song for Kelly Jewell-Timco, a hula-hooper and wife of a coworker, and is making plans to perform a Frank Sinatra-style song with trumpeter Boyd Sossamon.


The band’s genesis

Tobias began singing at the First Presbyterian Church in Sylva, where bandmates Collings and Savage also play.

“I’ve sung my entire life,” said Tobias, who was a member of her college jazz band. “My whole family is very musical.”

However, it wasn’t until high school that her first boyfriend — a fan of music icons Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and John Coltrane — kick-started her affinity for jazz and blues tunes.

“There is something just kind of sultry about jazz,” Tobias said. “It’s kind of a sexy, evolving art form.”

Some people think that the time for jazz music has come and gone, but artists such as Diana Krall and Corinne Bailey Rae continue to add a modern flair to the genre.

“I think people kind of see jazz as a museum art form,” Tobias said. “It’s like classical music; it’s untouchable. It’s hard to see it as the popular music that it once was.”

Collings, a bassist, and Savage, a guitar player, had performed together as a jazz duo for six years at Sylva establishments like Guadalupe Café, where they play for tips. And after meeting her at the church, Collings and Savage asked Tobias to join them for a jazz cover gig.

Tobias said she thinks being a girl helped with the tips during her first performance with the guys.

“I think that’s kind of why they wanted me to keep playing with them, because after that one show we got so many tips,” Tobias said.

Soon after her first gig with the duet, Tobias started writing original songs, which the troupe performed in addition to traditional jazz standards.

The trio decided to cement their partnership by creating a band name. After receiving such suggestions as Beauty and the Beats, The Lovesick Fools, and Lady and the Tramps did they settle on Maggie and The Romantics.

“It just kind of sounded right,” Tobias said.

The band plays at various Sylva locales for tips about once a week in addition to its weekly YouTube melodies but is looking at branching out to venues in other Western North Carolina communities.

“We really like playing,” Tobias said. “It’s not the main source of income for any of us, so we can just have fun and take our time.”


See Maggie and The Romantics in action

Where: JJ’s Canteen & Eatery on N.C. 107 in Glenville

When: 8 p.m, Jan. 27

What else: Tips are accepted

Like Maggie and The Romantics on Facebook or check out their YouTube channel, MaggieRomanticsMusic.


Despite his limited name recognition and his significantly smaller war chest, Cecil Bothwell is confident he can outrun U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler during next May’s primary race for the 11th Congressional District’s Democratic nomination.

“I would not be doing it if I did not intend to win,” said Bothwell, a city councilman and former newspaper reporter in Asheville.

Bothwell and Shuler are at opposite ends of the Democratic spectrum, with Bothwell in the liberal corner and Shuler in the more conservative camp. Should Bothwell make it past the primary, however, he is not concerned about how his liberal leanings or Asheville ties will play with the region’s rural and historically conservative mountain voters.

“I think I am more likely to win in November than he is,” Bothwell said.

In past elections, Shuler, D-Waynesville, has demonstrated an ability to curry favor with voters from both political parties.

A 2010 Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute poll of almost 600 registered Jackson County voters revealed an astonishing anomaly in Shuler’s supporter base: Republicans gave him just as high an approval rating as Democrats.

Shuler said Bothwell would be unlikely to pick up the necessary independent or conservative voters in a general election.

“They won’t get any support from the other side on any issue they have,” Shuler said.

Bothwell originally planned to run as an independent but found the requirements to get his name on the ballot overwhelming.

“When I began to explore the possibility, it turned out I would need to collect something close to 20,000 verified signatures,” Bothwell said.

Bothwell added it would be “very, very difficult to win” with three candidates vying for the position.

Bothwell decided to run against Shuler in March after the three-term congressman voted against key bills in the national Democratic agenda: namely health care reform and the federal stimulus bill.

“I decided somebody had to run against him,” Bothwell said.


Uphill battle

Name recognition could be Bothwell’s biggest challenge if he hopes to defeat Shuler, said Chris Cooper, a political science professor from Western Carolina University.

“I think that is a major reason why incumbents win,” Cooper said.

As a former editor at the Mountain Xpress and member of the Asheville City Council, Bothwell is known in Buncombe County. However, it is unknown how many voters outside of Asheville recognize Bothwell as compared to Shuler — an incumbent and revered football hero.

Last election, however, a relatively unknown candidate from Asheville pulled down nearly 40 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary and carried Buncombe County, the most liberal county in the region.

Shuler’s conservative stance helps him during the general election but drags down his primary numbers. Democratic voters punished Shuler during the last primary for not being liberal enough.

The fact that a “newcomer to politics” received such as large percent of the votes “indicates widespread dissatisfaction” among 11th District Democrats, Bothwell said.

But, the same dip in poll numbers did not hold true in the general election.

Shuler handily won re-election by more than 20,000 votes in 2010 against Republican Jeff Miller of Hendersonville.

“We went through the most difficult election in history for Democrats, and we still won by 10 percent,” Shuler said. “We feel very good.”

But, the primary race could also force Shuler, who has received flack for his not-always-party-line voting record, to prove he is a Democrat by taking a leftist standpoint, Cooper said.

And, that could come back to bite him in the general election.

“In some ways, the best thing for the Republican Party is for Cecil Bothwell to do well,” Cooper said.

While Bothwell has already started his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Shuler said he does not expect to spend much time or money running a primary race.

“Campaign mode does not kick in til August,” Shuler said.

Until then, Shuler said he will continue to do what he was elected to do — work.

“You still have to focus on the job at hand,” Shuler said. “Being placed on the budget committee … takes priority over fundraising.”

Shuler said he thinks the new district make-up gives him an advantage over the more liberal Bothwell now that Asheville, a traditionally liberal sect of voters, has been cut out.

Shuler said the district has “a Blue Dog type make-up,” referring  to the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats in Washington that Shuler heads.


Asheville booted out

Come Election Day, Bothwell won’t be able to vote for himself.

Although he is still legally allowed to run for its congressional seat, Bothwell no longer lives in the district he hopes to represent.

Every 10 years, the lines for Congressional districts are redrawn following the national census, to ensure that each district has roughly the same number of voters.

The re-organization of the 11th District added several Republican-leaning counties and carved out Asheville’s liberal voters.

Now, the district is 38 percent registered Republicans and only 36 percent of voters in the district are registered Democrats, a possibly election-making difference when compared to the 43 percent who were registered Democrats before the re-organization. That means the general election could be decided by the 26 percent of unaffiliated voters that making up the remaining portion.

Meanwhile, Asheville was shunted into the 10th Congressional district, which is already a Republican stronghold and could absorb Asheville’s Democratic voting bloc without tipping the scales.

Bothwell chose not to run in the 10th District, which reaches from the foothills to the outskirts of Charlotte, because he does not agree with how the state’s congressional districts were redrawn. State law does not require a candidate to live in the Congressional district he represents.

“The fact that the headstrong Republican idiots in Raleigh have temporarily tried to move Asheville into the Piedmont is laughable,” Bothwell said.

Bothwell still considers himself a resident of the 11th Congressional District even though the maps say otherwise. He hopes it won’t be the case for long.

“I will do all I can to speed the redrawing of district maps to reflect reality. In the meantime, I aim to represent my people, the people of the western counties, in Washington,” Bothwell said.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face one of at least eight Republican candidates that have joined the race. The Republican candidate will face slightly better odds this election as a result of the re-organization of the congressional district.


Laurie Oxford’s department is getting smaller; some of her former co-worker’s offices sit empty.

Oxford, an assistant Spanish professor at Western Carolina University, spoke at a public forum about university cuts Monday on how multi-level reductions have affected the Arts and Sciences department, which has eliminated several faculty positions and all of its Chinese classes.

“Wherever the money is, it’s not in Arts and Sciences,” Oxford said, half-joking.

Losing a person means more than simply having one fewer coworker.

“They mean considerably fewer class choices (and) in general, a much less effective program,” she said.

Oxford warned the audience of more than 200 students, politicians, professors, administrators and other community members that soon other departments will begin to look like the Arts and Sciences if states and universities continue to make sweeping cuts. WCU administrators must cut about $30 million from next year’s budget.

Larger class sizes, higher tuition, fewer course offerings and laid-off faculty members brought the crowd together.

The forum was part of a statewide, student-led “Cuts Hurt” movement that attempts to lay out what the decline in education funding really means. The approved state budget will cut more than $400 million statewide in higher education spending.

The budget cuts passed by the Republican-led General Assembly were “as extreme as they were unnecessary,” said Gov. Bev Perdue, in a video to attendees of the WCU forum.

Perdue vetoed the budget bill earlier this year, but the General Assembly overrode her veto.

“You’ve seen these cuts, and you understand the damage that has been done to the core of North Carolina,” Perdue said.

Like colleges and universities across the country, WCU has faced its own budget crisis and had to raise tuition and make across-the-board cuts in order to balance its budget. Last week, university administrators presented their recommendations for tuition and fee increases to its Board of Trustees. They had originally planned to raise tuition by 17 percent during a four-year period but changed those numbers after meeting with students.

“We heard you, and we went back to the drawing board,” said Sam Miller, vice chancellor of Student Affairs.

Instead, tuition will increase by 13 percent during a five-year period. When combined with fees, the total cost of attendance will increase by almost 7 percent.

“We think that it is still unfortunately higher than we’d like to do,” Miller said, tempering that sentiment by adding that the increase will help balance the budget and maintain academic quality.

Several students spoke during the forum about how tuition increases affect them.

Emily Evans, a single mother and senior at WCU, said she knew that university administrators were doing their best to minimize the impact of the budget cuts but bemoaned the need to increase already high tuition costs.

“When is the last time your Pell Grant went up?” Evans asked.

Students must take out more loans to cover the cost of education. Student loan debt in the U.S. will surpassed the $1 trillion mark this year.

“This is a big problem, not just for students like me,” Evans said.

Some students are forced to put their education on credit cards, which have high interest rates. Fewer students will ultimately graduate as college becomes tougher to afford.

“Anybody in this room could predict that those students aren’t going to finish,” said N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill.

Lawmakers have turned their back on education and that needs to change, he said.

“We have got to turn this state around. It’s going the wrong direction,” Rapp said.

Throughout the event, speakers urged students to register to vote and to create videos of themselves talking about why education is so important to them and how they have been affected by the cuts. The videos will be posted to the “Cuts Hurt” Facebook page.

“People will listen to you,” said Andy Miller, a WCU student and one of the event organizers. “Your voice matters and important, important people are listening.”


Emergency agencies throughout Haywood County expect to be clocking in quicker response times soon.

Fire, police and EMS divisions within the county will begin using a new Computer-Aided Dispatch and Mobile Data Information System this week, aimed at improving efficiency as well as interagency communication.

“It will reduce the response time a bit,” said Kristy Lanning, director of technology and communications for Haywood County.

Currently, dispatchers field incoming emergency calls and contact the appropriate responders — be it police, fire or an ambulance. With the new system, agencies will be able to access information about an emergency in real-time as the dispatcher inputs it.

The county will save money by funding the multijurisdictional project rather than purchasing a system for each emergency response agency.

The Haywood County Board of Commissioners heard an update on the project at their meeting Monday.

The $354,944 project is being paid for with designated Emergency Telephone System Funds, a small surcharge on monthly phone bills that is earmarked for county 9-1-1 systems. The cost was spread over two years and included software, hardware and some of the mobile equipment, which allows public safety officials to connect to the new system from their vehicles.

Individual agencies will pay for annual licensing, maintenance and upgrades to the system. A new administrator position has been created to oversee use and management of the new system.

It also uses GPS technology to locate the emergency responders who are nearest to a particular location.

“This is a huge step forward,” said Mark Swanger, chairman of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners approved the project in April, and public safety officials have spent the subsequent months implementing the system and training employees how to use it.


Businesses skirting Haywood County’s room tax laws should pay up or they could soon find themselves slapped with a lawsuit.

The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority plans to sue six accommodation owners who have repeatedly and openly neglected to pay the county’s 4 percent tax on overnight lodging, announced Executive Director Lynn Collins at the tourism board’s meeting last week.

“That will set an example,” Collins said. “Let them know that we actually are serious about it.”

Some businesses owe more than three years worth of room taxes, Collins said, and some have openly stated their defiance of the law.

Collins added that she sees places that are not paying the lodging tax with vacancy signs welcoming people. They are clearly doing business but either haven’t been charging the tax in the first place or have been pocketing it instead of remitting it to the county.

The tax is supposed to be tacked on to a tourist’s bill when they stay in a hotel, bed and breakfast or vacation home rental. Lodging owners then remit the tax they collect to the county on a monthly basis.

The tourism agency has not yet chosen which six taxpayers, or rather non-taxpayers, it will sue. But, Collins said it will go after “the most blatantly delinquent” properties.

“(Taking legal action) is the only thing you can do now,” said Al Matthews, Canton town manager and a member of the tourism board.

However, the board will continue to look for ways, such as changing legislation that would give them the authority to impose further sanctions, to bring more people into compliance. Currently, the authority has few options for punishing delinquent lodgers beyond lawsuits and liens.

For years, the tourism authority board has struggled with ways to bring accommodation owners into compliance. Each meeting, the board is presented with an list of people who owe overdue taxes.

“Every month we look at these penalties, and it’s the same people time after time after time,” said Marion Hamel, a tourism board member from Maggie Valley.

The revenue from the room tax is used to promote tourism in Haywood County.

In September, the tourism agency collected more than $96,000 from its 4 percent occupancy taxes — about $8,000 more than its estimated revenue for that month.

The increase is a vast improvement compared to August, when the actual amount of taxes collected came in 20 percent under the TDA’s year-to-date projections. The agency estimates it will bring in a little more than $863,000 this fiscal year.


Brian Kane used to teach someone else’s curriculum in someone else’s department at some other college.

Unsatisfied with his situation, however, Kane accepted a position at Oconaluftee Institute of Cultural Arts in Cherokee, where he and his students have a “free atmosphere to create,” he said.

Kane is the only full-time faculty member at the 10-student art institute, though four others regularly teach there.

The school is a nuts and bolts operation, located in a large warehouse off U.S. 19 in Cherokee. A small exhibit area at the entrance distinguishes it from the rest of the school, which is divided up into classrooms and collaborative work areas with white particleboard.

“It’s a studio environment,” said Jeff Marley, OICA’s program coordinator, adding that the size of the program makes it much more “hands on” and individualized.

The Oconaluftee Institute is a one-of-a-kind (or at least one of few) school that emphasizes Native American, particularly Cherokee, art history.

“There is nothing like this east of the Mississippi,” Kane said. “We’re trying to bring this cultural aspect into the arts.”

The art institute was established because leaders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians wanted to offer some type of higher education on the reservation.

“There was a desire by tribal members to have a tribal college,” Marley said. “They wanted more focus on Cherokee (art).”

Although the idea began germinating in 2002, the art institute offered its first classes in 2007. Students can get their associate’s degree in art at the school and finish their bachelor’s degree at Western Carolina University or Southern Community College.

Although the Cherokee art school is already partnered with the community college, SCC will formally integrate and fund the program once it grows to 25 pupils. Currently, the Eastern Band gives about $150,000 to the art institute, and it receives an additional $500,000 in grants, which it applies for throughout the year.

“We were charged with seeking other funding, and we have,” Marley said.

The school has also reduced its budget by $11,000 — nearly $4,300 of which came from cutting its utility usage.


Unique experiences

OICA offers an inexpensive alternative to state or private colleges and universities. Five semesters — the time is takes to complete an associate’s degree — costs $3,962 at the Cherokee art school.

Anyone can apply; students do not have to be members of the tribe to study at the institute.

“Although we are a cultural program, all of our students might not be from tribal backgrounds,” Marley said.

Because of its connection to the Eastern Band, the school can give its students unique experiences. Several weeks ago, it was a private tour of The Museum of the Cherokee Indian to view art that was thousands of years old, pieces that are currently held in storage.

“Our students got to see and touch exhibits that are not open to the public,” Marley said.

During the past three years, the program has doubled its student population. It will graduate its third student this spring and another four or five in the next couple years.

Because the institute is so small, the program can be more “flexible,” Marley said.

Classes can change their schedule to be compatible with the availability of visiting artists, such as Native American painter and photographer Shan Goshorn.

For instance, students typically learn to shape clay first using only their hands and small paddles, which can add texture and imprints to the pottery. Only after that do they learn to make ceramics using a pottery wheel.

However, recent scheduling conflicts forced instructors to flip the ceramics curriculum on its head — a considerably easier task at a small school.

In addition to ceramics, the institute specializes in three other areas of study: sculpture, weaving and printmaking. It may eventually add painting and photography to its repertoire, but the institute wanted to focus initially on traditional forms of art.

OCIA acquired a printing press last year, which allowed them to expand their printmaking. What is unique about the institute’s press is that students can print items in either Roman letters or syllabary, the Cherokee written language.

Students have “the capacity to do anything they want,” Marley said. “What you can do with bookmaking and printmaking opens wide up with this press.”


Student art on display

The art institute will be showcasing its student art from Dec. 1 thru Dec. 16 and will hold a reception Dec. 5 from 5 to 7 p.m. The reception will include music, refreshments and a silent auction to benefit the school. Students will also be on-hand to talk about their art.


Businesses in Cherokee are gearing up for a campaign aimed at convincing members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to vote ‘yes’ on a measure that could end the nearly reservation-wide moratorium on the sale of alcohol.

Michell Hicks, chief of the Eastern Band, decided last Wednesday to allow a controversial vote to go forward next April on whether to legalize alcohol sales on the reservation.

“At this point, I just feel strongly that it’s the people’s decision,” Hicks said. “It’s an issue for the people to vote on.”

With the exception of Harrah’s Casino, Cherokee is dry. Restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations are not permitted to sell beer, wine or liquor.

Tribal council last month voted to hold a referendum that would give all tribal members a chance to vote on legalizing alcohol sales.

The chief had until Wednesday to decide whether to veto tribal council’s decision. He spent the full 30-day time limit praying about it, he said.

In April, members of the Eastern Band will vote to approve all, none, or one or two of the following:

• To permit a tribal ABC store to sell liquor to the public.

• To permit the sale of beer, wine and liquor drinks only in restaurants licensed by the Eastern Band.

• To permit the sale of beer and wine only in grocery stores and convenience stores licensed by the Eastern Band.

No matter which of the three items is approved, Hicks said he wants the tribe to control how and where alcohol is distributed on the reservation, as well as benefit revenue-wise from its sales.

Hicks is OK with restaurants selling alcohol but doesn’t want to see beer and wine on the shelves of gas stations, and package stores cropping up across the reservation.

Instead, Hicks would prefer for the tribe to be the sole proprietor of alcohol sales to the public. Liquor sales both to the public and restaurants would be handled through a tribally owned and operated ABC store, as is the norm for anywhere in North Carolina.

Hicks would like beer and wine to be handled the same way. He does not want beer and wine to be sold in gas stations and grocery stores, saying that is “something I won’t support.” Instead, he wants the sale of beer, wine and liquor limited to tribally operated ABC stores.

Hicks is not advocating for the alcohol vote to pass, but if it does, he wants the tribe to control the sale of alcohol for two reasons. One is to keep gas stations peddling booze off every corner of the reservation, citing that he doesn’t “think it’s healthy.”

Confining sales to a tribally run store would keep alcohol from rural areas of the reservation as well, such as the Snowbird community in the remote mountainous reaches of Graham County.

The other reason is financial. Cherokee would reap the profits from selling the alcohol.

The revenue from alcohol sales “could be substantial,” Hicks said.


Boon to business

Many local businesses support the referendum, saying alcohol will boost their bottom line and keep tourists who might otherwise leave the reservation in search of alcohol.

Business owners met earlier this month to talk about ways to advocate for the passage of the referendum. They have formed a committee and several subcommittees to raise funds for their campaign, organize public forums and decide where to run promotional advertising.

Ninety days prior to the vote, which is expected to take place in mid-April, the committee will run advertising in newspapers and on billboards, encouraging tribe members to vote ‘yes’ and allow alcohol to be sold on the reservation. During the meeting, several people told stories of customers leaving and never returning because businesses cannot sell alcohol.

Telling people that they cannot buy alcohol on the reservation is a “very aggravating thing,” said Don Rose, a member of the Eastern Band, in a recent interview. Businesses in Cherokee could compete with those in surrounding towns if they are allowed to sell alcohol. Currently, visitors must travel to Bryson City or Sylva to purchase alcohol — or even to have a glass of wine with their meal.

“We are just trying to catch up with the rest of the world,” Rose said.

The Cherokee Chamber of Commerce and Rose agree with Hicks that businesses should purchase their alcohol from a tribally owned ABC store.

“That would be a definite benefit to have the money stay here,” said Matt Pegg, head of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce. “There are a lot of things we could do with that.”

Pegg emphasized that businesses would be under strict regulations regarding the sale of alcohol. The tribal ABC Commission would license individual businesses and teach owners and employees about their legal responsibilities as an alcohol reseller. A business could lose its license for violating regulations once.

“It wouldn’t just be a free for all,” Pegg said.

The tribe would reap the benefits of alcohol sales by funneling sales through its own ABC store.

Although both tribal council and Hicks approved the referendum, the battle to allow alcohol on the reservation is far from over. Many in Cherokee are strong Christians and have a long history of alcoholism and diabetes, making many inclined to oppose such a referendum.

The Eastern Band has shot down similar measures in the past — and even halted some cries for alcohol on the reservation before a vote could take place.

The referendum passed tribal council in late October, with nine of 12 representatives voting for it. Two council members wanted to table the resolution, and the remaining member was not present.


At least eight Republicans have lined up to spar with incumbent Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler for Western North Carolina’s 11th U.S. Congressional seat, but they have to knock their fellow party members out of the competition first.

The controlling political party — whether Democrat or Republican — has never had an easy time securing the 11th District seat, but the cluster of Republicans planning to file will face better odds this election season following the re-organization of the state’s congressional districts.

“This is always a competitive district,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University. “I think the big change this year is redistricting.”

The 11th District formerly included Asheville, with its traditionally liberal voters. After some shuffling earlier this year, however, Asheville was booted out of the district while Republican-leaning counties were brought into the fold. Now, only 36 percent of voters in the district are registered Democrats, a possibly election-making difference when compared to the 43 percent who were registered Democrats before the re-organization.

“It makes it a lot more likely that a Republican is going to win,” Cooper said.

Even though the district is weighted more heavily toward Republican candidates, it in no way ensures a win for the party, especially given Shuler’s appeal to conservative mountain voters despite the word “Democrat” beside his name.

A Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute poll of almost 600 registered Jackson County voters in 2010 revealed a striking anomaly in Shuler’s supporter base: Republicans gave him just as high an approval rating as Democrats.

The huge field of candidates could be daunting to voters in the run-up to the May primary. Having too many candidates divides the Republican Party’s funding and support.

“The key (now) will be whittling down the field,” Cooper said. “The party as a whole will be a lot better off if they can get behind one candidate sooner.”

But, the growing field of candidates does not concern Jeff Hunt, a candidate from Brevard, who touted his 17 years of experience as a district attorney.

“The more the better,” Hunt said.

Once the party has narrowed the field to one or two candidates, name recognition will be one of its biggest hurdles.

“It’s going to be huge,” Cooper said. “I think that is a major reason why incumbents win.”

Compared to Shuler, an incumbent and hometown football superstar, the current Republican candidates have little or no name recognition. The candidate who may be able to beat Shuler is “a moderate Republican, a fiscal conservative,” Cooper said.

“Somebody with some name recognition who isn’t too far to the right,” he said.

The district is now 38 percent registered Republicans and 36 percent Democrat — a toss-up that could put the contest in the hands of the unaffiliated voters making up the remaining 26 percent.

Republican primary candidate Mark Meadows, who hails from Jackson County, said the change makes Western North Carolina one of the strongest, if not the strongest, Republican districts in the state.

Meadows, a 52-year-old real estate developer from Cashiers, noted that even with Asheville as a part of the old district, former Republican presidential candidate John McCain still received 52 percent of the vote in the 11th Congressional District in 2008.

As a testament to the shift in party leanings, almost 59 percent of the district’s voters would have cast their ballot for McCain under the new district lines.

Chris Petrella, a 44-year-old candidate from Spindale, said it is no surprise that so many Republicans are entering the race. Ousting Shuler, given his appeal among moderates and even many conservatives, was a daunting prospect before redistricting took Asheville’s liberal voters out of the picture.

But don’t expect the candidates to tell you that, said Petrella, who owns an economic development firm.

“The politically correct answer is that Obama has done something so terribly wrong that it is time to change the change,” Petrella said of why the Republican field is so crowded. “Any idiot who wants to have Congressman on their resume has decided to throw their hat in the ring.”

But it isn’t going to be as easy as it looks, not even with the new voting demographic in the 11th district favoring Republicans.

“There is a misperception that winning the nominee in the Republican primary will automatically anoint you to winning the general election,” Petrella said, adding that he had gotten into the race “before it looked easy.”

Candidates will official declare their intention to run during a filing period in the month February.

Because he is running for re-election in a swing district, from a national standpoint, Shuler is one of the Democrats to beat. If Shuler expects to win, he must spend time in the district and remind people of what he has accomplished during his term, Cooper said.

“Good old-fashioned retail politics is going to win this race,” he said.


For those who help the economically disadvantaged, the holiday season raises plenty of questions: how many people need help; will they receive enough donations; and how will they ensure every child in Western North Carolina has a present under the tree this year?

Macon, Haywood, Swain and Jackson counties have a slew of agencies that work together to see that everyone gets at a little something for the holidays — be it food, clothing or toys.

The stack of applications from families needing help during the holidays has doubled in recent years for Holiday Angel in Macon County, said JoAnn Hurst with Macon Program for Progress, which heads up Holiday Angel. Before the recession hit, workers had practically memorized the people who ask for help each year. But not any more.

“The names are new. The families are new,” Hurst said. “We don’t recognize them.”

More people still need help, and fewer people can afford to help.

“There are just a lot more people in need right now,” said Robert Cochran, director of Jackson County Department of Social Services. The agency has seen the number of food stamp recipients in the county double, he added.

The well-known Toys for Tots program, which has chapters across the region, has also noticed a decline in giving.

“As the economy has slowed down, we have to cut back, too,” said Randy Hughes, the area Toys for Tots coordinator.

In response, the nonprofit tries to give each child four items — down from eight in previous years, he said.

“There is still time to give,” Hughes added.


A coordinated effort

Thousands of needy families in the region will ultimately be matched up with gift givers, but making sure no one falls through the cracks — and that families aren’t double-dipping by applying for holiday assistance through more than one agency — takes massive coordination.

“It may be three or four agencies working to get that one family food to eat,” said JoAnn Hurst of Macon Program for Progress, a nonprofit agency.

Macon Program for Progress heads a multi-organizational program called Holiday Angel. For Macon County, it is the central point of connectivity between givers and receivers.

Those in need either know about the program or get referred to it by the Macon County Department of Social Services.

Collaboration among the government agencies and non profits helps them prevent people from falling through the cracks.

“I feel like we pretty well cover them,” Hurst said. “I don’t feel like we are (missing people) with as close as we are working with other agencies now.”

Families needing assistance file applications, with details about their income, their children, what they want and, more importantly, what they need. Once the organization verifies the information, the names are passed on to individuals or groups who want to sponsor one or multiple families.

Jackson County is more proactive than most when it comes to distributing the names of families in need of help during the holidays. Jackson social services taps its database of families receiving assistance, and with their permission, passes their names on to donors — without needy families having to formally apply.

One group that sponsors needy families in Jackson County is MedWest’s EMS team, which sponsors families every year by buying them gifts and supplying a meal.

A chapter of Toys for Tots in the region works with multiple agencies in Swain, Macon and Jackson counties to distribute between 14,000 and 18,000 toys this year.

The nonprofit collects the toys then passes them on to other charitable organizations to hand out and works with them to ensure people are not already receiving assistance from another organization.

“Our mission is to make sure that no child is left out,” Hughes said.

Haywood County’s Operation Christmas Love is one of many Western North Carolina programs that receives toys from Toys for Tots. It is a collaborative program run by Haywood Christian Ministries, with help from Haywood County DSS.

The program, which helps about 300 people each year, places trees bearing tags with children’s names as well as an item they want for Christmas at various locations in the county, including Belks, Walmart and Sagebrush Steakhouse in Waynesville.

“I think we have been very blessed this year,” said Jennifer Mason, who helps with Operation Christmas Love. “This far, I’ve not seen a decrease; so that’s been wonderful.”

Hughes said the nonprofit has received about the same number of applications for aid as last year despite requiring people to fill out the forms online.

While many agencies focus on giving children a happy holiday, kids are not the only ones in need during the holiday season. A number of organizations, including Mountain Projects in Haywood County, gather items for senior citizens who may rely solely on social security income.

Mountain Projects puts together boxes for senior citizens that include writing tablets, stamps, shampoos and lotions, among other things.

“Our goal is to make sure every senior has something for Christmas,” said Patsy Dowling, executive director of Mountain Projects. “Christmas is a really sad time for them.”

The nonprofit will be collecting donations for both children and seniors through Dec. 9.

While the deadline might seem a bit early, Dowling said Mountain Projects delivers the presents a week or two before Christmas to avoid snow, which could prevent their elves from distributing all their goods.


In need of help

There are so many ways to give during the holidays. Contact a nonprofit charity near you or your county department of social services to find out how you can help this holiday season.


Communities in Western North Carolina are gathering to spread holiday cheer with plays, parades and art shows. Check out the list to see what holiday events are happening in your town.


Haywood County

The annual Krismart Fashion Show and Luncheon will be held at noon Dec. 1 at the Lambuth Inn in Lake Junaluska.

Models will show off their favorite casual and business attire, all of which will available for purchase at a discounted rate following the show.

Tickets are $14 per person, and reservations are required. 456.6662.


Music Works! Studio of Performing Arts is putting on a production of “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” a tale of the horrible Herdman children who land the lead role in the school play.

The studio will have two shows: one at the Haywood Regional Arts Theatre at 7 p.m. on Dec. 2 and another at Canton Middle School at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for children ages 3-17. They can be purchased in advance at MusicWorks in Waynesville. 456.2283.


MedWest is hosting a Holiday Craft Fair and Sale at its Health & Fitness Center in Clyde. The sale will last from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 3.

Booth information and applications are available at the center’s front desk. 542.8080.


The Third Generation Barn Loft is beginning the Advent Season with a Living Nativity and Christmas Service in a Stable Dec. 3 and 4.

Torpy and Wirt Skinner are offering a free Living Nativity, which will include music and live animals inside their historic barn on Frank Mann Road in Canton, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 3. Members of the Nativity cast are from Providence Church and Long’s Chapel United Methodist Church.

Visitors are invited to bring a non-perishable food item to place at the Manger for the Canton Community Kitchen.

There will be another Christmas Service in a Stable Dec. 4 from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m., featuring the quiet singing of Christmas carols, sitting on hay bales, hearing a Christmas story, enjoying special music and readings from Scripture, all in the presence of the live animals.

These events are very casual but dress warmly.


The Smoky Mountain Brass Band, an authentic British style brass band, will present its annual Christmas program at Hazelwood Baptist Church in Waynesville Dec. 4 at 5 p.m.

The thirty-member band performs a wide variety of musical styles, from Marches and Hymn tunes to Classical, Jazz, Pops and classic British Brass Band repertoire.

The concerts are free and open to the public, but a free will offering will be collected for the benefit of local charities and the band.


The 2011 Waynesville Christmas Parade, themed “Make the Season Bright,” will be Dec. 5 at 6 p.m. on Main Street.

The Town of Waynesville, Waynesville Kiwanis Club and the Downtown Waynesville Association sponsor this annual event. A full line up of community groups, churches, bands and businesses will make their way through downtown Waynesville from First Presbyterian Church to Bogart’s Restaurant.

Marines representing “Toys for Tots” will be walking along the parade route collecting toys, and the star of the show, Santa Claus, will be making a special appearance.



The Town of Maggie Valley will hold its annual Christmas Parade and Food Drive to benefit Haywood Ministries Dec. 3 at 6 p.m.

This year’s theme, “Unwrap the Magic of Christmas,” celebrates the excitement and magic of the season. As in the past, parade entrants will proceed along Hwy 19 beginning at the Ghost Town parking lot and ending at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds. Provisions are currently being collected at Maggie Valley Police Department and Town Hall in support of the Haywood Christian Ministries Food Drive.

Admission to the event is free, and parade participants will walk handing out candy to spectators along the parade route.


The Museum of North Carolina Handicrafts at the Shelton House will host its popular Appalachian Christmas event from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Haywood Arts Regional Theater Dec. 3.

Anne and Rob Lough will accompany the Trantham family in singing Christmas songs, spiritual music, play party tunes, ballads, carols and seasonal mountain melodies played on a variety of traditional instruments such as fiddle, guitar, banjo, dulcimer, autoharp, and other. Refreshments will include wine and hot cider.

Tickets — $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under — may be purchased at Blue Ridge Books, Christmas is Everyday and Olde Brick House in Waynesville. 456.5384.


Join four-time Grammy Award winner David Holt and the Lake Junaluska Singers, a 16-voice professional ensemble, Dec. 9-11 for the 11th Annual Appalachian Christmas Celebration at beautiful Lake Junaluska in Waynesville.

Appalachian Christmas begins at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, in historic Stuart Auditorium with a performance by the Lake Junaluska Singers featuring Celtic sounds, traditional carols, and selections from Handel’s Messiah.

At 9 a.m. Dec.10, the doors open on the Harrell Center for the spectacular Christmas Craft Show, featuring the work of local Western North Carolina crafters and artists. The musical celebration continues at 2:30 p.m., with a concert featuring the Lake Junaluska Singers and Voices in the Laurel, the area’s premier youth choir.

That evening, Holt, well known for his performance in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and for his collaborations with Doc Watson, will perform at 8 p.m.

Concert tickets for the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon performances are $15 for adults and $6 for children 8 years of age and under. Admission to the Christmas Craft Show is free.

Tickets for Holt’s Saturday night performance are $25 for adults and $12.50 for children 8 years of age and under. Appalachian Christmas hotel packages, which include lodging, meals, and tickets, are available. 800.222.4930.


Make holiday memories with your family and friends at Downtown Waynesville’s annual “A Night before Christmas” event from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 10.

Shops, galleries and restaurants will remain open until 9 p.m., and Main Street will be closed to vehicular traffic at 5 p.m. to allow for volunteers to set up.

The event will feature strolling Christmas carolers from area churches, ensembles from Tuscola Band and Haywood Community Band, Haywood Women’s Chorus, horse-drawn wagon rides, Santa, a live nativity, hundreds of luminaries and more.


Macon County

Historic Franklin will transform into a winter wonderland Dec. 2.

The town’s annual holiday celebration will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. and feature free wagon rides, an ice slide for kids, demonstrations by ice sculptor Ryan McCurdy and live entertainment from the South Macon Elementary School Chorus.


The Brasstown Ringers, an interdenominational Bell choir will be performing a Christmas Concert on Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. in the Sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Franklin. 

The event is the fourth and final performance in the 2011 “An Event For All Seasons” series. This remarkable choir rings on six octaves of Whitechapel bells, six octaves of Malmark choir chimes, six octaves of Schulmerick bells, plus various percussion instruments.

The $15 tickets are available at the Franklin Chamber of Commerce, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship or at the door the night of the performance.  Proceeds from the event will benefit the fellowship’s scholarship fund. 828.524.6777 or 828.524.3161.


Virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and Grammy winner Ricky Skaggs, The Whites and their families will perform Christmas classics and brand new holiday gems during the eighth annual Skaggs Family Christmas tour.

Come celebrate the season with a family of first class musicians on Dec. 17 at the Smokey Mountain Performing Arts Center in Franklin.


Stop by The Bascom, a visual arts center, between now and Jan. 3 and experience the imaginative Giving Tree creations!

All donations made for the Giving Trees will benefit these participating non-profit organizations, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters of WNC, Relay for Life, The Pantry and Cashiers Highlands Humane Society, among others.


Swain County

A Christmas Bazaar, which includes the annual holiday parade, will be held in Cherokee from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 3.

The “Old Time Christmas” parade will begin at 5:30 p.m. by the Cherokee Bear Zoo and will travel going down Main St. to 441 N. before ending by the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. There will be a band concert after the Christmas Parade on the Fairgrounds.


Bryson City’s Spirit of Christmas day will kick off Dec. 3 with Breakfast with Santa for the kids and the 5K Rudolph Dash sponsored by the Rotary Club.

Festivities will conclude at 6 p.m. with a candlelit walk to the lighting of

the town Christmas tree and a Christmas Concert on the Square with the music of Avelina. The kids are welcome to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, have some cocoa and enjoy some games.

The “Biggest Little Christmas Parade in the Smokies,” which usually circles Bryson City that same day, will take place Dec. 10 at 2 p.m.


Visit the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center on U.S. 441 near Cherokee and see old-time crafts being demonstrated during the center’s open house and Christmas Past Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 17.

Learn by observing the practical arts of quilting, weaving, and basket and doll making, apple cider and apple butter.

The whole family will enjoy the free live music, storytelling and special activities for children.


Jackson County

The Dillsboro Festival of Lights & Luminaries illuminates this mountain village the first two weekends in December.

Adapted from a Scandinavian custom of lighting the way for the Christ child, more than 2,500 candles in white bags line the streets. This year’s dates are Dec. 2 thru 3 and Dec. 9 thru 10. In addition to luminaries on the streets, the town’s merchant “elves” trim their buildings, many of which date to the 1800s, in traditional white lights.

Once Dillsboro is aglow, carolers fill the streets, musicians stroll through town playing Christmas favorites, and Santa visits with children at Town Hall. Shopkeepers add to the merriment by staying open late and serving coffee, warm cider, hot chocolate and homemade goodies to visitors.

The Festival of Lights & Luminaries begins each evening at dusk and runs until 9 p.m. There is no admission charge and lodging is plentiful with more than half of Jackson’s County guest rooms located in Dillsboro or within a 15-minute drive. or 800.962.1911.


The Pied Pipers and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra will perform at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 in the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center on the WCU campus.

The Pied Pipers and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra will perform their joint holiday show, “A Christmas Gift.” The show, filled with song classics from the World War II era, also will feature holiday favorites performed in the style and tradition of the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and the Pied Pipers.

Ticket prices are $20 for adults and seniors; $15 for faculty and staff; $10 for groups of 20 or more; and $5 for children and students. or 227.2479.


The second annual Arts, Crafts & More Festival will be held Dec. 10 to benefit the Community Table, a nonprofit pantry in Sylva.

The festival — which will feature arts and crafts, such as trout flies, jewelry and shadow boxes —will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the National Guard Armory on Webster Road. There is no admission fee, but food for the Community Table will be gratefully accepted.


The Cashiers Christmas Parade, a local and visitors’ favorite tradition, will be held at noon Dec. 10.

The parade is an eclectic string of floats, music and a variety of marchers.

The line of attractions will travel from the south end of Main Street, Hwy 107, to the Community Center.

The Cashiers Community Center, located on Hwy 64 west, offers a holiday-style lunch fundraiser right after the parade.


Sylva will hold its annual Christmas parade, themed “Christmas Wonderland,” Dec. 10.

The town of Sylva and the Downtown Sylva Association are currently taking applications for participants in the 3 p.m. parade. Those interested in participating must complete an application by Dec. 1. Applications can be found at town hall, the Jackson Chamber of Commerce or at 586.1577.


Mark Rozof sat behind a beat-up white desk surrounded by skis, walkie-talkies, snow jackets and other sundry gear strewn about the office, chuckling as he recalled his experiences as a ski instructor.

During his 23 years of teaching, Rozof, the new ski and snowboard school director at Cataloochee Ski Area, has collected a volume of tales, from those who fall flat on their face to kids who go on to be medal winners.

The most prominent memory, however, is about his youngest student — a three-year-old boy. The boy’s parents had planned to just let their son experience the snow and watch the other skiers, but they couldn’t keep him away.

“He saw the snow, and he got really excited about it,” Rozof said.

So the little boy’s parents bought him an hour-long lesson and stood by nervously watching him learn. Despite his age and lack of muscle development, the boy lasted the whole hour, Rozof said.

People nearby and on the ski lift clapped for the small child as he glided down a beginner, or bunny, slope on his tiny skis, surprised at his adeptness.

“I bet I started a bad problem with him,” Rozof said. “He loved it.”

Rozof talks about skiing and teaching newbies like some people talk about addiction. A life on the slopes is something he can’t seem to get away from, not that he’d want to.

Growing up in southeast Michigan, skiing and snowboarding were a part of the culture. Rozof began skiing with his dad when he was 13.

“I saw the Olympics, and I liked it,” he said.

His first forray as a ski instructor was admittedly self-serving. Like other Michigan-area kids, Rozof just wanted a free season pass to the Pine Knob Ski and Snowboard Resort so he became an instructor.

“That’s where I learned to teach and pretty much learned to ski,” he said.

He went to college in West Virginia, where he continued to teach skiing, and then moved on to Seven Springs in Pennsylvania. He moved back to Michigan and started working in the automotive business, but like many became a causality of the declining industry — and so returned to his passion of skiing.

Utah, specifically Deer Valley, was Rozof’s most recent home, where he once again donned his skis to help the uncoordinated master the slopes.

About a year ago, Rozof started teaching at Cataloochee Ski Area, and he quickly moved up in the ranks to director of the ski school.

The job “kind of fell in my lap here,” he said.

Teaching at Cataloochee is “fun and a little more challenging,” Rozof said, because some first-time visitors don’t realize how chilly the slopes can get in North Carolina.

Vacationers from Southern states such as Alabama and Georgia are not used to the cold of higher elevations, and some do not dress appropriately for the weather, he said.

Cataloochee is the southern most ski slope in the East, and as a result, captures Southern skiers whose quest for snow leads them to Cataloochee as the closest resort.

“I’ve never heard so many y’alls on a ski slope in my life,” he said.

That close proximity to droves of Southerners seeking a taste of the slopes also means Cataloochee instructors get more than their fair share of novices.

When teaching, the instructors focus on getting their students acclimated to skis, which can feel cumbersome and gangling at first. After mastering the basics of moving and stopping, the new skiers take to the bunny slopes for straight runs, in which they simply ride down the hill with their skis facing forward.

Although the ski school tries to keep the instruction groups small, the holidays can be a busy time. Rozof suggests people pay the extra $30 to $180 for a private lesson, especially if they are already athletic, because the instructors can only move through the lesson as fast as the slowest learner. People who are apt to pick up skiing more quickly may get bored waiting for others to catch up.

Beyond private lessons, the ski school is hoping to remedy the problem by changing its teaching methods. Rather than each group having one instructor, beginners would move from station to station, where they would learn different skills at their own pace, Rozof said.

Rozof has a level three certification, the highest level, through the Professional Ski Instructors of America, meaning he can teach pretty much anywhere.

Eventually, Rozof, who has coached high school and middle school ski teams, said he also wants to bring NASTAR, or National Standard Racing, to Cataloochee. NASTAR is a grassroots ski race program, open to people of all skill levels. Participating ski resorts hold races throughout the winter, and the top racers from across the country are asked to compete in Nature Valley NASTAR National Championships.

Unlike many sports, such as football or basketball, skiing can be a solo activity.

“You can just do it yourself,” Rozof said. People of “any size, any weight, any height” can become great skiers, he said.

Currently, skiers and snowboarders can traverse Cataloochee’s lower trails, but the resort plans to open the upper trails as soon as possible, Rozof said.

The snow that covers the mountains of Cataloochee Ski resort is not visible from U.S. 19 in the valley below, which can be a hindrance when 50-degree weather keeps people’s minds from thoughts of a winter wonderland.

However, Cataloochee is open and ready for business — despite the day’s conditions, assured Rozof.


Let’s go ski!

Cataloochee Ski Area opened its slopes this past weekend and plans to remain open the rest of the season.

Where: 1080 Ski Lodge Road in Maggie Valley

When: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, non-holiday. 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Holidays. Open til 10 p.m. starting December 13.

Cost: The price of a lift ticket ranges from $18 to $71 depending on what day, how long you want to ski or snowboard, and day or night session. Adult equipment rentals run $23 for ski or $30 for snowboard. Group lessons are $20, and private lesson are between $25 and $200 depending on the length of the tutorial.


Judy Lau is a mom and detective with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office; Miss Demeanor is a tough-looking roller derby girl, sporting a helmet with fake bullet holes and red socks with guns and brass knuckles.

Miss Demeanor is part of Lau’s “a little more wild and crazy” second life as a member of the newly formed Balsam Mountain Roller Girls, a women’s roller derby team in Haywood County, she said.

Lau chose the pseudonym because of its obvious connection to her job.

“You kind of want to pick a name that has something to do with yourself,” she said.

Robin Matthews, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Haywood County, chose the name Minimal Invasion because most of her work procedures are just that — minimally invasive.

Choosing a name that rolls off the tongue and has some meaning is just about as difficult as the game itself.

Alex Gonsalez, who wears a Wonder Woman shirt, drew up a list of possible names before finally settling on Disgrace Slick, a reference to Jefferson Airplane lead singer Grace Slick.

“It just kind of came to me,” said Gonsalez, who hummed the opening of “White Rabbit.”

The women mainly practice at Smoky Mountain Sk8teway, which is owned by team captain JoLynn Bryant or, as she is known to her team, Femme Reaper.

Bryant is a web designer who bought the Smoky Mountain Sk8teway a year ago with her husband. Bryant said she has wanted to own a roller rink for six years and jumped at the chance to buy the Smoky Mountain Sk8teway.

Soon after, she started formulating plans for a roller derby team.

“I just don’t think there is enough sports for women in Haywood County,” Bryant said.

The Balsam Mountain Roller Girls began practicing in September and currently has 18 members ranging in age from 22 to 48.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Bryant said.


A youthful pastime

A number of the women who are members of the Balsam Mountain Roller Girls joined because roller skating was an enjoyable staple of their childhood.

“It’s like riding a bike; you just have to get back out there,” said Bryant, who advertised the new group in several area newspapers and on Facebook. About 15 women heeded her call and attended the first practice in September.

“It just really struck a cord with me,” said Matthews, who lived near a skating rink as a child. “Forming something from nothing is pretty exciting.”

Gonsalez started skating when she was 4 years old. She said she couldn’t ride a bicycle but she could skate, and the roller derby team gave her a reason to start again.

Lau skated when she was younger but quit for about 10 years when her work and home life became more demanding. Lau and her daughter, Heather, have been a part of the team since it was established.

“It’s a good stress reliever,” Lau said.


Ready to bout?

Several of the women traveled to Asheville this past weekend to watch their first bout, or game. As they saw first-hand, the game allows women to set aside their daily lives and do something totally different.

It was “kind of violent,” Matthews said. Plus, it’s exciting and great exercise, she said.

The Balsam Mountain Roller Girls has only had about 10 practices, but the possibility of competing in their own bouts make the women’s eyes light up.

Bryant said she never really enjoyed watching sports. During the bout in Asheville, however, she screamed like crazy.

“We’ve got some learning to do, but we’ve come a long way,” Lau said.

The women will continue to practice three times a week for now and then want to start scrimmaging other teams this summer.

“I don’t think we are anywhere near” ready to compete, but the team is improving with every practice, Gonsalez said.

Although their first bout is a while away, the Balsam Mountain Roller Girls plan to spread the word about their group by roller-skating in the area holiday parades and continuing to advertise their need for coaches, referees, sponsors, announcers and fans.

Any woman interested can join the team. Dues are $40 a month and members need to acquire skates, knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, a helmet and mouth piece within the first month of joining.

The woman are not required to wear anything specific, beyond the mandatory safety gear but don mostly red and black, the team’s colors. They wear a mix of clothing items, including leggings, spandex, basketball shorts and stripped socks.


The Rules

Roller Derby is about endurance and, most importantly, strategy.

“It’s like playing chess, and you’re the chess piece,” Bryant said.

Players are split up into three categories:

• The Jammer: Each team has a jammer, who wears a helmet cover with two large stars on either side of their head. Jammers start 30 feet behind the other players on a track. During the jam, or period of play, jammers score points by skating past members of the opposing team.

• Blockers: These players — three from each team — travel in a pack and try to prevent the Jammers from passing them on the track.

• Pivots: Pivots, wearing striped helmet covers, performs the same duties as the blockers but also have the ability to become the jammer in a move called “Pass the Star.” Jammers can pass their starred helmet covers to a pivot during a bout. The pivot then becomes the jammer, and the jammer becomes a blocker. Each team has one pivot.

A bout, or game, is 60 minutes long. The bout is split into two 30-minute periods, which are further divided into jams. Jams can last up to two minutes.

When a jam starts, the jammers try to pass the pack, made up of blockers and pivots. During the jammer’s initial pass, they do not score any points. Jammers can begin racking up points on subsequent passes and receive one point for each opposing blocker or pivot they pass, which means they can score as many as four points with each lap around the track.

To prevent the jammers from scoring, blockers and pivots may knock an opponent down or out-of-bounds, or simply move in a way that impedes the opposition’s speed and movements.

Blockers can use their torso, hips, butt, thighs or upper arms to knock an opponent out of play. But, they can only make contact with the other player’s arms, hands, chest, hips or thighs. For those who have seen the movie “Whip It,” elbows, heads, forearms and calves cannot be used or hit. Still, people have been known to break bones or chip teeth.

“It’s not violent, like we are going to kill each other,” Lau said. “It’s just like any other sport; it’s got rules and regulations.”

A full, detailed list of rules and regulations is available on the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association website.


Join up

The Balsam Mountain Roller Girls are currently looking for coaches, referees, scorekeepers, volunteers, sponsors, cheerleaders, photographers, announcers and of course, team members. Those interested can call 246.9124.

WHAT: Balsam Mountain Roller Girls

WHEN: Sundays and Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Smoky Mountain Sk8teway; Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the WCU Ramsey Building

COST: $40 a month, plus price of equipment


Rolling in Swain

If Waynesville is too far of a drive, check out Swain County's Smoky Mountain Roller Girls. Anyone is welcome to check out one of the team's four weekly practices. The team is in need of officials, sponsors and volunteers. If interested, call 479.3364 or email the team at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

WHAT: Smoky Mountain Roller Girls

WHEN: Sundays at 6 p.m. at the Swain County Recreation Center; Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. at the Stecoah Valley Center Gym; Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. at the Swain County Recreation Center


N.C. Senator Jim Davis spoke about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ contribution to Western North Carolina at a tribal council meeting in Cherokee last week.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort contributes about $375 million to the economy in Western North Carolina, and it’s benefit “goes far beyond that,” said Davis, R-Franklin.

Council members inquired how much the state gave to the Eastern Band each year.

“Not enough,” responded Davis, who did not know an amount offhand.

The casino has been an economic engine for the area.

“Swain County for many, many years was the poorest county in the state,” said Bo Taylor, a tribal council representative from Big Cove. “We provide jobs in WNC.”

Harrah’s, which employs about 2,000 people, is the largest employer west of Asheville. It doles out more than $53 million in salary and wages each year.

Casino jobs account for 5 percent of all employment in Swain and Jackson counties, according to a June 2011 economic impact report by the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Taylor added that money generated and wages paid from Cherokee businesses, including the casino, go back into the local economy, promoting further economic growth.

More than 80 percent of the wages and salaries paid out by the casino is fed into the local economy, according to the report.

During his visit, Davis praised the independence for the tribe and received a gavel with a beaded handle.

“I have great admiration for your tribe, for the sovereignty you have,” he said.

Many members of tribal council thanked Davis for supporting Cherokee and for being easily accessible.

“I want to thank you for stepping forward and supporting the Eastern Band,” said Councilwoman Tommye Saunooke. “There’s not many legislators that would do that.”


Gil Crouch was working in his Bryson City business one day this summer when a regular visitor to town told Crouch that he would not be returning ever again because he was repulsed by its deteriorating look.

“Quite frankly, this is one of the dirtiest communities that I’ve been in (in) Western North Carolina,” said Crouch, recalling the man’s words.

Crouch was one of about 50 area residents and business owners who attended a public forum Monday to discuss a proposed land use ordinance. The ordinance would stipulate aesthetic standards such as architecture, building materials and landscaping for new development.

“I think the plan … is going to take a lot of thought,” Crouch said. “There are some things we can do now.”

Crouch listed signage and beautification as improvements that could be implemented immediately.

In Bryson City, there are currently no regulations for new commercial or residential buildings — anything goes. But, the town began looking at adopting some standards after a building that clashed with the town’s quaint appearance served as a wake-up call.

People began lobbying for some official appearance or building standards, in part, because of a tan metal-sided structure erected on Main Street in 2006. At the time, residents and business owners expressed their dislike for the building, saying it clashed with the character of Bryson City’s historic downtown.

Ed Ciociola, who owns a few businesses on the outskirts of town, said the town needs something to prevent metal buildings from being erected downtown. Bryson City is known as the “quiet side of the Smokies,” he said, and we need to maintain its quaint look and feel.

Its brick façades and small local shops characterize the town’s Main Street. Because of a lack of regulations, people have cluttered U.S. 19, the entrance into town, with homemade and unattractive signs.

Forum attendees were pretty much split down the middle — about half agreeing with the current plan and half disagreeing with at least some portion of it. Most residents who approved of the ordinance in its current form stood, stated their agreement and resumed their seats without further comment. The show of force was intended to send a message to the town board that there is support for the standards as town leaders weigh whether to implement them.

“I am for the plan,” said resident Peggy Duncan. “This may not be the perfect plan for everyone, but it’s a plan.”

“The consensus is that we are in favor of a plan,” said Mayor-elect Tom Sutton, who spoke up as an average resident as he doesn’t take office for another two weeks. Sutton adding that the town will likely pass “something really close to this.”

Bryson City residents agreed that town needs regulations, particularly regarding signage and pedestrian safety. However, reviews of the ordinance under consideration were mixed.

“I am very excited that you are looking at some kind of regulations,” said Gail Findlay, a 16-year resident of Bryson City who works for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.

“I just see a real inconsistency” in the look of the town, Findlay said. “I want us to put on a good face.”

Several speakers, including Findlay, reminded people that Bryson City’s economy is dependant on tourism and complained about decaying downtown buildings and vacant overgrown lots, which could deter tourists.

“We can clean up,” said Natalie Warwick. “It does not take much to clean up.”

Pick up any litter you see; sweep the sidewalk in front of your business, Warwick implored.

Charlene Hogue, a resident and self-proclaimed private property rights activist, said that land use ordinances like this one take away people’s property rights, and the town should proceed with “great caution.”

“In my opinion, that is way too big for this small town,” Hogue said of the 91-page ordinance.

Mark Hanna, a resident for six years who has worked in commercial real estate, said he had “significant” concerns, calling the plan “very restrictive and possibly very expensive” for developers.

Property owners could pass additional costs on to their renters, stunting local growth.

“I think some of the things in here are too strong,” said Mark Fortner. “People won’t build and or they won’t remodel because they don’t want to get into that expense.”

Property owner Mitchell Jenkins agreed that the plan is too strict.

“I think small people like me would have a hard time building,” Jenkins said.

Town leaders said none of the comments about the proposed regulations surprised them.

The Board of Aldermen will “digest what we heard” and will hold a series of meeting to talk about the future of the ordinance, said Alderman Tom Reidmiller.

“It was a very good meeting with a lot of good comments,” said Alderman Kate Welch.

The planning board spent three years drafting proposed regulations and received a rather lukewarm response from the Board of Aldermen earlier this year when the plan was unveiled. Last week, Aldermen Jim Gribble said he thought the regulations were restrictive, while Mayor Brad Walker said other people liked the ordinance as it was.

Walker called the meeting “very instructive” and said that the criticism would be taken under advisement.

Sutton, who will take over as mayor next month, plans to talk to several residents about their specific concerns since most who spoke did not specify exactly what they did or did not like.


Macon County has turned to veteran lawmaker and businessman Tommy Jenkins of Franklin to head local economic development efforts.

Jenkins, who previously chaired the regional economic group Advantage West and served stints in both the state House and Senate, will receive $5,000 a month for eight months from Macon County. The contract could be renewed after that, County Manager Jack Horton said.

Jenkins will receive an additional $100 a month to pay for cell phone and technology usage.

Macon County, like every county in the region, is suffering from the poor economic conditions, Jenkins said Monday. Jenkins replaces Economic Development Director Trevor Dalton, who resigned in September.

But, “though there are a lot of challenges, there are also some opportunities,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins cited Macon County’s strong retail, technology, banking and medical sectors: in technology, Franklin headquarters Drake Software and works with BalsamWest; in banking, Nantahala Bank and Macon Bank are both based in Franklin.

Jenkins indicated that Macon County could build on these strengths, and help compensate for the devastation the economy has wreaked on the construction and real estate sectors.

Horton said Macon County needs to maintain a strong EDC focus to stay adequately positioned on the economic front, and not just drop efforts because times are tough.

“Whether you are being successful or not, you have to continue to be competitive,” Horton said. “We need to be prepared.”


When many businesses are still cutting back or maintaining their current workforce, Sonoco Plastics announced last week that it will add 35 jobs and expand its current Waynesville operations.

“Every job in today’s environment is important,” said Mark Clasby, executive director of the Haywood County Economic Development Commission.

Sonoco Plastics, formerly known as Associated Packaging, currently employs 97 people.

Waynesville was one of several possible locations for the expansion, Clasby said. The state, county and town sweetened the deal by offering about $828,000 worth of incentives, including tax credits and tax grants, he said.

The local plant is a subsidiary of the Hartsville, S.C.-based Sonoco Products Company. The multi-billion dollar corporation manufactures consumer and industrial packaging. It mainly produces frozen food trays in Waynesville, with one of its biggest customers being Nestle.

In addition to the new jobs, Sonoco is expanding its local facility by 17,000 square feet and transforming it into a 24-hour operation, said Art Hagg, general manager of the company’s thermoforming division. Sonoco, which operates factories in U.S., Canada and Ireland, is closing a location in Toronto — another reason for the expansion.

The new capital investment is estimated at $11.7 million, according to a news release.

Hagg said one of the reasons the company chose Waynesville for expansion is because of its tenured workers.

“We already had a facility there, and we liked the workforce,” he said. “It’s an affordable place to be.”

Sonoco will be looking for supervisory staff, quality technicians, maintenance personnel and packers, Hagg said.

“I don’t anticipate a big problem filling that plant up with personnel,” he said.

The expansion and new jobs are a bright spot after months of reporting 8.9 percent unemployment rates for Haywood County. Total employment in the county slid from almost 27,000 jobs in 2008 to about 24,850 in 2009, and employment numbers have continued to fluctuate during the past couple year, according to a presentation at the Haywood County Economic Development Commission meeting.

“This expansion clearly demonstrates that Waynesville and Haywood County have an economic strategy to pursue economic opportunities beneficial to all of our citizens,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown in a news release. Brown is also the chairman of the economic development board.

During the recession, the number of manufacturing jobs dropped 13 percent but has almost bounced back completely since.

In 2010, there were 2,100 manufacturing jobs in Haywood County. And, while it only made up about 17 percent of countywide employment, it accounted for nearly 27 percent of the county’s wages, according to the presentation.

Unlike many industries, the packaging business, particularly microwaveable frozen food trays, fared well during the recession.

“It has been a pretty stable market,” Hagg said, adding that the industry has grown with the nation’s GDP.


During the past decade, Haywood County’s economy has seen some ups — but mostly downs.

A presentation given at the recent Haywood County Economic Development Commission meeting offers a glimpse of how the county fared before and during the recession. The decade worth of numbers presented shows drastic declines in employment and growth but little or no rebound since.

Research economist Tom Tveidt, of SYNEVA Economics in Asheville, was commissioned to do an economic trends study for Old Town Bank based in Waynesville. The study is now being shared with the community.

Sectors impacted the most by the recession were construction, manufacturing and wholesale trade. The number of construction jobs declined 34 percent during the recession, and demand for second-homes in the mountains withered. Wholesale trade and manufacturing slid by 37 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

On the bright side, manufacturing and wholesale industries have begun growing once again though have yet to bounce back completely.

Total employment in the county tumbled from almost 27,000 jobs in 2008 to about 24,850 in 2009. Employment numbers have continued to fluctuate during the past couple year but never reached more than 25,600 jobs.

The sustained decline in job opportunities may have affected Haywood County’s population numbers as well.

“That explains the people leaving,” said Kevin Ensley, a member of the Economic Development Commission after seeing the decline in jobs. Ensley is also a Haywood County Commissioner.

Haywood County residents have a little extra room compared to a couple years ago.

Its population saw a decline of a little more than 200 people in 2010, bucking an almost two decade long trend of population increases. Last year’s drop in population was the county’s first decline since 1990.

Despite the recent drop, Haywood County’s population grew by 4,802 people during the first decade of this century, and the county is ranked 55th in the state for growth.

County residents are also getting older though.

As a popular location for retirees and second homebuyers, Haywood County has historically had an aging demographic. But, in 2010, the majority of resident were reportedly in their 50s or 60s, compared to just 10 years ago when most were in their 40s and 50s.

County governments receive state and federal funding based on their projected economic and population growth. The predictions are based on past growth, such as the number of building permits issued.

Prior to 2008, the county issued an average of 32 building permits each month. That number dropped to 13 after 2008.

Haywood County has benefited monetarily from estimated growth projections in the past.

“We get over ranked” and receive additional money because the number of second homebuyers who either purchase or build homes in the county, Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown said.


2000-2010 Population

Increased 4,802 or 8.6%

2010 population decreased 217

First decline since 1990

Total employment from 2008 to 2009

Almost 27,000 down to 24,850

Average building permits per-month

Pre 2008: 32; Post 2008: 13


A discussion regarding the fate of old restrooms at the Waynesville Recreation Park has prompted town officials to take another look at its recreation master plan.

The recreation advisory committee will not just look at renovating the run-down and often vandalized restrooms but also consider the “wider use of that area,” said Assistant Town Manager Alison Melnikova.

The town wants to replace the old restrooms located between the Waynesville playground and tennis courts off Marshall Street. The brick bathhouse dates back to the town’s former outdoor pool, which was bulldozed 10 years ago.

The restrooms have been vandalized several times over the years, and despite frequent cleanings of the facilities, the inside of the restrooms were usually trashed with graffiti and occasionally the sinks and fixtures were ripped off the walls. The state of the bathrooms have been a source of complaints from the public.

In May, arsonists set the restrooms on fire. The town received about $97,000 in insurance money as a result. It could go a long way toward renovating the restrooms and adjacent maintenance storage.

“With some work, we feel that it is possible that the building might be converted for year-around restrooms and that perhaps the other space could be renovated and used for storage or even meetings for clubs or groups connected with various recreation programs,” Town Manager Lee Galloway wrote in a report for the board of aldermen earlier this month.

The town board decided to hold off on moving ahead with renovations to the restrooms, however, and instead revisit long-range plans for the park through the recreation master plan.

Currently, a chain-link fence surrounds the restrooms, and the town has put out port-a-johns for people to use instead.

The town’s master plan was created in 2006 and details possible improvements to Waynesville’s parks. The plan would turn the area near the dilapidated restrooms into a putt-putt course and indoor tennis facility.

The parks and recreation department plans to hold a public forum early next year to discuss the master plan and possible updates to the town parks system.

“The park has looked like that, as you see it, for at least 10 years,” said Rhett Langston, executive director of the Waynesville Recreation Center. “It’s certainly nothing due to lack of planning.”

However, the parks and recreation is not designed to earn much money, Langston said, and a good portion of the department’s budget has gone toward building and running the new recreation center, including purchasing new equipment and replacing the roof.


Bryson City leaders will turn to residents to help solve their own disagreements over the severity of proposed appearance standards for new development downtown.

Town leaders will host a public hearing on the ordinance, which would stipulate aesthetic standards such as architecture, building materials and landscaping, for the town. A majority of the regulations, however, apply only to the downtown area.

Bryson City does not have any guidelines for new commercial or residential buildings downtown — it’s anything goes right now. But the town began looking at adopting some standards after a building that clashed with the town’s quaint appearance served as a wake-up call.

The planning board spent three years drafting proposed regulations, but when they were presented to the town aldermen, they didn’t get a particularly warm welcome. Mayor Brad Walker believes the public does want them, however.

“There are a lot of people fighting for this,” Walker said. “I haven’t heard any negativity (about the standards) except from the board.”

The board of alderman, which have final say over whether the ordinance is passed, decided to hold a hearing to gauge public sentiment.

Alderman Jim Gribble said that the town does need some standards but described the proposed guidelines as “pretty restrictive” and “over and above what I would desire.”

Aldermen Kate Welch and Tom Reidmiller declined to comment on the standards until after the public hearing. Alderman Stephanie Treadway did not return calls for comment.

People began lobbying for some official appearance or building standards, in part, because of a tan metal structure erected on Main Street in 2006.

“We don’t have that much land anymore, and we have to take care of our land,” said Walker.

At the time, residents and business owners expressed their dislike for the building, saying it clashed with the character of Bryson City’s historic downtown.

But, landowner Tom Hurley was well within his right to build it, Walker said.

“We didn’t have any ordinances to stop that,” he said. “We decided that we didn’t want that to happen anymore.”

For a while, local shopkeepers and the Chamber of Commerce have worried that new businesses would not fall in line with the unofficial standards of the town, said Karen Proctor Wilmot, executive director of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce.

“We do feel that it is important” to have standards in place, she said. “The code was kind of designed around what the town already looks like.”

The town’s Main Street is characterized by its brick façades and small local shops. Without any regulations, property owners could install large, obtrusive signs or paint their buildings neon green.

“It’s probably a good thing to have some sort of codes to regulate,” said Town Manager Larry Callicutt. The standards are “not real restrictive,” he said.

The planning board has worked on the land use regulations for about three years.

The standards are similar to those of other town’s, Walker said.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

Town leaders are waiting to hear feedback from residents and business owners before making any possible changes.

“They should be the ones having most of the input,” Callicutt said, adding that there is nothing in the ordinance that would prevent the town from passing some version of it.


Want to weigh in?

What: Public hearing about proposed Bryson City land use standards

When: Nov. 21 at 6 p.m.

Where: Swain County administration building.


What the proposed standards say

Although most town leaders agree Bryson City needs guidelines to regulate the appearance of new commercial development, they cannot agree on whether the proposed standards are too strict.

Here are some highlights of the 27-page draft under consideration:

• Builders are prohibited from using synthetic stucco, preformed metal siding, vinyl siding, artificial brick and exposed or painted concrete blocks.

• At least 75 percent of a storefront’s façade should be glass windows and/or door. The windows must be at least 10 feet tall and no more than three feet above the sidewalk.

• A building’s main entrance should face the adjacent street.

• Sidewalks shall have an at least five foot “clear zone.” Light poles, bicycle parking, trash cans, plants and benches are permitted between the clear zone and the curb.

• Mobile homes or trailer parks are not permitted in the central business district, but public institutions and commercial or industrial businesses may be allowed in the area pending review by the board of alderman.

• Buildings in the central business district may have a front porch, stoop or awning with a minimum depth of eight feet, a balcony with a minimum depth of six feet or a bay window with a minimum depth of four feet.


The Imperial Hotel in Canton has become entangled in a legal battle as a result of unpaid bills by a contractor.

Haywood County Builders Supply has filed a civil suit and lien against the hotel, owned by outgoing Canton Mayor Pat Smathers. The claim states that Smathers and his contractor Gary Cochran failed to pay for $29,084.93 in building supplies, such as lumber, paint, flooring, doors and nails. The supplies were used to renovate the old Imperial Hotel, which was built in 1911.

“It is what it is. I don’t agree with it,” Smathers said, adding that he didn’t want to “lambast anybody.”

Smathers said that the problem is between the contractor and Haywood Builders. Smathers said he paid Cochran for the cost of all the materials.

“Everything has been paid to the contractor,” Smathers said.

However, Cochran said Smathers still owes him money, and as a result he hasn’t been able to pay his bill with Haywood Builders.

Haywood Builders fronted the supplies and materials to Cochran for the job. Cochran would then wait to get paid by Smathers before paying the invoice with Haywood Builders.

“I paid as I got reimbursed,” Cochran said. “There is still money outstanding.”

To help cover the cost of the renovations, Smathers got a $90,000 grant from the North Carolina Rural Center to renovate the Imperial Hotel. It was a one-to-one matching grant, requiring Smathers to spend $1 of his own money for every $1 he got in grant funds.

He’s spent most of the money, according to the Rural Center. As of Nov. 10, the remaining grant funds totaled about $4,000.

The Rural Center also awarded Smathers a previous $25,000 grant for architectural and engineering plans.

Cochran said the grant process created a cash flow quandary. Bills for labor or materials must be paid for first and only then could he be reimbursed for the costs.

The grant money came in “slower than I ever thought,” Cochran said.

The county, which had to sign off on the grant and act as the fiduciary manager, requires both invoices and cancelled checks from Smathers before submitting an application to the Rural Center for reimbursement from the grant funds. Then, the center must process the application prior to reimbursing the money. This procedure can take several weeks.

Haywood Builders has also filed a civil suit against Cochran and Smathers. According to the suit, Cochran owes the building supply company an additional $186,954.96, plus interest and fees, for other projects.

Cochran said he sat down with Haywood Builders and tried to work things out many times but was unable to work out a payment plan.

“It’s been a downturn in the economy,” Cochran said. “We’ve been down for the last couple years.”

Last year, Haywood County issued 172 building permits for privately owned housing units — compared to 366 in 2008, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The firm representing Haywood Builders declined to comment.


It’s anybody’s guess when the Imperial Hotel in Canton will open.

The deadline for finishing renovations to the hotel, owned by outgoing Canton Mayor Pat Smathers, has continually been pushed back. The initial opening date in May turned into July, then August, with the latest target now sometime in December.

“There is just very little left to do,” said Smathers, who expects to finish renovating the hotel by the first or second week in December. “It’s just taken time, but it’s an old building.”

The renovations have been progressing in fits and starts during the past decade. Piles of bricks and other tell-tale signs of construction have been a mainstay in the yard of the downtown property for years now.

This time, however, completion really is just around the corner. If Smathers doesn’t create 15 jobs in the renovated hotel by this time next year, he will have to repay a $90,000 state grant for the project from the N.C. Rural Center.

Smathers himself will only create one of the required 15 jobs directly, however. An independent restaurant leasing space from Smathers inside the hotel will create the other 14 jobs required under the grant.

Smathers must repay a portion of the grant for each job not created.

Plans for a restaurant inside the hotel have taken a turn last week, however, with one restaurateur stepping back and another stepping in. Originally, Greg Petty, owner of the Canton Lunch Box, was going to open a restaurant in the Imperial Hotel. He expected to open this summer and even closed his other restaurant to focus his efforts on the new location.

“We closed our Canton Lunch Box in anticipation of getting this place opening on Aug. 1,” Petty said. That’s after previously touting a June opening.

Petty said the prolonged renovations were not the main reason he opted out of the Imperial locale. He said he was still planning to open the restaurant when he was approached by Sid Truesdale, who wanted to buy him out.

Truesdale said he was looking for an opportunity locally.

The goal for opening a restaurant in the hotel is New Year’s Eve, said Truesdale, calling the timeline “pretty aggressive.”

The restaurant, called Sid’s on Main, will offer “a little bit of everything,” such as steak and soups, Truesdale said.

The renovation project was about 80 percent complete in June, according to a progress report submitted to the Rural Center as a requirement of the grant. The main items remaining were painting the interior and installing a sprinkler system, bathroom fixtures, HVAC units and lighting fixtures, according to the report.

Now, the sprinkler system has been installed, as well as the light fixtures. However, workers are still inspecting the hotel’s pipes and finishing several outdoor decks or walkways, among other things.

Smathers purchased the property in 1983 with several others. During the next 15 years or so, he bought out his partners and began renovating the historic building.

The mayor said he did not know “off the top of my head” how much he has spent on the project during the last decade. However, he said the final stages of the project should cost about $180,000.

Smathers, through the Haywood County government, has obtained a two-part grant from the N.C. Rural Center to renovate the Imperial Hotel. The center awarded Smathers a $25,000 pre-development grant for architectural and engineering plans and a $90,000 grant for construction.

Smathers had to match the grant with an equal level of spending. As of Nov. 10, the remaining grant funds totaled about $4,000.

To meet the terms of the grants, the hotel must create 15 new jobs — 14 in the restaurant and one in the hotel — before November 2012 or repay part of the grant.

Canton residents and business owners said the hotel will have a positive impact on the community but are wondering how much longer they will have to wait.

“Anything that brings people downtown will help businesses,” said Julie Spivey, an area resident. “It’s taking longer than anyone expected,” she added.

Charles Rathbone, owner of Sign World WNC, said he would like to see the hotel and restaurant open for the upcoming holiday season.

“There is a lot of anticipation waiting for the opening day,” Rathbone said.


The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma have officially banded together against “fabricated” tribes accused of stealing the Cherokee identity.

“It’s something that’s important to all Cherokees — all federally-recognized Cherokees. Many times people are taking our identity,” said Perry Shell, a tribal council representative for Big Cove.

There are three federally recognized Cherokee bands in the U.S.: the Eastern Band here in Western North Carolina and the Cherokee Nation and the United Keetoowah Band in Oklahoma.

Tribal Council for the Eastern Band passed a resolution addressing what Cherokee sees as a growing threat to its culture and heritage from groups claiming to be Cherokee. The resolution states that the Eastern Band will work more closely with the Cherokee Nation to combat “the ongoing and growing problem of these fabricated Cherokee groups.”

The resolution also established the Cherokee Identity Protection Committee, which will continue to speak out against these groups.

Faux tribes include people who truly believe they are Cherokee but cannot prove their native lineage. Occasionally, groups purport false Cherokee heritage to get government benefits or as a marketing gimmick for arts and crafts.

One concern for both the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band is that the “fabricated” tribes will disseminate misinformation about the Cherokee, their history and their origins.

“Lots of times some of these groups have a story that is not accurate,” Shell said.

The dispute between the officially recognized Cherokee and the faux tribes is about preserving Cherokee culture, “not necessarily about money,” Shell said.

But Shell said he has a problem with people who claim to be Cherokee solely to receive monetary benefits. Federally recognized tribes, such as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, get federal dollars to help pay for housing and are also licensed to sell authentic Native American arts and crafts.

Some members of unrecognized tribes have said that the federally recognized Cherokee do not want to share the government funds they receive. Therefore, they strike down other’s claims of Cherokee descent.

The Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band have compiled a list of more than 200 faux tribes in the U.S.

Tribes on the list assert that they are indeed Cherokee and want to respect the traditions of their ancestors without interference.

“We are not taking anything away from them,” said Jack “White Eagle” Shryock, of the Southeastern Cherokee Council in Missouri. “We do not intend to take anything away from them.”

Shryock said that anytime his band attempted to get state recognition, someone from a federally recognized tribe would testify against their assertion that they are Cherokee.

“They do not want more people recognized. Then they would have to accept them,” Shryock said, adding that the current federally recognized bands would then have to “spread out the money.”

Chief Buffy Brown of the Southeastern Cherokee Confederacy of Pennsylvania said she does not want federal recognition.

“My personal feeling is that the government — the federal government — does not have to recognize me because I know who I am, and my parents know who I am,” Brown said.


A donut or cannoli will no longer be a hop, skip and a jump away for people in downtown Waynesville.

Whitman’s Bakery closed its doors this month, ending a 66-year run as a beloved hometown bakery. Whitman’s was a mainstay on Main Street for decades, churning out homemade bread, cookies, pies, cakes, pastries — and, of course, donuts. It had been passed down through three generations of the same family until five years ago, when it was sold to new owners from Arizona, Margie and Roger Eckert.

The Eckerts are walking away from the business this week after deciding not to renew their lease on the building.

SEE ALSO: Sylva mainstay, Annie’s Naturally Bakery, to close this week

“Many thanks for all those who supported us at Whitman’s,” Marge said. She would not talk about the bakery’s closing, or the reason why. But she did mention wanting to be active in the 2012 presidential campaign.

“Our country needs new strong leadership in Washington, D.C., to jumpstart this longtime failing economy,” she said.

When the Eckerts bought Whitman’s five years ago, the bakery business was brand new to them. Wanting to leave the bakery in good hands, Linda Howell — granddaughter of Whitman’s founder — agreed to stay on as a mentor, teaching the new owners the recipes and how-to’s of the business. Howell’s daughter and son-in-law stayed on through the transition as well.

The arrangement was short-lived, however. Less than two weeks after taking over Whitman’s, the new owners asked the old owners to stop coming in to work, that they were no longer needed.

Linda Howell, whose grandfather Dewitt Whitman started the business in 1945, has been saddened by the chain of events — not only to see the anchor institution close down but also to witness the decline of the business during the past five years.

Until Howell sold the bakery, it wasn’t uncommon to see lines out the door. It had 30 employees at its peak.

But, business has steadily trailed off since the new owners took over and began the first of many changes to the menu, both to the baked good side and the lunch counter.

Howell, as well as her father and grandfather before her, hung their aprons on their fresh, made-from-scratch baked goods. Customers apparently liked the bakery just as it was and didn’t respond well to the pre-made baked goods that started turning up in the cases.

Dale Howell, who along with his wife ran Whitman’s for 30 years, believes a new set of owners could rebuild the community’s desire for a Main Street bakery.

“I think once the word gets out that it has changed hands, and they are now offering fresh made breads and pastries as Whitman’s used to, and people come in and find it actually is a good bakery, there is no question Waynesville is big enough for a bakery,” Dale Howell said. “It is a very viable business.”

Linda Howell said Whitman’s decline has left a void in the downtown community.

“Waynesville has always had a bakery where you could get bread and a birthday cake and a cookie,” she said. “It was always a hub of activity. You could always meet someone there.”

The closure of Whitman’s was decried as “a shame” as the Main Street community learned the news this week.

“That sucks,” said Hayley Moralez, a Waynesville resident. “It’s the only bakery here.”

Although she is upset by the loss, Moralez and her husband, James, agreed that “the quality went down” when bakery changed ownership.

Its hours had become inconsistent as well. Nurse Amber Pitts said she has wanted go to the bakery since moving to the area about a year ago.

“Every time I come by, they were closed,” Pitts said.

Prior to selling the business about five years ago, Linda and Dale Howell lived and breathed the bakery business for 30 years after buying Whitman’s from her father and her uncle in 1976.

It was a grueling life. Dale Howell got to work at 2:45 a.m. six days a week. Linda Howell got to sleep in comparatively late but worked until late into the night.

“Dale or I one were always in there,” Linda Howell said.

Their own married life was intertwined with work, crossing paths at home only while sleeping. It was a family affair with three generations under one roof at one point — Linda Howell, her daughter, and her father who still came in to decorate cakes after he retired.

“We loved it and loved the people we worked with. The people who were there loved their work or they weren’t there long,” Linda Howell said.

However, when Dale Howell’s rheumatoid arthritis made it difficult and eventually impossible to roll out certain dough, the couple decided to retire. Their daughter and son-in-law had joined them in the bakery business by then, but they had small children and couldn’t take on the burden of ownership. So, it was put on the market.

And that’s where it will soon be once more. The Howells still own the building, and ownership of the business will likely revert to the Howells as well, who hope to find new owners willing to make a go of it.

“The town wants a bakery. It needs a bakery. The town can support a bakery. Someone who goes in there with baking experience can make it work,” Linda Howell said. “The town is hungry for it. It is waiting for the right person.”


All of Waynesville’s current leaders managed to hang on to their seats despite an impressive challenge mounted by a contender for mayor.

Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown nearly lost his seat to Hugh Phillips, the general manager of Bi-Lo grocery store. Brown won by only 31 votes out of a total 1,445 cast in the mayor’s race.

It was Phillips second unsuccessful attempt for the mayor’s seat.

Brown, an attorney who makes a habit of mingling with the business community and the Main Street crowd, said he has apparently not done a good job connecting with a segment of Waynesville’s population.

“Mr. Phillips and his supporters represent a very important segment of the community and perhaps I haven’t recognized that,” Brown said. “You can never get ahead of your troops as a leader. Today they said ‘Gavin, you may be leaving me behind.’”

Brown is a visionary and idea man, focused on the long-range, big picture view for the town.

“Maybe I am too big picture,” Brown said. “If you are worried about your pay check and gas bill, how do you worry about something happening 20 years from now.”

Meanwhile, as the general manager of a grocery store, Phillips comes into contact with hundreds of average, blue-collar shoppers every week, who likely formed the backbone of his constituency. In some of Waynesville’s outlying precincts, Phillips carried the vote. But the in-town precincts — with neighborhoods like Eagle’s Nest, Waynesville Country Club, Auburn Park and the historic downtown neighborhoods — pushed Brown over the edge to victory.

Aldermen Gary Caldwell, Wells Greeley and Leroy Roberson will all return to the board. They will be joined by a newcomer, Julia Boyd Freeman, who will fill the seat of Libba Feichter, who decided not to run.

Freeman said she was “giddy” after hearing that she will have a place on the board and looks forward to working with her fellow aldermen.

“I really think we will work together and be a cohesive board,” Freeman said. “I think the world of the incumbents.”

While Freeman did not run a negative campaign against the current leaders, a block of supporters did. The Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens, a conservative-leaning political action committee, as well as the local Republican Party, campaigned on Freeman’s behalf — and against the incumbents. Freeman said she did not solicit their endorsement but was happy to have it.

For Greeley, it was his first bona fide election in Waynesville after initially being appointed to the town board three years ago to fill the empty seat of an alderman who passed away.

“I’m just overwhelmed and humbled by the support I was given,” Greeley said. “To get elected is a very rewarding thing for me.”

Both Freeman and Greeley agreed that the most pressing concern for the new board is the replacement of long-time town manager Lee Galloway, who will retire in April.

One of the top issues that ended up dominating the Waynesville town election, however, was Cracker Barrel — or rather the lack thereof. A great debate broke out in the weeks preceding the election over whether a Cracker Barrel was blocked from coming here by the town’s development standards. In fact, the case of Cracker Barrel, it was a matter of economics: Waynesville’s population and traffic count wasn’t big enough to support a Cracker Barrel, according to the Realtor trying to market property to the company.

But the story spread, thanks largely to a political action committee that created a web site and took out newspaper ads to get the message out.

It clearly worked for some voters, including Gladys Watson, 69, who works part-time at Walmart and was stopped on her way out of the polls Tuesday afternoon.

“I would like to see an Olive Garden or Cracker Barrel,” Watson said. “I eat out a lot. You get tired of the options that are here.”

Other voters rejected the notion that the town was somehow to blame for the lack of chain restaurants.

“I would like a few more restaurants and a few more stores, but with the economy being down, they’ve done a great job,” said Janie Benson, a voter emerging from the Waynesville library polling place.

— By Becky Johnson and Caitlin Bowling 


Gavin Brown (I) 729

Hugh Phillips 698  

Town Board

Seats up for election: 4

Total seats on board: 4  

Wells Greeley (I) 1,133

Gary Caldwell (I) 943

Julia Boyd-Freeman 843

Leroy Roberson (I) 811

Mary Ann Enloe 736

Sam Edwards 579



The Canton Town Board of Aldermen will now feature three old dogs and one new one.

Patrick Willis, who ran unsuccessfully in the last election, won a seat on the board with 312 votes.

“I am looking forward to working with the board,” Willis said. “I’d like to bring some new ideas, some new perspectives to the board.”

Willis said he thinks he will be able to work with the board to set some goals for the town.

As a member of StepUp Canton, Willis focused his campaign on economic development. Specifically, updating the town website, increasing communication between town officials and residents and marketing the town’s assets (e.g., its cheap housing and beautiful landscape) to draw new residents and businesses.

Willis said he expects there to be a small learning curve but he “deserve(s) to be there.”

Six candidates — three of whom were incumbents  — ran for four seats on the Board of Aldermen. Jimmy Flynn, Kenneth Holland and Ed Underwood reclaimed their seats on the board. Mike Ray, the sole candidate for mayor, received 440 votes.


Mike Ray 440  

Town Board

Seats up for election: 4

Total seats on board: 4  

Ed Underwood (I) 347

Jimmy Flynn (I) 313

Patrick Willis 312

Kenneth Holland (I) 292

Phil Smathers 275

Cecil Patton 82

Stanley Metcalf 72


After months of campaigning, a write-in candidate won the Bryson City mayoral election — an interesting twist in a competition that had only one name on the ballot.

Tom Sutton beat out Jeramy Shuler, the only candidate whose name was listed on the ballot, by 22 votes.

“I’m pretty excited,” Sutton said. “It’s been a great day.”

The newly elected mayor woke up at 6:30 this morning and spent all day at the polls shaking hands and talking to voters with his brother, he said.

Sutton said he tried to keep an informal tally throughout the day.

“I knew it would be pretty close,” Sutton said. “I was really lucky that it went that way.”

Sutton ran a write-in campaign after finding out that incumbent Mayor Brad Walker would not be running for re-election. By that time, however, it was too late to register.

His first order of business will be to talk to the town department heads and find out “where I can help,” Sutton said.

Sutton spent 24 years in the Navy, worked as a school resource officer for the sheriff’s office and is now a parole officer. He listed road repairs, streetscape improvements and continuing to upgrade the town’s water system as projects he would like to focus on.

Voter turnout was actually better than the norm for a town election. Of the town’s 1,040 voters, 210 came out to the polls for a turnout of 20 percent.

Shuler refused to comment after the results were tallied but said “there may be some discrepancy.”

The only other Bryson City candidates, Jim Gribble and Kate Welch, were both incumbents and ran unopposed.


Tom Sutton (write-in) 111

Jeramy Shuler 89  

Town Board: 

Seats up for election: 2

Total seats on board: 4  

Jim Gribble (I) 148

Kate Welch (I) 134

Write-in 39


Despite multiple red flags, Bryson City officials failed to provide proper oversight of the town’s volunteer fire department over the past decade, eventually leading to a State Bureau of Investigation probe of possible misappropriation by the fire chief.

An investigation by The Smoky Mountain News shows:

• For almost a decade, Bryson City leaders knew something was awry with the fire department’s finances but failed to get to the bottom of it.

• The town was afraid to confront former Fire Chief Joey Hughes, fearing he would lead a strike of the volunteer firefighters as threatened and refuse to respond to emergencies.

• The Ladies Auxiliary, the department’s fundraising arm, went unaudited, unchecked and unmonitored for years. The lack of checks and balances created an atmosphere that gave Hughes, a volunteer firefighter, virtually total control of donations to the department and community fundraising efforts.

“It took a whistleblower in this case,” said Paul Miller, executive director of the North Carolina State Firemen’s Association.

Hughes is now under investigation for improperly using funds donated to the fire department. The State Bureau of Investigation is scrutinizing records collected from the department’s two secret bank accounts and Hughes’ Swain County home.

When the official investigation in the fire department’s finances began this summer, Assistant Police Chief Greg Jones found two accounts that town leaders were unaware existed — “Friends of the Firemen” at United Community Bank and “Ladies Auxiliary” at the North Carolina State Credit Union.

Checks addressed to the Bryson City Fire Department had been deposited into both accounts, according to search warrants issued for the bank records of the two fundraising arms. The confiscated documents include statements, signature cards and cancelled checks.

Investigators are trying to piece together where the money in the accounts went after that and whether any of that funding actually benefited the fire department and its firefighting efforts.

Hughes’ wife Cylena was listed on the signature card for both accounts, while Hughes, Wendy Peterson and Heather Wiggins were listed as possible signatures for the “Friends of the Firemen” account.

Investigators conducted another search of Hughes’ home on Hyatt Creek Road in Bryson City in October. Agents with the North Carolina Department of Insurance and State Bureau of Investigation seized paperwork, two computers and a collection of checks, stamps and envelopes.

Hughes Tuesday denied any wrongdoing on his part. The former fire chief said that he was the victim of dirty politics and that he’d never misused fire department funds or abused his position.

“I hope Bryson City gets a mayor from Bryson City,” Hughes said, a critical reference to Mayor Brad Walker who isn’t originally from the mountains.

Hughes blamed Walker for spreading misinformation. Hughes said that his troubles date to disagreements about equipment purchases the fire department made under Mayor Bruce Medford more than six years ago, and that Walker, as a friend of Medford’s, is simply engaging in dirty politics because of those old disagreements.

Hughes’ house has recently been put up for sale by owner.


In the beginning

Troubles with Hughes dates back eight to nine years ago. The former fire chief talked his fellow firemen into striking, according to a search warrant issued for the Hughes’ home.

The volunteer firefighters “threatened to close down the fire department,” Walker told The Smoky Mountain News.

Back then, town leaders told the fire department that checks made out to the Bryson City Fire Department must go through proper town accounting procedures, Walker said.

“The best I remember there were some questions about the bookkeeping — how the records were being kept,” said Alderman Kate Welch.

The town feared another strike if they made Hughes mad and, therefore, maintained a relatively hands-off approach after that — without ever getting satisfactory answers to its questions.

Around the same time, Hughes closed the existing bank accounts for its fundraising arms and opened new ones that he could control access to — shutting out the town’s access in the process, Walker said.

Before the strike, the fire department’s account information was available upon request by the fire department’s executive board, according to warrants. Afterwards, however, Hughes would not share bank statements for the fundraising arms when asked repeatedly by fellow firefighters.

Hughes refused to open his books to the town as well. Officials were not privy to the finances of the fire department’s fundraising arms despite at least one official request.

Hughes told Town Attorney Fred Moody, in a letter dated July 13, that the Bryson City Fire Department had not had a bank account since Jan. 1, 2000, according to a search warrant.

Other firemen who asked about financial records were also told “no” by Hughes, the search warrant states.

A volunteer firefighter Mitch Cooper, who later provided the town with what he asserted was proof of Hughes’ mismanagement, is among those who asked where the (citizen) donations were going. Hughes told Cooper that he would get the information together.

Instead, Hughes would “fabricate a piece of paper of what was spent and how much was left,” according to a search warrant.

The fire department’s board of directors also asked about the bank statements for the fundraising arms. But in what was apparently his typical fashion, Hughes produced a handwritten notation, but no official documentation.

During Fireman’s Day in 2010, a community rally of sorts for the volunteer firefighters, town fireman David Zalva helped count the donations the department received, which totaled about $4,800, according to a search warrant. However, Hughes said only $600 was collected, according to a search warrant.


Informal oversight

At some point in the not too distant past, Bryson City’s mayors would also serve as fire chief, said Town Manager Larry Callicutt.

Because of this, the town board did not need formal oversights. The mayor, who was also the fire chief, maintained an informal line of communication between the firehouse and the town board.

Walker said he believes this resulted in a separation between the town board and the fire department because there was never a formal system of checks and balances. When Hughes came along, but wasn’t also the mayor, there was no prescedent of oversight.

“That’s my belief,” Walker said. “Somebody took advantage of (the separation).”

This meant the town did not exercise any oversight of the fire department’s fundraising activities, and officials did not know how much the department brought in, nor how it was being spent.

The Bryson City Fire Department has a local relief fund, a separate fundraising arm so to speak, as do other fire departments in the state.

A Board of Trustees, consisting of five fire department members, is supposed to oversee the local relief fund. However, this board never met, and people named in the annual reports did not know they were on the board.

As of 2002, Hughes was listed as treasurer of the Relief Fund Board, according to its annual reports. Charles Killebrew was listed as chairman of the board.

Killebrew told Chet Effler, an investigator with the State Department of Insurance, that Hughes asked him to serve on the board but stated that he never attended any meetings for the board nor saw any annual reports. Most of the firemen interviewed during the state investigation said they did not even know the Bryson City Fire Department had a local relief fund.

The department is required to submit an annual report to the State Firemen’s Association, detailing how much money the relief fund had at the end of the year, where it is invested and what funds were spent on that year. MOVED

Each fire department is required to submit the annual report if it wishes receive funding the following year. In most cases, departments must have permission from the association to spend relief fund monies.

“Based on the reports they sent, you really couldn’t tell anything was going on,” said Miller, executive director of the firemen’s association. That’s why Cooper’s whistleblower role was key to uncovering possible wrongdoings, Miller said.

Cooper told police in May that money collected during some donation and fund raising events was unaccounted for, and money given to the department was not “being maintained, accounted for, or properly used as intended,” according to a search warrant.

Cooper could not be reached for comment.

Walker said that Cooper brought cancelled checks to him, which showed that the fire department was misusing funds. Walker then presented the checks to the town board, he said. But he said he couldn’t the rest of the board to take it seriously.

“The board took no action,” Walker said. “I had to go around the board to get this done in the first place.”

According the search warrant, Walker asked the Bryson City Police to investigate the fire department’s fundraising accounts on July 15 after citizens had asked him about their donated funds and why the department’s building looked run down. The mayor said he did not remember when he presented the cancelled checks to the board, and he did not approach the police sooner, he said, “because there was no physical evidence.”

Alderman Jim Gribble declined to comment on Walker’s statement that the board did nothing when presented with the cancelled checks. Tom Reidmiller, a fellow alderman, said the board has no jurisdiction over the auxiliary.

“I can’t tell you much because I don’t know much,” added Alderman Welch.

The town had to “back off” until it had evidence of wrongdoing, she said, later adding that the mayor, who oversees the police department, handled much of the investigation.

“We (town board) don’t have authority to initiate an investigation,” Welch said.

Callicutt said the board turned the cancelled checks over to Moody, the town attorney.


Questions, but no answers

Throughout the past three years, the town has discussed the fire department at several workshops, or additional monthly discussion session held by the board. An Aug. 25, 2009, workshop, illustrates the board’s apprehension to question the fire department.

“We’re not trying to be big brother or anything,” stated a Bryson City leader. No one is identified directly by name on the recording.

That audio recording of the August workshop is preserved on cassette at Bryson City Town Hall.

At the time, the board was talking about requiring drug testing for all town employees and querying whether fire department members, who are volunteers, can be subject to such an obligation. The board also discussed requesting the department include a drug testing policy in its bylaws.

The board planned to meet with fire department members at a later time to discuss the possible implementation of a drug testing policy.

“I am sure the people over there will say, ‘why in the hell are they coming over here?’” said a town leader on the recording. “As of yesterday, half of them didn’t even know we were coming.”

Several times during the workshop various alderman expressed a need to form a relationship with the fire department.

“The main thing is to establish a relationship, and find out what’s going on over there,” said another official.

As the meeting drew to a close, the aldermen mentioned that the department is obliged to send the town any checks addressed to the Bryson City Fire Department — not put them in a separate accounts.

“It’s just the way it should be. Period,” stated a Bryson City leader on the recording. “If you don’t, you gonna cause questions, and it’s gonna get you in trouble.”

In 2007 when the town and the county met to discuss their contracts with county fire departments, resident Mike Clampitt expressed concerns about a lack of information regarding the Bryson City Fire Department.

“There seemed to be a shortage of information and accurate data available at the meeting,” Clampitt, a former firefighter, wrote. “A great amount of time was spent in speculation and conjecture, which for me is even more troubling.”

During the past few years, there have also been several incidents regarding the improper use of fire department vehicles. In July 2009, Callicutt issued a notice to all volunteer firemen, based on a policy passed in 2008, which prohibits personal use of a fire department vehicle.

The town had received complaints that Hughes’ son was riding in vehicles purchased for the department using taxpayer funds, Walker said.

Almost a year later, in March 2010, the town board told Hughes to implement rules and regulations for the use of its GMC Yukon Quick Response Vehicle. When the fire department reported that it had yet to pass rules and regulations regarding the Yukon in June 2010, Walker asked the department to give the vehicle to local police until such policies were in place.


“Lost in the shuffle”

In addition to the local relief fund, the Bryson City Fire Department also had a Ladies Auxiliary, a nonprofit fundraising arm.

“I think what got lost in the shuffle was maybe the Ladies Auxiliary fund” because no one was overseeing it, Miller said.

It appears that no one audited the Bryson City Fire Department auxiliary’s finances.

“The auxiliary, that has not been part of our business; maybe, it should have been,” Welch said.

Although the auxiliary is registered with the state as a charitable organization, it does not have 501(c)3, or federal nonprofit, status and has not filed any nonprofit tax forms with the Internal Revenue Service.

“I won’t say that it can’t solicit funds, but the funds would not be tax deductible by the people giving the donations,” said Dean Coward, treasurer of executive board for the state firemen’s association.

The Waynesville Fire Department, which has a mixture of volunteer and salaried firefighters, also has a fund raising arm separate from its relief fund or town monies. However, the organization is registered as a nonprofit with the federal government, requires two signatures on all its checks and has its finances maintained by a local accountant. Its finances are accounted for by the fire department, its members and the federal government.

Callicutt said the town knew about an auxiliary account but did not know that the Bryson City Fire Department has two bank accounts, “Ladies Auxiliary” and “Friends of the Firemen,” at two different banks and that the town’s lawyer had advised the town board that they had no control over any auxiliary accounts.

“If they collect money in the name of the auxiliary, that was separate money, and that doesn’t need to come here (to the town),” Callicutt said. “If it doesn’t come through here, then we don’t know what they do.”

Hughes told The Smoky Mountain News that the auxiliary funds were handled precisely as the town had instructed.

While the fundraising arms was theoretically an important piece of the fire department’s budget, the core operations are funded by the county and town.

The town contributes between $40,000 and $50,000, plus insurance costs. The county kicks in $40,320 each year, since the fire department responds to calls outside the town limits in the county.

The town manages all the town and county funding coming in to the department, writing checks for the fire department’s yearly expenses rather than giving the money directly to the department.

Within the last year, the town board has worked on amending the fire department’s bylaws to include a new fiscal policy.

“The bylaws that we know of were never really ratified by the board,” Walker said.

The new fiscal policy section states the all money belonging to the department or funds raised under its name should be deposited in an account with the Town of Bryson City. Firefighters may apply to the town for reimbursement for gas or out-of-town travel and must follow the town’s purchasing policy. And although the volunteers can still elect their chief, the board must approve him or her. The town board must also approve changes to the department’s bylaws.


The givers

The accounts impacted by the investigation into Hughes’ activities were specifically for donations and other funds raised in the name of the Bryson City Fire Department and its auxiliary. Those who gave from their own pocketbooks — both business owners and residents — were most affected.

“People are frustrated and concerned, and I think people just want answers,” said Scott Mastej, part owner of Cork and Bean Coffee House and Wine Bar in Bryson City. With the economy still in recovery, any form of “financial fraud” hurts even more, he said.

Bryson City resident Willard Smith has given money to the fire department in past years and doesn’t know what to believe.

“That’s kind of a mess ain’t it,” Smith said. “I hope it’s not too bad.”

Some people who have donated before, including Pasqualino’s Italian Restaurant owner Pascual Izquierdo, have lost faith in the fire department.

“Who will we trust now?” he said.


Finishing on time and on budget, the Haywood County Department of Social Services and several other government offices will move from their deteriorating, cramped homes to the renovated former Walmart by mid-January.

The Walmart shell was purchased and renovated at a cost of about $12 million to house a host of county offices: the Department of Social Services, the health department, planning department, building inspections, environmental health services and Meals on Wheels kitchen.

Construction will be finished by Nov. 24, according to Dale Burris, the county facilities and maintenance director. But it will take another eight weeks to get some 200 employees moved in and their offices up and running, he said.

“We are very pleased with the progress,” said Mark Swanger, chair of the Haywood County Commissioners. The Walmart renovation is the “smoothest project I’ve been involved in,” he said.

The county commissioners Monday approved a request for additional funding — about $32,400 — to move furniture into the building once renovations are complete. The money will come out of the county’s general fund.

Between 55 and 65 subcontracted construction workers are on the job each day, Burris said. And, although there were a few hitches, as is usual with such projects, the contractor was able to identify and remedy any problems, he said.

The project stayed within the original estimated cost of between $12 million and $12.5 million.

The county purchased the building for $6.6 million. Construction costs totaled $5.48 million, Burris said.

The project included gutting the building, remodeling the entrance and replacing the old roof with new over-build, copper roof.

The roof “looks really good,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley. “It looks expensive” because of the copper coloring.

The commissioners voted in January 2010 to purchase and renovate the old Walmart building. The current DSS building had been deteriorating for years, and by that time had peeling paint, water leaks, hanging wires and an aging elevator — as well as cramped work conditions.

Purchasing land and building a new DSS and health department building would have cost between $25 million and $30 million.


A group of Cherokee business leaders will be a driving force in the campaign to permit alcohol sales on the reservation.

Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will vote in April on whether to legalize alcohol sales on the currently dry reservation.

“Most business owners are saying the same thing — it would be a nice option,” said Matthew Pegg, executive director of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber and the Cherokee ABC Board hosted a public meeting last Wednesday (Nov. 2) to gauge businesses’ opinions about the possibility of alcohol sales. About 20 people attended.

Several business owners said they had lost business because they are not permitted to sell adult beverages.

“It is imperative that our restaurants have alcohol,” said Morgan Owle-Crisp, a business owner and member of the tribe. Owle-Crisp added that potential customers travel to Asheville and other surrounding cities to eat and drink.

Beth Wolpert, manager of Yogi in the Smokies, a campground in Cherokee, said that she has had campers leave after finding out that they would have to drive 20 minutes to Bryson City to buy alcohol.

While tourism in Cherokee has improved over the past decade thanks both to the casino and cultural emphasis by the tribe, tourism overall on the reservation has been on the decline since its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, business owners said.

Alcohol could bring back some of that lost revenue, agreed business owners in attendance.

“We don’t have John Wayne out there promoting the Indians,” said Collette Coggins, owner of the Cherokee Bear Zoo.

Even if the referendum passes, the tribal ABC board will have the final say regarding who receives an alcohol permit.

To qualify to sell alcohol, a restaurant or grocery store would have to get 30 to 40 percent of its revenue from food sales, said Bob Blakenship, chair of the Cherokee ABC Board. Blakenship projected that a tribal ABC store would sell $500,000 in alcohol each year.

One reason for the major push to approve the referendum is a similar vote slated in Jackson County in May. If the measure passes, gas stations a stone’s throw from the reservation in Jackson County could sell beer and wine from their shelves. Jackson County could also place an ABC store selling bottles of liquor as close to Cherokee as possible, said Don Rose, vice chair of the tribal ABC board.

“It is going to be at our doorstep anyway,” he said. “All we’re doing is making it more convenient (to purchase alcohol).”

The three-part ballot will allow voters to separately weigh in on where alcohol sales should be permitted.

• To permit a tribal ABC store to sell liquor to the public.

• To permit the sale of beer, wine and liquor drinks only in restaurants licensed by the Eastern Band.

• To permit the sale of beer and wine only in grocery stores and convenience stores licensed by the Eastern Band.

Tribe members can approve all, none, or one or two of these.

Attendees at the meeting talked about the wording of the ballot.

“You want simplicity in these question,” Rose said. “Otherwise, people won’t know what they are voting for.”

The Chamber of Commerce will hold its regular monthly meeting Nov. 15 and discuss funding for the campaign.

On Nov. 17, a campaign committee will meet at 9:30 a.m. at the Chestnut Tree Inn to begin formulating a plan, aimed at raising awareness and promoting the benefits of allowing alcohol on the reservation. The committee will discuss advertising in newspapers and on billboards as well as arranging an informational meeting for tribal members.

“People need to know it’s not going to be widespread,” said Steve Arch, owner of Big Bear Exxon Mart.

The committee will work under a tentative deadline of April 15 since it is currently unknown when or if the vote will occur.

A plan and funding for a campaign should be in place 90 days before the vote, Rose said.

Tribal Council approved the referendum regarding reservation-wide alcohol sales last month, giving tribal members a say in the historically controversial issue.

Nine out of 12 council members voted for the referendum. The other three didn’t exactly vote “no.” Two voted to table the measure, the third was out of town for the vote.

Chief Michell Hicks has until Nov. 23 — 30 days following the tribal council vote — to veto the referendum. As of Monday afternoon, Hicks had yet to make a decision.

Even if the chief shoots down the measure, tribal council can override his veto with a two-thirds majority, which they appear to have.

Tribal members have voted against allowing reservation-wide alcohol sales twice before. In 2009, however, voters approved a referendum to permit the sale of alcohol in the casino.

While proponents say alcohol will help Cherokee’s economy and attract tourists to local businesses, opponents of the referendum cite religious convictions and a long history of alcoholism among the Cherokee as reasons to continue its dry spell.


Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, is leading a bipartisan call, asking the joint super committee to spare nothing in its cuts to the U.S. deficit.

“It will be heard throughout the world that we can do something together,” Shuler said in a phone interview, “and work for the united good of this nation.”

A Nov. 2 bipartisan letter signed by 100 members of Congress asks the super committee tasked with recommending budget solutions in Washington to cut $4 trillion rather than the mandated $1.2 trillion.

Analyses by multiple economic, partisan and bipartisan groups say the U.S must cut its deficit spending and place the amount of the cuts near $4 trillion, said Shuler.

The letter is not specific about what should be trimmed but states that the committee should keep all types of mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues.

“You can’t do one without the other,” Shuler said. “It has to be a combination of both.”

The committee, comprised of Senate and House of Representatives members, must create a plan by Nov. 23. Failure to do so will result in across-the-board cuts in 2013.

No compromise means “the political parties have won, and America has lost,” Shuler said.

Shuler has staked himself out as a moderate in his seven years in office, despite his formal label as a Democrat. He is also a leader of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate Democrats in Congress that claim to rise above the political fray.

The letter was co-authored by Congressman Mike Simpson (R-ID) and signed by 100 members of Congress, including David Price, Howard Coble, Mike McIntrye and Mel Watt.

“We write to you as a bipartisan group of representatives from across the political spectrum in the belief that the success of your committee is vital to our country’s future,” states the letter. “We know that many in Washington and around the country do not believe we in the Congress and those within your committee can successfully meet this challenge. We believe that we can and we must.”


Haywood County is one step closer to getting a defined bike route traversing the county and improved cycling amenities.

The county commissioners approved a comprehensive countywide bicycle plan at its meeting Monday (Nov. 7). The plan aims to get more people on their bikes, whether for commuting or recreation, by making it safer and more convenient.

The proposal includes a central route that connects Waynesville, Lake Junaluska, Clyde and Canton.

Members of Bicycle Haywood N.C., the group spearheading the plan, have been making the rounds to town and county leaders looking for an endorsement of the plan. They have gone before every board so far except Canton.

The group was “met with outstanding responses,” said Cecil Yount, a member of Bicycle Haywood N.C.

A future path would also incorporate U.S. 276, U.S. 19, U.S. 23/74, Interstate 40 and N.C. 209, among others.

Overall, the total cost of the recommendations is between $64 million and $114 million — much of the estimated cost involves road projects that are already in the works.

Better accommodations for cyclists could be added to the road projects for “very little additional costs,” such as bike lanes and signage, said County Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger.

No county funding will pay for the project, but the county may apply for grants, Swanger said.

The proposal is comprised of five E’s: education, encouragement, enforcement, engineering and evaluation.

Engineering would involve connecting a designated cross-county bike route to greenways, adding signage, repainting road marks and ensuring that intersections do not pose a safety threat to cyclists. A number of the recommendations include adding four- to six-foot wide shoulders along the side of the road.

“The good thing is that it gives you space to ride,” said Don Kostelec, a consultant hired to oversee the plan.

Education and encouragement include offering classes about bicycle safety and rules of the road, promoting healthy living and helping kids find safe bike routes to school. Enforcement simply means working with the police department, cyclists and drives to make the commute safer.

From 1997 to 2008, Haywood County reported 21 bicycle crashes; of those, 8 involved a person who was 17 years old or younger.

Once the plan begins, the committee will evaluate how many people use the bike route, participate in the classes and other cycling activities.

“I think it’s a quality of life issue,” said Swanger. “I think to have a safe place to ride is important.”

The path will also attract visitors to the region, stimulating the local economy.

According to a survey of a little more than 20 participants, the Blue Ridge Breakaway, an annual bike ride based in Haywood, the majority of respondents spent the night in Haywood County and stayed an average of 4.3 days, spending anywhere from $30 to $400 a day on accommodations.

There is no definitive timeline to complete the project, but Bicycle Haywood N.C. hopes to begin offering classes soon and would like to see towns add bicycle racks.

“This whole thing will take a while to do,” Swanger said.

The planning process began in April, and several public input meetings were held to get feedback about a possible route.

The idea got its start when members of the newly formed Bicycle Haywood N.C. decided last year that Haywood was lacking in formal communication among cyclists, county residents and local and governmental organizations, including the Department of Transportation and the Haywood County Recreation and Parks department.

The group of cycling enthusiasts received a $50,000 grant to develop the comprehensive plan — $40,000 of which came from the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization. The organization is responsible for transportation planning in Buncombe, Haywood and Henderson counties. The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, Mast General Store, the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club and members of Bicycle Haywood N.C. donated the remaining $10,000.

Survey says: we like bikes

This year, Bicycle Haywood N.C. surveyed county residents about what bicycle-related improvements they would like to see, and 151 people responded.


County residents would like to:

• Mark road shoulders as bike lanes: 75.7 percent

• Build off-road multi-use trails/greenways: 74.3 percent

• See more “share the road” signs: 56.6 percent

• Offer bike accommodations on bridges: 53.3 percent

• Have more bike racks: 36.8 percent

• Have wider sidewalks on bridges: 36.2 percent

• Post way-finding signs: 36.2 percent

• Incorporate an environmentally friendly design: 35.5 percent



To see the comprehensive bike plan, including specific recommendations for making your community more bike-friendly, go to


Set in the Haywood Arts Regional Theater, the cast of “Ah, Wilderness!” spent a rainy evening preparing for its impending opening night.

The actors practiced their lines and movements, making all the blunders of a good rehearsal. One of the crew sat stage left following line-by-line and interrupted to correct the actors or answer their call for “Line.”

Director Wanda Taylor sat several rows from the front with her rescue dog, Nora, at her feet, typing comments on her laptop and occasionally laughing at an amusing line or action.

“Every play that I have directed I just love directing,” said Taylor, who has been a part of HART since 1988 as both an actress and director. “It is always fun for me to watch the characters develop.”

A handful of others watched from various seats in the house.

“Ah, Wilderness!” is the only comedy written by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, who is more commonly known for his dramas including “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”

The play is set in New England on July 4, 1906, and focuses on life in the Miller family — particularly Richard. During the weekend, Richard, an almost 17-year-old boy, has his first experiences with love, alcohol and prostitution.

“There is an undercurrent of poignancy, sweetness to it,” Taylor said.

It is a “wish play,” she said. “This is his family the way he wished it was.”

“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is about the family he actually had.

O’Neill was born in 1888 to two actors and spent much of his early life traveling with his parents. His brother suffered from alcoholism and drank himself to death. O’Neill was a depressed alcoholic as well. He married several times and had three children. His two sons followed a similar path of depression and addiction. Both eventually committed suicide. His daughter married the famous silent film actor and producer Charlie Chaplin when she was 18.

O’Neill died in 1953.

The Process

Steven Lloyd, executive director of the theater, chooses the season and assigns a director to each play based on who expresses an interest. “Ah, Wilderness!” was slated as the theater’s final performance of the season.

The cast began rehearsing in late September after holding open auditions, Taylor said.

“It’s a nice mixture of experienced actors and inexperienced ones,” Taylor said.

There are 15 parts in the play, eight of which are filled by people new to HART.

Miles Rice, a 22-year-old from Weaverville, had auditioned for a production at HART once before but landed his first role with the theater. Rice will play Wint Selby, a college student who gets Richard Miller into some adult trouble.

“There is a lot of growth to (the play), but there is a lot of want and need for maturity,” he said.

Rice said he has enjoyed getting to know everyone, but he is also ready to perform for an audience and get their feedback.

Bryan Nicholls, a 24-year-old Sylva native, has performed in 11 shows at the theater. Nicholls has participated mostly in musicals, which are usually over-the-top.

“To really come down to earth and play something real … is a challenge,” he said.

Nicholls said part of the reason he keeps performing at HART is because of the bond the casts form during rehearsal.

“It’s a family,” he said

In fact, some of the cast is family. It includes a husband and wife, and father and stepdaughter. The father and stepdaughter actually play father and daughter in “Ah, Wilderness!”

Once the cast was chosen, the first couple weeks were spent blocking, or planning each character’s movements. About two weeks ago, set construction began — in this case, a white house that takes up most of the stage, a dinner table with chairs and a porch with a white wicker love seat, a couple chairs and forest green rocking chair.

Last week, the actors went off-book, meaning they would have to recite their lines from memory.

With their lines mostly memorized, the cast and crew will spend this week tweaking their performance and adding little touches that make the characters seem more realistic.

“It always comes together,” Taylor said.

The play will run for two weekends in the 255-seat auditorium.


What: “Ah, Wilderness!”

When: 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 11-12, Nov. 18-19; 3 p.m. on Nov. 20.

Where: Haywood Regional Arts Theater, Waynesville.

How much: $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, $8 for students, and special $5 student tickets on Thursdays and Sunday.

828.456.6322 or


Ryan Emerson’s pack was stolen and his cell phone now resides at the bottom of a river. His biggest hurdle while canoeing down the Mississippi, though, has been the wind.

“The only real challenges I have met so far are the wind,” said Emerson, who has lost six or seven days of rowing because of powerful gusts that kept him off the river.

The 23-year-old began his odyssey almost two month ago in northern Minnesota. Although Emerson has considered taking this trip for years, the idea to complete the expedition this fall was more of a spur-of-the-moment decision.

“I’ve been passively thinking about it for a long time,” Emerson said. “It’s been a decision made over several years. I have been looking forward to doing this since I was about 16.”

Emerson, who’s from Haywood County, said he wanted to make the trip before returning to school in January to obtain a master’s degree in applied economics from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.

“This might be my last chance before I have too many responsibilities,” he said.

Emerson did not tell his parents about his plans until two weeks before he left, said Diane Emerson, Ryan’s mom.

“We didn’t know he had been looking this up and thinking about do this,” she said.

Diane and her husband were not all that surprised, however. What Ryan didn’t know was that his parents had been researching a similar trip — one they want to take in a few years.

“I am sure he (his dad) wished he had the time to do it right now,” Diane said.

Emerson already owned camping gear, and after searching Craig’s List for a canoe, Emerson bought a Greyhound bus ticket. Within a couple weeks was headed to Walker, Minn. From there, he was picked up by the canoe’s owner and dropped off at Lake Itasca.

Emerson’s diet consists mainly of peanut butter, fruit, rice, tuna and canned chicken. But every so often, people who live along the river invite him for a home-cooked meal or let him sleep on their property.

“I don’t think it’s really common to see a canoe on the Mississippi river,” he said.

Although he has traveled as far as 40 miles in a day, Emerson averages between 20 and 25 miles a day.

Besides the wind, the main roadblocks to progress are the river’s system of locks and dams.

With other boats traversing the river, Emerson said, he must sometimes wait about an hour and a half for barges to get through the locks. A lock is a closed-off section of the waterway where the water level is either raised or lowered so the boat can continue downstream.

In some cases, Emerson must haul his gear around the dams.

“Obviously, you can’t go down the forty foot drop,” he said.

Despite some delays, he still expects to see New Orleans before his self-imposed deadline.

“The only real timetable I set was I’d like to be home for Christmas,” Emerson said.

Emerson plans to phone his parents before he reaches New Orleans so they can shuttle him back to Haywood County, but until then, they are on standby. Emerson has kept in regular contact with his parents, though, calling them every other day.

“I had told him the rule was every three days,” Diane said.

It’s a demand Emerson has met with one exception — when his phone sank to the bottom of the Mississippi.

To hear him tell the story, it was no big deal. He simply stopped at the nearest town and used a stranger’s cell phone to call his mom, who overnighted him a new phone.

According to Diane, it was a much more complex ordeal.

The family’s cell phone provider activated Emerson’s phone incorrectly. When anyone tried to call Emerson, they were directed to his sister’s phone.

“My son is on the Mississippi River, and we have not heard from him in four days, and I’m a nervous wreck,” Diane said.

Knowing about where he should be, Diane said she called one of the dams asking if they had seen a man canoeing down river.

They had.

When she phoned the next dam, about 20 miles downstream, they had yet to see Emerson. She then knew more precisely where he was and eventually made contact. After another couple calls and complaints to their provider, Emerson’s phone was finally able to make and receive calls.

Emerson said he does not mind being unreachable and mostly keeps his phone turned off.

“I don’t really get bored,” he said. “I’m an adventurer, so I’m always wondering what is around the next river bend. I can’t wait to see what I’m going to see today.”

To help pass the time, however, he said he listens to National Public Radio, or if no one is around, he sings The Beatles’ or Cat Stevens’ songs at the top of his lungs.

When able, he updates his blog ( at public libraries along the way. However, he said it gets harder and harder to update his online followers because he would rather spend the time traveling.

“I have to take three hours or so away from paddling,” Emerson said.

On Sept. 22 — 14 days after setting out, Emerson stopped in a small Minnesota town to buy groceries and use the local library’s computer. He locked his gear to a metal pole and when he returned, his pack, which contained a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, cookware, food, hygiene products, books and clothing, was gone.

“My faith in the integrity of humanity has increased greatly during this trip.  However, it took a huge step backwards today,” wrote Emerson on his blog.

He did not want to advertise that his pack had been stolen, Diane said, but she talked him into it.

“You have to tell the good with the bad,” she said.

The next day, Gander Mountain, an outdoor gear store that had heard about Emerson’s plight, offered to replace his lost items for free. He traveled nearly 57 miles in two days to the nearest store.

Last Thursday, Emerson was departing from LaGrange, Mo., and expected to reach St. Louis in a week’s time, allowing for a planned detour in Hannibal, Mo. — the boyhood home of author Mark Twain.

Emerson said he would travel about 20 miles from LaGrange to Hannibal and spend a day exploring the town and visiting the local museum.

“I usually just stop in the small towns with my camera and explore anyway,” he said.

Although he admitted to knowing little about Twain’s life, the author’s writings, in addition to Abraham Lincoln’s account of his own travels on the Mississippi, inspired Emerson to make the journey.

Twain, a former riverboat pilot, used the Mississippi as a setting in some of his stories, including what can be considered his magnum opus The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The Mississippi is the third longest river in the U.S., running from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in New Orleans.

It is difficult to gauge the length of the Mississippi, as the river is always changing, but the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, the Environmental Protection Agency and a U.S. Geological Survey have all stated the body of water is a little more than 2,300 miles long. However, Itasca State Park says the river is 2,552 miles long if you start at its headwaters, a tributary at the source of the Mississippi River where Emerson’s journey began.

In the future, Emerson hopes to dirt bike across Australia or cycle across the U.S.

“I don’t think this will be the end of his adventures. That’s just Ryan,” Diane said.


Despite only having one candidate on its ballot, the Bryson City mayoral race has heated up, with two potential write-in candidates joining the race.

Bryson City resident Tom Sutton is actively campaigning as a write-in candidate, while current mayor Brad Walker said he will be glad to serve another term if voters write him in. Only Jeramy Shuler will appear on the ballot as an official candidate, however.

Area residents and business owners had opposing views on whether write-in candidates offer another alternative or were just trying to skirt the election filing fees.

“I wonder if he (Sutton) didn’t want to pay his admission to file,” said Willard Smith, a Bryson City resident. “I’ve never known a write-in to get elected, but I guess there is a first for everything.”

Ivan Gibby, owner of Calby’s Antiques, said that everybody has the right to run as a write-in candidate, and Sutton will offer voters an additional option.

“An election implies that you have a choice,” he said. “If you are going to have an election, have two people.”

Walker did not announce that he wasn’t running for re-election until “the 11th hour,” Gibby said. Two or three people would have thrown their name into the race had they known Walker wasn’t going to run again, Gibby said.

Paul Crawley, a town resident and owner of Soda Pop’s Ice Cream, said Shuler was the only one who showed enough interest in the town to file with the Board of Elections on time.

“I think Jeramy will make a good mayor,” Crawley said.

Candidates must sign-up to run for election in July if they want their name to appear on the ballot. For those that miss the sign-up period, running as a write-in is their only choice.

There is certainly a precedent for write-in candidates to beat out those officially appearing on the ballot, particularly in small towns where elections hinge on relatively few voters.

There are about 1,050 registered voters in Bryson City, according to the  Swain County Board of Elections. Of those, only 248 people voted in the last mayoral election in 2007.

Maggie Valley has seen more than one write-in candidate successfully ride to victory. There, candidates have run as write-ins as a strategic move. Those officially on the ballot are lulled into complacency, believing they are running unchallenged and don’t campaign as hard to turn out voters. Meanwhile, the write-in candidate runs an underground campaign to turn out a last-minute swell of voters on Election Day.

In the Jackson County town of Forest Hills, the sitting mayor had to run as a write-in candidate two years ago after missing the candidate sign-up period. He was hiking in Europe during the filing window.


Tom Sutton, 52, write-in candidate

Sutton spent 24 years in the Navy, worked as a school resource officer for the sheriff’s office and is now a parole officer.

He said he would have registered as a candidate if he knew Walker was not going to run.

Sutton had nothing bad to say about Shuler, the only candidate on the ballot, but simply felt voters should have a choice.

“I think people deserve a choice,” said Sutton, who has considered running for mayor before. “I knew it was going to be tough to do this way.”

Sutton has placed an ad in the local newspaper, put signs up around town and simply walked around talking to people about his candidacy.

“I want to see things done, and I want to have a say in it,” Sutton said.

In 2004, the town overhauled Everett Street’s appearance — including adding new street lamps and adding brick to sidewalks. Sutton said he would like to see similar streetscape work on Main Street.

“It’s done a lot for the businesses on Everett Street,” he said.

Road repairs and re-pavement would also be near the top of Sutton’s to-do list, if elected. And although he said he has no “big plan,” Sutton wants to focus on improving downtown parking as well.

Sutton would like to continue many of the projects Walker started. He listed the upgrade the town’s water system as one of the biggest projects, saying he would continue to improve the system’s efficiency.

So far, the race has been clean, Sutton said.

“Mr. Shuler has been really good about not making it about him and me,” he said.


Jeramy Shuler, 39, officially on the ballot

Shuler owns Ridge Runner Auto Sales and Friendly Appliance Dealers in Bryson City. He said if someone wants to run, they should make their campaign official.

“If you want the office, you would have filed on time,” Shuler said. “I knew before the date (that Brad wasn’t filing).”

He ran against Walker four years ago, touting crime as one of his main concerns. Back then Shuler said he was worried about the number of drug violations and thefts in town.

“I just really want to increase the patrol in the town,” Shuler said in a recent interview. “I would like to see better patrols at night.”

The local business owner also said he would work on communication between the fire department, the town and residents, adding that he hoped to restore trust in the fire department.

Shuler said he would not have run against Walker again.

“I thought Brad had done an excellent job, and I want to continue with some things that Brad’s got going,” Shuler said — something he and Sutton have in common, in addition to continuing the beautification of the town.

Shuler said he would like to spread the Everett Street improvements to the rest of the city and would like to see the city and the county working better together to accomplish things.


Brad Walker, 67, willing to serve if written in by voters

Walker has been mayor for four years and, prior to that, was head of the town planning board. He has been involved with local businesses for 30 years and has held numerous leadership roles with the Swain County Chamber of Commerce and Swain County Tourism Board.

Walker decided not to run for re-election but has heard from supporters in recent weeks that they plan to write his name in anyway.

“People said they liked me,” Walker said. “They were very disappointed I didn’t run.”

Walker opted not to run on the ballot officially because he wasn’t sure what the next four years — the term of office if elected — would hold for him on a personal level.

He would be 71 by then and had always envisioned building a house in the country by that age. But if he moved outside the town limits, he would have to resign his post.

“I would hate to be mayor and have to leave part way through,” Walker said.

But if he is elected as a write-in, Walker said he would gladly continue on as mayor.

Walker has been an advocate for more progressive standards for the appearance of new commercial buildings, particularly downtown. Walker fears the lack of standards currently makes the town vulnerable to ugly buildings that could detract from Bryson City’s charm.

Walker and the town planning board spent four years crafting guidelines that would ensure new development is in keeping with the town’s character, but the plan has gotten a lukewarm reception from the majority on the town board.

The town board must ultimately sign off on the new standards, and Walker called the lack of interest from the board disappointing. But, Walker hopes a public hearing on Nov. 21 will show that most people in town support more progressive appearance rules.

“I think a lot of people want this,” Walker said.

— Becky Johnson contributed to this story.


Upcoming elections

During the next week, area residents will travel to the polls to vote for their future leaders into office. Early voting began last week and ends this Saturday in Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties.

Residents of Waynesville, Canton and Maggie Valley:

Early voting will take place on Elmwood Way beside the former Bargains building in Waynesville. The polls will be open form 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday and from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

Residents of Sylvia and Forest Hills:

Voters can cast their early ballots at 401 Grindstaff Cove Road in Sylva. The polls will be open from 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday

Residents of Franklin and Highlands:

Early voting will take place at 5 West Main Street in Franklin from 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday thru Friday and from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday.

Residents of Swain County towns do not have the option to vote early this election.

Election Day

Polls open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 7:30 p.m.

Check with your local Board of Elections for voting locations.


Hide your posters; hide your signs. Somebody might sneak on your property and snatch all your election signs up.

The Maggie Valley Police Department is looking for an unidentified white male who has been seen stealing elections signs from an individual’s yard.

“We haven’t got any information yet,” said Detective Archie Shuler. “We’ve not been able to identify him yet.”

Based on the picture, the police do know that the man is elderly and stole at least one sign about 7 a.m. on Oct. 18. Although other signs have been reported missing throughout town, the male was photographed stealing an “Elect Roger McElroy Mayor” sign.

Anyone with information concerning the larceny is asked to contact the Maggie Valley police.

828.926.4950 or


The Haywood County Tourism Board was hoping for a 15 percent increase in occupancy tax collection this August, but what it saw was a 20 percent decline.

“The August numbers aren’t good,” said Lynn Collins, director of the tourism agency.

It brought in $93,646 from its 4 percent tax on overnight lodging this August. However, it had projected that it would raise at least $114,442 — a 20 percent different.

“A lot of it has to do with the increase I projected for August,” Collins said. “If you look at it in comparison to last year, it doesn’t look as bad as it does compared to budget.”

When compared to last year, the decrease is only 7 percent, or almost $5,000.

Collins said she predicted an increase because of the number of area sporting events, including the Blue Ridge Breakaway and the Maggie Valley Moonlight Run. High gas prices and the economy continue to negatively affect the tourism board’s occupancy tax numbers, she said.

Despite the decline, Collins said she remains optimistic that things will improve.

“I feel good about it,” Collins said.

The tourism agency will not adjust its projections or make any cuts until January, she said.

At its quarterly meeting earlier this month, the tourism board began discussing ways to find vacation home renters who are evading the county’s lodging tax.

Collins is currently looking into software from the Virginia-based company VRCompliance, which searches the Internet for property listings and identifies rentals that are not paying the room tax.

The agency is also looking for more effective ways to censure businesses or renters who know about the tax but do not pay it. The tax doesn’t come out the lodgers’ revenue but is supposed to be added to the bill of those renting a room or house.


Although work has barely begun, the replacement of Park Street Bridge in Canton has already hit a delay.

The project was previously slated for completion on Nov. 5, 2012, but the date has been pushed back to Dec. 1. The hiccup was caused by a delay in rerouting the utilities running adjacent to the bridge, said Mitchell Bishop, an engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

DOT knows which utilities must be moved before a contractor is awarded a project, and ideally, the lines are relocated before construction begins. However, sometimes, that is not possible, Bishop said.

Department of Transportation agents in Raleigh must work with myriad utility companies to move the cable, fiber, telephone and electrical lines either before or during project.

“We knew the water and sewer was going to be rerouted,” Bishop said, adding that the overhead power lines running along the bridge could not be moved until after the project began.

The actual razing and replacing of the Park Street bridge will not begin until the first couple weeks of November.

The bridge was built in 1924 and will cost about $3.5 million to replace.

The reconstruction will slow traffic on downtown Canton’s busiest one-way streets, Main and Park, which run parallel to each other. Cars typically leave Canton via the Park Street bridge and enter the town using the Main Street bridge. However, the project will require Main Street become a two-way street while the other bridge is closed. A dog-leg detour will reroute traffic around the construction.


Just beyond the large glass doors and computer paper “Coming Soon” signs, Clark Williams is filling kegs with his flagship brews.

“Getting open is the challenge right now,” Williams said, who is anxious to see people socializing at Frog Level Brewing Company in Waynesville.

Although it is technically a bar, Williams said he wants the brewery to be more — a family friendly establishment. In addition to beer, Frog Level will sell kids’ drinks such as root beer. Since the brewery will not sell food, Williams suggests ordering a pizza for delivery or picking up some Happy Meals to eat while both adults and kids enjoy their drinks.

The brewery also plans to have music Fridays and Saturdays and offer indoor corn hole.

There is no definitive opening date, but when it does open in the next few weeks, Frog Level will be the first brew house in Haywood County — one of three west of Asheville and one of 51 breweries in the state, according to the North Carolina Brewers Guild.

“I am trying to saturate the restaurants (with kegs) first, and that’s proved to be quite hard to do,” Williams said.

The brewery began selling kegs to local restaurants, including Bourbon Barrel Beef and Ale in Hazelwood and The Gateway Club in Waynesville in mid-October. A week later, the brewery had already sold 32 kegs.

Williams said he loves seeing people purchasing his beer. No one is forcing them to drink it or giving them free samples; they drink it because they like what he has to offer.

“That’s a part of this I never thought of,” he said. “It’s damn satisfying.”

For about a year, Williams sampled his various brews at The Gateway Club before settling on three beers — Lily’s Cream Boy, Catcher in the Rye and the Tadpole Porter. Tasters filled out anonymous comment cards that Williams used to figure out which of his concoctions consumers liked best.

Williams’ wife, Jenny, named the beers. Catcher in the Rye, also the name of a famous novel by J.D. Salinger, is brewed with rye, making it lighter than a traditional IPA.

“Ours is so not standard that I hesitate to call it an IPA,” Williams said.

The Tadpole Porter is an English-style ale made with sorghum from Buncombe County, and its name is an obvious reference to the business’ frog-theme.

The third brew has a more personal name. Lily is the mother of Fuzzy, a cream-colored hairless cat owned by the Williams’, hence the name Lily’s Cream Boy. The lightest of its three beers, it is brewed with flaked corn.

“It’s a microbrewery’s answer to a lager,” Williams said.

A beer takes four hours to brew, 14 to 20 days to ferment and another two or three days to carbonate in the kegs. With the exception of the grain, which is currently not grown in North Carolina, all of Frog Level’s beers are made solely with ingredients from within the state or even the county. The brewery buys its hops from Winding River Hops in Clyde.

“I don’t want to be the next Sam Adams,” Williams said. “I want to be the Haywood County brewery.”

In addition to its three regular brews, Williams plans to brew rare kegs throughout

the year. He will sell three rare kegs to area restaurants and one will be available on tap at Frog Level. Possible rare kegs include a banana wheat beer; Autumn Harvest, made with apples, honey and cinnamon; and Bug-eyed Stout, with of espresso beans from Panacea Coffee Company.

Kegs cost $75, while a glass of beer will cost $4. For the same price as a glass, customers can try four 4-ounce samples of Frog Level’s brews.

For now, the bar will only have four frog leg-shaped taps —three for the flagship beers and one for rare brews — but Williams hope to add a fifth “guest” tap that will feature beer from other North Carolina breweries.

Pulling from his surroundings — a creek and its tree-covered banks out back — Williams brings that same earthy, rustic feel inside his brewery.

A painted river runs along the floor, flowing into a giant pool. The walls are red brick or red-painted plaster, featuring pieces for sale from Ridge Runners Naturals. The bar itself is about four feet tall with a wood top and corrugated sheet metal around the base.

Behind the bar, Williams’ office door reads “Dawg,” a nickname his wife calls him.

Through green, glass doors a wood porch with picnic seating affords a view of Richland Creek that runs through Frog Level.

“Look at this place. Why wouldn’t you want to brew beer here?” Williams said, calling Frog Level the local underdog. His goal is to bring more life to the area, he said.

During the day, Williams, 37, works at down the street at Giles Chemical. Nights and weekends, he spends at the brewery, making beer and prepping for its imminent opening. The retired Marine has lived in the area his entire life and brewed beer for the last four or five years.

His vacations have always included breweries, Williams said, but it wasn’t until his visit to New Mexico that he decided to open one of his own.

“I want to get up early and love to come to work,” he said.



Monday thru Wednesday 2 to 6:30 p.m.

Thursday thru Saturday 2 to 8:30 p.m.


Other stops on the microbrewery trail west of Asheville

• Heinzelmannchen Brewery, Sylva on Mill Street

• Nantahala Brewing Company, Bryson City on Depot Street


From no breweries to three:

Two other breweries are planning to open in Waynesville in the next year.

• HeadWaters Brewing Company

• Tipping Point Tavern


Less than two weeks after the Bryson City Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to fire Fire Chief Joey Hughes, state officials searched his home as part of an ongoing investigation into whether he misdirected funds.

Investigators with the North Carolina Department of Insurance and State Bureau of Investigation seized paperwork, two computers and a collection of checks, stamps and envelopes from the Hughes’ home on Hyatt Creek Road in Bryson City earlier this month.

The town has since named a new fire chief, Brent Arvey.

Hughes is under investigation for misusing money donated to the fire department’s fundraising arm. Suspicion around Hughes’ actions arose after he repeatedly ignored requests from town officials to see the financial records after being tipped off to problems by a whistleblower within the department.

Records reveal that:

• Money collected during fundraising drives went unaccounted for and otherwise disappeared from the books.

• The fundraising arm did not have a board of directors. A sham board existed only on paper.

• Hughes singly acted as treasurer of the fundraising accounts and denied repeated requests from volunteer firemen during the years to share financial information.

The following is an account, taken from three search warrants, of the town’s mounting suspicions and the subsequent investigation into Hughes’ off-the-books accounts.

May 14

Town officials were tipped off by a whistleblower that Hughes might be misappropriating donations to the fire department. A former volunteer firefighter, Mitch Cooper, who had left the fire department in June 2010, came forward with concerns and was interviewed by Assistant Police Chief Greg Jones.

“Cooper stated concerns that donated funds, as well as other monies obtained by the fire department were not being maintained, accounted for, or properly used as intended,” according to a sworn statement from Jones.

The former fireman also said monthly financial reports were not being given to members of the fire department, as required, and the documents were not available upon request either.

Jones then followed up with the former fire department treasurer Teddy Petersen, who said he stopped handling the finances after Hughes transferred all the funds to a different bank. During that time, Hughes and local town officials had a dispute over how the fire department was run.

According to state law, all funds given to the fire department, including donations and money from fundraisers, are supposed to be kept by the town. However, Hughes refused to provide the town with the department’s financial records, according to Jones’ statement.

June 9

Town Attorney Fred Moody submitted a written request to Hughes asking him to provide the town Board of Aldermen with seven years of financial records from the Bryson City Fire Department and its local relief fund, the fundraising arm for the fire department. Donations were funneled into one of two accounts: “Friends of Firemen” or “Bryson City Volunteer Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary.”

June 13

Hughes replied to the town, saying the fire department had not had a bank account since Jan. 1, 2000. His letter conflicted with reports filed with the N.C. Fireman’s Association over the past decade, which listed Hughes as the treasurer. The reports stated that donations to the local relief fund were invested in a money market account, although failed to list an account number.

July 15

Bryson City Mayor Brad Walker asked Police Chief Rick Tabor to look into the Bryson City Volunteer Fire Department’s accounts. Walker said citizen had inquired about the run down fire department and their donations.

August 19

Police seized bank records, including statements, signature cards and canceled checks, associated with the accounts “Friends of Firemen” and “Ladies Auxiliary.”

During his investigation, Jones found several checks written to the fire department had been deposited into these bank accounts without the town’s knowledge or proper accounting.

“This account is being used to secret fire department funds from the eyes of the Town Alderman and or the public,” Jones reported.

Jones also found that only Cylena Hughes, the fire chief’s wife, was able to access the “Ladies Auxiliary” account. Wendy Peterson, Heather Wiggins, Cylena or Hughes could sign for a separate “Friends of the Firemen” account that had recently existed at United Community Bank.

September 23

The town board unanimously votes to fire Hughes.

September 26

The district attorney’s office asked the State Bureau of Investigation to assist in the investigation.

September 29

As part of the investigation, Tom Ammons, an official with the State Bureau of Investigation, interviewed current and former Bryson City volunteer firemen.

Wayne Henry Dover, a volunteer firefighter for 17 years, told Ammons that after he was named to the department’s executive board in 2010, other firemen approached him with questions about financial records and where the department’s money was spent. When Dover brought their questions to the Hughes, he was told that everything was under control and he did not need to see the records.

About one year ago, Hughes informed the board that both of the accounts were closed. Then, in August when Dover asked to review the bank statements, Hughes gave the department’s executive board handwritten notes about the accounts.

Dover also stated that Hughes lied when he said the department had only raised $600 during Fireman’s Day in October 2010.

David Zalva, a member of the department since 2008, helped count the funds raised on Fireman’s Day. The fire department had collected about $4,800, said Zalva in an interview with Ammons.

According to Ammons’ statement, Cooper also inquired about the department’s finances and received only fabricated pieces of paper stating what was spent and how much money was left, according to his interview.

Most of the firemen interviewed said they did not know the Bryson City Fire Department had a relief fund.

However, Douglas Woodard, a volunteer firefighter since 1998, said Hughes led a strike over the account eight or nine years ago.

As of 2002, Hughes was listed as treasurer of the Relief Fund Board, according to annual reports filed with the State Fireman’s Association. Charles Killebrew was listed as chairman of the board.

Killebrew told Chet Effler, an investigator with the State Department of Insurance, that Hughes asked him to serve on the board. Killebrew stated that he never attended any meetings for the board, however, nor saw any annual reports or ever acted as chairman.

“Before the strike, bank statements could be seen, and Ed Watson was the treasurer,” according to Ammons’ statement. “After the strike, account information was never submitted to the membership for review. There was no treasurer.”


Four years ago, candidates for office in Canton wanted new faces. Two years ago, their platforms were cooperation. And this year, business development and recreation are the common threads among candidates.

“I think we also need to look at doing our best to attract new residents to Canton and new businesses to Canton as well,” said Patrick Willis, who is spearheading StepUp Canton, a program aimed at spurring economic growth in the town.

Willis, who ran unsuccessfully two years ago, said Canton needs to market its assets: its comparatively cheap property values, its friendly atmosphere and its family-oriented recreation.

All the candidates shared a similar desire to revitalize downtown Canton.

The town should also work with existing businesses to improve the appearance of local storefronts through grants to owners willing to redo their façades, said Alderman Ed Underwood.

“It’s just got to be a cooperative effort,” he said. Underwood cited his personal effort to improve the town’s appearance by picking up trash once a week while walking through town with his wife.

The candidates emphasized some form of combined effort between the town and business owners, many of them discussing the need for a business or merchant’s association to serve as a driving force for commerce.

When current Alderman Jimmy Flynn ran for office two years ago, he pressed for the creation of a business association, he said.

“That is what I will continue to push every chance I get,” Flynn said.

Fellow candidate Phil Smathers said such an association is key if the town hopes to bring specialty shops to Canton’s Main Street and beautify its downtown.

“Certainly, everybody’s moving for progress,” Smathers said. “We are expecting big things to eventually come.”

A couple of candidates even mentioned offering incentives to draw businesses to the area.

“We’re going to have to work as a team to get things going,” said candidate Cecil Patton.

Patton said the town must work with property owners and businesses to fill the empty storefronts along Main Street.

Stanley Metcalf also said he would like to see more local businesses on Main Street, adding that it is difficult to own a business in Canton, but incentives might entice people to open a store.

“In my opinion, Canton is an unfriendly business town,” said Metcalf, who owns a lawn care service.

It seems every time a business does something to promote itself, such as place a sign on the sidewalk, it breaks an ordinance, he added.

Willis and Underwood, another candidate and current alderman, both cited updating the town’s website as an important tool for promoting Canton to prospective businesses and residents.

“That gets the word out,” Underwood said.

Recreation reconstruction

From replacing its aging pool to lining up acts to play in the historic Colonial Theatre, Canton board candidates agree that the town needs to step up its focus on recreation.

“We’re going to have to take a hard look at that pool,” Underwood said. “We’ve got to have that pool.”

Flynn agrees that the pool needs to be replaced — a cost of more than $1 million.

The swimming pool only has about three years of life left in it, said Flynn, who wants to start a recreation fund to save money for the replacement. Flynn said the town should start other reserve funds for future projects as well.

Adding lighting to the ballpark complex, creating more paths for pedestrians and cyclists and repairing the pool are among Smathers’ list for recreation improvements.

One of Patton’s main campaign goals is to increase activities for kids and seniors. He said the town should offer games and keep the pool open later so that there is not a shortage of recreation opportunities for either age group.

The past two years

Canton has an unusual election cycle: all four town board members plus the mayor are up for election every two years. Two years ago, a slate of three new candidates prevailed in the election. A similar upset was seen four years ago. The widespread dissatisfaction that drove those elections does not seem as prevalent this year, however.

“I’ve got all respect in the world for the board that is in there now,” said Smathers, a challenger in the race. “To me, it’s been one of the best boards that has been seated in Canton in years.”

Smathers said he is not looking to oust one of the current board members. Instead, he is running for the seat currently held by Alderman Eric Dills, who is not in the race this year. Smathers was a longtime town employee and cited his experience working with the town budget.

“I am running on experience as an asset,” Smathers said.

Other candidates had more mixed reviews of the current town board, however, questioning whether it has accomplished enough.

Willis said if elected, he wants to work with other board members to create short- and long-term goals, which the town can work toward.

“I have not seen or heard what direction the town wants to go with,” Willis said, adding that he thinks the board can accomplish much more than it has in the past couple of years.

“Not everybody is going to agree on every issue … but if there is common goals that the board can come up with then they should work to get those goals accomplished,” Willis said.

Willis, who chose Canton as the place to raise his family, wants to see the town develop in a positive way.

Metcalf said he thinks the most recent board has done “a pretty decent job,” but he would not care if the whole board were replaced.

He would like to see more local people get involved, he said.

Currently, the Board of Aldermen holds its meetings at 10 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month and 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Metcalf said he wants to change the time to make it more convenient for local residents to attend.

The incumbents running for re-election pledged to continue on the same course.

“For me and Jimmy and Kenny, we’ll continue working together (if we are re-elected),” Underwood said. “We haven’t kicked the can down the road.”

“I think we’ve been very progressive,” Flynn added.

Underwood said there is more they would like to accomplish, however, after coming on the board just two years ago.

“You couldn’t do everything in two years,” Underwood said.

The board began and will continue its sidewalk and street repair work, said Underwood and Flynn.

This board has spent more money on roads, fixing potholes and paving, than any other board in the past 10 years, Flynn said. It has cut expenses, held the tax rate steady and combined staff positions when an employee retired or quit to save money, he said.

The town has also begun replacing the sewer line along Champion Drive around exit 31 off Interstate 40. The line was undersized and as a result, lacked capacity for new businesses. Replacing the line had been a top goal of aldermen who were elected two years ago.

Kenneth Holland, a current alderman who is also running for re-election, did not return multiple calls requesting an interview.


Alderman: pick four


Ed Underwood, 62, retired army lieutenant colonel and retired state prison guard, current town board member

• Continue street and sidewalk repairs

• Clean up the town, including façade improvements

• Replace the pool


Jimmy Flynn, 61, safety director for Buckeye Construction Company and retired assistant town manager, current town board member

• Create a recreation capital reserve fund

• Establish a business association

• Keep tax rates down


Phil Smathers, 64, retired fireman and building inspector

• Start a downtown business association

• Improve local recreation, including adding more paths for pedestrians and cyclists and lighting at the ballpark

• Beautify downtown Canton


Cecil Patton, 84, retired Army sergeant

• Offer more activities for the elderly and children

• Maintain current local tax rates

• Work to keep businesses in Canton


Stanley Metcalf, 54, owner of Metcalf and Associates Lawn Care Services

• Make Canton more business friendly

• Change the board’s meeting time to promote more resident involvement

• Award contracts to in-state businesses


Patrick Willis, 31, historic interpreter at Thomas Wolfe National Historic Site

• Improve the town’s website

• Increase communication between businesses and local officials

• Market the town’s assets to draw new residents and businesses


Kenneth Holland, 64, retired pharmacist, current town board member.

• Holland did not return phone calls requesting an interview.


Mayor: pick one


Mike Ray, a former Canton alderman, is running unopposed. Current mayor Pat Smathers is stepping down after 12 years.


Waynesville mayor: Pick one


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Waynesville town board: Pick four


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mary Ann Enloe, 70, retired Dayco senior purchasing agent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have a lot to offer,” Enloe said.

As for her view of elected leaders?

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


Sam Edwards, 57, substitute teacher and GED instructor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Freeman is billing herself as a pro-business candidate.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Suitcase in hand, freshman Jared Conrad was ready to move into his box and prepare for the night to come.

The day was plagued with off and on rain — a concern for Conrad and other Tuscola High School students who would later spend the night out in the elements with little more than a cardboard box and a sleeping bag to protect them.

The Waynesville high school’s SWAT, or Students Will Achieve Together, team has held the event, which raises money and awareness for the homeless and poor, for four years.

The team raised about $2,500 this year, said teacher Cindy Shipman, the event’s coordinator. All the proceeds go toward the “Share the Warmth” program, which helps those who cannot afford to pay their electric bill.

“I needed something crazy to do to help people,” Shipman said jokingly.

This year, the boxes were decorated with business names, including Burger King, Wal-mart, the Maggie Valley Club and Waffle House — which were among more than 30 businesses to donate money or food to the event.

The renovated boxes provide shelter for the students as they tell stories, roast marshmallows and, if they are lucky, sleep. While most of the makeshift homes were simple, some students taped two boxes together for a roomier feel; one was complete with a hanging lamp and skylight; and another was painted to look like a castle.

Freshmen Faith Jaynes and Brittney Webb said they were nervous but would have fun no matter what.

“I know how it is to be cold and stuff, but I don’t know how it is to be homeless,” Jaynes said.

The night was part of an area effort to keep the disadvantaged warm and fed during the winter months.

Earlier this month, students and fans donated canned goods in honor of their favorite team at the Pisgah-Tuscola football game. Pisgah collected 2,746 lbs, and Tuscola donated 4,301 lbs.

“It makes you feel better more and more each year,” said junior Jenny West, who has participated for the past three years.

Like many of her fellow students, West said she enjoys helping people. However, teacher Deb Wright thinks the students participate because of something more.

“I think it is the novelty of the thing,” Wright said.

And, although Shipman was concerned the rain might sully their boxes, the sky remained relatively clear and throughout the night temperatures ranged from 52 to 55 degrees — not nearly as cold as a previous year when it snowed.


The Town of Waynesville might join the 60 percent of local governments in North Carolina that have adopted a formal business incentive policy.

Mayor Gavin Brown introduced the notion of a policy at last week’s town board meeting. He suggested instituting a similar policy to that of Haywood County. The county commissioners passed incentive guidelines in 2004, partly to avoid making a subjective call about when to offer an incentive.

The policy would offer varying tax incentives depending on how much a company spends on equipment or building costs and how many jobs it creates. It would act as a guideline for businesses interested in moving to the area, Brown said. The policy would not force the town to offer specific tax breaks or other incentives.

“The rules favor incentives,” Brown said. “If you don’t have incentives, you can’t get in the game.”

The cost of developing land in Haywood County can deter businesses. The county purchased 10 acres for the County Industrial Park in the early 90s, Brown said. The cost of grading out the land raised the price about $10,000 an acre. The county is marketing the land for $40,000 per acre, which is expensive when a business can purchase a similar tract for about $5,000 an acre in South Carolina, he said.

Possible tax breaks could give potential businesses another reason not to discount the town.

“It can tip the scale,” Brown said.

Waynesville has previously offered businesses lower water and electricity rates as informal incentives.

In the past, the town has also applied for a grant from the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center on behalf of Haywood Vocational Opportunities because, as a nonprofit, it is not eligible for such funding. The money was used to expand HVO’s medical supply factory.

The vast majority — 95 percent — of North Carolina counties offer some form of incentives, an increase from 83 percent in 2010.

The county’s policy offers up to five consecutive years of property tax breaks but requires a capital investment of at least $500,000 and creation of at least 15 jobs.

The incentive policy would focus mainly on attracting new businesses and would include a claw-back clause if the company fails to meet the requirements.

“I think what this policy would do is say Waynesville is business friendly,” Brown said.

Brown said he hopes to vote on an incentive policy next meeting.


The Waynesville town board has hired a search firm to help with its hunt for a new town manager.

The board hired Developmental Associates LLC to coordinate the search, which will cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

Town Manager Lee Galloway will officially retire in April, but will stay on until summer so that he can train his successor and help steer the town through the critical spring budget process.

In mid-November, Stephen Straus, president of Developmental Associates, will visit Waynesville to meet with the board, residents and stakeholders. Straus will gather a list of traits and skills that applicants for the town manager position should possess.

The town manager oversees all of Waynesville’s departments, including the police, utilities and finance offices. Although his decisions are subject to approval by the Board of Alderman, he hires all town personnel, directs much of the day-to-day operations and is an opinion leader within the town. He must work with a variety of people, as the make-up of many local committees and boards change.

Because the town manager plays such a vital role, the board made the decision to hire a search firm and solicit public opinion.

“This is not like somebody sitting in a downtown office in Charlotte,” said Alderwoman Libba Feichter. “We are all neighbors here.”

The search firm will advertise the position nationally, though most applications will come from people who live in the state.

Galloway will be hard to replace, however.

“I think we need to realize that we will not find another Lee Galloway,” said Feichter, who has served on the town board for about 12 years.

The town will need to find someone with his or her own special talent, someone who will be a part of the community, she said.

Galloway has served as the town manager for 17 years. He could see advancing economic trouble and was able to lead the town and the board through tough financial times, Feichter said.

He also has the ability to find the perfect person who fits a job, she said, calling it one of his “most phenomenal” skills. Galloway has hired several notable local officials, including Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed and Electric Superintendent Philip Wyatt.

“You can look at who that person hired and figured out what type of person they are,” Feichter said. “He has been a phenomenal source of strength and understanding.”

Once the applicants have been narrowed down to fewer than 10, the remaining will undergo tests intended to reveal strengths and weaknesses. The three or four individuals with the highest scores will complete case studies, and the pool will again be narrowed. The board will then interview the finalists.

The board hopes to hire a new town manager by March, said Galloway.

All five seats on the town board are up for election in November. Feicther is not running for re-election, so there will be at least one new member on the board by the time it makes a decision.


Crafting cornhusk dolls is a far cry from mass-producing blue surgical drapes, but one local non-profit made that leap in a matter of about four years.

Today Haywood Vocational Opportunities LLC employs 365 people — more than a third of whom are mentally or physically disabled. Its mission is to bring disabled people and jobs together, whether the position is with HVO or another employer.

“We want to put people in a real working environment,” said George Marshall, who has served as HVO’s president for nearly 30 years.

The Haywood County nonprofit trains disabled clients to hold down jobs in the real world, from the importance of getting to work on time to job-specific skills such as how to buff floors.

Meanwhile, the business side of the company manufactures a variety of medical supplies, including IV bags and surgical instrument covers, for about 40 customers worldwide. A majority of its business focuses on making sanitized surgical drapes similar to the one’s dentists place on a patient’s chest during teeth cleanings.

HVO is more than a business with a philanthropic bent — it is a charitable organization first and foremost that funds its mission through its manufacturing line.

“Our business enterprise is here to support our mission,” said Jeff Ledford, the nonprofit’s business development manager.

When HVO was founded in 1972, it had just six clients who spent their days make crafts such as cornhusk dolls to sell.

But, Fred Spencer, who served as the non-profit’s director from 1973 to 1975, had bigger ideas. He began knocking on doors and cold-calling companies looking for outsourced work for his clients. The person who happened to take him up on the offer needed belt loops and ties for disposable surgical gowns.

“We knew state and federal dollars … could not provide and would not over the long-term,” Marshall said.

Almost 96 percent of HVO’s revenue comes from production sales.

During fiscal year 2010, HVO reported $30.1 million in revenue — up from about $27.2 million the previous year, according to its federal nonprofit tax form. By comparison, its expenses were only $28.9 million — a gain of more than $1.3 million.

The impressive increase in revenue is likely a result of additional sales and grants related to its expansion into the old Wellco plant in Hazelwood, according to Beth Chittum, HVO’s market research analyst.

In September 2010, HVO bought the closed-down boot factory and turned it into a satellite facility, located just half a mile from its main headquarters off Hazelwood Avenue. The expansion created 32 jobs.

As a non-profit, HVO is also eligible for government funding.

The company received $740,749 in government grants during fiscal year 2010, some of that again related and an additional $350,363 in funding from other sources. It received only $490,010 in government money during the prior fiscal year.

Since 1972, the nonprofit has expanded to serve about 250 clients with disabilities annually, and has continued to grow its medical supplies business.

The nonprofit has averaged 10 to 12 percent growth each year, Marshall said.

“That’s pretty strong,” he said.

Business continued to grow despite the recession, Marshall said, adding that HVO was fortunate to get into a niche medical market.

“We backed into this one,” he said. “I have not seen our business in this healthcare industry really affected.”

There is no ceiling for HVO’s potential growth even though it restricts Marshall’s ability to engage with the clients on a daily basis.

“Growth has taken me further and further away from that daily business of HVO,” he said. “I would love to be active literally in our work areas.”

Although Marshall himself cannot spend everyday with HVO’s clients, the nonprofit employs three job specialists who work one-on-one with clients and follow-up with those who have graduated from its training program. The specialists help clients find what type of work they are interested in doing and teaches them the necessary skills needed to function in the workplace.

Clients who are in training receive a stipend, which is less than the salary of a full-time employee who has completed the program. HVO declined to comment on how much its employees are paid.

During the past three years, HVO has hired 52 of the 128 clients that it has placed in jobs after graduating from the training program.

The nonprofit offers a blended workforce of everyday people and individuals with disabilities. The one similarity among all the workers are hairnets and light blue smocks, which are required to maintain a sanitary workplace. Walls are also lined with nametags and hooks for each employee to hang his or her smock at the end of the day.

Because it manufactures medical supplies, the Food and Drug Administration audits the nonprofit. To keep up with federal sanitation requirements, HVO takes a number of precautions, from simply washing hands to air lock doors for some rooms.

Employees pass through an automated door into a small holding chamber, where they wait for the door behind them to close before the next one opens. This restricts the airflow into the room and helps prevent contamination. Visitors must stay behind a bold yellow line on the concrete floor so they do not contaminate the workspace, and several rooms can only be entered if a person is wearing a hairnet and smock.


‘Good training program’

Although HVO does hire some of its clients, others have obtained jobs at Ingles, Burger King and Goodwill, among other businesses.

Ingles grocery store off Russ Avenue currently has three or four employees who completed training at HVO, said manager Jeff Henderson.

“They always had a good training program, and they would work with them on-site too,” Henderson said. “It has always been a hands on effort for them; so, we were proud to be a part of that.”

Companies who hire disabled employees receive a federal tax credit. The amount of the credit depends on the company’s tax bracket and how much the employer pays in wages.

HVO’s older clients who work part-time or can no longer work can join the Learning and Enrichment program, where they spend time making crafts, gardening, cooking and volunteering.

Many of the nonprofit’s employees and clients volunteer in some way — with Meals on Wheels, MANNA FoodBank and others.

“We need to contribute back to the community,” Marshall said.

After receiving funding from the United Way for 15 or more years, HVO is now one of the largest contributors to the local United Way, he said.

Clients particularly enjoy ringing bells for the Salvation Army at Walmart and K-mart because they are able to interact with area residents.

“I think (HVO is) tremendously helpful to the community,” said Larry Clark, who has served on the non-profit’s nine-member board of directors for three years. “It’s a story that really hasn’t been told.”


Thirty years and no end in sight

George Marshall is the one constant at Haywood Vocational Opportunities LLC, which has continued to grow during his almost 30 years as its president. And, he doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.

“I enjoy what I do,” said Marshall, who can easily be described as a man married to his job.

He is the face of HVO, representing it both around the state and nationally. Marshall, who earns $173,511 a year, focuses on the big picture, guiding the organization’s expansion and mission.

“I’ll say this about him because he won’t; George is very well-respected in the community,” said Beth Chittum, HVO’s market research analyst. She agreed that Marshall will never retire.

During his tenure, HVO has grown from a tiny medical supplies operation into a stable business whose products are shipped globally.

“George Marshall runs a great place down there,” said Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown.

While teaching in Swain County in 1978, Marshall applied for an instructor position in the continuing education department at Haywood Community College. The job was within HVO, which, at the time, was part of the local college.

“This was when we were just really developing our work, our business enterprise operations,” Marshall said.

His background in industrial education and career development ended up lending itself well to the position, and within about six months, Marshall became the nonprofit’s first operations manager. From there, he was named president of the organization in June 1982.

Marshall has the longest tenure of any HVO leader by a wide margin, having working there for about 33 years. The prior directors stayed in their positions for fewer than eight years; the first retired after just six months on the job.

“(Marshall) provides great leadership,” said Larry Clark, who chairs HVO’s nine-member Board of Directors. “When he speaks of passion for what he does, I think it’s a true statement.”

A humble man, Marshall would rather be on the ground floor of HVO’s operations than in his office overseeing the company’s budget.

“I would love to be active literally in our work areas,” Marshall said. “That’s where I started; that’s my background; and that’s what I enjoy the most.”

But, as the nonprofit continues to grow, Marshall gets further away from the daily business of HVO. He said he is disappointed that he cannot enjoy as much face-to-face interact with clients as he did in the past.


The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority is looking for ways to help the Blue Ridge Parkway trim its chronic overgrowth troubles.

The parkway doesn’t have the money or resources to regularly trim trees that encroach upon its many overlooks, a persistant problem over the years further exacerbated by federal budget cuts. The natural vantage points are one of the top tourist draws along the parkway.

The Haywood tourism agency feared the overgrown overlooks would mean less visitors traveling the scenic road, and several years ago came up with the idea of paying to cut the trees itself. But budget concerns of its own have prevented the tourism entity from sticking with its tree-cutting campaign consistently.

At its meeting last Wednesday, the tourism board talked about a couple of different approaches it could take in the coming year to cut the overgrowth.

The county tourism agency is considering giving the parkway money to hire seasonal workers for two months. The parkway could use its existing seasonal maintenance staff and simply extend their contract by an additional two months to focus on overlook clearing. For those two months, the workers would focus specifically on the appearance of Haywood County’s nearly 70 overlooks.

“The parkway hires those people (seasonal employees) to start in May, and what we might consider doing is paying to bring them on in March and pay them for March and April,” said Lynn Collins, director to the tourism agency.

The total cost for the additional months depends on how many seasonal employees the parkway hires, Collins said. The tourism agency would give the parkway $6,500 per employee and must give the parkway a commitment by January.

Agency officials also contemplated working with Haywood Community College’s forestry students or friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the makeover and maintain the overlooks.


As early as next week, the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority will launch the latest addition to its “See yourself in the Smokies” campaign — a mobile website and a personalized QR code.

Currently, when people visit the county’s tourism website whether via a smart phone or computer, they are directed to the same place. However, within the next few weeks, the tourism agency expects to launch a new website especially designed for viewing on mobile phones. The website will contain similar information about what to do and where to stay in Haywood County, but its layout will be more phone friendly.

“We are definitely ahead of the curb on this one,” said Steve Duginske, interactive media and communications manager for the county tourism authority.

The mobile website will cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

For considerably less money, the tourism board has also purchased a QR, or quick response, code.

QR codes, like barcodes, can be scanned by someone’s phone and used to direct people to more information instead of typing in a web page address or using a search engine.

The board has place its personalized QR code on promotional posters, which will be distributed throughout the county. When someone scans the code with a cell phone, it will direct the person to a digital business card. From the site, people can quickly access the agency’s YouTube channel, Facebook page, Twitter account and contact information. The code costs the TDA $48 a year.

Duginske updated the tourism board on both projects at its meeting last week as part of a social media workshop. By 2014, mobile Internet usage will surpass desktop computer Internet usage, according to the presentation.

The agency maintains Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn accounts, but it is also looking at expanding into other forms of social media, including FourSquare, Flickr and Instagram. FourSquare allows people to ‘check-in’ at specific locations, such as restaurants or hotels, and post reviews. Flickr and Instagram enable online photo sharing.

The agency also discussed a billboard shuffle to more directly tap the Atlanta market.

Haywood TDA will rent a new, lighted billboard on I-985 in the Atlanta area for $1,200 a month. It will split the cost and use of the new billboard with the Waynesville Inn and Cataloochee Ski Area. A billboard on U.S. 441 in Macon, the corridor traveled by tourists coming to WNC from the Atlanta area, will be dropped.


The Haywood County Tourism Development Authority may outsource its search for vacation home renters who are evading the county’s 4 percent tax on overnight lodging.

Lynn Collins, director of the tourism agency, plans to meet with Virginia-based software company VRCompliance over the next month. The company scours the Internet for property listings and helps identify renters in the county who are not collecting room tax.

The company would get a finder’s fee for each offender it tracks down that is brought into compliance, Collins said, but didn’t know exactly what that fee is yet.

Ferreting out people who rent their vacation homes under the radar is such a universal problem, VRCompliance, which stands for Vacation Rental Compliance, saw it as a business opportunity. It created software to search the web for vacation listings, and is now marketing that service to tourism agencies across the country trying to enforce the room tax.

Part of the problem is simply ignorance that vacation home rentals are subject to the overnight tax. Last month, the Haywood tourism agency announced a campaign to inform vacation homeowners that they are required to levy a 4 percent tax if they rent their property.

“That’s where the big money is,” said Ken Stahl, the board’s finance chair.

Stahl said he looked into cross-referencing local cabin addresses with the North Carolina Department of Revenue’s income tax records, but the department has not been willing to cooperate in the past.

And, even if the agency identifies properties skirting the tax law, the consequences — a fine or legal action — are still not enough to convince some to pay. While some are unaware of the law, other lodge owners are knowingly ignoring it, apparently collecting the tax from patrons but not passing it along to the county.

“Many of the hotels and motels feel that nothing is going to happen … because nothing has happened in the past,” said Marion Hamel of the Haywood County TDA.

During its meeting last Wednesday, the tourism board discussed other ways to enforce the tax law.

“We just got to have teeth,” said County Commissioner Michael Sorrells.

Among the options discussed were printing repeat offenders’ names in the newspaper and pulling their information from the board’s website and publication.

The county has previously used liens to bring people into compliance and mailed letters threatening legal action. Those who owe taxes also receive monthly bills.

“They know they’re not paying,” said Julie Davis, the finance officer for Haywood County.

The tax on overnight lodging is used for tourism promotions for the county. Haywood County collected about $135,198 in occupancy taxes this July — almost $10,800 less than the same period last year.

Stahl said the economy and a decline in tourism are responsible for the decrease.

“People say it’s not a double dip recession, but it sure feels like it,” he said.


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