Sometimes public comment just muddies the water

When Haywood county commissioners decided a few weeks ago to adopt new rules guiding public comment at their meetings, some cried foul. I wondered what took them so long.

The Smoky Mountain News and most of our brethren in the print news business in this region take very seriously our role as local government watchdogs. The very fact that there are so many newspapers in the mountains that retain what some might regard as an old-school attitude about this fourth estate tradition only means good things for readers and citizens. It’s rare that public officials in the mountains can stray from accepted rules of behavior and not get called out by someone, either in a news story, an editorial or column, or a letter to the editor from an irate constituent.

In my world order, that is just as it should be.

Treating as sacred the process of open government does not, however, mean that elected officials have to conduct their business amid a backdrop of incessant, often irrelevant, time-consuming complaints from their constituents. A true democracy can indeed be very messy, so it has to adopt rules to keep things both civil and efficient.

Of course elected officials, county commissioners included, have to listen to the public — especially when the public is pissed off about something they have done. It comes with the territory. If these new rules were in any way written so that it was obvious that the intent was to squelch public debate, then we’d be raising more hell than anyone.

In Haywood County, though, some meetings have been opened with up to two hours of comment on a wide variety of issues, some relevant and some very irrelevant. County employees, those with business before the board, and commissioners themselves have their time wasted. Often the public comment session is more about grandstanding than trying to get a word in with election officials about an important issue.

We will always be the first in line to stand up for the public’s right to open government, including access to elected officials. But we still have to go by rules that let government be as efficient as possible. The guidelines adopted by commissioners will at least keep the meetings moving along more smoothly.

And those with a beef can always take the time to meet privately with their elected officials. Truth be told, those one-on-one meetings will usually accomplish more than a few minutes at a podium during a commissioner meeting.

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It’s one of those seemingly contradictory ideas, but one that is wise: logging at the Waynesville watershed will provide environmental benefits.

The Waynesville watershed contains some of the purest water in the state, and the town has locked up nearly 8,000 acres in a conservation easement to protect its drinking water source. But that easement contained language that allows limited logging, and it was a controversial plan when it was approved in a 2005 by a 3-2 vote of aldermen.

Now the rubber is hitting the road, so to speak, as a plan to cut white pines on about 50 acres of the watershed is up for consideration by town leaders. Despite the worries of some that the logging will do more damage than good, the wise management of this watershed — including some logging — should make the forest healthier.

Yes, the town stands to reap some money from the logging. However, the agreement put in place five years ago does not allow town leaders to consider potential profit from logging as a factor in their management decisions.

Modern forestry and the old logging of bygone years are as different as night and day. This is a plan to make the forest healthier and thereby increase chances that the water in the reservoir will remain clean and viable as a drinking water source. It’s just a good idea.

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

The truth still matters, even in politics

Just tell the truth. That’s what we teach our children, it’s what we need from our loved ones, and it’s what we have to have from friends and co-workers. Without it, life’s a house of cards that won’t stand up.

During election season, though, truth gets twisted like a pretzel. What started as a fact becomes someone’s favorite sound bite, but the flavor has changed completely.

This is happening mightily right now in Jackson County. There are some folks who are working feverishly to oust incumbent county commissioners Brian McMahon, Tom Massie and William Shelton.

Anytime someone has been in office, opponents can certainly look at their record and come up with legitimate arguments for why they don’t want them to continue in that position. That is, they have a record of votes that opponents can stand against. That’s the democratic process, and it works.

But some of those writing letters to local papers and speaking up in public are twisting the facts. It’s not necessarily those running for office who are doing the damage. No, it’s mostly just average citizens who, in their zeal, may be just forgetful.

It’s tough enough to be an incumbent these days. According to the results of a Smoky Mountain News-WCU Public Policy Institute poll conducted in June, 46 percent of Jackson County voters have an unfavorable opinion of Jackson County government. The unfavorable ratings for the federal government among Jackson County voters is 62 percent.

First and foremost in the mistruths being bandied about in Jackson County is that the sitting commissioners have raised property taxes. They have not. The tax rate of 28 cents per $100 of valuation has not been raised, and in fact over the last decade as re-valuations have occurred, the actual tax rate has decreased.

Obviously, the amount of tax paid by individuals may have risen as their property values have gone up. No one is arguing that point. But counties are required by law to set property values at what is deemed a fair market value. There is a process for determining that value that is used throughout this state and pretty much the entire nation.

In other words, the value placed on someone’s property will be the same no matter who is in office. It’s not controlled by county commissioners, but by the market. Period. Anyone who can prove their home was valued otherwise will get a new valuation.

Another issue in which the facts are being twisted revolves around the temporary moratorium on subdivisions that was put in place for just over three months in 2007. Jackson County commissioners did not enact a building moratorium. Hundreds of subdivisions and thousands of lots already approved were not affected by this temporary measure. Private lots bought after the temporary moratorium were not affected.

The short-term moratorium on new subdivisions gave the county time to develop a subdivision ordinance that, as it turns out, is very reasonable.

And here is perhaps the accusation I find most ridiculous — that Jackson County commissioners are responsible for both the unemployment rate and the building slowdown in Jackson County. That is almost too crazy to even address.

The real estate and building industries are in a shambles in Jackson County, indeed. But it is the same in the entire state, the entire Southeast, the entire country, even most of the world. Banks are slowly crawling out of a credit crunch, and loans once easily available are simply gone. There is little building going on an anywhere. Hanging that on the Jackson commissioners just doesn’t stick.

The same with unemployment problem.

Editors like me are challenged to keep our facts straight. One of the most difficult arenas in which to do that is in our opinion pages. These pages are supposed to allow people to voice their own views, so editors take different approaches to editing submissions. I tend to lean toward letting people have their say.

But over the last few months, some of those writing have taken a few liberties with the truth. When that happens, sometimes it is just best to set the record straight. Call this an endorsement of truth. I always try to vote that way.

Judging a society by what it values

A lot of ink has been spilled over the new $10.3 million crafts education building at Haywood Community College, and for good reason. The building’s cost and its environmentally friendly energy-saving features were both somewhat controversial.

I’m among those who are guilty of contributing to the ink spill. We’ve run several stories, and three weeks ago I wrote a column supporting the building’s construction. My contention then was that the building’s features and costs had been adequately debated, questioned and some features fine-tuned, so it was time to move on. And that is exactly what commissioners did when they approved the building’s construction last week.

While the main thrust of all the arguments about the building have been very tangible, there are a couple of intangibles that are very relevant. In fact, these intangibles might, in the long run, be what is most important about this debate.

I’m a huge sports fan. I can watch 8-year-old girls playing AYSO soccer and totally get into the game, gauging each participant’s athleticism, the coach’s work in preparing the teams, and the demeanor of the parents. On the other hand, I can also stay engrossed in an NFL game where the participants are overpaid and often way too full of themselves. Once the game starts, that stuff mostly goes away and it’s all about the physical contest.

I bring this point up only because I’m among those who moan when we — society, government, whomever you want to put into this category — skimp on monuments to learning while we build extravagant sports stadiums and pay athletes crazy salaries. I know this is an overworked argument and that it’s always been this way. One has only to see the ruins of the Coliseum in Rome to know that this infatuation with games is very much a part of our history.

But guess what? Those ancients also lavished attention and resources on the arts and learning. So while the Coliseum is grand, you can visit Roman and Greek ruins wherever they exist and see vestiges of grand libraries and theaters. I clearly remember walking the marble road in Ephesus (Turkey) and seeing the great library (or its ruins) to which it led.

Our society is neglecting education and the arts. We have politicized education, the most damning of fates for something so valuable. The crafts building at HCC is certainly not any kind of extravagant monument, but I’m glad we’ve decided to make this building the number one building priority for Haywood Community College.

Another important point is that Western North Carolina is a place that values small businesses and self-sufficiency. The crafts program at HCC is unique in that it mixes arts and entrepreneurship. I personally know a half dozen or so graduates of the program, and they have built some of the most well-known arts and craft businesses in this region. They are important parts of the civic and social fabric of WNC and investing in this program is simply a reflection of what is best about our mountain region.

This whole debate, at one level, is about how we value arts and education. By my estimation, neither is given its proper place in mainstream American society these days. That’s a situation we need to correct.

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

A refreshing victory for what started as a grassroots effort

In this business of covering the news, we often bear witness as apathy wins the day. Citizens sit back and let elected leaders, powerful corporations or a boisterous minority get their way without putting up a fight.

That’s why the conclusion to the Duke-Kituwah standoff is so refreshing. It’s not so important that one side lost and the other won — although the decision to move the electrical substation does stand as a victory for opponents. But it was the effort by the citizens group and their zeal that should be remembered and emulated.

The electrical substation was slated to be built within sight of Kituwah, the location of the mother town of the Cherokee that is considered a sacred site by the tribe. As soon as plans became public, members of the tribe and nearby citizens raised a storm of protest. They began lobbying Cherokee tribal officials and Swain County officials to stop the utility’s plans.

As the controversy swirled, Duke held to its opinion that the entire project was necessary in order to benefit the tribe. The irony here was hard to miss — the substation would benefit Harrah’s expansion and thereby tribal coffers that rely on the casino, but would mar a sacred site central to the identity of the tribe.

Chief Michell Hicks and tribal officials took a firm stand. Early in the controversy Hicks had this to say of the proposed substation site and Duke’s communications with the tribe.

“The bottom line is it’s a disrespect to our tribe and a disrespect to the people of Swain County,” said Hicks.

As Duke relented, tribal cultural preservation officer Russ Townsend said it could set an important precedent.

“I hope it’s an example to other agencies that we deal with that our concerns are legitimate and there are often alternatives to finish a project without undermining our cultural concerns,” said Townsend.

But it’s Natalie Smith and the Citizens to Protect Kituwah Valley who deserve the most praise. The dedicated group lobbied tribal council and Swain commissioners while mobilizing a statewide media campaign. They refused to give up and from a very early stage and took the moral high road, a position that in most cases will win the day. It’s a lesson in grassroots organizing that hopefully will inspire others to stand up and fight when the time comes.

(Scott McLeod is the editor and publisher of The Smoky Mountain News. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Forest Hills and CuRvE could fulfill Cullowhee’s potential

A meeting that could lead to a completely new personality for the Cullowhee area will be finished by the time this hits the presses, but I’m hoping that the meeting gives fresh momentum to efforts to transform the Western Carolina University community.

A meeting was held last night (Aug. 3) between the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE) and the leaders and citizens of the town of Forest Hills. The Cullowhee group presented a formal proposal to Forest Hills to annex a portion of the community near the college. The move would effectively create a college town, putting portions of the Cullowhee community into the Forest Hills town limits. The move could pave the way for alcohol sales in bars and restaurants, and would offer strong land-use planning and access to state and federal grant money.

Such a move would be a stretch for both Forest Hills and the university community. Forest Hills has only 347 registered voters and was created as an enclave from the university. It is a haven where residents try to keep out some of the problems associated with college students, like loud parties and single-family residences crowded with 10 students and 10 cars parked in the street and yard.

Annexing around the university would give Forest Hills control of its destiny. It could create commercial and residential areas, working with the university as it plans for growth and change. There are lots of examples — Chapel Hill (UNC), Boone (ASU) and Greenville (ECU) — of small North Carolina towns working hand-in-hand with the local universities to create unique, livable and cool college towns. This is an opportunity to start down a similar path.

For many WCU professors and administrators, creating a lively business district around the college has been a long-time dream. Brian Railsback, an English professor and head of the Honors College, said he envisions old Cullowhee with new businesses and walkways and paths along the Tuckasegee River. Almost everyone who has ever spent time at WCU has had similar thoughts, imagining what old Cullowhee could be with some fresh investment and new businesses.

There is apparently a lot of support from the university for incorporating areas around WCU. The college town feel would certainly help attract students and professors, along with giving Jackson County and Forest Hills new sources of sales tax money.

In the end, this is really about fulfilling potential that has languished for decades. Forest Hills, WCU and the larger Cullowhee community are great places just as they are. But they could be much, much more. Here’s hoping this new dialogue opens some doors that have been shut for way too long.

Federal investment in the outdoors a good thing for WNC

The federal government, the nation’s largest land manager, has a responsibility ... to help develop a conservation agenda worthy of the 21st century. We must look to the private sector and nonprofit organizations, as well as towns, cities, and states, and the people who live and work in them, to identify the places that mean the most to Americans, and leverage the support of the federal government to help these community-driven efforts to succeed. Through these partnerships, we will work to connect these outdoor spaces to each other, and to reconnect Americans to them.

— from President Barack Obama’s memorandum establishing the Great Outdoors Initiative


It’s not often that we find something good for both the soul and the pocketbook. Then again, there are not many places like the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The listening session in Asheville last week that was part of America’s Great Outdoors Initiative should, perhaps, give rise to a dose of optimism about the future of this region. And in a summer where the economic downturn has remained stubbornly entrenched and the BP oil spill has changed our understanding of what an economic disaster can be, we can use a little good news.

This newspaper has devoted lots of coverage to the Obama administration’s Great Outdoors Initiative. American Whitewater Executive Director Mark Singleton, who lives in Jackson County, has been involved in the outdoor recreation industry for a couple of decades. He was invited to Washington, D.C., in April to the kick off ceremonies for the initiative. Singleton and the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee’s Vice Chairman Ken Murphy have written informative columns on our editorial pages about the initiative. The listening session in Asheville was the subject of a long story in last week’s paper.

It’s difficult to know yet — with all the other problems leaders in Washington are grappling with — whether this initiative will bear fruit. But we are at least getting a chance to send the message to Washington that investing in wilderness areas is important on many levels.

All of us are nurtured by our connection to the outdoors and to wild places. For those who don’t often get the chance to escape, I would challenge them to take a two-hour hike, a ride down one of our rives in canoe or a raft, or simply to drive up on the Parkway and stop for 30 minutes at an overlook. It just works wonder for de-cluttering, unplugging and reconnecting.

For those in this region who don’t regularly get outdoors, there’s another reason to support this effort that we hope will lead to larger investments in protecting natural areas: the outdoors and the outdoors recreation industry are the bedrock of our economy in the mountains.

The Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are the two most-visited units in the park system. In 2009, the Parkway had 16 million visitors and the GSMNP recorded 9.5 million visitors. This does not include the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests, which are among the nation’s most visited national forests. These millions of visitors are the foundation of our tourism industry, and they come back year after year. Just about every business and government unit in these mountains are dependent on the money they spend while here.

So a renewed effort to conserve more places and to enhance the recreational opportunities in our parks and national forests will mean good things for this region and its people. Whether a hunter or a kayaker, a camper or a motorcycist, lend your support to this initiative. All of us in WNC stand to benefit.

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

Taking the pulse of a region

We in the news business provide historians with some of the crucial data necessary to write the story of any particular point in time. Reporters gather facts and opinions that are snapshots of how people feel, and then we make every effort to put that information into perspective so that it’s meaningful and useful to readers. At its best, good journalism can help people make informed decisions.

Years from now, those who look back at the summer of 2010 will no doubt write about the BP oil disaster, the lingering international economic crisis, and Barack Obama’s withering public support. Perhaps those digging into what was happening in our little corner of the world might look at the results of the recent Western Carolina University Public Policy Institute/Smoky Mountain News poll results that have been published in this newspaper and online (www.smokymountainnews.com, “WNC Public Opinion Poll”) during the last couple of weeks.

The project, which we’re calling “Creating a Regional Policy Dialogue,” is the first of its kind in Western North Carolina. WCU professors Chris Cooper and Gibbs Knotts saw a dearth of hard data about how residents of this area felt about important political issues. They approached us about partnering to gather that information and then publishing the results. The poll called nearly 600 registered voters in Jackson County, and it was conducted by Public Policy Polling out of Raleigh. Public Policy Polling has earned a reputation as one of the most reputable polling agencies in the Southeast.

Some quickly write off polling data, and that’s not surprising given the sheer volume of such information on a national basis. But what’s unique — and extremely interesting — about this PPI/SMN poll is its subject matter. We now have a baseline of information about how Jackson County residents feel about certain political issues during June of 2010. That information is interesting in and of itself, as the stories on our website attest.

But perhaps more intriguing will be to update this information in six months or a year to see how the onslaught of media we are all exposed to can change opinions. Maybe we’ll find that the barrage of information doesn’t necessarily lead to quickly changing public opinion.

The demographics of Western North Carolina are unique. The traditional, conservative mountain residents are now intermingling with new faces from all over the country. Anecdotally, we know this is a place that values tradition and attracts alternative lifestyle advocates. It’s a dynamic populace that — along with the mesmerizing draw of the mountains — has made this area one of the most popular places in the country to live.

Our hope — that is, The Smoky Mountain News and the WCU Public Policy Institute — is that we can continue to accumulate polling data unique to our region that provides insight into what people are thinking and why. Anytime you can get voters to think about and discuss important issues, it will hopefully lead to better decision making by leaders. That’s a good enough reason in itself to try to continue and build on this regional project to assess the feelings of residents west of Buncombe.

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

WCU poll is first attempt of its caliber to measure political opinions on solely local scale

A new polling project developed by Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute and The Smoky Mountain News aims to get data that is the meat and bread of political scientists into the hands of the voting public.

“As academics, we’re pretty good at using rigorous methods to find things out,” said Chris Cooper, the institute’s director. “We’re not as good at showing our results.”

Cooper and his colleague, Gibbs Knotts, were interested in partnering with a media company to help disseminate the results of a poll measuring Jackson County political opinions and in turn instigate a larger conversation. They hatched the idea during the debate over tearing down the Dillsboro Dam. Because there were so many strong opinions on the issue, it was hard to get a feel for the sentiment of the majority.

“Most people like people who like them,” Cooper said. “Consequently they hang around people who think like them. The idea was to get a representative sample, so people could have some idea what others were really thinking about the issues.”

Smoky Mountain News publisher, Scott McLeod, saw the project as an opportunity to explore a partnership that could get to the crux of what is on readers’ minds.

“This is what good journalism and good newspapers are about,” McLeod said “We want to provide our readers with information about this region they can’t find anywhere else and present it in a way that’s interesting and useful. These polls and the subsequent stories we do will fulfill that mission.”

By combining accurate polling data and a platform for discussion, the first poll in the project is designed to create a baseline for Jackson County voters to discuss issues in the run-up to the November election. The project is called “Creating a Regional Policy Dialogue.”

“Anytime you can get people to discuss their views on government and on elected leaders, there’s a chance it will lead to better decision making and better leadership,” McLeod said. “Maybe a frank dialogue in the media about leadership and politics — one based on actual poll results from mountain voters — will contribute some solutions to some of our problems.”

 

The poll

 

Cooper contracted Public Policy Polling in Raleigh to conduct a random sample survey of Jackson County registered voters. The polling firm has had great results with its relatively low-cost phone survey method. SurveyUSA’s report cards rated Public Policy Polling the most accurate pollster for South Carolina, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana and Oregon during the 2008 election cycle.

The Jackson County poll, which was administered through a computerized phone call, asked 11 questions. In the end, just less than 600 respondents from all parts of the county offered their views on questions that asked what they thought of county and federal government; whether alcohol sales should be allowed outside incorporated areas; and how they felt about Congressman Heath Shuler, Governor Bev Perdue, the TEA Party and their local school system. It also measured political persuasions and collected demographic data.

Some of the results were surprising, like the fact that 95 percent of the respondents had an opinion about alcohol sales outside of Sylva and Dillsboro.

Cooper is quick to point out what the poll results — which canvassed registered voters only — can and can’t show.

“We can generalize about voters in Jackson County, but we can’t generalize about the people in a broad sense,” Cooper said.

Voters are, in general, more educated, more liberal and older than the public at large. They are also the people most likely to engage in the political process.

“The downside is we’re not getting the opinion of a whole group who by definition are disenfranchised and disconnected from the political process,” Cooper said.

Knotts estimates that between 20 and 30 percent of Jackson residents aren’t registered to vote.

The poll functioned with a plus or minus 4 percent margin of error. Cooper said he only recognized one peculiarity in the results: more than 61 percent said they graduated from college, a larger percentage than normal for the voting public.

“We over-represented educated people, but it’s not because we called more, it’s because more of them answered the call,” Cooper said.

In the end, the survey provides a starting point for the discussion of what’s really on the mind of Jackson County’s voters. Past public opinion surveys in Western North Carolina have focused on the region so broadly that voters in Asheville or Boone have been lumped in with those from Cashiers and Whittier.

The newest poll hopes to lend badly needed specificity the conversation.

“We were very interested to see how it came out to, and I feel really good about the results,” Cooper said.

 

Reading the mind of Jackson County

Gauging public opinion can be a tricky proposition, but for the elected officials who run Jackson County, it can also provide a glimpse at what matters to the people who elect them.

County Commissioner Tom Massie is up for reelection in November, and he likes the idea of the poll.

“I think we genuinely need to know where there are issues of concern in the public, and people ought to participate more in their government at all levels,” Massie said.

Vicki Greene, director of the Southwestern Planning Commission, has conducted numerous polls in Western North Carolina aimed at getting information on how people are employed. Greene, who grew up in Sylva and Dillsboro, said it could be hard to get good, accurate information from people through an automated phone call.

“My initial reaction is it’s a waste of time, because I’d be real surprised if you can get somebody to stay on the line for seven minutes,” Greene said.

The poll called voters on the list six times before moving on to another name. The short duration of the poll and its touch-key response system limits the complexity of the questions, but it greatly enhances the chance that people will respond.

Greene acknowledged how important good data can be in informing the larger policy discussions that shape the region.

“Assuming the questions are asked in a neutral format, the results of the polls should be beneficial to elected officials in their decision making capacities,” Greene said. “When you do a random survey, you are getting the voices of folks that don’t often participate in the discussion.”

For Knotts, who helped design the list of questions, the poll is a starting place.

“We see this as a way to put some numbers out there and use them as a starting point for a regional dialogue,” Knotts said.

At a moment in history when the economy is still mired and approval ratings of government at all levels are low around the country, the Jackson County poll is a chance to find out why voters are so frustrated and what can bring them back to the table.

For Cooper and Knotts, gathering data is the best place to start.

“The goal is to get the word out there, get out of the academic silo and communicate data and empirical results to the people who make decisions,” Cooper said.

For Smoky Mountain News publisher Scott McLeod, the polling partnership is the first step in creating a broader regional dialogue around issues.

“I can’t recall there ever having been scientific polling data from citizens in the counties west of Asheville,” McLeod said. “If we can continue this project for a year and do a half dozen or so polls, we’ll have some great information about our region that no one else has ever made the effort to gather.”

Economic development that works for the region

A couple of stories we’ve covered in the last two weeks illustrate better than any data the new face of economic development here in the mountains. Community coordinators paid with tax dollars can help small businesses grow in our post-manufacturing economy.

Joey Bolado, the owner and chef at Grandview Lodge in Waynesville, would like to serve only fresh, local foods on his menu, everything from produce to meat. In today’s marketplace it just doesn’t work, despite his desires.

“Right now, I feel like I have to go out and find it,” Bolado said of the local produce. “They’re not coming to us.”

The Buy Haywood initiative, which is funded by the state’s Golden LEAF Foundation, promotes Haywood’s farms. It has helped market value-added products like salsa, jams and sauces made from local agricultural operations and has produced a map so locals and tourists alike can find farms and farmer’s markets that sell produce.

Now, it is working to connect local restaurants and chefs — like Bolado — to local growers. The new program is called 20-20-20, because its goal is to connect 20 local growers with 20 chefs who will use 20 different products.

The problems for the farmers and chefs are obvious, says Buy Haywood Coordinator George Ivey. Growers need to be in the fields rather than on the phone marketing, so they are much more likely to look for one or two large buyers rather than 20 small ones who only want a few products. Restaurant owners and chefs need convenience and variety, which doesn’t always fit with the production constraints of local growers.

The 20-20-20 project is trying to overcome these obstacles. It will succeed only if both parties can profit from the transaction. It also will take a change of mindset, a realization that there is value in making the local-to-local economy more robust.

Ivey’s efforts are similar to those of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, which is a sort of regional version of Buy Haywood that promotes farm products from the southern mountain region.

“People mistakenly assume that just because someone has a product and somebody else wants a product, that’s a match,” said Peter Marks, ASAP’s program director. “There are so many other factors, like the ripeness, the uniqueness, the packaging.”

Ivey, Marks and others won’t solve this problem tomorrow, but I have not doubt that this is the future. As the locavore — someone who only eats foods grown locally — movement grows, more people will pay a few cents extra for fresh produce grown by their neighbors a few coves over. This is dovetailing with efforts to create local economies that support businesses down the street instead of across the globe.

•••

Another partnership was also in the news last week, one that brought Gov. Beverly Perdue to Waynesville and other parts of Western North Carolina. A project that would transform Main Street’s Strand Theater into a restaurant, brewery and entertainment venue got a $300,000 state grant, and it drew a crowd into the Arts Council’s Gallery 86 to hear Perdue discuss efforts to promote jobs in the state’s small downtowns.

Getting that grant required a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and that is what’s worth noting here. Downtown Waynesville Association Executive Director Buffy Messer knows what is going on in the downtown business district, and she knew Richard Miller was looking for a way to jumpstart his vision for the Strand.

She also realized that these Main Street Solutions grants were a good fit, and that time was running out to apply. Messer worked closely with Miller to put the pieces together to get the state grant

“I give her all the credit for bringing this to our attention,” said Miller.

Like Ivey’s work with the local growers and chefs, Messer’s work with small businessmen like Miller is exactly the kind of economic development that will help Haywood and other mountain counties thrive in the future.

Using state grant money — essentially our money — in this manner is certainly more appealing than awarding a multi-million dollar tax break to some huge corporation that could care less about this region. Right now just about all Southern states are way too deep into this game of trying to lure the Googles and the Toyotas of the world through tax breaks that are, to be frank, obscene. Meanwhile, the local factory or small business that’s been around for decades just keeps busting butt to hang on. That scenario always leaves a disgusting taste in my mouth.

Our mountain region is unique for many reasons, but its enduring spirit of independence may be what keeps it strong during the next several decades. This area was living the “buy local” movement before it had a name. We have a good mix of businesses that are helped by a steady flow of newcomers and visitors. It’s a good mix for a strong economy that doesn’t need to sell its soul to some huge manufacturer.

The tribe’s audit is bound to cause bitterness

How do you kick out a member of a Native American tribe? The Eastern Band of Cherokee is about to find out, and there’s no way it’s going down without some bitterness and fighting.

The EBCI is almost finished with an audit of its enrolled members, and the Tribal Council is apparently leaning towards DNA testing to determine who is actually a member in the future.

The 1924 Baker Roll is the official document from which tribal membership is determined. Those families on that roll who meet the blood quantum level are considered members of the tribe. The enrollment audit started in 2006, and the tribal council is set to decide in June how to proceed with those whose tribal identity is being questioned.

Some are saying that new members should only be admitted after a DNA test, regardless of their family history. Others want to go further and do DNA testing on all enrolled members in order to clean up the rolls.

The potential for misery and family upheavals is just around the corner. What if someone has lived their entire life as a Cherokee and now is told, no, you don’t have enough Cherokee blood ? It seems the council has no choice but to follow through with DNA testing, but for some the results will be life changing.

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Years of column writing have taught me this — think you’ve written something enlightening that the multitudes should take to heart, and the piece is quickly forgotten; dash off a column that you’d rate as benign at best, and the phone rings off the hook and the email box gets slammed.

Last week’s piece about Haywood County’s solid waste system and proposed changes in how it operates falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes, but comments from a couple of county commissioners do merit a mention. First, I said commissioners voted to make changes to the solid waste system. That’s a mistake. The proposed budget includes cost savings from the overhaul of the system, but the budget has not been approved yet. Nothing’s been decided for sure.

Second is the widespread use of the term “privatize.” Some are taking exception to that description. A Haywood task force has recommended changes to the solid waste system that would send some services to the private sector. The pick line that separates recyclables would simply disappear, as commissioners would outsource recycling services if the proposal were approved. A private company would also be in charge maintaining the convenience centers. At this point, the county would still be heavily involved in maintaining the transfer station and running the landfill.

Solid waste won’t be privatized entirely. Fewer county employees will be involved in solid waste disposal and recycling. The column’s premise was that these economic times are going to force many elected leaders — not just Haywood’s — to look for cost savings, and that outsourcing what were once government operations is likely to occur more rapidly until things get better.

I think that a close look at what can be outsourced is a good idea, that there is only so much government can and should do. In Haywood’s case, the overhaul of the solid waste system is a good idea with plenty of merit.

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

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