Scott McLeod

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We reported last week that Haywood County Tax Collector Mike Matthews may have been showing favoritism to some local Republican leaders who were behind in their taxes. As it turns out, we were likely too narrow in that assessment. It seems Matthews may very well just not be enforcing strong and even-handed collection measures for a lot of people, not just GOP leaders.

Matthews’ job performance has been questioned since he won the tax collector election in 2014. He couldn’t get bonded, had no experience in the field, and had his own record of nonpayment of taxes. County officials who depend on those taxes were worried and immediately took steps to try and help Matthews succeed. And taxpayers who pay on time had to be worried that there taxes might have to be raised.

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Brandon Rogers almost certainly disappointed — and surprised — many of his supporters during Monday’s Haywood County Commissioners meeting. Apparently that discomforting politician’s habit of saying one thing and then doing something completely different once in office has now reached down to the local level. 

Rogers, a Republican, is the newly elected county commissioner who earned the most votes in the November election. He worked hard during the campaign, expressed his position clearly on several important issues, and is a likeable guy. He undoubtedly benefitted from the Donald Trump tidal wave that swept a lot of GOP and independent voters to the polls, but that’s the electoral reality of 2016. Chances are he would have won even without the Trump coattails.

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It was just a press release, one among the dozens a week that media outlets receive and that may or may not make it into the paper, on TV, on the radio or on a website. When it came across my computer screen, though, it seemed suddenly clear to me that it was symbolic of how our economic development priorities have to change.

“Gov. Cooper recommends eight Western North Carolina projects for ARC funding,” read the headline. Looking at the eight projects revealed that of the $3 million the Appalachian Regional Commission will most likely award, $1,374,714 was for an access road to a new development in Morganton and another $873,509 was to repave a road to an existing industrial site in Rutherford County.

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As the holidays drew to a close, I began preparing for the reporting we will do on the upcoming session of the North Carolina General Assembly and kept watching President-elect Trump and the Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — jousting on several fronts. 

In this still politically charged post-election atmosphere, I found myself trying to define my own beliefs and establish my own footing, as I know countless ideological debates lie ahead. Why do I support certain actions, programs and leaders over others? When did my fundamental political beliefs come together to form the basis of what I believe today?

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Now that it’s 2017, I can’t bear the thought of continuing to fixate on politics and its atmosphere of pomposity and negativity that paints a picture of this country far different from what I encounter in my everyday life. It’s part of my job to cover this stuff, but our lives are about so much more than politics.

During the holiday season I was fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with a lot of young adults — my kids and their friends are all ages 18 to 24, and nephews and nieces were around who are as old as 28. And here’s what I heard from them: they aren’t buying into the vision of a country that is crumbling. Instead, I would argue that it’s the fresh optimism of the young — their belief that they can fix problems others have ignored or caused — that helps fuel this country’s ongoing prosperity.

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Some things never change, and the reality of collateral damage from news stories is one of them. Plus the fact that I really just don’t like it when it happens.

Our cover story last week (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/18931) examined concerns about how the presence of alcohol in rural Haywood County might change small communities like Fines Creek, Bethel or Jonathan Valley.

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Fidel Castro’s death should remind us that we are oftentimes more powerless and rudderless than our country’s leaders like to admit when it comes to foreign policy.

And that’s a timely lesson as a president who promised change prepares to leave his office to a president-elect who also promises change. Castro is a nagging symbol of how difficult it is even for a country as big and powerful as the U.S. to steer the world in the way we think it should go. Oftentimes, despite our best intentions or our horrible mistakes, we just can’t have it our way.

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I’ve always embraced change, perhaps to my detriment. I suspect it has something to do with a youth where we moved to different homes as often as most people buy new sneakers, so it just seems normal — and somewhat cathartic — to do things differently, even to the point of dropping old traditions and embracing new ones.

But some change I can’t accept, and one of those is Thanksgiving without deviled eggs that taste as much like my mom’s as possible. Some things are, after all, sacrosanct.

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So this, perhaps, is how we in the traditional — and dare I say legitimate — media will meet our demise: fake news.

And just this past Saturday I was so optimistic that traditional journalism was somehow going to survive. I was visiting my daughter and some friends at Appalachian State and had a conversation with a college senior who is doing an internship at a High Country newspaper. He was full of that youthful excitement about journalism and was unrestrained about his desire to pursue a print newspaper job after seeing the effect his stories had in the small community his newspaper serves. I came home thinking of my own ambitions at that age and believing that young people like him would surely help our industry continue to do its important mission in our democratic society.

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We are a democratic republic, not a pure democracy. I was reminded of that in a most unusual way at a most unusual place.

My wife Lori and I were descending the 15,355-foot-high Condor Pass in the Peruvian Andes on Wednesday, Nov. 9, when I turned to Bram — an engineer from Belgium who was part of our group and also happened to have an international phone plan — and told him I couldn’t hold out any longer.

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I feel strongly about politics. I hope — with all the hope I can muster — that Donald Trump loses this election. I have major differences with his positions regarding taxes, immigration, public schools, foreign policy and a host of other issues. I think he has stoked some of the most vile tendencies in human nature — racism, sexism, bigotry, and xenophobia, to name a few.

Thankfully, few Americans embrace those characteristics, but some who do have been emboldened by his success.

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My 18-year-old son, Liam, departed the mountains for Charlotte two weeks ago when his fall break had ended. 

He’s our youngest, the last to fly the coop, and so my wife, Lori, and I had anxiously looked forward to his first visit from college. As one might expect from a growing boy, he wanted some of mom’s cooking, and that meant we would enjoy dinners together. We also spent mornings catching up and talking, visited relatives in Asheville, did some mountain biking, and caught a movie.

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(Last updated at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26.) 

Main Street in downtown Waynesville was packed with pedestrians and vehicle traffic around lunchtime Friday when a Haywood County Sheriff’s deputy fired several gunshots to take down an escaped inmate.

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Cruel. That was it, that’s the word that defines why I think Donald Trump is unfit to be president. Obviously, some others have already come to that conclusion. 

Like many Americans, I have spent too much of the time I have left on this earth cringing while listening to what Trump has said since he started seeking the highest office in the land, wondering how he has gotten this far.

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Western Carolina University’s faculty has wrestled through months of both tedium and spirited debate in devising how best to manage a controversial gift from a politically charged foundation, and in doing so has apparently succeeded in doing a better job than any university in this country in protecting academic freedoms and its own integrity.

It’s a lofty achievement, one that deserves praise (and emulation from other institutions) and one that should make its faculty and this region proud.

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When it comes to HB2, our state’s Republican leadership will eventually prove to be on the wrong side of history. Just give it some time.

Until then, however, the fallout from the so-called “bathroom bill” continues to reverberate around the nation and the state as hundreds of millions of dollars — perhaps billions — are sucked from the North Carolina economy. Our citizens and our communities are being forced to pay a steep price for this legislative intransigence at the same time we are beginning to work our way out of this stubborn recession.

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We drove through the small town of Clyde on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 11, right in the midst of the commemoration for the 9/11 attacks. Patriotic music was playing while firemen and law enforcement officials were at attention. Unsurpri-singly, I caught myself choking up a bit.

Similar celebrations were happening across the country, people recalling the countless acts of selfless heroism that were on display that day 15 years ago and the senselessness of the terrorist crimes that at the time were so new to most Americans.

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke to a packed Asheville Civic Center on Monday as boisterous supporters cheered him on inside the arena while virulent anti-Trump protestors heckled people on their way in and out of the event.

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A scuffle inside the civic center interrupted Trump’s speech at one point when a supporter in the upper levels appeared to choke one anti-Trump protestor and slap two others before the protestors were escorted out by security. The man doing the choking was left alone by security.

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Some local Republicans got their brief fling with fame during Donald Trump’s campaign rally Monday in Asheville.

When we got out of the car on Sunday at the parking area in Jackson County at the end of Fisher Creek Road, it was cool, perhaps high 60s or low 70s. Fall is coming, I thought. Despite the favorable temperatures, the walk up the trail toward Black Rock and Pinnacle Peak soon had all of us bathed in sweat, feeling winded and wonderful at the same time.

I’d been on the trail before. That was on a cold April morning a few years back as a pack of crazy trail runners took part in the annual Assault on Black Rock race. The sheer exhaustion I suffered during that run erased any real memory of the trail, and so this time it might as well have been my first time maneuvering up the rocky path.

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Let’s be completely honest: the Haywood County School Board’s long-time practice of recording its work sessions makes it one of the most transparent elected boards in the region. No other boards in Haywood County do the same, and I’m betting not many in the entire state record work sessions. For that, the school board should be commended.

So when School Board Chairman Chuck Francis announced Aug. 4 that the board would stop recording those sessions, many of us who argue for open government were incensed. When a board embraces openness, going backwards seems much worse and more suspicious. Because every presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in the early 1970s has released their tax returns, Donald Trump’s refusal to do so arouses suspicion.

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North Carolinians can debate whether a few of the controversial laws enacted by the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly and supported by Gov. Pat McCrory are unconstitutional or not, but it seems the courts are leaning toward striking them down. 

More importantly, perhaps, are that the legal challenges keep landing Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Attorney General Roy Cooper on the front pages of many of the state’s newspapers. Indeed, the controversy over these laws may just help Cooper unseat McCrory from the governor’s office, which would be a positive step for North Carolina.

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When the back-to-back national political conventions finally ended, it was like a benevolent deity had provided a merciful pardon, finally allowing me to move away from the television and get on with my life. Those two weeks are one of the few times when I tend to watch way too much TV.

But as we prepare for the start of school, my wife (a teacher) and I have discussed a couple of times the comments by Donald Trump Jr. at the GOP event regarding teachers. In case you forgot or missed them, here’s what Junior — educated exclusively in private schools — had to say:

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When Christopher Holt contacted me in March about a trip he was about to embark on to Cuba, I was fascinated. 

Holt is a painter, and in recent years he has built part of his career around traveling to distant places — Egypt, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, to name a few — and doing plein air work, meeting people through his painting, and then trying to make a living off those works when he returns to Western North Carolina.

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I hope the lawsuit by Mark Melrose against the Haywood County School System has its day in court, and was gratified last week when a judge did not stop it from proceeding.

Melrose — whose daughter was a student at Central Elementary School — has sued the school system over its decision to close the school. Judge Joe Crosswhite immediately snuffed the effort by Melrose to keep the school open through an injunction, but at this point the remainder of the suit is going forward.

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Amidst a raucous crowd of nearly 600 runners — and probably just as many spectators — a couple of Saturday nights ago at the start of a race at Highlands Brewing in Asheville, I noticed quite a few people with phones taking videos.

And before I could tell myself not to go there, before I could steel myself so as not to give in to the state of paranoia that I suspect many are feeling, my mind ran away to the cell phone video of the St. Paul shooting victim by his girlfriend, to the cell phone videos of the protestors fleeing for their lives in Dallas after a gunman opened up on police, to the flood of mass shootings and police assassinations, and then I was scanning the ground around me for unattended bags, found myself eyeing spectators for anyone who seemed out of place and not into the party-like atmosphere of the moment.

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op frTuition just got significantly cheaper at Western Carolina University, and as long as the legislature keeps its promises to fill in the gap, then this is a huge win for North Carolina families, our university and the region.

The North Carolina Promise Tuition Plan caps tuition at WCU, Elizabeth City State and Pembroke at $500 per semester. It doesn’t cap fees, meals and housing, but total cost for a year (two semesters) for those living on-campus at WCU will drop from $17,600 to $14,600.

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NorthCarolinaLargeBy Martin Dyckman • Guest Columnist

Most of Europe’s aristocracy didn’t think the infant United States would last a decade, and there were Americans who doubted it also. Yet here we are, 240 years after bidding an unaffectionate farewell to George III and his progeny. 

Those years have fulfilled the prophecy of a foreign observer, the Baron Hyde de Neuville, who wrote after the First Congress had adjourned in 1791:

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op frAs they say, the devil is in the details, and in this case the details are simply ridiculous.

A bill that has been sent to the N.C. Senate Finance Committee for consideration — Senate Bill 867 — is intended to keep children in our schools safe by requiring better background checks for potential teachers and spelling out specific crimes that would prevent them from being licensed. Among those are crimes one would expect — prostitution, homicide, misconduct in public office.

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 op fr“What really shaped me was doing all of those community programs and talks, where you could really make a connection with the people around you. It was about getting to interact with people and having them share their memories with you.”

— George Frizzell, retiring special collections librarian, Western Carolina University

Sounds so simple. George Frizzell likes to get out in Jackson County and talk to people, interact with them. That’s undoubtedly why some of the most famous writers of this region, people who celebrate Appalachian culture like Ron Rash and Charles Frazier, were eager to talk to our reporter about George when we did an article on him for last week’s paper (www.smokymountainnews.com/news/item/17833).

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op frWhen next week’s edition of The Smoky Mountain News hits the streets Wednesday, June 15, my youngest will be a high school graduate and my wife will be gone for a month to walk across Spain with our middle child Hannah.

The fact that those two events are happening at almost the same time is purely coincidence. When Hannah made plans to spend the spring semester of her junior year studying abroad, we didn’t think about how that would coincide with Liam’s graduation. And when we decided it would be a lifetime adventure for Lori and Hannah — both fluent Spanish speakers — to walk part of the Camino de Santiago together, we didn’t really consider that Liam and I would be home for a month, alone, two men.

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op frOver this past Memorial Day weekend I found myself reading essays and columns about freedom, about military men and women and their sacrifices, and how those sacrifices and the freedom we take for granted are so infused into the American psyche. 

We do take it for granted, and as the son of a retired serviceman I think freedom is a birthright, or at least it should be. Humans deserve to be free. And although no one would ever describe me as a conservative, I share the belief with my conservative brethren that society generally works better in direct relationship to how much freedom we provide. Break the shackles of government and society’s expectations and we are, generally, better off. 

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op frHaywood County Schools has been a part of my life for 24 years now — as a journalist, the husband of a teacher, and the parent of three children who were each students for 13 years in the system — and never has there been a time when I have heard more criticism about its leadership. 

I sort of get it — you close a school, that’s what happens. Understandably, people get emotional. But the larger, more important issue for parents and taxpayers, though, is whether the school system is in good hands. Is there any validity to the voices critical of Superintendent Anne Garrett and the school board’s leadership through these trying times?

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op potThe last couple of years have brought a sea change in attitudes about marijuana. I’m convinced pot will be legal in most of the U.S. within the next decade, and I think it will do a lot more good than harm.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a conservative tribe. Yet its Tribal Council voted two weeks ago to start drafting legislation that would allow marijuana to be produced on tribal land and prescribed for medicinal uses. Such a move would, of course, spawn a whole subset of economic development possibilities for growing and processing cannabis.

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op frI’ve been observing something for years — though recently it has snowballed  — and it has always struck me as hypocritical: the intolerance of progressive liberals toward conservatives who hold diametrically opposing political and social views. The hypocrisy, of course, is that progressives espouse a philosophy of tolerance and openness. Bring a climate change denier, an evangelical Christian or a supply side, free market capitalist to the party, however, and many of my liberal friends will write off said individual’s political and social commentary before they’ve tossed back their first IPA.

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op frIt’s not the 1960s in terms of political activism, but recent episodes at Western Carolina University and across the country do signal that young people today are willing to engage in important discussions about race and culture.

These are difficult topics that have bedeviled supposedly enlightened societies for centuries. Nearly every student of history has encountered one of those instances where juxtaposing the accepted social mores of an earlier time against today’s standards would have ruined the legacy of an otherwise prominent and honorable figure. Conventional attitudes and behavior change — sometimes at a glacial pace, other times too fast for comfort. This country, I think, is at one of those tipping points.

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op fr“I feel like a one-legged man at an ass kicking. They don’t care for me because I call them out. I try to inform the public of the truth, and they don’t like it.”

That’s the colorfully candid state Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who is back in Raleigh this week as the General Assembly kicks off its biennial short session, which is traditionally devoted to making a few budget tweaks and perhaps passing some noncontroversial legislation.

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op frWhen we reported that Mountain Discovery Charter School and Swain County commissioners were working together to hopefully build a gymnasium, the symbolism of that relatively small venture almost went unnoticed. 

Mountain Discovery was founded 15 years ago by an independent-thinking and hard-working group of Swain parents who beat the odds and started a school during the era when there was a 100-school cap on charters in North Carolina. Its leaders did not win many friends among Swain’s public school supporters and from county commissioners who provide funding to the school system.

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op fr“The arts are so incredibly vital to a quality of life, smart business and the health of a community. The arts teach us to appreciate beauty, to make visible our thoughts, ideas and inspirations and to continually problem solve. These are important life skills that apply to every aspect of community, family and business. The survival of the arts is paramount to our happiness and also our innovation.”

— Kari Rinn, Haywood Community College director of Creative Arts

When regional arts leaders gathered two weeks ago at Western Carolina University for the “LEAD: Arts” summit, comments like those from HCC Creative Arts Director Kari Rinn were coming from the mouths of many in attendance. It was as if a group of under-appreciated creative minds finally got their few minutes in the spotlight, and they were eager to share their views. Not that anyone was whining or walking around with their hats out. Quite the contrary.

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op frLet the campaign to unseat Rep. Michele Presnell begin. During her two terms in office Presnell has been an obstructionist and a demagogue who has blocked progress in Haywood County on several fronts.

Presnell, a Republican from Yancey County who represent the 118th District, will face Democratic primary winner and Haywood County School Board member Rhonda Schandevel in the Nov. 8 general election.

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op frWhen small towns think and act big, amazing things can happen. Anyone who has traveled has come across communities that have taken risks and been rewarded for it, vibrant small towns that are just fun to visit.

I think the town center plan currently being studied in Maggie Valley fits that description.

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op frSometimes I forget why I love it so much. The truth is that newspaper work is partly satisfying, partly frustrating. Just ask any of my co-workers.

Luckily, the satisfaction that comes from helping a small business gain new customers and find success, from a story well-told, and from making a small difference in the way an important issue is decided is what sticks, making up for many of the frustrations.

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op frWho you going to trust, Apple or Uncle Sam? By deciding not to obey a court order to unlock the iPhone phone of San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook, Apple says it’s taking a stand for privacy against government intrusion. The company insists breaching Farook’s iPhone security system would be tantamount to opening the floodgates and endangering the security of the data on millions of phones.

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NorthCarolinaLargeMaybe North Carolina will be a shining star of a state working to resolve petty partisanship, and maybe it won’t. 

A three-judge federal panel ruled last week that two of the state’s congressional districts were gerrymandered, that they were unconstitutional because they were redrawn by the GOP-led legislature based on racial proportions. That, obviously, is illegal. The panel ruled that these particular districts — the 1st and 2nd — have to be redrawn, meaning other districts will also have to be change.

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nc houseIt’s a fundamental question and voters will be the ultimate arbiters: is North Carolina spending adequately on education? The short answer is no, and I’ll show you why I believe that.

With Haywood County officials pondering the likely closing of Central Elementary School due to funding shortfalls, the question of the state’s commitment to education has been thrust into the spotlight. The back-and-forth has included emails and press releases from both Haywood school officials and Rep. Michelle Presnell, R-Burnsville, with our legislator stooping so far as to calling local officials “shameful” and “disingenuous.” Not quite the behavior you’d expect from a state representative, but hey, an uninformed electorate gets its just deserts.

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op frThe imminent closing of Central Elementary School in Waynesville is fueling heated debate on many fronts. A small school in many ways is like a sun around which the lives of children, families, teachers, cafeteria workers and a community orbit, a center that brings purposeful togetherness to an otherwise random group of people. 

That’s the human element, and most of those in that orbit are hurting badly right now. But a school is also an arm of government that is paid for by our tax dollars. That money should be spent wisely. Central is very small and losing more students each year, the economies of scale tipping out of balance as children move to other schools, as families decide to home school or go to a charter school, as kids age up and go to middle school and fewer elementary age families move into the district.

op frFormer county commissioner, mayor and longtime Haywood County political player/observer Mary Ann Enloe was dead on in her column last week about the firing of Waynesville Town Manager Marcy Onieal (www.themountaineer.village-soup.com/p/marcy-onieal-is-a-classy-lady-who-will-be-fine-so-will-the-town): it was a bad decision by aldermen, but Waynesville and Onieal will survive this small-town political firestorm. Both have too much going for them.

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op frThe idea to start handing out annual spoof awards instead of the traditional year-in-review that most newspapers do was the brainchild, as I recall, of staff writer Becky Johnson. Those who know Becky and have read our paper for a while know she’s been both an editor and reporter here at SMN, and has written many award-winning pieces.  She’s always looking for different and better ways to do things, and this idea has stuck.

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op frIf there was ever a time in recent memory when Haywood County leaders and its citizens need reminding that they live in a county too large and too populous and too beautiful to be without land-use planning, it’s right now.

Just last week at a county board meeting, we learned that Jule Morrow wants to put an indoor shooting range and gun store on his property in the Francis Farm area of Haywood County. Some neighbors (who plan to attend the 9 a.m., Jan. 4, Haywood County Board meeting to voice their objections) say the range and gun store will be a blight in what for generations has been a cove of farm fields and pastures. As someone who travels that area frequently since my own home is not far away, I personally agree with those neighbors.

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op frSometimes in the world of journalism, the story becomes more about the reaction than the original news event. By my estimation, that’s what’s going on right with Franklin Mayor Bob Scott and his decision to put his hand on the Constitution instead of the Bible when getting sworn in for his second term.

Scott is one of those small-town politicians who seems to come to public service naturally. He is a former alderman, has led the local chamber of commerce and the Rotary Club. He’s been a journalist and a public affairs officer who believes passionately in open government. He’s retired, but from what I’ve seen he works nearly all the time as chief cheerleader and advocate for his adopted hometown.

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