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Wednesday, 01 November 2006 00:00

Three commission seats up for grabs in Macon

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Macon County’s three Democratic commissioners are facing a challenge from three Republican contenders in a race that could potentially swing the board’s majority rule.


One-term Democratic incumbent Jay Dee Shepard lost his bid for re-election in the primaries, coming in third to fellow Democrats Bob Simpson, also an incumbent, and challenger Ronnie Beale. Now Beale and Simpson are vying against Republican candidates Harold Corbin, a former board chairman, and Rick Mashburn for Shepard and Simpson’s two District 2 (Franklin) seats.

In the primaries, Simpson led the ticket, garnering 1,477 votes, while Beale was close behind at 1,352. Shepard was in third with 1,116 votes. Pro-planning candidate Milo Beran was a distant fourth with 349 votes. While the commissioners each represent a specific area, the county as a whole votes on their candidacy.

This general election also will pit Democratic incumbent Allan Bryson against challenger and political newcomer Brian McClellan for the District 1 (Highlands) seat. Bryson is the board’s current chairman.

Votes for the Democratic Party could translate into votes for the construction industry, as the homegrown candidates Beale, Bryson and Simpson each work in related trades — Beale and Simpson as contractors and Bryson as owner of a hardware store. Conversely, the Republican Party is offering up a wide array of candidates — a progressive local retired caterer and farmer, Corbin; a blue-collar employee at Caterpillar Precision Seals, Mashburn; and a retirement planner and seven-year resident of Highlands, McClellan.

And while growth has been at the core of election (go to Election 06 at for coverage of the Sept. 28 League of Women Voters forum), The Smoky Mountain News asked candidates to stake out their positions on some other issues that will shape the county’s future — hiring of a new county attorney and manager, county efforts to improve education, teacher salary supplements, the proposed subdivision ordinance, restructuring of the Economic Development Commission, as well as what separates them from their opponents.

District 1 (Highlands)

Brian McClellan, 49, is a retirement planner. He is married with two boys, twins age 15. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina and his Ph.D. from Clemson.

Allan Bryson is owner and operator of Highlands Outdoor Tool and Assistant Fire Chief for the Highlands Fire Department. He was elected to his first term in 1998, second term in 2002, and as chairman to the board in 2004. He has two grown children.

What is the role of the county manager?

McClellan: “I believe the county manager should serve at the pleasure of the commissioners, be accountable to the commissioners,” McClellan said, regarding the county’s ongoing search for a replacement for retiring county manager Sam Greenwood. A new manager should not be micromanaged, McClellan said; however, the commissioners are the ones elected to oversee how the county is run. “We need to be involved not only in the budgeting process but how those monies are spent once that budget is set.”

Bryson: Did not return phone calls requesting an interview.

How can the county improve local education?

McClellan: McClellan supported plans to change the school budget to a line item system. “In the education system it allows better oversight of how those dollars are spent,” he said. “It is just another layer of checks and balances and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.” McClellan said he supports putting money where it belongs, in the classroom and teacher salaries, not in administrative positions. He could not say for sure if he would be in favor of increasing teacher salary supplements. “I would have to look at the overall budget and where we are at that point in time, but if that’s possible I would like to see us be competitive.”

Bryson: Did not return phone calls requesting an interview.

Where do you stand on the proposed subdivision ordinance?

McClellan: “Right now as it’s currently written, I don’t believe that it has much value,” he said. If the ordinance was more clear and concise, it would be better, but as it is, McClellan called it vague and subjectively enforceable.

Bryson: Did not return phone calls requesting an interview.

What should happen in regards to revamping the Economic Development Commission?

McClellan: “First of all, in the time that the EDC has been active I don’t think we’ve seen any real results,” he said. Rather than continuing as a commission, McClellan proposed hiring a full-time business developer to report to the board of commissioners with the intent of scouting non-polluting businesses to the area and providing incentives where and how possible.

Bryson: Did not return phone calls requesting an interview.

What separates you from your opponents?

McClellan: “In general I think it’s time to have a county government that’s more accountable to the people, that operates in a more open manner and remembers whose money they’re working with,” he said. “The easiest way to get money back to people is to not take it out of their pockets in the first place.”

Bryson: Did not return phone calls requesting an interview.

District 2 (Franklin)

Republican candidates

Harold Corbin, 74, spent 20 years in the catering business before retiring. He spent four years as chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners from 1998-2002. Corbin lost in the 2002 primaries, which put Republican candidates J.B. Coram, Mickey Duvall and Norman Roberts up against Alan Bryson, Jay Dee Shepherd and Bob Simpson, who are now up for re-election. Corbin is married with two grown sons and two grown step-daughters. He went to high school in Franklin.

Rick Mashburn, 34, is employed at Caterpillar Precision Seals in Franklin where he has worked for two years. He is married with two boys, ages 11 and 12, and two girls, ages 5 and 6. He graduated from Franklin High School and has attended Southwestern Community College with plans to go back to school.

What is the role of the county manager?

Corbin: Corbin said that he thought it would be inappropriate to speak on the issue since the current board of commissioners is accepting applications for a new county manager. However, he did say that “the county manager’s job is to carry out the will of the county commissioners. There’s certain day-to-day decisions that need to be made by the county manager, but his ultimate job is to fulfill the wishes of the county commissioners.”

Mashburn: “We need somebody that has a general concern for Macon County,” he said. The manager should be someone to help the county’s construction and tourism industries grow by supporting the Economic Development Commission.

How can the county improve local education?

Corbin: “The county plays a big role in school construction,” he said. “When I was on the board we built two new schools and renovated six others. There’s still work to be done.” Corbin said he would be in favor of increasing teachers’ salary supplements.

Mashburn: The county needs to get more teachers to reduce class sizes, Mashburn said. Also, “I think that we need to supplement the salaries, but first and foremost we need to look at the lottery that has been implemented in the state of North Carolina and get our fair share of that money.”

Where do you stand on the proposed subdivision ordinance?

Corbin: Corbin said that the proposed ordinance is in the current board of commissioners’ hands and therefore he would not want to speak out of turn. However, “I would not support it in its present form, but a well-written common sense ordinance I would support.”

Mashburn: The laws that are on the books need to be enforced before new ones are written, Mashburn said. Those who will be affected by the subdivision ordinance need to be the ones writing it, including construction workers and real estate agents. “If people want to come in and buy land, that’s their right,” he said.

What should happen in regards to revamping the Economic Development Commission?

Corbin: “I would be in favor of hiring a full-time employee to work under the direction of the EDC providing that we didn’t hire a half a dozen assistants,” Corbin said. The goal of the EDC should be recruiting high-tech businesses.

Mashburn: “I’ve worked two jobs most of my marriage just to make ends meet,” Mashburn said. The EDC needs to better promote local resources and provide jobs for locals who want to stay in the area.

What separates you from your opponents?

Corbin: “I guess we’ve got some difference in how we would go about doing things,” Corbin said. “Maybe I’m more progressive.”

Mashburn: “I work for a living. I know what it’s like to work paycheck to paycheck,” he said. Mashburn wants to keep taxes low and the dollar in the working man’s pocket. “But I will always keep the people of Macon County first.”

Democratic candidates

Ronnie Beale, 51, is the owner of a construction company and president of Macon Bank. He was chairman of the Macon County Planning Board until his recently resignation to pursue his campaign for the board of commissioners. He is married with two grown children, and one 15-year-old son. He graduated from Franklin High School and attended Southwestern Community College.

Bob Simpson, 56, is the owner of Bob Simpson Contracting/HVAC. He was first elected in 2002. He is married with two grown children and twins age 13. He graduated from Franklin High School and attended Western Carolina University.

What is the role of the county manager?

Beale: “I think the first position as the county manager is professionalism,” Beale said. “He must have a good resume and have the professionalism in that job because he’s not only the county manager, he has a lot of the PR for the county.” If the county is confident enough to hire and pay a manger, they must trust him or her with a certain degree of autonomy to make decisions, but have guidelines about how to make those decisions, Beale said.

Simpson: Simpson said the board is in the process of reviewing applications for the position and that whoever is hired that the county manager works at the pleasure of the county commissioners.

How can the county improve local education?

Beale: “We’ve still got to maintain the standards of hiring good quality teachers and continue to provide the children with a good learning environment,” Beale said. That environment goes beyond just bricks and mortar. Beale said he would be in favor of increased teacher salary supplements, as these days teachers are more than just educators.

Simpson: The current board was the first board to ever give teachers a supplement, Simpson said. He tried to get another 2 percent this year, but did not have the support. “Education is I guess my top priority,” he said, explaining plans to build new schools and move 6th graders from the middle school back into East and West Franklin schools to alleviate overcrowding. The middle school, built to accommodate around 450 students, currently has about 1,000, Simpson said.

Where do you stand on the proposed subdivision ordinance?

Beale: Beale said that the ordinance is still under review. “With the subdivision ordinance that they have in their hands right now, it does need more work done to it,” he said. Without knowing just how well existing soil and erosion laws will be enforced, it is hard to set additional subdivision regulations in place. Whatever document is written, it must be malleable to the times.

Simpson: “Right now it is still with the planning board and the language is being looked at,” he said. Once the language is clarified, if it is an ordinance with public approval, Simpson said he would vote in favor of it.

What should happen in regards to revamping the Economic Development Commission?

Beale: “I think it’s time for the county to look at hiring a professional person to go out and speak for Macon County,” Beale said.

Simpson: “It needs to be restructured to be more aggressive,” Simpson said. “I could be in favor of a full-time EDC coordinator that markets Macon County.” The focus should be on clean, high-tech jobs.

What separates you from your opponents?

Beale: “The reason I’m running for county commissioner is real simple,” Beale said. “Being born and raised in this county and my family having heritage in this county, I have a love for this place and I have a love for the people and I think I know the people of Macon County.” Beale said that he will be fair and honest and work for change for the better.

Simpson: “My experience, my ability to stand up for what is right, and my willingness to get the job done,” he said.

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