Five candidates are running for the two seats being vacated by outgoing alderman Tom Reidmiller and Stephanie Treadway. The Smoky Mountain News checked in with candidates this week to find out why they are running and what issues they would tackle if elected.
Frederick “Rick” Bryson, 70, writer
Bryson is a native of Bryson City who moved away in the 1960s and returned about two years ago. He went to school for engineering but along the way became a writer. He has written three historical fiction novels, including two involving Cherokee history, as well as articles for niche publications.
“I grew up wanting to know how things work, so I went to engineering school, and somewhere in there, I found out I liked words more than I liked numbers.”
He has four daughters.
What’s his vision
The town is too focused on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and needs to attract a variety of industries, Bryson said.
“This is a town with a one legged stool. We don’t have a balanced economy.”
Bryson would like to see Bryson City market itself as a hub for outdoor gear manufacturers, like the makers of fishing lures or kayaks or backpacks.
He added that Western North Carolina is “the greatest playground in the East.”
Bryson would also like to make better use of town assets such as the Tuckasegee River and Island Park and make sure government operations are transparent.
Janine Crisp, 47, tax accountant
Crisp, who was born and raised in Bryson City, owns Crisp Accounting and Tax Service based out of her home office on the edge of downtown. She is an active member of the Bryson City Church of God and has four children. Crisp served as county finance director for a couple of years and as finance officer for the Swain County Health Department for several years before that.
What’s her vision
Crisp has thought about running for a seat on town board before but never officially put her hat in the ring until this year.
Crisp said she will put the residents first, and as a Bryson City native, she knows well what her fellow residents deal with.
“I just want to do anything I can to help benefit the citizens. I have the same troubles and woes, aspirations and goals.”
Her experience in finance will help the town, she said. Government, no matter how big or small, is mostly about money.
“To me, government is just the allocation of scarce resources.”
Some of those resources should go toward water and sewer upgrades, Crisp said, but she also wants to focus some funding toward residential street repairs.
“They are in some bad need of attention.”
Matthew Kirkland, 38, business owner
Kirkland opened Pursenality in 2007 and It’s a Girl Thing in 2010. Both sit just across from the train depot in downtown Bryson City. He is a native of Bryson City and has a teenage daughter. He graduated from UNC-Asheville but also attended Appalachian State and Western Carolina University during his college career.
What’s his vision
The downtown business community in Bryson City doesn’t have a representative on the town board, which affects them greatly, according to Kirkland. Many of the other downtown business owners don’t live in the town limits, so unlike him, they cannot run for office.
“It just really needed a downtown voice. This is my world — downtown — whereas (the current aldermen) don’t come downtown.”
Kirkland said he never sees the current aldermen at festivals or at other events acting as ambassadors for Bryson City.
“People don’t know what the board of aldermen are.”
Kirkland would also be one of the younger aldermen if elected and would like to bring a new perspective to the board.
“I feel like it needs to be a little more progressive than it’s always been.”
Brad Walker, 69, hotel manager
Walker is general manager of Fairfield Inn & Suites and is chairman of the Swain County Tourism Development Authority. He was previously mayor of Bryson City for four years. Walker lives in second-floor loft apartment in a building he restored downtown. Walker has lived in Bryson City for about 35 years.
What’s his vision
Two years ago, Walker did not run for re-election as mayor but is now raring to get back into small town political life.
“I want to get back into the town.”
Walker said he would like to get back to work on items that he focused on as mayor. Of course, Bryson City’s aging water and sewer infrastructure will remain a priority, but residential road maintenance tops his list.
“Time to make that the number one priority.”
Infrastructure is a critical drawing card.
Walker also said he would like to partner more with the county and other entities such as the Swain County Chamber of Commerce to promote the town.
“Bryson City is a good town, and I’d like to make it even better.”
His experience as mayor can only help, he said.
“I learned a lot when I was mayor and hope to use that experience.”
Tom Wilmot, 38, business owner
Wilmot owns the Tuckasegee Tavern in downtown Bryson City. The Atlanta native moved to town about nine years ago. His wife is Karen Wilmot, head of the Swain County Chamber of Commerce. They have two young boys. Wilmot also coaches Tee Ball and peewee football.
What’s his vision
Wilmot has lots of ideas.
“Every time I turn around, I think of something.”
But the top three issues for him are making the board of aldermen more vocal, championing the new Swain County library project and bringing visitors to Bryson City.
Wilmot said he would like to use the board as a way to reach out to government leaders higher up, those at the county and state level that could possibly help the town.
Describing himself as a voracious reader, Wilmot is passionate about building a new, larger Marianna Black Library. He has seen what Jackson and Macon counties have done with theirs and wants something just as grand for Bryson City.
“I don’t see any reason we can’t spearhead that effort there.”
Wilmot said he would also like the aldermen to work more closely with business owners and be more proactive in attracting tourists.