Arts + Entertainment

One of my favorite annual events is set to take place Jan. 15. I share this information now because it takes time to mentally sort through a garden. Additionally, preparing a seed order often proves the highpoint of the gardener’s year. One should enjoy the experience for as much time as humanly possible before reality intervenes.

In my winter fancies, everything I sow germinates and grows on beautifully. Bugs never eat these plants. Early blight never comes and destroys my tomatoes. Just the right amount of rain falls, neither too much nor too little. Weeds don’t grow, voles and rabbits fail to chew, and I plant exactly what’s needed and no more. The harvest fairy comes along at precisely the exact moment she’s needed to pick the resulting bounty at the height of goodness, and she cans and freezes whatever the kitchen fairy hasn’t whipped up into lick-smacking, garden-to-table dishes.

While the dreams feel familiar, this year is actually proving a significantly different experience because I’m not planning out a market garden. Last January, I was ordering enough vegetable and flower seed to support sales at three weekly farmers markets. I’m studying the catalogs as always, but the order will be large enough to plant only a small space.

I confess to liking garden challenges, and enjoy setting yearly goals. This year, I plan to practice seed economy and true small-scale gardening.

Back to the seed order, the brainchild of my friends Ron and Cathy Arps, two superb small farmers who live and work in Sylva.

The group order will take place at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Jackson Street in Sylva from 9 a.m. until noon. You do not have to live in Jackson County to participate.  

The seeds will be ordered from Fedco Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which Ron noted in a recent email are “two of the leading seed companies that specialize in vegetables that have been chosen for taste, such as heirloom tomatoes, as well as a selection of seeds that are organically grown and not genetically modified (GMO).”

Flower, herb and cover-crop seeds, as well as onion transplants and sweet potato slips, can be ordered.

Catalogues for both companies will be available at the event, and seasoned gardeners will be on hand to help talk beginners through the process. Better yet, take a little time and go online to and Take a look at what’s available beforehand, and jot down any questions you might have. Bring the questions along when you place an order. Bring cash or a check, too — you’ll pay that same day. The seeds generally arrive two to three weeks later, and a pickup date and time is sent out.

Many wonderful things are accomplished through this group effort. Everyone qualifies for a 24 percent discount through Fedco, varieties can be ordered that aren’t available locally, and you’re helping small farmers also get that Fedco discount — and believe me, when one’s livelihood is tied to a garden, that’s a nice way to start off the farming year.

Additionally, people who like to grow things are, of course, there. I’ve always found people who garden and farm inordinately fascinating. They talk at great and discursive lengths about those very subjects I myself find endlessly interesting and entertaining, and they never grow bored when I talk about those subjects, too.

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

By Mark Jamison • Guest Columnist

During the recent election for county commissioner in Jackson County, both sides made reference to property taxes. The challengers — who ended up sweeping out the incumbents — claimed, to some derision, that Jackson had seen a tax increase even though the marginal rate had fallen. Supporters for the incumbents made frequent reference to the fact that the county had the third lowest marginal tax rate in the state. Both sides were correct in their assertions and both were also somewhat misleading.

The issues surrounding revaluation and marginal tax rates are somewhat confusing and easy to distort for political purposes. The fact that this area of public policy is prone to confusion and misunderstanding is unfortunate because it is an essential issue that has a direct impact on not only every property owner but virtually every resident of the county.


Setting values

North Carolina mandates that counties determine the value of property within their jurisdiction at least once every eight years. Beyond that, the frequency of the process, known as revaluation is up to the board of commissioners. Statute mandates that values reflect the market value of a property, i.e., the amount a property would sell for in an arm’s-length transaction.

The state allows counties to select among several methods for determining market value. The tax assessor may visit every property. This yields perhaps the most accurate valuation since it presumes that a specific visit will fully account for particular defects or attributes of the property which may affect market value.

This is also time consuming, expensive and may be subject to the art of personal judgment.

The other methods available rely on various statistical modeling techniques and may result in as few as 10 percent of the properties in a jurisdiction actually being visited. In all the methods there are choices in schedules of values that can be applied which might yield differing results. The governing body has some discretion in these choices and makes them based on technical factors which are analyzed and presented by the tax assessor.

The process is more difficult in a developing areas like Jackson and other mountain counties. It is further complicated when the area has market pressures resulting from second home or resort development. Mountain land may be even further difficult to value because the costs of development vary greatly. The presence and complexity of local land use ordinances may impact the value of land, especially steep land that costs more to develop in an environmentally responsible manner.

The process of evaluation is also complicated when large tracts of undeveloped land are part of the market, or when many lots are in the inventory of undeveloped land. One of the most compelling reasons for a subdivision ordinance is the fact that it standardizes the process for platting of lots and therefore provides some order and basis of comparison to the market.


Revenue neutral declaration

After a revaluation, North Carolina mandates (through GS 159 - 11(e)) that a taxing jurisdiction state a “revenue neutral” tax rate in its budget. The Local Government Commission gives a specified method for making this calculation. Essentially, one takes the total value of property within the county after the revaluation and determines what tax rate, when applied to that value, would yield the same amount of revenue as prior to the revaluation.

For example, after the 2008 revaluation it was determined that in order to raise the same amount of revenue as prior to the revaluation, Jackson County would need to charge a rate of 26 cents. The previous tax rate was 36 cents but the total value of property in the county was now valued higher, meaning that a lower rate would bring in the same revenue.

Twenty-six cents is not, however, the “revenue neutral” rate. The LGC calculations recognize that each year properties are added or improved thereby increasing the tax base. The “revenue neutral” rate therefore allows for the application of a growth-rate factor.

In the case of the 2008 revaluation that calculation yielded a “revenue neutral” rate of 27.05 cents. In other words, for every $1,000 of assessed valuation the property owner would pay 27.05 cents or $270.50 on a $100,000 property. Under the concept of revenue neutral, that means that if the value of the property had increased exactly at the same average rate as all of the property in the county that the owner would pay the same taxes as before the revaluation.

Of course, a county is made up of thousands of pieces of property. Not all can be expected to increase in value at exactly the same rate so the actual tax an owner may be assessed after revaluation depends on both the average increase in values for the entire county but also on how that particular property compares.

My friend saw her property in Frady Cove increase in value from about $300,000 to more than $900,000. Her property was valued significantly higher than the average increase, consequently she paid significantly more in taxes. My house in Webster saw an increase in value of about 30 percent, much less than the average. My taxes went down.


So who was right?

So, were the challengers right in claiming there had been a tax increase? Well, technically they were since the new rate set by the commissioners was 28 cents, which was higher than the revenue neutral rate of 27.05 cents. Those who argued that there was actually a decrease because the rate went from 36 cents to 28 cents were wrong — they didn’t understand the concept of revaluation and revenue neutral.

But those who argued there was a tax increase in terms that made it seem immense were perhaps stretching a point. The increase was about $9.50 per $100,000 of assessed value, or $95 on a million dollar property — not nothing, but not a political point scored either.

And what of the incumbents, who pointed with great pride to the “third lowest marginal tax rate in the state.” Well, if you’ve followed the discussion so far you may have noticed that marginal rates might not mean much in an area with a very hot real estate market. Since 2000 there have been three revaluations in Jackson County resulting in property values increasing by about 200 percent on average.


Mega increases avoidable

Of all the things the commissioners who lost in the last election could be criticized for, the most serious error is the one no one talks about. The 2008 revaluation came at the height of a sizzling real estate market. It was apparent that because of some of the gated developments and very high lot and land prices that the revaluation was going to reflect some astronomical increases.

Contributing to that problem was the use of a statistical method in the process that had the potential for allowing some of the prices in places like Balsam Mountain Preserve to leak out and impact other areas — something that generally should not happen if the process is to be equitable and truly reflect market value.

One didn’t have to be especially prescient or have a crystal ball to see that we were on the cusp of a real estate bubble. I wrote about that potential in 2006. By 2008, when we were on the cusp of the bubble bursting, it was evident that there were serious problems in the market.

Jackson County had done a revaluation in 2004. The increases in that cycle were alarming. Jackson County had been on an eight-year cycle prior to 2000 and had justifiably shifted to a shorter cycle to minimize the impacts of the hot market. The idea was to reduce sticker shock and made good sense. The downside was that short cycles can lock in huge increases in market values right on the edge of a slowdown. The ordinance process the county engaged in may have exacerbated this, although certainly not in the way the alarmists in the Cashiers market claimed.

It was reasonably predictable that the ordinance process would at least pause the market while developers adjusted to the new regulations. That was a good thing, but it was also something that needed to be accounted for in the revaluation process — both in the methods chosen and in the schedule of values.

By mid-2008 when the revaluation was completed it was clear that the market was seriously challenged. By accepting the 2008 revaluation, higher land values were locked in and the distribution of the increases was clearly troubling. Valuing steep land in larger tracts at $16,000 an acre or more was not sustainable.

The problems were foreseeable and predictable. Going ahead with the 2008 revaluation was a serious mistake, and we’re about to see the consequences. We are scheduled for a revaluation in 2012. The complete collapse of the real estate market will have some serious consequences for that revaluation. It will be difficult to find “comps” — comparable values — needed to establish a shape to the market. How do you determine market value when there is no market?

Currently, much of the land that was slated for development in 2008, land in the former Legasus developments for example, is now virtually worthless. Lots that may have been worth $400,000 may now be in foreclosure. Land that was slated for gated development and relied on developers for community wide infrastructure may now only be saleable as lots or tracts having substantially less value and potential.


Who’s going to pay?

The county may have a current dilemma collecting revenues from some of these lots. That could have an immediate impact on budgets and require tax increases, but even worse consequences occur if a revaluation shows the true current value of some of the land previously targeted for development. It is possible that a huge slice of tax base has virtually disappeared, meaning that the next revenue neutral calculation would result in the marginal rate going up significantly to 35 or 50 cents.

I want to make perfectly clear that this discussion in no way endorses development. It isn’t about how we develop or preserve land or what we may want our communities to look like. It is solely about state mandates and current processes that have tremendous impacts and consequences.

The immediate solution may be deferring the 2012 revaluation. That does nothing to remediate the values locked in from 2008, but it may allow the market to recover and mitigate some of the foreseeable problems. Over the long run though we must rationalize the property tax system in a way that accounts for these systemic problems. The state must recognize that a system that works for stable developed areas like the Triangle has hugely negative consequences on rural areas.

Some will say that given the current state budget crisis that now is not the time to address these issues. I would argue that now is the best time to address these issues. I would like to see the rural counties of the state through both boards of commissioners and the representatives in Raleigh convene a planning group and design some specific changes in state law and policy that give local jurisdictions the tools they need to raise revenues in an effective and fair manner.

(Mark Jamison lives in Webster and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

This is a good time of the year to order seeds and plant carrots.

That’s not a misprint: It’s an excellent time to plant carrots. Starting this week, if there’s a weather window allowing for it, go into the garden and pick a place for carrots. Pull a rake lightly across the selected bed, just enough to break up any heavy clods of dirt. Be mindful of not overworking the soil. The ground is very moist, more so now than at most times of the year.

(I’m going to wax philosophical here, so brace accordingly, or skip down to where I get back to the nitty-gritty of planting carrots in December or January.)

Good garden soil is a precious, wondrous thing. As such, it deserves your respect and careful tending. Generally speaking, the less the ground is worked, the better overall.

This holds true in the winter, when you barely work the soil at all. It holds true in the early spring, when the soil requires more amending and turning, but only just so and no more than that. And on through the gardener’s year, which in Western North Carolina can be for an incredible 12 months — if the gardener or farmer has enough energy, passion and willingness to experiment.

Gardening year-round does require paying acute attention to conditions as they really are, not as we might prefer them to be. And to developing, as commensurate experience is gained, what some might wrongly dub an intuitive feel. Don’t be deceived, or believe people at birth were given green thumbs or dark, black ones. Vegetable gardening is not an art — it’s a craft. Anyone with sufficient interest and the willingness to work hard can learn to garden. Or, for that matter, keep honeybees, raise livestock or write essays on a variety of riveting subjects such as these.

But I’m digressing within a digression. Let me find my way toward home (and planting those carrots) by noting I’m big on creating a partnership with your garden or farm. This approach is in stark contrast to how some gardeners seem to view gardening or vegetable farming. Each spring, these folks arm themselves as if for war with their tillers and tractors, synthetic fertilizers and lethal sprays. They start by pulverizing the soil. Next, they dump chemical fertilizer down as some sort of imaginary fertility insurance. The battle — and make no mistake about it, these are battles taking place within an overall war against the earth — is concluded when these gallant warriors have poisoned every living creature, great or small, helpful or harmful.

Gardeners and farmers of this ilk seem to believe they’ve forced the earth into doing their bidding. How very powerful, even godlike, that must feel. Unfortunately for them, this approach simply doesn’t work for long.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against tillers or tractors. Or using sprays and powders. Select methods that best match your garden and your philosophy. Hey, this is America after all.

Just, please, use powerful machinery and manmade chemicals mindfully and for thought-out reasons, not simply from habit, laziness or carelessness.

Kindness and gentleness in gardening is actually more practical: battling the earth simply doesn’t pay. The soil loses its vitality when overworked and over-fertilized. Indiscriminant poisoning kills good insects along with the bad (though one could rightfully argue there are no “bad” insects. In reality, even those insects with destructive habits serve as a useful signal we’ve gotten the balance out of whack. We might do better to consider why rather than reaching for a spray bottle).

Now, back to carrots. You’ve prepared a bed with due love and attention. Pull any weeds that might be successfully over-wintering. Using a hoe, or the handle of the rake, make furrows 4-6 inches apart. Sow the carrot seed with a heavy hand — no stinginess or frugality here, think joyful abundance as you plant.

This is because winter gardening is about increasing the odds. It’s a crapshoot, and seeding thickly substantially bolsters your chance of producing a lovely carrot crop that will wow your friends and send enemies cowering.

Cover the planted seed lightly with dirt, and pat it down. Put row cover such as Agribon 19 over the carrot bed. I use wire hoops to keep it suspended, but you could lay it down directly (though loosely so the plants have room to grow), and pin the cover along the sides using rocks. Row cover is simply a light fabric available through many garden centers, or you can order it from most seed companies. I’ve read of some thrifty souls using sheers for the same purpose.

It might take awhile, but the carrot seed will germinate. The little plants sit there, seemingly not growing at all, until the days get a bit longer.

On those nights it gets really cold — I’m talking, say, 17 degrees or lower — consider throwing a sheet or piece of plastic on top. Be sure, however, to remove the extra cover when conditions change for the better.

Don’t thin the plants until they are several inches tall, then thin to 1-2 inches apart. Come April or May, if all goes well, you’ll be eating carrots straight from the garden.

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

Few things are as maddening to me as when politics gets in the way of doing the right thing. That’s just what happened in the U.S. Senate last week when the DREAM Act failed to pass.

Worse, the Senate vote emboldens those who want this country to be governed by fear, afraid of immigrants, gays, minorities, liberals, the federal government, and all those other imaginary boogies that they claim are trying to take America from them.

Perhaps some of you have followed the debate on immigration. This bill would have created an arduous but attainable path to U.S. citizenship for those who as infants or small children were smuggled across a border and who have now graduated from high school and have at least two years of college or want to serve this country in the military and fight against the Taliban or Al Qaeda. The great majority of these immigrants have never had another home other than the U.S., did not come here of their own free will, and want nothing except to work, pay taxes, and be citizens of the only country they know.

I’d like to extend a special thanks to North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, who was one of five from her party to join Republicans and help kill this bill. She claims on her website to be “for North Carolina families, our military and veterans.”

I happen to be a member of one of those North Carolina families, and I think Hagan’s stand on this issue is dead wrong. My father was raised the son of a textile mill worker before joining the military, and my mother was raised in a North Carolina coastal town where she worked on farms as a child. They both valued hard work, honesty and the American “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” philosophy that included a heavy emphasis on education. They overcame many disadvantages, but a belief in hard work and treating others fairly was ingrained from a very early age in my brothers and I.

I don’t understand this fear that immigrants may somehow take a job one of my children may need or want. To the contrary, I’m glad we have people here who value those same traits passed to me from my parents. This bill is not about some underclass that wants to take advantage of the system. To the contrary, it is about young people who want to attend college, serve this country, work and pay taxes.

If anyone — an immigrant who may have just attained legal status or a kid from down the street — bests one of my children as they work to attain their dreams, then the message isn’t that we need to block that other youth’s path to success. To the contrary, the lesson is that my kid needs to work harder and do better. You don’t blame the person who succeeded.

By my thinking this goes straight to the core of what most of us believe about America. We have an economy and a national philosophy based on the belief that capitalism, competition and a kind of Darwinian social system will end up bringing out the best in all of us and create the best society. If that’s true, then it is also true that we want all the smartest, hardest-working and best-educated immigrants in the world as part of the mix. We can’t open the door to every immigrant, but we need to roll out the red carpet to the best and the brightest and the hardest working. This bill was going to open a path to citizenship for just those immigrants.

But we’ve become timid and scared. Yes, there is terrifying drug violence and gang warfare along the Mexican border. Yes, we have illegal Hispanic immigrants using our social service system and health care system and our education system. Yes, Caucasians will become a minority sometime in the next half century.

This bill, though, was not about any of that. It was about those who were once small children who through no fault of their own were brought here by their parents. They are as American as our immigrant grandparents or great-grandparents, raised in a society that teaches that those who stay out of trouble, work hard and are smart can attain whatever they want.

Except, it seems, a path to citizenship.

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

Sunday, 6 a.m.: Get out of bed, stagger downstairs and start grinding coffee beans. What’s that white sheen through the window? Oh goodness, it must have snowed overnight! I should have moved my car. Stupid weather forecasters — they said the snow wouldn’t come through until this afternoon. So much for dinner with friends in Franklin tonight … So much, too, for getting out of here before a significant warm-up takes place. Sorry, Scott. Bet you’ll be laying out the newspaper in Waynesville on Tuesday without me.

8 a.m.: Measure snow. Three inches, and more on the way, according to the National Weather Service. Eat breakfast — French toast drizzled with tasty wildflower honey harvested last summer from the bees. Two slices of bacon. More coffee.

8:30 a.m.: Well fortified, it’s time to head down the mountain … on foot. Put on long johns, jeans, long-john top, T-shirt, sweatshirt, coat, knit cap, gloves, thick wool socks and lined rubber boots. Stop at the shed for a bale of hay, put it on a sled, continue down the mountain. I know there is a crowd of hungry goats, sheep, chickens, two guard dogs and one orange barn cat named Jack at the barn down at the mountain’s base.

8:40 a.m. I’m absolutely burning up. I’m partway down the mountain. It is in the mid 30s, and I could comfortably exist in the arctic with the amount of clothing I’ve put on … what was I thinking? Take off the coat, the knit cap and the sweatshirt. Continue to the barn.

8:45 a.m.: Finally at the barn. Coax the seven goats into their respective stalls for feeding. The billy, Boo, and the wether, Brownie, are in one stall together. Peggy Sue and Delilah in another. Sochan and Chrysanthemum in a third. Thelma — the queen goat — still eats on the milking stand where she was milked until being dried off in November. Feed them.

9 a.m.: Carry water from the spring to the animals. The small pond where I’m dipping the water is gorgeous, unbelievabley clear and ringed about with snow. The water tank was drained last week because it needed cleaning, and there hasn’t been rainfall since. I’ll be carrying hot water down the mountain tomorrow with the freezing temperatures that are expected. Scatter cracked corn to the 30 or so chickens, all absolutely miserable in this snow — they don’t like getting their feet wet. Chickens aren’t that bright, and it doesn’t dawn on them to stay in the barn. Instead, they are standing forlornly in the yard. Feed the dogs, who unlike the chickens, think the snow is terrific. Feed the cat. Feed the sheep. Look at Sophie’s udder. We think she is pregnant, but her udder isn’t showing signs of filling out, which the veterinarian said to watch for. Maybe the ewe is simply really, really fat?

9:30 a.m.: Give each of the goats a penicillin shot. This must be done twice each day for five days. A virulent cold is running through the herd. Runny noses and coughs abound. The does are pregnant, and with the added stress of severe cold, it seemed wisest to start them on antibiotics. I worked as a vet tech during college, so I’ve given shots before, but goats are proving a lot more difficult than I anticipated. It’s really hard to find enough skin to pull out for the shot — maybe I can get a veterinarian to demonstrate if I ever get off the mountain again. The goats hate the shots. I don’t blame them. I feel bad for causing them pain.

10 a.m.: Carry four bales of straw from an unused shelter to the barn, and one farther down to the sheep shelter. Break them open and scatter them about. Fall once, landing on my back, while moving the straw bales. Wonder what would happen if I broke a bone or something. The cell phone is in the house, back on top of the mountain. If I slip in the snow and no one is around to hear me scream, do I really make a sound?

11 a.m.: Dust myself off, nothing broken. Start back up the mountain, hauling the sled behind. No reason to worry about not making it to the gym today — this is enough of a workout.

11:30 a.m. Cup of hot chocolate in front of a fire. Self-congratulations for splitting and stacking wood yesterday.

Noon on: Watch birds feeding. Chickadees, finches, pine siskins, titmice, male and female cardinals in the feeders. Towhees, winter wren and juncos on the ground — all happy until a large hawk perches in a tree nearby, triggering a mass exodus. Eat salad for lunch, made with the last head of Chinese cabbage from the garden. There are still plenty of other greens, though, all tucked away for now under double and triple layers of row cover.

2 p.m. Start on this column. All in all, not a bad day, though it will be time to head back down the mountain at 4 p.m. to feed, give medicine, and tuck the animals away for the night. I like winter, even the brutal days when the simplest tasks become difficult. It makes me feel very alive.

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

Editor’s note: This letter was written by Waynesville’s planning director in response to Mary Lamb’s letter above.

Dear Ms. Lamb

Thank you for copying me on your message to Mayor Gavin Brown. I can’t speak for the mayor, but I was frustrated that most of your questions seemed to be aimed at attacking our process rather than genuine questions to gather information about the draft ordinance. Many people have worked very hard to produce the product that you have attacked even before understanding what it contains. My concern at both community meetings was that your insistent, repetitive and argumentative statements were dominating the meeting to the exclusion of comments from other citizens that pertained to the actual content of the ordinance.

Our steering committee was never intended to be demographically balanced. The criteria for selection was experience with the Town’s development regulations. All were appointed directly or indirectly by your elected representatives. All meetings of this committee were open and members of the media did occasionally attend.

As you have the opportunity to review the draft ordinance, I am hopeful that you will appreciate some of the changes even if you don’t agree with others. Please let us know what you don’t agree with, and how in your opinion it can be improved. That is the type of feedback that will be effective in making the ordinance better.

I’m sure you realize that all development ordinances represent compromise, so it’s unlikely that everyone will be completely pleased with the result of the revision. However, the objective of this process as I see it is to produce a set of development regulations that are more user-friendly and more importantly will make Waynesville a better place.

Paul Benson

Waynesville Planning Director

To the Editor:

Like so many other young couples, my husband and I felt so blessed when he landed a job in this area five years ago and we were able to move and start a family in Waynesville. We had looked at living in Sylva, but immediately were attracted to the historic character and charm of this dear town and seriously impressed with the well-thought out planning of the downtown, where we currently live. 

This interest in being a part of a vibrant, beautiful community led me to attend a meeting hosted by Paul Benson, planner for the town of Waynesville, on Tuesday in which the town’s newly drafted land development standards were presented to the public. Benson explained that over a more than two-year period, a committee appointed by our respected town board reviewed the old land development standards, coming up with a completely new document to be enacted into law — a document that would entirely replace our current standards. 

Mr. Benson said that only 10 percent of the current law would effectively be changed; however, the changes he discussed I found to be on very critical issues (parking, setbacks, landscaping, to name just a few). Many of these changes could alter the originally planned landscape, making it appear more and more like suburban strip malls and big box centers of larger cities, not the quaint mountain town we love and that tourists love to visit.

Residents wishing to make changes to improve and protect the character of their neighborhoods have been told that this review process would be their opportunity to organize and make changes.  But even after news outlets have advertised the public meeting times, the public still needs ample time to review, digest and discuss the more than 300-page document that is currently the law, along with the new 200-plus page document being proposed to supersede it. These documents are written in entirely different forms, making it very time-consuming to compare and contrast them. 

Currently, neither Mr. Benson nor his committee have offered the public an easy to read list of all changes from the old law to the new—only summaries they wish to highlight and that are admittedly incomplete.  They are putting the burden of review on the public, a process that again is complicated and lengthy.

Currently, the town planning board is set to begin discussion and possibly even vote on the new standards Monday, Dec. 20. This would only allow concerned citizens two and a half weeks (during the Christmas season) to review it. I would urge interested citizens to contact the Town Board and urge them to delay all voting on this plan until at least March to allow interested citizens time to read, meet and develop their own concerns for consideration.   

What is the vision of Waynesville’s residents for their future? A handful of men only have spent two years revising the original standards which were developed and adopted (in 2003) with both men and women actively involved. Allowing folks a couple of months to give feedback is not too much to ask. The standards adopted by the town greatly affect the beauty, character, economic development and general sustainability of our community. 

What you can do to help:

1. Email or call the Waynesville Aldermen, the chair of the Planning Board and the Town Planner and ask them in your own words to postpone any vote on adopting the Land Development Standards until at least March.

Mayor Gavin Brown, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.452.2491

Alderman Gary Caldwell, 828.456.3138

Alderman Elizabeth Feichter, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.456-6918

Alderman J. Wells Greeley, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.456.7288

Alderman LeRoy Roberson, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.456.7142

Town Planner Paul Benson, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 828.456.2004

Planning Board Chair Patrick McDowell, 828.508.4932

2. Attend the Waynesville Planning Board meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 20, in the upstairs room of the new downtown police station to ask the entire planning board to postpone their critical vote on this issue until at least March.

3. Forward this letter and info to anyone Waynesville residents you know who are concerned with Smart Growth, historic preservation and maintaining the character and charm of our community. Post information on any Facebook or other social networking site you regularly use to contact your Waynesville friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.

4. Contact me with your other ideas on how we can work fast to take advantage of this window of opportunity for making positive change in our community. A small group of concerned citizens is currently forming to carefully review the new plan and we would love your help.

Mary Alice Lamb


A bit of a stumble out of the gate can be forgiven among newcomers in any endeavor, but that stumble also means more intense scrutiny is likely to follow.

That’s exactly what happened with the new Jackson County commissioners, and voters are surely hoping there are better times to come.

A perfect storm of factors — bad economy, controversial county manager, and the pre-election Tea Party surge, among them — led voters to sweep every incumbent up for election out the door in the Jackson County commissioners race.

Citing those factors and others as a reason for the victory is not meant as a criticism of the new commissioners. The three  — Jack Debnam, Charles Elders and Doug Cody — obviously impressed a lot of voters they came into contact with. Americans have a near religious fervor regarding the will of the people, and that will expresses itself every time we hold an election. It’s winners take all, and that’s just the way it is.

No, critics of any newly elected leaders would be advised to wait until those leaders take office — or at least begin making decisions — to start finding fault. In Jackson County, that didn’t take very long.

First was the way the retirement of Ken Westmoreland was handled. There was little doubt Westmoreland and the new board would not see eye to eye, and that his tenure as county manager was, for all intents and purposes, over. And as Westmoreland himself told this newspaper, a new board “has every right, prerogative and the authority to put in their own management team …. I don’t understand why (Jack Debnam) felt the need to deny it, but it just didn’t come out that way, I guess.”

Westmoreland is referring to Debnam’s leak to the local media that Westmoreland had decided to retire, and Debnam saying the county manager had done so of his own volition. Westmoreland denies that it was his decision. He said Debnam put it to him like this: “He said, ‘the three of us have talked it over and we would like a change.’”

So one of the two men is dead wrong, which means someone is lying. Let’s just repeat the earlier assertion, that this wasn’t handled very cleanly.

There are also a couple of other issues with the early work of the new board. It changed the starting time of one of its monthly meetings to 2 p.m. That means any working folks are excluded. That doesn’t send a very good message.

The board also moved the public comment session of its meeting to the very end of the agenda. I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended hundreds of public meetings over the years, and they are, well, somewhat less than riveting. To make citizens who want to talk hang around until commissioners have finished their business is, well, a bit rude. Let the public have their say and then leave. They aren’t paid to be there, but commissioners are.

As I said early on, even elected officials deserve a bit of a pass on early mistakes. What citizens want is sound, thoughtful leadership. Only time will tell if this is what they got.

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

I have a confession to make. Underneath my tough, no-nonsense newspaperwoman exterior, I’m an individual who is ridden with guilt.

I can go inside myself at any given moment and touch on a multitude of reasons to justify feeling guilty. Having spoken rudely to someone, not believing I’ve put enough effort into a news article, terminal procrastination, not spending adequate time with my cats — anything and everything will do.

This, for me, is normal. And because I’m accustomed to me, life is familiar if not always comfortable. That’s not to say I don’t welcome lightening the load. So I’m happy to note one longstanding issue, where my crime was real and my guilt justified, has been resolved.

I no longer reside in the bad-girl files of the Fontana Regional Library System. I wrote a check to the Jackson County Public Library for $178.65. It didn’t just make me feel better — head librarian Dottie Brunette was delighted. Even the other library employees seemed to enjoy the event, a celebratory moment in an otherwise dull day, I guess.

At a recent dinner party, Dottie had flatly refused a request to expunge my record. I wanted my own library card after relying on borrowed ones for 15 years. Jackson County is building a beautiful new library. When it opens, I want to march in and check out books using my real name.

That’s what friends are for, I reasoned before asking Dottie. To undertake small personal favors for each other and, in this manner, make the difficult journey through life a bit gentler and easier. Kind of like the Freemasons or something, I thought. Except, of course, we don’t have secret decoder rings or handshakes or temples in which to gather.

Ha. I should have known better. Instead, Dottie delivered a l..o..n..g lecture on the library’s needs, its limited budget, the value of books in general, the noble role librarians play in the world, and so on. She capped it off with how she, Dottie, always pays her library fines and dammit, she’s the head librarian isn’t she? So the least I could do is pay my fines, too.

What I wanted to do by that point was have a big glass of wine or two, but because I’ve sworn off drinking for now I couldn’t do that. So I glared at Dottie instead. Then I realized she was (dammit) right. I needed to pay the fine.

Here is where I start looking good.

When I went to the library and asked Dottie exactly how much was owed, she informed me there were choices. In a pained voice, she admitted in a matter of months, because of the sheer length of time that had passed, my fines would erase automatically. Then I could get a library card — for free.

I hesitated. I thought long and hard about the uphill battle for funding the library system is facing during these tough economic times. And of the almost indescribably important part libraries have played in my life and heart.

My father drove the bookmobile at one time for Fontana Regional Library System, so I spent many days after school and during the summer at Marianna Black Library in Bryson City. When my mother worked in Sylva, my afternoons were occupied with reading books and magazines at the Jackson County Public Library. One of Dottie’s predecessors, Jeanette Newsome, and other women who worked there kept a close eye on me. I love them for that to this day.

When I lived in Cashiers and was dreaming of farming instead of writing, I found books at the library to sustain and inform me. Working at The Franklin Press and for the first time truly living on my own, I relied on the Macon County Public Library as a free source of reading material and entertainment.

Which is where I got into trouble — during a move in Franklin from one house to another, a box of library books and records disappeared. I have no idea what happened to them. At that time I was too poor to pay the fine. Later I just used the borrowed library cards and tried not to feel guilty.

Jackson County Library’s workers gave me a list of what exactly I was paying for: 11 books and a double-record album — opera arias, no less. In October 1995, I was reading Jim Chee mysteries, books on feature writing and photography, Spoon River anthology, and more.

I still enjoy Jim Chee mysteries and opera arias. Maybe now the library system can afford to replace the books and buy some CDs. And I can check them out. Using my very own — and very expensive — library card, thank you very much.

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

When I was in the fourth grade, some dirtbag stole my hat. But it wasn’t any old dirtbag, and it wasn’t any old hat. The dirtbag was a kid named Terry, a garden variety bully with no manners, questionable hygiene, and no regard for people’s personal property. In other words, he was the kind of dirtbag who would steal another guy’s hat, and then wear it proudly the next day, as if it were a trophy, as if he were daring the victim to do something about it.

Under normal circumstances, I would have probably just let it go. A hat is a hat, not worth fighting over, and a dirtbag is just a dirtbag, no shortage of those in the halls and on the playground. However, this was not just any hat. It was a brand new Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap that I had just got as a birthday present from K&E Sporting Goods. I still remember the day I picked it out, tried it on, felt the stiffness of the bill as I began shaping it into a curve. I was a big Dodger fan, as was my dad. I thought that there was no blue like the blue in brand new Dodgers baseball cap, not even the sky.

I wore it all the time, to church, to school, even to supper, where my mother patiently let me eat my fried perch and mashed potatoes without making me take it off. Unfortunately, my fourth grade teacher would not allow me to wear my hat in class, so I had to put it in my locker, which was not really a locker but a little wooden cube barely big enough to stuff a windbreaker into, a cinch for even the most dull-witted thief, and Terry certainly was that.

When I discovered my Dodgers cap had been stolen, I had a feeling that I am not quite sure I can adequately describe. I felt angry, yes, but more than that, I felt confused and violated, as if the natural order of things had suddenly come undone and I had not been alerted to the new way of things. What if Monday suddenly followed Friday and someone had taken the weekends? What if someone had removed all the tater tots in the entire world? What if someone took all but three days of summer vacation?

Something important had been taken from me, by someone who had no business or right to take it. It was mine and now it was gone. I remember looking at the empty “locker” for a long time, as if looking hard enough might somehow force the hat to materialize right before my eyes.  To be honest, I felt more sick than angry.

That was a long time ago, but I still remember the feeling vividly. A couple of weeks ago — on Black Friday — my wife was shopping at Belks when someone stole her pocketbook. She was looking at shoes, and had maneuvered her cart between two nearby rows of clothes so that it would not further clutter up the area. She had turned her back for just a few minutes, only to find when she turned back for the cart that it was gone … along with her pocketbook and everything in it, including her wallet, credit cards, license, photographs, whatever money she had, her keys, cell phone, and assorted other, more easily replaceable, items. When she looked at that space where her cart had been, I imagine she felt very close to how I felt when I looked at my empty locker all those years ago. I know she did, because I could hear it in her voice when she called me at about 5 a.m. on Friday morning, her voice trembling and frail.

It wasn’t just that her pocketbook had been stolen. We were able to cancel the credit cards, contact the bank, replace the cell phone and keys, and change the locks on the house easily enough. Luckily, she hadn’t been carrying much cash, so it turned out that the monetary loss was fairly minimal. The bigger injury by far was that feeling of violation, that the natural order of things was out of whack, that at any minute for no apparent reason someone will take what’s yours when your back is turned. She’ll get over this, of course, but it will take her longer to get over the sense of violation than it will to get over what she lost.

I ended up getting my hat back, by the way. And, years later, Terry ended up dropping out of school and going to jail. The moral? Sometimes, the natural order of things may be temporarily upset, but in the end, it’ll kick your ass. I think Aristotle said that, probably after some young Athenian stole his sandals.  

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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This Must Be the Place

Reading Room

  • Books that help bridge the political divide
    Books that help bridge the political divide Time for spring-cleaning.  The basement apartment in which I live could use a deep cleaning: dusting, washing, vacuuming. It’s tidy enough — chaos and I were never friends — but stacks of papers need sorting, bookcases beg to see their occupants removed and the shelves…
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