Arts + Entertainment

To the Editor:

Last week, Mr. Ron Robinson of Jackson County quoted a statistic in support of re-electing our county commissioners; our property tax rate is one of the lowest at 28 cents per $100 of valuation (“Incumbents are best for commissioner seats,” Sept. 22, Smoky Mountain News, www.smokymountain-news.com/index.php/component/k2/item/1492-incumbents-are-best-for-commissioner-seats). But, there is much more to this story.

What he didn’t talk about was the fact that our property tax rate used to be at 26 cents before it went up to 28 cents. He didn’t mention that our county’s solvency or our ability to pay our long-term debt obligations has taken a nosedive of 30 points from a high in 2007 (www.nctreasurer.com-/dsthome/State-AndLocalGov/lgcreport). 

The more important statistic we should look at from the report created by the N.C. Treasurer is the county’s overall financial performance and how much it has improved or gotten worse. Ours has plummeted in the last three years from about 18 percent down to 2 percent for 2009. In fact, if you look at our performance compared to our peers — Macon, Haywood and Swain — we have fallen 35 percent, which is the highest possible percent of change that is even measured by the N.C. Treasury Department. These numbers do not support Mr. Robinson’s argument to re-elect our county commissioners.

Our property tax rate might be low, but more importantly it went up. The statement that we have one of the lowest rates is just another way of saying we are one of the poorest counties (with the highest paid upper-level county employees, specifically, our county manager). Remember that our tax rate went up, and remember that our highest paid county employees got a million dollar raise during a time when our financial performance was sinking.  

Also, those pay raises went against the $25,000 research results from the Mercer Group. But the most disturbing fact is that the Mercer group reported that it was our lower-level employees who were not paid enough. The same people that gave themselves the big pay raises, trashed the research and took away the measly 2 percent cost-of-living raises from the underpaid employees. That is not fair, is not right, and is not just. It’s right next door to “low-down.”

Lastly, as for the new ordinances, when have you ever seen a county ordinance enforced? That’s a non-issue. I don’t know all the people running in the election yet, but at this moment I’m thinking that I’m just going to vote against ALL the incumbents. It couldn’t get much worse than it is now. Surely.

Lindsey Dean

Huntsville, Ala. (Jackson County native)

I am learning to move at the speed each task demands. This is a lesson the barnyard teaches. It is a good lesson for me to remember out of the barnyard, too.

The animals — seven goats, two sheep, 30 or so chickens, a couple of massive guard dogs and Jack the cat — sense when I’m in a hurry. My need to have been at work 15 minutes ago is instantly communicated when I arrive to feed and milk. The more I rush and bustle about, the more uncooperative and stupid they become.

The sheep, a young ram and his intended mate, are the worst offenders. Lately they’ve been confined in a paddock. This requires carrying food and buckets of water down a steep hill twice each day. The inconvenience is preferable to allowing them with the other animals. Then the sheep rush the gate at feeding time, and the days I’m short on minutes they generally succeed in knocking the buckets out of my hands.

If I do manage to get through the gate unmolested, the ewe and ram still usually eat the goats’ food. The ewe is adept at bumping her head against the underside of the feeding troughs. This causes them to unhook and dump. The goats are too hoity-toity to eat food that has touched dirt. Not the sheep, however. Down the pair’s great greedy throats it goes.

The ram poses additional problems because of his ardor for one of the goats. She is a particularly winsome thing. Light colored except for a dark stripe down her back, dainty on her hooves, with a fetching, come-hither way of twitching her tail. When not confined, the ram follows his chosen love about with a creepy, lascivious gleam in his eyes.

Though I cannot deny she has pleasing physical attributes, he was not brought to the barnyard to develop a case of I’m Romeo, please-be-my-Juliet for a goat – he is, after all, a ram. I find the ewe a pest, but she seems good looking enough to me, as far as sheep go.

But, I digress. On days I rush, even with the sheep secured, chaos reigns. Sometimes it’s the five-month-old, more than 90-pound puppy that is the culprit. Forgetting he’s supposed to guard his flock, not menace it, Tuck will snatch up a chicken in his huge drooly mouth. He looks confused and shattered when screamed at, as if he can’t believe anyone could be so cruel as to shout at an innocent pup. The poor chicken emerges from his vast jaws like some loathsome creature of the deep, feathers slicked down, strings of saliva trailing behind, wild eyed and staggered by the shock.

At other times, Brownie the wether has been to blame for my barnyard angst. A wether is a male goat that is less than he once was — neutered, cut, fixed. Not allowed to propagate because, frankly, he doesn’t bring all that much to the table. Brownie, just recently, was given a purpose in life. To serve as the male companion of a billy goat, who, at the exorbitant cost needed to acquire his regal services, probably would be well advised to bring a whole lot to the table, and quickly.  

Until designated the billy goat’s particular friend, Brownie existed on this earth to annoy me. His level of resistance seemed directly correlated to the amount of time I had available to fool with him. The more hurried I was, the fleeter of foot he became. Sometimes it seemed as if he flew about the barnyard on winged hooves, suddenly and inexplicably transformed into Pegasus.

I have learned to hesitate before going into the barnyard. To gather myself, no matter how hurried I feel, no matter how late I am. Someone wise once told me farmyard animals love routine. That’s true. They also respond to calmness. When I slow my movements, everything gets done quickly. When I hurry, the barnyard falls apart. There was a book written some years ago about learning everything you need to know in kindergarten. It is taking me much longer than that. And I require a barnyard.

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

By Kirkwood Callahan • Guest Columnist

Two years ago, America’s newest political superstar, Barack Obama, walked across campaign stages to thunderous applause. Today he is the object of derision from fellow Democrats fighting for their political lives.

“When you are wrong, you are wrong!,” says West Virginia’s Gov. Joe Manchin, the Democrat candidate for the U.S. Senate. He disagrees with the president on “issues that we believe in dearly in West Virginia.” The governor opposes the Cap and Trade bill, and criticizes his party’s “wasteful spending.”

Manchin’s efforts to distance himself from the White House epitomize Gov. Haley Barbour’s (R-Miss.) observation that Democrats were running from Obama “like scalded dogs.”  

Others, too numerous to list here, have detached themselves from Obama. These Democrats know Obama’s coattails were sheared after Obama-backed candidates in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts fell before Republicans. Even after these defeats, the Democrats’ super majorities in Congress gave him big legislative victories, Obama-Care being the greatest prize. Now the political bill has come due, and the cost is very dear.

Some powerful congressional Democrats saw the writing on the wall and retired — Sens. Chris Dodd, Conn., and Evan Bayh, Ind., and Rep. David Obey, Wis., among them. Powerful members who chose to stay in the race — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,  Nev., and his colleagues  Barbara Boxer, Calif., and Russ Feingold, Wis., face formidable opponents.

What explains this change in political fortunes?  

More voters now understand what Obama meant by “hope and change” but reject it. However, a more comprehensive answer lies in understanding the transformation within the country’s conservative ranks.

•••

Many conservatives felt let down after the GOP’s humiliations in 2006 and 2008. The fallen party had lost its way as it dispensed earmarks and spent money. A year ago, I wrote that many considered a new party combining the energies of independents and other disaffected groups to find a way out of the nation’s morass. But a third party did not come to pass. Instead, the GOP had a house cleaning.

Conservatives coalesced into various Tea Party groups and similar organizations like Haywood’s 9-12 movement. Many put their energies to work within the Republican infrastructure, which is essential to conservative victories. Their message was clear: get back to conservative basics — the principles of limited government and fiscal restraint. Sarah Palin gave liberal pundits heartburn as her endorsements catapulted challengers to primary victories.

Veteran GOP politicians who strayed from a starboard course met defeat. In Delaware, Christine O’Donnell’s victory over nine-term Rep. Mike Castle for the U.S. Senate nomination was the most recent.

Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a member of an established political family, fell in the Alaskan Republican primary to Joe Miller. In Utah three-term Republican Sen. Robert Bennett was denied re-nomination by his party’s state convention.

In response to the political season, Republican House Leader John Boehner has announced  “A Pledge to America” that will control spending, create jobs, repeal and replace Obama-Care, and maintain American security (see www.gop.gov).

The North Carolina GOP has announced a policy platform for winning control of the General Assembly.  Boiled down, the platform pledges fiscal responsibility, exemption from the mandates of Obama-Care, encouragement of private-sector job growth, a lifting of the cap on charter schools and property rights  protected by an Eminent Domain constitutional amendment. An “Honest Election Act” will require a valid photo ID to vote, and integrity in government will be restored. (See www.ncgop.org/)  

•••

Close to home, the battle wages intensely. Congressman Heath Shuler, who voted for Obama’s Cap and Trade bill, avoided open town hall meetings with his constituents. The man who voted twice to seat Nancy Pelosi as speaker is facing a challenge from Hendersonville businessman Jeff Miller who offers a common sense conservative approach to governing.

Sens. Joe Sam Queen and John Snow, whose districts cover Haywood County, are in a fight for political survival. Ralph Hise, Spruce Pine’s mayor, and Jim Davis, Macon county commissioner, challenge the incumbents’ failure to improve the region’s economy and will pursue more jobs and adherence to traditional values.

In the Haywood districts for the N.C. House, Sam Edwards and Dodie Allen challenge Ray Rapp and Phil Haire, veteran legislators who have served as taxes rose and state budgets swelled. Edwards and Allen have promised strict fiscal conservatism.  At the courthouse level, three Republicans — Denny King, David Bradley, and Tom Freeman — challenge two incumbents, Kirk Kirkpatrick and Bill Upton, as well as one new office seeker, Michael Sorrells.

Haywood Republicans will hold their Annual Harvest Dinner this Saturday evening, Oct. 2 ,at Tuscola High cafeteria. The keynote speaker will be North Carolina’s senior U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. Other candidates will speak also. For details call 828.246.7921.

(Kirkwood Callahan is member of the Haywood County Republican Executive Committee. He has taught American government at four southern universities. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

I remember my outrage bubbling up as she spoke.

“Mrs. Langley,” my fellow first-grade classmate and yellow-bellied, snitch-of-a-former friend said to our teacher. “Tink had her eyes open during the prayer.”

A few words of explanation are necessary. My nickname is Tink. This was 1971, in Mississippi.

Segregation was over. I remember, however, black children sat at desks in one part of the classroom. White children grouped in another part. No one told us to do this. We just did.

Black and white children didn’t hold hands when picking buddies. A buddy was required for passing through the corridors to the cafeteria or auditorium.

Black and white children didn’t play together at recess. This meant we didn’t use the swing set at the same time. Or clamber together on the jungle gym.

Black and white children spoke only when necessary. And I don’t remember there ever being a situation that made speaking seem necessary.

I can’t explain why things were like this. It was Mississippi. Way down south in the land of cotton. Race relations weren’t good.

In prayer only did we become one. Black and white, we all gathered in a circle each morning. We held hands, dutifully shut our eyes, and listened while Mrs. Langley recited the day’s prayer.

My eyes were open, that’s true. Regardless of her other sins, that little snake-in-the-grass didn’t speak with a forked tongue.

Thirty-eight years later I remember the feeling of shame. The looks on the faces of the other children, black and white, united for once outside of prayer. United in disapproval of me.

I didn’t fail to shut my eyes as a political statement — too young for that. I was a daydreamer. I’d gotten lost in thought. And didn’t shut my eyes during the prayer as apparently mandated by God, at least for all 5-year-olds living then in Mississippi.

What immediately struck me, but obviously escaped Mrs. Langley, is the tattletale’s eyes must have been open if she knew mine weren’t closed.

Mrs. Langley picked up the yardstick. Ordered me to hold out my hand. And lightly smacked my palm.

The use of a yardstick probably wouldn’t be tolerated these days. But Mrs. Langley’s method of control worked. We children quaked at the sight, even the thought, of that yardstick.

I remember the popping sound. And the sting that followed. The tears that squirted out and streamed down my face.

Which is a really longwinded introduction into what I’m about to do. That is, rat out my liberal friends. Turn about is fair play, they say.

I keep seeing all of you in Wal-Mart.

Peculiarly enough, most frequently we meet in the ice-cream aisle. Where you blush, glance around wild-eyed, and babble excuses.

“I’m just here to get ice.” And, “I haven’t been here in at least six weeks — I came to pick up some toilet paper.”

Not to name names, Steven, but they sell ice elsewhere. Including at locally owned stores. Which I’ve heard you rail at others about supporting.

Not to name names, Ellen, but it hasn’t been six weeks. I saw you in Wal-Mart two weeks earlier. I ducked, without speaking, down another aisle.

It isn’t just Steven and Ellen. It’s all of you. I’ve seen dozens of former customers of mine from the farmers markets. From those days when I was a simple farmer, wielding a hoe instead of a pen … OK, wielding a keyboard … regardless of what I’m wielding, answer me this.

What are you doing in Wal-Mart?

I thought Wal-Mart was off-limits. It’s the corporate entity that most represents what green, oh-so-Barack Obama types oppose. Wal-Mart kills downtowns. It doesn’t pay its employees a living wage. It harms local businesses. Remember?

But Steven needs 10 bags of ice to cool down meat and runs to Wal-Mart. Ellen needs toilet paper and runs to Wal-Mart. My former customers forgot to pick up peppers, or greens, or winter squash last Saturday at the farmers market, and all run to Wal-Mart.

Shame, I say. Shame. Shame. Shame.

In case you were wondering, I was at Wal-Mart to buy cat food. Because there is simply nowhere else in Sylva where I can buy cat food. Or ice cream, for that matter. It is simply amazing how other stores in the area fail to stock ice cream.

But not ice, Steven. Or toilet paper, Ellen. Those are items you surely could have found.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to say about 2009? How about this: it ended on a high note for the overall economy, and that is good for the citizens of this country and this region.

Here’s a sampling of the business news that bodes well for the coming year. A report released Jan. 4 from the Commerce Department shows that the U.S. manufacturing sector grew in November at its fastest pace in four years. That was the fifth consecutive month of growth for the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Overall, the economy is beginning to grow. Fourth quarter figures are not tabulated yet, but the U.S. economy grew by 2.2 percent in the third quarter (July through September 2009). That news came on the heels of four consecutive quarters of a shrinking economy, the worst four-quarter performance since the 1930s.

We’re still losing jobs, but that may end soon. Economists expect data released this week to show that about 8,000 jobs were lost in December after 11,000 were eliminated in November. In the first quarter of 2009, the U.S. economy was shedding about 500,000 jobs a month, so businesses large and small seem to have reached their new employment level.

Although there are still many weak areas — particularly construction spending, which has fallen to its lowest level since July 2003 — overall this economy feels like it is moving forward. In Haywood County, four of the last five months have seen an increase in the number of houses sold — year over year — and an increase in the dollar value of those homes. As houses move and the backlog of available properties decreases, that should lead to a corresponding increase in construction spending. Similar increases, slight though some of them are, are being reported in other Western North Carolina counties.

The stock market is making up for the losses of the last couple of years, and the Federal Reserve has made a point of saying interest rates are going to remain low.

Here’s why the economic news is good for everyone. First, families and individuals will feel the benefit as the rising tide lifts almost all ships. As those still employed feel more secure in their jobs and as some employers even make new hires, these people can plan ahead for their family’s well being rather than continue living paycheck to paycheck. Those who have dropped health insurance or quit saving for their retirement or their kids’ college can once again look to the future and put a few bucks away.

Small businesses, brutalized over the last couple of years, may finally have the funds to begin making purchases and getting caught up on the debt accumulated from just staying alive. The economic benefits from these small companies becoming confident can lift entire communities.

And as families and small businesses get better off, tax revenues to local, state and federal coffers will increase. Many detest taxes of every kind, but we also believe that quality public schools, community colleges and universities, well-maintained law enforcement and rescue departments, the continued delivery of social services and public healthcare services, and a strong public sector make for a stronger economy and stronger communities. Government at all levels needs money, and as the business climate brightens so do the prospects for government workers and all the public services that help make this country such a unique place.

We don’t want a return to the falsely inflated economy of two years ago. What we need is a slow, steady turnaround that rewards those with good habits, fosters a healthy business climate and provides opportunity for those willing to work for it. The beginning of 2010 points to just such a scenario.

By Mark Jamison • Guest Columnist

I’ve spent most of my life minding my own business. I was raised by people who were reticent; reticent in their demeanor and in their culture. My grandfather didn’t have much education, only through the third grade, so even though he was proud of the fact that he taught himself, he was not supremely confident in putting those skills on public display.

I, too, didn’t have much education. That was not because of lack of opportunity or economic hardship — as in the case of my grandfather — but more from an inability to sit still and follow the program. I loved to read and learn because Pappaw loved to read and learn, but perhaps I took the wrong lesson from the circumstances he brought to the table.

So, besides the reticence that can sometimes be embodied in the culture of mountain folks, I found my lack of formal education a source of reticence in speaking up on things.

About 15 years ago I read an article in our local paper, The Sylva Herald, which quoted a newly-elected county commissioner as saying that he wanted to hit the ground running looking for new sources of revenue. The comment struck me in a funny way and over the next couple of weeks, I couldn’t seem to get it out of my head.

I’ve always had a love affair with newspapers. In small towns they tell the comings and goings of local folks. They help connect folks from town or the next cove over. In many places they are the only check on local government, providing the transparency that is critical for democracy to function.

I’ve loved too the writing in newspapers. It is special and different. A well-written lead is a thing of beauty, answering who, what, where, when and why with a precise economy. A good story builds on a good lead to bring facts and information together in a well-wrapped package. And good newspaper writing is neither dry nor boring — columnists like Mencken, Royko, Breslen, Rice, Lippman and Red Smith could bring news and opinion to an art form.

So despite my natural reticence, I decided that I would write a letter to the editor. It was one of the first things I ever wrote, and it went over pretty well. Folks would stop in the post office and say they’d seen it, and whether they agreed with the points I made, they said it made them think and that it was clear. I didn’t change anything, but I got folks to think and that, I thought, was useful.

A few months after my first letter to the editor a controversial local issue arose that affected my community in Speedwell. Folks asked me if I would write something in the paper about it, so I did. What I wrote seemed to articulate a certain sentiment in the community; one thing led to another and folks put me in charge of a committee to fight the issue. That led to more letters to the editor and eventually to more involvement in local issues and local government.

Over the ensuing years, I’ve written about 75 letters to the editor. I’ve tried to be selective and only write when I had something to say, and I’ve tried to recognize that one doesn’t have to have an opinion on everything. The letters have brought me some notoriety in the community — folks come up all the time and say they like or don’t like what I’ve said about this or that. The letters got me involved with a couple of grassroots issues in the county that, in one case, saved a quiet farm community from an industrial quarry.

I don’t consider myself a writer, at least not with a capital “W,” but some of what started as letters to the editor were apparently good enough to become commentaries in the The Smoky Mountain News, Mountain Xpress and some other local papers. Good enough, too, to win a couple of awards, including an N.C. Press Association award, although I have mixed emotions about that — I don’t want to be like the boy who got the medal for being the most humble then had it taken away because he wore it. I’m told I have a style, but it’s not something I’ve tried to craft or culture, I just write down what falls out of my head.

The news today is full of predictions that newspapers are dying. I suppose the advent of new technology and new media makes that inevitable. I have a friend who is curious in a brilliant sort of way. He has a way of researching and learning about obscure and arcane things and a talent for posting some of those things in a blog. When I see the things Perry writes and posts on his blog, I am impressed with the potential for new media. But I also know that what he does can never replace what a newspaper does.

I read two newspapers online every day. I think it’s amazing that I can have access to the New York Times and the Washington Post in that format. The truth though is that, if I could afford them, I would much rather have them spread out on the table in front of me. It seems to me that I can read them better that way. I can scan better, pick and choose what I want to read in detail and actually navigate the media better. I find, too, that reading the paper online actually takes longer — even with a relatively fast internet connection, there is a break in the continuity of my attention as a page loads.

The things I see on the Internet that are supposed to replace the newspaper don’t impress me. What passes for journalism is often just a rehash and combination of other people’s efforts — there seems to be very little actual source reporting. I also see what amounts to a great deal of anonymous opinionating on the Internet. I’m told the Internet is supposed to democratize communication and create broader communities of interest. I don’t really see that. In forums and comments and blogs I see what amounts to anonymous rock throwing and pontificating. It’s easy to be intemperate and wrong from the comfort of one’s own desk at perhaps 3 a.m. in one’s pajamas. There don’t seem to be any consequences for hitting the send button, and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of real communication.

Good journalism, I think, isabout telling stories well, but it is also about ethics and responsibility, about perfecting craft and establishing bona fides. Good journalism is often about immediacy, getting the story first, but it is also about good clear writing with depth. Twitter reduces things to their most banal and inane basis. Twitter is to writing and journalism what a cell phone picture is to Ansel Adams. Immediacy is important, but when it trumps everything, it is nothing but self-indulgent laziness raised to the level of addiction.

Newspapers may be dying and it may be inevitable that one form of media delivery is ultimately replaced with another, but the thing I find dangerous is that what is also dying is good newspaper journalism. We are learning the wrong lessons from our love affair with the Web. We are fueling our destructive need for instant gratification and our fickleness for attention-grabbing new bells and whistles with our move to new technology. In the process of allowing our eyes to be drawn to spangly candy, we are missing the point because the real value of the Web is its ability to add depth. We have the ultimate fact checker with the quintessential ability to store, sort and assimilate untold depths of information, and we are more interested in creating a democratized Tower of Babble where cacophony trumps all.

Today I found and read a section from John Maynard Keynes’ seminal work The Economic Consequences of the Peace on Google Books. On another archive, I found the work of Olivia Darden, a woman who wrote with a fascinating voice about early 20th century mountain culture. This is what the Internet can do, and we’re missing it.

I hope good newspaper journalism doesn’t die. I think there are benefits to print media that give it lasting value. The time, effort and expense it takes to put something in print is a sorting process that has value. The local paper that comes out every week is a marker of time that is important. It gives a rhythm and pace to our week, it is a parameter of community. I hope there continues to be a place where a reticent, not especially well-educated, fellow can screw up his courage and put something in print that says he thinks a local politician said something that didn’t make sense. The effort in putting those thoughts in order, committing them to paper and seeing them in print where his neighbors and friends can read them and hold the fellow accountable for what he said is fundamentally different than hitting the send button and going to bed.

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

Waynesville’s land-use plan is an ambitious set of ideas adopted during a booming economic era and thus full of the optimism of such times. Now that times are tougher, we hope task force members charged with updating the plan don’t forsake its guiding principles, a pedestrian-friendly new urbanism that is well-suited to meet future challenges.

Waynesville’s regulations guiding development and growth were adopted in 2002 after 29 months of public input. The rules address everything from building placement on lots to landscaping and signs, and the plan is marked by a decidedly liberal mixed-use philosophy that allows contrasting uses in close proximity as long as certain standards are met.

Since its adoption, there have been many flashpoints as town leaders sought to allay the concerns of builders and developers and address flaws in the plan. Finally, the decision was made to appoint a blue-ribbon task force to update the regulations, and that group has been working for months on modifications.

As expected, parking is one most contentious issues. Current regulations guide parking to the rear of buildings, creating a street wall that re-creates a downtown look rather than the traditional setbacks that give parking lots the dominant spot in nearly all commercial development. A big question is whether this look — examples include the CVS pharmacy and McDonald’s on Russ Avenue — forces too many concessions from business owners, and whether it is practical at all as one of the plan’s guiding philosophies.

We think it is. While concessions can be made in certain areas of town and on particular lots, we believe strongly that the pedestrian-guided growth will remain popular. Years fly by fast, and this land-use plan needs to look to the future. We’re not talking about next year or even five years from now, but more like 25 or 30 years down the road.

A couple of decades from now more people will be walking and biking, and we will have more mass transit. More and more people have decided that protecting what’s special about their communities is tied to the personal choices they make. In other words, shopping near one’s home and not being so dependant on the automobile and fossil fuels are important if our small towns are to thrive. This kind of future fits perfectly with the new urbanism land-use model that Waynesville has adopted.

As is always the case, the future depends on what happens now. Waynesville has to modify its land-use plan to fix the flaws, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The new urbanism model will evolve, but it is growing in popularity for many very important and essential reasons. Communities who get on board early — and stay the course — will reap the benefits in the decades to come.

In the news business, the interplay between the Internet, mobile devices, television and print is at a precipitous crossroads where everything is changing so fast no one truly knows what the future will hold. It’s both exciting and scary for those of us who make our living amidst all this back and forth, and I’m asked at least once daily where it’s all going and what it means for our business. All the lines are blurring, and what’s old school and what’s new and exciting are bumping into each other.

Take for instance a move by our regional daily newspaper, the Asheville Citizen-Times. This Sunday, the newspaper started a three-part series on Evergreen Packaging, formerly known as Blue Ridge Paper and prior to that Champion International. The story about the Canton mill is interesting enough, but no new ground is being plowed with the reporting.

What is most interesting is that the story ran as a “print exclusive.” That means the local daily and its owner, Gannett — the world’s largest newspaper company — decided to offer the story only to readers of the paper’s print edition.

Wow. That is news, especially if it represents a broader move by Gannett and, perhaps, other papers to take back their content. The Asheville paper, as with most newspapers in this country, has been giving away all its content on the Web for many years.

In the print newspaper business, there is an emerging consensus that we all committed a potentially fatal mistake around 10 years back. It seems longer ago now, but that was when there was an industry-wide move to put everything on the Internet and figure out later how to make money from it. Now, it’s a decade later and most newspapers still have not figured out how to turn a profit from Web sites, where the fruit of all of their news gathering is mostly given away, and the only money comes from a few banner ads and pop-ups.

A week ago, newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch — who owns The Wall Street Journal and the Fox networks, among dozens of other media outlets worldwide — wrote an op-ed piece in the WSJ that was excerpted from comments he made to the Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 1 about journalism and the Internet. Murdoch is often viewed among print journalists as a kind of Darth Vader, a man responsible for taking quality newspapers and sucking them dry because he demands huge profits while meddling in the newsroom.

But on one issue I am in complete lockstep with this aging media mogul — content providers like The Smoky Mountain News, the Asheville newspaper and the major national papers must, in some way, be compensated by those who read our stories online. Murdoch is searching frantically to figure out how to enact a pay system for those who read stories via the Internet. There are several models out there right now. Many newspaper Web sites have some content that must be purchased and some that can be accessed for free, while others sites are not available at all unless readers pay a subscription fee.

Murdoch’s enemies right now are those who lift — i.e., steal — stories from newspapers and put them on their own Web sites, thereby gaining valuable, credible news stories with very little investment. Here’s what he told the FCC about these so-called “aggregators:”

“Right now content creators bear all the costs, while aggregators enjoy many of the benefits. In the long term, this is untenable. We are open to different pay models. But the principle is clear: To paraphrase a famous economist, there’s no such thing as a free news story, and we are going to ensure that we get a fair but modest price for the value we provide.”

The jury is out on whether Murdoch is an aging entrepreneur with a nostalgic dream or a formidable businessman who will find a way to make money for those who invest in reporting and editing. But I’d like to think our economic system will reward those businesses that produce a product that people find useful.

Here’s Murdoch on that point, from the same column: “My second point follows from my first: Quality content is not free. In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.”

The Asheville Citizen-Times decided to make its print product more valuable — some stories will only be available to those who buy their printed newspaper. On the paper’s Web site, you can read an outline of the Evergreen story but not the details. If Gannett can make this work — and I hope it can — it adds value to its print product. I suspect that a lot of people in Haywood County who otherwise don’t purchase a Sunday and Monday newspaper did so this week.

I’d wager neither the ACT’s model to bolster its print product or that dream of Murdoch’s to get everyone who uses online content to pay are where the future lies, but it may be somewhere in between. Again, here’s Murdoch on the changes the news delivery business is facing, and why he thinks smart news companies will survive.

“To make informed decisions, free men and women require honest and reliable news about events affecting their countries and their lives. Whether the newspaper of the future is delivered with electrons or dead trees is ultimately not that important. What is most important is that the news industry remains free, independent — and competitive.”

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

Let’s just say it’s about time.

A state special deputy attorney general said in a Nov. 25 letter that alcohol sales could indeed take place on the gaming floor at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, clearing away the last barrier blocking patrons from legally mixing alcohol and gambling. According to officials, the casino could be selling alcohol on the casino floor within a few weeks.

That’s good news for the casino, for the Cherokee and for the region. It’s no secret that patrons have been sneaking alcohol into the casino, keeping it in their cars or drinking prior to arriving at the state’s most popular tourist destination. Now, that money will go to the Cherokee to help it fund the many programs the tribe has instituted to help members since the casino opened over a decade ago.

This news comes just about exactly six months after tribal members voted overwhelmingly to allow alcohol sales at casino restaurants.

This issue is not about whether one endorses alcohol or not, or how one feels about gambling. Those issues have already been decided. All this ruling does is allow the casino to be as successful as possible, and as long as the tribe continues to spend the profits wisely and the entire region benefits, we support that concept.

With alcohol now available to patrons, the only remaining barrier preventing Harrah’s Cherokee Casino from becoming a full-blown gambling center is the ban on live dealers. Negotiations with the state have been on again and off again over the last few years, but it seems that this domino will likely follow those that have preceded it. It’s a bad time for anyone to try to slow down Western North Carolina’s most successful economic juggernaut.

 

Canton’s future plans

As new town board members settle in to their jobs, this east Haywood County municipality is at a critical juncture as it seeks to re-define itself.

Mayor Pat Smathers and Alderman Eric Dills are joined by three first-term aldermen, making this the second time in two years that voters have voted in almost an entirely new board. That seems, if nothing else, like a mandate for change.

Canton’s potential is huge, as are its challenges. The town needs to take advantage of traffic off Interstate 40 and make sure its infrastructure can handle growth out there while also focusing on its unique neighborhoods and its downtown. Those neighborhoods and the downtown area, along with recreation amenities, are keys to attracting new families and attracting quality businesses.

Anyone who has followed the town’s politics knows Smathers and Dills are more often than not on opposite sides of many issues, but the dynamic can work well for Canton’s taxpayers. That differing philosophy should keep the communication lines open and give the local media plenty to write about. Lots of media attention and a few controversies usually help get citizens engaged in the political process.

We look forward to covering Canton’s progress over the next few years and watching the town finds its identity.

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

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Reading Room

  • A strange mix of books crosses my desk
    A strange mix of books crosses my desk The first weeks of 2018 have seen some offbeat books shamble across my desk and into my fingers. First up is John Buchan’s Mr. Standfast, also known as Mr. Steadfast. Buchan, a Scottish novelist and politician who served as Governor General of Canada from 1935…
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