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Wednesday, 22 July 2015 14:35

Younger board membership likely result in Sylva elections

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sylvaWith election sign-ups now closed, it looks like Sylva’s guaranteed to get some younger membership on its board after November’s elections.

Four of the six candidates for three seats are under 50 years old, looking for a place on a board whose average age currently tops 60. The most recent candidates to put their names on the list are Charles Schmidt, 34, who works at the family business Speedy’s Pizza; mechanic Jeremy Edmonds, 28, and arts professor Greg McPherson, 45. 

“I think getting some youth on there could help get a new perspective,” Schmidt said. 

“I feel that we’re the ones buying homes and running business,” he added. “We need to look out for ourselves.” 

Schmidt, who describes himself politically as a “very, very moderate liberal,” touts qualifications other than his youth, however. He’s served on the town’s planning board for the past two-and-a-half years and says he’s ready to start making decisions, rather than just recommendations. 

McPherson, meanwhile, sees a seat on the town board as a chance to improve Sylva’s appearance, a priority that speaks to his artistic background as an adjunct professor at Western Carolina University and exhibition specialist at its fine arts museum. McPherson describes his platform as “ease of use in the town, functional aesthetics and stewardship.”

He’s also concerned with other issues, such as traffic flow downtown — he, just like Schmidt and Edmonds, is against conversion to two-way traffic on Main Street — and a potential tax hike when the county revaluation hits next year. 

“I own a building downtown so I don’t really want taxes to go up, but I do understand that Sylva has (one of) the lowest tax rate(s) in the state, and I think it would probably behoove us to find revenue where we can,” he said, adding he’d want to take a careful look at the numbers before making any decisions. 

Edmonds, who ran for town board last time around when he was 26, also believes the tax question deserves careful consideration. 

“Downsizing government’s not a bad thing, but we want to promote business at the same time,” said Edmonds, describing his political philosophy as slightly, but not radically, libertarian. “We want people to proposer.”

The Sylva homeowner said he wouldn’t support raising taxes just to keep the budget revenue-neutral, but also recognized the value of government services. For instance, he’d like to see Sylva offer trash pick-up for businesses. 

“It would help our current businesses out and maybe get more businesses to come into Sylva if they had that option on the table,” he said. 

Edmonds, McPherson and Schmidt will join Jay Ball, owner of Jewelry Outlet; David Nestler, president of the Sylva Main Street Association; and Harold Hensley, sitting commissioner, on the ballot. The commissioners currently holding the other two seats up for election — Danny Allen and Lynda Sossamon — have filed to run for mayor against another sitting commissioner, Barbara Hamilton, whose seat is not up for election. 

No matter how the mayor’s race shakes out, Sylva is guaranteed to get at least one new face — and possibly three — on the board. 

 

Three vie for Sylva mayor 

The race for Sylva mayor just became a three-way contest, with current commissioner Lynda Sossamon signing up to run against Danny Allen and Barbara Hamilton, who are also sitting commissioners. 

“I decided that I didn’t want to file for commissioner again and I wanted to make sure that I had the time to do the job properly,” Sossamon, 68, said of her decision-making process. Even when asked just hours before heading to the election office, Sossamon told The Smoky Mountain News that she hadn’t yet made up her mind as to whether she’d run for mayor, commissioner or not at all. 

“When I get involved in stuff I kind of give it my all,” said Sossamon, who with her husband has owned Radio Shack in Sylva for 30 years and has also served on numerous boards. She’s chaired the Arts Advancement Council at Western Carolina University, for instance, as well as numerous fundraisers for WestCare before the non-profit hospital converted to a for-profit organization under Duke LifePoint. She also sits on the board for Mountain Projects and is coming to the end of eight years on the town board, spread over two nonconsecutive terms. 

Sossamon’s running on her experience as a businessperson, which combined with her knowledge of the town make her unique as a candidate, she said. 

“Of course they’ve had jobs and worked in very important places, but as a business owner I think that sets me apart in Sylva,” she said of the other candidates. “I know people, I know processes, and I think that probably sets me apart from the other two.” 

Neither Allen nor Hamilton has owned a business in Sylva, but each said they would bring their own unique assets and experiences to the table if elected mayor. 

Hamilton, 70, finished 25 years as a registered nurse at Harris Regional Hospital, experience that’s left her connected and involved with the community. She’s a regular at town events and serves on the boards for Jackson County Neighbors in Need, the Jackson County Library and the Main Street Association. 

Allen, meanwhile, points out that with 12 years on the town board he has the most experience of the three candidates and has fostered positive relationships with many people around town. The 58-year-old works security at the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Western Carolina University and has in the past served as manager of Quin Theaters and as an officer with the Sylva Police Department. 

The town’s current mayor, Maurice Moody, has decided not to run for re-election, leaving the seat wide open. Hamilton, whose seat is not up for re-election until 2017, will remain on the town board if she loses, but Allen and Sossamon would be off the board if they lost, as their seats are up for election this year. 

Sossamon, a registered Democrat, has typically voted with Hamilton on split votes, the more conservative Allen voting on the opposite side. For instance, both Hamilton and Sossamon voted in favor of a 2-cent property tax increase this year but were defeated by no votes from Allen, Mary Gelbaugh and Harold Hensley. The town wound up dipping into its reserve fund to balance its budget.

Sossamon is also a proponent of the arts and aesthetics. Last year, she voiced support in moving ahead with a requirement for businesses to install glass in boarded-up windows, positing that the downtown’s place on the National Historic Registry might net businesses some tax breaks for doing so.

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