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Wednesday, 25 October 2017 14:01

Franklin Election: Candidates excited about Franklin’s future

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Every election year there are a few hot button issues that entice candidates to throw their hats into the ring with an eye toward making big changes in their town government, but this year things seem different in Franklin.

Six candidates are running for three open seats on the Franklin Town Council this year, but most of the candidates say they like the direction the town has been going and want to be a part of that process.

The two incumbents — Barbara McRae and Billy Mashburn — say they’re proud of the progress being made as far as town council has been focused on creating a strong staff and working on improving the town’s infrastructure.

The four challengers have goals they’d like to see become top town priorities, but for the most part they agree the last four years have been well spent by the current board.

 

David Culpepper

• Age: 39

• Hometown: Franklin

• Education: Franklin High School; bachelor’s degree in public relations/communications from WCU

• Profession: Owner of Culpepper’s Otto Depot

• Political/community experience: None

With a successful business in Macon County and plans to keep his family here for the foreseeable future, David Culpepper said he’s running for town council so he can help continue the progress already being made.

“It’s already a great place but I think my way of thinking and my outlook on things can help improve the town — eternal optimism is my mantra,” he said.

Culpepper attends many of the town meetings already and offers his insight on different topics that come before the board. For the most part, he says his interactions with the town government has been positive, but said he would like the board to be more open to ideas that are presented.

“They should look at how to facilitate ideas and shouldn’t just immediately say no,” he said. “We should think outside the box, ‘how can we do this?’”

His top priority if elected is to make the town user-friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists. He was actively involved in the town’s process for putting together a Bike Walk Plan and would like to see the town begin working on some of those projects soon.

“We need to capitalize more on the greenway and extend it. I would love to see a complete loop and bike path,” Culpepper said. “Everyone gets in cars now, but if they can get out in the park and communicate with people on one-on-one level, that really helps with creating a sense of community.”

Culpepper also thinks the town should do more to help grow small businesses instead of overregulating them with too many layers of government. He said the town regulations should work to conform around the business proposal instead of making the business jump through hoops. He’s in favor of a proposed River Overlay District to protect the river and hopefully expand the greenway as long as it will be also be business friendly.

“One thing I’m worried about is the stringent setbacks — it’s in a floodplain so I’m not opposed to it — but if we can get people on a deck eating or drinking overlooking the river, that’s how you save the environment,” he said.

When it comes to the downtown parking and traffic discussions, Culpepper said he’d like to see parallel parking on both sides of Main Street with the two one-way lanes remaining in the middle with more landscaping. He also thinks the crosswalks need to be more visible to protect pedestrians.

The town has also been discussing what to do with the Whitmire property — about 12 acres of pristine land the town bought years ago to develop into a town hall complex. Since the town decided to go in a different direction, some council members think the town should sell the land for development while others think it would be best utilized as a town park or greenway or even some kind of mixed use. Since the town already owns it, Culpepper thinks the town should utilize it.

“I wouldn’t be for buying it now, but we own it — why not mow it and let people enjoy it? Let people treat it like a park if it helps East Franklin as green space,” he said. “If an idea comes along of a private use or a public/private partnership we can look into that idea too. But the board should take its time — don’t make a rash decision — it doesn’t need to be sold immediately.”

While he hasn’t gone over the town budget line by line yet, he does feel like there are ways to cut back on spending while still providing adequate services.

“I think my taxes are pretty high for the services rendered — I’d like to see the budget juggled around so people feel like they get more bang for their buck,” he said. “I’m sure there are people who’ve paid taxes for 30 years and don’t have sidewalks.”

 

Jimbo Ledford

• Age: 41

• Hometown: From Oregon; has lived in Franklin for 14 years

• Education: Trade school for plumbing

• Profession: Owner of Jimbo’s Plumping

• Political/community experience: Coaching youth soccer and softball, helping organize fundraisers for charities.

Jimbo Ledford thinks his campaign posters may be giving people the wrong idea about how serious he is about being a town leader.

His signs read, “Why Not?” but Ledford says that doesn’t mean he didn’t put a lot of thought into running for town council. He first considered running after he saw younger candidates Brandon McMahan and Adam Kimsey get elected during last year’s election. He also noticed the lack of community involvement at candidate forums and town meetings.

“I decided I could do this, so I started going to town meetings to see how I can be involved and help the town,” Ledford said. “When I knew I could do it, I started asking myself ‘why not?’ and I realized the only answer was because I was afraid. I decided a long time ago I was not going to live my life based on fear.”

If elected, Ledford said he’d like to see the town focus on training people for the jobs that are available in the county. With a shortage of tradesmen, he said the schools should focus on other educational opportunities other than traditional college.

His second priority would be to alleviate the downtown parking and traffic issues. He doesn’t think turning the angled parking spots into parallel spots would solve the problem but applauds the board for being willing to temporarily try different solutions to see what works best.

“I would like to see most traffic taken out of downtown — make it one way and make it more welcoming and pedestrian friendly,” Ledford said. “There’s already roads that take you around Main Street anyway.”

Lastly, Ledford said he’d like to see Franklin business owners have more say in things that impact them even if they don’t live in the town limits.

Ledford thinks the current board and town staff are picking up steam and getting things done in a timely manner.

“A lot of people have a like vision for the river district, and they’re focusing on improving the roads, working on infrastructure, looking on secondary water source,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of change and I want to help with that.”

Ledford and others have made proposals for how they think the town should use the vacant Whitmire property, but the town hasn’t made any commitments. Ledford wants the town to keep the property since there isn’t much other green space available in the town.

“Personally I’d love to see it saved and utilized. I think they can make money off the property and keep it — turn it into an outdoor conference center and a year-round park.”

If elected, Ledford would like to look back in four years and see that the town improved sidewalks and streets, completed the upgrade to the sewer treatment plant, solved the downtown parking issues and cooperated more with the county. With one of the lowest tax rates in the region, Ledford said he wouldn’t mind having to spend more money to get important projects done.

“People are afraid of change, but it feels like Franklin is telling us what it wants to be and we just need to not stand in the way,” he said.

 

Billy Mashburn

• Age: 65

• Hometown: Franklin

• Education: Franklin High; two associate’s degrees from Southwestern Community College in business administration and paralegal technology

• Profession: Paralegal for 36 years

• Political/community experience: Appointed to the board to fill an unexpired term in 1992 and has been re-elected every four years since then.

Billy Mashburn has served on the board for 25 years and has seen many changes in the way the town operates. Though he’s definitely put in his community service hours for a lifetime, he said he’s running again to offer his expertise on ongoing projects the town is undertaking.

“The paramount reason I’m running again is because I like dealing with the problems of the town. We’re getting ready to start a water plant expansion and with things like that you have to be there for a while to learn the terminology and know what’s going on to be able to help put it together,” he said.  “It would be beneficial to the town if I stayed to do that. I also like working with the employees of the town — they’re the best employees to work with.”

Mashburn said the major accomplishments during his tenure have been the town’s ability to expand the sewer plant, expand the fire department, build a new police department and public works facility and move into the new town hall building. That’s some major undertakings for a small town, but he said it’s worked out well.

Years ago, Mashburn voted in favor of the town purchasing the Whitmire property in order to build a town complex to house administration, police, fire and public works. The town did purchase the 12 acres but later decided to go in a different direction, leaving the town with a million-dollar piece of land and nothing to do with it. Now Mashburn thinks the town should sell it without any additional restrictions.

“I think we should sell and get it back into the tax payers’ hands — nobody has been paying taxes on it for a while,” he said. “We have a UDO (unified development ordinance) and the restrictions we have would apply to the sale of that property.”

Another top priority for Mashburn is to work on the parking and traffic issues on Main Street. He doesn’t think anyone wants to see parallel parking spots on Main Street, but he does agree the town needs to try a few options to see what works and what doesn’t.

“We’ve talked and talked about it — we need to try a few things for a few weeks at a time and get general input from the public,” he said. “We have hired a new town engineer that has experience with the DOT and traffic flow and I think he’ll be of tremendous help.”

Mashburn thinks the town has done a great job at keeping the tax rate low while providing great services for residents and visitors. While some don’t think the town should spend money to put on festivals, he thinks it’s a good use of money because it brings people into Franklin to spend money that goes back into the town coffers.

“I don’t think anyone should be upset with their tax rate or services,” he said.

 

Barbara McRae

• Age: 75

• Hometown: With a father in the Air Force, she moved around quite a bit as a child but settled with her husband in Franklin in 1972.

• Education: A bachelor’s degree in biology and philosophy, two years of graduate school studying physiology

• Profession: Systems engineer for IBM, former editor of The Franklin Press

• Political/community experience: One term as Franklin councilmember

Barbara McRae said she learned a lot during her first term as a town councilmember and wants to use that knowledge to continue working toward some of her goals. The most important thing she learned is how working together and having a dependable and hardworking staff can make all the difference.

“I learned how hard it is to get anything done as an individual,” she said. “But we have exceptional employees with good morale. If we’re going to get anything done we need to have good staff and board support.”

If she’s re-elected to a second term, McRae said she would like to tackle the affordable housing issue in Franklin. For so many years no one wanted more zoning regulations, but now she says the town is seeing the long-term effects of that decision. She said it’s gotten to the point where residents are living in unsafe and deplorable living conditions because they can’t afford to pay more and landlords aren’t meeting minimum housing standards.

“We have situations with ancient mobile homes — and I have nothing against mobile homes — but they can be dangerous,” she said. “I’d like to see us ban older units with inadequate electrical, no insulation and that don’t meet modern code. Some of our neighborhoods are really hurting.”

To that end, McRae wants to see the town board update its minimum housing ordinance to increase enforcement and to institute harsher penalties for landlords who don’t meet standards.

McRae is also active with a committee working toward strengthening the town’s relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians by finding ways to preserve and highlight Nikwasi Mound in Franklin and create a heritage corridor in the region.

“It looks really exciting for developing some stronger tourism and making cultural ties with our neighbors by creating a world class attraction,” she said.

McRae feels like the town-owned Whitmire property could also tie into the redevelopment in East Franklin near Nikwasi with the creation of the River Overlay District. She has shown support for keeping the property under town ownership but is also open to proposals that will be presented to the town soon from a hired consultant.

“I’m curious to see what the consultant comes up with but the more I talk to people the more I see housing is the most urgent need — low- and middle-income housing,” she said. “Employers say they could hire more people if there was housing they can live in.”

The accomplishment she’s most proud of is the strong town government the board has built with the hiring of Town Manager Summer Woodard, Police Chief David Adams and Fire Chief Kevin Rohrer. The town’s Planning Director Justin Setser is also a dedicated employee with great ideas, she said.

“When you have employees that go the extra mile for the town and enjoy their jobs and want to give that extra time, to me that makes all the difference,” McRae said.

She also thinks the current board is functioning well by allowing for dissenting views, allowing more public input and being welcoming of younger people wanting to be involved in the town government.

 

Angela Moore

• Age: 36

• Hometown: Franklin

• Education: Master’s degree in science and natural resources; certificate in GIS systems

• Profession: Currently a stay-at-home mom; previous experience working with the National Park Service, UNC State University and the Town of Franklin

• Political/community experience: Fourth time running for Franklin Town Council

Angela Moore rarely misses a town meeting or a chance to voice her opinion about issues that come before the board. Her approach to the podium is often met with sighs from the audience, and the board rarely responds to her criticism, but she hasn’t yet given up on getting a seat on the other side of the table.

“I really love helping the people in my community that don’t know how to navigate the system, but I can do so much more if I we’re part of the council and could be part of those debates,” she said. “As much as I catch some flack for my outspokenness — the council is not completely deaf to what I say.”

Though her approach with the board is at times confrontational with accusations of corruption, Moore said she did have respect for the board members and thinks she can work with all of them to find common ground. Even if the votes don’t go her way, she said the residents are still better off hearing more open discussions during the meetings.

Addressing the town’s ordinances is at the top of Moore’s priority list. She said board members’ should really take more time to read and understand the ordinances and regulations presented to them before taking a vote. For example, Moore regularly complains about the town’s minimum housing ordinance saying it’s over the top regulation and isn’t fairly enforced by town staff.

“If you’re going to put one in place it should have been executed better. The restrictions are ridiculous and many homes don’t even meet those standards — you’re supposed to have a screen door on every door in the home,” she said. “You’ve got to make rules we can enforce across the board. I would like to see it rescinded.”

Moore also wants to see the town pay down its debt load and believes the sewer expansion project could have waited a few more years until the town could pay down its debt. One way she thinks the town could pay down that debt is by selling off the Whitmire property and any other town property not being utilized.

Even though downtown parking has been a big part of the town board’s discussions, Moore doesn’t think it’s an issue. The town has paid for multiple studies on downtown parking and traffic and hasn’t made any changes.

“No worth while solution has been presented — I think we need to put this issue to rest,” she said. “We could use better signage to point to available parking for visitors and explore the idea of limiting vehicle size on Main Street as a solution.”

Moore thinks the budget could be tightened up by removing the town’s festival spending and the community funding the town distributes to nonprofits each year.

“Those festivals, while enjoyed by a lot of people and bring in tourists, are not serving the entire population,” she said. “I give to charities but I don’t want my local government taking my money and telling me where to put it.”

 

Greg Raby

• Age: 49

• Hometown: Franklin

• Education: Franklin High

• Profession: Self-employed for 16 years; owner of Mountain Septic Service

• Political/community experience: Volunteer firefighter for Cullasaja Gorge Fire and Rescue

Greg Raby said there wasn’t one specific reason why he decided to run for town council, but he believes his experience could be beneficial for the town.

“I don’t know, it’s just something I’ve never done before and it’s another avenue to give back to the community,” he said.

He’s attended a few meetings and reads the newspapers to keep up with the current issues. He said his top priority is to help the town with infrastructure projects like the sewer plant expansion. In his line of work, he deals a lot with sewer and septic issues and wants to make sure the project is done right.

“We’re going in the right direction but some things need to be addressed like the water plant expansion. A couple years ago they did a sewer expansion and I seen the ball dropped — not the town staff’s fault but has to do with the engineers and contractors that did expansion,” Raby said.

He also doesn’t see the big deal with parking on Main Street and thinks the town board should leave it the way it has always been.

“I think they should find a solution for parking on the back streets or look at putting in a parking garage,” he said. “I sure hope they don’t do parallel parking — I don’t see that working.”

Since the town didn’t use the Whitmire property for a new town government complex, Raby thinks the property should be sold. Ideally, he’d love to see if developed as affordable housing, additional lodging or a small convention center.

As for the services he receives for his tax dollars, he thinks the town residents get a good return.

“Everyone complains about tax rates but we’re always going to have to pay them so I want to see them used wisely,” he said.

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