Sylva board rift heats upWritten by Josh Mitchell
Split votes are becoming increasingly common on the Sylva town board, throwing into question whether the board can meet its stated goal of agreeing on a new town manager.
Town commissioners Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis often vote together against commissioners Stacy Knotts, Sarah Graham, and Maurice Moody.
Hensley and Lewis voted against funding the Downtown Sylva Association, opposed improvements to Bridge Park, support hunting in the Fisher Creek Watershed, and were against steep slope regulations.
Hensley offered little explanation on why he thinks there are split votes.
“I’m not going to comment on that,” said Hensley. “I like to have unity instead of division.”
Hensley suggested that, “Maybe mine and Ray’s ideas are wrong.”
Moody said he, Graham and Knotts are “probably” more progressive than Lewis and Hensley in certain ways. He would not elaborate on how he thought they were more progressive.
“I’m not going to say anything that could be construed as being critical,” said Moody.
As for Moody saying he, Knotts and Graham are probably more progressive, Hensley said, “I guess he’s right.”
“I’m not going to get into tongue lashing,” Hensley said. “I’m trying to keep a lid on this. I don’t think it would do anyone any good to get into an argument, so if that’s the way he feels, that’s the way he feels.”
Hensley said it depends on what Moody means by “progressive.” Hensley said if it means spending money on unnecessary things, Moody, Graham and Knotts probably are more progressive, but if it means watching out for the taxpayer money, it probably means he is more progressive.
Graham said she would never vote to spend taxpayer money on something that doesn’t benefit the town.
Asked if she thinks Lewis and Hensley hold the town back, Graham said, “I’m not going to say.”
She noted that one of the bigger issues that Lewis and Hensley have opposed the other board members on is funding the Downtown Sylva Association. Lewis and Hensley have voted against any town funding for the Downtown Sylva Association for the past three years, running counter to rest of the board.
The DSA received $12,000 from the town this year, and Graham said the money goes toward downtown revitalization and supporting small businesses.
“I wish we could be more cohesive at times,” said Graham.
But she said she thinks the differences on the board are representative of the population of the town.
Knotts said each board member was elected by the people of Sylva to vote “the way we see fit.”
The board is now trying to hire a new town manager.
Moody said he would like the vote to be unanimous when the new town manager is chosen because each board member has to work with the manager.
Graham also hopes the vote on the new town manager can be unanimous.
“It’s an important move for the town,” she said. “I hope we can agree.”
In the most recent 3-2 vote Hensley and Lewis voted against making improvements to Bridge Park, while the others supported the upgrades.
Hensley said he couldn’t support the town spending $79,000 with all of the economic problems facing the country.
“Maybe I’m a little too conservative,” said Hensley.
Lewis admitted that he and Hensley don’t see eye to eye with the other board members. But he wouldn’t say he and Hensley do a better job.
Another issue that has resulted in a 3-2 vote was terminating the former Town Manager Jay Denton. Hensley and Lewis voted to keep Denton, while the others voted to fire him.
Moody said anytime there is a group there is going to be “some give and take and compromise.”
As for why Hensley and Lewis vote opposite of the others, Moody said. “I think they see things differently.”
However, Moody said there are times when he, Lewis and Hensley vote together and Knotts and Graham oppose.
In fact, Moody said he doesn’t necessarily think it is a bad thing that there are split votes on the board.
“You need various viewpoints,” said Moody. “People have different backgrounds. I think everybody is doing what they think they ought to do.”