With the county budget on everyone’s mind, two Haywood commissioners received a vote of confidence on the job they’ve done despite a staggering recession.
Chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick and Commissioner Bill Upton both sailed through the Democratic primary with comfortable margins. Newcomer Michael Sorrells, a service station, convenience store and café owner in Jonathan Creek, will join the two incumbents on the Democratic ticket come fall.
Sorrells has served on the Haywood school board for six years and has emphasized his experience working with a large budget as well as his business acumen. Sorrells said he’d always been told he had a lot of support within the community, and the primary results verified that for him.
“I ended up in the mix, and I’m tickled to death,” said Sorrells.
Commissioner Kirkpatrick said the current board provides an open forum and a transparent government, which helped both incumbents win the primary.
Both Kirkpatrick and Sorrells said the budget and solid waste needs will prove to be major issues in the November election. Kirkpatrick said the commissioners have handled the budget well despite a major recession. Commissioners will continue to analyze all of the county’s expenditures to see where cuts can be made, however unpleasant it may be to cut certain services, said Kirkpatrick.
“You just have to cut it with a sharp knife, but it’s difficult,” said Kirkpatrick. “We’ve made most of the cuts that we can make.”
However, growing impatience with government spending hit home in Haywood County, where the conservative 9/12 movement persistently made itself felt at every commissioners’ meeting.
Fiscal conservatives in Haywood asserted that county leaders were spending freely while ordinary citizens were just scraping by.
At the center of the debate has been the estimated $12.5 million commissioners plan to drop on renovating an abandoned Wal-Mart in Clyde. The former megastore will house the county’s health and social services department.
“I just think we need to think before we get out our checkbook,” said Waynesville voter Chris Forga.
But the two department’s current facilities have been used for more than a half century, and commissioners argued that it would be far more expensive to renovate or buy new property than renovate the Wal-Mart store.
Last year’s 1.7 cent tax increase similarly inflamed citizens who were struggling to pay bills at home. Simultaneously, other citizens took commissioners to task for cutting all nonprofits from the county budget.
Nevertheless, commissioners claimed they have worked well under a tight budget and point out that tax rates in Haywood are currently 17th from the bottom in the 100-county state.
Democrat – top three advance
Michael T. Sorrells: 2,537
J.W. (Kirk) Kirkpatrick: 2,520
Bill L. Upton: 2,290
Rhonda Schandevel: 1,942
John C. McCracken: 1,556
Raymond L. Brooks: 1,451
Frank (Danny) James: 628
Republican – top three advance
Mic Denny King: 1,099
David Bradley: 986
Tom Freeman: 817
Jeanne Sturges Holbrook: 781
Michael (Hub) Scott: 560
Swain County citizens might have been more thrilled about a candidate forum that was held Thursday, April 22, than the people actually running.
About 75 residents came to forum to see candidates candidly answer questions submitted by fellow citizens. It was an unprecedented opportunity to get directly acquainted with candidates.
But only four of the 10 sheriff candidates showed up, and only one out of three candidates for county chairman made it to the forum. Nine out of 14 commissioner candidates came that night to speak to citizens on pressing issues.
Among those who were missing were elected officials, including Sheriff Curtis Cochran, Commissioners Steve Moon — who had already agreed to attend a Chamber of Commerce dinner that night — and Philip Carson.
Sheriff candidates John Ensley and David Franklin committed to the event but didn’t show up. Sheriff candidate Steve Ford sent his regrets, as he had to undergo an unforeseen medical procedure, though he expected to be released a few days later.
Commissioner candidate Jerry Shook openly expressed his disappointment with those who did not participate in the forum.
“Everyone has been cordially invited to this,” said Shook. “There is some who chose not to be here, chose not to share their opinions with you, chose to keep their ideals behind closed doors...We didn’t, and I will not.”
Several citizens expressed the same sentiments as Shook.
“I’m disappointed more candidates didn’t turn out,” said Valerie Harrison, a senior advocate in Swain County. “If you’re running, why weren’t you here tonight?... This, to me, is important. I would like to have seen this place packed.”
Despite less than full participation by candidates, the evening was full of healthy discussion about issues ranging from animal control to open government to Swain’s drug problems. Citizens said they were grateful for the opportunity to meet the candidates.
Bryson City resident Mary Ann Byrd said she’s usually skeptical of media coverage in general and wanted to see how the candidates answered questions, unmediated by the press.
“I want to hear it from their mouths,” said Byrd.
Bill DeHart, 62, said the night was a golden opportunity to learn more about candidates and he couldn’t imagine why any Swain County resident would miss the forum.
When asked what he looked for in his leaders, he replied, “Somebody that doesn’t bullshit.”
“I think that’s the highest priority,” said DeHart. “If you say you’re going to do it, do it. If you can’t do it, don’t say you can.”
John Howard, a 37-year-old Swain County resident, said he was concerned about the relationship between the sheriff’s department and the county commissioners.
Howard added, “I’m tired of the good ol’ boy system. People need to be held accountable.”
His wife, Leanne Howard, 44, said curbing the drug problem should be a first priority, as should making law enforcement’s response to crime more consistent. Howard said she’d once called in to inform the sheriff’s department of a suspicious car in the neighborhood. “They called the SWAT team,” said Howard. But when she informed them of an identity theft case, in which she lost $1,500, she never got a call back.
Bryson City resident Beth Zimmerman said she was concerned about unemployment in the county. She supported sheriff candidate David Thomas’s idea of hiring staff locally.
Meanwhile, Harrison said she wished candidates had paid more attention to senior citizens. Only commissioner candidate Raymond Nelson and sheriff candidate Steve Buchanan mentioned the elderly in their speeches.
Harrison said there’s a significant senior citizen population in Swain County that needs to be attention from county leaders.
“These are people who’ve been here for generations,” said Harrison.
Formulating the forum
Two Swain County citizens, Robin Hamilton and Vickie Crews put together the forum after going through an election cycle in Swain County without knowing any of the candidates.
Hamilton said she’d initially hoped other citizens would lead the effort. “I was hoping someone else would take the ball and run with it, but nobody did,” said Hamilton.
So the duo got to work contacting candidates, lining up a venue, recruiting Smoky Mountain News Publisher Scott McLeod as the moderator and publicizing the forum.
Citizens and candidates both said they were grateful for their hard work.
“This was a tremendous service,” said Harrison.
All candidates were given time for opening and closing speeches. Supplanting the usual format where all candidates answer the same questions, each Swain candidate was asked a different question.
Below are some notable comments from each candidate:
Wayne Dover, Republican sheriff candidate: “I will give you my word — There will be an officer 24/7 dedicated to nothing but animal control and animal care.”
Steve Buchanan, Democrat sheriff candidate said being a newcomer is a positive: “I haven’t lived here my whole life... As a sheriff’s candidate, I don’t owe anyone anything, I don’t have to repay favors.”
David Thomas, Democrat sheriff candidate: “I’m going to have an open door policy with all the commissioners and citizens of Swain County.”
Chuck Clifton, Democrat sheriff candidate: “How can you be a leader of a law enforcement agency if you have no knowledge? There is no substitute for experience and education in law enforcement.”
Mike Clampitt, Republican candidate for chairman: “My one and only promise is I will be accountable to you because you are the ones that put me there... This county will be a team. Public service will be our business.”
Tommy Woodard, Democrat commissioner candidate: “What we need is openness and honesty, Swain County reunited with a common vision and a common goal. This board of commissioners has the ability to start that process.”
Raymond Nelson, Democrat commissioner candidate on interest from North Shore road settlement: “We need to have an input on what you want done with it. Use it wisely, use it frugally, use it for the benefit of all and not a few.”
John Herrin, Republican commissioner candidate: “Elect me because I’m going to come hunting you down, and we’re going to run this government together.”
William (Neil) Holden, Libertarian commissioner candidate: “As a Libertarian, I owe no allegiance to party politics. That is one thing that sets me aside from all these good folks you see here today.”
Gerald (Jerry) Shook, Republican commissioner candidate: “I don’t take the backseat. I’m not afraid to face any issues... We need to stand up and stop taking the bullying, and we need to start fighting for the community.
Judy Miller, Democrat commissioner candidate, in direct response to Shook: “Fighting’s good, but consensus is better.” Miller supports public involvement in creating a long-term plan for Swain County.
David Monteith, incumbent Democrat commissioner candidate after being asked whether he supports the county manager style of government or the older style, where department heads reported to commissioners: “I would like to go to the other style of government. I think it better keeps commissioners more involved in all of the decisions. The more commissioners know, the better decisions they can make.”
Billy Woodard, Democrat commissioner candidate: “We got to capitalize on what little revenue we have, promote our beautiful mountains, our quiet lifestyle, and our small business.”
Andy Parris, Republican commissioner candidate on the budget and tax increases: “I want to see what we have, what we can do with it before we go pushing anything else on the people.”
At the last Haywood commissioners meeting, a citizen asked Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick and Commissioner Bill Upton to answer a political question as election candidates. This week, county attorney Chip Killian said that move was unlawful.
Commissioners cannot use the forum of a public meeting as a forum for politicking. In essence, state law forbids commissioners from using the forum at taxpayers’ expense to make political speeches or answer questions concerning political issues.
“The board is sitting as a board for the purpose of conducting county business, not politicking to get re-elected,” said Killian.
Haywood County has offered time for public comment long before it was required, and it offers citizens the chance to speak at both meetings while public comment is required only once a month, Killian added. That time should be used to offer input on county business, not for politics.
Three District Court judge seats are up for election in the seven western counties. The race for judge isn’t partisan, so candidates aren’t distinguished as Republican or Democrat on the ballot.
Candidates have to designate which of the three seats they are running for. The top two candidates for each seat will advance to the November election.
There are only two candidates running for this seat. Both will automatically advance past the primary. In-depth profiles and coverage of these candidates will appear in the run-up to the fall election.
Danya Vanhook, a sitting judge based in Haywood County
Vanhook currently serves as a judge. She was appointed to the seat just last year by Gov. Beverly Perdue to fill a vacancy.
Donna Forga, Waynesville attorney in solo practice
Forga has practiced all manner of law, mostly criminal and family law, including child custody, divorces and the like. She has also worked with Legal Aid, which provides free representation to victims of domestic violence.
Greg Boyer, 60, attorney in Franklin with Jones, Key, Melvin, & Patton
Experience: Boyer hails from Florida originally. He moved to Franklin part-time in 1999. He became a full-time resident and began practicing here five years ago. Boyer has done all types of law: criminal, family “pretty much the things we see in District Court.”
Why run: “I’ve always enjoyed practicing law. I really enjoy it. I love it.”
Boyer is particularly fond of District Court.
“I have always enjoyed that type of practice which is heavy on people and spending a lot of time with different folks ... This past year I started thinking about giving a little bit back.”
Philosophy: “The members of the practicing bar here are good and honest and try very hard to do a good job. If a lawyer said something to me, I could normally trust that. In big cities, there is not that flavor. I appreciate the caliber of the people I get to work with here ... The key thing I have seen is a caring about people in the court system. They aren’t just a number or a cog in the wheel. That is what I really think District Court is about.”
Kris Earwood, 32, Sylva attorney with firm Lay and Earwood
Experience: Earwood went to law school at Regent, Va. She interned with the district attorney’s office for a few months while in school.
Upon graduating, she joined the firm of Frank Lay, where she is now a partner. She focused on criminal defense for three years, then spent two years doing family law with the Department of Social Services. She briefly served as a prosecutor in tribal court in Cherokee.
Lay said in her seven years, she has had vast “in the courtroom” experience.
“I spend more time in District Court than in my office,” she said.
Why run: District courtrooms are regularly packed to the gills with all walks of life, with all manner of violations and every type of dispute imaginable.
“Either you love District Court or you don’t. I really love District Court. There are a lot of attorneys who don’t ... I love the case law. I love the precision of it. I love the statutes. I hope the ultimate goal of any judge is to seek justice.”
Philosophy: “District Court is the place where a judge can really have an impact on someone’s life, whether it is a criminal defendant or a DSS case ... The average voter isn’t well-versed in what goes on in District Court, but it’s where you go if you get a speeding ticket or are getting a divorce. It is the meat and potatoes of our court system.”
What else: Earwood wants to uphold the tradition of even-temperament and sound decisions the 30th judicial bench is known for.
“Everybody we have had up there had common sense life experience and legal experience.”
Justin Greene, 30, Bryson City attorney with Moody and Brigham law firm
Experience: Greene went to law school at N.C. Central. He did an internship with Moody and Brigham while still in school and came back to his hometown to work at the firm after graduation in 2006. Greene said he has handled the full gamut of case work.
“We are a small firm in a small town so you do what needs doing.”
He has also been an attorney advocate for the guardian ad litem program.
Why run: “I have always had an eye for the bench since I was a little kid.” He remembers a field trip to the local courthouse in second grade. All the students took turns sitting behind the judge’s bench. Ever since, he’s wanted to be a judge.
Philosophy: “I think I can help people. I think I can understand the way people are and what some of the problems are that people in this area have ... I can see both sides of issues. When you can relate to the people you are serving that is a huge help.”
Greene said his youth, or the age of any candidate, isn’t an issue.
“It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.” But he admits there are big shoes to fill.
“I have always had great pride about practicing where I practice and being an attorney in WNC. It is the best bench in the state and always has been.”
What else: Unlike the heavy concentration of candidates from Haywood County, Greene hopes “one thing that might set me apart is I am from the western part of the district.”
David Sutton, 34, Waynesville attorney with Kirkpatrick law firm
Experience: Sutton went to law school at N.C. Central. He has practiced law for five years at the firm of James “Kirk” Kirkpatrick.
Sutton has practiced in most areas that come up in District Court, but has done less on criminal and more on the civil side and domestic arena, including family law, divorce, child custody, child support, and the like. He also has done many property disputes, a big item in District Court.
Why run: Sutton was an elementary teacher for two years before he decided to go back to law school. Once in law school, he decided fairly quickly he wanted to be a judge one day.
“One day arrived,” he said.
“The majority of the cases in District Court affect families and children, be it criminal or domestic cases. I think it is a good opportunity to provide a safe, neutral environment for families to resolve their differences.”
Philosophy: “I feel like I can be fair and objective in applying the law. Those who know me in the legal community know I won’t get out of control on the bench and would maintain an even keel, that I am fair I would listen to all sides before making a determination. Those are promises I will make.”
When it is necessary I will not hesitate to send somebody to jail if it ensures the safety of the public.”
What else: Sutton’s father died when he was a baby, and his mother remarried. He grew up in a blended family with half-brothers and sisters and step-brothers and sisters, allowing him to related to the mixed family dynamics of those landing in District Court for domestic issues.
Sutton is active in the Haywood County Democratic Party. While the race is non-partisan, Sutton has used the normal routes within party structures to garner support for his candidacy.
Caleb Rogers, 30, Waynesville attorney in solo practice
Experience: Rogers went to Wake Forest for law school. Upon graduating in 2005, he practiced at the firm Brown and Patten for four years before starting his own practice last year with his wife, who is also an attorney.
Rogers says he has done all the types of cases that would come before the district court bench: criminal and civil, including wills, estates, elderly guardianships, property disputes, and landlord-tenant fights. He has done family law, though not a whole lot. He estimates that he has done hundreds of real estate closings.
Why run: “Being a judge is being a servant. It is one of the highest forms of public service...I can do the job. I have the intellect, the knowledge of the law and strength of character necessary to serve on the bench.”
Philosophy: “A judge must be able to listen to and comprehend the breadth of every case before him and listen to all the facts and treat each case as important and then apply the law in a way that is fair to both sides. That promotes the equality of our system and protects the freedoms we all enjoy.”
Rogers advocates “severity where needed and second chances where appropriate.”
What else: He was valedictorian of his class at Pisgah High School. He is president of the Haywood County Bar Association.
Steve Ellis, 60, Waynesville attorney in the firm Brown, Ward and Haynes
Experience: Ellis went to law school at UNC-Chapel Hill. He worked for three years as a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office. He spent several years as an attorney for the Department of Social Services doing all manner of family law, including child custody, child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse, child support, etc.
Why run: “This is as close to the people’s court as we have.”
Whether it is a speeding ticket or divorced couple trying to split their assets, “it is the court that probably affects the lives of more citizens” more than any other realm.
Ellis also wants to help fill a void being left by long-time judges.
“It was clear there would be an enormous change in the court system. I saw a need for an experienced person on the bench ... I have always been drawn to public service. This is a chance to step forward and do that.”
Philosophy: “Be courteous to everybody, starting with the people who come before you as the parties in the case and their attorneys, but also including the clerks, bailiffs, and witnesses.”
Ellis said a judge should not berate those who come before the bench or look down on others in the courtroom.
“If the judge acts courteously toward everybody, it creates an atmosphere for the courtroom.”
What else: Ellis was the top nominee for a vacant judge seat that opened up last year. When there is a vacancy on the bench, all the local attorneys come together and vote for three nominees, whose names are sent on to the governor to make the final selection. Ellis overwhelmingly received the support of attorneys in the seven western counties comprising the judicial district. He got 54 votes, while the attorney who came in second trailed with 25. However, the governor opted for the second runner-up.
“It was puzzling to a lot of people,” Ellis admitted.
Rusty McLean, 63, Waynesville attorney with solo practice
Experience: McLean went to law school at N.C. Central University. He has had law partners over the years, but mostly has operated a solo practice. McLean has 34 years experience in the civil and criminal arena. He says he has tried more than 2,000 criminal and civil jury trials and twice that number of non-jury trials.
“That is a pretty substantial difference from some of the candidates,” McLean said.
Why run: He decided to join the race again this year partly out of concern over the high turnover of experienced judges the bench has seen in the past few years, and with this election in particular. McLean said he is concerned about the level of acumen some of the younger candidates have.
“Judges don’t need to have on the job training.”
McLean said civil experience is just as important as criminal.
“Most people don’t end up in criminal court but they do have business disputes and collection disputes and property disputes, and those issues are important to people all over Western North Carolina.”
Philosophy: “A judge is not an advocate for either side. A judge has the duty and responsibility to listen to both sides and render a decision solely based on the evidence and apply the law correctly.”
What else: McLean ran for judge four years ago but lost in the primary.
McLean said he has taken more than 500 cases to appeal, the grounds for which are perceived mistakes by the judge. McLean said he became so tuned in to detecting potential judicial mistakes when trying cases that he would be less likely to make them himself if he was on the bench.
McLean has taken two cases all the way to the Supreme Court.
Roy Wijewickrama, 34, Waynesville attorney serving as prosecutor in Cherokee
Experience: Wijewickrama went to law school at Cleveland State in Ohio. He was a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office in the seven western counties for seven years. He went into private practice for a year to spend more time at home following the birth of his first child. And for the past two years, he has served as the prosecutor in tribal court run by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
While his expertise is clearly on the criminal side as a prosecutor, his year in private practice gave him experience in family law and civil cases.
“By no means do I consider that to be a lifetime worth of experience handling family law cases, but nevertheless, I am familiar with them and the law surrounding family law.”
Even as a prosecutor, he was involved in family law if allegations of child abuse or domestic violence were a part of the case.
Why run: “Most importantly I feel I will be serving my community, the community I was raised in. But also I feel like given my experience and given the fact that as a prosecutor especially I’ve had to make very difficult decisions, I feel I am well-suited to serve on the bench.”
Those decisions include when to offer a plea bargain, what evidence is admissible, whether charges are likely to stick, and how to deal with cases where children are serving as witnesses.
Philosophy: Wijewickrama said there are two primary qualifications for judge.
“Experience, and by that I mean time spent in court and the number of trials they have taken part in. And also temperament. That is very important.” Judges need to be tough and firm, but they also need to treat people with respect.
What else: Ellis does not see age as a strike against a candidate for judge. The long-time judges stepping down were young themselves when they were seated on the bench.
“We’ve had several judges over the past 25 years that have been appointed in the late 20s and early 30s, and I think they have been outstanding judges and I think the legal community would agree we have been very lucky to have them serving on the bench.”
Early voting began last Thursday, April 15, and runs through noon on Saturday, May 1. As of press time Tuesday, here’s how many people had voted early so far.
119 voted in the Democratic primary
54 voted in the Republican primary
3 voted in unaffiliated ballot for the judge’s race
176 total early voters
41,717 total registered voters
0.4% early voter turnout
Breakdown of registered voters:
142 voted in the Democrat primary
29 voted in the Republican primary
171 total early voters
9,434 total registered voters
1.8% early voter turnout
Breakdown of registered voters:
157 voted in the Democratic primary
20 voted in the Republican primary
27 voted on unaffiliated ballots
204 total early votes
26,469 total registered voters
.6% early voter turnout
Breakdown of registered voters:
114 voted in Democratic primary
86 voted in Republican primary
1 voted on an unaffiliated ballot
210 total early votes
24,275 total registered voters
.8% early voter turnout
Breakdown of registered voters
The 50th Senate seat represents Jackson, Macon, Swain, Clay, Graham, and Cherokee counties, along with a portion of Haywood. Republican voters will choose between Jim Davis and Jimmy Goodman on the May 4 primary, and the winner will face Democratic incumbent Sen. John Snow in the November general election.
Experience: Jim Davis has practiced as a dentist and orthodontist in Franklin since 1974. He is a sitting Macon County Commissioner representing Franklin and serves as liaison to the Macon County Board of Health. Davis and his wife Judy have two sons. Davis has also served as a deacon and elder in the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Platform: Davis is running on a platform that espouses individual liberty, limited government, free enterprise, and personal responsibility. A fiscal conservative, he is adamant about the need to reduce taxes.
“Your economic well-being is my number one priority and why I want to serve as your senator in the North Carolina Legislature,” Davis said.
He also supports enacting a protection of marriage between man and woman. Davis wants to reduce the state debts and cut out school system bureaucracy.
Experience: Jimmy Goodman owns a cabinet shop in Macon County. He served on the Macon County Planning Board for four years. This is Goodman’s first time running for political office, but he successfully lobbied the Macon County board to change its meetings to evening start times so more people could attend. He is a founding member of Freedom Works in Macon County.
Platform: Goodman is running on a platform that emphasizes smaller, more open government. He wants to reduce all types of taxes and eliminate over-regulation. As a small business owner and political outsider, Goodman said his top priority would be increasing jobs in Western North Carolina.
“Are you are fed up with politics as usual, a government that refuses to listen, uncontrolled spending, excessive regulation and taxation, attacks on our Constitution, personal freedoms and rights, politicians who promise one thing until they get elected then fall right in line with the status quo? Well so am I,” Goodman said.
While a hotly contested judge’s race is dominating the water cooler gossip in lawyers’ offices, the average voter likely has their work cut out for them.
The choices are overwhelming: 10 candidates running for three seats. All the names on the ballot are likely brand new to those outside the legal arena, leaving voters little to go by other than brief synopses of the candidates in the newspaper at best — and at worst the color scheme of their yard signs or a game of eenie-meenie-minie-moe inside the polling booth.
“Certainly the challenge will be to separate yourself from the other candidates,” said Caleb Rogers, an attorney from Waynesville and one of the candidates.
It’s an unprecedented level of competition for a judge’s race. But then again, it is an unprecedented state of affairs.
Once elected, judges usually park themselves in the seat and become unmovable by competition despite being up for election every four years. The only in-road to the bench comes when a judge steps down, which is what makes 2010 a watershed year.
Two of three seats up for election are being vacated by retiring judges. The third seat has been occupied for less than a year by an appointed judge, so the incumbent doesn’t have an entrenched toehold yet.
A competitive race for judge is rare occurrence, let alone three seats up for election the same year in one judicial district. Candidates realized it was a now or never moment. The outcome of the race will also bring major changes to the bench. Of six District Court judges serving in the seven western counties, three will be new to the bench within the past year and two more will be new since 2004 — leaving just one judge who has served longer than a decade.
Attorney Kris Earwood, one of the candidates, is humbled to think about the level of experience stepping down from the bench with this election: a combined 48 years between Judge Danny Davis and Steve Bryant.
“I think it is monumental,” Earwood said.
There’s another factor that could have spurred a larger-than-normal contest this year: money. The starting salary for a judge is $109,000, but can climb much higher for judges with a long tenure thanks to cost of living raises plus a bump in pay for every five years on the bench.
While the best-paid lawyers make far more than judges ever would, the economy has taken a toll on the practices of many lawyers who depended on real estate work, making the steady six-figure salary look all the more attractive.
North Carolina’s 47th District Senate seat represents Haywood, Madison, Yancey, Mitchell, Avery and McDowell counties. Republican voters will choose between Andy Webb, Ralph Hise, and Tamera Frank in the May 4 primary, and the winner faces incumbent Democrat Joe Sam Queen in the November general election.
Experience: Andy Webb is a small business owner and three-term McDowell County Commissioner who served as chairman for six years. Webb is also a trustee of McDowell County Community College. His wife Vicki is an elementary school principal.
Platform: Webb is running on a platform that touts supporting education, preserving jobs, and trimming the state budget by cutting from the top down. He has pledged to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle to change the climate in Raleigh. Webb is a social and fiscal conservative.
“Western North Carolina mountain folks are independent, hard-working, biblical and family-focused community minded, and supportive of their neighbor. Let’s not lose this way of life through a liberal worldview in Raleigh,” Webb said.
Experience: Ralph Hise is institutional assessment and planning officer at Mayland Community College and the second-term mayor of Spruce Pine. A 33-year-old native of Mitchell County, Hise would be the youngest member serving in the North Carolina Senate. Hise worked for the NC Victory Campaign under the North Carolina Republican Party in the 2004 and 2006 elections. He has served as the chairman and vice chairman of the Mitchell County Republican Party.
Platform: “We need to increase jobs and opportunities by lowering the tax rate, not through the one billion dollars in additional taxes Senator Queen supported this year. The backbone of our economy is small business, and we must create an atmosphere for them to develop and thrive, rather than be taxed to death. We must look to reduce government.”
“I am a strong conservative, and I pledge that bringing jobs and economic opportunities to Western North Carolina will be my greatest priority as your representative in the North Carolina Senate.”
Experience: Tamera Frank graduated from Mars Hill College and has spent time in the U.S. and overseas as a career Air Force wife. She worked as a waitress, a journalist, an adoptions social worker and an airline agent, among other jobs, before being appointed to the Department of Social Services Board of Directors in 2008.
Platform: Frank is running on a platform of small government and upholding constitutional rights.
“As your senator, I will work for lower taxes, limited government and the preservation of our individual rights...those freedoms given to you and me by God and backed up by the good old Constitution,” said Frank.
A self-styled political outsider, Frank has pledge to bring more jobs to Western North Carolina and bring back what she terms “mountain values.”
“I am, at the very core, a strong, Constitution-loving woman, hard-core on principles and values. I stand tough against political corruption; I am pro-life, pro-God, pro-Constitution, and even own a gun (yes, I believe I ought to be able to carry one and use it if I need to!).”
Nine Democrats and four Republicans have set their sights on four open commissioner seats in Swain County. A primary on May 4 will decide which four Democrats will advance to the November election. All four Republicans will automatically advance, along with one Libertarian candidate. Another primary will determine which Republican candidate, Bill Lewis or Mike Clampitt, will go head-to-head with sole Democrat candidate Phil Carson in November for the chairman’s seat.
*Democrat Jerry McKinney dropped out of the race to serve out his term on the school board.
Swain County commissioners presided over a historic decision this year, signing an agreement with the federal government to settle once and for all a dispute that has been raging for more than six decades.
Swain will presumably receive $52 million in exchange from dropping its claims to the North Shore Road, a 30-mile road the government flooded 66 years ago and never rebuilt.
Swain will get $12.8 million now and the rest in increments over the next 10 years. The money will be placed in a locked trust fund with only the interest remitted to the county each year. Interest could amount to $800,000 for just the $12.8 million already in hand. Candidates discussed how they’d like to see that money spent.
Steve Moon (D) said the cash settlement is a great deal for the county. Moon is in favor of setting up an emergency fund to make sure that the county doesn’t dip too far in the red in the future. “This money will help prevent really bad times in the county. It’ll be a godsend.”
Tommy Woodard (D) said the North Shore Road should have been put to a vote many years ago. Since the issue has been decided, Woodard supports using the money for the school system and public safety.
Raymond Nelson (D) said a good portion of the settlement money should be used to improve walking trails on the North Shore Road to make sure families removed from the park territory when the lake was created can visit graveyards that are barely accessible now.
Donnie Dixon (D) said he’ll believe the settlement money is coming when he sees it. “I’m afraid it’s going to be another ‘if and when funds are available.’” If the money does come through, Dixon would place it in an emergency fund to keep the county running in case the economy worsens. Dixon added that it should be only used for the betterment of Swain County and a portion should be used to recognize that part of Swain’s history.
Robert White (D) said if citizens helped formulate a strategic plan for the county, the board could look at their ideas in deciding how to spend the North Shore money. White says the interest money should go into big projects, rather than being deposited into the general fund or used for recurring expenses.
Judy Miller (D) is in favor of setting up a grant with the North Shore money to fund projects in the long-term. “We should not expect to use that money for our basic needs. That money should be something that is extra and should not be wasted or frittered away.”
Janice Inabinett (D) says the community should have input on how the North Shore settlement money is used. “I think community dialogue is more important than the money itself.” Inabinett would like to see the money used to focus on the needs of the county’s youth.
David Monteith (D) is highly skeptical about the North Shore cash settlement. “It’s only on paper, that ain’t in the bank.” If the money does come through, Monteith would love to see a heritage center built in Swain County. He’d like to set up an emergency fund with the remainder.
Billy Woodard (D) believes Swain will eventually receive the North Shore money, but says it’s up to county commissioners to push representatives to make sure that happens. Woodard wants to set aside some of the money for emergencies for now. When the county is back on a good financial footing, it can build a heritage center to honor families who lived on the North Shore.
Woodard believes that the money belongs to every taxpayer in Swain County, and should not be doled out to special interests.
John Herrin (R) asked for all communication on the North Shore cash settlement. “I refuse to allow these people to have a half-assed closed-door soap opera.” But Herrin received only a handful of emails between the county manager and the attorney — none from county commissioners to each other or anyone else.
Herrin said the county sold itself for “less than a cup of porridge,” but says the North Shore money should undoubtedly be devoted to education.
Andy Parris (R) said he doesn’t think Swain County will receive the North Shore money, and the only chance of getting another appropriation is to see President Barack Obama re-elected, even though Parris admits he’s not an “Obama fan.” Parris said the money that the county has received should be used to create jobs so young people don’t have to move somewhere else to make a living.
James King (R) said the cash settlement should benefit every single taxpayer in Swain County in a direct way. King said the issue is settled, but it might take years to get all the funds promised by the federal government.
Jerry Shook (R) said the cash settlement could be used to build a “fun factory” to retain tourists and give local kids something to do afterschool. The county could hire talented high school students to work at the fun factory and use profits to fund scholarships.
When it comes to salaries, teachers in Swain County are at the bottom of the totem pole compared to other counties. Swain is one of the few that doesn’t offer a local supplement to augment the base teacher’s salary paid by the state.
A steady growth in the student population has led to serious space needs in Swain County schools, especially at the high school. But commissioners have not taken action other than buying property adjacent to the high school for future construction. The candidates debated the need for an additional school in the county.
Steve Moon (D) said the county will need a new school in the very near future, and is unsure whether it will be funded by a bond or a tax increase. Though teachers deserve a higher salary, Moon said the county does not rake in enough now to give them a local supplement. Moon said the North Shore cash settlement might be used toward that problem.
Tommy Woodard (D) said many public servants, not just teachers, in Swain are some of the most severely underpaid in the state. With the current economy, Woodard says he’d be leery of building a new school. “I’m not denying that there is a need for classroom space. I’m just not sure it’s something that we can be doing right now.”
Raymond Nelson (D) said he’d rather see the high school expanded than see a new school built. Nelson said teachers’ salaries could afford to be raised, but would like to see state lottery money used to fund a salary increase.
Donnie Dixon (D) said the county board should closely evaluate whether it’d be more cost-effective to expand schools or build a new one. Dixon said in order to fund a new school, the county needs a bigger tax base and to fight for grants. Dixon says he would favor a salary increase for teachers if it is “practical.”
Robert White (D) said commissioners should work closely with school officials to see how to come up with money to tackle space needs. In the meantime, schools should see if they can come up with funds within their current budget. White says he tried to start a local supplement for teachers as superintendent, but the money was needed elsewhere.
Judy Miller (D) said some of the North Shore money might have to go toward setting up a local supplement to teachers’ salaries. Miller said commissioners will have to take a look at the need for new school construction.
Janice Inabinett (D) would like to set up a citizen involvement task force to research the schools’ needs, pull the issue apart and come up with the best recommendations for commissioners.
David Monteith (D) sits on the school’s planning board, and says the only way to increase schoolteachers’ salaries now is to increase taxes. “I will not vote for a tax increase under no circumstances.” Monteith said the growth in the student population is not enough to push the construction of new buildings.
Billy Woodard (D) says the county can’t increase funding to the schools unless the economy picks up. When the county’s financial improves, Woodard hopes to take a look at increasing teachers’ salaries.
John Herrin (R) says in order to raise teachers’ salaries, Swain must look at increasing its tax base. While this could be achieved with a higher tax rate, he supports user taxes instead. “We need to look at what revenues we’re overlooking.”
Andy Parris (R) said Swain’s schools are in good shape, but teachers’ salaries, as well as salaries for law enforcement, do need to be addressed.
James King (R) said money from the lottery should be used for construction at the new schools. Commissioners should demand information from state representatives on where the lottery money is being used, King said.
Jerry Shook (R) said the commissioners should take a serious look at student population growth at public, charter and private schools in Swain County to see if additional facilities must be built. Shook said the school board is responsible for teachers’ salaries and should make choices in their budget that would allow for a raise.
The recession hit all Western North Carolina counties hard, but Swain faced one of the greatest challenges. Commissioners did not adequately plan for a tough fiscal year and were later notified by the state that the county’s reserve funds had fallen to a dangerous low.
The state’s Local Government Commission recommends that all counties set aside a cushion of at least 8 percent of their budget for emergencies — Swain had only 6.6 percent. The LGC immediately began overseeing Swain’s budget, and commissioners struggled to plug the $1 million shortfall on the fly.
Meanwhile, the newly built $10 million jail continues to scoop up much of taxpayer money without bringing in enough revenue. The county is not receiving hoped-for jail fees for housing prisoners from outside Swain because surrounding counties have built their own jails.
Steve Moon (D) said dipping below the 8 percent standard was due to “a series of bad events” and pointed out that the entire economy had been in bad shape. “We had a hard time maintaining that 8 percent.” Moon says the county will have to wait and see on the jail and hope that the sheriff can bring more federal prisoners to the facility.
Tommy Woodard (D) said like many others, the commissioners underestimated the recession. Woodard said the county should focus on vital services, like education and public safety, and make cuts elsewhere.
With multiple jail escapes in recent years, Woodard says the county needs to restore confidence in order to attract prisoners back to its newly-built jail. To accomplish that, commissioners must work with the sheriff, Woodard said.
Raymond Nelson (D) said the commissioners have done a poor job handling the budget during the recession and have not spent money or made cuts wisely. “I don’t think you can cut the budget on law enforcement and still protect the people of the county properly.
Nelson said the jail needs more federal prisoners, but said it’s too late to comment on the size of the jail now.
Donnie Dixon (D) earlier came into office when the previous group of commissioners had landed the county below the 8 percent benchmark. The state had threatened to come in and raise taxes, but within a year, the county was able to meet the state requirement. Dixon said instead of fighting feuds, commissioners need to sit down “like they got a little bit of education” and figure out what’s draining the county’s fund balance.
Dixon says Swain jailers should be better trained to keep prisoners from escaping so the county can attract prisoners from outside Swain.
Robert White (D) said commissioners have done a good job with what they had to work with, but the county must gain more revenue in the future. White would also like to see a greater effort to secure grants and possibly add another grant writer to the county staff. Until then, the county should use the money it does have wisely.
White says the jail should also be included in a long-term strategic plan.
Judy Miller (D) said it’s unfortunate that commissioners did not think ahead and initiate cuts as soon as the recession hit. “It’s another instance where planning ahead needs to be done.” Miller is concerned about Cherokee’s plans to build a jail and says the commissioners really need to sit down to come up with a plan to tackle this “big issue.”
Janice Inabinett (D) said she has not studied the budget issue. However, Inabinett wants Swain to better market the area’s natural resources to bring in people, and generate more revenue for the county.
Inabinett says not having enough prisoners to fill the jail is actually a good thing. The county could look for another entity that could be interested in the building, and send its prisoners to other counties’ jails.
David Monteith (D) says the county’s budget mess is due to insufficient planning and wasteful spending on pet projects that should not have been done. But commissioners have tightened their belts, and Monteith says the county is seeing a turnaround. “Everyone is doing their job much better than they were doing a year ago.”
Because federal prisoners have not returned to Swain’s jail despite a new agreement with the U.S. Marshals, Monteith suspects that politics are involved. “It’s hard for a little county to compete with the a big county. We have to take crumbs off the table.”
Billy Woodard (D) says he won’t criticize commissioners without knowing the complete situation, but admits many residents are concerned about the county’s finances and the possibility of a huge tax increase. Woodard plans to examine exactly how money has been spent by current commissioners.
Woodard said the sheriff should work hard to bring federal prisoners to Swain’s modern jail. “We didn’t need such a big jail, but hindsight is 20/20...I don’t think if we arrest every criminal in Swain County that you could fill that jail.”
John Herrin (R) said commissioners should be conservative with their projections for how much money taxes will bring in. They should track the budget at every meeting, and post every expense on the county Web site.
Commissioners should also take a hard look at how to avoid landing in the red.
“If that means more taxes, then that may be where we have to go.” But before taking money out of taxpayers’ pockets, Herrin said the government should exhaust every other option.
Andy Parris (R) said there’s been some irresponsibility on the part of the county board. Cutting the sheriff’s department was a mistake, Parris said. “That was purely a political move...that was a stab at him [Republican Sheriff Curtis Cochran] and that wasn’t a very smart one.”
James King (R) said Swain had plenty of money before commissioners went on a spending spree that put them in bad shape. All departments should have a working relationship with the board so that they follow the budget that was accepted at the beginning of the fiscal year. Changes should be made upfront and not in the middle of the year, King added.
The sheriff should work with other counties that don’t have jails of their own and also try to bring federal prisoners from all over the state to Swain County, King said.
Jerry Shook (R) said commissioners must make hard decisions and not be afraid to make cuts in the budget when necessary. Shook said there are some in the county who are getting “personal servitude” and are unjustifiably being paid with taxpayer money.
Shook said it’s a shame how commissioners have treated Sheriff Curtis Cochran. Shook says that the county has served as a training grounds for law enforcement agencies who move on to surrounding counties that pay higher salaries. Shook said these officers should sign a contract to work in Swain for a certain number of years if they receive county funding for training.
Raymond L. Brooks, 59, owner of trucking company
Brooks has worked with citizens for more than 30 years as a preacher at Waynesville’s Bible Baptist Church. He wants to reduce the county debt and be more careful with spending. Brooks would also like to bring in more jobs and help the education system.
J.W. “Kirk” Kirkpatrick, 41, attorney, incumbent
Kirkpatrick has served as county commissioner since 2002, and became chairman of the board in 2008. He says his experience will be helpful in successfully managing county funds. Kirkpatrick would also like to continue work on the Wal-Mart renovation project and see good and reasonable use of the Haywood Community College’s quarter-cent sales tax.
John C. McCracken, 66, retired assistant superintendent and finance officer for Haywood County Schools
McCracken wants to hold the line on spending until the economy improves and keep the tax rate as low as possible. He said as a former Board of Education member, he’s already learned a lot about how the county budget operates.
Rhonda Schandevel, 45, dental hygienist
As a parent of a disabled son, Schandevel is a long-time advocate for children with special needs. She wants to work with the economic development commission, tourism development authority and local chambers of commerce to bring jobs with good wages and benefits to Haywood County.
Michael Sorrells, 53, owner of service station, convenience store and café
Sorrells has served on the Haywood County School Board for six years. He oversaw the construction of a new school in Bethel and flood repairs. No burning issues drove Sorrells to seek office, other than hopes to move Haywood County forward with better leadership.
Bill Upton, 65, retired superintendent of Haywood County Schools, incumbent
Upton is nearing the end of his first term as county commissioner. Education is his first priority, both in the public school system and at Haywood Community College. Upton vows to keep the tax rate as low as possible, pointing out that 83 of the state’s 100 counties have higher tax rates than Haywood County.
* Frank “Danny” James will appear on the ballot but dropped out from the election last week due to personal reasons.
David Bradley, 44, sales
Bradley hopes to create a diverse economy with stable jobs, especially for younger generations. Bradley says Haywood should focus on more than just tourism and create policies that are friendly to entrepreneurs. He hopes to create a strategic plan for the county with specific goals and objectives for the next 15 years.
Tom Freeman, 52, building contractor
Freeman says his children and grandchildren have already been burdened with the commissioners’ out of control spending and the county’s high taxes. As commissioner, Freeman would like to work on getting the county debt-free by slowing down spending and putting an end to borrowing.
Jeanne Sturges Holbrook, 48, self-employed
Holbrook would like to stand up to state lawmakers who push state mandates on counties. She would also like to address the high percentage of the county population dependent on public assistance. Holbrook said she would be independent and objective if elected as commissioner.
Denny King, 52, engineer
King said he decided to run because he believes the commissioners are spending too much money. King is a strong advocate for property rights and running a smaller, constitutional government. He opposes the proposed health board rule, which carries a maximum penalty of a misdemeanor for creating a public health risk by improperly storing trash.
Michael “Hub” Scott, 45, maintenance supervisor for Canton paper mill out on disability
Scott plans to hold down taxes, spending and regulation. He hopes to provide incentives to keep established businesses running and attract new ones. Due to a brain tumor, Scott is now on disability. He promises to donate his salary as commissioner to the community kitchen in Canton.