Jackson County residents will have the chance to get grounded in local government with the launch of a citizen’s academy this fall, an endeavor that county commissioners approved unanimously during their July 17 meeting.
A new program by the Town of Maggie Valley offers citizens a candid look at what the town does, how it does it and how it pays for it.
Harry S. Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson said upon his return to private life, “I will undoubtedly have to seek what is happily known as gainful employment, which I am glad to say does not describe holding public office.”
• To serve, Haywood Commissioners leave money on the table
• Carrying commissioner duties a juggling act in Jackson
• Macon commissioners not there for money
• Swain commissioners give little thought to salary
• Cherokee council makes more than state reps, less than congressmen
While holding public office in the United States isn’t usually all pain, it is usually no gain. American culture has long held disdain for those who enrich themselves by suckling at the public teat, and a Smoky Mountain News investigation proves that — at least locally — the salary and benefits offered to county commissioners in Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties aren’t making any of them rich.
At just 22 years of age, Kevin Ensley became one of the youngest licensed land surveyors in the entire state after earning an associate’s degree in civil engineering from Asheville-Buncombe Technical College.
When Mark Jones first ran for a seat on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners in 2006, he was the general manager of High Hampton Inn and Country Club in Cashiers, a demanding and well-paid position. But when he won the election, Jones knew he wouldn’t be able to keep the job while also fulfilling his newly acquired civic responsibilities.
Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale was pouring concrete on a job site when he was contacted about this story.
“You know, I really can’t tell you what we get paid,” Swain County Commissioner David Monteith said when asked about his commissioner salary. “I’ve never done it for that purpose. To me, serving the people in the community is the main benefit of being commissioner.”
Admittedly, the issue of recording work sessions and regular board meetings on video would be mostly moot if the public took more of an interest in them; indeed, Haywood County Board of Education Chairman Chuck Francis expressed his “disappointment” in low attendance at the meetings.
Having a website used to be an added bonus for local governments, but now it has become a necessity and the public and the press have higher expectations for online services and transparency.
The Smoky Mountain News editorial team decided to evaluate and score the websites of four Western North Carolina counties, six municipalities and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to see whether local governments are failing, meeting or exceeding those expectations.
Journalists responsible for news gathering in a rugged and mountainous four-county (Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain), 2,111-square-mile swath of Western North Carolina that happens to contain two sovereign nations, 11 towns, 32 unincorporated communities, 44 townships, 150,000 people, and the most visited national park in the country often rely on local government websites and the accuracy and timeliness of the information contained therein.