All of Waynesville’s current leaders managed to hang on to their seats despite an impressive challenge mounted by a contender for mayor.
Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown nearly lost his seat to Hugh Phillips, the general manager of Bi-Lo grocery store. Brown won by only 31 votes out of a total 1,445 cast in the mayor’s race.
It was Phillips second unsuccessful attempt for the mayor’s seat.
Brown, an attorney who makes a habit of mingling with the business community and the Main Street crowd, said he has apparently not done a good job connecting with a segment of Waynesville’s population.
“Mr. Phillips and his supporters represent a very important segment of the community and perhaps I haven’t recognized that,” Brown said. “You can never get ahead of your troops as a leader. Today they said ‘Gavin, you may be leaving me behind.’”
Brown is a visionary and idea man, focused on the long-range, big picture view for the town.
“Maybe I am too big picture,” Brown said. “If you are worried about your pay check and gas bill, how do you worry about something happening 20 years from now.”
Meanwhile, as the general manager of a grocery store, Phillips comes into contact with hundreds of average, blue-collar shoppers every week, who likely formed the backbone of his constituency. In some of Waynesville’s outlying precincts, Phillips carried the vote. But the in-town precincts — with neighborhoods like Eagle’s Nest, Waynesville Country Club, Auburn Park and the historic downtown neighborhoods — pushed Brown over the edge to victory.
Aldermen Gary Caldwell, Wells Greeley and Leroy Roberson will all return to the board. They will be joined by a newcomer, Julia Boyd Freeman, who will fill the seat of Libba Feichter, who decided not to run.
Freeman said she was “giddy” after hearing that she will have a place on the board and looks forward to working with her fellow aldermen.
“I really think we will work together and be a cohesive board,” Freeman said. “I think the world of the incumbents.”
While Freeman did not run a negative campaign against the current leaders, a block of supporters did. The Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens, a conservative-leaning political action committee, as well as the local Republican Party, campaigned on Freeman’s behalf — and against the incumbents. Freeman said she did not solicit their endorsement but was happy to have it.
For Greeley, it was his first bona fide election in Waynesville after initially being appointed to the town board three years ago to fill the empty seat of an alderman who passed away.
“I’m just overwhelmed and humbled by the support I was given,” Greeley said. “To get elected is a very rewarding thing for me.”
Both Freeman and Greeley agreed that the most pressing concern for the new board is the replacement of long-time town manager Lee Galloway, who will retire in April.
One of the top issues that ended up dominating the Waynesville town election, however, was Cracker Barrel — or rather the lack thereof. A great debate broke out in the weeks preceding the election over whether a Cracker Barrel was blocked from coming here by the town’s development standards. In fact, the case of Cracker Barrel, it was a matter of economics: Waynesville’s population and traffic count wasn’t big enough to support a Cracker Barrel, according to the Realtor trying to market property to the company.
But the story spread, thanks largely to a political action committee that created a web site and took out newspaper ads to get the message out.
It clearly worked for some voters, including Gladys Watson, 69, who works part-time at Walmart and was stopped on her way out of the polls Tuesday afternoon.
“I would like to see an Olive Garden or Cracker Barrel,” Watson said. “I eat out a lot. You get tired of the options that are here.”
Other voters rejected the notion that the town was somehow to blame for the lack of chain restaurants.
“I would like a few more restaurants and a few more stores, but with the economy being down, they’ve done a great job,” said Janie Benson, a voter emerging from the Waynesville library polling place.
— By Becky Johnson and Caitlin Bowling
Gavin Brown (I) 729
Hugh Phillips 698
Seats up for election: 4
Total seats on board: 4
Wells Greeley (I) 1,133
Gary Caldwell (I) 943
Julia Boyd-Freeman 843
Leroy Roberson (I) 811
Mary Ann Enloe 736
Sam Edwards 579