A tourism tax increase in Haywood County has virtually no hope of advancing in the N.C. General Assembly this year, but some of its supporters seem reluctant to fold.
Town and county leaders have implored state legislators to green light a tourism tax increase since this time last year. Hiking the tax on overnight lodging from 4 cents to 6 cents would bring in half a million extra dollars a year for tourism coffers and would be earmarked for building or expanding tourism attractions.
Lynn Collins has honed the art of eavesdropping. It began innocently enough, unavoidable even, since nothing but a cubicle separates her from the foot traffic of downtown Waynesville.
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But her accidental eavesdropping soon became intentional. From her desk at the back of the busy visitor center on Main Street, Collins keeps one ear tuned in to the tourists who pour through the door. It became her secret weapon in the fiercely competitive game of landing the almighty tourist dollar in the mountains: what’s driving them to come here, and what are they looking for when they get here?
For decades, mountain tourism strategists have concocted catchy ways to state the obvious: come visit us because we are in the mountains.
It was so predictable. And there were only so many ways you could say it.
What’s up for election? All five seats on the county board are up for election, including four commissioner seats and commissioner chairman. Both Republican commissioner candidates here automatically advance.
About the race: As usual, there’s a deep bench of candidates running for Swain commissioner. And in this Democratic leaning county, where it’s rare for a Republican to win local elections, the Democratic primary is always the most packed. The winners in the Democratic primary nearly always prevail come the general election. All five sitting commissioners are Democrats and are running for reelection.
This is the last year that all the commissioner seats will come up for election at the same time. Going forward, the terms will be staggered — instead of all the seats being on the ballot every four years, half the seats will be up for election at a time, with alternating seats up on the ballot every two years. This year’s commissioner election will set the stage for staggered terms. The top two vote getters will serve a full four years. But the third and fourth highest vote getters will only serve two years before their seats are up for election again. They will resume a four-year election schedule after that, with alternating election cycles established.
Swain voters approved the switch to staggered terms in a ballot question in 2012. It passed with 2,912 voters in favor of staggered terms compared to 1,930 against.
•David Monteith is the longest serving county commissioner with 16 years on the board. Retired Ingle’s market manager and a school bus driver.
•Donnie Dixon, a machinist at Conmet manufacturing plant, has been on the board for four years, plus a previous term in the 1990s.
•Steve Moon, owner of a tire shop, has served for 8 years.
•Robert White, retired school superintendant, has served for eight years.
•Correna Elders Barker
•Ben Bushyhead, a retired department director in Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians government. He narrowly lost in the 2006 election for the county board.
•Thomas Ray Simonds, foreman at Owle Construction
•Vida Cody, former county finance director who sued the county for wrongful firing
•Danny Burns, a Pepsi Cola technician
•Carolyn Bair, retired grocery store cashier and fast-food worker.
•Lance Grant II
•Phil Carson, on the board for eight years and chairman for the past four, works with his family-owned plumbing business.
•Boyd Gunter, 63, recently retired medical technologist at the VA Hospital in Asheville.
Gunter ran for commissioner four years ago but lost. He lives in the Alarka area. He believes the county’s outlying communities are not currently represented on the board.
About the race: Sheriff Curtis Cochran has served two terms as sheriff. And like his reelection campaign in 2010, he will once again face a suit of challengers, although not nearly as many this go around. When Cochran first won in 2006, the victory was narrow but impressive, as one of the few Republicans to ever serve as sheriff in this predominantly Democratic county — and given his odds as a novice lawman against the sitting sheriff at the time, who was a career law enforcement. Cochran’s first term was a bit rocky, with controversies including inmate escapes, a money-losing jail, and political feud with county commissioners. But his second term has been calm. Can Cochran hang on to the seat again?
• Sheriff Curtis Cochran
•Chuck McMahan retired in 2010 from the North Carolina Highway Patrol after 27 years of service. The candidate said he would like the opportunity to work to keep Swain residents safe. “I think there’s a need and I think I can make a difference.”
•George Powell has taught martial arts for the past three decades, currently overseeing the Shotokan School of Martial Arts and two regional non-profit Christian martial arts organizations. The retired police officer and detention officer previously ran for sheriff eight years ago. If elected, Powell said he would “hold officers accountable for their actions” and “get back to the basics of community policing.”
•Larry Roland currently works at the Microtel Inn in Bryson City and previously worked for the state prison system. The candidate believes the current powers-that-be are “abusing their powers.” “It’s just time for a change. That’s what everybody says, it’s time for a change.”
• Odell Chastain is a retired law enforcement officer who has worked at both the city and county level. Chastain said he is seeking office “because I’m a patriotic American and I see that our rights and our liberties are being taken away from us.”
What’s up for election: One seat in the Highlands district and two seats in the Franklin district.
About the race: There are three commissioner seats up for election in Macon County: one seat for the district representing the Highlands area and two seats for the district representing the Franklin area. All three incumbents are running.
Do I vote in all the districts, or just mine? Every voter in Macon County gets to vote for every commissioner seat, no matter where you live in the county. While the county is parceled up into three territories for the commissioners race, the geographic districts only apply to the candidates. Candidates must live in the district of the seat they are running for, but that’s the only import of the districts.
•Jim Tate is seeking reelection because he wants to “ensure that Macon County will continue to be a great place to live and call home through low taxes, great schools, safe communities and efficient services.” He is president of Tate Landscaping Services, and has served on numerous Highlands town boards.
•John Shearl is a business owner — J&J Lawn and Landscaping Services and Shearl Produce — and former Highlands volunteer firefighter. Currently serving on the Macon County Planning Board, the candidate is seeking a the Highlands commissioner seat with an eye on “lower taxes, limited government and less regulation.”
•Michael David Rogers owns a landscaping business. If elected, he plans to focus on attracting business to the area, as well as environmental issues. “I love the mountains and the water and I just don’t like seeing it be trashed out and destroyed.”
•Ron Haven, a motel and inn owner and sitting commissioner, said he intends to “keep taxes low” and work to improve the community for future generations. “I’ve got an interest in watching my children grow up and have opportunities in life.”
•Gary Shields, a retired educator and Vietnam veteran, said he feels a sense of “civic responsibility” to his home. “I care, I care about Macon County. If you’ve got the time, the energy and the want-to, you need to be involved.”
• Ronnie Beale is a two-term commissioner who previously served as chairman, and is a leader in the NC Association of County Commissioners. He is president of a construction company and previously served on the planning board.
• John Martin is a “semi-retired entrepreneur” who has worked in the insurance and real estate fields. He wants to “facilitate a better tomorrow” through “long-term sustainable growth.” He intends to work to “keep taxes low” and ensure Macon County is “business friendly.”
“Good jobs in Macon County are getting tougher for people to find today and citizens deserve better.”
About the race: Since there are only two candidates — both Republicans — whoever wins the primary will be the ultimate winner, since there would be no Democratic challengers to face come fall.
•Robbie Holland, 47, has served as Macon’s sheriff for the past 12 years. He intends to continue the stint.
“I want to continue serving my community and making a difference,” Holland said.
•Bryan Carpenter, Republican, 30, is a local business owner. He is running for office in an effort to “bring the hometown feeling back home.”
About the race: This promises to be one of the most hotly contested elections in the region this year. Current Sheriff Jimmy Ashe will step down and that has thrown the floodgates wide open for contenders — nine in all.
Candidates were going public months before the official candidate sign-up period in February. And several had turned in their election finance paperwork far in advance so they could start their campaign wheels turning.
Ashe would have been a vulnerable candidate had he decided to run, due to lack of public visibility in recent years and a series of public relations stumbles and controversies.
•Steven Lillard, assistant police chief at Western Carolina University
•Chip Hall, chief deputy in the sheriff’s department
•Glen Biller, a Haywood sheriff’s deputy
•Robin Gunnells, who has a custom truck cover business and has worked in a variety of law enforcement positions
•Doug Farmer, a Sylva police officer
•Michael Gosnell, private security guard in Highlands, with a variety of law enforcement positions over his career
• Curtis Lambert, a Sylva police office
• Jimmy Hodgins, a retired logger
• Mary Alice Rock, a bail bondsman
What’s up for election? Three of the five seats on the board.
About the race: There was a major power shift in county politics four years, after an upset election ushered in a slate of conservative-leaning candidates. Three sitting commissioners, all Democrats, were ousted by three challengers.
It’s hard to say whether the election four years ago was an indictment of the progressive policies of the commisioners at the time, or whether it was trickle-down effect from a national Republican tide that election year.
This year, Democrats are trying to take back the seats they loss, and voters will have a chance to endorse or oust the new leadership that took over four years ago.
Do I vote in all the districts, or just mine? Every voter in Jackson County gets to vote for every commissioner seat, no matter where you live in the county. While the county is parceled up into four territories for the commissioners race, the geographic districts only apply to the candidates. Candidates must live in the district of the seat they are running for, but are elected by voters countywide.
•Jack Debnam, the current commissioner chairman and a Realtor. As an unaffiliated candidate that belongs to neither party, Debnam must gather 1,200 signatures of registered voters to get on the ballot. He has until June.
•Brian McMahan, a Democrat, previously served as commissioner chairman but lost to Debnam in 2010. The 39-year-old chief of security at Balsam Mountain Preserve is now seeking a rematch.
•Charles Elders, a Republican and sitting commissioner, is the owner/operator of Elder’s Superette.
•Joe Ward, a Democrat and farmer, is retired from CSX Transportation.
•Doug Cody, a Republican and sitting commissioner, has worked in the insurance industry for 29 years. “I feel that we’ve done a good job and there’s still more to be done, and I want to be part of that.”
•Boyce Deitz, a Democrat, is a retired teacher and football coach. He coached former U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler as a high school quarterback, and later went to work for the congressman.
“I have a passion about where I live, our culture and the mountains. People back in the coves and hollers don’t have a voice and I feel that they need one.”
The Canton town board remains undecided about who will take over as town manager. The board was expected to choose between three finalists at its March 13 meeting, but two members pushed for a delay until at least the next meeting.
The daunting challenge of courting industry, cultivating entrepreneurs, helping businesses expand — and ultimately adding new jobs to the economy — will soon become an all-hands-on-deck affair in Haywood County.
Nearly a year after cutting down the historic maple trees in front of the Haywood County Courthouse, the lawn still isn’t as grassy or green as county commissioners would like.
What’s up for election? Three out of five seats on the county board.
About the race: The current Haywood commissioners have enjoyed a stable tenure, consistently winning their seats when they come up for reelection. They have largely avoided controversy and kept a steady hand at the helm. All three incumbents, with long histories of elected office.
Democrats: only three advance
•Kirk Kirkpatrick, a lawyer, has been on the board since 2002 and has been a supporter of recreation.
•Michael Sorrells has been a commissioner for four years and previously served six years on the school board. He is a service station, convenience store and café owner in Jonathan Creek.
•Bill Upton, the retired superintendent of Haywood County Schools, a principal and teacher, has been on the board eight years.
•Bob McClure has been a bailiff for 14 years for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department. Prior to that, he worked at the now-closed Dayco manufacturing plant in Hazelwood for 33 years.
•Kyle Edwards owns the Stompin’ Ground in Maggie Valley, a campground, and is a general contractor. He considered bringing jobs to the area to be a priority.
“We need to keep jobs for our younger generation here in Haywood,” Edwards said. “Our jobs and our people are leaving the county.”
• Denny King, a conservative voice in county politics and frequent critic of sitting commissioner’s decisions, previously ran for a commission seat in 2012. He came within 300 votes.
• Phil Wight, owner of a motel in Maggie Valley and Maggie town alderman. Wight has long been involved in Maggie’s controversial breed of politics and a player in the tourism industry.
• Dr. Windy McKinney, is a historian and writer with a doctorate in Medieval Studies from the University of York, in the United Kingdom. She is the Libertarian Party of Haywood County’s first candidate for county commissioner and feels the area is ready for a candidate who will “change politics as usual.”
About the race: And the winner is… Sheriff Greg Christopher. Christopher has proven immensely popular and effective in just a short time, after being named sheriff barely a year ago after the sitting sheriff at the time stepped down. Christopher has made several innovations at the department. He has improved moral, public outreach, cooperation with other law enforcement agencies and drug enforcement. He has also made a point of being more visible and accessible in the community.
Word on the street was no challengers would have had a chance.