Canton has four new aldermen.
In a close race, Carole Edwards, Ralph Hamlett, Gail Mull and Zeb Smathers won.
While infrastructure and economic development tops each candidate’s agenda, a far more consequential matter could await those who fill the four open seats on the Canton Board of Aldermen — who will Canton’s next town manager be?
Canton will witness a mysterious mass exodus of its elected town board members following the town election this fall.
The Maggie Valley town board will soon divest itself from the role of both judge and jury for new businesses moving into the town’s commercial district.
The simple task of replacing an empty seat on the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen has turned into a process rife with finger pointing and faultfinding after the board failed to lay out a clear process for how the new alderman would be chosen.
Just two weeks ago, longtime alderman and Maggie resident Phil Aldridge resigned before moving back to his hometown in Alabama to get married, leaving it up to the four remaining board members to name his replacement.
Canton’s elected leaders could find their two-year terms of office doubling if voters support a proposed change to give the mayor and board of aldermen four years in office.
The town board will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. on Feb. 28 to gauge residents’ feelings about shifting from the current two-year terms to four-year, staggered terms.
“I think it would behoove our community to make that decision,” said Mayor Michael Ray.
Ray said he did not think that adding another two years to the terms would make much difference.
Unlike most towns, Canton’s mayor and four aldermen have to run for election every two years. Every other town board in the region, as well as county commissioners, serves four-year terms.
While Canton’s town board has long toyed with the idea of switching to four-year terms, it would mark a change for Canton voters who are likely accustomed to the more frequent election cycle. The town board discussed the issue at their meeting last week and decided to leave the final decision up to voters.
“It’s been the way it is for a long time,” Alderman Ed Underwood said of the two-year model. “That is what the people have got used to. I think having their input is going to be very important.”
Because the entire board and the mayor run for re-election every two years, a perfect storm of circumstances could saddle the town with a completely new board and mayor, and institutional knowledge could disappear with the previous leaders.
“We were worried about the possibility,” said Alderman Patrick Willis.
Fellow Alderman Jimmy Flynn first broached the idea during his last term but no action was taken.
“I’ve been pursuing that ever since I got re-elected,” Flynn said. “If you do the staggered terms, you don’t run the risk of the whole board coming in new.”
In 2007, Canton saw three of the five seats on the board flip in a single election. And again in 2009, three of the five seats flipped. A wholesale change of the board hasn’t taken place in at least four decades, however.
Two extra years would also allow leaders to tackle longer-term projects more easily.
“I’m sure it would give anyone who is elected a longer time to complete things,” Ray said, adding that candidates would realize personal savings because they would not have to spend on campaign materials every two years.
However, a longer term is also a bigger commitment from the candidate’s standpoint.
“It’s seemed a long time since I’ve been elected, and that was only three months ago,” joked the newly elected Willis.
Although the board is required to hold a public hearing before switching to four-year terms, the law does not require residents to have a vote. The town has elected to make it a ballot issue in November.
“I feel this should be put before the people,” Ray said. “The electorate might like the possibility to have a quick turnaround.”
In addition to four-year terms, the proposal would also institute staggered terms, meaning only part of the board is up for election every two years.
If the new terms are approved, the two aldermen who receive the fewest votes in the 2013 town election would serve for only two years and then have to seek re-election again in 2015 before going to a permanent four-year cycle. The two aldermen and the mayoral candidate with the most votes during next year’s election would begin serving four-year terms at that time.
Did Waynesville run off a Cracker Barrel? What about Chick-fil-A? Challengers running in next week’s town election say Waynesville’s appearance standards for new commercial business are deterring development.
A political action committee calling itself the Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens are publicizing the claims, dedicating a web site to the cause and taking out newspaper ads.
The Smoky Mountain News attempted to chase down the facts behind the group’s claims and determine if Waynesville residents are being unjustly deprived of waffle fries and home-style biscuits.
The rumor: Cracker Barrel was going to come to Hazelwood near exit 100 but backed out because it couldn’t erect a super tall sign on a pole visible from the highway.
Critics say: “There was a big squabble over the height of the sign between the Cracker Barrel executives and the town of Waynesville,” according to Kaye Talman, organizer behind Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens.
Talman said she got her information from the property owner trying to sell to Cracker Barrel, Terry Ramey. Ramey said he never talked to Cracker Barrel himself.
“I am just going by what the Realtor told me, which is they couldn’t buy it because they couldn’t put their sign up. Somehow or other they talked to the town because that’s the reason. They won’t go nowhere where you can’t see their sign,” Ramey said.
Realtor weighs in: The Realtor for the property, Dan Womack, tried to market the site to Cracker Barrel, but Cracker Barrel said the town’s population wasn’t big enough to come here.
“They said the demographics at this point in time weren’t here, population and what all. Of course, Cracker Barrel likes their sign. They never came out and said that was an issue, but I’m sure that would have come up. But, we didn’t get that far. The conversation was that the demographics did not fit their business plan,” Womack said.
Town says: Cracker Barrel has never contacted the town.
“I have not received any specific proposal or nonspecific proposal from anyone affiliated with Cracker Barrel,” said Town Planner Paul Benson.
While the town’s sign restrictions would not allow the giant sign typically erected by Cracker Barrel, if it actually wanted to come to Waynesville, it would have approached the town to ask for an exemption.
“Waynesville would not be a company the size of Cracker Barrel’s first rodeo. They would call us up and say, ‘Hey look, we want to come to town and is there anything we can do about the sign height,’” said Byron Hickox, town zoning administrator.
The rumor: Annie’s Bakery, an organic and natural bakery based in Sylva, was looking for somewhere to relocate its burgeoning wholesale product line. A site in Waynesville was in the running, but development regulations killed the deal and Annie’s went to Asheville instead.
Critics say: Kaye Talman said she heard about Annie’s from the property owner who was trying to sell his vacant building to the company. But, it was going to cost $175,000 to bring the building into compliance with the town’s development standards, and it was cost-prohibitive.
Annie’s says: Joe Ritota, the owner of Annie’s Bakery, said he chose Asheville to locate his growing wholesale line because it is closer to the distributors that carry his products, like Ingles. Also, all the property he looked at in Waynesville was too expensive.
“Regardless of the land use plan, the building owners we had spoken to were asking way too much money for their cost per square foot. It was so much more competitive in Asheville,” Ritota said.
Plus, the condition of the buildings was poor and would have required a substantial investment to make the space useable.
Town says: “We just had very preliminary conversations with them. The way we left it with them was we would work with them to make it happen,” Town Planner Paul Benson said.
“It wasn’t like they said, ‘We have to do it like this’ and we said, ‘No, you can’t do it that way,’ so they left. We discussed alternatives with how they might comply with the ordinance.”
The rumor: Chick-fil-A wanted to come to an unspecified location in Waynesville, but some aspect of the town’s ordinance was prohibitive.
Critics say: “Chick-fil-A has attempted several times. I wouldn’t speculate on the circumstances, but I do know the town of Waynesville blocked it,” said Kaye Talman.
Town says: Chick-fil-A has never approached the town. It’s unlikely they wrote off Waynesville based on the ordinance without first broaching the town.
“I would say in general if a business was serious about being here and wanted to make a positive contribution to the community they would take the trouble to talk to the town about their project. We always work with businesses to make their development happen,” Town Planner Paul Benson said.
The rumor: Walgreens wanted to build on South Main near the new Super Walmart, but the town’s required parking lot configuration was a deal killer.
Critics say: The town required new businesses to put their parking lots to the side or rear of the building instead of in front. Walgreens wanted its parking lot in front and wouldn’t come because of that.
Town says: This is true. Walgreens tried to get an exemption for its parking lot, but the town denied the request.
“They just felt like they had to have that,” Benson said. But, that wasn’t all.
“It is hard to say if that is the biggest issue because they also had an issue with some of the design standards,” Benson said.
This is the only business Benson knows of in eight years that didn’t come here because of the town’s ordinance.
The rumor: Waynesville’s land-use plan was 1,600 pages long. After a year-long review, it was modified and is now 800 pages.
Critics say: “They went from 1,600 pages, which is over three reams of paper, to 800,” said Kaye Talman.
Town says: “The former ordinance was 576 pages. The revised one is 258. I have no idea where the 1,600 number came from,” said Paul Benson, town planner.
Four years ago, candidates for office in Canton wanted new faces. Two years ago, their platforms were cooperation. And this year, business development and recreation are the common threads among candidates.
“I think we also need to look at doing our best to attract new residents to Canton and new businesses to Canton as well,” said Patrick Willis, who is spearheading StepUp Canton, a program aimed at spurring economic growth in the town.
Willis, who ran unsuccessfully two years ago, said Canton needs to market its assets: its comparatively cheap property values, its friendly atmosphere and its family-oriented recreation.
All the candidates shared a similar desire to revitalize downtown Canton.
The town should also work with existing businesses to improve the appearance of local storefronts through grants to owners willing to redo their façades, said Alderman Ed Underwood.
“It’s just got to be a cooperative effort,” he said. Underwood cited his personal effort to improve the town’s appearance by picking up trash once a week while walking through town with his wife.
The candidates emphasized some form of combined effort between the town and business owners, many of them discussing the need for a business or merchant’s association to serve as a driving force for commerce.
When current Alderman Jimmy Flynn ran for office two years ago, he pressed for the creation of a business association, he said.
“That is what I will continue to push every chance I get,” Flynn said.
Fellow candidate Phil Smathers said such an association is key if the town hopes to bring specialty shops to Canton’s Main Street and beautify its downtown.
“Certainly, everybody’s moving for progress,” Smathers said. “We are expecting big things to eventually come.”
A couple of candidates even mentioned offering incentives to draw businesses to the area.
“We’re going to have to work as a team to get things going,” said candidate Cecil Patton.
Patton said the town must work with property owners and businesses to fill the empty storefronts along Main Street.
Stanley Metcalf also said he would like to see more local businesses on Main Street, adding that it is difficult to own a business in Canton, but incentives might entice people to open a store.
“In my opinion, Canton is an unfriendly business town,” said Metcalf, who owns a lawn care service.
It seems every time a business does something to promote itself, such as place a sign on the sidewalk, it breaks an ordinance, he added.
Willis and Underwood, another candidate and current alderman, both cited updating the town’s website as an important tool for promoting Canton to prospective businesses and residents.
“That gets the word out,” Underwood said.
From replacing its aging pool to lining up acts to play in the historic Colonial Theatre, Canton board candidates agree that the town needs to step up its focus on recreation.
“We’re going to have to take a hard look at that pool,” Underwood said. “We’ve got to have that pool.”
Flynn agrees that the pool needs to be replaced — a cost of more than $1 million.
The swimming pool only has about three years of life left in it, said Flynn, who wants to start a recreation fund to save money for the replacement. Flynn said the town should start other reserve funds for future projects as well.
Adding lighting to the ballpark complex, creating more paths for pedestrians and cyclists and repairing the pool are among Smathers’ list for recreation improvements.
One of Patton’s main campaign goals is to increase activities for kids and seniors. He said the town should offer games and keep the pool open later so that there is not a shortage of recreation opportunities for either age group.
The past two years
Canton has an unusual election cycle: all four town board members plus the mayor are up for election every two years. Two years ago, a slate of three new candidates prevailed in the election. A similar upset was seen four years ago. The widespread dissatisfaction that drove those elections does not seem as prevalent this year, however.
“I’ve got all respect in the world for the board that is in there now,” said Smathers, a challenger in the race. “To me, it’s been one of the best boards that has been seated in Canton in years.”
Smathers said he is not looking to oust one of the current board members. Instead, he is running for the seat currently held by Alderman Eric Dills, who is not in the race this year. Smathers was a longtime town employee and cited his experience working with the town budget.
“I am running on experience as an asset,” Smathers said.
Other candidates had more mixed reviews of the current town board, however, questioning whether it has accomplished enough.
Willis said if elected, he wants to work with other board members to create short- and long-term goals, which the town can work toward.
“I have not seen or heard what direction the town wants to go with,” Willis said, adding that he thinks the board can accomplish much more than it has in the past couple of years.
“Not everybody is going to agree on every issue … but if there is common goals that the board can come up with then they should work to get those goals accomplished,” Willis said.
Willis, who chose Canton as the place to raise his family, wants to see the town develop in a positive way.
Metcalf said he thinks the most recent board has done “a pretty decent job,” but he would not care if the whole board were replaced.
He would like to see more local people get involved, he said.
Currently, the Board of Aldermen holds its meetings at 10 a.m. on the second Tuesday of the month and 7 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Metcalf said he wants to change the time to make it more convenient for local residents to attend.
The incumbents running for re-election pledged to continue on the same course.
“For me and Jimmy and Kenny, we’ll continue working together (if we are re-elected),” Underwood said. “We haven’t kicked the can down the road.”
“I think we’ve been very progressive,” Flynn added.
Underwood said there is more they would like to accomplish, however, after coming on the board just two years ago.
“You couldn’t do everything in two years,” Underwood said.
The board began and will continue its sidewalk and street repair work, said Underwood and Flynn.
This board has spent more money on roads, fixing potholes and paving, than any other board in the past 10 years, Flynn said. It has cut expenses, held the tax rate steady and combined staff positions when an employee retired or quit to save money, he said.
The town has also begun replacing the sewer line along Champion Drive around exit 31 off Interstate 40. The line was undersized and as a result, lacked capacity for new businesses. Replacing the line had been a top goal of aldermen who were elected two years ago.
Kenneth Holland, a current alderman who is also running for re-election, did not return multiple calls requesting an interview.
• Continue street and sidewalk repairs
• Clean up the town, including façade improvements
• Replace the pool
• Create a recreation capital reserve fund
• Establish a business association
• Keep tax rates down
• Start a downtown business association
• Improve local recreation, including adding more paths for pedestrians and cyclists and lighting at the ballpark
• Beautify downtown Canton
• Offer more activities for the elderly and children
• Maintain current local tax rates
• Work to keep businesses in Canton
• Make Canton more business friendly
• Change the board’s meeting time to promote more resident involvement
• Award contracts to in-state businesses
• Improve the town’s website
• Increase communication between businesses and local officials
• Market the town’s assets to draw new residents and businesses
• Holland did not return phone calls requesting an interview.
Every morning Mayor Gavin Brown dons his town of Waynesville pin on his suit lapel before heading out the door to his law office. If he forgets, his wife never fails to remind him.
Brown makes a habit of strolling Main Street almost every day. He sticks his head in businesses to say “hello.” If he sees tourists taking pictures, he offers to step behind the camera so the whole family can be in the photo. If he sees men loitering on benches while their wives shop, he stops and hands out his mayor’s business card.
“I say ‘I have a few minutes, I’m the mayor, what do you want to know?’” Brown said. In exchange, he queries them on where they’re from and why they chose to visit Waynesville.
“It’s fun for me to do that,” Brown said. “I am nondiscriminatory … I talk to anybody.”
Those who know him wouldn’t doubt it. He even carries a list of all the downtown eateries to offer tourists wondering where they should eat.
Earlier this summer he noticed an elderly lady on Main Street who was feeling faint. He helped her inside the nearest business, LN Davis Insurance agency. He asked the employees to get her some water and offered to call her a medic.
“I really feel that my job is to be the head cheerleader for the people of Waynesville,” Brown said.
Brown’s four years of mayor have been devoid of controversy, scandal or dissent, giving him a clear leg up against his challenger.
Low voter turnout is a fear among the incumbents, however. If voters happy with the direction of the town feel the current leaders are a shoe-in and stay home on Election Day, a minority of voters with an ax to grind could swing the race.
Hugh Phillips ran unsuccessfully for mayor four years ago, but undeterred, he is back for another bid. Phillips said that people might not have taken him seriously last time. After all, he jumped right into politics for the first time in the mayor’s ring, rather than wading in as a town board candidate first. But there’s a reason, he said.
“If I ran for alderman and got elected, I don’t know if I could get along with the rest of the people on there. I think we would have butting heads,” Phillips said.
Of course, even as mayor, Phillips would still have to sit shoulder to shoulder with the other board members in meetings, and his vote doesn’t count any more than their votes on the issues. But he thinks he would get to control discussion more, he said.
“I said if I was going to do this, I was determined to make a difference, so that’s why I am running for mayor and not alderman,” Phillips said.
Phillips said he has been to one or two town board meetings, and none since signing up to run for election.
As a manager of Bi-Lo, customers are constantly bending Phillip’s ear, and not just about what aisle the bread is on.
“People tell me the town board is not approachable. They aren’t in touch for the citizens of Waynesville,” Phillips said. “If you are elected to office you should be working for the people. That’s my first and foremost.
“People’s got to be able to talk to you. It’s who you work for is the people of Waynesville,” Phillips said.
Phillips said the biggest thing that motivated him to run is the town’s development standards, which he said are too strict and are deterring new business.
Phillips was not aware that the town board relaxed some of the standards earlier this year in response to complaints from the business community.
Wells Greeley was appointed to the town board to fill a vacancy left when former Alderman Kenneth Moore died three years ago. It wasn’t exactly new to him, however. He’d been on the town board in Canton for four years in the early 1980s. Both his father and grandfather were town aldermen as well.
Greeley said serving on the Waynesville town board has been an “enjoyable and rewarding experience.” The board is professional, courteous and thoughtful. The board is devoid from petty politics that plague some small towns. There are no entrenched camps, no staking out of sides before meetings.
“Everybody is an individual,” Greeley said. “It was a pleasant surprise to me to know that everybody’s voice was really heard. We didn’t always agree, but at the end of the day, we came away with a respect.
“I was fortunate to come on board and inherit such a good team. I want to try to continue the great work we are doing,” he said.
Greeley credits the board’s demeanor, in part, to Town Manager Lee Galloway. It’s why finding the right replacement for him when he retires next year is what Greeley calls “Job One.”
“That is going to be the most critical issue that the new elected town board will face,” Greeley said.
The town has hired a consultant to aid with the search. A glutton for public input processes, the town has asked the consultants to include community leaders in crafting a vision for what skills and traits the next town manager should possess.
Greeley believes he is well suited to the important task. He was on the UNC-Asheville board of trustees when it conducted a search for a new chancellor. And as a business owner with 15 full-time and 20 part-time employees on the payroll, he is no stranger to hiring.
Leroy Roberson has been an eye doctor on Main Street for 35 years and remembers all too well the days when downtown wasn’t the vibrant place it is now. More than a quarter of the storefronts were shuttered, and buildings had fallen into disrepair.
“Slowly but surely with the efforts of the Downtown Waynesville Association, it has come back and it has become a model for other downtowns. Statewide people know Waynesville,” Roberson said. “It has shown us what can be done when there is a public and private synergy. The amount of money the town has put in to streetscapes is small compared to the private investment, and the result is you have some very viable businesses.”
Roberson considers the town’s investment in downtown “less than a drop in bucket” compared to the benefits it has reaped.
The success story shapes Roberson’s philosophy for the town now. Take pride in the town, invest in it, make it attractive, and prosperity will follow.
“You can take pride in Waynesville now because of what’s been done,” Roberson said.
Roberson, who previously served on the Waynesville town board in the 1990s, has also learned the worth of local business owners who are vested in their community. While some opponents in the race complain the town’s development standards don’t accommodate chain store style architecture, Roberson places a higher value on local businesses anyway.
“If you spend $100 in a local restaurant, $68 of the revenue will be circulated through the community. If you go to a chain like Cracker Barrel or Sonic or anything like that, $45 recirculates through the community. Which would you rather have? For me it is a no brainer,” Roberson said.
Roberson said an important goal for the next four years is creating a vision and plan for South Main Street, the corridor around Super Wal-Mart. He doesn’t want it to become another Russ Avenue, but instead wants the town to lay the groundwork for a pedestrian-friendly, aesthetically pleasing mixed-use district.
When Gary Caldwell first ran for office 12 years ago, his platform was recreation, namely pushing through a town recreation center.
Little has changed, at least as far as his platform is concerned. The recreation center, a crown jewel for Waynesville, is now built. But Caldwell’s got other projects he’s pushing for. He’s the chief advocate behind a skateboard park currently under development. The town has put in $80,000, and gotten $80,000 in grants. That’s only half what’s needed, however, and Caldwell is working on fundraising.
Caldwell also wants to nurture recreation offerings at the Waynesville Armory, which has blossomed lately as a senior recreation center, from bridge games to the new Brain Gym.
“The big thing down there now is pickle ball,” Caldwell said. “You can’t hardly get a parking space.”
Caldwell wants the town to buy a neighboring vacant lot to create more parking for the Armory, and then build sidewalks and plant trees along the street leading to the Armory from Frog Level.
This ties in with his other pet project: revitalizing Frog Level. Caldwell works in Frog Level, and has been active in forging a path from the forgotten side of the tracks to a flavorful downtown business district.
“They call me the mayor of Frog Level,” Caldwell said.
He is brokering a deal now among Frog Level merchants and the town to install street lamps in Frog Level, borrowing from a similar project on Main Street years ago. Businesses raised money for the lampposts, while the town streets and utility workers provided the labor to install them. Caldwell remembers the lamppost project on Main Street nearly failed.
“We just kept bearing down on it,” Caldwell said. And that is his motto for the next four years.
“We just got to keep going on the same track that we are going,” Caldwell said.
Mary Ann Enloe is a well-known local politician. She was a county commissioner for eight years and the mayor of Hazelwood for 12 years, its own town prior to merging with Waynesville.
Her heart is in town government, she said. She grew up immersed in it: her father was mayor in Hazelwood for 27 years.
“I have the experience. I have the interest. I have the time,” Enloe said. “If I have a platform, it’s common sense. My daddy taught me that. If all else fails common sense will carry you through.”
Enloe also believes she can bring representation to the Hazelwood area and west side of town.
“Historically people look to me to be their voice when they think they don’t have a voice,” she said when asked who her constituents in politics have been.
Enloe won’t say anything negative about the current town board, however. She has had a bird’s eye view of town government for the past year as a correspondent covering the town for The Mountaineer newspaper.
She quit being a correspondent for the paper after announcing plans to run, given the obvious conflict of interest. But she kept right on going to the twice-a-month town meetings all the same.
That, coupled with her years in town and county government, means she won’t have a learning curve if elected, she said.
She knows the town’s tax rate to the 100th of a penny — 40.82 cents. She can recite how much profit the town made selling electricity last year — $1.2 million. She knows how much debt the town has now, how much will be paid off this year, how much a penny on the property tax rate raises.
“I have a lot to offer,” Enloe said.
As for her view of elected leaders?
“We work for close to 10,000 people,” Enloe said of the town’s population. “We have 10,000 bosses.”
Sam Edwards is conservative by any standard. He believes in not just small, but extremely small government. He believes in only the bare minimum of regulations, preferring for government to get out of the way of business.
Edwards helped start a group called the Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens, which shares many of the ideas and philosophies of the Tea Party.
“There is cross fertilization,” Edwards said of his group and local Tea party followers. The concerned citizens group has registered as a Political Action Committee to donate to town board candidates and take out political ads for candidates.
A web site created by the group blames the town for driving away new businesses with its too-strict development guidelines — guidelines that mandate sidewalks, require so many trees in parking lots, limit the height of signs, and lay out architectural standards.
Edwards said government shouldn’t intervene in such things. If a business wants to build, don’t tell them where or how. Business sense should dictate they build something that looks decent.
“I do not think a responsible business is going to trash the neighborhood they are moving into because they know it is bad for business,” Edwards said.
Edwards admits the metal warehouse design of new Dollar General’s cropping up in the county or the cinderblock architecture that was a hallmark of Walmart in days-gone-by wasn’t particularly pleasing. Nonetheless, he doesn’t like government intervention when it comes to what gets built on private property.
“You have to trust people to make decisions that are good decisions and allow them to be adults and occasionally make mistakes and fail,” Edwards said.
Edwards said government can’t be the problem solver for everything. If kids need a skate park, then private enterprise, not the town, should step up to the plate.
Julia Boyd-Freeman made an important choice when she moved back to her hometown of Waynesville in her mid-20s.
“The people make the town. It has such a personality of its own that is unique in a way that you don’t see in many areas, and the natural beauty is just incredible.”
That same passion for Waynesville has motivated her to seek a seat on the town board.
“I have a fresh perspective that I think could bring some positive solutions to the challenges we are going to be facing and opportunities coming down the pipeline,” Freeman said.
Freeman was working as an interior designer when she landed the role of REACH director 15 years ago. The organization was between directors, and Freeman, who was on the board, stepped in to serve as an interim but never left.
Freeman is billing herself as a pro-business candidate.
Freeman is one of three challengers in the race criticizing the town’s development standards as too strict. Despite an overhaul of the standards over the past year, a process driven by a blue-ribbon committee comprised mostly of businessmen, Freeman believes the town’s ordinances need to be loosened even more to remove “undue burdens” on business.
“I think it is a priority to start that review process again,” Freeman said.
Freeman is one of three candidates being supported by the conservative group Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens. Freeman, a Republican, does not share all their views, however. She does not believe the town’s new fire and police department are extravagant, nor does she believe the town has been wasteful in spending.
As part of her pro-business platform, Freeman also wants to develop a new road plan for South Main Street that will make the corridor more fertile for business growth. She is concerned about the ability of the town’s aging sewer lines to serve business expansion and wants to perform an assessment of the system.
Waynesville’s elected leaders believe the town is on a progressive track, one that has made Waynesville one of the most prosperous and desirable towns in Western North Carolina for business and tourists.
The town has been a magnet for development despite the recession, from giant chains such as Best Buy, Staples and PetSmart, to local entrepreneurs opening upscale restaurants, microbreweries and art galleries.
But opponents claim that town leaders have been unfriendly to business, imposing costly development standards. Aimed at improving the aesthetics of commercial districts, the town standards are too arduous and have deterred business from locating here, they say.
The Smoky Mountain News will investigate the truth behind these claims next week.
In a town that has long thrived on competitive, and sometimes markedly heated, political contests, the prospect of an incumbents-only race this November in Franklin seems ghastly. Even to several of the shoo-in incumbents themselves.
“Maybe they’re afraid they might actually get the job,” a curmudgeonly sounding Mayor Joe Collins said when asked for an explanation.
“Maybe they love you, and the voters think you’re a fantastic mayor?” he was queried.
“No, no, no,” Collins replied unequivocally. “It’s just that nobody is running against anybody.”
Collins, unless upset by an unknown, unexpected and unlikely write-in candidate, will win a fifth, two-year term in office. Also running without competition? Four aldermen candidates: Bob Scott, Farrell Jamison (appointed to fill the unexpired term of the late Jerry Evans), Joyce Handley and Verlin Curtis.
It isn’t as if there aren’t important issues in Franklin. The board will be hiring a new town manager to replace governmental veteran Sam Greenwood, and a new police chief to replace Terry Bradley. Several more of the town’s top employees have enough years in that they could opt to leave, too.
“It is nice not to have to go through the process of putting up signs, raising money and going through the suspense of how the election comes out,” Collins acknowledged, “but it would absolutely be better” for the town if there were competition.
“That brings discussions, and different ideas, and maybe even different people around the table,” he said.
George Hasara, co-owner of Rathskeller Coffee House, a popular Franklin watering hole and unofficial discussion-central for the town, agreed with Collins that “it’s a shame” to have uncontested elections.
“Everyone should be challenged,” Hasara said. “If nothing else, to highlight the issues. But, sometimes it just happens that way. The town’s not rife with corruption — these are good people, so there’s no groundswell of indignation.”
Alderman Scott, who came within 14 votes of unseating Collins as mayor during the last election, agrees with his former political adversary that the lack of competition really isn’t healthy for Franklin.
“I can’t explain it,” Scott said. “I have two theories. Nobody wants to have anything to do with us or else we are doing such a good job nobody wanted to interfere with us. That’s my theories, and I am sticking with them. I am disappointed that there is no opposition. No opposition takes the fun out of politics.”
Millie Griffin, who co-owns Millie and Eve’s Used Bookstore on U.S. 441 south of town, believes the apathy in Franklin is simply a reflection of overall problems at the local, county, state and federal levels. She added that “outsiders” probably don’t signup as candidates because, “If you’re not from this area, you won’t get in — so why bother?” And that right there, Griffin said, narrows the pool of contenders considerably.
“‘Everybody’s happy,’ you could say. But a cynic would say, ‘Nobody gives a rat’s ass, they don’t want to be burdened with it,’” soon-to-retire Town Manager Greenwood said in his usual polished diplomatic manner. “I just hope it is not going to be the new trend. It would show that people aren’t interested. And that’s really not good for the community, long term.”